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On January 20th, in 1889, seminal Bluesman, folk singer, melodeon player (similar to the accordion), 12 string guitarist, songwriter, violinist, pianist, composer, and harmonica player-Lead Belly (Huddie William Ledbetter) was born in Mooringsport, Louisiana. TOV covered the artist’s death on the December 6th post. Please refer to it for more information. Lead Belly was a unique musician in several ways: he played multiple instruments, penned his own songs, sang numerous genres (folk, blues, soul), and wrote songs about the current affairs and figures during his lifetime (Hitler, The Scottsboro Boys, F. D. Roosevelt, Howard Hughes, Jack Johnson). Most recording artists didn’t start incorporating real life circumstances, people and events into their music until the mid to late 60s. Other artists during his time were penning songs for a pop market, seldom, if any were incorporating politics, social issues and daily life into their music.
Leadbelly was a purist to his art form. Where others worried about their ‘image’ and ‘marketability’, he was more concerned with the sound of his music and singing lyrics with substance. He lived a hard life and never became wealthy, although the legacy of good music he left, added with the respect and honor he commands, far outweigh the amount of money he reaped from records he sold or auditoriums he filled. Leadbelly was ‘discovered’ in prison by John Lomax-infamous 20th century American folk music field recorded and archivist. Lomax got wind of Leadbelly’s skills via travelling the south and recording other famed folk & blues musicians. They recorded him live on the spot in 1933 (filed at the Library of Congress). In 1934, they returned with better equipment and recorded him again. When he got out later that year, he went to Pennsylvania to work with the Lomax and then NYC. In 1935, American Record Corporation signed him to a contract and he released over 40 songs. He was 61 when he died.
On January 20, in 1929, jazz drummer, seminal sideman, bandleader, composer, arranger, producer and Cool Jazz innovator-Jimmy Cobb (Wilbur James Cobb) was born in Washington, DC. He’s the last surviving member recorded on one of jazz music’s most influential albums: Kind of Blue (deceased: Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Paul Chambers & Wynton Kelly). He also played on several other albums by Miles: Sorcerer, Miles Davis at Carnegie, Sketches of Spain, Complete, Someday My Prince Will Come and Porgy & Bess. As a session musician, his resume is extremely lengthy. If you’re a fan of 50s-60s jazz, you’ve heard his drumming with any one of the following artists: Billie Holiday, Wes Montgomery, Gil Evans, Sarah Vaughn, Pearl Bailey, Dizzy Gillespie, Art Pepper, Nancy Wilson, Red Garland,
David Fathead Newman, Ron Carter, Sonny Stitt, Hank Jones, Joe Henderson, Bill Evans, Kenny Burrell, Jeremy Steig, Richie Cole, Stan Getz, Benny Golson, Eddie Gomez, Jimmy Cleveland, JJ Johnson, Nat Adderley and Jerome Richardson. He’s recorded with many others, but those are some of the more notable musicians. Cobb also put out a few LPs starting in the mid 90s. His solo debut was released in 1994 on Philology Records-Philology). He followed this up with Only for the Pure of Heart (Fable/Lightyear Records, 1998). From 2000 to 2016, he recorded over 10 LPs on over 5 labels. Although his solo career didn’t take place until much later, following the rise of jazz, he managed to produce some great music well past his musical prime. He became a NEA Jazz Master in 2009, and is widely considered a living Jazz icon. Cobb currently leads his So What band and turned 90 today.
On January 20th, in 1965, one of Rock music’s ‘folklore’ figures that’s associated with coining the term: Rock ‘n’ Roll-Alan (James) Freed passed away in Palm Springs, California. TOV covered his birthday on the December 15th post. Please refer to it for more information. He was an avid fan of jazz and got his start playing trombone. He had aspirations of being a bandleader, even started his own band in high school-the Sultans of Swing. In his college years, before he was drafted into the army, he got interested in radio, and wanted to become a DJ because a lot of the music he liked (soul, blues, jazz) was not on the radio. He got drafted for WWII, and became a DJ on Armed Forces Radio. When he returned to the states, he got a few DJ jobs at stations in the Ohio & Pennsylvania area.
From the late 40s to the mid 50s, he built a strong reputation for having a good ear in reference to underplayed music. He would spin the original tunes by the original artists without regard for the systemic musical segregation that was occurring in the industry. It was common practice for White artists to cover Black artists’ song, or for Black artists to have album covers with White people on them (5 Heartbeats-The Crossover). Freed started promoting live showcases that featured the musicians he often played on his radio sets. This helped break down the walls of segregation in music halls because he didn’t book venues that refused to let in audiences of all ethnicities. Once he started making more money, he fell into the ongoing Payola trap. Since he wasn’t a vet of the trade, he was made an example of and was banned from Radio in 1959. He never quite got over losing his DJ position and turned to alcohol. He was 43 when he died.
On January 20th, in 2012, singer, songwriter and award winning musician-Etta James (Jamesetta Hawkins) AKA the Matriarch of R&B passed away in Riverside, California. James was the product of a teen mother (14) who remained largely absent from the home. She lived with foster parents and other family members throughout her early life. The movie Cadillac Records mentions that James’ father was Minnesota Fats (Rudolf Wanderone), she also believed him to be her father, but didn’t meet him in the 60s with Leonard Chess (actually met him once in 1987). James sang as a toddler. When she was 5, she started receiving vocal training lessons from James Earl Hines of the Echoes of Eden Choir. In the late 40s, she sang at parties and in the church.
When she was 12 (1950), she moved to San Francisco and started an all-female vocal group in 1951-The Creolettes. Johnny Otis was one of the major career launchers and musical influences in her life. He got wind of Etta’s singing skills and signed the Creolettes to Modern Records. He changed their name to the Peaches and they released a single-Roll With Me Henry (1955). Etta got her performance name from Johnny Otis. He took her first name-Jamesetta, and transposed it to make Etta James. She toured with Little Richard during the mid to late 50s, before heading to Chess Records in Chicago where she recorded some of her biggest hits-At Last, Tell Mama, Something’s Got a Hold on Me. She’s Rolling Stones Magazine’s 22nd best singer of all-time (#62 artist of all-time), won 6 Grammys and defeated a heroine addiction. She was 73 when she passed.
On January 20, in 2012, jazz double bassist, author, entrepreneur and Hall of Fame musician-John Levy passed away in his birth-town of New Orleans, Louisiana. Levy started playing bass during his school years, and then moved to Chicago, gigging around the city with soul, blues and jazz musicians. In the mid 40s, he moved to NYC and started playing with: Billie Holiday, Milt Jackson, Ben Webster, and Erroll Garner. He noticed that the club owners, promoters, managers and bookers were largely White. He decided to fill the void in the early 50s when he joined George Shearing’s first Quintet. He doubled as the manager for the group. Seeing the revenue and the equality that could be extracted from managing jazz acts, he started John Levy Enterprises, Inc. His focus was on managing jazz acts, and he became the first Black to do so.
He built a strong roster throughout the 50s. By the time the 60s rolled around, he had an all-star roster of artists under his management company: Cannonball Adderley, Nancy Wilson, Ramsey Lewis, Joe Williams, George Shearing, Shirley Horn and soul vocalist Jimmie Raye. He continued to manage musicians throughout his lifetime. He was inducted into the Jazz Hall of Fame in 1997. In 2000, he published his first book-Men, Women & Girl Singers: My Life as a Musician Turned Talent Manager. It was largely biographical and documented the Jazz, pop and soul scene from the late 30s to the 90s. In 2006, he became a NEA Jazz Master and in 2009, he published his second book-Strollin': A Jazz Life Through John Levy’s Personal Lens. He was 99 when he passed.
HONORABLE MENTION:On January 20th, in 1921, author, writer and poet-Francisco Jose Tenreiro was born in Sao Tome, Portugal. He was an African poet that spoke clearly and creatively about the ill effects of colonization, specifically on his island, but also globally. He wrote about the exploitation, classicism, racism and suffering inflicted on the workers, be they slaves, indentured or prisoners. His full name is Francisco Jose de Vasques Tenreiro. If you like poetry with a political twist, then check out some of his writings. He was 41 when he died.
On January 20th, in 1942, singer and member of the O’Jays-Billy Powell (William Powell) was born in Canton, Ohio. He was a backing vocalist with Eddie Levert and Walter Williams acrting as co-lead singers. He’s an original member of the trio. Their musical roots go back to Canton McKinley High School. The started as the Triumphs and then the Mascots back in 1958. By 1963, they were known as the O'Jays and scored their first hit with Lonely Drifter. After they got with TSOP’s Gamble & Huff production team, their career took off (70s). He passed in 1977 when he was 35.
On January 20th in 1988, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame held its third annual induction ceremony at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in NYC, NY. This was a large class of individuals, ranging from musicians to producers. Inductees included: Berry Gordy, Lead Belly, Bob Dylan, Les Paul, The Supremes, The Beatles, Woody Guthrie, The Drifters and the Beach Boys. Interesting fact: In the absence of John Lennon, Yoko Ono-Sean and Julian Lennon were present. Paul flaked..he sent a letter. He was beefing with them at the time over money.
On January 20th, in 2015, soul and jazz saxophonist, pianist, session musician, sideman for Ray Charles and bandleader-David Fathead Newman passed away in Kingston, NY. The TX native got his start on piano and saxophone. He got his name from a disgruntled teacher at his school that called him fathead. It stuck. Newman got his professional start in the 40s with T-Bone Walker and Lowell Fulsom. He met Ray Charles in the early 50s and played with him until the 70s. He released more than 35 solo LPs from 1958 to 2009. He’s worked with generations of musicians like: Cannonball Adderley, Aretha Franklin, Aaron Neville and Queen Latifah.
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