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On January 23rd, 2018, singer, sideman, flugelhornist, pianist, cornet player, songwriter, trumpeter, bandleader, arranger, composer, producer, trombonist, and South African Anti-Apartheid Activist, Hugh (Ramapolo) Masekela passed away in Johannesburg, South Africa. As a child, he sang and played piano for miners in his grandmother’s bar. In the early 1950s he was inspired by the film Man With A Horn, starring Kirk Douglas, in which he played jazz trumpeter Bix Beiderbecke-Young. The movie inspired Masekela to play trumpet. Trevor Huddleston, an anti-apartheid chaplain, bought him his first one. He also secured his first instructor-Johannesburg Municipal Brass Band leader-Uncle Sauda. Masekela learned fast, and his seriousness about the instrument inspired some of his friends to start studying music as well. They formed The Huddleston Jazz Band, which was the first Youth Jazz Band in South Africa. Louis Armstrong got wind of their formation and sent Masekela a trumpet.
In the mid 1950s, he joined The African Jazz Revue (lead by Alfred Herbert). He started penning and composing songs that reflected the social issues Black South Africans faced during this time (his mid to late teens). He quickly became a notable musician that connected with the people. In 1958, he got his first major break performing in the orchestra for the musical King Kong. He toured the country with The Manhattan Brothers and Mariam Makeba. In 1959, he joined with Kippi Moeketsi, Johnny Gertze, Abdullah Ibrahim, and Makhaya Ntshoko to form The Jazz Epistles-the first African Jazz group to record an LP. In the 1960s, he moved to The U.S., and hooked up with Harry Belafonte-who got him connected with the ‘right people’. Masekela recorded several LPs and singles for Uni Records in the mid to late 60s, before moving to Casablanca Records in the 70s. He helped Muhammad Ali and Don King organize the Zaire ’74 Music Show for The Rumble In The Jungle (Ali vs Foreman). He was 78 ears old when he passed away.
On January 23rd, 2003 singer, songwriter, comedian, film, stage and television actress, Nell Carter (Nell Ruth Hardy) passed away in Beverly Hills, California. She sang in her church choir and on the radio during her elementary years. When she was 16, and performing with The Renaissance Ensemble, she was raped by a man from the group and got pregnant. She had her sister Willie raise the child in NYC. She stayed with The Ensemble, moved to NYC in 1968, and changed her last name to Carter. She made her Broadway debut in the 1971 rock opera Soon, and performed with Bette Davis in the 1974 musical Miss Moffat. Her reputation as a singer, music director, and actress grew. By the late 70s, she’d won a Tony Award for her role in Ain’t Misbehavin’, performed in the musical Dreamgirls as Effie White (replaced by Jennifer Holliday) and got a role on Ryan’s Hope-an ABC soap opera.
She stayed on Ryan’s Hope from 1978 to 1980. In 1981, she was featured on a few episodes of The Misadventures Of Sheriff Lobo (NBC sitcom). Later that year, NBC created a sitcom with Carter as the star called Gimme A Break! She was met with criticism for the show, portraying her in a stereotypical role of as a large Black Woman taking care of an older White man and his children. However, complaints died down once the show first aired on October 29th, 1981. Comparisons to Maude and Florida Evans from Good Times, who wasn’t criticized as much as Carter, were made by many. The show lasted six seasons, during the height of The Cosby Show-Era. She continued to sing and act up until her death in 2003. She was 54 when she passed away.
On January 23rd, 1957, singer, songwriter, composer, arranger, producer, multi-instrumentalist, and 1980s R&B innovator: Reggie Calloway (Reginald Calloway) was born in Cincinnati, Ohio. Reggie and his younger brother Vincent, created a unique sound of R&B during the 80s that mixed the British New Wave synth driven music with Funk, Pop, and uptempo grooves. They were raised by musical parents. Their father was a trumpeter/pianist, and their mother was an opera singer. Thus they learned how to compose music, play instruments, write songs, and sing from their parents. In their teens, they started playing with bands, and when Reggie enrolled at Kentucky State University, he co-founded Midnight Star. In 1978 Vincent had become a member and they won a showcase in NYC, resulting in SOLAR Records Executive Dick Griffey signing them to a deal. Reggie played trumpet & keys, serving as bandleader and primary songwriter.
It took them a few years to find their niche, but their fourth LP-No Parking On The Dance Floor (1983) produced a few hits. Reggie & Vincent also produced hits for several others while they were with Midnight Star, and after they left the group, including: LeVert (Casanova), Klymaxx (Meeting In The Ladies Room), Teddy Pendergrass (Joy), Natalie Cole (Jump Start), and Gladys Knight & The Pips (Love Overboard). Additionally, they also worked with Babyface & LA Reid while they were members of The Deele. In 1989 they released a solo LP together, under the name Calloway (All The Way), containing the hit single I Wanna Be Rich. They followed that up in 1992, with Let’s Get Smooth. From the mid 1990s, to the current date, Reggie has worked as the Music Director-and does production work for Sound Royalties. He’s 64 today.
On January 23rd, 1948, singer, songwriter, actress, session vocalist, and founding member of The Pointer Sisters, Anita (Marie) Pointer (r) was born in Oakland, California. She played saxophone during her teens years, and was an active member of The McRae High School Band. After high school, she worked as a secretary, before quitting in 1969 to sing with Bonnie (l) & June (c) as The Pointer Sisters. Anita sang lead in the trio, and they did a lot of session work for bands in the San Francisco area that were on the Fillmore Records label (Tower of Power, Cold Blood, Sylvester & The Hot Band, etc). They also toured and performed as a leading trio. They signed to Blue Thumb (a subsidiary of ABC Records) in the early 70s, and released their self-titled debut LP in 1973. Anita sang lead on their hit single off the album-the song that put them on the map-Yes We Can, Can.
She got into songwriting and penned a country hit-Fairytale that won a Grammy, and they became the first all-female group to perform at the Grand Ole Opry. Anita (l) continued to write hits for the group. By the end of the 70s they had appeared in musicals, on TV, in films (Car Wash) and toured internationally. In the early 80s, their sound took over the airwaves with hits like-Slow Hand, He’s so Shy and I’m so Excited. Following the success of these singles, Anita released her solo debut-Love for What it Is (1987). It did moderately well, and featured a duo track with Philip Bailey. She released another album in 1988-More Than a Memory, and was honored with a Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame (as a Pointer Sister, 1994). She’s 61 today.
On January 23rd, 1910, one of the most influential jazz guitarists of the 20th century-Django (Jean) Reinhardt was born in Liberchies, Pont a Celles, Belgium. He was born into a large gypsy family full of musicians. He started playing violin around age nine, and took up banjo when he was 12. H=By the age of 15, his musical skills brought him enough money to make performing a full-time profession. He married young (17), and made his recording debut in 1928. British recording artist Jack Hylton heard the single, and recruited Django for his band. He accepted, but had a tragic accident before he left. He knocked over a candle on his way to bed, which started a fire that burnt his left-hand and legs badly. His first two fingers were permanently paralyzed-with only minimal movement in his middle finger. He learned to play guitar with the bottom two fingers, and his thumb on his left hand. By the early 1930s, he was no longer married and was now working as a traveling musician. He was introduced to American Jazz Music during this time by his friend Emile Savitry, who played for him the music of Duke Ellington, Lionel Hampton, Louis Armstrong, and Cab Calloway.
Django was moved by the music. He'd never heard jazz music and decided to be a jazz musician from that point on. He moved from banjo to guitar, and met Stephane Grappelli who also was a jazz admirer and violinist. The two collaborated from the mid to late 30s, cultivating The European Jazz Scene. World War II broke out in 1939, and Django was forced to compose other types of music (after several failed attempts to flee German occupied France) because Germany had outlawed jazz. He penned a liberation song called Nuages that sold over 100K copies on 78RPM. Following the war, he traveled to The U.S. to work with Duke Ellington (1946-1947). He had PTSD, however, which at the time wasn’t an official diagnosis. He continued to play with skill, but he would show up at events without his guitar-or at the wrong times. He would wander off when he wasn’t performing, refuse to get out of bed, and a host of other behaviors that made recording and collaborating difficult. He was 43 when he died.
HONORABLE MENTION: On January 23rd, 1956, seminal singer, multi-instrumentalist-songwriter, producer, businessman, composer, arranger, Funk innovator, and the man known as The Godfather Of Soul, James Brown signed his first record deal with King Records out of Cincinnati, Ohio. The band got a $200 signing bonus, and released their debut single Please, Please, Please. It quickly became a hit, selling over a million copies by the following year. The released a handful of singles after, but none matched the success of their debut, which kept them touring until they had another hit…
On January 23rd, 1976, singer, activist, football standout, intellectual, actor, communist sympathizer, and McCarthy-Era blacklisted performer Paul (Leroy) Robeson passed away in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Robeson was the first Black American bass-baritone opera singer, Anti-Imperialism activist, actor on stage and in film, social activist, and Council On African Affairs member. He also stood up to The American Government during a time when few Black performers would. McCarthyism was the weapon used to attempt to destroy Robeson’s legacy. They were unsuccessful.
On January 23rd, 1986, The Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame hosted its 1st Annual Induction Ceremony at The Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City, NY. The first class of musicians included: James Brown, Elvis Presley, Sam Cooke, Fats Domino, Little Richard, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, and The Everly Brothers. Sam Cooke was credited with putting the ‘soul,’ or gospel-singing style that evoked feeling into the music. This is a critical component of Rock ‘n’ Roll.
On January 23rd, 2017, soul & pop pianist, composer, arranger, singer, songwriter, and producer Bobby Freeman (Robert Thomas Freeman) passed away in San Francisco, California. Freeman was a west coast R&B artist signed to Jubilee & Josie Records in the mid 1950s. His music has been covered by everyone from John Lennon to The Ramones. He toured and also, performed with Jackie Wilson, Fats Domino, and The Coasters. He even co-wrote songs with a young Sly Stone. He was 76 when he died.
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