National Artist Bio's

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Average White Band / Aretha Franklin / Al Green /  Al Jarreau / Akrobatik / Anita Baker / Brittny Spears / Barry White     Beatles / B B King /Busta Rhymes / Backstreet Boys / Barbara Mason / Boyz II Men / Beach Boys / Bette Midler / Bonnie Raitt /  McKnight  Brian / Bar-Kays / Toni Braxton /Ce Ce Winans / Curtis Mayfield / Charlie Parker / Dells / Delfonics / Donnie McClurkin /  Dolly Parton / Diana Ross / Duke Ellington / David Ruffin /Dixie Hummingbirds / Donny Hathaway /Earth Wind & Fire /  Eddie Kendricks / Edwin Hawkins / Fairfield Four / Five Blind BoysFrank Sinatra /  Four Tops / Grover Washington / George Duke  Gladys Knight / Garth Brooks / Harmonizing Four / Herbie Hancock / Isaac Hayes / Impressions / Janet Jackson / Janis Joplin Jeffrey Osborne / Jackie Wilson / James Cleveland /  James Brown / Jackson Southernaires / Kirk Franklin /LL Cool J / Luther Vandrose  Louis Armstrong / Larry Graham / Lauryn Hill /Michael Jackson /Melissa Elliot / Mariah Carey / Miles Davis / Natile Cole /Ojays /Ohio Players Otis Redding / Patie Labelle / Peaches and Herb / Percey Sledge / Prince / Peabo Bryson /Queen Latifa / Rick James / Ramsey Lewis /   Roy Ayers /Sam Cooke / Sister Sledge / Stevie Wonder / Stephanie Mills / Stylistics / Shirley Murdock Shirley Ceasar /Santana / Teena Marie  Tina Turner / Tom Jones / Temprees / Temptations /Teddy Pendergrass /Tribe call Quest /Victor Wooten / Wilson Picket / Whitney Houston  Will Smith / Yolanda Adams

Average White Band  FORMED: 1972, Scotland.. DISBANDED: 1990 The Average White Band had their name jokingly bestowed on them by Bonnie Bramlett of Delanie & Bonnie; during their prime, AWB's solid grooves and overall chemistry were anything but average. But the name did reflect their paradoxical position: they were an American-style soul band made up of native Scots. The group was formed in Glasgow, Scotland, in early 1972 by Alan Gorrie (b. Jul. 19, 1946, Perth, Scotland) on bass, vocals, Michael Rosen; (soon replaced by Hamish Stuart; [b. Oct. 8, 1949, Glasgow, Scotland] [guitar, vocals]), Onnie McIntyre, (b. Sep. 25, 1945, Lennox Town, Scotland) on vocals, guitar, Robbie McIntosh (b. 1950, Scotland - d. Sep. 23, 1974, Los Angeles), Roger Ball, (b. Jun. 4, 1944, Dundee, Scotland) on keyboards, saxophone, and Malcolm Duncan, (b. Aug. 24, 1945, Montrose, Scotland) on saxophone. After their 1973 debut album, Show Your Hand, went unnoticed, they hooked up with producer Arif Mardin to record Average White Band (frequently called AWB because of the initials on the cover). Released in August 1974, the album topped the charts and spawned the near-instrumental dance hit "Pick Up the Pieces," which also went to number one. Meanwhile, tragedy struck the band, when drummer Robbie McIntosh died of a drug overdose; he was replaced by Steve Ferrone (b. Apr. 25, 1950, Brighton, England). AWB nearly replicated its success with the third album, Cut the Cake, and its title single, both of which reached the Top Ten. But the sameness of the group's approach and such side projects as an album with Ben E. King broke its momentum. Also, the rise of disco left its funky soul style sounding dated. AWB managed a couple more gold albums in Person to Person (January 1977) and Warmer Communications (March 1978), and its popularity lasted longer in the UK than in the US, but by the start of the '80s the band was permanently out of fashion. The band members have worked as session sidemen for artists ranging from Chaka Khan to Paul McCartney and Badfinger.   ~ Rick Clark & William Ruhlmann, All-Music Guide


Aretha Franklin  BORN: March 25, 1942, Memphis, TN Aretha Franklin is one of the giants of soul music, and indeed of American pop as a whole. More than any other performer, she epitomized soul at its most gospel-charged. Her astonishing run of late-'60s hits with Atlantic Records--"Respect," "I Never Loved a Man," "Chain of Fools," "Baby I Love You," "I Say a Little Prayer," "Think," "The House That Jack Built," and several others--earned her the title "Lady Soul," which she has worn uncontested ever since. Yet as much of an international institution as she's become, much of her work--outside of her recordings for Atlantic in the late '60s and early '70s--is erratic and only fitfully inspired, making discretion a necessity when collecting her records.Franklin's roots in gospel ran extremely deep. With her sisters Carolyn and Erma (both of whom would also have recording careers), she sang at the Detroit church of her father, Reverend C.L. Franklin, while growing up in the 1950s. In fact, she made her first recordings as a gospel artist at the age of 14. It has also been reported that Motown was interested in signing Aretha back in the days when it was a tiny start-up. Ultimately, however, Franklin ended up with Columbia, to which she was signed by the renowned talent scout John Hammond.Franklin would record for Columbia constantly throughout the first half of the '60s, notching occasional R&B hits (and one Top Forty single, "Rock-a-bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody"), but never truly breaking out as a star. The Columbia period continues to generate considerable controversy among critics, many of whom feel that Aretha's true aspirations were being blunted by pop-oriented material and production. In fact there's a reasonable amount of fine items to be found on the Columbia sides, including the occasional song ("Lee Cross," "Soulville") where she belts out soul with real gusto. It's undeniably true, though, that her work at Columbia was considerably tamer than what was to follow, and suffered in general from a lack of direction and an apparent emphasis on trying to develop her as an all-around entertainer, rather than as an R&B/soul singer. When Franklin left Columbia for Atlantic, producer Jerry Wexler was determined to bring out her most soulful, fiery traits. As part of that plan, he had her record her first single, "I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)," at Muscle Shoals in Alabama with esteemed Southern R&B musicians. In fact, that was to be her only session actually at Muscle Shoals, but much of the remainder of her '60s work would be recorded with the Muscle Shoals Sound Rhythm Section, although the sessions would actually take place in New York City. The combination was one of those magic instances of musical alchemy in pop: the backup musicians provided a much grittier, soulful, and R&B-based accompaniment for Aretha's voice, which soared with a passion and intensity suggesting a spirit that had been allowed to fly loose for the first time. In the late '60s, Franklin became one of the biggest international recording stars in all of pop. Many also saw Franklin as a symbol of Black America itself, reflecting the increased confidence and pride of African-Americans in the decade of the civil rights movements and other triumphs for he Black community. The chart statistics are impressive in and of themselves: ten Top Ten hits in a roughly 18-month span between early 1967 and late 1968, for instance, and a steady stream of solid mid-to-large-size hits for the next five years after that. Her Atlantic albums were also huge sellers, and far more consistent artistically than those of most soul stars of the era. Franklin was able to maintain creative momentum, in part, because of her eclectic choice of material, which encompassed first-class originals and gospel, blues, pop, and rock covers, from the Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel to Sam Cooke and the Drifters. She was also a fine, forceful, and somewhat underrated keyboardist. Franklin's commercial and artistic success was unabated in the early '70s, during which she landed more huge hits with "Spanish Harlem," "Bridge Over Troubled Water," and "Day Dreaming." She also produced two of her most respected, and earthiest, album releases with Live at Fillmore West and Amazing Grace. The latter, a 1972 double LP, was a reinvestigation of her gospel roots, recorded with James Cleveland & the Southern California Community Choir. Remarkably, it made the Top Ten, counting as one of the greatest gospel-pop crossover smashes of all time. Franklin had a few more hits over the next few years--"Angel" and the Stevie Wonder cover "Until You Come Back to Me"--being the most notable--but generally her artistic inspiration seemed to be tapering off, and her focus drifting toward more pop-oriented material. Her Atlantic contract ended at the end of the 1970s, and since then she's managed to get intermittent hits -- "Who's Zooming Who" and "Jump to It" are among the most famous -- without remaining anything like the superstar she was at her peak. Many of her successes were duets, or crafted with the assistance of newer, glossier-minded contemporaries such as Luther Vandross. There was also another return to gospel in 1987 with One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism.Critically, as is the case with many '60s rock legends, there have been mixed responses to her later work. Some view it as little more than a magnificent voice wasted on mediocre material and production. Others seem to grasp for any excuse they can to praise her whenever there seems to be some kind of resurgence of her soul leanings. Most would agree that her post-mid-'70s recordings are fairly inconsequential when judged against her prime Atlantic era. The blame is often laid at the hands of unsuitable material, but it should also be remembered that -- like Elvis Presley and Ray Charles -- Franklin never thought of herself as confined to one genre. She always loved to sing straight pop songs, even if her early Atlantic records gave one the impression that her true home was earthy soul music. If for some reason she returned to straight soul shouting in the future, it's doubtful that the phase would last for more than an album or two. In the meantime, despite her lukewarm recent sales record, she's an institution, assured of the ability to draw live audiences and immense respect for the rest of her lifetime, regardless of whether there are any more triumphs on record in store. ~ Richie Unterberger, All-Music Guide

Al Green  Born Albert Greene on April 13, 1946 in Forrest City, Ark., to a large family of sharecroppers. At the age of 9, he started touring with his siblings as the Green Brothers among the gospel circuits in the South, under his father's direction. But he was dismissed from the quartet when his father caught him listening to the music of Jackie Wilson. Years later, he and high school friends formed the pop group, Al Green and the Creations. Palmer James and Curtis Rogers were part of the group and they in turn founded the record company, Hot Line Music Journal and changed the name of the group to Al Green and the Soul Mates. They also wrote and produced the R& B hit "Back Up Train." Less successful albums would follow, however, and the group broke up. In 1969, Green met Willie Mitchell, a bandleader, producer and vice president of Hi Records of Memphis. Green signed with the company and for eight years Mitchell wrote and produced his songs. In 1970, his song "I Can't Get Next to You" reach the No. 11 spot on the R& B charts. The following year he had his first gold single, "Tired of Being Alone." It was No. 11 on the pop charts, No.7 R& B and No.4 in the UK. Green's stature in the industry continued to increase with the release of the following singles:GOLD SINGLES 1971;"Let's Stay Together" 	No.1 pop	No.1 R& B 	1972	"Look What You Done for Me"	No.4 pop	No.2 R& B 	1972	"I'm Still in Love with You" 	No.3 pop	No.1 R& B 	1972	"You Ought To Be With Me" 	No.3 pop	No.1 R& B 	1973	"Call Me (Come Back Home)" 	No.10 pop	No.2 R& B 	1973	"Here I Am (Come and Take Me)" 	No.10 pop	No.2 R& B 	1974	"Sha La La (Make Me Happy)" 	No.7 pop	No.2 R& B 	1975	"L-O-V-E (Love)" 	No.13 pop	No.1 R& B 	His personal life, however, suffered and in October 1974, Green was hospitalized with second-degree burns caused by a former girlfriend Mary Woodson. After pouring boiling grits on him while he was bathing, she killed herself with his gun. Green reflected on the incident and decided to spend more time on his faith. He went on to become a pastor, ending his partnership with Mitchell. In 1976, he purchased a church where he preached and continued to sing. He is the pastor of Full Gospel Tabernacle in Memphis, Tenn. The following year he built a recording studio and released a few more singles that proved to be less successful. With his musical career in decline and an eventful concert in Cincinnati where he fell off the stage, he concluded it was a sign to focus on God and limit his public appearances to religious services around the country. "The Me To The River." Green himself joined Annie Lennox of the Eurythmics to do "Put A Little Love in Your Heart" for the soundtrack of the 1988 film Scrooged reaching the UK singles chart. In 1994, Green performed with Lyle Lovett on the Grammy-winning, "Funny How Time Slips AwayLord Will Make A Way" was the first of Green's gospel-only recordings in the '80s. In 1982 he co-starred on Broadway with Patty LaBelle in the gospel musical Your Arms Too Short to Box with God. And in 1985 he and Mitchell reunited to produce "He is the Light." While Green continued to minister, his music continued to soar. Talking Heads scored one of their biggest hits with Green's "Take me to the river


Al Jarreau  BORN: April 12, 1940, Milwaukee, WI  The only vocalist in history to net Grammy awards in three different categories (jazz, pop and R&B, respectively), Al Jarreau was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on April 12, 1940; the son of a vicar, he earned his first performing experience singing in the church choir. After earning his Masters degree in psychology, Jarreau pursued a career as a social worker, but eventually he decided to relocate to Los Angeles and try his hand in show business, playing small clubs throughout the West Coast. In the mid-1960s, he recorded an LP dubbed 1965 but largely remained an unknown, not re-entering the studio for another decade. Upon signing to Reprise, Jarreau resurfaced in 1975 with the LP We Got By, earning acclaim for his sophisticated brand of vocalese and winning positive comparison to the likes of Billy Eckstine and Johnny Mathis. After 1976's Glow, Jarreau issued the following year's Look to the Rainbow, a two-disc live set which reached the Top 50 on the U.S. album charts. With 1981's Breakin' Away, he entered the Top Ten, scoring a pair of hits with "We're in This Love Together" and the title track. After recording 1986's L Is for Lover with producer Nile Rodgers, Jarreau scored a hit with the theme to the popular television program Moonlighting, but his mainstream pop success was on the wane, and subsequent efforts like 1992's Heaven and Earth and 1994's Tenderness found greater success with adult contemporary audiences. ~ Jason Ankeny, All-Music Guide




Akrobatik  Very few hip-hop artists, whether on major or independent labels, possess the amount of talent and skill as Boston rap soloist Akrobatik. For years he has been the city's best kept secret, but is now prepared to make a huge dent in hip-hop on regional, national, and international levels. Whether in the studio, on stage, or behind the production boards, Akrobatik brings a vibe that is both new and refreshing. New school heads feel his ultra-tight rhyme flow, futuristic beats and unique approach to his craft, while old-schoolers appreciate his 'throwback' MC disposition and ability to rock a crowd like it was Fresh Fest all over again. The 25 year old Akro is a native of inner city Boston, Massachusetts. This is where he honed his skills, which on a local level are now close to legendary. He has been rhyming since a very early age; he started writing rhymes to Kool Moe Dee and Run DMC beats back in 1983, and continued to develop his skills consistently up to the present. He cites his early influences as Boogie Down Productions (KRS-ONE), Public Enemy, The Jungle Brothers, De La Soul, and A Tribe Called Quest, among others. He also has over a decade of live performance experience, which is a tribute to his confidence and overall comfortable demeanor when he hits the stage. Over the course of his budding career, he has shared the stage with such big name acts as Run DMC, A Tribe Called Quest, Naughty By Nature, Black Moon, Fat Joe, Eminem, and Black Star, to name just a few. He has rocked the mic all over the Northeast, including Massachusetts, New York, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut. His style is not reminiscent of any particular rapper, and neither is his voice. It is also unanimous that Ak is one of the most adept freestylists around. It was Akrobatik's freestyling ability, in fact, that landed him a deal with independent Detonator Records, which released his first single, "Ruff Enuff" b/w "Woman" in 1998. The single received rave reviews across the board, as Ak has been deemed noteworthy in many of hip-hop's top publications, including The Source, XXL, Blaze, and URB. This coupled with his outstanding live performance abilities have created quite a buzz throughout the hip-hop community and have people wondering just who Akrobatik is ? 


Anita Baker BORN: January 26, 1958, Toledo, OH   Anita Baker's strong, sensual alto helped her break down the doors in the middle of the '80s. More than any other singer, she defined quiet storm -- smooth, romantic soul for adults. Baker's music is sophisticated without being cold, romantic without being saccharine; besides soul, her singing has roots in jazz and classic pop, bringing a refined romanticism to her music. Although her 1983 debut, The Songstress, disappeared upon its release, her 1986 album, Rapture, was a modern classic that ushered in a new era of urban contemporary and modern pop singing. None of her following records were quite as good, but her singing remains impressive on each album and she was one of the most popular urban/adult contemporary singers of the '80s and '90s.  ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, All Music Guide





Britney SpearsDance-pop singer Britney Spears was born in Kentwood, LA in 1982; after honing her chops in local dance showcases and church choirs, at age eight she auditioned for a role on the Disney Channel's Mickey Mouse Club show, and although the series' producers deemed her too young for the job they were sufficiently impressed with the girl's talent to assist her in gaining entry to New York's Off-Broadway Dance Center and the Professional Performing Arts School. After a series of television commercials and stage appearances, at 11 Spears finally joined The Mickey Mouse Club, where she remained for two seasons; continuing on as a solo artist, she signed to Jive Records and in early 1999 issued her first LP ...Baby One More Time. The record was a massive hit, debuting atop the pop charts and reeling off a series of radio smashes including the title track, "(You Drive Me) Crazy" and "From the Bottom of My Broken Heart" on its way to becoming the best-selling album ever released by a teenage girl. Spears' success also spawned legions of imitators, most notable among them Christina Aguilera and Jessica Simpson. Her sophomore effort, Oops!...I Did It Again, followed in the spring of 2000.   ~ Jason Ankeny, All Music Guide




Barry White   BORN: September 12, 1944, Galveston, TX  Say the name Barry White and you'd be hard pressed to follow it with name of a recording artist who has such a huge, cross-sectional following. He's at home appearing on Soul Train, guesting with a full band on the Today show, appearing in cartoon form in various episodes of The Simpsons. During the '70s, Dinah Shore devoted a full hour of her daily syndicated Dinah! show to White. While there was a period where Barry White wasn't releasing records or making the pop charts, he did stay active touring and appearing on other artists' records including Quincy Jones '"The Secret Garden(The Seduction Suite)", Regina Belle and rap star Big Daddy Kane "All Of Me". It's surprising to find out that such an illustrious career almost didn't happen because White wasn't interested in being a recording artist. White made his first record when he was 16 with a group called The Up fronts. The song was called "Little Girl" on a local LA label called Lummtone Records. Later he worked for various independent labels around Los Angeles landing an A&R position with Bob Keene, the man who first recorded Sam Cooke. His label, Keen Records was hot at the time with a group called the Bobby Fuller Four in 1966. White was hired for $40 a week to do A&R for Keene's other labels Mustang and Bronco. During this time, White flirted with the idea of being a recording artist making a record for Bronco called "All In The Run Of a Day". But he chose to stick with his A&R duties. One of the first groups he worked with was the Versatiles whom later changed their name to the Fifth Dimension. White's first big hit came from an artist familiar to dance-floor denizens. Viola Wills whose "Lost Without The Love Of My Guy" went Top Twenty R&B. His salary went up to $60 a week. White started working with the Bobby Fuller Four. Bob Keene and Larry Nunes-who later became White's spiritual advisor and true friend wanted to cut a female act. White had heard about a singer named Felice Taylor. They had three hit records, "It May Be Winter Outside", "I'm Under The Influence Of Love" and "I Feel Love Coming On". They were huge hits in England. White started making $400 a week! When Bronco went out of business, White began doing independent production. Those were some lean times for White. Veteran arranger Gene Page, who would later arrange or co-arrange White's hits, helped him out giving him work and non-repayable loans. Then three years later, Paul Politti, who also worked at Bronco, contacted him to tell him that Larry Nunes was interested in starting a business with him. Nunes had started cutting tracks for a concept album he was working on. Meanwhile White had started working with this girl group who hadn't done any singing professionally. They rehearsed for almost a year. White wrote "Walkin' In The Rain (With The One I Love)" with lyrics that were inspired by conversations with one of the singers, Glodean. White christened the group, Love Unlimited. Larry Nunes took the record to Russ Regan, who was the head of the Uni label owned by MCA. The album Love Unlimited's "From A Girl's Point Of View" became a million seller. Soon after, Regan left Uni for 20th Century Records. Without Regan, White's relationship with Uni soured. With his relationship with Uni in chaos and Love Unlimited contract- bound with the label, White decided he needed to work with another act. He wanted to work with a male artist. He made three song demos of himself singing and playing the piano. Nunes heard them and insisted that he re-record and release them as a recording artist. They argued for days about it. Then he somehow convinced White to do it. White was still hesitate up to the time the label copy(credits) were made. He was going to use the name "White Heat". But the record became the first Barry White album. That first album was 1973's "I've Got So Much To Give"on 20th Century Records. It included the title track, and "I'm Gonna Love You Just A Little More Baby".White got a release from Uni for Love Unlimited and they joined him over at 20th Century Records. Then he had a brainstorm for another concept album. He told Regan he wanted to do an instrumental album. Regan thought he had lost it. White wanted to call it The Love Unlimted Orchestra. The single, "Love's Theme" went to Number One Pop, was a million-seller and was a smash all over the world". The song earned him a BMI award for over "3 million" covers.For the next five years, from 1974 to 1979, there was no stopping the Barry White Hit Train. His own "Stone Gon", "Barry White Sings Love Songs For The One You Love"("It's Ecstasy When You Lay Down Next To Me""Playing Your Game Baby"), "Let The Music Play"(Title track, "You See The Trouble With Me")"Just Another Way To Say I Love You"("I'll Do For You Anthing You Want Me to""Love Seranade")"The Man"("Your Sweetness Is My Weakness", "Sha La La Means I Love You", "September When We met", a splendid cover of Billy Joel's "Just The Way You Are"). Love Unlimited's"In Heat"("I Belong To You", "Move Me No Mountain", "Share A Little Love In Your Heart"and "Love's Theme"-with lyrics!). He also scored a soundtrack for the 20th Century Fox film, "The Together Brothers", enjoying a resurgence on home video. His studio band included such luminaries as guitarists Ray Parker, Jr., (pre-Raydio, co-writer with White on "You See The Trouble With Me"), bassist Nathan East, Wah Wah Watson, David T. Walker, Dean Parks, Don Peake, bassist Wilton Felder of The Crusaders, Lee Ritenour, drummer Ed Greene, percussionist Gary Coleman and later keyboardist Rahn Coleman. His hit streak seemed, well, unlimited. Then it all derailed. Russ Regan and another ally, Hosea Wilson left 20th Century Records and White was left with management that White thought of in less than glowing terms. White left after fulfilling his contract with two more album releases, Love Unlimted Orchestra's"My Musical Bouquet" and his own "I Love To Sing The Songs I Sing". White signed a custom label(manufacturing &distribution) deal with CBS Records. At the time it was touted as one of the biggest deals ever. He started a label called Unlimited Gold. The roster included White, Love Unlimited, the Love Unlimited Orchestra, Jack Perry and a teenaged singer named Danny Pearson whom charted with a song called "What's Your Sign Girl". He also did a duet album with Glodean called "Barry & Glodean". Aside from the gold album, "The Message Is Love", most of the albums weren't huge sellers. After during eight Barry White albums, four Love Unlimited albums, four Love Unlimited Orchestra albums, constant touring and dealing with the rigors of the music industry, White decided to take a break. Then in 1992, White signed with A&M, releasing four albums, "The Man Is Back", "The Right Night & Barry White" and "Put Me In Your Mix"(which contains a duet with Issac Hayes "Dark And Lovely"). His latest, "The Icon Is Love"became his biggest selling album since the 70s releases going multi-platinum. It includes the platinum single"Pratice What You Preach" The production lineup includes Gerald Levert & Tony Nicholas, his godson Chuckii Booker, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, and Barry and his longtime friend Jack Perry. There are two lovely introspective ballads by the highly underated creative songwriter Michael Lovesmith, "Don't You Want To Know" and "Whatever We Had We Had". Other cuts include the jovial"I Only Want To Be With You" The cohesiveness of the album is do to the emphasis on Barry's vocals. While some recent efforts, have buried his vocals in whiz-bang electronic effects, on "The Icon Is Love", Barry's deep steam engine baritone pipes are upfront in the mix. Staying Power followed in 1999. Showcased in the best traditon of soul music where the focus in the singer and the song. White's thankful for a career that has taken him from the ghetto to international sucesss with 106 gold and 41 platinum albums, 20 gold and 10 platinum singles with worldwide sales in excess of 100 million.  ~ Ed Hogan, All Music Guide


Riley B. KingB B King  BORN: September 16, 1925, Indianola, MS   Universally hailed as the reigning king of the blues, the legendary B.B. King is without a doubt the single most important electric guitarist of the last half century. A contemporary blues guitar solo without at least a couple of recognizable King-inspired bent notes is all but unimaginable, and he remains a supremely confident singer capable of wringing every nuance from any lyric (and he's tried his hand at many an unlikely song -- anybody recall his version of "Love Me Tender"?). Yet B.B. King remains an intrinsically humble superstar, an utterly accessible icon who welcomes visitors into his dressing room with self-effacing graciousness. Between 1951 and 1985, King notched an amazing 74 entries on Billboard's R&B charts, and he was one of the few full-fledged blues artists to score a major pop hit when his 1970 smash "The Thrill Is Gone" crossed over to mainstream success (engendering memorable appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show and American Bandstand!). The seeds of King's enduring talent were sown deep in the blues-rich Mississippi Delta. That's where Riley B. King was sired -- in Itta Bena, to be exact. By no means was his childhood easy. Young Riley was shuttled between his mother's home and his grandmother's residence. The youth put in long days working as a sharecropper and devoutly sang the Lord's praises at church before moving to Indianola -- another town located in the very heart of the Delta -- in 1943. Country and gospel music left an indelible impression on King's musical mindset as he matured, along with the styles of blues greats T-Bone Walker and Lonnie Johnson and jazz geniuses Charlie Christian and Django Reinhardt. In 1946, B.B. King set off for Memphis to look up his cousin, rough-edged country blues guitarist Bukka White. For ten invaluable months, White taught his eager young relative the finer points of playing blues guitar. After returning briefly to Indianola and the sharecropper's eternal struggle with his wife Martha, King arrived in Memphis once again in late 1948. This time, he stuck around for a while. King was soon broadcasting his music live via Memphis radio station WDIA, a frequency that had only recently switched to a pioneering all-Black format. Local club owners preferred that their attractions also held down radio gigs so they could plug their nightly appearances on the air. When WDIA deejay Maurice "Hot Rod" Hulbert exited his airshift, King took over his record-spinning duties. At first tagged "The Peptikon Boy" (an alcohol-loaded elixir that rivaled Hadacol) when WDIA put him on the air, King's on-air handle became the "Beale Street Blues Boy," later shortened to Blues Boy and then a far snappier B.B. 1949 was a four-star breakthrough year for King. He cut his first four tracks for Jim Bulleit's Bullet Records (including a number entitled "Miss Martha King" after his wife), then signed a contract with the Bihari brothers' Los Angeles-based RPM Records. King cut a plethora of sides in Memphis over the next couple of years for RPM, many of them produced by a relative newcomer named Sam Phillips (whose Sun Records was still a distant dream at that point in time). Phillips was independently producing sides for both the Biharis and Chess; his stable also included Howlin' Wolf, Rosco Gordon, and fellow WDIA personality Rufus Thomas. The Biharis also recorded some of King's early output themselves, erecting portable recording equipment wherever they could locate a suitable facility. King's first national R&B chart-topper in 1951, "Three O'Clock Blues" (previously waxed by Lowell Fulson), was cut at a Memphis YMCA. King's Memphis running partners included vocalist Bobby Bland, drummer Earl Forest, and ballad-singing pianist Johnny Ace. When King hit the road to promote "Three O'Clock Blues," he handed the group, known as the Beale Streeters, over to Ace. It was during this era that King first named his beloved guitar "Lucille." Seems that while he was playing a joint in a little Arkansas town called Twist, fisticuffs broke out between two jealous suitors over a lady. The brawlers knocked over a kerosene-filled garbage pail that was heating the place, setting the room ablaze. In the frantic scramble to escape the flames, King left his guitar inside. He foolishly ran back in to retrieve it, dodging the flames and almost losing his life. When the smoke had cleared, King learned that the lady who had inspired such violent passion was named Lucille. Plenty of Lucilles have passed through his hands since; Gibson has even marketed a B.B.-approved guitar model under the name. The 1950s saw King establish himself as a perennially formidable hitmaking force in the R&B field. Recording mostly in L.A. (the WDIA airshift became impossible to maintain by 1953 due to King's endless touring) for RPM and its successor Kent, King scored 20 chart items during that musically tumultuous decade, including such memorable efforts as "You Know I Love You" (1952); "Woke Up This Morning" and "Please Love Me" (1953); "When My Heart Beats like a Hammer," "Whole Lotta' Love," and "You Upset Me Baby" (1954); "Every Day I Have the Blues" (another Fulson remake), the dreamy blues ballad "Sneakin' Around," and "Ten Long Years" (1955); "Bad Luck," "Sweet Little Angel," and a Platters-like "On My Word of Honor" (1956); and "Please Accept My Love" (first cut by Jimmy Wilson) in 1958. King's guitar attack grew more aggressive and pointed as the decade progressed, influencing a legion of up-and-coming axemen across the nation. In 1960, King's impassioned two-sided revival of Joe Turner's "Sweet Sixteen" became another mammoth seller, and his "Got a Right to Love My Baby" and "Partin' Time" weren't far behind. But Kent couldn't hang onto a star like King forever (and he may have been tired of watching his new LPs consigned directly into the 99-cent bins on the Biharis' cheapo Crown logo). King moved over to ABC-Paramount Records in 1962, following the lead of Lloyd Price, Ray Charles, and before long, Fats Domino. In November of 1964, the guitarist cut his seminal Live at the Regal album at the fabled Chicago theater and excitement virtually leaping out of the grooves. That same year, he enjoyed a minor hit with "How Blue Can You Get," one of his many signature tunes. 1966's "Don't Answer the Door" and "Paying the Cost to Be the Boss" two years later were Top Ten R&B entries, and the socially charged and funk-tinged "Why I Sing the Blues" just missed achieving the same status in 1969. Across-the-board stardom finally arrived in 1969 for the deserving guitarist, when he crashed the mainstream consciousness in a big way with a stately, violin-drenched minor-key treatment of Roy Hawkins's "The Thrill Is Gone" that was quite a departure from the concise horn-powered backing King had customarily employed. At last, pop audiences were convinced that they should get to know King better: not only was the track a number three R&B smash, it vaulted to the upper reaches of the pop lists as well. King was one of a precious few bluesmen to score hits consistently during the 1970s, and for good reason: he wasn't afraid to experiment with the idiom. In 1973, he ventured to Philadelphia to record a pair of huge sellers, "To Know You Is to Love You" and "I Like to Live the Love," with the same silky rhythm section that powered the hits of the Spinners and the O'Jays. In 1976, he teamed up with his old cohort Bland to wax some well-received duets. And in 1978, he joined forces with the jazzy Crusaders to make the gloriously funky "Never Make Your Move Too Soon" and an inspiring "When It All Comes Down." Occasionally, the daring deviations veered off-course -- Love Me Tender, an album that attempted to harness the Nashville country sound, was an artistic disaster. Although his concerts have long been as consistently satisfying as anyone's now working in the field (and he remains a road warrior of remarkable resiliency who used to gig an average of 300 nights a year), King has tempered his studio activities somewhat. Still, his 1993 MCA disc Blues Summit was a return to form, as King duetted with his peers (John Lee Hooker, Etta James, Fulson, Koko Taylor) on a program of standards. Other notable releases include1999's Let the Good Times Roll: The Music of Louis Jordan and 2000's Riding With The Kings, a collaboration with Eric Clapton. King's immediately recognizable guitar style, utilizing a trademark trill that approximates the bottleneck sound shown him by cousin Bukka White all those decades ago, has long set him apart from his contemporaries. Add his patented pleading vocal style and you have the most influential and innovative bluesman of the post-war period. There can be little doubt that B.B. King will reign as the genre's undisputed king (and goodwill ambassador) for as long as he lives. ~ Bill Dahl, All Music Guide


Busta Rhymes   BORN: 1972, Brooklyn, NY  The most idiosyncratic personality in rap and possessor of its most recognizable delivery, a halting,  ragga-inspired style with incredible complexity, inventiveness and humor, Busta Rhymes formed Leaders of the New School in 1990 and released two albums with the group before breaking out with a 1996 solo hit single, "Woo-Hah!! Got You All in Check." Born in East Flatbush, Brooklyn in 1972 of Jamaican heritage (a definite influence on his rapping style), Busta moved to Long Island in 1983 and, at Uniondale High School, met up with MCs Charlie Brown, Dinco D. and Cut Monitor Milo. Inspired by fellow Long Islanders Public Enemy and Eric B. & Rakim, the foursome united as Leaders of the New School and signed a deal with Elektra Records right out of the gate, when Busta was only seventeen years old. Much respected in the hip-hop underground for their Afrocentric philosophy and tough rapping styles, Leaders of the New School debuted in 1991 with Future Without a Past, but released only one more album, 1993's T.I.M.E., before breaking up the following year. Out on his own for the first time, Busta Rhymes called on some friends, appearing on A Tribe Called Quest's "Scenario," the incredible remix of Craig Mack's "Flava in Ya Ear" (also featuring Notorious B.I.G. and LL Cool J) as well as other projects with Boyz II Men, Mary J. Blige and TLC. He also appeared in the 1995 John Singleton film Higher Learning, and earned a solo contract with Elektra. Busta Rhymes' first album, The Coming, proved a huge hit; the single "Woo-Hah!! Got You All in Check" hit the Top Ten and pushed album into gold-record territory. His second album, When Disaster Strikes, debuted at number three in September 1997. E.L.E. followed a year later, and in mid-2000, Rhymes released Anarchy while appearing on the silver screen in a remake of the blaxploitation classic Shaft.   ~ John Bush, All Music Guide




Backstreet Boys  FORMED: 1992   Backstreet Boys were, in many ways, a contradictory band. Comprised entirely of white, middle-class Americans, the group sang a hybrid of new jack balladry, hip-hop R&B and dance-club pop that originally found its greatest success in Canada and Europe, with their 1996 debut album charting in the Top 10 in nearly every country on the continent; ironically, success in their native land did not follow until nearly two years later.The core of the Backstreet Boys is cousins Kevin Richardson and Brian Littrell, who both hail from Lexington, Kentucky. The two began singing while they were children, performing in local church choirs, as well as festivals, where they sang doo-wop and new jack R&B in the style of Boyz II Men. Two of the other remaining members, Howie Dorough and A.J. McLean, were natives of Orlando, Florida who met each other -- as well as transplanted New Yorker and fifth Backstreeter Nick Carter -- through auditions for local commericials, theater and television. At one audition, the three discovered that they shared an affection for classic soul and could harmonize together. In no time, they were singing as a trio. Shortly after the trio had formed, Richardson moved to Orlando, where he became a tour guide at Disney World; at night, he concentrated on becoming a professional musician. Eventually, he met Dorough, Carter and McLean through a co-worker, and the four decided to form a group, naming themselves after an Orlando fleamarket; Littrell was invited to join to make the band into a quintet. Through a friend, record producer Louis J. Pearlman, the band secured management from Donna and Johnny Wright, who put the group out on the road and had several A&R reps come see the Boys perform live. Eventually, Jive Records became interested in the band, signing the group in 1994. Jive/Zomba set the Backstreet Boys up with producers Veit Renn and Tim Allen and they labored over the album with the band for several months. The group's eponymous album was released throughout Europe in late 1995. The record was a success, spending several weeks in the Top Ten in most continental countries where it charted. In the U.K., the Backstreet Boys were named Best Newcomers of 1995 at the Smash Hits Awards thanks to their international hit single "We've Got It Goin' On." After scoring another European hit with "I'll Never Break Your Heart," the group released their eponymous debut album in Europe and Canada in late 1996; it was a success, spending several weeks in the Top Ten in most of the countries where it charted. Despite their popularity in Europe and Canada, "We've Got It Goin' On" stalled in the lower reaches of the U.S. charts in 1995; this may have been due to the fact that the American version of Backstreet Boys was not released until 1997. Combining their international singles with new tracks (which also formed the centerpiece of that year's European-only album Backstreet's Back), the American Backstreet Boys finally began their rise to U.S. success, scoring hits with the singles "Quit Playin' Games (With My Heart)" and "As Long as You Love Me" (the former of which went platinum). The album continued to spin off hits into 1999, with "Everybody (Backstreet's Back)," "I'll Never Break Your Heart," and "All I Have to Give" all landing on the charts; both the former and the latter were platinum Top Five hits, and the album ended up with sales of over 13 million copies. In the meantime, the group saw its share of turmoil; Littrell underwent surgery in early 1998 to correct a congenital heart defect, and the Boys became embroiled in lawsuits against Pearlman and the rest of their management over royalties for most of the rest of the year. When the dust settled, Pearlman remained the group's manager (though the rest of the team was fired), and the Boys began work on their follow-up album.Millennium was released in the summer of 1999, and debuted at number one with first-week sales of over a million copies. Despite the fact that no singles were officially released from the album in the U.S., "I Want It That Way," "Larger Than Life," "Show Me the Meaning of Being Lonely," and "The One" all hit the charts based on airplay alone. The group released its Christmas Album before the end of the year, by which time Millennium was well on its way to sales of 12 million copies in the U.S. alone. Once again striking immediately after their previous album stopped producing hits, the Backstreet Boys issued Black & Blue in fall 2000. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, All Music Guide


Barbara Mason   BORN: 1949, Philadelphia, PA An interesting minor soul performer, Mason initially focused on songwriting when she entered the music business in her teens. As a performer, though, she had a huge hit in 1965 with her self-penned "Yes, I'm Ready" (number five pop, number two R&B), a fetching soul-pop confection that spotlighted her high, girlish vocals. One of the first examples of the sweet, lush sound that came to be called Philly soul, she had modest success throughout the rest of the decade on the small Arctic label, reaching the pop Top 40 again in 1965 with "Sad, Sad Girl."In the early and mid-'70s, Mason toughened her persona considerably, singing about sexual love and infidelity with a frankness that was uncommon for a female soul singer in songs like "Bed and Board," "From His Woman to You," and "Shackin' Up." Sweet soul continued to be her groove, and she continued to write some of her material. But the production, as it was throughout soul in the '70s, was more funk-oriented, and at times Mason would interrupt her singing to deliver some straight-talkin' raps about romance. Curtis Mayfield produced her on a cover of Mayfield's "Give Me Your Love," which restored her to the pop Top 40 and R&B Top Ten in 1973; "From His Woman to You" and "Shackin' Up" were also solid soul sellers in the mid-'70s. After leaving Buddah Records in 1975, she only dented the charts periodically, with "I Am Your Woman, She Is Your Wife" (1978), "Another Man" (1984), and a couple of other singles.   ~ Richie Unterberger, All-Music Guide



Boyz II Men

FORMED: 1988, Philadelphia, PA  Under the guidance of Michael Bivins of Bell Biv Devoe, the four-man vocal group Boyz II Men became a pop sensation in 1992. Although they call their music "hip-hop doo wop," there's very little traditional doo wop in it. Instead, they bring the sound of '60s and early-'70s R&B vocal groups into the '90s, adding a little New Jack swing to that timeless sound. Their 1991 debut, Cooleyhighharmony, featured a massive hit single, "Motownphilly" which exemplifies the best of their dance work. Their second single, a ballad called "It's So Hard to Say Goodbye," was an even bigger hit; its success paved the way for "The End of the Road" (taken from the Boomerang soundtrack), the group's follow-up single, which broke Elvis Presley's record for the most weeks spent at number one. After releasing a Christmas album in 1993, Boyz II Men went to work on their second album, which appeared in the fall of 1994. II proved to be even more successful than its predecessor, selling over seven million copies by summer of 1995 and spawning the record-breaking hit "I'll Make Love to You." Evolution followed in 1997.    ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, All-Music Guide




The Beach Boys  FORMED: 1961, Hawthorne, CA   The Beach Boys are the most successful and important American band of the rock music era. They were formed in 1961 in Hawthorne, CA, around the three Wilson brothers: Brian (b. June 20, 1942) (bass, piano, vocals), Dennis (b. Dec. 4, 1944 - d. Dec. 28, 1983) (drums, vocals), and Carl (b. Dec. 21, 1946) (guitar, vocals). Additional members were Mike Love (b. Mar. 15, 1941) (vocals), the Wilsons' cousin, and Al Jardine (b. Sep. 3, 1942) (guitar, vocals). From the start, the focus of the group's music was Brian Wilson, who combined a fascination with vocal harmony in the Four Freshmen mold with a love of Chuck Berry-derived rock & roll. Added to that was the subject matter of middle-class teenage life in Southern California -- surfing, cars, and girls.The result was massive popular success for the group during the first half of the 1960s, starting with their first chart entry, "Surfin' " in 1962. "Surfin' " was released on a local record label. Subsequently, the group signed to the major label Capitol Records, where they stayed for the rest of the '60s. But their early recordings have continued to turn up on one discount label after another ever since. To date, the most complete and best-quality version of the material is to be found on the 1991 DCC album Lost and Found! (1961-62).The Beach Boys' first Capitol single, "Surfin' Safari," was released in June 1962 and became their first Top 40 hit. It was followed in October by a debut album of the same name. Similarly, in March 1963, Capitol released the single "Surfin' U.S.A.," which became the group's first Top Ten hit, and the Surfin' U.S.A. album, which went gold. They followed in July with "Surfer Girl," another Top Ten, and in September with a gold-selling Surfer Girl LP.By this point, Brian Wilson, who was composing nearly all of the material (with lyrics by himself, Love, and others), had taken over production of the group's records as well. Given the accelerated recording schedule of the day, it was an awesome task when coupled with his onstage performing duties. This is illustrated by the release of the Beach Boys' fourth album, the million-selling Little Deuce Coupe, less than a month after Surfer Girl. The album featured a version of their latest Top Ten hit, "Be True to Your School."The Beach Boys dominated the pop music of 1963, but in early 1964, the Beatles arrived in the U.S., followed by the rest of the British Invasion, and the Beach Boys felt the competition keenly. Unlike most American recording artists, however, the group did not suffer a drop-off in popularity. In fact, 1964 was another banner year for the Beach Boys, with the Top Ten singles "Fun, Fun, Fun," "When I Grow Up (To Be a Man)," and "Dance, Dance, Dance," as well as their first number one single, the gold-selling "I Get Around," and three more gold albums, Shut Down, Vol. 2 (Vol. 1 had been a various artists album), All Summer Long, and their first number one LP, Beach Boys Concert. (There was also a Beach Boys' Christmas Album.)The strain of all that work caught up with Brian Wilson, however, and at the end of 1964, he retired from onstage work with the Beach Boys, retaining his composing and producing duties. The group eventually settled on Bruce Johnston (b. June 24, 1944) as his replacement.The first product of this arrangement was the March 1965 album The Beach Boys Today!, which contained a version of their next number one single, "Help Me, Rhonda," followed four months later by the group's eighth straight gold album, Summer Days (And Summer Nights!!) and its single, the Top Ten "California Girls." Such recordings gave evidence of the expansion of Brian Wilson's musical imagination, which found him taking longer to make records that were more ambitious than the group's early teen anthems.While Wilson prepared his next opus, Capitol's release schedule was satisfied by The Beach Boys' Party! album, released in September, featuring a hit cover of "Barbara Ann." In March 1966, Wilson released "Caroline, No," which was billed as a solo single and made the Top 40. But he did not launch a full-fledged solo career at this time, instead completing the group's Pet Sounds LP (May 1966), which featured the Top Ten hits "Sloop John B" and "Wouldn't It Be Nice" and was universally hailed as one of the greatest rock albums of all time, though it did not sell as well as Beach Boys albums usually did.Wilson trumped it with the #1 gold single "Good Vibrations," released in October. By this point, he was being hailed as a genius in the media, as he prepared a new album tentatively titled Smile. The album never appeared, however. A single, "Heroes and Villains" (July 1967), offered tantalizing clues to what would become a legendary unheard, unfinished masterpiece. But Brian Wilson, whether because of the pressure to top himself and compete with the Beatles and others, internal disagreements within the group, psychological problems, or drug abuse, ceded leadership of the Beach Boys, and their next album, Smiley Smile (September 1967), was produced by the group as a whole.At the same time, the Beach Boys suffered a commercial decline, and though they continued to release new albums -- Wild Honey (December 1967), Friends (June 1968), 20/20 (February 1969) -- and singles through the end of the decade, they ceased to be an important force in popular music. In 1970, the group switched to the Reprise subsidiary of Warner Bros. Records for a series of albums that sometimes drew critical approval without restoring their commercial appeal -- Sunflower (August 1970), Surf's Up (August 1971), Carl and the Passions: So Tough (May 1972), initially packaged with a reissue of Pet Sounds, and Holland (January 1973).The Beach Boys returned to prominence in the mid-'70s on a wave of nostalgia and a potent concert act that focused on their early hits. Capitol Records had repackaged their catalogue repeatedly, but Endless Summer, a June 1974 double LP compiling their early-'60s work, amazingly topped the charts, becoming their first gold album in seven years. In July 1976, the Beach Boys released 15 Big Ones, their first new studio album in more than three years and their first album in a decade to credit Brian Wilson as producer. The album spawned a Top Ten hit in a cover of Chuck Berry's "Rock and Roll Music," but the group's commercial appeal, at least as far as new recordings, was temporary. Subsequent albums The Beach Boys Love You (April 1977) and M.I.U. Album (September 1978) sold less well. Brian Wilson's "comeback" also proved elusive after 1977.The Beach Boys moved to their third major label with the release of L.A. (Light Album) on the Caribou subsidiary of CBS Records in March 1979. But neither that album nor its follow-up, Keepin' the Summer Alive (March 1980), did anything to change the group's commercial status. In December 1983, Dennis Wilson drowned. In June 1985, the group returned with The Beach Boys, their first new album in five years, which marked the end of their Caribou contract. The Beach Boys recorded sporadically thereafter. In 1987, they scored a surprising hit cover of "Wipeout," co-billed with rap act the Fat Boys. In 1988, minus Brian Wilson, who finally launched a solo career, they returned to number one with "Kokomo," from the hit film Cocktail. In 1992, they released their first new album in seven years, Summer in Paradise.Especially with the dawn of the CD era, the extensive repackagings of Beach Boys material have continued apace. The year 1993 finally brought a five-CD boxed-set retrospective, Good Vibrations: Thirty Years of the Beach Boys. In 1995, after the resolution of various legal issues, lead singer Mike Love and Brian Wilson began working together again, yet the partnership was quickly derailed due to various tensions, and Wilson began collaborating with Van Dyke Parks and working on a new solo album. The following year, the Beach Boys released a collection of duets with country artists titled Stars and Stripes, Vol. 1, and in 1997 a long-delayed box set compiling material from the now-legendary Pet Sounds sessions finally appeared. Another collection of rarities, Endless Harmony, followed in 1998 in the wake of Carl Wilson's cancer-related death on February 6.   ~ William Ruhlmann, All-Music Guide 


Bette Midler  BORN: December 1, 1945, Honolulu, Hawaii  Gloriously flamboyant American entertainer Bette Midler was born in Honolulu, Hawaii to the only Jewish family in the neighborhood. After dropping out of a drama course at the University of Hawaii, she took a tiny role in the 1966 film Hawaii, playing a seasick boat passenger (though it's hard to see her when viewing the film today). Training for a dancing career in New York, Midler made the casting rounds for several months, finally attaining a chorus role, and then the featured part of Tzeitel, in the long-running Broadway musical Fiddler on the Roof.It helps to do something well that no one else does, and Midler found her forte by singing at the Continental Baths, a gay hangout in New York. Most bath house performers were painfully bad, but Midler established herself by combining genuine talent with the tackiness expected of her. As "The Divine Miss M," Midler did an act consisting of campy (and dirty) specialty numbers, dead-on imitations of such earlier performers as the Andrews Sisters and Libby Holman, and the most outrageously revealing costumes this side of Bob Mackie. Soon she outgrew the bath houses and went on to nightclub and recording-artist fame, earning a Grammy Award in 1973. After several years of sellout tours, Midler re-entered films as the star of The Rose, an "a clef" film loosely based on the life and times of Janis Joplin. The film was a success, but it failed to establish Midler as a dramatic actress; audiences, particularly the gay fans, still preferred the Divine Miss M. Jinxed (1982), Midler's next film, lived up to its name with well-publicized production squabbles between Midler, the director, the producers, and a few of the co-stars. Following the the film's failure, Midler wasn't seen on screen until she signed a contract with Disney Studios in 1986. Establishing a new screen identity as a character comedienne, Midler sparkled in Down and Out in Beverly Hills (1986), and was even better as a loudmouthed kidnap victim in Ruthless People (1987). Using her restored film stature, Midler set up her own production company and produced Beaches (1988), a "pals through the years" saga that proved to be a four-hankie audience favorite. Once again attempting to establish herself as a tragedian, Midler starred in Stella (1990), a poorly-received remake of Stella Dallas. For the Boys (1992), offered Midler in tons of old-age makeup as a Martha Raye-style USO star (Raye responded to this "tribute" by suing the studio). The subsequent Scenes from a Mall (1991), which paired Midler with Woody Allen, and Hokus Pokus, a "witchcraft" fantasy, also failed to truly showcase her talents. She rebounded somewhat in 1995 with a role in the wildly acclaimed Get Shorty, and had even greater success the following year starring with Diane Keaton and Goldie Hawn in The First Wives Club. In 1999, Midler played herself in two documentaries, the first the TV "mockumentary" Jackie's Back and the second the big-screen Get Bruce!, a documentary about legendary comic writer Bruce Vilanch. In addition to her film work, Midler still performs live in concert to turnaway crowds and continues to release albums, including Bathouse Bette, a tribute to her days at the Continental Baths. And in late 1993, she scored an enormous success in a superb TV adaptation of the Broadway musical Gypsy. In 2000, Midler also extended her talents to television, starring as herself in the aptly-named sitcom Bette. ~ Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide


Bonnie Raitt  BORN: November 8, 1949, Burbank, CA  Long a critic's darling, singer/guitarist Bonnie Raitt did not begin to win the comparable commercial success due her until the release of the aptly titled 1989 blockbuster Nick of Time; her tenth album, it rocketed her into the mainstream consciousness nearly two decades after she first committed her unique blend of blues, rock and R&B to vinyl. Born in Burbank, California on November 8, 1949, she was the daughter of Broadway star John Raitt, best known for his starring performances in such smashes as Carousel and Pajama Game. After picking up the guitar at the age of 12, Raitt felt an immediate affinity for the blues, and although she went off to attend Radcliffe in 1967, within two years she had dropped out to begin playing the Boston folk and blues club circuit. Signing with noted blues manager Dick Waterman, she was soon performing alongside the likes of idols including Howlin' Wolf, Sippie Wallace and Mississippi Fred McDowell, and in time earned such a strong reputation that she was signed to Warner Bros.Debuting in 1971 with an eponymously titled effort, Raitt immediately emerged as a critical favorite, applauded not only for her soulful vocals and thoughtful song selection but also for her guitar prowess, turning heads as one of the few women to play bottleneck. Her 1972 follow-up, Give It Up, made better use of her eclectic tastes, featuring material by contemporaries like Jackson Browne and Eric Kaz, in addition to a number of R&B chestnuts and even three Raitt originals. 1973's Takin' My Time was much acclaimed, and throughout the middle of the decade she released an LP annually, returning with Streetlights in 1974 and Home Plate a year later. With 1977's Sweet Forgiveness, Raitt scored her first significant pop airplay with her hit cover of the Del Shannon classic "Runaway"; its follow-up, 1979's The Glow, appeared around the same time as a massive all-star anti-nuclear concert at Madison Square Garden mounted by MUSE (Musicians United for Safe Energy), an organization she'd co-founded earlier. Throughout her career, Raitt remained a committed activist, playing hundreds of benefit concerts and working tirelessly on behalf of the Rhythm and Blues Foundation. By the early 1980s, however, her own career was in trouble -- 1982's Green Light, while greeted with the usual good reviews, again failed to break her to a wide audience, and while beginning work on the follow-up, Warners unceremoniously dropped her. By this time, Raitt was also battling drug and alcohol problems as well; she worked on a few tracks with Prince, but their schedules never aligned and the material went unreleased. Instead, she finally released the patchwork Nine Lives in 1986, her worst-selling effort since her debut. Many had written Raitt off when she teamed with producer Don Was and recorded Nick of Time; seemingly out of the blue, the LP won a handful of Grammys, including Album of the Year, and overnight she was a superstar. 1991's Luck of the Draw was also a smash, yielding the hits "Something to Talk About" and "I Can't Make You Love Me." After 1994's Longing in Their Hearts, Raitt resurfaced in 1998 with Fundamental.  ~ Jason Ankeny, All Music Guide


Brian McKnightBrian McKnight  BORN: June 5, 1969, Buffalo, NY   Brian McKnight grew up in a family where music came naturally. He was a member of the church choir along with his immediate family; his grandfather was the director. With a gospel upbringing, McKnight explored other genres of music. Still in his early teens, he exercised his writing ambitions by penning instrumentals (soft jazz, easy listening). He formed a band and began performing his originals at local venues. By the age of 18, McKnight had secured a publishing deal. His calling to the national scene manifested itself when his older brother Claude and the group he was a member of, Take 6, signed a recording contract with a major label. After sending out numerous demos to various record companies, McKnight's tape drew the interest of Mercury Records president Ed Eckstine (son of Billy Eckstine). Eckstine was so impressed with McKnight's sound that the young artist was signed to a deal within two weeks. McKnight's first release on Mercury was "The Way Love Goes," peaking at number 11 after 19 weeks on the Billboard R&B charts. His two follow-up singles barely cracked the Billboard R&B Top 60, which included "Love Is," a duet with Vanessa Williams featured on Beverly Hills 90210. Ironically, that single peaked at number three on the Billboard pop charts, introducing McKnight to a crossover audience. In addition to being a singer, McKnight is a songwriter, multi-talented musician, arranger and producer. The success he has achieved as producer and songwriter on his own projects has facilitated his popularity as a producer and songwriter for other artists. However, the Buffalo native retained the services of hip-hop producer Sean "Puffy" Combs on the release of his 1997 CD Anytime, which features the club-flavored single "You Should Be Mine." A Christmas album, Bethlehem, followed in 1998, and a year later McKnight returned with Back at One. ~ Craig Lytle, All Music Guide



BAR_KAYS FORMED: 1966, Memphis, TN  BAR-KAYS  Initially a funky instrumental soul combo on Stax/Volt, the Bar-Kays were nearly destroyed when most of the band perished in the same plane crash that claimed Otis Redding. Amazingly, the Bar-Kays not only regrouped but prospered, evolving into a popular funk ensemble over the course of the ‘70s. They continued to score hits on the R&B charts through much of the ‘80s as well, making for a career longevity that no one would have predicted for Stax’s formerly star-crossed number two house band.The Bar-Kays were formed in Memphis, Tennessee in 1966, growing out of a local group dubbed the Imperials. Modeled on classic Memphis-soul instrumental outfits like the Mar-Keys and Booker T. & the MG’s, the Bar-Kays originally included guitarist Jimmy King (not the famed bluesman), trumpeter Ben Cauley, organist Ronnie Caldwell, saxophonist Phalon Jones, bassist James Alexander, and drummer Carl Cunningham. Adopting a mutated version of their favorite brand of rum (Bacardi) as their name, the band started playing heavily around Memphis, and eventually caught the attention of Stax/Volt, which signed the sextet in early 1967. With help from house drummer Al Jackson, Jr., the label began grooming the Bar-Kays as a second studio backing group that would spell Booker T. & the MG’s on occasion. That spring, the Bar-Kays cut their first single, ”SoulFinger,” a playful, party-hearty instrumental punctuated by a group of neighborhood children shouting the title. ”Soul Finger” reached the pop Top 20 and went all the way to number three on the R&B chart, establishing the Bar-Kays in the public eye (although the follow-up, ”Give Everybody Some,” barely scraped the R&B Top 40) Producer Allen Jones began to take an interest in the group and became their manager and mentor; even better, Otis Redding chose them as his regular backing band that summer. Unfortunately, disaster struck on December 10, 1967. En route to a gig in Madison, Wisconsin, Redding’s plane crashed into frozen Lake Monona. He, his road manager, and four members of the Bar-Kays were killed. Trumpeter Ben Cauley survived the crash, and bassist James Alexander had not been on the flight; they soon assumed the heavy task of rebuilding the group. Adding insult to injury, the third and final single released by the original lineup, a cover of the Beatles’ ”A Hard Day’s Night,” was virtually ignored. Nonetheless, with Allen Jones’ help, Cauley and Alexander assembled a new Bar-Kays lineup featuring guitarist Michael Toles, keyboardist Ronnie Gordon, saxophonist Harvey Henderson, and drummers Roy Cunningham and Willie Hall. At first, their sound was similar to the original lineup, and they were used as the house band on numerous Stax/Volt recording sessions; they also backed Isaac Hayes on his groundbreaking 1969 opus Hot Buttered Soul. Still, they were unable to land a hit of their own, and Cunningham and Gordon both left the group in 1970; the latter was replaced on keyboards by Winston Stewart. With 1971’s Black Rock album, the Bar-Kays debuted their first-ever lead vocalist, Larry Dodson, and incorporated some of the psychedelic-inspired rock/funk fusions of Sly & the Family Stone and Funkadelic. After playing on Isaac Hayes’ hit Shaft soundtrack,Cauley and Toles both joined his backing band permanently, and were replaced by trumpeter Charles “Scoop” Allen and guitarist Vernon Burch. This new lineup took a more mainstream funk direction, scoring a minor hit with a takeoff on Jimi Hendrix’ ”Foxy Lady” dubbed ”Copy Cat.” The follow-up, another good-humored goof on a recent hit, was ”Son of Shaft,” which in 1972 became the group’s first Top Ten R&B hit since ”Soul Finger.” That summer, the Bar-Kays played a well-received set at Wattstax (the black answer to Woodstock), but it wasn’t enough to keep their commercial momentum going, especially as Stax/Volt headed towards eventual bankruptcy in 1975. Armed with new guitarist Lloyd Smith (who’d joined when Burch left in 1973), new drummer Michael Beard, and trombonist Frank Thompson, the Bar-Kays signed with Mercury in 1976 and began the most commercially productive phase of their career. Writing most of their own material and using more synthesizers, their label debut Too Hot to Stop was a hit, powered by the smash R&B single ”Shake Your Rump to the Funk.” The group consolidated their success by opening for George Clinton’s P-Funk machine on an extensive tour, and that loose, wild aesthetic was now a more accurate reflection of the Bar-Kays’ brand of funk, although they were more easily able to bridge into disco. Follow-up Flying High on Your Love (1977) was the band’s first gold record, and Money Talks -- a Fantasy reissue of some previously unreleased Stax material -- produced another Top Ten hit in ”Holy Ghost” the following year. Drummer Sherman Guy and keyboardist Mark Bynum subsequently joined the band, and a string of hit albums followed: 1979’s Injoy (which featured the Top Five R&B hit ”Move Your Boogie Body”), 1980’s As One, 1981’s Nightcruising (which spawned two hits in ”Hit and Run” and ”Freaky Behavior”), and 1982’s Propositions (more hits in ”Do It (Let Me See You Shake)” and ”She Talks to Me With Her Body”). All of those albums, save for As One, went gold. In 1983, Sherman Guy and Charles Allen left the group, presaging a more commercial direction in keeping with the urban sound of the early ‘80s. 1984’s Dangerous produced one of the group’s bigge hits, ”Freakshow on the ancefloor,” and a couple more R&B chart hits in ”Dirty Dancer” and ”Sex-O-Matic.” Their sound was becoming derivative, however, and although the group kept recording for Mercury through 1989, the changing musical landscape meant that the hits dried up. By 1987, only Larry Dodson, Harvey Henderson, and Winston Stewart remained; that same year, Allen Jones died of a heart attack, and the group scored its last R&B Top Ten hit with ”Certified True.” When their contract with Mercury was up, the Bar-Kays called it quits with 1988’s Animal. Dodson and original bassist James Alexander put together a short-lived new version of the Bar-Kays for the 1994 album 48 Hours, released on the small    Basix label. ~ Steve Huey, All Music Guide


Toni Braxton BORN: October 7, 1967 Toni Braxton  Toni Braxton was one of the most popular and commercially female R&B singers of the ‘90s, thanks to her ability to straddle seemingly opposite worlds. Braxton was soulful enough for R&B audiences, but smooth enough for adultcontemporary; sophisticated enough for adults, but sultry enough for younger listeners; strong enough in the face of heartbreak to appeal to women, but ravishing enough to nab the fellas. Wielding such broad appeal, Braxton managed to score not one, but two albums that sold over eight million copies; naturally, they were accompanied by a long string of hit singles on the pop and R&B charts, one of which -- ”Un-Break My Heart” -- ranks among the longest-running number one pop hits of the rock era. Toni Braxton was born in Severn, Maryland on October 7, 1968. The daughter of a minister, she was raised mostly in the strict Apostolic faith, which prohibited not only all popular culture, but also pants in women’s wardrobes. Encouraged by their mother, an Operatically trained vocalist, Braxton and her four sisters began singing in church as girls; although gospel was the only music permitted in the household, the girls often watched Soul Train when their parents went shopping. Braxton’s parents later converted to a different faith, and eased their restrictions on secular music somewhat, allowing Braxton more leeway to develop her vocal style; because of her husky voice, she often used male singers like Luther Vandross, Stevie Wonder, and Michael McDonald as models, as well as Chaka Khan. Braxton had some success on the local talent-show circuit, continuing to sing with her sisters, and after high school studied to become a music teacher. However, Braxton soon dropped out of college after she was discovered singing to herself at a gas station by songwriter Bill Pettaway (who co-authored Milli Vanilli’s ”Girl You Know It’s True”). With Pettaway’s help, Braxton and her sisters signed with Arista Records in 1990 as a group dubbed simply the Braxtons The Braxtons released a single in 1990 called ”The Good Life,” and while it wasn’t a hit, it caught the attention of L.A. Reid and Babyface, the red-hot songwriting/production team who had just formed their own label, LaFace (which was associated with Arista) Braxton became the first female artist signed to LaFace in 1991, and the following year she was introduced to the listening public with a high-profile appearance on the soundtrack of Eddie Murphy’s Boomerang. Not only did her solo cut ”Love Shoulda Brought You Home” become a substantial pop and R&B hit, but she also duetted with Babyface himself on ”Give U My Heart.” Anticipation for Braxton’s first album ran high, and when her eponymous solo debut was released in 1993, it was an across-the-board smash, climbing to number one on both the pop and R&B charts. It spun off hit after hit, including three more Top Ten singles in ”Another Sad Love Song,” ”Breathe Again,” and ”You Mean the World to Me”, plus the double-sided R&B hit ”I Belong to You”/”How Many Ways.” With eventual sales of over


CeCe Winans (b. Priscilla)  BORN: Detroit, MI  The eighth of ten siblings in the musical Winans family, CeCe Winans (b. Priscilla) performed most often with her brother, BeBe, in a duo which recorded gospel material with R&B settings and proved to be the most commercially successful of the Winans groupings (which also includes her older brothers Marvin, Carvin, Ronald and Michael in the Winans and her parents in Mom & Pop Winans). Born in Detroit, she worked with BeBe in a duo called the PTL Singers until 1987, when they released their self-titled debut album (with vocal contributions from nine members of the family). Four albums followed during the next seven years (two of which hit gold) plus 1991's platinum Different Lifestyles. The duo's success increased as they added more contemporary forms of production -- their two number one R&B singles, "Addictive Love" and "I'll Take You There," both treated spiritual love in fuzzy terms just as conducive to the physical. After 1994's Relationships, CeCe began recording her very first solo album. Released in 1995, Alone in His Presence found her working her way back to traditional gospel, singing standards like "Great Is Thy Faithfulness," "Blessed Assurance" and "I Surrender All." His Gift followed in 1998.   ~ John Bush, All-Music Guide





Curtis Mayfield BORN: June 3, 1942, Chicago, IL  Perhaps because he didn't cross over to the pop audience as heavily as Motown's stars, it may be that the scope of Curtis Mayfield's talents and contributions have yet to be fully recognized. Judged merely by his records alone, the man's legacy is enormous. As the leader of the Impressions, he recorded some of the finest soul vocal group music of the 1960s. As a solo artist in the 1970s, he helped pioneer funk, and helped introduce hard-hitting urban commentary into soul music. "Gypsy Woman," "It's All Right," "People Get Ready," "Freddie's Dead," and "Superfly" are merely the most famous of his many hit records But Curtis Mayfield isn't just a singer. He wrote most of his material, at a time when that was not the norm for soul performers. He was among the first -- if not the very first -- to speak openly about African-American pride and community struggle in his compositions. As a songwriter and a producer, he was a key architect of Chicago soul, penning material and working on sessions by notable Windy City soulsters like Gene Chandler, Jerry Butler, Major Lance, and Billy Butler. In this sense, he can be compared to Smokey Robinson, who also managed to find time to write and produce many classics for other soul stars. Mayfield was also an excellent guitarist, and his rolling, Latin-influenced lines were highlights of the Impressions' recordings in the '60s. During the next decade, he would toughen up his guitar work and production, incorporating some of the best features of psychedelic rock and funk.Mayfield began his career as an associate of Jerry Butler, with whom he formed the Impressions in the late '50s. After the Impressions had a big hit in 1958 with "For Your Precious Love," Butler, who had sung lead on the record, split to start a solo career. Mayfield, while keeping the Impressions together, continued to write for and tour with Butler before the Impressions got their first Top 20 hit in 1961, "Gypsy Woman."Mayfield was heavily steeped in gospel music before he entered the pop arena, and gospel, as well as doo wop, influences would figure prominently in most of his '60s work. Mayfield wasn't a staunch traditionalist, however. He and the Impressions may have often worked the call-and-response gospel style, but his songs (romantic and otherwise) were often veiled or unveiled messages of Black pride, reflecting the increased confidence and self-determination of the African-American community. Musically he was an innovator as well, using arrangements that employed the punchy, blaring horns and Latin-influenced rhythms that came to be trademark flourishes of Chicago soul. As the staff producer for the OKeh label, Mayfield was also instrumental in lending his talents to the work of other Chi-town soul singers who went on to national success. With Mayfield singing lead and playing guitar, the Impressions had 14 Top 40 hits in the 1960s (five made the Top 20 in 1964 alone), and released some above-average albums during that period as well.Given Mayfield's prodigious talents, it was perhaps inevitable that he would eventually leave the Impressions to begin a solo career, as he did in 1970. His first few singles boasted a harder, more funk-driven sound; singles like "(Don't Worry) If There's a Hell Below, We're All Gonna Go" found him confronting ghetto life with a realism that had rarely been heard on record. He really didn't hit his artistic or commercial stride as a solo artist, though, until Superfly, his soundtrack to a 1972 blaxploitation film. Drug deals, ghetto shootings, the death of young Black men before their time: all were described in penetrating detail. Yet Mayfield's irrepressible falsetto vocals, uplifting melodies, and fabulous funk-pop arrangements gave the oft-moralizing material a graceful strength that few others could have achieved. For all the glory of his past work, Superfly stands as his crowning achievement, not to mention a much-needed counterpoint to the sensationalistic portrayals of the film itself.At this point Mayfield, along with Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye, was the foremost exponent of a new level of compelling auteurism in soul. His failure to maintain the standards of Superfly qualifies as one of the great disappointments in the history of Black popular music. Perhaps he'd simply reached his peak after a long climb, but the rest of his '70s work didn't match the musical brilliance and lyrical subtleties of Superfly, although he had a few large R&B hits in a much more conventional vein, such as "Kung Fu," "So in Love," and "Only You Babe."Mayfield had a couple of hits in the early '80s, but the decade generally found his commercial fortunes in a steady downward spiral, despite some intermittent albums. On August 14, 1990, he became paralyzed from the neck down when a lighting rig fell on top of him at a concert in Brooklyn, NY. In the mid-'90s, a couple of tribute albums consisting of Mayfield covers appeared, with contributions by such superstars as Eric Clapton, Bruce Springsteen, and Gladys Knight. These tributes are no substitute for the man himself, but they are an indication of the enormous regard in which Mayfield is still held by his peers.  ~ Richie Unterberger, All-Music Guide


Charles Parker, Jr. BORN: August 29, 1920, Kansas City, KS DIED: March 12, 1955, New York, NY  One of a handful of musicians who can be said to have permanently changed jazz, Charlie Parker was arguably the greatest saxophonist of all time. He could play remarkably fast lines that, if slowed down to half speed, would reveal that every note made sense. Bird, along with his contemporaries Dizzy Gillespie and Bud Powell, is considered a founder of bebop; in reality he was an intuitive player who simply was expressing himself. Rather than basing his improvisations closely on the melody as was done in swing, he was a master of chordal improvising, creating new melodies that were based on the structure of a song. In fact Bird wrote several future standards (such as "Anthropology," "Ornithology," "Scrapple from the Apple," and "Ko Ko" along with such blues as "Now's the Time" and "Parker's Mood") that "borrowed" and modernized the chord structures of older tunes. Parker's remarkable technique, fairly original sound and ability to come up with harmonically advanced phrases that could be both logical and whimsical were highly influential. By 1950 it was impossible to play "modern jazz" with credibility without closely studying Charlie Parker.Born in Kansas City, KS, Charlie Parker grew up in Kansas City, MO. He first played baritone horn before switching to alto. Parker was so enamored of the rich Kansas City music scene that he dropped out of school when he was 14 even though his musicianship at that point was questionable (with his ideas coming out faster than his fingers could play them). After a few humiliations at jam sessions, Bird worked hard woodshedding over one summer, building up his technique and mastery of the fundamentals. By 1937 when he first joined Jay McShann's Orchestra, he was already a long way towards becoming a major player.Charlie Parker, who was early on influenced by Lester Young and the sound of Buster Smith, visited New York for the first time in 1939, working as a dishwasher at one point so he could hear Art Tatum play on a nightly basis. He made his recording debut with Jay McShann in 1940, creating remarkable solos with a small group from McShann's Orchestra on "Lady Be Good" and "Honeysuckle Rose." When the McShann big band arrived in New York in 1941, Parker had short solos on a few of their studio blues records and his broadcasts with the orchestra greatly impressed (and sometimes scared) other musicians who had never heard his ideas before. Parker, who had met and jammed with Dizzy Gillespie for the first time in 1940, had a short stint with Noble Sissle's band in 1942, played tenor with Earl Hines's sadly unrecorded bop band of 1943 and spent a few months in 1944 with Billy Eckstine's orchestra, leaving before that group made their first records. Gillespie was also in the Hines and Eckstine big bands and the duo became a team starting in late 1944.Although Charlie Parker recorded with Tiny Grimes' combo in 1944, it was his collaborations with Dizzy Gillespie in 1945 that startled the jazz world. To hear the two virtuosos play rapid unisons on such new songs as "Groovin' High," "Dizzy Atmosphere," "Shaw 'Nuff," "Salt Peanuts" and "Hot House" and then launch into fiery and unpredictable solos could be an upsetting experience for listeners much more familiar with Glenn Miller and Benny Goodman. Although the new music was evolutionary rather than revolutionary, the recording strike of 1943-44 resulted in bebop arriving fully formed on records, seemingly out of nowhere.Unfortunately Charlie Parker was a heroin addict ever since he was a teenager and some other musicians who idolized Bird foolishly took up drugs in the hope that it would elevate their playing to his level. When Gillespie and Parker (known as "Diz & Bird") traveled to Los Angeles and were met with a mixture of hostility and indifference (except by younger musicians who listened closely), it was decided to return to New York. Impulsively Parker cashed in his ticket, ended up staying in L.A. and, after some recordings and performances (including a classic version of "Lady Be Good" with Jazz at the Philharmonic), the lack of drugs (which he combatted by drinking an excess of liquor) resulted in a mental breakdown and six months of confinement at the Camarillo State Hospital. Released in January 1947, Parker soon headed back to New York and engaged in some of the most rewarding playing of his career, leading a quintet that included Miles Davis, Duke Jordan, Tommy Potter and Max Roach. Parker, who recorded simultaneously for the Savoy and Dial labels was in peak form during the 1947-51 period, visiting Europe in 1949 and 1950 and realizing a lifelong dream to record with strings starting in 1949 when he switched to Norman Granz's Verve label.But Charlie Parker, due to his drug addiction and chance-taking personality, enjoyed playing with fire too much. In 1951 his cabaret license was revoked in New York (making it difficult for him to play in clubs) and he became increasingly unreliable. Although he could still play at his best when he was inspired (such as at the 1953 Massey Hall Concert with Gillespie), Bird was heading downhill. In 1954 he twice attempted suicide before spending time in Bellevue. His health, shaken by a very full if brief life of excesses, gradually declined and when he died in March 1955 at the age of 34, he could have passed for 64! Charlie Parker, who was a legendary figure during his lifetime, has if anything grown in stature since his death. Virtually all of his studio recordings are available on CD along with a countless number of radio broadcasts and club appearances. Clint Eastwood put together a well-intentioned if simplified movie about aspects of his life (Bird). Parker's influence, after the rise of John Coltrane, has become more indirect than direct but jazz would sound a great deal different if Charlie Parker had not existed. The phrase "Bird Lives" (which was scrawled as graffiti after his death) is still very true  . ~ Scott Yanow, All-Music Guide


Dells   FORMED: 1952, Chicago, IL  DISBANDED: 1986  After nearly four decades of recording an incredible legacy of hits, the Dells have made only one personnel change in their entire professional career. Perhaps that's why the venerable R&B vocal group can boast such a remarkably consistent track record.The quintet from Chicago's south suburbs has weathered stylistic shifts from doo wop and soul to disco and urban contemporary, and every permutation in between. Their harmony remains as striking as ever, with Marvin Junior's earthshaking lead enduring as the group's focal point.Signing with Vee-Jay in 1955, their creamy vocal blend on "Oh, What a Night" gave the Dells their first major R&B hit the next year, but it would be nearly a decade before they returned to the winner's circle with another dreamy classic, "Stay in My Corner." By then Chicago's R&B sound had changed drastically -- doo wop was dead and soul was king -- but the Dells adapted effortlessly, regularly scaling the charts for the Chess subsidiary Cadet with "There Is," "Always Together," "Give Your Baby a Standing Ovation," and a marathon remake of "Stay in My Corner" that afforded Junior's booming baritone room to roam.Seemingly an indestructible force (turning up on the R&B




Delfonics  FORMED: 1965, Philadelphia, PA  DISBANDED: 1974  The Delfonics were one of the first groups to sing in the sleek, soulful style that became popularized (thanks to producer Thom Bell) as the "Philadelphia sound." A vocal trio made up of brothers William and Wilbert Hart and high school friend Randy Cain, the Delfonics roots go back to doo-wop singing at school dances in the early 60s. They were well-known in the Philly area for their supple, airtight harmonies talent that brought them to the attention of record producers eventually landing them a contract with Cameo-Parkway. While their early records brought them little if any notice, it did bring them to the attention of producer/arranger Thom Bell who signed the band to his soon-to-be influential soul label Philly Groove. Right from the start this was a perfect match as the band released the classic "La La Means I Love You" in 1968 a song that began a string of hits lasting into the mid-70sThe sound that Bell created for the Delfonics was the antithesis of the soul sound that came from Stax in Memphis and Muscle Shoals in Alabama. He sandpapered away the grit, lightened up on the backbeat, brought in string sections, and created a smooth, airy, sound. Critics enamored of the soul singing of Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding, accused Bell and his groups of creating aural wallpaper, but the reality was that Bell and the Delfonics and were setting the stage for a different kind of groove where subtlety and nuance reigned. The hits slowed for the Delfonics in the mid-70s, and in 1971 Randy Cain quit the band and was replaced by Major Harris. A few more minor hits followed but Harris left the band for a solo career in 1975 effectively finishing the Delfonics. In the late-90s the group played a significant musical role in Quentin Tarantino's film Jackie Brown. Tarantino, a borderline obsessive fan of 70s pop culture, used "La La Means I Love You," and their best single "Didn't I (Blow Your Mind This Time)" as a way of underscoring the relationship between actors Pam Grier and Robert Forster. In the film, Forster's character is so struck by the music (and Grier), he goes out and buys the Delfonics Greatest Hits cassette the following day. Something I'd recommend you do too.  ~ John Dougan, All-Music Guide


Donnie McClurkin BORN: 1961Donnie McClurkin  Donnie McClurkin is a gospel vocalist with the soul of Andréa Crouch and the contemporary flair of Kirk Franklin. Born into a home filled with domestic violence and drug abuse, McClurkin was saved by an aunt who sang background vocals with Crouch himself. After staying close to Crouch throughout his boyhood, he began to play piano and sing with his church youth choir. He formed the McClurkin Singers by the time he was a teenager, and later formed another group, the New York Restoration Choir. Hired as an associate minister at Marvin Winans' Perfecting Church in 1989, with his vocals during a seminar, McClurkin endured a bout with leukemia that year. A friendship with a Warner Alliance executive resulted in his signing to the label for his 1996 self-titled LP, with producers Mark Kibble (of Take 6), Cedric and Victor Maxwell plus Andréa Crouch.  ~ John Bush, All Music Guide   Donnie McClurkin   "I want to make God proud of me. I want God to look at me and trust me with exactly what He tells me to do. I want to be just like have His heart for people, His compassion. I want to see people and have my heart break and minister Jesus to them. I could care less about fame." - Donnie McClurkin  Donnie McClurkin is into promoting Jesus, not himself...which is just fine. Because with his considerable singing and writing talents, combined with an uncompromising message of God's love and holiness, he has been slowly and surely gathering a committed group of friends and an appreciative audience for himself in Christian circles. Now, with the advent of his debut album, Donnie McClurkin's ministry is sure to take a very fast forward. The nine tracks on Donnie McClurkin, the artist's self-titled Warner Alliance debut, features an amazing range of musical and spiritual expression, as well as a stellar list of guests and producers. Cedric and Victor Caldwell, Mark Kibble (of Take 6), André Crouch and Bill Maxwell share production credits, and Helen Baylor, Abraham Laboriel, and Howard and Linda McCrary are only a few of the Gospel greats and personal friends who added to the album's power, joy and reverence. With the release of his album, offers for film soundtracks, as well as concert and workshop dates are stacking up. But with Donnie's sense of equilibrium, and his feet solidly on the rock of his salvation, he's not about to have his head turned. Donnie gained that sense of stability through the strength and faith he found in the face of a childhood filled with domestic violence-both his mother and father struggled with substance abuse-and a home life that in many cases would have been a prelude to prison or a life on the streets. Fortunately, the chaos of his home was offset by God's saving grace. Donnie committed his life to Christ when he was only nine, and when he was 11, an encounter with André Crouch helped bring form to the course God had set for him. Donnie's Aunt Bea Carr sang backgrounds for André and so he came to Donnie's church to minister. In the course of the evening, André spent time with Donnie, encouraging him to play the piano. Donnie remembers, "From that time on, André Crouch would send me postcards from the cities where he played, saying `We're in Akron. Ask Bea what happened here.` He'd put a scripture down and say `read this.' That changed my whole outlook on singing. André fostered ministry, rather than fame. It was more ministry to him than anything else, not some glamorous career." By the time Donnie was 14, he was playing piano for the youth choir at his church and later in his teens he began to sing, eventually forming the McClurkin Singers with his sisters and then the New York Restoration Choir. The choir frequented prisons, detention centers and sang on the streets. In '81, Donnie told the other members in his group that God said he was going to work with Marvin Weans. Later, in '83, while attending a seminar given by Winans, Donnie was asked to lead a song. After a less than stellar rehearsal, Donnie sang the song in the evening service. Afterward, Marvin said to Donnie, "I don't even know what your name is. I have nothing to offer you, but somehow we're going to work together." To which Donnie replied, "God told me that two years ago." Finally, in November of '89, Donnie joined the staff of Winans' Perfecting Church as an associate minister, almost ten years after the initial word from God. Shortly afterward, Donnie was diagnosed with leukemia. "I don't know how long I had it. My rib cage started to swell up. I was bleeding internally and I needed to start treatment immediately. I told the doctor, I needed thirty days. I was going to a specialist. He asked, 'Who is your specialist, God?' He gave me the thirty days. I went to Marvin, kind of feeling like I was going to die. He hit me on the chest. 'Not so, you're not going to die with this,' and he left me standing there and went back to work. Bishop Crouch, AndraŽ's dad, also prayed for me. I went back thirty days later to the doctor. They did the test again and the leukemia was gone. The symptoms prevailed for a month and a half and then it was over. God gave me this scripture, Psalm 118:17. 'I shall not die, but live and declare the works of the Lord.' And that promise, like other words in Donnie's life, has been choir directing has taken him to the White House (performing both for Presidents Bush and Clinton), as well as garnering him appearances with Quincy Jones, numerous appearances at the New York Knicks games, and a home at Warner Alliance. He also recently performed at President Clinton's election night gathering in Little Rock, Arkansas and on Kenny Rogers' 1996 Christmas television special. His association with Warner Alliance actually began before the record company even existed. "I met Demetrus Alexander [now Vice President of Gospel Music] in '86. When I met her, we talked for 20 minutes and I said, 'God is going to use you in the gospel music industry.' Four years later she was with Alliance. In December of '90, she came to our church with Donna McElroy. She said 'I've been looking for you.' I was with another label and she asked me to sing "Speak To My Heart" at this pre-Grammy party put on by Warner Alliance and Choice Management. All these people were sitting there. I was as nervous as a cat. My support, the choir, was in the balcony. I was all alone on stage and all I could say was 'I'm just a church boy that God just healed from leukemia and all I know is Jesus.' Afterwards, Barry Landis [then VP of Marketing for Warner Alliance] and Donna were waiting for me outside the bathroom crying." Following that performance, God told Donnie he was going to be on Warner Alliance. Now six years later, human time has caught up with God's eternal word and Donnie McClurkin is set to release his Warner Alliance debut. Even the recording of the album was imbued with grace and surrounded with that supernatural reality that seems to follow Donnie wherever he goes. "I flew in the first night of the recording session to Los Angeles;. Bill Maxwell picked me up at the airport and we went straight into the studio... Bill Schnee's. He had all the boys there, Abraham Laboriel, Tony Maiden. They knew I wasn't feeling well. I was on the phone to Nashville when Helen Baylor and [her husband] James walked in. She said, 'We came because we heard you weren't feeling well. We're going to sit with you all night.' Helen sang background on 'Have A Little Talk With Jesus.' She'd pray and she'd cry. If I was thirsty, she'd get me a drink of water. AndraŽ played piano tracks for 'We Expect You.' It was the most enchanting, memorable event. The spiritual high of my lifetime, everything I ever believed I'd be doing, sitting in the room with all those people there." Evidence of that 'spiritual high,' those prayers and all that love, is present on every one of the album's nine tracks, along with a wonderful sincerity, a purity of motive, a passion for holiness, and compassion for the body of Christ. Donnie balances his ministry to others by receiving ministry and instruction himself. "On Sundays, I'm home so I can be in church and hear the sermon and grow." He's also concerned about integrity in gospel music and ministering to other artists. Donnie declares, "Let's get healed before we go out to sing for anybody else." Donnie joins with others in ministry and music for quarterly times of consecration, fasting and intensive prayer. In a day where boundaries are vague and righteousness is being restructured, Donnie McClurkin stands firm and compassionate, but uncompromising-offering music that inspires, uplifts and transforms, and speaks to the very depth of our hearts. As the saying goes, "When you've heard from God, then you have something to say."


STAND - I picked "Stand." I felt there was something about that song. That was the first time that God gave me a complete song at one time. I was sitting in the back of the plane with no one around me and God just started writing the song.        JUST A LITTLE TALK WITH JESUS - Keith Laws arranged this song and brought it to our church and we've been singing it ever since. A standard hymn with a beat and a vamp.                                                                                                          HOLY, HOLY, HOLY is my favorite hymn in the world. I wanted it to be kind of cathedral like, with a classic choir and orchestra...versus a gospel choir sound.                                                                                                                      SEARCH ME - About two years ago, I was in the shower and I heard myself singing this song, which is a real traditional hymn, and I heard modern Take 6-type background vocals. I thought, "Man, I've got to do this." Having Joey and Mark work with me on it was amazing.                                                                                                                                                JESUS, THE MENTION OF YOUR NAME - I was at Ronald's [Winans] house. I left there at 2 A.M. I'd been praying. By the time I got home, I had the first verse. I taught what I had at a music conference I was doing and the rest of it came while I was teaching the song.                                                                                                                                                      SPEAK TO MY HEART - I knew I wanted to do it again. I wrote it in '82 and recorded in '89 with the New York Restoration Choir. Mary J. Blige has since given it a different spin, but I thought, "Let me do it the way I first heard it in my mind."        HERE WITH YOU - It came out of my dreams. I know it sounds strange. I saw a big auditorium like the Fox theater in Atlanta, totally empty and black, except one spotlight that shone on to the stage. There was a stool and I saw a woman sitting there and this was the song she sang.                                                                                                               YES WE CAN CAN - A Pointer Sisters song, that I heard in a mall or someplace. I said somebody needs to record that song and give it a spiritual twist. I wanted to do it just like they did it. Mark Kibble had said "Whenever you're ready to do something, let me know, I want to help out." Take 6 wanted to do the song, but never got around to it and they already had an arrangement. The verses are like the Pointer Sisters, the chorus and backgrounds are Take 6. As we went on, I added in the scriptures, which gave it a completeness for me.                                                                                                     WE EXPECT YOU is a personal favorite of mine. I have loved that song since AndraŽ Crouch wrote and recorded it in 1976, and I've sung it ever sisters and I would go out and sing it. "We Expect You" speaks of the hope that's been with me ever since I was saved. It epitomizes the yearning in the Christians heart for His return. When you hear the song, its like, "Oh my God." I cry every time I hear it. It's filled with passion and the anticipation of Jesus coming back.


Dolly Rebecca Parton  BORN: January 19, 1946, Locust Ridge, TN  It's difficult to find a country performer who has moved from country roots to international fame more successfully than Dolly Parton. Her autobiographical single "Coat of Many Colors" shows the poverty of growing up one of 12 children on a run-down farm in Locust Ridge, Tennessee. At 12 years old she was appearing on Knoxville television; at 13 she was recording on a small label and appearing on the Grand Ole Opry. Her 1967 hit "Dumb Blonde" (and she's not) caught Porter Wagoner's ear, and he hired Parton to appear on his television show, where their duet numbers became famous. By the time her "Joshua" reached #1 in 1970, Parton's fame had overshadowed the boss's, and she had struck out on her own, though still recording duets with him. During the mid-'70s, she established herself as a country superstar, crossing over into the pop mainstream in the early '80s, when she smoothed out the rough edges in her music and began singing pop as well as country. In the early '80s, she also began appearing in movies, most notably the hit 9 to 5. Though her savvy marketing, image manipulation -- her big, dumb blonde stage persona is an act -- extracurricular forays into film, and her flirtations with country-pop have occasionally overshadowed her music, at her core Dolly Parton is a country gal and a tremendously gifted singer/songwriter. Among her classics are "Coat of Many Colors," "Jolene," "Kentucky Gambler," "I Will Always Love You," "But You Known I Love You" and "Tennessee Homesick Blues," and they give a hint to why her contribution to bringing country music to a wide audience, not only in America but throughout the world, cannot be underestimated.The fourth of 12 children, Dolly Parton was born and raised in Locust Ridge, Tennessee, just next to the Smoky Mountains National Forest. Parton's family struggled to survive throughout Dolly's childhood and often she was ridiculed for her poverty, yet often music soothed their worries. Though her farming father did not play, her half-Cherokee mother played guitar and her grandfather, the Rev. Jake Owens, was a fiddler and songwriter (his "Singing His Praise" was recorded by Kitty Wells). When she was seven, her uncle Bill Owens gave her a guitar and within three years she became a regular on WIVK Knoxville's The Cas Walker Farm and Home Hour. Over the next two years, her career steadily increased, and in 1959 she made her debut on the Grand Ole Opry; the following year, she recorded her first single, "Puppy Love," for Goldband.When she was 14 years old, Dolly Parton signed to Mercury Records but her 1962 debut for the label, "It's Sure Gonna Hurt," was a bomb and the label immediately dropped her. Over the next five years, she shopped for a new contract and did indeed record a number of songs, which were later reissued through budget-line records. She continued to attend high school, playing snare drum in the marching band. After she graduated, she moved to Nashville where she stayed with Bill Owens. Both songwriters pitched songs across Nashville to no success, and Dolly began singing on demos. Early in 1965, both Parton and Owens finally found work when Fred Foster signed him to his publishing house, Combine Music; Foster subsequently signed her to Monument Records. Dolly's first records for Monument were marketed to pop audiences and her second record, "Happy, Happy Birthday Baby," nearly made the charts. In 1966, Bill Phillips took two of Partons' and Owens' songs -- "Put It Off Until Tomorrow" and "The Company You Keep" -- to the Top Ten, setting the stage for Dolly's breakthrough single, "Dumb Blonde." Released early in 1967, the record climbed to number 24, followed shortly afterward by the number 17 "Something Fishy."The two hit Monument singles attracted the attention of country star Porter Wagoner, who was looking to hire a new female singer for his syndicated television show. Parton accepted the offer and began appearing on the show on September 5, 1967. Initially, Porter's audience were reluctant to warm to Dolly and chanted for Norma Jean, the singer she replaced, but with Wagoner's assistance, she was accepted. Wagoner convinced his label, RCA, to also sign Dolly Parton. Since female performers were not particularly popular in the late '60s, the label decided to protect their investment by releasing her first single as a duet with Porter. The duo's first single, "The Last Thing on My Mind," reached the country Top Ten early in 1968, launching a six-year streak of virtually uninterrupted Top Ten singles. Parton's first solo single, "Just Because I'm a Woman," was released in the summer of 1968 and it was a moderate hit, reaching number 17. For the remainder of the decade, none of her solo efforts -- even "In the Good Old Days (When Times Were Bad)," which would later become a standard -- were as successful as her duets. The duo was named Vocal Group of the Year in 1968 by the Country Music Association, but Parton's solo records were continually ignored. Porter and Dolly were both frustrated by her lack of solo success, because he had a significant financial stake in her future -- as of 1969, he was her co-producer and owned nearly half of publishing company, Owepar.By 1970, both Parton and Wagoner had grown frustrated by her lack of solo success, and Porter had her sing Jimmie Rodgers' "Mule Skinner Blues (Blue Yodel No. 8)," a gimmick that worked. The record shot to number three on the charts, followed closely by her first number one single, "Joshua." For the next two years, she had a number of solo hits -- including her signature song "Coat of Many Colors" (#4, 1971) -- in addition to her duets. Though she had successful singles, none of them were blockbusters until "Jolene" reached number one in early 1974. Dolly stopped travelling with Porter after its release, yet she continued to appear on television and sing duets with him until 1976.Once she left Wagoner, Parton's records became more eclectic and diverse, ranging from the ballad "I Will Always Love You" (#1, 1974) and the racy "The Bargain Store" (#1, 1975) to the crossover pop of "Here You Come Again" (#1, 1977) and the disco experiments of "Baby I'm Burning" (#25 pop, 1978). From 1974 to 1980, she consistently charted in the country Top Ten, with no less than eight singles reaching number one. Parton had her own syndicated television show, Dolly, in 1976 and by the next year, she had gained the right to produce her own albums, which immediately resulted in diverse efforts like 1977's New Harvest, First Gathering. In addition to have her own hits during the late '70s, many artists, from Rose Maddox and Kitty Wells to Olivia Newton-John, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt, covered her songs and her siblings Randy and Stella received recording contracts of their own.Though she was quite popular, Dolly Parton became a genuine superstar in 1977, when the Barry Mann/Cynthia Weil song "Here You Come Again" became a huge crossover hit, reaching number three on the pop charts, spending five weeks at the top of the country charts and going gold. Its accompanying album went platinum and the followup, Heartbreaker, went gold. Soon, she was on the cover of country and mainstream publications alike. With the new financial windfall, a lawsuit against Porter Wagoner -- who had received a significant portion of her royalties -- ensued. By the time it was settled, she regained her copyrights while Wagoner was given a nominal fee and the studio the duo shared. In the wake of the lawsuit, a delayed duet album, Making Plans, appeared in 1980; its title track hit number two on the country charts.Parton's commercial success continued to grow during 1980, as she had three number one hits in a row: the Donna Summer-written "Starting Over Again," "Old Flames Can't Hold a Candle to You," and "9 to 5." The latter was the theme song to Dolly's acting debut, 9 to 5. Also starring Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, the movie became a huge success, establishing Parton as a movie star. The song became her first number one pop single, as well. 9 to 5 gave Parton's career momentum that lasted throughout the early '80s. She began appearing more films, including the Burt Reynolds musical The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1982) and the Sylvester Stallone comedy Rhinestone (1984). Dolly's singles continued to appear consistently in the country Top Ten: between 1981 and 1985, she had 12 Top Ten hits and half of those were number one singles. Parton continued to make inroads on the pop charts, as well, with a re-recorded version of "I Will Always Love You" from The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas scraping the Top 50 and her Kenny Rogers duet "Islands in the Stream" (which was written by the Bee Gees and produced by Barry Gibb) spending two weeks at number one.However, by 1985 many old-time fans had felt that Dolly was spending too much time courting the mainstream. Most of her albums were dominated by the adult-contemporary pop of songs like "Islands in the Stream" and it had been years since she had sang straightforward country. She also continued to explore new business and entertainment ventures, such as her Dollywood theme park which opened in 1985. Despite these misgivings, she had continued to chart well untl 1986, when none of her singles reached the Top Ten. RCA Records didn't renew her contract after it expired that year, and she signed with Columbia in 1987. Before she released her Columbia debut, Parton joined forces with Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris to record the rootsy Trio album. Trio became a huge hit, earning both critical and popular acclaim, selling over a million copies and peaking at number six on the pop charts; it also spawned three Top Ten country singles: "To Know Him Is to Love Him," "Telling Me Lies" and "Those Memories of You." Following the success of the album, she had a weekly variety television show, Dolly, on ABC which lasted only one season. Trio also provided a perfect launching pad for her first Columbia album, 1989's White Limozeen, which produced two number one hits in "Why'd You Come in Here Lookin' like That" and "Yellow Roses."Though it looked like Dolly Parton's career had been revived, it was actually just a brief revival before contemporary country came along in the early '90s and pushed all veteran artists out of the charts. Dolly had a number one duet with Ricky Van Shelton, "Rockin' Years," in 1991, but after that single, she slowly crept out of the Top Ten and later the Top 40. Parton was one of the most outspoken critics of radio's treatment of older stars. While her sales had declined, she didn't disappear. Despite her lack of sales, Dolly remained an iconic figure in country music, appearing in films (the 1991 TV-movie Wild Texas Wind, 1992's Straight Talk), selling out concerts and releasing a series of acclaimed albums -- including 1993's Honky Tonk Angels, a collaboration with Tammy Wynette and Loretta Lynn -- that all sold respectably. Furthermore, "I Will Always Love You" was covered in 1992 by Whitney Houston, who took it to number one on the pop charts; the single spent 14 weeks at number one, becoming the biggest pop hit of the rock & roll era (it was unseated four years later by Mariah Carey & Boyz II Men's "One Sweet Day"). In 1994, she published her autobiography My Life and Other Unfinished Business. Treasures, her 1996 album, was a praised collection of unusual covers, ranging from Merle Haggard to Neil Young. Hungry Again followed in 1998, and early the following year she reunited with Ronstadt and Harris for a second Trio collection.  ~ David Vinopal, All-Music Guide


 Diana Ross /BORN: March 26, 1944, Detroit, MI  As a solo artist, Diana Ross is one of the most successful female singers of the rock era. If you factor in her work as the lead singer of the Supremes in the 1960s, she may be the most successful. With her friends Mary Wilson, Florence Ballard, and Barbara Martin, Ross formed the Primettes vocal quartet in 1959.With her friends Mary Wilson, Florence Ballard, and Barbara Martin, Ross formed the Primettes vocal quartet in 1959. In 1960, they were signed to local Motown Records, changing their name to the Supremes in 1961. Martin then left, and the group continued as a trio. Over the next eight years, the Supremes (renamed "Diana Ross and the Supremes" in 1967, when Cindy Birdsong replaced Ballard) scored 12 number one pop hits. After the last one, "Someday We'll Be Together" (October 1969), Ross launched a solo career.Motown initially paired her with writer/producers Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson, who gave her four Top 40 pop hits, including thuntain High Enough" (July 1970).Ross branched out into acting, starring in a film biography of Billie Holiday, Lady Sings the Blues (November 1972). The soundtrack went to number one, and Ross was nominated for an Academy Award.She returned to record-making with the Top Ten album Touch Me in the Morning (June 1973) and its chart-topping title song. This was followed by a duet album with Marvin Gaye, Diana & Marvin (October 1973), that produced three chart hits. Ross acted in her second movie, Mahogany (October 1975), and it brought her another chart-topping single in the theme song, "Do You Know Where You're Going To." That and her next number one, the disco-oriented "Love Hangover" (March 1976), were featured on her second album to be titled simply Diana Ross (February 1976), which rose into the Top TenRoss's third film role came in The Wiz (October 1978). The Boss (May 1979) was a gold-selling album, followed by the platinum-selling Diana (May 1980) (the second of her solo albums with that name, though the other, a 1971 TV soundtrack, had an exclamation mark). It featured the number one single "Upside Down" and the Top Ten hit "I'm Coming Out."Ross scored a third Top Ten hit in 1980 singing the title theme from the movie It's My Turn. She then scored the biggest hit of her career with another movie theme, duetting with Lionel Richie on "Endless Love" (June 1981). It was her last big hit on Motown; after more than 20 years, she decamped for RCA. She was rewarded immediatelye number one "Ain't No Mo with a million-selling album, titled after her remake of the old Frankie Lymon And The Teenagers hit, "Why Do Fools Fall in Love," which became her next Top Ten hit. The album also included the Top Ten hit "Mirror, Mirror."Silk Electric (October 1982) was a gold-seller, featuring the Top Ten hit "Muscles," written and produced by Michael Jackson, and Swept Away (September 1984) was another successful album, containing the hit "Missing You," but Ross had trouble selling records in the second half of the 1980s. By 1989, she had returned to Motown, and by 1993 was turning more to pop standards, notably on the concert album Diana Ross Live: The Lady Sings ... Jazz & Blues, Stolen Moments (April 1993). Motown released a four-CD/cassette boxed set retrospecive, Forever Diana, in October 1993, and the singer published her autobiography in 1994. Take Me Higher followed a year later, and in 1999 she returned with Every Day Is a New Day. ~ William Ruhlmann, All-Music Guide


Duke Ellington     Duke Ellington    BORN: April 29, 1899, Washington, D.C. DIED: May 24, 1974, New York, NY  Duke Ellington's contributions to jazz and American music were simply enormous. As a bandleader, his orchestra during 1926-74 was always among the top five, whether it be 1929 or 1969. As a composer, Ellington ranked with George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin and their contemporaries. He wrote literally thousands of songs (the exact number is not known) of which hundreds became standards. As an arranger Ellington was particularly innovative, writing for his very individual players rather than for an anonymous horn section and, not being content to play his songs the same way every time, he constantly rearranged them; "Mood Indigo" sounded different in 1933 than it did in 1953 or 1973. As a pianist Duke Ellington was originally an excellent stride player who gained the respect of such giants as James P. Johnson, Fats Waller and his main influence Willie "The Lion" Smith. Unlike virtually all of his contemporaries (other than Mary Lou Williams), Duke was able to modernize his style through the years, keeping the percussive approach of the stride players but leaving more space and using more complex chords; his playing was an influence on Thelonious Monk and (in a more abstract fashion) Cecil Taylor.Duke Ellington always considered his orchestra to be his main instrument and with it he recorded constantly from 1926 on. In the early days he recorded for many labels, sometimes under pseudonyms, and by the 1950s he often seemed to live in the studios when not performing before audiences, trying out new material and fresh versions of older songs. The result is that there are currently a countless number of Ellington albums available (way over 200) with "new" (previously unissued) ones coming out nearly every month as if he were still alive. What is more remarkable than the quantity is the consistently high quality; there are few if any throwaways in Ellington's entire discography!There is simply no explanation for Edward Kennedy Ellington's musical genius. Although he started studying piano when he was seven, for a time it seemed that Duke (who picked up his lifelong nickname early) was going to be an artist. However he so enjoyed hearing the ragtime and barrelhouse piano players of the era that he soon chose music. Ellington started playing music in Washington, D.C. in 1917 and, after wisely taking out the biggest ad in the telephone yellow pages, was soon leading several bands despite the fact that his repertoire was very limited. Ellington, whose first composition "Soda Fountain Rag" was written during this era, worked on building up his technique by slowing down James P. Johnson piano rolls and analyzing the fingering. A brief visit to New York in 1922 (playing with Wilbur Sweatman) was unsuccessful but Ellington returned the following year and was determined to stick it out. He and such hometown friends as Sonny Greer, Otto Hardwicke and Arthur Whetsol worked for a period under banjoist Elmer Snowden's leadership and then, after an argument over missing money, Ellington became the leader. His early group was called the Washingtonians.Duke Ellington soon gained a job at the Hollywood Club (later renamed the Kentucky Club) for his band. For a brief time Sidney Bechet starred on soprano but more important to Duke's development was the playing of trumpeter Bubber Miley, a brilliant plunger specialist who largely founded the "jungle sound" that made Ellington's group sound different than anyone else. Duke recorded two titles with his group in November 1924 ("Choo Choo" and "Rainy Nights") that found his band already sounding recognizable despite only having three horns (with altoist Otto Hardwicke and trombonist Charles Irvis). Oddly enough the eight other selections that he recorded during 1925-26 are quite primitive and disappointing; Miley is absent and the band sounds as if it were struggling. However with the debut of Ellington's early theme song "East St. Louis Toodleoo" along with "Birmingham Breakdown" on the session of November 29, 1926, the Duke Ellington Orchestra was essentially born. The band was up to 11 pieces including the wonderful wa-wa trombonist Tricky Sam Nanton, who made for a perfect team with Miley.1927 was the breakthrough year for Duke Ellington. In addition to recording more versions of "East St.Louis Toodle-oo," he debuted "Black and Tan Fantasy" and "Creole Love Call"; the latter used Adelaide Hall's voice as an instrument. Baritonist Harry Carney (who would remain with Duke nonstop through 1974!) became a key member of the ensemble. And Ellington's band (through the help of manager Irving Mills) gained a permanent spot at the Cotton Club. Not only would its radio broadcasts soon make Ellington famous throughout the country but he had the opportunity to write for the floor shows and the experience led to him growing rapidly as a composer/arranger.Duke Ellington's life would never be a good topic for a Hollywood movie because from 1927 on it was one success after another. In 1928 clarinetist Barney Bigard and altoist Johnny Hodges became long-time members and Arthur Whetsol (whose lyrical trumpet offered a contrast to the speech-like playing of Miley) gained a more prominent role. In early 1929 Bubber Miley, whose alcoholism led to him becoming increasingly unreliable, was reluctantly let go but his replacement Cootie Williams would eventually be a more flexible soloist. Ellington appeared in his first film (Black and Tan) that year, and unlike most other Black celebrities of the 1920s and '30s, his performance did not find him acting as a clown or inferior to White people. Ellington always appeared as a classy and charming genius (just as he did in real life) and, despite the "inconvenience" of being Black in a racist society, Duke Ellington was able to survive (and eventually prosper) due to his brilliance without compromising himself.While most big bands might have three or four notable soloists, Ellington's Orchestra in the 1930s featured eight: trumpeters Cootie Williams and Rex Stewart (the latter joined on cornet in 1935), trombonists Tricky Sam Nanton and Lawrence Brown, clarinetist Barney Bigard, altoist Hodges, baritonist Carney and the leader on piano; in addition Ivie Anderson was their fine singer. After leaving the Cotton Club in 1931 (although he would return on an occasional basis throughout the rest of the decade), the Ellington Orchestra became a road band, touring Europe and Sweden in 1933 and 1939 and becoming a major attraction in every key city in the U.S. Ellington, who had recorded a two-sided six-minute version of "Tiger Rag" in 1929 began to compose longer works including "Creole Rhapsody" (1931), and "Reminiscing in Tempo" (1935), and his three-minute masterpiece "Daybreak Express" found the orchestra doing an uncanny imitation of a train's journey. Although there was a lot more competition from big bands with the rise of the swing era in 1935, Ellington remained a major name. Such compositions as "Mood Indigo," "Rockin' in Rhythm," "It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing," "Sophisticated Lady," "Drop Me Off at Harlem," "In a Sentimental Mood," "Caravan" (written by valve trombonist Juan Tizol), "I Let a Song Go Out of My Heart," "Prelude to a Kiss," "Solitude" and "Boy Meets Horn" became standards.By 1940 Duke Ellington's Orchestra had become, if anything, even stronger. Ben Webster joined as their first major voice on tenor, the innovative bassist Jimmy Blanton became the first important soloist on his instrument in jazz history and Billy Strayhorn, as arranger and composer, became Ellington's musical partner up until his death in 1967. When Cootie Williams departed in late 1940, Ray Nance (a fine trumpeter, violinist and vocalist) easily fit into the spot. Many critics consider Duke's 1940-42 big band to be his greatest. Certainly there was an explosion of activity with such new pieces as "Concerto for Cootie," "Cotton Tail," "Harlem Air Shaft," "All Too Soon," "Warm Valley," "Take the 'A' Train," "Just A-Settin' and A-Rockin '," "I Got It Bad," "Jump for Joy," "Chelsea Bridge," "Perdido," "The 'C' Jam Blues," "Johnny Come Lately" forming only a partial list of the orchestra's accomplishments.In 1943 Duke Ellington gave his first Carnegie Hall concert (it would be an annual series lasting until 1950) and debuted his 50-minute work "Black, Brown and Beige" which, although it received mixed reviews, can now be heard and evaluated as a major success. The turnover in his orchestra increased during the latter half of the 1940s but the quality remained consistently high and, despite the collapse of the big-band era and the rise of bebop (a music that Ellington accepted and borrowed from), Duke's orchestra never did break up; his royalty payments from his hits helped keep the big band together. Such new players as trumpeters Taft Jordan, Shorty Baker and the remarkable high-note player Cat Anderson (who had several long stints with Duke), Tyree Glenn (on trombone and vibes), Al Sears on tenor and bassist Oscar Pettiford passed through the band and clarinetist Jimmy Hamilton stayed into the late '60s. "Don't Get Around Much Anymore" was a hit and Ellington also wrote such lengthy works as "The Perfume Suite," "The Deep South Suite" and "The Liberia Suite"; the last theme of "Happy Go Lucky Local" was "borrowed" by Jimmy Forrest and retitled "Night Train."By the early '50s, Duke Ellington was in the only slump of his career but it was more a commercial slip than artistic. Johnny Hodges, Lawrence Brown and Sonny Greer suddenly left to form a small group under Hodges' leadership. In what was called "The Great James Robbery," Duke persuaded three members of Harry James' Orchestra to join him: drummer Louie Bellson, altoist Willie Smith and Juan Tizol (who had left Ellington in the 1940s). But by 1953-54 the orchestra was struggling a bit during an era when few big bands survived. However in 1955 Hodges returned to the fold and at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival tenor-saxophonist Paul Gonsalves took an exciting marathon solo on "Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue" that caused a sensation. Ellington was big again and the momentum would continue through the remainder of his life. With such fine soloists as trumpeters Clark Terry, Ray Nance, Cat Anderson and Willie Cook, trombonists Buster Cooper and Britt Woodman and a reed section that was together for over a decade (Hodges,  Carney, Hamilton, Gonsalves and Russell Procope on clarinet and alto), Ellington's late-'50s orchestra could hold its own with any of his groups. Although "Satin Doll" in the early '50s was his last pop hit, Duke continued working major works with Strayhorn. In the 1960s he turned towards religion, writing music for three sacred concerts and also composing "The Far East Suite," a very impressive and modern work. Duke also recorded albums on which he played piano in a trio with Charles Mingus and Max Roach, sat in with both the Louis Armstrong All-Stars and the John Coltrane Quartet and he had a double big-band date with Count Basie and a combo session with Coleman Hawkins. Constantly travellling the world and receiving long overdue honors (although not a Pulitzer Prize), Duke Ellington was finally recognized as a remarkable national treasure.By the latter half of the '60s, Ellington's associates were starting to die off. Billy Strayhorn's loss in 1967 was major as was Johnny Hodges's passing in 1970. There were important new members in Harold Ashby on tenor, altoist Norris Turney and (in 1973) trumpeter Barry Lee Hall. But in 1974 Duke Ellington was stricken with cancer and spent his 75th birthday in a hospital. His death four weeks later has left a huge hole that will never be filled.


David Ruffin     BORN: January 18, 1941, Meridian, MS  DIED: June 1, 1991, Philadelphia, PA  One of the greatest lead singers the Motown stable ever had, David Ruffin became one of the artistic cornerstones of the Temptations after his lead vocal on "My Girl" (1965) paved the way for such majestic follow-ups as "Since I Lost My Baby" (1965), "Beauty is Only Skin Deep" (1966), "All I Need" (1967), and "I Wish it Would Rain" (1968). Unfortunately, ever-mounting internal pressures within the group, coupled with Ruffin's swelling ego, led to his dismissal from the group in late 1968. His solo career got off to a promising start with the powerful ballad "My Whole World Ended (The Moment You Left Me)," which cracked the pop and soul Top Ten in early 1969. His last hit to reach the Top Ten was the Van McCoy-produced dance ballad "Walk Away From Love," from 1976. After leaving Motown in 1977, Ruffin recorded for Warner Brothers and later, with RCA accompanied by Eddie Kendricks. Unfortunately, Ruffin's career, marred by years of substance abuse and artistic indifference, culminated in his death from a drug overdose in 1991.  ~ John Lowe, All-Music Guide




Dixie Hummingbirds  FORMED: 193, Greenville, South Carolina  A pioneering force behind the evolution of the modern gospel quartet sound, the Dixie Hummingbirds were among the longest-lived and most successful groups of their era; renowned for their imaginative arrangements, progressive harmonies and all-around versatility, they earned almost universal recognition as the greatest Southern quartet of their generation, and their influence spread not only over the world of spiritual music but also inspired secular artists ranging from Jackie Wilson to Bobby "Blue" Bland to the Temptations. Formed in Greenville, South Carolina by James B. Davis, the Dixie Hummingbirds began their career during the late 1930s as a jubilee-styled act; joined in 1938 by 13-year-old baritone phenom Ira Tucker and bass singer extraordinaire Willie Bobo, a former member of the Heavenly Gospel Singers, the group made their recorded debut a year later on Decca, where they issued singles including "Soon Will Be Done with the Troubles of This World," "Little Wooden Church" and "Joshua Journeyed to Jericho." Upon relocating to Philadelphia in 1942, the Hummingbirds' popularity began to grow -- Tucker, in particular, wowed audiences with his flamboyant theatrics, rejecting the long tradition of "flat-footed" singers rooted in place on stage in favor of running up the aisles and rocking prayerfully on his knees. By 1944, he was even regularly jumping off stages -- indeed, the frenetic showmanship of soul music may have had its origins in Tucker's manic intensity, itself an emulation of country preaching. At the same time, the Hummingbirds' harmonies continued to grow more sophisticated; the addition of Paul Owens completed the quartet's development, and together he and Tucker honed a style they dubbed "trickeration," a kind of note-bending distinguished by sensual lyrical finesse and staggering vocal intricacy. Their virtuosity did not go unnoticed by audiences, and throughout the mid-1940s -- an acknowledged golden age of a cappella quartet singing -- the group regularly played to packed houses throughout the south.Under names like the Swanee Quintet and the Jericho Boys, the Dixie Hummingbirds also regularly appeared on Philadephia radio station WCAU; it was as the Jericho Boys that they auditioned for the legendary producer John Hammond, who in 1942 booked them into the Cafe Society Downtown, then the Greenwich Village area's preeminent showcase for black talent. By 1946, the Hummingbirds were again recording, cutting sides for labels including Apollo and, later in the decade, Gotham and Hob. In 1952, what many consider the group's definitive lineup -- a roster of Tucker, Davis, Bobo, Beachey Thompson, James Walker (replacing Owens) and ace guitarist Howard Carroll, a roster which held intact for close to a quarter century -- signed to the Peacock label, where over the course of the following decade they recorded a series of masterpieces including 1952's "Trouble in My Way," 1953's "Let's Go to the Program," 1954's "Christian's Testimonial," 1957's "Christian's Automobile" and 1959's "Nobody Knows the Trouble I See."After earning a standing ovation for their performance at the 1966 Newport Folk Festival (captured on the Gospel at Newport LP), the Hummingbirds essentially retired from mainstream appearances to focus solely on the church circuit. They did, however, burst back into the popular consciousness in 1973, backing Paul Simon on his pop smash "Loves Me Like a Rock." The death of Willie Bobo in 1976 brought to a sad end a lengthy chapter of the Hummingbirds' history -- his membership in their ranks dated back to the late 1930s -- but the surviving members forged on; just two years later, Ebony Magazine named them "The World's Greatest Gospel Group." After Davis retired in 1984, Tucker was the last remaining link to the quartet's formative years; despite the subsequent deaths of Walker in 1992 and Thompson in 1994, Tucker continued leading the group at the century's end, recruiting new blood to keep the Dixie Hummingbirds' spirit alive for years to follow, celebrating their 70th anniversary with 1998's Thank You for One More Day. ~ Jason Ankeny, All-Music Guide


Donny Hathaway BORN: October 1, 1945, Chicago, IL DIED: January 13, 1979, New York, NYDonny Hathaway was a marvelous composer and vocalist. His sound, delivery, and timbre have influenced singers from Stevie Wonder to George Benson, while his compositions have been recorded by an array of artists from Cold Blood to Jerry Butler, the Staple Singers, Carla Thomas, and Aretha Franklin. Hathaway was born in Chicago, but grew up in St. Louis and began singing gospel at age three. He attended Howard University on a fine arts scholarship and was a classmate of Roberta Flack. He began recording for Curtis Mayfield's Curtom label in 1969, then signed with Atco. His single "The Ghetto" was a mild hit, but the duet "You've Got a Friend" with Flack was his first Top Ten R&B hit. The duo would later score two number one hit duets, "Where Is the Love" and "The Closer I Get to You," each of which was also a Top Ten pop hit. The duo had two final hits, "You Are My Heaven" and "Back Together Again," in 1980, after Hathaway stunned everyone by committing suicide in 1979 at age 33. ~ Ron Wynn, All Music Guide




Earth Wind & Fire    FORMED: 1969, Chicago, IL  Earth, Wind & Fire was the most successful R&B group of the second half of the '70s. EW&F was founded by Maurice White (b.Dec 19, 1942) and his brother Verdine (b.Jul 25, 1951) in Chicago in 1969, and they released their self-titled debut album on Warner Brothers in 1970. After the 1971 release of the second album, The Need of Love, White reorganized the group, bringing in Philip Bailey (b.May 8, 1951) as co-lead singer for the recording of the third album, Last Days and Time on Columbia.EW&F encapsulated many strains of Black pop from before their time. Their high-pitched harmony vocals called to mind groups such as the Temptations, while their funkiness was reminiscent of Sly and the Family Stone, and their horn section sometimes evoked the work of James Brown and others. Over this, Maurice White laid his own brand of African-inspired kalimba music for a thorough synthesis that nonetheless bore a particular musical stamp unique to Earth, Wind & Fire.The band began to break through with its fourth album, Head to the Sky, in 1973. EW&F's first R&B Top Ten hit was "Mighty Mighty," from their first gold album, Open Your Eyes, which went to #15 in the pop charts and also contained the R&B hit "Kalimba Story." EW&F's breakthrough to a mass audience, however, came in 1975 with the release of That's the Way of the World, the soundtrack to a film in which the group appeared. Led by its gold-selling #1 single, "Shining Star," the album topped the pop charts. Equally successful were the partially live Gratitude (1975), Spirit (1976), All 'n All (1977), The Best of Earth, Wind & Fire - Vol. 1 (1978), and I Am (1979). Several albums in the early '80s did almost as well, but after the relative failure of Electric Universe in 1983, EW&F disbanded. It re-formed for the 1987 release Touch the World.Earth, Wind & Fire returned to the R&B/urban universe in 1990 with the LP Heritage, an attempt to update their sound with hip-hop and New Jack ingredients. Hammer and the Boys, as well as old school veteran Sly Stone, made guest appearances, but couldn't rekindle the old magic. They tried again in '93 with Millennium, switching labels to Reprise and ending a relationship with Columbia dating back to 1972. Columbia issued a deluxe boxed set of their greatest hits in 1992, The Eternal Dance. ~ William Ruhlmann and Ron Wynn, All-Music Guide


Eddie Kendricks BORN: December 17, 1940, Birmingham, AL DIED: October 5, 1992, Birmingham, AL Known for both his years with the Temptations and his major solo hits of the 1970s, Eddie Kendricks was among the many soul legends who did his part to put Motown Records on the map. The expressive vocalist (who often sang in a falsetto) grew up in Birmingham, AL, but it was Motown's original home of Detroit that made him a star. Kendricks was still living in Alabama in the late 1950s, when he formed the Primes with Kell Osborne and Temptation-to-be Paul Williams. After moving from Alabama to Detroit, the Primes caught the attention of a Motor City group known as the Distants (whose members included Tempations-to-be Otis Williams, Elbridge Bryant and Melvin Franklin). The Primes broke up after being together only a few years, and the Temptations (originally known as the Elgins) were formed when, in 1961, members of the Primes and the Distants came together. With a lineup that included former Primes Kendricks and Paul Williams and former Distants Otis Williams (who was unrelated to Paul), Melvin Franklin and Elbridge Bryant, the Temptations signed with the little known Motown subsidiary Miracle. The Temptations (who went through many personnel changes over the years) didn't become successful right away, but by the mid-1960s, they had become huge thanks to such smashes as "The Way You Do The Things You Do" and "My Girl." The Temptations enjoyed one mega-hit after another in the mid-to-late 1960s, and they were still tremendously popular when Kendricks left to pursue a solo a career in 1971 (the year he sang lead on their hit "Just My Imagination"). Many Temptations fans questioned the wisdom of Kendricks leaving such a successful group, but Kendricks proved to be quite viable as a solo act thanks to early 1970s singles like "Keep On Truckin'" (a #1 R&B hit) and "Boogie Down" (which went to #2 on the soul charts). Other noteworthy solo hits followed, including "Shoeshine Boy," "Get The Cream Off The Top" and "Happy" in 1975 and "He's A Friend" in 1976. Most of his solo albums came out on Motown, although Kendricks recorded Something More for Arista in 1979 and Love Keys for Atlantic in 1981. By that time, Kendricks' popularity had decreased considerably. The singer wasn't heard from that much in the 1980s, but he did participate in the Artists United Against Apartheid's Sun City project in 1985 and recorded with another former Temptation, David Ruffin, as a duo for RCA in 1988. Sadly, the 1990s would see the premature deaths of no less than three former members of the Temptations. First, Ruffin died of a cocaine overdose in 1991, followed by the deaths of Kendricks in 1992 and Melvin Franklin (from a brain seizure) in 1995. (Tragedy was nothing new to Temptations members, for Paul Williams had committed suicide back in 1973). Kendricks was only 51 when he died of lung cancer in his native Birmingham on October 5, 1992. ~ Alex Henderson, All-Music Guide


Edwin Hawkins BORN: August 1943, Oakland, CA  A trailblazing force behind the evolution of the contemporary gospel sound, Edwin Hawkins remains best known for his 1969 classic "Oh Happy Day," one of the biggest gospel hits of all time and a major pop radio smash as well. Born in Oakland, CA in 1943, he began singing in his church youth choir while still a toddler, and by age five was playing piano; just two years later, he assumed full-time piano accompaniment duties for the family gospel group, making their recorded debut in 1957. A decade later, Hawkins and Betty Watson co-founded the Northern California State Youth Choir, drawing on the finest soloists from throughout the Bay Area to build the 50-member ensemble, which soon entered the studio to cut the 1968 LP Let Us Go into the House of the Lord, its modern, R&B-influenced production pointing the way to a new era in gospel recording.Among the highlights of Let Us Go into the House of the Lord was the track "Oh Happy Day," which unexpectedly found a home on underground FM playlists across San Francisco; the single soon began earning airplay on mainstream R&B and pop outlets across the country, and in the spring of 1969 it reached the U.S. Top Five on the on its way to selling an astounding seven million copies and taking home a Grammy award. At this time the choir was rechristened the Edwin Hawkins Singers, although the featured voice on "Oh Happy Day" belonged to singer Dorothy Combs Morrison, who soon exited in pursuit of a solo career. Her loss proved devastating to Hawkins' long-term commercial fortunes, although in 1970 the ensemble did make a return appearance on the pop charts in support of Melanie on her hit "Lay Down (Candle in the Wind)."Still, Hawkins remained a critical favorite, and in 1972 the Singers won a second Grammy for Every Man Wants to Be Free. Recording prolifically throughout the remainder of the decade, in 1980 they won a third Grammy for Wonderful; a fourth, for If You Love Me, followed three years later. In 1982, Hawkins also founded the Edwin Hawkins Music and Arts Seminar, an annual week-long convention that offers workshops exploring all facets of the gospel industry and culminating each year with a live performance by the assembled mass choir. Although Hawkins recorded less and less frequently in the years to follow, he continued touring regularly, including a series of 1995 dates with the Swedish choir Svart Pa Vitt . ~ Jason Ankeny, All-Music Guide


 Fairfield Four FORMED: Nashville, TN  During the 1940s, the Fairfield Four were among the top-ranked gospel quartets, along with the Dixie Hummingbirds, Five Blind Boys, and Soul Stirrers. Originally a gospel duet created in the early '20s by the pastor of Fairfield Baptist Church in Nashville to occupy his sons, Harry and Rufus Carrethers, they became a gospel trio with the addition of John Battle. The group was transformed into a jubilee quartet by the '30s and began the first of numerous personnel changes. They recorded for RCA Victor and Columbia during the decade and were known for their reinterpretations of standard hymns, featuring bright, close baritone and tenor harmonies. When the Fairfield Four sang, they utilized the full extent of their voices, moving easily from deep, rolling basslines to the staccato upper peaks of the tenor range, all executed with precise, intricate harmonies and ever-shifting leads.The Fairfield Four reached their broadest audience when the Sunway Vitamin Company sponsored a nationally broadcast radio show for them daily at 6:45 a.m. on WLAC, Nashville. At the same time, they also continued touring; it was a grueling schedule, especially with the drive to Nashville, and often the group would be missing a member or two on the show. In 1942, the quartet recorded for the Library of Congress, but by 1950, it all became too much. Coupled with some financial trouble and a dwindling radio audience, the Fairfield Four broke up, though one member, Reverend Sam McCary, used the group name to perform with other quartets. In 1980, the Fairfield Four from the '40s was reunited for a concert in Birmingham, Alabama, by Black gospel specialist Doug Seroff. In 1989, they were designated as National Heritage Fellows by the National Endowment for the Arts. They continue to perform, though the original members are either deceased or retired. ~ Sandra Brennan & Bil Carpenter, All-Music Guide



5 Blind Boys  FORMED: 1937, Talladega, AL Evolving out of the Happyland Jubilee ingers, this traditional Black gospel quartet was ormed in 1937 at the Talladega Institute for the Deaf and Blind in Alabama. By the '40s they became "The Blind Boys" and recorded for Specialty, Vee Jay, Savoy, Elektra, and other labels. Their first hit was "I Can See Everybody's Mother but Mine" in 1949. Current lineup: Joe Watson, Jimmy Carter, Sam & Bobby Butler, Curtis Foster, Johnny Fields, and Clarence Fountain. They appeared on Broadway in Gospel at Colonus. ~ Bil Carpenter, All-Music Guide 





Frank Sinatra DIED: May 14, 1998, Los Angeles, CA  Though Frank Sinatra's reputation as celebrity, icon, bad boy, and possibly the greatest singer of American popular songs of the century are paramount to the general public, he has always been valued highly in the jazz community, especially among musicians. Though not a jazz singer per se, he was a child of the big-band era, incubated with an ability to swing in a relaxed, ingratiating way in all kinds of material. Whenever he had the chance, Sinatra would credit Billie Holiday as a primary influence on his vocal style -- even recording a tribute song called "Lady Day" in 1970 -- and he learned circular breathing at the feet of trombonist Tommy Dorsey. Particularly from the mid-1950s into the mid-1960s, Sinatra would use expert jazzmen prominently in his recording orchestras, as well as arrangers who cut their teeth in the big-band era. He was at his freest and loosest when paired with a great big band like that of Count Basie, where he would bend to the rhythm, embroider the melody, and stray from the tune to the point where non-jazz-oriented aficionados of singing would become disoriented. Indeed, the theory has been advanced that during the `60s, flinging himself head-on against the rock & roll tide of the time, Sinatra was actually able to revive the big-band era in terms of mass popularity, record sales, concert receipts, and media exposure -- although this time, the orientation was in favor of the singer rather than the band. Had he chosen to explore it more, Sinatra could have also been the most important bossa nova singer of his time; even so, the two albums he did make with Antonio Carlos Jobim display an uncanny emotional affinity for the idiom. Other than Brazilian music, though, Sinatra stayed away from developments in jazz beyond swing (unless one counts a quirk like his notorious "do-be-do-be-do" scatting at the close of "Strangers In the Night").The son of an ex-boxer and a domineering, ambitious mother, Sinatra quit school early in order to begin his musical career, winning the Major Bowes Amateur Hour radio contest at 19 as a member of the Hoboken Four. Shortly after leaving Benny Goodman to form his own big band, Harry James hired Sinatra as a featured singer in 1939, and graciously relinquished him to Tommy Dorsey the following year. Backed by the vocal group the Pied Pipers, Sinatra's star rose to the point where in 1942, he broke out of the Dorsey ranks with four solo sides on his own. The wild, orgiastic reaction that Sinatra aroused during the war years announced the rise of the solo singer act in pop music, a development that would help send the big bands reeling. Though Sinatra was known mostly for his smooth, straightforward ballads during what are now known as the Columbia years (1943-52), occasionally his primary arranger Axel Stordahl and others like George Siravo would cook up a big-band chart for him. He also recorded "Sweet Lorraine" with the Metronome All-Stars (including Nat Cole and members of the Dorsey and Ellington bands) in 1946 and other intimately jazzy sides with the small combos of Page Cavanaugh, Phil Moore and Tony Mottola.Upon moving to the Capitol label in 1953, many of Sinatra's recordings took on a tougher, more swinging, jazz-driven edge, with first Nelson Riddle and then, more vehemently, Billy May contributing sophisticated extensions of big-band-era techniques. The apex of the Riddle recordings is Songs for Swingin' Lovers (1955-56), where Sinatra rides confidently along with the swing of the band; May's charts for Come Fly With Me (1957) and Come Swing With Me (1958) push the swing envelope even farther and harder. The move to Sinatra's own label Reprise in 1961 found the singer working with other jazz-grounded arrangers like Johnny Mandel, Neal Hefti and Quincy Jones, as well as May and Riddle. In addition to Sinatra and Swingin' Brass, Hefti wrote the charts for Sinatra's initial studio encounter with Basie, Sinatra/Basie, while Jones did the follow-up, It Might As Well Be Swing, and conducted the live album with Basie, Sinatra at the Sands. A bit late for the bossa nova boom, Sinatra started working with Jobim in 1967 and again in 1969 -- the latter session did not come out in its entirety until 1995 -- and 1967 also saw a one-time-only summit meeting with Duke Ellington's orchestra. Following a short "retirement" (1971-73), a darker-toned Sinatra usually worked live in tandem with a big band sometimes augmented by strings, playing the vintage and occasionally new arrangements whose creators the singer almost always credited by name. The Woody Herman band played the old charts on Sinatra's live album The Main Event, and for Sinatra's last ungimmicked studio album, L.A. Is My Lady, Quincy Jones assembled an all-star band full of famous jazzers like George Benson, Randy and Michael Brecker, and Lionel Hampton. Sinatra kept on singing into his late 70s, well after the point when his voice had lost its luster and elasticity. All that was left was his exquisite control over phrasing stemming largely from jazz influences -- and in many cases, that was enough. He retired in 1995 after experiencing memory lapses in performances; after years of rumors about his failing health, he died of a heart attack on May 14, 1998, his reputation as the master of American popular song unassailably intact.~ Richard S. Ginell, All-Music Guide


The Four Tops  FORMED: 1956, Detroit, MI  The Four Tops are the most stable, consistent, and dependable of the successful R&B/pop vocal acts to emerge from Motown Records in the 1960s. Unlike the Temptations, they have had no personnel changes; unlike the Supremes and the Miracles, their lead singer never felt the need to step out on his own. At the same time, the Four Tops personified the musical hybrid Motown sought -- they had the grittiness of gospel and R&B, but they were smooth enough to appeal to pop audiences.The group was formed in Detroit in 1953 by lead singer Levi Stubbs, Jr., Renaldo "Obie" Benson, Lawrence Payton, and Abdul "Duke" Fakir when they were still in high school. They recorded for several labels before signing to Motown in 1963. "Baby, I Need Your Loving" (July 1964), written and produced by the team of Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier, and Eddie Holland, was their first substantial hit, setting the pattern for a series of songs showcasing Stubbs's emotive wail set against the Benson-Payton-Fakir harmony line. Need and longing would be the hallmarks of Stubbs's singing on such songs as "Ask the Lonely" (January 1965), which launched a string of R&B Top Ten/pop Top 40 hits over the next two years. Its follow-up, "I Can't Help Myself" (April 1965), hit number one and was itself followed by "It's the Same Old Song" (July 1965), "Something About You" (October 1965), "Shake Me, Wake Me (When It's Over)" (February 1966), "Loving You Is Sweeter than Ever" (May 1966), a second #1, "Reach Out, I'll Be There" (August 1966), "Standing in the Shadows of Love" (November 1966), "Bernadette" (February 1967), "7 Rooms of Gloom" (May 1967), and "You Keep Running Away" (August 1967).At that point, the Holland-Dozier-Holland team left Motown, depriving the Four Tops of their writing and producing talent. The label at first had some trouble finding material for them, having them cover songs like "Walk Away Renee" and "If I Were a Carpenter." In 1970, however, they rebounded with "It's All in the Game," "Still Water (Love)," a duet with the Supremes on "River Deep -- Mountain High," and "Just Seven Numbers (Can Straighten Out My Life)," all of which made the R&B Top Ten and the pop Top 40. They scored one more R&B Top Ten on Motown with "(It's the Way) Nature Planned It" before moving to Dunhill (later acquired by ABC, then by MCA) Records, where they enjoyed another string of hits, including "Keeper of the Castle" (October 1972), the gold-selling "Ain't No Woman (Like the One I Got)" (January 1973), "Are You Man Enough" (June 1973), "Sweet Understanding Love" (September 1973), "One Chain Don't Make No Prison" (April 1974), and "Midnight Flower" (July 1974). They returned to the R&B Top Ten with "Catfish" (August 1976), and moved to Casablanca (since acquired by PolyGram) for the R&B number one "When She Was My Girl" (September 1981).The Four Tops returned to Motown in 1983, and by 1988 were signed to Arista. Their hit-making days presumably behind them, they remain a solid concert act with a repertoire of favorites and a catalogue that continues to be repackaged successfully. ~ William Ruhlmann, All-Music Guide


Grover Washington, Jr.   BORN: December 12, 1943, Buffalo, NY  One of the most popular saxophonists of all time (even his off records have impressive sales), Grover Washington, Jr. has long been the pacesetter in his field. His roots are in R&B and soul-jazz organ combos, but he also fares very well on the infrequent occasions when he plays straight-ahead jazz. A highly influential player, Washington has sometimes been blamed for the faults of his followers; Kenny G. largely based his soprano sound on Grover's tone. However, most of the time (except when relying on long hit medleys), Washington pushes himself with the spontaneity and chance-taking of a masterful jazz musician. Grover Washington, Jr., whose father also played saxophone, started playing music when he was ten and within two years was working in clubs. He picked up experience touring with the Four Clefs from 1959-63 and freelancing during the next two years, before spending a couple years in the Army. He moved to Philadelphia in 1967, becoming closely identified with the city ever since, and worked with several organists including Charles Earland and Johnny Hammond Smith, recording as a sideman for the Prestige label. His biggest break occurred in 1971, when Hank Crawford could not make it to a recording date; Washington was picked as his replacement, and the result was Inner City Blues, a big seller. From then on he became a major name, particularly after recording 1975's Mister Magic and 1980s Winelight; the latter included the Bill Withers hit "Just the Two of Us." Although some of his recordings since then find him coasting a bit, Washington usually stretches himself in concert, being almost overqualified for the R&B-ish music that he performs. He has developed his own personal voices on soprano, tenor, alto and even his infrequently used baritone. Grover Washington Jr. has recorded as a leader for Kudu, Motown, Elektra and Columbia and has made notable guest appearances on dozens of records ranging from pop to straightforward jazz. ~ Scott Yanow, All-Music Guide  Saxophonist Grover Washington, Jr., the godfather of the soulful stylistic blending of jazz and funk known as contemporary jazz, died in New York on Friday (Dec. 17) of a heart attack after performing at a TV show taping. He was 56. Washington had finished playing four songs for broadcast the next day on CBS program The Saturday Early Show, when he collapsed. He was taken to St. Luke's/Roosevelt Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Washington, who performed principally on tenor and soprano saxophone, was a crucial figure in the transition between the soul-jazz of the 1960s and the funk-jazz of the 1970s that laid the foundation for today's contemporary jazz style. His first gold record, 1975's "Mr. Magic," pointed toward his new direction, with Washington's tenor saxophone smoldering against sharp guitar accompaniment and a thumping bassline. In 1981, Washington had a No. 2 pop hit single, "Just The Two Of Us," which featured vocalist Bill Withers. Washington was a favorite artist of President (and amateur saxophonist) Bill Clinton, and has performed at the White House, as well as at the President's 50th birthday party in New York. Grover Washington, Jr. was born Dec. 12, 1943 in Buffalo, NY, son of a father who played tenor sax and mother who sang in their church choir. Washington was given his first saxophone at age 10, and later attended Buffalo's Wurlitzer School of Music. At 16, Washington left for Columbus, Ohio, to play with the R&B band The Four Clefs. The group broke up in 1963 and, after two years with organist Keith McAllister, Washington served in the Army from 1965-67. Stationed in New Jersey's Fort Dix, Washington continued to play in Philadelphia.After the Army, Washington played and worked for a record distributor, but returned to focus completely on his musical career in 1970 when he joined organist Charles Earland's group. During the early 1970s, Washington played on Johnny "Hammond" Smith's record Breakout, and also on various sessions for the Prestige label. He released his first solo album, Inner City Blues, in 1971. Over the years, Washington recorded over a dozen albums, principally for the Columbia, Motown, and Elektra labels. In 1982, he released "The Best Is Yet To Come" with vocalist Patti LaBelle, scoring a No. 14 R&B hit. It was one of seven songs that became top 40 R&B hits for Washington.Although Washington was primarily associated with contemporary jazz, he could also play in more "traditional" settings. With his 1988 album Then And Now, Washington proved that he could hold his own in a more "classic" setting, accompanied by such artists as Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tommy Flanagan. He is survived by his wife, Christine; his son, Grover Washington III, and daughter Shana ashington. A private funeral service for Washington will be held at Philadelphia's Bright Hope Baptist Church on Thursday (Dec. 23). Those wishing to pay their respects may attend a viewing there from 8:00 - 10:30 a.m.. In lieu of flowers, contributions can be made to the Grover Washington Jr. Memorial Trust Fund, 8610 Evergreen Place, Philadelphia, Pa., 19118, with proceeds directed to organizations dedicated to music education, prostate cancer research, heart disease prevention, and other medical causes.-- Drew Wheeler


George Duke    12 January 1946, San Rafael, California, USA. Duke studied the piano at school (where he ran a Les McCann -inspired Latin band) and emerged from the San Francisco Conservatory as a Bachelor of Music in 1967. From 1965-67 he was resident pianist at the Half Note, accompanying musicians such as Dizzy Gillespie and Kenny Dorham. This grounding served as a musical education for the rest of his life. He arranged for a vocal group, the Third Wave, and toured Mexico in 1968. In 1969 he began playing with French violinist Jean-Luc Ponty, using electric piano to accompany Ponty's plugged-in violin. He played on King Kong, an album of music Frank Zappa composed for Ponty. He then joined Zappa's group in 1970, an experience that transformed his music. As he put it, previously he had been too 'musically advanced' to play rock 'n' roll piano triplets. Zappa encouraged him to sing and joke and use electronics. Together they wrote 'Uncle Remus' for Apostrophe (1972), a song about black attitudes to oppression. His keyboards contributed to a great edition of the Mothers Of Invention - captured on the outstanding Roxy & Elsewhere (1975) - which combined fluid jazz playing with rock and avant garde sonorities. In 1972 he toured with Cannonball Adderley (replacing Joe Zawinul ). Duke had always had a leaning towards soul jazz and after he left Zappa, he went for full-frontal funk. I Love The Blues, She Heard My Cry (1975) combined a retrospective look at black musical forms with warm good humour and freaky musical ideas; a duet with Johnny Guitar Watson was particularly successful. Duke started duos with fusion power-drummer Billy Cobham, and virtuoso bassist Stanley Clarke, playing quintessential 70s jazz rock - amplification and much attention to 'chops' being the order of the day. Duke always had a sense of humour: 'Dukey Stick' (1978) sounded like a Funkadelic record. The middle of the road beckoned, however, and by Brazilian Love Affair (1979) he was merely providing high-class background music. In 1982 Dream On showed him happily embracing west-coast hip easy listening. However, there has always been an unpredictable edge to Duke. The band he put together for the Wembley Nelson Mandela concert in London backed a stream of soul singers, and his arrangement of 'Backyard Ritual' on Miles Davis 's Tutu (1986) was excellent. He collaborated with Clarke again for the funk-styled 3 and in 1992 he bounced back with the jazz fusion Snapshot, followed by the orchestral suite Enchanted Forest in 1996, and Is Love Enough? in 1997.


 Gladys Knight  BORN: May 28, 1944, Atlanta, GA  One of the great soul singers, Gladys Knight was a performer from her childhood years, forming the Pips with her brother Merald and a couple cousins. They made the Top Ten in 1961 with the heavily doo wop-influenced "Every Beat of My Heart," and recorded some fine, nowadays overlooked, pop-soul sides for the Fury and Maxx labels in the early and mid-'60s, sometimes under the direction of songwriter Van McCoy. A couple singles from this period, "Letter Full of Tears" and "Giving Up," made the Top 40, but Knight didn't hit her commercial stride until she moved to Motown in 1966. Steeped in the gospel tradition, like so many soul singers, Knight & the Pips developed into one of Motown's most dependable acts, although they never quite scaled the commercial or artistic heights of fellow stars on the label like the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, and the Temptations. With Norman Whitfield providing the production and much of the songwriting, the Pips fit into the mainstream of Motown's machine well, scoring big hits with some rabble-rousers (like "Friendship Train" and the original version of "I Heard It Through the Grapevine"), mainstream mid-tempo soul ("It Should Have Been Me" and "The End of Our Road, ") and smooth ballads like "If I Were Your Woman."In 1973, Knight had her biggest Motown hit with "Neither One of Us," which made number two; shortly afterwards, she and the Pips left Motown for Buddah. The group were briefly superstars in 1973-74, reeling off the smashes "Midnight Train to Georgia" (their only number one), "I've Got to Use My Imagination," and "Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me." This ranked as some of their best material, but Knight soon moved toward an easy listening, adult contemporary direction, one that she's maintained to this day. Now performing separately from the Pips (who have retired), her days as a high-charting star ended after the mid-'70s, although she remains fairly popular. ~ Richie Unterberger, All-Music Guide


Garth Brooks  BORN: February 7, 1962, Tulsa, OK  Garth Brooks is a pivotal figure in the history of country music, no matter how much some country purists would like to deny it. With his commercially savvy fusion of post-Merle Haggard country, honky tonk, post-folk-rock sensitive singer/songwriter sensibilities, and '70s arena-rock dramatics, Brooks brought country music to a new audience in the '90s -- namely, a mass audience. Before Brooks, it was inconceivable for a country artist to sell a million copies. He shattered that barrier in 1991, when his second album, No Fences, began its chart domination and its follow-up, Ropin' the Wind, became the first country album to debut at the top of the pop charts; No Fences would eventually sell a record-shattering 13 million copies. After Garth, country music had successfully carved a permanent place for itself on the pop charts. In the process, it lost a lot of the traditionalism that had always been its hallmark, but that is precisely why Brooks is important.Garth Brooks is the son of Troyal and Colleen Carroll Brooks. Colleen was a country singer herself, recording a handful of records for Capitol in the mid-'50s that never experienced any chart success. As a child, Garth was interested in music and frequently sang at family gatherings, but he concentrated on athletics. He received a partial athletic scholarship at Oklahoma State University as a javelin tosser, but he wound up dropping the sport during his collegiate career. While he was at college, Brooks began singing in local Oklahoma clubs, often with lead guitarist Ty England. After he graduated with an advertising degree in December of 1984, Garth Brooks decided to try to forge out a career as a country singer. In 1985 he moved to Nashville with hopes of being discovered by a record label. Twenty-three hours after moving to Nashville, he returned to Oklahoma, frustrated with the industry, his prospects, and his naive dreams. Brooks continued to perform in Oklahoma clubs, and in 1986, he married his college girlfriend, Sandy Mahl.The couple moved to Nashville in 1987, this time with a better idea of how the music industry operated. Brooks began making connections with varous songwriters and producers, and he sang on a lot of songwriter's demo tapes. Although he had made several connections within the industry and he had a powerful management team, every label in town was refusing to sign him. In 1988, six weeks after Capitol Records passed on his demo, one of the label's executives saw Brooks sing at a local club. Impressed with the performance, the executive convinced the label to sign Garth.Brooks recorded his first album with producer Allen Reynolds at the end of 1988; the self-titled debut appeared early in 1989. The album was an instant success, with its first single, "Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)," climbing into the country Top Ten. Garth's debut was a success, crossing over into the pop album charts, but it was overshadowed by the blockbuster appeal of Clint Black, as well other similar new male vocalists like Travis Tritt and Alan Jackson. Within a year, Brooks would tower above them all with his surprise, widespread success.Garth Brooks had three other hit singles -- the number one "If Tomorrow Never Comes," the number two "Not Counting You," and the number one "The Dance" -- but it was his second album, No Fences, that established him as a superstar. No Fences was released in the fall of 1990, preceded by the massive hit single "Friends in Low Places." No Fences spent 23 weeks at the top of the country charts and sold 700, 000 copies within the first ten days of its release. Throughout 1990 and 1991, Brooks had a string of number one country hits from the album, including "Unanswered Prayers," "Two of a Kind, Workin' on a Full House," and "The Thunder Rolls." By 1993, No Fences would sell over ten million copies.Not only did his record sales break all the accepted country conventions, but so did Garth Brooks's concerts. By the end of 1990, he was selling out stadiums within minutes and was putting on stadium-sized shows, patterned after '70s rock extravaganzas. Brooks used a cordless, headset microphone so he could run around his large stage. He had an elaborate light show, explosions, and even a harness so he could swing out above the crowd and sing to them. It was the first time any country artist incorporated such rock & roll techniques into their stageshows.Ropin' the Wind, Garth's third album, was released in September of 1991 and became the first country record to debut at the top of the pop charts. Ropin' the Wind matched the success of No Fences, selling over ten million copies within its first two years of release and spawning the number one hit singles "Shameless," "What She's Doing Now," and "The River."By the end of 1991, Brooks had become a genuine popular music phenomenon -- even his 1992 Christmas album, Beyond the Season, went multi-platinum -- and there were no signs of his momentum slowing down. Naturally, a backlash began to develop in the fall of 1992, beginning with the release of "We Shall Be Free," the first single from his fourth album. Featuring a strong gospel underpinning, the single stalled at number 12 and many radio stations refused to play it. It was indicative of the eclectic nature of his forthcoming album, The Chase, which pushed the boundaries of contemporary country. The Chase debuted at number one upon its October 1992 release and by the end of the year, it sold over five million copies. Nevertheless, that number was half the size of the figures for his two previous albums and there was speculation in the media that Brooks's career had already peaked.Sensing that he was in danger of losing his core audience, Brooks returned to straight country with 1993's In Pieces. The album was critically-acclaimed and sold several million copies, though it was clear that Garth would not reach the stratospheric commercial heights of No Fences and Ropin' the Wind again. Even so, he remained one of the most successful artists in popular music, one of the few that was guaranteed to sell millions of records with each new album, as well as sell out concerts around the world.The Hits, which was only available for a year, was released in the fall of 1994 and would eventually sell over eight million albums. Garth Brooks released Fresh Horses, his first album of new material in two years, in November of 1995; within six months of its release, it had sold over three million copies. Despite its promising start, Fresh Horses plateaued quickly, topping out at quadruple platinum -- a healthy number for any artist, but a little disappointing considering Brooks' superstar status. Brooks decided to push his seventh album, appropriately titled Sevens, very hard to confirm his superstar status. Originally, it was scheduled to be released in August of 1997, when he would promote it with a huge concert in Central Park. Plans went awry when Capitol Records experienced a huge management shakeup, leaving many of his contacts at the label out in the cold. Upset at the new management, Brooks held back the release of Sevens until he received commitment for a major marketing push for the album. He went ahead and performed the Central Park concert, which received major coverage in the media. On the strength of the concert, Capitol acquiesed to Brooks' demands and Sevens was released in November of 1997. Sevens catapulted to number one upon its release and it quickly went multi-platinum over the holiday season. The following spring, Brooks pulled his first six albums out of print and issued The Limited Series, a box set which contained all six records plus bonus tracks. Once all two million copies of The Limited Series were sold, the individual albums would remain out of print until their tenth anniversary, when they would be released only on DVD Audio. The Double Live set followed in late 1998. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, All-Music Guide


The Harmonizing Four  FORMED: Richmond, Virginia  One of the top gospel quartets of the postwar era, the Harmonizing Four was also a relative anomaly of the period; as their contemporaries raced to modernize their sound, rejecting the traditional jubilee style in favor of the intensity of the burgeoning "hard gospel" movement, the Four remained true to their roots, focusing instead on the spirituals and hymns of a time gone by. For all of their renown, little is known about the group's formative years -- their leader and manager, Joseph "Gospel Joe" Williams, forbade any of the members to agree to interviews unless they were paid in advance, and as a result the anecdotal information that does exist is sketchy and incomplete. Records have indicated that the Four made their formal debut at a grammar school in their native Richmond, Virginia on October 27, 1927; founding members included Thomas "Goat" Johnson and Levi Handly, with Williams signing on in 1933 and Lonnie Smith -- the father of jazz pianist Lonnie Liston Smith -- joining four years later.The Harmonizing Four made their recorded debut on Decca in 1943; in all likelihood they came to the label at the behest of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, whom they frequently backed both on record and in concert. After World War II, they landed on the tiny Coleman label; included in the roster during much of this period was Tommy Ellison, later of the Chosen Gospel Singers. A brief tenure on Gotham followed, and after 1952, the Harmonizing Four cut only one record, a single for the Religious Recordings label, prior to arriving at Vee-Jay in 1957. There, the group -- Williams, Smith, Thomas Johnson and Jimmy Jones -- finally began earning the fame long due them, honing their close harmony style to mellow perfection; Jones, in particular, earned renown as perhaps the greatest basso in gospel history, his canyon-deep voice distinguishing hits like "Motherless Child." After leaving Vee-Jay during the early 1960s, the Harmonizing Four recorded for Nashboro, slowly easing into retirement in the years that followed. ~ Jason Ankeny, All-Music Guide


Herbert Jeffrey Hancock  BORN: April 12, 1940, Chicago, IL  Herbie Hancock will always be one of the most revered and controversial figures in jazz -- just as his employer/mentor Miles Davis was when he was alive. Unlike Miles, who pressed ahead relentlessly and never looked back until near the very end, Hancock has cut a zigzagging forward path, shuttling between almost every development in electronic and acoustic jazz and R&B over the last third of the 20th century. Though grounded in Bill Evans and able to absorb blues, funk, gospel, and even modern classical influences, Hancock's piano and keyboard voices are entirely his own, with their own urbane harmonic and complex, earthy rhythmic signatures -- and young pianists cop his licks constantly. Having studied engineering and professing to love gadgets and buttons, Hancock was perfectly suited for the electronic age; he was one of the earliest champions of the Rhodes electric piano and Hohner clavinet and would field an ever-growing collection of synthesizers and computers on his electric dates. Yet his love for the grand piano never waned, and despite his peripatetic activities all around the musical map, his piano style continues to evolve into tougher, ever-more-complex forms. He is as much at home trading riffs with a smoking funk band as he is communing with a world-class post bop rhythm section -- and that drives purists on both sides of the fence up the wall.Having taken up the piano at age seven, Hancock quickly became known as a prodigy, soloing in the first movement of a Mozart piano concerto with the Chicago Symphony at the age of 11. After studies at Grinnell College, Hancock was invited by Donald Byrd in 1961 to join his group in New York City, and before long, Blue Note offered him a solo contract. His debut album Takin' Off took off indeed after Mongo Santamaria covered one of the album's songs, "Watermelon Man." In May 1963, Miles Davis asked him to join his band in time for the Seven Steps to Heaven sessions, and he remained there for five years, greatly influencing Miles' evolving direction, loosening up his own style, and upon Miles' suggestion, converting to the Rhodes electric piano. In that timespan, Hancock's solo career also blossomed on Blue Note, pouring forth increasingly sophisticated compositions like "Maiden Voyage," "Cantaloupe Island," "Goodbye to Childhood" and the exquisite "Speak Like a Child." He also played on many East Coast recording sessions for producer Creed Taylor and provided a groundbreaking score to Michelangelo Antonioni's film Blow Up, which gradually led to further movie assignments. Having left the Davis band in 1968, Hancock recorded an elegant funk album Fat Albert Rotunda and in 1969 formed a sextet that evolved into one of the most exciting, forward-looking jazz-rock groups of the era. Now deeply immersed in electronics, Hancock added the synthesizer of Patrick Gleeson to his Echoplexed, fuzz-wah-pedaled electric piano and clavinet, and the recordings became spacier and more complex rhythmically and structurally, creating its own corner of the avant-garde. By 1970, all of the musicians used both English and African names (Herbie's was Mwandishi). Alas, Hancock had to break up the band in 1973 when it ran out of money, and having studied Buddhism, he concluded that his ultimate goal should be to make his audiences happy. The next step, then, was a terrific funk group whose first album, Head Hunters, with its Sly Stone-influenced hit single "Chameleon," became the biggest-selling jazz LP up to that time. Now handling all of the synthesizers himself, Hancock's heavily rhythmic comping often became part of the rhythm section, leavened by interludes of the old urbane harmonies. Hancock recorded several electric albums of mostly superior quality in the '70s, followed by a wrong turn into disco around the decade's end. In the meantime, Hancock refused to abandon acoustic jazz. After a one-shot reunion of the 1965 Miles Davis Quintet (Hancock, Ron Carter, Tony Williams, Wayne Shorter, with Freddie Hubbard sitting in for Miles) at New York's 1976 Newport Jazz Festival, they went on tour the following year as V.S.O.P. The near-universal acclaim of the reunions proved:a. That Hancock was still a whale of a pianist.. That Miles' loose mid-'60s post bop direction was far from spent.c. That the time for a neo-traditional revival was near, finally bearing fruit in the '80s with Wynton Marsalis and his ilk.V.S.O.P. continued to hold sporadic reunions through 1992, though the death of the indispensible Williams in 1997 casts much doubt as to whether these gatherings will continue.Hancock continued his chameleonic ways in the '80s -- scoring an MTV hit in 1983 with the scratch-driven, proto-industrial single "Rockit" (accompanied by a striking video); launching an exciting partnership with Gambian kora virtuoso Foday Musa Suso that culminated in the swinging 1986 live album Jazz Africa; doing film scores; playing festivals and tours with the Marsalis brothers, George Benson, Michael Brecker and many others. After his 1988 techno-pop album Perfect Machine, Hancock left Columbia (his label since 1973), signed a contract with Qwest that came to virtually nothing (save for A Tribute To Miles in 1992), and finally made a deal with PolyGram in 1994 to record jazz for Verve and release pop albums on Mercury. Now well into a youthful middle age, Hancock's curiosity, versatility and capacity for growth have shown no signs of fading, and in 1998 he issued Gershwin's World.  ~ Richard S. Ginell, All-Music Guide


Isaac Hayes Isaac Hayes BORN: August 20, 1942, Covington, TN  Few figures exerted greater influence over the music of the 1960s and 1970s than Isaac Hayes; after laying the groundwork for the Memphis soul sound through his work with Stax-Volt Records, Hayes began a highly successful solo career which predated not only the disco movement but also the evolution of rap.Hayes was born on August 6, 1942 in Covington, Tennessee; his parents died during his infancy, and he was raised by his grandparents. After making his public debut singing in church at the age of five, he taught himself both piano, organ and saxophone before moving to Memphis to perform on the city's club circuit in a series of short-lived groups like Sir Isaac and the Doo-Dads, the Teen Tones and Sir Calvin and His Swinging Cats. In 1962, he began his recording career, cutting sides for a variety of local labels.Two years later, Hayes began playing sax with the Mar-Keys, which resulted in the beginning of his long association with Stax Records. After playing on several sessions for Otis Redding, Hayes was tapped to play keyboards in the Stax house band, and eventually established a partnership with songwriter David Porter. Under the name the Soul Children, the Hayes-Porter duo composed some 200 songs, reeling off a string of hits for Stax luminaries like Sam and Dave (the brilliant "When Something Is Wrong With My Baby," "Soul Man" and "Hold On, I'm Comin'"), Carla Thomas ("B-A-B-Y") and Johnnie Taylor ("I Got to Love Somebody's Baby," "I Had a Dream").In 1967, Hayes issued his debut solo LP Presenting Isaac Hayes, a loose, jazz-flavored effort recorded in the early-morning hours following a raucous Stax party. With the release of 1969's landmark Hot-Buttered Soul, he made his commercial breakthrough, as the record's adventuresome structure (comprising four lengthy songs), ornate arrangements and sensual grooves -- combined with the imposing figure cut by his shaven head, omnipresent sunglasses and fondness for gold jewelry -- made Hayes one of the most distinct figures in music. After a pair of 1970 releases, The Isaac Hayes Movement and To Be Continued, he reached his commercial zenith in 1971 with the release of Shaft, the score from the Gordon Parks film of the same name. Not only did the album win Hayes an Academy Award for Best Score (the first African-American composer to garner such an honor), but the single "Theme from 'Shaft,'" a masterful blend of prime funk and pre-rap monologues, became a Number One hit. After 1971's superb Black Moses and 1973's Joy, Hayes composed two 1974 soundtracks, Tough Guys and Truck Turner (in which he also starred); by 1975, relations with Stax had disintegrated following a battle over royalties, and soon he severed his ties with the label to form his own Hot Buttered Soul imprint. Although both 1975's Chocolate Chip and 1976's Groove-a-thon went gold, his records of the period attracted considerably less attention than prior efforts; combined with poor management and business associations, Hayes had no choice but to file for bankruptcy in 1976.After the 1977 double-LP A Man and a Woman, recorded with Dionne Warwick, Hayes began a comeback on the strength of the hit singles "Zeke the Freak," "Don't Let Go" and "Do You Wanna Make Love." Following the success of his 1979 collection of duets with Millie Jackson titled Royal Rappin's, he issued a pair of solo records, 1980's And Once Again and 1981's Lifetime Thing before retiring from music for five years. After returning in 1986 with the LP U Turn and the Top Ten R&B hit "Ike's Rap," Hayes surfaced two years later with Love Attack before again dropping out of music to focus on acting.In 1995, fully enshrined as one of the forefathers of hip hop, Hayes emerged with two concurrent releases, the vocal Branded and instrumental Raw and Refined. Under the official name Nene Katey Ocansey I, he also served as a member of the royal family of the African nation of Ghana while continuing simultaneous careers as an actor, composer, and humanitarian. ~ Jason Ankeny, All-Music Guidebrilliant "Touch the Hem of His Garment," then singing them in his soaring, inimitable style with perfect control of phrasing and enunciation.--Mike McGonigal


Impressions FORMED: 1958, Chicago, IL  DISBANDED: 1983  The first Impressions hit, "For Your Precious Love," was an anachronism when released in 1958. Jerry Butler's robust, yearning vocal was a throwback to deep-South gospel, and Curtis Mayfield's arrangement was decidedly barebones. But this song also precipitated the changes coming in R&B; you can hear the groundwork for soul music being laid, from the melisma of Butler's phrasing to Mayfield's skeletal guitar. The song literally flew in the face of then-popular doo wop formulas.Butler left the group in 1960, but the pared-down trio, led by Mayfield, cut a path that altered the R&B map. Mayfield's high falsetto and the trade-off vocals of Fred Cash and Sam Gooden framed a new kind of R&B: smooth and graceful, at times lilting, soaked in the history of gospel, and, thanks to Mayfield's lyrical examinations of racism and urban decay, the catalyst for the wave of socially aware Black hits recorded in the '70s.The group's hits varied from supple statements of affirmation ("It's All Right," "People Get Ready") and romantic declarations ("Talking About My Baby," "I'm So Proud") to songs that were sociopolitical ("Choice of Colors," "This Is My Country") or mystical ("Gypsy Woman"). Mayfield's outside production work yielded similar-sounding hits for the likes of Major Lance, Walter Jackson, and Billy Butler (and the sound of the Impressions was imitated by the likes of the Viscounts and the Knight Brothers). Their chart run ended by the late '60s, as did Mayfield's Midas touch; after recording the brilliant Superfly in 1972, his talents ran dry. Nonetheless, Mayfield's reputation as one of soul's supreme innovators cannot be exaggerated. ~ John Floyd, All-Music Guide



Janet Jackson  BORN: May 16, 1966, Gary, IN Of the many siblings of mega-star Michael Jackson, Michael's youngest sister Janet is one of the few with enough genuine talent to succeed without her family ties. Jackson's fame rests largely on her successful, elaborately produced music videos, wherein the talented singer and dancer projects a more accessible, realistic image than her otherworldly brother. She is also a skilled and agreeable actress, as witness her series-TV stints on Good Times (1977-78), Diff'rent Strokes (1981-82) and Fame (1984). In 1993, Janet Jackson made her movie debut as a South Central L.A. beautician in director John Singleton's Poetic Justice (1993); the film was no classic, but Janet dominated every scene she was in, even those shared with notorious rap artist Tupac Shakur.  -- Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide





Jeffrey Osborne  BORN: March 9, 1948, Providence, RI Jeffrey Osborne began his professional singing career in 1969 with a popular funk and soul group called Love Men Ltd. The band moved to Los Angeles in 1970 and changed its name to LTD. Osborne was originally brought on as the drummer and eventually became the lead vocalist. After more than ten years with the band, he decided to pursue a solo career, which produced such Top 40 hits as "Don't You Get So Mad," "Stay With Me Tonight" and "Love Power," which he performed with Dionne Warwick Born in Providence, Rhode Island, Jeffrey Osborne was the youngest of 12 children and was constantly bombarded with music as he was growing up. He had five brothers and six sisters, some of whom went on to have music careers. His father, Clarence "Legs" Osborne, was a popular trumpeter who played with Lionel Hampton, Count Basie and Duke Ellington, and died when Jeffrey was only 13. His mother, Wanita, is ancestored by a Pequot Indian sachem. His oldest brother, Clay Osborne, is a singer and pianist, and Billy, another brother, is a songwriter and producer in Los Angeles. But Osborne's father had the greatest influence on his musical career; Clarence "Legs" Osborne turned down many top band offers during his career to be with his family. It was only after receiving his mother's encouragement that Jeffrey left for Los Angeles to play with LTD. At the age of 15, he sat in with the O'Jays when the drummer was too tired to play, and went on to play with them for two weeks. It was at a Providence nightclub that fate brought him together with the band Love Men Ltd. in 1969.Osborne's solo career has brought him five gold and platinum albums, including Stay With Me Tonight, Aymuk and Only Human. He also recorded an album of duets with popular singer James Ingram, and scored an international hit with "On the Wings of Love" in 1982.Osborne's touring and recording continue to keep him busy much of the time, but he also devotes some of his time to charity work. ~ Kim Summers, All-Music Guide


Jackie Wilson BORN: June 9, 1934, Detroit, MI  DIED: January 21, 1984, Mount Holly, NJ  Jackie Wilson was one of the most important agents of Black pop's transition from rhythm & blues into soul. In terms of vocal power (especially in the upper register), few could outdo him; he was also an electricfying onstage showman. He was a consistent hitmaker from the mid-1950s through the early 1970s, although never a crossover superstar. His reputation isn't quite on par with Ray Charles, James Brown, or Sam Cooke, however, because his records did not always reflect his artistic genius. Indeed, there is a consensus of sorts among critics that Wilson was something of an underachiever in the studio, due to the sometimes inappropriately pop-based material and arrangements that he used. Wilson 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, Wilson 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 Twenty hit with "St. Therese of the Roses" in 1956. Elvis Presley was one of those who was mightily impressed by Wilson in the mid-'50s; he can be heard praising Jackie's onstage cover of "Don't Be Cruel" in between-song banter during the Million Dollar Quartet session in late 1956.Wilson would score his first big R&B (and small pop) 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. In the early '60s, Wilson maintained his pop stardom with regular hit singles that often used horn arrangements and female choruses that have dated somewhat badly, especially in comparison with the more creative work by peers such as Charles and Brown from this era. Wilson also sometimes went into out-and-out operatic pop, as on "Danny Boy" and one of his biggest hits, "Night" (1960). At the same time, he remained capable of unleashing a sweaty, uptempo, gospel-soaked number: "Baby Workout," which fit that description to a T, was a #5 hit for him in 1963. It's true that you have to be pretty selective in targeting the worthwhile Wilson records from this era; 1962's At the Copa, for instance, has Jackie trying to combine soul and all-around entertainment, and not wholly succeeding with either strategy. Yet some of his early Brunswick material is also fine uptown soul; not quite as earthy as some of his fans would have liked him to sound, no doubt, but worth hearing. Wilson was shot and seriously wounded by a female fan in 1961, though he made a recovery. His career was more seriously endangered by his inability to keep up with changing soul and rock trends. Not everything he did in the mid-'60s is totally dismissable; "No Pity (In the Naked City)," for instance, is something like West Side Story done uptown soul style. In 1966, his career was briefly revived when he teamed up with Chicago soul producer Carl Davis, who had been instrumental in the success of Windy City performers like Gene Chandler, Major Lance, and Jerry Butler. Davis successfully updated Wilson's sound with horn-heavy arrangements, getting near the Top Ten with "Whispers," and then making #6 in 1967 with "Higher and Higher." And that was really the close of Wilson's career as either a significant artist or commercial force, although he had some minor chart entries through the early '70s.While playing a Dick Clark oldies show at the Latin Casino in New Jersey in September 1975, Wilson suffered an onstage heart attack while singing "Lonely Teardrops." He lapsed into a coma, suffering major brain damage, and was hospitalized until his death in early 1984. ~ Richie Unterberger, All-Music Guide


Rev. James Cleveland1932-1991 Singer - Pianist - Arranger - Choir Director Composer  Known by such titles as "King James" and the "Crown Prince", he emerged as a giant of the post war Gospel music scene. With a vocal style similar to jazz great Louis Armstrong, He is credited for the architectural design of contemporary Gospel music with top Gospel choirs and for bridging the gap between traditional Gospel, Gospel Quartets and today’s Gospel music.Born on December 5, 1932 in Chicago, Illinois he attended Roosevelt University. Rev. Cleveland first sang Gospel under the direction of Thomas Dorsey, father of Gospel music at the Pilgrim Baptist Church.Inspired by the keyboard talents of Gospel singer Roberta Martin, he later began to study piano. In 1951, he joined the Gospelaires, a trio that cut several sides for the Apollo label. At the beginning of his career, he sang with such groups as the Caravans and the Gospelaires, among others. About 1959, he formed his first group, the Gospel Chimes. With the Caravans, Cleveland arranged and performed two hits, "The Solid Rock" and an up tempo reworking of the song "Old Time Religion"By the mid-1950’s, his original compositions had found their way into the repertoires of numerous Gospel groups, and he was performing with such artists as the Thorn Gospel Singers, Mahalia Jackson, the Gospel Allstars, and the Meditation Singers. In 1960 he formed the Cleveland Singers, featuring organist and accompanist Billy Preston, who would later become and R&B legend. The smash hit "The Love of God", with the Voices of Tabernacle of Detroit, won Cleveland nationwide fame within the Gospel community. Signing with the Savoy label, Cleveland and keyboardist Billy Preston released a long list of classic albums, including Christ Is The Answer and Peace Be Still with the Angelic Choir of Nutley, New Jersey. Many feel that with the 1962 Peace Be Still album, Cleveland started the "traditional Black choir sound."During the sixties, Cleveland became a minister, later founding the Cornerstone Institutional Baptist Church in Los Angeles. He was the most prolific and one of the most gifted composers of his generation, and that earned him the title "Crown Prince of Gospel." His style was influential among many Gospel figures, particularly Aretha Franklin and Jessy Dixon.In 1968 James Cleveland had a dream. He gathered a small circle of gifted writers, singers and instrumentalists in Philadelphia in hopes of nurturing young talent and furthering the development of the music he loved and devoted his life to.Thirty one years later, that dream has flourished into a nationwide reality and has become one of the cornerstones of Gospel music, the Gospel Music Workshop of America. Today GMWA has nearly 30,000 members in 150 chapters across America and abroad. Each year they meet at their annual convention in August and sing, learn and fellowship together. The GMWA has been the training ground for a number of Gospel’s greatest talent’s and visionaries, including contemporary superstars Kirk Franklin and John P. Kee, and many others. It’s an organization whose sole purpose has always been to give Gospel musicians opportunities and settings where they can both teach and learn from each other, and to know that the fruits of their labor could one day reach literally around the world.In 1972, he was reunited with former piano understudy Aretha Franklin, who featured Cleveland as a guest on the album Amazing Grace, the biggest selling Gospel album of all time. A recipient of the NAACP Image Award, Cleveland also acquired an honorary degree form Temple Baptist College. Although the commercial trends of the 1980’s had caused a down turn in Cleveland’s career, he continued to perform the gutsy blues-based sound that brought him recognition from listeners throughout the world. Cleveland died February 9, 1991 in Los Angeles, California.


James Brown  BORN: May 3, 1933, Macon, GA  Soul Brother Number One, the Godfather of Soul, the Hardest Working Man in Show Business, Mr. Dynamite -- those are mighty titles, but no one can question that James Brown has earned them more than any other performer. Other singers were more popular, others were equally skilled, but no other African-American musician has been so influential on the course of popular music in the past several decades. And no other musician, pop or otherwise, put on a more exciting, exhilarating stage show -- Brown's performances were marvels of athletic stamina and split-second timing.Through the gospel-impassioned fury of his vocals and the complex polyrhythms of his beats, Brown was a crucial midwife in not just one, but two revolutions in American Black music. He was one of the figures most responsible for turning R&B into soul; he was, most would agree, the figure most responsible for turning soul music into the funk of the late '60s and early '70s. Since the mid-'70s, he's done little more than tread water artistically; his financial and drug problems eventually got him a controversial prison sentence. Yet in a sense his music is now more influential than ever, as his voice and rhythms are sampled on innumerable rap and hip-hop recordings, and critics have belatedly hailed his innovations as among the most important in all of rock or soul.Brown's rags-to-riches-to-rags story has heroic and tragic dimensions of mythic resonance. Born into poverty in the South, he ran afoul of the law by the late '40s on an armed robbery conviction. With the help of singer Bobby Byrd's family, Brown gained parole, and started a gospel group with Byrd, changing their focus to R&B as the rock revolution gained steam. The Flames, as the Georgian group were known in the mid-'50s, were signed by Federal/King, and had a huge R&B hit right off the bat with the wrenching, churchy ballad "Please, Please, Please." By now the Flames had become James Brown and the Famous Flames, the charisma, energy, and talent of Brown making him the natural star attraction.All of Brown's singles over the next two years flopped, as he sought to establish his own style, recording material that was obviously derivative of heroes like Roy Brown, Hank Ballard, Little Richard, and Ray Charles. In retrospect, it can be seen that Brown was in the same position as dozens of other R&B one-shots -- talented singers in need of better songs, or not fully on the road to a truly original sound. What made Brown succeed where hundreds of others failed was his superhuman determination, working the chitlin circuit to death, sharpening his band, and keeping an eye on new trends. He was on the verge of being dropped from King in late 1958 when his perseverance finally paid off, as "Try Me" became a number one R&B (and small pop) hit, and several follow-ups established him as a regular visitor to the R&B charts.Brown's style of R&B got harder as the '60s began, as he added more complex, Latin- and jazz-influenced rhythms on hits like "Good Good Lovin'," "I'll Go Crazy," "Think," and "Night Train," alternating these with torturous ballads that featured some of the most frayed screaming to be heard outside of the church. Black audiences already knew that Brown had the most exciting live act around, but he truly started to become a phenomenon with the release of Live at the Apollo in 1963. Capturing a James Brown concert in all its whirling-dervish energy and calculated spontaneity, it reached number two in the album charts, an unprecedented feat for a hardcore R&B LPLive at the Apollo was recorded and released against the wishes of the King label. It was these kinds of artistic standoffs that led Brown to seek better opportunities elsewhere. In 1964, he ignored his King contract to record "Out of Sight" for Smash, igniting a lengthy legal battle that prevented him from issuing vocal recordings for about a year. When he finally resumed recording for King in 1965, he had a new contract that granted him far more artistic control over his releases.Brown's new era had truly begun, however, with "Out of Sight," which topped the R&B charts and made the pop Top 30. For some time, Brown had been moving toward more elemental lyrics which threw in as many chants and screams as words, and more intricate beats and horn charts that took some of their cues from the ensemble work of jazz outfits. "Out of Sight" wasn't called funk when it came out, but it had most of the essential ingredients. These were amplified and perfected on 1965's "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag," a monster that finally broke Brown to the White audience, reaching the Top Ten. The even more adventurous follow-up, "I Got You (I Feel Good)," did even better, making number three.These hits kicked off Brown's period of greatest commercial success and public visibility. From 1965 to the end of the decade, he was rarely off the R&B charts, often on the pop listings, and all over the concert circuit and national television, even meeting with Vice-President Hubert Humphrey and other important politicians as a representative of the Black community. His music became even bolder and funkier, as melody was dispensed with almost altogether in favor of chunky rhythms and magnetic interplay between his vocals, horns, drums, and scratching electric guitar (heard to best advantage on hits like "Cold Sweat," "I Got the Feelin'," and "There Was a Time"). The lyrics were now not so much words as chanted, stream-of-consciousness slogans, often aligning themselves with Black pride as well as good old-fashioned (or new-fashioned) sex. Much of the credit for the sound he devised belonged to (and has now been belatedly attributed) his top-notch supporting musicians, such as saxophonists Maceo Parker, St. Clair Pinckney, and Pee Wee Ellis; guitarist Jimmy Nolen; backup singer and longtime loyal associate Bobby Byrd; and drummer Clyde Stubblefield.Brown was both a brilliant bandleader and a stern taskmaster, leading his band to walk out on him in late 1969. Amazingly, he turned the crisis to his advantage by recruiting a young Cincinnati outfit called the Pacemakers, featuring guitarist Catfish Collins and bassist Bootsy Collins. Although they only stayed with him for about a year, they were crucial to Brown's evolution into even harder funk, emphasizing the rhythm and the bottom even more. The Collins brothers, for their part, put their apprenticeship to good use, helping define '70s funk as members of the Parliament/Funkadelic axis.In the early '70s, many of the most important members of Brown's late-'60s band returned to the fold, to be billed as the J.B's (they also made records on their own). Brown continued to score heavily on the R&B charts throughout the first half of the 1970s, the music becoming even more and more elemental and beat-driven. At the same time, he was retreating from the White audience he had cultivated during the mid-to-late '60s; records like "Make It Funky," "Hot Pants," "Get on the Good Foot," and "The Payback" were huge soul sellers, but only modest pop ones. Critics charged, with some justification, that the Godfather was starting to repeat and recycle himself too many times. It must be remembered, though, that these songs were made for the singles-radio-jukebox market and not meant to be played one after the other on CD compilations (as they are today).By the mid-'70s, Brown was beginning to burn out artistically. He seemed shorn of new ideas, was being outgunned on the charts by disco, and was running into problems with the IRS and his financial empire. There were sporadic hits, and he could always count on enthusiastic live audiences, but by the 1980s, he didn't have a label. With the explosion of rap, however, which frequently sampled vintage JB records, Brown was now hipper than ever. He collaborated with Afrika Bambaataa on the critical smash single "Unity," and re-entered the Top Ten in 1986 with "Living in America." Rock critics, who had always ranked Brown considerably below Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin in the soul canon, began to reevaluate his output, particularly his funk years, sometimes anointing him not just as Soul Brother Number One, but as the most important Black musician of the rock era.In 1988, Brown's personal life came crashing down in a well-publicized incident in which he was accused by his wife of assault and battery. After a year skirting hazy legal and personal troubles, he led the police on an interstate car chase after allegedly threatening people with a handgun. The episode ended in a six-year prison sentence that many felt excessive; he was paroled after serving two years.It's probably safe to assume that Brown, now well into his 60s, will not make any more important recordings, although he continues to perform and release new material like 1998's I'm Back. Yet his music is probably more popular in the American mainstream today than it's been in over 20 years, and not just among young rappers and samplers. For a long time his cumbersome, byzantine discography was mostly out of print, with pieces available only on skimpy greatest-hits collections. A series of exceptionally well-packaged reissues on PolyGram has changed the situation; the Star Time box set is the best overview, with other superb compilations devoted to specific phases of his lengthy career, from '50s R&B to '70s funk. ~ Richie Unterberger, All-Music Guide 


Janis Joplin  FORMED: 1965, San Francisco, CA  DISBANDED: 1972  The greatest White female rock singer of the 1960s, Janis Joplin was also a great blues singer, making her material her own with her wailing, raspy, supercharged emotional delivery. First rising to stardom as the frontwoman for San Francisco psychedelic band Big Brother & the Holding Company, she left the group in the late '60s for a brief and uneven (though commercially successful) career as a solo artist. Although she wasn't always supplied with the best material or most sympathetic musicians, her best recordings, with both Big Brother and on her own, are some of the most exciting performances of her era. She also did much to redefine the role of women in rock with her assertive, sexually forthright persona and raunchy, electrifyingonstage presence.Joplin was raised in the small town of Port Arthur, Texas, and much of her subsequent personal difficulties and unhappiness has been attributed to her inability to fit in with the expectations of the conservative community. She'd been singing blues and folk music since her teens, playing on occasion in the mid-'60s with future Jefferson Airplane guitarist Jorma Kaukonen. There are a few live pre-Big Brother recordings (not issued until after her death), reflecting the inspiration of early blues singers like Bessie Smith, that demonstrate she was well on her way to developing a personal style before hooking up with the band. She had already been to California before moving there permanently in 1966, when she joined a struggling early San Francisco psychedelic group, Big Brother & the Holding Company.Big Brother's story is told in more detail in their own entry. Although their loose, occasionally sloppy brand of bluesy psychedelia had some charm, there can be no doubt that Joplin -- who initially didn't even sing lead on all of the material -- was primarily responsible for lifting them out of the ranks of the ordinary. She made them a hit at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, where her stunning version of "Ball and Chain" (perhaps her very best performance) was captured on film. After a debut on the Mainstream label, Big Brother signed a management deal with Albert Grossman, and moved on to Columbia. Their second album, Cheap Thrills, topped the charts in 1968, but Joplin left the band shortly afterwards, enticed by the prospects of stardom as a solo act.Joplin's first album, I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again Mama!, was recorded with the Kozmic Blues Band, a unit that included horns, and retained just one of the musicians that had played with her in Big Brother (guitarist Sam Andrew). Although it was a hit, it wasn't her best work; the new band, though more polished musically, were not nearly as sympathetic accompanists as Big Brother, purveying a soul-rock groove that could sound forced. That's not to say it was totally unsuccessful, boasting one of her signature tunes in "Try (Just a Little Bit Harder)." For years, Joplin's life had been a roller coaster of drug addiction, alcoholism, and volatile personal relationships, documented in several biographies. Musically, however, things were on the upswing shortly before her death, as she assembled a better, more versatile backing outfit, the Full Tilt Boogie Band, for her final album, Pearl (ably produced by Paul Rothschild). Joplin was sometimes criticized for screeching at the expense of subtlety, but Pearl was solid evidence of her growth as a mature, diverse stylist who could handle blues, soul, and folk-rock. "Mercedes Benz," "Get It While You Can," and Kris Kristofferson's "Me and Bobby McGee" are some of her very best tracks. Tragically, she died before the album's release, overdosing on heroin in a Hollywood hotel in October 1970. "Me and Bobby McGee" became a posthumous #1 single in 1971, and thus the song with which she is most frequently identified. ~ Richie Unterberger, All-Music Guide


Jackson Southernaires  

 A musical legend in their native Mississippi, the long-lived gospel group the Jackson Southernaires was formed in 1940 by producer Frank Crisler.  A musical legend in their native Mississippi, the long-lived gospel group the Jackson Southernaires was formed in 1940 by producer Frank Crisler; originally comprising Huey Williams, Roger Bryant Jr., Maurice Surrell, James Burks and Luther Jennings, the quintet took its earliest cues from the Mississippi Blind Boys but swiftly honed its own distinctive style, becoming the first group in the state to implement guitar, bass, drums and keyboard into their stage act. After decades of touring, they signed their first contract with Duke/Peacock in 1963; their debut, Too Late, was one of the label's best-selling releases. After a brief stint with ABC/Dunhill during the early 1970s which yielded the LPs Save My Child and Look Around, the Southernaires signed with Malaco in 1975, where they enjoyed their greatest success with a series of hit albums including 1979's Legendary Gentlemen, 1981's Touch of Class and 1982's Down Home. In addition to hosting their own radio show for over four decades, the Southernaires also starred in their own television series, Gospel Unlimited, and won Traditional Male Group of the Year honors from the Gospel Music Workshop of America each year from 1987 to 1989; 1991's Thank You Mama for Praying for Me... earned the group a Grammy nomination as well. They continued performing and recording well into the 1990s, albeit with Jennings as the lone remaining original member. ~ Jason Ankeny, All-Music Guide



Kirk Franklin    Since his debut, 1993's Kirk Franklin and the Family, Kirk Franklin has been one of the brightest stars in contemporary gospel music. The album spent 100 weeks on Billboard's Gospel charts (some of those on top), crossed over to the R&B charts, and became the first gospel album to go platinum. His second album, Kirk Franklin & the Family Christmas, became the genre's first Christmas album to make it to number one, and his 1996 album Whatcha Lookin' 4 went gold as soon as it was distributed. With such phenomenal success, it is small wonder that some have hailed him "the Garth Brooks of Gospel." Still, despite all the adulation and brouhaha, Franklin remains a humble, devout Christian, eschewing the title "entertainer" in favor of labeling himself as just a "church boy." Franklin's road to the top, though quick, was far from smooth. Abandoned by his mother and never having known his father, Franklin was reared by his Aunt Gertrude, a deeply religious woman who raised him as a strict Baptist. When he was four, she paid for his piano lessons by collecting aluminum cans. The lessons were money well-spent, for Franklin was a natural musician who could sight read and play by ear with equal facility. At age 11, he was leading the Mt. Rose Baptist Church adult choir near Dallas. Despite, or because of his church background, Franklin began rebelling in his teens and getting into trouble until one of his friends was accidentally shot and killed at age 15. Realizing that he had chosen a bad road, Franklin returned to the fold and began composing songs, recording and conducting. Since 1991, he has been backed up by his 17-member choir, the Family, a group comprising friends and associates from his younger days (interestingly, one member of the Family, Jon Drummond, made it to the semi-finals heat of the 100-meter sprint at the 1996 Olympics). Support from his pastor, his wife Tammy, whom he married in early 1996, and the two children they brought to the marriage help keep Franklin close to his religious core, and he returned in 1998 with Nu Nation Project. ~ Sandra Brennan, All Music Guide


( LL Cool J )   BORN: James Todd Smith January 14, 1968, Bayshore, Long Island, NY  Hip-hop is notorious for short-lived careers, but LL Cool J is the inevitable exception that proves the rule. Releasing his first single "I Can't Live Without My Radio" in 1985 when he was just 19 years old, LL Cool J initially was a hard-hitting, street-wise B-Boy with spare beats and ballistic rhymes. He quickly developed an alternate style, a romantic -- and occasionally sappy -- lover's rap epitomized by his mainstream breakthrough single, "I Need Love." LL's first two albums, Radio and Bigger and Deffer, made him a star, but he strived for pop stardom a little too much on 1989's Walking With A Panther. By 1990, his audience had declined somewhat, since his ballads and party raps were the opposite of the chaotic, edgy political hip-hop of Public Enemy or the gangsta rap of N.W.A., but he shot back to the top of the charts with Mama Said Knock You Out, which established him as one of hip-hop's genuine superstars. By the mid-'90s, he had starred in his own televsion sitcom, In the House, appeared in several films and had racked up two of his biggest singles with "Hey Lover" and "Doin' It." In short, he had proven that rappers could have long-term careers. Of course, that didn't seem likely when he came storming out of Queens, New York when he was 16 years old. LL Cool J (b. James Todd Smith; his stage name is an acronym of "Ladies Love Cool James") had already been rapping since the age of nine. Two years later, his grandfather -- he had been living with his grandparents since his parents divorced when he was four -- gave him a DJ system and he began making tapes at home. Eventually, he sent these demo tapes to record companies, attracting the interest of Def Jam, a fledgling label run by New York University students Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin. Def Jam signed LL Cool J and released his debut single, "I Need A Beat," as their first single in 1984. The record sold over 100, 000 copies, establishing both the label and the rapper. LL dropped out of high school and recorded his debut album, Radio. Released in 1985, Radio was a major hit and it earned considerable praise for how it shaped raps into recognizable pop song structures. On the strength of "I Can't Live Without My Radio" and "Rock the Bells," the album went platinum in 1986. The following year, his second album Bigger and Deffer shot to number three due to the ballad "I Need Love," which became one of the first pop-rap crossover hits. LL Cool J's knack for making hip-hop as accessible as pop was one of his greatest talents, yet it was also a weakness, since it opened him up to accusations of him being a sell-out. Taken from the Less Than Zero soundtrack, 1988's "Goin' Back to Cali" walked the line with ease, but 1989's Walking With A Panter was not greeted warmly by most hip-hop fans. Although it was a Top 10 hit and spawned the gold single "I'm That Type of Guy," the album was perceived as a pop sell-out effort, and on a supporting concert at the Apollo, he was booed. LL Cool J didn't take the criticism lying down -- he struck back with 1990's Mama Said Knock You Out, the hardest record he ever made. LL supported the album with a legendary, live acoustic performance on MTV Unplugged, and on the strength of the Top 10 R&B singles "The Boomin' System" and "Around the Way Girl" (number nine, pop) as well as the hit title track, Mama Said Knock You Out became his biggest-selling album, establishing him as a pop star in addition to a rap superstar. He soon landed roles in the films The Hard Way (1991) and Toys, and he also performed at Bill Clinton's Presidential Inauguration in 1993. Mama Said Knock You Out kept him so busy that he didn't deliver the folllowup, 14 Shots to the Dome, until the spring of 1993. Boasting a harder, gangsta-rap edge, 14 Shots intially sold well, debuting in the Top 10, but it was an unfocused effort that generated no significant hit singles. Consequently, it stalled at gold status and hurt his reputation considerably. Following the failure of 14 Shots to the Dome, LL Cool J began starring in the NBC sitcom In the House. He returned to recording in 1995, releasing Mr. Smith toward the end of the year. Unexpectedly, Mr. Smith became a huge hit, going double platinum and launching two of his biggest hits with the Boyz II Men duet "Hey Lover" and "Doin' It." At the end of 1996, he released the greatest hits album, All World.   ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, All Music Guide


Luther Vandross  BORN: April 20, 1951, New York, NY [The Bronx]  In R&B music, Luther Vandross ranked with Prince, Stevie Wonder, and Michael Jackson as one of the most successful singer-songwriters and producers of the '80s. Amazingly, unlike those peers, for the most part he did not cross over to widespread pop appeal, a situation that finally began to change at the end of the '80s. Vandross had an elastic tenor that made him a natural for backup singing and commercial work in the early '70s, when he became a top session vocalist. In the second half of the '70s, he recorded under a variety of guises, cutting two albums for Cotillion under the name "Luther," recording with the session groups Roundtree and Change, and singing on hits by Chic. In 1981, Vandross signed with Epic and released his debut album Never Too Much, which topped the R&B charts and sold two million copies. The title track was also an R&B number one hit single and reached the pop Top 40. Vandross went on to produce albums for Aretha Franklin and other female singers, while maintaining his own career through the '80s. His albums Forever, For Always, For Love (1982), Busy Body (1983), The Night I Fell In Love (1985), Give Me the Reason (1986), and Any Love (1988) were all million-sellers that spawned major R&B hits, but Vandross' pop success was spotty until 1989, when Epic released The Best of Luther Vandross...The Best of Love, a greatest-hits album containing the new track "Here and Now," which became Vandross' first Top Ten pop hit. That proved his breakthrough, and Vandross' next album, Power of Love (1991), another million-seller, featured two pop hits, "Power of Love/Love Power" and "Don't Want to Be a Fool." Vandross returned to the pop Top Ten in 1992 with "The Best Things In Life Are Free" from the movie Mo' Money, a duet with Janet Jackson. His next album, Never Let Me Go (1993), marked a slight fall-off in sales, but Songs (1994), an all-covers album, restored his commercial standing, featuring a gold-selling pop Top Ten remake of "Endless Love," a duet with Mariah Carey. This Is Christmas (1996) and Your Secret Love (1997) were million-sellers. One Night With You -- The Best Of Love Volume 2 (1997) compiled Vandross' hits from 1991 to 1996. He returned in 1998 with I Know. ~ William Ruhlmann, All-Music Guide


Louis Daniel Armstrong  BORN: August 4, 1901, New Orleans, LA  DIED: July 6, 1971, New York, NY  Louis Armstrong was the most important and influential musician in jazz history. Although he is often thought of by the general public as a lovable, clowning personality, a gravel-voiced singer who played simple but dramatic trumpet in a New Orleans-styled Dixieland setting, Armstrong was much much more. One of the first soloists on record (although he was preceded by Sidney Bechet), Louis was more responsible than anyone else for jazz changing from an ensemble-oriented folk music into an art form that emphasized inventive solo improvisations. His relaxed phrasing was a major change from the staccato style of the early '20s (helping set the stage for the swing era) and Armstrong demonstrated that it was possible to have both impressive technique and a strong feeling for the blues. One of jazz's first true virtuosos, his influence over his contemporaries was so powerful that nearly every trumpeter to record between 1927 and 1940 sounded to an extent like one of his followers!Louis Armstrong's unique singing voice was imitated by a countless number of listeners through the years, he popularized scat singing (using nonsense syllables rhythmically rather than words) and his phrasing (carried over from his horn playing) affected virtually every singer to emerge after 1930, including Bing Crosby, Billie Holiday and Frank Sinatra. In addition, Louis Armstrong's accessible humor and sunny stage personality were major assets in popularizing jazz with larger audiences. Many youngsters were inspired to take up the trumpet after hearing or seeing him and millions more were introduced to jazz through Armstrong; in later years Louis Armstrong's worldwide tours resulted in him being widely known as "America's goodwill ambassador." Few would have predicted greatness for Louis Armstrong based on his humble beginnings. Born in New Orleans on Aug. 4, 1901 (until his birth certificate was discovered in the late '80s, Armstrong's birth date was believed to have been July 4, 1900), Louis grew up in the poorest part of the city, sometimes singing in a vocal quartet on the street for pennies. On New Year's Eve of 1912 he got his hands on a pistol, shot it in the air in celebration and was quickly arrested and sent to live in a Waif's home that functioned as a type of juvenile hall. This would be the turning point of his life for it was at the Waif's home that he learned to play the cornet. Released after two years, Armstrong began playing with jazz groups and brass bands in New Orleans, developing quickly. When King Oliver, who had befriended Louis, left New Orleans in 1918 he recommended the young player as his replacement in a popular band led by trombonist Kid Ory. Four years later, Oliver sent for his protege to join his Creole Jazz Band in Chicago as second cornetist.During 1922-24 King Oliver led the top classic jazz orchestra of the era, an octet which although emphasizing group improvisation also left room for short solos. While Oliver was a fine cornetist (more an inspiration than a direct influence on Louis' playing), it soon became obvious that Armstrong was surpassing him. Fortunately this very significant band recorded 41 tracks in 1923 for four labels for by the following year pianist Lil Harden (who became Louis' second of four wives) talked him into leaving Oliver and joining Fletcher Henderson's big band in New York. Although considered the top jazz orchestra of the time, Henderson's band had not yet learned how to swing, really improvise or play the blues; at the time New York musicians were generally behind those from Chicago. However Armstrong's playing soon inspired the musicians and it was at this point that his impact was first really felt. Armstrong also began to record as an accompanist to blues singers (including Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey)' teamed up with Sidney Bechet in Clarence Wiliams' Blue Five and in 1925 (after he left Henderson and moved back to Chicago) he began his remarkable series of Hot Five and Hot Seven recordings.With clarinetist Johnny Dodds, trombonist Kid Ory, pianist Lil Armstrong and banjoist Johnny St. Cyr, Armstrong recorded one classic after another during 1925-27, music that can be thought of as both the height of New Orleans jazz and the death of it due to the increasing emphasis on Armstrong's virtuosity. "Cornet Chop Suey" amazed fellow trumpeters (Louis switched from cornet to the similar sounding trumpet in 1927), "Heebies Jeebies" was a hit that greatly popularized scat singing and both "Potato Head Blues" and "Struttin' with Some Barbecue" had perfectly constructed and thrilling solos. In 1928 Armstrong led a completely different group in the studio, the Savoy Ballroom Five, that used the trombone and clarinet more as color than as competing voices and put the emphasis on the interplay between the trumpeter and the remarkable pianist Earl Hines. "West End Blues," with its remarkable opening trumpet cadenza, was considered by many (including Louis himself) to be his greatest recording while "Weather Bird" is a duet between Armstrong and Hines that found the two taking many chances with time; Louis' classic versions of "St. James Infirmary" and "Basin Street Blues" (which helped to introduce the two future standards) are almost after-thoughts next to these other remarkable records.The odd part is that, with the exception of one appearance at a function put on by Okeh Records, the Hot Five and Seven (the latter added tuba and drummer player Baby Dodds to the original quintet) never played in public. Louis Armstrong was actually featured on a nightly basis in Chicago with big bands led by Erskine Tate and Carrol Dickerson and he was rapidly developing his talents as a showman. Starting in 1929 he began recording almost exclusively as the head of a variety of big bands, emphasizing superior pop standards of the era (such as "I Can't Give You Anything but Love"). During the next decade he became a household name, making two acclaimed visits to Europe during 1932-34, appearing in small but memorable roles in movies and leading a swing-oriented big band that mostly functioned as a backdrop for his vocals and trumpet solos. Although the most advanced playing of his career took place with Earl Hines in 1928 and his Decca recordings of 1935-44 often involved novelties and commercial material, Armstrong provided some musical magic to nearly all of the records and his singing voice was at its peak in the early '40s. Still by the mid-'40s Louis Armstrong was considered out of style. His orchestra had declined and his own solos and clowning sounded at odds with his younger more bop-oriented sidemen. But after appearing with a variety of veteran players in the interesting if flawed Hollywood film New Orleans and having success playing with a small group at an acclaimed Town Hall concert in 1947, Armstrong broke up his big band and formed the All-Stars. His sextet (which originally included trombonist Jack Teagarden and clarinetist Barney Bigard and soon had Earl Hines) was an immediate success playing Dixieland and swing standards along with some comedy numbers, and Armstrong began a schedule of nearly non-stop travelling that lasted until his death.After a few years the routines became fairly predictable and critics tired of them while some in the Civil Rights community thought of Armstrong as an Uncle Tom. However they all missed the point. While Armstrong was quick to make fun of himself and his nickname of "Satchmo" (short for "Satchelmouth") could be considered objectionable, Armstrong always stood up for his race (most notably during the struggle to integrate schools in the South) and spread more goodwill than anyone; his brilliant trumpet playing set an example that busted stereotypes. Audiences the world over loved the joy of Louis Armstrong's music; his main concern was always to please the people who paid to see him. And although Armstrong's music did not evolve much after the 1940s, neither did the playing of Johnny Hodges and Thelonious Monk! In the 1950s Hines left the All-Stars and Teagarden and Bigard were replaced by Trummy Young and Edmond Hall but the basic sound of the group did not change. Armstrong, who also occasionally recorded with larger orchestras and with Ella Fitzgerald, found his celebrity status continuing to grow. He had major hits in "Blueberry Hill," "Mack the Knife" and "Hello Dolly" and when he died on July 6, 1971, there was no jazz musician who could approach him in popularity. With all of the reissues and continued acclaim (including a postage stamp), there is little chance that Louis Armstrong will ever be forgotten!  ~ Scott Yanow, All-Music Guide


Larry Graham  LARRY GRAHAMBORN: August 14, 1946, Beaumont, TX  Bassist/singer/songwriter/producer Larry Graham created and popularized the "thumping" and "plucking" bass-playing technique that's now a standard in most pop bassists' skill repertoire. Graham also played bass on seminal hits by Sly and the Family Stone ("Dance to the Music," "Sing a Simple Song," "Stand," "Everybody Is a Star," "Hot Fun in the Summertime," and three number one R&B/number one pop million-selling singles: "Everyday People," "Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again)," and "Family Affair") and headed Graham Central Station. Graham's honey-coated baritone vocals can be heard on his million-selling number one R&B hit "One in a Million You." Born August 14, 1946, Larry Graham was two years old when his family moved to Oakland, CA. His mother, pianist Dell Graham, had Larry taking dancing lessons at five and piano lessons three years later. The budding musician added guitar, keyboards, harmonica, saxophone, drums and vocals to his list of skills. During his teens, Graham accompanied his mother on organ and guitar in the Dell Graham Trio and began playing around California Bay Area clubs in the early '60s. They played all kinds of music, country, jazz, and blues. When the organ malfunctioned before an important club date, Graham went to rent another one, but they only instrument he could find to rent at the rental store was the bass guitar. From then on, Graham focused on playing bass. When the drummer left the trio, Graham and his mother became the Dell Graham Duo. To fill the musical hole left by the drummer, Graham began "thumping" and "plucking," thus creating a new way to play the bass. In 1967, KSOL radio DJ Sylvester "Sly" Stewart heard about Graham's skills and recruited him to play in the new rock/R&B band he was forming. Sly and the Family Stone built up a strong reputation for exciting live concerts and were soon signed to Columbia Records' subsidiary pic Records. Graham left Sly and the Family Stone in 1972. He planned to write and produce a band called Hot Chocolate. After Graham played with the band at San Francisco club Bimbo, he knew that he'd found something special. The band became Graham Central Station and signed with Warner Bros. Their debut LP, Graham Central Station, included "Can You Handle It" (number nine R&B, spring 1974). Their other albums were Release Yourself, the gold LP Aint No Bout-A-Doubt It ("Your Love"), the number one R&B hit and Warner Bros.' first number one R&B single, Mirror, Now Do U Wanna Dance (which featured "the world's first talking bass" and the title track that went to number ten R&B in spring 1977). As Larry Graham & Graham Central Station, they released My Radio Sure Sounds Good to Me in May 1978 and Starwalk in June 1979. Dell Graham had always stressed the important of ballads to her son. Larry saw the wisdom of her advice in a big way after GCS broke up and he signed a solo deal with Warner Bros. "One in a Million You" was written by master songwriter Sam Dees and recorded at Graham's home recording studio with Graham playing most of the instruments along with former GCS sidemen keyboardist Eric Daniels, guitarist William Rabb, and background vocals by his wife, Tina Graham. The heart-tugging ballad went gold, parking at number one R&B for two weeks and making it to number nine pop on Billboard's charts in spring 1980. The One in a Million LP also went gold, holding the number two R&B spot for two weeks. In 1991, Dell Graham passed away while her son serenaded her with "One in a Million You." Graham's next LP, Just Be My Lady, yielded the number four R&B title track hit single.On July 21, 1998, Larry Graham released a new Graham Central Station album on Prince's New Power Generation label, GCS 2000. The independent-distributed label had an unique paradigm for such a high-profile effort -- "no recording contracts." Graham and labelmate Chaka Khan listened as the normally reclusive Prince was enthused about them on a 1999 segment of TV's BET Tonight With Tavis Smiley. ~ Ed Hogan, All Music Guide


Lauryn Hill  LaurynhillBORN: May 26, 1975   Call Lauryn Hill the mother of hip-hop invention: With her 1998 solo debut The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, the Fugees' most vocal member not only established herself as creative force on her own, but also broke new ground by successfully integrating rap, soul, reggae, and R&B into her own sound. Raised in South Orange, NJ, Hill spent her youth listening her parents' multi-genre, multi-generational record collection. She began singing at an early age, and was soon snagging minor roles on television (As the World Turns) and in film (Sister Act II: Back in the Habit). Her on-again, off-again stint in the Fugees began at the age of 13, but was often interrupted by both the acting gigs and her enrollment at Columbia University. After developing a following in the tri-state area, the group's first release -- the much-hyped but uneven Blunted on Reality -- bombed, almost causing a breakup. But with the multi-platinum The Score, the Fugees (and especially the camera-friendly Hill) achieved international success, though some pundits took shots at their penchant for cover songs. That criticism made Miseducation even more of a surprise. Hill wrote, arranged, or produced just about every track on the album, which is steeped in her old-school background, both musically (the Motown-esque singalong of "Doo Wop (That Thing)") and lyrically (the nostalgic "Every Ghetto, Every City"). As Miseducation began a long reign on the charts through most of the fall and winter of 1998 -- initially thanks to heavy buzz and overwhelming radio support for "Doo Wop (That Thing)" -- Hill became a national media icon, as magazines ranging from Time to Esquire to Teen People vied to put her on the cover. By the end of the year, as the album topped virtually every major music critic's "best-of" list, she was being credited for helping fully assimilate hip-hop into mainstream music (Such an analysis, however, is lightweight at best: Hip-hop had been a huge force on the sales and radio fronts for most of the decade, and rappers Jay-Z, DMX and Outkast had dropped similarly lauded LPs prior to or just after Miseducation's release, adding to the genre's dominant sales for the year). Such momentum finally culminated at the February 1999 Grammy awards, during which Hill took home five trophies from her eleven nominations, including Album of the Year, Best New Artist, Best Female R&B Vocal Performance, Best R&B Song and Best R&B Album -- the most ever for a woman. Shortly after, she launched a highly praised national tour with Atlanta rappers Outkast. Hill also faced a lawsuit from two musicians who claim they were denied full credit for their work on the album. In an interesting twist, Hill's album has proven to be such a commercial and critical success that it has shed doubt on the Fugees' future. Their in-fighting has become common knowledge, and matters were complicated when many fans interpreted Miseducation's various anti-stardom rants as a public dissing of co-Fugee Wyclef Jean. For her part, Hill denied a split was in the works, and said the group would drop a new album shortly after the new millennium. She did continue shaping her solo career. The double-disc MTV Unplugged, No. 2.0 appeared in spring 2002, showcasing a deeply personal performance from Hill. ~ Brian Raftery, All Music Guide


Michael Jackson  BORN: August 29, 1958, Gary, IN  As part of the Jackson 5, a group made up of his brothers, Michael Jackson was among the most popular singing stars of the '70s. On his own, he was the biggest pop star of the '80s. Jackson was always the visual and vocal focus of the Jackson 5, who broke through to national success on the Motown label in 1970, when he was 11, with the first of four straight #1 hits, "I Want You Back." Jackson was also promoted as a solo artist, and he scored his first hit, "Got to Be There," in 1971. Subsequent hits included his remake of "Rockin' Robin" and "Ben" in 1972.Jackson's and the Jackson 5's fortunes declined somewhat after the early '70s, and the group moved to Epic at mid-decade, with Michael temporarily abandoning his solo career and subsuming his group leadership to other members of what was now called the Jacksons. The group gradually built back its popularity by writing its own material. Jackson returned to solo work in 1979 with Off the Wall, a mature combination of driving dance songs ("Don't Stop 'til You Get Enough") and feelingly sung ballads ("She's Out of My Life") that outsold any previous group or solo effort, and spawned four Top Ten hits.Jackson again recorded and toured with the Jacksons, but his next album, Thriller (1982), became a musical phenomenon. It was the biggest-selling album of all time, moving 20 million copies in the U.S. alone and including seven Top Ten hits. Clearly Jackson had grown beyond his brothers, but he stayed with them for one more album and tour in 1984.His follow-up album, Bad (1987), accompanied by a solo world tour, sold six million copies domestically. Only six of its seven singles hit the Top Ten, but five in a row hit #1.In late 1991, Jackson returned with Dangerous, which, by mid-1992, had sold four million copies and spawned the hits "Black and White," "Remember the Time," "In the Closet," and "Jam." Jackson's second world tour, launched in Europe in June 1992, continued into 1993.Although numerous rumors had circled around Jackson throughout his career, his reputation remained clean. It wasn't until 1993 that he suffered serious damage to his image. Jackson was accused of child abuse by a teenage friend, sparking a major media frenzy. Through it all, Jackson vehemently denied the accusations. The civil case was settled out of court in early 1994. Jackson began working on HIStory soon after the settlement. HIStory contained one disc of Jackson's greatest hits and one disc of new material. It was released on June 20, 1995.


Melissa Elliott  BORN: Portsmouth, VA  Missy "Misdemeanor" Elliot is one of the most innovative and influential music producers of the 90s.Elliot works spans the pop musical spectrum from Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson, Gina Thompson, Mariah Carey to 702,SWV,ex-SWV member Coko,Total ,LilKim, Genuine Edina Howard and Da Brat. Elliot's influences is not only musical. Through visually-arresting music videos directed by Hype Williams, she's had a positive effect on the image of plus-size women, adding sexiness and a playful sassiness. Born an only child as Melissa Elliot in 1971 in Portsmouth VA, into a household where, she's publicly admitted, her father was physically abusive to her mother, Patricia, Elliot retreated into her imagination; singing and performing in her room to an audience made up of her dolls. Later, she began winning high school talent shows. Her mother eventually leather father, working a slew of jobs to support herself and her daughter. Elliot, as part of the vocal group Sista ,signed to Elektra through Jodeci member/producer Devante Swing's Swing Mob Records after a backstage audition. Elliott and her friend Tim "Timbaland" Mosley wrote songs for Jodeci's "Diary Of A Mad Band" album. The Siesta album was never released and when the label folded, Mosley began producing and writing songs for singer Aaliyah. Elliot, who had recommended him to swing Mob, began collaborating with him. The duo's work with Aaliyah ("One In A Million"," If Your Girl Only Knew"," Are You That Somebody") sold millions. The success put Elliot's talents in high demand. Though she appreciated the success and rewards of her newfound status, Elliott still yearned for singing stardom. Elliott still pursuing her dream began doing guest raps on various artists' releases. Initially rebuffed by record labels, who felt she didn't fit "the image",Elliot was signed to Elektra in 1996 that included a production deal with her own company, The Gold Mind. Her 1997 debut LP, "Supa Dupa Fly" aided bythe single," The Rain" and associated cartoon hyperactive music videos, went platinum. One singer signed to her company, Nicole had a debut gold album," Make It Hot". Others act signed to The Goldmine are rapper Dangermouf, singer/rapper Mocha and singer TC. With the fortune earned from her musical endeavors, Elliott was able to buy her mother a 100,000square foot Virginian home. She also supervised and guested on the soundtrack of the Frankie Lymonbiopic,"Why Do Fools Fall In Love" (Warner Bros.,1998). Missy Elliot has a lot of projects planned: writing a movie script, there's talk of a possible HBO cartoon series based on her space-age music video persona,.Thesinger appeared in a national TV ads for the Gap clothing chain & Coca Cola's Sprite and at the 1998Lilith Fair.There's a "Misdemeanor" lipstick line sponsored by model/"Mrs. David Bowie", man. A portion of the profits are earmarked to Break The Cycle, anon-profit organization whose mission is to end domestic violence by working proactively with youth. ~  Ed Hogan, All Music Guide


 Mariah Carey  BORN: March 27, 1970, New York, NY  The best-selling female performer of the 1990s, Mariah Carey rose to superstardom on the strength of her stunning five-octave voice; an elastic talent who moved easily from glossy ballads to hip-hop-inspired dance-pop, she earned frequent comparison to rivals Whitney Houston and Celine Dion, but did them both one better by composing all of her own material. Born in Long Island, New York on March 27, 1970, Carey moved to New York City at the age of 17 -- just one day after graduating high school -- to pursue a music career; there she befriended keyboardist Ben Margulies, with whom she began writing songs. Her big break came as a backing vocalist on a studio session with dance-pop singer Brenda K. Starr, who handed Carey's demo tape to Columbia Records head Tommy Mottola at a party. According to legend, Mottola listened to the tape in his limo while driving home that same evening, and was so immediately struck by Carey's talent that hedoubled back to the party to track her down. After signing to Columbia, Carey entered the studio to begin work on her 1990 self-titled debut LP; the heavily promoted album was a chart-topping smash, launching no less than four number one singles -- "Vision of Love," "Love Takes Time," "Someday" and "I Don't Wanna Cry." Her overnight success earned Grammy awards as Best New Artist and Best Female Vocalist, and expectations were high for Carey's follow-up, 1991's Emotions. The album did not disappoint, as the title track reached number one -- a record fifth consecutive chart-topper -- while both "Can't Let Go" and "Make It Happen" landed in the Top Five. Carey's next release was 1992's MTV Unplugged EP, which generated a number one cover of the Jackson 5's "I'll Be There"; featured on the track was backup singer Trey Lorenz, whose appearance immediately helped him land a recording contract of his own. In June, 1993, Carey wed Mottola -- some two decades her senior -- in a headline-grabbing ceremony; months later she released her third full-length effort, Music Box, her best selling record to date. Two more singles, "Dreamlover" and "Hero," reached the top spot on the charts. Carey's first tour followed and was widely panned by critics; undaunted, she resurfaced in 1994 with a holiday release titled Merry Christmas, scoring a seasonal smash with "All I Want for Christmas Is You." 1995's Daydream reflected a new artistic maturity; the first single, "Fantasy," debuted at number one, making Carey the first female artist and just the second performer ever to accomplish the feat. The follow-up, "One Sweet Day" -- a collaboration with Boyz II Men -- repeated the trick, and remained lodged at the top of the charts for a record 16 weeks.After separating from Mottola, Carey returned in 1997 with Butterfly, another staggering success and her most hip-hop-flavored recording to date. #1's -- a collection featuring her 13 previous chart-topping singles as well as "The Prince of Egypt (When You Believe)," a duet with Whitney Houston effectively pairing the two most successful female recording artists in pop history -- followed late the next year. ~ Jason Ankeny, All-Music Guide 


Miles Dewey Davis, III  BORN: May 25, 1926, Alton, IL   DIED: September 28, 1991, Santa Monica, CA  Miles Davis had quite a career, one with so many innovations that his name is one of the few that can be spoken in the same sentence with Duke Ellington. As a trumpeter, Davis was never a virtuoso on the level of his idol Dizzy Gillespie but by 1947 he possessed a distinctive cool-toned sound of his own. His ballad renditions (utilizing a Harmon mute) were exquisite yet never predictable, he mastered and then stripped down the bebop vocabulary to its essentials and he generally made every note count; as with Thelonious Monk, less was more in Miles' music.But Miles Davis was much more than just a trumpeter. As a bandleader he was a brilliant talent scout, able to recognize potential in its formative stage and bring out the best in his sidemen. Among the musicians who greatly benefitted from their association with Davis were Gerry Mulligan (virtually unknown when he played with Miles' Birth of the Cool Nonet), Gil Evans, John Coltrane, Red Garland, Paul Chambers, Philly Joe Jones, Cannonball Adderley, Bill Evans, Jimmy Cobb, Wynton Kelly, George Coleman, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Tony Williams, Chick Corea, Jack DeJohnette, Dave Holland, John McLaughlin, Joe Zawinul, Keith Jarrett, Steve Grossman, Gary Bartz, Dave Liebman, Al Foster, Sonny Fortune, Bill Evans (the saxophonist), Kenny Garrett, Marcus Miller, Mike Stern and John Scofield. This partial list forms a who's who of modern jazz.In addition to his playing and nurturing of young talent, Miles Davis was quite remarkable in his rare ability to continually evolve. Most jazz musicians (with the exceptions of John Coltrane and Duke Ellington) generally form their style early on and spend the rest of their careers refining their sound. In contrast Miles Davis every five years or so would forge ahead, and due to his restless nature he not only played bop but helped found cool jazz, hard bop, modal music, his own unusual brand of the avant-garde and fusion. Jazz history would be much different if Davis had not existed.Born in Alton, IL, Miles Davis grew up in a middle-class family in East St. Louis. He started on trumpet when he was nine or ten, played in his high-school band and picked up early experience gigging with Eddie Randall's Blue Devils. Miles Davis has said that the greatest musical experience of his life was hearing the Billy Eckstine Orchestra (with Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker) when it passed through St. Louis.In September 1944 Davis went to New York to study at Juilliard but spent much more time hanging out on 52nd Street and eventually dropped out of school. He played with Coleman Hawkins, made his recording debut in early 1945 (a rather nervous session with singer Rubberlegs Williams) and by late 1945 was playing regularly with Charlie Parker. Davis made an impression with his playing on Bird's recordings of "Now's the Time" and "Billie's Bounce." Although influenced by Dizzy Gillespie, even at this early stage the 19-year old had something of his own to contribute.When Charlie Parker went with Gillespie out to California, Miles followed him a few months later by travelling cross-country with Benny Carter's Orchestra. He recorded with Parker in California and when Bird formed a quintet in New York the following year, Davis was a key member. By late 1948 when he went out on his own, Miles Davis had formed a nonet that with arrangements by Gerry Mulligan, Gil Evans and John Lewis, helped usher in "cool jazz." Although the group only had one paying job (two weeks in September 1948 as an intermission band for Count Basie at the Royal Roost), its dozen recordings for Capitol were highly influential in the West Coast jazz movement.Typically, by the time his nonet dates were renamed "Birth of the Cool," Miles Davis had moved on. He played at the Paris Jazz Festival in 1949 with Tadd Dameron and during 1951-54 was recording music with such sidemen as J.J. Johnson, Jimmy Heath, Horace Silver, Art Blakey and Sonny Rollins that directly led to hard bop. However this was very much an off period for Miles because he was a heroin addict who was only working on an irregular basis. In 1954 he used all of his will power to permanently kick heroin and his recording that year of "Walkin '," although overlooked at the time, is a classic.1955 was Miles Davis' breakthrough year. His performance of "'Round Midnight" at the Newport Jazz Festival alerted the critics that he was "back." Davis formed his classic quintet with John Coltrane, Red Garland, Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones and during 1955-56 they recorded four well-received albums for Prestige and 'Round Midnight for Columbia. Davis' muted ballads were very popular and he became a celebrity. Even the breakup of the quintet in early 1957 did not slow up the momentum. Miles recorded the first of his full-length collaborations with arranger Gil Evans (Miles Ahead) which would be followed by Porgy and Bess (1958) and Sketches of Spain (1960); on these recordings Davis became one of the first trumpeters to stretch out on flugelhorn. In 1957 he went to France to record the soundtrack for Lift to the Scaffold and then in 1958 he formed his greatest band, a super sextet with Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Bill Evans, Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones. Although Evans and Jones were eventually succeeded by Wynton Kelly and Jimmy Cobb, all of the recordings by this remarkable group somehow live up to their potential with Milestones and Kind of Blue being all-time classics that helped to introduce modal (or scalar) improvising to jazz.If Miles Davis had retired in 1960, he would still be famous in jazz history, but he had many accomplishments still to come. The sextet gradually changed with Adderley departing and Coltrane's spot being taken first by Sonny Stitt then Hank Mobley. Although 1960-63 is thought of as a sort-of resting period for Davis, his trumpet chops were in prime form and he was playing at the peak of his powers. With the departure of the rhythm section in 1963, it was time for Miles to form another group. By 1964 he had a brilliant young rhythm section (Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams) who were open to the innovations of Ornette Coleman in addition to funky soul-jazz. With George Coleman on tenor, the sidemen really inspired Davis and, although he was sticking to his standard repertoire, the renditions were full of surprises and adventurous playing. By late 1964 Coleman had departed and, after Sam Rivers filled in for a European tour, Wayne Shorter was the new tenor. During 1965-68 Miles Davis' second classic quintet bridged the gap between hard bop and free jazz, playing inside/outside music that was quite unique. Although at the time the quintet was overshadowed by the avant-garde players, in the 1980s the music of this group would finally become very influential, particularly on Wynton and Branford Marsalis.During 1968-69 Miles Davis' music continued to change. He persuaded Hancock to use electric keyboards, Shorter started doubling on soprano, the influence of rock began to be felt and, after the rhythm section changed (to Chick Corea, Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette), Davis headed one of the earliest fusion bands. Rock and funk rhythms combined with jazz improvisations to form a new hybrid music and Miles' recordings of In a Silent Way and Bitches Brew (both of which used additional instruments) essentially launched the fusion era.Many of Miles Davis' fans essentially write off his post-1968 music, not realizing that not all of the recordings sound the same and that some were more successful than others. If Miles Davis had sold out so as to gain a larger audience, than why did he record so many 20-minute jams that could not possibly be played on the radio? During 1970-75 the ensembles of his group (which sometimes utilized two or three guitars and a couple of keyboardists) became quite dense, the rhythms were often intense and Davis unfortunately often used electronics that distorted the sound of his horn. Actually the only album from this era that is a complete failure is On the Corner (Davis is largely absent from that fiasco) and Live/Evil, Jack Johnson and 1975's Panagea all have memorable sections.And then suddenly in 1975 Miles Davis retired. He was in bad health and, as he frankly discusses in his autobiography Miles, very much into recreational drugs. The jazz world speculated about what would happen if and when he returned. In 1981 Davis came back with a new band that was similar to his '70s group except that the ensembles were quite a bit sparser. The rock influence was soon replaced by funk and pop elements and, as he became stronger, Miles Davis' trumpet playing proved to still be in excellent form. He toured constantly during his last decade and his personality seemed to have mellowed a bit. Where once he had been quite forbidding and reluctant to be friendly to nonmusicians, Davis was at times eager to grant interviews and talk about his past. Although he had never looked back musically, in the summer of 1991 he shocked everyone by letting Quincy Jones talk him into performing Gil Evans arrangements from the past at the Montreux Jazz Festival. Even if he had Wallace Roney and Kenny Garrett take some of the solos, Davis was in stronger-than-expected form playing the old classics. And then two months later he passed away at the age of 65.There are currently over 120 valuable Miles Davis recordings in print including many live sets issued on European labels. Taken as a whole, these form quite a legacy. ~ Scott Yanow, All-Music Guide


Natalie Cole BORN: February 6, 1950, Los Angeles, CA  The daughter of jazz and pop legend Nat "King" Cole, Natalie Cole has forged a successful career in two phases, doing R&B/Urban Contemporary and then jazz-based pop. She made her stage debut at age 11 and sang in college. Cole met the writing and producing team of Chuck Jackson and Marvin Yancey in 1973. The next year they collaborated on some sessions that were recorded at Curtis Mayfield's Curtom studios in Chicago. These helped her land a deal with Capitol, and she teamed with Jackson/Yancey for a string of hit albums and singles from 1975 until 1983. Such LPs as Inseparable, Natalie, Thankful, Unpredictable, and I Love You So yielded five number one R&B hits between 1975 and 1977. These included "This Will Be, "Inseparable," "Our Love," and "I've Got Love on My Mind." She stayed with Capitol until 1983, then switched to Epic for her final album with the Jackson/Yancey tandem. Cole made duets with Peabo Bryson in 1979 and 1980 and Ray Parker, Jr., in 1987. She scored more hits with "Jump Start," "I Live for Your Love," and "Over You" in 1987, and "Pink Cadillac," a cover of a Bruce Springsteen tune, in 1988, and then made her stylistic shift. Cole eased into the transition with "When I Fall in Love," a number her father recorded in 1957. It was included on her 1987 LP, Everlasting. She fully embraced the move with the 1991 LP Unforgettable with Love, earning Grammy awards and landing a number-one pop album that eventually sold over five million copies. The title track featured her doing a duet with her father via electronic elaboration. She continued the jazzy trend with Take a Look in 1993, and has toured and done television specials working with a large orchestra conducted by Nelson Riddle. Holly & Ivy (1994) and Stardust (1996) both continued Cole's exploration of American pop standards. Snowfall On The Sahara was released in 1999. ~ Ron Wynn, All-Music Guide



Ojays  FORMED: 1958, Canton, OH  Perhaps the reigning vocal group of the '70s and '80s, the O'Jays began in Canton as the Triumphs in 1958. The original lineup was Eddie Levert, Walter Williams, William Powell, Bobby Massey, and Bill Isles. They recorded as the Mascots for King in 1961 and were renamed by Cleveland disc jockey Eddie O'Jay. Isles departed in 1965 and Massey left in 1971 to become a producer, making the group a trio. They got their first chart single in 1963 for Imperial, for whom they recorded until 1967. The O'Jays' first major hit was "I'll Be Sweeter Tomorrow (Than I Was Today)" for Bell in 1967, which reached number eight on the R&B charts. They continued on Bell and Neptune until they attained stardom in 1972 on Philadelphia International. "Back Stabbers" was the first of eight number one R&B hits they would get on the label from 1972-1987. Others included "Love Train," "Give the People What They Want," "I Love Music," "Livin' for the Weekend," "Message to Our Music," "Use Ta Be My Girl," "Darlin' Darlin' Baby (Sweet, Tender, Love)" and "Lovin' You." They also had eight other Top Ten R&B hits and four other Top Ten pop smashes, while "Love Train" also topped the pop charts in 1973. They moved to EMI in 1987 and continued recording ~ Ron Wynn, All-Music Guide




Ohio Players  FORMED: 1959, Dayton, OH  With their slinky, horn-powered grooves, impeccable musicianship and eye-popping album covers, the Ohio Players were among the top funk bands of the mid-1970s. Emerging from the musical hotbed of Dayton in 1959, the group was originally dubbed the Ohio Untouchables, and initially comprised singer/guitarist Robert Ward, bassist Marshall "Rock" Jones, saxophonist/guitarist Clarence "Satch" Satchell, drummer Cornelius Johnson, and trumpeter/trombonist Ralph "Pee Wee" Middlebrooks. In late 1961, a relative of Ward's founded the Detroit-based Lupine Records, and the group traveled north to the Motor City to back the Falcons on their hit "I Found a Love"; the Ohio Untouchables soon made their headlining debut with "Love Is Amazing," but when Ward subsequently exited for a solo career, the group essentially disbanded.At that point, the nucleus of Middlebrook, Jones, and newly added guitarist Leroy "Sugarfoot" Bonner returned to Dayton; there they recruited saxophonist Andrew Noland and drummer Gary Webster, the latter a somewhat elusive figure whose true involvement in the group's convoluted history has never been definitively answered -- some sources credit him as a founding Untouchable, others even as the band's early leader. In any case, by 1967, with the subsequent addition of singers Bobby Lee Fears and Dutch Robinson, the newly rechristened Ohio Players were signed as the house band for the New York-based Compass Records, backing singer Helena Ferguson on her lone hit "Where Is the Party" before issuing their solo debut "Trespassin'," which hit the R&B charts in early 1968. Although the Players' trademark bottom-heavy, horn-driven sound was already blossoming, their follow-up, "It's a Cryin' Shame" flopped, and as Compass teetered on the brink of bankruptcy they exited the label. (Their early Compass sides were later packaged as First Impressions.) The Players then landed on Capitol, where 1969's "Here Today, Gone Tomorrow" was a minor hit; an LP, Observations in Time, soon followed, with covers of "Summertime" and "Over the Rainbow" offering a strong hint of the stylistic detours to follow. In 1970 the group disbanded, however; Fears and Robinson both mounted solo careers, while the remaining members again decamped to Dayton, eventually re-forming with keyboardist Walter "Junie" Morrison, trumpeter Bruce Napier, and trombonist Marvin Pierce.Influenced by the groundbreaking funk of Sly and the Family Stone -- and with the nasal, cartoon-voiced Bonner assuming vocal duties -- the new Ohio Players lineup made their debut with the single "Pain," issued on the small local label Rubber Town Sounds; it was soon picked up for distribution by the Detroit-based Westbound label, reaching the R&B Top 40 in late 1971. An LP, also titled Pain, appeared that same year, and was followed in 1972 by Pleasure, which launched the absurdist smash "Funky Worm." Ecstacy appeared in 1973, and after 1974's Climax the Players signed to Mercury; the label change also heralded yet more lineup changes, with keyboardist Billy Beck replacing Morrison (who later signed on with Parliament) and drummer Jimmy "Diamond" Williams taking over for Webster. At Mercury, the Ohio Players enjoyed their greateat success; not only did their sound coalesce, but they became notorious for their sexually provocative LP covers, a tradition begun during their Westbound tenure. Their 1974 Mercury debut Skin Tight was their first unequivocal classic, launching the hit title track as well as "Jive Turkey." Its follow-up, Fire, remains the Players' masterpiece, topping the pop charts on the strength of its bone-rattling title cut, itself a number one hit; "I Want to Be Free," one of the band's few attempts at social commentary, was also highly successful. 1975's Honey -- which featured perhaps the Players' most controversial and erotic cover to date -- was another monster, generating the chart-topping masterpiece "Love Rollercoaster" in addition to the hits "Sweet Sticky Thing" and "Fopp."The insistent "Who'd She Coo?," from 1976's Contradiction, was the Players' last number one R&B hit; "O-H-I-O," from 1977's Angel, was their last major hit on any chart, and as the 1970s drew to a close, the band's fortunes continued to decline. 1979's Jass-Ay-Lay-Dee was their final Mercury effort, and upon signing to Arista the Players returned with Everybody's Up, followed by a pair of dismal releases on Boardwalk, 1981's Tenderness and 1982's Ouch. After 1984's Graduation, four years passed prior to the release of their next effort, Back; no new material was forthcoming, although various lineups continued performing live well into the following decade. Founding member "Satch" Satchell died in late 1995, while "Pee Wee" Middlebrooks passed on in late 1997. ~ Jason Ankeny, All-Music Guide


Otis Redding BORN: September 9, 1941, Dawson, GA  DIED: December 10, 1967, Madison, WI  One of the most influential soul singers of the 1960s, Otis Redding exemplified to many listeners the power of Southern "Deep Soul" -- hoarse, gritty vocals, brassy arrangements, and an emotional way with both party tunes and aching ballads. He was also the most consistent exponent of the Stax sound, cutting his records at the Memphis label/studios that did much to update rhythm and blues into modern soul. His death at the age of 26 was tragic not just because he seemed on the verge of breaking through to a wide pop audience (which he would indeed do with his posthumous #1 single, "(Sittin' On) the Dock of the Bay"). It was also unfortunate because, as "Dock of the Bay" demonstrated, he was also at a point of artistic breakthrough in terms of the expression and sophistication of his songwriting and singing.Although Redding at his peak was viewed as a consummate, versatile showman, he began his recording career in the early '60s as a Little Richard-styled shouter. The Georgian was working in the band of guitarist Johnny Jenkins at the time, and in 1962 he took advantage of an opportunity to record the ballad "These Arms of Mine" at a Jenkins session. When it became an R&B hit, Redding's solo career was truly on its way, though the hits didn't really start to fly until 1965 and 1966, when "Mr. Pitiful," "I've Been Loving You Too Long," "I Can't Turn You Loose," a cover of the Rolling Stones' "Satisfaction," and "Respect" (later turned into a huge pop smash by Aretha Franklin) were all big sellers. Redding wrote much of his own material, sometimes with the assistance of Booker T. and the MG's guitarist Steve Cropper. Yet at the time, Redding's success was primarily confined to the soul market; his singles charted only mildly on the pop listings. He was nonetheless tremendously respected by many White groups, particularly the Rolling Stones, who covered Redding's "That's How Strong My Love Is" and "Pain in My Heart." (Redding also returned the favor with "Satisfaction.")One of Redding's biggest hits was a duet with fellow Stax star Carla Thomas, "Tramp," in 1967. That was the same year he began to show signs of making major inroads into the White audience, particularly with a well-received performance at the Monterey Pop Festival (also issued on record). Redding's biggest triumph, however, came just days before his death, when he recorded the wistful "(Sittin' on) The Dock of the Bay," which represented a significant leap as far as examination of more intensely personal emotions. Also highlighted by crisp Cropper guitar leads and dignified horns, it rose to the top of the pop charts in early 1968. Redding, however, had perished in a plane crash in Wisconsin on December 10, 1967, in an accident that also took the lives of four members from his backup band, the Bar-Kays. A few other singles became posthumous hits, and a good amount of other unreleased material was issued in the wake of his death. This releases weren't purely exploitative in nature, in fact containing some pretty interesting music, and little that could be considered embarrassing. What Redding might have achieved, or what directions he might have explored, are among the countless tantalizing "what if" questions in rock'n'roll history. As it is he did record a considerable wealth of music at Stax, which is now available on thoughtfully archived reissues. ~ Richie Unterberger, All-Music Guide


Patricia Holt     BORN: May 24, 1944, Philadelphia, PA  A girl-group from Philadelphia, they formed in 1962. Initially known as the Blue Belles, and then Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles, the group's personnel consisted of Patti LaBelle, Cindy Birdsong, Sarah Dash, and Nona Hendryx. Patti la barks on 24 May 1944 as Patricia gets born, was so shy according to own statements as a child that your nut/mother offered your money over with other children playing to go. "my friends were not dogs, cats and butterflies, people friends. I sang for these animals and her gave me her applause and I imagined, to ok one I must sing." In the church to sing you took then the shyness and gave to it the courage professional to sing. With friend Cindy Birdsong formed it the group the Ordettes and with new members Sarah Dash and Nona Hendrix 1961 the legendary Bluebells was based. After some disk firm changes and endless Live appearances, among other things in the legendary clubs, Apollo in New York and Fox in Detroit, was now the group well-known under new name "Patti La bark and the Bluebelles" in all mouth as Top act above all Patties strong singing brought the quantity to cooking.
Atlantic record took the group in 1963 under contract. The debut single for the label "universe Or emergency-hung" and following hits "Grovy child OF Love" (later a hit for the English group of Mindbenders and in the 80 years for Phil Collins) and an amazing version of Judy Garland`s "Over the Rainbow" did not help unfortunately to the large break-through. After unzeremoniell the group before a concert in London left, continued 1967 Cindy Birdsong around the fired Surpremes member Florence ball pool of broadcasting corporations to replace the remaining members as Trio and records with Atlantic, which had at present large success with a certain Aretha Franklin , hoped, on the large break-through. Boss Jerry Wexler commentated La Belles time with Atlantic afterwards "we did not find for Patti the correct material and our plans from the Bluebells a kind second Surpremes to make were a terrible error". Managerin Vickie Wickham aimed at an image change and the change to Warner record. Patti, Nona and Sarah under the name "Labelle" with Outfits such as space cowboys and with new mash IC partners placed themselves to their public now in new Yorks Town resound forwards. Although the 3 singers had at the beginning of problems with the image change, however the fan municipality (particularly under homosexuals) grew uncommonly with the time. Under Epic record 1974 appeared the legendary album "Nightbirds" with the international break-through "lady jam". (a cleverer Remake of Missy Elliott with Lil Kim, Cristina Aguilera, Pink and Mya in 2001 proves also today still the impact force of the Songs) and classical authors like "What CAN I DO for You" and "acres You Lonely". According to two further albums "Phoenix" in ` 75 and "Chameleon" in ` 76 with further classical authors like "GET You Somebody new one" and "Isn't It A Shame" separated the group of 1977. Patti La barks described the separation afterwards in their 1996 autobiography "Dont block The Blessings" appeared in such a way: "we had reached the high point with our concept, were possible it no more continuation. We separated in the correct time ". Patti pursued now solo paths. With the producer of Chameleon it took up its first solo album with Epic record. On the Live Patti could still convince stages and although according to own statements some nervousness for its part existed, whether alone on the stage it could insist her, remained their first solo appearances legendarily and promised further, differently than the album sales, sold off a resounding. Further albums, "Tasty", "Patti", "It`s all right With ME and finally" Released "followed, however with moderate sales impact, why also a label change followed to PIR (Philadelphia internationally records). The label of the music legends Gamble and Huff, celebrated large successes with the O Jays , teddy Pendergrass and Lou Rawls . Patti hoped now finally for earned success. In an interview she expressed verbittert over the lack of attention on the part of the industry and weighted in addition about colleagues, who wanted not to take up the risk to take her as Opening act under postpone. Patti had found your own names for this kind of singing colleagues: Advice (backwards read: Star). Frustrated of the constant fight for acknowledgment, also of PIR, it in addition went 2 years with the musical "Your of arm of acres tons of Short tons of box With God" on tour and showed further artistic aspects of their personality by the opening of a fashion shop. A first Grammy nominating came unexpectedly by co-operation with Grover Washington and "The Best Is Yet ton of Come" although also the disk contract with PIR endetete, was Patti suddenly in the possession of several Top Ten placements into the R&B Charts, among other things with the wonderful Ballade "If Only You Knew" and a co-operation with Bobby Womack with "Love Has Finally Come RK load". Further success used now finally with one weitern changes of the disk companies, this time to MCA, and the idea, some Songs for Beverly Hills copilot to take up the hit Movie of Eddie Murphie. Finally Patti landed also hits in the Pop Charts with "on My Own", a Duett with Michael Mc. Donald, "Oh People" and "new attitude" (and a moved hair styling). Spectacular appearances with the 500 year ceremonies America, a Motown Special, Liveauftritte with the Essence Music Festival, Duette with
Dionne Warwick and Gladys Knight and first platinum album "The Winner in You" followed. In the 90's the albums obeyed "Yourself" "Live", "Burnin", "Gems" and "Fleming" further co-operation among other things with Luther Vandross and with Gladys Knight at the grandiosen "I Dont DO Duetts". With ceremonies to their 50. (correctly 50ten!) Birthday on 24 May 1994 reflected Patti over their meanwhile nearly 35 year old career: "compared with tonuses Braxton or Diana Ross or Barbara Streisand I have still another far way before me." Patti, today meanwhile briefly before its 59 birthday, is a true Diva of the old school. Also today it still ranks among the best Live Acts and tears its public to true inspiring storms. Their voice did not lose anything from the copy strength, which made which it it today is. With 58 still radiating beautifully and more actively ever: meanwhile an authoress of several books, example books and Parfum creations, owner of a star at the Hollywood "mill OF Fame", Interpretin official "NASA of the Theme Songs", foundress of the artist agency Pattonium to take up AND straight in the term with Def Jam Classics a new album among other things with Wycleff and Jam + Lewis. As already friend said and colleague Luther Vandross "with an intergalactic singer Wettstreit should the earth Patti La barks begin to let". How truely!!! Patti, love Ya!

Peaches and Herb  FORMED: 1965, Washington, D.C.   Though soul/pop Peaches and Herb was billed as a duo, their group member rotation is more similar to a group's. The original Peaches, Francine Hurd Barker, a Washington, D.C., native, earned the childhood nickname "Peaches" because of her genteel manner. She sang in neighborhood groups and in her teens she became the lead singer for a group named the Keynotes. Starting her own group, the Darlettes, they auditioned for and were signed to D.C.-area label Date Records, where their name was changed to the Sweet Things. Herb Fame, born Herbert Feemster on October 1, 1942, in Washington, D.C., began singing in church at seven and continued singing through the years in neighborhood groups. After high school graduation, Herb began working at a record store. His friend, Howard University student Freddie Perren, worked at another record store, Sabin's right around the corner. One day in January 1965, producer Van McCoy came into the store Herb worked in to ask about doing in-store promotion for a group he was working with called the Sweet Things. He and Herb began having conversations that lead to Herb auditioning for and signing with Date Records as a solo artist. While in New York recording the two acts, the Sweet Things and Herb Fame, separately, McCoy decided to use some leftover recording time to record Herb and Francine as a duo. The original A-side, "We're in This Thing Together," failed to generate much interest. Then a disc jockey at St. Louis, MO, radio station KATZ flipped the single over and began playing the B-side, "Let's Fall in Love." It became Peaches and Herb's first hit single; it was a remake of a number one pop hit for Eddy Duchin from 1934 that went to number 11 R&B in December 1966. The follow-up, "Close Your Eyes" written by Chuck Willis, hit number four R&B, number eight pop in April 1967. As the hits continued, the duo earned the nickname the Sweethearts of Soul. Next came "For Your Love" (number ten R&B, July 1967), "Love Is Strange" (a remake of Mickey & Sylvia's 1956 hit), and "Two Little Kids," written by Chicago soul stalwarts Barbara Acklin, Eugene Record, and Carl Davis. The duo released two hit albums in 1967 Let's Fall in Love" and For Your Love. This same year, Francine "Peaches" Barker tired of the rigors of touring and she was replaced with a succession of "Peacheses" including Marlene Mack, thus initiating a practice that goes on to this day. Voted one of the top soul duos of the day by Cashbox Magazine, Peaches and Herb continued to have hits: "The Ten Commandments of Love"; Gamble & Huff wrote and produced "United," a 1966 R&B hit for the Intruders; and "When He Touches Me (Nothing Else Matters)," a number ten R&B hit from spring 1969. The single "It's Just a Game, Love" (from the Jim Brown movie The Split), which stalled at number 50 R&B and number pop in summer 1970, was Peaches and Herb's last charting single on Date. Despondent over the act's failing chart success, Herb abruptly quit Peaches and Herb and got a job with the Washington, D.C. Police Department in July 1970. Then in 1976, Herb decided to re-enter the music business. He found his "new" Peaches in fellow D.C. resident and former model Linda Greene through a mutual introduction by Van McCoy. The duo charted again in June 1977 with "We're Still Together" on MCA Records from a self-titled album produced by Van McCoy. The following year, they signed with Herb's old friend, songwriter/producer Freddie Perren's production company MVP Productions. Perren had produced and co-written million-selling hits by the Jackson 5, the Miracles, and the Sylvers, among others. Through him, the duo inked a deal with Polydor Records. Their first Polydor single, "Shake Your Groove Thing," went gold peaking at number four R&B and number five pop in late 1978. The creamy ballad "Reunited" seemed an unlikely follow-up to the disco-oriented "Shake." The naysayers watched in shock as "Reunited" earned platinum status, holding on to the number one spot for four weeks on both the R&B and pop charts during spring 1979. Both are on the platinum album 2 Hot (released October 1978). The majority of their Polydor hits were written by Perren, Dino Fekaris, Kenny St. Lewis, and Melvin Ragin. Though there were other hits on Polydor, none came close to the success of their early- to mid-'60s Date singles. Though Herb Fame believes it can happen again and employs a new "Peaches" to keep the name current while he holds down a job in the Washington, D.C. police department.  ~ Ed Hogan, All Music Guide


Percy Sledge  BORN: November 25, 1941, Leighton, AL  Percy Sledge will forever be associated with "When a Man Loves a Woman," a pleading, soulful ballad he sang with wrenching, convincing anguish and passion. Sledge sang all of his songs that way, delivering them in a powerful rush where he quickly changed from soulful belting to quavering, tearful pleas. It was a voice that made him one of the key figures of deep Southern Soul during the late '60s. Sledge recorded at Muscle Shoals studios in Alabama, where he frequently sang songs written by Spooner Oldham and Dan Penn. Not only did he sing deep soul, but Sledge was among the pioneers of country-soul, singing songs by Charlie Rich and Kris Kristofferson in a gritty, passionate style. During the '70s, his commercial success quickly faded away, but Sledge continued to tour and record into the '90s.While he worked as a hospital nurse in the early '60s, Sledge began his professional music career as a member of the Southern soul vocal group the Esquires Combo. On the advice of local disc jockey Quin Ivy, he went solo in 1966. Ivy fancied himself a record producer and he agreed to help shape Sledge's song "When A Man Loves A Woman" into a full-fledged single, hiring Spooner Oldham to play a distinctive, legato organ phrase. Ivy released the single independently and quickly liscenced it to Atlantic records, who quickly bought out Sledge's contract. "When A Man Loves A Woman" became a huge hit in the summer of 1966, topping both the pop and R&B charts. It was quickly followed that year by two Top 10 R&B hits, "Warm and Tender Love" and "It Tears Me Up," which were both in the vein of his first hit. Although few of his subsequent singles were hits -- only "Take Time To Know Her" reached the R&B Top 10 in 1968 -- many of the songs, which were often written by Dan Penn and/or Spooner Oldham, were acknowledged as classics among soul afficianados. Despite his strong reputation among deep soul fans, Sledge's sales had declined considerably by the early '70s, and he headed out on the club circuit in America and England. In 1974, he left Atlantic for Capricorn Records, where he surprisingly returned to the R&B Top 20 with "I'll Be Your Everything." Instead of reigniting his career, the single was a last gasp, as far as chart success was concerned. Over the next two decades he continued to tour, and in the late '80s, "When A Man Loves A Woman" experienced a resurgence in popularity, due to its inclusion in movie soundtracks and in television commercials. Following its appearence in a 1987 Levi commerical in the UK, the single was re-released and climbed to number two. Two years later, he won the Rhythm and BLues Foundation's Career Achievement Award. Sledge was able to turn this revived popularity into a successful career by touring constantly, playing over 100 shows a year into the '90s. In 1994, he released Blue Night, his first collection of new material in over a decade, to uniformly positive reviews.


Prince The ARTIST  Prince Rogers Nelson  BORN: June 7, 1958, Minneapolis, MN  Few artists have created a body of work as rich and varied as Prince. During the '80s, he emerged as one of the most singular talents of the rock & roll era, capable of seamlessly tying together pop, funk, folk, and rock. Not only did he release a series of groundbreaking albums, he toured frequently, produced albums and wrote songs for many other artists, and recorded hundreds of songs that still lie unreleased in his vaults. With each album he has released, Prince has shown remarkable stylistic growth and musical diversity, constantly experimenting with different sounds, textures, and genres. Occasionally, his music can be maddeningly inconsistent because of this eclecticism, but his experiments frequently succeed; no other contemporary artist can blend so many diverse styles into a cohesive whole.Prince's first two albums were solid, if unremarkable, late '70s funk-pop. With 1980's Dirty Mind, he recorded his first masterpiece, a one-man tour de force of sex and music; it was hard funk, catchy Beatlesque melodies, sweet soul ballads, and rocking guitar-pop, all at once. The follow-up, Controversy, was more of the same, but 1999 was brilliant. The album was a monster hit, selling over three million copies, but it was nothing compared to 1984's Purple Rain.Purple Rain made Prince a superstar; it eventually sold over ten million copies in the U.S. and spent twenty-four weeks at number one. Partially recorded with his touring band The Revolution, the record featured the most pop-oriented music he has ever made. Instead of continuing in this accessible direction, he veered off into the bizarre psycho-psychedelia of Around the World in a Day (1985), which nevertheless sold over two million copies. In 1986, he released the even-stranger Parade, which was in its own way was as ambitious and intricate as any art-rock of the '60s; however, no art-rock was ever grounded with a hit as brilliant as the spare funk of "Kiss."By 1987, Prince's ambitions were growing by leaps and bounds, resulting in the sprawling masterpiece Sign O' the Times. Prince was set to release the hard funk of The Black Album by the end of the year, yet he withdrew it just before its release, deciding it was too dark and immoral. Instead, he released the confused Lovesexy in 1988, which was a commercial disaster. With the soundtrack to 1989's Batman he returned to the top of the charts, even if the album was essentially a recap of everything he had done before. The following year he released Graffiti Bridge, the sequel to Purple Rain, which turned out to be a considerable commercial disappointment.In 1991, Prince formed The New Power Generation, the most versatile and talented best band he has ever assembled. With their first album, Diamonds and Pearls, Prince reasserted his mastery of contemporary R&B; it was his biggest hit since 1985. The following year, he released his twelfth album, which was titled with a cryptic symbol; in 1993, Prince legally changed his name to the symbol. In 1994, he independently released "The Most Beautiful Girl in the World" single, which became his biggest hit in years. Late in the summer of 1994, he released Come under the name of Prince; the record was a moderate success, going gold.After Come, Prince agreed to release The Black Album officially in November of 1994. In early 1995, he immersed himself in another legal battle with Warner, as the record company refused to release his new record, The Gold Experience. By the end of the summer, the disputes had been resolved and the album was released in the fall. In the summer of 1996, Prince released Chaos & Disorder, which reportedly was his last album of original material for Warner Brothers Records. Setting up his own label, NPG, he resurfaced later that same year with the three-disc Emancipation; Crystal Ball, a long-awaited mult-disc collection of unreleased material, followed in 1998. A year later, with "1999" predictably an end-of-the-milennium anthem, he issued the remix collection 1999 (The New Master). ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, All-Music Guide


Peabo Bryson  BORN: April 13, 1951, Greenville, SC  Vocalist Peabo Bryson was among the premier silky-voiced soul artists who emerged as thesofter, more sophisticated urban-contemporary sound became dominant in the '70s and '80s. Bryson, who was born in Greenville, SC, sang with Al Freeman & The Upsetters in 1965, and was in the group Moses Dillard & the Tex-Town Display from 1968 to 1973. He was a producer and composer for Atlanta's Bang Records in the early '70s, and sang in Michael Zager's Moon Band. His self-titled debut LP and several singles were recorded for Bang's subsidiary company Bullet, among them "Do It with Feeling," "Underground Music," "It's Just a Matter of Time," "Just Another Day," and "I Can Make It Better." All were moderate R&B hits. Bryson moved to Capitol in 1978, where his first album, Reaching for the Sky, went gold, and the title track was a number six R&B hit. He remained in The Moon Band until 1979, departing after "I'm So Into You" spent two weeks as the nation's number two R&B hit in 1978. Bryson has continued a prolific career as both lead act and duet participant. He has made hit duets with Natalie Cole, Roberta Flack, Melissa Manchester, and Regina Belle. Bryson recorded for Capitol until 1984, when he switched to Elektra, and enjoyed more success with "If Ever You're in My Arms Again." He moved to Columbia in 1991, issuing Can You Stop the Rain; subsequent efforts include 1994's Through the Fire and 1999's Unconditional Love. He also enjoyed more acclaim making duets with Belle.  ~ Ron Wynn, All-Music Guide




Queen Latifah    BORN: March 18, 1970, Newark, NJ  Although Queen Latifah was certainly not the first female rapper, she was the first to bring a feminist consciousness to the genre's political agenda with her groundbreaking 1989 debut, All Hail the Queen, and its single "Ladies First." Latifah (an Arabic word translating as "delicate" or "sensitive") was born Dana Owens in Newark, New Jersey and served a stint as a human beatbox in the group Ladies Fresh. She recorded a single, "Wrath of My Madness," in 1988 and later released All Hail the Queen to strongly favorable reviews; the album showcased her versatility on material ranging from soul, dub reggae and dance to straight hip-hop and established a tough, no-nonsense, intelligent persona. Nature of a Sista expanded on that role with some more personal material, but Black Reign became her most popular album, probably boosted by Latifah's increased visibility as a cast member of the Fox sitcom Living Single. The album was dedicated to her late brother, who was killed in a motorcycle accident in 1992, and produced the hit single "U.N.I.T.Y.," which won a Grammy for Best Rap Solo Performance. In addition to Living Single, Latifah has also appeared in the films Jungle Fever, Juice, and House Party 2. She returned to music in 1998 with Order in the Court.   ~ Steve Huey, All Music Guide


Rick James  The man and his BASS  BORN: James Johnson February 1, 1952, Buffalo, NY  In the late '70s, when the fortunes of Motown Records seemed to be flagging, Rick James came along and rescued the company, providing funky hits that updated the label's style and saw it through into the mid-'80s. Actually, James had been with Motown earlier, though nothing had come of it. After growing up in Buffalo and running away to join the Naval Reserves, he ran away from the Navy to Toronto, where he was in a band with future Buffalo Springfield members Neil Young and Bruce Palmer, and with Goldy McJohn, later of Steppenwolf. As the Mynah Birds, they signed to Motown and recorded, though no record was ever released. James had a journeyman's career playing bass in various groups before signing again to Motown as an artist, songwriter, and producer. His first single, "You and I" (May 1978), topped the R&B charts and reached the pop Top 40. "Mary Jane" (September 1978) was another hit. Both were on James' debut album, Come and Get It! (June 1978), which went gold. Subsequent efforts were not as successful, though Bustin' Out of L Seven (January 1979) featured the R&B hit "Bustin' Out" (April 1979). James returned to form with the #1 R&B hit "Give It to Me Baby" (March 1981), featured on the million-selling Street Songs (April 1981), which also featured the hit "Super Freak."James turned his production attention to resuscitating the career of the Temptations, recently returned to Motown, and "Standing on the Top" (April 1982), credited to "The Temptations Featuring Rick James," was an R&B Top Ten. (He also produced recordings by Teena Marie and the Mary Jane Girls.) James' follow-up to Street Songs was the gold-selling Throwin' Down (May 1982), which featured the hit "Dance wit' Me." The title song of Cold Blooded (August 1983) became James' third R&B #1, and the album also featured his hit duet with Smokey Robinson, "Ebony Eyes." James's greatest hits album Reflections (August 1984) featured the new track "17" (June 1984), which also became a hit. Glow (April 1985) contained Top Ten R&B singles in the title track and "Can't Stop," which was featured in the summer movie blockbuster Beverly Hills Cop. The Flag (June 1986) featured the hit "Sweet and Sexy Thing" (May 1986).James left Motown for the Reprise division of Warner Bros. Records as of the album Wonderful (July 1988), which featured his #1 R&B hit "Loosey's Rap," on which he was accompanied by rapper Roxanne Shante. Nevertheless, his "punk funk" didn't seem to rest comfortably with the trend toward rap/hip-hop. In 1989, James charted briefly with a medley of the Drifters hits "This Magic Moment" and "Dance with Me." In 1990, M.C. Hammer scored a massive hit with "U Can't Touch This," which consisted of his rap over the instrumental track of "Super Freak." That should have made for a career rebirth, but James has been plagued by drug and legal problems that have found him more frequently in court and in jail than in the recording studio. ~ William Ruhlmann, All Music


Ramsey Emmanuel Lewis, Jr. BORN: May 27, 1935, Chicago, IL  Ramsey Lewis has long straddled the boundary between bop-oriented jazz and pop music. Most of his recordings (particularly by the mid-'60s) were very accessible and attracted a large nonjazz audience. In 1956 he formed a trio with bassist Eldee Young and drummer Red Holt. From the start (1958) their records for Argo/Cadet were popular although in the early days they had a strong jazz content. In 1958 Lewis also recorded with Max Roach and Lem Winchester. On the 1965 albums The In Crowd and Hang On, Ramsey made the pianist into a major attraction and from that point on his records became much more predictable and pop-oriented. In 1966 his trio's personnel changed with bassist Cleveland Eaton and drummer Maurice White (later the founder of Earth, Wind and Fire) joining Lewis. In the 1970s Lewis often played electric piano although by later in the decade he was sticking to acoustic and hiring an additional keyboardist. He can still play melodic jazz when he wants to but Ramsey Lewis has mostly stuck to easy-listening pop music during the past 30 years. ~ Scott Yanow, All-Music Guide




Roy E. Ayers Jr  BORN: September 10, 1940, Los Angeles, CA Once one of the most visible and winning jazz vibraphonists of the 1960s, then an R&B bandleader in the 1970s and '80s, Roy Ayers' reputation in the 1990s is now that of one of the prophets of acid-jazz, a man decades ahead of his time. A tune like 1972's "Move to Groove" by the Roy Ayers Ubiquity has a crackling backbeat that serves as the prototype for the shuffling hip-hop groove that became, shall we say, ubiquitous on acid-jazz records -- and his relaxed 1976 song "Everybody Loves the Sunshine" has been frequently sampled. Yet Ayers' own playing has always been rooted in hard bop -- crisp, lyrical, rhythmically resilient. His own reaction to being canonized by the hip-hop crowd as the "Icon Man" is tempered with the detachment of a survivor in a rough business. "I'm having fun laughing with it," he has said. "I don't mind what they call me, that's what people do in this industry." Growing up in a musical family -- his father played trombone, his mother taught him the piano -- the five-year-old Ayers was given a set of vibe mallets by Lionel Hampton, but didn't start on the instrument until he was 17. He got involved in the West Coast jazz scene in his early 20s, recording with Curtis Amy (1962), Jack Wilson (1963-67), and the Gerald Wilson Orchestra (1965-66), and playing with Teddy Edwards, Chico Hamilton, Hampton Hawes and Phineas Newborn. A session with Herbie Mann at the Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach led to a four-year gig with the versatile flutist (1966-70), an experience that gave Ayers tremendous exposure and opened his ears to styles of music other than the bebop that he had grown up with. After being featured prominently on Mann's hit Memphis Underground album and recording three solo albums for Atlantic under Mann's supervision, Ayers left the group in 1970 to form the Roy Ayers Ubiquity, which recorded several albums for Polydor and featured such players as Sonny Fortune, Billy Cobham, Omar Hakim and Alphonse Mouzon. An R&B-jazz-rock band influenced by electric Miles Davis and the Herbie Hancock Sextet at first, the Ubiquity gradually shed its jazz component in favor of R&B/funk and disco. Though Ayers' pop records were commercially successful, with several charted singles on the R&B charts in Polydor and Columbia, they became increasingly, perhaps correspondingly, devoid of musical interest.In the 1980s, besides leading his bands and recording, Ayers collaborated with Nigerian musician Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, formed Uno Melodic Records, and produced and/or co-wrote several recordings for various artists. As the merger of hip-hop and jazz took hold in the early '90s, Ayers made a guest appearance on Guru's seminal Jazzmatazz album in 1993 and played at New York clubs with Guru and Donald Byrd. Though most of his solo records have been out of print for years, Verve has recently issued a two-CD anthology of his work with Ubiquity and the first U.S. release of a live gig at the 1972 Montreux Jazz Festival that finds the group playing excellent straight-ahead jazz, as well as jazz-rock and R&B.~ Richard S. Ginell, All-Music Guide


Sam Cooke    While Sam Cooke certainly made beautiful music in the pop realm, his greatest sides were those made with the Soul Stirrers. When Cooke joined the group in 1950 at the age of 19, he'd already spent 4 years singing with the Highway Q.C.'s. The Soul Stirrers lead singer, R.H. Harris, who quit just before Cooke's arrival, had spent almost 25 years molding the group into gospel stardom through an innovative use of two lead singers matched with utmost energy and sophistication. Cooke initially sang in a style similar to Harris's, but soon took off into his own unearthly realm, writing spine-tingling songs like "Nearer to Thee," "Mean Old World,"





Sister Sledge  FORMED: 1971, North Philadelphia, PA  DISBANDED: 1985  Sisters Debra, Joan, Kim, and Kathie began recording as Sisters Sledge for Money Back in 1971. They also did numerous sessions before dropping the "s" from their first name. They collaborated with Chic for some seminal dance/soul hits in the late '70s and early '80s. Sister Sledge enjoyed two number one R&B hits and two other Top Ten singles from 1979 to 1981, as well as Top Ten pop hits. Both "He's the Greatest Dancer" and "We Are Family" were international smashes, with the Pittsburgh Pirates adopting "We Are Family" as their theme song during their world championship season in 1979. "Got to Love Somebody" and "All American Girls" were also major hits. The group began producing its own singles in 1981, but ran into tough sledding in the wake of the anti-disco backlash. They began on Atco in 1974, and remained on Cotillion from 1976-1983. They moved to Atlantic in 1985, but were unable to regain their former glory. Kathy Sledge issued her own LP on Epic, Heart, in 1992. ~ Ron Wynn, All-Music Guide




Stevie Wonder  BORN: May 13, 1950, Saginaw, MI When Stevie Wonder began recording in 1963, he was only thirteen years old. Even then, his talent was evident, although there was no sign of how deep it was. After all, the music was the work of a startlingly gifted child; it was all exuberant flash, with few complexities. Soon, Wonder would go far beyond the infectious energy of "Fingertips (Part 2)." In two years, he became one of Motown's finest artists, recording a series of brilliant singles for a solid nine years, the overwhelming majority of which he wrote himself. During this time, his albums were like other Motown albums -- a combination of killer singles and pleasant filler, only Wonder was allowed to record the occasional number that reflected his increasing social consciousness, like his hit version of Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind." By the end of the '60s, he was not only hitting the charts with his own records, but writing material for many other Motown artists, including the Spinners' "It's a Shame" and co-writing "The Tears of a Clown" with Smokey Robinson.With his creativity growing by leaps and bounds, Wonder soon felt limited by Motown's strict production and publishing contracts. When his record contract expired in 1971, Wonder recorded two full albums by himself and used them as a bargaining tool during contract negotiations with Motown. The record label gave him total artistic control of his albums, as well as the rights to his own songs. Soon afterwards, the two albums -- Where I'm Coming From and Music of My Mind -- were released.Music of My Mind, especially, helped usher in a new era of soul/R&B. Along with Sly Stone and Marvin Gaye, Wonder was responsible for making soul and R&B albums not just collections of singles, but cohesive artistic statements, where artists could extend their music beyond the confines of a three-minute hit single. With his next two albums, Talking Book and Innervisions, Wonder's music became richly complex and inventive; in addition to his musical innovations, Wonder's lyrics addressed social and racial issues as eloquently and incisively as any other pop songwriter. Wonder sustained his creative peak through 1974's Fulfillingness' First Finale and 1976's Songs in the Key of Life.Three years later, he released the ambitious and bewildering Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants, which received terrible reviews upon its release. Wonder released the more straightforward Hotter than July in 1980; the album received substantially better reviews and became his first platinum album. However, he wasn't able to sustain that momentum for the rest of the decade. Although his records sold well and he scored the occasional hit -- including the smash hit ballad "I Just Called to Say I Love You" -- his albums weren't as focused as they were a decade earlier. By the '90s, he was still an immensely respected musician, but his music was no longer on the cutting edge.~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, All-Music Guide


Stephanie Mills   BORN: March 22, 1957, Brooklyn, NY Mills is best known for her role as Dorothy in the stage show of The Wiz. She won a talent show at the Apollo Theater six weeks in a row at age nine. She appeared in the Broadway play Maggie Flynn, toured with the Isley Brothers, and released her debut album in 1973. She landed the part of Dorothy in 1975, recording an album for Motown during the show's four-year run. In 1980, she had a worldwide hit with "Never Knew Love Like This Before," which went Top Ten in the U.S. She was married for a short while to Shalamar's Jeffrey Daniels and worked with Teddy Pendergrass in 1981. In 1983, she landed a daytime television show on NBC. She also later played Dorothy in a revival of The Wiz.  ~ Steve Huey, All-Music Guide





Stylistics  FORMED: 1968, Philadelphia, PA  After the Spinners and the O'Jays, the Stylistics were the leading Philly soul group produced by Thom Bell. During the early '70s, the band had 12 straight Top 10 hits, including "You Are Everything," "Betcha By Golly, Wow," "I'm Stone in Love With You," "Break Up to Make Up" and "You Make Me Feel Brand New." Of all their peers, the Stylistics were one of the smoothest and sweetest soul groups of their era. All of their hits were ballads, graced by the soaring falsetto of Russell Thompkins, Jr. and the lush, yet graceful productions of Thom Bell, which helped make the Stylistics one of the most successful soul groups of the first half of the '70s.The Stylistics formed in 1968, when members of the Philadelphia soul groups the Monarchs and the Percussions joined forces after their respective band dissolved. Russel Thompkins Jr., James Smith, and Airrion Love hailed from the Monarchs; James Dunn and Herbie Murrell were from the Percussions. In 1970, the group recorded "You're A Big Girl Now," a song their road manager Marty Bryant co-wrote with Robert Douglas, a member of their backing band Slim and the Boys, and the single became a regional hit for Sebring Records. The larger Avco Records soon signed the Stylistics, and single eventually climbed to number seven in early 1971.Once they were on Avco, the Stylistics began working with producer/songwriter Thom Bell, who had previously worked with the Delfonics. The Stylistics became Bell's pet project and with lyricist Linda Creed, he crafted a series of hit singles that relied as much on the intricately arranged and lush production as they did on Thompkins' falsetto. Every single that Bell produced for the Stylistics was a Top 10 R&B hit, and several -- "You Are Everything," "Betcha By Golly, Wow," "I'm Stone In Love WIth You," "Break Up to Make Up," and "You Make Me Feel Brand New" -- were also Top 10 pop hits.Following "You Make Me Feel Brand New" in the spring of 1974, the Stylistics broke away from Thom Bell and began working with Van McCoy, who helped move the group towards a softer, easy listening style. In 1976, they left Avco and signed with H&L. The group's American record sales declined, yet they remained popular in Europe, particularly in Great Britain, where "Sing Baby Sing" (1975) "Na Na Is the Saddest Word" (1975), "Can't Give You Anything" (1975) and "Can't Help Fallin in Love" (1976) were all Top Five hits. The Stylistics continued to tour and record throughout the latter half of the '70s, as their popularity steadily declined. In 1980, Dunn left the group because of poor health, and he was followed later that year by Smith. The remaining Stylistics continued performing as a trio on oldies shows into the '90s. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, All-Music Guide


Shirley Murdock  BORN: Toledo, OH Singer/songwriter Shirley Murdock is best known for the ethereal ballad "As We Lay," which was produced byRoger Troutman. Murdock started out singing gospel music in her native Toledo, OH. Singer/keyboardist/songwriter/producer Roger Troutman hired her as a background singer for his family's group Zapp, who had hits on Warner Brothers Records (or its Reprise imprint) with "More Bounce To The Ounce," "Dance Floor (Part 1)," "Doo Wa Ditty (Blow That Thing)," "I Can Make You Dance (Pt.1)" and "Heartbreaker (Pt.1)" among others. Based on this success, Troutman began recording tracks with Murdock and lead singer Sugarfoot of the Ohio Players among others at his Dayton, OH-based state-of-the art recording studio Troutman Sound Labs. Murdock and Troutman's first charting single was a Warner single issued as Roger (Featuring Shirley Murdock), "Girl, Cut It Out", charting #79 R&B in early 1985. Murdock was signed to Elektra Records with the pumping "No More," which made it to #24 R&B in early 1986. Murdock also had a hit with "No More," which charted #24 R&B. Then came her signature hit, "As We Lay," written by Zapp's Larry Troutman and keyboardist Billy Beck of The Ohio Players. The tender melancholy ballad made it to #5 R&B, #23 Pop on Billboard's charts in fall 1986. Her LP, Shirley Murdock, went gold, reaching #9 R&B, #44 Pop in summer 1986. Also on the album were the heart-tugging ballad "Go On Without You" (#5 R&B, early 1987), the Prince/rock-ish "Danger Zone," the breezy horn-punctuated "The One I Need" and the percolating pre-techno workout/album opener "Be Free (#86 R&B, fall 1987). Her other albums were A Woman's Point Of View (#19 R&B, #137 Pop in summer 1988) and Let There Be Love (#22 R&B, summer 1991). In early 2000, Murdock toured in the inspirational/gospel play, Be Careful What You Pray For with Cuba Gooding and David Peaston.  ~ Ed Hogan, All Music Guide




SHIRLEY CEASAR  Born in 1938, Shirley Ceasar was one of 12 children. She began her singing career at the age of 10, performing as Baby Shirley. At 12 she made her first recording and then in 1958 she joined the Caravans...a group that was to spawn many a solo career. After eight years, she left to become an evangelist. She's won 5 Grammy's and 5 Dove Awards (Gospel Award). In the mid-70s she started hosting her own radio series. One of gospel's biggest stars, Shirley also graduated from Shaw University in 1984 with a bachelors in business administration





Santana  FORMED: 1966, San Francisco, CA Santana is the name of a band that has successfully married elements of blues, rock, and Latin music and enjoyed international acclaim for more than two decades. It is also the name of the guitarist, Carlos Santana, who has led that band and made other recordings over the same period of time. In its original manifestation, the Santana Blues Band was a group of equals, with Carlos named as leader only because of a musicians-union requirement that such a designation be made. The group was formed in San Francisco in the mid-'60s and first gained recognition in the same dance halls that hosted the psychedelic rock groups of the era, although, with its Latin and African roots, Santana never quite fit in with the psychedelic sound. The group came under the direction of promoter Bill Graham and had already scored a contract with Columbia when it appeared at the Woodstock Festival in August 1969. Personnel at that time, in addition to Carlos, included Gregg Rolie (vocals and keyboards), Dave Brown (bass), Mike Shrieve (drums), Armando Peraza (percussion and vocals), and Mike Carabello and Jose Areas (percussion)Santana, the debut album, was a massive success, including the #4 hit "Evil Ways." Abraxas (1970) did even better, topping the charts for six weeks and featuring the hits "Black Magic Woman" and "Oye Como Va." For Santana III (1971), the group expanded to a septet with the addition of guitarist Neal Schon, though an additional six sidemen were listed in the album credits. This album was #1 for five weeks.Guitarist Santana released a live duet album with drummer and vocalist Buddy Miles (later a member of Santana) in 1972; then came the fourth Santana Band album, Caravanserai, on which different musician credits were listed for each track, none of them including bassist Dave Brown or percussionist Mike Carabello. The album was a Top Ten hit. Carlos released another duet album in 1973 with guitarist John McLaughlin (the two shared a guru), followed by Welcome, credited to "The New Santana Band," its only remaining original members being Santana, Mike Shrieve, Armando Peraza, and Jose Areas (Rolie and Schon had decamped to found Journey).In subsequent years, "Santana" for the most part referred to Carlos and a band of hired musicians playing in the established Santana style, while the leader also made occasional solo albums that varied the style somewhat. In 1992, Santana ended his long association with Columbia and signed to Polydor, which set up a custom label for him, calling for him to sign his own new acts. Albums including Milagro and 1994's Santana Brothers followed before he severed ties with Polydor, signing to Arista for 1999's Supernatural. ~ William Ruhlmann, All-Music Guide


Teena Marie  BORN: March 5, 1956, Santa Monica, CA  No White artist has sang R&B more convincingly than Teena Marie, whose big, robust vocals are so Black-sounding that when she was starting out, some listeners wondered if she was a light-skinned African-American. Not to be confused with Brazilian jazz singer Tania Maria, Marie grew up in West Los Angeles in a neighborhood that was nicknamed "Venice Harlem" because of its heavy Black population. The singer/songwriter/producer was in her early 1920s when, around 1977, she landed a job at Motown Records. It was at Motown that she met her mentor and paramour-to-be, Rick James, who ended up doing all of the writing and producing for her debut album of 1979, Wild And Peaceful. That LP, which boasted her hit duet with James, "I'm Just A Sucker For Your Love," didn't show Marie's picture--so many programmers at Black radio just assumed she was Black. When her second album, Lady T, came out, much of the R&B world was shocked to see how fair-skinned she was. But to many of the Black R&B fans who were eating her music up, it really didn't matter--the bottom line was she was a first-rate soul singer whose love of Black culture ran deep. By her third album, 1980's gold Irons In The Fire, Marie was doing most of her own writing and producing. That album boasted the major hit "I Need Your Lovin'," and Marie went gold again with her next album, It Must Be Magic (which included the major hit "Square Biz"). It Must Be Magic turned out to be her last album for Motown, which she had a nasty legal battle with. Marie got out of her contract with Motown, and the case ended up with the courts passing what is known as "The Teena Marie Law"--which states that a label cannot keep an artist under contract without putting out an album by him or her. Switching to Epic in 1983, Marie recorded her fifth album Robbery and had a hit with "Fix It." In 1984, Marie recorded her sixth album, Starchild and had her biggest pop hit ever with "Lovergirl." Though Marie had often soared to the top of the R&B charts, "Lovergirl" marked the first time she'd done so well in the pop market. Ironically, Marie was a White singer who had enjoyed little exposure outside the R&B market prior to "Lovegirl."Three more Epic albums followed: 1986's Emerald City, 1988's Naked To The World (which contained her smash hit "Ooh La La La") and 1990's Ivory. Unfortunately, Marie's popularity had faded considerably by the late 1980s, and Epic dropped her. In 1994, the singer released Passion Play on her own Sarat label . ~ Alex Henderson, All-Music Guide


Tina Turner (Anna Mae Bullock)  BORN: November 26, 1938, Nutbush, TN  The most dynamic female soul singer in the history of the music, Tina Turner oozed sexuality from every pore in a performing career that began the moment she stepped onstage as lead singer of the Ike & Tina Turner Revue in the late '50s. Her gritty and growling performances beat down doors everywhere, looking back to the double-barrelled attack of gospel fervor and sexual abandon that had originally formed soul in the early '50s. Divorced from Ike in the mid-'70s, she recorded only occasionally later in the decade but resurfaced in the mid-'80s with a series of hit singles and movie appearances; her high-profile status was assured well into the '90s.Born Annie Mae Bullock near Brownsville, Tennessee, she began singing as a teen, and joined Ike Turner's touring show as an 18-year-old backup vocalist. Just two years later, Tina was the star of the show, the attention-grabbing focal point for an incredibly smooth-running soul revue headed by Ike and his Kings of Rhythm. The couple began hitting the charts in 1960 with "A Fool in Love," and notched charting singles throughout the '60s, though the disappointing position of "River Deep-Mountain High" -- cited by Phil Spector as one of his best productions -- was very hard to take. All expectations were filled in 1971 with "Proud Mary," a number four hit which became the capstone of Ike & Tina's Revue. Frustrated by Ike's increasingly irrational behavior, though, Tina walked out just three years later.She celebrated her new-found freedom in 1975 with a role in the film version of the Who's Tommy. Playing the Acid Queen, she delivered an outrageous, all-too-brief performance in an otherwise forgettable mistake of a movie. Several albums were recorded for United Artists during the late '70s but she appeared to be washed up by the turn of the decade. Surprisingly, Tina returned in 1983, first teaming with a Heaven 17 project named BEF on a remake of the Temptations' "Ball of Confusion." Tina's vocal was understandably apocalyptic, and she gained a solo deal with Capitol that same year. Her first single, a cover of Al Green's "Let's Stay Together," hit the Top 30 early in 1984. Second single "What's Love Got to Do with It" became one of the year's biggest hits, spending three weeks at number one. Her album Private Dancer included two more Top Ten singles, the title track and "Better Be Good to Me." With another movie role in 1985 (Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome), she found a number-two hit with its theme, "We Don't Need Another Hero." Her next big hit followed in 1986 ("Typical Male"), after which Tina began to decline, still charting occasionally and selling respectably with each album.   ~ John Bush, All-Music Guide


Thomas Jones Woodward  BORN: June 7, 1940, Pontypridd, South Wales  Tom Jones became one of the most popular vocalists to emerge from the British Invasion. Since the mid-'60s, Jones has sang nearly every form of popular music -- pop, rock, show tunes, country, dance, and techno, he's sung it all. His actual style -- a full-throated, robust baritone that had little regard for nuance and subtlety -- never changed, he just sang over different backing tracks. On stage, Jones played up his sexual appeal; it didn't matter whether he was in an unbuttoned shirt or a tuxedo, he always radiated a raw sexuality, which earned him a large following of devoted female fans who frequently threw underwear on stage. Jones' following never diminished over the decades; he was able to exploit trends, earning new fans while retaining his core following.Born Thomas Jones Woodward, Tom Jones began singing professionally in 1963, performing as Tommy Scott with the Senators, a Welsh beat group. In 1964 he recorded a handful of solo tracks with record producer Joe Meek and shopped them to various record companies to little success. Later in the year, Decca producer Peter Sullivan discovered Tommy Scott performing in a club and directed him to manager Phil Solomon. It was a short-lived partnership and the singer soon moved back to Wales, where he continued to sing in local clubs. At one of the shows, he gained the attention of former Viscounts singer Gordon Mills, who had become an artist manager. Mills signed Scott, renamed him Tom Jones and helped him record his first single for Decca, "Chills and Fever," which was released in late 1964. "Chills and Fever" didn't chart but "It's Not Unusual," released in early 1965, became a number one hit in the U.K. and a Top Ten hit in the U.S. The heavily orchestrated, over-the-top pop arrangements perfectly meshed with Jones' swinging, sexy image, guaranteeing him press coverage, which translated into a series of hits, including "Once upon a Time," "Little Lonely One," and "With These Hands." During 1965, Mills also secured a number of film themes for Jones to record, including the Top Ten hit "What's New Pussycat?" (June 1965) and "Thunderball" (December 1965).Jones' popularity began to slip somewhat by the middle of 1966, causing Mills to redesign the singer's image into a more respectable, mature tuxedoed crooner. Jones also began to sing material that appealed to a broad audience, like the country songs "Green, Green Grass of Home" and "Detroit City." The strategy worked, as he returned to the top of the charts in the U.K. and began hitting the Top 40 again in the U.S. For the remainder of the '60s, he scored a consistent string of hits in both Britain and America. At the end of the decade, Jones relocated to America, where he hosted the television variety program, "This Is Tom Jones." Running between 1969 and 1971, the show was a success and laid the groundwork for the singer's move to Las Vegas in the early '70s. Once he moved to Vegas, Jones began recording less, choosing to concentrate on his lucrative club performances. After Gordon Mills died in the late '70s, Jones' son, Mark Woodward, became the singer's manager. The change in management prompted Jones to begin recording again. This time, he concentrated on the country market, releasing a series of slick Nashville-styled country-pop albums in the early '80s that earned him a handful of hits.Jones' next image makeover came in 1988, when he sang Prince's "Kiss" with the electronic dance outfit, the Art of Noise. The single became a Top Ten hit in the U.K. and reached the American Top 40, which led to a successful concert tour and a part in a recording of Dylan Thomas' voice play, Under Milk Wood. The singer then returned to the club circuit, where he stayed for several years. In 1993, Jones performed at the Glastonbury Festival in England, where he won an enthusiastic response from the young crowd. Soon, he was on the comeback trail again, releasing the alternative-dance-pop album The Lead and How to Swing It in the fall of 1994; the record was a moderate hit, gaining some play in dance clubs. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, All-Music Guide


Temptations  FORMED: 1960, Detroit, MI  Thanks to their fine-tuned choreography -- and even finer harmonies -- the Temptations became the definitive male vocal group of the 1960s; one of Motown's most elastic acts, they tackled both lush pop and politically-charged funk with equal flair, and weathered a steady stream of changes in personnel and consumer tastes with rare dignity and grace.The Temptations' initial five-man line-up formed in Detroit in 1961 as a merger of two local vocal groups, the Primes and the Distants. Baritone Otis Williams, Elbridge (a.k.a. El, or Al) Bryant and bass vocalist Melvin Franklin were longtime veterans of the Detroit music scene when they joined together in the Distants, who in 1959 recorded the single "Come On" for the local Northern label. Around the same time, the Primes, a trio comprised of tenor Eddie Kendricks, Paul Williams (no relation to Otis) and Kell Osborne, relocated to the Motor City from their native Alabama; they quickly found success locally, and their manager even put together a girl group counterpart dubbed the Primettes. (Later, three of the Primettes -- Diana Ross, Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard -- formed the Supremes).In 1961, the Primes disbanded, but not before Otis Williams saw them perform live, where he was impressed both by Kendricks' vocal prowess and Paul Williams' choreography skills. Soon, Otis Williams, Paul Williams, Bryant, Franklin and Kendricks joined together as the Elgins; after a name change to the Temptations, they signed to the Motown subsidiary Miracle, where they released a handful of singles over the ensuing months. Only one, the 1962 effort "Dream Come True," achieved any commercial success, however, and in 1963, Bryant either resigned or was fired after physically attacking Paul Williams.The Tempts' fortunes changed dramatically in 1964 when they recruited tenor David Ruffin to replace Bryant; after entering the studio with writer/producer Smokey Robinson, they emerged with the pop smash "The Way You Do the Things You Do," the first in a series of 37 career Top Ten hits. With Robinson again at the helm, they returned in 1965 with their signature song, "My Girl," a Number One pop and R&B hit; other Top 20 hits that year included "It's Growing," "Since I Lost My Baby," "Don't Look Back," and "My Baby."In 1966, the Tempts recorded another Robinson hit, "Get Ready," before forgoing his smooth popcraft for the harder-edged soul of producers Norman Whitfield and Brian Holland. After spotlighting Kendricks on the smash "Ain't Too Proud to Beg," the group allowed Ruffin to take control over a string of hits including "Beauty's Only Skin Deep" and "(I Know) I'm Losing You." Beginning around 1967, Whitfield assumed full production control, and their records became ever rougher and more muscular, as typified by the 1968 success "I Wish It Would Rain."After Ruffin failed to appear at a 1968 live performance, the other four Tempts fired him; he was replaced by ex-Contour Dennis Edwards, whose less polished voice adapted perfectly to the psychedelic-influenced soul period the group entered following the success of the single "Cloud Nine." As the times changed, so did the group, and as the 1960s drew to a close, the Temptations' music became overtly political; in the wake of "Cloud Nine" -- its title a thinly-veiled drug allegory -- came records like "Run Away Child, Running Wild," "Psychedelic Shack," and "Ball of Confusion (That's What the World Is Today)."After the chart-topping success of the gossamer ballad "Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)" in 1971, Kendricks exited for a solo career. Soon, Paul Williams left the group as well; long plagued by alcoholism and other personal demons, he was eventually discovered dead from a self-inflected gunshot on August 17, 1973 at the age of 34. In their stead the remaining trio recruited tenors Damon Harris and Richard Street; after the 1971 hit "Superstar (Remember How You Got Where You Are)," they returned in 1972 with the brilliant Number One single "Papa Was a Rolling Stone."While the Tempts hit the charts regularly throughout 1973 with "Masterpiece," "Let Your Hair Down," and "The Plastic Man," their success as a pop act gradually dwindled as the 1970s wore on. After Harris exited in 1975 (replaced by tenor Glenn Leonard), the group cut 1976's The Temptations Do the Temptations, their final album for Motown. With Louis Price taking over for Dennis Edwards, they signed to Atlantic, and attempted to reach the disco market with the LPs Bare Back and Hear to Tempt You. After Edwards returned to the fold (resulting in Price's hasty exit), they re-entered the Motown stable, and scored a 1980 hit with"Power."In 1982, Ruffin and Kendricks returned for Reunion, which also included all five of the current Tempts; a tour followed, but problems with Motown, as well as personal differences, cut Ruffin and Kendricks' tenures short.In the years that followed, the Temptations continued touring and recording, although by the 1990s they were essentially an oldies act; only Otis Williams, who published his autobiography in 1988, remained from the original line-up. The intervening years were marked by tragedy: after touring in the late '80s with Eddie Kendricks and Dennis Edwards as a member of the "Tribute to the Temptations" package tour, David Ruffin died on June 1, 1991 after overdosing on cocaine; he was 50 years old. On October 5, 1992, Kendricks died at the age of 52 of lung cancer, and on February 23, 1995, 52-year-old Melvin Franklin passed away after suffering a brain seizure. In 1998, the Temptations returned with Phoenix Rising; that same year, their story was also the subject of a well-received NBC television miniseries. ~ Jason Ankeny, All-Music Guide


Teddy Pendergrass  Teddy PendagrassBORN: March 26, 1950, Philadelphia, PA   Teddy Pendergrass started singing gospel music in Philadelphia churches, becoming an ordained minister at ten years old. While attending public school, he sang in the citywide McIntyre Elementary School Choir and in the All-City Stetson Junior High School Choir. A self-taught drummer, Pendergrass had a teen pop vocal group when he was 15. By his late teens, Pendergrass was a drummer for local vocal group the Cadillacs. In the late '60s, the Cadillacs merged with another more-established group, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes. In 1970, when the Blue Notes broke up, Melvin, now aware of Pendergrass' vocal prowess, asked him to take the lead singer spot. It's no secret that Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff wanted Marvin Junior of the Dells for their Philadelphia International Records roster. Since the Dells were signed to Chess, they were unavailable. When the gruff'n'ready vocals of Pendergrass came their way, they eagerly signed the group. Beginning with "I Miss You," a steady stream of hit singles flowed from the collaboration of Pendergrass and Gamble & Huff: "If You Don't Know Me By Now," "The Love I Lost," "Bad Luck," "Wake Up Everybody" (number one R&B for two weeks in 1976), and two gold albums, To Be True and Wake Up Everybody. Unfortunately, the more success the group had, the more friction developed between Melvin and Pendergrass. Despite the revised billing of the group, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes featuring Theodore Pendergrass, Pendergrass felt that he wasn't getting enough recognition. Around 1976, Pendergrass left Melvin's Blue Notes and formed his own Blue Notes, featuring Teddy Pendergrass. Briefly, there was some confusion as to which Blue Notes were which. The resolution came when Pendergrass disbanded his Blue Notes in favor of a solo career and Melvin's group signed a recording contract with Source Records, distributed through ABC Records, scoring a hit with "I Want to Be Your Lover." Pendergrass signed a new contract with Philadelphia International Records in late 1976/early 1977. He burst back on the scene with Teddy Pendergrass, a platinum solo debut that included the top-notch singles "I Don't Love You Anymore," "You Can't Hide From Yourself," and "The More I Get the More I Want." Around this time, Pendergrass began to institute his infamous "Ladies Only" concerts. His next three albums went gold or platinum: Life Is a Song Worth Singing (1978), Teddy (1979), and Teddy Live (Coast to Coast). The hit single "Close the Door" was used in the film Soup for One, where Pendergrass had a small role. The singer received several Grammy nominations during 1977 and 1978, Billboard's 1977 Pop Album New Artist Award, an American Music Award for best R&B performer of 1978, and awards from Ebony magazine and the NAACP. He was also in consideration for the lead in the movie biopic The Otis Redding Story. The '70s ended, but Pendergrass kept racking up the hits. TP, his fifth solo album, went platinum in the summer of 1980 off the singles "Turn Off the Lights," "Come Go With Me," "Shout and Scream," "It's You I Love," and "Can't We Try." It's Time for Love gave Pendergrass another gold album in summer 1981, which included the hit singles "Love TKO" and "I Can't Live Without Your Love." A 1982 car accident left Pendergrass paralyzed from the waist down and wheelchair bound. After almost a year of physical therapy and counseling, Pendergrass returned to the recording scene, signing a contract with Elektra/Asylum in 1983. His ninth solo album, his Elektra/Asylum debut, Love Language went gold the spring of 1984. Philadelphia International issued two albums of unreleased tracks, This One's for You (1982) and Heaven Only Knows (1983). Other albums included Workin' It Back (1985), Joy (1988, whose title track went to number one R&B for two weeks), and Little More Magic (1993). The latter half of '90s found Pendergrass recording for the Surefire/Wind Up label. Truly Blessed (the name of an 1991 Elektra album) is the title of the autobiography Pendergrass co-authored with Patricia Romanowski. ~ Ed Hogan, All Music Guide


A Tribe Called Quest  FORMED: 1988, Queens, NY DISBANDED: 1998   Without question the most intelligent, artistic rap group during the '90s, A Tribe Called Quest jump-started and perfected the hip-hop alternative to hardcore and gangsta-rap. In essence, they abandoned the macho posturing which rap music had been constructed upon, and focused instead on abstract philosophy and message tracks. The "sucka MC" theme had never been completely ignored in hip-hop, but Tribe confronted numerous black issues -- date rape, use of the word nigger, the trials and tribulations of the rap industry -- all of which overpowered the occasional game of the dozens. Just as powerful musically, Quest built upon De La Soul's jazz-rap revolution, basing tracks around laidback samples instead of the played-out James Brown-fests which many rappers had made a cottage industry by the late '80s. Comprised of Q-Tip, Ali Shaheed Muhammad, and Phife, A Tribe Called Quest debuted in 1989 and released their debut album one year later. Second album The Low End Theory was, quite simply, the most consistent and flowing hip-hop album ever recorded, though the trio moved closer to their harder contemporaries on 1993's Midnight Marauders. A spot on the 1993 Lollapalooza Tour showed their influence with the alternative crowd -- always a bedrock of A Tribe Called Quest's support -- but the group kept it real on 1996's Beats, Rhymes and Life, a dedication to the streets and the hip-hop underground. A Tribe Called Quest was formed in 1988, though both Q-Tip (b. Jonathan Davis) and Phife (b. Malik Taylor) had grown up together in Queens. Q-Tip met DJ Ali Shaheed Muhammad while at high school and, after being named by the Jungle Brothers (who attended the same school), the trio began performing. A Tribe Called Quest's recording debut came in August 1989, when their single "Description of a Fool" appeared on a tiny area label (though Q-Tip had previously guested on several tracks from De La Soul's 3 Feet High and Rising and later appeared on Deee-Lite's "Groove Is in the Heart"). Signed to Jive Records by 1989, A Tribe Called Quest released their first album, People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm, one year later. Much like De La Soul, Tribe looked more to jazz as well as '70s rock for their sample base -- "Can I Kick It?" plundered Lou Reed's classic "Walk on the Wild Side" and made it viable in a hip-hop context. No matter how solid their debut was, second album The Low End Theory outdid all expectations and has held up as perhaps the best hip-hop LP of all time. The Low End Theory had included several tracks with props to hip-hop friends, and A Tribe Called Quest cemented their support of the rap community with 1993's Midnight Marauders. The album cover and booklet insert included the faces of over 50 rappers -- including obvious choices such as De La Soul and the Jungle Brothers as well as mild surprises like the Beastie Boys, Ice-T and Heavy D. Though impossible to trump Low End's brilliance, the LP offered several classics (including Tribe's most infectious single to date, "Award Tour") and a harder sound than the first two albums. During the summer of 1994, A Tribe Called Quest toured as the obligatory rap act on the Lollapalooza Festival lineup, and spent a quiet 1995, marked only by several production jobs for Q-Tip. Returning in 1996 with their fourth LP, Beats, Rhymes and Life, Tribe showed signs of wear; it was a good album, but proved less striking than The Low End Theory or Midnight Marauders. While touring in support of 1998's The Love Movement, the group announced their impending break-up. ~ John Bush, All Music Guide


Victor Wooten   Bassist Victor Wooten began his musical career early. At age three, his brother Regi taught him to play bass,  R&B main regional tours and opening for acts like Mayfield and War, the Wootens recorded an album in 1985. However, the record received little commercial or critical response, and eventually the Wooten brothers found other gigs. By 1988, Victor Wooten moved to Nashville to join a rock band, and met Bela Fleck, banjo player for New Grass Revival, the following year. Fleck was forming a jazz group to appear on a TV show; he recruited Wooten, his brother Roy on drums and Howard Levy on keyboards and harmonica. As the Flecktones, the group earned numerous accolades, including four Grammy nominations and a number one album on the jazz charts.As the '90s progressed, Wooten added a solo recording career and numerous collaborations to his duties in the Flecktones. Along with solo albums like 1996's A Show of Hands and the following year's What Did He Say? Wooten contributed to albums by friends like David Grier, Paul Brady and Branford Marsalis' Buckshot LeFonque. 1999 saw the release of his third solo album, Yin Yang, which featured appearances by Fleck, Bootsy Collins, and the Wooten Brothers. ~ Heather Phares, All Music Guide


Wilson Pickett  BORN: March 18, 1941, Prattville, AL  Of the major '60s soul stars, Wilson Pickett was one of the roughest and sweatiest, working up some of the decade's hottest dancefloor grooves on hits like "In the Midnight Hour," "Land of 1000 Dances," "Mustang Sally," and "Funky Broadway." Although he tends to be held in somewhat lower esteem than more versatile talents like Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin, he is often a preferred alternative of fans who like their soul on the rawer side. He also did a good deal to establish the sound of Southern Soul with his early hits, which were often written and recorded with the cream of the session musicians in Memphis and Muscle Shoals. Before establishing himself as a solo artist, Pickett sang with the Falcons, who had a Top Ten R&B hit in 1962 with "I Found a Love." "If You Need Me" (covered by the Rolling Stones) and "It's Too Late" were R&B hits for the singer before he hooked up with Atlantic Records, who sent him to record at Stax in Memphis in 1965. One early result was "In the Midnight Hour," whose chugging horn line, loping funky beats, and impassioned vocals combined into a key transitional performance that brought R&B into the soul age. It was an R&B chart-topper, and a substantial pop hit (#21), though its influence was stronger than that respectable position might indicate: thousands of bands, Black and White, covered "In the Midnight Hour" onstage and on record in the 1960sPickett had a flurry of other galvanizing soul hits over the next few years, including "634-5789," "Mustang Sally," and "Funky Broadway," all of which, like "In the Midnight Hour," were frequently adapted by other bands as a dance-ready number. The king of that hill, though, had to be "Land of 1000 Dances," Pickett's biggest pop hit (#6), a soul anthem of sorts with its roll call of popular dances, and covered by almost as many acts as "Midnight Hour" was.Pickett didn't confine himself to the environs of Stax for long; soon he was also cutting tracks at Muscle Shoals. He recorded several early songs by Bobby Womack; he used Duane Allman as a session guitarist on a hit cover of the Beatles' "Hey Jude." He cut some hits in Philadelphia with Gamble-Huff productions in the early '70s. He even did a hit version of the Archies' "Sugar, Sugar." The hits kept rolling through the early '70s, including "Don't Knock My Love" and "Get Me Back on Time, Engine Number 9." One of the corollaries of '60s soul is that if a performer rose to fame with Motown or Atlantic, he or she would produce little of note after leaving the label. Pickett, unfortunately, did not prove an exception to the rule. His last big hit was "Fire and Water," in 1972. He continued to be active on the tour circuit; his most essential music, all from the 1960s and early '70s, was assembled for the superb Rhino double-CD anthology A Man and a Half. ~ Richie Unterberger, All-Music Guide


Whitney Houston  BORN: August 9, 1963, Newark, NJ   With pure pop music melded to stunning beauty, Whitney Houston's star shines bright whether she is singing ballads, up-tempo dance material, the national anthem, or cola commercials. Coming from a solid musical background, this daughter of soul singer Cissy Houston and cousin of Dionne Warwick debuted in 1985. Her first album, Whitney Houston, was the first in Billboard chart history by a woman to enter at number one, and with sales of 14 million copies, was the best-selling debut album of all time until Alanis Morrisette's Jagged Little Pill. She scored heavily on MTV with classy videos, helping to break the color barrier originally knocked down by Michael Jackson. Her second album, Whitney, was just as popular, scoring seven consecutive number ones in the U.S., shattering the previous record held by the Beatles. After the disappointing performance of her third album, I'm Your Baby Tonight, Houston rocketed back to the top of the charts in late 1992 with the soundtrack from her first movie, The Bodyguard. The love theme from the movie, a version of Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You," broke all previous sales and airplay records, becoming the biggest single in pop music history; it also won her an almost innumerable amount of awards, including several Grammys. Her work on the soundtracks to Waiting to Exhale and her second film, The Preacher's Wife, tided fans over until she returned with a new album of her own, My Love Is Your Love, in 1998. ~ Cub Koda & Stephen Thomas Erlewine, All Music Guide




William Smith III  Will SmithBORN: September 25, 1968, West Philadelphia, PA   Beginning his career during the mid-'80s under the name the Fresh Prince, by the following decade rapper Will Smith was one of the biggest superstars of his time -- not only a pop music sensation, he also conquered television and eventually feature films, starring in a string of box-office megahits. Born September 25, 1968 in Philadelphia, he was 16 when he met aspiring DJ Jeff Townes; joining forces as DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince, the duo immediately became local favorites, but their continued existence was threatened when Smith graduated high school and was offered a scholarship to MIT. Ultimately, he chose to pursue a career in music, and in 1987 he and Townes issued their debut record Rock the House, scoring a hit with the single "Girls Ain't Nothing but Trouble. "Propelled by the smash "Parents Just Don't Understand," DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince broke into the mainstream a year later with He's the DJ, I'm the Rapper, one of the first hip-hop LPs to achieve double-platinum status. Clean-cut, witty, and easygoing, the duo's bubblegum approach was a stark contrast to the dominant, harder-edged rap sound of the period; viewed as a non-threatening alternative to their peers, they received the parental seal of approval, and their appeal spread across racial lines as well. And In This Corner... followed in 1989, and soon Hollywood began taking notice of Smith's success; in 1990, he was tapped to star in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, a sitcom for NBC. An immediate hit, it made Smith a household name, and continued in production through 1996. Smith also continued his music career, and in 1991 DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince scored their biggest chart hit to date with the excellent "Summertime," from the album Homebase. The year following, he made his feature film debut in the drama Where the Day Takes You; in 1993, his supporting turn in Six Degrees of Separation was the subject of much critical acclaim. That same year, the final Jazzy Jeff/Fresh Prince record, the disappointing Code Red, was released. In 1995, Smith co-starred in the action film Bad Boys, a major box office hit; it set the stage for his leading role in 1996's Independence Day, the summer's biggest smash. A year later, he starred in Men in Black, again the box-office champ of the summer season; recording for the first time under his given name, he also scored a smash with the movie's rap theme. Smith's debut solo LP, Big Willie Style, also appeared in 1997, notching the hits "Gettin' Jiggy Wit It," "Just the Two of Us" and "Miami." Shortly on the heels of his first box-offic disappointment, 1999's Wild Wild West, he returned with the album Willennium. ~ Jason Ankeny, All Music Guide Although he initially became famous as a rapper, Will Smith went on to prove his acting talents in both television and films, eventually winning a reputation as an entertainer who could easily cross back and forth between musician and actor. In the process, he became one of the most successful entertainers -- African-American or otherwise -- in the American popular consciousness of the 1990s. A native of Philadelphia, Smith was born on September 25, 1968. The son of middle-class parents (his father owned a refrigeration company and his mother worked for the school board) and the second of four children, he earned the nickname "Prince" thanks to his ability to talk himself out of trouble. The nickname became part of his popular persona when, with fellow rapper Jeff Townes, Smith (who had been rapping since the age of 12) formed the duo DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. Smith found fame as a rapper, producing two platinum albums and winning a Grammy for He's the DJ, I'm the Rapper. However, by the time he was 18, Smith had squandered much of his fortune and was in debt to the IRS. Help came in the form of Warner Bros. executive Benny Medina, who wanted to create a TV show based on his own experiences as a poor kid living with a rich Beverly Hills family. The result was The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, a popular sitcom that gave Smith -- who had turned down an MIT scholarship to pursue his career -- even greater fame as the show's protagonist. During the show's six-year run, Smith began to branch out toward film work. Following roles in Where the Day Takes You (1992) and Made in America (1993), he scored critical approval as a young, gay con man pretending to be Sidney Poitier's son in Six Degrees of Separation (1993). He also scored a decent helping of controversy, thanks to remarks he made in an interview that were perceived as homophobic. Two years later, Smith found his first major commercial success alongside Martin Lawrence in the action flick Bad Boys. The following year, he topped that with a turn in the sci-fi smash Independence Day, which was one of the year's biggest moneymakers. Extraterrestrial lifeforms proved to be a profitable subject for Smith, as he went on to make a similarly gargantuan amount of money playing a secret agent tracking down aliens with Tommy Lee Jones in Men in Black (1997). The film turned out to be a lucrative enterprise for him off the screen as well, as his theme-song single also became a hit. Its success inspired him to begin rapping again, and that same year he released Big Willie Style. Smith also found success on a more personal front, as he married actress Jada Pinkett on New Year's Eve. In 1998, the actor starred in Enemy of the State, a conspiracy thriller, also starring Gene Hackman, that had him on the run from government agents. The film was a commercial success and the next year Smith starred in Wild Wild West. As the film's titular 19th century lawman hero, Smith was part of a project that was widely dismissed by critics and failed to make back its high costs. However, his theme-song single provided another hit for the actor/musician. Following a moderate success with his role as a mysterious golf caddy who tutors down-on-his-luck putter Matt Damon in The Legend of Beggar Vance (2000), Smith next pumped-up for his most demanding role to date. With his Oscar nominated turn in as legendary boxer Muhammad Ali in director Michael Mann's Ali, Smith faced heretofore unprecidented scrutiny that his previous, notably lighter roles had not faced. Though some critics pointed out that Smith's acting abilities shined through Mann's sometimes lamentably restrained style, Ali opened strongly with much praise going to Smith's well-studied performance. ~ Rebecca Flint, All Movie Guide


Yolanda Adams  BORN: 1964  Another in the line of gospel artists putting the soul and fervor back in R&B music, Yolanda Adams was a school teacher in Houston during the mid-'80s and occasionally did modeling work. Her mother had studied music while at college, so Adams grew up listening to jazz and classical music as well as gospel artists such as James Cleveland and the Edwin Hawkins Singers and R&B vocalists like Stevie Wonder and Nancy Wilson.Yolanda Adams' debut album, Just as I Am appeared in 1988 on Sounds of Gospel. Though she was initially criticized in the Christian community for embracing secular music and fashion to accompany her gospel-themed music, the growth of publicly popular gospel in the mid-'90s pushed her into the spotlight; Adams toured with Kirk Franklin & the Family, and her 1996 album Yolanda Live in Washington was nominated for a Grammy. Songs from the Heart followed in 1998. ~ John Bush, All-Music Guide