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 compromise 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! (more…)
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 1970’s, her talent transcends trends. During her meteoric rise to stardom in the 1970’s, 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…)