Archive for the ‘Musicians’ Category
Scott Joplin (ca. 1867-1868? – April 1, 1917) was an American composer and pianist. Joplin achieved fame for his ragtime compositions, and was later dubbed “The King of Ragtime”. During his brief career, Joplin wrote 44 original ragtime pieces, one ragtime ballet, and two operas. One of his first pieces, the Maple Leaf Rag, became ragtime’s first and most influential hit, and has been recognized as the archetypal rag.
Joplin was born into a musical African American family of laborers in Northeast Texas, and developed his musical knowledge with the help of local teachers, most notably Julius Weiss. Joplin grew up in Texarkana, where he formed a vocal quartet, and taught mandolin and guitar. During the late 1880s he left his job as a laborer with the railroad, and travelled around the American South as an itinerant musician. He went to Chicago for the World’s Fair of 1893, which played a major part in making ragtime a national craze by 1897.
Joplin moved to Sedalia, Missouri in 1894, and earned a living teaching piano and going on tour across the Southern US. In Sedalia, he taught future ragtime composers Arthur Marshall, Scott Hayden and Brun Campbell. Joplin began publishing music in 1895, and publication of his Maple Leaf Rag in 1899 brought him fame and had a profound influence on subsequent writers of ragtime. It also brought the composer a steady income for life. During his lifetime, Joplin did not reach this level of success again and frequently had financial problems.
Joplin moved to St. Louis in 1901, where he continued to compose and publish music, and regularly performed in brothels and bars in the city’s red-light district. By the time he had moved to St. Louis, Joplin may have been experiencing discoordination of the fingers, tremors, and an inability to speak clearly, as a result of having contracted syphilis. The score to his first opera, A Guest of Honor, was confiscated in 1903 with his belongings due to his non-payment of bills, and is considered lost.
He continued to compose and publish music, and in 1907 moved to New York City, seeking to find a producer for a new opera. He attempted to go beyond the limitations of the musical form which made him famous, without much monetary success. His second opera, Treemonisha, was not received well at its partially staged performance in 1915.
In 1916, suffering from tertiary syphilis, Joplin’s health rapidly deteriorated, and he descended into dementia. He was admitted to a mental institution in January 1917, and died there three months later at the age of 49.
Joplin’s music was rediscovered and returned to popularity in the early 1970s with the release of a million-selling album of Joplin’s rags recorded by Joshua Rifkin, followed by the Academy Award–winning movie The Sting which featured several of his compositions, such as “The Entertainer“. The opera Treemonisha was finally produced in full to wide acclaim in 1972. In 1976, Joplin was posthumously awarded a Pulitzer Prize.
Joplin was born in Northeast Texas in 1867, just outside of Texarkana. Joplin was the second of six children born to Giles Joplin, an ex-slave from North Carolina, and Florence Givens, a freeborn African American woman from Kentucky. Although for many years his birth date was accepted as November 24, 1868, research has revealed that this is almost certainly inaccurate – the most likely approximate date being the second half of 1867. The Joplins subsequently moved to Texarkana where Giles worked as a laborer for the railroad while Florence was a cleaner. Joplin was given a rudimentary musical education by his family and from the age of seven he was allowed to play piano while his mother cleaned.
At some point in the early 1880s, Giles Joplin left the family for another woman, leaving Florence to provide for her children through domestic work. Biographer Susan Curtis speculated that his mother’s support of Joplin’s musical education was an important causal factor in this separation; his father argued that it took the boy away from practical employment which would have supplemented the family income.
According to a family friend, the young Joplin was serious and ambitious studying music and playing the piano after school. While a few local teachers aided him, he received most of his serious music education from Julius Weiss, a German-Jewish music professor who had immigrated to the United States from Germany. Weiss had studied music at a university in Germany and was listed in town records as a “Professor of music.” Impressed by Joplin’s talent, and realizing his family’s dire straits, Weiss taught him free of charge. He tutored the 11-year-old Joplin until he was 16, during which time he introduced him to folk and classical music, including opera. Weiss helped Joplin appreciate music as an “art as well as an entertainment” and helped his mother acquire a used piano. According to his wife Lottie, Joplin never forgot Weiss and in his later years, when he achieved fame as a composer, sent his former teacher “gifts of money when he was old and ill,” until Weiss died. At the age of 16 Joplin performed in a vocal quartet with three other boys in and around Texarkana, playing piano. In addition he taught guitar and mandolin.
Life in the Southern states and Chicago
In the late 1880s, having performed at various local events as a teenager, Joplin chose to give up work as a laborer with the railroad and left Texarkana to become traveling musician. Little is known about his movements at this time, although he is recorded in Texarkana in July 1891 as a member of the “Texarkana Minstrels” in a performance that happened to be raising money for a monument to Jefferson Davis, President of the Southern Confederacy. He was soon to discover that there were few opportunities for black pianists, however; besides the church, brothels were one of the few options for obtaining steady work. Joplin played pre-ragtime ‘jig-piano’ in various red-light districts throughout the mid-South, and it has been claimed he was in Sedalia and St. Louis during this time.
In 1893 Joplin was in Chicago for the World’s Fair. While in Chicago, he formed his first band playing cornet and began arranging music for the group to perform. Although the World’s Fair minimised the involvement of African-Americans, black performers still came to the saloons, cafés and brothels that lined the fair. The exposition was attended by 27 million Americans and had a profound effect on many areas of American cultural life, including ragtime. Although specific information is sparse, numerous sources have credited the Chicago World Fair with spreading the popularity of ragtime. Joplin found that his music, as well as that of other black performers, was popular with visitors. By 1897 ragtime had become a national craze in American cities, and was described by the St. Louis Dispatch as “a veritable call of the wild, which mightily stirred the pulses of city bred people.”
Life in Missouri
In 1894 Joplin arrived in Sedalia, Missouri. At first, Joplin stayed with the family of Arthur Marshall, at the time a 13-year old boy but later one of Joplin’s students and a rag-time composer in his own right. There is no record of Joplin having a permanent residence in the town until 1904, as Joplin was making a living as a touring musician.
Front cover of the third edition of the “Maple Leaf Rag” sheet music
There is little precise evidence known about Joplin’s activities at this time, although he performed as a solo musician at dances and at the major black clubs in Sedalia, the “Black 400” club and the “Maple Leaf Club”. He performed in the Queen City Cornet Band, and his own six-piece dance orchestra. A tour with his own singing group, the Texas Medley Quartet, gave him his first opportunity to publish his own compositions and it is known that he went to Syracuse, New York and Texas. Two businessmen from New York published Joplin’s first two works, the songs Please Say You Will, and A Picture of her Face in 1895. Joplin’s visit to Temple, Texas enabled him to have three pieces published there in 1896, including the Crush Collision March which commemorated a planned train crash on the Missouri-Kansas-Texas Railroad on September 15 which he may have witnessed. The March was described by one of Joplin’s biographers as a “special… early essay in ragtime”. While in Sedalia he was teaching piano to students who included future ragtime composers Arthur Marshall, Brun Campbell, and Scott Hayden. In turn, Joplin enrolled at the George R. Smith College, where he apparently studied “advanced harmony and composition”. The College records were destroyed in a fire in 1925, and biographer Edward A. Berlin notes that it was unlikely that a small college for African-Americans would be able to provide such a course.
In 1899, Joplin married Belle, the sister-in-law of collaborator Scott Hayden. Although there were hundreds of rags in print by the time the Maple Leaf Rag was published, Joplin was not far behind. His first published rag, Original Rags, had been completed in 1897, the same year as the first ragtime work in print, the Mississippi Rag by William Krell. The Maple Leaf Rag was likely to have been known in Sedalia before its publication in 1899; Brun Campbell claimed to have seen the manuscript of the work in around 1898. The exact circumstances which led to the Maple Leaf Rag’s publication are unknown, and there are a number of different versions of the event which contradict each other. After several unsuccessful approaches to publishers, Joplin signed a contract on 10 August 1899 with John Stillwell Stark, a retailer of musical instruments who later became his most important publisher. The contract stipulated that Joplin would receive a 1% royalty on all sales of the rag, with a minimum sales price of 25 cents. It is possible that the rag was named after the Maple Leaf Club, although there is no direct evidence to prove the link, and there were many other possible sources for the name in and around Sedalia at the time.
There have been many claims about the sales of the Maple Leaf Rag, for example that Joplin was the first musician to sell 1 million copies of a piece of instrumental music. Joplin’s first biographer, Rudi Blesh wrote that during its first six months the piece sold 75,000 copies, and became “the first great instrumental sheet music hit in America”. However, research by Joplin’s later biographer Edward A. Berlin demonstrated that this was not the case; the initial print-run of 400 took one year to sell, and under the terms of Joplin’s contract with a 1% royalty would have given Joplin an income of $4 (or approximately $112 at current prices). Later sales were steady and would have given Joplin an income which would have covered his expenses; in 1909 estimated sales would have given him an income of $600 annually (approximately $15,520 in current prices).
The Maple Leaf Rag did serve as a model for the hundreds of rags to come from future composers, especially in the development of classic ragtime. After the publication of the Maple Leaf Rag, Joplin was soon being described as “King of rag time writers”, not least by himself on the covers of his own work, such as “The Easy Winners” and Elite Syncopations.
After the Joplins’ move to St. Louis in early 1900, they had a baby daughter who died only a few months after birth. Joplin’s relationship with his wife was difficult as she had no interest in music. They eventually separated and then divorced. About this time, Joplin collaborated with Scott Hayden in the composition of four rags. It was in St. Louis that Joplin produced some of his best-known works, including The Entertainer, March Majestic, and the short theatrical work The Ragtime Dance.
In June 1904, Joplin married Freddie Alexander of Little Rock, Arkansas, the young woman to whom he had dedicated The Chrysanthemum. She died on September 10, 1904 of complications resulting from a cold, ten weeks after their wedding. Joplin’s first work copyrighted after Freddie’s death, Bethena, was described by one biographer as “an enchantingly beautiful piece that is among the greatest of ragtime waltzes“.
During this time, Joplin created an opera company of 30 people and produced his first opera A Guest of Honor for a national tour. It is not certain how many productions were staged, or even if this was an all-black show or a racially mixed production. During the tour, either in Springfield, Illinois, or Pittsburg, Kansas, someone associated with the company stole the box office receipts. Joplin could not meet the company’s payroll or pay for its lodgings at a theatrical boarding house. It is believed that the score for A Guest of Honor was lost and perhaps destroyed because of non-payment of the company’s boarding house bill.
Front cover of the “Wall Street Rag” (1909) sheet music
In 1907, Joplin moved to New York City, which he believed was the best place to find a producer for a new opera. After his move to New York, Joplin met Lottie Stokes, whom he married in 1909. In 1911, unable to find a publisher, Joplin undertook the financial burden of publishing Treemonisha himself in piano-vocal format. In 1915, as a last-ditch effort to see it performed, he invited a small audience to hear it at a rehearsal hall in Harlem. Poorly staged and with only Joplin on piano accompaniment, it was “a miserable failure”, the public being not yet ready for “crude” black musical forms, so different from the style of European grand opera of that time. The audience, including potential backers, was indifferent and walked out. Scott writes that “after a disastrous single performance … Joplin suffered a breakdown. He was bankrupt, discouraged, and worn out.” He concludes that few American artists of his generation faced such obstacles: “Treemonisha went unnoticed and unreviewed, largely because Joplin had abandoned commercial music in favor of art music, a field closed to African Americans.” In fact, it was not until the 1970s that the opera received a full theatrical staging.
In 1914, Joplin and Lottie self-published his “Magnetic Rag” using the name the “Scott Joplin Music Company” which had been formed the previous December. Biographer Vera Brodsky Lawrence speculates that Joplin was aware of his advancing deterioration due to syphilis and was “consciously racing against time.” In her sleeve notes on the 1992 Deutsche Grammophon release of Treemonisha she notes that he “plunged feverishly into the task of orchestrating his opera, day and night, with his friend Sam Patterson standing by to copy out the parts, page by page, as each page of the full score was completed.”
By 1916, Joplin was suffering from tertiary syphilis and a resulting descent into madness. In January 1917, he was admitted to Manhattan State Hospital, a mental institution. He died there on April 1, 1917 of dementia. After Joplin’s death at the age of just 49, from advanced syphilis, he was buried in a pauper’s grave that remained unmarked for 57 years. His grave at Saint Michaels Cemetery in East Elmhurst was finally given a marker in 1974.
The combination of classical music, the musical atmosphere present around Texarkana (including work songs, gospel hymns, spirituals and dance music) and Joplin’s natural ability has been cited as contributing significantly to the invention of a new style which blended both African-American musical styles with European forms and melodies, and which first became celebrated in the 1890s: ragtime.
When Joplin was learning the piano, serious musical circles condemned ragtime because of its association with the vulgar and inane songs “cranked out by the tune-smiths of Tin Pan Alley.” As a composer Joplin refined ragtime, elevating it above the low and unrefined form played by the “wandering honky-tonk pianists… playing mere dance music” of popular imagination. This new art form, the classic rag, combined Afro-American folk music’s syncopation and nineteenth-century European romanticism, with its harmonic schemes and its march-like tempos. In the words of one critic, “ragtime was basically… an Afro-American version of the polka, or its analog, the Sousa-style march.” With this as a foundation, Joplin intended his compositions to be played exactly as he wrote them – without improvisation. Joplin wrote his rags as “classical” music in miniature form in order to raise ragtime above its “cheap bordello” origins and produced work which opera historian Elise Kirk described as “…more tuneful, contrapuntal, infectious, and harmonically colorful than any others of his era.”
It has been speculated that Joplin’s achievements were influenced by his classically trained German music teacher Julius Weiss, who may have brought a polka rhythmic sensibility from the old country to the 11-year old Joplin. As Curtis put it “The educated German could open up the door to a world of learning and music of which young Joplin was largely unaware.”
Joplin’s first, and most significant hit, the “Maple Leaf Rag”, was described as the “archetype” of the classic rag, influencing subsequent rag composers for at least 12 years after its initial publication thanks to its rhythmic patterns, melody lines, and harmony, although with the exception of Joseph Lamb they generally failed to enlarge upon it.
The opera’s setting is a former slave community in an isolated forest near Joplin’s childhood town Texarkana in September 1884. The plot centers on an 18 year old woman Treemonisha who is taught to read by a white woman, and then leads her community against the influence of conjurers who prey on ignorance and superstition. Treemonisha is abducted and is about to be thrown into a wasps’ nest when her friend Remus rescues her. The community realizes the value of education and the liability of their ignorance before choosing her as their teacher and leader.
Joplin wrote both the score and the libretto for the opera, which largely follows the form of European opera with many conventional arias, ensembles and choruses. In addition the themes of superstition and mysticism which are evident in Treemonisha are common in the operatic tradition, and certain aspects of the plot echo devices in the work of the German composer Richard Wagner (of which Joplin was aware); a sacred tree under which Treemonisha is found recalls the tree from which Siegmund takes his enchanted sword in Die Walküre, and the retelling of the heroine’s origins echos aspects of the opera Siegfried. In addition, African-American folk tales also influence the story, with the wasp nest incident being similar to the story of Br’er Rabbit and the briar patch.
Treemonisha is not a ragtime opera because Joplin employed the styles of ragtime and other black music sparingly, using them to convey “racial character”, and to celebrate the music of his childhood at the end of the 19th century. The opera has been seen as a valuable record of rural black music from late 19th century re-created by a “skilled and sensitive participant”.
Berlin speculates about parallels between the plot and Joplin’s own life. He notes that Lottie Joplin (the composer’s third wife) saw a connection between the character Treemonisha’s wish to lead her people out of ignorance, and a similar desire in the composer. In addition, it has been speculated that Treemonisha represents Freddie, Joplin’s second wife, because the date of the opera’s setting was likely to have been the month of her birth.
At the time of the opera’s publication in 1911, the American Musician and Art Journal praised it as “an entirely new form of operatic art”. Later critics have also praised the opera as occupying a special place in American history, with its heroine “a startlingly early voice for modern civil rights causes, notably the importance of education and knowledge to African American advancement.” Curtis’s conclusion is similar: “In the end, Treemonisha offered a celebration of literacy, learning, hard work, and community solidarity as the best formula for advancing the race.” Berlin describes it as a “fine opera, certainly more interesting than most operas then being written in the United States”, but later states that Joplin’s own libretto showed the composer “was not a competent dramatist” with the book not up to the same quality as the music.
Joplin’s skills as a pianist were described in glowing terms by a Sedalia newspaper in 1898, and fellow ragtime composers Arthur Marshall and Joe Jordan both said that he played the instrument well. However, the son of publisher John Stark stated that Joplin was a rather mediocre pianist and that he composed on paper, rather than at the piano. Artie Matthews recalled the “delight” the St. Louis players took in outplaying Joplin.
While Joplin never made an audio recording, his playing is preserved on seven piano rolls for use in mechanical player pianos. All seven were made in 1916. Of these, the six released under the Connorized label show evidence of significant editing, probably by William Axtmann, the staff arranger at Connorized. Berlin theorizes that by the time Joplin reached St. Louis he may have been experiencing discoordination of the fingers, tremors and an inability to speak clearly, symptoms of syphilis, the disease that took his life in 1917. The second roll recording of “Maple Leaf Rag” on the UniRecord label from June 1916 was described by biographer Blesh as “… shocking… disorganized and completely distressing to hear.” While there is disagreement among piano-roll experts about the accuracy of the reproduction of a player’s performance, Berlin notes that the “Maple Leaf Rag” roll was “painfully bad” and likely to be the truest record of Joplin’s playing at the time. The roll, however, does not reflect his abilities earlier in life.
Joplin and his fellow ragtime composers rejuvenated American popular music, fostering an appreciation for African American music among European Americans by creating exhilarating and liberating dance tunes, changing American musical taste. “Its syncopation and rhythmic drive gave it a vitality and freshness attractive to young urban audiences indifferent to Victorian proprieties… Joplin’s ragtime expressed the intensity and energy of a modern urban America.”
Joshua Rifkin, a leading Joplin recording artist, wrote that “a pervasive sense of lyricism infuses his work, and even at his most high-spirited, he cannot repress a hint of melancholy or adversity… He had little in common with the fast and flashy school of ragtime that grew up after him.” Joplin historian Bill Ryerson adds that “In the hands of authentic practitioners like Joplin, ragtime was a disciplined form capable of astonishing variety and subtlety… Joplin did for the rag what Chopin did for the mazurka. His style ranged from tones of torment to stunning serenades that incorporated the bolero and the tango.” Biographer Susan Curtis wrote that Joplin’s music had helped to “revolutionise American music and culture” by removing Victorian restraint.
Composer and actor Max Morath found it striking that the vast majority of Joplin’s work did not enjoy the popularity of the Maple Leaf Rag, because while the compositions were “of increasing lyrical beauty and delicate syncopation” they remained “obscure” and “unheralded” during his lifetime. Joplin apparently realized that his music was ahead of its time: As music historian Ian Whitcomb mentions that Joplin “opined that Maple Leaf Rag would make him ‘King of Ragtime Composers’ but he also knew that he would not be a pop hero in his own lifetime. ‘When I’m dead twenty-five years, people are going to recognize me,’ he told a friend.” Just over thirty years later he was recognized, and later historian Rudi Blesh would write a large book about ragtime, which he dedicated to the memory of Joplin.
Although he was penniless and disappointed at the end of his life, Joplin set the standard for ragtime compositions and played a key role in the development of ragtime music. And as a pioneer composer and performer, he helped pave the way for young black artists to reach American audiences of both races. After his death, jazz historian Floyd Levin noted: “those few who realized his greatness bowed their heads in sorrow. This was the passing of the king of all ragtime writers, the man who gave America a genuine native music.”
After his death in 1917, Joplin’s music and ragtime in general waned in popularity as new forms of musical styles, such as jazz and novelty piano, emerged. Even so, jazz bands and recording artists such as Tommy Dorsey in 1936, Jelly Roll Morton in 1939 and J. Russell Robinson in 1947 released recordings of Joplin compositions. “Maple Leaf Rag” was the Joplin piece found most often on 78 rpm records.
In the 1960s, a small-scale reawakening of interest in classic ragtime was underway among some American music scholars such as Trebor Tichenor, William Bolcom, William Albright and Rudi Blesh. Audiophile Records released a two record set, The Complete Piano Works of Scott Joplin, The Greatest of Ragtime Composers, performed by Knocky Parker, in 1970.
In 1968, Bolcom and Albright interested Joshua Rifkin, a young musicologist, in the body of Joplin’s work. Together, they hosted an occasional ragtime-and-early-jazz evening on WBAI radio. In November 1970, Rifkin released a recording called Scott Joplin: Piano Rags on the classical label Nonesuch. It sold 100,000 copies in its first year and eventually became Nonesuch’s first million-selling record. The Billboard “Best-Selling Classical LPs” chart for September 28, 1974 has the record at number 5, with the follow-up “Volume 2” at number 4, and a combined set of both volumes at number 3. Separately both volumes had been on the chart for 64 weeks. In the top 7 spots on that chart, 6 of the entries were recordings of Joplin’s work, three of which were Rifkin’s. Record stores found themselves for the first time putting ragtime in the classical music section. The album was nominated in 1971 for two Grammy Award categories: Best Album Notes and Best Instrumental Soloist Performance (without orchestra). Rifkin was also under consideration for a third Grammy for a recording not related to Joplin, but at the ceremony on March 14, 1972, Rifkin did not win in any category. He did a tour in 1974, which included appearances on BBC Television and a sell-out concert at London’s Royal Festival Hall. In 1979 Alan Rich in the New York Magazine wrote that by giving artists like Rifkin the opportunity to put Joplin’s music on disk Nonesuch Records “created, almost alone, the Scott Joplin revival.”
In January 1971, Harold C. Schonberg, music critic at the New York Times, having just heard the Rifkin album, wrote a featured Sunday edition article entitled “Scholars, Get Busy on Scott Joplin!” Schonberg’s call to action has been described as the catalyst for classical music scholars, the sort of people Joplin had battled all his life, to conclude that Joplin was a genius. Vera Brodsky Lawrence of the New York Public Library published a two-volume set of Joplin works in June 1971, entitled The Collected Works of Scott Joplin, stimulating a wider interest in the performance of Joplin’s music.
In mid-February 1973 under the direction of Gunther Schuller, The New England Conservatory Ragtime Ensemble recorded an album of Joplin’s rags taken from the period collection “Standard High-Class Rags” called Joplin: The Red Back Book. The album won a Grammy Award as Best Chamber Music Performance in that year, and went on to become Billboard magazine’s Top Classical Album of 1974. The group subsequently recorded two more albums for Golden Crest Records: More Scott Joplin Rags in 1974 and The Road From Rags To Jazz in 1975.
In 1973, film producer George Roy Hill contacted Schuller and Rifkin separately, asking each man to write the score for a film project he was working on: The Sting. Both men turned down the request because of previous commitments. Instead Hill found Marvin Hamlisch available, and brought him into the project as composer. Hamlisch lightly adapted Joplin’s music for the The Sting, for which he won an Academy Award for Best Original Song Score and Adaptation on April 2, 1974. His version of “The Entertainer” reached number 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and the American Top 40 music chart on May 18, 1974, prompting The New York Times to write, “the whole nation has begun to take notice”. Thanks to the film and its score, Joplin’s work became appreciated in both the popular and classical music world, becoming (in the words of music magazine Record World), the “classical phenomenon of the decade”. Rifkin later said of the film soundtrack that Hamlisch lifted his piano adaptations directly from Rifkin’s style and his band adaptations from Schuller’s style. Schuller said Hamlisch “got the Oscar for music he didn’t write (since it is by Joplin) and arrangements he didn’t write, and ‘editions’ he didn’t make. A lot of people were upset by that, but that’s show biz!”
On October 22, 1971, excerpts from Treemonisha were presented in concert form at Lincoln Center with musical performances by Bolcom, Rifkin and Mary Lou Williams supporting a group of singers. Finally, on January 28, 1972, T.J. Anderson’s orchestration of Treemonisha was staged for two consecutive nights, sponsored by the Afro-American Music Workshop of Morehouse College in Atlanta, with singers accompanied by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Robert Shaw, and choreography by Katherine Dunham. Schonberg remarked in February 1972 that the “Scott Joplin Renaissance” was in full swing and still growing. In May 1975, Treemonisha was staged in a full opera production by the Houston Grand Opera. The company toured briefly, then settled into an eight-week run in New York on Broadway at the Palace Theater in October and November. This appearance was directed by Gunther Schuller, and soprano Carmen Balthrop alternated with Kathleen Battle as the title character. An “original Broadway cast” recording was produced. Because of the lack of national exposure given to the brief Morehouse College staging of the opera in 1972, many Joplin scholars wrote that the Houston Grand Opera’s 1975 show was the first full production.
1974 saw the Royal Ballet, under director Kenneth MacMillan, create Elite Syncopations a ballet based on tunes by Joplin and other composers of the era. That year also brought the premiere by the Los Angeles Ballet of Red Back Book, choreographed by John Clifford to Joplin rags from the collection of the same name, including both solo piano performances and arrangements for full orchestra.
Ragtime (alternatively spelled rag-time) is an original musical genre which enjoyed its peak popularity between 1897 and 1918. Its main characteristic trait is its syncopated, or “ragged,” rhythm. It began as dance music in the red-light districts of African American communities in St. Louis and New Orleans years before being published as popular sheet music for piano. Ernest Hogan was an innovator and key pioneer that help develop the musical genre. Hogan is also credited for coining the term Ragtime. Ragtime was also a modification of the march made popular by John Philip Sousa, with additional polyrhythms coming from African music. The ragtime composer Scott Joplin became famous through the publication in 1899 of the “Maple Leaf Rag” and a string of ragtime hits that followed, although he was later forgotten by all but a small, dedicated community of ragtime aficionados until the major ragtime revival in the early 1970s. For at least 12 years after its publication, the “Maple Leaf Rag” heavily influenced subsequent ragtime composers with its melody lines, harmonic progressions or metric patterns.
Ragtime fell out of favor as jazz claimed the public’s imagination after 1917, but there have been numerous revivals since the music has been re-discovered. First in the early 1940s many jazz bands began to include ragtime in their repertoire and put out ragtime recordings on 78 rpm records. A more significant revival occurred in the 1950s as a wider variety of ragtime styles of the past were made available on records, and new rags were composed, published, and recorded. In 1971 Joshua Rifkin brought out a compilation of Scott Joplin’s work which was nominated for a Grammy Award,. In 1973 The New England Ragtime Ensemble (then a student group called The New England Conservatory Ragtime Ensemble), recorded “The Red Back Book”, a compilation of some of Scott Joplin’s rags in period orchestrations edited by conservatory president Gunther Schuller. The album won a Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music Performance of the year and was named Billboard‘s Top Classical Album of 1974. Subsequently the motion picture The Sting brought ragtime to a wide audience with its soundtrack of Joplin tunes. The film’s rendering of Joplin’s 1902 rag “The Entertainer” was a Top 5 hit in 1974.
Ragtime (with Joplin’s work at the forefront) has been cited as an American equivalent of minuets by Mozart, mazurkas by Chopin, or waltzes by Brahms. Ragtime influenced classical composers including Erik Satie, Claude Debussy and Igor Stravinsky.
Ragtime originated in African American music in the late 19th century, descending from the jigs and march music played by black bands. By the start of the 20th century it became widely popular throughout North America and was listened and danced to, performed, and written by people of many different subcultures. A distinctly American musical style, ragtime may be considered a synthesis of African syncopation and European classical music, especially the marches made popular by John Philip Sousa.
Some early piano rags are entitled marches, and “jig” and “rag” were used interchangeably in the mid-1890s. Ragtime was also preceded by its close relative the cakewalk. In 1895, black entertainer Ernest Hogan published two of the earliest sheet music rags, one of which (“All Coons Look Alike to Me”) eventually sold a million copies. As fellow black musician Tom Fletcher said, Hogan was the “first to put on paper the kind of rhythm that was being played by non-reading musicians.” While the song’s success helped introduce the country to ragtime rhythms, its use of racial slurs created a number of derogatory imitation tunes, known as “coon songs” because of their use of extremely racist and stereotypical images of blacks. In Hogan’s later years he admitted shame and a sense of “race betrayal” for the song while also expressing pride in helping bring ragtime to a larger audience.
The emergence of mature ragtime is usually dated to 1897, the year in which several important early rags were published. In 1899, Scott Joplin‘s “Maple Leaf Rag” was published, which became a great hit and demonstrated more depth and sophistication than earlier ragtime. Ragtime was one of the main influences on the early development of jazz (along with the blues). Some artists, like Jelly Roll Morton, were present and performed both ragtime and jazz styles during the period the two genres overlapped. Jazz largely surpassed ragtime in mainstream popularity in the early 1920s, although ragtime compositions continue to be written up to the present, and periodic revivals of popular interest in ragtime occurred in the 1950s and the 1970s.
The heyday of ragtime predated the widespread availability of sound recording. Like classical music, and unlike jazz, classical ragtime was and is primarily a written tradition, being distributed in sheet music rather than through recordings or by imitation of live performances. Ragtime music was also distributed via piano rolls for player pianos. A folk ragtime tradition also existed before and during the period of classical ragtime (a designation largely created by Scott Joplin’s publisher John Stillwell Stark), manifesting itself mostly through string bands, banjo and mandolin clubs (which experienced a burst of popularity during the early 20th Century), and the like.
A form known as novelty piano (or novelty ragtime) emerged as the traditional rag was fading in popularity. Where traditional ragtime depended on amateur pianists and sheet music sales, the novelty rag took advantage of new advances in piano-roll technology and the phonograph record to permit a more complex, pyrotechnic, performance-oriented style of rag to be heard. Chief among the novelty rag composers is Zez Confrey, whose “Kitten on the Keys” popularized the style in 1921.
Ragtime also served as the roots for stride piano, a more improvisational piano style popular in the 1920s and 1930s. Elements of ragtime found their way into much of the American popular music of the early 20th century. It also played a central role in the development of the musical style later referred to as Piedmont blues; indeed, much of the music played by such artists of the genre as Reverend Gary Davis, Blind Boy Fuller, Elizabeth Cotten, and Etta Baker, could be referred to as “ragtime guitar.”
Although most ragtime was composed for piano, transcriptions for other instruments and ensembles are common, notably including Gunther Schuller‘s arrangements of Joplin’s rags. Ragtime guitar continued to be popular into the 1930s, usually in the form of songs accompanied by skilled guitar work. Numerous records emanated from several labels, performed by Blind Blake, Blind Boy Fuller, Lemon Jefferson, and others. Occasionally ragtime was scored for ensembles, (particularly dance bands and brass bands) similar to those of James Reese Europe, or as songs like those written by Irving Berlin. Joplin had long-standing ambitions for the synthesizing for the worlds of ragtime and opera, to which end the opera Treemonisha was written. However its first performance, poorly staged with Joplin accompanying on the piano, was “disastrous” and it was never to be fully performed again in Joplin’s lifetime. In fact the score was lost for decades, then rediscovered in 1970, with a fully orchestrated and staged performance in 1972. An earlier opera by Joplin, A Guest of Honor, has been lost.
The rag was a modification of the march made popular by John Philip Sousa, with additional polyrhythms coming from African music. It was usually written in 2/4 or 4/4 time with a predominant left hand pattern of bass notes on odd-numbered beats and chords on even-numbered beats accompanying a syncopated melody in the right hand. According to some sources the name “ragtime” may come from the “ragged or syncopated rhythm” of the right hand. A rag written in 3/4 time is a “ragtime waltz.”
Ragtime is not a “time” (meter) in the same sense that march time is 2/4 meter and waltz time is 3/4 meter; it is rather a musical genre that uses an effect that can be applied to any meter. The defining characteristic of ragtime music is a specific type of syncopation in which melodic accents occur between metrical beats. This results in a melody that seems to be avoiding some metrical beats of the accompaniment by emphasizing notes that either anticipate or follow the beat (“a rhythmic base of metric affirmation, and a melody of metric denial”). The ultimate (and intended) effect on the listener is actually to accentuate the beat, thereby inducing the listener to move to the music. Scott Joplin, the composer/pianist known as the “King of Ragtime”, called the effect “weird and intoxicating.” He also used the term “swing” in describing how to play ragtime music: “Play slowly until you catch the swing…”. The name swing later came to be applied to an early genre of jazz that developed from ragtime. Converting a non-ragtime piece of music into ragtime by changing the time values of melody notes is known as “ragging” the piece. Original ragtime pieces usually contain several distinct themes, four being the most common number. These themes were typically 16 bars, each theme divided into periods of four four-bar phrases and arranged in patterns of repeats and reprises. Typical patterns were AABBACCC′, AABBACCDD and AABBCCA, with the first two strains in the tonic key and the following strains in the subdominant. Sometimes rags would include introductions of four bars or bridges, between themes, of anywhere between four and 24 bars.
Styles of ragtime
Shoe Tickler Rag, cover of the music sheet for a song from 1911 by Wilbur Campbell.
Ragtime pieces came in a number of different styles during the years of its popularity and appeared under a number of different descriptive names. It is related to several earlier styles of music, has close ties with later styles of music, and was associated with a few musical “fads” of the period such as the foxtrot. Many of the terms associated with ragtime have inexact definitions, and are defined differently by different experts; the definitions are muddled further by the fact that publishers often labelled pieces for the fad of the moment rather than the true style of the composition. There is even disagreement about the term “ragtime” itself; experts such as David Jasen and Trebor Tichenor choose to exclude ragtime songs from the definition but include novelty piano and stride piano (a modern perspective), while Edward A. Berlin includes ragtime songs and excludes the later styles (which is closer to how ragtime was viewed originally). The terms below should not be considered exact, but merely an attempt to pin down the general meaning of the concept.
- Cakewalk – A pre-ragtime dance form popular until about 1904. The music is intended to be representative of an African-American dance contest in which the prize is a cake. Many early rags are cakewalks.
- Characteristic march – A march incorporating idiomatic touches (such as syncopation) supposedly characteristic of the race of their subject, which is usually African-Americans. Many early rags are characteristic marches.
- Two-step – A pre-ragtime dance form popular until about 1911. A large number of rags are two-steps.
- Slow drag – Another dance form associated with early ragtime. A modest number of rags are slow drags.
- Coon song – A pre-ragtime vocal form popular until about 1901. A song with crude, racist lyrics often sung by white performers in blackface. Gradually died out in favor of the ragtime song. Strongly associated with ragtime in its day, it is one of the things that gave ragtime a bad name.
- Ragtime song – The vocal form of ragtime, more generic in theme than the coon song. Though this was the form of music most commonly considered “ragtime” in its day, many people today prefer to put it in the “popular music” category. Irving Berlin was the most commercially successful composer of ragtime songs, and his “Alexander’s Ragtime Band” (1911) was the single most widely performed and recorded piece of this sort, even though it contains virtually no ragtime syncopation. Gene Greene was a famous singer in this style.
- Folk ragtime – A name often used to describe ragtime that originated from small towns or assembled from folk strains, or at least sounded as if they did. Folk rags often have unusual chromatic features typical of composers with non-standard training.
- Classic rag – A name used to describe the Missouri-style ragtime popularized by Scott Joplin, James Scott, and others.
- Fox-trot – A dance fad which began in 1913. Fox-trots contain a dotted-note rhythm different from that of ragtime, but which nonetheless was incorporated into many late rags.
- Novelty piano – A piano composition emphasizing speed and complexity which emerged after World War I. It is almost exclusively the domain of white composers.
- Stride piano – A style of piano which emerged after World War I, developed by and dominated by black East coast pianists (James P. Johnson, Fats Waller and Willie ‘The Lion’ Smith). Together with novelty piano, it may be considered a successor to ragtime, but is not considered by all to be “genuine” ragtime. Johnson composed the song that is arguably most associated with the Roaring Twenties, “Charleston.” A recording of Johnson playing the song appears on the compact disc, James P. Johnson: Harlem Stride Piano (Jazz Archives No. 111, EPM, Paris, 1997). Johnson’s recorded version has a ragtime flavor.
In the early 1940s many jazz bands began to include ragtime in their repertoire, and as early as 1936 78 rpm records of Joplin’s compositions were produced. Old numbers written for piano were rescored for jazz instruments by jazz musicians, which gave the old style a new sound. The most famous recording of this period is Pee Wee Hunt‘s version of Euday L. Bowman‘s “Twelfth Street Rag.”
A more significant revival occurred in the 1950s. A wider variety of ragtime styles of the past were made available on records, and new rags were composed, published, and recorded. Much of the ragtime recorded in this period is presented in a light-hearted novelty style, looked to with nostalgia as the product of a supposedly more innocent time. A number of popular recordings featured “prepared pianos,” playing rags on pianos with tacks on the hammers and the instrument deliberately somewhat out of tune, supposedly to simulate the sound of a piano in an old honky tonk.
Three events brought forward a different kind of ragtime revival in the 1970s. First, pianist Joshua Rifkin brought out a compilation of Scott Joplin’s work, Scott Joplin: Piano Rags, on Nonesuch Records, which was nominated for a Grammy in the “Best Classical Performance – Instrumental Soloist(s) without Orchestra” category in 1971. This recording reintroduced Joplin’s music to the public in the manner the composer had intended, not as a nostalgic stereotype but as serious, respectable music. Second, the New York Public Library released a two-volume set of “The Collected Works of Scott Joplin,” which renewed interest in Joplin among musicians and prompted new stagings of Joplin’s opera Treemonisha. Next came the release and Grammy Award for The New England Ragtime Ensemble‘s recording of Joplin’s Red Back Book. Finally, with the release of the motion picture The Sting in 1973, which had a Marvin Hamlisch soundtrack of Joplin tunes originally edited by Gunther Schuller, ragtime was brought to a wide audience. Hamlisch’s rendering of Joplin’s 1902 rag “The Entertainer” won an Academy Award, and was an American Top 40 hit in 1974, reaching #3 on 18 May.
In 1998, an adaption of E.L. Doctorow’s historic novel, Ragtime was produced on Broadway. With music by Stephen Flaherty and lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, the show featured several rags as well as songs in other musical genres.
In modern times, younger musicians have again begun to find ragtime, and incorporate it into their musical repertoires. Such acts include Jay Chou, The Kitchen Syncopators, Inkwell Rhythm Makers, Curtains for you, The Gallus Brothers and the not-quite as young Baby Gramps or Bob Milne.
Fats Waller (May 21, 1904 – December 15, 1943), born Thomas Wright Waller, was a jazz pianist, organist, composer, singer, and comedic entertainer. He was the youngest of four children born to Adaline Locket Waller and the Reverend Edward Martin Waller.
SignificanceThomas Wright Waller started playing the piano when he was six and graduated to the organ of his father’s church four years later. At the age of fourteen he was playing the organ at Harlem’s Lincoln Theater and within twelve months he had composed his first rag. Waller’s first piano solos (Muscle Shoals Blues and Birmingham Blues) were recorded in October 1922 when he was only 18 years old.
He was a splendid pianist, and master of stride piano, having been the prize pupil and later friend and colleague of the greatest of the stride pianists, James P. Johnson. Waller was one of the most popular performers of his era, finding critical and commercial success in his homeland and in Europe. He was also a prolific songwriter and many songs he wrote or co-wrote are still popular, such as “Honeysuckle Rose”, “Ain’t Misbehavin'” and “Squeeze Me”. Fellow pianist and composer Oscar Levant dubbed Waller “the black Horowitz”. Waller composed many novelty swing tunes in the 1920s and 1930s and sold them for relatively small sums. When the compositions became hits, other songwriters claimed them as their own. Many standards are alternatively and sometimes controversially attributed to Waller.
The anonymous sleeve notes on the 1960 RCA (UK) album Handful of Keys state that Waller copyrighted over 400 new tunes, many of which co-written with his closest collaborator Andy Razaf. After Waller’s death from pneumonia in 1943, Razaf described his partner as “the soul of melody… a man who made the piano sing… both big in body and in mind… known for his generosity… a bubbling bundle of joy”. Gene Sedric, a clarinetist who played with Waller on some of his 1930s recordings, is quoted in these same sleeve notes recalling Waller’s recording technique with considerable admiration. “Fats was the most relaxed man I ever saw in a studio,” he said, “and so he made everybody else relaxed. After a balance had been taken, we’d just need one take to make a side, unless it was a kind of difficult number.”
Musical contributions You Got Everything A Sweet Mama Needs But Me
You Got Everything A Sweet Mama Needs But Me, sung by Sara Martin with piano accompaniment by Fats Waller in 1922.
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’tain’t Nobody’s Bus’ness If I Do
’tain’t Nobody’s Bus’ness If I Do, sung by Sara Martin with piano accompaniment by Fats Waller in 1922.
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Waller’s touch varied, and he was a master of dynamics and tension and release. He played with many performers, from Nat Shilkret (on Victor 21298-A) and Gene Austin to Erskine Tate to Adelaide Hall, but his greatest success came with his own five- or six-piece combo, “Fats Waller and his Rhythm”.
His playing once put him at risk of injury. Waller was kidnapped in Chicago leaving a performance in 1926. Four men bundled him into a car and took him to the Hawthorne Inn, owned by gangster Al Capone. Fats was ordered inside the building, and found a party in full swing. Gun to his back, he was pushed towards a piano, and told to play. A terrified Waller realized he was the “surprise guest” at Al Capone’s birthday party, and took comfort that the gangsters didn’t intend to kill him. According to rumor, Waller played for three days. When he left the Hawthorne Inn, he was very drunk, extremely tired, and had earned thousands of dollars in cash from Capone and other party-goers as tips
Waller wrote “Squeeze Me” (1919), “Keepin’ Out of Mischief Now”, “Ain’t Misbehavin'” (1929), “Blue Turning Grey Over You”, “I’ve Got a Feeling I’m Falling” (1929), “Honeysuckle Rose” (1929), and “Jitterbug Waltz” (1942). He collaborated with the Tin Pan Alley lyricist Andy Razaf. He composed stride piano display pieces such as “Handful of Keys”, “Valentine Stomp” and “Viper’s Drag”.
He enjoyed success touring the United Kingdom and Ireland in the 1930s. He appeared in one of the first BBC Television broadcasts. While in Britain, Waller also recorded a number of songs for EMI on their Compton Theatre organ located in their Abbey Road Studios in St John’s Wood. He appeared in several feature films and short subject films, most notably “Stormy Weather” in 1943, which was released July 21, just months before his death, December 15, 1943. For the hit Broadway show, “Hot Chocolates”, he and Razaf wrote “(What Did I Do to Be So) Black and Blue” (1929), which became a hit for Ethel Waters and Louis Armstrong. This searing treatment of racism refutes the early criticism of Waller that his creations and performances were “shallow entertainment”.
Waller performed Bach organ pieces for small groups on occasion. Waller influenced many pre-bop jazz pianists; Count Basie and Erroll Garner have both reanimated his hit songs (notably, “Ain’t Misbehavin'”). In addition to his playing, Waller was known for his many quips during his performances.
Waller contracted pneumonia and died on a cross country train trip near Kansas City, Missouri on December 15, 1943.
Revival and awardsA Broadway musical revue showcasing Waller tunes entitled Ain’t Misbehavin’ was produced in 1978. (The show and a star of the show, Nell Carter, won Tony Awards.) The show opened at the Longacre Theatre and ran for over 1600 performances. It was revived on Broadway in 1988. Performed by five African American actors, it included such songs as “Honeysuckle Rose”, “This Joint Is Jumpin'”, and “Ain’t Misbehavin'”.
Julian Edwin “Cannonball” Adderley (September 15, 1928 – August 8, 1975) was a jazz alto saxophonist of the hard-bop era of the 1950s and 1960s.
Adderley is remembered for his 1966 single “Mercy Mercy Mercy“, a crossover hit on the pop charts, and for his work with trumpeter Miles Davis, including on the epochal album Kind of Blue (1959). He was the brother of jazz cornetist Nat Adderley, a longtime member of his band.
Early life and career
Originally from Tampa, Florida, Adderley moved to New York in the mid-1950s. His nickname derived originally from “cannibal,” an honorific title imposed on him by high school colleagues as a tribute to his fast eating capacity.
His educational career was long established prior to teaching applied instrumental music classes at Dillard High School in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Cannonball moved to Tallahassee, Florida when his parents obtained teaching positions at Florida A&M University. Both Cannonball and brother Nat played with Ray Charles when Charles lived in Tallahassee during the early 1940s. Cannonball was a local legend in Florida until he moved to New York City in 1955, where he lived in Corona, Queens.
It was in New York during this time that Adderley’s prolific career began. Adderley visited the Cafe Bohemia (Oscar Pettiford‘s group was playing that night) where he brought his saxophone into the club with him, primarily because he feared that it would be stolen. He was asked to sit in as the saxophone player was late, and in true Cannonball style, he soared through the changes, and became a sensation in the following weeks.
Prior to joining the Miles Davis band, Adderley formed his own group with his brother Nat after signing onto the Savoy jazz label in 1957. He was noticed by Miles Davis, and it was because of his blues-rooted alto saxophone that Davis asked him to play with his group.
Adderley joined the Miles Davis sextet in October 1957, three months prior to John Coltrane‘s return to the group. Adderley played on the seminal Davis records Milestones and Kind of Blue. This period also overlapped with pianist Bill Evans‘s time with the sextet, an association that led to recording Portrait of Cannonball and Know What I Mean?.
His interest as an educator carried over to his recordings. In 1961, Cannonball narrated The Child’s Introduction to Jazz, released on Riverside Records.
The Cannonball Adderley Quintet featured Cannonball on alto sax and his brother Nat Adderley on cornet. Adderley’s first quintet was not very successful; however, after leaving Davis’ group, he formed another, again with his brother, which enjoyed more success.
The new quintet (which later became the Cannonball Adderley Sextet), and Cannonball’s other combos and groups, included such noted musicians as:
- pianists Bobby Timmons, Victor Feldman, Joe Zawinul, Hal Galper, Michael Wolff, George Duke, Wynton Kelly, Bill Evans
- bassists Ray Brown, Sam Jones, Walter Booker, Victor Gaskin
- drummers Louis Hayes, Roy McCurdy
- saxophonists Charles Lloyd, Yusef Lateef.
The sextet was noteworthy towards the end of the 1960s for achieving crossover success with pop audiences, but doing it without making artistic concessions.
By the end of 1960s, Adderley’s playing began to reflect the influence of the electric jazz avant-garde, and Miles Davis‘ experiments on the album Bitches Brew. On his albums from this period, such as Accent on Africa (1968) and The Price You Got to Pay to Be Free (1970), he began doubling on soprano saxophone, showing the influence of John Coltrane and Wayne Shorter. In that same year, his quintet appeared at the Monterey Jazz Festival in California, and a brief scene of that performance was featured in the 1971 psychological thriller Play Misty for Me, starring Clint Eastwood. In 1975 he also appeared (in an acting role alongside Jose Feliciano and David Carradine) in the episode “Battle Hymn” in the third season of the TV series Kung Fu.
Joe Zawinul’s composition “Cannon Ball” (recorded on Weather Report‘s album Black Market) is a tribute to his former leader.
Songs made famous by Adderley and his bands include “This Here” (written by Bobby Timmons), “The Jive Samba,” “Work Song” (written by Nat Adderley), “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy” (written by Joe Zawinul) and “Walk Tall” (written by Zawinul, Marrow and Rein). A cover version of Pops Staples‘ “Why (Am I Treated So Bad)?” also entered the charts.
Adderley was initiated as an honorary member of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia fraternity (Gamma Theta chapter, University of North Texas, ’60, & Xi Omega chapter, Frostburg State University, ’70) and Alpha Phi Alpha (Beta Nu chapter, Florida A&M University).
Adderley died of a stroke in 1975. He was buried in the Southside Cemetery, Tallahassee, Florida. Later that year he was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame.
Coleman Randolph Hawkins (November 21, 1904 – May 19, 1969) was an American jazz tenor saxophonist. Hawkins was one of the first prominent jazz musicians on his instrument. As Joachim E. Berendt explained, “there were some tenor players before him, but the instrument was not an acknowledged jazz horn”. While Hawkins is most strongly associated with the swing music and big band era, he had a role in the development of bebop in the 1940s.
Lester Young, who was called “Pres”, in a 1959 interview with The Jazz Review, said “As far as I’m concerned, I think Coleman Hawkins was the President first, right? As far as myself, I think I’m the second one.” Miles Davis once said: “When I heard Hawk, I learned to play ballads.” Hawkins was nicknamed “Hawk” and sometimes “Bean”.
Coleman Hawkins (incorrectly spelled “Haskins” in the caption) pictured in the Topeka High School orchestra, from the 1921 yearbook.
Early life and the swing era
Hawkins was born in Saint Joseph, Missouri, in 1904. Some out-of-date sources say 1901, but there is no evidence to prove an earlier date; instead, there is record of Hawkins’ parents’ first female child being born on 8 March 1901 and dying in 1903 at the age of two, possibly basis for the mistaken belief. He was named Coleman after his mother Cordelia’s maiden name.
He attended high school in Chicago, then in Topeka, Kansas at Topeka High School. He later stated that he studied harmony and composition for two years at Washburn College in Topeka while still attending THS. In his youth he played piano and cello, and started playing saxophone at the age of nine; by the age of fourteen he was playing around eastern Kansas.
Hawkins’ first major gig was with Mamie Smith‘s Jazz Hounds in 1921, whom he joined permanently in April 1922 and toured with through 1923, when he settled in New York City. Hawkins joined Fletcher Henderson‘s Orchestra, where he remained until 1934, sometimes doubling on clarinet and bass saxophone. Hawkins’s playing changed significantly during Louis Armstrong‘s tenure with the Henderson Orchestra during 1924-25. In the late 20’s, Hawkins also participated in some of the earliest interracial recording sessions with the Mound City Blue Blowers. During the time with Henderson, he became a star soloist with an increasing amount of star solos on record. While with the band, he and Henry “Red” Allen recorded a series of small group sides for ARC (on their Perfect, Melotone, Romeo, and Oriole labels). Hawkins also recorded a number of solo recordings, with either piano or with a pick-up band of Henderson’s musicians in 1933-34, just prior to his European trip. He was also featured on a landmark Benny Goodman February 2, 1934 session for Columbia, which also featured Mildred Bailey as guest vocalist.
In late 1934, Hawkins accepted an invitation to play with Jack Hylton‘s band in London, and toured Europe as a soloist until 1939, memorably working with Django Reinhardt and Benny Carter in Paris in 1937. Having returned to the United States, on October 11, 1939, he recorded a two-chorus performance of the pop standard “Body and Soul“, which he had been performing at Kelly’s Stables. A landmark recording of the swing era, recorded as an afterthought at the session, it is notable in that Hawkins ignores almost all of the melody, only the first four bars are stated in a recognizable fashion. In its exploration of harmonic structure it is considered by many to be the next evolutionary step in jazz recording from where Louis Armstrong’s “West End Blues” in 1928 left off.
The bebop era
After an unsuccessful attempt to establish a big band, he led a combo at Kelly’s Stables on Manhattan‘s 52nd Street with Thelonious Monk, Oscar Pettiford, Miles Davis, and Max Roach as sidemen. Hawkins always had a keen ear for new talent and styles, and he was leader on what is generally considered the first ever bebop recording session with Dizzy Gillespie and Max Roach in 1944. Later he toured with Howard McGhee and recorded with J. J. Johnson and Fats Navarro. He also toured with Jazz at the Philharmonic.
In 1948 Hawkins recorded Picasso, an early piece for unaccompanied saxophone.
After 1948 Hawkins divided his time between New York and Europe, making numerous freelance recordings. In the 1960s, he appeared regularly at the Village Vanguard in Manhattan.
Hawkins directly influenced many bebop performers, and later in his career, recorded or performed with such adventurous musicians as Sonny Rollins, who considered him as his main influence, and John Coltrane. He appears on the Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane (Riverside) record. In 1960 he recorded on Max Roach’s We Insist! – Freedom Now suite.
The grave of Coleman Hawkins
In the 1950s, Hawkins performed with more traditional musicians such as Henry “Red” Allen and Roy Eldridge with whom he appeared at the 1957 Newport Jazz Festival and recorded Coleman Hawkins Encounters Ben Webster with fellow tenor saxophonist Ben Webster along with Oscar Peterson (piano), Herb Ellis (guitar), Ray Brown (bass), and Alvin Stoller (drums).
In the 1960s, Hawkins began to drink heavily and his recording output began to wane. However, he did manage to record some notable albums with musicians such as Duke Ellington, among others. His last recording was in 1966.
With failing health, Hawkins succumbed to pneumonia in 1969 and is interred in the Yew Plot at the Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx.
The Song of the Hawk, a 1990 biography written by British jazz historian John Chilton, chronicles Hawkins’ career as one of the influential jazz performers of the 20th century.
Lester Willis Young (August 27, 1909 – March 15, 1959), nicknamed “Prez”, was an American jazz tenor saxophonist and clarinetist. He also played trumpet, violin, and drums.
Coming to prominence while a member of Count Basie‘s orchestra, Young was one of the most influential players on his instrument, playing with a cool tone and using sophisticated harmonies. He invented or popularized much of the hipster ethos which came to be associated with the music.
Early life and career
Lester Young was born in Woodville, Mississippi and grew up in a musical family. Young’s father, Willis Handy Young, was a respected teacher, his brother Lee Young was a drummer, and several other relatives played music professionally. His family moved to New Orleans, Louisiana when Lester was an infant and later to Minneapolis, Minnesota. Although at a very young age Young did not initially know his father, he learned that his father was a musician. Later Willis taught his son to play the trumpet, violin, and drums in addition to the saxophone.
Lester Young played in his family’s band in both the vaudeville and carnival circuits. He left the family band in 1927 at the age of 18 because he refused to tour in the Southern United States, where Jim Crow laws were in effect and racial segregation was required in public facilities.
With the Count Basie Orchestra
In 1933 Young settled in Kansas City, where after playing briefly in several bands, he rose to prominence with Count Basie. His playing in the Basie band was characterized by a relaxed style which contrasted sharply with the aggressive approach of Coleman Hawkins, the dominant tenor sax player of the day.
Young left the Basie band to replace Hawkins in Fletcher Henderson‘s orchestra. He soon left Henderson to play in the Andy Kirk band (for six months) before returning to Basie. While with Basie, Young made small-group recordings for Milt Gabler‘s Commodore Records, The Kansas City Sessions. Although they were recorded in New York (in 1938, with a reunion in 1944), they are named after the group, the Kansas City Seven, and comprised Buck Clayton, Dicky Wells, Basie, Young, Freddie Green, Rodney Richardson and Jo Jones. Young played clarinet as well as tenor in these sessions. He was a master of the clarinet, and there too, his style was entirely his own. As well as the Kansas City Sessions, his clarinet work from 1938-39 is documented on recordings with Basie, Billie Holiday, Basie small groups, and the organist Glenn Hardman.
After Young’s clarinet was stolen in 1939, he abandoned the instrument until about 1957. That year Norman Granz gave him one and urged him to play it (with far different results at that stage in Young’s life – see below).
Young left the Basie band in late 1940. He is rumored to have refused to play with the band on Friday, December 13 of that year for superstitious reasons, spurring his dismissal. Lester left the band around that time and subsequently led a number of small groups that often included his brother, noted drummer Lee Young, for the next couple of years; live and broadcast recordings from this period exist.
During this period, Young accompanied the singer Billie Holiday in a couple of studio sessions in 1940 and 1941, and also made a small set of recordings with Nat “King” Cole (their first of several collaborations) in June 1942. His studio recordings are relatively sparse during the 1942 to 1943 period, largely due to the American Federation of Musicians’ recording ban.
In December 1943, Young returned to the Basie fold for a 10-month stint, cut short by his being drafted into the army during World War II (see below). Recordings made during this and subsequent periods suggest Young was beginning to make much greater use of a plastic reed, which tended to give his playing a somewhat heavier, breathier tone (although still quite smooth compared to that of many other players). While he never abandoned the wooden reed, he used the plastic reed a significant share of the time from 1943 until the end of his life. Another cause for the thickening of his tone around this time was a change in saxophone mouthpiece from a metal Otto Link to an ebonite Brilhart. In August 1944, Young appeared alongside drummer Jo Jones, trumpeter Harry “Sweets” Edison, and fellow tenor saxophonist Illinois Jacquet in Gjon Mili‘s short film Jammin’ the Blues.
In September 1944, Young and Jo Jones were in Los Angeles with the Basie Band when they were inducted into the U.S. Army. Unlike many white musicians, who were placed in band outfits such as the ones led by Glenn Miller and Artie Shaw, Young was assigned to the regular army where he was not allowed to play his saxophone. Based in Ft. McClellan, Alabama, Young was found with marijuana and alcohol among his possessions. He was soon court-martialed. Young did not fight the charges and was convicted. He served one year in a detention barracks[dead link] and was dishonorably discharged in late 1945. His experience inspired his composition “D.B. Blues” (with D.B. standing for detention barracks).
Some jazz historians have argued that Young’s playing power declined in the years following his army experience, though critics such as Scott Yanow disagree with this entirely. Recordings show that his playing began to change before he was drafted. Some argue that Young’s playing had an increasingly emotional slant to it, and the post-war period featured some of his greatest renditions of ballads.
Young’s career after World War II was far more prolific and lucrative than in the pre-war years, in terms of recordings made, live performances, and annual income. Young joined Norman Granz‘s Jazz at the Philharmonic (JATP) troupe in 1946, touring regularly with them over the next 12 years. He made a significant number of studio recordings under Granz’s supervision for his Verve Records label as well, including more trio recordings with Nat King Cole. Young also recorded extensively in the late 1940s for Aladdin Records (1946-7, where he had made the Cole recordings in 1942), and for Savoy (1944, ’49 and ’50) some sessions of which included Basie on piano.
While the quality and consistency of his playing ebbed gradually in the latter half of the 1940s and into the early 1950s, he also gave some brilliant performances during this stretch. Especially noteworthy are his performances with JATP in 1946, 1949, and 1950. With Young at the 1949 JATP concert at Carnegie Hall were Charlie Parker and Roy Eldridge, and Young’s solo on “Lester Leaps In” at that concert is a particular standout among his performances in the latter half of his career.
Struggle and revival
From around 1951, Young’s level of playing began to decline more precipitously, as he began to drink more and more heavily. His playing showed reliance on a small number of clichéd phrases and reduced creativity and originality, despite his claims that he did not want to be a “repeater pencil” (Young coined this phrase to describe the act of repeating one’s own past ideas). A comparison of his studio recordings from 1952, such as the session with pianist Oscar Peterson, and those from 1953–1954 (all available on the Verve label) also demonstrates a declining command of his instrument and sense of timing, possibly due to both mental and physical factors. Young’s playing and health went into a crisis, culminating in a November 1955 hospital admission following a nervous breakdown.
He emerged from this treatment improved. In January 1956 he recorded two Granz-produced sessions featuring pianist Teddy Wilson (who had led the Billie Holiday recordings with Young in the 1930s), trumpet player Roy Eldridge, trombonist Vic Dickenson, bassist Gene Ramey, and drummer Jo Jones – available on the Jazz Giants ’56 and Prez and Teddy albums. 1956 was a relatively good year for Lester Young, including a tour of Europe with Miles Davis and the Modern Jazz Quartet and a successful stint at Olivia’s Patio Lounge in Washington, DC.
Throughout the 1940s and 50s, Young had sat in on Count Basie Orchestra gigs from time to time. The best-known of these is their July 1957 appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival, the line-up including many of Lester’s old buddies: Jo Jones, Roy Eldridge, Illinois Jacquet and Jimmy Rushing. His playing was in better shape, and he produced some of the old, smooth toned flow of the 1930s. Among other tunes he played a moving “Polkadots and Moonbeams”, which was a favorite of his at that time.
The final years
On December 8, 1957, Young appeared with Billie Holiday, Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Roy Eldridge, and Gerry Mulligan in the CBS television special The Sound of Jazz, performing Holiday’s tunes “Lady Sings The Blues” and “Fine and Mellow”. It was a reunion with Holiday, with whom he’d fallen out of contact for years. She was also in decline at the end of her career, and they both gave moving performances. Young’s solo was brilliant, considered by many jazz musicians an unparalleled marvel of economy, phrasing and extraordinarily moving emotion. But, Young seemed gravely ill, and was the only horn player who was seated (except during his solo) during the performance. By this time his alcoholism had cumulative effect. He was eating significantly less, drinking more and more, and suffering from liver disease and malnutrition. Young’s sharply diminished physical strength in the final two years of his life yielded some recordings with a frail tone, shortened phrases, and, on rare occasions, a difficulty in getting any sound to come out of his horn at all.
Lester Young made his final studio recordings and live performances in Paris in March 1959 with drummer Kenny Clarke at the tail end of an abbreviated European tour during which he ate next to nothing and virtually drank himself to death. He died in the early morning hours of March 15, 1959, only hours after arriving back in New York, at the age of 49. He was buried at the Cemetery of the Evergreens in Brooklyn. According to jazz critic Leonard Feather, who rode with Holiday in a taxi to Young’s funeral, she said after the services, “I’ll be the next one to go.” Holiday died four months later at age 44.
Posthumous dedications and influence
Charles Mingus dedicated an elegy, “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat“, for Young only a few months after his death. Wayne Shorter, then of Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, composed a tribute, called “Lester Left Town”.
Young’s playing style influenced many other tenor saxophonists. Perhaps the most famous and successful of these were Stan Getz and Dexter Gordon, but he also influenced many in the cool movement such as Zoot Sims, Al Cohn, and Gerry Mulligan. Paul Quinichette modeled his style so closely on Young’s that he was sometimes referred to as the ‘Vice Prez’ (sic). Sonny Stitt began to incorporate elements from Lester Young’s approach when he made the transition to tenor saxophone. Lester Young also had a direct influence on young Charlie Parker (“Bird”), and thus the entire be-bop movement. Indeed, recordings of Parker on tenor sax are similar in style to that of Young. Lesser known saxophonists, such as Warne Marsh, were strongly influenced by Young.
Don Byron recorded the album Ivey-Divey in gratitude of what he learned from studying Lester Young’s work, modeled after a 1946 trio date with Buddy Rich and Nat King Cole. “Ivey-Divey” was one of Lester Young’s common eccentric phrases.
Young is a major character in English writer Geoff Dyer‘s 1991 fictional book about jazz, But Beautiful. “The Resurrection of Lady Lester” by OyamO (Charles F. Gordon) is a play and published book depicting Young’s life; subtitled “A Poetic Mood Song Based on the Legend of Lester Young”.
In the 1986 film Round Midnight, the fictional main character Dale Turner, played by Dexter Gordon, was partly based on Young – incorporating flashback references to his army experiences, and loosely depicting his time in Paris and his return to New York just before his death.
Acid Jazz/boogaloo band the Greyboy Allstars song “Tenor Man” is a tribute to Young. On their 1999 album “Live”, saxophonist Karl Denson introduces the song by saying, “now some folks may have told you that Lester Young is out of style, but we’re here to tell you that the Prez is happenin’ right now.” Those were literally the lyrics Rahsaan Roland Kirk wrote and sang to the melody of the Charles Mingus elegy, “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat“.
Peter Straub’s short story collection Magic Terror (2000) contains a story called “Pork Pie Hat”, a fictional account of the life of Lester Young. Straub was inspired by Young’s appearance on the 1957 CBS-TV show, The Sound of Jazz, which he watched repeatedly, wondering how such a genius could have ended up such a human wreck.
He is said to have popularized the term cool as slang for something fashionable. Another slang term he coined was the term “bread” for money. He would ask “How does the bread smell?” when asking how much a gig was going to pay
Earth, Wind & Fire is an American R&B musical group founded in Chicago, Illinois, in 1971 by Maurice White. Also known as EWF, the band has won six Grammy Awards and four American Music Awards. They have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Vocal Group Hall of Fame and have sold over 90 million albums worldwide. Rolling Stone magazine has described them as “innovative, precise yet sensual, calculated yet galvanizing” and has also declared that the band “changed the sound of black pop”. In 1998, they were ranked at number 60 on VH1‘s list of the 100 Greatest Artists of Rock N’ Roll.
The band’s music contains elements of African, Latin American, funk, soul music, pop and rock music, jazz and other genres. The band is known for the dynamic sound of their horn section, and the interplay between the contrasting vocals of Philip Bailey‘s falsetto and Maurice White’s tenor. The kalimba (African thumb piano) is played on all of the band’s albums.
In 1962, Maurice White, a former session drummer for Chess Records and former member of the Ramsey Lewis Trio, joined two friends in Chicago, Wade Flemons and Don Whitehead, as a songwriting team composing songs and commercials in the Chicago area. The three friends got a recording contract with Capitol, and called themselves the “Salty Peppers,” and had a marginal hit in the Midwestern area called “La La Time”.
The Salty Peppers’ second single, “Uh Huh Yeah,” did not fare as well, and Maurice moved from Chicago to Los Angeles. He then added to the band singer Sherry Scott and percussionist Yackov Ben Israel both from Chicago, and then asked his younger brother Verdine how he would feel about heading out to the west coast. On June 6, 1970, Verdine left Chicago to join the band as their new bassist. Maurice began shopping demo tapes of the band, featuring Donny Hathaway, around to different record labels and the band was thus signed to Warner Bros. Records.
Formation and early years (1971–1973)
Maurice’s astrological sign, Sagittarius, has a primary elemental quality of Fire and seasonal qualities of Earth and Air q.v. (Sagittarius in the northern hemisphere occurs in the fall, whose element is earth, and in the southern hemisphere, it is spring, whose element is air. Hence the omission of Water, the fourth classical element). Based on this, he changed the band’s name, to “Earth, Wind & Fire”. Maurice (mbira) held further auditions in L.A. adding Michael Beale on guitar, Chester Washington on reeds, and Leslie Drayton on trumpet who also served as the group’s musical arranger. Trombonist Alex Thomas, and electric pianist/vocalist Wade Flemons completed the then ten-man EWF lineup.
The band’s self-titled debut album, Earth, Wind, Fire, was released in February 1971 to critical acclaim, as was November 1971’s The Need of Love. Both albums were produced by Joe Wissert and a single, from The Need of Love called I Think About Lovin’ You’ with Sherry Scott on lead vocals provided EWF with their first Top 40 R&B hit. In 1971, the group also recorded the soundtrack of the Melvin Van Peebles film Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song,.
The soundtrack was recorded at the Paramount Recording Studios on Santa Monica Boulevard and released on Stax records. The band also developed a growing popularity on college campuses but in spite of this some members of EWF started to become restless and the band broke up after having been together for less than six months. With only Verdine left, Maurice decided to re-form the group.
In 1972, Maurice added vocalist Jessica Cleaves, a former member of the R&B group The Friends of Distinction, Ronnie Laws on the flute and the saxophone, rhythm guitarist Roland Bautista, keyboardist Larry Dunn, percussionist Ralph Johnson and vocalist and Denver native Philip Bailey to the group. Warner Brothers didn’t know how to promote this new combo as the only other funk band on their label was Charles Wright & the Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band.
The band successfully auditioned for managers Bob Cavallo and Joe Ruffalo and Cavallo’s management of John Sebastian led to a series of gigs as the opening act for the pop/folk singer and The Lovin’ Spoonful founder. A performance at New York’s Rockefeller Center introduced EWF to Clive Davis, who was then the President of Columbia Records. Davis was very impressed with the band’s performance and bought their contract from Warner Bros. Their debut album on CBS/Columbia Records Last Days and Time featured mostly original material, but Bailey had recommended that the band cover the Pete Seeger song, “Where Have All the Flowers Gone?“, and the elements also remade the Bread hit “Make It with You“.
Classic period (1973–1980)
The album Head to the Sky was released in the spring of 1973. Head to the Sky gave the group their first two legitimate hit singles, Evil, which was co-written by Maurice and Philip, and “Keep Your Head to the Sky“, both of which reached the top 30 and the top 60 on the R&B and pop charts respectively. After the release of this album some personnel changes took place as Ronnie Laws, Roland Bautista and Jessica Cleaves left the band to pursue new musical opportunities and the album was also their last to be produced by Joe Wissert. Philip Bailey had recommended his former Denver East High School classmate, saxophonist Andrew Woolfolk to the band. Woolfolk had been busy in New York studying sax with sax maestro Joe Henderson and was about to start a career in banking when Bailey called. To fill the void created by Batistuta’s departure, rhythm guitarists Al McKay, who had performed with the Ike and Tina Turner Revue and The Watts 103rd St. Rhythm Band and Johnny Graham from R&B group New Birth were added to round out the new lineup. As some of the band’s songs required lower vocals than that of Bailey’s, and due to the success of “Evil”, Maurice altered his role in the group to incorporate the role of lead vocalist.
Recorded at Colorado‘s Caribou Ranch Studio and released in 1974 the studio album Open Our Eyes was a commercially successful LP, selling over a millon copies in the US and thus being certified Platinum. Open Our Eyes was co-produced by Producer and songwriter Charles Stepney with White at Maurice’s request. Stepney had previously worked with The Dells, The Rotary Connection, Terry Callier, Minnie Riperton and the Ramsey Lewis Trio to name a few. Released in May 1974, the single “Mighty Mighty” became Earth, Wind & Fire’s first top 30 hit on the pop charts, peaking at No.29. Another single, “Devotion”, was a song with a strong spiritual message. This album also saw the inclusion of Maurice’s younger brother, Fred White, into the band. Fred had played in Chicago clubs as a drummer with Donny Hathaway and Little Feat.
On April 6, 1974, Earth, Wind & Fire performed at the California Jam, which was a West Coast rock festival that attracted an audience of 200,000. Also in 1974, the band collaborated with Ramsey Lewis on his album Sun Goddess, which reached number one on the Billboard Jazz and Black Album charts and has been certified Gold in the U.S by the RIAA.
In 1975, Earth, Wind & Fire was approached by Sig Shore, the producer of the motion picture Super Fly, to record a soundtrack to new film about the dark side of the recording industry that was called That’s The Way Of The World which also starred EWF as a new recording act known as “The Group” and they performed songs in the film and Maurice had a small speaking part, as leader of “The Group”. In the film Harvey Keitel‘s character hears “The Group” performing, and produces their first album. The film’s title is repeated throughout the film as a shrug of the shoulders to the music world.
When the band saw the film, they were convinced that the motion picture would be a bomb which it eventually was. To avoid being connected to the movie they released the album’s soundtrack which was also titled That’s the Way of the Worldbefore its premiere. Recorded at the Caribou Ranch Studio That’s the Way of the World and co-produced by Maurice White and Charles Stepney That’s the Way of the World Earth, Wind & Fire’s breakthrough album spending three weeks at number one the Billboard Pop Albums Charts, five nonconsecutive weeks atop the Soul Albums chart.That’s the Way of the World was also warmly received critically with Allmusic‘s Alex Henderson for instance describing the album as “one of the strongest albums of the 70’s” and “EWF’s crowning achievement” and Billboard Magazine as well calling it “a very tightly produced and performed package”. The album made EWF the first black act to top both the Billboard album and singles charts and was certified triple platinum in the US by the RIAA.
Included upon the album were the hit singles “Shining Star” which rose to number one on the R&B Singles and Billboard Hot 100 and won the band a Grammy Award for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals and “That’s the Way of the World” which went to number five and number 12 on the R&B Singles and Billboard Hot 100 respectively. Because of the tremendous commercial success of “That’s The Way Of The World”, the band was able to hire a full horn section which was dubbed the Phenix Horns. The Phenix Horns, of whom became an integral part of the band’s sound were composed of saxophonist Don Myrick, trombonist Louis Satterfield and trumpeters Rahmlee Davis and Michael Harris. Myrick and Satterfield both worked with Maurice during his days as a session drummer at Chess Records.
Subsequent to their first tour of Europe where they opened for the rock band Santana, Columbia Records wanted another album released as soon as possible. As a result EWF returned to the studio in June 1975 and from these recording sessions two singles “Sing a Song” and “Can’t Hide Love“, the latter written by Clarence “Skip” Scarborough were spawned. These and other studio recordings were included along with mostly live concert material from their 1974 and 1975 tours upon the double album Gratitude which was released in late 1975. Gratitude rose to and stayed at number one on the pop and R&B charts for three weeks and six weeks respectively, was also the 2nd bestselling R&B album of 1976 and is certified triple platinum for sales of over 3,000,000 copies in the US by the RIAA.
The band was Grammy nominated for Best R&B Vocal Performance By A Duo, Group or Chorus for the title track, Gratitude and “Can’t Hide Love” was also Grammy nominated for Best Arrangement For Voices. Earth, Wind & Fire also also won a Rock Music Award in the category of Best Soul Album for Gratitude and Down Beat magazine’s Readers Poll for favorite Rock/Blues Group in 1975.
In addition in 1975 Maurice esttablished a production company entitled Kalimba Productions and upon the company he signed artists such as his former bandleader Ramsey Lewis, singer Deniece Williams who was a former member of Stevie Wonder‘s Wonderlove backup group, and the girl group, The Emotions, who had a run of hits with Stax Records from 1969 to 1974. Maurice loaned the band’s signature Phenix Horns and most of the other band members and put on tour with Earth, Wind & Fire these artists and others that were signed to Kalimba Productions.
After he helped co-produce and arrange Earth, Wind & Fire’s new album, Deniece Williams’s debut album, This Is Niecy, and The Emotion’s first Columbia Records album Flowers, Charles Stepney died of a heart attack on May 17 1976 in Chicago at the age of 43. He was survived by his wife Rubie, his three daughters, Eibur, Charlene and Chante, his parents and his brother. With Stepney’s passing Maurice took over and completed the production of the band’s new album, called Spirit, which was released October 1976. EWF paid tribute to Stepney in the form of the album and it’s title track. The album reached number 2 on the Billboard Pop and R&B Albums Chart and has been certified double platinum in the US by the RIAA and spawned from Spirit were the hit singles “Getaway” and “Saturday Nite.
During this period EWF concerts started to become loaded with pyrotechnics, magic, laser lights, flying pyramids, levitating guitarists and elaborate production tricks, that included the entire group ascending in a pyramid and a disappearing act, which saw EWF literally vanishing from sight. Magician Doug Henning directed many of their tours throughout the 1970s with his young assistant, David Copperfield. The band also began to choreographed by George Faison.
In November 1977, the group released another studio LP, All ‘N All. With a Egyptian/post modernistic themed album cover, All ‘N All featured the hit singles “Serpentine Fire” and “Fantasy“, and achieved triple Platinum status. Starting with this album, the Japanese artist Shusei Nagaoka began doing the artwork and the illustrations for several of Earth, Wind & Fire’s album covers.
In 1978, EWF picked up three Grammy Awards, the third for their version of The Beatles’ “Got to Get You into My Life“. The band performed the song which included on the self titled soundtrack of the movie, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band. The film itself was a commercial bomb; however, “Got to Get You into My Life” was the biggest hit from the movie’s soundtrack, reaching numbers one and nine on the R&B and Pop singles charts, respectively.
1978 was also the year that Maurice and EWF’s managers Cavallo and Ruffalo worked out a deal for the launch of a new record label called The American Recording Company (ARC), to be distributed through CBS and the creation of a recording studio, George Massenburg/ARC also called “The Complex” in West Los Angeles as well. The year ended with the release of another hit single, titled “September“, which was added to the quintuple platinum compilation album, The Best of Earth, Wind & Fire, Vol. 1, of which came out on November 23, 1978 just four days before Thanksgiving.At this time, Bobby Harris of the Dazz Band requested and got Philip Bailey to produce the group’s first album, Kinsman Dazz. Bailey had a major input into the group’s vocal arrangements and would also co-produce the band’s second album which was entitled Dazz.
Janurary 1979 saw the band performing “September” and “That’s The Way Of The World” at the Music for UNICEF Concert, which was broadcasted worldwide from the United Nations General Assembly by NBC. Other artists performing at the event were ABBA, The Bee Gees, Olivia Newton John, Donna Summer and Rod Stewart. Subsequent to this performance the band donated the royalties from one of their songs to UNICEF and began a tour of Europe and Japan.
The group’s ninth overall,seventh for Columbia Records and second album to released on the ARC label called I Am was another smash hit going double platinum and reaching numbers 3 and 1 on the R&B and Pop labels respectively. Singles spawned from this album included “In The Stone“, “Can’t Let Go” and the sad David Foster written ballad, “After the Love Has Gone“, which rose to the number 2 spot on the Billboard Pop and R&B charts and won a Grammy for the Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group at the Grammy Awards of 1980. Though the band had previously overlooked disco, the summer of 1979 saw EWF topping the dance music charts with their most disco inspired single “Boogie Wonderland“, which was produced by Maurice and Al McKay, and featured The Emotions. Even with the song’s success, Verdine White claims that band is not a disco band, saying “I guess you could say we were at the party but didn’t get on the dance floor”.
In October of 1980 the double-album Faces was released, of which rose to number 2 and number 10 and the R&B and Pop charts respectively and earned Gold status in the US. In a 2007 interview, when asked which EWF album is his favorite, Maurice White replied “Probably Faces because we were really in tune, playing together and it gave us the opportunity to explore new areas”. After the release of this album, longtime rhythm guitarist Al McKay left the band to pursue for personal as well as professional reasons. He was replaced by returning rhythm guitarist Roland Bautista who gave the band a bit of a hard rock sound with his style of playing.
Electronic period (1981–1990)
Maurice decided that given the changing musical landscape that the band needed to incorporate more of the digital sound of which was so popular at the time into their work. As a result infused with this new electronic sound EWF’s eleventh album entitled Raise! was released in the fall of 1981 and sold over a million copies in the US thus being certified platinum by the RIAA. Raise! featured the hit single “Let’s Groove” which also went platinum, and another single “Wanna Be With You” which won EWF a Grammy for Best R&B Vocal Performance By A Duo Or Group. Earth, Wind & Fire appeared at American Bandstand‘s 30th Anniversary Special where they performed Let’s Groove on October 30, 1981.
Earth, Wind, and Fire’s Maurice White and Philip Bailey performing in 1982 at the Ahoy Rotterdam, The Netherlands
Two years after the release of Raise! camePowerlight which included the singles “Fall In Love With Me” a number 17 pop hit, and “Side By Side.” “Powerlight” went Gold. Also in 1983 the song “Dance, Dance, Dance” was contributed to the soundtrack of the animated film Rock & Rule. After the fully synthesized album Electric Universe was released in late 1983 to a poor critical and commercial reception Maurice believed that the band needed a break so he put EWF on hiatus.
During their hiatus, Philip Bailey released his second and most commercially successful solo project, the Gold album Chinese Wall which featured the Phenix Horns and was produced by Phil Collins. The first single from that album, a duet with Collins called “Easy Lover“, sold over a million copies, rose to number 2 on the US Billboard Hot 100 and number one on the UK Singles Chart respectively and was Grammy nominated for Best Pop Vocal Performance By A Duo or Group. The music video of Bailey and Collins rehearsing their collaboration went to the top of MTV’s video playlist, won an MTV Video Music Award for Best Overall Performance in 1985. Bailey released four gospel albums in this period, and one of them titled Triumph, won him a Grammy Award for Best Gospel Vocal Performance, Male.
Maurice White during this time produced for Barbra Streisand on her Platinum album Emotion and worked with Neil Diamond on his Gold album Headed for the Future and Cher on her 1987 Platinum album Cher. He also released the solo album Maurice White in 1985, which included a cover of “Stand by Me“, which went to number six on the R&B charts and number eleven on the Adult Contemporary charts. The album also featured an appearance by saxophonist Gerald Albright. Also, during the hiatus, Verdine White worked behind the scenes, writing and directing videos. He produced the English pop rock and jazz-funk band Level 42‘s album Standing in the Light, with Larry Dunn, and promoted go-go bands like Trouble Funk and E.U. The compilation album The Collection was released May 1986 and this album stayed at number 5 on the UK singles charts for two weeks and was certified Gold in the UK by the British Phonographic Industry.
Phil Collins saw EWF on one of their European tours and became a fan of the band. He came in contact with the Phenix Horns and they eventually worked with his band Genesis on songs like “No Reply At All” and “Paperlate“, and with him on his solo hits such as “I Missed Again” and “Sussudio“.
In 1987, CBS Records convinced both Philip Bailey and Maurice White that a reunion of Earth, Wind & Fire would be fruitful. As a result original members Verdine White, Ralph Johnson and Andrew Woofolk returned to the band with new members guitarist/vocalist Sheldon Reynolds, lead guitarist Dick Smith, drummer Sonny Emory. A new horn section dubbed the Earth, Wind & Fire Horns was also created and this was made up of Gary Bias on the saxophone, Raymond Lee Brown on the trumpet and flugelhorn and trombonist Reggie Young.
The band’s refromation fostered the 1987 Gold album Touch the World, which was nominated for a Soul Train Award in the category of Best R&B/Soul Album of the Year and rose to number three on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart and number 33 on The Billboard 200.Featured on the album was a song penned by an unknown songwriter by the name of Skylark called “System of Survival“. Released as a single the song became a hit going to number one on the Billboard R&B charts and Dance charts, and another single called “Thinking Of You” peaked at number one and number three on the R&B and Dance charts as well.In 1988 the band released the compilation album The Best of Earth, Wind & Fire, Vol. 2 which went Gold in the US.The group’s final album released by Columbia Records was 1990’s Heritage, which featured a collaboration with Sly Stone of Sly & the Family Stone. In 1992 the band released a 55 track anthology of their career up to that point entitled The Eternal Dance.
Neo classic period (1993–present)
EWF then signed once again with Warner Brothers and from this came the release in 1993 of their 16th studio album entitled Millennium. Included on the album was the single “Sunday Morning” for which the band got a Grammy nomination for Best R&B Vocal Performance by a Duo or Group and a track written by Prince called Super Hero. Tragedy unfortunately befell the band in 1993 as on July 30 former band member and Phenix Horns saxophonist Don Myrick was fatally shot by the Los Angeles Police Department in a case of mistaken identity. In addition on October 13 former lead vocalist Wade Flemons died from cancer in Battle Creek, Michigan. In 1994, Earth, Wind & Fire were inducted into the NAACP Hall Of Fame.
The band received another tribute in the following year in the form of a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. All the original members of the group attended the inauguration ceremony and in his speech Maurice White attributed EWF’s success to the support of all of their fans. As well in 1995 Maurice White decided to retire from touring with the band. At the time he gave his reason for doing so to be that he wanted to take a rest from the rigors of the road. At this juncture Philip Bailey was given the role of onstage leader of the band.
The studio album In the Name of Love was released on Pyramid Records in 1997 to a favorable critical reception. EWF performed at the 1997 Montreux Jazz Festival and gave an encore performance the following year. In 2004 a DVD of their 1997 performance was released which is entitled Earth, Wind & Fire: Live At Montreux 1997. In 1999 the group performed on the A&E Network show Live by Request. and in that same year Maurice announced that the real reason for him ending his days of touring in 1995 was because of him contracting Parkinson’s disease in the late 80’s of which made it increasingly difficult for him over the years to comfortable handle the rigors of touring. A website entitled http://www.Startalk.org was set up in 1999 to offer support to Maurice with his health struggles and upon it messages of encouragement from celebrities such as Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, Boyz II Men, Smokey Robinson, Isaac Hayes, Michael Jackson, Eric Clapton and Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine were published. He however has the disease under control so much so that he occasionally makes appearances at Earth, Wind & Fire performances, and continues to write, record, produce and develop new recordings for Earth, Wind & Fire and other artists.
On the 6th March, 2000 Earth, Wind & Fire were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame to a standing ovation during the 15th annual Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction dinner held at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. All of the band’s original members from the 1973 to 1980 “classic period” being Maurice White, Philip Bailey, Verdine White, Ralph Johnson, Al McKay, Larry Dunn, Andrew Woofolk, Fred White and Johnny Graham attended the ceremony where the nine of them played together for the first time in 20 years, performing Shining Star and That’s The Way Of The World. After their induction into the Hall of Fame an effort was made by the original band members to fully reunite which eventually proved to be unfrutitful.
At a White House state dinner hosted by President Bill Clinton held on the South Lawn of the White House in honor of His Majesty Mohammed VI, King of Morocco and Her Royal Highness Princess Lalla Meryem on June 20, 2000, earth, Wind & Fire were the specially invited musical guests to the function. So impressed was the King by the performance of the band that he made a successful personal request for EWF to perform in Morocco for his 37th birthday celebration, which took place on August 21, 2000.
In 2001, a biographical documentary of the band entitled Shining Stars: The Official Story Of Earth, Wind & Fire,was released which was directed by Kathryn Arnold. Following the September 11 attacks of the same year, the band members donated $25,000 to the American Red Cross at a September 13 show at Virgina’s Verizon Wireless Virginia Beach Amphitheater which was the band’s first concert since those events took place.February 24, 2002 saw Earth, Wind & Fire performing at the closing ceremonies of the 2002 Winter Olympics held in Salt Lake City, Utah.
A live album from the band’s 1980 performance in Rio De Janeiro, Brazil entitled Live In Rio was released on Maurice White’s own Kalimba Records label in 2002 and in that same year EWF was honored with the Rhythm & Soul Heritage Award from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, California. The award was presented to EWF by ASCAP President and Chairman Marilyn Bergman, Stevie Wonder and Jimmy Jam. In addition the band was inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame and Hollywood’s RockWalk in 2003.
The Promise which was the band’s first studio album in six years was released on Kalimba Records in 2003. The Promise rose to number 19 on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums charts. The Promise received critical acclaim upon its release with People Magazine and Blender Magazine describing the album as “musically rich” and “a classy collection” respectively and the track Hold Me from The Promise was Grammy nominated for Best Traditional R&B Vocal Performance. Spawned from the album was the kalimba laden track “All in the Way“, reminiscent of the classic EW&F sound such as the kalimba laden track “All in the Way“, which reunited EWF with The Emotions. In addition the album featured two previously unreleased songs from the “I Am” recording sessions which were the tracks “Where Do We Go From Here” and “Dirty”.
Earth, Wind & Fire performed in a tribute to funk at the 46th annual Grammy Awards held at the Staples Center, Los Angeles, California on February 8, 2004. Other artists who performed at this tribute were Parliament FunkadelicOutKast and Robert Randolph and the Family Band. EWF sang “Shining Star” and then at Outkast’s request crooned “The Way You Move” with them, Robert Randolph and the Family Band performed their single I Need More Love and then all of the bands teamed up to sing Parliament Funkadelic’s classic Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof off the Sucker). Earth, Wind & Fire contributed to the Jimi Hendrix Tribute album Power of Soul: A Tribute to Jimi Hendrix which was released in May 4, 2004 with their cover of “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)“. In the Summer of 2004 Earth, Wind & Fire signed a record deal with Sanctuary Urban Records, owned by Mathew Knowles, who is the father and manager of r&b/pop singer Beyoncé. Gary Bias and Bob Burns Jr. of the Earth, Wind & Fire Horns were featured on Queen Latifah‘s The Dana Owens Album which was released on September 28, 2004 and got to 16 and 11 on The Billboard 200 and Top R&B/Hip-Hop Album charts respectively and was certified Gold.
Kenny G‘s cover of “The Way You Move“, which was released in November 2004 and charted at number 12 on the Adult Contemporary singles chart featured the band with Maurice and Philip on lead vocals. EWF and Kenny G performed “The Way You Move” on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno in January 2005. On December 11, 2004 Earth, Wind & Fire were honored at the first annual Grammy Jam held at Los Angeles’s Wiltern Theater where several artists such as Stevie Wonder, Yolanda Adams, Sheila E., Miri Ben-Ari, George Duke, Kanye West and Randy Jackson paid tribute to the band in the form of performances. Other celebrities that attended the event were Pamela Anderson, Tim Allen, Prince, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis, Nick Cannon and Suzanne de Passe. EWF performed on Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve on December 31, 2004, .
EWF released a single entitled “Show Me The Way” upon which they paired up with neo soul artist Raphael Saadiq on Sanctuary Records in the fall of 2005. The single garnered a Grammy nomination and was featured on Illumination their nineteenth studio album, which was released on September 20, 2005. With this album EWF collaborated with artists such as Will.i.am, Kelly Rowland, Outkast’s Big Boi and Brian McKnight. Illumination reached number eight on the Top R&B/Hip-Hop Album Chart and number 32 on the Billboard Hot 100.Another single spawned from the album dubbed “Pure Gold” reached number 23 on the Adult Contemporary Charts.
The album garnered the admiration of critics with Allmusic‘s Rob Theakston referring to the album as an “outstanding record” and Steve Jones of USA Today‘ remarking that on the album EWF are as “vibrant as ever”. Illumination received a Grammy nomination for Best R&B Album and a Soul Train Music Award in the category R&B-soul album. EWF also received a NAACP Image Award nomination for Best Duo or Group.
The Super Bowl XXXIX pregame show in Jacksonville, Florida which took place on February 6, 2005 saw the band teaming up with The Black Eyed Peas to sing “Where Is the Love?” and “Shining Star”. In March 2005 EWF performed in Russia for the first time.
In 2004 Earth, Wind & Fire and Chicago embarked upon a joint national tour which gave rise to to a DVD of a concert of that tour that took place at Los Angeles’s Greek Theater that was entitled Chicago & Earth, Wind & Fire – Live at the Greek Theatre. This DVD was released on June 28, 2005 and was certified Platinum just two months afterward. Chicago and EWF once again toured together in 2005 and collaborated for a new recording of Chicago’s ballad “If You Leave Me Now” that was included on Chicago’s 2005 compilation album Love Songs. As part of an opening act for the 57th Primetime Emmy Awards held on on September 18, 2005 at the Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles, California the band once more collaborated up with the The Black Eyed Peas and this was first time that a musical artist had opened at the annual awards show. On September 27, 2005, former Earth, Wind & Fire member and member of the Phenix Horns trombonist Louis Satterfield passed away. He was 67 years old.
In 2005 EWF released their first Christmas themed track entitled “Gather Round”, which was produced and arranged by Foster and written by Maurice White, David Foster and Philip Bailey. In 2006 Maurice worked with Maurice Hines who is the brother of famed entertainer Gregory Hines to release the Broadway play Hot Feet which was a jukebox musical that had as its theme the music of Earth, Wind & Fire. Maurice wrote along with Allee Willis who wrote September,Boogie Wonderland, In the Stone and Sunday Morning for the band several new songs for the play. EWF performed alongside Mary J Blige and Ludacris “Runaway Love” at the 49th Grammy Awards held at Los Angeles’s Staples Center .
Earth, Wind & Fire performing at the opening ceremony of the 2008 US Open August 25, 2008
Interpretations: Celebrating the Music of Earth, Wind & Fire which is a cover album of EWF’s material was released on Stax Records on March 27, 2007. Executively produced by Maurice, the album featured artists such as Chaka Khan, Kirk Franklin, Lalah Hathaway, Mint Condition, Dwele, Meshell Ndegeocello and Angie Stone.Dwele and Meshell Ndegeocello‘s renditions of of “That’s The Way Of The World” and “Fantasy” respectively were each nominated for the Grammy Award for Best Urban/Alternative Performance.
At a special edition of American Idol titled “Idol Gives Back” which was aired on April 25, 2007, the band served as the opening act for the event where they performed a medley of “Boogie Wonderland”, “Shining Star” and “September”. At the Nobel Peace Prize Concert, which took place in Oslo, Norway, on December 11, 2007 Earth, Wind & fire performed “Fantasy“, “September“. The Nobel Peace Prize Concert was broadcast to over 100 countries and was hosted by Kevin Spacey and Uma Thurman. Other artists that performed at the concert included Melissa Etheridge, Alicia Keys, Annie Lennox and Kylie Minogue.
On the opening night of one of the largest musical events in Latin America, Chile’s Viña del Mar Festival, Earth, Wind & Fire performed. So impressed were the audience by their performance that the band was bestowed with the “Gaviota de Plata” known in english as the Silver Seagul which is the highest award that can presented to an artist performing at the Viña del Mar Festival. Ironically the intro to EWF’s song “In the Stone” has been used for several years as the introductory theme for the broadcasting of the event.
Maurice White, Ralph Johnson, Philip Bailey and Verdine White were each the recipients of an honorary degree from the Arts and Media College at Columbia College Chicago during the college’s 2008 commencement exercises. Verdine White and Bailey both gave brief speeches during the ceremony, which was followed by by all four honorees giving an impromptu performance of “Shining Star”. EWF performed at the opening ceremony of the 2008 US Open which was hosted by Forrest Whitaker and served to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the founding of tennis’s Open Era with a parade of more than 25 former US Open singles champions.
Earth, Wind & Fire performed at the White House on February 22, 2009, for the Governors’ Dinner, being the first musical artist to perform there since Barack Obama took office. The band toured once more with Chicago in 2009 for a tour of thirty US cities.[dated info] On April 26, 2009, EWF performed at the 39th New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.
In 2010, EWF made a repeat performance at the 40th New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and in that same year bandmembers Philip Bailey, Verdine White and Ralph Johnson participated in the recording of the We Are the World 25 for Haiti single. 2010 was also the year that saw Earth, Wind & Fire’s original members Maurice White, Phillip Bailey, Verdine White, Al McKay and Larry Dunn all being inducted into the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame.
In November 2011, the band was given the Legend Award at the Soul Train Awards of that year which was held at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia. In 2012 EWF were bestowed with the Lifetime Achievement Award At The 20th Annual Trumpet Awards which was held at Cobb Energy Performing Arts Centre.