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On December 1st, in 1940 comedian, actor, writer and social critic-Richard Pryor (Richard Franklin Lennox Thomas Pryor III) was born in Peoria, Illinois. Richard was raised by his grandmother mostly (Marie Carter) who ran a brothel. His father was an ex-boxer (LeRoy Buck Carter Pryor) and his mother was said to be a ‘working girl’ that suffered from alcoholism (Gertrude Thomas). By the time he reached age 14, his mother had abandoned him, he’d been a witness to many crimes and he was expelled from school. He enlisted in the Army when he was 18 and was stationed in West Germany for a while. He was discharged in 1960, and married Particia Price his first wife. They weren’t together very long before Pryor went on the road to pursue a career in comedy.
He did shows around the Midwest, built up a small name for himself and then ventured to New York City. In the early 60s, Pryor patterned his humor off of comics like Bill Cosby, he didn’t mind toning down his introspection, keeping his routines-jokes-and punchlines crossover ready to appeal to the masses. He also battled with stage fright often. While in NYC doing a reoccurring gig as the opener for Nina Simone, she notes that she had to calm him every night before he went on stage. Throughout the 60s, he had TV appearances and made a few recordings of some of his sets. However, he never cursed on stage purposely until the fall of 1967 when he decided to add it to his routine. He moved to the Bay area in 1969, enjoying the last days of the Counterculture. Once the 70s rolled around, Pryor was a household name, changing comedy, movies, music, politics and social interactions nationally and worldwide. He’s one of the most influential artists of the all-time. R.I.P. Richard Pryor (died Dec 10th, 2005 65 years-old).
Am I Black, Am I Black enough for you?! On December 1st, in 1934, soul, funk, jazz vocalist, Philly International artist, and the man who sang the controversial song: Am I Black Enough For You-Billy Paul (Paul Williams) was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The North Philly native was influenced by vocal greats like: Dinah Washington, Billie Holiday, Carmen McRae, Nat King Cole, Sam Cooke, Ella Fitzgerald, Johnny Mathis, Sarah Vaughn, Jessie Velvet (Mr. Easy) and Nina Simone. Paul always wanted to sing with a smooth, mellow and silky voice. He got his start singing professionally in the mid-40s via local radio station WPEN. Paul’s mother supported his musical ambitions by sending him to the Granoff School of Music. He stated he always wanted to be a saxophonist and have a unique singing voice, he didn’t want to sound like anyone else.
As a result, he applied the techniques he’d use on a horn to his voice. By age 16, Paul was learning phrasing from Charlie Parker at the Club Harlem in Philly where they both were performing. Before his 18th birthday in 1952, he recorded his first side with Jubilee Records: You Didn’t Know b/w The Stars Are Mine. He was drafted in 1957 and served with Elvis in Germany. When he returned to the states in 1959, he started a Jazz band featuring him on vocals, Sam Dockery (piano), and Buster Williams (bass). During the 60s he was a Flamingo, one of the Blue Notes for Harold Melvin, and good friends with Marvin Gaye. By the late 60s, Paul was discovered by the seminal production team Gamble & Huff. They gave him the arrangements, lyrics and backing music he needed to create hits like Me & Mrs Jones and my favorite song by him; Am I Black Enough For You. Paul died in 2016 (81 years-old).
On December 1st, in 1933 Gospel-Jazz-Blues-Soul vocalist, producer, actor, songwriter, voice-over star, United Negro College Fund spokesman, Parade of Stars Telethon starter, former high school classmate and band mate of Sam Cooke (Soul Stirrers)-Lou Rawls (Louis Allen Rawls) was born in Chicago, Illinois. He started off singing Gospel, as a member of the Highway QC’s (replaced Sam Cooke on lead), The Soul Stirrers (with Cooke), Chosen Gospel Singers and later the Pilgrim Travelers which had him move to LA. In the mid 50s, Rawls enlisted in the Army and joined the 82nd Airborne as a paratrooper. He returned to civilian life around 1958 and got into a horrible automobile accident that put him in a coma. He recovered in 1959 and sought out a secular career, making his first recording on Shar-Dee Records owned by Herb Alpert (Love-Love-Love b/w Walkin’-for Miles).
He also sang backup for Cooke on Bring it On Home & That’s Where It’s At. By the early 60s he was recording vocals with Jazz greats like Les McCann. By the late 60s, he’d be a household name. David Axelrod produced a few of his songs as well. He burned up the Disco and Pop charts in the 70s with a Soulful alternative to pop vocalists like Midler, Sinatra and Diamond. In 1980 he started the Parade of Stars Telethon to help raise money for the United Negro College Fund (A Mind is A Terrible Thing to Waste). Lou Rawls did a lot for the Black community that goes unspoken or unacknowledged. Seek out more information on him. You’ll see he led an interesting, selfless and fulfilling life. He was 72 years-old when he passed in LA, CA (2006).
On December 1st, in 1969 we lost a pioneering Bluesman, guitarist, singer and songwriter-Magic Sam AKA Samuel Gene Maghett. Maghett was a Mississippi native that taught himself how to play guitar listening to Little Walter & Muddy Waters’ songs. He followed his inspirations to their recording source-Chess Records in Chicago, Illinois. He relocated to the City of Broad Shoulders in 1956, setting up shop with his bassist and lifelong friend-Mack Thompson. They knew the South Side was over saturated with Blues artists so they performed on the West Side mostly. Sam was playing under the moniker Good Rocking Sam at the time, but when he got signed to Cobra Records in 1957, and found out that someone was already using that name, his bassist Thompson did a play on words with his name:
Maghett last name = Magic, Sam is his first name, hence Magic Sam. Maghett played tremolo guitar which gives a trembling effect to sounds. He got very famous playing this style of Blues guitar. His label mates Buddy Guy & Otis Rush, along with Maghett, put a new type of Blues sound on the map that was coming straight out of Chicago’s West Side. He was drafted by the Army in the late 50s, but went AWOL, served a short sentence and got dishonorably discharged. In the early 60s, he charted worldwide with his single: Feelin’ good (We’re Gonna Boogie). This single and his prior work allowed him the opportunity to tour the US, UK & Germany. In 1982, he was posthumously inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame. He was 32 years-old when he passed (heart attack).
On December 1st, in 2013, the Psychedelic Rock movement lost an innovative graphic artists, songwriter and cartoonist-Martin Sharp. Sharp was an Australia native that’s revered as one of their top Pop Artists (Down Under’s Andy Warhol). Most of his art appeared on the covers and throughout the pages of OZ Magazine which was a publication that documented the counterculture of the 60s (music, politics, film, fashion, philosophy). It was originally published in Australia, but demand would cause it to also be published in the UK. These illustrations got him fame among the musicians of the time.
They in turn hired him to make posters and cover art for their LPs. Bob Dylan and Donovan had him design psychedelic tinged posters for promotional purposes. He also designed the cover art for Cream’s Disraeli Gears and Wheels of Fire LPs. Speaking of Cream, Sharp had a close association with Eric Clapton who lived in the same building. He has co-songwriting credits with Cream for their song: Tales of Brave Ulysses. He also remained a close friend of Clapton. In the mid-60s, he published a book of his cartoons: Martin Sharp Cartoons. He did the Jimi Hendrix Exploding poster and most of the artwork for the Legalize Pot movement. He’s done art exhibitions, helped revitalize and design Luna Park in Australia and advocated heavily for the ukulele musician Tiny Tim. He was 71 years-old when he passed.
Honorable Mention: On December 1st, in 1944, drummer for the Doors-John (Paul) Densmore was born in Los Angeles, California. Interesting facts: Densmore’s first instrument was the piano. When he got to high school, he played drums in the marching band and timpani in orchestra. He also studied ethnic music in college with Fred Katz (Jazz Cellist) as his advisor. His major influences on the drums are Jazz musicians like Elvin Jones (Coltrane's drummer) and Art Blakey (Jazz Messengers). He’s 74 years-old today.
On December 1st, in 1951, seminal Fusion Jazz bassist-Jaco Pastorius (John Francis Pastorius III) was born in Norristown, Pennsylvania. He was a member of Weather Report with Wayne Shorter, and worked heavily with Joni Mitchell and Pat Metheny. His bass playing was so original, recognizable and groundbreaking that DownBeat has him as one of 7 bassists total to be inducted into their Jazz Hall of Fame. He’s the only electric bass player with this honor. TOV covered his death on the 09-21-18 post. He was 35 years-old when he passed.
On December 1st, in 1955 The Mother of the Civil Rights Movement made her decision to show her peaceful resistance to public transportation policies on her bus ride-Rosa Louise McCauley Parks. She refused to move to the back of the bus after the driver had ordered her and 3 other Black passengers to make room. She stayed in her seat and was arrested for: refusing to obey the orders of a bus driver. This sparked a 381 day protest that ended successfully with buses in Montgomery, Alabama having open seating.
On December 1st, in 1987, we lost an important historical figure that told the masses the truth about the Black Experience in America-James (Arthur) Baldwin. The NYC native passed away in Saint Paul de Vence, France. He is well known as an author, playwright, essayist and spokesman for the Black community. He was close friends with like-minded stars of his day like Nina Simone, Sidney Poitier, Josephine Baker, Miles Davis, Harry Belafonte, and Ray Charles to name a few. He was 63 years-old when he died.
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!