As many in our community—and even some beyond—come to grips with the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial, there has been an outpouring of reactions ranging from hopelessness and sadness to anger and a renewed dedication to civil action. While everyday people and celebrities have voiced their thoughts on social media, as the days since the verdict a few artists have channelled their emotions into music and crafted dedication songs in Trayvon Martin’s name. Click through the following pages for a few tracks that could be the soundtrack to everyone’s feelings right now.
Singer, dancer, actor–and Milwaukee native–Jacob Latimore, Jr., recently performed before his hometown fans at the Destiny Youth Plaza where he performed songs from his mixed tape titled, “This Is Me.” Jacob father, Jacob Sr., and his uncles make up the Gospel/R&B group, “The Latimore Brothers.” In 2013, Jacob Jr. will star in his own series on BET titled, “Young Man on Campus.” (Photo by Yvonne Kemp)
by Richard G. Carter
“I’ve searched and I’ve searched, but I couldn’t find, no way on earth to gain peace of mind…” The Orioles, “Crying in the Chapel” (Jubilee Records-1953)
This time of year, holiday-oriented original Black rhythm and blues from the golden era (1953-63) is well-represented. And since many vintage performers cut their musical teeth singing in church, some of the most memorable songs invoked a spiritual flavor.
The Black R&B vocal group best known for its holiday sound was the iconic Orioles, whose emotional “Crying in the Chapel” made them a household name. This trend-setting aggregation also worked high-harmony magic to perfection on standards such as “Oh, Holy Night,” “The Bells of St. Mary’s” and “In the Mission of St. Augustine.”
Led by the incomparable Sonny Til, the Orioles were among the first early R&B group to appear in major venues such as the New York Paramount Theater and on TV with stars like Perry Como and Nat King Cole. These gigs afforded them the opportunity to use a lighter touch as well as croon holiday-style tunes such as “Chapel in the Moonlight” and “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve.”
But there’s little doubt that the greatest of all original Black R&B winter holiday songs is the original Drifters’ upbeat “White Christmas.” Featuring an unforgettable bass lead by Bill Pinkney, it’s one of many hits by the original Drifters led by the legendary Clyde McPhatter. This record — and that group — was one of a kind.
In December 1954 when the record was released, I can attest to the absolute sensation it created in Milwaukee’s Black community. In addition to Pinkney’s boom-boom bass and McPhatter’s soaring top tenor refrain, the tune concluded with an awesome display of tight harmony in a lyrical bridge to “Jingle Bells. To wit:
“May your days, may your days, may your days be merry and bri-i-i-ight, and may all your Christmases be whi-i-i-ite. Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way…”
While some cynics said this “White Christmas” would cause its writer, Irving Berlin, to turn over in his grave, the Drifters’ doo-wop treatment of the all-time holiday anthem gets heavy play year-after-year. And it sounds as good as ever today.
Perhaps this is because the original Drifters — who gave us the likes of “Honey Love,” “What’cha Gonna Do,” “Money Honey,” “Adorable” and “Ruby Baby” — helped mold R&B into a viable, marketable commodity. Yet, despite many personnel changes over the years, with David Baughn, Johnny Moore, Rudy Lewis and Ben E. King taking turns singing lead, this sensational outfit kept making great records.
One more thing about the Drifters’ bouncy, foot-tapping “White Christmas.” Like the Spaniels’ upbeat 1958 version of “Stormy Weather,” the ‘50s Drifters demonstrated the versatility of golden era R&B performers who breathed new life into old standards.
Pookie Hudson and the Spaniels — of “Goodnight Sweetheart, Goodnight” fame — also hit big with 1956’s spiritual-like “You Gave Me Peace of Mind.” After mounting a comeback, they made “Santa’s Lullaby” in 1968 — one of the finest of the holiday genre.
In the latter, Pookie’s smooth-as-silk lead and precise phrasing painted a perfect aura of Christmas Eve in yet another of the 200 songs he wrote. His inspiration was an asthmatic daughter who eagerly awaited the arrival of Santa Claus.
Billy Ward and the Dominoes — featuring McPhatter, Bill Brown and later Jackie Wilson — were best known for “Sixty-Minute Man,” “Deep Purple” and “Stardust.” In 1952, they had a holiday hit on “When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano.” Other Yuletide tunes include Jerry Butler (sans the Impressions) on “Little Red Shoes”; “Ronnie Spector (sans the Ronnettes) on “Creation of Love,” and “It’s the Time” by the Chi-Lites
The nonpareil Moonglows gave us a Christmasy recording of “Starlite” (1955), in a prime example of their fabulous “blow harmony.” Indeed, these vocalizers — Harvey Fuqua, Billy Johnson, Pete Graves and Prentiss Barnes, with the great Bobby Lester on lead — were phenomenal, their likes almost certainly never to be heard again.
Whether or not you believe in Santa Claus, it’s nice to know that the creativity of original Black R&B — the real thing — lent itself to something more meaningful than “Jingle Bell Rock” or Elvis Presley’s dreadful, off-key “Blue Christmas” in 1964. Ugh!
No recounting of holiday music by vintage Black artists would be complete without a bouquet to Cole’s version of Mel Torme’s “The Christmas Song” in 1946, with the King Cole Trio. It became an instant classic with his solo 1960 rendition. To wit: “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Jack Frost nipping at your nose…”
Although a far cry from R&B, this one is as good as it gets. Even better. My favorite by a white artist is Frank Sinatra’s “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” — heard in the shattering firing squad scene in 1963’s “The Victors.” And, of course, there’s Bing Crosby’s smooth “White Christmas” (1942) — one of the top selling records of all-time.
Finally, Christmas carols and novelties. The latter include “I Saw Mommie Kissing Santa Claus,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” “Jingle Bells,” “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” and “Don’t Be Late” by Alvin and the Chipmunks.
But for vintage rhythm and blues purists like myself, there is nothing like original Black R&B at Christmas time — and all year long. Happy holidays, ya’ll.
Richard G. Carter is a freelance columnist
by Associated Press
Cleveland (AP) — Still rockin’ at 86, music legend Chuck Berry promised a comeback Saturday with six new songs, some written 16 years ago.
“And as soon as I can get someone to guide me – and I do know a little about the business – I want to push them out,” he told reporters at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, which honored him with an award and tribute concert. “I’m going to come back and push them out if you know what I mean, somehow.”
Berry, a rock pioneer with early hits that included “Roll Over Beethoven,” `’Sweet Little Sixteen” and “Johnny B. Goode,” wouldn’t tip his hand in detail about the new songs or when they might be released.
“They might be old, but they are the same type of music that I have been playing,” he said.
The lineup for Saturday night’s tribute concert honoring Berry at the State Theater included Ernie Isley and Darryl DMC McDaniels, Joe Bonamassa, Rick Derringer, Rosie Flores, John Fullbright, David Johansen, Ronnie Hawkins, Steve Jordan and Merle Haggard.
Berry, who still performs monthly at a club in suburban St. Louis, offered some advice to the performers: “Keep rocking, keep rocking. That’s two words. Next word is: Be kind to your fans.”
To mark the American Music Masters award presentation, the rock hall has mounted a special exhibition with items including Berry’s stage clothes, a guitar and his 1958 Chess Records recording contract.
The rock hall’s new library and archives has a separate exhibit with items including Berry’s 1964 British tour program and a handbill promoting his appearance with the Grateful Dead in 1968.
Past American Music Masters program honorees include Aretha Franklin, Janis Joplin and Woody Guthrie.
Berry, the museum’s first inductee in 1986, called the award and enshrinement in the rock hall a great honor. “You can’t get any higher in my profession than this building or this reason for this building,” he said.
Photo: Vince Bucci, Associated Press
US songwriter Hal David, who wrote dozens of hits with collaborator Burt Bacharach, has died at the age of 91.
His family said he died in Los Angeles from complications from a stroke.
He and Bacharach wrote a string of hits for Dionne Warwick, including Walk On By and I Say a Little Prayer, but also wrote for other performers, such as Tom Jones and Dusty Springfield.
Their film work included Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’s Raindrops Keep Fallin’ on My Head, which won an Oscar.
David’s wife, Eunice, told the Associated Press news agency that he had suffered a major stroke in March and was stricken again on Tuesday.
“Even at the end, Hal always had a song in his head,” she said.
“He was always writing notes, or asking me to take a note down, so he wouldn’t forget a lyric.”
David’s work was performed by a huge array of artists over the decades, including Perry Como, Louis Armstrong, the Carpenters and Sandie Shaw.
On Broadway, success came with the musical comedy, Promises, Promises, based on the Billy Wilder film, The Apartment.
Including the songs, l’ll Never Fall In Love Again, and Knowing When to Leave, the original cast recording was nominated for a Tony Award and won a Grammy in 1969.
The pair also turned out songs for the movies, What’s New, Pussycat, Alfie and the 1967 version of Casino Royale, which each earned them Oscar nominations for best song.
In 1974 David joined the board of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers and served as president from 1980 to 1986. He was head of the Songwriters Hall of Fame from 2001 to 2011, and was Chairman Emeritus at his death.
The society’s current president, Paul Williams, said in a statement: “As a lyric writer, Hal was simple, concise and poetic – conveying volumes of meaning in fewest possible words and always in service to the music.
“It is no wonder that so many of his lyrics have become part of our everyday vocabulary and his songs… the backdrop of our lives.”
In 2011, David and Burt Bacharach were awarded the Gershwin Prize for popular song by the US Library of Congress, the first time a songwriting team has been given the honour.
- Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head, BJ Thomas
- Close To You – The Carpenters
- Alfie – Cilla Black
- What’s New Pussycat? – Tom Jones
- Walk On By, I Say a Little Prayer, Do You Know The Way To San Jose – Dionne Warwick
- Twenty-Four Hours From Tulsa, Gene Pitney
- (There’s) Always Something There To Remind Me, Sandie Shaw
- Magic Moments – Perry Como