Category: Music

Profile: Piedmont Blues Legend Etta Baker

Influential blues guitarist Etta Baker was proof that it’s never too late to follow your dreams. She didn’t become a professional musician until she was 60 years old, and her technique influenced artists like Taj Mahal and Bob Dylan.

Etta Baker was born Etta Lucille Reid in North Carolina in 1913. Her father, Boone Reid, was a musician that taught her to play the six and twelve string guitars and the five-string banjo. Etta also learned how to play piano and violin. She grew up learning hymns, parlor music, rags, and Tin Pan Alley songs from her father. Etta often performed the blues with her father and sister at dances and parties in their community.

In 1936 Etta married Lee Baker and stopped performing publicly while raising their nine children.

Etta Baker’s unique playing style included her two- finger style of using her thumb and index finger which is prominent in Piedmont Blues. The Piedmont Blues features alternating the thumb picking the string bass while the fore finger picks the treble strings. She learned the finger picking style from her father, and in interviews she said it was a style that was used in the area where she was raised.  In 1956, Etta and her father met folk singer Paul Clayton, where she played her signature song “One Dime Blues” for him. Clayton was so impressed that he showed up at her house the next day with a tape recorder and recorded Etta playing the song and several others. Her versions of “One Dime Blues” and “Railroad Bill” were featured on the album Instrumental Music from the Southern Appalachians.

1967 proved to be a tragic year as Baker lost her husband and a son, and she quit playing music for a while before turning back to it to help with her grief.

Bluesman Taj Mahal recorded an album with Baker in 2004 called Etta Baker with Taj Mahal. He spoke with the New York Times about how inspired he was by her picking style.

“I came upon that record in the ‘60s,” Taj Mahal said. “It didn’t have any pictures so I had no idea who she was until I got to meet her years later. But man, that chord in ‘Railroad Bill,’ that was just the chord. It just cut right through me.”

Baker worked at a North Carolina textile mill for 25 years before quitting to pursue a career as a professional musician. She released her first full album, One-Dime Blues in 1991 at the age of 78. “This man came down from Portland, Oregon and he said ‘Etta why would you work so hard, when you can pick up your guitar and make it easy. This was on Wednesday and I got to thinking about what he said and I went to the office and said I was quitting on Friday, and I did. I gave them three days notice,” Baker said in an interview with David Holt for UNC TV.

Baker couldn’t read music, but said she got her ideas for her songs through her dreams. “I dream a lot of my chords,” she said.  Baker said it was like putting together a crossword puzzle to fit the chords together. She became a hit on the folk and blues festival circuit touring well into her 80’s but eventually stopped due to health problems. She died in 2006 at the age of 93.

Baker received multiple honors for her work.  In 1989, Baker received the North Carolina Folk Heritage Award from the North Carolina Arts Council. In 1991, she received the National Endowment for the Arts’ National Heritage Fellowship, and in 2003, the North Carolina Award. She was inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame in 2017.

About the Author

Shameika Rhymes
Shameika Rhymes

Shameika Rhymes is a journalist of all trades. She can usually be found producing television news and has written for outlets like ET Online, ESSENCE, EBONY Magazine, JETMag.com, Shondaland.com, SoulTrain.com, WEtv.com and her own website, www.themofochronicles.com. Follow her on Twitter @Mofochronicles @WriterShameika

An Interview with Franklin Willis

Recently we interviewed Franklin Willis, music educator, vocalist, and education consultant. Willis, who performed twice as a part of our Emerging Artist Series at Sips & Stanzas, spoke candidly about the landscape of African American music, the importance of music education and what the museum will mean to our culture.

Describe your background. How were you introduced to the music world?

I was introduced to music at a young age while singing in the youth choir at Temple Church (Nashville, TN), performing in school talent shows, family reunions or any opportunity I was given to showcase my singing ability. I received my formal musical studies at Nashville School of the Arts (NSA) and was exposed to a variety of music genres and performance opportunities. While in the madrigal choir at NSA, I discovered my passion and joy for singing; upon graduating, I attended the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga on a vocal scholarship. During my matriculation, I had the opportunity to sing at several community gatherings and functions, including serving as a vocal soloist with the Chattanooga Preservation of African American Song, a community vocal ensemble whose mission is to revitalize the history of music composed by African Americans. I then transferred to the University of Memphis to complete the Bachelor of Music in Vocal Music Education.

For the past nine years when I’m not on the stage singing, I am preparing our future singers, musicians, and songwriters in the classroom as a music educator. I currently serve as the music teacher at Andrew Jackson Elementary School (Metro Nashville Public Schools). My specialty is embedding musical instruction that will empower and engage all children to achieve their best.

How has music influenced your life?

It is the one constant in my life. It’s what can connect me to a person without speaking. It serves as a soother, wakeup call, or even a celebration. I couldn’t imagine a world without music.

How has the landscape of African American music changed over the years?

In my opinion, African American music has always helped shape and describe what’s going on in current events. From Negro spirituals to Hip Hop music. Our music tells a story. Sometimes a story of pain, hard times, trials, or even times of rejoicing, celebration, or a shout of praise. Our music will always adapt and change to tell the story.

Why is music education important?

Music Education Is important because music is something that reaches across all cultures. Music connects people that have the most and the least in common. Because of that music education is important so that the conversation and creativity continues. I believe that the study of music is a unique creative experience that provides opportunities to reinforce skills and concepts of other disciplines while developing lifelong learning skills. I am passionate that the cultivation of musicianship begins at a young age and that every child has musical potential.

You were a part of NMAAM’s Emerging Artist Series at Sips and Stanzas. What was that experience like?

For me, this was an amazing opportunity to share my gift with others. Art is unique in that it can be interpreted differently from one person to the next. I enjoy creating experiences for an audience through my artistic expression. The way I feel when I perform and my interpretation of the material affects how a member of the audience interprets it and shares with another and so on. The best thing is that a group of people can all hear the same thing and have several different or alike interpretations. That’s what is so great about music! So, to be featured as an emerging artist and to be able to share my talents and create a unique experience for a group of people was FUN!

What will a museum like NMAAM mean to the city of Nashville?

The Museum will serve as a resource for learning. A place to store information and preserve history. It will be a place where visitors to the city can see firsthand the love of art and how important it is in the local culture. Also, how African Americans have contributed to not only American culture but to the world culture.

Fill in the blank: My music matters….because it does the talking when words don’t make sense.

How can people learn more about you?

Twitter and Instagram @fwillismusic and my website: www.fwillismusic.com

A Valentine’s Day Playlist: Classic Romantic Duets

Valentine’s Day is usually all about couples, but it’s also the perfect time to throw on some love songs. Over the years, some of the classic duets feature powerhouse vocals that are musically compatible and have contributed to America’s soundtrack.

From slow jams to songs that are perfect ways to get your two-step on, we have come up with some of our favorite romantic duets that you can add to your playlist to help celebrate the day of love and romance!

Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway crafted a recipe for love with their hit “The Closer I Get to You.” The single got even more leverage in 2003 when Luther Vandross and Beyonce covered the song.

The powerful vocal pairing of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell expressed relationship goals through the universal language of music. They had so many hits together, but “My Precious Love” tells a tale of the joy of finding the one.

What could be more romantic than having an “Endless Love?”  Lionel Richie joined forces with ‘The Boss’ Diana Ross for the single that was featured on the soundtrack for the movie Endless Love. This song got even more mileage out of it when Luther Vandross & Mariah Carey’s cover blazed up the charts in 1994.

Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s 1967 hit “If This World Were Mine” inspired Cheryl Lynn and Luther Vandross to cover the song for Cheryl Lynn’s album Instant Love in 1982.

“Baby Come to Me” by Patti Austin and James Ingram has been hailed as one of the biggest baby making jams.

You can’t have a duet list without mentioning the ones that were truly relationship goals; songwriting partners and real life spouses Ashford & Simpson. Their single “Solid” is an uptempo love song that is truly timeless.

Bobby Womack and Patti LaBelle’s “Love Has Finally Come at Last” makes you want to find a lasting love and never let go!

Alexander O’Neal and Cherrelle took a page out of Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell’s book when they performed together making listeners believe there was a love behind the scenes. The duo paired up for this love song “Never Knew Love Like This” for Alexander’s album Heresay.

King of Pop Michael Jackson could reign on his own but add in the vocals of Siedah Garrett and you have a song we just can’t stop loving! This 1987 hit “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” appeared on Jackson’s Bad album.

Hip hop meets R&B in this inspired Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell hit, “I’ll Be There For You / You’re All I Need To Get By” by Method Man and Mary J. Blige. The award winning single is easily one of hip hop’s greatest love songs.

Avant and KeKe Wyatt teamed up for several duets throughout the years, but their magic on the soulful “You & I” makes you just love the idea of being in love.

Eric Benet and Tamia made beautiful music with “Spend My Life with You.”

Of course the list of duets that have contributed to America’s soundtrack is a lengthy one and we couldn’t include them all. Head over to social media and let us know what your favorite duets are!

Remembering Dennis Edwards

You can’t mention the Temptations without thinking of their former lead singer with the distinctive growl and soulful vocal style of Dennis Edwards. The music world is still reeling from the news that the man that led the Temptations to their first Grammy award passed away February 1 from reported complications from meningitis, one day before he would have turned 75. If you were lucky enough to meet Dennis Edwards, you would be greeted with a big heartwarming smile and a twinkle in his eye. His larger than life personality and gospel infused powerful vocals were the perfect vehicle to drive the Temptations music through the late 1960s through the 1970s, putting his distinctive mark on America’s soundtrack.

Dennis Edwards was born in Alabama and later moved to Detroit. He joined the early Motown group, the Contours in the 1960s, best known for their 1962 hit “Do You Love Me” that was recorded before Edwards joined the group.

The Contours opened for the Temptations, and when lead singer David Ruffin left the group in 1968, Edwards joined the Temptations as their new front man.

Mr. Edwards joined the Temptations just as they were about to take on a new direction under the guidance of producing and songwriting legend Norman Whitfield, who was developing a sound influenced by the psychedelic stylings of Sly & the Family Stone; taking a departure from their signature songs like “I Wish It Would Rain,” and “My Girl.” Temptations members Eddie Kendricks, Otis Williams, Melvin Franklin, and Paul Williams all sang lead at one point or another but it was his gritty soul that cemented the group’s sound on songs like “I Can’t Get Next to You”, “Ball of Confusion (That’s What the World Is Today),” “Cloud Nine,” and “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone.”

Shortly after Mr. Edwards joined the group and recorded “Cloud Nine,” it won the group and Motown’s first Grammy in 1968. In 1972, they won another Grammy for “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone.”

 

 

Dennis Edwards left the Temptations in 1977 to pursue his solo career but rejoined the group years later.  During his solo career, he released the hit, “Don’t Look Any Further” featuring Siedah Garrett in 1984.

The song’s beat has been heavily sampled over the years, including in Eric B. & Rakim’s “Paid in Full,” Tupac Shakur’s “Hit Em Up,” and Junior M.A.F.I.A.’s “Get Money” with the Notorious B.I.G.

Siedah Garrett released a statement to the National Museum of African American Music about how working with Mr. Edwards helped her career:

“In the early 80s, I primarily was an unknown demo singer for L.A. based songwriters and producers and I recorded the song demo of “Don’t Look Any Further” for Dennis Lambert & Franne Golde. Motown accepted the song for their artist, Temptations ex member Dennis Edwards’ solo album. They wanted it to be a duet with Chaka Khan, but as fate would have it, Chaka was unavailable, and the company and Dennis agreed to use my demo vocal for the record. Once the single became a hit, Dennis asked me to do a club tour with him, and that was a fantastic experience for me. I feel his loss, and will be forever grateful to Dennis for giving me my first shot. I extend my condolences, prayers, and gratitude to his family for blessing us with his very special talent.”

Edwards released other solo hits in the mid-80s like “(You’re My) Aphrodisiac” and “Coolin’ Out.” His last album with original material was Talk to Me in 1993, followed by The Temptations Greatest Hits Live in 1995.

In the late 80s, he teamed up with David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks for a “Tribute to the Temptations” tour.

The Temptations received a Lifetime Achievement Grammy in 2013 that Edwards received along with Otis Williams and the survivors of the deceased group members. In 1989, the Temptations were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

In the 1990s, he toured with a group called Dennis Edwards and the Temptations which led to a legal battle with Otis Williams over the use of the Temptations name. He settled by touring up until 2017 as the Temptations Review featuring Dennis Edwards.

Living legend and founder of the Temptations, Otis Williams released a statement on social media last week:

“We learned today with great sadness of the passing of our brother, Dennis Edwards. He is now at peace, and our love and prayers go out to his family. At this moment and always, we acknowledge his extraordinary contribution to The Temptations legacy, which lives on in the music. Temptations, forever.”

Dennis Edwards will be missed but his contributions to America’s soundtrack lives on forever.

A Look at Some of the Greatest Grammy Performances of All Time

The 60th annual Grammy Awards took place Sunday night and if you missed our live tweets, you can still check those out by going to @TheNMAAM twitter page! Bruno Mars swept the top categories and Kendrick Lamar took home five awards.

The National Museum of African American Music’s had two of its National Chairs win Grammys in their categories! Congratulations to CeCe Winans for her Grammys for Best Gospel Performance/Song for “Never Have to Be Alone,” and  Best Gospel Album for Let Them Fall in Love.

Congratulations to Keb’ Mo’ for his collaboration with Taj Mahal on winning the Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album for TajMo.

Every year, the Grammy Awards show never ceases to amaze with the anticipation of seeing your favorite artists, and the performances that are jaw dropping. However, there are several of those moments that have earned their coveted spot in musical history. Here’s a look back at some memorable performances from artists that have contributed to America’s soundtrack.

In 2017, Beyonce came to slay and she did so while pregnant with twins Sir and Rumi Carter. She reminded us all that she rightfully wears the crown. She performed a rendition of “Sandcastles” with a melody of “Love Drought” while dressed in gold. The best part was that heart stopping moment when the chair she was sitting in tipped her back and we all exhaled when it brought her right back up in a seated position. Flawless.

Rapper Kendrick Lamar gave a politically-tinged performance at the 2016 Grammys. He was handcuffed, chained, and dressed in a prisoner outfit while performing.

In 2005, The Godfather of Soul James Brown showed off his moves when he joined Usher on stage for a performance of Sex Machine. At 71 years old he proved he showed he could still “Get on the Good Foot!”

At the 2004 Grammys, Prince took the stage performing “Purple Rain” with his signature guitar before Beyonce joined him in a pink dress to sing the hit song. They transitioned into a playful take on “Baby I’m a Star” with a “Crazy in Love” interlude before blasting into “Let’s Go Crazy.”

In 1998, The King of Pop, Michael Jackson, performed “The Way You Make Me Feel” and a soul stirring rendition of “Man in the Mirror” joined by a choir.

In 1994, “The Voice” also known as Whitney Houston gave a chilling performance of her hit “I Will Always Love You.”

In 1985, Tina Turner made a lasting impression with her big voice and great legs during her performance of “What’s Love Got to Do With It.” The strut up the staircase and infectious smile says it all!

For a list of all the winners from the 60th Annual Grammy Awards head to the Grammy website.

Remembering ‘Queen of the Blues’ Denise LaSalle

The music world is mourning the loss of ‘Queen of the Blues’ singer and songwriter Denise LaSalle. LaSalle passed away January 8. Media outlets report LaSalle suffered from health issues in recent months that resulted in the amputation of her right leg after she suffered a fall. She was honored with the “Queen of the Blues” title following the death of the previous “Queen of the Blues” Koko Taylor in 2009.

LaSalle’s musical contributions have helped to shape America’s soundtrack. She combined the blues with a soulful touch that allowed music lovers to appreciate the fusion of the two sounds. Her on-stage performances often took on a risqué tone with her language and jokes.

LaSalle was born Ora Denise Allen in Mississippi on July 16, 1939.  According to reports, she took LaSalle as her stage name after she moved to Chicago in her teens and started singing. Her debut solo single, 1967’s “A Love Reputation,” laid the groundwork for what would soon become her signature LaSalle sound.

LaSalle then started working with legendary Memphis producer Willie Mitchell. Their union helped to make her a household name with songs like “Hung Up, Strung Out” in 1970, and her signature tune “Trapped by a Thing Called Love” in 1971. “Trapped by a Thing Called Love,” which she also wrote, hit the top of Billboard’s R&B chart.

LaSalle is also well known for the ’70s song, “Now Run and Tell That.”

Mississippi’s Malaco label became her home where she officially became known as a blues singer. She credits the genre change for breathing life into her career in an interview with Blues Blast.  “It gave my career a new start, because I was kind of lost in the shuffle as an R&B singer,” says Denise. “When I got the opportunity to become a blues singer in 1982, I accepted it. There was no real competition, except the real Queen of the Blues, Koko Taylor, (and) except for Etta James. These were the only ladies out there that was really doing anything, cutting records and getting airplay. It was kind of the place to be.”

LaSalle penned other songs like “Your Husband is Cheating on Us,” “I Wanna Do What’s on Your Mind” and “It’s Lying Time Again,” a cover of Rockin’ Sidney’s “My Toot Toot,” that she called “My Tu Tu,” and “Love Me Right.”

 

In the ’90s, LaSalle turned her focus to gospel music; and in 1999 released the album God’s Got My Back. She crossed back over to secular music for her 2002 album Still the Queen and she continued on that path through her 2010 album 24 Hour Woman.

LaSalle was inducted into Blues Hall of Fame in 2011, and the Rhythm and Blues Music Hall of Fame in 2015. The National Museum of African American Music also honored Lasalle in 2014.

“Denise LaSalle shaped American music,” H. Beecher Hicks III, president and CEO of the National Museum of African American Music, said in a statement. “Her personality, her music and the role she played in shaping her genre truly made her the Queen of Blues. We were proud to honor her with NMAAM’s inaugural Rhapsody & Rhythm award in 2014, and to have truly experienced the reach of her craft and her impact on Jefferson Street when we jammed with her during the Jefferson Street Jazz and Blues Festival that year. Her legacy is a vivid illustration of the many ways R&B, blues and soul have blended to create America’s soundtrack.”

In an interview with the Jackson Sun in March 2017, LaSalle announced plans to open a Denise LaSalle Blues Academy of Performing Arts to teach the youth about the Blues. She was also on track to release her third gospel album The Gospel Truth.

 

About the Author

Shameika Rhymes
Shameika Rhymes

Shameika Rhymes is a journalist of all trades. She can usually be found producing television news and has written for outlets like ET Online, ESSENCE, EBONY Magazine, JETMag.com, Shondaland.com, SoulTrain.com, WEtv.com and her own website, www.themofochronicles.com. Follow her on Twitter @Mofochronicles @WriterShameika

Profile: The Three Degrees

All Aboard! “Soul Train…Soul Train.” You can’t help but start singing the Soul Train theme song and finishing with a resounding, “Let’s get it on, it’s time to get down.” In 1974, MFSB along with the soulful trio The Three Degrees recorded the single “TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia),” written and produced by the legendary Kenneth Gamble and Leon Huff. While the song is mostly an instrumental piece, it was The Three Degrees that put the train on the tracks that helped make the single a chart-topping hit and contributed to America’s soundtrack!

It’s been more than five decades since the group started and the The Three Degrees are still putting “The Sound of Philadelphia,” on the map. The Three Degrees consists of current members Valerie Holiday, Helen Scott, and Freddie Pool. Just like any group, they have had their share of personnel changes; but one thing is for certain, the foundation and core of the group has stayed intact; so much so the group was named as the longest running female vocal trio in the Guinness Book of World Records. The ladies are most remembered for “TSOP” and the hit “When Will I See You Again.” Mainstays of the group Valerie Holiday and Helen Scott have continued to cement the group’s legacy by touring around the world.

The group first made its mark on the recording industry when they were teenagers on Swan Records. At that time the group’s line up was Helen Scott, Fayette Pinkney, and Janet Harmon. Their biggest hit was a song called “Gee Baby.”

On the group’s website, Helen said “Those original recordings were quite different from the way we record now. We would record with a live band all in one room at the same time,” she said. Soon thereafter, Helen got married and left the group. They signed on with Roulette Records and the group’s new lineup consisted of Fayette, Valerie Holiday, and Sheila Ferguson. The hits for this lineup began with a remake of The Chantels 1958 hit “Maybe” and followed by “I Do Take You,” “There’s So Much Love All Around Me,” and “Trade Winds.”

In 1972 they started recording with Gamble and Huff’s Philadelphia International label and came out with the hit “Dirty Ol’ Man.” Soon after, “TSOP” was released and cemented in Soul Train history.

The following year, their signature hit “When Will I See You Again” came out.

On the group’s website Valerie explained why she didn’t realize the impact of working with Gamble and Huff. “They wrote and produced most of the hits; Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes, the O’Jays, Billy Paul, the Intruders. In all honesty we weren’t aware of the potential of the label when we first signed but at our first session with them we felt the magic. It was different from anything we had ever experienced before. To be perfectly honest, I didn’t hear “When Will I See You Again.” We had released “Dirty Ol’ Man” as the first single and to me it was just another track on the album. I really wasn’t knowledgeable enough to be a good judge,” Valerie said.

During the group’s tenure with Philadelphia International, they had hits such as “Year of Decision,” “Take Good Care of Yourself” and MFSB’s “Love is the Message.” Helen rejoined the group in 1976, replacing Fayette as they made the move to Epic Records. Fayette passsed away in 2009.

In 1986, Sheila left the group and Cynthia Garrison took her place. At the end of 2010, medical reasons forced Cynthia to retire and Freddie Pool joined the group.

With over 50 years in the industry under their belt and contributing to America’s soundtrack, the ladies told me in an interview for SoulTrain.com in 2014 that there is one thing that attributes to their longevity in the business. “I think it’s the uniqueness of the group. Performance wise, our aim is to mesmerize you, to make you laugh, to make you cry, and whatever we are singing is for you to feel as intensely as we do. That’s what has to happen every night. I think that’s what has helped us maintain our longevity. Our songs were brought out in an era when music really had meaning and because no matter what age you are, you can listen to our songs and identify. Gamble and Huff were really talented writers; we came about when lyrics were really important. I find that now it seems things are leaning back towards that way, because we’ve gone through the phases of the groove thing, being assassinated by the music side of it. I think the music industry is starting to get tired of it, like I hear what you’re saying, it’s moving me, but it’s starting to bore me. Fortunately, our songs did not have that problem. Anytime you listen to Gamble and Huff, you just think of good music. You have to move. We came along in an era when you had to perform, you didn’t have the lights, the dancers, the scenery, and you were it. It was you and the music; you had to create a performance,” said Valerie. Helen added that the reason The Three Degrees stands out is thanks to their manager early on in their career. “I was 15 years old when I started singing with the group and didn’t know anything about show business, so all I knew that I liked to sing. I had no idea what I was getting into. He taught us very well, at times I thought he was a tyrant, but I’m grateful for what I learned from him. He tried very hard not to make us like anyone else at all because it was a competitive business, you had to be yourself,” said Helen.

In 2016, The Three Degrees decided to pay homage to their roots by releasing a covers album called Strategy: Our Tribute to Philadelphia. The album pays tribute to songs crafted in Philadelphia, with their soulful versions of songs like “You’ll Never Find Another Love,” “Don’t Leave Me This Way,” and “Love Train.”

While the group is legendary overseas, they are still working hard to remind audiences in the United States, that “Love is the Message” and they won’t be “Giving Up, Giving In” until everyone knows who they are.

About the Author

Shameika Rhymes
Shameika Rhymes

Shameika Rhymes is a journalist of all trades. She can usually be found producing television news and has written for outlets like ET Online, ESSENCE, EBONY Magazine, JETMag.com, Shondaland.com, SoulTrain.com, WEtv.com and her own website, www.themofochronicles.com. Follow her on Twitter @Mofochronicles @WriterShameika

Sam Cooke’s Influence on the American Soundtrack

Many artists have contributed to the American soundtrack, but there is one artist that stands out when examining who helped to bridge the gap between soul and gospel music; that is none other than Sam Cooke.

A blend of spirituality and sensuality, sophistication, soulfulness with crossover appeal. Those are just some of the words used to describe singer Sam Cooke. He was a pretty boy with a voice that grabbed your attention no matter what he was singing. He first burst into the music scene at 15 years old as the lead singer for the gospel group the Highway QC’s.

At 19, he joined the Soul Stirrers, but the need to be heard in the secular world started to eat at him. The group hit big with singles like “Jesus Gave me Water, “Nearer to Thee,” and “Touch the Hem of his Garment.”

Cooke recorded his first pop song “Lovable” under the alias Dale Cook so he wouldn’t ruffle feathers within the gospel community. At the height of The Soul Stirrer’s success, Sam walked away from gospel music.

One of his earliest secular recordings, “You Send Me” shot straight up to the top of the charts in 1957.

He went on to record songs like “Everybody Loves to Cha Cha Cha,” “(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons”, and “Wonderful World” for Keen Records. In 1960, Cooke signed with RCA where he cranked out hits like “Chain Gang” “Cupid” “Another Saturday Night” and “Twistin’ the Night Away.”

 

Cooke was able to bring the spirit of the church to popular music, marking an era of a new sound. Sam had a voice that could tackle every kind of song from ballads to light-hearted, finger popping dance grooves, to raspy rhythm & blues. From 1960 through 1965 Cooke remained a mainstay on the Top 40 charts.

Another thing that made Cooke stand out from his peers was his songwriting. Sam was one that honed in on the key to writing music that would transcend decades and eventually be dubbed as timeless. When I interviewed his brother brother L.C. Cooke for SoulTrain.com, he spoke about Sam’s uncanny ability to write timeless music. “It (music) was timeless. Sam read something every day. He would read and Sam would say as long as you read, you can stay current and you can always write. He would write about what’s going on today because yesterday was already gone. What made him such a good writer is the fact that he read a lot,” explained L.C.

Sam Cooke was more than a performer and songwriter. He was a successful African American businessman operating within the confines of the mainstream music industry. He wrote and produced records for other singers, founded his own publishing company, Kags Music, as well as a management firm, and later launched the SAR record label, putting him in a class all of his own. He also helped to launch the careers of artists like his own brother L.C. Cooke, Billy Preston, Bobby Womack, Johnnie Taylor, and Lou Rawls by helping them cross over from gospel to secular music. Other artists such as James Brown sang his praises while chatting with American Bandstand’s Dick Clark, “What made brother Sam Cooke so special is he would stand flat footed and kill you with one song. If I had half the voice that Sam had, I would quit dancing.”

Sam was also an activist. Sam’s refusal to sing at segregated concerts led to what many have described as one of the first real efforts in civil disobedience and helped usher in the new Civil Rights Movement according to ABKCO.com.

As Sam’s star seemed to be shining brighter, in an instant, it was dimmed on December 11, 1964. Under mysterious circumstances, Cooke was shot to death at a Los Angeles motel, silencing him forever. Many questions still remain unanswered in Cooke’s death even today.

Sam Cooke may be gone, but his music lives on. RCA posthumously issued “A Change is Gonna Come” on the B side of the single “Shake.” It’s a song that is looked upon as one of the greatest singles of all time, and a song that takes Cooke back full circle to his gospel roots. It was Cooke’s answer to Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind.”  It’s a song about faith and reckoning and became an anthem for those struggling and the injustices in the world.  According to L.C. Cooke, “It’s a song of encouragement. Do you know over 160 people have recorded that song? It’s the most recorded song in history. Sam still has the best version.”

 

Sam Cooke’s career has been the blueprint for many artists that have come after him to follow, from artists like Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Al Green, Rod Stewart, R.Kelly, and many more.

Cooke’s reach goes beyond musical boundaries, his music has been featured in movies like Spike Lee’s film Malcolm X, and influenced President Obama’s 2008 victory speech. Sam Cooke was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1986. In 1999 he was honored with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

More than 50 years after his death, Sam Cooke remains a force to be reckoned with. The best way to sum up the career of a man that paved the way for so many is very simple, and L.C. Cooke said it best, “Sam was the King of Soul. Whether they were affected or not, everybody out here was influenced by Sam in some kind of way. Sam got that longevity. Once you hear his voice, you can’t help but just love it.”

A New Year’s Eve Playlist: Contributors to the American Soundtrack

While you are waiting for the ball to drop on New Year’s Eve, there’s bound to be some music to help you usher in the new year! What better way than to have a good throwback playlist to get the party started? Before you start toasting champagne and making those resolutions, check out this list of 10 New Year’s Eve songs that have contributed to America’s soundtrack!

There’s nothing like adding some soul to your playlist! Otis Redding and Carla Thomas paired up on the King & Queen album which was Redding’s final studio album before his untimely death 50 years ago on December 10, 1967. Redding and Thomas were backed by Isaac Hayes and Booker T. & the M.G.’s. So, add this song to your playlist because ““Let’s turn it over a new leaf, and baby let’s make promises that we can keep and call it a New Year’s resolution.”

It’s a song that’s been covered many times over, but jazz legend Ella Fitzgerald’s vocals are just like silk on this version of “What Are You Doing New Year’s Eve?”

Nina Simone’s version of “Feeling Good” is an ode to new beginnings. The song appeared on her 1965 album I Put a Spell on You“It’s a new dawn, It’s a new day, It’s a new life for me… And I’m feeling good.” 

The Manhattans recorded this heartfelt ballad “Alone on New Year’s Eve” in the mid-60s. Even if you are alone when the clock strikes 12, you can play this song with some soulful harmonies.

 

Prefer some hip hop? Snoop Dogg’s “New Year’s Eve” featuring Marty James is a party bop!

Chase those blues away and bring in the new year with the legendary B.B. King’s “Bringing in a Brand New Year” from the 2001 Grammy award winning album A Christmas Celebration of Hope.

What’s a party without this song? Throw on Kool & The Gang’s “Celebration” and boogie!

The Godfather of Soul’s “Soulful Christmas” is a funky good time from his first Christmas album in 1968 A Soulful Christmas. From Brown’s hollers and the band’s horn stabs, you can’t help but dance as he wishes listeners a ‘Merry Christmas and a happy new year!”

Sometimes you just have to be thankful for the ups and downs of the year. Alexander O’Neal’s “Thank You for the Good Year” from the 1988 album My Gift to You is a great reminder to be grateful.

You can’t have a New Year’s Eve playlist without some version of “Auld Lang Syne.” There are so many to choose from but there’s nothing like watching two legends croon you into the new year. The Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin and Billy Preston performed a soulful version of the song in 1987

From all of us at the National Museum of African American Music, we wish you Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year!

“Living on Soul” Celebrates the Daptone Records Family

Living on Soul chronicles a concert at the legendary Apollo Theater featuring the late Sharon Jones and the late Charles Bradley along with other top soul, funk, and gospel performers that are a part of the Daptone Records family.

Sharon Jones was the lead singer of Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings a soul and funk band based in New York. Jones was nominated for her first Grammy in 2014 for Best R&B Album for Give the People What They Want. She recorded six albums with the Dap-Kings and was known for her exhilarating live shows. She was also very vocal about her battle with pancreatic cancer and passed away in November 2016.

 

Charles Bradley was an artist that celebrated the feel of funk and soul from the 1960s and 1970s. His final album Changes was released in April 2016. After a bout with stomach and liver cancer, Bradley passed away in September at 68 years old.  Bradley was known as the “Screaming Eagle of Soul.”

In December 2014, the Daptone Records family presented a three-night Super Soul Revue concert at the Apollo and filmmakers Jeff Broadway and Cory Bailey caught it on film for the documentary Living on Soul. It captures the rousing shows along with background of the musicians.

I spoke with Jeff Broadway about Living on Soul and its impact now that two of the artists in the film have passed away.

Shameika: In your own words, what is Living on Soul about?

Jeff Broadway: This film is about a family of musicians. A family that has traveled a long and winding road together. The Apollo wasn’t the destination; but it was symbolic of the collective success the artists have shared in their journey together. We wanted to celebrate them as performers, artists and people.

Shameika: What made you decide to create this film?

Jeff Broadway: Neal Sugarman invited us on the road when Daptone took their Soul Revue to Europe in Summer 2014. It was at Glastonbury that Neal learned of the Apollo’s residency invitation, and we knew we had a real music film on our hands then.

Shameika:  Sharon Jones and Charles Bradley have both passed away, yet have prominence in the film, what makes their presence so powerful in the film? Will we learn anything new about them?

Jeff Broadway: They were powerful people and performers alive; and now that they’ve passed on, their presence in the film is only that much weightier. Depending on your frame of reference, there are certainly things to learn about each of them in the film.

Shameika: The Hollywood Reporter’s review on the film said that the rapport between various races is powerful in the film. Can you talk about how music brings people together and how the film portrays that?

Jeff Broadway: The Hollywood Reporter also called the film one of the best live performance films in recent memory. We’re more focused on that. However, people do like to speak about the black-and-white nature of the Daptone camp, though it doesn’t register with them at all. We thought it important to include Sharon’s story about meeting the Dap-Kings for the first time, but by and large, the issue of race is not one we felt pertinent to this film.

Shameika: Why do you think it’s important to preserve moments like this legendary concert on film, and have a museum like the National Museum of African American Music to preserve and celebrate music?

Jeff Broadway: Daptone kind of represents one of the final bastions of a classic American tradition; soul music. The opportunity to film Sharon, Charles and the rest of the gang in the house that James Brown built was important for so many different cultural and musical reasons. We are just grateful that we were the people to do it, and that institutions like the NMAAM exist to preserve and celebrate important American culture.

Shameika: What’s your favorite moment in music history?

Jeff Broadway: There are too many to cherish to have just one.

Living on Soul is available on iTunes and On Demand.

 

About the Author

Shameika Rhymes
Shameika Rhymes

Shameika Rhymes is a journalist of all trades. She can usually be found producing television news and has written for outlets like ET Online, ESSENCE, EBONY Magazine, JETMag.com, Shondaland.com, SoulTrain.com, WEtv.com and her own website, www.themofochronicles.com. Follow her on Twitter @Mofochronicles @WriterShameika