Singer/Songwriter/Guitarist/Legend Charles Edward Anderson “Chuck” Berry born October 18, 1926, in St. Louis, Missouri transitioned this life at his home in St. Louis to be with the ancestors on March 18, 2017. They told us this person or that person created Rock & Roll, namely folks like Elvis, but we know like everything in America was stolen from black people. So it is well-known that the great Mr. Berry was the creator and the beginning of what is called Rock & Roll. That’s it and that’s all! Thank you sir for all that you gave the world – R.I.P. And that’s my thought provoking perspective…
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The genius whose government name is Sylvester Stewart, creator and frontman, of Sly & The Family Stone harnessed all of the disparate musical and social trends of the late 60s. This group shook up the music world creating a wild, brilliant fusion of soul, rock, R&B, and psychedelic funk that broke boundaries down without a second thought. The band was comprised of men and women, and blacks and whites, making the band the first fully integrated group in rock’s history caused an integration shone through the music, as well as their message.
Before Stone, very few soul and R&B groups delved into political and social commentary; after him, it became a tradition in soul, funk, and hip-hop that evolved into the mainstream body of music. The Family Stone’s arrangements were ingenious, filled with unexpected group vocals, syncopated rhythms, punchy horns, and pop melodies. Their music was joyous, but as the 60s ended, so did the good times. Stone became disillusioned with the ideals he had been preaching in his music, becoming addicted to a variety of drugs in the process.
His music gradually grew slower and darker, culminating in 1971s There’s a Riot Going On, which set the pace for 70s funk with its elastic bass, slurred vocals and militant Black Power stance. Stone was able to turn out one more modern funk classic, 1973s Fresh, before slowly succumbing to his addictions, which gradually sapped him of his once prodigious talents. Nevertheless, his music continued to provide the basic template for urban soul, funk, and even hip-hop well into the ’90s.
During 1966, Sly formed the Stoners, which featured trumpeter Cynthia Robinson. Though the Stoners didn’t last long, he brought Robinson along as one of the core members of his next group, Sly & the Family Stone. Formed in early 1967, the Family Stone also featured Fred Stewart (guitar, vocals), Larry Graham (bass, vocals), Greg Errico (drums), Jerry Martini (saxophone), and Rosie Stone (piano), who all were of different racial backgrounds.
The group’s eclectic music and multiracial composition made them distinctive from the numerous flower-power bands in San Francisco, and their first single, “I Ain’t Got Nobody,” became a regional hit for the local label Loadstone. The band signed with Epic Records shortly afterward, releasing their debut album, A Whole New Thing, by the end of the year.
The record stiffed, but the follow-up, Dance to the Music, generated a Top Ten pop and R&B hit with its title track early in 1968. Life followed later in 1968, but the record failed to capitalize on its predecessor’s success. “Everyday People,” released late in 1968, turned their fortunes back around, rocketing to the top of the pop and R&B charts and setting the stage for the breakthrough success of 1969’s Stand! At this point, the group took over the sound of the music industry!
Featuring “Everyday People,” “Sing a Simple Song,” “Stand,” and “I Want to Take You Higher,” became the Family Stone’s first genuine hit album, climbing to number 13 and spending over 100 weeks on the charts. Stand! Marked the emergence of a political bent in Stone’s songwriting (“Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey”), as well as the development of hard-edged, improvisational funk like “Sex Machine.” The Family Stone quickly became known as one of the best live bands of the late 60s, and their performance at Woodstock was widely hailed as one of the festival’s best.
The non-LP singles “Hot Fun in the Summertime” and “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” b/w “Everybody Is a Star” became hits, reaching number two and number one respectively in late 1969/early 1970. Both singles were included on Greatest Hits, which became a number two record upon its fall 1970 release.
While the group was at the height of its popularity, Sly was beginning to unravel behind the scenes. Developing a debilitating addiction to narcotics, Stone soon became notorious for arriving late for concerts, frequently missing the shows altogether. I personally paid to see Sly and the Family Stone on three different occasions and have yet to see him perform. However, it did not deter me from being one of their biggest fans.
Stone’s growing personal problems, as well as his dismay with the slow death of the civil rights movement and other political causes, surfaced on “There’s a Riot Goin’On”. Though the album shot to number one upon its fall 1971 release, the record — including “Family Affair,” Stone’s last number one single — was dark, hazy, and paranoid, and his audience began to shrink slightly.
During 1972, several key members of the Family Stone, including Graham and Errico, left the band; they were replaced by Rusty Allen and Andy Newmark, respectively. The relatively lighter Fresh appeared in the summer of 1973, and it went into the Top Ten on the strength of the Top Ten R&B hit “If You Want Me to Stay.” Released the following year, Small Talk was a moderate hit, reaching number 15 on the charts and going gold, but it failed to generate a big hit single. High on You, released in late 1975 and credited only to Sly Stone, confirmed that his power and popularity had faded. “I Get High on You” reached the R&B Top Ten, but the album made no lasting impact.
Sly virtually disappeared for years later to resurface destitute and homeless, but the sound he created lives on. It is said that most people get 15 minutes of fame while others become infamous for inspiring generations with a sound that changed the music world for all times. And that’s my thought provoking perspective…
“Excellence is my presence. Never tense, never hesitant.” – Biggie Smalls.
These were the words left to us by mere mortal like the man whose government name was Christopher Wallace aka Biggie Smalls, also known as Notorious B.I.G. Gone too soon, but his impact will live forever. He was born May 21, 1972, in Bedford–Stuyvesant (colloquially known as Bed-Stuy) neighborhood in the north-central portion of the New York City borough of Brooklyn where some say is city’s roughest borough. There he grew up to become a drug dealer and a hustler, but his legacy was that of a master lyricist.
I have known many artists in my lifetime who have recorded and sold millions of records whereas Mr. Big recorded only three that solidified his place in music history for all-time. He started experimenting with music as a teenager and, not long after, befriended Puffy Combs and with the guidance of Tupac Shakur turned ashy into classy. His 1994 debut album, Ready to Die, was a smash hit and Life After Death became a classic.
Around his neighborhood, Biggie Smalls, as he called himself then, began building a reputation as a musician. After a tape of his landed in the hands of Mister Cee, a well-known DJ, Smalls was featured in the hip-hop publication, The Source.
Almost immediately, the Notorious B.I.G., as he now called himself, appearing on the 1993 remix of Mary J. Blige’s “Real Love,” and followed it up with a second Blige remix, “What’s the 411?” His debut as a solo artist came with the single, “Party and Bullshit,” on the soundtrack to the film, Who’s the Man?
In my view the release of his debut album, Ready to Die, which told the story of his life, from a drug dealer to rapper, was as prophetic as Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On.” With hits like “Juicy” and “Big Poppa,” the record went platinum, and the young hip-hop artist became a full-fledged star. That same year, The Source named the rapper “Best New Artist,”Best Live Performer” and “Lyricist of the Year.”
As his star power increased, Biggie did his best to share his prestige. He backed the work of several rappers that he’d originally performed with while starting out in Brooklyn, and took to the studio in support of other artists on Sean “Puffy” Combs’s label. He also teamed up with such stars as Michael Jackson and R. Kelly. By the close of 1995, Biggie was one of music’s best-selling and most sought after performers.
Big’s success and wealth hardly brought peace to Biggie’s life where he was often quoted as saying “more money more problems.” In the immediate aftermath of Ready to Die’s popularity, the rapper found himself in constant fear. In 1994, he told The New York Times that he was disliked for having more money, which came with his fame.
It was after the murder of Tupac Shakur that amplified Biggie’s fears about his own life, and his concern was tragically validated on March 9, 1997. Biggie, who had just come out of the Soul Train Music Awards, was sitting in an SUV when another vehicle pulled up to his car, opened fire and killed him. His murder shook the music world, prompting fears that the hip-hop world might erupt into a full-fledged war, ending numerous other lives. Biggie was only 24 years old at the time.
In the wake of Big’s killing, the record Life After Death was a giant hit, selling nearly 700,000 copies in its first week. Two years later, Born Again, an album of unreleased material from Biggie, was released. The third album of extra material, Duets: The Final Chapter was released in 2005.
Today, Biggie is still one of the music industry’s most admired hip-hop artists. Several musicians have paid tribute to Biggie by mentioning him in their songs, and his musical style has been emulated by countless up-and-coming artists. There is little doubt that Biggie’s talent, as a writer and rapper, propelled him from a place where so many have been lost and will continue to be acknowledged for decades to come.
If Biggie were alive today, it is safe to say there would be many so-called rapper starving and unknown. Knowing it or not, maybe call it destiny, the Notorious B.I.G. proved there is “Life After Death” and it’s called eternity. And that’s my thought provoking perspective…
As I thought about a woman to give great praise and highlight during this month dedicated to great women and their achievements. My choice was Patricia Edwards better known to the world as Patti LaBelle or to those who love her as “Miss Patti”. She is renowned as a Grammy Award winning recording artist, author, and actress with over 50 years in the music industry. Miss Patti spent 16 years as lead singer of Patti Labelle and the Bluebells a group that changed their name to “Labelle” in the early 1970s and released the iconic song “Lady Marmalade”.
She started a solo career shortly after the group disbanded in 1977 becoming an established crossover success with “On My Own”, “If You Asked Me To”, “Stir It Up”, and the hit “New Attitude”. She has also recorded huge R&B ballads; “You Are My Friend”, “If Only You Knew”, and “Love, Need and Want You”.
Miss Patti possesses the vocal range far greater than any soprano. Her musical legacy and influence, she has rewarded her with inductions into the Grammy Hall of Fame, the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the Apollo Hall of Fame, and the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame. The World Music Awards presented her with the prestigious Legend Award. She has sold over 50 million records worldwide.
She released her self-titled album in 1977 to critical success, with the highlights being the dance singles “Joy To Have Your Love” and “Dan Swit Me”, and the pop-R&B ballad “You are My Friend”, a song she and her husband co‑wrote. Her subsequent follow-ups, however, 1978s “Tasty”, 1979s “It’s Alright with Me”, and 1980s “released”, failed to be as successful. Though well-established in some circles, LaBelle never followed her live performance success with hit records, which was often the case with the Bluebelles. In 1981, she was switched to Philadelphia International Records.
Miss Patti found success outside of music, performing on Broadway, TV, and movies. Her first film role was “A Soldier’s Story” and later issued for the soundtrack of Beverly Hills Cop. She garnered headlines in 1985 for her show-stopping performances, first at Motown Returns to the Apollo where she opened the show with Joe Cocker singing “You Are So Beautiful” where she received high praise. In the same show, she engaged in the so-called “infamous mic toss” between her and Dianna Ross during the show’s finale “I Want to Know What Love Is”. In fact, most views thought she stole the show.
A longtime resident of Philadelphia married Armstead Edwards, who had one child and tow adopted boys who were the children of their next-door neighbor after their mother died of cancer. Following the death of her youngest sister Jackie Padgett, the couple raised Padgett’s teenage children. In 2000, the couple announced their separation. Their divorce was finalized in 2003.
As lead singer of the legendary group Labelle, Patti LaBelle has been called one of the pioneers of the disco movement due to singles such as “Lady Marmalade” and “Messin’ With My Mind”. In turn, “Lady Marmalade” has been also called one of the first mainstream disco hits. Rolling Stones Magazine includes LaBelle in its 100 Greatest Singers List, citing her as an influencing factor to “generations of soul singers” including Luther Vandross, Alicia Keys, Beyoncé, Mary J. Blige and Christina Aguilera.Other singers who have been inspired by Patti LaBelle are Ashford & Simpson, Celine Dion, Donna Summer, Jennifer Hudson, Jody Watley, Macy Gray, Mariah Carey, Martha Wash, Paula Abdul, Fantasia Barrino, Whitney Houston, and Ariana Grande as well as Oleta Adams, and Regina Belle.
I could go on for days praising this woman for her longevity and accomplishments but space does not allow it. But, if you have ever seen this show-stopping songstress, I am sure you will agree. As the old adage says, she is one in a million, rather I would say she is one who only appears once in a lifetime. And that’s my thought provoking perspective…
There is nothing that gives me more pride than paying homage to the remarkable trailblazers who paved the way for others to follow. None was more significant that the lady known as “the Horne”! The electrifying beauty and uncompromising performer Lena Horne shattered racial boundaries by changing the way Hollywood presented black women for six decades through a singing career, stage, television, and in films.
She is best described in her own words saying, “my identity was clear because I no longer have to be a ‘credit,’ I don’t have to be a ‘symbol’ to anybody. I don’t have to be a ‘first’ to anybody. I don’t have to be an imitation of a white woman that Hollywood sort of hoped I’d become. I’m me, and I’m like nobody else.”
In 1933, Ms. Horne was pushed into a job at the Cotton Club by her mother, who knew the Harlem nightclub’s choreographer. The segregated club attracted white clientele, who liked to watch the top black entertainers of the day, such as Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway, surrounded by what was promoted as a “tall, tan and terrific” chorus of girls.
The Horne, as she was endearing called because of her striking beauty and voice, considered one of the most beautiful women in the world, attracted the attention of Hollywood in 1942. She was the first black woman to sign a meaningful long-term contract with a major studio, a contract that said she would never have to play a maid. This single act transformed the image of the African American woman in Hollywood.
As a film historian, Donald Bogle said, “Movies are a powerful medium and always depicted African American women before Lena Horne as hefty, mammy-like maids who were ditzy and giggling… Lena Horne becomes the first one the studios begin to look at differently… Really just by being there, being composed and onscreen with her dignity intact paved the way for a new day” for black actresses.
In Hollywood, Ms. Horne received previously unheard-of star treatment for a black actor. Her reputation in Hollywood rested on a handful of classic musical films. Among the best were two all-black musicals from 1943: “Cabin in the Sky,” as a small-town temptress who pursues Eddie “Rochester” Anderson; and “Stormy Weather,” in which she played a career-obsessed singer opposite Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. She shared billing with hugely famous white entertainers such as Gene Kelly, Lucille Ball, Mickey Rooney and Red Skelton but was segregated onscreen so producers could clip out her singing when the movies ran in the South. “Mississippi wanted its movies without me,” she once told the New York.
Metro Goldwyn Mayer studios featured Ms. Horne in movies and advertisements as glamorously as white beauties including Hedy Lamarr, Rita Hayworth, and Betty Grable. James Gavin, who has written a biography of Ms. Horne, said: “Given the horrible restrictions of the time, MGM bent over backward to do everything they could. After MGM, she was an international star, and that made her later career possible, made her a superstar.” Ms. Horne appeared on television and at major concerts halls in New York, London, and Paris. She starred on Broadway twice, and her 1981 revue, “Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music,” set the standard for the one-person musical show, reviewers said. The performance also netted her a special Tony Award and two Grammy Awards. She was formidable and the first black cabaret star for white society.
As a songstress, her repertoire consisted of sophisticated ballads of Cole Porter, George and Ira Gershwin, Frank Loesser and Billy Strayhorn. She loved the music but also said she liked surprising the white audience who expected black entertainers to sing hot jazz or blues and dance wildly. In her singing, Ms. Horne showed great range and could convincingly shift between jazz, blues, and cabaret ballads. New Yorker jazz writer Whitney Balliett praised her “sense of dynamics that allowed her to whisper and wheedle and shout.”
She told the New York Times in 1981, “I thought, ‘How can I sing about a penthouse in the sky, when with the housing restrictions the way they are, I wouldn’t be allowed to rent the place?” In the late 1940’s and 1950’s, she chose to focus on quietly defying segregation policies at upscale hotels in Miami Beach and Las Vegas where she performed. At the time, it was customary for black entertainers to stay in black neighborhoods, but Ms. Horne successfully insisted that she and her musicians be allowed to stay wherever she entertained. One Las Vegas establishment reportedly had its chambermaids burn Ms. Horne’s sheets.
In 1963, Ms. Horne appeared at the civil rights March on Washington with Harry Belafonte and Dick Gregory and was part of a group, which included authors James Baldwin and Lorraine Hansberry that met with Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy to urge a more active approach to desegregation. Ms. Horne also used her celebrity to rally front-line civil rights activists in the South and was a fundraiser for civil right groups including the NAACP and the National Council of Negro Women.
Working closely with NAACP Executive Secretary Walter White, Ms. Horne said she wanted to “try to establish a different kind of image for Negro women.” They successfully challenged the casting system that had long marginalized black performers onscreen by having them portray servants, minstrels or jungle natives.
To Ms. Horne’s surprise, her efforts to overcome servile screen parts was resented by many black actors who viewed her as a threat more than a pioneer. She said she was perceived as a danger to the system of informal “captains” in the black acting community who worked as liaisons with film producers when they needed “natives” for the latest Tarzan picture.
After the triumph of her 1981 Broadway show, she led an increasingly isolated life in her Manhattan apartment. Over my lifetime, I have seen and known giants who have illuminated the world. None shined brighter than “The Horne”. A life rich in wonder who now belong to the ages. Rest In Peace Ms. Horne as you take your rest among the ghost of the great. And that’s my thought provoking perspective…
Aretha or Ree Ree, as we affectionately call her sometimes, earned the title “Lady Soul” early in her career but I think “Queen of Soul” is more appropriate, which she has worn uncontested since she recorded her first tune. As much of an international institution as she’s become, much of her work, if not all, is fitfully inspired by her gospel roots making her music a must and in some cases a necessity, for our listening pleasure.
Franklin grew up in the bosom of gospel music, one of six children, and daughter to a Baptist preacher. Moving from her birthplace of Memphis, Tenn. and finally settling with her family in Detroit. Her early years were filled with musical experiences and environments from two cities that were brimming with groundbreaking music – from gospel to soul to R & B – in the 1950s and 60s.
Franklin’s first recordings with Columbia did not receive the accolades the label thought they would receive, and it wasn’t until she began her career at Atlantic Records did she find her real place in music, eventually becoming the recipient of 18 Grammies.
Aretha’s voice has been the prize to which so many females over the last 50 years have set their eyes, striving to emulate with success her depth of feeling, her soulful cadence and the natural essence that seems to flow from within her and into her music. From girl groups to solo artists, so many women, young and old, see her more than just a role model for music, but for womanhood in general.
As a compliment to the Queen, I see her in the metaphorical sense like the guy from the movie “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” which was about a man who gets younger as he ages. She gets better with time! Aretha’s ongoing, lifelong career is bar-none one of the most profound and greatest of our time. Her music remains the foundation for so many to live by and love, and it has stood the test of time. All Hail the Queen. And that’s my Thought Provoking Perspective…