Category: Music Power
For people across the world, the death of the legendary Dr. Nina Simone in 2003 (April 20), was met with a lot of sadness. An often-unsung hero and pioneer in the civil rights movement, Nina was a woman of conviction who left her country of birth rather than compromised her artistic integrity, a woman who challenged the status quo.
But more than that, a woman who knew how to touch the hearts of so many with her distinctive musical blend of jazz, blues, and soul. I was blessed to have my own first-hand experience of Nina at the tender age of sixteen when I formed the very first British fan club for her in 1965.
I remember vividly going out to the airport, flowers in hand, to meet this woman who had made such an impact on me through the albums she made in the ‘60s.
Mixing Billie Holiday classics with spirituals, folk songs with African chants, old English odes with movie themes, Duke Ellington with George Gershwin, Nina was a one-of-a-kind artist whose music moved me such that I felt compelled to be involved somehow in sharing her brilliance with others. Thus, the fan club and a life full of memories of my encounters with the amazing Dr. Simone!
Nina Simone was definitely among the most remarkable artists of the last century, a true icon of what American music is all about. Het music is Art of the finest kind. Nina was a great musical storyteller who has always used her phenomenal talent for boosting empowerment, liberation, love, and passion.
Her artistic body of works is so hypnotic, seductive, amazing, and magnificent that Nina was known as the “High Priestess of Soul”. Many listeners would lose track of space and time to get totally absorbed in her artistic work. A great example of Nina’s way of playing can be seen in this 1976 Video of her Montreux Jazz Festival Performance:
Nina Simone was born in 1933, on February 1, as Eunice Kathleen Waymon in the small town of Tryon, North Carolina. Her talent for music became evident already at an early age when she began to play the piano at age three without any training, and her parents, a preacher and a minister themselves, stimulated her to play piano in the church of her mother. Nina did not sing but displayed her remarkable talent for playing practically anything by ear,
The musician, video artist, and perennial drifter James Ferraro first appeared in my life in the form of an idea, passed on by a college friend of mine who had spent a few months couch-surfing with him during a semester abroad in Berlin.
We were sitting in his mother’s SUV, listening to a slowed down version of “We Are On The Race Track,” a minor chart hit by the ‘80s Jamaican soul diva Precious Wilson. Listen also to this interview with James Ferraro:
James had gotten my friend in the habit of playing old vinyl ‘45s at 33 speed and dubbing signal onto reams of a warped cassette tape, and I remember being transfixed for the first time by the sound of a pop song in slow motion.
The singer’s muscular alto had transformed into a mournful, slothful baritone; the upbeat disco instrumentals seemed to sag under their own weight. It was like uncovering a second song, a second existence, that lay dormant in the first.
One of my all-time favorite artists is the super singer/songwriter/producer Maurice White who passed away in February 2016. He founded the group Earth Wind and Fire. His life story and his musical journey have been such an inspiration for me throughout the years. No other artist has come close to Maurice, leaving me continually in awe of the mastery of his craft…He was truly a genius.
Maurice was born in Memphis TN, on Dec. 19th, 1941. He went to Crane Junior College and the Chicago Conservatory of Music. He was taught as a young boy that music “stirs the soul and warms the heart.” He sang in the local church choir and was a featured soloist. His grandmother sang gospel music around the house all the time, and his father listened to jazz in his office (he was a doctor) and he remembers listening to the music in his youth.
His passion and drive for music would prove successful. He became a session drummer for Okeh Records and Chess Records, working with such greats as Etta James, Fontella Bass, Little Milton, Howlin Wolf and more. White also worked and toured with Ramsey Lewis. He aspired to form a completely unique group, focusing on musicianship, and multi-cultural spirituality.
The most underrated quality about Donna Summer is her musical versatility. It is the strength of her artistry and the hidden key to her longevity. How many singers can attest to winning five Grammy Awards in four different musical categories? How many black singers own a Grammy for Best Rock Vocal Performance?
Indeed, Donna was the first African-American – ever – to achieve this honor at the 1980 ceremony. Only a year before, she earned her first Grammy win in the R&B category and would later receive nods for her Inspirational and Dance performances. Her nominations for this prestigious award stretch even further into the pop, disco, and jazz categories, not to mention “Album of the Year” (Bad Girls).
Donna Summer defies categorization. Though she helped ignite the feverish disco craze of the 1970s, her talent transcends trends. During her meteoric rise to stardom in the 1970s, she and producers Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte experimented with a colorful palette of soundscapes that belied the rock contingency’s popular perception about disco being faceless, monotonous dreck.
On the 1977 gem I Remember Yesterday, Donna’s voice effortlessly wrapped around the quintessential sounds of the 1940’s (the title track), the 1950’s (“Love’s Unkind”), the 1960’s (the Supremes tribute “Back in Love Again”), the 1970’s (“Black Lady”), and the then-future (the pulsating, groundbreaking, “I Feel Love”). (more…)