Archive for the ‘Rhythm & Blues / Soul’ Category
Beatrice Melba Smith (born October 29, 1945), known by her stage name, Melba Moore is an American disco, R&B singer and actress. She is the daughter of saxophonist Teddy Hill and R&B singer Bonnie Davis.
Melba Moore was born in 1945 in New York City, New York to parents Teddy Hill and Gertrude Melba Smith, later known as Bonnie Davis. She initially was raised in Harlem, New York until the age of nine when her mother remarried a jazz pianist named Clement Moorman. Moore attended Newark Arts High School in Newark, New Jersey. Her mother, Bonnie Davis had a No. 1 R&B hit with “Don’t Stop Now”, prior to Melba’s birth. Although her biological father was legendary Big Band leader and saxophonist Teddy Hill, it was her stepfather Moorman (who played on “Don’t Stop Now”) who became a prime influence and encouragement in Moore’s musical pursuits and talent, insisting she learn to play the piano. Initially, Moore graduated from college and worked as a music teacher, but soon opted to switch careers. Moore chose her stage name by shortening her stepfather’s surname from Moorman to Moore and using her middle name, “Melba”.
Moore began her performing career in 1967 as Dionne in the original cast of the musical Hair along with Ronnie Dyson and Diane Keaton. Moore replaced Keaton in the role of Sheila. In 1970, Moore won a Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical for her role in Purlie (she portrayed Lutiebelle). She would not return to Broadway afterwards until 1978 when she appeared (as Marsinah) with Eartha Kitt in Timbuktu!, but left the show after a few weeks and was replaced by Vanessa Shaw. Following the success of Purlie, Moore landed two big screen film roles, released two successful albums including 1970’s I Got Love and Look What You’re Doing to the Man and co-starred with actor Clifton Davis in the then-couple’s own successful variety television series in 1972. Both Moore and Davis revealed that the show was canceled after its brief run when their relationship came to an end. Moore’s career faced problems after Moore’s managers and accountants left her in 1973. Moore returned to Newark and began singing for benefits. Her career picked up after meeting record manager and business promoter Charles Huggins following a performance at the Apollo Theater in 1974. Marrying in 1975, Moore and Huggins formed Hush Productions, signing notable R&B artists such as Freddie Jackson and Meli’sa Morgan.
In 1975, Moore signed with Buddah Records and released the critically successful R&B album, Peach Melba, which included the minor hit, “I Am His Lady”. The following year, in 1976, Moore scored her first significant hit with the Van McCoy-penned “This Is It“, which reached the Billboard Hot 100, the top twenty position on the R&B chart and also reached the top ten in the UK, becoming her biggest success in that country. In 1976, she scored her third Grammy nomination with the R&B ballad, “Lean on Me”, which had been recorded originally by Vivian Reed and later by Moore’s idol Aretha Franklin who recorded the song as a b-side to her 1971 hit, “Spanish Harlem“. The song is most notable for Moore’s extended long note at the end of the track. In 1983, she re-recorded the song as a tribute to McCoy, who died four years earlier of illness. Throughout the rest of the 1970s, Moore struggled to match the success of This Is It with minor R&B/dance hits, gaining another hit with 1979’s “You Stepped Into My Life”, which was released on Epic Records and hit the top 20 on the R&B charts and also became one of her biggest pop hits.
It wouldn’t be until 1982 when Moore started to gain huge success as a singer signing with Capitol Records and reaching the top 5 on the R&B charts with the dance pop/funk single, “Love’s Comin’ At Ya”, which also hit the top 20 in the UK and became a sizable hit in some European countries for its post-disco sound. A string of R&B hits would follow during this decade including 1983’s “Keepin’ My Lover Satisfied” and “Love Me Right”, 1984’s “Livin’ For Your Love”, 1985’s “Read My Lips”, which later won Moore a fourth Grammy nomination for Best Female Rock Vocal Performance, making her just the third black artist after Donna Summer and Michael Jackson to be nominated in the rock category, and 1985’s “When You Love Me Like This”. In 1986, she scored two number-one R&B hits, including the duet, “A Little Bit More“, with Freddie Jackson and “Falling“. She scored other popular R&B hits including “Love the One I’m With (A Lot of Love)” and “It’s Been So Long”. In 1986, Moore also headlined the CBS television sitcom, Melba (TV show) that debuted the same night as the Challenger explosion and was abruptly canceled shortly thereafter. Her success began to wane as the decade closed, although she managed two further Top 10 R&B hits, “Do You Really (Want My Love)” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing” (which featured such artists as Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Jeffrey Osborne, Anita Baker and Stephanie Mills).
In the mid-1990s Melba Moore traveled with Gospel Play called “Mama I’m Sorry” aside Gospel’s sisterly duo of Erica and Tina Atkins that was written and Produced by Michael Matthews.
Moore returned to Broadway in 1995 landing a part in Les Misérables. A year later, she started her long-running one-woman show, Sweet Songs of the Soul, later renamed I’m Still Standing.
In 2003, Moore was featured in the film, The Fighting Temptations, which starred Cuba Gooding, Jr. and Beyoncé Knowles. In 2007, she landed a role in the Broadway revival of Ain’t Misbehavin’.
In 2009 independent label Breaking Records released the EP Book of Dreams, in which Moore was featured. That same year Moore told her life story on TV-One‘s Unsung and later that year released her first R&B album in nearly 20 years, a duet release with Phil Perry called The Gift of Love.
Moore is currently working on a new album which is scheduled to be released in 2011. The album is being produced by Rahni Song and Dominic McFadden, son of the late Gene McFadden of McFadden & Whitehead. Her song called “Love Is” debuted on the R&B charts in 2011 at #87.
Moore is a born-again Christian.
The O’Jays are an American R&B group from Canton, Ohio, formed in 1963 and originally consisting of Eddie Levert (born June 16, 1942), Walter Williams (born August 25, 1942), William Powell (January 20, 1942 – May 26, 1977), Bobby Massey and Bill Isles. The O’Jays were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2004, and The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2005. The O’Jays had their first hit with “Lonely Drifter”, in 1963. In spite of the record’s success, the group was considering quitting the music industry until Gamble & Huff, a team of producers and songwriters, took an interest in the group. With Gamble & Huff, the O’Jays (now a trio after the departure of Isles and Massey) emerged at the forefront of Philadelphia soul with “Back Stabbers” (1972), and topped the Billboard Hot 100 the following year with “Love Train“.
They formed the group in Canton, Ohio in 1958 while attending Canton McKinley High School. Originally known as The Triumphs, and then The Mascots, the friends began recording with “Miracles” in 1961, which was a moderate hit in the Cleveland area. In 1963, they took the name “The O’Jays”, in tribute to Cleveland radio disc jockey Eddie O’Jay who was part of the powerful management team of Frankie Crocker, Herb Hamlett & Eddie O’Jay, (Toop, 1991), and released “Lonely Drifter,” which was The O’Jays’ very first national chart hit on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1963 . Their debut album was Comin’ Through. Throughout the 1960s, they continued to chart with songs such as “Lipstick Traces” (which they performed nationally on the ABC Television program, Shivaree), “Stand In For Love,” “Stand Tall,” “Let It All Out,” “I’ll Be Sweeter Tomorrow,” “Look Over Your Shoulder,” “Deeper In Love With You,” and “One Night Affair,” along with several other regional and national pop and R&B hits. In 1972, they finally scored with their first million-seller, “Back Stabbers“, from the album of the same name. By this time, original members Bill Isles and Bobby Massey had also departed, leaving the group a trio. This album produced several more hit singles, including “992 Arguments,” “Sunshine,” “Time To Get Down,” and the #1 pop smash, “Love Train“.
During the remainder of the 1970s the O’Jays continued releasing hit singles, including “Put Your Hands Together” (Pop #10), “For the Love of Money” (Pop #9), “Give the People What They Want“, “Let Me Make Love To You”, “I Love Music” (Pop #5), “Livin’ for the Weekend“, “Message in Our Music” and “Darlin’ Darlin’ Baby (Sweet Tender Love)“. Original member William Powell died of cancer in 1977 at age 35.
After adding Sammy Strain (born December 9, 1941) (of Little Anthony and the Imperials), the O’Jays continued recording, though with limited success. 1978’s “Use ta Be My Girl” was their final Top Five hit, though they continued placing songs on the R&B charts throughout the 1980s. The O’Jays success was not confined to the United States, as they also logged up nine hit singles in the United Kingdom between 1972 and 1983, including four tracks that reached the Top 20 in the UK Singles Chart. Their 1987 album, Let Me Touch You, was a breakthrough of sorts, and included the #1 R&B hit “Lovin’ You”. Though they continued charting on the R&B charts in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the O’Jays never again achieved pop success. In 1992, Sammy Strain left the group, and returned to the Imperials, to be replaced by Nathaniel Best, and later, by Eric Grant. Later in the 1990s, the group did little recording, though they remained a popular live draw. Their latest album was Imagination in 2004.
In 2003, they co-starred in the movie The Fighting Temptations, which starred Cuba Gooding Jr. and Beyonce Knowles. In the film, they played three barbers who joined the local church choir to help out the film’s protagonist Darrin (Gooding) who was the choir director.
In 2005, the O’Jays were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Original members Eddie Levert, Walter Williams, Bobby Massey and, posthumously, William Powell, were inducted. In a note of controversy, Sammy Strain was also inducted with the group, while original member Bill Isles was not. (Strain is one of the few artists in popular music history who is a double RRHOF inductee: with The O’Jays in 2005, and The Imperials in 2009). In 2006, the O’Jays performed at the ESPY awards, hosted by Lance Armstrong. “For the Love of Money” is the theme song to the hit reality TV show The Apprentice, starring Donald Trump.
On February 23, 2007, Radio-Canada’s website reported that Canadian Industry Minister, Jim Prentice, had used the song “For The Love of Money” without the group’s permission during a political event, a faux pas since Prentice is responsible for the application of the Copyright Act in Canada. Radio-Canada also reported that Prentice has since been contacted by the attorneys for both the O’Jays and Warner/Chappell Music.
On June 28, 2009, at the 2009 BET Award Show in the Shrine Auditorium the O’Jays were honored with BET’s 2009 Life Time Achievement Award. Tevin Campbell, Trey Songz, Tyrese Gibson, and Johnny Gill performed a medley of the group’s songs, followed by the presentation of the award by Don Cornelius. The group reminisced, joked with the audience and accepted their award before performing a rendition of their hit songs.
On October 30, 2010, the group performed at Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert’s Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear in Washington, D.C.
Alicia Augello Cook (born January 25, 1981), better known by her stage name Alicia Keys, is an American R&B singer-songwriter, record producer, and actress. Keys was raised by a single mother in the Hell’s Kitchen area of Manhattan in New York City. At age seven, Keys began playing the piano. She attended Professional Performing Arts School and graduated at 16 as valedictorian. Keys released her debut album with J Records, having had previous record deals first with Columbia and then Arista Records.
Keys’ debut album, Songs in A Minor, was a commercial success, selling over 12 million copies worldwide. She became the best-selling new artist and best-selling R&B artist of 2001. The album earned Keys five Grammy Awards in 2002, including Best New Artist and Song of the Year for “Fallin’“. Her second studio album, The Diary of Alicia Keys, was released in 2003 and was also another success worldwide, selling eight million copies. The album garnered her an additional four Grammy Awards in 2005. Later that year, she released her first live album, Unplugged, which debuted at number one in the United States. She became the first female to have an MTV Unplugged album to debut at number one and the highest since Nirvana in 1994.
Keys made guest appearances on several television series in the following years, beginning with Charmed. She made her film debut in Smokin’ Aces and went on to appear in The Nanny Diaries in 2007. Her third studio album, As I Am, was released in the same year and sold six million copies worldwide, earning Keys an additional three Grammy Awards. The following year, she appeared in The Secret Life of Bees, which earned her a nomination at the NAACP Image Awards. She released her fourth album, The Element of Freedom, in December 2009, which became Keys’ first chart-topping album in the United Kingdom. Throughout her career, Keys has won numerous awards and has sold over 30 million albums worldwide and 25 million singles, which makes her one of the best selling artists of all time. Billboard magazine named her the top R&B artist of the 2000–2009 decade, establishing herself as one of the best-selling artists of her time. In 2010, VH1 included Keys on its list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. Billboard magazine placed her number ten on their list of Top 50 R&B/Hip-Hop Artists of the Past 25 Years.
Life and career
1981–96: Early life
Keys was born Alicia Augello Cook on January 25, 1981, in the Hell’s Kitchen area of Manhattan, in New York City. She is the only child of Teresa Augello, a paralegal and part-time actress, and Craig Cook, a flight attendant. Keys’ mother is of Italian, Scottish, and Irish descent, and her father is African American; Keys has expressed that she was comfortable with her biracial heritage because she felt she was able to “relate to different cultures”. Her parents separated when she was two and she was subsequently raised by her mother during her formative years in Hell’s Kitchen, Manhattan. In 1985, Keys made an appearance on The Cosby Show at the age of four, where she and a group of girls played the parts of Rudy Huxtable’s sleepover guests in the episode “Slumber Party”. Throughout her childhood, Keys was sent to music and dance classes by her mother. She began playing the piano when she was seven and learned classical music by composers such as Beethoven, Mozart and Chopin. Keys enrolled in the Professional Performing Arts School at the age of 12, where she majored in choir and began writing songs at the age of 14. She graduated in four years as valedictorian at the age of 16.
In 1994 Keys met long-term manager Jeff Robinson after she enrolled in his brother’s after-school program. The following year Robinson introduced Keys to her future A&R at Arista Records, Peter Edge, who later described his first impressions to HitQuarters: “I had never met a young R&B artist with that level of musicianship. So many people were just singing on top of loops and tracks, but she had the ability, not only to be part of hip-hop, but also to go way beyond that.” Edge helped Robinson create a showcase for Keys and also got involved in developing her demo material. He was keen to sign Keys himself but was unable to do so at that time due to being on the verge of leaving his present record company. Keys signed to Columbia Records soon after. At the same time as signing a recording contract with Columbia Records, Keys was accepted into Columbia University. At first, Keys attempted to manage both but after four weeks dropped out of college to pursue her musical career fulltime.
1997–2000: Career beginnings
Keys signed a demo deal with Jermaine Dupri and So So Def Recordings, where she appeared on the label’s Christmas album performing “The Little Drummer Girl”. She also co-wrote and recorded a song entitled “Dah Dee Dah (Sexy Thing)”, which appeared on the soundtrack to the 1997 film, Men in Black. The song was Keys’ first professional recording; however, it was never released as a single and her record contract with Columbia ended after a dispute with the label. Keys was unhappy with the label because her career had stalled during her two years under contract at Columbia due to executive indecision over her direction and major changes within the company. Keys called Clive Davis, who sensed a “special, unique” artist from her performance and signed her to Arista Records, which later disbanded. Keys almost chose Wilde as her stage name until her manager suggested the name Keys after a dream he had. Keys felt that name represented her both as a performer and person. Following Davis to his newly formed J Records label, she worked with Kerry “Krucial” Brothers and recorded the songs “Rock wit U” and “Rear View Mirror”, which were featured on the soundtracks to the films Shaft (2000) and Dr. Dolittle 2 (2001), respectively.
2001–2002: Songs in A Minor
Keys released her first studio album, Songs in A Minor, in June 2001. It debuted at number one on the Billboard 200 and sold 236,000 copies in its first week. The album sold over 6.2 million copies in the United States, where it was certified six times Platinum by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). It went on to sell over 12 million copies worldwide, establishing Keys’ popularity both inside and outside the United States, where she became the best-selling new artist and best-selling R&B artist of 2001. The album’s lead single, “Fallin’“, spent six weeks at number one on the Billboard Hot 100. The album’s second single, “A Woman’s Worth“, was released in February 2002 and peaked at number 7 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number three on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs, as her second Top 10 single in both charts. The album’s third single, “How Come You Don’t Call Me“, was released in June 2002 and peaked at number 59 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 30 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs. The album’s fourth single, “Girlfriend“, was released in November 2002 in UK and peaked at number 82 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs. The following year, the album was reissued as Remixed & Unplugged in A Minor, which included eight remixes and seven unplugged versions of the songs from the original.
Songs in A Minor led Keys to win five awards at the 2002 Grammy Awards: Song of the Year, Best Female R&B Vocal Performance, and Best R&B Song for “Fallin'”, Best New Artist, and Best R&B Album; “Fallin'” was also nominated for Record of the Year. Keys became the second female solo artist to win five Grammy Awards in a single night, following Lauryn Hill at the 41st Grammy Awards. That same year, she collaborated with Christina Aguilera for the latter’s upcoming album Stripped on a song entitled “Impossible”, which Keys wrote, co-produced, and provided with background vocals. During the early 2000s, Keys also made small cameos in television series Charmed and American Dreams.
2003–2005: The Diary of Alicia Keys and Unplugged
Keys followed up her debut with The Diary of Alicia Keys, which was released in December 2003. The album debuted at number one on the Billboard 200, selling over 618,000 copies its first week of release, becoming the largest first-week sales for a female artist in 2003. It sold 4.4 million copies in the United States and was certified four times Platinum by the RIAA. It sold eight million copies worldwide, becoming the sixth biggest-selling album by a female artist and the second biggest-selling album by a female R&B artist. The album’s lead single, “You Don’t Know My Name“, peaked at number three on the Billboard Hot 100 and number one on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs for eight consecutive weeks, his first Top 10 single in both charts since 2002’s “A Woman’s Worth “. The album’s second single, “If I Ain’t Got You“, was released in February 2004 and peaked at number 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number one on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs for six weeks. The album’s third single, “Diary“, peaked at number 8 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number two on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, being their third consecutive Top 10 single in both charts. The album’s fourth and final single, “Karma“, which peaked at number 20 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 17 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs, first release to fail to achieve top ten status on both charts. “If I Ain’t Got You” became the first single by a female artist to remain on the Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart for over a year. Keys also collaborated with recording artist Usher on the song “My Boo” from his 2004 album, Confessions (Special Edition). The song topped the Billboard Hot 100 for six weeks and Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs for three weeks, became her first number-one single in Hot 100 since 2001’s “Fallin’“.
Keys won Best R&B Video for “If I Ain’t Got You” at the 2004 MTV Video Music Awards; she performed the song and “Higher Ground” with Lenny Kravitz and Stevie Wonder. Later that year, Keys released her novel Tears for Water: Songbook of Poems and Lyrics, a collection of unreleased poems from her journals and lyrics. The title derived from one of her poems, “Love and Chains” from the line: “I don’t mind drinking my tears for water.” She said the title is the foundation of her writing because “everything I have ever written has stemmed from my tears of joy, of pain, of sorrow, of depression, even of question”. The book sold over US$500,000 and Keys made The New York Times bestseller list in 2005. The following year, she won a second consecutive award for Best R&B Video at the MTV Video Music Awards for the video “Karma”. Keys performed “If I Ain’t Got You” and then joined Jamie Foxx and Quincy Jones in a rendition of “Georgia on My Mind“, the Hoagy Carmichael song made famous by Ray Charles in 1960 at the 2005 Grammy Awards. That evening, she won four Grammy Awards: Best Female R&B Vocal Performance for “If I Ain’t Got You”, Best R&B Song for “You Don’t Know My Name”, Best R&B Album for The Diary of Alicia Keys, and Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals” for “My Boo” with Usher.
Keys performed and taped her installment of the MTV Unplugged series in July 2005 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. During this session, Keys added new arrangements to her original songs and performed a few choice covers. The session was released on CD and DVD in October 2005. Simply titled Unplugged, the album debuted at number one on the U.S. Billboard 200 chart with 196,000 units sold in its first week of release. The album sold one million copies in the United States, where it was certified Platinum by the RIAA, and two million copies worldwide. The debut of Keys’ Unplugged was the highest for an MTV Unplugged album since Nirvana‘s 1994 MTV Unplugged in New York and the first Unplugged by a female artist to debut at number one. The album’s first single, “Unbreakable“, peaked at number 34 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number four on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs. It remained at number one on the Billboard Hot Adult R&B Airplay for 11 weeks. The album’s second and final single, “Every Little Bit Hurts“, was released in January 2006, it failed to enter the U.S. charts.
Keys opened a recording studio in Long Island, New York, called The Oven Studios, which she co-owns with her production and songwriting partner Kerry “Krucial” Brothers. The studio was designed by renowned studio architect John Storyk of WSDG, designer of Jimi Hendrix‘ Electric Lady Studios. Keys and Brothers are the co-founders of KrucialKeys Enterprises, a production and songwriting team who assisted Keys in creating her albums as well as create music for other artists.
2006–2008: Film debut and As I Am
In 2006, Keys won three NAACP Image Awards, including Outstanding Female Artist and Outstanding Song for “Unbreakable”. She also received the Starlight Award by the Songwriters Hall of Fame. In October 2006, she played the voice of Mommy Martian in the “Mission to Mars” episode of the children’s television series The Backyardigans, in which she sang an original song, “Almost Everything Is Boinga Here”. That same year, Keys nearly suffered a mental breakdown. Her grandmother had died and her family was heavily dependent on her. She felt she needed to “escape” and went to Egypt for three weeks. She explained: “That trip was definitely the most crucial thing I’ve ever done for myself in my life to date. It was a very difficult time that I was dealing with, and it just came to the point where I really needed to—basically, I just needed to run away, honestly. And I needed to get as far away as possible.”
Keys made her film debut in early 2007 in the crime film Smokin’ Aces, co-starring as an assassin named Georgia Sykes opposite Ben Affleck and Andy García. Keys received much praise from her co-stars in the film; Reynolds said that Keys was “so natural” and that she would “blow everybody away”. Smokin’ Aces had a hit moderate performance at the box office, earning only $57,103,895 worldwide during its theatrical run. In the same year, Keys earned further praise for her second film, The Nanny Diaries, based on the 2002 novel of the same name, where she co-starred alongside Scarlett Johansson and Chris Evans. The Nanny Diaries had a hit moderate performance at the box office, earning only $44,638,886 worldwide during its theatrical run. She also guest starred as herself in the “One Man Is an Island” episode of the drama series Cane.
Keys performing live, March 20, 2008
Keys released her third studio album, As I Am, in November 2007; it debuted at number one on the Billboard 200, selling 742,000 copies in its first week. It gained Keys her largest first week sales of her career and became her fourth consecutive number one album, tying her with Britney Spears for the most consecutive number-one debuts on the Billboard 200 by a female artist. The week became the second largest sales week of 2007 and the largest sales week for a female solo artist since singer Norah Jones‘ album Feels like Home in 2004. The album has sold nearly four million copies in the United States and has been certified three times Platinum by the RIAA. It has sold nearly six million copies worldwide. Keys received five nominations for As I Am at the 2008 American Music Award and ultimately won two. The album’s lead single, “No One“, peaked at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 for five consecutive weeks and Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs for ten consecutive weeks, became her first number-one single in Hot 100 since 2004’s “My Boo” and becoming Keys’ third and fifth number-one single on each chart, respectively. The album’s second single, “Like You’ll Never See Me Again“, was released in late 2007 and peaked at number 12 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number one on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs for seven consecutive weeks. From October 27, 2007, when “No One” reached No. 1, through February 16, 2008, the last week “Like You’ll Never See Me Again” was at No. 1, the Keys was on top of the chart for 17 weeks, more consecutive weeks than any other artist in Hot R&B/Hip/Hop Songs chart. The album’s third single, “Teenage Love Affair“, which peaked at number 54 on the ‘Billboard Hot 100 and number three on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs. The album’s fourth and final single, “Superwoman“, which peaked at number 82 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 12 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs.
“No One” earned Keys the awards for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance and Best R&B Song at the 2008 Grammy Awards. Keys opened the ceremony singing Frank Sinatra‘s 1950s song “Learnin’ the Blues” as a “duet” with archival footage of Sinatra in video and “No One” with John Mayer later in the show. Keys also won Best Female R&B Artist during the show. She starred in “Fresh Takes”, a commercial micro-series created by Dove Go Fresh, which premiered during The Hills on MTV from March to April 2008. The premiere celebrated the launch of new Dove Go Fresh. She also signed a deal as spokesperson with Glacéau’s VitaminWater to endorse the product, and was in an American Express commercial for the “Are you a Cardmember?” campaign. Keys, along with The White Stripes‘ guitarist and lead vocalist Jack White, recorded the theme song to Quantum of Solace, the first duet in Bond soundtrack history. In 2008, Keys was ranked in at number 80 the Billboard Hot 100 All-Time Top Artists. She also starred in The Secret Life of Bees, a film adaptation of Sue Monk Kidd‘s acclaimed 2003 bestseller novel of the same name alongside Jennifer Hudson, Dakota Fanning, Paul Bettany and Queen Latifah, released in October 2008 via Fox Searchlight. The Secret Life of Bees had a hit moderate performance at the box office, earning only $39,947,322 worldwide during its theatrical run. Her role earned her a nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture at the NAACP Image Awards. She also received three nominations at the 2009 Grammy Awards and won Best Female R&B Vocal Performance for “Superwoman”.
In an interview with Blender magazine, Keys allegedly said “‘Gangsta rap‘ was a ploy to convince black people to kill each other, ‘gangsta rap’ didn’t exist” and went on to say that it was created by “the government”. The magazine also claimed she said that Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. were “essentially assassinated, their beefs stoked by the government and the media, to stop another great black leader from existing”. Keys later wrote a statement clarifying the issues and saying her words were misinterpreted. Later that year, Keys was criticized by anti-smoking campaigners after billboard posters for her forthcoming concerts in Indonesia featured a logo for the A Mild cigarette brand sponsored by tobacco firm Philip Morris. She apologized after discovering that the concert was sponsored by the firm and asked for “corrective actions”. In response, the company withdrew its sponsorship.
2009–2010 The Element of Freedom, marriage and motherhood
Keys and manager Jeff Robinson signed a film production deal to develop live-action and animated projects with Disney. Their first film will be a remake of the 1958 comedy Bell, Book and Candle and will star Keys as a witch who casts a love spell to lure a rival’s fiancé. Keys and Robinson also formed a television production company called Big Pita. Keys and Robinson will develop live-action and animated projects from their company, Big Pita and Little Pita, with Keys as producer, thespian, banner spearheading soundtrack and music supervision.
Keys collaborated with the record producer Swizz Beatz to write and produce “Million Dollar Bill” for Whitney Houston‘s seventh studio album, I Look to You. Keys had approached Clive Davis for permission to submit a song for the album. Keys also collaborated with the recording artist Jay-Z on the song “Empire State of Mind” from his 2009 album, The Blueprint 3. The song topped the Billboard Hot 100 and became her fourth number-one single on that chart. At the 53rd Grammy Awards ceremony, “Empire State of Mind” won Best Rap/Sung Collaboration and Best Rap Song. It had also been one of the five nominees for Record of the Year.
The following month, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers honored Keys with the Golden Note Award, an award given to artists “who have achieved extraordinary career milestones”. She collaborated with Spanish recording artist Alejandro Sanz for “Looking for Paradise“, which topped the Hot Latin Songs chart, this was Keys’ first number one on all three charts, which also made her the first African-American of non-Hispanic origin to reach #1 on the Hot Latin Tracks. Keys released her fourth studio album, The Element of Freedom, in December 2009. It debuted at number two on the Billboard 200, selling 417,000 copies in its first week. As part of the promotional drive for the album, she performed at the Cayman Island Jazz Festival on December 5, the final night of the three day festival which will be broadcast on Black Entertainment Television (BET). The album’s lead single, “Doesn’t Mean Anything“, has peaked at number 60 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 14 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs. Keys was ranked as the top R&B recording artist of the 2000–2009 decade by Billboard magazine and ranked at number five as artist of the decade, while her song, “No One“, was ranked at number six on the magazine’s songs of the decade. In the United Kingdom, The Element of Freedom became Keys’ first album to top the UK Albums Chart. The album’s second single, “Try Sleeping with a Broken Heart“, was released in November 2009 and peaked at number 27 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number two on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs. The album’s third single, “Put It in a Love Song“, featuring Grammy-winner Beyoncé, peaked at number 60 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs. The music video for the single, which was filmed in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, has been postponed several times, and later it was confirmed that Alicia Keys’ team made a decision not to release the video. The album’s fourth single, “Empire State of Mind (Part II) Broken Down“, was released in February 2010 and peaked at number 55 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 76 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs. The album’s fifth single, “Un-Thinkable (I’m Ready)“, was released in May 2010 and peaked at number 21 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number one on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs, for twelve consecutive weeks and became the album’s most successful single, becoming Keys’ eighth number-one single on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart. The album’s sixth and final single, “Wait Til You See My Smile“, was released in December 2010 in the U.K only.
Keys at the Walmart Shareholders Meeting 2011.
In May 2009, Swizz Beatz announced that he and Keys were romantically involved, and in May 2010, a representative for Keys and Swizz Beatz confirmed that they were engaged and expecting a child together. During the time of the 2010 FIFA World Cup, the couple took part of a union and had the unborn child blessed in a Zulu ceremony, which took place in the Illovo suburb of Johannesburg, South Africa. Keys and Swizz Beatz were married on the French island of Corsica on July 31, 2010. On October 14, 2010, Keys gave birth to a son, Egypt Daoud Ibarr Dean, in New York City.
2011 – present: Ten Year Celebration, Project 5, Stick Fly and Upcoming New Album
In June 2011, Songs in A Minor was re-released as deluxe and collector’s editions in commemoration of its 10th anniversary. To support the release, Keys embarked on a four-city promotional tour, entitled Piano & I: A One Night Only Event With Alicia Keys, featuring only her piano. Keys is also set to co-produce the Broadway premiere of Stick Fly, which will open in December 2011. On September 26, 2011, was the premiere of Project 5 known as Five, short film that marks the debut of Alicia Keys as a director. It is a documentary of five episodes that tell stories of five women who were victims of breast cancer and how it affected their lives. The production also has co-direction of the actresses Jennifer Aniston, Demi Moore and film director Patty Jenkins.
On September 23, she performed at iHeart Music Festival and sang her new song “A Place Of My Own”, which is present in her fifth studio album. On October 7, RCA Music Group announced it was disbanding J Records along with Arista Records and Jive Records. With the shutdown, Keys (and all other artists previously signed to these three labels) will release her future material on RCA Records.
On Saturday February 18, 2012, Alicia gave a touching performance of Send Me An Angel during Whitney Houston‘s memorial at the New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, New Jersey.
An accomplished pianist, Keys incorporates piano into a majority of her songs and often writes about love, heartbreak and female empowerment. She has cited several musicians as her inspirations, including Prince, Nina Simone, Barbra Streisand, Marvin Gaye, Quincy Jones, Donny Hathaway and Stevie Wonder. Keys’ style is rooted in gospel and vintage soul music, supplemented by bass and programmed drumbeats. She heavily incorporates classical piano with R&B, soul and jazz into her music. She began experimenting with other genres, including pop and rock, in her third studio album, As I Am, transitioning from neo soul to a 1980s and 1990s R&B sound with her fourth album, The Element of Freedom. Patrick Huguenin of the New York Daily News stated that her incorporation of classical piano riffs contributed to her breakout success. Jet magazine states she “thrives” by touching her fans with “piano mastery, words and melodious voice”. The Independent described her style as consisting of “crawling blues coupled with a hip-hop backbeat”, noting that her lyrics “rarely stray from matters of the heart”. Blender magazine referred to her as “the first new pop artist of the millennium who was capable of changing music.”
Keys playing the piano while performing, surrounded by three backing vocalists
Keys has a vocal range of a contralto, which spans three octaves. She can sing from B flat over an octave below middle C (B♭2) to B below soprano C (B5). Often referred to as the “Princess of Soul“, Keys has been commended as having a strong, raw and impassioned voice; others feel that her voice is “emotionally manufactured” at times and that she pushes her voice out of its natural range. Keys’ songwriting is often criticized for lack of depth, which has led to her writing abilities being called limited. Her lyrics have been called generic, clichéd and that her songs revolve around generalities. Greg Kot of the Chicago Tribune feels that she “[pokes] around for multi-format hits rather than trying to project any sort of artistic vision”. Diversely, Jon Pareles of Blender magazine stated that the musical composition of her songs makes up for their lyrical weakness, while Gregory Stephen Tate of The Village Voice compared Keys’ writing and production to 1970s music.
Joanna Hunkin of The New Zealand Herald reviewed one of Keys’ performances, where Kylie Minogue also attended. She described Minogue’s reaction to Keys’ performance, saying “it was obvious she was just as much of a fan as the 10,000 other people at Vector Arena“. She went on to say that Minogue was “the original pop princess bowing down to the modern-day queen of soul”. Hunkin characterized Keys’ opening performance as a “headbanging, hip-gyrating performance” and her energy as “high-octane energy most bands save for their closing finale”. At the end of her two-hour performance, fans “screamed, stomped and begged for a second encore”. Hillary Crosley and Mariel Concepcion of Billboard magazine noted that her shows are “extremely coordinated” with the audience’s attention span “consistently maintained”. The show ended with a standing ovation and Keys “proved that a dynamic performance mixed with superior musicianship always wins”. Throughout her career, Keys has won numerous awards and is listed on the Recording Industry Association of America‘s best-selling artists in the United States, with 15 million certified albums. She has sold over 30 million albums worldwide and has established herself as one of the best-selling artists of her time.
Keys is the co-founder and Global Ambassador of Keep a Child Alive, a non-profit organization that provides medicine to families with HIV and AIDS in Africa. Keys and U2 lead singer Bono recorded a cover version of Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush‘s “Don’t Give Up“, in recognition of World AIDS Day 2005. Keys and Bono’s version of the song was retitled “Don’t Give Up (Africa)” to reflect the nature of the charity it was benefiting. She visited African countries such as Uganda, Kenya and South Africa to promote care for children affected by AIDS. Her work in Africa was documented in the documentary Alicia in Africa: Journey to the Motherland and was available in April 2008.
Keys has also donated to Frum tha Ground Up, a non-profit organization that aids children and teenagers with scholarships. She performed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, as part of the worldwide Live 8 concerts to raise awareness of the poverty in Africa and to pressure the G8 leaders to take action. In 2005, Keys performed on ReAct Now: Music & Relief and Shelter from the Storm: A Concert for the Gulf Coast, two benefit programs that raised money for those affected by Hurricane Katrina. In July 2007, Keys and Keith Urban performed The Rolling Stones‘ 1969 song “Gimme Shelter” at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, New Jersey at the American leg of the Live Earth concerts.
Keys performed Donny Hathaway‘s 1973 song “Someday We’ll All Be Free” at the America: A Tribute to Heroes televised benefit concert following the September 11 attacks. She participated in the Nobel Peace Prize Concert which took place at the Oslo Spektrum in Oslo, Norway, on December 11, 2007, along with other various artists. She recorded a theme song for Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama. She joined Joss Stone and Jay-Z on the effort, which served as a theme song for Obama’s campaign. For her work, Keys was honored at the 2009 BET Awards with the Humanitarian Award. Keys performed the song “Prelude to a Kiss”, retitled “Send Me an Angel”, from her 2007 album As I Am for the “Hope for Haiti Now: A Global Benefit for Earthquake Relief” telethon in response to the 2010 Haiti earthquake
Ray Charles Robinson (September 23, 1930 – June 10, 2004), known by his shortened stage name Ray Charles, was an American musician. He was a pioneer in the genre of soul music during the 1950s by fusing rhythm and blues, gospel, and blues styles into his early recordings with Atlantic Records. He also helped racially integrate country and pop music during the 1960s with his crossover success on ABC Records, most notably with his Modern Sounds albums. While with ABC, Charles became one of the first African-American musicians to be given artistic control by a mainstream record company. Frank Sinatra called Charles “the only true genius in show business.”
The influences upon his music were mainly jazz, blues, rhythm and blues and country artists of the day such as Art Tatum, Nat King Cole, Louis Jordan, Charles Brown, Louis Armstrong. His playing reflected influences from country blues and barrelhouse, and stride piano styles.
Rolling Stone ranked Charles number ten on their list of “100 Greatest Artists of All Time” in 2004, and number two on their November 2008 list of “100 Greatest Singers of All Time”. In honoring Charles, Billy Joel noted: “This may sound like sacrilege, but I think Ray Charles was more important than Elvis Presley. I don’t know if Ray was the architect of rock & roll, but he was certainly the first guy to do a lot of things . . . Who the hell ever put so many styles together and made it work?”
Early life: 1930–1945
Ray Charles Robinson was the son of Aretha Williams, a sharecropper, and Bailey Robinson, a railroad repair man, mechanic and handyman. Aretha Williams was a devout Christian and the family attended the New Shiloh Baptist Church. When Ray was an infant, his family moved from Albany, Georgia, where he was born, to the poor black community on the western side of Greenville, Florida. In his early years, Charles showed a curiosity for mechanical things and he often watched the neighborhood men working on their cars and farm machinery. His musical curiosity was sparked at Mr. Wiley Pit’s Red Wing Cafe when Pit played boogie woogie on an old upright piano. Pit would care for George, Ray’s brother, so as to take the burden off Williams. However, George drowned in the Williams’ bath tub when he was four years old. After witnessing the death of his brother, Ray would feel an overwhelming sense of guilt later on in life.
Charles started to lose his sight at the age of five. He went completely blind by the age of seven, apparently due to glaucoma. He attended school at the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind in St. Augustine from 1937 to 1945, where he developed his musical talent. During this time he performed on WFOY radio in St. Augustine. His father died when he was 10 and his mother died five years after.
In school, Charles was taught only classical music, but he wanted to play the jazz and blues he heard on the family radio. While at school, he became the school’s premier musician. On Fridays, the South Campus Literary Society held assemblies where Charles would play piano and sing popular songs. On Halloween and Washington’s birthday, the Colored Department of the school had socials where Charles would play. It was here he established “RC Robinson and the Shop Boys” and sang his own arrangement of “Jingle Bell Boogie.” He spent his first Christmas at the school, but later the staff pitched in so that Charles could return to Greenville, as he did each summer.
Henry and Alice Johnson, who owned a store not unlike Mr. Pit’s store in Greenville, moved to the Frenchtown section of Tallahassee, just west of Greenville; and they, as well as Freddy and Margaret Bryant, took Charles in. He worked the register in the Bryants’ store under the direction of Lucille Bryant, their daughter. It’s said he loved Tallahassee and often used the drug store delivery boy’s motorbike to run up and down hills using the exhaust sound of a friend’s bike to guide him. Charles found Tallahassee musically exciting too and sat in with the Florida A&M University student band. He played with the Adderley brothers, Nat and Cannonball, and began playing gigs with Lawyer Smith and his Band in 1943 at the Red Bird Club and DeLuxe Clubs in Frenchtown and roadhouse theatres around Tallahassee, as well as the Governor’s Ball.
Early career: 1945–1952
After his mother died in 1945, Charles was 15 years old and didn’t return to school. He lived in Jacksonville with a couple who were friends of his mother. For over a year, he played the piano for bands at the Ritz Theatre in LaVilla, earning $4 a night. Then he moved to Orlando, and later Tampa, where he played with a southern band called The Florida Playboys. This is where he began his habit of always wearing sunglasses, made by designer Billy Stickles.
Charles had always played for other people, but he wanted his own band. He decided to leave Florida for a large city, but Chicago and New York City were too big. After asking a friend to look in a map and note the city in the United States that was farthest from Florida, he moved to Seattle in 1947 (where he first met and befriended a 14-year-old Quincy Jones) and soon started recording, first for the Down Beat label as the Maxin Trio with guitarist G.D. McKee and bassist Milton Garrett, achieving his first hit with “Confession Blues” in 1949. The song soared to No. 2 on the R&B charts. He joined Swing Time Records and under his own name (“Ray Charles” to avoid being confused with boxer Sugar Ray Robinson) recorded two more R&B hits, “Baby, Let Me Hold Your Hand” (No. 5) in 1951 and “Kissa Me Baby” (No. 8) in 1952. The following year, Swing Time folded and Ahmet Ertegün signed him to Atlantic Records.
Atlantic Records: 1953–1959
Almost immediately after signing with Atlantic, Charles scored his first hit single. “Mess Around” was an R&B hit in 1953. “It Should Have Been Me” and “Don’t You Know” both made the charts in 1954, but “I Got a Woman” (composed with band mate Renald Richard) brought him to national prominence.
The song reached the top of Billboard‘s R&B singles chart in 1955 and from there until 1959 he would have a series of R&B successes including “A Fool For You” (No. 1), “This Little Girl of Mine“, “Lonely Avenue“, “Mary Ann”, “Drown in My Own Tears” (No. 1) and the No. 5 hit “The Night Time (Is the Right Time)“, which were compiled on his Atlantic releases Hallelujah, I Love Her So, Yes Indeed!, and The Genius Sings the Blues.
During this time of transition, he recruited a young girl group from Philadelphia, The Cookies, as his background singing group, recording with them in New York and changing their name to the Raelettes in the process.
Crossover success: 1959–1967
Charles in 1971. Photo: Heinrich Klaffs.
After his Atlantic Records contract had ended, Ray Charles signed with ABC-Paramount Records in November 1959, obtaining a much more liberal contract than other artists had at the time. Following his commercial and pop crossover breakthrough with the complex hit single “What’d I Say” earlier that year, ABC offered Charles a $ 50,000 annual advance, higher royalties than previously offered and eventual ownership of his masters — a very valuable and lucrative deal at the time. Composed by Charles himself, the single furthered Charles’s mainstream appeal, while becoming a Top 10 pop hit and selling a million copies in the United States, despite the ban placed on the record by some radio stations, in response to the song’s sexually-suggestive lyrics. However, by the time of the release of the instrumental jazz LP Genius + Soul = Jazz (1960) for ABC’s subsidiary label Impulse!, Charles had virtually given up on writing original material and had begun to follow his eclectic impulses as an interpreter.
With his first hit single for ABC-Paramount, Charles received national acclaim and a Grammy Award for the Sid Feller-produced “Georgia on My Mind“, originally written by composers Stuart Gorrell and Hoagy Carmichael, released as a single by Charles in 1960. The song served as Charles’s first work with Feller, who arranged and conducted the recording. Charles also earned another Grammy for the follow-up “Hit the Road Jack“, written by R&B singer Percy Mayfield. By late 1961, Charles had expanded his small road ensemble to a full-scale big band, partly as a response to increasing royalties and touring fees, becoming one of the few black artists to crossover into mainstream pop with such a level of creative control. This success, however, came to a momentary halt in November 1961, as a police search of Charles’s hotel room in Indianapolis, Indiana during a concert tour led to the discovery of heroin in his medicine cabinet. The case was eventually dropped, as the search lacked a proper warrant by the police, and Charles soon returned his focus on music and recording.
The 1962 album, Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music and its sequel Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, Vol. 2, helped to bring country into the mainstream of music. His version of the Don Gibson song, I Can’t Stop Loving You topped the Pop chart for five weeks and stayed at No. 1 R&B for ten weeks in 1962. It also gave him his only number one record in the UK. In 1962, he founded his own record label, Tangerine Records, which ABC-Paramount promoted and distributed. He also had major pop hits in 1963 with “Busted” (US No. 4) and Take These Chains From My Heart (US No. 8), and a Top 20 hit four years later, in 1967, with “Here We Go Again” (US No. 15) (which would be a duet with Norah Jones in 2004).
Later years: 1965-2004
In 1965, Ray Charles was arrested for possession of heroin, a drug to which he had been addicted for nearly 20 years. It was his third arrest for the offense, but he avoided jail time after kicking the habit in a clinic in Los Angeles. He spent a year on parole in 1966, when his single “Crying Time” reached No. 6 on the charts.
During the late 1960s and into the 1970s, Charles’s releases were hit-or-miss, with some big hits and critically acclaimed work. His version of “Georgia On My Mind” was proclaimed the state song of Georgia on April 24, 1979, and he performed it on the floor of the state legislature. He also had success with his unique version of “America the Beautiful“.
In November 1977 he appeared as the host of NBC’s Saturday Night Live. In the 1980s a number of other events increased Charles’s recognition among young audiences. He made a cameo appearance in the popular 1980 film The Blues Brothers. In 1985, “The Right Time” was featured in the episode “Happy Anniversary” of The Cosby Show on NBC. The next year, he sang America The Beautiful at Wrestlemania 2. In a Pepsi Cola commercial of the early 1990s – composed by Kenny Ascher, Joseph C. Caro, and Helary Jay Lipsitz – Charles popularized the catchphrase “You Got the Right One, Baby!” and he was featured in the recording of “We Are the World” for USA for Africa.
After having supported Martin Luther King, Jr. and for the American Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, Charles courted controversy when he toured South Africa in 1981, during an international boycott of the country because of its apartheid policy.
In 1989, Charles recorded a cover version of the Japanese band Southern All Stars‘ song “Itoshi no Ellie” as “Ellie My Love” for a Suntory TV advertisement, reaching No. 3 on Japan’s Oricon chart. Eventually, it sold more than 400,000 copies, and became that year’s best-selling single performed by a Western artist for the Japanese music market.
Charles also appeared at two Presidential inaugurations in his lifetime. In 1985, he performed for Ronald Reagan’s second inauguration, and in 1993 for Bill Clinton’s first.
In the late 1980s/early 1990s, Charles made appearances on the Super Dave Osbourne TV show, where he performed and appeared in a few vignettes where he was somehow driving a car, often as Super Dave’s chauffeur. At the height of his newfound fame in the early nineties, Charles did guest vocals for several projects. He also appeared (with Chaka Khan) on long-time friend Quincy Jones‘ hit “I’ll Be Good to You” in 1990, from Jones’s album Back on the Block. Following Jim Henson‘s death in 1990, Ray Charles appeared in the one-hour CBS tribute, The Muppets Celebrate Jim Henson. He gave a short speech about Henson, stating that he “took a simple song and a piece of felt and turned it into a moment of great power”. Charles was referring to the song “It’s Not Easy Being Green“, which he later performed with the rest of the Muppet cast in a tribute to Henson’s legacy.
During the sixth season of Designing Women, Charles sang “Georgia on My Mind“, instead of the song being rendered instrumentally by other musicians as in the previous five seasons. He also appeared in 4 episodes of the popular TV comedy The Nanny in Seasons 4 & 5 (1997 & 1998) as ‘Sammy’, in one episode singing “My Yiddish Mamma” to December romance and later fiancee of character Gramma Yetta, played by veteran actress Ann Guilbert.
From 2001-2002, Charles appeared in commercials for the New Jersey Lottery to promote its “For every dream, there’s a jackpot” campaign.
In 2003, Ray Charles headlined the White House Correspondents Dinner in Washington, D.C. where the President, First Lady, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice attended. He also presented one of his greatest admirers, Van Morrison, with his award upon being inducted in the Songwriters Hall of Fame and the two sang Morrison’s song “Crazy Love“. This performance appears on Morrison’s 2007 album, The Best of Van Morrison Volume 3.
In 2003 Charles performed “Georgia On My Mind” and “America the Beautiful” at a televised annual electronic media journalist banquet held in Washington, D.C., at what may have been his final performance in public. His final public appearance came on April 30, 2004, at the dedication of his music studio as a historic landmark in the city of Los Angeles.
Charles was married twice and fathered 12 children with nine different women. His first marriage to Eileen Williams was brief: July 31, 1951 to 1952. He had three children from his second marriage, to Della Beatrice Howard Robinson from April 5, 1955 to 1977. His long term girlfriend and partner at the time of his death was Norma Pinella.
A list of his children:
- Born ~ 1950: Evelyn Robinson (to Louise Mitchell)
- Born ~ 1955: Ray Charles Robinson, Jr. (to Della Robinson)
- Born ~ 1958: David Robinson (to Della Robinson)
- Born ~ 1959: Charles Wayne Robinson (to Margie Hendricks)
- Born ~ 1960: Reverend Robert Robinson (to Della Robinson)
- Born ~ 1961: Raenee Robinson (to Mae Mosely Lyles)
- Born ~ 1963: Sheila Raye Charles Robinson (to Sandra Jean Betts)
- Born ~ 1966: Alicia Robinson (unknown)
- Born ~ 1968: Alexandra Robinson (to Chantal Bertrand)
- Born ~ 1977: Vincent Robinson (to Arlette Kotchounian)
- Born ~ 1978: Robyn Robinson (to Gloria Moffett)
- Born ~ 1987: Ryan Corey Robinson (to Mary Anne den Bok)
Charles gave 10 of his 12 children checks for one million USD in December 2002 at a family luncheon, while the other two could not make it.
Substance abuse and legal issues
On November 14, 1961, Charles was arrested on a narcotics charge in an Indiana hotel room, where he waited to perform. The detectives seized heroin, marijuana, and other items. Charles, then 31, stated that he had been a drug addict since the age of 16. While the case was dismissed because of the manner in which the evidence was obtained, Charles’s situation did not improve until a few years later. Individuals such as Quincy Jones and Reverend Henry Griffin felt that those around Charles were responsible for his drug use.
By 1964 Charles’s drug addiction caught up with him and he was arrested for possession of marijuana and heroin. Following a self-imposed stay at St. Francis Hospital in Lynwood, California, Charles received five years’ probation. Charles responded to the saga of his drug use and reform with the songs “I Don’t Need No Doctor”, “Let’s Go Get Stoned”, and the release of his first album since having kicked his heroin addiction in 1966, Crying Time.
Charles played chess using a special board with holes for the pieces and raised squares. Charles referred to Willie Nelson as “my chess partner” in a 1991 concert. In 2002, he played and lost to American Grandmaster and former U.S. Champion Larry Evans.
Charles died on June 10, 2004 at 11:35 a.m. of liver disease at his home in Beverly Hills, California, surrounded by family and friends. He was 73 years old. His body was interred in the Inglewood Park Cemetery.
His final album, Genius Loves Company, released two months after his death, consists of duets with various admirers and contemporaries: B.B. King, Van Morrison, Willie Nelson, James Taylor, Gladys Knight, Michael McDonald, Natalie Cole, Elton John, Bonnie Raitt, Diana Krall, Norah Jones, and Johnny Mathis. The album won eight Grammy Awards, including five for Ray Charles for Best Pop Vocal Album, Album of the Year, Record of the Year and Best Pop Collaboration with Vocals for “Here We Go Again” with Norah Jones, and Best Gospel Performance for “Heaven Help Us All” with Gladys Knight; he also received nods for his duets with Elton John and B.B. King. The album included a version of Harold Arlen‘s “Over the Rainbow“, sung as a duet by Charles and Johnny Mathis, which recording was later played at his memorial service.
Two more posthumous albums, Genius & Friends (2005) and Ray Sings, Basie Swings (2006), were released. Genius & Friends consisted of duets recorded from 1997 to 2005 with his choice of artists. Ray Sings, Basie Swings consists of archived vocals of Ray Charles from live mid-1970s performances added to new instrumental tracks specially recorded by the contemporary Count Basie Orchestra and other musicians. Charles’s vocals recorded from the concert mixing board were added to new accompaniments to create a “fantasy concert” recording.
Charles possessed one of the most recognizable voices in American music. In the words of musicologist Henry Pleasants:
Sinatra, and Bing Crosby before him, had been masters of words. Ray Charles is a master of sounds. His records disclose an extraordinary assortment of slurs, glides, turns, shrieks, wails, breaks, shouts, screams and hollers, all wonderfully controlled, disciplined by inspired musicianship, and harnessed to ingenious subtleties of harmony, dynamics and rhythm… It is either the singing of a man whose vocabulary is inadequate to express what is in his heart and mind or of one whose feelings are too intense for satisfactory verbal or conventionally melodic articulation. He can’t tell it to you. He can’t even sing it to you. He has to cry out to you, or shout to you, in tones eloquent of despair — or exaltation. The voice alone, with little assistance from the text or the notated music, conveys the message.
Ray Charles is usually described as a baritone, and his speaking voice would suggest as much, as would the difficulty he experiences in reaching and sustaining the baritone’s high E and F in a popular ballad. But the voice undergoes some sort of transfiguration under stress, and in music of gospel or blues character he can and does sing for measures on end in the high tenor range of A, B flat, B, C and ev in full voice, sometimes in an ecstatic head voice, sometimes in falsetto. In falsetto he continues up to E and F above high C. On one extraordinary record, “I’m Going Down to the River’ . . . he hits an incredible B flat . . . . giving him an overall range, including the falsetto extension, of at least three octaves.
In 1979, Charles was one of the first of the Georgia State Music Hall of Fame to be recognized as a musician born in the state. Ray’s version of “Georgia On My Mind” was made the official state song for Georgia. In 1981, he was given a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and was one of the first inductees to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame at its inaugural ceremony in 1986. He received the Kennedy Center Honors in 1986.
In 1987, he was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. In 1991, he was inducted to the Rhythm & Blues Foundation. In 1993, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts. In 1998 he was awarded the Polar Music Prize together with Ravi Shankar in Stockholm, Sweden. In 2004 he was inducted to the Jazz Hall of Fame, and inducted to the National Black Sports & Entertainment Hall of Fame. The Grammy Awards of 2005 were dedicated to Charles.
On December 7, 2007, Ray Charles Plaza was opened in Albany, Georgia, with a revolving, lighted bronze sculpture of Charles seated at a piano. Later that month, on December 26, 2007, Ray Charles was inducted into the Hit Parade Hall of Fame. He was also presented with the George and Ira Gershwin Award for Lifetime Musical Achievement, during the 1991 UCLA Spring Sing.
In 2003, Charles was awarded an honorary degree by Dillard University. Upon his death, he endowed a professorship of African-American culinary history at the school, which is the first such chair in the nation. A $20 million performing arts center at Morehouse College was named after Charles and was dedicated in September 2010.
The biopic Ray, an October 2004 film portrays his life and career between 1930 and 1969 and stars Jamie Foxx as Charles. Foxx won the 2005 Academy Award for Best Actor for the role. The movie is the all-time number one biopic per screen average, opening on 2006 screens and making 20 million dollars.
Charles Edward Anderson “Chuck” Berry (born October 18, 1926) is an American guitarist, singer and songwriter, and one of the pioneers of rock and roll music. With songs such as “Maybellene” (1955), “Roll Over Beethoven” (1956), “Rock and Roll Music” (1957) and “Johnny B. Goode” (1958), Chuck Berry refined and developed rhythm and blues into the major elements that made rock and roll distinctive, with lyrics focusing on teen life and consumerism and utilizing guitar solos and showmanship that would be a major influence on subsequent rock music.
Born into a middle class family in St. Louis, Missouri, Berry had an interest in music from an early age and gave his first public performance at Sumner High School. While still a high school student he served a prison sentence for armed robbery between 1944 and 1947. On his release, Berry settled into married life and worked at an automobile assembly plant. By early 1953, influenced by the guitar riffs and showmanship techniques of blues player T-Bone Walker, he was performing in the evenings with the Johnnie Johnson Trio. His break came when he traveled to Chicago in May 1955, and met Muddy Waters, who suggested he contact Leonard Chess of Chess Records. With Chess he recorded “Maybellene”—Berry’s adaptation of the country song “Ida Red“—which sold over a million copies, reaching #1 on Billboard’s Rhythm and Blues chart. By the end of the 1950s, Berry was an established star with several hit records and film appearances to his name as well as a lucrative touring career. He had also established his own St. Louis-based nightclub, called Berry’s Club Bandstand. But in January 1962, Berry was sentenced to three years in prison for offenses under the Mann Act—he had transported a 14-year-old girl across state lines.
After his release in 1963, Berry had several more hits, including “No Particular Place To Go“, “You Never Can Tell“, and “Nadine”, but these did not achieve the same success, or lasting impact, of his 1950s songs, and by the 1970s he was more in demand as a nostalgic live performer, playing his past hits with local backup bands of variable quality. His insistence on being paid cash led to a jail sentence in 1979—four months and community service for tax evasion.
Berry was among the first musicians to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on its opening in 1986, with the comment that he “laid the groundwork for not only a rock and roll sound but a rock and roll stance.” Berry is included in several Rolling Stone “Greatest of All Time” lists, including being ranked fifth on their 2004 list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll included three of Chuck Berry’s songs: “Johnny B. Goode“, “Maybellene“, and “Rock and Roll Music“. Today – at the age of 85 – Berry continues to play live.
Early life and apprenticeship with Johnnie Johnson (1926–54)
Born in St. Louis, Missouri, Berry was the fourth child in a family of six. He grew up in the north St. Louis neighborhood known as “The Ville,” an area where many middle class St. Louis people lived at the time. His father, Henry, was a contractor and deacon of a nearby Baptist church, his mother Martha a certified public school principal. His middle class upbringing allowed him to pursue his interest in music from an early age and he gave his first public performance in 1941 while still at Sumner High School. Just three years later, in 1944, while still at Sumner High School, he was arrested and convicted of armed robbery after robbing three shops in Kansas City and then stealing a car at gunpoint with some friends. Berry’s own account in his autobiography is that his car broke down and he then flagged down a passing car and stole it at gunpoint with a non-functional pistol. Berry was sent to the Intermediate Reformatory for Young Men at Algoa, near Jefferson City, Missouri, where he formed a singing quartet and did some boxing.
After his release from prison on his 21st birthday in 1947, Berry married Themetta “Toddy” Suggs on 28 October 1948, who gave birth to Darlin Ingrid Berry on 3 October 1950. Berry supported his family doing a number of jobs in St. Louis: working briefly as a factory worker at two automobile assembly plants, as well as being janitor for the apartment building where he and his wife lived. Afterwards he trained as a beautician at the Poro College of Cosmetology, founded by Annie Turnbo Malone. He was doing well enough by 1950 to buy a “small three room brick cottage with a bath” in Whittier Street, which is now on the National Register of Historic Places.
By the early 1950s, Berry was working with local bands in the clubs of St. Louis as an extra source of income. He had been playing the blues since his teens, and he borrowed both guitar riffs and showmanship techniques from blues player T-Bone Walker, as well as taking guitar lessons from his friend Ira Harris that laid the foundation for his guitar style. By early 1953 Berry was performing with Johnnie Johnson‘s trio, starting a long-time collaboration with the pianist. Although the band played mostly blues and ballads, the most popular music among whites in the area was country. Berry wrote, “Curiosity provoked me to lay a lot of our country stuff on our predominantly black audience and some of our black audience began whispering ‘who is that black hillbilly at the Cosmo?’ After they laughed at me a few times they began requesting the hillbilly stuff and enjoyed dancing to it.”
Berry’s calculated showmanship, along with mixing country tunes with R&B tunes, and singing in the style of Nat “King” Cole to the music of Muddy Waters, brought in a wider audience, particularly affluent white people.
Signing with Chess: “Maybellene” to “Come On” (1955–62)
In May 1955, Berry traveled to Chicago where he met Waters, who suggested he contact Leonard Chess of Chess Records. Berry thought his blues material would be of most interest to Chess, but to his surprise it was an old country and western recording by Bob Wills, entitled “Ida Red” that got Chess’s attention. Chess had seen the rhythm and blues market shrink and was looking to move beyond it, and he thought Berry might be the artist for that purpose. So on May 21, 1955 Berry recorded an adaptation of “Ida Red”—”Maybellene“—which featured Johnnie Johnson on piano, Jerome Green (from Bo Diddley‘s band) on the maracas, Jasper Thomas on the drums and Willie Dixon on the bass. “Maybellene” sold over a million copies, reaching #1 on Billboard’s Rhythm and Blues chart and #5 on the 10 September 1955 Billboard Best Sellers in Stores chart.
At the end of June 1956, his song “Roll Over Beethoven” reached #29 on the Billboard Top 100 chart, and Berry toured as one of the “Top Acts of ’56”. He and Carl Perkins became friends. Perkins said that “I knew when I first heard Chuck that he’d been affected by country music. I respected his writing; his records were very, very great.” As they toured, Perkins discovered that Berry not only liked country music, but knew about as many songs as he did. Jimmie Rodgers was one of his favorites. “Chuck knew every Blue Yodel and most of Bill Monroe‘s songs as well,” Perkins remembered. “He told me about how he was raised very poor, very tough. He had a hard life. He was a good guy. I really liked him.”
Berry in The Casino Deauville, France, 13 July 1987
In late 1957, Berry took part in Alan Freed‘s “Biggest Show of Stars for 1957” United States tour with the Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, and others. He also guest starred on ABC‘s The Guy Mitchell Show, having sung his hit song “Rock ‘n’ Roll Music”. The hits continued from 1957 to 1959, with Berry scoring over a dozen chart singles during this period, including the top 10 US hits “School Days“, “Rock and Roll Music“, “Sweet Little Sixteen“, and “Johnny B. Goode“. He appeared in two early rock and roll movies. The first was Rock Rock Rock, released in 1956. He is shown singing “You Can’t Catch Me.” He had a speaking role as himself in the 1959 film Go, Johnny, Go! along with Alan Freed, and was also shown performing his songs “Johnny B. Goode,” “Memphis, Tennessee,” and “Little Queenie.” His performance of “Sweet Little Sixteen” at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1958 is captured in the motion picture Jazz on a Summer’s Day.
By the end of the 1950s, Berry was an established star with several hit records and film appearances to his name, as well as a lucrative touring career. He had established a racially integrated St. Louis-based nightclub, called Berry’s Club Bandstand, and was investing in real estate. But in December 1959, Berry was arrested under the Mann Act after an allegation that he had sex with a 14-year-old Apache waitress whom he had transported over state lines to work as a hat check girl at his club. After an initial two-week trial in March 1960, Berry was convicted, fined $5,000, and sentenced to five years in prison. Berry’s appeal that the judge’s comments and attitude were racist and prejudiced the jury against him was upheld, and a second trial was heard in May and June 1961, which resulted in Berry being given a three-year prison sentence. After another appeal failed, Berry served one and one half years in prison from February 1962 to October 1963. Berry had continued recording and performing during the trials, though his output had slowed down as his popularity declined; his final single released before being imprisoned was “Come On“.
“Nadine” and move to Mercury (1963–69)
When Berry was released from prison in 1963, he was able to return to recording and performing due to the British invasion acts of the 1960s—most notably The Beatles and The Rolling Stones—having kept up an interest in his music by releasing cover versions of his songs; along with other bands reworking his songs, such as the Beach Boys basing their 1963 hit “Surfin’ USA” on Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen“. In 1964–65 Berry released eight singles, including three, “No Particular Place to Go” (a reworking of “School Day”), “You Never Can Tell“, and “Nadine,” which achieved commercial success, reaching the top 20 of the Billboard 100. Between 1966 and 1969 Berry released five albums on the Mercury label, including his first live album Live at Fillmore Auditorium in which he was backed by the Steve Miller Band.
While this was not a successful period for studio work, Berry was still a top concert draw. In May 1964, he did a successful tour of the UK, though when he returned in January 1965 his behavior was erratic and moody, and his touring style of using unrehearsed local backing bands and a strict non-negotiable contract was earning him a reputation as a difficult yet unexciting performer. He also played at large events in North America, such as the Schaefer Music Festival in New York City’s Central Park in July 1969, and the Toronto Rock and Roll Revival festival in October.
Back to Chess: “My Ding-a-Ling” to White House concert (1970–79)
Berry helped give life to a subculture… Even “My Ding-a-Ling”, a fourth-grade wee-wee joke that used to mortify true believers at college concerts, permitted a lot of twelve-year-olds new insight into the moribund concept of “dirty” when it hit the airwaves…
Berry returned to Chess from 1970 to 1973. There were no hit singles from the 1970 album Back Home, then in 1972 Chess released a live recording of “My Ding-a-Ling“, a novelty song which Berry had recorded in a different version on his 1968 LP From St. Louie to Frisco as “My Tambourine”. The track became Berry’s only No. 1 single. A live recording of “Reelin’ And Rockin'” was also issued as a follow-up single that same year and would prove to be Berry’s final top-40 hit in both the US and the UK. Both singles were featured on the part-live/part-studio album The London Chuck Berry Sessions which was one of a series of London Sessions albums which included other Chess mainstay artists Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. Berry’s second tenure with Chess ended with the 1975 album Chuck Berry, after which he did not make a studio record until 1979’s Rock It for Atco Records, his last studio album to date.
In the 1970s Berry toured on the basis of his earlier successes. He was on the road for many years, carrying only his Gibson guitar, confident that he could hire a band that already knew his music no matter where he went. Allmusic has said that in this period his “live performances became increasingly erratic, […] working with terrible backup bands and turning in sloppy, out-of-tune performances” which “tarnished his reputation with younger fans and oldtimers” alike. Among the many bandleaders performing a backup role with Chuck Berry were Bruce Springsteen and Steve Miller when each was just starting his career. Springsteen related in the video Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll that Berry did not even give the band a set list and just expected the musicians to follow his lead after each guitar intro. Berry neither spoke to nor thanked the band after the show. Nevertheless, Springsteen backed Berry again when he appeared at the concert for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1995. At the request of Jimmy Carter, Chuck Berry performed at the White House on June 1, 1979.
Berry’s type of touring style, traveling the “oldies” circuit in the 1970s (where he was often paid in cash by local promoters) added ammunition to the Internal Revenue Service‘s accusations that Berry was a chronic income tax evader. Facing criminal sanction for the third time, Berry pleaded guilty to tax evasion and was sentenced to four months in prison and 1,000 hours of community service—doing benefit concerts—in 1979.
Still on the road (1980–present)
Berry performing live in 1997
Berry continued to play 70 to 100 one-nighters per year in the 1980s, still traveling solo and requiring a local band to back him at each stop. In 1986, Taylor Hackford made a documentary film, Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll, of a celebration concert for Berry’s sixtieth birthday, organised by Keith Richards, in which Berry reveals his bitterness at the fame and financial success that Richards achieved on the back of Berry’s songs. Eric Clapton, Etta James, Julian Lennon, Robert Cray and Linda Ronstadt, among others, appeared with Berry on stage and film. During the concert, Berry played a Gibson ES-355, the luxury version of the ES-335 that he favored on his 1970s tours. Richards played a black Fender Telecaster Custom, Cray a Fender Stratocaster and Clapton a Gibson ES 350T, the same guitar Berry used on his early recordings.
In the late 1980s, Berry bought a restaurant in Wentzville, Missouri, called The Southern Air, and in 1990 he was sued by several women who claimed that he had installed a video camera in the ladies’ bathroom. Berry claimed that he had the camera installed to catch red-handed a worker who was suspected of stealing from the restaurant. Though his guilt was never proven in court, Berry opted for a class action settlement with 59 women. Berry’s biographer, Bruce Pegg, estimated that it cost Berry over $1.2 million plus legal fees. It was during this time that he began using Wayne T. Schoeneberg as his legal counsel. Reportedly, a police raid on his house did find videotapes of women using the restroom, and one of the women was a minor. Also found in the raid were 62 grams of marijuana. Felony drug and child-abuse charges were filed. In order to avoid the child-abuse charges, Berry agreed to plead guilty to misdemeanor possession of marijuana. He was given a six-month suspended jail sentence, two years’ unsupervised probation, and ordered to donate $5,000 to a local hospital.
In November 2000, Berry again faced legal charges when he was sued by his former pianist Johnnie Johnson, who claimed that he co-wrote over 50 songs, including “No Particular Place to Go”, “Sweet Little Sixteen” and “Roll Over Beethoven”, that credit Berry alone. The case was dismissed when the judge ruled that too much time had passed since the songs were written.
Currently, Berry usually performs one Wednesday each month at Blueberry Hill, a restaurant and bar located in the Delmar Loop neighborhood in St. Louis. In 2008, Berry toured Europe, with stops in Sweden, Norway, Finland, the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, Ireland, Switzerland, Poland, and Spain. In mid-2008, he played at Virgin Festival in Baltimore, MD. He presently lives in Ladue, Missouri, approximately 10 miles west of St. Louis. During a New Year’s Day 2011 concert in Chicago, Berry, suffering from exhaustion, passed out and had to be helped off stage.
While no individual can be said to have invented rock and roll, Chuck Berry comes the closest of any single figure to being the one who put all the essential pieces together. It was his particular genius to graft country & western guitar licks onto a rhythm & blues chassis in his very first single, “Maybellene.”
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
A pioneer of rock music, Berry was a significant influence on the development of both the music and the attitude associated with the rock music lifestyle. With songs such as “Maybellene” (1955), “Roll Over Beethoven” (1956), “Rock and Roll Music” (1957) and “Johnny B. Goode” (1958), Chuck Berry refined and developed rhythm and blues into the major elements that made rock and roll distinctive, with lyrics successfully aimed to appeal to the early teenage market by using graphic and humorous descriptions of teen dances, fast cars, high-school life, and consumer culture, and utilizing guitar solos and showmanship that would be a major influence on subsequent rock music. His records are a rich storehouse of the essential lyrical, showmanship and musical components of rock and roll; and, in addition to The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, a large number of significant popular-music performers have recorded Berry’s songs. Though not technically accomplished, his guitar style is distinctive – he incorporated electronic effects to mimic the sound of bottleneck blues guitarists, and drew on the influence of guitar players such as Charlie Christian, and T-Bone Walker, to produce a clear and exciting sound that many later guitar musicians would acknowledge as a major influence in their own style. In the film Hail! Hail! Rock ‘n’ Roll! Eric Clapton states ‘If you wanna play rock and roll – or any upbeat number – and you wanted to take a guitar ride you would end up playing like Chuck…because there is very little other choice. There’s not a lot of other ways to play rock and roll other than the way Chuck plays it; he’s really laid the law down…” In 1992 Keith Richards told Best of Guitar Player “Chuck was my man. He was the one who made me say ‘I want to play guitar, Jesus Christ!’…Suddenly I knew what I wanted to do.” Berry’s showmanship has been influential on other rock guitar players, particularly his one-legged hop routine, and the “duck walk”, which he first used as a child when he walked “stooping with full-bended knees, but with my back and head vertical” under a table to retrieve a ball and his family found it entertaining; he used it when “performing in New York for the first time and some journalist branded it the duck walk.”
The rock critic Robert Christgau considers him “the greatest of the rock and rollers,” while John Lennon said that “if you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it ‘Chuck Berry’.” Ted Nugent said “If you don’t know every Chuck Berry lick, you can’t play rock guitar.” Among the honors he has received, have been the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1984, the Kennedy Center Honors in 2000, and being named seventh on Time magazine’s 2009 list of the 10 best electric guitar players of all-time. On May 14, 2002, Chuck Berry was honored as one of the first BMI Icons at the 50th annual BMI Pop Awards. He was presented the award along with BMI affiliates Bo Diddley and Little Richard.
Berry is included in several Rolling Stone “Greatest of All Time” lists. In September 2003, the magazine named him number 6 in their list of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time”. This was followed in November of the same year by his compilation album The Great Twenty-Eight being ranked 21st in the Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. The following year, in March 2004, Berry was ranked fifth out of “The Immortals – The 100 Greatest Artists of All Time”. In December 2004, six of his songs were included in the “Rolling Stone’s 500 Greatest Songs of All Time“, namely “Johnny B. Goode” (# 7), “Maybellene” (# 18), “Roll Over Beethoven” (# 97), “Rock and Roll Music” (#128), “Sweet Little Sixteen” (# 272) and “Brown Eyed Handsome Man” (# 374). In June 2008, his song “Johnny B. Goode” ranked first place in the “100 Greatest Guitar Songs of All Time”.
A statue 8 feet (2.4 m) tall of Berry, funded by donations, has been erected along the St. Louis Walk of Fame. The dedication ceremony attended by Berry was held on July 29, 2011
Dinah Washington, born Ruth Lee Jones (August 29, 1924 – December 14, 1963), was an American blues, R&B and jazz singer. She has been cited as “the most popular black female recording artist of the ’50s”, and called “The Queen of the Blues”. She is a 1986 inductee of the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame, and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993.
Ruth Jones was born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, United States, and moved to Chicago as a child. Dinah became deeply involved in gospel and played piano for the choir in St. Luke’s Baptist Church while she was still in elementary school. She sang gospel music in church and played piano, directing her church choir in her teens and being a member of the Sallie Martin Gospel Singers. She sang lead with the first female gospel singers formed by Ms Martin, who was co-founder of the Gospel Singers Convention. Jones’ involvement with the gospel choir occurred after she won an amateur contest at Chicago’s Regal Theater where she sang “I Can’t Face the Music”.
After winning a talent contest at the age of 15, she began performing in clubs. By 1941-42 she was performing in such Chicago clubs as Dave’s Rhumboogie and the Downbeat Room of the Sherman Hotel (with Fats Waller). She was playing at the Three Deuces, a jazz club, when a friend took her to hear Billie Holiday at the Garrick Stage Bar. Joe Sherman was so impressed with her singing of “I Understand”, backed by The Cats & The Fiddle, who were appearing in the Garrick’s upstairs room, that he immediately hired her. During her year at the Garrick – she sang upstairs while Holiday performed in the downstairs room – she acquired the name by which she became known. Joe Sherman is generally credited with suggesting the change from Ruth Jones, but both Joe Glaser, the booker-manager who brought Lionel Hampton to hear Dinah at the Garrick, and Hampton himself have occasionally been given the responsibility for the name change. Hampton’s visit brought an offer, and Dinah went to work as his female vocalist in 1943 after she had sung with the band for its opening at the Chicago Regal Theatre. She sang with the Hampton band for two years.
She made her recording debut for the Keynote label that December with “Evil Gal Blues”, written by Leonard Feather and backed by Hampton and musicians from his band, including Joe Morris (trumpet) and Milt Buckner (piano). Both that record and its follow-up, “Salty Papa Blues”, made Billboard‘s “Harlem Hit Parade” in 1944.
She stayed with Hampton’s band until 1946 and, after the Keynote label folded, signed for Mercury Records as a solo singer. Her first record for Mercury, a version of Fats Waller‘s “Ain’t Misbehavin’“, was another hit, starting a long string of success. Between 1948 and 1955, she had 27 R&B top ten hits, making her one of the most popular and successful singers of the period. Both “Am I Asking Too Much” (1948) and “Baby Get Lost” (1949) reached # 1 on the R&B chart, and her version of “I Wanna Be Loved” (1950) crossed over to reach # 22 on the US pop chart. Her hit recordings included blues, standards, novelties, pop covers, and even a version of Hank Williams‘ “Cold, Cold Heart” (R&B # 3, 1951). At the same time as her biggest popular success, she also recorded sessions with many leading jazz musicians, notably Clifford Brown on the 1954 live album Dinah Jams, and also recorded with Cannonball Adderley, Clark Terry, and Ben Webster.
In 1959, she had her first top ten pop hit, with a version of “What a Diff’rence a Day Makes“, which made # 4 on the US pop chart. Her band at that time included arranger Belford Hendricks, with Kenny Burrell (guitar), Joe Zawinul (piano), and Panama Francis (drums). She followed it up with a version of Nat “King” Cole‘s “Unforgettable“, and then two highly successful duets in 1960 with Brook Benton, “Baby (You’ve Got What It Takes)” (# 5 pop, # 1 R&B) and “A Rockin’ Good Way (To Mess Around and Fall in Love) (# 7 pop, # 1 R&B). Her last big hit was “September in the Rain” in 1961 (# 23 pop, 5 R&B).
According to Richard S. Ginell at Allmusic:
“[She] was at once one of the most beloved and controversial singers of the mid-20th century – beloved to her fans, devotees, and fellow singers; controversial to critics who still accuse her of selling out her art to commerce and bad taste. Her principal sin, apparently, was to cultivate a distinctive vocal style that was at home in all kinds of music, be it R&B, blues, jazz, middle of the road pop – and she probably would have made a fine gospel or country singer had she the time. Hers was a gritty, salty, high-pitched voice, marked by absolute clarity of diction and clipped, bluesy phrasing…”
Washington was well known for singing torch songs. In 1962, Dinah hired a male backing trio called the Allegros, consisting of Jimmy Thomas on drums, Earl Edwards on sax, and Jimmy Sigler on organ. Edwards was eventually replaced on sax by John Payne. A Variety writer praised their vocals as “effective choruses”.
Washington’s achievements included appearances at the Newport Jazz Festival (1955–59), the Randalls Island Jazz Festival in New York City (1959), and the International Jazz Festival in Washington D.C. (1962), frequent gigs at Birdland (1958, 1961–62), and performances in 1963 with Count Basie and Duke Ellington.
Performing at the London Palladium, with Queen Elizabeth sitting in a box, Washington told the audience: “There is but one Heaven, one Hell, one queen, and your Elizabeth is an imposter.”
Washington was married eight times and divorced seven times, while having several lovers, including, according to Patti Austin in a documentary about Washington’s frequent collaborator Quincy Jones. She had two children. Her husbands were John Young (1942–43), George Jenkins (1949), Walter Buchanan (1950), saxophonist Eddie Chamblee (1957), Rafael Campos (1957), Horatio Maillard (1959–60), Jackie Hayes (1960), and Dick “Night Train” Lane (1963).
Early on the morning of December 14, 1963, Washington’s eighth husband Lane went to sleep with his wife, and awoke later to find her slumped over and not responsive. Doctor B. C. Ross came to the scene to pronounce her dead. An autopsy later showed a lethal combination of secobarbital and amobarbital which contributed to her death at the age of 39. She is buried in the Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip, Illinois.
Grammy Hall of Fame
Recordings by Dinah Washington were inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame, which is a special Grammy award established in 1973 to honor recordings that are at least twenty-five years old, and that have “qualitative or historical significance.”
 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame listed a song of Dinah Washington as one of the 500 songs that shaped rock.
||Am I Asking Too Much?
Honors and Inductions
- Unforgettable: A Tribute to Dinah Washington is a 1964 album recorded by Aretha Franklin as a tribute.
- In 1993, the U.S. Post Office issued a Dinah Washington 29 cent commemorative postage stamp.
- In 2005, the Board of Commissioners renamed a park, near where Washington had lived in Chicago in the 1950s, Dinah Washington Park in her honor.
- In 2008, the city of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Washington’s birthplace, renamed the section of 30th Avenue between 15th Street and Kaulton Park “Dinah Washington Avenue.” The unveiling ceremony for the new name took place on March 12, 2009, with Washington’s son Robert Grayson and three of her grandchildren, Tracy Jones, Tera Jones, and Bobby Hill Jr., in attendance.