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On March 22nd, 2016, we lost one of the most beloved figures in hop hop culture-rapper, sports enthusiast, and member of both The Natives Tongues Family & A Tribe Called Quest-Phife Dawg (Malik Izaak Taylor). Phife had many aliases: 'The 5-Foot Assassin,' 'The Trini-Gladiator,' and 'The Funky Diabetic.' Most people, however, refer to him simply as 'Phife.' With Q-Tip and Ali Shaheed Muhammad, the trio formed Quest during the mid 1980s. They later added Jarobi, recorded a demo that got the attention of both Geffen and Jive Records, and ultimately signed with Jive. In 1990 they released their debut People’s Instinctive Travels And The Paths Of Rhythm, which did well in sales, and was mostly produced by Q-Tip-who also spit the majority of the rhymes on the album. One track in particular though, Can I Kick It?, showcased Phife’s vocal ability.
The follow up LP-The Low End Theory (1991)-contained even more of Phife’s verses than the first. Phife added a more street/battle rap and signifying style to balance Q-Tip’s mellow & laid back rhymes. Tip & Phife were one of the best rap combos in hip hop since Nice & Smooth, EPMD, and Run DMC. After The Love Moment (1998), Q-Tip and Phife both went solo-while Ali Shaheed Muhammad joined Lucy Pearl. In 2000, Phife released Ventilation on Groove Attack Records. It’s definitely a dope LP with the majority of production coming from DJ Hi-Tek, Pete Rock, & J Dilla. The album didn’t sell well, however, and he was dropped from the label. ATCQ reunited in 2016 to record a new LP, that features the few tracks Phife was able to record before passing away. He died in Contra Costa, County, California, at the age of 45.
On March 22nd, 1957, singer, actress, songwriter, and soul music icon-Stephanie (Dorethea) Mills was born in Brooklyn, New York. The Bed-Stuy native got her start singing at Cornerstone Baptist Church in Brooklyn. She stepped out as a professional singer at just the age of nine, performing in the Broadway musical Maggie Flynn. When she was 11, she won Amateur Night At The Apollo, and continued the streak for six weeks. Stephanie was the opening act for The Isley Brothers during the early 1970s, signed to Paramount Records in 1973, and released I Knew It Was Love later that same year. The single didn’t chart; so she returned to musical theater. In 1975 she secured the role of Dorothy, in The Wiz, and signed to Motown.
Her next two LPs: Movin’ In The Right Direction (1974), and For The First Time (1975) failed to do well either. Motown dropped her in 1976, and she signed with 20th Century Fox shortly thereafter. In 1979 she released her third LP-What Cha’ Gonna Do With My Lovin’. This album hit big on the charts, and on the underground House Music, circuit that was just beginning to come around. The title track-along with Starlight, Feel The Fire (feat. Peabo Bryson), Deeper Inside Your Love, and Put Your Body In It all became dancefloor and bedroom classics (produced by James Mtume & Reggie Lucas). Stepanie went on to release several LPs that shaped the sound of contemporary R&B. Stephanie Mills is 62 today.
On March 22nd, 1943, jazz musician, singer, guitarist, composer, songwriter, sideman, arranger, producer, bandleader, and Jack McDuff protege-George Benson was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. George started playing ukulele at age seven, moved to guitar when he was eight, played nightclubs, and made his recording debut at age nine on Groove Records. He ran into some trouble with the law shortly after, and lost his guitar playing privileges. When got out of juvenile custody, he started learning jazz guitar from Jack McDuff during his high school years. Another major influence was country guitarist Hank Garland. George played as a sideman for various acts from the late 1950s to the early 1960s. In 1964 he signed to Prestige! Records, and released The New Boss Guitar Of George Benson-featuring Jack McDuff’s Quartet.
Benson signed with Columbia in 1966, and released It’s Uptown with his own quartet. He signed with Verve and A&M, releasing LPs on both labels during the late 1960s. In the early 1970s he got into the fusion jazz sound, combined it with soul & funk, and started recording for CTI. His best and most sampled work is featured on this label. He recorded on the label from 1971 (Beyond The Blue Horizon) to 1976. When he left CTI for Warner Brothers, his sound became more universal-and was liked by the jazz fans he’d cultivated, as well as the general public who were largely unaware of his existence until songs like Breezin. Benson is unique in that he can stay with the times; but also infuse his old school roots into contemporary music (he currently works with house & broken beat producers). George Benson is 76 today.
HONORABLE MENTION: On March 22nd, in 1994, we lost a seminal songwriter, producer, guitarist, pianist, singer, bassist, composer, arranger and former member of the Edgar Winter Group-Dan Hartman (Daniel Earl Hartman). He’s the man behind the song Free Ride (Edgar Winter Group), and co-writer of James Brown’s-Living in America. He’s worked with several notable musicians in the game like: Tina Turner, Paul Young, Dusty Springfield, Joe Cocker, KC and the Sunshine Band, Steve Winwood and Bonnie Tyler. The multi-instrumentalist was 43 when he passed in Westport, Connecticut.
On March 22nd, in 1973, English R&B innovator, singer, songwriter, actress, British music mogul and radio personality-Beverly Knight (Beverly Anne Smith) was born in Wolverhampton, Staffordshire, England. Her parents were highly religious Jamaican immigrants that had Knight singing in the church at an early age. She credits it as being the first place she heard, and fell in love with music. By the time she was 13, she was writing her own songs. She started her recording career in 1993 and has acted in musicals, appeared on TV shows, presented numerous awards, hosted a radio show and won several British music and acting related awards. She’s 46 today.
On March 22nd, in 1963, singer, songwriter and member of the 80s New Wave British band-Human League: Susan (Ann-l) Sulley was born in Sheffield, England. She was childhood friends with the other female vocalist in Human League-Joanne Catherall. Interesting fact: Susan has only held 3 jobs in her entire life: hairdresser, ice cream parlor server and singer. She joined the band in 1980 and has remained with them since. Their most successful single-I’m Only Human is off their second LP with Sulley and 3rd album overall-Dare. Their sound is very similar to Tears for Fears, but not as upbeat like Culture Club. She’s 56 today.
On March 22nd, in 1929, jazz musician, sideman, saxophonist, composer, arranger, bandleader and avant garde jazz pioneer-Fred Anderson was born in Monroe, Louisiana. He was heavily influenced by Charlie Parker and pioneered his free form jazz sound at his club-The Velvet Lounge. Anderson was a prominent figure in free jazz, and in the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM). His adopted hometown is Chicago, Ill. He’s recorded over 30 LPs since 1978, reopened Birdland in 1977, helped cultivate and preserve all types of experimental music, as well as free jazz which he composes and arranges to this day. He’s 82.
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