A neo-soul singer with some of the finest interpretive gifts since the swing era, and an uncompromising innovator who dug deep into experimental R&B.
On February 26, 1971, was born Erykah Badu (Erica Wright) female crooner who had the 1997 hit single 'On & On', and the 2001 hit single with Macy Gray, 'Sweet Baby'.
She grew up listening to '70s soul and '80s hip-hop, but Erykah Badu drew more comparisons to Billie Holiday upon her breakout in 1997, after the release of her first album, Baduizm. The grooves and production on the album are bass-heavy R&B, but Badu's languorous, occasionally tortured vocals and delicate phrasing immediately removed her from the legion of cookie-cutter female R&B singers. A singer/songwriter responsible for all but one of the songs on Baduizm, she found a number 12 hit with her first single, "On & On," which pushed the album to number two on the charts.
Born Erica Wright in Dallas in 1971, Badu attended a school of the arts and was working as a teacher and part-time singer in her hometown when she opened for D'Angelo at a 1994 show. D'Angelo's manager, Kedar Massenburg, was impressed with the performance and hooked her up with the singer to record a cover of the Marvin Gaye/Tammi Terrell duet "Precious Love." He also signed Badu to his recently formed Kedar Entertainment label, and served as producer for Baduizm, which also starred bassist Ron Carter and members of hip-hop avatars the Roots on several tracks. The first single, "On & On," became a number one R&B hit in early 1997, and Baduizm followed it to the top of the R&B album charts by March. Opening for R&B acts as well as rap's Wu-Tang Clan, Erykah Badu stopped just short of number one on the pop album charts in April. Her Live album followed later in the year.
In 2000 she returned with her highly anticipated second studio album, Mama's Gun, which was co-produced by Badu, James Poyser, Bilal, and Jay Dee and contained the hit single "Bag Lady." Worldwide Underground, a loose affair billed as an EP despite being longer than many full-lengths, was released in 2003. Her next step, 2008's New Amerykah, Pt. 1: 4th World War, was a heavy and abstract release featuring collaborations with the members of Sa-Ra and Georgia Anne Muldrow; it reached number two on the Billboard 200 and Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Albums charts. New Amerykah, Pt. 2: Return of the Ankh, looser and more playful than Pt. 1, followed in 2010.
"Honor the past, don't just remember it." Dizzie Gillespie
An early rock & roller who set the world on fire with his request to do the twist.
On February 26, 1961, Chubby Checker started a three week run at No.1 on the US singles chart with 'Pony Time', his second No.1 of the 60's. It reached No.27 in the UK.
Chubby Checker was the unrivaled king of the rock & roll dance craze; although most of the dances his records promoted -- the Pony, "the Fly," and the Hucklebuck, to cite just three -- have long since faded into obscurity, his most famous hit, "The Twist," remains the yardstick against which all subsequent dancefloor phenomena are measured. Born Ernest Evans on October 3, 1941, in Spring Gulley, South Carolina, he worked in a local poultry shop while in high school, and while on the job often entertained customers by singing and cracking jokes. His workplace antics helped win an audition with the local Cameo-Parkway label, who signed the fledgling singer in 1959; at the suggestion of no less than Dick Clark's wife, the portly youth was re-christened Chubby Checker, the name a sly reference to Fats Domino.
Checker's first single, "The Class," showcased his skills as an impressionist; while the record became a minor novelty hit, none of its immediate follow-ups were successful. In 1960, however, he recorded "The Twist," a cover of a 1958 Hank Ballard & the Midnighters B-side; Checker's rendition de-emphasized the original's overtly sexual overtones, focusing instead on the song's happy-go-lucky charms. The single rocketed to number one during the autumn of 1960, remaining on the charts for four months; some time after it dropped off, it slowly returned to prominence, and in late 1961 it hit number one again; the only record ever to enjoy two stays at the top more than a year apart. After "The Twist" first made Checker a superstar, he returned to the top in 1961 with "Do the Pony"; that same year, he also reached the Top Ten with "Let's Twist Again," which assured the dance's passage from novelty to institution.
In addition to 1961's "The Fly," Checker's other Top Ten hits included three 1962 smashes: "Slow Twistin'," "Limbo Rock," and "Popeye the Hitchhiker." He even starred in a pair of feature films, Twist Around the Clock and Don't Knock the Twist. In total, Checker notched 32 chart hits before the bubble burst in 1966; as interest in dance novelties dwindled, he briefly turned to folk music, and became a regular on the nightclub circuit. From the 1970s onward, he was a staple of oldies revival tours; in 1982, more than a decade after his last studio LP, he signed with MCA and issued the disco-inspired The Change Has Come, scoring a pair of minor hits with the singles "Running" and "Harder Than Diamond." In 1988, Checker returned to the Top 40 for the first time in a quarter century when he appeared on the Fat Boys' rap rendition of "The Twist," and he continued touring regularly throughout the decade to follow.
"Honor the past, don't just remember it." Dizzie Gillespie
Greatest all-round musical figure of the 20th century, who achieved monumental status as a composer, bandleader, arranger, and instrumentalist.
On February 24, 2009, the United States Mint launched a new coin featuring composer, pianist and bandleader Duke Ellington.
Duke Ellington was the most important composer in the history of jazz as well as being a bandleader who held his large group together continuously for almost 50 years. The two aspects of his career were related; Ellington used his band as a musical laboratory for his new compositions and shaped his writing specifically to showcase the talents of his bandmembers, many of whom remained with him for long periods. Ellington also wrote film scores and stage musicals, and several of his instrumental works were adapted into songs that became standards. In addition to touring year in and year out, he recorded extensively, resulting in a gigantic body of work that was still being assessed a quarter century after his death.
Ellington was the son of a White House butler, James Edward Ellington, and thus grew up in comfortable surroundings. He began piano lessons at age seven and was writing music by his teens. He dropped out of high school in his junior year in 1917 to pursue a career in music. At first, he booked and performed in bands in the Washington, D.C., area, but in September 1923 the Washingtonians, a five-piece group of which he was a member, moved permanently to New York, where they gained a residency in the Times Square venue The Hollywood Club (later The Kentucky Club). They made their first recordings in November 1924, and cut tunes for different record companies under a variety of pseudonyms, so that several current major labels, notably Sony, Universal, and BMG, now have extensive holdings of their work from the period in their archives, which are reissued periodically.
The group gradually increased in size and came under Ellington's leadership. They played in what was called "jungle" style, their sly arrangements often highlighted by the muted growling sound of trumpeter James "Bubber" Miley. A good example of this is Ellington's first signature song, "East St. Louis Toodle-oo," which the band first recorded for Vocalion Records in November 1926, and which became their first chart single in a re-recorded version for Columbia in July 1927.
The Ellington band moved uptown to The Cotton Club in Harlem on December 4, 1927. Their residency at the famed club, which lasted more than three years, made Ellington a nationally known musician due to radio broadcasts that emanated from the bandstand. In 1928, he had two two-sided hits: "Black and Tan Fantasy"/"Creole Love Call" on Victor (now BMG) and "Doin' the New Low Down"/"Diga Diga Doo" on OKeh (now Sony), released as by the Harlem Footwarmers. "The Mooche" on OKeh peaked in the charts at the start of 1929.
While maintaining his job at The Cotton Club, Ellington took his band downtown to play in the Broadway musical Show Girl, featuring the music of George Gershwin, in the summer of 1929. The following summer, the band took a leave of absence to head out to California and appear in the film Check and Double Check. From the score, "Three Little Words," with vocals by the Rhythm Boys featuring Bing Crosby, became a number one hit on Victor in November 1930; its flip side, "Ring Dem Bells," also reached the charts.
The Ellington band left The Cotton Club in February 1931 to begin a tour that, in a sense, would not end until the leader's death 43 years later. At the same time, Ellington scored a Top Five hit with an instrumental version of one of his standards, "Mood Indigo" released on Victor. The recording was later inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. As "the Jungle Band," the Ellington Orchestra charted on Brunswick later in 1931 with "Rockin' in Rhythm" and with the lengthy composition "Creole Rhapsody," pressed on both sides of a 78 single, an indication that Ellington's goals as a writer were beginning to extend beyond brief works. (A second version of the piece was a chart entry on Victor in March 1932.) "Limehouse Blues" was a chart entry on Victor in August 1931, then in the winter of 1932, Ellington scored a Top Ten hit on Brunswick with one of his best-remembered songs, "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)," featuring the vocals of Ivie Anderson. This was still more than three years before the official birth of the swing era, and Ellington helped give the period its name. Ellington's next major hit was another signature song for him, "Sophisticated Lady." His instrumental version became a Top Five hit in the spring of 1933, with its flip side, a treatment of "Stormy Weather," also making the Top Five.
The Ellington Orchestra made another feature film, Murder at the Vanities, in the spring of 1934. Their instrumental rendition of "Cocktails for Two" from the score hit number one on Victor in May, and they hit the Top Five with both sides of the Brunswick release "Moon Glow"/"Solitude" that fall. The band also appeared in the Mae West film Belle of the Nineties and played on the soundtrack of Many Happy Returns. Later in the fall, the band was back in the Top Ten with "Saddest Tale," and they had two Top Ten hits in 1935, "Merry-Go-Round" and "Accent on Youth." While the latter was scoring in the hit parade in September, Ellington recorded another of his extended compositions, "Reminiscing in Tempo," which took up both sides of two 78s. Even as he became more ambitious, however, he was rarely out of the hit parade, scoring another Top Ten hit, "Cotton," in the fall of 1935, and two more, "Love Is Like a Cigarette" and "Oh Babe! Maybe Someday," in 1936. The band returned to Hollywood in 1936 and recorded music for the Marx Brothers' film A Day at the Races and for Hit Parade of 1937. Meanwhile, they were scoring Top Ten hits with "Scattin' at the Kit-Kat" and the swing standard "Caravan," co-written by valve trombonist Juan Tizol, and Ellington was continuing to pen extended instrumental works such as "Diminuendo in Blue" and "Crescendo in Blue." "If You Were in My Place (What Would You Do?)," a vocal number featuring Ivie Anderson, was a Top Ten hit in the spring of 1938, and Ellington scored his third number one hit in April with an instrumental version of another standard, "I Let a Song Go out of My Heart." In the fall, he was back in the Top Ten with a version of the British show tune "Lambeth Walk."
The Ellington band underwent several notable changes at the end of the 1930s. After several years recording more or less regularly for Brunswick, Ellington moved to Victor. In early 1939 Billy Strayhorn, a young composer, arranger, and pianist, joined the organization. He did not usually perform with the orchestra, but he became Ellington's composition partner to the extent that soon it was impossible to tell where Ellington's writing left off and Strayhorn's began. Two key personnel changes strengthened the outfit with the acquisition of bassist Jimmy Blanton in September and tenor saxophonist Ben Webster in December. Their impact on Ellington's sound was so profound that their relatively brief tenure has been dubbed "the Blanton-Webster Band" by jazz fans. These various changes were encapsulated by the Victor release of Strayhorn's "Take the 'A' Train," a swing era standard, in the summer of 1941. The recording was later inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame.
That same summer, Ellington was in Los Angeles, where his stage musical, Jump for Joy, opened on July 10 and ran for 101 performances. Unfortunately, the show never went to Broadway, but among its songs was "I Got It Bad (And That Ain't Good)," another standard. The U.S. entry into World War II in December 1941 and the onset of the recording ban called by the American Federation of Musicians in August 1942 slowed the Ellington band's momentum. Unable to record and with touring curtailed, Ellington found an opportunity to return to extended composition with the first of a series of annual recitals at Carnegie Hall on January 23, 1943, at which he premiered "Black, Brown and Beige." And he returned to the movies, appearing in Cabin in the Sky and Reveille with Beverly. Meanwhile, the record labels, stymied for hits, began looking into their artists' back catalogs. Lyricist Bob Russell took Ellington's 1940 composition "Never No Lament" and set a lyric to it, creating "Don't Get Around Much Anymore." The Ink Spots scored with a vocal version (recorded a cappella), and Ellington's three-year-old instrumental recording was also a hit, reaching the pop Top Ten and number one on the recently instituted R&B charts. Russell repeated his magic with another 1940 Ellington instrumental, "Concerto for Cootie" (a showcase for trumpeter Cootie Williams), creating "Do Nothin' Till You Hear from Me." Nearly four years after it was recorded, the retitled recording hit the pop Top Ten and number one on the R&B charts for Ellington in early 1944, while newly recorded vocal cover versions also scored. Ellington's vintage recordings became ubiquitous on the top of the R&B charts during 1943-1944; he also hit number one with "A Slip of the Lip (Can Sink a Ship)," "Sentimental Lady," and "Main Stem." With the end of the recording ban in November 1944, Ellington was able to record a song he had composed with his saxophonist, Johnny Hodges, set to a lyric by Don George and Harry James, "I'm Beginning to See the Light." The James recording went to number one in April 1945, but Ellington's recording was also a Top Ten hit.
With the end of the war, Ellington's period as a major commercial force on records largely came to an end, but unlike other big bandleaders, who disbanded as the swing era passed, Ellington, who predated the era, simply went on touring, augmenting his diminished road revenues with his songwriting royalties to keep his band afloat. In a musical climate in which jazz was veering away from popular music and toward bebop, and popular music was being dominated by singers, the Ellington band no longer had a place at the top of the business; but it kept working. And Ellington kept trying more extended pieces. In 1946, he teamed with lyricist John Latouche to write the music for the Broadway musical Beggar's Holiday, which opened on December 26 and ran 108 performances. And he wrote his first full-length background score for a feature film with 1950's The Asphalt Jungle.
The first half of the 1950s was a difficult period for Ellington, who suffered many personnel defections. (Some of those musicians returned later.) But the band made a major comeback at the Newport Jazz Festival on July 7, 1956, when they kicked into a version of "Dimuendo and Crescendo in Blue" that found saxophonist Paul Gonsalves taking a long, memorable solo. Ellington appeared on the cover of Time magazine, and he signed a new contract with Columbia Records, which released Ellington at Newport, the best-selling album of his career. Freed of the necessity of writing hits and spurred by the increased time available on the LP record, Ellington concentrated more on extended compositions for the rest of his career. His comeback as a live performer led to increased opportunities to tour, and in the fall of 1958 he undertook his first full-scale tour of Europe. For the rest of his life, he would be a busy world traveler.
Ellington appeared in and scored the 1959 film Anatomy of a Murder, and its soundtrack won him three of the newly instituted Grammy Awards, for best performance by a dance band, best musical composition of the year, and best soundtrack. He was nominated for an Academy Award for his next score, Paris Blues (1961). In August 1963, his stage work My People, a cavalcade of African-American history, was mounted in Chicago as part of the Century of Negro Progress Exposition.
Meanwhile, of course, he continued to lead his band in recordings and live performances. He switched from Columbia to Frank Sinatra's Reprise label (purchased by Warner Bros. Records) and made some pop-oriented records that dismayed his fans but indicated he had not given up on broad commercial aspirations. Nor had he abandoned his artistic aspirations, as the first of his series of sacred concerts, performed at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco on September 16, 1965, indicated. And he still longed for a stage success, turning once again to Broadway with the musical Pousse-Café, which opened on March 18, 1966, but closed within days. Three months later, the Sinatra film Assault on a Queen, with an Ellington score, opened in movie houses around the country. (His final film score, for Change of Mind, appeared in 1969.)
Ellington became a Grammy favorite in his later years. He won a 1966 Grammy for best original jazz composition for "In the Beginning, God," part of his sacred concerts. His 1967 album Far East Suite, inspired by a tour of the Middle and Far East, won the best instrumental jazz performance Grammy that year, and he took home his sixth Grammy in the same category in 1969 for And His Mother Called Him Bill, a tribute to Strayhorn, who had died in 1967. "New Orleans Suite" earned another Grammy in the category in 1971, as did "Togo Brava Suite" in 1972, and the posthumous The Ellington Suites in 1976.
Ellington continued to perform regularly until he was overcome by illness in the spring of 1974, succumbing to lung cancer and pneumonia. His death did not end the band, which was taken over by his son Mercer, who led it until his own death in 1996, and then by a grandson. Meanwhile, Ellington finally enjoyed the stage hit he had always wanted when the revue Sophisticated Ladies, featuring his music, opened on Broadway on March 1, 1981, and ran 767 performances.
The many celebrations of the Ellington centenary in 1999 demonstrated that he continued to be regarded as the major composer of jazz. If that seemed something of an anomaly in a musical style that emphasizes spontaneous improvisation over written composition, Ellington was talented enough to overcome the oddity. He wrote primarily for his band, allowing his veteran players room to solo within his compositions, and as a result created a body of work that seemed likely to help jazz enter the academic and institutional realms, which was very much its direction at the end of the 20th century. In that sense, he foreshadowed the future of jazz and could lay claim to being one of its most influential practitioners.
"Honor the past, don't just remember it." Dizzie Gillespie
Soulful singer who used her unflappable vocal technique to perfect a nuanced melange of soul, jazz, gospel, and folk music.
On February 24, 1973, Roberta Flack had her second US No.1 when 'Killing Me Softly With His Song' started a five-week run at the top.
Classy, urbane, reserved, smooth, and sophisticated -- all of these terms have been used to describe the music of Roberta Flack, particularly her string of romantic, light jazz ballad hits in the 1970s, which continue to enjoy popularity on MOR-oriented adult contemporary stations. Flack was the daughter of a church organist and started playing piano early enough to get a music scholarship and eventually, a degree from Howard University. After a period of student teaching, Flack was discovered singing at a club by jazz musician Les McCann and signed to Atlantic.
Her first two albums -- 1969's First Take and 1970's Chapter Two -- were well received but produced no hit singles; however, that all changed when a version of Ewan MacColl's "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," from her first LP, was included in the soundtrack of the 1971 film Play Misty for Me. The single zoomed to number one in 1972 and remained there for six weeks, becoming that year's biggest hit. Flack followed it with the first of several duets with Howard classmate Donny Hathaway, "Where Is the Love." "Killing Me Softly with His Song" became Flack's second number one hit (five weeks) in 1973, and after topping the charts again in 1974 with "Feel Like Makin' Love," Flack took a break from performing to concentrate on recording and charitable causes.
She charted several more times over the next few years, as she did with the Top Ten 1977 album Blue Lights in the Basement -- featuring "The Closer I Get to You," a number two ballad with Hathaway. A major blow was struck in 1979 when her duet partner, one of the most creative voices in soul music, committed suicide. Devastated, Flack eventually found another creative partner in Peabo Bryson, with whom she toured in 1980. The two recorded together in 1983, scoring a hit duet with "Tonight, I Celebrate My Love."
Flack spent the remainder of the '80s touring and performing, often with orchestras, and also several times with Miles Davis. She returned to the Top Ten once more in 1991 with "Set the Night to Music," a duet with Maxi Priest that appeared that year on the album of the same name. Her Roberta full-length, featuring interpretations of jazz and popular standards, followed in 1994. As she continued into the 21st century, Flack recorded infrequently but released albums like 2012's Let It Be Roberta: Roberta Flack Sings the Beatles, which showed that her poise and balanced singing had aged well. Varese Sarabande released a lovingly remixed version of Flack's fine 1997 holiday album Christmas Songs (it had originally appeared from Capitol Records under the title The Christmas Album) that same year, adding in an additional track, "Cherry Tree Carol."
"Honor the past, don't just remember it." Dizzie Gillespie
On February 23, 1995, soul crooner Melvin Franklin of The Temptations died of a brain seizure, at age 52. He had the 1971 US No.1 & UK No.8 single 'Just My Imagination' and re-issued 'My Girl' UK No.2 in 1992. In 1978 Franklin was shot in the hand and the leg when trying to stop a man from stealing his car.
Melvin Franklin was born David Melvin English on October 12, 1942 in Montgomery Alabama where he grew up with his mother and stepfather. His stepfather was a minister who had him singing in the church choir by the age of three. The family moved to Detroit, Michigan when Melvin was nine. It was here that he began participating in a number of local singing groups.
David English eventually took on his mother's maiden name and become Melvin Franklin. In March of 1961, Melvin's group, The Elgins, signed with Motown records under the new name The Temptations. His deep vocals became the group's signature trademark, producing a number of hits including "I Truly, Truly Believe", "The Prophet" and "Ol' Man River." Melvin would many times be rewarded the yearly "Motown Spirit Award." Melvin was uncle to another famous Motown artist, Rick James.
In the early 1980's Melvin developed diabetes as a result of his constant use of cortisone due to rheumatoid arthritis. He was also diagnosed with a kind of flesh-eating-bacteria called necrotizing fasciitis. On February 17, 1995, Melvin Franklin went into a coma after a series of seizures and never recovered. He died of a brain seizure on February 23, 1995 at the age of 52. Not only did Melvin Franklin leave behind a family of four children and his wife, Kimberly English, but an unforgettable and stunning music career.
One of Motown's greatest and grittiest vocal groups of the '60s, and pioneers of psychedelic soul during the early '70s.
Thanks to their fine-tuned choreography -- and even finer harmonies -- The Temptations became the definitive male vocal group of the 1960s; one of Motown's most elastic acts, they tackled both lush pop and politically charged funk with equal flair, and weathered a steady stream of changes in personnel and consumer tastes with rare dignity and grace. The Temptations' initial five-man lineup formed in Detroit in 1961 as a merger of two local vocal groups, the Primes and the Distants. Baritone Otis Williams, Elbridge (aka El, or Al) Bryant, and bass vocalist Melvin Franklin were longtime veterans of the Detroit music scene when they joined together in the Distants, who in 1959 recorded the single "Come On" for the local Northern label. Around the same time, the Primes, a trio comprised of tenor Eddie Kendricks, Paul Williams (no relation to Otis), and Kell Osborne, relocated to the Motor City from their native Alabama; they quickly found success locally, and their manager even put together a girl group counterpart dubbed the Primettes. (Later, three of the Primettes -- Diana Ross, Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard -- formed the Supremes).
In 1961, the Primes disbanded, but not before Otis Williams saw them perform live, where he was impressed both by Kendricks' vocal prowess and Paul Williams' choreography skills. Soon, Otis Williams, Paul Williams, Bryant, Franklin, and Kendricks joined together as the Elgins; after a name change to The Temptations, they signed to the Motown subsidiary Miracle, where they released a handful of singles over the ensuing months. Only one, the 1962 effort "Dream Come True," achieved any commercial success, however, and in 1963, Bryant either resigned or was fired after physically attacking Paul Williams. the Tempts' fortunes changed dramatically in 1964 when they recruited tenor David Ruffin to replace Bryant; after entering the studio with writer/producer Smokey Robinson, they emerged with the pop smash "The Way You Do the Things You Do," the first in a series of 37 career Top Ten hits. With Robinson again at the helm, they returned in 1965 with their signature song, "My Girl," a number one pop and R&B hit; other Top 20 hits that year included "It's Growing," "Since I Lost My Baby," "Don't Look Back," and "My Baby."
In 1966, the Tempts recorded another Robinson hit, "Get Ready," before forgoing his smooth popcraft for the harder-edged soul of producers Norman Whitfield and Brian Holland. After spotlighting Kendricks on the smash "Ain't Too Proud to Beg," the group allowed Ruffin to take control over a string of hits including "Beauty's Only Skin Deep" and "(I Know) I'm Losing You." Beginning around 1967, Whitfield assumed full production control, and their records became ever rougher and more muscular, as typified by the 1968 success "I Wish It Would Rain." After Ruffin failed to appear at a 1968 live performance, the other four Tempts fired him; he was replaced by ex-Contour Dennis Edwards, whose less polished voice adapted perfectly to the psychedelic-influenced soul period the group entered following the success of the single "Cloud Nine." As the times changed, so did the group, and as the 1960s drew to a close, The Temptations' music became overtly political; in the wake of "Cloud Nine" -- its title a thinly veiled drug allegory -- came records like "Run Away Child, Running Wild," "Psychedelic Shack," and "Ball of Confusion (That's What the World Is Today)."
After the chart-topping success of the gossamer ballad "Just My Imagination (Running Away With Me)" in 1971, Kendricks exited for a solo career. Soon, Paul Williams left the group as well; long plagued by alcoholism and other personal demons, he was eventually discovered dead from a self-inflected gunshot wound on August 17, 1973, at the age of 34. In their stead, the remaining trio recruited tenors Damon Harris and Richard Street; after the 1971 hit "Superstar (Remember How You Got Where You Are)," they returned in 1972 with the brilliant number one single "Papa Was a Rolling Stone." While the Tempts hit the charts regularly throughout 1973 with "Masterpiece," "Let Your Hair Down," and "The Plastic Man," their success as a pop act gradually dwindled as the '70s wore on. After Harris exited in 1975 (replaced by tenor Glenn Leonard), the group cut 1976's The Temptations Do the Temptations, their final album for Motown. With Louis Price taking over for Edwards, they signed to Atlantic, and attempted to reach the disco market with the LPs Bare Back and Hear to Tempt You.
After Edwards returned to the fold (resulting in Price's hasty exit), the Temptations re-entered the Motown stable, and scored a 1980 hit with "Power." In 1982, Ruffin and Kendricks returned for Reunion, which also included all five of the current Temptations; a tour followed, but problems with Motown, as well as personal differences, cut Ruffin's and Kendricks' tenures short. In the years that followed, The Temptations continued touring and recording, although by the '90s they were essentially an oldies act; only Otis Williams, who published his autobiography in 1988, remained from the original lineup. The intervening years were marked by tragedy: after touring in the late '80s with Kendricks and Edwards as a member of the "Tribute to the Temptations" package tour, Ruffin died on June 1, 1991, after overdosing on cocaine; he was 50 years old. On October 5, 1992, Kendricks died at the age of 52 of lung cancer, and on February 23, 1995, 52-year-old Franklin passed away after suffering a brain seizure. In 1998, The Temptations returned with Phoenix Rising; that same year, their story was also the subject of a well-received NBC television mini-series. Ear-Resistable followed in the spring of 2000 and would win the Grammy Award for Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance the following year. In 2004, Legacy became their last album for Motown as 2006’s Reflections was released by New Door. The label also released their 2007 effort, Back to Front, which featured new recordings of soul classics from the '60s and '70s. After three years of touring the globe, they returned with Still Here, which was issued on the eve of their 50th anniversary.
"Honor the past, don't just remember it." Dizzie Gillespie
Despite constant controversy and an early, tragic death, the soulful diva with the elastic voice was one of pop's top sellers from the 1980s onward.
On February 23, 1991, Whitney Houston achieved her 9th US No.1 single in just over five years with her version of the Sister Sledge song 'All The Man I Need.'
Whitney Houston was inarguably one of the biggest female pop stars of all time. Her accomplishments as a hitmaker were extraordinary; just to scratch the surface, she became the first artist ever to have seven consecutive singles hit number one, and her 1993 Dolly Parton cover "I Will Always Love You" became nothing less than the biggest hit single in rock history. Houston was able to handle big adult contemporary ballads, effervescent, stylish dance-pop, and slick urban contemporary soul with equal dexterity; the result was an across-the-board appeal that was matched by scant few artists of her era, and helped her become one of the first black artists to find success on MTV in Michael Jackson's wake. Like many of the original soul singers, Houston was trained in gospel before moving into secular music; over time, she developed a virtuosic singing style given over to swooping, flashy melodic embellishments. The shadow of Houston's prodigious technique still looms large over nearly every pop diva and smooth urban soul singer who has followed, and spawned a legion of imitators.
Whitney Elizabeth Houston was born in Newark, New Jersey, on August 9, 1963; her mother was gospel/R&B singer Cissy Houston, and her cousin was Dionne Warwick. By age 11, Houston was performing as a soloist in the junior gospel choir at her Baptist church; as a teenager, she began accompanying her mother in concert (as well as on the 1978 album Think It Over), and went on to back artists like Lou Rawls and Chaka Khan. Houston also pursued modeling and acting, appearing on the sitcoms Gimme a Break and Silver Spoons. Somewhat bizarrely, Houston's first recording as a featured vocalist was with Bill Laswell's experimental jazz-funk ensemble Material; the ballad "Memories," from the group's 1982 album One Down, placed Houston alongside Archie Shepp. The following year, Arista president Clive Davis heard Houston singing at a nightclub and offered her a recording contract. Her first single appearance was a duet with Teddy Pendergrass, "Hold Me," which missed the Top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100 -- but reached number five on the R&B chart -- in 1984.
Houston's debut album, Whitney Houston, was released in February 1985. Its first single, "Someone for Me," was a flop, but the second try, "You Give Good Love," became Houston's first hit, topping the R&B chart and hitting number three on the Hot 100. Houston's next three singles -- the Grammy-winning romantic ballad "Saving All My Love for You," the brightly danceable "How Will I Know," and the inspirational "The Greatest Love of All" -- all topped the Hot 100, and a year to the month after its release, Whitney Houston hit number one on the Billboard 200. It eventually sold over 13 million copies in the U.S., making it the best-selling debut ever by a female artist. Houston cemented her superstar status on her next album, Whitney; it became the first album by a female artist to debut at number one, and sold over nine million copies in the U.S. Its first four singles -- "I Wanna Dance with Somebody (Who Loves Me)" (another Grammy winner), "Didn't We Almost Have It All," "So Emotional," and "Where Do Broken Hearts Go" -- all hit number one, an amazing, record-setting run of seven straight. In late 1988, Houston scored a Top Five hit with the non-LP single "One Moment in Time," recorded for an Olympics-themed compilation album.
Houston returned with her third album, I'm Your Baby Tonight, in 1990. A more R&B-oriented record, it immediately spun off two number one hits in the title track and "All the Man That I Need." But the quality of the material was generally viewed as, overall, much weaker than her previous efforts, and following those two hits, sales of the album tapered off quickly, halting at around four million copies. Nevertheless, Houston remained so popular that she could even take a recording of "The Star Spangled Banner" (performed at the Super Bowl) into the Top 20 -- though, of course, the Gulf War had something to do with that. In retrospect, the erratic quality of I'm Your Baby Tonight seemed to signal Houston's declining interest in making fully fleshed-out albums. Instead, she began to focus on an acting career, which she hadn't pursued since her teenage years; she also married singer Bobby Brown in the summer of 1992. Her first feature film, a romance with Kevin Costner called The Bodyguard, was released in late 1992; it performed well at the box office, helped by an ad campaign that seemingly centered around the climactic key change in Houston's soundtrack recording of the Dolly Parton-penned "I Will Always Love You." In fact, the ad campaign undoubtedly helped "I Will Always Love You" become the biggest singles in pop music history. It set new records for sales (nearly five million copies) and weeks at number one (14), although those were later broken by Elton John's "Candle in the Wind 1997" and Mariah Carey and Boyz II Men's "One Sweet Day," respectively. Meanwhile, the soundtrack eventually sold an astounding 16 million copies, and also won a Grammy for Album of the Year.
Once Houston had stopped raking in awards and touring the world, she prepared her next theatrical release, the female ensemble drama Waiting to Exhale. A few months before its release at the end of 1995, it was announced that she and Brown had split up; however, they called off the split just a couple months later, and rumors about their tempestuous relationship filled the tabloids for years to come. Waiting to Exhale was released toward the end of the year, and the first single from the soundtrack, "Exhale (Shoop Shoop)," topped the charts; the album sold over seven million copies. For her next project, Houston decided to return to her gospel roots; the soundtrack to the 1996 film The Preacher's Wife, which naturally featured Houston in the title role, was loaded with traditional and contemporary gospel songs, plus guest appearances by Houston's mother, as well as Shirley Caesar and the Georgia Mass Choir. Houston also began making headlines for what appeared to be increasing unreliability, canceling several TV and concert appearances due to illness.
In 1998, Houston finally issued a new full-length album, My Love Is Your Love, her first in eight years. Houston worked with pop/smooth soul mainstays like Babyface and David Foster, but also recruited hip-hop stars like Missy Elliott, Wyclef Jean, Lauryn Hill, and Q-Tip. The album sold even fewer copies than I'm Your Baby Tonight, but it received Houston's most enthusiastic reviews in quite some time. Moreover, it produced one of her biggest R&B chart hits (seven weeks at number one) in the trio number "Heartbreak Hotel," done with Faith Evans and Kelly Price. She also duetted with Mariah Carey on "When You Believe," a song from the animated film The Prince of Egypt.
Unfortunately, Houston was also back in the tabloids in early 2000. Speculation about her personal life only grew when she was dropped from the Academy Awards telecast that March, officially because of a sore throat, but reputedly due to poor rehearsals and a generally out-of-it air. Later in the year, Arista released the two-disc compilation Greatest Hits, which actually featured one disc of hits and one of remixes and included new duets with Enrique Iglesias, George Michael, and Deborah Cox. It was also announced that Houston had signed a new deal with Arista worth $100 million, requiring six albums from the singer. The self-styled comeback album Just Whitney arrived in 2002, followed by One Wish: The Holiday Album in November of the following year. Two years later, however, her personal issues became even more public through the 2005 reality television series Being Bobby Brown. She eventually divorced her husband and went into intense rehabilitation.
An album of new material was initially set for release by the end of 2007, but delays pushed it -- titled I Look to You, featuring collaborations with Alicia Keys and Swizz Beatz, R. Kelly, Akon, and Diane Warren -- back to September 2009. It became her first number one album since the Bodyguard soundtrack. She toured the world in 2010, and talked about beginning recording for her next album, but entered outpatient rehab in the summer of 2011 for continuing drug and alcohol problems. That fall, Houston filmed a role in a remake of the 1976 musical film Sparkle, starring alongside Jordin Sparks. In early 2012, rumors began to swirl that Simon Cowell was courting Houston for a mentor spot on The X Factor, but before anything came of it, tragedy occurred. On February 11, the day before the 2012 Grammys, Houston was found dead in her bathroom at the Beverly Hills Hilton. The cause of death was found to be accidental drowning caused by heart disease and cocaine use. The Grammy ceremony paid tribute to her life with a Jennifer Hudson performance of "I Will Always Love You."
"Honor the past, don't just remember it." Dizzie Gillespie
On February 22, 1938, was born Bobby Hendricks; singer with The Drifters who had the 1960 US No.1 & UK No.2 single 'Save The Last Dance For Me'.
Having forged his reputation in two singing groups, the Swallows and the Flyers, Hendricks joined the Drifters in 1958, but left for a solo career the same year. ‘Itchy Twitchy Feeling’, on which he was backed by the Coasters, gave Hendricks a US Top 30 pop hit, but he was unable to secure a consistent profile. He briefly entered the lower regions of the US pop charts in 1960 with ‘Psycho’. Hendricks rejoined the Drifters in 1964, where his subsequent path was obscured by the myriad of changes affecting the act’s turbulent history.
Honey-voiced giants of Doo Wop and vocal R&B noted for a string of hits between '59 and '64.
The history of rhythm and blues is filled with vocal groups whose names -- the Orioles, the Cadillacs, the Crows, the Flamingos, the Moonglows, the Coasters, the Penguins -- are held in reverence by fanatics and devotees. The Drifters are part of an even more exclusive fraternity, as a group that managed to carve out a place for themselves in the R&B firmament and also define that music, not only at its inception as a national chart phenomenon in the early '50s but also in the decade that followed. Their place in history is as complex as their role in it, by virtue of the fact that there are two distinct phases to their music and the continuity of their membership, and their extraordinary longevity -- only the Platters could claim as great a span of years as an active recording unit, though the latter group, due to major differences in the way they were organized, were far more stable in their membership and output. The Drifters can also claim a unique place in popular music history, as a major R&B group founded at the instigation of a record-label chief.
Their story began in early 1953, when Clyde McPhatter, the soaring high-tenor lead singer in the Dominoes, a vocal quintet formed by Billy Ward three years earlier, quit that group. the Dominoes were playing a scheduled gig at the New York club Birdland, one of their first performances without McPhatter, when one of the audience members present asked after the singer backstage. That fan was Ahmet Ertegun, a one-time record collector who had started Atlantic Records in the late '40s; as soon as he learned of McPhatter's having left the Dominoes, he contacted the singer and signed him to Atlantic.
It was Ertegun who gave McPhatter the impetus, as part of his contract, to start a group of his own, which came to be called The Drifters. The origins of the name and credit for thinking of it are obscure, although no one at Atlantic liked "The Drifters" at first, thinking it sounded too country & western -- the explanation sometimes offered by those present was that the members simply drifted in from other groups.
The main source for McPhatter's backing singers was among the ranks of former members of the Mount Lebanon Singers, the gospel group with which McPhatter had sung in the '40s. He went through several attempts at assembling a group that would be acceptable to Ertegun and producer Jerry Wexler, going through as many as a dozen friends and acquaintances, a handful of whom actually made it to formal recording sessions. The initial, unsuccessful lineup, featuring William Anderson, David Baughn, Dave Baldwin (the brother of author James Baldwin), and James Johnson, recorded four songs on June 28, 1953, of which only "Lucille," a McPhatter-authored song, was ever released. In August, a second Drifters lineup was put together, with Gerhart Thrasher, Andrew Thrasher, two very experienced gospel singers on tenor and baritone, respectively, bass singer Willie Ferbee, and Walter Adams on the guitar. From the beginning, the group was unusual among R&B vocal ensembles in that a guitarist was part of their core lineup and the electric guitar central to their arrangements; Jimmy Oliver, who would soon take that spot as his own, also proved to be an important songwriter for The Drifters, especially for tenor Gerhart Thrasher. The new edition of the group cut five numbers on August 9, 1953, one of which was "Money Honey," written by arranger/pianist Jesse Stone. Released within a few weeks, it hit the number one spot on the R&B chart by mid-fall of that year, and it was occasionally cited in later years as the first rock & roll record, and later entered the repertory of Elvis Presley and dozens of lesser talents. The group's career was made after that, at least as long as Clyde McPhatter was singing lead with them.
This success didn't stop the regular lineup changes that would characterize The Drifters' history. By the time The Drifters were enjoying their breakthrough hit, a reconstituted lineup, with bass singer Bill Pinkney and guitarist Jimmy Oliver joining Gerhart Thrasher and Andrew Thrasher, cut their first session. This was the lineup that lasted for the year that followed, and cut "Such a Night," a number two R&B hit, and a second R&B chart-topper with "Honey Love" in early 1954. By that time, the charts and radio play, along with audience sensibilities, had opened up and "Honey Love" also made number 21 on the pop charts late that spring. Not for the last time, it seemed as though The Drifters were headed for big things together, but a key member had developed other ideas by the fall of 1954.
Although he'd been assured of a considerable amount of musical control, McPhatter found that Ertegun and Wexler were, as the producers, always trying to push the group into directions of their own choosing. McPhatter didn't begrudge them their efforts at finding new sounds that might sell records to white as well as black audiences, but he didn't feel like participating. His goal was to cross over to pop audiences as a balladeer, and saw himself as having the potential to become another Nat "King" Cole, or perhaps a black answer to Frank Sinatra or Perry Como. By October of 1954, he had parted company with the group in favor of a solo career that would make him a success for the rest of the 1950s.
Rather than see the group in which they'd invested 18 months of their time go out of existence, Ertegun and Wexler were still interested in recording The Drifters, but that group's internal circumstances were vastly different once McPhatter was gone.
McPhatter had organized The Drifters under the auspices of his own business entity, Drifters Incorporated, so that he would have a share of their earnings, something that he'd been denied in the Dominoes; his own willingness to share those earnings with the other members has never been broached or questioned. He was half-owner of the group with his manager, George Treadwell, a former jazz musician who had masterminded the solo career of his first wife, Sarah Vaughan; when McPhatter left the group, rather than making a provision for the other members and his eventual successor to get his share, he sold out his interest in Drifters Incorporated to Treadwell.
This basically doomed the group to a permanent revolving-door lineup. From that day forward, all of the members of The Drifters were salaried employees, earning as little as $100 a week even into the early '60s, and getting no share of royalties from record sales, no benefits from the concert fees they commanded, nor any claim to the use of the name "The Drifters" if they left, no matter how successful the group became through their efforts. It thus became impossible for the group to hold on to anyone with serious talent or aspirations for a long-term career in music. This made The Drifters, for those present after McPhatter's exit, little more inviting than McPhatter's own tenure with the Dominoes, and he later regretted making the decision, recognizing not only what he had cheated himself of out by not hanging on to his share of the ownership but also what he had done to his fellow musicians.
The immediate problem facing all concerned in 1954, however, was finding a replacement for Clyde McPhatter, and some would argue that they never did. David Baughn, who had sung with a very early version of The Drifters, came in as a temporary replacement, singing at one recording session and serving as lead vocalist for six months' worth of live engagements (which was how the group generated most of its income). Baughn's singing was good enough, but the group sounded like an imitation of the McPhatter-era Drifters, and Atlantic declined to release any of these sides at the time, possibly due to their potential to interfere with McPhatter's solo releases, which were selling well. The label didn't know whether to shoot for an entirely new sound or to try to find a replacement who sounded like the former lead singer who, by 1956, was a major R&B star in his own right. Additionally, Baughn soon demonstrated an erratic personality, sufficiently unnerving to force Treadwell to recruit a second lead vocalist in Bobby Hendricks, who had previously sung with the Five Crowns and the Swallows. Attempts were made to record this lineup, and even bass singer Bill Pinkney was cut doing a lead vocal, but none of it was considered acceptable.
The lineup itself began to shift as Baughn quit, but the group soldiered on, drawing good crowds at their shows based on the quality of their earlier recordings. In 1955, however, they auditioned a young man who approached the group after a show in Cleveland. Johnny Moore had been a member of a group called the Hornets, who had done a little bit of recording without making any more than a local reputation for themselves. He sounded enough like McPhatter, however, with his pleasing high tenor, and was offered a spot in The Drifters the next day. Moore would prove to be a mainstay of the group in two different decades.
The Drifters resumed recording in September of 1955, with Nesuhi Ertegun and songwriter Jerry Leiber producing and with Moore singing lead. The result was a number one R&B chart single, "Adorable," which went a long way toward establishing their post-Clyde McPhatter reputation. This proved to be one of the very few major chart records they would enjoy during this era, however -- The Drifters were still absent from the top of the pop charts, where the real money and huge sales figures lay. Their records during the late '50s were overlooked by most young white listeners, despite the presence of future rock & roll standards such as "Ruby Baby" in their output.
Dion would enjoy a much bigger hit with the latter song in the early '60s, but it was an important recording for The Drifters, marking their introduction to the talents of songwriters Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, who would later take over the job of producing the group. The Drifters' lineup was also stabilized for the first time in over a year. The original Drifters now entered their "silver age" behind Moore's cool high tenor, ably supported by the bass singing (and occasional lead spot) from Bill Pinkney and Bobby Hendricks' tenor. "I Gotta Get Myself a Woman," written by Jesse Stone and cut during the summer of 1956, brought the group a number 11 R&B hit and the group's fortunes once again seemed to be on a consistent upswing.
As it turned out, the black record-buying public wasn't prepared to fully accept a new Drifters, without McPhatter -- black audiences practically worshipped the singer, who commanded a passionate loyalty that anticipated the future success of Sam Cooke. Additionally, the music was changing -- white teenagers were now a much bigger part of the market than they had been in 1953-54, and Atlantic set its sights on that potentially much richer vein of listeners.
The end of 1956 saw the release of the first album by group, entitled Clyde McPhatter & the Drifters. Such was the popularity of McPhatter at the time, and the tracks that he'd done with The Drifters, versus their recent work, that those 14 songs rated inclusion on an LP well over a year after his exit from the lineup in an effort to sell the music once more to his fans -- in that regard, Atlantic was very forward-looking; very few labels in 1956 were releasing LPs aimed at black R&B listeners (apart from Elvis Presley's albums, very little white rock & roll made an impression on the album charts).
Late 1956 was also the point when the consequences of The Drifters' business organization caught up with the group. Their recent hits had led to more bookings than at any time since 1954, which was good for Treadwell and his partners, but difficult for the members, who were still working on straight salary and, by Bill Pinkney's estimation, very low salaries. He approached Treadwell for a new arrangement, or at least more money for the group members, and he was fired. His dismissal drove fellow founding member Andrew Thrasher out of the lineup as well, and out of music altogether. Pinkney and ex-Drifter Bobby Hendricks became the core of a new Atlantic group called the Flyers, who released one single that failed to attract much attention.
The new Drifters lineup was filled by bass singer Jimmy Ricks and then, more permanently, by Tom Evans, late of the Dominoes, and baritone Charlie Hughes. The group's fortunes now took a new turn as Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller began producing their sessions in late 1956 -- unfortunately, their arrival on the scene coincided with Johnny Moore's receiving his draft notice in early 1957. The group was (no joke intended) adrift once again, in terms of its sound and lineup. Bobby Hendricks was brought back in, and Jimmy Millender took over the baritone chores, but there wasn't a lot of good material that came from those sessions. For a time, in the absence of an ability to create a successful Drifters sound, it seemed as though Atlantic was trying to turn them into another version of the Coasters, doing light-hearted versions of pop standards. In a way, this was understandable -- black listeners held this era's Drifters at arm's length, while white teenagers were dominating the pop charts and they seemed, at least potentially, open to new records by anyone, so Atlantic decided to cater to them, hoping for a breakthrough.
By late 1958, Hendricks had announced his exit, and even guitarist Jimmy Oliver, who had managed to get several of his songs recorded during his four-year tenure with the group and was an unheralded mainstay of their sound, finally quit. The remaining members, such as they were, were working as hard as ever and wanted more money and, when Treadwell refused their request, they all walked out (or were fired en masse).
Treadwell was about to find himself without a group and faced with upcoming engagements to fulfill at the Apollo Theater in New York. He spotted his way out of this impasse at the Apollo, way down on a bill on May 30, 1958 on which the about-to-be-fired Drifters were headlining. the Five Crowns, or the Crowns, as they were then known, had been a fixture in Harlem for most of the 1950s, predating The Drifters without ever making a mark as a recording act, and enjoying precious little reputation as performers.
Treadwell approached their manager, Lover Patterson, explaining that he was dumping the existing Drifters and needed a new group to fulfill their performing obligations. Patterson agreed and the group followed suit, and all of the individual members' contracts, except for that of one of the group's two baritones, were sold to Treadwell. In later years, this kind of arrangement would become a little more familiar in the business -- the Grass Roots essentially evolved this way, as did the performing version of the group Steam -- but it was unusual in those days, and difficult to pull off, and mostly served to keep Treadwell from ending up in court.
The new Drifters lineup consisted of Charlie Thomas on lead, baritone Benjamin Earl Nelson, later known as Ben E. King, Dock Green (who had held the Crowns together) (baritone), and Elsbeary Hobbs singing bass. They did as they were required under the agreement and, for ten months, worked in the shadow of the old group, playing live gigs characterized by the awkwardness of performing the old songs as though they were their own, to mostly black audiences who knew that these weren't The Drifters. Atlantic still hoped to profit from the group, however, and a second Drifters LP, Rockin' & Driftin', was released in late 1958, comprised entirely of single tracks recorded by the 1955-58 lineup. Ironically, in all of their 19-year history with Atlantic Records, The Drifters, in any incarnation, never recorded an actual "album" session; every one of their LPs was compiled from existing single tracks and B-sides and, except for the first album, all have a mix-and-match element to the memberships and, especially, the singers represented.
The group still had a recording contract with Atlantic Records and, despite the fact that the old Drifters' recent releases had done little business, the label decided to try once more with the new lineup and get a record out. On March 6, 1959, they went into the studio with Leiber & Stoller producing, to cut four songs. Charlie Thomas was supposed to sing lead but he developed mic-fright in the studio, and so Nelson was deputized for "There Goes My Baby," which he had co-written, along with "Hey Senorita," and "Oh My Love." "There Goes My Baby," co-written by Nelson and orchestrated by Stan Applebaum, was as much a landmark in the history of R&B and soul as "Money Honey" had been six years earlier. At the time, nobody present was sure of what they had because it sounded so chaotic, strange, and complicated -- no one had ever used a string section, much less one recorded as prominently as this one was, on an R&B record, and no R&B record up until that time had ever dared sound so complex, overlaying Latin percussion, violins, and a fiercely passionate performance by the singer. It not only didn't sound anything like the old Drifters, but it didn't sound like anything else that had ever been heard on a commercial recording before. And it was a complete mess in the eyes of some observers, including Jerry Wexler, who said the song sounded like a radio picking up two different stations at once.
"There Goes My Baby" peaked at number two, their biggest hit to that date on the pop charts and their biggest seller up to that time, winning over both R&B and pop audiences and transforming the group and its image. Moreover, it marked the group's first impact on audiences overseas -- the earlier Drifters, for all of their impact on rock & roll, never got a record released in Europe, but this new group and their sound would soon find a very important mass audience in England. The group seemed headed for a huge future when the problem of their business set-up came into play again. They'd cut other songs at that same session, including "Baltimore," which sounded like an update of the Cadillacs' "Speedo," but the strings-percussion-echo timbres of "There Goes My Baby," hung around long melodic lines, became The Drifters' trademark sound for the ten years that followed.
This seemed to be a new lease on life to the group, and then more troubles arose from within, owing to the way The Drifters were organized as a business. Ben Nelson wasn't happy working for $100 a week; not with the hundreds of miles of travel between some shows, and as many as six days of shows each week. He was so poor working for the group that he felt compelled to sell off his share of the songwriting on "There Goes My Baby," Accounts differ as to precisely what happened on this issue -- some say that he sold the share off to Treadwell and his accountant, while Jerry Wexler claims that he accepted a document from the singer assigning him the copyright, in exchange for $200; Wexler held on to the document, and gave it back to the singer once the song was a hit so he could tear it up.
After approaching Treadwell for more money and being turned down, Nelson saw that there was no future as a member of The Drifters and announced his exit almost as soon as it came time to cut a follow-up. At the same moment, Lover Patterson played his trump card, a separate contract that he'd signed with the singer, as a solo artist, dated before Treadwell's offer. It all could have ended up in court but luckily for the singer and fans of The Drifters, cooler heads prevailed. He remained with Atlantic Records on their Atco subsidiary as a solo artist, and agreed to record with the group until a suitable replacement could be found, singing on "Dance With Me," "This Magic Moment," "I Count the Tears," and "Save the Last Dance for Me," the latter their only number one hit, among other songs, through the spring of 1960. By the time his exit had been arranged, Nelson had changed his name to the more memorable Ben E. King, which was how he emerged in his own right.
The post-1959 Drifters (which also included guitarist Billy Davis) are usually thought of as the "Ben E. King Drifters," but the reality was that King had left the group by the end of that same year. King's first successor was Johnny Williams, who exited suddenly in late 1960, but The Drifters quickly found a replacement in Rudy Lewis. An ex-member of the Clara Ward Singers, Lewis was the singer on "Some Kind of Wonderful," "Up on the Roof" (a Top Five hit), "Please Stay," "What to Do," and "On Broadway" (a Top Ten hit), among numerous other classic tracks by the group. Lewis, tragically, wasn't the longest lasting of the group's lead vocalists but his tenure with the group, following King's, arguably constituted the second half of a second golden age in their history.
Whoever was involved on a particular record, this lineup of the group was once again at a peak of influence in those years. "There Goes My Baby" anticipated the shift to a more pop-oriented brand of soul music, embraced by Sam Cooke and, even more so, by Berry Gordy at his fledgling Motown label. Indeed, the sound of "There Goes My Baby" was practically the prototype for Smokey Robinson & the Miracles' landmark single "Way Over There." Others also learned from them, most notably a young producer named Phil Spector, who was working at Atlantic as a session guitarist in the early '60s and ran with the sound he heard in Stan Applebaum's arrangements, expanding it into something new and turning it into his own trademark, imprinted on the work of a dozen top recording acts. And it was during the recording of his own "Please Stay" by the group that Burt Bacharach first encountered a vocalist named Dionne Warwick, who was part of the backing trio for The Drifters.
Between 1960 and 1964, The Drifters achieved a level of stability that was unprecedented in their history, and it was matched by their success. Not that they didn't make mistakes -- they turned down "This Diamond Ring," and Atlantic never released their version of "Only in America," both of which became huge hits, in the hands of Gary Lewis & the Playboys and Jay & the Americans, respectively. Still, luck was with them even as essential personnel around them moved on -- in late 1963, as Leiber & Stoller shifted their attention to their own record label, Red Bird, The Drifters got a new producer in Bert Berns, a songwriter with a feel for commercial soul music. "Vaya Con Dios," from their first session with the new producer (and which reflected his love of Latin themes), was a moderate pop chart hit. And in the spring of 1964, with Leiber & Stoller no longer writing the way they had been, the group was offered a new song by composers Art Resnick and Kenny Young, called "Under the Boardwalk."
It was scheduled for recording on May 21 of 1964. Then, on the night of May 20, just hours before the recording session, Rudy Lewis was found dead in his apartment under circumstances that are still in dispute -- the police suspected a drug overdose, but people who knew Lewis insisted that his only vice was binge-eating, and that he had choked to death. Without any time to reschedule the session, Johnny Moore, who had rejoined the group as second tenor in early 1963, stepped into the breach. Moore, who had previously held the thankless task of leading the late-'50s Drifters, achieved a special magnificence at that session singing "Under the Boardwalk," which became the group's last Top Ten hit in 1964, peaking at number four. He became the longest lasting of The Drifters' various lead singers, lasting into the 1970s and beyond their time as a serious recording act.
By late 1964, Berns was moving on to other projects including the early releases of his new independent label, Bang Records, and the group found itself working with producer Tom Dowd in what were very unproductive sessions. They still had lots of bookings, and enough hits behind them to remain a thoroughly established act, but by that time the whole notion of soul music was changing around them, due in some measure to a vast array of other acts associated with Atlantic Records, including Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, and Don Covay. The Drifters were never able to make the jump comfortably to this harder brand of soul music, and the loss of Berns as a producer after 1965 seemed to seal their fate. Their own sessions began to show a lack of urgency and organization, exemplified by the fact that one of the very best tracks of Moore's era, "In the Park," was left unfinished (without the group recorded behind him) and in the can for years. The death of George Treadwell in 1967 removed another layer of impetus behind The Drifters' continuation as a going concern.
They continued recording for Atlantic with a succession of producers until 1972. By that time, the company itself was part of a huge corporate conglomerate, far removed from its origins -- Led Zeppelin, Yes, and Emerson, Lake & Palmer were the stars of the Atlantic roster then, and scarcely anyone at the company except Ertegun and Wexler likely even remembered who The Drifters were or how they'd started. Johnny Moore still sang lead, but there were no more hits after the mid-'60s. They tried altering their sound to mainstream adult pop, cutting old-style standards in an effort to capture older listeners. As the hits faded away and the bookings dried up, the group broke up yet again -- in the end, Johnny Moore was the only recognizable Drifter and he did most of the singing on the records as well.
The 1970s saw a proliferation of acts trading on the Drifters name as the rock & roll revival suddenly made the group's classic repertory profitable again. Founding member Bill Pinkney led a group sometimes called "the Original Drifters" while Charlie Thomas led another version and Johnny Moore kept the fully authorized group under the auspices of Treadwell's widow Faye.
The result was a series of lawsuits that ultimately saw the various claimants divide different territories within the United States between them, while the Faye Treadwell-authorized group, led by Johnny Moore, moved to England, where they enjoyed a Top Ten hit in 1972 ("Come on Over to My Place"), falling under the influence of the Roger Cook/Roger Greenaway songwriting team. This incarnation of the group, no longer signed to Atlantic after 1972, was signed to Bell Records. The British-based version of The Drifters became a dance-disco outfit for a time in the late '70s, virtually irrelevant to the group's history, while Pinkney and Thomas maintained contact with The Drifters' roots, and even Jimmy Ricks, who was only in the group for a few months, turned up at some point leading a combo using the name. Ben E. King even returned to the lineup for a tour in the late '80s.
In the 1990s, after decades of conflicting and contradictory claims, a new court ruling determined that Faye Treadwell owned the trademark of The Drifters' name. The death of Johnny Moore in the 1990s brought the end of the era in the group's history, though Bill Pinkney -- the last active original member from the early '50s -- continued to front a group of Drifters up until his death on July 4th, 2007. The late '80s and early '90s also saw a full revival of the group's entire catalog; for decades, from the 1960s through the 1980s, fans and collectors in America had to content themselves with a single LP, the 1968 Golden Hits album, consisting of a selection of the group's early-'60s hits -- none of the McPhatter-era cuts were around, nor were any other tracks from the '60s era. A pair of Rhino Records-inspired double-CD/LP sets helped break this log-jam in the late '80s, and Rhino's 1996 triple-CD set Rockin' & Driftin': The Drifters Box opened the floodgates of their history. That same year, Sequel Records in England issued seven CDs devoted to the group's history, and more recently Collectables Records has been busy re-releasing the group's classic albums on CD.
"Honor the past, don't just remember it." Dizzie Gillespie
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Influential funk band of the 1970s, best known for #1 hit "Pick Up the Pieces."
On February 22, 1975, Scottish group The Average White Band went to No.1 on the US singles chart with 'Pick Up The Pieces', the bands album AWB also went to No.1 on the US chart.
Their self-effacing name, Average White Band, to the contrary was anything but average. AWB is one of the few white groups to cross the color line and achieve success and credibility playing funk, with their tight, fiery sound also belying their Scottish heritage, evoking American R&B hotbeds like Detroit, Memphis, and Philadelphia instead. Singer/bassist Alan Gorrie, guitarists Hamish Stuart and Onnie McIntyre, tenor saxophonist Malcolm Duncan, keyboardist/saxophonist Roger Ball, and drummer Robbie McIntosh comprised the original Average White Band lineup. Veterans of numerous Scottish soul and jazz groups, they made their debut in 1973 as the opening act at Eric Clapton's Rainbow Theatre comeback gig, soon issuing their debut LP, Show Your Hand, to little notice. After adopting the abbreviated moniker AWB, a year later the band issued their self-titled sophomore effort, topping the American pop charts with the Arif Mardin-produced instrumental "Pick Up the Pieces." The record's mammoth success was nevertheless tempered by the September 23, 1974 death of McIntosh, who died at a Hollywood party after overdosing on heroin.
Ex-Bloodstone drummer Steve Ferrone replaced McIntosh for AWB's third album, 1975's Cut the Cake, which scored a Top Ten hit with its title track as well as two other chart entries, "If I Ever Lose This Heaven" and "School Boy Crush." (Put It Where You Want It, issued later that same year, was simply a retitled and repackaged Show Your Hand.) With 1976's Soul Searching, the group reclaimed the full Average White Band name, scoring their final Top 40 hit with "Queen of My Soul." Following the live Person to Person, they issued Benny & Us, a collaboration with soul legend Ben E. King. However, after subsequent outings, including 1978's Warmer Communications, 1979's Feel No Fret, and 1980's Shine, failed to recapture the energy of AWB's peak, the group dissolved in 1982, with Ferrone later joining Duran Duran and Stuart recording with Paul McCartney. Gorrie, Ball, and McIntyre reformed Average White Band in 1989, tapping vocalist Alex Ligertwood for their comeback effort Aftershock. Oft-sampled by hip-hop producers throughout the 1990s, the group continued touring prior to releasing Soul Tattoo in 1996. The live album, Face to Face, followed three years later.
"Honor the past, don't just remember it." Dizzie Gillespie
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Soulful singer who assembled Mary Wilson, Betty McGlown, Diana Ross and herself to form The Primettes; which later, at the behest of Barry Gordy, would change its name to The Supremes. Ballard is said to have had the most demonstrative voice of group.
On February 22, 1976, Florence Ballard of The Supremes died of cardiac arrest, at 32 years of age. Ballard had left The Supremes in 1967, lost an $8 million lawsuit against Motown records and was living on welfare when she died.
Florence Glenda Ballard was born in Rosetta, MS, June 30, 1943, the ninth of 15 siblings. The family moved to Detroit before she turned ten to take advantage of the city's booming job market. Ballard took music classes, sang in her school's choir, and built a reputation as a talented singer in her neighborhood. At 14, she befriended The Primes (Paul Williams, Eddie Kendricks, and Kell Osborne) and performed a few gigs with the smooth, silky trio at Detroit venues. The Primes' manager, Milton Jenkins, encouraged Ballard to form a sister group to The Primes, so she chose Mary Wilson, Betty McGlown, and Diane Earle (Diana Ross). All sang lead, but McGlown left early and was replaced by Barbara Martin. Wilson had the lowest voice; Ballard, the most demonstrative; and Earle, the highest with a razor edge.
The Primettes played hops, talent shows, and house parties for fun and experience. They tried to get a deal with Berry Gordy's Motown before they graduated from high school, only to be told to try again after they finished; they cut a one-off record for the Lupine label, did backing sessions for Lupine-affiliated labels, and were present during occasional sessions for Gordy. Their single, "Tears of Sorrow" b/w "Pretty Baby," didn't leave make much of an impression but displayed compelling harmonies and fascinating leads. Around the time of its release, Ballard was sexually assaulted by future professional basketball star Reggie Harding. This greatly altered the singer's outlook and behavior.
Gordy signed the Primettes the second time around in 1961. After a renaming to the Supremes (Gordy didn't like the Primettes), they cut their first single on Tamla; parental pressures forced Martin to quit shortly thereafter and "I Want a Guy" flopped. Soon, the producers zeroed in on Earle and rarely wrote anything for Wilson or Ballard. After a series of flops, number one smashes became automatic. The pace was frantic and Motown muddied the water by pushing Wilson and Ballard out of the limelight to spotlight Ross.
Ballard didn't take the snub well. The breaker came when she tired of the relentless pace and started missing gigs. By 1967, Cindy Birdsong (formerly with Patti LaBelle & the Bluebelles) had replaced her as a member of the Supremes. Lawsuits ensued. The money Ballard thought was sitting in a bank turned out to be a pittance. She married Thomas Chapman, a former Motown chauffeur, in 1968, and through various connections inked a deal with ABC-Paramount.
George Kerr produced her first single, "It Doesn't Matter How I Say It" (1968), but radio play was almost nonexistent. She completed an album, ...You Don't Have To, that ABC left for dead. Despite gigs opening for Wilson Pickett, some television appearances, performing with Bill Cosby, and singing at President Nixon's inauguration party, Ballard experienced no commercial success. ABC released "Love Ain't Love" in the fall of 1968 but let it languish. The label had soured on Ballard, some say because of Chapman's constant demands, and didn't extend her contract. She never got another record deal.
Within a few years, Ballard's personal and financial conditions went from bad to abject. She moved into public housing, and Chapman -- with whom she had three children -- left the family. After receiving an insurance settlement in 1975, she cleaned up her situation and made another go at recapturing stardom. An appearance at Detroit's Ford Auditorium gave her a needed boost. She reconciled with Chapman, purchased a new house, and did television. But the melancholy years, fueled by chemicals and alcohol, weakened her system and caused a fatal cardiac arrest on February 22, 1976. She was 32 years old.
In 2001, the U.K.-based Spectrum label released The Supreme Florence Ballard, a compilation featuring her released and previously unreleased solo recordings.
Certainly, everyone knows that The Supremes were a flagship Motown girl group that helped define the Sound of Young America with a slew of pristine R&B/soul classics.
The most successful American performers of the 1960s, the Supremes for a time rivaled even the Beatles in terms of red-hot commercial appeal, reeling off five number one singles in a row at one point. Critical revisionism has tended to undervalue the Supremes' accomplishments, categorizing their work as more lightweight than the best soul stars (or even the best Motown stars), and viewing them as a tool for Berry Gordy's crossover aspirations. There's no question that there was about as much pop as soul in the Supremes' hits, that even some of their biggest hits could sound formulaic, and that they were probably the black performers who were most successful at infiltrating the tastes and televisions of middle America. This shouldn't diminish either their extraordinary achievements or their fine music, the best of which renders the pop vs. soul question moot with its excellence.
The Supremes were not an overnight success story, although it might have seemed that way when they began topping the charts with sure-fire regularity. The trio that would become famous as the Supremes -- Diana Ross, Mary Wilson, and Florence Ballard -- met in the late '50s in Detroit's Brewster housing project. Originally known as the Primettes, they were a quartet (Barbara Martin was the fourth member) when they made their first single for the Lupine label in 1960. By the time they debuted for Motown in 1961, they had been renamed the Supremes; Barbara Martin reduced them to a trio when she left after their first single.
the Supremes' first Motown recordings were much more girl group-oriented than their later hits. Additionally, not all of them featured Diana Ross on lead vocals; Flo Ballard, considered to have as good or better a voice, also sang lead. Through a lengthy series of flops, Berry Gordy remained confident that the group would eventually prove to be one of Motown's biggest. By the time they finally did get their first Top 40 hit, "When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes," in late 1963, Ross had taken over the lead singing for good.
Ross was not the most talented female singer at Motown; Martha Reeves and Gladys Knight in particular had superior talents. What she did have, however, was the most purely pop appeal. Gordy's patience and attention paid off in mid-1964, when "Where Did Our Love Go" went to number one. Written by Holland-Dozier-Holland, it established the prototype for their run of five consecutive number-one hits in 1964-1965 (also including "Baby Love," "Stop! In the Name of Love," "Come See About Me," and "Back in My Arms Again"). Ross' cooing vocals would front the Supremes' decorative backup vocals, put over on television and live performance with highly stylized choreography and visual style. Holland-Dozier-Holland would write and produce all of the Supremes' hits through the end of 1967.
Not all of the Supremes' singles went to number one after 1965, but they usually did awfully well, and were written and produced with enough variety (but enough of a characteristic sound) to ensure continual interest. The chart-topping (and uncharacteristically tough) "You Keep Me Hangin' On" was the best of their mid-period hits. Behind the scenes, there were some problems brewing, although these only came to light long after the event. Other Motown stars (most notably Martha Reeves) resented what they perceived as the inordinate attention lavished upon Ross by Gordy, at the expense of other artists on the label. The other Supremes themselves felt increasingly pushed to the background. In mid-1967, as a result of what was deemed increasingly unprofessional behavior, Ballard was replaced by Cindy Birdsong (from Patti LaBelle & the Bluebelles). Ballard become one of rock's greatest tragedies, eventually ending up on welfare, and dying in 1976.
After Ballard's exit, the group would be billed as Diana Ross & the Supremes, fueling speculation that Ross was being groomed for a solo career. the Supremes had a big year in 1967, even incorporating some mild psychedelic influences into "Reflections." Holland-Dozier-Holland, however, left Motown around this time, and the quality of the Supremes' records suffered accordingly (as did the Motown organization as a whole). the Supremes were still superstars, but as a unit, they were disintegrating; it's been reported that Wilson and Birdsong didn't even sing on their final hits, a couple of which ("Love Child" and "Someday We'll Be Together") were among their best.
In November 1969, Ross' imminent departure for a solo career was announced, although she played a few more dates with them, the last in Las Vegas in January 1970. Jean Terrell replaced Ross, and the group continued through 1977, with some more personnel changes (although Mary Wilson was always involved). Some of the early Ross-less singles were fine records, particularly "Stoned Love," "Nathan Jones," and the Supremes-Four Tops duet "River Deep -- Mountain High." Few groups have been able to rise to the occasion after the loss of their figurehead, though, and the Supremes proved no exception, rarely making the charts after 1972. It is the Diana Ross-led era of the 1960s for which they'll be remembered.
"Honor the past, don't just remember it." Dizzie Gillespie
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