March 14, 2008 was the 75th birthday of the phenomenal Quincy Jones. Musical genius Jones was born in Chicago in 1933. He studied his craft at Seattle University and at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. As a black history legend in music, Jones has been honored with 27 Grammy Awards, an Emmy Award, seven Oscar nominations, plus an honorary Oscar. Quincy has worn all of his industry hats as a musical director, film score creator, composer, musician, producer, conductor, arranger, and record company executive. In 1953, Quincy Jones was the first arranger/conductor to utilize the newly-invented Fender electric bass in audio recordings. He played and toured with jazz greats Ray Charles, Lionel Hampton, and Dizzy Gillespie. Jones has scored over 50 films. His first film score was "The Pawnbroker," in 1963. Jones has produced albums for the very best, including Michael Jackson. Besides winning all of those Grammy Awards, Quincy Jones has produced the actual network presentation of the Grammys on television. "Q" recorded "Hallelujah," Handel's Messiah: A Soulful Celebration, a contemporary version of the famous classical work in 1991. Released in 1992, the album featured Patti Austin, Andrae Crouch, Sandra Crouch, Clifton Davis, Charles Dutton, Kim Fields, Edwin Hawkins, Tramaine Hawkins, Linda Hopkins, Al Jarreau, Chaka Khan, Gladys Knight, Johnny Mathis, Marilyn McCoo, Stephanie Mills, Jeffrey Osborne, Phylicia Rashad, Joe Sample, Take 6, Vanessa Williams, Patti LaBelle, Stevie Wonder, and Vanessa Bell Armstrong. For his incredible story, discover Q - The Autobiography of Quincy Jones.
Margaret Rosezarian Harris, (1944 – 2000), was the first black woman to conduct the symphony orchestras of 16 American cities, including Los Angeles, Detroit, and Chicago. A child prodigy, she played piano at age 3, and at age 10, played a Mozart Concerto with the Chicago Symphony. Miss Harris started her career as a pianist, but achieved much more attention as a celebrated conductor. The Chicago, Illinois born Margaret won a scholarship to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. She was also a graduate of New York City’s Julliard School of Music. Margaret Harris conquered Broadway as the music director of the musical Hair in 1970. She passed away this week, 8 years ago, at age 56. Classical Trivia: William Grant Still was the first African American to conduct a major symphony orchestra, (The Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1936).
James Weldon Johnson, (1871-1938), wrote the famous poem, "Lift Every Voice and Sing" - now known as The Negro National Anthem. He wrote several books and poems, including, The Autobiography of an ex-Colored Man, (1912), and Negro American, What Now? (1934). Johnson collaborated with his brother to write hundreds of songs. Many of these tunes were featured on Broadway. He was the first African American admitted to the Florida Bar, marking another of his numerous accomplishments as a contributor to black history. President Teddy Roosevelt appointed Johnson U.S. Consul to Venezuela and Nicaragua in 1906. Johnson joined the NAACP in 1916, and became Executive Secretary of the organization in 1920.
Celebrating her 90th birthday, Lena Horne, entertainer extraordinaire, was born in Brooklyn, New York on June 30, 1917. She was a 16-year-old chorus girl at Harlem's famous Cotton Club in 1933. Horne's legacy includes success with radio, movies, television, records, and Broadway. Her first big Broadway role was in the 1957 production of "Jamaica" with Ricardo Montalban. As a singer, she's won 3 Grammy Awards. Horne has appeared in 16 Hollywood feature films.
On a night in which she was honored with a lifetime achievement award, Diana Ross had some positive words of wisdom for her inexperienced peers. Ms. Ross encouraged young artists gathered for the June 26, 2007 BET Awards that long careers are possible without using sleaze and vulgarities. Her 5 decades of success speaks well for Diana's magic staying power. As one of the most popular female vocalists of all time, Ms. Ross is now a black history role model for a new generation of performers. This photo is from her early 2007 I Love You CD. Diana is still cranking out the hits. From humble beginnings to international stardom, the career of Diana Ross has stood the test of time. She has reached out and touched the world as a recording legend, film actor, and night club performer. "The Boss" began her climb to fame at age 14 as part of a singing group with Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard. The Primettes sang at parties around Detroit, Michigan. They auditioned for Motown in 1960. Owner Berry Gordy renamed the group, the Supremes. The vocal trio belted out hit after hit during the 1960's. In 1970, Diana Ross went solo. She signed a huge recording contract with RCA in 1981 (after 20 years with Motown). In 1982, Diana's star was placed on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Ella Fitzgerald, (1917 - 1996), a jazz great, was one of the first African American singers to appeal to both black and white audiences. Poverty could not suppress the raw talent that was to lead to her eventual success. She was born in Newport News, Virginia. Her family chose to make New York City their adopted home. As a teenager in the 1930's, Fitzgerald began six decades of performance encompassing 250 recordings and 13 Grammy Awards. She popularized the jazz style called scat singing. Her 1938 hit, "A-Tisket, A-Tasket," derived from nursery rhymes, became her trademark song. She sang the songs of the best songwriters, and performed with most of the greats, including Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie. Diabetes eventually claimed her life at the age of 79. On January 10, 2007, Ella Fitzgerald, became the 30th honoree in the popular Black History Heritage commemorative stamp series issued by the U.S. Postal Service. The stamp image is a portrait based on a photograph taken around 1956. As you can see, this likeness captures the joy and excitement that Fitzgerald brought to music. Fitzgerald won the National Medal of Arts, presented to her in 1987 by President Ronald Reagan. She was one of five artists awarded Kennedy Center Honors in 1979. In 1989, the Society of Singers created an award for lifetime achievement, called it the "Ella," and made her its first recipient. In 2005, Jazz at Lincoln Center inducted Fitzgerald into its Nesuhi Ertegun Jazz Hall of Fame.
Bob Marley's former north London home was recently honored with a heritage plaque to celebrate the reggae legend's residence in the United Kingdom. The plaque describes Marley as a "singer, lyricist and Rastafarian icon." Robert Nesta Marley was born in St. Ann, Jamaica, February 6, 1945. He spread the message and spiritual passion of reggae music throughout the world for three decades. On May 11, 1981, 36 year old Marley passed away from cancer in Miami, Florida. By 1990, a national holiday was created in Jamaica to commemorate his birth. The reggae icon sold 9 million copies of his album Legend. In 1996, Legend was certified as the best-selling reggae album of all time. Marley's house in Kingston, Jamaica, now known as the Bob Marley Museum, is a big tourist attraction for black history scholars as well as vacationers to the Caribbean island. The Marley legacy continues today. Bob's youngest son, Damian, became the first reggae artist in 2006 to win a Grammy Award outside of the reggae category for his best Urban/Alternative performance: "Welcome to Jamrock" single. Damian Marley also lead the pack with six honors at this year's 2006 International Reggae and World Music Awards held in New York City.
Saturday, October 21, would have been the 89th birthday of the late father of modern jazz, Dizzy Gillespie. As a member of Cab Calloway's band, Gillespie also jammed with the notable Thelonius Monk and Charlie Parker in 1941 to create what's now known as the improvisational bebop sound. During a colorful career, Dizzy shared the stage with Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Sonny Rollins, Stan Getz, and a host of other jazz giants. When Gillespie's trumpet accidentally got bent in the upward position, he continued to play it claiming the instrument sounded better. The 1953 horn accident became Dizzy's instrumental look of success. Dizzy Gillespie bebop brings black history glory and world acclaim to the American story of jazz.
His spirit lives on inside of marvelously magic melodies, flirtatious songs of fantasy, and devilishly seductive R&B from the golden era of classic soul. Marvin Gaye was born on April 2, 1939, and died on April 1, 1984. Years from now, when the Motown pioneers are closely studied, Marvin Gaye will rise to the top as an important entertainer, who, despite his immense talent, was not without his faults. The Motown Alumni Association, Los Angeles Chapter, started a world wide campaign a couple of years ago lobbying the U.S. Postal Service for a commemorative stamp for Marvin. The committee in charge of issuing commemorative stamps for the U.S. Postal Service has turned down the "Marvin stamp" several times. We don't have a Marvin Gaye stamp yet, but plenty has been written about the enigma of Marvin Gaye. According to Dorothy Ferebee in her review of Michael Eric Dyson's Mercy, Mercy, Me: The Art Loves and Demons of Marvin Gaye," Dr. Dyson examines the effect of Marvin Gaye's music on the socio-political climate of the sixties, seventies and eighties. Ferebee adds that Dyson attempts to unravel the mysteries of Gaye's loves and passions for Anna Gordy and Janice Hunter, his two wives, and his reputed romantic relationship with Tammi Terrell. Marvin's album, "What's Goin' On," remains one of the most influential thematic collection of songs ever recorded. A technical note...the cover of the original vinyl album titles the work as "What's Going On." That title is also printed on the lp, while the spine of the album cover says: "What's Goin' On." Marvin was way ahead of his time, and departed way to early.
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame honor roll members have had their day in the sun since 1986. Jazz great Miles Davis is one of the class of 2006 inductees. Davis in the Hall is an amazing tip of the hat to a legendary artist - showing special honor for his experimentation with rock influences, coming primarily from Davis' appreciation of Jimi Hendrix. Davis created the genre known as fusion. His album Bitches Brew, touching on many rock influences, was way ahead of it's time. Congratulations to Miles Davis for this posthumous award. Among black history people, he's another standout.