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On December 14th, 1963 we lost a Grammy Award winning vocalist, pianist, and vibraphonist-Dinah Washington (Ruth Lee Jones). She was found unresponsive at home by her then-husband, Los Angeles Ram, Dick "Night Train" Lane. Cause of death was related to alcohol and pill consumption. Dinah dubbed herself "The Queen Of The Blues." The Tuscaloosa, Alabama native got her start when her family moved to Chicago. As a child, she was the acting pianist and choir director for her church-Saint Luke’s Baptist. By the time she was 16, she was touring the all over the US playing and singing gospel with The Sallie Martin Gospel Singers. She started dabbling in secular music during this period and took up the the stage name Dinah Washington (retaining Ruth Jones for the gospel world-early 40s).
She performed with a lot of notable musicians during this time like: Fats Waller, Billie Holiday, Joe Sherman (the club owner that encouraged her name change), and Lionel Hampton. Hampton went on to make Dinah famous as the lead singer for his band. She got her recording start with Hampton’s musicians serving as her backing band in the mid 40s. They recorded over a dozen songs on the Keynote and Apollo imprints. By 1946, Keynote was no longer releasing music. Dinah had left Hampton’s band, and got picked up as a solo artist by Mercury. While on the label, she had her best run from 1948 to 1955, recording over 25 top 10 R&B singles. In 1959, she blew up and won a Grammy for Best Rhythm and Blues Performance (What a Difference a Day Makes). She was 39 when she died.
On December 14th, 1920, NEA Jazz Master, Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame Trumpeter, pioneering fugelhorn player, bandleader, composer, session musician, vocalist and educator-Clark (Virgil) Terry (Jr.) was born in St. Louis, Missouri. Clark got his start on valve trombone. He played in local clubs during his early 20s. He got drafted by the US Navy and played in the band during WWII. When he returned to the states in the late 40s, he started working with Count Basie. He stayed with the Count for 3 years and then joined Duke Ellington’s big band (1951-1959). Terry’s notoriety came during his stints with Basie and Ellington. This helped him secure his job as Tonight Show band member in 1960, becoming the first Black to have such a gig on a nationally syndicated network (NBC).
Not only was he a band member, he also was a bandleader and sound composer in his own right. He released over 100 LPs as a leader or co-leader from 1955 to 2005. That’s and average of two LPs every year, for 50 years. He did the majority of his work as a solo artist, but has worked with many as a sideman: Miles, Gillespie, Quincy, Oscar Peterson, Oliver Nelson, Lalo Schifrin, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Yusef Lateef, Blue Mitchell, Dianne Reeves, Wyton Marsalis, Eddie Lockjaw Davis, J.J. Johnson and Milt Jackson to name a few. He’s played for 7 presidents, received a knighthood in Germany, a Grammy Life Time Acheivement Award in 2010, has 16 honorary doctoral degrees, the list goes on. He taught and purchased instruments for students in his Jazz camp, passing the tradition down to the youth. He was 94 years old when he passed (2015).
On December 14th, in 1977, the movie that was centered around the Disco scene during the late 70s premiered in NYC-Saturday Night Fever. People who enjoy dance music from this era tend to have a love/hate relationship with the film. Some argue that it doesn’t depict the scene accurately and focuses on a more commercialized side of the movement, which was largely underground until the movie came out (The Loft, The Gallery, Studio 54). Others claim that without it, a lot of good Disco would not have been accepted or even created for that matter. Despite which side of the fence you sit on in regard to the affects this movie had on the Disco movement, there’s no question that it brought attention to the budding NYC scene (Punk & Hip Hop were also being cultivated during this time). There are some interesting facts associated with this film.
First, it based on a New York Magazine article written by Nik Cohn called-The Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night. Cohn was sent out to write about the Disco subculture and referred to a friend of his for guidance to decipher the phenomenon (like the NYC club kids in the late 80s and early 90s). They based Travolta’s character Tony Manero off of Cohn’s friend. If you haven’t ever seen the film, it’s a basic plot: guy is the man, has a girl, meets new girl, no longer the man, goes after new girl, gets her, they win a dance contest and shared romance, the end. The soundtrack is still the best selling soundtracks of all-time 16 times platinum. My favorite cut is the MFSB cover of the Nite Liters’ K-Jee.
On December 14th, in 1979, one of the seminal Punk/New Wave Bands that came out of the UK-The Clash released their third album-London Calling. It was a double LP on the CBS imprint in the UK and Epic Records in the states. They recorded the album at Wessex Sound Studios in London (Aug-Sept & Nov 1979). Personnel included: Joe Strummer on lead vocals-piano-rhythm guitar, Topper Headon on drums, Paul Simonon on bass and vocals, Mick Jones on lead guitar, piano, vocals and harmonica, Mickey Gallagher on organ and The Irish Horns on brass. Most music critics consider this to be more of a post-Punk release for the group. It shows how they were embracing sounds from several genres like Rock, Blues, Lounge Jazz, R&B, Reggae and Pop.
The band did cover songs of the artists they liked from other genres to rehearse for the London Calling sessions. They were diligent about being in the studio and practicing these tunes daily. This eventually inspired them to find their own voice and rendition of the music they loved. Their London Calling LP became a reflection of the those sounds, but created and played The Clash’s way. Their songs spoke about racial problems, anxieties of pending adulthood, joblessness and drug use. Needless to say, it was received well by the public: Certified Gold in France, Canada & Italy, Platinum in the US & UK. It is listed as the 8th Greatest Album of All-Time on Rolling Stones Magazine’s 100 Greatest Rock Albums, and it’s #6 on NME’s Greatest LPs of the 1970s.
On December 14th, in 2006, we lost one of the co-founders of the record label responsible for bringing R&B, Soul, Blues and Jazz to the American public-Atlantic Record’s Ahmet Ertegun. He started the imprint with partner-Herb Abramson in 1947. During their first 20 years of business, they released singles and albums by artists like: Aretha Franklin, Sam & Dave, Ray Charles, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding (came from Stax), The Sweet Inspirations and Arthur Conley. They also were the major distributor for Stax who had Carla & Rufus Thomas, Wendy Renee, Mable John, Ollie & the Nightingales, The Bar-Kays, The Mar-Keys, Booker T & the MGs and Mable John.
After 1967, they partnered with Warner Brothers and started putting out Rock and Pop. Their subsidiary imprint-Atco, is responsible for releasing music from artists like: Cream, Clarence Reid, Donny Hathaway, Dr. John, Vanilla Fudge, Iron Butterfly Blue Magic, Barrabas and Eddie Harris. Another Atlantic subsidiary-Island Records pretty much released all of Bob Marley’s catalog as well as several other prominent acts: Grace Jones, Osibisa, Mountain, Betty Davis and the Art of Noise. The label helped open the mainstream doors to audiences that the 1947-1967 roster would’ve never known. The original Queen of Soul-Ruth Brown recorded for the imprint and John Coltrane’s seminal Giant Steps is an Altantic release. Etergun passed when he was 83.
Honorable Mention: On December 14th, in 1899, Bluesman, Country singer, guitarist, songwriter, harmonica and banjo player-DeFord Bailey was born in Smith County, Tennessee. , Bailey is a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame. He’s the first Black to appear at the Grand Ole Opry (1927). He continued to make appearances at Grand Ole Opry up until 1941, earning him the nickname-Harmonica Wizard (he started playing harp at age 3). He recorded music on Victor, Bluebird and the RCA imprints. He was 82 years-old when he passed in Nashville, TN (1982).
On December 14th, in 1945, multi-style writer: novelist, poet, biographer, historian, music-culture-political-economic critic, columnist and Jazz fan-Stanley Lawrence Crouch was born in Los Angeles, California. He got into reading at a young age which sparked his interest in writing. Crouch released a recording of a speech he gave titled: Aint No Ambulances for no Nig6@hs Tonight in 1969 following the Watts Riots on the Flying Dutchman imprint. Most people know him for his appearances in documentaries about historical Black figures and Jazz history. He’s 73 today.
On December 14th, in 1972, Beatles’ drummer-Ringo Starr released a movie he directed called-Born to Boogie. It premiered in London, centered around a Live concert at Wembley Empire Pool, with live studio sessions and psychedelic random shots thrown in. It features sets from Ringo Starr, Elton John, Marc Bolan and T. Rex. It was released on Apple Films (owned by the Beatles). Cinematographers included: Ringo, Richard Stanley, Michale J Davis, Nicholas Knowland and Mike Dodds.
On December 14th, in 1998, Soul-Funk & R&B singer, songwriter, composer, organist and producer-Billy Preston was in court on the wrong side of the law. The Will it Go ‘Round in Circles man was testifying against 6 other co-defendants in an insurance fraud case. Preston, and unnamed defendants were rigging auto accidents, committing arson, staging thefts and falsely filing insurance claims. He got 1 year of time served (had been locked up for a probation violation on a drug charge), and 5 years probation. Damn!
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