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NOLA FUNK: On December 28th, in 1948, session musician and seminal funk drummer for the Meters, Joseph (Ziggy) Modeliste (c-palms up) was born is New Orleans, Louisiana (NOLA). He is the eldest of 6 siblings, raised by his grandmother in the 13th Ward. He got his first 3-piece drum set from her when he was a child. His nickname Ziggy, short for Zigaboo, came from a childhood friend (mid 50s). By the time he reached his teens, the name had stuck (early 60s). His influences on the drums were local standouts like Bob French and Smokey Johnson. Modeliste learned by watching them at gigs (no formal training). He believes that he learned the most about how to play drums by listening to these artists, especially Smokey Johnson. He started off playing professionally with the Hawkettes who were founded by Art Neville. Eventually, the group became the Neville Sounds, and then the Meters. He’s most known for his work with the Meters (formed 1965).
The band is credited as being one of the inventors of the NOLA funk sound. His (l) infamous drumming skills were noticed by other artists who asked him to do session work on the LPs, open for them at shows, and/or be their primary drummer on tour. For example, The Meters opened up for the Rolling Stones during their 1975-1976 tour. They backed other artists too like Dr. John, Lee Dorsey, Robert Palmer and Paul McCartney at shows and on albums. Modeliste also played drums for Keith Richards & Ron Wood’s splinter group the New Barbarians. The Meters put out several singles and LPs during the late 60s to the mid 70s. Most of them are largely instrumental numbers. They disbanded in the late 70s, but regrouped as the Funky Meters in the late 80s, releasing their return LP-Good Old Funky Music on Rounder Records in 1990. Modeliste continues to perform, record and tour. He’s 70 today.
JAZZ: On December 28th, in 1903, former cornet player, jazz pianist, composer, bandleader, arranger, and sideman: Earl Kenneth Hines AKA Fatha Hines was born in Duquesne, Pennsylvania. He started off playing cornet, attempting to follow in his father’s footsteps. However, blowing into the horn made the area behind his ears uncomfortable so he switched to the piano. He was classically trained as a young child and played for his church. By the time he was 10, he could memorize melodies in tunes easily and play them back. He said that he would play show-tunes that he’d seen in movies before the actual song was released for retail. People were astonished by this and figured him a virtuoso. He also states that he’d been playing piano around the Pittsburgh area long before the word Jazz was invented.
Since his father was a musician, he allowed Hines to take a regular gig with Lois Deppe & His Symphonian Orchestra (1920, he was 17). They were the first Black musicians to perform live on radio. He made his recording debut with Deppe on Gennett Records in 1923. They recorded 4 songs in all, two were released, and one was composed by Hines-Congaine. In the mid 20s, he moved to Chicago and by the late 20s, he was the director of Louis Armstrong’s band. During this time, he & Armstrong created some of the most influential Jazz recordings (1927-1928). Later that year, Hines formed his own band. They performed regularly at the The Grand Terrace Café (Al Capone’s place). Capone dubbed Hines-Mr. Piano Man. Hines disbanded his band in 1948, retired in 1960, was inducted into the Down Beat Hall of Fame in 1965, and toured-recorded-and performed until his death off his new found demand following his induction. He was 79 when he died (1983).
Last Day on Earth: On December 28th, in 1952, Jazz pianist, composer, bandleader, sideman, arranger and chemist-Fletcher Hamilton Henderson Jr. spent his last day on planet Earth. He died on December 29th, 1952 in NYC, NY. The Cuthbert, Georgia native came from a well-to-do family. His father was a principal and his mother was a teacher. She taught Henderson how to play piano along with his brother Horace. He was highly skilled in music and academics, taking a liking to paintings as well (European Art). His father was rather strict about Henderson learning the piano and would make him practice for hours on end from the age of 6 until 13. This forced him to become a prolific player at an early age. After high school, he moved to Atlanta, enrolled at (Clark) Atlanta University and joined Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc.
He got his B.S. in Math & Chemistry in 1920, then moved to NYC and attended Columbia (earned a M.S. in Chemistry). However, there weren’t many opportunities for Black chemist then, and thus turned to his piano skills as a profession. He formed his own band in the early 20s which paid much better than lab jobs. He became musical director and session pianist at Black Swan Records (the first Black Record Company that catered specifically to Black artists and audiences). He also got to perform with Louis Armstrong, record with other artists outside the Jazz genre, tour and became the leader of the Best Band in NYC. He accomplished all of this pre-Great Depression (1920-1927). However, he had a successful career during, and after the Great Depression. The Hall of Fame pianist has recorded 100s of songs for over 15 imprints. He was 55 when he passed.
HOLLYWOOD: On December 28, 1932, singer, songwriter, dancer and groundbreaking television, film and stage actress-Nichelle Nichols (Grace Dell Nichols) was born in Robbins, Illinois. Nichols is most known for her role as Lieutenant Uhura on Star Trek-the first Black woman on the seminal Sci-Fi television show-Star Trek. She grew up in the Chicago area, dancing in various troupes as a child. When she was 16 (late 40s), she toured with the College Inn revue. During the early 50s, she toured internationally as a singer with Duke Ellington & Lionel Hampton’s Big Bands.
In the early 60s, she sang with Oscar Brown and appeared in his musical-Kicks & Co. Her performance here caught the attention of Hugh Hefner who booked her at his Chicago Playboy Club. She started acting more during the early to mid 60s, appearing in Porgy & Bess and Carmen. In 1966, she became Lieutenant Uhura-communications officer for Star Trek. She cut two LPs in 1967 and 1991, and currently works for NASA to recruit people of color to their space program. She is 86 today.
On December 28th, in 1954, one of the best-known modern actors in film-Denzel Washington was born in Mount Vernon, New York. His resume isn’t limited to acting. He also is a writer, director, activist and film producer. Most people know Denzel from any one of these four roles: Dr. Phillip Chandler on St. Elsewhere (NBC, 1982-1988), Pfc. Melvin Peterson in a Soldier’s Story (1984), Steve Biko in Cry Freedom (1987) or the defiant former slave Silas Tripp in Glory (1989). However, his acting appearances go back as far as the late 70s. He starred in the NBC television film the Wilma Rudolph Story (NBC movie, 1977). CBS chose him for the role of Kirk in 1979’s Flesh & Blood TV film. His silver screen debut came in 1981 (Carbon Copy-Roger Porter). A year later, he appeared in St. Elsewhere for 137 episodes (1982-1986), acting in 2 movies as well (A Soldier’s Story & Power).
He rounded out the 80s, appearing in films like The Mighty Quinn, Glory and For Queen & Country. The 90s were very good to Washington. He acted in over 15 films, many directed by Spike Lee. Standouts during this decade are: Mo’ Betta Blues, Ricochet, Malcolm X, The Pelican Brief, Crimson Tide, Virtuosity, Devil in a Blue Dress, Fallen, He Got Game, The Bone Collector and The Hurricane. From 2000 to the current date, Denzel has appeared in over 20 films (more than 1 a year). He won an Academy Award for Training Day, but I believe this was long overdue. His role as Steven Biko & especially Malcolm X were well deserving of the award. He’s one of the few actors in Hollywood that has not been filmed in drag in any movie, TV show, play TV appearance or interview. He’s 64 today.
HONORABLE MENTION: On December 28th, in 1915, singer, songwriter and Gospel innovator-Roebuck ‘Pops’ Staples was born in Winona, Mississippi. Not enough can be said about this musician. He’s responsible for forming one of the best Gospel groups in the world-The Staple Singers, and influencing prominent musicians in the Rock, Blues & Soul genres. He also used elements of those genres to modernize his gospel sound, and in turn made the masses aware of it. Everyone feels good after hearing I’ll Take You There or Respect Yourself. He was 85 when he passed.
On December 28th, in 1978, singer, pianist, actor, session musician, producer and songwriter-John Legend (John Roger Stephens) was born in Springfield, Ohio. He got serious about music when he was in college at the University of Pennsylvania (graduated 1999). He started collaborating with Kanye West and even opened for most of his shows during the College Dropout era. His piano playing and singing caught the attention of others and he released his debut LP in 2004-Get Lifted. This is his best LP in my opinion. He’s 40 today.
On December 28th, in 1938, sax player with the Hawkettes, Neville Sounds, Meters, Neville Brothers and the Funky Meters-Charles Neville was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. He’s the second eldest of 4 brothers-Art, Aaron, Cyril. Art, the eldest formed the five bands that Charles played sax for. However, Charles got his start with the Rabbit’s Foot Minstrel shows when he was 15 (left home). He also served in the US Navy, and battled a heroine addiction throughout his life which landed him in jail occasionally. He’s 80 today.
On December 28th, in 2005, the infamous UK radio station called Planet Rock surveyed over 50,000 of its listeners. They were asked who the top 10 Rock artists were of all-time, and to pick a duration of time for the Golden Age of Rock. 1st place went to Pink Floyd followed by: Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, The Who, AC/DC, U2, Gun ‘n’ Roses, Nirvana, Bon Jovi and Jimi Hendrix. Their top 6 picks were exclusively groups from Europe. Most people said that 70’s were the Golden Era of Rock. The 60s came in second place.
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!