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On December 4th, in 1955, Jazz vocalist, guitarist, songwriter, pianist, producer and arranger-Cassandra Wilson was born in Jackson, Mississippi. Wilson is an extremely unique Jazz vocalist because she uses elements of other genres in her songwriting and composing: Blues, Funk, Folk, Soul & Country. She’s the youngest of 3 children, with a Motown loving mother and Jazz loving father. Thus, her musical influence was established early on during her childhood. She started training formally on the piano when she was 6 and continued until she was 13. She taught herself guitar, relying on Mel Bay’s Guitar Chords encyclopedia. Without the aid of a live instructor, Wilson had to rely on her interpretations of the diagrams and instructions, as well as her intuition.
This gave her a unique sound and technique. She started writing Folk based songs to accompany her playing. Her burgeoning singing and guitar playing skills gained her a role as Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz during her high school years. She graduated from the HBCU Jackson State, moonlighting as a singer and instrumentalist with local Funk, Soul and Pop bands (honing her chops). In 1981, she moved to NOLA and got some pointers from Jazz greats like Ellis Marsalis, Earl Turbinton and Alvin Batiste. New Orleans, and her experiences there gave her the strength to pursue Jazz full-time. She moved to NYC a year later and started performing, jamming and recording with Sadik Hakim and Steve Coleman-becoming a member of M-Base. Wilson is an avant-garde Grammy award winning Jazz singer that has helped innovate Jazz vocal styles. She’s 63 today.
TOV occasionally posts information on the inrony associated with significant events that occur in musicians’ lives on the same day, but in different years. Most times it Michael Jackson, Prince or Stevie Wonder. This time it's: Prog Rock innovator, songwriter, drummer, filmmaker, keyboardist, composer, guitarist, activist, bassist, singer and co-founding member of Mothers of Invention-Frank (Vincent) Zappa. December 4th proved to be a tragic day for him. First, in 1971 Zappa was performing in Switzerland at the Montreux Casino-site of the infamous Montreux Jazz Festival. It burnt to the ground while he was on stage. Claude Nobs (music promoter) saved a lot of people during the blaze. Zappa has a bootleg pressing of the incident on the Swiss Cheese-Fire LP.
On the same day in 1993, 22 years after the stage burned down, Zappa passed away. He performed with Captain Beefheart, George Duke and released several solo LPs. His music stands as a blueprint for Prog Rock and an inspiration for experimental. There’s really no way to categorize it by genre or sound…It’s jazzy, funky, bluesy, rock based, soulful, and unique. Even his LP titles and associated groups he’s performed with have a uniqueness to them: Hot Rats, Freak Out, Burnt Weenie Sandwich, Uncle Meat, Weasels Ripped My Flesh and Lumpy Gravy. His seeds even have unique names: Diva Thin Muffin Pigeen, Moon Unit, Ahmet Emuukha Rodan and Dweezil. He was 52 years-old when he passed.
On December 4th, in 1973, Supermodel, actress, producer, author, singer and TV Show creator/host of America’s Next Top Model-Tyra (Lynne) Banks was born in Inglewood, California. Most information about Banks speaks about her current state and accomplishments. However, TOV is going to speak on her ‘grind era’-the time period before she reached stardom. Banks was the youngest of two children, her brother Devin is 5 years older than her. She states that most of her peers considered her unattractive when she was a pre-teen. She had a growth spurt and started modeling when she was 15. Her first agency was L.A. Models. When she was 16 she switched to Elite Model Management. Requests for her started to pick up during this time. She traveled to Milan, Paris, Italy and Spain for shoots.
By the time she was 20, she was a common name and face in the modeling world...and by the time she was 25, she had become the first Black woman to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated’s Swim Suit Magazine-1997 issue (she also was the first to appear on the cover of GQ & Victoria’s Secret). In 1995, a lot of the larger world that had not seen or heard of Banks, meet her head on in the John Singleton film-Higher Learning. She was Deja-the love interest and track teammate of Omar Epps. She was dating Singleton during this time. She also dated Penny Hardaway and had Nike commercials that referenced her…so if you’re a 90s NBA head, you know the Chris Rock voice-over doll of Penny that I’m speaking on. Pretty much, everything that made Tyra the person people know now, came from the dues she paid in the 90s. She’s 45 today.
There are also two significant events that happened for Prince on December 4th, that were 9 years apart. First, in 1980, he started his Dirty Mind tour in Buffalo, New York at a venue called Shea’s. Now if you’re not familiar with Prince’s Dirty Mind LP, and the whole concept of his garb, song titles, and artistry, then you need to get hip quick. Dirty Mind is a top 5 LP out of the Prince discography. He was really finding his sound that would birth 1999 and Purple Rain during this time. His image had changed from the Afro and more commercially clean look to a Punk, androgynous and street look. His instrumentation became more synth based, and the gear? Man, Prince wore thigh high stockings, a bikini brief, trench coat and high heel boots…His band followed suit, dressing in a sexually charged way. They played 31 nights on the tour.
Interesting fact: Prince originally wanted to wear spandex pants with no draws…the management said he couldn’t, so he broke out the thigh highs and boots…9 years later in 1989, Prince’s sister had the original decision for her lawsuit (for money) against her brother upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. She didn’t win, they just upheld the original ruling that stated Prince DID NOT steal the song U Got the Look from his sister Lorna Nelson’s song that was similar…Prince has 1000s of songs, why steal one…Interesting fact: Lorna is responsible for Prince’s vault release (Piano & A Microphone 1983) that came out in 2018. It's just him playing piano and singing. I wonder, who’s getting paid off that...
The Blues: TOV writes about the Blues, it’s history, important figures and philosophy often. There’s a reason for it. The Blues is the original Folk music of Black people that were brought to the Americas against their will. The Blues is a living Music that has spawned every musical genre that America has birthed. Simply put, without the Blues there would be no Jazz, Rock, Folk (the Blues is Folk), Pop, Country, Hip Hop, Soul, Funk or Gospel-yes the Blues predates Gospel because Black people had to learn Christianity once they got to the Americas-but they knew they had the Blues once they were forced from the Banks of Africa. They used the Gospel & ‘Spirituals’ to shield their communication from the overseer, and to justify their inner Blues in a religious way.
With that said: On December 4th, in 2011, we lost an important Bluesman, guitarist, singer and songwriter-Hubert (Charles) Sumlin. Mississippi born and Hughes Arkansas raised, Sumlin acquired his first guitar when he was 8 years-old. He played with Willie Johnson as a child and then relocated to Chicago in 1953. A year later, he was in Howlin’ Wolf’s band. He’s featured on Wolf’s seminal self-titled LP, and stayed with him until he passed in 1976. Sumlin also put out some solo sides of his own. A little over 20 LPs from 1958 to 2010. He’s a class of 2008 inductee for the Blues Hall of Fame, #43 on Rolling Stones Magazine’s 100 Greatest Guitarist list and he’s been nominated for 4 Grammys. Sumlin was 80 years-old when he passed away.
Honorable Mention: December 4th proved to be a significant day for The Black Panther Party of Chicago-specifically Mark Clark (l) & Fred Hampton (r) and Jay-Z, the latter having two events to himself. First, the same year that Fred Hampton was assassinated by the U.S. Government, COINTELPRO, the F.B.I. & Chicago Police Department, Jay-Z was born. Fred Hampton had a very charismatic personality, he was an awesome speaker that invented slogans and euphemism the masses repeated often. He was a trend-setter of consciousness. Not just Black consciousness, but the social awareness of all ethnicities and people with limited resources that are often exploited by corporations and governments
Jay-Z possess similar qualities, but speaks less overtly about social issues. No criticism, just an observation of how power can be used to communicate to the masses and so-called downtrodden, delivering two totally different messages. Also, the irony in the similar amounts of power both of them hold-Hampton & Jay-Z are able to permeate ethnicity and socioeconomic class. This is something worth noting. Bob sings on the song Coming in from the Cold: when when door is closed, don’t you know, another is open. I’m not saying Jay-Z is anything like Fred Hampton in method. However, it's pretty evident that they hold similar influential powers over the masses. They’d assassinate Jay too if he started speaking like Hampton full-time…just saying…
Jay’s second incident occurred on his 30th birthday. In 1999, Jay-Z was released from jail for stabbing record executive Lance Rivera at Club Manhattan in NYC the night before. They were attending a party for Q-Tip from A Tribe Called Quest. I’m not sure why, but a fight broke out and Jay started poking Rivera. He had had to post $50,000 bond to get out. On his birthday…
On December 4th, in 1976, songwriter, guitarist and founding member of Energy (rock-blues-jazz fusion/prog rock)-Tommy Bolin (Thomas Richard Bolin) passed away from a drug overdose. The former guitarist for Zephyr, Deep Purple and the James Gang played with Fusion Jazz notables as well. Billy Cobham, Alphonse Mouzon and the Mahavishnu Orchestra were privy to Bolin’s licks. He also played session guitar for Rock musicians like Carmine Appice & The Good Rats and Moxy. He O.D. the day after he had completed a gig in Miami with Jeff Beck. He was 25 years-old when he passed.
On December 4th, in 2012, Alabama had a town added to the National Register of Historic Places-Africa Town. It’s said that the last slave ship carrying West Africans landed in Mobile in 1860. When these new to America slaves were emancipated shortly after their arrival following the Union victory in the Civil War, the West Africans moved 3 miles north of Mobile and incorporated their own town. They self-governed it, kept their native dialect-traditions-and culture, which thrived up to the late 1950s. For more information google: Dreams of Africa in Alabama: The Slave Ship Clotilda and the Story of the Last Africans brought to America-2007.
For more information on any musician or event reviewed in posts, or for additional information on the Wandering Eyes Blog overall, use the search bar and search the artist or event using keywords. It’s like a Google search for the site. A myriad of information, covering several topics exists on this site going back to 2013 when it was created. PEACE!