Every Friday night we smooth our way into the weekend with music, the universal language. These selections demonstrate that despite what is being passed off as art today, there is plenty of really good music available. Come along and enjoy.
We’ve just begun Black History Month, a time to celebrate African American achievements. The idea began in 1915 by Harvard-trained historian Carter G. Woodson and other prominent African American figures of his day.
Why February? Woodson and his group chose the second week in February in 1926 to celebrate “Negro History Week,” the same week of the birthdays of former President Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, an escaped slave and prominent abolitionist movement activist. The civil rights movement of the 1960’s helped transform the week into an entire month.
This week, music worth remembering. Let’s get started.
Diana Ross. Mary Wilson. Florence Ballard. The singing trio met in a Detroit housing project in the late 1950’s. Originally they were the Primettes (and had a fourth member, Barbara martin), but when they scored their first recording with Motown in 1961 the name was changed.
The Supremes left Detroit in the early summer of 1964 on a Dick Clark tour bus at the bottom of the bill, but with excitement mounting, they returned with their first No. 1 record of five in a row. They earned six No. 1 pop singles, and they would achieve another six pop chart-toppers by the end of the decade.
Elaborately gowned and staged, the Supremes could really sing.
In honor of Motown’s 60th anniversary in 2019, Variety rated the label’s 60 all-time greatest songs. Two of them are in this medley:
1) “Stop! In the Name of Love” – “Lamont Dozier was arguing with his girlfriend when he told her — you guessed it — ‘Stop, in the name of love.’ ‘We both started laughing and stopped arguing,’ says the writer/producer, who turned the incident into the Supremes’ fourth consecutive No. 1 single.”
2) “It’s hard to imagine a song more synonymous with the Motown Sound than the Supremes’ ‘You Can’t Hurry Love.’ The classic soul/pop masterpiece, part of a remarkable string of hits for the girl group during their 1965-1967 heyday, was written and produced by Motown’s main production team, Holland–Dozier–Holland, and went on to top both the R&B and pop charts in America in 1966.”
Ross left to pursue a solo career in 1970 and was replaced by Jean Terrell. The Supremes disbanded in 1977 after 18 years.
Since then the group has had a tremendous influence on others. One female ensemble got their start singing in their father’s church, The Church of God in West Oakland, California. Their father ran a tight ship.
“No jewelry, no makeup, no dancing, no movies, and certainly no rock music,” said Ruth Pointer. “Daddy wanted to protect us from what he called ‘the devil’s work,’ and he worked hard to make sure he did. We thought we were the poorest people in the world. ,” Most of our clothes came from the Salvation Army, Father Divine’s thrift store and church rummage sales.”
“Times were pretty tough,” said June Pointer. “All we really had to make us happy was our voices.”
When the sisters’ parents were away the young girls would sing.
“Our folks would leave the house, and we’d get in the back room and beat pie pans with spoons, making that rhythm and jamming together,” said June Pointer. “When they’d come home, Grandpa would say, ‘Better whip their butts–they were in there popping their fingers and shaking their behinds, singing the blues! Terrible! Terrible!’ And we’d get a whipping, too–you’d better believe it.”
As the sisters got older they sang in their parents’ church choir, and their love of music grew. Ruth Pointer bought her first record: Elvis’ “All Shook Up.”
“I think the reason it even got into the house was because ‘Crying in the Chapel’ was on the other side, and Mother liked that song,” said Anita Pointer. “That was one of the first non-gospel songs that we were allowed to play.”
Once out of high school a couple of the sisters began singing in clubs, and then came a big break. A call was made to David Rubinson, a partner in Bill Graham’s record labels.
“I called him and said, ‘You don’t know us, and you’ve never heard us sing, but please trust us and help!”‘said Bonnie Pointer.
Rubinson agreed. The sisters sang backup in the studio for Taj Mahal, Grace Slick, Boz Scaggs and others. In 1971, Atlantic Records vice-president Jerry Wexler heard them backing Elvin Bishop at the Whiskey A-Go-Go in Los Angeles and offered them a record deal. When that deal was up in 1972 they joined Rubinson, who promised to release their debut album on his new Blue Thumb label. They went on to achieve world-wide fame. In 2017, Billboard listed them as one of the Top 5 female groups of all time.
In 1975, a quartet at the time, The Pointer Sisters won their first Grammy Award for a country-western tune, “Fairytale,” written by Anita and Bonnie Pointer. As a result, the sisters became the first black female group to perform at the Grand Ole Opry. Elvis Presley recorded their song on his last studio album. The group hit the big screen in 1976 in the film “Car Wash,” starring Richard Pryor. The group has received many awards and accolades, including a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. They’ve recorded sixteen albums, plus a cast album to highlight their 46 week tour of the musical “Ain’t Misbehavin’.” They were honored to take part in the recording of “We Are The World.”
Now, not one, but two stars.
Nat King Cole became the first African American performer to host a variety TV series in 1956. Keyboardist Billy Preston performed with the Beatles and Rolling Stones and also had a very successful solo career.
Cole died of lung cancer in 1965. He was 45.
Preston died of kidney failure in 2006. He was 59.
Life is not fair. No matter the level of talent, death can come too soon.
Here’s a snippet of one of the greatest jazz melodies ever.
That 1961 album is considered a true classic.
Oliver Nelson was a saxophonist, band leader, writer, and arranger.
Nelson’s “Skull Session” LP (above) was released in 1975, the same year he died of a heart attack at the age of 43.
That’s it for this week.
Have a great weekend.
Normally we like to close with a humdinger, a real showstopper. A change of pace this week with a very interesting piece.
This, too, is from the “Life is Not Fair” category.
Tenor saxophonist John Coltrane was revered as one of the most gifted modern jazz musicians of the 1960’s. He developed the three-on-one chord approach, and a method that has been dubbed “sheets of sound,” where he played multiple notes at a time.
In July of 1967 Coltrane went to a hospital after enduring stomach pains for several weeks and refusing to see a doctor. Coltrane died a few days later of liver cancer. He was 40.
His biggest commercial success was a lengthy recording of “My Favorite Things” from the musical “The Sound Of Music” in 1961. Here’s trumpeter Wynton Marsalis with the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra along with the Sachal Jazz Ensemble from Pakistan. Walter Blanding is on saxophone. Dan Nimmer of Milwaukee is on the piano.