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On January 8th, in 2016, songwriter, Gospel, Blues & Soul singer-Otis (Lee) Clay passed away in Chicago, Illinois. The Waxham, Mississippi native relocated to Muncie, Indiana when he was very young. While there, he joined a local gospel vocal group called the Voices of Hope. He then returned to Mississippi and sang with the Christian Travelers. When he was 15 (1957), he moved to Chicago and started singing gospel with a number of groups. First he joined the Golden Jubilaires. He left them and started signing with the Famous Blue Jay Singers, then the Pilgrim Harmonizers and towards the end of the 50s he joined the Holy Wonders. By the early 60s, he was making a transition from gospel to secular music and made his first recording in 1962.
The sides were never released and he joined the Gospel Songbirds in 1964. He moved back to Chicago in 1965 and got signed to One-derful! Records. He recorded a few sides for the label that merged gospel, blues & soul. In 1967, he had a minor hit with-That’s How It Is *When You’re In Love) (US R&B Top 40). Atlantic picked up Clay in 1968 and sent him to Fame studios to record-She’s About a Mover (US R&B Top 100). He then signed to Cotillion and recorded 2 sides produced by Willie Mitchell and Syl Johnson. In 1971, he signed with Mitchell’s Hi Records and recorded LPs and singles that did well (the height of his career). Using the Memphis sound crafted by Mitchell's productions propelled him into stardom in the R&B/Blues world. He was 73 years old when he died.
On January 8th, in 1937, singer, TV personality and seminal pop vocalist-Shirley (Veronica) Bassey was born in Tiger Bay, Cardiff, Wales. Bassey is the youngest of 5 siblings. Her father was Nigerian and her mother was English. She was born a natural vocalist, having a voice so strong in her elementary school years that her choir teacher would have her sing behind everyone, tone her voice down or have her sing in the corridor at the school. She started signing in clubs in the early 50s, and got her first gig in 1953 when she signed a contract to perform weekly for about $15 dollars. In 1954 she got into touring variety shows like Hot from Harlem and Memories of Jolson.
In the mid 50s, she performed in theaters like the Adelphia in London. Phillips Records exec Johnny Franz heard Bassey singing on TV and offered her a contract. In 1956 (19 years-old) she released her debut single-Burn My Candle. In the late 50s, she continued to record and had two hits in 1959 with Kiss Me-Honey Honey-Kiss Me & As I Love You. The success of these singles secured her a contract with EMI Columbia. In the early 60s, she made her way to the states, appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show on November 13th, in 1960. She had successful songs in the UK and the US. In 1965, she got the call to sing the title song for the film Goldfinger (James Bond). It became a hit as well and brought her much notoriety. She ran into tax trouble in the late 60s, but made a strong comeback in the 70s. She’s 82 today.
On January 8th, in 1941, singer, songwriter, and founding member of Little Anthony and the Imperials-(Jerome) Anthony Gourdine (front-c) was born in Brooklyn, NYC, NY. He sang falsetto as child and with the Imperials. Gourdine was an original member of the DuPonts, a neighborhood doo wop group out of Brooklyn. He was asked to join the Chesters when he was 16 in 1957. They included: Clarence Collins, Tracey Lord, Ernest Wright and Nathaniel Rodgers. They released some sides on Apollo Records, but none charted. In 1958, they signed with End Records and changed their name to the Imperials. Later that year they released Tears on My Pillow b/w Two People in the World, both of them were hits.
The follow up single in 1960 was Shimmy Shimmy Ko Ko Bop, which also did well on the charts. In 1961, a couple members got drafted and Gourdine (standing-r) left to pursue a solo career. They reunited in 1964 and signed to DCP Records. They had a few hits during the mid to late 60s: Hurt So Bad, Goin’ Out of My Head. They also made TV appearances on the Ed Sullivan Show, American Bandstand, and the Kraft Music Hall Show. They signed to United Artists in 1970 and recorded a few singles that charted. In 1975, Gourdine left the group again, this time to sing and act. He was able to do both for 16 years before reuniting with the Imperials in 1992. They had their first reunion show in the Big Apple later that year. The Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Famer is 78 today.
On January 8th, in 1947, singer, multi-instrumentalist, painter, actor, songwriter, producer and the Man known as Ziggy Stardust-David Bowie (David Robert Jones) was born in Brixton, London, England. As a child, Bowie sang, dance, participated in plays and played the recorder at school like most kids. When he was around 10 (late 50s), his father introduced him to American artists like Fats Domino, the Teenagers, and Little Richard. The latter inspired Bowie to the extent that he said when he heard Tutti Frutti it was like hearing God. Elvis Presley’s Hound Dog also had a prominent on effect on Bowie. He started playing folk music at first, with a ukulele and washtub bass (tea-chest bass) in skiffle clubs, and joined the Wolf Club. He’d perform covers of Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley songs including their stage mannerism, with some of his own flare added in. People took this and claimed that it was as if David was from another planet.
In the late 50s and early 60s, he started studying piano, sax, art and graphic design. He got into a fight in 1962, that permanently damaged his vision in his left-eye. Shortly after this, he started his first band-the Konrads. He left them and joined the King Bees. Bowie had serious aspirations of being a pop star and wrote a letter to record execs asking them to give him a chance. Leslie Conn got a hold of his letter and gave him his first management contract. He released his debut single in 1964-Liza Jane (17 years-old) as Davie Jones & the King Bees. He left them and joined the Mannish Boys, then the Lower Third, got a new manager-Ralph Horton, and joined the Buzz. In the mid 60s, David was getting confused with Davy Jones of the Monkees, they shared the same stage name with different spellings. He changed Davie to David and took the last name of the American pioneer James Bowie. In 1967, he released his first solo single-The Laughing Gnome (Deram Records). His career took off in the 70s, and more so in the 80s. He was 69 when he passed.
On January 8th, in 2015, we lost a seminal gospel music pioneer, film scorer, pianist, composer, arranger, singer, bandleader and activist-Andrae Crouch was born a twin (sister Sandra Crouch) in San Francisco, CA. His parents moved them to Los Angeles and opened their own cleaners: Crouch Cleaners. He started playing piano in the church and had a good sense of pitch, detecting the key the choir was singing in by ear. When he was 14, he wrote his first gospel song. In 1960, when he was 18, he formed his first gospel outfit featuring Billy Preston on keyboards. In 1965, he formed his gospel band-The Disciples. They recorded: The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power, an original composition by Crouch. By the late 60s, it was a hymnal standard. He signed to Light Records and released his debut LP-Take the Message Everywhere (1968).
His sister Sandra joined as a vocalist in 1970 and they released 2 more LPs. In 1972, they appeared on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. In the mid to late 70s, they sold out concert halls as large as Carnegie, and toured and performed in over 60 countries by the mid 80s. Crouch didn’t limit his talents to gospel music, he also worked with several secular artists: Take 6, El DeBarge, Chaka Khan, Michael Jackson, Elton John, Bob Dylan, Shelia E., Paul Simon and Madonna to name a few. He also scored music for the Color Purple, The Lion King and the TV show Amen. Crouch brought a funky sound to gospel, like the Staple singers. He incorporated many genres of music into his compositions (Jazz, Funk, Soul, Rock, Blues, Folk). He’s one of the most influential modern gospel music composers of all-time. He was 72 when he passed away.
HONORABLE MENTION: On January 8th, in 1946, two Rock ‘n’ Roll artists were born on the same day that are worthy of noting. First, guitarist and songwriter with the Doors-Robby Krieger (Robert Alan Krieger-r) was born in Los Angeles, CA. He joined the Doors in 1965 and stayed with them until they disbanded in 1973. He’s 73 today. Second, vocalist, guitarist, songwriter and actor-Elvis Presley was born in Tupelo, Mississippi. He’s one of the most known musicians in the modern world. He got his start singing R&B covers for Sun Records in Memphis, TN. He died is 1977 when he was 42 years-old.
On January 8th, in 1969, Mr ‘I Don’t See Nothing Wrong’, singer, songwriter, composer, multi-instrumentalist, producer and R&B innovator-R Kelly (Robert Sylvester Kelly) was born in Chicago, Illinois. The controversial singer has recorded over 12 LPs since he went solo in 1993. He’s won Grammys, NAACP Image Awards and Billboard Music Awards. He’s also produced for several others like Aaliyah, Jay-Z, Nas, Celine Dion & Michael Jackson. He played semi-pro basketball with the Atlantic City Seagulls from 1997-1999. He’s 51 today.
On January 8th, two members from the same vocal group died on the same day, but 13 years apart. In 2001, singer and original member of the Bobbettes-Laura Webb passed away. In 2014, singer Reather Dixon Turner passed away. The all-female vocal quintet met at PS 109 in Spanish Harlem. Their original name was The Harlem Queens. They had a hit with Mr. Lee-a song written about a teacher they disliked. Atlantic Records made them change the lyrics before they would record the single.
On January 8th, in 2012, emcee, actor, and original member of the Wu-Tang Clan: Ol’ Dirty Bastard had some information that was previously classified federal documents, released to the public. The FBI had accumulated a file on Ol’ Dirty while they were investigating Hip Hoppers heavily during the 90s. It showed that he was involved in carjackings, violent crimes, weapons possession, drug sales, murder and illegal guns trades. The entire Wu was included in the same file. Sidebar: why investigate, they say they do all that and more in their songs…
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