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
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
Bop's greatest diva, a highly influential jazz singer with extraordinary range and perfect intonation, ranging from soft and warm to harsh and throaty.
On March 27, 1924, was born jazz singer, Sarah Lois Vaughan (1924 - 1990); described by renowned music critic Scott Yanow as having "one off the most wondrous voices of the 20th century. Nicknamed "Sassy", "The Divine One" and "Sailor" (for her salty speech), Sarah was a Grammy Award winner. Also, the National Endowment for the Artis bestowed upon her its "highest honor in jazz", the NEA Jazz Masters Award, in 1989.
Possessor of one of the most wondrous voices of the 20th century, Sarah Vaughan ranked with Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday in the very top echelon of female jazz singers. She often gave the impression that with her wide range, perfectly controlled vibrato, and wide expressive abilities, she could do anything she wanted with her voice. Although not all of her many recordings are essential (give Vaughan a weak song and she might strangle it to death), Sarah Vaughan's legacy as a performer and a recording artist will be very difficult to match in the future.
Vaughan sang in church as a child and had extensive piano lessons from 1931-39; she developed into a capable keyboardist. After she won an amateur contest at the Apollo Theater, she was hired for the Earl Hines big band as a singer and second vocalist. Unfortunately, the musicians' recording strike kept her off record during this period (1943-44). When lifelong friend Billy Eckstine broke away to form his own orchestra, Vaughan joined him, making her recording debut. She loved being with Eckstine's orchestra, where she became influenced by a couple of his sidemen, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, both of whom had also been with Hines during her stint. Vaughan was one of the first singers to fully incorporate bop phrasing in her singing, and to have the vocal chops to pull it off on the level of a Parker and Gillespie.
Other than a few months with John Kirby from 1945-46, Sarah Vaughan spent the remainder of her career as a solo star. Although she looked a bit awkward in 1945 (her first husband George Treadwell would greatly assist her with her appearance), there was no denying her incredible voice. She made several early sessions for Continental: a December 31, 1944 date highlighted by her vocal version of "A Night in Tunisia," which was called "Interlude," and a May 25, 1945 session for that label that had Gillespie and Parker as sidemen. However, it was her 1946-48 selections for Musicraft (which included "If You Could See Me Now," "Tenderly" and "It's Magic") that found her rapidly gaining maturity and adding bop-oriented phrasing to popular songs. Signed to Columbia where she recorded during 1949-53, "Sassy" continued to build on her popularity. Although some of those sessions were quite commercial, eight classic selections cut with Jimmy Jones' band during May 18-19, 1950 (an octet including Miles Davis) showed that she could sing jazz with the best.
During the 1950s, Vaughan recorded middle-of-the-road pop material with orchestras for Mercury, and jazz dates (including Sarah Vaughan, a memorable collaboration with Clifford Brown) for the label's subsidiary, EmArcy. Later record label associations included Roulette (1960-64), back with Mercury (1963-67), and after a surprising four years off records, Mainstream (1971-74). Through the years, Vaughan's voice deepened a bit, but never lost its power, flexibility or range. She was a masterful scat singer and was able to out-swing nearly everyone (except for Ella). Vaughan was with Norman Granz's Pablo label from 1977-82, and only during her last few years did her recording career falter a bit, with only two forgettable efforts after 1982. However, up until near the end, Vaughan remained a world traveler, singing and partying into all hours of the night with her miraculous voice staying in prime form. The majority of her recordings are currently available, including complete sets of the Mercury/Emarcy years, and Sarah Vaughan is as famous today as she was during her most active years.
"Honor the past, don't just remember it." Dizzie Gillespie
The most successful folk-based performer to emerge in the '80s, a platinum singer/songwriter with an outstanding voice.
On March 30, 1964, was born multi-platinum and four-time Grammy Award-winng singer- songwriter, Tracy Chapman, known for her hits "Fast Car" and "Give Me One Reason" along iwth other singles Talkin' bout a Revolution," "Baby Can I Hold You," "Crossroads," "New Beginning," and "Telling Stories."
Tracy Chapman helped restore singer/songwriters to the spotlight in the '80s. The multi-platinum success of Chapman's eponymous 1988 debut was unexpected, and it had lasting impact. Although Chapman was working from the same confessional singer/songwriter foundation that had been popularized in the '70s, her songs were fresh and powerful, driven by simple melodies and affecting lyrics. At the time of her first album, there were only a handful of artists performing such a style successfully, and her success ushered in a new era of singer/songwriters that lasted well into the '90s. Furthermore, her album helped usher in the era of political correctness -- along with 10,000 Maniacs and R.E.M., Chapman's liberal politics proved enormously influential on American college campuses in the late '80s. Of course, such implications meant that Chapman's subsequent recordings were greeted with mixed reactions, but after several years out of the spotlight, she managed to make a very successful comeback in 1996 with her fourth album, New Beginning, thanks to the Top Ten single "Give Me One Reason."
Raised in a working class neighborhood in Cleveland, Ohio, Chapman learned how to play guitar as a child, and began to write her own songs shortly afterward. Following high school, she won a minority placement scholarship and decided to attend Tufts University, where she studied anthropology and African studies. While at Tufts, she became fascinated with folk-rock and singer/songwriters, and began performing her own songs at coffeehouses. Eventually, she recorded a set of demos at the college radio station. One of her fellow students, Brian Koppelman, heard Chapman play and recommended her to his father, Charles Koppelman, who ran SBK Publishing. In 1986, she signed with SBK and Koppelman secured a management contract with Elliot Roberts, who had worked with Neil Young and Joni Mitchell. Roberts and Koppelman helped Chapman sign to Elektra in 1987.
Chapman recorded her debut album with David Kershenbaum, and the resulting eponymous record was released in the spring of 1988. Tracy Chapman was greeted with enthusiastic reviews, and she set out on the road supporting 10,000 Maniacs. Within a few months, she played at the internationally televised concert for Nelson Mandela's 70th birthday party, where her performance was greeted with thunderous applause. Soon, the single "Fast Car" began climbing the charts, eventually peaking at number six. The album's sales soared along with the single, and by the end of the year, the record had gone multi-platinum. Early the following year, the record won four Grammys, including Best New Artist.
It was an auspicious beginning to Chapman's career, and it was perhaps inevitable that her second album, 1989's darker, more political Crossroads, didn't fare quite as well. Although it was well-reviewed, the album wasn't as commercially successful, peaking at number nine and quickly falling down the charts. Following Crossroads, Chapman spent a few years in seclusion, returning in 1992 with Matters of the Heart. The album was greeted with mixed reviews and weak sales, and for a time, it seemed Chapman had begun to fall into obscurity. Three years later, she rebounded with New Beginning, which featured the bluesy single "Give Me One Reason." Released in 1995, the song slowly climbed the charts, eventually peaking at number three on the Billboard Hot 100 and earning Chapman another Grammy for Best Rock Song in 1997. It was a quiet, successful comeback from an artist most observers had already consigned to languish in cult status. After a four-year break, she delivered her fifth album, Telling Stories, in 2000. The album and its single, "Telling Stories," fared well both in the U.S and in Europe, where Chapman's presence was increasingly in demand. Throughout the next decade, she would continue to fare well overseas, releasing 2002's Let It Rain and 2005's Where You Live and touring frequently both Stateside and in Europe. Still a socially conscious artist, Chapman was commissioned by the American Conservatory Theater in 2008 to compose the music for their production of Athol Fugard's apartheid-themed play Blood Knot. That same year, she released her eighth album, Our Bright Future, and received another Grammy nomination, this time for Best Contemporary Folk Album. For a number of years following its release, little was heard from Chapman until a 2015 live appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman. Performed during the final week of Letterman's tenure on the show, Chapman's haunting rendition of Ben E. King's "Stand by Me" became a viral hit and was eventually included on her first Greatest Hits compilation, released in November of that year.
"Honor the past, don't just remember it." Dizzie Gillespie
Excellent New York-based girl group of the early '60s that hit number one with "He's So Fine."
On March 30, 1963, the Chiffons started a four week run at No.1 on the US singles chart with ‘He’s So Fine.’
One of the best early-'60s New York girl groups, combining sassiness and innocence on several of the style's greatest classics. The Chiffons had some singles under their belt when they reached number one with "He's So Fine," whose classic "doo-lang, doo-lang" riff was appropriated by George Harrison in 1970 for his own chart-topper, "My Sweet Lord" (Harrison was subsequently ordered to pay substantial damages to the original publishers, though he always claimed the resemblance was unintentional). Their follow-up, Goffin-King's "One Fine Day," was just as good, featuring killer piano riffs from King herself. Actually cut as a Little Eva track, the Chiffons' vocal was substituted, resulting in a Top Five hit. There were a couple other memorable hits -- "I Have a Boyfriend" and the Motown-influenced "Sweet Talkin' Guy" -- and interesting misfires like the Martha & the Vandellas-inspired "The Real Thing," as well as some singles issued under an alter ego, the Four Pennies. The group recorded quite a bit of material during the '60s, much of it derivative.
"Honor the past, don't just remember it." Dizzie Gillespie
Sweet soul trio who topped the R&B charts in 1970 with "Love on a Two-Way Street."
On March 31, 1947, was born Al Goodman, of the r&b vocal group, the Moments.
One of the most consistent R&B aggregations of the '70s, the Moments enjoyed a string of major hits throughout the decade. The Hackensack, NJ, trio introduced themselves and the Stang label with "Not on the Outside" in 1968, and topped the R&B charts in 1970 with the gold-plated "Love on a Two-Way Street," produced by Sylvia Robinson (one half of Mickey & Sylvia). Other major soul smashes by the Moments included "If I Didn't Care" and "All I Have" in 1970, "Sexy Mama" in 1973, and another number one R&B item, "Look at Me (I'm in Love)," in 1975. Members Harry Ray, Al Goodman, and William Brown changed their billing to Ray, Goodman & Brown in 1978, for contractual reasons, and topped the soul lists the next year with the slickly harmonized "Special Lady" on Polydor. The renamed trio remained potent soul hitmakers through the '80s.
"Honor the past, don't just remember it." Dizzie Gillespie
Over the course of multiple decades and multipe musical styles, the Brothers are an R&B institution.
April 1, 1939, was born, Rudolph Isley of The Isley Brothers: a musical group originally from Cincinnati, Ohio, and originally a vocal trio consisting of brothers O'Kelly Isley, Jr., Rudolph Isley and Ronald Isley. The group has been cited as having enjoyed one of the "longest, most influential, and most diverse careers in the pantheon of popular music".
First formed in the early '50s, the Isley Brothers enjoyed one of the longest, most influential, and most diverse careers in the pantheon of popular music -- over the course of nearly a half century of performing, the group's distinguished history spanned not only two generations of Isley siblings but also massive cultural shifts which heralded their music's transformation from gritty R&B to Motown soul to blistering funk. The first generation of Isley siblings was born and raised in Cincinnati, OH, where they were encouraged to begin a singing career by their father, himself a professional vocalist, and their mother, a church pianist who provided musical accompaniment at their early performances. Initially a gospel quartet, the group was comprised of Ronald, Rudolph, O'Kelly, and Vernon Isley; after Vernon's 1955 death in a bicycling accident, tenor Ronald was tapped as the remaining trio's lead vocalist. In 1957, the brothers went to New York City to record a string of failed doo wop singles; while performing a spirited reading of the song "Lonely Teardrops" in Washington, D.C., two years later, they interjected the line "You know you make me want to shout," which inspired frenzied audience feedback. An RCA executive in the audience saw the concert, and when he signed the Isleys soon after, he instructed that their first single be constructed around their crowd-pleasing catch phrase; while the call-and-response classic "Shout" failed to reach the pop Top 40 on its initial release, it eventually became a frequently covered classic.
Still, success eluded the Isleys, and only after they left RCA in 1962 did they again have another hit, this time with their seminal cover of the Top Notes' "Twist and Shout." Like so many of the brothers' early R&B records, "Twist and Shout" earned greater commercial success when later rendered by a white group -- in this case, the Beatles; other acts who notched hits by closely following the Isleys' blueprint were the Yardbirds ("Respectable," also covered by the Outsiders), the Human Beinz ("Nobody but Me"), and Lulu ("Shout"). During a 1964 tour, they recruited a young guitarist named Jimmy James to play in their backing band; James -- who later shot to fame under his given name, Jimi Hendrix -- made his first recordings with the Isleys, including the single "Testify," issued on the brothers' own T-Neck label. They signed to the Motown subsidiary Tamla in 1965, where they joined forces with the famed Holland-Dozier-Holland writing and production team. Their first single, the shimmering "This Old Heart of Mine (Is Weak for You)," was their finest moment yet, and barely missed the pop Top Ten.
"This Old Heart of Mine" was their only hit on Motown, however, and when the song hit number three in Britain in 1967, the Isleys relocated to England in order to sustain their flagging career; after years of writing their own material, they felt straitjacketed by the Motown assembly-line production formula, and by the time they returned stateside in 1969, they had exited Tamla to resuscitate the T-Neck label. Their next release, the muscular and funky "It's Your Thing," hit number two on the U.S. charts in 1969, and became their most successful record. That year, the Isleys also welcomed a number of new members as younger brothers Ernie and Marvin, brother-in-law Chris Jasper, and family friend Everett Collins became the trio's new backing unit. Spearheaded by Ernie's hard-edged guitar leads, the group began incorporating more and more rock material into its repertoire as the 1970s dawned, and scored hits with covers of Stephen Stills' "Love the One You're With," Eric Burdon & War's "Spill the Wine," and Bob Dylan's "Lay Lady Lay."
In 1973, the Isleys scored a massive hit with their rock-funk fusion cover of their own earlier single "Who's That Lady," retitled "That Lady, Pt. 1"; the album 3 + 3 also proved highly successful, as did 1975's The Heat Is On, which spawned the smash "Fight the Power, Pt. 1." As the decade wore on, the group again altered its sound to fit into the booming disco market; while their success on pop radio ran dry, they frequently topped the R&B charts with singles like 1977's "The Pride," 1978's "Take Me to the Next Phase, Pt. 1," 1979's "I Wanna Be With You, Pt. 1," and 1980's "Don't Say Goodnight." While the Isleys' popularity continued into the 1980s, Ernie and Marvin, along with Chris Jasper, defected in 1984 to form their own group, Isley Jasper Isley; a year later, they topped the R&B charts with "Caravan of Love." On March 31, 1986, O'Kelly died of a heart attack; Rudolph soon left to join the ministry, but the group reunited in 1990.
Although the individual members continued with solo work and side projects, and also experienced misfortune along the way, the Isley Brothers forged on in one form or another throughout the '90s and into the 21st century. In 1996, now consisting of Ronald, Marvin, and Ernie, they released the album Mission to Please; however, Marvin developed diabetes and left the band the following year -- the disease later necessitated the amputation of both his legs. Ronald and Ernie hooked up for the release of 2001's Eternal, a brand-new selection of R&B cuts featuring collaborative efforts with Jill Scott, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, and Raphael Saadiq. On that particular release, Ronald also introduced the alter ego Mr. Biggs. Body Kiss was released in 2003, followed by Baby Makin' Music in 2006, the year after Ronald was convicted of tax evasion charges. Experiencing his own set of serious health issues, Ronald was sentenced to prison and served the latter portion of his sentence at a halfway house in St. Louis, MO before being released in April 2010. On June 6 of that year, Marvin died of complications from diabetes at the age of 56.
"Honor the past, don't just remember it." Dizzie Gillespie
R&B singer whose Marvin Gaye influence showed often, including on his number one hit "Shake You Down" from 1986.
On April 2, 1956, was born soul and R&B singer, musician, composer and producer, Gregory Abbott, best known for his singles in the mid–1980s including platinum single; Shake You Down from his 1986 debut album. (Some sources report his birth year as 1954.)
Gregory Abbott's roots stem from Venezuela, his mother's homeland, and the island of Antigua, his father's homeland; making him a dual citizen of the small tropical island and the U.S., where he was born. His career as an award-winning singer, composer, producer, and musician began in New York City. While in New York City, his mother taught him to play piano and encouraged him to develop his vocal talents. At the age of eight, he sang in the famed St. Patrick's Cathedral Choir, with whom he recorded an album as well as performing on television. In his college years, he majored in psychology, minored in music and dramatic arts, in which he attained a master's degree. While pursuing undergraduate and graduate studies at Boston University, Berkeley, and Stanford, he helped pay his tuition by creating a band and playing locally. It was here he developed his own personal musical style.
Eventually, Abbott taught English at Berkeley, while maintaining his love and appreciation of music. He eventually decided to become a professional musician, build a studio, and apply his academic discipline to developing skills as a singer/songwriter, guitarist, composer, producer, keyboard player, and drummer. One of his first endeavors was an album for an independent label, which included Abbott performing a duet with Whitney Houston along with her mother, Cissy Houston, singing background vocals. He then produced a group on Atlantic Records by the name of EQ with famed chairman Ahmet Ertegun. Shortly after, he released the single and album Shake You Down, shaking up the music industry with countless honors and awards. The platinum single became the fastest song in the history of BMI to reach one million airplays, and won BMI's Pop Song of the Year award as the most performed song.
Abbott's music has crossed every barrier imaginable. He is noted for coining the term "groove ballad," to describe his signature style, and when referring to him, music writers and critics alike have affectionately used the term "Wall Street soul." He is a favorite with the ladies for his sophisticated demeanor and intelligent green eyes. The soulful strength and intensity is what Abbott projects in his music and what people love. "Shake You Down" went to number one on the Billboard pop, R&B, adult contemporary, and dance singles charts, and was the number three Pop Song of the Year in the magazine's year-end review.
The seemingly endless list of awards continues. Gregory Abbott won two Soul Train music awards for Best Male Singer and Best New Artist. He was the star of the New York Music Awards, receiving four honors: Best R&B Album, Best Debut Album, Best R&B Vocalist, and the Rising Star Award. He walked away with two awards at Dick Clark's Black Gold ceremonies, another honor from the R&B Awards in Las Vegas, a N.Y. Image award, and two awards from the annual CEBA Awards dinner (Communications Excellence Aimed at Black Audiences). His striking good looks made him a favorite of fashion photographers, and he appeared in numerous magazine layouts, including a six-page fashion spread in Playboy, and a feature on the ten sexiest male recording artists in Playgirl. In fact, one of the more frequent observations by Abbott fans is the sophistication and style he carries off so well. In Japan, he won first prize at the annual Tokyo Music Festival, and the Japanese were so impressed with his music that the title song of his second album, I'll Prove It to You, was featured on a Japanese movie soundtrack. In Belgium, he performed in a video with Princess Stephanie of Monaco, and in Portugal he delighted fans by doing interviews in their native language. He also recorded a duet with one of Brazil's most popular singers, Rosanna, and sang in both English and Portuguese; he also had the unique opportunity to travel to Russia for a songwriters summit, MSLTW (Music Speaks Louder Than Words). An album was released on Epic Records, using songs written there, by 20 top American and Russian songwriters. This was done to encourage communication and friendship between the two countries. Among the other songwriters present were Cyndi Lauper, Brenda Russell, Diane Warren, Barry Mann, Mike Stoller, and Michael Bolton. The song Abbott created while there was performed by Spanish pop star Emmanuel.
Abbott's non-stop schedule continued at home in America where he recorded vocals for the Bill Cosby Show. His own Caribbean-influenced album One World!, which he said he recorded as a tribute to his parents, was internationally released. Hissoundtrack and television work has included White Lion; Hearts Afire; Evening Shade starring Burt Reynolds; Tap starring Gregory Hines and Sammy Davis, Jr., and Living Single starring Queen Latifah; among many others. Abbott has always been highly noted for his songwriting abilities. "I started off as a songwriter, and I guess I'll always be that first" he says. He has written for many artists including EQ, Rosanna, Emmanuel, Mona Lisa, Ronnie Spector, Freda Payne, and songstress Jennifer Warnes for her hit single "Rock You Gently." Eyes, Whispers, Rhythm, Sex... appeared in 2000, offering a more groove-based sound than his previous efforts.
"Honor the past, don't just remember it." Dizzie Gillespie
Smooth Philadelphia R&B group that featured soaring harmonies and Russell Thompkins' distinctive falsetto.
On March 21, 1951 was born soul singer, Russell Thompkins Jr, former lead singer of the Philadelphia soul vocal group, the Stylistics; a group that churned out masterpieces such as the 1975 US No.1 single 'You Make Me Feel Brand New', and many more.
After the Spinners and the O'Jays, the Stylistics were the leading Philly soul group produced by Thom Bell. During the early '70s, the band had 12 straight Top Ten hits, including "You Are Everything," "Betcha by Golly, Wow," "I'm Stone in Love With You," "Break Up to Make Up," and "You Make Me Feel Brand New." Of all their peers, the Stylistics were one of the smoothest and sweetest soul groups of their era. All of their hits were ballads, graced by the soaring falsetto of Russell Thompkins, Jr. and the lush yet graceful productions of Bell, which helped make the Stylistics one of the most successful soul groups of the first half of the '70s.
The Stylistics formed in 1968, when members of the Philadelphia soul groups the Monarchs and the Percussions joined forces after their respective band dissolved. Thompkins, James Smith, and Airrion Love hailed from the Monarchs; James Dunn and Herbie Murrell were from the Percussions. In 1970, the group recorded "You're a Big Girl Now," a song their road manager Marty Bryant co-wrote with Robert Douglas, a member of their backing band Slim and the Boys, and the single became a regional hit for Sebring Records. The larger Avco Records soon signed the Stylistics, and single eventually climbed to number seven in early 1971.
Once they were on Avco, the Stylistics began working with producer/songwriter Thom Bell, who had previously worked with the Delfonics. The Stylistics became Bell's pet project and with lyricist Linda Creed, he crafted a series of hit singles that relied as much on the intricately arranged and lush production as they did on Thompkins' falsetto. Every single that Bell produced for the Stylistics was a Top Ten R&B hit, and several -- "You Are Everything," "Betcha by Golly, Wow," "I'm Stone in Love With You," "Break Up to Make Up," and "You Make Me Feel Brand New" -- were also Top Ten pop hits.
Following "You Make Me Feel Brand New" in the spring of 1974, the Stylistics broke away from Bell and began working with Van McCoy, who helped move the group towards a softer, easy listening style. In 1976, they left Avco and signed with H&L. The group's American record sales declined, yet they remained popular in Europe, particularly in Great Britain, where "Sing Baby Sing" (1975), "Na Na Is the Saddest Word" (1975), "Can't Give You Anything" (1975), and "Can't Help Falling in Love" (1976) were all Top Five hits. The Stylistics continued to tour and record throughout the latter half of the '70s, as their popularity steadily declined. In 1980, Dunn left the group because of poor health, and he was followed later that year by Smith. The remaining Stylistics continued performing as a trio on oldies shows into the '90s.
"Honor the past, don't just remember it." Dizzie Gillespie
The dynamic leader of the Supremes, who then became the original pop-soul solo diva by the early '70s.
On March 26, 1944, was born singer, songwriter, actress and record producer, Diana Ross, (Diane Ernestine Earle Ross); who rose to fame as a founding member and lead singer of The Supremes, before beginning a solo career.
As a solo artist, Diana Ross is one of the most successful female singers of the rock era. If you factor in her work as the lead singer of the Supremes in the 1960s, she may be the most successful. With her friends Mary Wilson, Florence Ballard, and Barbara Martin, Ross formed the Primettes vocal quartet in 1959. In 1960, they were signed to local Motown Records, changing their name to the Supremes in 1961. Martin then left, and the group continued as a trio. Over the next eight years, the Supremes (renamed "Diana Ross and the Supremes" in 1967, when Cindy Birdsong replaced Ballard) scored 12 number one pop hits. After the last one, "Someday We'll Be Together" (October 1969), Ross launched a solo career.
Motown initially paired her with writer/producers Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, who gave her four Top 40 pop hits, including the number one "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" (July 1970). Ross branched out into acting, starring in a film biography of Billie Holiday, Lady Sings the Blues (November 1972). The soundtrack went to number one, and Ross was nominated for an Academy Award.
She returned to record-making with the Top Ten album Touch Me in the Morning (June 1973) and its chart-topping title song. This was followed by a duet album with Marvin Gaye, Diana & Marvin (October 1973), that produced three chart hits. Ross acted in her second movie, Mahogany (October 1975), and it brought her another chart-topping single in the theme song, "Do You Know Where You're Going To." That and her next number one, the disco-oriented "Love Hangover" (March 1976), were featured on her second album to be titled simply Diana Ross (February 1976), which rose into the Top Ten.
Ross' third film role came in The Wiz (October 1978). The Boss (May 1979) was a gold-selling album, followed by the platinum-selling Diana (May 1980) (the second of her solo albums with that name, though the other, a 1971 TV soundtrack, had an exclamation mark). It featured the number one single "Upside Down" and the Top Ten hit "I'm Coming Out."
Ross scored a third Top Ten hit in 1980 singing the title theme from the movie It's My Turn. She then scored the biggest hit of her career with another movie theme, duetting with Lionel Richie on "Endless Love" (June 1981). It was her last big hit on Motown; after more than 20 years, she decamped for RCA. She was rewarded immediately with a million-selling album, titled after her remake of the old Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers hit, "Why Do Fools Fall in Love," which became her next Top Ten hit. The album also included the Top Ten hit "Mirror, Mirror."
Silk Electric (October 1982) was a gold-seller, featuring the Top Ten hit "Muscles," written and produced by Michael Jackson, and Swept Away (September 1984) was another successful album, containing the hit "Missing You," but Ross had trouble selling records in the second half of the 1980s. By 1989, she had returned to Motown, and by 1993 was turning more to pop standards, notably on the concert album Diana Ross Live: The Lady Sings...Jazz & Blues, Stolen Moments (April 1993).
Motown released a four-CD/cassette box set retrospective, Forever Diana, in October 1993, and the singer published her autobiography in 1994. Take Me Higher followed a year later, and in 1999 she returned with Every Day Is a New Day. 2000's Gift of Love was promoted by a concert tour featuring the Supremes, although neither Mary Wilson nor Cindy Birdsong appeared -- their roles were instead assumed by singers Lynda Laurence and Scherrie Payne, neither of whom had ever performed with Ross during the group's glory days. In 2006 Motown finally released Ross' lost album Blue, a collection of standards originally intended as the follow-up to Lady Sings the Blues. The album I Love You from 2007 featured new interpretations of familiar love songs. That same year the cable television network BET honored Ross with their Lifetime Achievement Award.
CLICK HERE TO LEARN ABOUT THE SUPREMES!
"Honor the past, don't just remember it." Dizzie Gillespie
The Crown Prince of Dance; an early rock & roll DJ, Memphis soul icon, and creator of the Funky Chicken.
On March 26, 1917, was born singer Rufus Thomas. He passed away on December 15th 2001.
Few of rock & roll's founding figures are as likable as Rufus Thomas. From the 1940s onward, he has personified Memphis music; his small but witty cameo role in Jim Jarmusch's Mystery Train, a film which satirizes and enshrines the city's role in popular culture, was entirely appropriate. As a recording artist, he wasn't a major innovator, but he could always be depended upon for some good, silly, and/or outrageous fun with his soul dance tunes. He was one of the few rock or soul stars to reach his commercial and artistic peak in middle age, and was a crucial mentor to many important Memphis blues, rock, and soul musicians.
Thomas was already a professional entertainer in the mid-'30s, when he was a comedian with the Rabbit Foot Minstrels. He recorded music as early as 1941, but really made his mark on the Memphis music scene as a deejay on WDIA, one of the few black-owned stations of the era. He also ran talent shows on Memphis' famous Beale Street that helped showcase the emerging skills of such influential figures as B.B. King, Bobby Bland, Junior Parker, Ike Turner, and Roscoe Gordon.
Thomas had his first success as a recording artist in 1953 with "Bear Cat," a funny answer record to Big Mama Thornton's "Hound Dog." It made number three on the R&B charts, giving Sun Records its first national hit, though some of the sweetness went out of the triumph after Sun owner Sam Phillips lost a lawsuit for plagiarizing the original Jerry Leiber/Mike Stoller tune. Thomas, strangely, would make only one other record for Sun, and recorded only sporadically throughout the rest of the 1950s.
Thomas and his daughter Carla would become the first stars for the Stax label, for whom they recorded a duet in 1959, "'Cause I Love You" (when the company was still known as Satellite). In the '60s, Carla would become one of Stax's biggest stars. On his own, Rufus wasn't as successful as his daughter, but issued a steady stream of decent dance/novelty singles.
These were not deep or emotional statements, or meant to be. Vaguely prefiguring elements of funk, the accent was on the stripped-down groove and Rufus' good-time vocals, which didn't take himself or anything seriously. The biggest by far was "Walking the Dog," which made the Top Ten in 1963, and was covered by the Rolling Stones on their first album.
Thomas hit his commercial peak in the early '70s, when "Do the Funky Chicken," "(Do The) Push and Pull," and "The Breakdown" all made the R&B Top Five. As the song titles themselves make clear, funk was now driving his sound rather than blues or soul. Thomas drew upon his vaudeville background to put them over on-stage with fancy footwork that displayed remarkable agility for a man well into his 50s. The collapse of the Stax label in the mid-'70s meant the end of his career, basically, as it did for many other artists with the company. In 2001, Rufus Thomas was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame. Later that year, on December 15, he died at St. Francis hospital in Memphis, TN.
"Honor the past, don't just remember it." Dizzie Gillespie
A soul and r&b singer, associated with the Philadelphia soul sound and the Delfonics
On February 9, 1947, was born Major Harris; soul and r&b singer who became a member of the Delfonics in 1971, but left the band in 1975 to pursue a solo career. He passed away on November 9, 2012.
After years of trying, Major Harris finally scored a big hit with the romantic, sensual "Love Won't Let Me Wait" in the summer of 1975. The ballad, with sexy backing vocals supplied by session singer Barbara Ingram, made its mark at number five on the pop charts while topping the R&B chart. He was born into a musical family on February 9, 1947, in Richmond, Virginia, as Major Harris III. His grandparents worked in vaudeville, his father was a professional guitarist, and his mother led the church choirs. His brother was Joe Jefferson, a Philadelphia songwriter responsible for many of the Spinners' hits like "Mighty Love," "Love Don't Love Nobody," and "One of a Kind Love Affair." His cousin was longtime Philly stalwart Norman Harris, a guitarist, producer, songwriter, and former record company owner.
Harris paid major dues: he sang with the Charmers, was briefly a member of Frankie Lymon's Teenagers, recorded with the Jarmels, issued solo singles on Laurie and OKeh Records, and later sang with Nat Turner's Rebellion on Philly Groove Records. None of his previous efforts brought him fame or success. He recorded with the Jarmels after they hit with "A Little Bit of Soap." Harris' first big break came when he joined the Delfonics, replacing Randy Cain; his first tour of duty with them ended in 1974 when he went solo. While with the group his mellow tenor was featured on quite a few recordings as a foil to lead William "Poogie" Hart's soulful falsetto, as is evident on "Think It Over Baby," "Lying to Myself," and "I Told You So."
Having left the Delfonics, he passed a solo audition for W.M.O.T. (We Men of Talent) productions and was signed as a solo act. An album was produced and released on Atlantic Records. The first release, "Each Day I Wake Up," was credited as being by the Major Harris Boogie Blues Band. When Atlantic later sprung "Love Won't Let Me Wait" on the public, the seductive ballad achieved a million in sales and became the high mark of Harris' career. It was recorded in a darkened Sigma Sound Studio with only a small light at Harris' lyric stand: Barbara Ingram, Carla Benton, and Yvette Benson supplied the backing vocals. MFSB played on the tracks with that distinctive, prevalent guitar supplied by Bobby Eli, who also produced the session and wrote the song with Gwendolyn Woolfolk (under her pen name of Vinnie Barrett).
Subsequent ballads by Harris fared well on the charts for a while, but when the hits dried up Harris went back to the Delfonics. As a solo act he was featured on an excellent live recording with Blue Magic and Margie Joseph, which showed that he was an even better entertainer than recording artist. He later toured with one of the two groups called the Delfonics; his version featured original members William Hart and Randy Cain. The other group included William Hart's brother, Wilbert (an original member), and two new guys. Major Harris died in Richmond on November 9, 2012; he was 65 years old.
CLICK HERE TO LEARN ABOUT THE DELFONICS
"Honor the past, don't just remember it." Dizzie Gillespie
Dubbed the queen of hip-hop soul, with a multi-platinum career ever since her early-'90s debut.
On January 11, 1971, was born, Mary Jane Blige, often referred to as the "Queen of hip-hop soul," an R&B soul singer, songwriter and actress who sold over 60 million records world-wide.
A recipient of nine Grammy Awards, in addition to receiving a record of thirty Grammy nominations, Blige is one of few entertainers in history to have eight or more albums to reach multi-platinum status. My Life, in particular, is considered among the greatest albums ever recorded according to Rolling Stone, Time, and Vibe magazines. For her part in combining hip-hop and soul in the early-1990s and its subsequent commercial success, Blige received the Legends Award at the World Music Awards. Blige also received the Voice of Music Award from performance rights organization ASCAP, with its official Jeanie Weems stating that "[Blige's] music has been the voice of inspiration to women worldwide in both struggle and triumph." Blige made Time magazine's "Time 100" list of influential individuals around the world in 2007.
When her debut album, What's the 411?, hit the street in 1992, critics and fans alike were floored by its powerful combination of modern R&B with an edgy rap sound that glanced off of the pain and grit of Mary J. Blige's Yonkers, New York childhood. Called alternately the new Chaka Khan or new Aretha Franklin, Blige had little in common stylistically with either of those artists, but like them, she helped adorn soul music with new textures and flavors that inspired a whole generation of musicians. With her blonde hair, self-preserving slouch, and combat boots, Blige was street-tough and beautiful all at once, and the record company execs who profited off of her early releases did little to dispel the bad-girl image that she earned as she stumbled through the dizzying first days of her career. As she exorcized her personal demons and softened her style to include sleek designer clothes, she remained a hero to thousands of girls growing up in the same kinds of rough places she came from. Blige reinvented her career again and again by shedding the bad habits and bad influences that kept her down; by the time her fourth album, Mary, was released in 1999, she had matured into an expressive singer able to put the full power of her voice behind her music, while still reflecting a strong urban style. With her fifth album, No More Drama, it wasn't just Blige's style that shone through the structures set up for her by songwriters and producers, it was her own vision -- spiritual, emotional, personal, and full of wisdom, it reflected an artist who was comfortable with who she was and how far she had come.
Born in the Bronx on January 11, 1971, Blige spent the first few years of her life in Savannah, Georgia before moving with her mother and older sister to the Schlobam housing projects in Yonkers, New York. Her rough life there produced more than a few scars, physical and otherwise, and Blige dropped out of high school during her junior year, instead spending time doing her friends' hair in her mother's apartment and hanging out. When she was at a local mall in White Plains, New York, she recorded herself singing Anita Baker's "Caught Up in the Rapture" into a karaoke machine. The resulting tape was passed by Blige's stepfather to Uptown Records CEO Andre Harrell. Harrell was impressed with Blige's voice and signed her to sing backup for local acts like Father MC. In 1991, however, Sean "Puffy" Combs took Blige under his wing and began working with her on What's the 411?, her debut album. Combs had a heavy hand in What's the 411?, along with producers Dave Hall, Mark Morales, and Mark Rooney, and the stylish touches that they added to Blige's unique vocal style created a stunning album that bridged the gap between R&B and rap in a way that no female singer had before. Uptown tried to capitalize on the success of What's the 411? by issuing a remixed version of it a year later, but it was only a modest success creatively and commercially.
Her 1995 follow-up, My Life, again featured Combs' handiwork, and if it stepped back stylistically from its urban roots by featuring less of a rap sound, it made up for it with its subject matter. My Life was full of ghetto pathos and Blige's own personal pain shone through like a beacon. Her rocky relationship with fellow Uptown artist K-Ci Hailey likely contributed to the raw emotions on the album. The period following the recording of My Life was also a difficult time professionally for Blige, as she severed her ties with Combs and Uptown, hired Suge Knight as a financial advisor, and signed with MCA.
Released in 1997, Share My World marked the beginning of Blige's creative partnerships with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. The album was another hit for Blige and debuted at number one on the Billboard charts. Critics soured somewhat on its more conventional soul sound, but Blige's fans seemed undaunted. By the time her next studio album, Mary, came out in 1999, the fullness and elegance of her new sound seemed more developed, as Blige exuded a classic soul style aided by material from Elton John and Bernie Taupin, Stevie Wonder, and Lauryn Hill. Mary made it obvious that the ghetto-fabulous style and more confrontational aspects of her music were gone, while the emotive power still remained.
That power also helped carry the more modern-sounding 2001 release No More Drama, a deeply personal album that remained a collective effort musically yet reflected more of Blige's songwriting than any of her previous efforts. The Mary J. Blige on No More Drama seemed miles away from the flashy kid on What's the 411?, yet it was still possible to see the path through her music that produced an older, wiser, but still expressive artist. In 2003 she was reunited with P. Diddy, who produced the majority of that year's patchy Love and Life album. The Breakthrough followed two years later and was a tremendous success, spawning a handful of major singles. By the December 2006 release of Reflections (A Retrospective), The Breakthrough's lead single, "Be Without You," had spent nearly a year on the R&B chart, while the album's fifth single, "Take Me as I Am," had been on the same chart for over four months.
A year later Blige came out with her eighth studio album, Growing Pains. It was her third consecutive studio album to top both the Billboard 200 and the R&B/Hip-Hop Albums charts. While on tour with Robin Thicke during 2008, Blige began working on Stronger with Each Tear, which was released near the end of the following year and came one spot short of topping the Billboard 200. My Life II...The Journey Continues (Act 1), previewed through the Eric Hudson-produced single "25/8," followed in 2011 with appearances from Beyoncé, Drake, Rick Ross, and Busta Rhymes. Like her previous nine studio albums, it reached gold status. (Her first eight surpassed gold to reach either platinum or multi-platinum status.) Her first holiday album, A Mary Christmas, was released in 2013.
Early in 2014, she linked with Disclosure for an alternate version of the U.K. dance-production duo's single "F for You." A few months later, Blige -- supported by extensive assistance from the-Dream and Christopher "Tricky" Stewart, as well as a few other associates -- provided the soundtrack to the comedy Think Like a Man Too. It entered the Billboard Top 200 at number 30 and also reached the Top Ten on Billboard's R&B/Hip Hop Albums chart. Released on Epic, rather than on her home label, it didn't receive the typical level of promotion for a Blige album and, as a result, sold significantly less than her prior releases. Inspired by Disclosure and other genre-blurring singer/songwriters and producers who were emerging from the U.K., she recorded her 13th album in London that summer with the likes of Sam Smith, Naughty Boy, and Emeli Sandé, as well as Disclosure once more. The London Sessions, her first album for Capitol, was released that November.
"Honor the past, don't just remember it." Dizzie Gillespie
Berry Gordy, Jr.: The legendary founder of Motown Records. His name is synonymous with R&B and soul music.
On November 28, 1929, was born Berry Gordy, Jr., founder of Motown Records, former boxer, and composer.
Berry Gordy did what many people of his time believed could never be done: he brought Black music into millions of White Americans' homes, helping both Black artists and their culture gain acceptance, and opening the door for a multitude of successful Black record executives and producers. Though the music of Motown was not as raw or edgy as other R&B labels, such as Chess and Stax, the songs that were written, produced, and released from "Hitsville USA" comprise some of the most enduring, sophisticated, and popular music of our time. Influential artists such as Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, Michael Jackson, and Smokey Robinson were all discovered and their talents fostered by Berry Gordy. Motown groups like the Four Tops, the Supremes, and the Temptations are regarded as some of the best vocal groups ever to record. Even now, years after Gordy sold the company, the reputation of excellence he forged at Motown continues to stay with the famous label.
Berry Gordy was born in Detroit in 1929, during the early years of the Depression. The seventh child of eight, his father was an enterprising man who ran a grocery store, a plastering business, and managed apartment buildings, among other things. A high school dropout, Gordy had two loves in his teens: music and boxing. Dividing his time between writing songs on the piano and training at a local Detroit gym under champion trainer Eddie Futch, Gordy fostered both talents. A fairly successful lightweight, at 19 Gordy had an epiphany concerning his future. Realizing the tough life of a boxer compared to the classier life of a musician, he devoted all his energies to songwriting.
After a stint in the army temporarily sidelined his musical ambitions, Gordy returned to Detroit and opened a record shop, his first real foray into the music business. The shop failed, but it gave Gordy an even deeper drive to be a part of the music industry. Supporting his wife and three children by working in a Detroit auto plant and songwriting at night, Gordy's compositions were soon finding their way into the hands of local artists. Through his sister Gwen, Gordy met a local manager named Al Green; when one of his new acts, Jackie Wilson, needed a song, Berry was the man who provided it. In late 1956, "Reet Petite," co-written by Gordy, sister Gwen, and friend Roquel Davis, became a hit for Wilson. Several more hits followed, including "Lonely Teardrops," "To Be Loved," and "I'll Be Satisfied," all written by Gordy.
The trio's hits for Wilson and Etta James ("All I Could Do Was Cry") gave them the reputation of movers and shakers in the business, and soon aspiring artists, songwriters, and producers were coming to them in hopes of catching a break. When a dispute over royalties on a Jackie Wilson hit broke out between Gordy and Green, Gordy vowed not to give another song to Wilson. The resulting split left Gordy on his own.
Setting up a publishing company, Gordy met a young singer named William "Smokey" Robinson, who fronted a group called the Miracles. Gordy became their manager and together they co-wrote the hit "Got a Job." Two more hits and a distribution deal with United Artists followed, and a long creative partnership and friendship began between the two men. Bolstered by his recent success and aided by his family and friends, Gordy bought a house at 2648 West Grand Boulevard in Detroit, named it "Hitsville USA," and started his own label, Tamla. The house doubled as a recording studio, and with talented young Detroit musicians such as Smokey Robinson, Barrett Strong, and Eddie Holland hanging around, it wasn't long before Tamla was turning out hits. In 1960, the first song wholly conceived and produced at Hitsville, the Gordy composition "Money (That's What I Want)," became a hit. Not long afterwards, the Miracles hit with "Way Over There" and "Shop Around," Motown and Berry Gordy were nationally recognized.
With the success of the Miracles, endless numbers of young, talented artists from the area began to show up at Hitsville. Soon Marvin Gaye, the Temptations, the Supremes, the Four Tops, and Stevie Wonder were all recording for Tamla and its parent label, Motown. No fool to the ways of business, Gordy set up an environment of stiff competition at the label (sometimes directly, sometimes indirectly) where artists and producers were constantly trying to outdo one another and were, in the process, outdoing their own last releases. The strategy worked, and the company had hit after hit during the early '60s with songs, like "My Guy," that broke the color barrier, reaching not just the Black radio stations, but going pop and succeeding among White audiences, as well.
Over the next several years, Gordy drew on his automobile-production roots to create an assembly line of hits and hitmakers at Motown. The label's new motto was "the sound of young America," and writers like Holland/Dozier/Holland, Harvey Fuqua, and Norman Whitfield churned out million-seller after million-seller for the Supremes, Martha & the Vandellas, and the Temptations. Gordy, realizing that great presentation is key, also hired Maxine Powell to run the Motown Finishing School, a glorified charm school that made Motown artists look, talk, and act like the stars they were becoming.
Throughout the '60s, Motown was riding high, and Gordy emerged as one of the young Black elite in show business. Yet the family atmosphere for which Motown was known was beginning to crack through the years of forced competition and favoritism. It was no secret that Gordy favored Smokey Robinson and Diana Ross over many of the other artists, and in 1968, the production team of Holland/Dozier/Holland left Motown, filing a $20 million lawsuit against Gordy. In 1970, Diana Ross & the Supremes, a virtual symbol of Motown's success, broke up, ending an era.
Not long after, Gordy pulled up stakes in Detroit and relocated the multi-million dollar operation to L.A. There he concentrated on Ross' acting career, producing the Ross vehicle Lady Sings the Blues. Though the company had recently signed the Jackson 5, and Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder were entering the most successful eras of their career, in L.A. Gordy's stranglehold on the magic of Motown lessened. Ross' solo career was not as triumphant as he had hoped, and Gordy had lost much of the tight-knit family atmosphere that originally made Motown so successful. By the mid-'80s, Motown was losing millions, and in 1988, Gordy did what he never thought he could: he sold Motown to MCA for $61 million.
The sale of Motown, though sad for many, was concrete proof of Gordy's success. Taking an $800 loan from his family, he turned Motown into the most successful Black-owned label in history. In the process, Gordy also brought the world countless memorable songs, not only through his vision for spotting talent in others, but also his own talent as a songwriter and producer.
"Honor the past, don't just remember it." Dizzie Gillespie
The legendary soul singer, showstopper, and survivor, went from Ike's beleaguered 1960s partner to solo pop superstar by the '80s.
On November 26, 1939, was born singer, dancer, actress and author, Tina Turner, (Annie Mae Bullock), whose career has spanned more than half a century, earning her widespread recognition and numerous awards.
One of the most dynamic female soul singers in the history of the music, Tina Turner oozed sexuality from every pore in a performing career that began the moment she stepped on-stage as lead singer of the Ike & Tina Turner Revue in the late '50s. Her gritty and growling performances beat down doors everywhere, looking back to the double-barreled attack of gospel fervor and sexual abandon that had originally formed soul in the early '50s. Divorced from Ike in the mid-'70s, she recorded only occasionally later in the decade but resurfaced in the mid-'80s with a series of hit singles and movie appearances; her high-profile status was assured well into the '90s.
Born Annie Mae Bullock near Brownsville, Tennessee, she began singing as a teen, and joined Ike Turner's touring show as an 18-year-old backup vocalist. Just two years later, Tina was the star of the show, the attention-grabbing focal point for an incredibly smooth-running soul revue headed by Ike and his Kings of Rhythm. The couple began hitting the charts in 1960 with "A Fool in Love," and notched charting singles throughout the '60s, though the disappointing position of "River Deep, Mountain High" -- cited by Phil Spector as one of his best productions -- was very hard to take. All expectations were fulfilled in 1971 with "Proud Mary," a number four hit that became the capstone of Ike & Tina's Revue. Frustrated by Ike's increasingly irrational behavior, though, Tina walked out just three years later.
She celebrated her newfound freedom in 1975 with a role in the film version of The Who's Tommy. Playing the Acid Queen, she delivered an outrageous, all-too-brief performance in an otherwise forgettable mistake of a movie. Several albums were recorded for United Artists during the late '70s, but she appeared to be washed up by the turn of the decade. Surprisingly, Tina returned in 1983, first teaming with a Heaven 17 project named B.E.F. on a remake of the Temptations' "Ball of Confusion." Tina's vocal offering was understandably apocalyptic, and she gained a solo deal with Capitol that same year. Her first single, a cover of Al Green's "Let's Stay Together," hit the Top 30 early in 1984. Second single "What's Love Got to Do with It" became one of the year's biggest hits, spending three weeks at number one. Her album Private Dancer included two more Top Ten singles, the title track and "Better Be Good to Me."
With another movie role in 1985 (Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome), she found a number two hit with its theme, "We Don't Need Another Hero." Her next big hit followed in 1986 ("Typical Male"), after which Tina began to decline, still charting occasionally and selling respectably with albums including 1989's Foreign Affair, 1996's Wildest Dreams, and 2000's Twenty Four Seven. In 2009, Turner oversaw and added spoken word segments to Beyond: Buddhist and Christian Prayers, which featured singing from Regula Curti and Dechen Shak-Dagsay. The CD was officially released a year later in 2010. Four years later, a collection of her romantic solo material called Love Songs appeared in time for Valentine's Day.
"Honor the past, don't just remember it." Dizzie Gillespie
One of the finest (and grittiest) soul singers to break out during the 1980s, with releases for the Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis production machine.
On November 15, 1954, was born Alexander O'Neal, an R&B and blues singer, songwriter and arranger from Minneapolis, Minnesota. With a a solid career spanning more than 30 years, he came to prominence in the middle of the 1980s as a solo artist, releasing fourteen singles that entered the top forty charts in the 1980s and 1990s. His solo singles, sometimes dealing with lost love include "If You Were Here Tonight", "Fake", "Criticize", "The Lovers", "(What Can I Say) To Make You Love Me", "The Christmas Song", "All True Man", "Love Makes No Sense", "In the Middle" and ¨What's Missing¨. He is also known for duets with fellow R&B singer and labelmate Cherrelle; such as "Saturday Love" and "Never Knew Love Like This".
This Minneapolis, Minnesota (via Natchez, Mississippi) soul man cut his teeth in the Time but bounced before the band signed with Warner Bros. His tough voice has the same grain and range as that of Otis Redding. Like that master, Alexander O'Neal was comfortable with pumping dancefloor burners and slinky couch-cuddlers. He's certainly the best singer Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis have ever produced, and the strength of his material and his robust voice can be heard on releases including 1985's Alexander O'Neal, 1987's Hearsay (a number two R&B album), 1991's All True Man (a number three hit on the same chart), and 1998's Lovers Again. During the '80s and '90s, he racked up several Top Ten R&B singles, including two smash duets -- "Saturday Love" and "Never Knew Love Like This" -- with Tabu labelmate Cherrelle. He relocated to Britain, where his efforts had always been better received, and began to set up permanent shop there. His first British-only release, 2002's Saga of a Married Man, showed him developing into a smoother and more mature singer compared to his previous output. Later in the decade, he released the covers set Alex Loves... (2008), then started the 2010s with Five Questions: The New Journey and continued to perform on a regular basis. In 2013, his Tabu releases were part of a comprehensive reissue program in the U.K.
"Honor the past, don't just remember it." Dizzie Gillespie
The five-brother singing group Tavares may be best known for such up-tempo hits as the million-selling single "Heaven Must Be Missing an Angel," "More Than a Woman," and "Whodunit," but they first came to national attention with the luscious ballad "Check It Out." Their crisp vocalizing and clean-cut, young-men-next-door image made them favorites on TV shows starring Johnny Carson, Mike Douglas, and Dick Clark's American Bandstand. In 1974, Tavares also had the first hit version (number one R&B) of "She's Gone" written by the then relative unknown duo of Daryl Hall and John Oates. Hall & Oates scored a number seven pop hit with the song in 1976.
The Tavares brothers -- Arthur Tavares, Ralph Vierra Tavares, Perry Lee Tavares, Antone Tavares, and Feliciano Tavares nicknamed "Pooch," "Tiny," "Chubby," and "Butch" -- started the group in 1964 as Chubby and the Turnpikes in New Bedford, MA. Their grandparents taught them traditional Cape Verde folk songs, while their older brother John schooled them on doo wop singing. In 1969, the group became Tavares. They began singing in New England clubs and were signed to Capitol Records in 1973. Their debut album, Check It Out , was issued in early 1974. The title track slow jam single went to number five R&B on Billboard's charts in summer 1973. The next single, the ballad "That's the Sound That Lonely Makes," hit number ten R&B in early 1974. Check It Out was followed by Hard Core Poetry in summer 1974, helmed by songwriting/production duo Dennis Lambert & Brian Potter (the Four Tops' "Aint No Woman Like the One I Got"). It listed the soaring number ten hit "Too Late," the number one hit "She's Gone," and "Remember What I Told You to Forget," which hit number four in 1975. Lambert & Potter produced In the City (summer 1975), which yielded the driving number one hit "It Only Takes a Minute," "Free Ride" (a 1973 pop smash for the Edgar Winter Group), and "The Love I Never Had." Take That's 1993 cover of "It Only Takes a Minute" was a U.K. hit.
Tavares' album Sky High (spring 1976) was the group's first collaboration with producer Freddie Perren. Perren seemed to have an affinity for family singing groups, having had hits with the Jackson 5 ("I Want You Back," "ABC," "The Love You Save") as a member of the Motown arrangers/songwriters/producers collective The Corporation, and would later go to have hits with the Sylvers ("Boogie Fever"). Sky High boasted the sparkling number three R&B hit "Heaven Must Be Missing an Angel (Part 1)" from summer 1976. Their fifth LP, Love Storm was issued in spring 1977 and included the clever number one R&B hit "Whodunit" in spring 1977.
"More Than a Woman" was specifically written for Tavares by the Bee Gees and was issued as a single from the 11-million-selling Saturday Night Fever soundtrack. "More Than a Woman" was also on their Future Bound LP released in spring 1978. A greatest hits set, The Best of Tavares, was released in fall 1977. On 1979's Madame Butterfly LP, the group worked with Philly soul arranger/producer Bobby Martin (the Manhattans, LTD). The sweet ballad "Never Had a Love Like This Before" went to number five R&B in early 1979.
In 1994, Canadian label Unidisc released The Best of Tavares Revisited, which had re-recordings by the group of their past hits.
"Honor the past, don't just remember it." Dizzie Gillespie
Chicago singer with the soaring multi-octave voice, scored major hit with "Lovin' You," life tragically cut short by cancer.
On November 8, 1947, was born singer-songwriter Minnie Julia Riperton-Rudolph, known professionally as Minnie Riperton (1947 - 1979) , and perhaps best known for her #1 single, "Loving You." She died of cancer on July 12, 1979.
The tragic 1979 death of 31-year-old Minnie Riperton silenced one of soul music's most unique and unforgettable voices -- blessed with an angelic five-octave vocal range, she scored her greatest commercial success with the chart-topping pop ballad "Lovin' You." Riperton was born in Chicago on November 8, 1947; as a youth she studied music, drama, and dance at the city's Lincoln Center and later contemplated a career in opera. Her pop career began in 1961 when she joined the local girl group called the Gems, signing to the famed Chess label to release a handful of singles as well as lend backing vocals to acts including Fontella Bass, the Dells, and Etta James. After graduating high school, Riperton went to work at Chess as a receptionist; following the Gems' dissolution, she also signed with the label as a solo act, releasing a single, "Lonely Girl," under the alias Andrea Davis.
In 1968, Riperton was installed as the lead vocalist of the psychedelic soul band the Rotary Connection, which debuted that year with a self-titled LP on Cadet Concepts; the singles "Amen" and "Lady Jane" found a home on underground FM radio, but the group failed to make much of an impression on mainstream outlets. While still a member of the Connection, Riperton mounted a solo career; teaming with producer/arranger Charles Stepney and her husband/composer Richard Rudolph, she issued her brilliant debut, Come to My Garden, in 1970, but again commercial success eluded her grasp. After the Rotary Connection dissolved in the wake of 1971's Hey Love, she and Rudolph took a two-year sabbatical in Florida before relocating to Los Angeles, where she sang on Stevie Wonder's Fulfillingness' First Finale and toured as a member of his backing unit Wonderlove.
Wonder agreed to co-produce Riperton's 1974 album Perfect Angel, which contained the international blockbuster "Lovin' You"; the record made her a household name, although subsequent LPs like 1975's Adventures in Paradise and 1977's Stay in Love failed to repeat its success. By this time, however, commercial woes were the least of Riperton's concerns -- diagnosed with breast cancer, she underwent a mastectomy in 1976, later becoming a spokesperson for the American Cancer Society and earning a Society Courage Award from then-President Jimmy Carter. Riperton continued performing despite her declining condition, with 1979's Minnie the final record completed during her lifetime -- she died in L.A. on July 12 of that year. Unreleased vocal tracks with new instrumental backing comprised 1980's posthumous collection Love Lives Forever.
"Honor the past, don't just remember it." Dizzie Gillespie
One of the most popular faces in pop and soul, from her days in the Fifth Dimension to her solo career and hosting duties for Solid Gold.
On September 30, 1943, was born vocalist Marilyn McCoo; who is featured on the 5th Dimension's million-selling hits "Wedding Bell Blues," "One Less Bell to Answer," and "(Last Night) I Didn't Get to Sleep at All." A daughter of a doctor, McCoo started singing at an early age and continued to sing throughout her grammar and high school years. As a teen, she appeared on Art Linkletter's Talent Scouts. Her family moved to Los Angeles when she was around 19. While pursuing a modeling career and entering beauty contests (she won the title of Miss Bronze California, 1962), McCoo met photographer Lamonte McLemore. In the early '60s, McLemore and McCoo joined with Floyd Butler and Harry Elston to form the Hi-Fis. Performing in local clubs, the group came to the attention of Ray Charles. They toured with "the Genius of Soul" in 1965. Charles produced a single, the jazzy "Lonesome Mood." Butler and Elston left the Hi-Fis to form the Friends of Distinction ("Grazing in the Grass," "Going in Circles," "Love or Let Me Be Lonely").
McLemore was contacted by his childhood friend from St. Louis, Billy Davis, Jr. Davis said that he was offered a record deal with Motown. McLemore contacted another St. Louis native, Ron Townson, and he, along with Davis, McCoo, and school teacher/1963 Miss Bronze California winner Florence LaRue, started the Versatiles. The group was signed to Bob Keene's Bronco Records where their A&R director was future "Icon of Love" Barry White. After getting a contractual release from Bronco, the Versatiles signed to singer/producer Johnny Rivers' ("Secret Agent Man") Soul City label where the group became the 5th Dimension and was paired with producer Bones Howe. Howe used top L.A. session players the Wrecking Crew: bassist Joe Osborn, drummer Hal Blaine, keyboardist Larry Knechtel, and arranger Bob Alcivar on their sessions. Their first hit was a cover of the Mama and the Papas' "Go Where You Wanna Go," making it into Billboard's Top 20 pop charts in early 1967. "Up Up and Away," written by Jimmy Webb, went to number seven pop during the summer of 1967. The song won four 1968 Grammy Awards and was the title track to their first hit LP. In 1969, McCoo and Davis were married. That same year, the 5th Dimension enjoyed their greatest success. After being impressed by Ronnie Dyson's performance in the hit Broadway musical Hair, the group decided to cover one of the show's songs. "Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In" parked at number one pop for six weeks and number six R&B in spring 1969. The group performed the song in Milos Forman's 1979 movie version of Hair. The Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In LP, their best album, went gold, and included "Workin' on a Groovy Thing" written by Neil Sedaka.
The next album, Portrait, yielded the hits singles "Save the Country," the gold "One Less Bell to Answer" -- written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David -- and "Puppet Man."
Though the gold "(Last Night) I Didn't Get to Sleep at All" and "If I Could Reach You" were the group's last two singles to make it into the Top Ten, the 5th Dimension continued to have hits: "Living Together, Growing Together" -- another Bacharach/David song written for the Peter Finch movie Lost Horizon -- and "Ashes to Ashes."
In the mid-'70s, McCoo and Davis left the 5th Dimension and began performing as a duo. Landing a contract with ABC Records, they recorded their 1976 debut album, I Hope We Get to Love in Time, with Detroit producer Don Davis (Johnny Taylor, the Dramatics). The first single was the title track, which was a mid-chart hit. The second single, "You Don't Have to Be a Star (To Be in My Show)," went to number one on both the R&B and the pop charts during January 1977. Motown great James Jamerson is featured on bass. Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr. were awarded a gold single and a gold album their first time out. The third single, "Your Love," went Top Ten R&B and Top 20 pop. In the summer of 1977, the couple had their own variety show, The Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis, Jr. Show, on CBS.
Their next ABC album, 1977's The Two of Us, was produced by Motown alumni Frank Wilson (Eddie Kendricks, New Birth) and boasted the singles "Look What You've Done to My Heart," "Wonderful," the ballad "My Reason to Be Is You," and the tender title track. Switching to Columbia Records, their Marilyn & Billy album was released during the fall of in 1978. One charting single, a cover of "Shine on Silvery Moon," became a favorite in disco clubs. McCoo recorded her first solo LP for RCA Records, with the single "Heart Stop Beating in Time," written by the Bee Gees, being a small hit. Other solo albums by McCoo are White Christmas (Laserlight, 1996) and The Me Nobody Knows, produced by Chris Christian and Humberto Gatica (EMI Special Products, 1991). During the '80s, McCoo hosted the nationally syndicated pop music show Solid Gold and appeared on NBC shows Night Court and the soap opera Days of Our Lives. She also took to the stage, appearing in Dreamgirls, Showboat, and Man of La Mancha. McCoo co-hosted with Glynn Turman McDonald's Gospelfest Pt. 1 in 1990, available on home video.
The couple continues to perform around the country in concerts (some being 5th Dimension reunions) and musicals such as It Takes Two, Hit With a Hot Note!: The Duke Ellington Songbook, and celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary with a cover story in the August 9, 1999 issue of Jet Magazine.
"Honor the past, don't just remember it." Dizzie Gillespie
She came in on the tail end of Chess Records' heyday, but scored one of its last big hits in 1966.
On September 28, 1928, was born, Koko Taylor (September 28, 1928 - June 3, 2009), a powerful crooner who has been accurately dubbed "the Queen of Chicago blues" (and sometimes just the blues in general), and who helped keep the tradition of big-voiced, brassy female blues belters alive, recasting the spirits of early legends like Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey, Big Mama Thornton, and Memphis Minnie for the modern age. Taylor's rough, raw vocals were perfect for the swaggering new electrified era of the blues, and her massive hit "Wang Dang Doodle" served notice that male dominance in the blues wasn't as exclusive as it seemed. After a productive initial stint on Chess, Taylor spent several decades on the prominent contemporary blues label Alligator, going on to win more W.C. Handy Awards than any other female performer in history, and establishing herself as far and away the greatest female blues singer of her time.
Koko was born Cora Walton on September 28, 1928, on a sharecropper's farm in Memphis, TN. Her mother died in 1939, and she and her siblings grew up helping their father in the fields; she got the nickname "Koko" because of her love of chocolate. Koko began singing gospel music in a local Baptist church; inspired by the music they heard on the radio, she and her siblings also played blues on makeshift instruments. In 1953, Koko married truck driver Robert "Pops" Taylor and moved with him to Chicago to look for work; settling on the South Side, Pops worked in a slaughterhouse and Koko got a job as a housemaid. The Taylors often played blues songs together at night, and frequented the bustling South Side blues clubs whenever they could; Pops encouraged Koko to sit in with some of the bands, and her singing -- which reflected not only the classic female blues shouters, but contemporaries Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf -- quickly made a name for her. In 1962, Taylor met legendary Chess Records songwriter/producer/bassist Willie Dixon, who was so impressed with her live performance that he took her under his wing. He produced her 1963 debut single, "Honky Tonky," for the small USA label, then secured her a recording contract with Chess.
Taylor made her recording debut for Chess in 1964 and hit it big the following year with the Dixon-penned "Wang Dang Doodle," which sold over a million copies and hit number four on the R&B charts. It became her signature song forever after, and it was also the last Chess single to hit the R&B Top Ten. Demand for Taylor's live act skyrocketed, even though none of her follow-ups sold as well, and as the blues audience began to shift from black to white, the relatively new Taylor became one of the first Chicago blues artists to command a following on the city's white-dominated North Side. Eventually, she and her husband were able to quit their day jobs, and he served as her manager; she also put together a backing band called the Blues Machine. With the release of two albums -- 1969's Koko Taylor, which featured a number of her previous singles; and 1972's Basic Soul -- Taylor's live gigs kept branching out further and further from Chicago, and when she played the 1972 Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival, the resulting live album on Atlantic helped bring her to a more national audience.
By the early '70s, Chess Records was floundering financially, and eventually went under in 1975. Taylor signed with a then-young Chicago-based label called Alligator, which grew into one of America's most prominent blues labels over the years. Taylor debuted for Alligator in 1975 with I Got What It Takes, an acclaimed effort that garnered her first Grammy nomination. Her 1978 follow-up, The Earthshaker, featured several tunes that became staples of her live show, including "I'm a Woman" and "Hey Bartender," and her popularity on the blues circuit just kept growing in spite of the music's commercial decline. In 1980, she won the first of an incredible string of W.C. Handy Awards (for Best Contemporary Female Artist), and over the next two decades, she would capture at least one more almost every year (save for 1989, 1997, and 1998). 1981 brought From the Heart of a Woman, and in 1984, Taylor won her first Grammy thanks to her appearance on Atlantic's various-artists compilation Blues Explosion, which was named Best Traditional Blues Album. She followed that success with the guest-laden Queen of the Blues in 1985, which won her a couple extra Handy Awards for Vocalist of the Year and Entertainer of the Year (no "female" qualifier attached). In 1987, she released her first domestic live album, Live in Chicago: An Audience With the Queen.
Tragedy struck in 1988. Taylor broke her shoulder, collarbone, and several ribs in a van accident while on tour, and her husband went into cardiac arrest; although Pops survived for the time being, his health was never the same, and he passed away some months later. After recuperating, Taylor made a comeback at the annual Chicago Blues Festival, and in 1990 she issued Jump for Joy, as well as making a cameo appearance in the typically bizarre David Lynch film Wild at Heart. Taylor followed it in 1993 with the aptly titled Force of Nature, after which she took a seven-year hiatus from recording; during that time, she remarried and continued to tour extensively, maintaining the stature she'd achieved with her '80s work as the living Queen of the Blues. In 2000, she finally returned with a new album, Royal Blue, which featured a plethora of guest stars: B.B. King, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Johnnie Johnson, and Keb' Mo'. Health issues forced another seven-year hiatus before she returned with the album Old School in 2007. Koko Taylor died in Chicago in June 2009 after experiencing complications from surgery for gastrointestinal bleeding. She was 80 years old.
"Honor the past, don't just remember it." Dizzie Gillespie
The definition of R&B elegance, from the groundbreaking orchestrated productions of the Drifters to his own solo hits like "Stand by Me."
On September 28, 1938, was born, Ben E King (Benjmin Earl Nelson) (September 28, 1938 - April 30, 2015) soul and R&B singer with The Drifters who had the 1960 US No.1 & UK No.2 single 'Save The Last Dance For Me', and the 1987 UK No.1 solo single 'Stand By Me', (first released in 1961). King died at the Hackensack University Medical Center on April 30, 2015, at the age of 76.
From the groundbreaking orchestrated productions of the Drifters to his own solo hits, Ben E. King was the definition of R&B elegance. King's plaintive baritone had all the passion of gospel, but the settings in which it was displayed were tailored more for his honey smooth phrasing and crisp enunciation, proving for perhaps the first time that R&B could be sophisticated and accessible to straight pop audiences. King's approach influenced countless smooth soul singers in his wake, and his records were key forerunners of the Motown sound.
King was born Benjamin Earl Nelson in Henderson, North Carolina, in 1938, and sang with his church choir before the family moved to Harlem in 1947. In junior high, he began performing with a street corner doo wop group called the Four B's, which won second place in an Apollo Theater talent contest. While still in high school, he was offered a chance to join the Moonglows, but was simply too young and inexperienced to stick. He subsequently worked at his father's restaurant as a singing waiter, which led to an invitation to become the baritone singer in a doo wop outfit called the Five Crowns in 1958. the Five Crowns performed several gigs at the Apollo Theater along with the Drifters, whose career had begun to flounder in the years since original lead singer Clyde McPhatter departed. Drifters manager George Treadwell, dissatisfied with the group members' unreliability and lack of success, fired them all in the summer of 1958 and hired the Five Crowns to assume the name of the Drifters (which he owned).
The new Drifters toured for about a year, playing to often hostile audiences who knew they were a completely different group. In early 1959, they went into the studio with producers Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller to cut their first records. A song Nelson (still performing under his given name) co-wrote called "There Goes My Baby" became his first lead vocal, and the lush backing arrangement made highly unorthodox (in fact, virtually unheard of) use of a string section. "There Goes My Baby" became a massive hit, laying the groundwork for virtually every smooth/uptown soul production that followed. Over the next two years, Nelson sang lead on several other Drifters classics, including "Dance with Me," "This Magic Moment," "Save the Last Dance for Me," and "I Count the Tears."
In 1960, Nelson approached Treadwell about a salary increase and a fairer share of the group's royalties. Treadwell rebuffed him and Nelson quit the group, at this point assuming the more memorable stage name Ben E. King in preparation for a solo career. Remaining on Atlantic, King scored his first solo hit with the stylish, Latin-tinged ballad "Spanish Harlem," a Jerry Leiber/Phil Spector composition that hit the Top Ten in early 1961. The follow-up, "Stand by Me," a heartfelt ode to friendship and devotion co-written by King, became his signature song and an enduring R&B classic; it was also his biggest hit, topping the R&B charts and reaching the pop Top Five. King scored a few more chart singles through 1963, including velvety smooth pop-soul productions like "Amor," "Don't Play That Song (You Lied)," and the Italian tune "I (Who Have Nothing)." In the post-British Invasion years, King had a rough go of it on the pop charts but continued to score R&B hits. 1967's Southern-fried "What Is Soul?" was one of his last singles for Atco; seeking to revive his commercial fortunes, King departed in 1969.
A 1970 album on Maxwell, Rough Edges, failed to generate much attention, and King was forced to make a living touring the oldies circuit. In 1975, Atlantic president Ahmet Ertegun caught King's act in a Miami lounge and invited him to re-sign with the label. King scored an unlikely comeback smash with the disco track "Supernatural Thing, Pt. I," which returned him to the top of the R&B charts in 1975 and also reached the pop Top Five. While he was unable to duplicate that single's success, King recorded several more albums for Atlantic up through 1981, and also collaborated with the Average White Band in 1977 on the album Benny & Us. After leaving Atlantic a second time, King toured in a version of the Drifters beginning in 1982.
In 1986, "Stand by Me" was prominently featured in the Rob Reiner film of the same name; re-released as a single, it climbed into the Top Ten all over again. In its wake, King returned to solo recording, issuing albums every few years. He also guested on recordings by Heaven 17 and Mark Knopfler, among others. King's 1999 album Shades of Blue (on Half Note Records) found him branching out into jazz territory, performing with a big band and guests like Milt Jackson and David "Fathead" Newman. The year 2006 saw the release of a smooth R&B album, I've Been Around, on True Life Records. A 2010 date titled Heart & Soul featured King with a small jazz group, stretching out on vocal standards. He continued to tour and make special performances, and was also active in the Stand by Me Foundation, his charity dedicated to children's education. Ben E. King died on April 30, 2015, after a brief illness.
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
Best known for his scorching slow blues smashes "Part Time Love" (for Bay Area-based Galaxy Records in 1963) and 1971's "Everybody Knows About My Good Thing" for Ronn Records in Shreveport, LA.
On February 11, 1943 in Memphis, TN, was born, Little Johnny Taylor. He passed away on May 17, 2002 in Conway, AR
Some folks still get them mixed up, so to get it straight from the outset, Little Johnny Taylor was best known for his scorching slow blues smashes "Part Time Love" (for Bay Area-based Galaxy Records in 1963) and 1971's "Everybody Knows About My Good Thing" for Ronn Records in Shreveport, LA. This Johnny Taylor was definitely not the suave Sam Cooke protégé who blitzed the charts with "Who's Making Love" for Stax in 1968; that's Johnnie Taylor, who added to the confusion by covering "Part Time Love" for Stax. Another similarity between the two Taylors: both hailed from strong gospel backgrounds.
Little Johnny came to Los Angeles in 1950 and did a stint with the Mighty Clouds of Joy before going secular. Influenced by Little Willie John, he debuted as an R&B artist with a pair of 45s for Hunter Hancock's Swingin' logo, but his career didn't soar until he inked a pact with Fantasy's Galaxy subsidiary in 1963 (where he benefited from crisp production by Cliff Goldsmith and Ray Shanklin's arrangements).
The gliding mid-tempo blues "You'll Need Another Favor," firmly in a Bobby Bland mode, was Taylor's first chart item. He followed it up with the tortured R&B chart-topper "Part Time Love," which found him testifying in gospel-fired style over Arthur Wright's biting guitar and a grinding, horn-leavened downbeat groove. The singer also did fairly well with "Since I Found a New Love" in 1964 and "Zig Zag Lightning" in 1966.
Taylor's tenure at Stan Lewis' Ronn imprint elicited the slow blues smash "Everybody Knows About My Good Thing" in 1971, and a similarly witty hit follow-up, "Open House at My House," the next year (both were covered later by Z.Z. Hill for Malaco). While at Ronn, Little Johnny cut some duets with yet another Taylor, this one named Ted (no, they weren't related either). Though he recorded only sparingly during the 1980s and 1990s, he remained an active performer until his death in 2002.
"Honor the past, don't just remember it." Dizzie Gillespie
The undisputed Queen of Soul, her gospel-tinged R&B displays one of the greatest voices in recording history.
On March 25, 1942, was born Aretha Franklin, The Queen of Soul, who garnered much success and respect with songs such as "Respect", "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman," "Think," and "I Say a Little Prayer." These hits and more helped her to gain the title The Queen of Soul by the end of the 1960s decade.
Aretha Franklin is one of the giants of soul music, and indeed of American pop as a whole. More than any other performer, she epitomized soul at its most gospel-charged. Her astonishing run of late-'60s hits with Atlantic Records -- "Respect," "I Never Loved a Man," "Chain of Fools," "Baby I Love You," "I Say a Little Prayer," "Think," "The House That Jack Built," and several others -- earned her the title "Lady Soul," which she has worn uncontested ever since. Yet as much of an international institution as she's become, much of her work -- outside of her recordings for Atlantic in the late '60s and early '70s -- is erratic and only fitfully inspired, making discretion a necessity when collecting her records.
Franklin's roots in gospel ran extremely deep. With her sisters Carolyn and Erma (both of whom would also have recording careers), she sang at the Detroit church of her father, Reverend C.L. Franklin, while growing up in the 1950s. In fact, she made her first recordings as a gospel artist at the age of 14. It has also been reported that Motown was interested in signing Aretha back in the days when it was a tiny start-up. Ultimately, however, Franklin ended up with Columbia, to which she was signed by the renowned talent scout John Hammond.
Franklin would record for Columbia constantly throughout the first half of the '60s, notching occasional R&B hits (and one Top 40 single, "Rock-a-bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody") but never truly breaking out as a star. The Columbia period continues to generate considerable controversy among critics, many of whom feel that Aretha's true aspirations were being blunted by pop-oriented material and production. In fact, there's a reasonable amount of fine items to be found on the Columbia sides, including the occasional song ("Lee Cross," "Soulville") where she belts out soul with real gusto. It's undeniably true, though, that her work at Columbia was considerably tamer than what was to follow, and suffered in general from a lack of direction and an apparent emphasis on trying to develop her as an all-around entertainer, rather than as an R&B/soul singer.
When Franklin left Columbia for Atlantic, producer Jerry Wexler was determined to bring out her most soulful, fiery traits. As part of that plan, he had her record her first single, "I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)," at Muscle Shoals in Alabama with esteemed Southern R&B musicians. In fact, that was to be her only session actually at Muscle Shoals, but much of the remainder of her '60s work would be recorded with the Muscle Shoals Sound Rhythm Section, although the sessions would actually take place in New York City. The combination was one of those magic instances of musical alchemy in pop: the backup musicians provided a much grittier, soulful, and R&B-based accompaniment for Aretha's voice, which soared with a passion and intensity suggesting a spirit that had been allowed to fly loose for the first time.
In the late '60s, Franklin became one of the biggest international recording stars in all of pop. Many also saw Franklin as a symbol of black America itself, reflecting the increased confidence and pride of African-Americans in the decade of the civil rights movement and other triumphs for the black community. The chart statistics are impressive in and of themselves: ten Top Ten hits in a roughly 18-month span between early 1967 and late 1968, for instance, and a steady stream of solid mid- to large-size hits for the next five years after that. Her Atlantic albums were also huge sellers, and far more consistent artistically than those of most soul stars of the era. Franklin was able to maintain creative momentum, in part, because of her eclectic choice of material, which encompassed first-class originals and gospel, blues, pop, and rock covers, from the Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel to Sam Cooke and the Drifters. She was also a fine, forceful, and somewhat underrated keyboardist.
Franklin's commercial and artistic success was unabated in the early '70s, during which she landed more huge hits with "Spanish Harlem," "Bridge Over Troubled Water," and "Day Dreaming." She also produced two of her most respected, and earthiest, album releases with Live at Fillmore West and Amazing Grace. The latter, a 1972 double LP, was a reinvestigation of her gospel roots, recorded with James Cleveland and the Southern California Community Choir. Remarkably, it made the Top Ten, counting as one of the greatest gospel-pop crossover smashes of all time.
Who's Zoomin' Who?Franklin had a few more hits over the next few years -- "Angel" and the Stevie Wonder cover "Until You Come Back to Me" being the most notable. Her Atlantic contract ended at the end of the 1970s. She signed with the Clive Davis-guided Arista and scored number one R&B hits with "Jump to It," "Get It Right," and "Freeway of Love." Many of her successes were duets, or crafted with the assistance of contemporaries such as Luther Vandross and Narada Michael Walden. In 1986 Franklin released her follow-up to Who's Zoomin' Who?, the self-titled Aretha, which saw the single "I Knew You Were Waiting for Me," a duet with George Michael, hit the top of the charts. There was also another return to gospel in 1987 with One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism. Franklin shifted back to pop with 1989's Through the Storm, but it wasn't a commercial success, and neither was 1991's new jack swing-styled What You See Is What You Sweat.
Now solidly an iconic figure and acknowledged as one of the best singers of her generation no matter what her record sales were, Franklin contributed songs to several movie soundtracks in the next few years before releasing the R&B-based A Rose Is Still a Rose in 1998. So Damn Happy followed five years later in 2003 and again saw disappointing sales, but it did generate the Grammy-winning song "Wonderful." Franklin left Arista that same year and started her own label, Aretha's Records, two years later. A duets compilation, Jewels in the Crown: All-Star Duets with the Queen, was issued in 2007, followed by her first holiday album, 2008's This Christmas. The first release on her own label, A Woman Falling Out of Love, appeared in 2011. She signed to RCA and realigned with Clive Davis, who connected her with the likes of Babyface and OutKast's André 3000 for Sings the Great Diva Classics, for which she covered Gladys Knight, Barbra Streisand, and Adele, among others. Despite sometimes poor health, she continued to select new projects to work on; ever the institution, her reputation is secure as one of the best singers of the modern era.
"Honor the past, don't just remember it." Dizzie Gillespie
Sweet soul diva scored 1970s hits backed by Rufus, notched solo classics into the '80s.
On March 23, 1953, was born Chaka Khan, (Yvette Marie Stevens), US singer, (1984 UK No.1 & US No.3 single 'I Feel For You'), Rufus, (1974 US No.3 single 'Tell Me Something Good').
Best known in the mainstream for her superb 1984 cover of Prince's "I Feel for You," R&B singer Chaka Khan enjoyed solo success as well as popularity as a member of the group Rufus. Born Yvette Marie Stevens in Great Lakes, IL, on March 23, 1953, she was raised on Chicago's South Side, and at the age of 11 formed her first group, the Crystalettes. While still in high school, she joined the Afro-Arts Theater, a group which toured with Motown great Mary Wells; a few years later, she adopted the African name Chaka Khan while working on the Black Panthers' breakfast program. After quitting high school in 1969, Khan joined the group Lyfe, soon exiting to join another dance band, the Babysitters; neither was on the fast track to success, but her fortunes changed when she teamed with ex-American Breed member Kevin Murphy and André Fisher to form Rufus.
Debuting in 1973 with a self-titled effort on the ABC label, Rufus was among the pre-eminent funk groups of the decade; distinguished by Khan's dynamic vocals, the group earned half a dozen gold or platinum albums before she went solo in 1978. Produced by Arif Mardin, Chaka proved to be a significant hit on the strength of the single "I'm Every Woman" (a hit over a decade later for Whitney Houston); however, Khan's success was somewhat tempered by her public rivalry with the remaining members of Rufus, to whom she was still contractually bound for two more LPs. (Their differences were eventually resolved in a 1982 concert at New York's Savoy Theater, issued as Stompin' at the Savoy.) As a solo artist, Khan recorded backing vocals for Ry Cooder's 1979 effort Bop Till You Drop, then cut her sophomore album, 1980's Naughty; it was not a hit, however, nor was its follow-up, What Cha' Gonna Do for Me.
In 1982, Khan recorded Echoes of an Era, a collection of jazz standards featuring performances from Freddie Hubbard, Joe Henderson, Stanley Clarke, Chick Corea, and Lenny White. Her pop career was on shaky ground when she released 1984's I Feel for You, a platinum-seller launched by its title cut, a Grammy-winning, rap-inspired rendition (featuring memorable cameos from Melle Mel and Stevie Wonder) of a fairly obscure Prince album track. Still, while subsequent LPs like 1986's Destiny and 1988's C.K. kept Khan riding high on the R&B charts, her standing in pop's mainstream again began to wane, and at the end of the 1980s, she relocated to Europe.
In 1990, she won another Grammy for "I'll Be Good to You," a duet with Ray Charles. Come 2 My House, released on Prince's independent label, appeared in 1998, years after Khan had a falling out with Warner Bros. Just after penning the autobiography Chaka! Through the Fire, she collected another Grammy -- in 2004 -- for performing Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On" with the Funk Brothers in Standing in the Shadows of Motown. Classikhan, featuring several interpretations of jazz standards, followed later that year. As she continued an active touring schedule, she recorded Funk This, a set of relatively funky originals and covers (produced by Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis), released in 2007.
"Honor the past, don't just remember it." Dizzie Gillespie
Stephanie Mills is an R&B singer and stage performer who appeared in the original production of The Wiz, and enjoyed a successful dance-pop career with hits like “I Never Knew Love Like This Before.”
On March 22, 1957, was born Stephanie Mills, r&b, soul and gospel singer, songwriter and Broadway star.
Stephanie Mills first came to fame as "the little girl with the big voice" as the star of the hit Broadway play, The Wiz, an adaptation of L. Frank Baum's classic book, The Wizard of Oz. She had many R&B hits such as "I Have Learned to Respect the Power of Love," "I Feel Good All Over," "(You're Puttin') A Rush on Me," "Something in the Way (You Make Me Feel)," and "Home," along with one certified, million-selling single, "Never Knew Love Like This Before." In addition, she also had five gold albums: Whatcha Gonna Do with My Lovin', Sweet Sensation, Stephanie, If I Were Your Woman, and Home.
Born on March 22, 1957 in Brooklyn, NY, Mills honed her rich vocals singing gospel music at Brooklyn's Cornerstone Baptist Church as a small child. At age nine, she began appearing in the Broadway play Maggie Flynn. She was presented with first prize after winning "The Amateur Hour" talent contest six weeks straight at New York's famed Apollo Theater when she was nine. That success led to her being chosen as the opening act for the Isley Brothers, eventually becoming good friends with lead singer Ronald Isley. Many years later, Isley would manage and later marry singer/songwriter Angela Winbush, who co-wrote one of her number one R&B hits. Mills' debut album, Movin' In The Right Direction was recorded for ABC Records in 1974. A year later, she won the role of Dorothy in The Wiz. Her rendition of the beautiful ballad "Home" was a showstopper, mesmerizing audiences nightly for a number of years. The original cast recording of The Wiz was produced by Jerry Wexler and issued by Atlantic Records in spring 1975. Curiously, when The Wiz was made into a full-length feature film by Motown Records' film division and Universal Pictures, Diana Ross played the role of Dorothy instead of Mills. The film ended up being a major flop.
Singer Jermaine Jackson referred Mills to Motown head Berry Gordy, who signed her to the label. Her Motown debut was For the First Time, written and produced by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, issued in October 1976. For the First Time is a sweet affair with Mills convincingly covering Bacharach/David standards, most of which were originally recorded by Dionne Warwick. In 1978, she signed to 20th Century Records and was teamed with the hit production duo of James Mtume -- later leader of Mtume, who had a gold single with "Juicy Fruit" -- and Reggie Lucas. Her first LP for the label, Whatcha Gonna Do with My Lovin', went gold, going to number 12 R&B and number 22 pop on Billboard's charts in summer 1979 and spawned the singles "Whatcha Gonna Do with My Lovin'" and "You Can Get Over." Her next LP, Sweet Sensation (number three3 R&B, number 16 Pop, spring 1980) yielded "Sweet Sensation," "Never Knew Love Like This Before," and the radio-aired LP track, "Try My Love." Around this time, she briefly married former Soul Train dancer Jeffrey Daniels of the group Shalamar. Next came the LP titled Stephanie in spring 1981, which also was a huge hit, peaking at number three R&B and number 30 Pop. The album included notable songs such as "Two Hearts" -- a midtempo duet with Teddy Pendergrass -- "Night Games," and the radio-aired LP cut, "Don't Stop Doin' What Cha Do."
In 1981, Mills switched to Neil Bogart's Casablanca Records. Her LPs for the label included Tantalizingly Hot, Merciless, and I've Got The Cure. During 1983, she had her own NBC-TV daytime talk show, and reprised her role in a Broadway revival of The Wiz. She also signed with MCA Records, where she released her Stephanie Mills album.
The first single from the Stephanie Mills album was "Stand Back," in late 1985, which also included the passionate ballad "I Have Learned to Respect the Power of Love." "I Have Learned to Respect the Power of Love" was initially written by Rene Moore and Angela Winbush -- best known as the hit singing duo Rene & Angela -- as a gospel song and originally was recorded by Alton McClain and Destiny on their self-titled 1978 Polydor LP. The original version is available on Polygram's Power of Love: Best of Soul Essentials Ballads. Because of its massive radio play as an album track, Mills' version of "I Have Learned to Respect the Power of Love, -- produced by Philly soul keyboardist Ron Kersey -- was reissued as an A-side holding the number one R&B spot for two weeks in spring 1986. Its follow-up, "Rising Desire," reached number 11 R&B in summer 1986.
Her next LP's title cut was the Clay McMurray/Gloria Jones/Pam Sawyer song, "If I Were Your Woman," originally a 1971 number one R&B, number nine Pop smash for Gladys Knight & the Pips. Philly-based producer Nick Martinelli gave Mills her second number one R&B hit with "I Feel Good All Over," written by husband-and-wife songwriting duo, Gabriel Hardeman and Annette Hardeman. The song held the number one R&B spot for three weeks in spring 1987. Originally submitted to Mills' fellow MCA labelmate Patti Labelle by the Hardemans, the track was included on Mills' LP If I Were Your Woman in issued June 1987, which peaked at number 30 Pop in summer 1987. Paul Laurence and Timmy Allen produced and co-wrote the chugging "(You're Putting) a Rush on Me" giving the singer her third number one R&B hit in fall 1987. The single made it to number 85 Pop and was followed by "Secret Lady," which landed at number seven R&B in late 1987. Her covers of "If I Were Your Woman" and "Where Is the Love" followed. All were included on her If I Were Your Woman album, which peaked at number one R&B, number 30 Pop in summer 1987. Following these hits, Mills contacted Ronald Isley about working with singer/songwriter/producer Angela Winbush, who'd had hits as half of Rene & Angela and was forging a hit-filled career as a recording artist and producer for the group Body among others. The collaboration between Mills and Winbush resulted in another number one R&B single, "Something in the Way You Make Me Feel," in summer 1989.
Having starred for five years in the smash Broadway show The Wiz and recorded the song "Home for the play's 1975 original cast soundtrack album, she wanted to record the song again as a posthumous tribute to the play's producer, Ken Harper, and the song's composer, Charlie Smalls. On her new version of "Home," Take 6 sung the background vocals. The song went to number one R&B in late 1989 and was followed by "Comfort of a Man" and "Real Love." The Home LP ended up peaking at number five R&B, number 82 Pop in summer 1989. She then recorded a charting single with J.T. Taylor titled "Heart to Heart" in late 1991. Her final MCA album, Something Real, included the hit "All Day All Night" and "Never Do Wrong." Following this album, she recorded a gospel album, Personal Inspirations, for Interscope Records and in the late '90s, recorded several tracks at Philadelphia International Records with Bunny Sigler, among others.
"Honor the past, don't just remember it." Dizzie Gillespie
El Caobo &