Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Carmen McRae

Carmen Mercedes McRae (April 8, 1920 – November 10, 1994) was an American jazz singer, composer, pianist, and actress. Considered one of the most influential jazz vocalists of the 20th century, it was her behind-the-beat phrasing and her ironic interpretations of song lyrics that made her memorable. She drew inspiration from Billie Holiday, but established her own distinctive voice. She went on to record over 60 albums during her career, and enjoying a rich musical career, performing and recording in the USA, Europe, and Japan.

She was born in Harlem, New York City to West Indian (Jamaican) parents, Osmond and Evadne McRae. She began studying piano when she was eight, and the music of jazz greats like Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington filled her home. She met singer Billie Holiday when she was just 17 years old. As a teenager McRae came to the attention of Teddy Wilson and his wife, the composer Irene Kitchings Wilson. One of McRae's early songs, "Dream of Life" through their influence, was recorded in 1939 by Wilson’s longtime collaborator Billie Holiday. She considered Holiday to be her primary influence.

In her late teens and early twenties, she played piano at a New York club called Minton's Playhouse, Harlem's most famous jazz club, sang as a chorus girl, and worked as a secretary. It was at Milton's where she met trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, bassist Oscar Pettiford, and drummer Kenny Clarke. Had her first important job as a pianist with the Benny Carter's big band (1944), worked with Count Basie (1944) and made first recording as pianist with Mercer Ellington Band (1946-1947). But it was while working in Brooklyn that she came to the attention of Decca’s Milt Gabler. Her five year association with Decca yielded 12 LPs.

In 1948 she moved to Chicago with comedian George Kirby. She played piano steadily for almost four years before returning to New York. Back in New York in the early 1950s, McRae got the record contract that launched her career. In 1954, she was voted best new female vocalist by Down Beat magazine. She married bassist Ike Isaacs in the 1950s.

Among her most interesting recording projects were Mad About The Man (1957) with composer Noël Coward, Boy Meets Girl (1957) with Sammy Davis, Jr., participating in Dave Brubeck's The Real Ambassadors (1961) with Louis Armstrong, a tribute album You're Lookin' at Me (A Collection of Nat King Cole Songs) (1983), cutting an album of live duets with Betty Carter, The Carmen McRae-Betty Carter Duets (1987), being accompanied by Dave Brubeck and George Shearing, and closing her career with brilliant tributes to Thelonious Monk, Carmen Sings Monk (1990), and Sarah Vaughan, Sarah: Dedicated to You (1991). She recorded an album in 1983 in Billie Holiday's honor entitled For Lady Day, which was released in 1995. McRae also recorded with the world best jazz musicians, Take Five Live (1961) with Dave Brubeck, Heat Wave (1982) with Cal Tjader, and Two for the Road (1989) with George Shearing.

She sang in jazz clubs across the world for over fifty years. McRae was a popular performer at the legendary Monterey Jazz Festival (1961-1963, 1966, 1971, 1973, 1982). Performing with Duke Ellington's at the North Sea Jazz Festival in 1980, singing "Dont Get Around Much Any More", and at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1989. Carmen McRae, who refused to quit smoking, was forced to retire in 1991 due to emphysema. She passed away November 10, 1994 in Beverly Hills, California from a stroke, following complications from respiratory illness. Find out more about this jazz legend at: www.wonderboynyc.com/Carmen/

Research info gathered at: http://www.wikipedia.org/

Sunday, November 30, 2008


The MC5 (Motor City Five) was a hard rock band formed in Lincoln Park, Michigan in 1964 and active until 1972. Their music also included blues-rock, psychedelic rock, rock & roll and garage rock. “Crystallizing the counterculture movement at its most volatile and threatening,” their far left political ties and anti-establishment lyrics and music would serve as a prototype for later punk rock musicians.

Their origins can be traced to the friendship between guitarists Wayne Kramer and Fred Smith. Friends since their teen years, they were both fans of R&B music, blues, Chuck Berry, Dick Dale, the Ventures, and what would later be called garage rock: they adored any music with speed, energy and a rebellious attitude. Each guitarist/singer formed and led a rock group (Smith's Vibratones and Kramer's Bounty Hunters). As members of both groups left for college or straight jobs, the most committed members eventually united (under Kramer's leadership and the Headhunters name) and were popular and successful enough in and around Detroit that the musicians were able to quit their day jobs and make a living from the group.

They had a promising beginning which earned them a cover appearance on Rolling Stone magazine in 1968 even before their debut album was recorded. They had a reputation for energetic live performances, one of which was recorded as the critically acclaimed Kick Out The Jams. Their career was ultimately short-lived, though within just a few years of their dissolution, the MC5 were often cited as one of the most important American hard rock groups of their era: their three albums are regarded as classics. Their song “Kick Out the Jams” is widely covered.

On February 13, 1972, Michael Davis left the band (he was using heroin and forced out by the others). The remaining members recorded three new songs — "Gold," "Train Music," and "Inside Out" — in London shortly afterwards for the soundtrack of a film called Gold. This would be the band's final recording session.

The group limped along a while longer, eventually reduced to Kramer and Smith touring and playing with local pick-up groups, playing R&B covers as much as their original material. They reunited for a farewell show on New Years' Eve, 1972-73 at the Grande Ballroom. The venue that had only a few years before hosted over a thousand eager fans now had a few dozen people, and, distraught, Kramer left the stage after a few songs. The band broke up shortly afterwards. Find out more about them at their official website: http://www.davis-kramer-thompson.com/

Research info gathered at: http://www.lastfm.com/

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Jackie Wilson

Jack Leroy "Jackie" Wilson, Jr. (June 9, 1934 – January 21, 1984) was an American singer born in Detroit, Michigan, the only son of Jack, Sr. and Eliza Mae Wilson. He was important in the transition of rhythm and blues into soul. Gaining fame in his early years as a member of the R&B vocal group, The Dominoes, after going solo in 1957, he went on to record over fifty hit singles over a repertoire that included R&B, pop, soul, doo-wop and easy listening before lapsing into a coma following a collapse on stage during a 1975 benefit concert. By the time of his death in 1984, he had become one of the most influential soul artists of his generation.

He was well-known on the R&B scene before he went solo in the late '50s. In 1953 he replaced Clyde McPhatter in Billy Ward & the Dominoes, one of the top R&B vocal groups of the '50s. Although McPhatter was himself a big star, he was as good as or better than the man whose shoes he filled. Commercially, however, things took a downturn for the Dominoes in the Wilson years, although they did manage a Top 20 hit with "St. Therese of the Roses" in 1956.

He scored his first big R&B hit in late 1956 with the brassy, stuttering "Reet Petite," which was co-written by an emerging Detroit songwriter named Berry Gordy Jr. Gordy would also help write a few other hits for Jackie in the late '50s, "To Be Loved," "Lonely Teardrops," "That's Why (I Love You So)," and "I'll Be Satisfied"; they also crossed over to the pop charts, "Lonely Teardrops" making the Top Ten. Most of these were upbeat, creatively arranged marriages of pop and R&B that, in retrospect, helped set the stage both for '60s soul and for Gordy's own huge pop success at Motown. The early Gordy-Wilson association has led some historians to speculate how much differently (and better) Jackie's career might have turned out had he been on Motown's roster instead of the Brunswick label.

After experiencing a lull in his career between 1964 and 1967, he scored two comeback singles with Chicago soul producer Carl Davis with "Whispers (Gettin' Louder)" and "(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher," a Top 10 Pop smash which became one of his final pop hits. This was followed by "I Get the Sweetest Feeling",which, despite it's modest initial chart success in the U.S. (Billboard Pop #34), has since become one of his biggest international chart successes, becoming a Top 10 hit in England twice, in 1972 and in 1987, and a Top 20 hit in the Dutch Top 40 in The Netherlands. Between then and 1975, Wilson continued to record singles that found success on the R&B chart. His final hit, "You Got Me Walkin'", was released in 1972.

He was shot and wounded by one of his alleged lovers, Juanita Jones, on February 15, 1961. Allegedly, Jones shot Wilson in a jealous rage when he returned to his apartment with another woman, fashion model Harlean Harris, an ex-girlfriend of Sam Cooke. In order to protect his reputation, Wilson's management concocted a story that Jones was an obsessed fan who threatened to shoot herself, and that Wilson's intervention concluded in his being shot. The story was accepted, and no charges were brought against Jones. Freda Hood, Jackie's first wife with whom he had four children, divorced him in 1965 after fourteen years of marriage. He married Harris in 1967, but split up soon after. Jackie later met and lived with Lynn Crochet, and they had two children. He was with Lynn up until his heart attack and on-stage accident in 1975. However, as he and Harris never officially divorced, Harris took the role of Wilson's caretaker for the singer's remaining nine years.

He suffered a massive heart attack while playing a Dick Clark show at the Latin Casino in New Jersey on September 29, 1975, falling head-first to the stage while singing "Lonely Teardrops", a blow that left him in a coma. For the next eight years and four months, he was in a vegetative state until his death at age 49. According to the biography, Jackie Wilson: Lonely Teardrops, he received a well-publicized funeral attended by approximately 1,500 relatives, friends and fans. He is interred in the Westlawn Cemetery in Wayne, Michigan. Find out more about his life and carreer at:http://www.jackiewilson.net/JW_pages/JW_discog.html

Research gathered at: www.wikipedia.org

Friday, November 21, 2008

Laura Nyro

Laura Nyro (born Laura Nigro; Oct 18, 1947 – Apr 8, 1997) was an American singer-songwriter. She directly influenced singer-songwriters such as Joni Mitchell, Todd Rundgren, Carly Simon, Phoebe Snow, and Rickie Lee Jones. Nyro’s style was a distinctive hybrid of Brill Building-style New York pop, mixed with elements of jazz, folk, rhythm and blues, and rock. Her lyrics were sophisticated, first as a reflection of youth angst in her initial period (1966-1971), with later works concentrating on animal-rights issues, motherhood, and a growing concern for the human condition.

She possessed a voice which could register tenderness, rage, and playfulness with equal ability and had an instinctive sense of song arrangement and vocal arrangement skills. This revealed itself not only in her own material, but in her recordings of, as she called them, “the teenage heartbeat songs of my youth”, and the occasional pop standard. These songs were interpreted by Nyro with her distinctive chord changes and vocal arrangements (she generally multi-tracked her own harmonies in the studio and later added live harmony singers in concert).

Born in the Bronx, New York, of Italian-American and Jewish-American parents, Nyro was best known by the public as a songwriter rather than a performer.

Some of her best-known songs include “And When I Die”, which was covered by Blood, Sweat & Tears, "Stoney End” (which was covered by Barbra Streisand), “Wedding Bell Blues”, “Stoned Soul Picnic”, “Sweet Blindness”, “Save the Country” (all covered by the The 5th Dimension), and “Eli’s Coming” (a hit for Three Dog Night). Ironically, Nyro’s own best-selling single was Up on the Roof, a cover of the Carole King-Gerry Goffin hit originally recorded by The Drifters in 1962. Her eighth album, Nested has been scheduled for re-release on Aug 12, 2008 by Iconoclassic Records. The CD version of the album was mastered by Grammy Award-winning engineer Vic Anesini, the original album artwork was faithfully recreated, and an essay by biographer Michele Kort will accompany its release. The complete version of Season of Lights is also slated for re-release on CD later in 2008. Find out more at: http://www.lauranyro.com/

Research info gathered at: http://www.last.fm/

Monday, November 17, 2008

Bill Whiters

Bill Withers (born July 4, 1938) is an American singer-songwriter who performed and recorded from 1970 until 1985. The son of a coal miner who worked for the Slab Fork Coal Company from 1917 to 1951 and a domestic for the William Gaston Caperton family that owned the coal company, he was born in a house owned by the company on land leased from Beaver Coal Corporation, predecessor to Beaver Coal Company, Ltd, the youngest of six children in the small coal-mining unincorporated community of Slab Fork, West Virginia in Raleigh County.

In May 1956, at the age of seventeen, Withers joined the United States Navy and served for nine years, during which time he became interested in singing and songwriting. He began writing songs to fill a need for lyrics that expressed what he felt. Following his discharge from the Navy in July 1965, he worked in the San Jose, California area and then moved to Los Angeles in 1967 to pursue a career in music. He worked as an assembler for several different companies, including Douglas Aircraft Corporation, in the Los Angeles area, while recording demo tapes with his own money that he shopped around and performing with local musicians nightly. His recording career began after being introduced to Clarence Avant, president of Sussex Records. And although he kept his job as an assembler after he debuted on the music scene in February 1971 with the single "Ain't No Sunshine" and the album "Just As I Am," he was laid off by Weber Aircraft Corporation.

Stax Records stalwart Booker T. Jones produced his debut album, Just As I Am (with some co-production by Al Jackson, Jr.), which included his first charting single, "Ain't No Sunshine" that went gold and made it to number six R&B and number three pop in summer 1971 and won a Grammy as Best R&B Song. Its follow-up, "Grandma Hands," peaked at number 18 R&B in fall 1971. The song was later covered by the Staple Singers and received airplay as a track from their 1973 Stax LP Be What You Are. "Just As I Am" featured lead guitar by Stephen Stills and hit number five R&B in summer 1971.

He wrote "Lean on Me" based on his experiences growing up in a West Virginia coal mining town. Times were hard and when a neighbor needed something beyond their means, the rest of the community would chip in and help. He came up with the chord progression while noodling around on his new Wurlitzer electric piano. The sound of the chords reminded Withers of the hymns that he heard at church while he was growing up.

On the session for "Lean on Me," members of the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band ("Express Yourself," "Loveland") were used: drummer James Gadson, keyboardist Ray Jackson, guitarist Benorce Blackman (co-wrote with Withers "The Best You Can" from Making Music), and bassist Melvin Dunlop. His second gold single, "Lean on Me," landed at number one R&B and number one pop for three weeks on Billboard's charts in summer 1972. It was included on his Still Bill album which went gold, holding the number one R&B spot for six weeks and hitting number four pop in spring 1972. "Lean on Me" has became a standard with hit covers by U.K. rock band Mud and Club Nouveau. "Lean on Me" was also the title theme of a 1989 blockbuster movie starring Morgan Freeman. Still Bill also included "Use Me" (gold, number two R&B for two weeks and number two pop for two weeks in fall 1972) .

After a legal battle with Sussex, Withers signed with Columbia Records. Columbia later bought his Sussex masters when the label went out of business. Withers was briefly married actress Denise Nicholas (ABC-TV's Room 222 and the 1972 horror film Blacula) in the early '70s. His releases on Columbia were Making Music ("Make Love to Your Mind," number ten R&B), which hit number seven R&B in late 1975; Naked and Warm; Menagerie ("Lovely Day," a number six R&B hit), which went gold in 1977; and 'Bout Love from spring 1979.

Teaming with Elektra Records artist Grover Washington, Jr., Withers sang the crystalline ballad "Just the Two of Us," written by Withers, Ralph MacDonald, and William Salter. It went to number three R&B and held the number two pop spot for three weeks in early 1981. "Just the Two of Us" was redone with hilarious effect in the Mike Myers movie Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, released in summer 1999. Withers teamed with MacDonald for MacDonald's Polydor single "In the Name of Love" in summer 1984. Withers' last charting LP was Watching You, Watching Me in spring 1985. He occasionally did dates with Grover Washington, Jr. during the '90s. His songs and recordings have been used as both the source of numerous covers (Aaron Neville's "Use Me") and sampled by a multitude of hip-hop/rap groups. Find out more about this American legend at: http://www.billwithersmusic.com/

Research info gathered at: www.wikipedia.org

and tutoring blog: www.miceroom.blogspot.com