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. This week, music worth remembering.
Let’s get started.
Everyone knows Ray Charles was a musical legend, a pioneer, the “Father of Soul.”
Born in Albany, Georgia, Charles and his family moved to Greenville, Florida when he was just an infant. During his childhood Charles witnessed the drowning death of his younger brother.
Soon after that traumatic incident, Charles gradually began to lose his sight. He was blind by the age of 7, and his mother sent him to the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind in St. Augustine, Florida, where he learned to read, write and arrange music in Braille. He also learned to play piano, organ, sax, clarinet and trumpet. Throughout his long, successful career Charles combined R&B, gospel, pop, and even country.
When I worked in the news department at WUWM Milwaukee Public Radio in the 1980’s a colleague of mine for a brief time was Donna Jones. Part of her resume included singing backup for Charles as one of the Raelettes.
Jones is pictured on the far left.
These pictures found on the Ray Charles Video Museum website were taken at the Northsea Jazz Festival, The Hague, in mid-July 1976. Pictured from Donna Jones, Bernice Hullaby, Estella Yarbrough, Dorothy Berry, and Linda Sims.
Jamie Foxx portrayed Charles in the 2004 film Ray.
No, Donna Jones was not on that program.
Yes, that was the late Billy Preston onstage at the organ.
It’s been said that jazz is America’s only true art form.
Before legendary bandleader Count Basie’s launch to stardom a young Basie did chores at a theater in New Jersey. A projectionist taught him to rewind the reels, switch between projectors, and operate the spotlight for the vaudeville shows. When the theater’s house pianist didn’t show for work, Basie suggested he take his spot. The theater said no. So he waited for the film to start, snuck into the orchestra pit, and played piano along with the film anyway. The theater invited him back to play again that night.
After moving to New York City Basie toured as a pianist on the major vaudeville circuits. In 1927, a canceled tour left Basie stranded in Kansas City. He remained there and played in several bands in the area, eventually forming his own orchestra that recorded and performed a string of hits.
This 1958 Basie recording, named after Hoss Allen, a Nashville disc jockey, is re-done here by an amazing military band. It’s great toe-tapper that really swings.
The Count Basie Orchestra is still touring today.
In the 1960’s the songwriting team of Lamont Dozier and brothers Brian and Eddie Holland composed many songs that characterized the famous Motown sound. One of them was in 1965, sung by Eddie Holland, and later recorded by the Isley Brothers, the Doobie Brothers, and this jazz-rock band.
Lead singer David Clayton-Thomas left the group after this Top Ten album, but returned about four years later. And yes, Blood, Sweat, and Tears is still touring.
BS & T won a Grammy for Album of the Year, beating out the Beatles’ Abbey Road. But at the height of their popularity in 1970 they embarked upon a State Department-sponsored tour of the Iron Curtain nations Poland, Romania, and Yugoslavia. The Vietnam War was still raging, so the tour resulted in a huge fan backlash. Their fandom never was the same. An upcoming documentary What The Hell Happened to Blood, Sweat & Tears? will finally tell the band’s story.
Our next performer is one of the most successful and popular music producers of all time, with over 70 years in the entertainment industry. He’s done it all: record producer, multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, composer, arranger, and film and TV producer.
Jones has frequently made outlandish statements.
During interviews with GQ and Vulture in early 2018, Jones’ claims included that he knew who killed JFK; that Michael Jackson stole many of his hit songs; that Marlon Brando had sex with Richard Pryor, James Baldwin, and Marvin Gaye; and that he had dated Ivanka Trump.
Jones quickly apologized after a family meeting with his six daughters was held, saying he had “learned [his] lesson. I am an imperfect human and I’m not afraid to say it. And I’m sorry and I’m not afraid to say it.”
That’s it for this week.
Have a great weekend.
W.C. Handy was an African American composer and a leader in popularizing blues music in the early 20th century. In 1892, he formed a band called Lauzette Quartet, with the intention of performing at the Chicago World’s Fair later that year, but when the fair was postponed until 1893, the band was forced to split. Handy ended up in St. Louis, where he experienced difficult days of poverty, hunger and homelessness. But he persevered, went on the road, and wrote dozens of songs.
Having to deal with eyesight problems for many years, Handy was blind by the mid-1940s due to a skull fracture after falling from a train platform.
Pneumonia took Handy’s life in New York City on March 28, 1958, at the age of 84. More than 20,000 people attended his funeral at a church in Harlem. Thousands more lined the streets to pay their respects.
Brazilian keyboardist Eumir Deodato, who recorded a smash instrumental in the early 1970’s of the 2001 theme, performed Handy’s biggest hit at the Mississippi River Festival in 1974 for his Artistry album.