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On December 26th, 2010 child actress, singer, guitarist, pianist, percussionist, composer, songwriter, producer, the Funk innovator coined "The Ivory Queen Of Soul," Teena Marie (Mary Christine Brockett AKA Lady Tee) passed away in Pasadena, California. The Italian, Portuguese, Native American, and Irish artist started singing when she was two years old, taking to it like a fish to water. She fell in love with Motown songs and would cover them often. Teena started doing auditions and acting when she was eight years old, appearing on The Beverly Hillbillies. She continued to hone her skills, and got a chance opportunity to sing at Jerry Lee Lewis’ son’s wedding (she was 10). Her family moved to Venice Beach in her teens (early 70s), and she spent the majority of her time in the Black community of Venice Harlem.
This is where she met her spiritual guide and Godmother-Berthalynn Jackson. By the time she graduated high school, she had become an avid reader (which helped her songwriting), and was the lead for the band called Truvair (1974-1975). In 1976, she got her big break of sorts, but it would be delayed by a few years. Teena was part of a band that had been signed for a project by Motown. Gordy and Hal Davis shelved the project; but were so impressed by Teena’s voice that they signed her as a solo act (the first White Act on Motown). She released her debut LP Wild & Peaceful in 1979. She became the first White artist to appear on Soul Train, making her debut that same year with Rick James (she appeared eight times in all). Her hit at the time was I’m A Sucker For Your Love. Rick James co-produced the cut. Her career really took off after this, and Marie went on to release several successful LPs-and produce others. She was 54 years old when she died.
On December 26th, in 2012, we lost a seminal Soul singer, pianist, songwriter, and producer-Fontella (Marie) Bass. She was a St. Louis native that came from a musical family-with her mother being a member of The Clara Ward Singers (Gospel); and her little brother David Peaston being a solo vocalist (he sang the original version of Can I?, which was later covered by Eddie Kendricks, and sampled by Talib Kweli & Bilal on Can I Talk To You). She started singing in the church, and by age 10 was touring the country with her mother. Like most children, when they reach their teens, Bass decided to leave the gospel scene and go secular in the late 1950s. She started doing gigs and talent shows, where she was spotted and picked up by Little Milton & Oliver Sain to play piano in their band. At first, she was only supposed to play piano; but when Milton failed to show, Sain had her step up and she killed it!
So much so that she got her own featured spot during the show. However, Sain and Bass had a dispute of sorts-and she left the band to audition for Chess Records. They signed her, and she made her recording debut in 1965 with Don’t Mess Up A Good Thing. It was a Top 10 R&B hit; and she had plenty more to come. Later that year, she recorded her biggest hit-Rescue Me; which featured soon to be Earth Wind & Fire bandleader Maurice White on drums. She recorded numerous singles and eight LPs from 1966 to 2001-three of which are standouts: The New Look (1966), Les Stances A Sophie with The Art Ensemble Of Chicago (1970), and Free (1972). Bass’ voice is more of a Motown Sound (Soulful Pop Music); but she stepped into the realm of reality music when she recorded songs like I’m Talking About Freedom. She also was a hard-nosed businesswoman, that advocated heavily for her royalties and fair contracts. This kept her at bay with a lot of the recording industry (she was labeled a trouble maker). She was 72 years old when she passed away.
On December 26th, 1999, singer, songwriter, producer, composer, record executive, arranger, guitarist, and co-founding member of The Roosters-Curtis (Lee) Mayfield passed away in Roswell, Georgia (near ATL). Interesting Fact: his son has strong ties to the infamous Dungeon Family, of whom got advice from Curtis while they were working on Outkast’s first LP. The Chicago native is largely responsible for shaping The Sound Of Chicago Soul with his musical partner Jerry Butler. Both of them were members of The Roosters, and The Impressions. They’d share songwriting duties-with Curtis penning the majority of their hits. Butler left The Impressions to pursue a solo career; and Mayfield became the lead singer (early 1960s). With Mayfield’s falsetto, good lyrics, and hearfelt delivery, he produced a string of hits for the vocal trio during the 60s, including:
Gypsy Woman, We’re A Winner, Keep On Pushing, People Get Ready, and Check Out Your Mind to name a few. Coming from a Gospel, and impoverished background, helped Mayfield write songs that depicted the realities he encountered. He went solo in 1970, which is the decade that contains some of his best work. He scored Superfly, Let’s Do It Again (Staple Singers), Claudine (Gladys Knight & The Pips), Sparkle (Aretha Franklin), Billy Jack, and Short Eyes during the 70s-all of which produced hits. He also founded the Curtom imprint; which was a subsidiary of Budhha Records. He produced acts like The Five Stairsteps, Linda Clifford, The Natural Four, LeRoy Huston, and a young Donny Hathaway for his label. He’s a Hall Of Fame, and award-winning musician that has left a legacy of great music. He was 57 when he died.
On December 26th, 1939, the infamous songwriter, vocalist and the record producer that’s responsible for inventing The Wall Of Sound-Phil Spector (Harvey Phillip Spector) was born in Bronx, NYC, NY. Spector essentially is one of the first producers to turn the studio into an instrument itself. His style of layering and overdubbing created The Wall Of Sound. The concept is based around the premise that one guitar sounds good; but four or more playing the same riff sound even better. We commonly associate this act with the term stacking in the music production world. Well, he’s the father of that.
He also was one of the first producers to participate in the entire recording process, from the writing the lyrics, to the delivery, to composing the music, picking the musicians-and how they play it, to setting the positions of the mics, and acting as sound engineer (the mix down). Think of any song you’ve heard that sounds ‘big’ when it comes on-that’s Spector’s musical toolbox. The production innovator faced several tragedies during his life. In 1991, his son passed away on his 51st birthday. This had a profoundly negative affect on him. Just twelve years later, he would be facing murder charges for shooting Lana Clarkson in the mouth at his home. He said they were playing around. It took two trials, and millions of dollars to convict him (May 29th, 2009). He did give us the one of the many keys needed to make good music though. Hats off for that one.
On December 26th, 2017, the award-winning television producer that brought us the MTV series Unplugged-Jim Burns (James Burns) passed away after he was struck by a taxi crossing 87th St in Manhattan, NY (the accident occurred on the 23rd). Burns co-produced the show with Robert Small. They both wanted to bring out a different side of the artist by stripping down the sets to entirely acoustic instruments. Rock acts could showcase their pipes and musical abilities in a less ‘loud’, more intimate environment; so the listener could actually hear and see the musicians. Hip Hop acts could show their poetic skills, and ability to rock over all types of music (not just drum machine-sequenced beats).
I will say that groups like Limp Bizkit, The Gorillaz, The Roots, and Rage Against The Machine were probably inspired by Hip Hop acts on Unplugged. The show aired for 10 years (1989-1999). It’s first season had three acts: Elton John, Aerosmith, and Stevie Ray Vaughn. These cats were kind of old though; and the following seasons reflected more of the audience’s preferences. Acts like LL Cool J, Nirvana, 10,000 Maniacs, Mariah Carey, and Lauryn Hill all appeared. The latter playing the same riff on guitar for several songs, eventually breaking out in tears during her set. Unplugged set the standard for musicians-only the truly skilled need appear. They won three Prime-Time Emmys; and released most of the sets as LPs that sold millions of copies (especially Nirvana’s set). He was 65 when he died.
Honorable Mention: On December 26th, 1908, heavyweight boxing legend Jack Johnson (John Arthur Johnson) became the World Heavyweight Champion when he defeated Tommy Burns with a 14th round TKO. Johnson was the first Black to become Heavyweight Champion. He was a prolific boxer and un-apologetically Black. He didn’t back down to, nor embrace Jim Crow policies. He said what he wanted-when he wanted, celebrated with who he wanted, and amassed riches that allowed him to live the hi-life Pre-Great Depression.
On December 26th, in 1953, sound engineer, keyboardist, and electronic percussionist for the group Kraftwerk-Henning Schmitz was born in Dusseldorf, Germany. Kraftwerk is the group responsible for pioneering a new genre of Music-Electronica. They didn’t use any acoustic instruments; but instead relied on technology to create the infamous song-Trans Europe Express. This is the sample used on Planet Rock. He’s 64 today.
On December 26th, in 1966, The Jimi Hendrix Experience were playing a show during the day at The Uppercut Club in London, England. To ‘sell’ Jimi to the Brits, he was billed as The Top American Soul Singer. This was common practice by promoters, as a way to bring people into the venue when lesser-known acts are performing. However, he didn’t play Soul. While backstage, Jimi penned Purple Haze which would go on to be one of his signature cuts.
On December 26th, 2009, the legal counselor that represented Malcolm X & Betty Shabazz (his spouse)-Percy Ellis Sutton passed away at the age of 89 years-old. Sutton was one of the intelligence officers for The Tuskegee Airmen during WWII. He got his Law Degree in 1950 from The Brooklyn Law School. He was co-founder of the Inner City Broadcasting Corporation, which was NYC’s first Black-owned radio station. They also created a record label. He was instrumental in assuring that the Civil Rights of his clients were not violated.
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!