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On March 25th, in 1942, seminal singer, actress, songwriter, pianist, composer, arranger, producer, the Queen of Soul and one of the greatest soul singers of all-time-Aretha (Louise) Franklin was born in Memphis, Tennessee. TOV covered the artist’s death on the August 16th post. Please refer to it for more information. Aretha came from a highly religious and musical family. Her father was the infamous Reverend C.L. Franklin (Clarence LaVaughn), and her sister Erma was a prolific singer in her own right. Aretha’s mother and father separated in 1948 (she was 6). After this, they moved from the south to Detroit where she was mentored by Mahalia Jackson and started playing piano by ear.
Her father’s reputation as a preacher grew quickly, making gospel stars regular visitors at the Franklin home during the 50s: Clara Ward (C.L.’s significant other from 1949-1973), Sam Cooke, Martin Luther King Jr, James Cleveland, Jackie Wilson and Inez Andrews. Aretha developed her singing voice in the early 50s. She often sang solos at church. Her first record deal came in 1956 when she was signed by J.V.B. Records. Her first single was: Never Grow Old b/w You Grow Closer. She toured with the Soul Stirrers, Martin Luther King Jr (sang at his funeral too) and the Staple Singers. Her first secular LP was released in 1961 on Columbia Records: Aretha: With the Ray Bryant Combo. She stayed on Columbia for 5 years before signing to Atlantic in 1967. The bulk of her commercial success came while she was on Atlantic (1967-1979). The Queen of Soul was 76 when she passed.
On March 25th, in 1947, seminal rock singer, producer, pianist, composer, songwriter, arranger, actor and glam rock pioneer-Elton John (Reginald Kenneth Dwight, Sir Elton Hercules John) was born in Pinner, Middlesex, England. He grew up in a very conservative household with a father who was a pilot in the Royal Air Force. His father wanted him to be a banker, but Elton was dead set on becoming a musician. His grandmother got him started on piano when he was very young. He played by ear, until he turned 7 and started taking formal lessons. By the time he was 11, he was able to reproduce melodies and lengthy pieces he’d heard for the first time. He also started composing his own songs and played a 'Jerry Lee Lewis' style of piano that mixed boogie woogie with classical undertones.
He was awarded a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music. His mother got him into rock ‘n’ roll when she brought home records by Bill Haley & the Comets, Little Richard and Elvis Presley. He dropped out of high school right before he graduated to pursue music full-time. He attributes his conservative upbringing to his wild lifestyle after he left home. His costumes and lyrical content are correlated to his newly found freedom. His first major group and gig was with Bluesology who backed artists like: The Isley Brothers, Patti LaBelle & the Bluebelles and Major Lance. In the late 60s, John wrote and composed songs for Liberty Records. His first LP came out in 1969 on DJM/Pye Records-Empty Sky. He’s released over 30 LPs since. The Grammy award winner is 72 today.
On March 25th, in 1951, we lost the first official Black film maker, writer, author, director and film producer-Oscar Devereaux Micheaux. He was born in Metropolis, Illinois (Southern Illinois between Paducah, KY and Marion, IL-right across the Ohio River). He got his start as a filmmaker in 1919 when he became the first Black to write, direct and produce a motion picture called-The Homesteader. He followed it up with a response film to the racist Birth of a Nation motion picture-Within Our Gates (1919). He introduced the actor/singer Paul Robeson to the world in his 1924 film called Body and Soul. During his lifetime, he produced over 40 films and wrote 7 novels. Due to the Jim Crow era being in full swing when he passed, a lot of his works were not celebrated until several years after his death.
He was posthumously given a Golden Jubilee Special Award by the Directors Guild of America in 1986 (35 years after he passed). He also got a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in the early 90s. In 1994, a bio film/documentary about his life was released-Midnight Ramble. A written version of his life was published in 2007-Oscar Micheaux, The Great and Only: The Life of America’s First Black Filmmaker. In 2010, the USPS (United States Postal Service) honored Micheaux with his own commemorative stamp. Book & Film festivals have been founded under his name that honor not only his accomplishments, but promote the writings and films of people of color. South Dakota has an annual celebration called the Oscar Micheaux Film & Book Festival. He was 67 when he passed in Charlotte, North Carolina.
HONORABLE MENTION: 3 things of significance happened to the King of Pop AKA Michael Jackson on March 25th in 1983, 1991 and 1992. First, in 1983, Motown held their 25th anniversary celebration in Pasadena, California. The Jackson 5 reunited and performed at the concert. Michael introduced the world to the Moonwalk. Others that performed were: Marvin Gaye, The Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Martha Reeves, The Temptations, Smokey Robinson and the Four Tops. In 1991, Michael escorted Madonna to the Academy Awards. Last, in 1992, he was give a Lifetime Achievement Award by the National Association of Black-Owned Broadcasters.
On March 25th, in 1985, pop culture icon, multi-genre music innovator, drummer, pianist, producer, composer, bassist, guitarist, arranger, singer, songwriter and the man known simply by an androgynous symbol-Prince (Rogers Nelson) was honored with an Oscar for the Best Original Score-Purple Rain. When this movie and soundtrack came out, they hit the world by storm…literally. Controversy surrounded the LP due to lyrical content, overt sexual themes, unconventional arrangements, musical concepts, and the fact that no ‘Hollywood’ stars were included in the film. That same year, Stevie Wonder got an Oscar that he dedicated to Nelson Mandela for his song off the Women in Red soundtrack-I Just Called to Say I Love You.
On March 25th, in 1988, following the Barbara Walters interview of Mike Tyson and Robin Givens at his home, Robin gained, via Mike’s legal blessing, full access to his earnings and all financial matters related to the fighter. This, I believe, was the start of Tyson’s downfall. After Robin moved her mother in, spent Tyson’s money like it was nothing and clowned his character to a national audience? Well let’s just say I think she fractured him mentally, and up to that point, he’d been very focused on his career. Sometimes it bees like that…You lose focus and it takes a while to get it back, if you ever do, as which most of us Tyson fans know, his career never really recovered after that.
On March 25th, in 1997, Puffy made a power move. Biggie had just been killed on the 9th. Tupac was killed in Nov of 1996. Much like Suge Knight-Death Row Records owner who capitalized on the buzz surrounding Tupac's death, and Suge releasing all of Pac's cutting floor work…Puffy followed suit and released Biggie’s Life After Death album. He’d just passed 16 days prior. Puffy's career exploded after this. He went on to become a successful fashion designer, restaurant owner, vodka manufacturer, TV personality, actor and producer...
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