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On January 24th, in 2006, dancer, actor, choreographer, educator, entertainer and half of the infamous Nicholas Brothers dance team-Fayard (Antonio) Nicholas (l) passed away in Los Angeles, California. Fayard was the eldest brother (Harold two years younger-r). Their parents were musicians and the boys learned to dance by watching the vaudeville performers. They never received any formal dance training. In the early 30s, when Fayard was still a teenager, he and Harold were a reoccurring act at the Cotton Club in Harlem. They made their film debut in 1934-Kid Millions and appeared on Broadway for the first time in 1936. From the late 30s to the early 40s, Fayard (below-r) & Harold (below-l) continued to work in venues, on television, on Broadway, and especially in movies. They became international stars in 1943 when they appeared in the movie-Stormy Weather. They performed their infamous staircase dance routine where they leap frog over one another, and drop into the splits, one stair at a time.
Shortly after the film and their dance sequence got popular, Fayard was drafted into the US Army for WWII. When he returned to the states in 1944, he picked up where he left off, touring Europe, Africa and Latin America. In the 60s and 70s, the brothers taught dance at Howard University to students like Debbie Allen, Janet and Michael Jackson. In the 80s, Fayard (inset-r) continued to teach dance, lecture and act in movies. His older brother Harold is known as Sarge in the Five Heartbeats. He played the war hardened dance choreographer for the vocal quintet. Gregory Hines and Fred Astaire were great admirers of the Nicholas brothers, with both men stating that the routines and moves the brothers came up with were totally original and unable to be duplicated. Fayard was 91 when he died.
On January 24th, in 1979 singer, model, film, movie and stage actress-Tatyana (Marisol) Ali was born in North Bellmore, New York. She got her start as a child actress on Sesame Street (1985). A highlight from her time on the show was a scene with Herbie Hancock. She said her name into the sampler: Tatyana Ali. She was also interested in music and wanted to sing. Ali appeared on two episodes of Star Search in the late 80s. In 1990, she got her big break when she was cast as Ashley Banks on the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. She showcased her singing abilities on different episodes of the show. It ran for six seasons from 1990 to 1996. Ali appeared in made for TV movies and had cameos in teen films during the 90s. In 1998, she released her self-titled debut-Kiss the Sky .
It went gold the following year. Will Smith made an appearance on her debut and she repaid the favor on his Willennium LP (1999) on the track featuring MC Lyte-Who I Am. In the early 2000s, she appeared in music videos for upcoming artists like Anthony Hamilton and Nick Cannon. She also starred in the film series: Nora’s hair Salon. She played Roxanne on Ryan’s Hope the CBS soap opera, had a reoccurring role on TV One’s Love That Girl and sang the theme songs for TV shows and movies. She appeared on the rehash of the Arsenio Hall Show in 2014, performing songs from her EP-Hello (2014). She starred in Wrapped Up for Christmas in 2017, a made for TV film. She also has appeared in Hallmark and Lifetime network movies recently. Ali is 40 today.
On January 24th, in 1970, audio engineer, inventor and electronic music pioneer-Dr. Robert (Arthur) Moog released his newest musical invention: the Minimoog Synthesizer. The instrument created a bit of controversy among the working musicians that it was said to be able to simulate, or in their way of seeing it, replace. The Minimoog was created to duplicate strings and horn sections so that orchestras could be portable. Most bands would have to have a full orchestra to achieve what the Minimoog could do with one man. It wasn’t cheap, $2K in 1970 is like $10K in modern money, but it was well worth it. It transformed the sound of George Clinton’s Parliament-Funakdelic movement when Bernie Worrell got a hold of one. He used it extensively on most the LPs that came out of their camp during the 70s and early 80s.
The working musicians took their complaint about the instrument to the American Federation of Musicians and planned to have the instrument banned. However, their fear of it putting them out of work wasn’t founded and the case never went to court. The Minimoog was innovative, but it wasn’t capable of replacing the sound produced by a full orchestra, no matter the amount of overdubs. The synthesizer was the first such instrument to be used by rock musicians. Their popularity and record sales warranted the record companies spending the healthy $2K on them for studio sessions and tours. However, as with all technology, it quickly became more affordable and New Wave, Punk, Hip Hop and EDM producers all began to use them to create their music. It’s 49 today.
On January 24th, in 1938 saxophonist, pianist, composer, sideman, bandleader, arranger and Hall of Fame musician-Julius Arthur Hemphill was born in Fort Worth, Texas. He got his start on clarinet before switching to sax in high school. He studied under John Carter at I. M. Terrell High. This is the same school that free jazz innovator Ornette Coleman attended. After high school he joined the army (mid 60s). He returned to the states in the late 60s and played with Ike & Tina Turner. In 1968 he moved to St. Louis and founded the Black Arts Group (BAG) which was a multi-genre art collective. Film directors, graphic artists, musicians and writers all were members and collaborated with one another. He met the infamous jazz saxophonist Oliver Lake in BAG and the trumpeter Baikida Carroll. He moved to NYC in the mid 70s and became an active member of the free jazz movement that was gaining popularity.
He also started educating others on sax like David Sanborn and Tim Berne. In 1976, he formed the World Jazz Quartet and the World Saxophone Quartet. These were both primarily, and the latter exclusively, saxophone quartets. No other instruments were played. He was heavily influenced by Sun Ra and Coleman. He performed and recorded with both quartets up to the early 90s. After that, he left the World Saxophone Quartet and started a saxophone quintet when he was 52. He didn’t limit his musical collaborations to jazz musicians, specifically saxophonist. He also played sax for Bjork, Anthony Braxton and Bill Frisell. Hemphill was an innovator of avant-garde and free jazz. He was also a jazz historian that archived a multi-hour oral history in the Smithsonian. He was 57 when he died (April 2nd, 1995).
On January 24th, in 1934, singer, songwriter, gospel icon, pianist and R&B innovator-Ann Cole AKA Cynthia Coleman was born in Newark, New Jersey. She started out as a gospel singer and formed her own singing group when she was 11-the Colemanaires. They were a vocal quartet with Ann on lead, Joe Walker, Wesley Johnson and Sam Walker. They recorded several sides when Ann was a teen on Timely Records and Apollo Records (1953-1954). She started performing secular music, singing and playing piano in the nightclubs around Newark and NYC in the mid 50s. In 1956, she got signed to Baton Records and collaborated with guitarist Mickey Baker-who was closely associated with Sylvia Robinson, for her debut solo single-Are You Satisfied. It made the top 10 on the R&B chart.
The success of the single got her a tour with Muddy Waters on the chitlin circuit, and she started performing a new song called-Got My Mojo Working. Muddy liked the song so much, that he recorded it at Chess, changed some of the lyrics and gave himself songwriting credit (it was actually written by Preston Foster). Foster won a legal dispute over who the original writer was, and received just compensation for his pain and suffering. Ann was innovative for several reasons. First, her new material inspired seasoned artists to use it as their own. Second, she was a female in a male dominated sport that could play piano and and sing. This made her a force to be reckoned with, and I’m sure intimidated many men in the industry. She had been leading vocal groups and calling the shots since she was 11 years old. She was 52 when she passed (1986).
HONORABLE MENTION: On January 24th, 1949, singer, songwriter, and actor Aaron Joseph Neville was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. Neville performed with his brothers, who were members of The Meters in the late 1950s. In 1960, he recorded his solo debut single Over You. In 1966, he had a #1 R&B Hit (#10 on The Pop Chart) with Tell It Like It Is on Par-Lo Records. In the 70s, he performed and collaborated with everyone from Chaka Khan to Mavis Staples to Linda Ronstadt. He made several cameo appearances on TV shows and in films during the 80s and 90s. He continues to perform with The Neville Brothers, and as a solo artist. Aaron is 70 years old today.
On January 24th, 1967, Aretha Franklin was in Muscle Shoals, Alabama set to record her first single on her new label-Atlantic Records. She was inside the FAME studios, creatively inspired by the $25K signing bonus she’d gotten, and recorded her first single I Never Loved a Man (The Way That I Love You). The song went on to be come a Top 10 Hit on The R&B Charts, and solidified her status in the recording industry. Atlantic had amassed one of the best rosters of soul musicians during the mid to late 1960s, including Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, Ruth Brown, and Ray Charles.
On January 24th, 1970, singer, songwriter, lead vocalist, and founder of the Doo Wop group-Shep And The Limelights, James ‘Shep’ Sheppard was found dead on The Long Island Expressway. It appeared to be a robbery gone bad, because Sheppard was found beaten and stabbed in his vehicle. He’s most known for writing and singing lead on the song Daddy’s Home. He was also the lead singer for The Heartbeats, a NYC Doo Wop outfit. He was 34 when he was killed.
On January 24th, 1980, the seminal prog rock band Pink Floyd had a strike of commercial genius in regard to the promotion of their new LP-The Wall. The band placed a blank billboard on The Sunset Strip in West Hollywood, California. Each day they would remove a brick from the wall to show the album. This is before internet and ‘leaks’. Crowds became intrigued by the daily event. If anything, it was an innovative way to promote your album.
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