Monday, November 10, 2008

Buffy Sainte-Marie

Buffy Sainte-Marie (born Beverly Sainte-Marie, on February 20, 1941) has enjoyed a long career from stardom on the folk circuit to country, rock, soundtrack themes, acting, activism, and children's television. For most listeners, she remains identified with the material she wrote and sang for Vanguard in the mid-'60s. Her songs that addressed the plight of the Native American, particularly "Now That the Buffalo's Gone" and "My Country 'Tis of Thy People You're Dying," were the ones that generated the most controversy. Yet she was also skilled at addressing broader themes of war and justice ("Universal Soldier") and romance ("Until It's Time for You to Go"). She was also a capable interpreter of outside material, although her idiosyncratic vibrato made large-scale commercial success out of the question.

Sainte-Marie was born to Cree Indian parents and adopted by a white family. Signed to Vanguard, she was one of the folk scene's more prominent rising stars in the '60s, and certainly the only widely heard performer articulating Native American viewpoints in song. Much of her best material from this era, however, gained its greatest commercial inroads via cover versions. "Universal Soldier" was one of Donovan's first hits. "Until It's Time for You to Go," perhaps her best composition, was covered by numerous pop singers, and became a big British hit for Elvis Presley in the early '70s. "Cod'ine," one of the few '60s songs to explicitly address the dangers of drugs, was covered by Californian rock bands Quicksilver Messenger Service and the Charlatans.

Sainte-Marie didn't pigeonhole herself as a folky, though, recording in Nashville in the late '60s in attempts to break into the country market. In the 1970s, she would make some rock records, including one (1971's She Used to Wanna Be a Ballerina) with contributions from Ry Cooder and Crazy Horse. These country and rock outings were far less successful, both commercially and artistically, than her early folk efforts.

But Sainte-Marie was never as reliant on selling units as most musicians. She kept busy with a long-running stint on Sesame Street, performing benefits for and organizing on behalf of Native Americans, and composing for movies (she won an Oscar for the theme to An Officer and a Gentleman, co-written with her husband, producer Jack Nitzsche). She hadn't made an album for 15 years before issuing Coincidence and Likely Stories in 1992.

France named Buffy Sainte-Marie Best International Artist of 1993. That same year, she was selected by the United Nations to proclaim officially the International Year of Indigenous Peoples.She was inducted into the Juno Hall of Fame for her life-long contribution to music in 1995 and won a Gemini Award in 1997 for the Canadian TV special Buffy Sainte-Marie: Up Where We Belong. This also marked the first time she had performed her famous song to a live audience. She received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation in Canada in 1998, and was also made an Officer of the Order of Canada. In 1999, she received a star on Canada's Walk of Fame. Find out more about her at:

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Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Inez & Charlie Foxx

Inez Foxx (born 9 September 1942) and her brother Charlie Foxx (23 October 1939 – 18 September 1998) were an American rhythm and blues and soul duo from Greensboro, North Carolina. Inez sang lead vocal, while Charlie sang back-up and played guitar.

Their most successful record was with their novelty composition, "Mockingbird". Released in 1963, it made the Top 10 on both the rhythm and blues and pop charts; the song was later covered by James Taylor and Carly Simon, as well as Dusty Springfield and more recently by country music artist Toby Keith (featuring his daughter, Krystal).

Other notable recordings were "Hurt by Love," "Ask Me," and "(1-2-3-4-5-6-7) Count the Days."

They were known for their exciting live performances, of which a highlight was Inez's rendition of "I Stand Accused", which finished with a supposedly distraught Inez singing the last verse, while being carried offstage by Charlie. They toured extensively in Europe and their music played a key role in the development of the Northern Soul movement.
Inez also had some success recording on her own, beginning in 1969, but her popularity faded in the 1970s. Charlie was already working as a record producer when they finally disbanded their act.

Charlie Foxx died in 1998, at the age of 58. Find out more about the sister/brother act at:

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Saturday, November 1, 2008

Bobbie Gentry

Of Portuguese descent, Bobbie Gentry was born Roberta Streeter in Chickasaw County, MS, on July 27, 1944; her parents divorced shortly after her birth and she was raised in poverty on her grandparents' farm. After her grandmother traded one of the family's milk cows for a neighbor's piano, seven-year-old Bobbie composed her first song, "My Dog Sergeant Is a Good Dog," years later self-deprecatingly reprised in her nightclub act; at 13, she moved to Arcadia, CA, to live with her mother, soon beginning her performing career in local country clubs. The 1952 film Ruby Gentry lent the singer her stage surname.

After graduating high school, Gentry settled in Las Vegas, where she appeared in the Les Folies Bergère nightclub revue; she soon returned to California, studying philosophy at U.C.L.A. before transferring to the Los Angeles Conservatory of Music. In 1964, she made her recorded debut, cutting a pair of duets — "Ode to Love" and "Stranger in the Mirror" — with rockabilly singer Jody Reynolds. Gentry continued performing in clubs in the years to follow before an early 1967 recording a demo found its way to Capitol Records producer Kelly Gordon; upon signing to the label, she issued her debut single, "Mississippi Delta." However, disc jockeys began spinning the B-side, the self-penned "Ode to Billie Joe" — with its eerily spare production and enigmatic narrative detailing the suicide of Billie Joe McAllister, who flings himself off the Tallahatchie Bridge, the single struck a chord on country and pop radio alike, topping the pop charts for four weeks in August 1967 and selling three million copies. Although the follow-up, "I Saw an Angel Die," failed to chart, Gentry nevertheless won three Grammy awards, including Best New Artist and Best Female Vocal. She was also named the Academy of Country Music's Best New Female Vocalist.

With her second album, 1968's The Delta Sweete, Gentry returned to the country charts with the minor hit "Okolona River Bottom Band." Although her recordings were typically credited to Capitol staff producers, she later maintained she helmed the sessions herself and also wrote much of her own material, drawing on her Mississippi roots to compose revealing vignettes that typically explored the lifestyles, values, and even hypocrisies of the southern culture. Favoring more soulful and rootsy arrangements in vogue in Nashville at the time, Gentry's records sound quite unlike anything on either the country or pop charts at the time and her smoky, sensuous voice adapted easily to a variety of musical contexts. But to many listeners, she remained a one-hit wonder and her excellent third album, 1968's Local Gentry, received little notice. That same year, Gentry issued a duet album with Glen Campbell, returning to the country Top 20 with "Let It Be Me"; the duo regularly collaborated throughout the 1970s, scoring their biggest hit with a cover of "All I Really Want to Do."

In 1969, Gentry reached her creative zenith with Touch 'Em With Love — though cut in Nashville, the record owed far more to the gritty R&B sounds emanating across the state in Memphis and generated her first U.K. number one, a smoldering rendition of the Burt Bacharach/Hal David perennial "I'll Never Fall in Love Again."

In 1971, she issued her final Capitol effort, Patchwork, primarily confining her performing to her nightclub act for the next several years. A CBS summer replacement series, The Bobbie Gentry Happiness Hour, aired for four episodes in 1974; Gentry next surfaced on the big screen, credited as co-writer for a 1976 film adaptation of Ode to Billie Joe. After a second marriage, to fellow singer/songwriter Jim Stafford, ended in 1979 after only 11 months, Gentry gradually receded from public view, retiring from performing and eventually settling in Los Angeles. Find more about her at:

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Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Hugh Masekela

Hugh Ramopolo Masekela (b. Witbank, South Africa, April 4, 1939) is a South African trumpeter, flugelhornist, cornetist, composer, and singer. He began singing and playing piano as a child. At age 14, after seeing the film Young Man With a Horn (in which Kirk Douglas portrays American jazz trumpeter Bix Beiderbecke), he took up playing the trumpet. His first trumpet was given to him by Archbishop Trevor Huddleston, the anti-apartheid chaplain at St. Peters Secondary School.

Huddleston asked the leader of the then Johannesburg "Native" Municipal Brass Band, Uncle Sauda, to teach Masekela the rudiments of trumpet playing. Masekela quickly mastered the instrument. Soon, some of Masekela's schoolmates also became interested in playing instruments, leading to the formation of the Huddleston Jazz Band, South Africa's very first youth orchestra. By 1956, after leading other ensembles, Masekela joined Alfred Herbert's African Jazz Revue.

Masekela began to play music that closely reflected his life experience. The agony, conflict, and exploitation South Africa faced during 1950’s and 1960’s, all inspired his music. His music also protested about apartheid, slavery, government; the hardships individuals were living under and reached a large population of people that also felt oppressed due to the country situation.

Following a Manhattan Brothers tour of South Africa in 1958, Masekela wound up in the orchestra for the musical King Kong, written by Todd Matshikiza. King Kong was South Africa's first blockbuster theatrical success, touring the country for a sold-out year with Miriam Makeba and the Manhattan Brothers' Nathan Mdledle in the lead. The musical later went to London's West End for two years.

Following the March 21, 1960, Sharpeville Massacre - where 69 peacefully protesting Africans were shot dead in Sharpeville, and the South African government banned gatherings of ten or more people - and the increased brutality of the Apartheid state, Masekela left the country. He was helped by Trevor Huddleston who got him admitted into London's Guildhall School of Music. He visited the United States, and was befriended by Harry Belafonte. There he recorded the pop jazz tunes "Up, Up and Away" and the number one smash "Grazin' in the Grass" (1968), which sold four million copies.

In 1987, he had a hit single with "Bring Him Back Home" which became an anthem for the movement to free Nelson Mandela. A renewed interest in his African roots led him to collaborate with West and Central African musicians, and finally to reconnect with South African players when he set up a mobile studio in Botswana, just over the South African border, in the 1980s. Here he re-absorbed and re-used mbaqanga strains, a style he has continued to use since his return to South Africa in the early 1990s. In the 1980s, he toured with Paul Simon in support of Simon's album Graceland, which featured other South African artists such as Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Miriam Makeba, and other elements of the band Kalahari, which Masekela recorded with in the 1980s. He also collaborated in the musical development for the Broadway play, Sarafina!

In 2003, he was featured in the documentary film Amandla!. In 2004, he released his autobiography, Grazin' in The Grass: The Musical Journey of Hugh Masekela, which details his struggles against apartheid, as well as his personal struggles against alcoholism from the late 1970s through to the 1990s, a period when he began to blend South African sounds to an adult contemporary sound through two albums he recorded with Herb Alpert, and solo recordings, Techno-Bush, Tomorrow, Uptownship, Beatin' Aroun' de Bush, Sixty, Time, and his most recent studio recording, "Revival". His song, "Soweto Blues", sung by his former wife, Miriam Makeba, is a blues/jazz piece that mourns the carnage of the Soweto riots in 1976. Since October 2007, he is a Board Member of the Woyome Foundation. Find out more at:

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Doors

The Doors, one of the most influential and controversial rock bands of the 1960s, were formed in Los Angeles in 1965 by UCLA film students Ray Manzarek, keyboards, and Jim Morrison, vocals; with drummer John Densmore and guitarist Robby Krieger. The group never added a bass player, and their sound was dominated by Manzarek's electric organ work and Morrison's deep, sonorous voice, with which he sang and intoned his highly poetic lyrics. The group signed to Elektra Records in 1966 and released its first album, The Doors, featuring the hit "Light My Fire," in 1967.

Like "Light My Fire," the debut album was a massive hit, and endures as one of the most exciting, groundbreaking recordings of the psychedelic era. Blending blues, classical, Eastern music, and pop into sinister but beguiling melodies, the band sounded like no other. With his rich, chilling vocals and somber poetic visions, Morrison explored the depths of the darkest and most thrilling aspects of the psychedelic experience. Their first effort was so stellar, in fact, that the Doors were hard-pressed to match it, and although their next few albums contained a wealth of first-rate material, the group also began running up against the limitations of their recklessly disturbing visions. By their third album, they had exhausted their initial reservoir of compositions, and some of the tracks they hurriedly devised to meet public demand were clearly inferior to, and imitative of, their best early work.

On The Soft Parade, the group experimented with brass sections, with mixed results. Accused (without much merit) by much of the rock underground as pop sellouts, the group charged back hard with the final two albums they recorded with Morrison, on which they drew upon stone-cold blues for much of their inspiration, especially on 1971's L.A. Woman. From the start, the Doors' focus was the charismatic Morrison, who proved increasingly unstable over the group's brief career. In 1969, he was arrested for indecent exposure during a concert in Miami, an incident that nearly derailed the band.

Nevertheless, the Doors managed to turn out a series of successful albums and singles through 1971, when, upon the completion of L.A. Woman, he decamped for Paris. He died there, apparently of a drug overdose. The three surviving Doors tried to carry on without him, but ultimately disbanded. Yet the Doors' music and Morrison's legend continued to fascinate succeeding generations of rock fans: In the mid-'80s, he was as big a star as he'd been in the mid-'60s, and Elektra has sold numerous quantities of the Doors' original albums plus reissues and releases of live material over the years, while publishers have flooded bookstores with Doors and Morrison biographies. In 1991, director Oliver Stone made The Doors, a feature film about the group starring Val Kilmer as Morrison.

The surviving Doors continued for some time, initially considering replacing Morrison with a new singer. Instead, Krieger and Manzarek took over on vocals and The Doors released two more albums before disbanding. The recording of Other Voices took place from June to August 1971, and the album was released in October, 1971. The recordings for Full Circle took place during the spring of 1972, and the album was released in August, 1972. The Doors went on tour after the releases in support of the albums. The last album expanded into jazz territory.

While neither album has been reissued on CD in the United States, they have been released on 2-on-1 CDs in Germany and Russia. The legality of the re-issues is debatable.
Both albums sold less than the Morrison era releases, and The Doors stopped performing and recording at the end of 1972, effectively dissolving in March, 1973, during a stay in London while looking for a vocalist. Find out more at:

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Thursday, October 16, 2008

Brenda Holloway

Brenda Holloway (born June 21, 1946) is a singer and songwriter best known for her period as a recording artist for the Motown label during the 1960s and is best known for the soulful hits, "Every Little Bit Hurts" and "You've Made Me So Very Happy", which later became a pop smash by Blood, Sweat & Tears.

Born in Atascadero, California, she grew up in the Watts section of Los Angeles where she took up violin and sung in her church choir. At 14, she and sister Patrice Holloway began working on demonstration records and singing backup for local L.A.-based R&B acts. In 1962, Brenda made her recording debut with the single, "Poor Fool". That same year, she recorded the song that she would later be famously known for in the coming decades, "Every Little Bit Hurts".

After being overheard singing Mary Wells' "My Guy", Motown Records CEO Berry Gordy signed her to the label's Tamla imprint. For her first single, she was required to re-record "Every Little Bit Hurts" much to the budding singer-songwriter's chagrin. Released in May of 1964, "Every Little Bit Hurts" became a smash hit for Holloway reaching number thirteen on the Billboard Hot 100 helping to win the singer a concert spot on Dick Clark's Caravan of Stars tour. She followed "Every Little Bit Hurts" with the more modest follow-up, "I Will Always Love You", before hitting the top forty again with the number 25 pop hit, "When I'm Gone", released shortly after now-former Motown star Mary Wells' Motown contract expired. Wells ironically recorded "When I'm Gone" before Holloway. Motown produced Holloway with songs that were originally recorded by Wells including "Operator" and "I'll Be Available". She became a fixture to several sixties television shows including Shindig! and later was asked by The Beatles to open for them on their U.S. tour in 1966.

She performed in the first rock stadium concert at Shea Stadium for the Beatles as their opening act. Holloway was only one of three female acts who opened for the Beatles including Mary Wells and Jackie DeShannon. Despite her modest success, Holloway felt out of place at the Detroit-based label. Being the first West Coast-based artist on the label, she also was one of the few female artists in Motown to write her own songs and had a much grittier approach to songs than her contemporaries in the label.

Between 1966 and early 1968, she recorded a string of singles that was to be put on her second album, Hurtin' & Cryin'. Its first single was "Just Look What You've Done", which hit the top 30 on the R&B chart. Its follow-up would have a stronger span: the Holloway co-penned "You've Made Me So Very Happy", was one of the few singles written by Holloway allowed to be released. Upon its release, the single peaked at number 40 on the pop chart and number 39 on the R&B chart. Its momentum was stopped when Holloway suddenly left Motown in 1968. A year later, Holloway received royalties for "You've Made Me So Very Happy" when jazz-rock troupe Blood, Sweat & Tears took it to number 2 on the US pop chart and the top 40 in the UK. A year afterwards, Holloway retired from performing.

For more than ten years, she married a pastor and became a housewife while occasionally singing with her sister Patricia. In 1980, she briefly stepped out of retirement to record a gospel album. She divorced her husband shortly afterward, and returned to performing secular music in 1988 recording for the UK label, Motorcity Records. In 1990, she issued the album, All It Takes. After the 1992 death of her friend, Mary Wells, from throat cancer, she came out of retirement from performing and has since kept a healthy performing schedule while recording sporadically. Her most recent album was the 2003 recording, My Love is Your Love. Her vocals, alongside her sister's, were prominently featured in the background of Joe Cocker's hit version of The Beatles' "With a Little Help from My Friends". In the UK, she's regarded as a "Northern Soul legend" while in the U.S., she's often considered the "lost" Motown artist among other Motown acts that didn't get the recognition that many felt they deserved. Still, she is looked upon as a "sixties Motown legend". Find out more at:

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