Jazz and soul singer, known for the 1972 number one hit "Me and Mrs. Jones," who made some of Philadelphia International's most adventurous albums.
Billy Paul (born Paul Williams; December 1, 1934 – April 24, 2016) was a Grammy Award-winning American soul singer, most known for his 1972 number-one single, "Me and Mrs. Jones", as well as the 1973 album and single "War of the Gods" which blends his more conventional pop, soul and funk styles with electronic and psychedelic influences.
He was one of the many artists associated with the Philadelphia soul sound created by Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff, and Thom Bell. Paul was identified by his diverse vocal style which ranged from mellow and soulful to low and raspy. Questlove of The Roots equated Paul to Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder, calling him "one of the criminally unmentioned proprietors of socially conscious post-revolution '60s civil rights music".
Billy Paul had a good run in the '70s as an R&B vocalist, though he'd been recording since the '50s, when he debuted on Jubilee. Paul was featured on radio broadcasts in Philadelphia at age 11 and had an extensive jazz background. He worked with Dinah Washington, Miles Davis, and Roberta Flack, as well as Charlie Parker, before forming a trio and recording for Jubilee. His original 1959 recording of "Ebony Woman" for New Dawn was later re-recorded for Neptune as the title of his 1970 LP. He signed the next year with Philadelphia International and scored his biggest hit with "Me & Mrs. Jones" in 1972, topping both the R&B and pop charts. Paul had one other Top Ten R&B single, "Thanks for Saving My Life," in 1974. He remained on Philadelphia International until the mid-'80s. Paul recorded one LP for Total Experience in 1985, Lately, and another for Ichiban before announcing his retirement in 1989 in London. But he's since done several club dates, both in America and overseas.
"Honor the past, don't just remember it." Dizzie Gillespie
One of the most singular talents in music, a multi-talented pop/funk/rock performer who showed remarkable stylistic growth and musical diversity.
On January 26, 1980, Prince made his TV debut on the US show American Bandstand. When interviewed after his performance the singer froze and struggled to reply to the questions he was being asked. Prince is one of the most singular talents in music, a multi-talented pop/funk/rock performer who showed remarkable stylistic growth and musical diversity.
On April 19, 1986, Prince started a two week run at No.1 on the US singles chart with 'Kiss.' Prince also had the No.2 song 'Manic Monday', by The Bangles, which he wrote under the pseudonym 'Christopher.'
On April 16, 1994, Prince had his first UK No.1 with 'The Most Beautiful Girl In The World', (his 37th single release). It was his first release since changing his stage name to an unpronounceable symbol.
On April 21, 2016, Prince was found dead is his recording studio in Minnesota, according the an announcement by the Hollywood Reporter.
Few artists have created a body of work as rich and varied as Prince. During the '80s, he emerged as one of the most singular talents of the rock & roll era, capable of seamlessly tying together pop, funk, folk, and rock. Not only did he release a series of groundbreaking albums; he toured frequently, produced albums and wrote songs for many other artists, and recorded hundreds of songs that still lie unreleased in his vaults. With each album he released, Prince has shown remarkable stylistic growth and musical diversity, constantly experimenting with different sounds, textures, and genres. Occasionally, his music can be maddeningly inconsistent because of this eclecticism, but his experiments frequently succeed; no other contemporary artist can blend so many diverse styles into a cohesive whole.
Prince's first two albums were solid, if unremarkable, late-'70s funk-pop. With 1980's Dirty Mind, he recorded his first masterpiece, a one-man tour de force of sex and music; it was hard funk, catchy Beatlesque melodies, sweet soul ballads, and rocking guitar pop, all at once. The follow-up, Controversy, was more of the same, but 1999 was brilliant. The album was a monster hit, selling over three million copies, but it was nothing compared to 1984's Purple Rain.
Purple Rain made Prince a superstar; it eventually sold over ten million copies in the U.S. and spent 24 weeks at number one. Partially recorded with his touring band, the Revolution, the record featured the most pop-oriented music he has ever made. Instead of continuing in this accessible direction, he veered off into the bizarre psycho-psychedelia of Around the World in a Day, which nevertheless sold over two million copies. In 1986, he released the even stranger Parade, which was in its own way as ambitious and intricate as any art rock of the '60s; however, no art rock was ever grounded with a hit as brilliant as the spare funk of "Kiss."
By 1987, Prince's ambitions were growing by leaps and bounds, resulting in the sprawling masterpiece Sign 'O' the Times. Prince was set to release the hard funk of The Black Album by the end of the year, yet he withdrew it just before its release, deciding it was too dark and immoral. Instead, he released the confused Lovesexy in 1988, which was a commercial disaster. With the soundtrack to 1989's Batman he returned to the top of the charts, even if the album was essentially a recap of everything he had done before. The following year he released Graffiti Bridge (the sequel to Purple Rain), which turned out to be a considerable commercial disappointment.
In 1991, Prince formed the New Power Generation, the best and most versatile and talented band he has ever assembled. With their first album, Diamonds and Pearls, Prince reasserted his mastery of contemporary R&B; it was his biggest hit since 1985. The following year, he released his 12th album, which was titled with a cryptic symbol; in 1993, Prince legally changed his name to the symbol. In 1994, after becoming embroiled in contract disagreements with Warner Bros., he independently released the single "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World," likely to illustrate what he would be capable of on his own; the song became his biggest hit in years. Later that summer, Warner released the somewhat halfhearted Come under the name of Prince; the record was a moderate success, going gold.
In November 1994, as part of a contractual obligation, Prince agreed to the official release of The Black Album. In early 1995, he immersed himself in another legal battle with Warner, proclaiming himself a slave and refusing to deliver his new record, The Gold Experience, for release. By the end of the summer, a fed-up Warner had negotiated a compromise that guaranteed the album's release, plus one final record for the label. The Gold Experience was issued in the fall; although it received good reviews and was following a smash single, it failed to catch fire commercially. In the summer of 1996, Prince released Chaos & Disorder, which freed him to become an independent artist. Setting up his own label, NPG (which was distributed by EMI), he resurfaced later that same year with the three-disc Emancipation, which was designed as a magnum opus that would spin off singles for several years and be supported with several tours.
However, even his devoted cult following needed considerable time to digest such an enormous compilation of songs. Once it was clear that Emancipation wasn't the commercial blockbuster he hoped it would be, Prince assembled a long-awaited collection of outtakes and unreleased material called Crystal Ball in 1998. With Crystal Ball, Prince discovered that it's much more difficult to get records to an audience than it seems; some fans who pre-ordered their copies through Prince's website (from which a bonus fifth disc was included) didn't receive them until months after the set began appearing in stores. Prince then released a new one-man album, New Power Soul, just three months after Crystal Ball; even though it was his most straightforward album since Diamonds and Pearls, it didn't do well on the charts, partly because many listeners didn't realize it had been released.
A year later, with "1999" predictably an end-of-the-millennium anthem, Prince issued the remix collection 1999 (The New Master). A collection of Warner Bros.-era leftovers, Vault: Old Friends 4 Sale, followed that summer, and in the fall Prince returned on Arista with the all-star Rave Un2 the Joy Fantastic. In the fall of 2001 he released the controversial Rainbow Children, a jazz-infused circus of sound trumpeting his conversion to the Jehovah's Witnesses that left many longtime fans out in the cold. He further isolated himself with 2003's N.E.W.S., a four-song set of instrumental jams that sounded a lot more fun to play than to listen to. Prince rebounded in 2003 with the chart-topping Musicology, a return to form that found the artist back in the Top Ten, even garnering a Grammy nomination for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance in 2005.
In early 2006 he was the musical guest on Saturday Night Live, performing two songs with a new protégée, R&B singer Tamar. A four-song appearance at the Brit Awards with Wendy, Lisa, and Sheila E. followed. Both appearances previewed tracks from 3121, which hit number one on the album charts soon after its release in March 2006. Planet Earth followed in 2007, featuring contributions from Wendy and Lisa. In the U.K., copies were cover-mounted on the July 15 edition of The Mail on Sunday, provoking Columbia -- the worldwide distributor for the release -- to refuse distribution throughout the U.K. In the U.S., the album was issued on July 24.
LotusFlow3r, a three-disc set, came in 2009, featuring a trio of distinct albums: LotusFlow3r itself (a guitar showcase), MPLSound (a throwback to his '80s funk output), and Elixer (a smooth contemporary R&B album featuring the breathy vocals of Bria Valente). Despite only being available online and through one big-box retailer, the set debuted at number two on the Billboard 200 chart. A year later, another throwback-flavored effort, 20Ten, became his second U.K. newspaper giveaway. No official online edition of the album was made available. From mid-2010 through the end of 2012, Prince toured throughout Europe, America, Europe again, Canada, and Australia.
During 2013, Prince released several singles, starting with "Screwdriver" and continuing with "Breakfast Can Wait" in the summer of that year. Early in 2014, he made a cameo appearance on the Zooey Deschanel sitcom The New Girl, appearing in the episode that aired following the Super Bowl. All this activity was prelude to the spring announcement that he had re-signed to Warner Bros. Records, the label he had feuded with 20 years prior. As part of the deal, he wound up receiving the ownership of his master recordings and the label planned a reissue campaign that would begin with an expanded reissue of Purple Rain roughly timed to celebrate its 30th anniversary. First came two new albums: Art Official Age and PlectrumElectrum, the latter credited to 3rdEyeGirl, the all-female power trio that was his new-millennial backing band. Both records came out on the same September day in 2014. Almost a year to the date, he released HITNRUN Phase One, with contributions from Lianne La Havas, Judith Hill, and Rita Ora.
"Honor the past, don't just remember it." Dizzie Gillespie
Mississippian soul vocalist who placed nine singles on the R&B chart, including the 1973 number one pop hit "Show and Tell."
Best remembered for the number one pop hit "Show and Tell," soul singer Al Wilson was born June 19, 1939 in Meridian, Mississippi. From childhood forward he was singing professionally, and by the age of 12 was leading his own spiritual quartet and singing in the church choir, even performing covers of country & western hits as circumstances dictated. While he was in high school, Wilson and his family relocated to San Bernardino, California, where he worked odd jobs as a mail carrier, a janitor, and an office clerk, in addition to teaching himself to play drums. After graduation he spent four years touring with Johnny Harris & the Statesmen before joining the U.S. Navy and singing with an enlisted men's chorus. After a two-year military stint, Wilson settled in Los Angeles, touring the local nightclub circuit before joining the R&B vocal group the Jewels; from there he landed with the Rollers, followed by a stint with the instrumental combo the Souls.
In 1966, Wilson signed with manager Marc Gordon, who quickly scored his client an a cappella audition for Johnny Rivers. The "Secret Agent Man" singer not only signed Wilson to his Soul City imprint, but also agreed to produce the sessions that yielded the 1968 R&B smash "The Snake." The minor hit "Do What You Gotta Do" appeared that same year, but Wilson then largely disappeared from sight until 1973, when he issued the platinum-selling Weighing In -- the album's success was spurred by the shimmering "Show and Tell," a Johnny Mathis castoff that sold well over a million copies. "The La La Peace Song," released in 1974, proved another major hit, and two years later, "I've Got a Feeling We'll Be Seeing Each Other Again" peaked at number three on the R&B chart. With 1979's "Count the Days" Wilson scored his final chart hit, however, and he spent the next two decades touring clubs and lounges. In 2001 he re-recorded his classic hits for the album Spice of Life. Kidney failure took his life on April 21, 2008.
"Honor the past, don't just remember it." Dizzie Gillespie
Velvet-smooth singer who rose from session work to become the premier R&B balladeer of the 1980s and '90s, and an accomplished producer as well.
Luther Vandross was one of the most successful R&B artists of the 1980s and '90s. Not only did he score a series of multi-million-selling albums containing chart-topping hit singles and perform sold-out tours of the U.S. and around the world, but he also took charge of his music creatively, writing or co-writing most of his songs and arranging and producing his records. He also performed these functions for other artists, providing them with hits as well. He was, however, equally well known for his distinctive interpretations of classic pop and R&B songs, reflecting his knowledge and appreciation of the popular music of his youth. Possessed of a smooth, versatile tenor voice, he charmed millions with his romantic music.
Vandross was born in New York City on April 20, 1951, and grew up in the Alfred E. Smith housing projects in lower Manhattan. Both of his parents, Luther Vandross, Sr., an upholsterer, and Mary Ida Vandross, a nurse, sang, and they encouraged their children to pursue music as a career. Vandross, Sr.'s older sister Patricia Van Dross was an early member of the Crests in the mid-'50s (appearing on their early singles, but leaving before they achieved success with "Sixteen Candles"), and Vandross himself began playing the piano at the age of three and took lessons at five, although he remained a largely self-taught musician. After the death of his father in 1959 when he was eight years old, he was raised by his mother, who moved the family to the Bronx. While attending William Howard Taft High School, he formed a vocal group, Shades of Jade, with friends Carlos Alomar, Robin Clark, Anthony Hinton, Diane Sumler, and Fonzi Thornton. All five, along with 11 other teenage performers, were also part of a musical theater workshop, Listen, My Brother, organized by the Apollo Theater in Harlem that recorded a single, "Listen, My Brother"/"Only Love Can Make a Better World," and appeared on the initial episodes of the children's television series Sesame Street in 1969. After graduating from high school that year, Vandross attended Western Michigan University, but dropped out after a year and returned home. He spent the next few years working at odd jobs while trying to break into the music business.
In 1973, Vandross got two of his compositions, "In This Lovely Hour" and "Who's Gonna Make It Easier for Me," recorded by Delores Hall on her album Hall-Mark, singing the latter song with her as a duet. In 1974, though uncredited, he sang background vocals on Maggie Bell's Queen of the Night, and in August of the same year Carlos Alomar, who had become David Bowie's guitarist, invited him to attend a Bowie recording session at Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia. He quickly became more than an observer, singing background vocals, serving as a vocal arranger, and co-writing the song "Fascination" with Bowie. The session resulted in the album Young Americans, and Vandross went on tour with Bowie as both backup singer and opening act. Meanwhile, Vandross' composition "Everybody Rejoice (A Brand New Day)" was featured in the Broadway musical The Wiz.
Through Bowie, Vandross met Bette Midler, who hired him to arrange vocals for her Broadway revue Bette Midler's Clams on the Half Shell. Midler also introduced him to her record producer, Arif Mardin, at Atlantic Records, and Vandross began to get steady work as a background singer and vocal arranger. In 1976, he appeared on albums by Midler, the Brecker Brothers Band, and Judy Collins. He also put together a vocal quintet called Luther, which signed to Atlantic's Cotillion Records subsidiary. Their self-titled debut album was released in June 1976. The tracks "It's Good for the Soul," "Funky Music (Is a Part of Me)," and "The Second Time Around" reached the R&B Top 40. The title song off the second Luther album, This Close to You (April 1977), reached the R&B chart, but that wasn't enough to keep Cotillion from dropping the group, which then broke up. (Vandross acquired the rights to the Luther recordings and saw to it that they remained out of print.)
Meanwhile, Vandross continued doing sessions. In 1977, he appeared on albums by Nils Lofgren, J. Geils Band, the Average White Band and Ben E. King, and Chic, among others. He also entered the lucrative world of writing and singing commercial jingles, and before long was the musical voice of everything from telephones, fast food, and beverages to various branches of the U.S. military on radio and television. In 1978, he appeared on well over a dozen albums, including releases by Carly Simon, Quincy Jones, Roberta Flack, Chic, and Cat Stevens.
Vandross gained greater attention in 1979. During the year, he appeared on albums by the likes of Sister Sledge, the Average White Band, Chic, and Evelyn "Champagne" King. Especially on jazz and disco recordings, he was just as likely to be a featured vocalist as a background singer. And he got a prominent credit when he arranged the background vocals for Barbra Streisand and Donna Summer's duet "No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)," which became a number one pop hit in November 1979. He gained even more recognition in 1980, a year in which he appeared on studio albums by Chaka Khan, Melba Moore, and Mtume. But the most important credit for him that year was his work as lead vocalist of the studio group Change. He sang on the band's tracks "Searching," a Top 40 R&B hit, and "The Glow of Love," which also reached the R&B chart. This increased his profile even more, and he began circulating a demo tape to recording companies, seeking a solo deal that would allow him to write and produce his own records. On April 21, 1981, he signed with Epic.
Vandross immediately began work on his debut album, although during 1981 he appeared on albums by Bob James, Bernard Wright, Change, Stephanie Mills, and several others. In June 1981 his composition "You Stopped Loving Me" was sung by Roberta Flack, with him arranging and singing background vocals, and it became a Top 40 R&B hit for her. Vandross' own version was included on his debut solo album, Never Too Much, released in August. The LP was a tour de force for him; he produced it and wrote six of its seven songs, the exception being a cover of Burt Bacharach and Hal David's Dionne Warwick hit "A House Is Not a Home." Vandross expressed his musical vision on Never Too Much, and that vision was of a smooth neo-soul style that recalled the pop/R&B of his youth, particularly the music of such predecessors as Warwick, Aretha Franklin, the softer Motown artists, like Smokey Robinson, and some of the girl groups of the early '60s, such as the Shirelles. The title song, "Never Too Much," topped the R&B chart; second single "Don't You Know That?" reached the R&B Top Ten; and third single "Sugar and Spice (I Found Me a Girl)" also charted R&B. The album hit number one R&B in November and was certified gold in December. (It went platinum five years later and double platinum in 1997.) But Vandross encountered more resistance in the pop realm, where the album reached only the Top 20 and the single "Never Too Much" only made the Top 40. Artistically and commercially, these results set a pattern for Vandross' career. Appearing regularly, his albums showed great consistency in style and content, even to the point of featuring a cover of a classic pop/R&B song on each disc. And while they also sold consistently to the R&B audience, they rarely received equal support from pop fans.
Vandross still enjoyed working as a background singer. In 1982, for example, he appeared on albums by Michael Franks, Kleeer, and Linda Clifford. At the same time, Vandross' demonstrated abilities as songwriter, producer, and vocal arranger opened up to him the opportunity to work with some of the artists he had grown up idolizing, as well as his contemporaries. He first turned his attention to Cheryl Lynn, producing her R&B Top Ten album Instant Love (June 1982); writing the title song, which became a Top 20 R&B hit, and singing a duet with her on a revival of the 1968 Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell hit "If This World Were Mine," which reached the R&B Top Five.
Next, he turned to Aretha Franklin, producing her July 1982 LP Jump to It, and writing or co-writing four of its eight songs, including the title track, an R&B number one. It was her first gold album in six years. Somehow, he found time to make his second solo album, Forever, For Always, For Love, released in September, again serving as his own producer and writing or co-writing all the tracks except for covers of Smokey Robinson's 1965 hit for the Temptations "Since I Lost My Baby" and, in a medley with his own "Bad Boy," Sam Cooke's "Having a Party." Vandross' co-writers on some of the songs were bassist Marcus Miller and keyboard player Nat Adderley, Jr., musical associates who would work with him throughout his career. Forever, For Always, For Love was another R&B chart-topper for Vandross, throwing off three singles, the Top Five "Bad Boy/Having a Party," the Top 20 "Since I Lost My Baby," and the chart entry "Promise Me." The LP was certified gold in two months and platinum in six.
Vandross' multiple career tracks continued apace in 1983. He produced Aretha Franklin's next album, Get It Right, composing the title song, which hit number one R&B, with Marcus Miller, and its follow-up, "Every Girl (Wants My Guy)," a Top Ten R&B hit. Then, he turned to another idol of his youth, Dionne Warwick, producing her album How Many Times Can We Say Goodbye. He and Warwick sang the title song as a duet which became her first R&B Top Ten hit in eight years; it also made the pop Top 40. And, although it took until December, Vandross managed to come up with his third solo album, the aptly titled Busy Body. "I'll Let You Slide" and "Superstar/Until You Come Back to Me (That's What I'm Gonna Do)" made the R&B Top Ten, and "Make Me a Believer" was a chart entry; as usual, the album hit number one R&B, but only the Top 40 of the pop chart; and as usual, sales certifications poured in, the album going gold in two months and platinum in January 1985.
Vandross finally eased off on his recording schedule during 1984, if only because he was now a major concert attraction and toured in both North America and Europe. His only credit for the year was his composing (with Marcus Miller), arranging, producing, and singing background vocals on the song "You're My Choice Tonight (Choose Me)" for Teddy Pendergrass, a Top 20 R&B hit. Vandross was thus able to lavish more time on his fourth album, The Night I Fell in Love, released in March 1985. The album spent seven weeks atop Billboard's R&B LP list, going gold and platinum simultaneously as soon as it was eligible for certification in May and double platinum in 1990. It also reached number 14 on the pop chart, Vandross' best showing yet. With his own album out of the way, he made some selected appearances on other albums in 1985.
Vandross spent much of 1986 working on his own material. The results of his efforts were first heard in June when "Give Me the Reason" was included on the soundtrack to the film Ruthless People and released as a single that went Top Five R&B and reached the pop chart. Vandross' fifth album, also titled Give Me the Reason, followed in September. His fifth consecutive R&B chart-topper, it included additional singles "Stop to Love" (number one R&B and his first Top 20 pop hit); the duet with Gregory Hines "There's Nothing Better Than Love" (also number one R&B and a pop chart entry); "I Really Didn't Mean It" (Top Ten R&B); and "So Amazing." Simultaneous gold and platinum certifications in December were followed by a double-platinum award in 1990.
Apart from a handful of outside collaborations, Vandross spent the two-year interval between his fifth and sixth albums doing shows and working on that sixth album, Any Love, which appeared in October 1988. It topped the R&B chart and gave Vandross his first Top Ten pop album, with the usual simultaneous gold and platinum certifications two months after release. The title song topped the R&B list and penetrated the pop chart. Vandross had by now become an international success, and a record-breaking ten-night stand at London's Wembley Arena in March 1989 was commemorated with a home video, Live at Wembley. At the close of an enormously successful decade, Vandross and Epic determined to sum things up, and in October 1989 issued the two-LP greatest-hits compilation The Best of Luther Vandross: The Best of Love, which included two new tracks, "Here and Now" and "Treat You Right." With those additions, the collection didn't just summarize Vandross' career, it finally gave him his long-sought major crossover hit, as "Here and Now" not only topped the R&B chart but also hit the pop Top Ten. It also won Vandross his first Grammy Award for Best R&B Vocal Performance, Male.
Between the release of the hits album and his next regular studio album, Power of Love, which appeared in April 1991, Vandross as usual lent his talents to other artists' recordings, including Quincy Jones' Back on the Block. He wrote and produced the song "Who Do You Love" for Whitney Houston's album I'm Your Baby Tonight. Vandross' seventh album, Power of Love, suggested that the pop breakthrough he had achieved with "Here and Now" would be sustained. The advance single, "Power of Love/Love Power," not only topped the R&B chart, but also went Top Five pop, and the LP, Vandross' seventh R&B number one, was his second to penetrate the pop Top Ten. A million seller by June 1991, it went double platinum two years later in the wake of the further singles. "Power of Love/Love Power" was named Best R&B Song at the 1991 Grammys, and the Power of Love album won Vandross another trophy for Best R&B Vocal Performance, Male.
One might have supposed that all was well in the world of Luther Vandross, but he filed suit against Sony Music Entertainment (which had acquired CBS Records), citing California Labor Code Section 2855, which limits personal service contracts to seven years. By then, he had been with CBS/Sony for nearly 11 years, fulfilling a ten-album contract that still had three albums to go. Whether he really wanted to void his contract, believing that Epic still hadn't done enough to sell his records to the pop audience, or simply intended to use the suit to induce the record company to renegotiate his deal on more favorable terms, is unclear. The record company in question settled quietly. The terms of the settlement were not reported, but thereafter, Vandross had a vanity label, his records going out under the Epic/LV imprint.
As usual, following the release of Power of Love, Vandross found the time to work with other artists. He appeared on 1991 albums by BeBe & CeCe Winans, Patti LaBelle, and Richard Marx. In 1992, he kept his name before the public with special appearances, starting with the soundtrack to the film Mo' Money, released in June, which featured "The Best Things in Life Are Free," which he performed with Janet Jackson, Bell Biv DeVoe, and Ralph Tresvant. It hit number one on the R&B chart and went Top Ten pop.
Never Let Me Go, Vandross' eighth album, was released in June 1993. Maybe the promotional staff at Epic was demoralized by the recent lawsuit, or perhaps the rise of hip-hop, was affecting matters, but the commercial response to Vandross' new music was slightly disappointing. The single reached the R&B Top Ten but was only a minor pop chart entry, and Never Let Me Go, despite marking a new pop chart peak for Vandross at number six, was his first new album not to reach number one. For the first time, the singer's momentum was slowing. An idea came from Sony president Tommy Mottola and his then-wife, superstar Mariah Carey. Vandross had put at least one oldie on every one of his albums: why not do an all-covers album? The result was the modestly titled Songs, released in September 1994. The album was prefaced by a cover of the 1981 Lionel Richie/Diana Ross hit "Endless Love," on which Vandross sang a duet with Carey. The single peaked at number two on the pop chart, a new high for Vandross. The album went to number two R&B and number five pop, another crossover high for the singer. It was an immediate million-seller and went double platinum within 18 months.
His commercial status restored, Vandross undertook his usual pursuits, singing background vocals on the occasional album and touring. For his next album, he tried another favorite record company concept, the holiday collection. This Is Christmas, released in October 1995, became a perennial seller. Vandross spent most of the year working on Your Secret Love, the album that would complete his Epic Records contract. It was released in October 1996, following the title song, which went on to win Vandross another Grammy for Best R&B Vocal Performance, Male. Simultaneous gold and platinum certifications arrived in December.
The following September, Epic/LV released his valedictory collection, One Night with You: The Best of Love, Vol. 2, which began with four new recordings, none of them written or produced by him, but instead contributed by such usually reliable hitmakers as Diane Warren, R. Kelly, and the team of Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis. Understandably, Epic didn't do much of a promotional job on this contractual obligation release, which nevertheless reached the R&B Top 40 and the pop Top 50.
One Amazing Night While weighing offers from different record companies, Vandross made more guest appearances. He performed at a Burt Bacharach tribute concert at the Hammerstein Ballroom in New York, singing "Windows of the World" and "What the World Needs Now." The show was filmed for television and taped, resulting in a soundtrack album, One Amazing Night. Vandross also paid tribute to Patti LaBelle at the same venue for a PBS special. Deciding on Virgin, he presented a new album, I Know, in August 1998. It was a commercial disappointment, only going gold and generating just one Top 40 R&B hit in "Nights in Harlem." As a result, he left Virgin after only this one release.
In 1999 and 2000, Vandross kept his hand in with soundtrack and session work. He eventually ended his search for a new record company affiliation, becoming the first act signed to veteran record executive Clive Davis' new label, J Records. He made his label debut with the track "If I Was the One," included on the soundtrack of Dr. Doolittle 2. The song also appeared on Luther Vandross, which was released two weeks later. Vandross and Davis served as co-album producers, with individual tracks produced by others, and new songwriters were brought in to give Vandross a new, current sound. The makeover was largely successful, as the album made the pop Top Ten and just missed topping the R&B chart, reaching platinum status by November.
His career revitalized once again, Vandross toured in early 2002, then began work on a second album for J. He co-wrote the title song for his new album, "Dance with My Father," with Richard Marx, and they combined for a heartfelt tribute to Vandross' father. The album was finished by the spring of 2003, and Vandross was preparing for a round of publicity work when he collapsed in his New York apartment, the victim of a serious stroke. Despite his illness, J released "Dance with My Father," which became an R&B and pop Top 40 hit and a gold record, introducing the album, which hit number one on both charts, a first for him. The album sold over two million copies. Vandross was a sentimental favorite at the 2003 Grammy Awards, and his career total of trophies doubled from four to eight as he won Song of the Year and Best R&B Vocal Performance, Male, for "Dance with My Father," Best R&B Album, and Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals for "The Closer I Get to You." He made an appearance via videotape to accept his awards and promised to return to action soon. Meanwhile, J Records had kept his name before the public by releasing the concert collection Live Radio City Music Hall 2003, in October 2003. By all reports, Vandross continued his recovery in 2004 and into 2005; he even appeared on Oprah Winfrey's television show. But on July 1, 2005, it was announced that he had died, having "never really recovered" from his stroke.
It is notable that, in the precarious world of popular music, Vandross sold records in the millions consistently for over two decades. It is even more notable that, although he certainly molded his music to a certain extent to meet the marketplace, he also imposed his own direction on R&B. Vandross, coming along in the wake of disco and while rap/hip-hop was in its infancy, insisted on reverence for the soul music of the then-recent past and deliberately reformulated it in an "old-school" approach. Even as rap dominated the charts in the early years of the 21st century, he maintained his passion for romantic and melodic music, and he drew listeners along with him. His early death at the age of 54 robbed American popular music of one of its more consistent and compelling voices, and it is only a partial comfort that he left behind a substantial body of work.
"Honor the past, don't just remember it." Dizzie Gillespie
Latin soul singer from the Bronx, a master of the smooth ballad, murdered in the 1970s at a young age.
Inventive, intelligent, and talented pianist/keyboardist whose distinguished career has covered modern jazz, fusion, hip-hop, and dance.
On April 12, 1940, was born Herbie Hancock, keyboard player and composer of film soundtracks. In addition to having an impressive solo career, he also worked with Miles Davis and Chick Corea.
Herbie Hancock will always be one of the most revered and controversial figures in jazz -- just as his employer/mentor Miles Davis was when he was alive. Unlike Miles, who pressed ahead relentlessly and never looked back until near the very end, Hancock has cut a zigzagging forward path, shuttling between almost every development in electronic and acoustic jazz and R&B over the last third of the 20th century and into the 21st. Though grounded in Bill Evans and able to absorb blues, funk, gospel, and even modern classical influences, Hancock's piano and keyboard voices are entirely his own, with their own urbane harmonic and complex, earthy rhythmic signatures -- and young pianists cop his licks constantly. Having studied engineering and professing to love gadgets and buttons, Hancock was perfectly suited for the electronic age; he was one of the earliest champions of the Rhodes electric piano and Hohner clavinet, and would field an ever-growing collection of synthesizers and computers on his electric dates. Yet his love for the grand piano never waned, and despite his peripatetic activities all around the musical map, his piano style continued to evolve into tougher, ever more complex forms. He is as much at home trading riffs with a smoking funk band as he is communing with a world-class post-bop rhythm section -- and that drives purists on both sides of the fence up the wall.
Having taken up the piano at age seven, Hancock quickly became known as a prodigy, soloing in the first movement of a Mozart piano concerto with the Chicago Symphony at the age of 11. After studies at Grinnell College, Hancock was invited by Donald Byrd in 1961 to join his group in New York City, and before long, Blue Note offered him a solo contract. His debut album, Takin' Off, took off indeed after Mongo Santamaria covered one of the album's songs, "Watermelon Man." In May 1963, Miles Davis asked him to join his band in time for the Seven Steps to Heaven sessions, and he remained there for five years, greatly influencing Miles' evolving direction, loosening up his own style, and, upon Miles' suggestion, converting to the Rhodes electric piano. In that time span, Hancock's solo career also blossomed on Blue Note, pouring forth increasingly sophisticated compositions like "Maiden Voyage," "Cantaloupe Island," "Goodbye to Childhood," and the exquisite "Speak Like a Child." He also played on many East Coast recording sessions for producer Creed Taylor and provided a groundbreaking score to Michelangelo Antonioni's film Blow Up, which gradually led to further movie assignments.
Having left the Davis band in 1968, Hancock recorded an elegant funk album, Fat Albert Rotunda, and in 1969 formed a sextet that evolved into one of the most exciting, forward-looking jazz-rock groups of the era. Now deeply immersed in electronics, Hancock added the synthesizer of Patrick Gleeson to his Echoplexed, fuzz-wah-pedaled electric piano and clavinet, and the recordings became spacier and more complex rhythmically and structurally, creating its own corner of the avant-garde. By 1970, all of the musicians used both English and African names (Herbie's was Mwandishi). Alas, Hancock had to break up the band in 1973 when it ran out of money, and having studied Buddhism, he concluded that his ultimate goal should be to make his audiences happy.
The next step, then, was a terrific funk group whose first album, Head Hunters, with its Sly Stone-influenced hit single, "Chameleon," became the biggest-selling jazz LP up to that time. Now handling all of the synthesizers himself, Hancock's heavily rhythmic comping often became part of the rhythm section, leavened by interludes of the old urbane harmonies. Hancock recorded several electric albums of mostly superior quality in the '70s, followed by a wrong turn into disco around the decade's end. In the meantime, Hancock refused to abandon acoustic jazz. After a one-shot reunion of the 1965 Miles Davis Quintet (Hancock, Ron Carter, Tony Williams, Wayne Shorter, with Freddie Hubbard sitting in for Miles) at New York's 1976 Newport Jazz Festival, they went on tour the following year as V.S.O.P. The near-universal acclaim of the reunions proved that Hancock was still a whale of a pianist; that Miles' loose mid-'60s post-bop direction was far from spent; and that the time for a neo-traditional revival was near, finally bearing fruit in the '80s with Wynton Marsalis and his ilk. V.S.O.P. continued to hold sporadic reunions through 1992, though the death of the indispensable Williams in 1997 cast much doubt as to whether these gatherings would continue.
Hancock continued his chameleonic ways in the '80s: scoring an MTV hit in 1983 with the scratch-driven, proto-industrial single "Rockit" (accompanied by a striking video); launching an exciting partnership with Gambian kora virtuoso Foday Musa Suso that culminated in the swinging 1986 live album Jazz Africa; doing film scores; and playing festivals and tours with the Marsalis brothers, George Benson, Michael Brecker, and many others. After his 1988 techno-pop album, Perfect Machine, Hancock left Columbia (his label since 1973), signed a contract with Qwest that came to virtually nothing (save for A Tribute to Miles in 1992), and finally made a deal with Polygram in 1994 to record jazz for Verve and release pop albums on Mercury. Well into a youthful middle age, Hancock's curiosity, versatility, and capacity for growth showed no signs of fading, and in 1998 he issued Gershwin's World. His curiosity with the fusion of electronic music and jazz continued with 2001's Future 2 Future, but he also continued to explore the future of straight-ahead contemporary jazz with 2005's Possibilities. An intriguing album of jazz treatments of Joni Mitchell compositions called River: The Joni Letters was released in 2007. In 2010 Hancock released his The Imagine Project album, which was recorded in seven countries and featured a host of collaborators, including Dave Matthews, Anoushka Shankar, Jeff Beck, the Chieftains, John Legend, India.Arie, Seal, P!nk, Juanes, Derek Trucks, Susan Tedeschi, Chaka Khan, K'NAAN, Wayne Shorter, James Morrison, and Lisa Hannigan. He was also named Creative Chair for the New Los Angeles Philharmonic.
"Honor the past, don't just remember it." Dizzie Gillespie
The definitive funk band of the '70s, one of several outlets for George Clinton's outrageous blend of psycho-funk grooves and twisted story lines.
Inspired by Motown's assembly line of sound, George Clinton gradually put together a collective of over 50 musicians and recorded the ensemble during the '70s both as Parliament and Funkadelic. While Funkadelic pursued band-format psychedelic rock, Parliament engaged in a funk free-for-all, blending influences from the godfathers (James Brown and Sly Stone) with freaky costumes and themes inspired by '60s acid culture and science fiction. From its 1970 inception until Clinton's dissolving of Parliament in 1980, the band hit the R&B Top Ten several times but truly excelled in two other areas: large-selling, effective album statements and the most dazzling, extravagant live show in the business. In an era when Philly soul continued the slick sounds of establishment-approved R&B, Parliament scared off more white listeners than it courted.
By the time his on-the-move family settled in New Jersey during the early '50s, George Clinton (b. July 22, 1941, Kannapolis, NC) became interested in doo wop, which was just beginning to explode in the New York-metro area. Basing his group on Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers, Clinton formed the Parliaments in 1955 with a lineup that gradually shifted to include Clarence "Fuzzy" Haskins, Grady Thomas, Raymond Davis, and Calvin Simon. Based out of a barbershop backroom where Clinton straightened hair, the Parliaments released only two singles during the next ten years, but frequent trips to Detroit during the mid-'60s -- where Clinton began working as a songwriter and producer -- eventually paid off their investment.
After finding a hit with the 1967 single "(I Wanna) Testify," the Parliaments ran into trouble with Revilot Records and refused to record any new material. Instead of waiting for a settlement, Clinton decided to record the same band under a new name: Funkadelic. Founded in 1968, the group began life as a smoke screen, claiming as its only members the Parliaments' backing band -- guitarist Eddie Hazel, bassist Billy Nelson, rhythm guitarist Lucius "Tawl" Ross, drummer Ramon "Tiki" Fulwood, and organist Mickey Atkins -- but in truth including Clinton and the rest of the former Parliaments lineup. Revilot folded not long after, with the label's existing contracts sold to Atlantic; Clinton, however, decided to abandon the Parliaments name rather than record for the major label. One previously recorded Parliaments single, "A New Day Begins," was licensed to Atco in 1969 and became a number 44 hit that May. By 1970, George Clinton had regained the rights to the Parliaments name: he then signed the entire Funkadelic lineup to Invictus Records as Parliament. The group released one album -- 1970's Osmium -- and scored a number 30 hit, "The Breakdown," on the R&B charts in 1971. With Funkadelic firing on all cylinders, however, Clinton decided to discontinue Parliament (the name, not the band) for the time being.
Though keyboard player Bernie Worrell (b. April 19, 1944, Long Beach, NJ) had played on the original Funkadelic album, his first credit with the conglomeration appeared on Funkadelic's second album, 1970's Free Your Mind...And Your Ass Will Follow. Clinton and Worrell had known each other since the New Jersey barbershop days, and Worrell soon became the most crucial cog in the P-Funk machine, working on arrangements and production for virtually all later Parliament/Funkadelic releases. His strict upbringing and classical training (at the New England Conservatory and Juilliard), as well as the boom in synthesizer technology during the early '70s, gave him the tools to create the synth runs and horn arrangements that later trademarked the P-Funk sound. Two years after the addition of Worrell, P-Funk added its second most famed contributor, Bootsy Collins. The muscular, throbbing bass line of Collins (b. October 26, 1951, Cincinnati, OH) had already been featured in James Brown's backing band (the J.B.'s) along with his brother, guitarist Catfish Collins. Bootsy and Catfish were playing in a Detroit band when George Clinton saw and hired them.
Funkadelic released five albums from 1970 through early 1974, and consistently hit the lower reaches of the R&B charts, but the collective pulled up stakes later in 1974 and began recording as Parliament. Signing with the Casablanca label, Parliament's "Up for the Down Stroke" (number ten R&B, number 63 pop) appeared in mid-1974 and reflected a more mainstream approach than Funkadelic, with funky horn arrangements reminiscent of James Brown and a live feel that recalls contemporary work by Kool & the Gang. It became the biggest hit yet for the Parliament/Funkadelic congregation. "Testify," a revamped version of the Parliaments' 1967 hit, also charted in 1974. One year later, Chocolate City continued Parliament's success: the title track reached number 24 R&B, and "Ride On" also charted.
Clinton & co. ushered in 1976 with the April release of the third Parliament LP in as many years: Mothership Connection. Arguably the peak of Parliament's power, the album made number 13 on the pop charts and went platinum, sparked by three hit singles: "P. Funk (Wants to Get Funked Up)" (number 33 R&B), "Tear the Roof Off the Sucker (Give Up the Funk)" (number five R&B, number 15 pop), and "Star Child" (number 26 R&B). In addition to Bootsy Collins, the album featured two other James Brown refugees: horn legends Maceo Parker and Fred Wesley. Just six months after the release of Mothership Connection, Clinton had another Parliament album in the can, The Clones of Doctor Funkenstein. Though it only reached gold status, the LP spawned the number 22 R&B hit "Do That Stuff" and the number 43 "Dr. Funkenstein."
Several internal squabbles during 1977 apparently didn't phase Clinton at all; the following year proved to be the most successful in Parliament's history. In January, "Flash Light" -- from the Parliament album Funkentelechy Vs. the Placebo Syndrome -- became the collective's first number one hit. It topped the R&B charts for three weeks, and was followed by the number 27 single, "Funkentelechy." The LP reached number 13 on the pop charts and became Parliament's second platinum album. Early in 1979, Parliament hit number one yet again with "Aqua Boogie," from its eighth album, Motor-Booty Affair. The LP, which stalled at number 23, nevertheless became the group's fifth consecutive album to go gold or better. Parliament's ninth album, Gloryhallastoopid (Or Pin the Tale on the Funky), was released later in 1979 and showed a bit of a slip in the previously unstoppable Clinton machine. The group charted in the R&B Top Ten twice during 1980 ("Theme From 'The Black Hole'" and "Agony of Defeet"), but Clinton began to be weighed down that year by legal difficulties arising from Polygram's acquisition of Casablanca. Jettisoning both the Parliament and Funkadelic names (but not the musicians), Clinton began his solo career with 1982's Computer Games. He and many former Parliament/Funkadelic members continued to tour and record during the '80s as the P-Funk All Stars, but the decade's disdain of everything to do with the '70s resulted in the neglect of critical and commercial opinion for the world's biggest funk band, especially one which in part had spawned the sound of disco. During the early '90s, the rise of funk-inspired rap (courtesy of Digital Underground, Dr. Dre, and Warren G.) and funk rock (Primus and Red Hot Chili Peppers) re-established the status of Clinton & co., one of the most important forces in the recent history of black music.
"Honor the past, don't just remember it." Dizzie Gillespie
Pop-soul trio from Los Angeles, best remembered for their number one hit "Rock the Boat" in 1974.
The Hues Corporation's name was a pun on the Howard Hughes Corporation, with the 'hue' (a synonym of 'color'), being a nod to the group members' African-American heritage. The band's members were St. Clair Lee (born Bernard St. Clair Lee, April 24, 1944, San Francisco, California; died 2011), Fleming Williams (born 1943, Flint, Michigan; died 1992) and Hubert Ann Kelley (born 24 April 1947, Fairfield, Alabama). The original choice for the group's name was The Children of Howard Hughes, which their record label turned down.
A Los Angeles vocal trio, the Hues Corporation enjoyed two big hits in the mid-'70s, notably "Rock the Boat" in 1974 for RCA. While it was lightweight, mainly pop work, it did take The Hues Corporation to number two on the R&B charts and get them their lone pop chart topper. The next single, "Rockin' Soul," peaked at number six on the R&B charts and number 18 on the pop charts. They had their final R&B hit the next year with "Love Corporation," which reached number 15, but it was evident that the audience was losing interest in their material. "I Caught Your Act" was the last release in 1977. H. Ann Kelley, Flemming Williams, and Bernard "St. Clair Lee" Henderson were the original lineup. Tom Brown replaced Williams in the wake of "Rock the Boat's" success. He was then replaced by Karl Russell in 1975.
Before achieving mainstream success they were the opening act for a list of headliners that included Frank Sinatra, Milton Berle, Nancy Sinatra, and Glen Campbell. The original band had a lineup of three singers and three sidemen. The sidemen were Joey Rivera from the Checkmates; Monti Lawston; and Bob "Bullet" Bailey, formerly of the Leaves. Bailey, Rivera, and Lawston left the band to form Goodstuff.
The group was formed in 1969. Songwriter Wally Holmes founded the group with his friend Bernard St. Clair Lee. Female singer H. Ann Kelly was found at a talent show in Los Angeles. As a result of notices placed in southern California record stores, Karl Russell turned up. Not long afterwards he was replaced by Fleming Williams. They recorded a single "Goodfootin'" / "We're Keepin' Our Business" that was released on the Liberty label in 1970. It did not make an impact on the charts.]
The group's first big break came in 1972, when they were invited to appear in the blaxploitation film, Blacula, starring William Marshall. They were also asked to record three songs for the film's soundtrack: "There He Is Again", "What The World Knows," and "I'm Gonna Catch You." Shortly thereafter, RCA signed the group; their first single for the label, "Freedom For The Stallion", from the album of the same name, became a moderate hit, reaching #63 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart. The follow-up single, "Rock the Boat," became a #1 hit on the Billboard chart and the group's signature song. "Rock the Boat" was written by Holmes, who also wrote the Blacula songs, and was released in the U.S. in February 1974 and in the UK in July of that year. It went to #1 for one week in the U.S. and #6 for two weeks in the UK, staying for 20 weeks in the U.S. chart with a gold disc awarded by the RIAA on 24 June 1974. The track sold well over two million copies. The song is considered one of the earliest disco songs. Some authorities proclaim it to be the first disco song to hit #1, while others give that distinction to "Love's Theme" by the Love Unlimited Orchestra, a chart-topper from earlier in 1974.
After the success of "Rock the Boat," the Hues Corporation's other charted singles on the Billboard Hot 100 included "Rockin' Soul" (1974, #18), "Love Corporation" (1975, #62), and "I Caught Your Act" (1977, #92).
The group was unable to duplicate the success of their earlier hits and disbanded in 1978. With the renewed popularity of disco music in the 1990s, the group reunited for tour dates and special events, including the PBS special Get Down Tonight: The Disco Explosion.
"Honor the past, don't just remember it." Dizzie Gillespie
Late-'50s/early-'60s pop/R&B hitmaker with a buttermilk croon and a knack for penning hits.
On April 9, 1988, singer-songwriter Brook Benton died at age 56. He was born on September 19, 1931. He scored over 20 US top 40 singles, in the late 1950s and early 1960s; with hits such as ‘It's Just A Matter Of Time’ and ‘Endlessly’, and made a comeback in 1974 when he had the No.4 hit 'Rainy Night In Georgia.'
Silky smooth: that was Brook Benton's byword from his first record to his very last, as the singer parlayed his rich baritone pipes into seven number one R&B hits and eight Top Ten items. Stints on the gospel circuit preceded Benton's first secular session for Okeh in 1953, but his career didn't begin to take off until he teamed with writer/producer Clyde Otis. Benton co-wrote and sang hundreds of demos for other artists before frequent collaborator Otis signed his friend to Mercury; together they pioneered a lush, violin-studded variation on the standard R&B sound, which beautifully showcased Benton's intimate vocals.
Benton crashed the top spot on the R&B charts in early 1959 with his moving "It's Just a Matter of Time," then rapidly encored with three more R&B chart-toppers: "Thank You Pretty Baby," "So Many Ways," and "Kiddio." Pairing with Mercury labelmate Dinah Washington, their delightful repartee on "Baby (You've Got What It Takes)" and "A Rockin' Good Way" paced the R&B lists in 1960.
The early '60s were a prolific period for Benton, but he left Mercury a few years later and bounced between labels before reemerging with the atmospheric Tony Joe White ballad "Rainy Night in Georgia" on Cotillion in 1970. Benton later made a halfhearted attempt to cash in on the disco craze, but his hitmaking reign was at an end long before his death in 1988.
"Honor the past, don't just remember it." Dizzie Gillespie
Quintessential jazz singer whose reedy voice and laconic style made her a legend for the ages.
On April 7, 1915, was born Billie Holiday, (Elinore Harris, April 7, 1915 - July 17, 1959) , the greatest female jazz singer of all time. She made over 100 records, worked with Count Basie, Duke Ellington. Unfortunately, she also had numerous arrests for drugs possession. She passed away on July 17, 1959 from liver failure, at only 44 years old.
The first popular jazz singer to move audiences with the intense, personal feeling of classic blues, Billie Holiday changed the art of American pop vocals forever. More than a half-century after her death, it's difficult to believe that prior to her emergence, jazz and pop singers were tied to the Tin Pan Alley tradition and rarely personalized their songs; only blues singers like Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey actually gave the impression they had lived through what they were singing. Billie Holiday's highly stylized reading of this blues tradition revolutionized traditional pop, ripping the decades-long tradition of song plugging in two by refusing to compromise her artistry for either the song or the band. She made clear her debts to Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong (in her autobiography she admitted, "I always wanted Bessie's big sound and Pops' feeling"), but in truth her style was virtually her own, quite a shock in an age of interchangeable crooners and band singers.
With her spirit shining through on every recording, Holiday's technical expertise also excelled in comparison to the great majority of her contemporaries. Often bored by the tired old Tin Pan Alley songs she was forced to record early in her career, Holiday fooled around with the beat and the melody, phrasing behind the beat and often rejuvenating the standard melody with harmonies borrowed from her favorite horn players, Armstrong and Lester Young. (She often said she tried to sing like a horn.) Her notorious private life -- a series of abusive relationships, substance addictions, and periods of depression -- undoubtedly assisted her legendary status, but Holiday's best performances ("Lover Man," "Don't Explain," "Strange Fruit," her own composition "God Bless the Child") remain among the most sensitive and accomplished vocal performances ever recorded. More than technical ability, more than purity of voice, what made Billie Holiday one of the best vocalists of the century -- easily the equal of Ella Fitzgerald or Frank Sinatra -- was her relentlessly individualist temperament, a quality that colored every one of her endlessly nuanced performances.
Billie Holiday's chaotic life reportedly began in Baltimore on April 7, 1915 (a few reports say 1912) when she was born Eleanora Fagan Gough. Her father, Clarence Holiday, was a teenaged jazz guitarist and banjo player later to play in Fletcher Henderson's Orchestra. He never married her mother, Sadie Fagan, and left while his daughter was still a baby. (She would later run into him in New York, and though she contracted many guitarists for her sessions before his death in 1937, she always avoided using him.) Holiday's mother was also a young teenager at the time, and whether because of inexperience or neglect, often left her daughter with uncaring relatives. Holiday was sentenced to Catholic reform school at the age of ten, reportedly after she admitted being raped. Though sentenced to stay until she became an adult, a family friend helped get her released after just two years. With her mother, she moved in 1927, first to New Jersey and soon after to Brooklyn.
In New York, Holiday helped her mother with domestic work, but soon began moonlighting as a prostitute for the additional income. According to the weighty Billie Holiday legend (which gained additional credence after her notoriously apocryphal autobiography Lady Sings the Blues), her big singing break came in 1933 when a laughable dancing audition at a speakeasy prompted her accompanist to ask her if she could sing. In fact, Holiday was most likely singing at clubs all over New York City as early as 1930-31. Whatever the true story, she first gained some publicity in early 1933, when record producer John Hammond -- only three years older than Holiday herself, and just at the beginning of a legendary career -- wrote her up in a column for Melody Maker and brought Benny Goodman to one of her performances. After recording a demo at Columbia Studios, Holiday joined a small group led by Goodman to make her commercial debut on November 27, 1933 with "Your Mother's Son-In-Law."
Though she didn't return to the studio for over a year, Billie Holiday spent 1934 moving up the rungs of the competitive New York bar scene. By early 1935, she made her debut at the Apollo Theater and appeared in a one-reeler film with Duke Ellington. During the last half of 1935, Holiday finally entered the studio again and recorded a total of four sessions. With a pick-up band supervised by pianist Teddy Wilson, she recorded a series of obscure, forgettable songs straight from the gutters of Tin Pan Alley -- in other words, the only songs available to an obscure black band during the mid-'30s. (During the swing era, music publishers kept the best songs strictly in the hands of society orchestras and popular white singers.) Despite the poor song quality, Holiday and various groups (including trumpeter Roy Eldridge, alto Johnny Hodges, and tenors Ben Webster and Chu Berry) energized flat songs like "What a Little Moonlight Can Do," "Twenty-Four Hours a Day" and "If You Were Mine" (to say nothing of "Eeny Meeny Miney Mo" and "Yankee Doodle Never Went to Town"). The great combo playing and Holiday's increasingly assured vocals made them quite popular on Columbia, Brunswick and Vocalion.
During 1936, Holiday toured with groups led by Jimmie Lunceford and Fletcher Henderson, then returned to New York for several more sessions. In late January 1937, she recorded several numbers with a small group culled from one of Hammond's new discoveries, Count Basie's Orchestra. Tenor Lester Young, who'd briefly known Billie several years earlier, and trumpeter Buck Clayton were to become especially attached to Holiday. The three did much of their best recorded work together during the late '30s, and Holiday herself bestowed the nickname Pres on Young, while he dubbed her Lady Day for her elegance. By the spring of 1937, she began touring with Basie as the female complement to his male singer, Jimmy Rushing. The association lasted less than a year, however. Though officially she was fired from the band for being temperamental and unreliable, shadowy influences higher up in the publishing world reportedly commanded the action after she refused to begin singing '20s female blues standards.
At least temporarily, the move actually benefited Holiday -- less than a month after leaving Basie, she was hired by Artie Shaw's popular band. She began singing with the group in 1938, one of the first instances of a black female appearing with a white group. Despite the continuing support of the entire band, however, show promoters and radio sponsors soon began objecting to Holiday -- based on her unorthodox singing style almost as much as her race. After a series of escalating indignities, Holiday quit the band in disgust. Yet again, her judgment proved valuable; the added freedom allowed her to take a gig at a hip new club named Café Society, the first popular nightspot with an inter-racial audience. There, Billie Holiday learned the song that would catapult her career to a new level: "Strange Fruit."
The standard, written by Café Society regular Lewis Allen and forever tied to Holiday, is an anguished reprisal of the intense racism still persistent in the South. Though Holiday initially expressed doubts about adding such a bald, uncompromising song to her repertoire, she pulled it off thanks largely to her powers of nuance and subtlety. "Strange Fruit" soon became the highlight of her performances. Though John Hammond refused to record it (not for its politics but for its overly pungent imagery), he allowed Holiday a bit of leverage to record for Commodore, the label owned by jazz record-store owner Milt Gabler. Once released, "Strange Fruit" was banned by many radio outlets, though the growing jukebox industry (and the inclusion of the excellent "Fine and Mellow" on the flip) made it a rather large, though controversial, hit. She continued recording for Columbia labels until 1942, and hit big again with her most famous composition, 1941's "God Bless the Child." Gabler, who also worked A&R for Decca, signed her to the label in 1944 to record "Lover Man," a song written especially for her and her third big hit. Neatly side-stepping the musician's union ban that afflicted her former label, Holiday soon became a priority at Decca, earning the right to top-quality material and lavish string sections for her sessions. She continued recording scattered sessions for Decca during the rest of the '40s, and recorded several of her best-loved songs including Bessie Smith's "'Tain't Nobody's Business If I Do," "Them There Eyes," and "Crazy He Calls Me."
Though her artistry was at its peak, Billie Holiday's emotional life began a turbulent period during the mid-'40s. Already heavily into alcohol and marijuana, she began smoking opium early in the decade with her first husband, Johnnie Monroe. The marriage didn't last, but hot on its heels came a second marriage to trumpeter Joe Guy and a move to heroin. Despite her triumphant concert at New York's Town Hall and a small film role -- as a maid (!) -- with Louis Armstrong in 1947's New Orleans, she lost a good deal of money running her own orchestra with Joe Guy. Her mother's death soon after affected her deeply, and in 1947 she was arrested for possession of heroin and sentenced to eight months in prison.
Unfortunately, Holiday's troubles only continued after her release. The drug charge made it impossible for her to get a cabaret card, so nightclub performances were out of the question. Plagued by various celebrity hawks from all portions of the underworld (jazz, drugs, song publishing, etc.), she soldiered on for Decca until 1950. Two years later, she began recording for jazz entrepreneur Norman Granz, owner of the excellent labels Clef, Norgran, and by 1956, Verve. The recordings returned her to the small-group intimacy of her Columbia work, and reunited her with Ben Webster as well as other top-flight musicians such as Oscar Peterson, Harry "Sweets" Edison, and Charlie Shavers. Though the ravages of a hard life were beginning to take their toll on her voice, many of Holiday's mid-'50s recordings are just as intense and beautiful as her classic work.
During 1954, Holiday toured Europe to great acclaim, and her 1956 autobiography brought her even more fame (or notoriety). She made her last great appearance in 1957, on the CBS television special The Sound of Jazz with Webster, Lester Young, and Coleman Hawkins providing a close backing. One year later, the Lady in Satin LP clothed her naked, increasingly hoarse voice with the overwrought strings of Ray Ellis. During her final year, she made two more appearances in Europe before collapsing in May 1959 of heart and liver disease. Still procuring heroin while on her death bed, Holiday was arrested for possession in her private room and died on July 17, her system completely unable to fight both withdrawal and heart disease at the same time. Her cult of influence spread quickly after her death and gave her more fame than she'd enjoyed in life. The 1972 biopic Lady Sings the Blues featured Diana Ross struggling to overcome the conflicting myths of Holiday's life, but the film also illuminated her tragic life and introduced many future fans. By the digital age, virtually all of Holiday's recorded material had been reissued: by Columbia (nine volumes of The Quintessential Billie Holiday), Decca (The Complete Decca Recordings), and Verve (The Complete Billie Holiday on Verve 1945-1959).
"Honor the past, don't just remember it." Dizzie Gillespie
Richly talented Latin music percussionist and singer.
A brilliant bassist, one of salsa’s foremost band leaders since the 1960s.
Alegre Records was a New York record label that was founded in 1956 by Al Santiago who owned a 1950s record store in The Bronx named Casalegre and co-founded by clothing businessman Ben Perlman. It specialized in Latin music and was significant for featuring artists such as Johnny Pacheco and Tito Puente and was the first to record a series of great Latin artists, from Johnny Pacheco, Eddie Palmieri, through Willie Colón. It has been called the "Blue Note" of Latin music.
El Caobo &