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On April 12th, in 1940, seminal jazz musician, singer, pianist, composer, DJ, sideman, actor, session musician, fusion jazz innovator, film scorer, arranger, songwriter, member of Miles Davis’ Second Great Quintet, bandleader and co-founder of the fusion jazz band the Headhunters-Herbie Hancock (Herbert Jeffrey Hancock) was born in Chicago, Illinois. He's one of the few jazz musicians that was able to stay relevant and popular for several decades and genres of music. Simply put, he can play just about any style with skill, and flavor. For those that were around during the peak of jazz in the early 60s, he served as pianist for Miles Davis-one of the most popular jazz acts of all-time. For those who like the funk fusion music of the late 60s and early 70s, Herbie’s solo work with his backing band at the time-The Headhunters definitely produced some really tight tracks.
If your taste is more electro and synth-based, his 80s work, most notably his song with DJ Grandmixer DXT-Rock It (1983) fill the void. Dating back to the early 60s and up to the current date, he’s been featured as a co-writer, producer, composer and/or session musician on hundreds of songs. He’s released over 35 albums since 1962, the majority of which come from the 70s when he released 15. He’s won over a dozen Grammy Awards, received a Hollywood Star on the Walk of Fame, is an NEA Jazz Master, DownBeat Jazz Hall of Fame member (2005), and has appeared in several documentaries, TV shows and films. Herbie influenced hip hop production by utilizing samplers and drum machines in his recordings during the late 70s and early 80s. He’s 79 today.
On April 12th, in 1975, we lost a pop culture American icon, social activist, international star, dancer, choreographer, singer, songwriter and actress-Josephine Baker (Freda Josephine McDonald). Baker is known for being a dancer at the Cotton Club in Harlem, NYC, NY. However, her singing and acting career are also well-known. She had desires to be an entertainer during her primary years. In her early teens, her mother began to shun her after she told her that she wanted to go into showbiz. By the time she was 19 and traveling with a Vaudeville Troupe, she’d been married twice and her relationship with her mother had worsened. She decided to travel to France with the troupe, stating she couldn’t stand America. They performed at the Theatre des Champs-Elysees for the La Revue Negre show (1925).
She took to the warmth and genuine welcome the French gave her and decided to stay for an extended stint. While there she learned the language and started recording sides in French. She became the most popular and successful American entertainer in France. Several of Pablo Picasso’s paintings were influenced by Baker, and she helped inspire the American writer Ernest Hemingway. She was very outspoken about the reasoning behind her refusals to return to or perform in America based social and economic inequalities. She also believed in helping children, adopting several from all cultures and ethnicities. She became a WWII hero when she rallied the French troops by performing and speaking with them. She also pioneered the civil rights movement in America during the early 50s when she returned to the states. She was 68 when she passed.
On April 12th, we lost two prominent American boxers that helped shape, define, and influence pop culture during their primes. In 1981, The Brown Bomber, former heavyweight champion, WWII veteran and sports icon-Joe Louis (Joseph Louis Barrow) passed away in Paradise, Nevada. He’s most known for having a more humble persona than Jack Johnson. He was an excellent boxer that fought in the orthodox style. His professional record was 66 wins and 3 losses. Several musicians and public figures coined songs and catchphrases after the fighter. He also had a huge celebrity status in America, appearing on TV and radio often. He was 66 when he passed.
In 1989, another prominent fighter passed. One that coerced boxing analyst to create a-‘pound for pound’ category, middleweight champion, club owner, entourage innovator, Muhammad Ali’s biggest influence and favorite fighter-Sugar Ray Robinson. Robinson fought 200 fights during his career, and over 125 from his professional debut in 1940 to 1951. He’s viewed by many as one of the best ‘pound for pound’ fighters of all-time. He lived a wealthy, flamboyant and extreme lifestyle that included several people he kept around him 24/7. He was a people’s champ that remained accessible to the general public, making him very popular. His professional record was 173 wins, 19 losses, 6 draws and 2 no contests. He was 67 when he passed.
HONORABLE MENTION: On April 12th, in 1921, Chicago bluesman, infamous uncle of the blues artist Magic Sam, songwriter, harmonica player, singer and recording artist-Shakey Jake Harris (James D. Harris) was born in Earle, Arkansas. He got his name from his professional gambling career as a dice man. His family moved to Chicago when he was 7 and he started playing the blues in his teens. He performed during the 40s, making his recording debut in 1958-Call Me if You Need Me b/w Roll Your Moneymaker (Artistic Records featuring Magic Sam & Syl Johnson-produced by Willie Dixon). He was 68 when he passed (1990).
On April 12th, in 1948, Motown vocalist and little sister of Martha Reeves from Martha Reeves and the Vandellas-Lois Reeves AKA Pee Wee (Sandra Delores Reeves) was born in Detroit, MI. She joined the group when she was 19 (1967), replacing vocalist Betty Kelly. She was an active singer in her father’s church choir. She also had a strong business sense and would watch her sister’s group often. When Martha called on her to replace Betty, it was a smooth transition because she knew all the dance routines and vocal parts. Lois used her business skills to negotiate contracts, book shows and travel arrangements. She’s 71 today.
On April 12th, in 1973, four years after the show debuted-Sesame Street had a special musical guest appearance from none other than Stevie Wonder. He sang a 7-minute long live version of his hit single-Superstition. This was groundbreaking for a couple reasons. One, up to that point, not many musicians had appeared that required a live band. Most appeared solo and would play and sing along with the puppets. Two, the musical appearances were relatively short, a minute or two at best, definitely not 7. Grover accompanied Stevie on organ, while the rest of the puppets and actors enjoyed the performance.
On April 12th, in 1971, seminal jazz musician, sideman, pianist, composer, bandleader, arranger, producer, with a discography of over 100 LPs as a sideman-Wynton (Charles) Kelly was born in Brookyln, New York. His parents were first generation Jamaican immigrants. He had a successful solo career, releasing over 30 LPs. However, he's most known for his work as a sideman with: Miles Davis, Dinah Washington, Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Rollins, Cannonball Adderley, Paul Chambers, Nat Adderley, Donald Byrd, Dexter Gordon, Eddie Harris, Billie Holiday, Philly Joe Jones, Abbey Lincoln, Charles Mingus, Blue Mitchell, Lee Morgan, and Wes Montgomery. He was 39 when he passed.
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