Archive for the ‘Blues / Jazz’ Category
Elizabeth “Libba” Cotten (January 5, 1895 – June 29, 1987) was an American blues and folk musician, singer, and songwriter.
A self-taught left-handed guitarist, Cotten developed her own original style. Her approach involved using a right-handed guitar (usually in standard tuning), not re-strung for left-handed playing, essentially, holding a right-handed guitar upside down. This position required her to play the bass lines with her fingers and the melody with her thumb. Her signature alternating bass style has become known as “Cotten picking”.
Elizabeth Nevills was born in Carrboro, North Carolina, at the border of Chapel Hill, to a musical family. Her parents were George Nevills and Louise Price Nevills. Elizabeth was the youngest of five children. At age seven, Cotten began to play her older brother’s banjo. By eight years old, she was playing songs. At 11, after scraping together some money as a domestic helper, she bought her own guitar. Although self-taught, she became very good at playing the instrument. By her early teens she was writing her own songs, one of which, “Freight Train“, would go on to be one of her most recognized. Cotten wrote “Freight Train” when she saw a train pass by her house on Lloyd Street in Carrboro, North Carolina.
Around the age of 13, Cotten began working as a maid along with her mother. Soon after at age 15, she was married to Frank Cotten. The couple had a daughter named Lillie, and soon after young Elizabeth gave up guitar playing for family and church. Elizabeth, Frank and their daughter Lillie moved around eastern United States for a number of years between North Carolina, New York, and Washington, D.C., finally settling in the D.C. area. When Lillie married, Elizabeth divorced Frank and moved in with her daughter and her family.
Cotten had retired from the guitar for 25 years, except for occasional church performances. It wasn’t until she reached her 60s that she began recording and performing publicly. She was discovered by the folk-singing Seeger family while she was working for them as a housekeeper.
While working for a brief stint in a department store, Cotten helped a child wandering through the aisles find her mother. The child was Penny Seeger, and the mother was composer Ruth Crawford Seeger. Soon after this, Elizabeth again began working as a maid, caring for Ruth Crawford Seeger and Charles Seeger‘s children, Mike, Peggy, Barbara, and Penny. While working with the Seegers (a voraciously musical family) she remembered her own guitar playing from 40 years prior and picked up the instrument again to relearn almost from scratch.
Later career and recordings
During the later half of the 1950s, Mike Seeger began making bedroom reel to reel recordings of Cotten’s songs in her house. The culmination of these recordings would later go on the album Folksongs and Instrumentals with Guitar, which was released on Folkways Records. Since its release, her songs, especially her signature track, “Freight Train”, written when she was 11, have been covered by Peter, Paul, and Mary, Jerry Garcia, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Devendra Banhart, Laura Gibson, Laura Veirs, His Name Is Alive and Taj Mahal. Shortly afterwards, she began playing selected joint shows with Mike Seeger, the first of which was in 1960 at Swarthmore College. One of her songs, “Ain’t Got No Honey Baby Now”, was in fact recorded by Blind Boy Fuller under the title “Lost Lover Blues” in 1940.
Over the course of the early 1960s, Cotten went on to play more shows with big names in the burgeoning folk revival. Some of these included Mississippi John Hurt, John Lee Hooker, and Muddy Waters at venues such as the Newport Folk Festival and the Smithsonian Festival of American Folklife.
The newfound interest in her work inspired her to write more material to play and in 1967, she released a record created with her grandchildren which took its name from one of the songs she had written, Shake Sugaree.
Using profits from her touring and record releases, as well as from the many awards given to her for contribution to the folk arts, Elizabeth moved with her daughter and grandchildren from Washington and bought a house in Syracuse, New York. She continued touring and releasing records well into her 80s. In 1984 she won the Grammy Award for “Best Ethnic or Traditional Recording” for her album on Arhoolie Records, Elizabeth Cotten Live. When accepting the award in Los Angeles, her comment was “Thank you. I only wish I had my guitar so I could play a song for you all”. In 1989, Cotten was one of 75 influential African-American women chosen to be included in the photo documentary, I Dream a World.
Elizabeth Cotten died in Syracuse, New York, at the age of 92.
Elizabeth Cotten began writing music while toying around with her older brother’s banjo. She was left-handed so she played the banjo “backwards”. Later, when she transferred her songs to the guitar, a unique style was formed, since on the banjo the uppermost string is not a bass string, as on the guitar but a short high pitched string called a drone string. This required her to adopt a unique style for the guitar, which she first played with all finger down strokes like a banjo. Later this evolved into a unique style of finger picking, and her signature, alternating bass style is known as “Cotten Picking”.
Her unmistakably original chords, melodies and finger picking techniques would go on to influence many other musicians.
 Liner notes
- Seeger, Mike. Liner Notes accompanying Freight Train and Other North Carolina Folk Songs and Tunes, by Elizabeth Cotten. Washington, DC : Smithsonian Folkways, 1989.
Robert Leroy Johnson (May 8, 1911 – August 16, 1938) was an American blues singer and musician. His landmark recordings from 1936–37 display a combination of singing, guitar skills, and songwriting talent that have influenced later generations of musicians. Johnson’s shadowy, poorly documented life and death at age 27 have given rise to much legend, including a Faustian myth. As an itinerant performer who played mostly on street corners, in juke joints, and at Saturday night dances, Johnson enjoyed little commercial success or public recognition in his lifetime.
His records sold poorly during his lifetime, and it was only after the first reissue of his recordings on LP in 1961 that his work reached a wider audience. Johnson is now recognized as a master of the blues, particularly of the Mississippi Delta blues style. He is credited by many rock musicians as an important influence; Eric Clapton has called Johnson “the most important blues singer that ever lived.” Johnson was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as an “Early Influence” in their first induction ceremony in 1986. In 2003, David Fricke ranked Johnson fifth in Rolling Stone ‘s list of 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time. Rolling Stone’s 2011 list ranks him at number seventy-one.
Life and career
Robert Johnson was born in Hazlehurst, Mississippi, possibly on May 8, 1911, to Julia Major Dodds (born October 1874) and Noah Johnson (born December 1884). Julia was married to Charles Dodds (born February 1865), a relatively prosperous landowner and furniture maker with whom she gave birth to 10 children. Dodds had been forced by a lynch mob to leave Hazlehurst following a dispute with white landowners. Julia herself left Hazlehurst with baby Robert, but after some two years, sent him to live in Memphis with Dodds, who had changed his name to Charles Spencer.
Around 1919, Robert rejoined his mother in the area around Tunica and Robinsonville, Mississippi. Julia’s new husband was known as Dusty Willis; he was 24 years her junior. Robert was remembered by some residents as “Little Robert Dusty.” However, he was registered at the Indian Creek School in Tunica as Robert Spencer. He is listed as Robert Spencer in the 1920 census with Will and Julia Willis in Lucas, Arkansas, where they lived for a short time. Robert was at school in 1924 and 1927 and the quality of his signature on his marriage certificate suggests that he studied continuously and was relatively well educated for a boy of his background. One school friend, Willie Coffee, has been discovered and filmed. He recalls that Robert was already noted for playing the harmonica and jaw harp. He also remembers that Robert was absent for long periods, which suggests that he may have been living and studying in Memphis.
After school, Robert adopted the surname of his natural father, signing himself as Robert Johnson on the certificate of his marriage to sixteen-year-old Virginia Travis in February 1929. She died shortly after in childbirth. Surviving relatives of Virginia told the blues researcher Robert “Mack” McCormick that this was a divine punishment for Robert’s decision to sing secular songs, known as ‘selling your soul to the Devil’. McCormick believes that Johnson himself accepted the phrase as a description of his resolve to abandon the settled life of a husband and farmer to become a full-time blues musician.
Around this time, the noted blues musician Son House moved to Robinsonville where his musical partner, Willie Brown, already lived. Late in life, House remembered Johnson as a ‘little boy’ who was a competent harmonica player but an embarrassingly bad guitarist. Soon after, Johnson left Robinsonville for the area around Martinsville, close to his birthplace Hazlehurst, possibly searching for his natural father. Here he perfected the guitar style of Son House and learned other styles from Isaiah “Ike” Zimmerman. Ike Zimmerman was rumoured to have learned supernaturally to play guitar by visiting graveyards at midnight. When Johnson next appeared in Robinsonville, he had seemed to have acquired a miraculous guitar technique. House was interviewed at a time when the legend of Johnson’s pact with the Devil was well known among blues researchers. He was asked whether he attributed Johnson’s technique to this pact, and his equivocal answers have been taken as confirmation.
While living in Martinsville, Johnson fathered a child with Vergie Mae Smith. He also married Caletta Craft in May 1931. In 1932, the couple moved to Clarksdale in the Delta. Here Caletta fell ill and Johnson abandoned her for a career as a ‘walking’ (itinerant) musician.
Robert Johnson was not unique in choosing to be a full professional musician pursuing audiences where and when they had money to spend, rather than a semi-professional like his celebrated neighbour Son House. He was, however, remembered as exceptional in his restlessness, in the number of places he stayed in and, by some accounts, in his determination to avoid agricultural labour. From 1932 to his death in 1938, Johnson lived his life in a manner that makes biography scarcely possible. He moved frequently between such large centers as Memphis, Tennessee and Helena, Arkansas and the smaller towns of the Mississippi Delta and neighboring regions of Mississippi and Arkansas. On occasion, he travelled much further. Fellow blues musician Johnny Shines accompanied him to Chicago, Texas, New York, Canada, Kentucky, and Indiana. Henry Townsend shared a musical engagement with him in St Louis. In many places he stayed with members of his large extended family, or with women friends. He did not marry again but formed some long term relationships with women to whom he would return periodically. One was Estella Coleman, the mother of the blues musician Robert Lockwood, Jr. In other places he stayed with a woman seduced at his first performance. In each location, Johnson’s hosts were largely ignorant of his life elsewhere. He actually used different names in different places; the most recent count is eight different surnames. Biographers have looked for consistency from musicians who knew Johnson in different contexts: Shines, who travelled extensively with him; Lockwood who knew him as his mother’s partner; David “Honeyboy” Edwards whose cousin Willie Mae Powell had a relationship with Johnson.
From a mass of partial, conflicting and inconsistent eye-witness accounts, biographers have attempted to summarize Johnson’s character. “He was well mannered, he was soft spoken, he was indecipherable”. “As for his character, everyone seems to agree that, while he was pleasant and outgoing in public, in private he was reserved and liked to go his own way”. “Musicians who knew Johnson testified that he was a nice guy and fairly average — except, of course, for his musical talent, his weakness for whiskey and women, and his commitment to the road.”
When Johnson arrived in a new town, he would play for tips on street corners or in front of the local barbershop or a restaurant. Musical associates stated in live performances Johnson often did not focus on his dark and complex original compositions, but instead pleased audiences by performing more well-known pop standards of the day – and not necessarily blues. With an ability to pick up tunes at first hearing, Johnson had no trouble giving his audiences what they wanted, and certain of his contemporaries later remarked on Johnson’s interest in jazz and country. Johnson also had an uncanny ability to establish a rapport with his audience; in every town in which he stopped, Johnson would establish ties to the local community that would serve him well when he passed through again a month or a year later.
Fellow musician Shines was 17 when he met Johnson in 1933. He estimated Johnson was maybe a year older than himself. In Samuel Charters’ Robert Johnson, the author quotes Shines as saying:
“Robert was a very friendly person, even though he was sulky at times, you know. And I hung around Robert for quite a while. One evening he disappeared. He was kind of a peculiar fellow. Robert’d be standing up playing some place, playing like nobody’s business. At about that time it was a hustle with him as well as a pleasure. And money’d be coming from all directions. But Robert’d just pick up and walk off and leave you standing there playing. And you wouldn’t see Robert no more maybe in two or three weeks … So Robert and I, we began journeying off. I was just, matter of fact, tagging along.”
During this time Johnson established what would be a relatively long-term relationship with Estella Coleman, a woman about fifteen years his elder and the mother of musician Robert Lockwood, Jr. Johnson reportedly cultivated a woman to look after him in each town he played in. Johnson supposedly asked homely young women living in the country with their families whether he could go home with them, and in most cases the answer was ‘yes’…until a boyfriend arrived or Johnson was ready to move on.
In 1941, Alan Lomax learned from Muddy Waters that Johnson had performed in the Clarksdale, Mississippi area. By 1959, Samuel Charters could only add Will Shade of the Memphis Jug Band remembered Johnson had once briefly played with him in West Memphis, Arkansas. In the last year of his life, Johnson is believed to have traveled to St. Louis and possibly Illinois, and then to some states in the East. He spent some time in Memphis and traveled through the Mississippi Delta and Arkansas.
In 1938, Columbia Records producer John H. Hammond, who owned some of Johnson’s records, had record producer Don Law seek out Johnson out to book him for the first “From Spirituals to Swing” concert at Carnegie Hall in New York. On learning of Johnson’s death, Hammond replaced him with Big Bill Broonzy, but still played two of Johnson’s records from the stage.
Around 1936, Johnson sought out H. C. Speir in Jackson, Mississippi, who ran a general store and doubled as a talent scout. Speir put Johnson in touch with Ernie Oertle, who offered to record the young musician in San Antonio, Texas. At the recording session, held November 23, 1936 in room 414 at the Gunter Hotel in San Antonio which Brunswick Records had set up as a temporary studio, Johnson reportedly performed facing the wall. This has been cited as evidence he was a shy man and reserved performer, a conclusion played up in the inaccurate liner notes of the 1961 album King of the Delta Blues Singers. Ry Cooder speculates that Johnson played facing a corner to enhance the sound of the guitar, a technique he calls “corner loading”. In the ensuing three-day session, Johnson played sixteen selections, and recorded alternate takes for most of these.
Among the songs Johnson recorded in San Antonio were “Come On In My Kitchen“, “Kind Hearted Woman Blues“, “I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom” and “Cross Road Blues“. The first songs to appear were “Terraplane Blues” and “Last Fair Deal Gone Down”, probably the only recordings of his that he would live to hear. “Terraplane Blues” became a moderate regional hit, selling 5,000 copies.
His first recorded song, “Kind Hearted Woman Blues”, was part of a cycle of spin-offs and response songs that began with Leroy Carr‘s “Mean Mistreater Mama” (1934). According to Wald, it was “the most musically complex in the cycle” and stood apart from most rural blues as a through-composed lyric, rather than an arbitrary collection of more-or-less unrelated verses. In contrast to most Delta players, Johnson had absorbed the idea of fitting a composed song into the three minutes of a 78 rpm side. Most of Johnson’s “somber and introspective” songs and performances come from his second recording session.
In 1937, Johnson traveled to Dallas, Texas, for another recording session in a makeshift studio at the Brunswick Record Building, 508 Park Avenue. Eleven records from this session would be released within the following year. Because Johnson did two takes of most songs during these sessions, and recordings of those takes survived, more opportunity exists to compare different performances of a single song by Johnson than for any other blues performer of his time and place.
By the time he died, at least six of his records had been released in the South as race records.
Playback issues in extant recordings
The accuracy of the pitch and speed of the extant recordings has been questioned. In The Guardian‘s music blog from May 2010, Jon Wilde states that “the common consensus among musicologists is that we’ve been listening to [Robert] Johnson at least 20% too fast;” i.e., that “the recordings were accidentally speeded up when first committed to 78 [rpm records], or else were deliberately speeded up to make them sound more exciting.” He does not give a source for this statement. Former Sony music executive Lawrence Cohn, who won a Grammy for the label’s 1991 reissue of Johnson’s works, “acknowledges there’s a possibility Johnson’s 1936–37 recordings were sped up, since the OKeh/Vocalion family of labels, which originally issued the material, was ‘notorious’ for altering the speed of its releases. ‘Sometimes it was 78 rpms, sometimes it was 81 rpms,’ he says. It’s impossible to check the original sources, since the metal stampers used to duplicate the original 78 discs disappeared years ago.”
Johnson died on August 16, 1938, at the age of 27, near Greenwood, Mississippi. He had been playing for a few weeks at a country dance in a town about 15 miles (24 km) from Greenwood. Differing accounts and theories attempt to shed light on the events preceding his death. A story often told is that one evening Johnson began flirting with a woman at a dance, the wife of the juke joint owner, according to rumor, unaware that the bottle of whiskey she gave to Johnson had been poisoned by her husband. In another version, she was a married woman unrelated to the juke joint owner. Johnson was allegedly offered an open bottle of whiskey that was laced with strychnine. Fellow blues legend Sonny Boy Williamson allegedly advised him never to drink from an offered bottle that had already been opened. According to Williamson, Johnson replied, “Don’t ever knock a bottle out of my hand.” Soon after, he was offered another open bottle of whiskey, also laced with strychnine, and accepted it. Johnson is reported to have begun feeling ill the evening after drinking from the bottle and had to be helped back to his room in the early morning hours. Over the next three days, his condition steadily worsened and witnesses reported that he died in a convulsive state of severe pain—symptoms which are consistent with strychnine poisoning.
Musicologist Robert “Mack” McCormick claims to have tracked down the man who murdered Johnson, and to have obtained a confession from him in a personal interview. McCormick has declined to reveal the man’s name, however.
In his book Crossroads: The Life and Afterlife of Blues Legend Robert Johnson, Tom Graves uses expert testimony from toxicologists to dispute the notion that Johnson died of strychnine poisoning. He states that strychnine has such a distinctive odor and taste that it cannot be disguised, even in strong liquor. He also claims that a significant amount of strychnine would have to be consumed in one sitting to be fatal, and that death from the poison would occur within hours, not days. This observation was also noted in a recent Guitar World comment from contemporary David “Honeyboy” Edwards, who said that it couldn’t have been strychnine, since he would have died much sooner than the three days he suffered.
Alleged gravesite showing one of Robert Johnson’s two tombstones
The exact location of his grave is officially unknown; three different markers have been erected at possible church cemetery burial sites outside of Greenwood.
- Research in the 1980s and 1990s strongly suggests Johnson was buried in the graveyard of the Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church near Morgan City, not far from Greenwood, in an unmarked grave. A one-ton cenotaph in the shape of an obelisk, listing all of Johnson’s song titles, with a central inscription by Peter Guralnick, was placed at this location in 1990, paid for by Columbia Records and numerous smaller contributions made through the Mt. Zion Memorial Fund.
- In 1990 a small marker with the epitaph “Resting in the Blues” was placed in the cemetery of Payne Chapel near Quito, by the cemetery’s owner. This alleged burial site, in an apparent attempt to strengthen a claim, happens to be located in the center of Richard Johnson’s family plot.
- More recent research by Stephen LaVere (including statements from Rosie Eskridge, the wife of the supposed gravedigger) indicates that the actual grave site is under a big pecan tree in the cemetery of the Little Zion Church, north of Greenwood along Money Road. Sony Music has placed a marker at this site.
An interviewee in the documentary The Search for Robert Johnson (1991) suggests that due to poverty and lack of transportation Johnson is most likely to have been buried in a pauper’s grave (or “potter’s field“) very near where he died.
Ma Rainey (April 26, 1886? – December 22, 1939) was one of the earliest known American professional blues singers and one of the first generation of such singers to record. She was billed as The Mother of the Blues.
She began performing at the age of 12 or 14, and recorded under the name Ma Rainey after she and Will Rainey were married in 1904. They toured with F.S. Wolcott’s Rabbit Foot Minstrels and later formed their own group called Rainey and Rainey, Assassinators of the Blues. From the time of her first recording in 1923 to five years later, Ma Rainey made over 100 recordings. Some of them include, Bo-weevil Blues (1923), Moonshine Blues (1923), See See Rider (1924), Black Bottom (1927), and Soon This Morning (1927).
Ma Rainey was known for her very powerful vocal abilities, energetic disposition, majestic phrasing, and a ‘moaning’ style of singing similar to folk tradition. Though her powerful voice and disposition are not captured on her recordings, the other characteristics are present, and most evident on her early recordings, Bo-weevil Blues and Moonshine Blues. Ma Rainey also recorded with Louis Armstrong in addition to touring and recording with the Georgia Jazz Band. Ma Rainey continued to tour until 1935 when she retired to her hometown.
Gertrude Pridgett was born April 26, 1886 in Columbus, Georgia. (This can be questioned, however, as the 1900 Census listing for Pridgett shows her as being born in September, 1882.) She was the second of five children of Thomas and Ella (née Allen) Pridgett, from Alabama. She had at least two brothers and a sister named Malissa, with whom Gertrude was later confused in some sources. She came onto the performance scene at a talent show in Columbus, Georgia when she was 12–14 years old. A member of the First African Baptist Church, she began performing in show tents. Around 1902 she was first exposed to blues music, hearing a girl sing in a tent in Missouri, and incorporated it into her performances.
Pridgett met a singer, dancer and comedian named William “Pa” Rainey and they married February 2, 1904, when she was 18. From then, she performed as “Madame Gertrude Rainey”, and later, “Ma Rainey”. They sang and danced together in Black minstrel shows, and for several years toured with F.S. Wolcott’s Rabbit Foot Minstrels. From 1914, the Raineys were billed as Rainey and Rainey, Assassinators of the Blues. Wintering in New Orleans, she met musicians including Joe “King” Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet and Pops Foster. Blues music increased in popularity and Ma Rainey became well known.
Around this time, Rainey met Bessie Smith, a young blues singer who was also making a name for herself.[A] A story later developed that Rainey kidnapped Smith, making her join the Rabbit Foot Minstrels, and teaching her to sing the blues. This was disputed by Smith’s sister-in-law Maud Smith. From the late 1910s, there was an increasing demand for recordings by black musicians. In 1920, Mamie Smith was the first black woman to record a record. In 1923, Rainey was discovered by Paramount Records producer J. Mayo Williams. She signed a recording contract with Paramount, and in December she made her first eight recordings in Chicago. These included the songs “Bad Luck Blues”, “Bo-Weevil Blues” and “Moonshine Blues”. She made more than 100 more over the next five years, which brought her fame beyond the South. Paramount marketed her extensively, calling her “the Mother of the Blues”, “the Songbird of the South”, “the Gold-Neck Woman of the Blues” and “the Paramount Wildcat”. In 1924 she made some recordings with Louis Armstrong, including “Jelly Bean Blues”, “Countin’ the Blues” and “See, See Rider”.
In 1924 she embarked on a tour of the Theater Owners Booking Association (TOBA) throughout the South and Midwestern United States, singing both for black and white audiences. She was accompanied by bandleader and pianist Thomas Dorsey, and the band he assembled called the Wildcats Jazz Band which included Eddie Pollack, Gabriel Washington, Albert Wynn and David Nelson. They began their tour with an appearance in Chicago in April 1924 and continued, on and off, until 1928. Dorsey left the group in 1926 due to ill health and was replaced as pianist by Lillian Hardaway Henderson, the wife of Rainey’s cornetist Fletcher Henderson, who became the band’s leader.
Towards the end of the 1920s, live vaudeville went into decline, being replaced by radio and recordings. Rainey’s career was not immediately affected. She continued recording with Paramount and earned enough money touring to buy a bus with her name on. In 1928, she worked with Dorsey again and recording 20 songs, before Paramount finished her contract. Her style of blues was no longer considered fashionable by the label.
In 1935 Rainey returned to her hometown, Columbus, Georgia, where she ran two theaters, “The Lyric” and “The Airdrome”, until her death from a heart attack in 1939. She was inducted into the Blues Foundation’s Hall of Fame in 1983, and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.
Ma Rainey died in Rome, Georgia in 1939.
One year after Rainey’s death, blues singer and guitarist Memphis Minnie recorded a tribute. French singer/song writer Francis Cabrel refers to Rainey in the song “Cent Ans de Plus” on the 1998 album Hors-Saison. Cabrel cites the artist as one of a number of blues influences, including Charley Patton, Son House, Blind Lemon, Robert Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf, Blind Blake, Willie Dixon, and Blues Boy Willie, whose father toured with Rainey.
American singer/songwriter Bob Dylan refers to Rainey in the song “Tombstone Blues” on his 1965 album, Highway 61 Revisited.
In 1981 Sandra Lieb wrote the first full-length book about Rainey, titled Mother of the Blues: a Study of Ma Rainey.
The 1982 August Wilson play Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom took its title from her song of the same name recorded before 1928, which ostensibly refers to the Black Bottom dance of the time.
In 1994, the U.S. Post Office issued a Rainey 29-cent commemorative postage stamp.
In 2004, her song “See See Rider Blues” (1925) was inducted in the Grammy Hall of Fame, and was included by the National Recording Preservation Board in the Library of Congress‘ National Recording Registry in 2004. The board selects voices in an annual basis that are “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant
Ethel Waters (October 31, 1896 – September 1, 1977) was an American blues, jazz and gospel vocalist and actress. She frequently performed jazz, big band, and pop music, on the Broadway stage and in concerts, although she began her career in the 1920s singing blues.
Her best-known recordings includes, “Dinah“, “Stormy Weather“, “Taking a Chance on Love“, “Heat Wave“, “Supper Time“, “Am I Blue?“, and “Cabin in the Sky“, as well as her version of the spiritual “His Eye Is on the Sparrow“. Waters was the second African American, after Hattie McDaniel, to be nominated for an Academy Award.
Ethel Waters was born in Chester, Pennsylvania on October 31, 1896, as a result of the rape of her teenaged mother, Louise Anderson (believed to have been thirteen years old at the time, although some sources indicate she may have been slightly older) by John Waters, a pianist and family acquaintance from a mixed-race middle-class background, who played no role in raising Ethel. Ethel Waters was raised in poverty and never lived in the same place for more than 15 months. She said of her difficult childhood, “I never was a child. I never was cuddled, or liked, or understood by my family.” Waters grew tall, standing 5’9½” in her teens. According to women-in-jazz historian and archivist Rosetta Reitz, Waters’ birth in the North and her peripatetic life exposed her to many cultures.
Waters married at the age of 13, but soon left her abusive husband and became a maid in a Philadelphia hotel working for US $4.75 per week. On her 17th birthday, she attended a costume party at a nightclub on Juniper Street. She was persuaded to sing two songs, and impressed the audience so much that she was offered professional work at the Lincoln Theatre in Baltimore, Maryland. She later recalled that she earned the rich sum of ten dollars a week, but her managers cheated her out of the tips her admirers threw on the stage.
After her start in Baltimore, Waters toured on the black vaudeville circuit. As she described it later, “I used to work from nine until unconscious.” Despite her early success, she fell on hard times and joined a carnival, traveling in freight cars along the carnival circuit, eventually reaching Chicago. Waters enjoyed her time with the carnival and recalled, “the roustabouts and the concessionaires were the kind of people I’d grown up with, rough, tough, full of larceny towards strangers, but sentimental and loyal to their friends and co-workers.” She did not last long with them, though, and soon headed south to Atlanta, where she worked in the same club with Bessie Smith, who demanded that Waters not compete in singing blues opposite her. Waters conceded and sang ballads and popular songs. Perhaps today best known for her blues voice, Waters then was to sing, dance, play and star in musicals, plays and movies, and later in TV; but, she returned to singing blues whenever opportunity presented. Around 1919, Waters moved to Harlem and there became a celebrity performer in the Harlem Renaissance during the 1920s.
Waters obtained her first Harlem job at Edmond’s Cellar, a club that had a black patronage. She specialized in popular ballads and became an actress in a blackface comedy called Hello 1919. Jazz historian Rosetta Reitz points out that by the time Waters returned to Harlem in 1921, women blues singers were among the most powerful entertainers in the country. In 1921, Waters became the fifth black woman to make a record, on the tiny Cardinal Records label. She later joined Black Swan Records, where Fletcher Henderson was her accompanist. Waters later commented that Henderson tended to perform in a more classical style than she would prefer, often lacking “the damn-it-to-hell bass.”
She recorded with Black Swan from 1921 through 1923. In early 1924, Paramount bought the Black Swan label, and she stayed with Paramount through 1924. Waters then first recorded for Columbia Records in 1925, achieving a hit with her voicing of “Dinah”—which was voted a Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 1998. Soon after, she started working with Pearl Wright, and together they toured in the South. In 1924, Waters played at the Plantation Club on Broadway. She also toured with the Black Swan Dance Masters. With Earl Dancer, she joined what was called the “white time” Keith Vaudeville Circuit, a traditional white-audience based vaudeville circuit combined with screenings of silent movies. They received rave reviews in Chicago and earned the unheard of salary of US$1,250 in 1928. In 1929, Harry Akst helped Wright and Waters compose a version of “Am I Blue?,” her signature tune.
Although she was considered a blues singer during the pre-1925 period, Waters belonged to the Vaudeville-style style similar to Mamie Smith, Viola McCoy, and Lucille Hegamin. While with Columbia, she introduced many popular standards including “Dinah”, “Heebie Jeebies”, “Sweet Georgia Brown”, “Someday, Sweetheart”, “Am I Blue?” and “(What Did I Do To Be So) Black and Blue” on the popular series, while she continued to sing blues (like “West End Blues”, “Organ Grinder Blues”, etc.) on Columbia’s 14000 race series.. During the 1920s, Waters performed and was recorded with the ensembles of Will Marion Cook and Lovie Austin. As her career continued, she evolved toward being a blues and Broadway singer, performing with artists such as Duke Ellington. She remained with Columbia through 1931. She then signed with Brunswick in 1932 and remained until 1933 when she went back to Columbia. She signed with Decca in late 1934 for only two sessions, as well as a single session in early 1938. She recorded for the specialty label “Liberty Music Shops” in 1935 and again in 1940. Between 1938 and 1939, she recorded for Bluebird.
In 1933, Waters made a satirical all-black film entitled Rufus Jones for President, which featured then-child performer Sammy Davis Jr. as Rufus Jones. She went on to star at the Cotton Club, where, according to her autobiography, she “sang ‘Stormy Weather‘ from the depths of the private hell in which I was being crushed and suffocated.” She had a featured role in the wildly successful Irving Berlin Broadway musical revue As Thousands Cheer in 1933, where she was the first black woman in an otherwise white show. She had three gigs at this point; in addition to the show, she starred in a national radio program and continued to work in nightclubs. She was the highest paid performer on Broadway at that time. MGM hired Lena Horne as the ingenue in the all-Black musical Cabin in the Sky, and Waters starred as Petunia in 1942, reprising her stage role of 1940. The film, directed by Vincente Minnelli, was a success.
She began to work with Fletcher Henderson again in the late 1940s. She was nominated for a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award in 1949 for the film Pinky. In 1950, she won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for her performance opposite Julie Harris in the play The Member of the Wedding. Waters and Harris repeated their roles in the 1952 film version of Member of the Wedding” In 1950, Waters starred in the television series Beulah but quit after complaining that the scripts’ portrayal of blacks was “degrading.” She later guest starred in 1957 and 1959 on NBC‘s The Ford Show, Starring Tennessee Ernie Ford. In the 1957 episode, she sang “Cabin in the Sky.”
Despite these successes, her brilliant career was fading. She lost tens of thousands in jewelry and cash in a robbery, and the IRS hounded her. Her health suffered, and she worked only sporadically in following years. In 1950-51 she wrote the autobiography His Eye is on the Sparrow, with Charles Samuels, which was adapted for a stage production in which she was portrayed by Ernestine Jackson, in which she wrote candidly about her life. She explains why her age has often been misstated, saying that her mother had to sign a paper saying she was four years older than she was, and that she was born in 1896. In her second autobiography, To Me, It’s Wonderful, Waters states that she was born in 1900. Rosetta Reitz called Waters “a natural … [Her] songs are enriching, nourishing. You will want to play them over and over again, idling in their warmth and swing. Though many of them are more than 50 years old, the music and the feeling are still there.”
Waters is the great-aunt of singer-songwriter Crystal Waters. Waters often toured with Billy Graham on his crusades. She died on September 1, 1977, aged 80, from uterine cancer, kidney failure, and other ailments in Chatsworth, California
The Roots is an American hip hop/neo soul band formed in 1987 by Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter and Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. They are known for a jazzy, eclectic approach to hip hop which includes live instrumentals. Malik B., Leonard “Hub” Hubbard, and Josh Abrams were added to the band, originally called The Square Roots.
Since their first independent album release, the band has released 10 studio albums, two EPs, two collaboration albums and have collaborated with a wide range of artists from different genres. On March 2, 2009, The Roots became the house band on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. The Roots’ work is repeatedly met with critical acclaim.
Rapper Black Thought is the lead vocalist of The Roots. OrganixOrganix was the band’s first album, released and sold independently. It generated enough industry buzz for offers from music labels, and the band signed to DGC.
 Do You Want More?!!!??!The Roots’ first album for DGC, Do You Want More?!!!??!, was released in 1995. It was a moderate hit among alternative music fans due in part to the group’s appearance at Lollapalooza. The band performed at the Montreux Jazz Festival that year. Touring guests, beatboxer Rahzel and producer Scott Storch, joined The Roots.
 Illadelph HalflifeThe 1996 release Illadelph Halflife was the group’s first album to crack the Top 40 on the Billboard 200 chart, spurred in part by MTV’s airplay of the video for “What They Do” (a parody of rap video clichés) and “Clones”, which was their first single to reach the top five on the rap charts. “What They Do” was also the group’s first single to hit the Top 40 of Billboard’s charts, reaching a peak of #34. While continuing on the path of live instrumentation, the album’s sound was somewhat darker.
 Things Fall ApartThe group released Things Fall Apart in 1999 (named after Things Fall Apart, a novel by Chinua Achebe, which in turn was named after a line from “The Second Coming” by W.B. Yeats). This was their breakthrough album, peaking at #4 on the Billboard 200 charts and earning a gold record, signifying U.S. sales of at least 500,000 units. Mos Def contributed to the track entitled “Double Trouble”. The track “Act Two” features African-Belgian band Zap Mama and Common. The track “You Got Me”, a duet with R&B singer Erykah Badu and Eve and Jill Scott intended by Black Thought for the “unconscious” population, peaked at #39 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts. At the 42nd Grammy Awards “You Got Me” won the award for Best Rap Performance By A Duo Or Group and the album was nominated for Best Rap Album.
Steve Huey of the website allmusic perceived “a strong affinity for the neo-soul movement” in the album. First-time cameos on Things Fall Apart for Philadelphia natives Beanie Sigel and Eve helped to earn them major record deals later (with Roc-A-Fella and Ruff Ryders, respectively). After this album, Dice Raw left the collective to record his solo debut album Reclaiming the Dead. In the summer, the band performed at the Woodstock ’99 concert in New York state.
 PhrenologySeveral members, including long time member Malik B., left the group. In December 2001, The Roots backed Jay-Z for his MTV Unplugged concert. With heightened popularity came mounting pressure. The Roots released Phrenology (named after the pseudoscience of phrenology) in 2002. Despite not charting as high as Things Fall Apart, reaching a peak of #28 on the charts, Phrenology was commercially successful, eventually going gold, and earning a Grammy nomination for Best Rap Album. At the time, however, there came rumors that The Roots were losing interest in their signing with MCA.
During this time the band backed Jay-Z for his 2003 farewell concert in Madison Square Garden, and appeared in the accompanying Fade to Black concert film.
 The Tipping PointAfter Phrenology, Ben Kenney and Scratch both left the group; Kenney joined the rock band Incubus. This culminated with the release of 2004’s The Tipping Point, the byproduct of several jam sessions. The album earned two more Grammy nominations: one for Best Urban/Alternative Performance for the track “Star/Pointro” and another for Best Rap Performance By A Duo Or Group for the track “Don’t Say Nuthin’.” The Tipping Point peaked at #4 on the Billboard album chart. In 2005, Home Grown! The Beginner’s Guide To Understanding The Roots, Volumes 1 & 2, a two-disc compilation album, was released. The Roots were among several performers on the 2006 film Dave Chappelle’s Block Party, whose event took place on September 18, 2004 and was released on film two years later.
 Game TheoryGame Theory was released August 29, 2006, on Def Jam records. Questlove describes the album as being very dark and reflective of the political state in America. The first single from the album, “Don’t Feel Right”, appeared on the internet in May 2006, and is available for free download on several web sites. The album’s first video, titled “The Don’t Feel Right Trilogy”, premiered on August 21, 2006, and features three songs, “In the Music”, “Here I Come” and “Don’t Feel Right”. It earned an 83 on Metacritic and 2 Grammy Nominations. The late J Dilla is honoured on different occasions throughout the album. Track 1 is credited to be “Supervised by J Dilla”. Track 13 “Can’t Stop This” is devoted to his persona, the first part being an edited version of a track (“Time: The Donut of the Heart”) of his Donuts album, released three days before his death. This version comprises vocals by Black Thought. Secondly, a string of kindred artists reminisce about J Dilla in the form of answering machine messages.
 Rising DownThe Roots’ eighth studio album, Rising Down, was released on April 29, 2008, the 16-year anniversary of the Los Angeles riots of 1992.
In the weeks before the album’s release, the original first single “Birthday Girl”, a radio-friendly collaboration with Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump was removed from the album reportedly because it didn’t fit in with the album’s tone. It remained as a digital download available from iTunes as a bonus track, as well as on international releases.
Picking up where Game Theory left off, the album maintains a dark and political tone, with Black Thought and several guests venting about the ills of society today. The album’s guests include Chrisette Michele, Common, Mos Def, Saigon, Styles P, Talib Kweli, and Wale; it also features Philadelphia artists Dice Raw, DJ Jazzy Jeff, Peedi Crakk, P.O.R.N., and Truck North, as well as former member Malik B. Rising Down features The Roots incorporating a more electronic and synth-heavy feel into their sound. Rising Down was released to critical acclaim, garnering an overall score of 80 on Metacritic.
The album’s first single was “Rising Up” featuring Chrisette Michele and Wale.
 How I Got OverHow I Got Over reflects the relief the band felt at the end of the Bush administration and the beginning of the Obama presidency. Guests include Blu, Phonte and Patty Crash, whose song “Serve This Royalty” is covered on the album. Rather than relying on samples, the album was recorded live, with covers (including Celestial Blues, featuring the song’s original artist, Andy Bey) being reinterpreted by the band. The album was released on June 22, 2010.
On June 24, 2009, The Roots debuted the first single and title track from the album live on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. The song features longtime Roots collaborator Dice Raw.
 Wake Up!The Roots collaborated with R&B singer John Legend on the album Wake Up!. The album was released on September 21, 2010, and was publicized two days later with a live concert at Terminal 5 in New York City with John Legend and Jennifer Hudson that was streamed on YouTube. On October 30, 2010 The Roots and John Legend played live at the Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear in Washington, D.C.
 Betty Wright: The MovieThe Roots collaborated with R&B singer Betty Wright on the 2011 album Betty Wright: The Movie, credited to Betty Wright and The Roots. The album, co-produced by Wright and Questlove, was nominated for a 2012 Grammy in the “Best Traditional R&B Performance”.
 UndunThe Roots released their thirteenth album Undun via Def Jam Records on December 6, 2011. The first single “Make My” leaked on October 17, 2011. Undun is telling a story about their semi-fictional character, Redford Stephens. The album gravitates around Redford growing up in an urban landscape struggling with survival. He is forced to juxtapose between the choice of making something of himself or living a life of fast money and crime, and he chooses the life of crime. The album’s name is inspired by The Guess Who’s song “undun”, and the character was named after the Sufjan Stevens song “Redford”. The album features artists like Aaron Livingston, Big K.R.I.T., Phonte, Dice Raw, P.O.R.N., Truck North, Bilal, and Sufjan Stevens. The band went back to their original “roots”, by returning to lyrics revolving around struggle and making something out of nothing.
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The Roots’ original lineup included Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter (MC) and Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson (drums), who were classmates at the Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts. As they began to play at school and on the streets, they added bassist Josh “The Rubberband” Abrams, who went on to form the jazz group The Josh Abrams Quartet. They later added another MC Malik Abdul Basit-Smart (“Malik B.”), a new bassist, Leonard Nelson Hubbard (“Hub”), and keyboardist Scott Storch. MC Kenyatta “Kid Crumbs” Warren, was a part of the group for their first album, Organix, but did not appear on any later albums.Another MC, Dice Raw, joined on for cameos in later albums. The Roots filled Storch’s position with keyboardist, Kamal Gray, who continues to be a member.
The Roots performingBeatboxer Rahzel was a member of the group from 1995 to 1999. Alongside Rahzel was vocal turntablist Scratch, who DJ’d for them during live concerts. However, he abruptly left in 2003. Malik B. left the group in 1999 due to drug problems but continued to record, making occasional cameos on future albums. Guitarist Ben Kenney, had a short stint with the group and contributed to their Phrenology album, but left to join Incubus as their bassist. A percussionist, F Knuckles, was added in 2002 and guitarist, Kirk Douglas (a.k.a. “Captain Kirk”), replaced Kenney. Martin Luther, a vocalist, toured with The Roots in 2003 and 2004 and contributed to the Tipping Point album. The group announced in August 2007, to the dismay of fans, that longtime bassist, Leonard Hubbard, was leaving the group. “One of our partners is leaving us tonight, ladies and gentlemen, Leonard Hubbard” (Black Thought @ moe.down 8/31/07).
The current members of The Roots are Black Thought (MC), Questlove (drums), Kamal (keyboard), Frank Knuckles (percussion) (also a former Protégé of Questlove), and Cap’n Kirk (guitar). Recently, they have toured with sousaphonist Damon “Tuba Gooding Jr.” Bryson and Game Theory producer and current bassist Owen Biddle. For their performances on Jimmy Fallon, keyboardist James Poyser contributes additional keyboards.
The band announced on August 25, 2011 that Owen has left the band and will be replaced by Mark Kelley
Most members have worked with PETA to promote compassion for animals and the vegetarian lifestyle.
Because the band members hail from Philadelphia and its surrounding area, they showed their support for the Phillies during the 2009 World Series against the Yankees, displaying Phillies memorabilia when performing on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. On the episode which aired the day after the Yankees clinched the title, “Questlove” stated “No comment!” on the show’s intro (when he usually states the episode number), and had a Yankees logo purposely displayed upside-down on his drumset. In 2010, the group showed support for the Flyers during their run to the Stanley Cup Final by having the team logo on their drumset.
 Touring and other workThe band tours extensively, and their live sets are frequently hailed as the best in the genre. Recently, the band played a concert in NYC’s Radio City Music Hall with Common, Nas, Talib Kweli and Big Daddy Kane. They backed Jay-Z a third time, for his Reasonable Doubt Concert, a celebration of the 10-year anniversary of the release of his first album.
In 1994, The Roots appeared on the Red Hot Organization’s compilation album, Stolen Moments: Red Hot + Cool. The album, meant to raise awareness and funds in support of the AIDS epidemic in relation to the African American community, was heralded as “Album of the Year” by Time magazine. They have been highly involved in many other Red Hot Organization productions, including the 1998 album Red Hot + Rhapsody and the 2001 album Red Hot + Indigo, a tribute to Duke Ellington.
The Roots have been featured in four movies: Dave Chappelle’s Block Party, both performing album songs and playing as a backing band for other artists; Spike Lee’s Bamboozled; Marc Levin’s Brooklyn Babylon, in which Black Thought plays the protagonist, Solomon, and former band member Rahzel narrates; and Chasing Liberty, starring Mandy Moore. Black Thought and Questlove were both featured in the movie Brown Sugar. Black Thought made an appearance in the film Love Rome as Tariq Trotter, and Questlove currently appears in the recent documentary movie about TBC Brass Band called From the Mouthpiece on Back, which lists The Roots as one of the executive producers of the movie.
The band guest performed on August 25 and 26 with the Dave Matthews Band during their 2007 summer tour. Members of The Roots played in various forms as well as a whole band on DMB’s back to back concerts at Alpine Valley Music Theatre in East Troy, Wisconsin. In 2007 the band performed at an NAACP tribute to Bono, covering U2’s “Sunday Bloody Sunday” and “Pride (In the Name of Love)”. Black Thought mixed in lines form the band’s own “False Media”.
The group hosts a highly-anticipated jam session every year the night before the Grammys. The Roots jam session, produced by Okayplayer, Goodtime Girl Entertainment and Keldof, has been attended by everyone from Jay-Z, Beyoncé Knowles and Tom Cruise to Don Cheadle, Jeremy Piven and Prince with impromptu performances from Snoop Dogg and Corrine Bailey Rae to Queen Latifah, Matisyahu, Fall Out Boy and Dave Chappelle.
Billed as The Roots, Questlove, Kirk and Owen made an appearance on The Colbert Report on April 15, 2008 when Stephen Colbert spent a week in Philadelphia prior to the 2008 Pennsylvania Democratic primary. During the appearance, they performed the intro song to the show, and closed the episode with a rendition of the Star Spangled Banner.
The Roots are featured on the Men in Black Original Soundtrack (1997) with the song “The Notic” with neo-soul singer D’Angelo. The song “Here I Come” was featured in the movies Superbad and Hancock. “Here I Come” is also featured in many video games including Project Gotham Racing 4. The song “The Seed 2.0” featuring Cody ChesnuTT was featured in the movies Collateral and I Think I Love My Wife. The song “Don’t Say Nuthin” was featured in the first season episode, “Busey And The Beach” of HBO’s Entourage. The song, “Guns Are Drawn”, featuring Aaron Livingston, was featured in a season six episode of CBS’ Cold Case.
They have performed on the popular kids show Yo Gabba Gabba, performing “Lovely, Love My Family” in 2008.
In March 2009, The Roots became the new official house band on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, with “Here I Come” as the show’s theme. The Roots, Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon, and Taylor Hicks performed Rebecca Black’s viral hit “Friday” on the Late Night with Jimmy Fallon show on April Fool’s Day, 2011.
The Roots host an annual all day music festival in Philadelphia, PA every June.
On Tuesday, November 22, 2011 United States Congresswoman and presidential candidate Michele Bachmann was a guest on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. For her entrance, The Roots controversially played a snippet from Fishbone’s 1985 song, “Lying Ass Bitch”.
McCoy Tyner (born December 11, 1938) is a jazz pianist from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, known for his work with the John Coltrane Quartet and a long solo career.
1.1 Early life
1.2 Early career
5 External links
 Biography Early lifeTyner was born Alfred McCoy Tyner in Philadelphia as the oldest of three children. He was encouraged to study piano by his mother. He began studying the piano at age 13 and within two years music had become the focal point in his life. His early influences included Bud Powell, a Philadelphia neighbor. When he was 17, he converted to Islam through the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and changed his name to Sulieman Saud.
 Early careerTyner’s first main exposure came with Benny Golson, being the first pianist in Golson’s and Art Farmer’s legendary Jazztet (1960). After departing the Jazztet, Tyner joined Coltrane’s group in 1960 during its extended run at the Jazz Gallery replacing Steve Kuhn. (Coltrane had known Tyner for a while in Philadelphia, and featured one of the pianist’s compositions, “The Believer”, as early as 1958.) He appeared on the saxophonist’s popular recording of “My Favorite Things” for Atlantic Records. The Coltrane Quartet, which consisted of Coltrane on tenor sax, Tyner, Jimmy Garrison on bass, and Elvin Jones on drums, toured almost non-stop between 1961 and 1965 and recorded a number of classic albums, including Live at the Village Vanguard, Ballads, Live at Birdland, Crescent, A Love Supreme, and The John Coltrane Quartet Plays …, on the Impulse! label.
Tyner has recorded a number of highly influential albums in his own right. While in Coltrane’s group, he recorded a series of important albums (primarily in the piano trio format) for Impulse! Records. The pianist also appeared as a sideman in many of the highly acclaimed Blue Note Records albums of the 1960s, although was often credited as “etc.” on the cover of these albums (when listing the sidemen on the album) in order to respect his contractual obligations at Impulse Records.
“The jazz is my life, my wife, my love.”
His involvement with John Coltrane came to an end in 1965. Coltrane’s music was becoming much more atonal and free; he had also augmented his quartet with percussion players who threatened to drown out both Tyner and Jones. This seemed to add to his drive and character about wanting to make music his own and unique. Tyner was somewhat bitter about the change in Coltrane’s direction: “I didn’t see myself making any contribution to that music… All I could hear was a lot of noise. I didn’t have any feeling for the music, and when I don’t have feelings, I don’t play.”[cite this quote] By 1966, Tyner was rehearsing with a new trio and would now fully embark on his career as a leader.
McCoy Tyner, Keystone Korner, San Francisco CA, March 1981 (photo: Brian McMillen)After leaving Coltrane’s group, Tyner produced a series of post-bop albums released on Blue Note Records from 1967 to 1970 which included The Real McCoy (1967), Tender Moments (1967), Time for Tyner (1968), Expansions (1968) and Extensions (1970). Soon thereafter he moved to the Milestone label and recorded many influential albums, including Sahara (1972), Enlightenment (1973), and Fly with the Wind (1976), which featured flautist Hubert Laws, drummer Billy Cobham, and a string orchestra. His music for Blue Note and Milestone often took the Coltrane quartet’s music as a point of departure and also incorporated African and East Asian musical elements. On Sahara, for instance, Tyner plays koto, in addition to piano, flute, and percussion. These albums are often cited as examples of vital, innovative jazz from the 1970s that was neither fusion nor free jazz. Trident (1975) is notable for featuring Tyner on harpsichord (rarely heard in jazz) and celeste, in addition to his primary instrument, piano.
Tyner still records and tours regularly and played from the 1980s through ’90s with a trio that included Avery Sharpe on bass and first Louis Hayes, then Aaron Scott, on drums. He made a trio of solo recordings for Blue Note, starting with Revelations (1988) and culminating with Soliloquy (1991). Today Tyner records for the Telarc label and has been playing with different trios, one of which has included Charnett Moffett on bass and Al Foster on drums. In 2008, Tyner toured with his quartet, which featured saxophonist Gary Bartz with Gerald Cannon (bass) and Eric Kamau Gravatt (drums).
McCoy was also a judge for the 6th and 10th annual Independent Music Awards to support independent artists’ careers.
McCoy Tyner with Ravi ColtraneTyner’s style of piano is easily comparable to Coltrane’s maximalist style of saxophone. Though a member of Coltrane’s group, he was never overshadowed by the saxophonist, but complemented and even inspired Coltrane’s open-minded approach. Tyner is considered to be one of the most influential jazz pianists of the 20th Century, an honor he earned both with Coltrane and in his years of performing following Coltrane’s death.
Though playing instruments of vastly different versatility, both Tyner and Coltrane utilize similar scales, chordal structures, melodic phrasings, and rhythms. Tyner’s playing can be distinguished by a low bass left hand, in which he tends to raise his arm relatively high above the keyboard for an emphatic attack; the fact that Tyner is left-handed may contribute to this distinctively powerful style. Tyner’s unique right-hand soloing is recognizable for a detached, or staccato, quality. His melodic vocabulary is rich, ranging from raw blues to complexly superimposed pentatonic scales; his unique approach to chord voicing (most characteristically by fourths) has influenced a wide array of contemporary jazz pianists, most notably Chick Corea. Other instruments included the Appalachian dulcimer.
William Christopher Handy (November 16, 1873 – March 28, 1958) was a blues composer and musician. He was widely known as the “Father of the Blues”.
Handy remains among the most influential of American songwriters. Though he was one of many musicians who played the distinctively American form of music known as the blues, he is credited with giving it its contemporary form. While Handy was not the first to publish music in the blues form, he took the blues from a regional music style with a limited audience to one of the dominant national forces in American music.
Handy was an educated musician who used folk material in his compositions. He was scrupulous in documenting the sources of his works, which frequently combined stylistic influences from several performers. He loved this folk musical form and brought his own transforming touch to it.
Handy was born in Florence, Alabama. His father was the pastor of a small church in Guntersville, another small town in northeast central Alabama. Handy wrote in his 1941 autobiography, Father of the Blues, that he was born in the log cabin built by his grandfather William Wise Handy, who became an African Methodist Episcopal (AME) minister after emancipation. The log cabin of Handy’s birth has been saved and preserved in downtown Florence.
Handy was a deeply religious man, whose influences in his musical style were found in the church music he sang and played as a youth, and in the natural world. He later cited the sounds of nature, such as “whippoorwills, bats and hoot owls and their outlandish noises”, the sounds of Cypress Creek washing on the fringes of the woodland, and “the music of every songbird and all the symphonies of their unpremeditated art” as inspiration.
Growing up he apprenticed in carpentry, shoemaking and plastering. He bought his first guitar, which he had seen in a local shop window and secretly saved for by picking berries, nuts and making lye soap, without his parents’ permission. His father asked him, “What possessed you to bring a sinful thing like that into our Christian home?” Ordering Handy to “Take it back where it came from”, his father quickly enrolled him in organ lessons. Handy’s days as an organ student were short lived, and he moved on to learn the cornet. Handy joined a local band as a teenager, but he kept this fact a secret from his parents. He purchased a cornet from a fellow band member and spent every free minute practicing it.
He worked on a “shovel brigade” at the McNabb furnace, and described the music made by the workers as they beat shovels, altering the tone while thrusting and withdrawing the metal part against the iron buggies to pass the time while waiting for the overfilled furnace to digest its ore. “With a dozen men participating, the effect was sometimes remarkable…It was better to us than the music of a martial drum corps, and our rhythms were far more complicated.” He wrote, “Southern Negroes sang about everything…They accompany themselves on anything from which they can extract a musical sound or rhythmical effect…” He would later reflect that, “In this way, and from these materials, they set the mood for what we now call blues”.
In September 1892, Handy traveled to Birmingham to take a teaching exam, which he passed easily, and gained a teaching job in the city. Learning that it paid poorly, he quit the position and found industrial work at a pipe works plant in nearby Bessemer.
During his off-time, he organized a small string orchestra and taught musicians how to read notes. Later, Handy organized the Lauzetta Quartet. When the group read about the upcoming World’s Fair in Chicago, they decided to attend. To pay their way, group members performed at odd jobs along the way. They arrived in Chicago only to learn that the World’s Fair had been postponed for a year. Next they headed to St. Louis but found working conditions very bad.
After the quartet disbanded, Handy went to Evansville, Indiana, where he helped introduce the blues. He played cornet in the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. In Evansville, Handy joined a successful band that performed throughout the neighboring cities and states. His musical endeavors were varied: he sang first tenor in a minstrel show, worked as a band director, choral director, cornetist and trumpeter.
At age 23, Handy became band master of Mahara’s Colored Minstrels. In their three-year tour, they traveled to Chicago, throughout Texas and Oklahoma, through Tennessee, Georgia and Florida, and on to Cuba. Handy earned a salary of $6 per week. Returning from Cuba, the band traveled north through Alabama, and stopped to perform in Huntsville. Weary of life on the road, he and his wife Elizabeth decided to stay with relatives in his nearby hometown of Florence.
Marriage and family
In 1896 while performing at a barbecue in Henderson, Kentucky, Handy met Elizabeth Price. They married shortly afterward on July 19, 1896. She had Lucille, the first of their six children, on June 29, 1900 after they had settled in Florence, Alabama, his hometown. Henderson’s W.C. Handy Blues & Barbecue Festival is held annually in June.
W.C. Handy, ca. 1900, Director of the Alabama Agriculture & Mechanical College Band
Around that time, William Hooper Councill, President of Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical College for Negroes (AAMC) (today named Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University) in Normal, Alabama, recruited Handy to teach music at the college. Handy became a faculty member in September 1900, teaching through much of 1902.
His enthusiasm for the distinctive style of uniquely American music, then often considered inferior to European classical music, was part of his development. He was disheartened to discover that the college emphasized teaching European music considered to be “classical”. Handy felt he was underpaid and could make more money touring with a minstrel group.
Studying the blues
In 1902 Handy traveled throughout Mississippi, where he listened to the various black popular musical styles. The state was mostly rural, and music was part of the culture, especially of the Mississippi Delta cotton plantation areas. Musicians usually played the guitar, banjo and to a much lesser extent, the piano. Handy’s remarkable memory enabled him to recall and transcribe the music heard in his travels.
After a dispute with AAMC President Councill, Handy resigned his teaching position to rejoin the Mahara Minstrels and tour the Midwest and Pacific Northwest. In 1903 he became the director of a black band organized by the Knights of Pythias, located in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Handy and his family lived there for six years. In 1903 while waiting for a train in Tutwiler in the Mississippi Delta, Handy had the following experience:
“A lean loose-jointed Negro had commenced plunking a guitar beside me while I slept… As he played, he pressed a knife on the strings of the guitar in a manner popularized by Hawaiian guitarists who used steel bars….The singer repeated the line three times, accompanying himself on the guitar with the weirdest music I had ever heard.”
About 1905 while playing a dance in Cleveland, Mississippi, Handy was given a note asking for “our native music”. He played an old-time Southern melody, but was asked if a local colored band could play a few numbers. Three young men with a battered guitar, mandolin, and a worn-out bass took the stage. 
“They struck up one of those over and over strains that seem to have no beginning and certainly no ending at all. The strumming attained a disturbing monotony, but on and on it went, a kind of stuff associated with [sugar] cane rows and levee camps. Thump-thump-thump went their feet on the floor. It was not really annoying or unpleasant. Perhaps “haunting” is the better word.”
Handy noted square dancing by Mississippi blacks with “one of their own calling the figures, and crooning all of his calls in the key of G.” He remembered this when deciding on the key for “St Louis Blues”.
“It was the memory of that old gent who called figures for the Kentucky breakdown-the one who everlastingly pitched his tones in the key of G and moaned the calls like a presiding elder preaching at a revival meeting. Ah, there was my key – I’d do the song in G.”
In describing “blind singers and footloose bards” around Clarksdale, Handy wrote, “[S]urrounded by crowds of country folks, they would pour their hearts out in song … They earned their living by selling their own songs – “ballets,” as they called them -and I’m ready to say in their behalf that seldom did their creations lack imagination.”
Transition: popularity, fame and business
In 1909 Handy and his band moved to Memphis, Tennessee, where they started playing at clubs on Beale Street. The genesis of his “Memphis Blues” was as a campaign tune written for Edward Crump, a successful Memphis mayoral candidate in 1909 (and future “boss”). Handy later rewrote the tune and changed its name from “Mr. Crump” to “Memphis Blues.”
Handy’s first popular success, “Memphis Blues”. Recorded by Victor Military Band, July 15, 1914.
The 1912 publication of his “Memphis Blues” sheet music introduced his style of 12-bar blues; it was credited as the inspiration for the foxtrot dance step by Vernon and Irene Castle, a New York–based dance team. Some consider it to be the first blues song. Handy sold the rights to the song for US$100. By 1914, when Handy was 40, he had established his musical style, his popularity increased significantly, and he composed prolifically.
Handy wrote about using folk songs:
“The primitive southern Negro, as he sang, was sure to bear down on the third and seventh tone of the scale, slurring between major and minor. Whether in the cotton field of the Delta or on the Levee up St. Louis way, it was always the same. Till then, however, I had never heard this slur used by a more sophisticated Negro, or by any white man. I tried to convey this effect… by introducing flat thirds and sevenths (now called blue notes) into my song, although its prevailing key was major…, and I carried this device into my melody as well… This was a distinct departure, but as it turned out, it touched the spot.”
W. C. Handy with his 1918 Memphis Orchestra: Handy is center rear, holding trumpet.
“The three-line structure I employed in my lyric was suggested by a song I heard Phil Jones sing in Evansville … While I took the three-line stanza as a model for my lyric, I found its repetition too monotonous … Consequently I adopted the style of making a statement, repeating the statement in the second line, and then telling in the third line why the statement was made.”
Regarding the “three-chord basic harmonic structure” of the blues, Handy wrote the “(tonic, subdominant, dominant seventh) was that already used by Negro roustabouts, honky-tonk piano players, wanderers and others of the underprivileged but undaunted class”. He noted,
“In the folk blues the singer fills up occasional gaps with words like ‘Oh, lawdy’ or ‘Oh, baby’ and the like. This meant that in writing a melody to be sung in the blues manner one would have to provide gaps or waits.”
Writing about the first time “St Louis Blues” was played (1914), Handy said,
“The one-step and other dances had been done to the tempo of Memphis Blues … When St Louis Blues was written the tango was in vogue. I tricked the dancers by arranging a tango introduction, breaking abruptly into a low-down blues. My eyes swept the floor anxiously, then suddenly I saw lightning strike. The dancers seemed electrified. Something within them came suddenly to life. An instinct that wanted so much to live, to fling its arms to spread joy, took them by the heels.”
His published musical works were groundbreaking because of his ethnicity, and he was among the first blacks to achieve economic success because of publishing. In 1912, Handy met Harry H. Pace at the Solvent Savings Bank in Memphis. Pace was valedictorian of his graduating class at Atlanta University and student of W. E. B. Du Bois. By the time of their meeting, Pace had already demonstrated a strong understanding of business. He earned his reputation by recreating failing businesses. Handy liked him, and Pace later became manager of Pace and Handy Sheet Music.
While in New York City, Handy wrote:
“I was under the impression that these Negro musicians would jump at the chance to patronize one of their own publishers. They didn’t… The Negro musicians simply played the hits of the day…They followed the parade. Many white bands and orchestra leaders, on the other hand, were on the alert for novelties. They were therefore the ones most ready to introduce our numbers.” But, “Negro vaudeville artists…wanted songs that would not conflict with white acts on the bill. The result was that these performers became our most effective pluggers.”
In 1917, he and his publishing business moved to New York City, where he had offices in the Gaiety Theatre office building in Times Square. By the end of that year, his most successful songs: “Memphis Blues”, “Beale Street Blues“, and “St. Louis Blues“, had been published. That year the Original Dixieland Jazz Band, a white New Orleans jazz ensemble, had recorded the first jazz record, introducing the style to a wide segment of the American public. Handy initially had little fondness for this new “jazz”, but bands dove into his repertoire with enthusiasm, making many of them jazz standards.
Handy encouraged performers such as Al Bernard, “a young white man” with a “soft Southern accent” who “could sing all my Blues”. Handy sent Bernard to Thomas Edison to be recorded, which resulted in “an impressive series of successes for the young artist, successes in which we proudly shared.” Handy also published the original “Shake Rattle and Roll” and “Saxophone Blues”, both written by Bernard. “Two young white ladies from Selma, Alabama (Madelyn Sheppard and Annelu Burns) contributed the songs “Pickaninny Rose” and “O Saroo”, with the music published by Handy’s company. These numbers, plus our blues, gave us a reputation as publishers of Negro music.” 
“Ole Miss Rag”, a ragtime composed by W. C. Handy and recorded by Handy’s Orchestra of Memphis in 1917 in New York.
Expecting to make only “another hundred or so” on a third recording of his “Yellow Dog Blues” (originally titled “Yellow Dog Rag” ), Handy signed a deal with the Victor company. The Joe Smith  recording of this song in 1919 became the best-selling recording of Handy’s music to date. 
Handy tried to interest black women singers in his music, but initially was unsuccessful. In 1920 Perry Bradford persuaded Mamie Smith to record two of his non-blues songs, published by Handy, accompanied by a white band: “That Thing Called Love” and “You Can’t Keep a Good Man Down”. When Bradford’s “Crazy Blues” became a hit as recorded by Smith, African-American blues singers became increasingly popular. Handy found his business began to decrease because of the competition.
In 1920 Pace amicably dissolved his long-standing partnership with Handy, with whom he also collaborated as lyricist. As Handy wrote: “To add to my woes, my partner withdrew from the business. He disagreed with some of my business methods, but no harsh words were involved. He simply chose this time to sever connection with our firm in order that he might organize Pace Phonograph Company, issuing Black Swan Records and making a serious bid for the Negro market. . . . With Pace went a large number of our employees. . . . Still more confusion and anguish grew out of the fact that people did not generally know that I had no stake in the Black Swan Record Company.”
Although Handy’s partnership with Pace was dissolved, he continued to operate the publishing company as a family-owned business. He published works of other black composers as well as his own, which included more than 150 sacred compositions and folk song arrangements and about 60 blues compositions. In the 1920s, he founded the Handy Record Company in New York City. Bessie Smith‘s January 14, 1925, Columbia Records recording of “St. Louis Blues” with Louis Armstrong is considered by many to be one of the finest recordings of the 1920s. So successful was Handy’s “St. Louis Blues” that in 1929, he and director Kenneth W. Adams collaborated on a RCA motion picture project of the same name, which was to be shown before the main attraction. Handy suggested blues singer Bessie Smith have the starring role, since she had gained widespread popularity with that tune. The picture was shot in June and was shown in movie houses throughout the United States from 1929 to 1932.
In 1926 Handy authored and edited a work entitled Blues: An Anthology—Complete Words and Music of 53 Great Songs. It is probably the first work that attempted to record, analyze and describe the blues as an integral part of the U.S. South and the history of the United States.
The genre of the blues was a hallmark of American society and culture in the 1920s and 1930s. So great was its influence, and so much was it recognized as Handy’s hallmark, that author F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in his novel The Great Gatsby that “All night the saxophones wailed the hopeless comment of the “Beale Street Blues” while a hundred pairs of golden and silver slippers shuffled the shining dust. At the gray tea hour there were always rooms that throbbed incessantly with this low, sweet fever, while fresh faces drifted here and there like rose petals blown by the sad horns around the floor.”
W.C. Handy at Harlem Hospital with hundreds of get-well cards & telegrams.
Following publication of his autobiography, Handy published a book on African-American musicians entitled Unsung Americans Sing (1944). He wrote a total of five books:
- Blues: An Anthology: Complete Words and Music of 53 Great Songs
- Book of Negro Spirituals
- Father of the Blues: An Autobiography
- Unsung Americans Sing
- Negro Authors and Composers of the United States
During this time, he lived on Strivers’ Row in Harlem. He became blind following an accidental fall from a subway platform in 1943. After the death of his first wife, he remarried in 1954, at age 80. His new bride was his secretary Irma Louise Logan, whom he frequently said had become his eyes.
In 1955 Handy suffered a stroke, following which he began to use a wheelchair. Over 800 people attended his 84th birthday party at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel.
On March 28, 1958 he died of bronchial pneumonia at Sydenham Hospital in New York City. Over 25,000 people attended his funeral in Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church. Over 150,000 people gathered in the streets near the church to pay their respects. He was buried in the Woodlawn Cemetery in Bronx, New York.
Handy’s songs do not always follow the classic 12-bar pattern, often having 8- or 16-bar bridges between 12-bar verses.
- “Memphis Blues”, written 1909, published 1912. Although usually subtitled “Boss Crump”, it is a distinct song from Handy’s campaign satire, “Boss Crump don’t ‘low no easy riders around here”, which was based on the good-time song “Mamma Don’t Allow It.”
- “Yellow Dog Blues” (1912), “Your easy rider’s gone where the Southern cross the Yellow Dog.” The reference is to the crossing at Moorhead, Mississippi, of the Southern Railway and the local Yazoo and Mississippi Valley Railroad, called the Yellow Dog. By Handy’s telling locals assigned the words “Yellow Dog” to the letters Y.D.(for Yazoo Delta) on the freight trains that they saw.
- “St. Louis Blues” (1914), “the jazzman’s Hamlet.”
- “Loveless Love”, based in part on the classic, “Careless Love“. Possibly the first song to complain of modern synthetics, “with milkless milk and silkless silk, we’re growing used to soulless soul.”
- “Aunt Hagar’s Blues”, the biblical Hagar, handmaiden to Abraham and Sarah, was considered the “mother” of the African Americans.
- “Beale Street Blues” (1916), written as a farewell to the old Beale Street of Memphis (actually called Beale Avenue until the song changed the name); but Beale Street did not go away and is considered the “home of the blues” to this day. B.B. King was known as the “Beale Street Blues Boy” and Elvis Presley watched and learned from Ike Turner there.
- “Long Gone John (From Bowling Green)”, tribute to a famous bank robber.
- “Chantez-Les-Bas (Sing ‘Em Low)”, tribute to the Creole culture of New Orleans.
- “Atlanta Blues”, includes the song known as “Make Me a Pallet on your Floor” as its chorus.
- “Ole Miss Rag” (1917), a ragtime composition, recorded by Handy’s Orchestra of Memphis.
Performances and honors
W.C. Handy, age 75, appearing in Billy Rose’s “Violins Over Broadway”, is introduced by Cab Calloway.
- On April 27, 1928, he performed a program of jazz, blues, plantation songs, work songs, piano solos, spirituals and a Negro rhapsody in Carnegie Hall.
- In 1938 he performed at the National Folk Festival in Washington, DC, his first national performance on a desegregated stage.
- He performed at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933 and 1934 and the New York World’s Fair in 1939 and 1940.
- In 1940, NBC broadcast an all-Handy program as part of its weekly series The Chamber Music Society of Lower Basin Street. His songs were performed by Dinah Shore and by the composer himself.
- Louis Armstrong plays W.C.Handy (1954)
- He is referenced in Prof. Harold Hill’s lead-in to the song Seventy-Six Trombones in Meredith Willson‘s 1957 musical The Music Man.
- In 1958, a movie about his life – appropriately entitled St. Louis Blues – was released starring legendary African-American musicians Nat “King” Cole (in the main role), Pearl Bailey, Mahalia Jackson, Cab Calloway, Ella Fitzgerald, and Eartha Kitt. It was released the year of Handy’s death.
- On May 17, 1969, the United States Postal Service issued a commemorative stamp in his honor.
- Inducted in the National Academy of Popular Music Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970.
- He was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1983.
- He is referenced in Joni Mitchell‘s 1975 song Furry Sings the Blues.
- He is referenced in Marc Cohn‘s 1991 song Walking in Memphis, covered by Lonestar, Cher, and other artists. “…Touched down in the land of the Delta Blues, in the middle of the pouring rain. W.C. Handy, won’t you look down over me?”
- He received a Grammy Trustees Award for his lifetime achievements in 1993.
- He was inducted into the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame in 1985, and was a 1993 Inductee into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame, with the Lifework Award for Performing Achievement.
- Citing 2003 as “the centennial anniversary of when W.C. Handy composed the first Blues music…” the United States Senate in 2002 passed a resolution declaring the year beginning February 1, 2003 as the “Year of the Blues.”
- Each November 16, Handy’s birthday is celebrated with free music, birthday cake and free admission to the W.C. Handy Museum in Florence, Alabama. The hand-hewn log cabin made by his grandfather is his birthplace and museum.
- An autographed 1937 photo from W.C. Handy to Anton Lada of Lada’s Louisiana Orchestra sold for $850 in 2006.
- The Blues Music Award, widely recognized as the most prestigious award for blues artists was known as the W. C. Handy Award until the name change in 2006.
- The W. C. Handy Music Festival is held annually in the Muscle Shoals area of Florence, Alabama. Previous week-long festivals have featured jazz and blues legends including Jimmy Smith, Ramsey Lewis, Dizzy Gillespie, Bobby Blue Bland, Diane Schuur, Billy Taylor, Dianne Reeves and Charlie Byrd, Ellis Marsalis and Take 6. The festival also features a roster of annual regulars, called the W. C. Handy Jazz All-Stars.
- W. C. Handy Park is a city park located on Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee. The park contains a life-sized bronze statue of Handy.
- The W.C. Handy Blues & Barbeque Festival is a week-long musical event that features blues and Zydeco bands from across the U.S and is held every June on the banks of the Ohio River in downtown Henderson, Kentucky.
- In 1979, New York City joined the list of institutions and municipalities to honor Handy by naming one block of West 52nd Street in Manhattan “W.C. Handy Place”.