Posts filed under 'African American Media, Publications'
Following are recently published books in the genres of jazz, soul, R&B, and rap music that made our short list.
Title: A Life in Jazz
Author: Danny Barker; Alyn Shipton, editor; new introduction by Gwen Thompkins
Publisher: The Historic New Orleans Collection
Format: Hardcover (254 pages, 8 x 10)
Release date: December 1, 2016
Just in time for the holidays, this new illustrated edition of the 1986 biography of New Orleans musician Danny Barker would make a wonderful gift for any jazz fan. Published as volume three in the Louisiana Musicians Biography Series from The Historic New Orleans Collection, this new edition is supplemented with 115 images that illuminate Barker’s story, plus a complete discography and a never-before-published song catalog. As one of the elder statesman of jazz, Danny Barker (1909-1994) appeared on more than a thousand recordings and wrote dozens of original songs including his biggest hit, “Don’t You Make Me Feel High [Don’t You Feel My Leg],” sung by his wife, Blue Lu Barker. He was also the first to record classic Mardi Gras Indian songs and chants, writing his own adaptations of “My Indian Red,” “Corinne Died on the Battlefield,” and “Chocko Mo Feendo Hey.” Barker’s bio is chock full of stories harkening back to the roots of jazz in New Orleans, as he reflects on “the freedom, complexity, and beauty of this thoroughly American, black music tradition.” A truly inspirational story, and a wonderful follow-up to Vol. 2 in the series, Ernie K-Doe: The R&B Emperor of New Orleans.
Title: Traveling Soul: The Life of Curtis Mayfield
Authors: Todd Mayfield and Travis Atria
Formats: Hardcover (368 pages), eBook (Kindle ed.)
Publisher: Chicago Review Press
Release date: October 1, 2016
Perhaps one of the most highly anticipated music books of the year, this new biography of soul music icon Curtis Mayfield is told from the perspective of his second-oldest son, Todd Mayfield, with assistance from noted music writer Travis Atria. They certainly don’t disappoint. Far from the typical tell-all, the authors offer a well-crafted, in-depth and extremely compelling account of the singer-songwriter that reads more like a novel. Chapter titles often reference Mayfield’s songs, providing insight into the source of his lyrics. For example chapter two, “My Mama Borned Me in a Ghetto,” includes lines from his autobiographical song “Kung Fu”: “My mama borned me in a ghetto / There was no mattress for my head / But, no, she couldn`t call me Jesus / I wasn`t white enough, she said.” In this manner, Mayfield’s life is traced from the streets of Chicago to the formation of the Impressions and his label Curtom Records. Later chapters cover his political activism and socially conscious songs that became forever linked to the Civil Rights Movement. But with the good comes the bad, and the authors don’t shy away from addressing the more volatile aspects of Mayfield’s personality, or describing the pain and suffering that followed the tragic accident in 1990 that left him paralyzed. A must read for any fan of soul music.
Title: My Life with Earth, Wind & Fire
Author: Maurice White with Herb Powell
Formats: Hardcover (400 pages), Paperback, eBook
Release date: September 13, 2016
Maurice White, who founded Earth, Wind & Fire in 1970 with his brother Verdine White and Philip Bailey, sadly passed away on February 3, 2016, just as his autobiography was completed. Peppered with personal stories, Maurice also sheds light on production details while providing an overview of the band’s albums and singles. Known for his spirituality as well as his musicianship, Maurice addresses both the sacred and the secular, providing a full account of his influences. The gifted singer-songwriter, producer, arranger and bandleader left an indelible mark on American music, and thankfully decided to share with us the final chapter in his remarkable life.
Title: Original Gangstas: The Untold Story of Dr. Dre, Eazy-E, Ice Cube, Tupac Shakur, and the Birth of West Coast Rap
Author: Ben Westhoff
Publisher: Hachette Books
Format: Hardcover (432 pages)
Release date: September 13, 2016
Award-winning journalist Ben Westhoff, author of the 2011 book Dirty South on southern hip hop, now turns his attention to the West Coast for a definitive history of California’s hip hop pioneers. Released on the 20th anniversary of Tupac Shakur’s death, Westhoff traces the rise of N.W.A. as the voice of disenfranchised African Americans, the formation of Death Row Records, the rise to superstardom of Snoop and Tupac, and the rivalries between East Coast and West Coast factions. Of equal importance, he delves into changes in the music industry and music consumption in general, which brought gangsta rap into the mainstream. Based on extensive interviews with 112 different sources, Westhoff’s latest effort is essential reading for those interested in the history of the genre.
Title: Flyboy 2: The Greg Tate Reader
Author: Greg Tate
Publisher: Duke University Press
Formats: Hardcover, Paperback, eBook
Release date: August 5, 2016
Village Voice writer Greg Tate is widely recognized as one of the premiere voices on contemporary Black music, arts and culture. Not only is he a writer and “prose stylist” extraordinaire, but Tate actively performs as a guitarist/conductor with the New York based collective known as Burnt Sugar The Arkestra Chamber. Like Tate’s Flyboy in the Buttermilk (1992), this volume is a collection of his writings, divided into 5 sections: “The Black Male Show” which focuses primarily on musicians ranging from Jimi Hendrix and Miles Davis to Ice Cube and Lonnie Holley; “She Laughing Mean and Impressive Too” covering Sade and Azealia Banks as well as Black feminists, writers and poets; “Hello Darkness My Old Meme” offering wide ranging essays on hip-hop, jazz, and Black culture; “Screenings” focused on the films of Spike Lee and John Singleton, among others; and “Race, Sex, Politricks, and Belles Lettres” which is something of a catch-all for other works. An enjoyable read that you can digest as a whole or in parts, while marveling at Tate’s ability to turn a phrase while dissecting race, class and gender in America
Title: UP From Where We’ve Come
Author: Charles Wright
Formats: Paperback (246 pages), eBook
Release date: February 2016
Mississippi born singer/songwriter Charles Wright has been a fixture in the music business for over fifty years. As leader of the Los Angeles based Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band, Wright penned the band’s mega hit song, “Express Yourself,” that is still frequently heard today. His new book is described as part autobiography and part novel, with each of the 59 chapters offering a short vignette drawn from life stories. Beginning with his family’s trials and tribulations as sharecroppers on a cotton plantation where, by the age of eight Wright was forced to pick 100 pounds of cotton a day, the book traces the family’s relocation to California; but unfortunately the “sharecropper mentality” follows. Those who want to learn more about Wright’s music career will be disappointed. But if you want to be inspired by Wright’s struggles to succeed in the face of adversity, he offers a powerful, first person narrative focusing primarily on how “the machinations of capitalism and personal vendettas unified to entrap the working class, and their families, into an endless cycle of debt and destitution.”
Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss
December 1st, 2016
Title: African American Music: An Introduction (2nd edition)
Editors: Mellonee V. Burnim, Portia K. Maultsby
Formats: Paperback (466 p.), Hardcover, eBook
Publication date: 2015
The second edition of African American Music: An Introduction, edited by Mellonee V. Burnim* (Professor of Ethnomusicology in the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology, Indiana University) and Portia K. Maultsby* (Laura Boulton Professor Emerita of Ethnomusicology in the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology, Indiana University) was recently published by Routledge. The collection of seventeen essays presents a survey of major African American musical genres, both sacred and secular, from slavery to the present, and is divided into four sections: Antebellum Formations and Manifestations (1600s-); Post Bellum: Music in Transition (late 1800s-); Music in Migration: Urban Voices (1900s-); Post Civil Rights and Beyond (1960s-).
To better serve introductory courses in African American Music or African American History, the text of this edition has been substantially revised and updated. Included are new essays on African and African American musical continuities, African-derived instrument construction and performance practice, techno, and vocal quartet traditions. Contributions are by leading scholars in the field who bring together various analyses of African American music based on ethnographic fieldwork, which privileges the voices of the music-makers themselves, woven into a richly textured mosaic of history and culture. At the same time, the book incorporates musical treatments that bring clarity to the structural, melodic, and rhythmic characteristics that both distinguish and unify African American music. Musical transcriptions, photographs, illustrations, a discography and videography, and a new accompanying audio CD bring the music to life.
Burnim and Maultsby are currently at work on Volume 2, of the second edition, Issues in African American Music, which is slated for publication in 2016.
* Dr. Mellonee V. Burnim is the current director of the Archives of African American Music and Culture, while Dr. Portia K. Maultsby is the Archives’ former director and founder.
Reviewed by Jude Orakwe
June 2nd, 2015
Following are additional albums released during March 2015—some will be reviewed in future issues of Black Grooves.
Blues, Folk, Country
Blind Boy Fuller: Rough Guide To Blind Boy Fuller (World Music Network)
Buster Brown: I’m Going But I’ll Be Back 1959-1962 (Jasmine)
Corey Harris: Live from Turtle Island (Blues Boulevard)
Darius Rucker: Southern Style (Capitol Nashville)
Earl King & Roomfull of Blues: New Orleans Party Classic (Rockbeat)
J.B. Hutto: Bluesmaster – The Lost Tapes (JSP)
Jackie Payne: I Saw The Blues (Blue Dot)
Leo ‘Bud’ Welch: I Don’t Prefer No Blues (Big Legal Mess/Fat Possum)
Muddy Waters: Chess Singles Collection (Not Now)
Otis Taylor: Hey Joe Opus Red Meat (In-Akustik)
Slim Harpo: I’m A King Bee 1957-1961 (Jasmine)
T-Bone Walker: Get These Blues Off Me – As & Bs 1950-1955 (Jasmine)
Various: We’re Sisters Under the Skin-Female Blues & Boogie Woogie 1944-49 (Document)
Various: I’m Pretty Good at It-Country Blues Guitar (Document)
Various: Rough Guide To Unsung Heroes Of Country Blues (World Music Network)
Funk, Rock, Pop, Electronic
Screamin Jay Hawkins & The Fuzztones : Live 1985 (Cleopatra)
Benjamin Clementine: At Least For Now (Behind Records/Barclay)
Death Grips: The Powers That B (CMG/Harvest/Third World)
O.T. Genasis: CoCo: The Global Remixes (Atlantic)
The Coasters: Magical Favorites (Stardust Records)
Twin Shadow: Eclipse (Warner)
Various: D.C. Go-Go – Sonic Funk from the Chocolate City (Perpetual)
Gospel, Gospel Rap, CCM
21:03: Outsiders (PMG)
Chris Cobbins: August Season (Save the City)
Damien Sneed: Broken To Minister (LeChateau Earl)
Derrick McDuffey: Release The Sound (DMKS Music)
Eshon Burgundy: The Fear of God (Humble Beast)
Fairfield Four: Still Rockin’ My Soul (Fairfield Four Records)
J. Shep: Potential 2 Purpose (Dream Gospel)
Jor’Dan Armstrong: 52 Weeks of Summer (Good Guys Music)
Json: No Filter (Lamp Mode)
Kenny Lewis & One Voice: Way of Escape (eOne)
Kirk Whalum: “Gospel According to Jazz Chapter IV” (Rendezvous)
Marvin Sapp: You Shall Live (RCA Inspiration)
Mccrary Sisters: Let’s Go (MCC)
Mike Real: Mind of Hollis (Clear Sight Music)
Sean C Johnson: Circa 1993 (Fresh Fruits Ent.)
Sister Rosetta Tharpe: Eight Classic Albums (Real Time)
Theory Hazit: The Fall Of Light (Soulspazm Inc.)
First Cathedral Mass Choir: Gospel Music Extravaganza, Vol. 1 (World Class Gospel)
Various: Stellar Awards 30th Anniversary Collection (Habakkuk Music)
Courtney Pine: Song (The Ballad Book) (Destin-E)
Albert Tootie Heath: Philadelphia Beat (Sunnyside)
Billie Holiday: The Centennial Collection (Legacy)
Candido: Afro Cuban Jazz Sound of Candido (Not Now)
Fats Waller: The Amazing Fats Waller – Then You’ll Remember Me (Solo Art)
Jack DeJohnette: Made in Chicago (ECM)
James Lloyd: Here We Go (Shanachie)
John Coltrane Quintet: So Many Things: European Tour 1961 (Acrobat)
Kevin Eubanks & Stanley Jordan: Duets (Mack Ave.)
Les McCann: Invitation To Openness (expanded ed.) (Omnivore)
Marc Cary: Rhodes Ahead Vol. 2 (Motema Music)
Marcus Miller: Afrodeezia (Blue Note)
Omar Sosa: ilé (Ota)
Ornette Coleman: Beauty Is A Rare Thing (Atlantic)
Rebecca Ferguson: Lady Sings the Blues (Capitol)
Steve Cromity: All My Tomorrows (Cromcake Records)
Steve Turre: Spirit Man (Smoke Sessions)
Uptown Jazz Quartet: Vocal Madness (HouseKat)
Various: Spiritual Jazz Vol. 6 (Jazzman)
Big Popp G: I Believe (Pyramid City)
Bigg Robb: Showtime (Music Access Inc.)
Case: Heaven’s Door (eOne Music)
Fats Domino: Blues Biography (InGrooves)
George Benson: Ultimate Collection (Rhino)
Hank Ballard: Let’s Go Again! – Singles Collection 1960-1962 (Jasmine)
Jagged Edge: Greatest Hits (Cleopatra)
James Brown: I’m Real (expanded ed.) (Funky Town Grooves)
Jeff Bradshaw: Home: One Special Night At The Kimmel Center (Shanachie)
Jodeci: The Past, The Present, The Future (Epic)
Johnny Adams: I Won’t Cry: Complete Ric & Ron Singles 1959-1964 (Ace)
Jonathan Butler: Surrender
Kenya: My Own Skin (Expansion)
King Curtis: Soul Twist: The Best of the Early Sixties (Airline)
Lil Jimmie: She Was Twerking (Music Access Inc)
Main Ingrediant: L.T.D./Black Seeds (Real Gone)
My Midnight Heart: Break EP ; Drown EP (digital)
Notations: Still Here, 1967 – 1973 (Numero)
PJ: Walking Around Pools EP (digital)
Rayven Justice: I Have A Dream (Empire Dist.)
Roy Brown: Payday Jump: The 1949-51 Sessions (Ace)
Sons of Serendip: Sons of Serendip (NIA)
Stephanie Pickett: Greatest Hits (Music Access Inc)
Tyrone Davis: Lets Be Closer Together (expanded edition) (Funky Town Grooves)
Various: Los Angeles Soul: Kent-Modern’s Black Music Legacy (Kent)
Various: Ultra-High Frequencies: The Chicago Party (Numero)
Various: Blaxploitation—6 Classic Funk Soundtracks (UMC)
Various: Empire – Original Soundtrack from Season 1 (Columbia)
Various: All in mind – The Wand Records Story (One Day)
Various: Loose the Funk: Rarities From the Jewel/Paula Vaults (Airline)
Various: Fire/Fury Records Story – Doo Wop Collection (Airline)
Various: The One-derful! Collection: The M-Pac! Label (Secret Stash)
Will Downing: Chocolate Drops (WDP)
Rap, Hip Hop
Big Shug: Triple Ogzus (Brick)
Heems: Eat Pray Thug (Megaforce)
Lil C: H-Town Chronic, Vol. 12 (Oarfin)
Azealia Banks: Broke With Expensive Taste (Prospect Park)
Berner: 20 Lights (Bern One Ent.)
Cannibal Ox: Blade of the Ronin (Ihiphop Dist.)
Chief Keef : Feed the Streets (Black Market)
Da Mafia 6ix: Watch What U Wish . . . (101 Dist.)
Da ‘Unda ‘Dogg: In With The Old Out With The New (Pushin Dope Productions)
Diamond District: March On Washington Redux (Mello Music)
DJ Clent: Last Bus to Lake Park (Duck N Cover)
Freddie Gibbs: Pronto EP (ESGN)
Ghostpoet: Shedding Skin (Play It Again Sam)
G-Unit: The Beast Is G-Unit EP (G-Unit)
J-Diggs & Jacka: Mobb Nation (Thizz Nation/Romp’t Out)
J-Live: His Own Self (Mortier Music)
Juicy J: Coast 2 Coast 250 (Ontrack Ent.)
Kendrick Lamar: To Pimp a Butterfly (Interscope)
Ludacris: Ludaversal (Def Jam)
Malik B And Mr. Green: Unpredictable (Enemy Soil)
Mark Battles & Dizzy Wright: Lost in Reality (Empire Dist.)
Mooch Da Player: The Ghetto Storyboard (Fo’ Way Entertainment)
Nengo Flow: Los Reyes Del Rap (Real G 4 Life)
Pooca Leroy: Mobb Sauce (Music Access Inc)
Priceless Da Roc: Forever California (Empire Dist.)
Project Pat: Mista Don’t Play 2: Everythangs Money (eOne Music)
Rapper Big Pooh: Words Paint Pictures (Mello Music Group)
Rorschack & T.O.N.E-z: Handcuffs (MalLabel)
Skizzy Mars: Red Balloom Project (Artist Partner Group)
Substantial & The Other Guys: The Past EP (HiPNOTT)
Swave Sevah: Son of a One Armed Man (Creative Juices)
The Regiment & Sinitus Tempo: S.O.U.L. (Sound of Us Living) (HiPNOTT)
Various: Mello Music Group Persona (Mello Music)
Various: Lowrider Freedom 2015 (Thump)
Wale: The Album About Nothing (Atlantic Urban)
Webbie: Money Good (Empire Dist.)
Reggae, Dancehall, Calypso
Black Symbol: Black Symbol (Reggae Archive Records)
Blues Busters: The Wonder and Glory of the Blues Busters (Sunrise)
Capital Letters: Wolverhampton (Sugar Shack Records)
Carlene Davis: Dripping Blood (V.P.)
Jimmy Riley: Live It to Know It (Pressure Sounds)
Micah Shemiaiah: Original Dread (Descendant Music)
Rocky Duwani: Branches of the Same Tree (Cumbancha)
Toian: Retrospect EP (Class One Music)
Various: Ska From the Vaults of Wirl Records (Kingston Sounds)
Various: It’s Jamaica Jump Blues Time: Jamaican Sound System (Fantastic Voyage)
Baba Commandant & the Mandingo Band: Juguya (Sublime Frequencies)
Angelique Kidjo: Sings (429 Records)
Ata Kak: Obaa Sima (Awesome Tapes from Africa)
BKO Quintet: Bamako Today – BKO On Air (Buda Musique)
Carlou D: A New Day (World Village)
Rebel Tumbao:Rebel Tumbao (Sacred Rhythm Music)
Songhoy Blues: Music in Exile (Transgressive)
Studio One Jump Up:Birth of a Sound: Jump-Up Jamaican R&B, Jazz & Early Ska (Soul Jazz)
Various: Next Stop Soweto 4: Zulu Rock, Afro-disco & Mbaqanga 1975-1985 (Strut)
Various: Highlife on the Move (Soundway)
Xavier Rudd & The United Nations: Nanna (Nettwerk)
April 1st, 2015
Title: 20 Feet From Stardom
Director: Morgan Neville
Studio: Anchor Bay
Formats: DVD, Blu-Ray, Streaming (91 min.)
Release date: January 14, 2014
The Academy Award nominated documentary 20 Feet From Stardom, about legendary female backup singers, received a very limited theatrical release and regrettably was never screened in our city. Thankfully it’s now available on DVD, and well worth the purchase. Here’s a brief summary in case you missed the flurry of reviews when the film was released last summer.
Though some may be drawn to this documentary by the participation of rock stars such as Mick Jagger, Sting, Bruce Springsteen and David Bowie, the story is centered around the singers they hired to bring a little something extra to the songs—a little soulful seasoning—or more to the point, a bit of blackness (the latter more openly acknowledged by Jagger). Highlighting the stories behind a dozen or so women from different generations, the film’s primary stars are, in order of seniority: Darlene Love (best known for her early recordings with producer Phil Spector), Merry Clayton (one of Ray Charles’s Raelettes who later became famous for her vocals on “Gimme Shelter”), Lisa Fischer (a Grammy Award winning soloist who has toured with the Rolling Stones since 1989), and heir apparent Judith Hill (selected as Michael Jackson’s duet partner for the fateful “This Is It” tour). Not surprisingly, all of the women got their start singing in church and, though subtle, there’s an underlying thread about the influence of gospel music in the development of R&B vocal styles.
While the film’s official synopsis focuses on the singers’ “triumphs and heartbreaks,” the biggest takeaway is the sheer vocal prowess and artistry of these women and their innate ability to harmonize, improvise, melisma-tize (and in some cases, dramatize), all without benefit of that modern-day scourge known as “tuning.” Clayton and Love are endlessly entertaining (especially in their efforts to upstage each other in the bonus feature), and Hill gets quite a bit of screen time towards the end as she attempts to embark on a solo career. Lisa Fischer, however, was far and above my personal favorite, showcasing a vocal and stylistic range and artistry few singers can match (her whistle register rivals Minnie Ripperton’s). Observing her transformation from a now middle-aged, unassuming and rather cerebral woman into a rock goddess onstage was also rather fascinating.
20 Feet From Stardom will appeal to fans of R&B and rock music, anyone in the recording industry, and of course singers—especially those who specialize (or are hoping for a career) in popular music. These women cut their teeth in the studio trenches, and their collective wisdom and vocal chops are a thing of wonder. Now, after several decades of adding “depth” to rock, pop, country and R&B songs, they’re finally getting their due.
Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss
February 3rd, 2014
Title: Classic Blues Artwork from the 1920’s, vol. 11
Format: Calendar + CD
Publisher: Blues Images
Release date: October 15, 2013
John Tefteller’s annual Classic Blues calendar for 2014 features more amazing artwork from the 1920s, some of which rivals R. Crumb in originality. Each month of the calendar is also illustrated with rare photographs of blues musicians, birth and death dates, brief biographies, and sample song lyrics.
The accompanying CD includes the 12 songs that are featured in the January to December artwork, plus 12 bonus tracks. Personal favorites include Charlie Patton’s “Mean Black Cat Blues,” Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “Long Lonesome Blues,” and ‘Papa’ Charlie Jackson’s “Let’s Get Along.” All of the selections on the CD were transferred from the original 78 rpm records and remastered by Richard Nevine. Between the calendar and the CD, you have two products that will satisfy any blues fan on your holiday shopping list.
The complete contents of the CD includes: Bull Doze Blues • Henry Thomas; Good Looking Girl Blues • Furry Lewis; Mean Black Cat • Charley Patton; Crackin’ Them Things • Mississippi Sheiks; Miss Emma Liza • Blind Blake; Rattlesnake Groan • Luella Miller; Your Enemies Cannot Harm You (But Watch Your Close Friend) • Reverend E. W. Clayborn; Long, Lonesome Blues • Blind Lemon Jefferson; She’s A Long, Tall, Disconnected Mama • Washboard Walter; Blue Spirit Blues • Bessie Smith; Let’s Get Along • Papa Charlie Jackson; Jesus Is My Air-O-Plane • Mother McCollum; He’s The Joy Of My Salvation • Blind Gussie Nesbitt; God Is Worried At Your Wicked Ways • Blind Gussie Nesbitt; Bedside Blues • Jim Thompkins; Ghost Woman Blues • George Carter; Weeping Willow • George Carter; Fourteenth Street Blues • Blind Percy; Coal River Blues • Blind Percy; Overall Cheater Blues • Washboard Walter; When You Dream Of Muddy Water • Tenderfoot Edwards; Up On The Hill Blues • Tenderfoot Edwards; Dissatisfied Blues • Blind Blake; Magnolia Blues • Charley Patton.
Classic Blues Artwork from the 1920’s, vol. 11 is available at select music and book stores, from Blues Images, or Amazon.
Editor’s note: The producer of this annual calendar, John Tefteller, is also a renowned record collector who recently won an Ebay auction for a super rare blues 78 rpm record by the legendary Tommy Johnson. His winning bid of $37,100.00 is the highest price ever paid for a single 78 rpm blues record. Read the full story here.
Title: Blues Halls and Juke Joints
Publisher: Blues Centric
Release date: 2014
The Blues Halls and Juke Joints 2014 calendar is part travel guide, part history. Featuring a photograph for each month of famous blues venues across the country, from BB’s Jazz Blues and Soups in Saint Louis to Rosa’s Lounge in Chicago, every image showcases the rich history of the creation and evolution of blues music, and how it continues to thrive to the present day. Also included are over 150 blues-related events: births, deaths, festivals, album releases and more. This calendar is a must-have for the blues lover wanting to be kept in the know about everything related to the blues across the country, and will inspire you to visit to many of these unique juke joints, from the Mississippi Delta and beyond.
The first 250 calendars are individually hand-numbered, so for those collectors in mind, ordering sooner is better than later!
Reviewed by Ian Hallagan
December 2nd, 2013
Title: Jimi Hendrix: Hear My Train a Comin’
Director: Bob Smeaton
Formats: DVD, Blu-Ray, streaming
Release date: November 5, 2013
The new installment of PBS’s American Masters series—Jimi Hendrix: Hear My Train a Comin’—is a fascinating exploration of the life and music of Jimi Hendrix. Director Bob Smeaton presents a well-rounded look at Hendrix, tracing important personal and musical moments in the artist’s life. Smeaton avoids many of the usual tropes of documentary work about the lives of iconic rock stars, focusing not upon Hendrix’s drug use or the greatness of his recorded output, but instead highlighting how significant life events affected Hendrix’s musical output. He presents a chronological narrative of Hendrix’s life, devoting an appropriate amount of time to his formative years, early career, and rapid rise to stardom. A particularly strong aspect of the documentary is its focus on Hendrix’s creative process, emphasizing his obsession with producing high-quality work, culminating in the construction of his Electric Lady Studios in New York City.
Hear My Train a Comin’ presents a well-rounded narrative through its extensive use of interviews with the people who knew Hendrix best. On camera interviewees include members of the Hendrix family, close friends, musical collaborators, and fellow rock stars from the 1960s, each offering his or her own unique perspective on the man and his relationship to his music (some excerpted from previous films). While the filmmakers do choose to include the perspectives of rock journalists and critics, they avoid presenting the critic’s voice as the definitive statement on Hendrix’s life and work, focusing instead on the perspectives of those who knew him throughout his life. The film also provides a strong analysis of Hendrix’s music by featuring interviews with in-studio collaborators, including track-by-track break downs of some of Hendrix’s master tapes, as well as a fascinating look at Hendrix’s studio work through the isolation of particular instrumental and vocal tracks. Additionally, it incorporates a variety of footage from live performances, including previously unreleased footage from Hendrix’s performance at the 1968 Miami Pop Festival.
Hear My Train a Comin’ lives up to the high standards established by other entries in the American Masters series. By providing a concise overview of the guitarist’s life and music, this documentary would serve as an excellent introduction to Hendrix for those unfamiliar with his career, while it’s also chock full of interviews, performance footage, and rare insight about Hendrix’s creative process that will delight long-time fans alike. While the film is available as a free stream on the PBS website, the DVD release contains hours of unreleased performances, including footage from the Miami and New York Pop Festivals. Hear My Train a Comin’ is an excellent addition to the body of biographical work about Hendrix’s life.
Reviewed by Matthew Alley
December 2nd, 2013
Title: Soul Unsung: Reflections on the Band in Black Popular Music
Author: Kevin Le Gendre
Format: Book (Hardcover, 323 pages)
Publication date: October 31, 2012
Though published last year, Soul Unsung seems to have gone largely unnoticed in the U.S., and in fact was only brought to my attention a few months ago. Let me say up front that this has been a major oversight, for Kevin Le Gendre’s book is superbly written, extremely insightful, and will be of interest to scholars, musicians, and anyone else seeking a deeper understanding of developments in the soul canon from the 1960s to present, especially the complex interplay between singers and musicians. Issued as part of Equinox’s Popular Music History series edited by Alyn Shipton, Soul Unsung certainly succeeds in fulfilling the series mission to “engage in archeologies of popular music.”
An award winning British jazz writer, critic and BBC commentator with roots in Trinidad, Le Gendre obviously knows a thing or two about black popular music. Though not much information about his background is readily available, his intimate knowledge of the music indicates more than a scholarly interest, so I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that he’s spent considerable time in a horn section or behind a drum kit.
Le Gendre’s central premise in Soul Unsung is that musicians—bassists, drummers, guitarists, keyboardists and horn players—“have been an integral part of the genre right from soul’s pre-history as rhythm and blues . . .to the extent that without their ingenuity, many of the canon’s great songs would simply not be the gems they are.” Yet these same musicians are too frequently overlooked, their contributions not considered on equal par with the lead singer. Le Gendre presents a compelling argument that it’s high time we “explored the form and content of a bass line, drum beat or figure, and to shed light on the technical excellence, the lateral thinking and enormous depth of imagination their respective creators have consistently brought to the table.” Choosing not to focus on legendary house bands such as the Funk Brothers or the Bar-Kays, he instead tells the stories behind the uses of particular instruments in the band, identifying “principle changes in thinking over time” and pointing out “the interesting, if not subversive, approaches to instruments such as the bass, guitar, or keyboards.”
Le Gendre begins by tracing three early soul continuums—soul-jazz, soul-funk, and soul-rock—then leads us through later developments including the fusion of soul with electronic music in the form of techno, house, and hip hop. Figuring prominently in the narrative is saxophonist King Curtis and his 1967 hit “Memphis Soul Stew,” considered by Le Gendre as “one of the great instrumentals in the whole history of black pop.” The song becomes a unifying leitmotif, its spoken intro and “metaphor of tastiness” influencing chapter titles that focus on specific instruments/instrumentalists: A Half Teacup of Bass (chapter 8), A Pound of Fatback Drums (9), Four Tablespoons of Boiling Memphis Guitar (10), Just a Little Pinch of Organ (11), and A Half Pint of Horn (12). The use of strings receives a chapter as well, including examinations of Norman Whitfield’s Motown orchestrations, Charles Stepney’s arrangements for Minnie Riperton and Rotary Connection, and the “savage and soothing” strings of the Love Unlimited Orchestra.
It’s impossible to adequately cover the complexity of this book in a short review. Each paragraph stimulates further thought and discovery, and you’ll want to have your computer, iPod, or record collection handy so you can reference the numerous musical examples cited. By the end of the book you’ll most certainly have gained a greater appreciation for soul music as “something complex, disparate and multifarious.”
Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss
December 2nd, 2013
Title: Love, Peace and Soul: Behind the Scenes of America’s Favorite Dance Show
Author: Ericka Blount Danois
Publisher: Backbeat Books
Format: Paperback (243 pages), Kindle Ed.
Release date: August 1, 2013
If you want to journey back to “the land of bell-bottoms, afros, and soul power” then jump on board the Soul Train for the hippest trip in America, with Ericka Blount Danois as your guide. For her book Love, Peace and Soul, Danois interviewed over 100 singers, dancers and music executives affiliated with Soul Train. The result is a penetrating glimpse inside the empire of Don Cornelius, “one of the coolest cats on television” in the 1970s and the man responsible for creating a cultural phenomenon that is revered to this day.
Danois traces Cornelius’s formative years at Chicago radio station WVON and draws insightful parallels between his radio experience and his concept for creating a black version of American Bandstand, such as transferring the rhyming style of black deejays to television and continuing their tradition of “edutainment” by inviting political figures such as Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson on the show. But more crucial to the success of Soul Train was its focus on dance. Cornelius scouted clubs to find the best dancers in the nation—Damito Jo Freeman, Adolfo “Shabba Doo” Quinones, Don “Campbellock” Campbell, Tyrone “The Bone” Proctor, Patricia “Madame Butterfly” Davis, Rosie Perez, and Leo “Fluky Luke” Williams, among others—whose choreography would influence artists ranging from Madonna to Michael Jackson. As a result, not only was the show wildly successful, but its cultural impact was enormous.
For over thirty years, Soul Train exposed all of American, black and white, to black artists and music (soul, funk, R&B and later hip hop), black fashion, Afrocentric messaging, and the latest dance moves straight from New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles. As one of the first unapologetically black shows, it paved the way for BET, gave worldwide exposure to black artists, and trained hundreds of African Americans who worked behind the scenes in television production and marketing.
Regrettably, Cornelius’s tragic death occurred just as Danois was beginning her research, but Love, Peace and Soul is a fine tribute to his genius and uncompromising ideals. Fans will also appreciate the appendix with a complete list of episodes— beginning with the first show that aired in Chicago on October 2, 1971, through the final syndicated show on September 20, 2008.
This book is the perfect gift for any baby boomer looking for a little Love! Peace! and Sooooooouuuul for the holidays.
Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss
December 2nd, 2013
Title: The Librarian and the Banjo
Artists: feat. Dena Epstein, Carolina Chocolate Drops, Bill Ferris, Bela Fleck, Guthrie Ramsey, et. al.
Producer/Director: Jim Carrier
Label: Jim Carrier Films
Format: DVD (56 min. plus 40 min. of bonus material)
Release date: 2013
Documenting librarian Dena Epstein’s groundbreaking archival research on the African origins of the banjo, this film frames the instrument’s diasporic journey as a quintessentially American story. Additionally, the film recounts the personal and social dimensions of Epstein’s unusual identity as a Caucasian wife and mother in the 1950s and ’60s doing controversial research on Black music-making. A fascinating subtheme tracks how the digital era has utterly transformed the pace, mode, and style of humanities research. These interweaving stories are told through dramatic reenactments of epochal moments from Epstein’s decades-long endeavor; voiceovers of actors reading from primary sources; close-up shots of primary sources; interviews with contemporary scholars, banjo performers, librarians, curators, and Epstein herself; and banjo performance footage. The film rightfully presents Epstein’s resulting book, the 1977 Sinful Tunes and Spirituals: Black Folk Music to the Civil War, as a watershed in African American music historiography that was responsible for shattering damaging and inaccurate myths.
The Librarian and the Banjo successfully summarizes the woefully incorrect vision of the banjo dominant in the American popular imagination prior to Epstein’s work, then shows how her research filtered beyond the scholarly community into the consciousness and praxis of banjo performers—a relative rarity in humanities scholarship. Multiple interviewees attest to how Epstein’s 1977 book tangibly impacted the beliefs and practices of North American banjo players and historians by “de-whitening” prevalent banjo mythology. Further emphasizing the film’s focus on both scholarship and performance, the documentary includes plentiful banjo performance footage, particularly of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, a group of young African Americans from North Carolina who have attracted media attention (along with a Grammy award) for their recapitulations of old-time string band material.
The film accomplishes a great deal in its runtime of just under an hour, and its weaknesses are few. The most serious, from a scholarly viewpoint, is the absence of a broader contextualization of Epstein’s work within African American studies: there is no real mention of the debate over African retentions in Black American culture that had raged among anthropologists for decades before Epstein’s work was published. This omission has the unfortunate effect of implying that Epstein’s research was the first to assert and demonstrate that African Americans forged a unique culture built on African roots, when in reality Melville Herskovits vigorously argued for this perspective several decades earlier in his seminal book The Myth of the Negro Past (1941). The film’s language and terminology is pitched at the average viewer, and no particular knowledge of music or the disciplines of musicology and ethnomusicology is necessary to enjoy a compelling and intelligently-told story of how one scholar managed, through decades of persistence and some serendipity, to upend popular mythology surrounding an iconic American instrument.
Reviewed by Carrie Allen Tipton
July 1st, 2013
Title: No One Can Hear You Read
Artist: Erroll Garner
Producer/Director: Atticus Brady
Label: First Run Features
Format: DVD (B&W, Color, NTSC, Widescreen, 52 minutes)
Release date: April 9, 2013
Errol Garner: No One Can Hear You Read gives deeper insight into the famed “Misty” performer/composer, surveying his beginnings in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and the highlights of his 40-year career as a jazz pianist. Overall, the documentary focuses largely on his unique style of playing, his stage antics and joyful personality—there are endearing stories of his lengthy, orchestral introductions on stage and his rise to success—but only delves briefly into his personal life.
The documentary interweaves archival footage and recordings with the stories of family members—his sister Ruth Garner Moore provides insight into his youth—as well as musicians and friends including Woody Allen, Ahmad Jamal, Dick Hyman, George Avakian, and Ernest McCarty just to name a few.
One of the highlights is the moment his sister provides the back-story for his most famous composition, “Misty.” She explains that during an event that Garner thought would surely end his life, the melody for “Misty” came to him. After surviving, he immediately went to the studio to record the song that would go on to become a classic not just with avid jazz fans, but also touching those with only brief encounters with the genre.
The title “No One Can Hear You Read” is an Erroll Garner quote in response to those who questioned his lack of formal musical training. One could assume—and a few interviewees in this documentary do—that his detachment from written music was one of the driving forces behind his character as a pianist, the thrill of his performances, and his genius as a jazz composer.
Reviewed by Christina Harrison
July 1st, 2013
Title: Jackson Five: The Completed Animated Series BD/Combo [Blu-ray]
Artist: Jackson 5
Formats: 2 disc set, DVD or Blu-Ray (506 min.)
Label: Classic Media
Release date: January 15, 2013
To offer some background, I enjoy collecting Jackson 5 memorabilia, so when it was announced that the complete animated series would be released on DVD, I knew my days of watching episodes of this cartoon on Youtube were over. When it was released in stores I rushed over to Target to purchase a copy, assuming there would be one available for me. You would think a DVD collection like this would be the last item to sell out in a Target on the north side of Indianapolis, but it had! I was in possession of the last copy available that evening, and a portion of my childhood was restored that night. Anyone who was a Jackson Family fan growing up in the ‘90s may have come across reruns of this cartoon on VH-1. Catching these episodes (if you woke up early enough) on a weekend morning was a treat because they featured five black boys going on adventures and randomly performing songs with lyrics that are easier to remember than to forget.
Jackson 5ive: The Complete Animated Series is the perfect time capsule for those of us not alive when the cartoon series original aired in the early 1970s. Whereas conversations today are about global warming and drones in the Middle East, Jackson 5ive documents a time when people debated the preservation of our forests and young men drafted into the military (e.g., Pinestock U.S.A. and Drafted). The first five (no pun intended) episodes did a fine job of including all of the brothers in the storylines equally; however, across all 23 episodes more favor Michael as the main character and place his brothers in supporting roles, especially in fantasy themed episodes inspired by Cinderella (Cinderjackson), Alice in Wonderland (Michael in Wonderland) and The Wizard of Oz (The Wizard of Soul). Unfortunately, the episodes become redundant over time with cheesy villains who are driven by greed (ironic considering this show was created to further capitalize on the Jackson family), as well as lazy plots that benefitted largely from the hipness of the brothers in strong contrast to the more conservative nature of the adults portrayed in the cartoons.
Following is a trailer for the DVD:
To their credit, directors Arthur Rankin, Jr. and Jules Bass, along with Motown, did their best to appeal to the masses by giving fans a cartoon show about one of the biggest bands post-Beatlemania. The animation is not top notch and it doesn’t take long to discover this is a problem with the series; it should also be noted that the Jackson 5 did not provide the voices of their animated counterparts. Whether or not you enjoy the cartoons, stay for the musical interludes featuring 46 songs from the albums Diana Ross Presents the Jackson Five, ABC, Third Album, and Michael’s solo albums Got to Be There and Ben. If you have a parent or relative who grew up with the cartoon series, this DVD is the perfect piece of nostalgia that can be shared with them, because the Jackson 5 and their music are timeless. For many of us, these were the first songs we learned to sing by heart.
Reviewed by Landon Jones
May 1st, 2013
Title: What Are You Doing Here?: A Black Woman’s Life and Liberation in Heavy Metal
Author: Laina Dawes
Publisher: Bazillion Points
Formats: Paperback (224 p.), eBook
Release date: December 10, 2012
In What Are You Doing Here?: A Black Woman’s Life and Liberation in Heavy Metal, Laina Dawes gives a personal account and survey of what it’s like to participate as a Black woman in predominately white rock’n’roll scenes: metal, hardcore, and punk. Despite living in what she calls the postracial society of Barack Obama, with more than hint of irony, Dawes describes the racial barriers and segregationist practices that still exist today within rock, music that derives from Black R&B and celebrates nonconformity, but which caters almost exclusively to white male audiences.
Dawes picks up where James Spooner’s film Afro-Punk: The Rock ‘n’ Roll Nigger Experience and Kandia Crazy Horse’s book Rip it Up: the Black Experience in Rock ‘n’ Roll leave off, focusing specifically on Black female identities within metal, a subculture that celebrates male machismo and white pride and yet has many musical and thematic qualities that appeal to her as a Black woman. Dawes explains the music’s emotional resonance with her once-teenage self: “The lure in listening to metal is to feel free, to escape from reality, even just for the length of a four-minute song.” She also relates her feelings of isolation at metal concerts and her unfortunate treatment by other metal fans that question her credibility and resent her tastes, sometimes violently, because of her sex and skin color. And in relating her struggle to find her place within underground rock as a member of a truly underground population, Dawes discovers others Black females who know all too well the “only one syndrome”—a shared experience involving a shared interest that provides a sense of community where none existed before.
Rock ‘n’ roll is a music defined by rebellion, if nothing else. Quoting Lester Bangs, Dawes describes punk as “a bunch of people finally freed by the collapse of all values to reinvent themselves, to make art statements of their whole lives.” This book, honoring that tradition, is about the struggle of women and African Americans and especially African American women who push back against rock’s restricted access, to play and listen to music and to dress and define themselves as they damn well please.
Reviewed by Betsy Shepherd
Editor’s note: Both James Spooner and Kandia Crazy Horse participated in the AAAMC’s 2009 conference, Reclaiming the Right to Rock: Black Experiences in Rock Music. In addition, the AAAMC holds the James Spooner Collection, which includes footage and other materials related to his films Afro-Punk and White Lies, Black Sheep.
March 1st, 2013
Title: When African Americans Came to Paris
Producer: Joanne Burke
Label: Blue Lion Films Inc.
Release date: 2012
From the innovative movements of Josephine Baker, to the illustrious writings of James Baldwin, the city of Paris has always been a field of venture for African Americans of the Diaspora to conquer. Known for many award-winning documentaries such as Tom Spain’s Any Place But Here, and her series on groundbreaking women from the countries of Zimbabwe, Thailand, and Guatemala called New Directions, film and video documentarian Joanne Burke decided to highlight the history of African Americans in Paris. Through six 4-7 minute shorts packed with original visual and audio footage and interviews with such contributors as Richard Powell, Tyler Stovall, and Barbara Chase-Riboud, she sheds light on how France, specifically the City of Paris, became a pillar to the artistic and scholastic endeavors of African Americans who traveled there. A 66-page K-12 Teacher’s Guide to When African Americans Came to Paris can be ordered separately, and a post-secondary guide is in the works.
Following is the official trailer:
Commencing her journey through time with “W.E.B. Du Bois and the 1900 Paris Exposition,” Burke draws on vivid imagery and original footage detailing the exposition, where 50 million came to marvel at the achievements of yesteryear and envision the future. One of the individuals chosen to present an exhibition was Dr. William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, then a research sociologist from Atlanta University. His travels and studies done on the continent of Europe, specifically in Paris, made him a logical choice to produce a retrospective centered on African American life. Du Bois and his research team created “The Exhibit of the American Negro,” and his pioneering use of photography resonated greatly with fair goers. Through hundreds of photos, he revealed stories and aspects of African American life few were exposed to: urbanized, educated African Americans in the South. One of the interlocutors, Terri Francis of Yale University, believed that the idea of the exhibition was to highlight progress within the African American community, and the development of modernity within African American society after the abolition of slavery. The exhibition won 15 awards (as well as a Gold Medal) due to Du Bois’ work, but not a word was printed in the mainstream American press about its content.
In the next video in her series, “Henry Ossawa Tanner: An Artist in Exile,” Burke recounts the story of one of the first African Americans to achieve international acclaim as an artist, and accompanies her narrative with beautiful displays of Tanner’s works. Burke and other interlocutors discuss in depth how obstacles troubled his advancement in America, namely because of his race. Raised in Philadelphia, Tanner studied at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the first African American to do so. Because of the racism at the time, Tanner faced a hard time when attempting to sell and exhibit his works, which led him to go to Paris. At age 32 he enrolled at the Académie Julian, where he found more freedom as an artist and a person of color. His paintings, “Daniel in the Lion’s Den” and “The Resurrection of Lazarus” made him an international commodity, which prompted many other African American artists such as Hale Woodruff and Augusta Savage to pilgrimage to Paris in the 1920s in order to meet Tanner. Tanner was one of the first to show that talent could definitely be acknowledged as well as transcend prejudiced ideologies.
The third video, “The Harlem Hellfighters,” gives the history of New York’s all black 369th Infantry Regiment, nicknamed “The Harlem Hellfighters” by the Germans because of how fiercely they battled. When the U.S. joined WWI in 1917, many African Americans who were called to duty were optimistic and saw it as a great experience not only to travel overseas away from their small towns and the South, but also to serve and prove themselves worthy and accepted citizens of the U.S. However, they were subjected to treatment not unlike that of the manual labor they faced during slavery times. The U.S. forbade them to fight the Germans in an effort to maintain racial hierarchy within the military. When it came time for France to recruit, they called on 150,000 troupes from West African colonies. Unlike the soldiers from the U.S., these soldiers did the same work as Whites with no discrimination because of their race. In 1918, when the French were in need of more soldiers, the U.S. let them “borrow” the Harlem Hellfighters. The soldiers were amazed at the positive treatment they received, due to France’s colorblind nation policy. They spent 191 days on the front, more than any other American outfit in the War, resulting in many accolades, including France’s “Croix de Guerre” military decoration. Although the Harlem Hellfighters were celebrated in February of 1919 with parade through New York City, race riots broke out a few months later during “The Red Summer,” named for strategic attacks by Whites on Black communities. Black soldiers were targeted by lynching parties and tortured in order to enforce color lines, in an effort by Whites to demonstrate racial superiority and show Blacks that they were not equal regardless of their valiant efforts in the War.
Burke keeps her momentum into the fourth video by discussing “James Reese Europe: Warrior and Musician”. Lt. Europe, the first African American officer to lead troupes into combat and war, was also a leading black orchestra conductor who performed at Carnegie Hall regularly with his 125-member Clef Club Orchestra. While serving as a lieutenant with the Harlem Hellfighters, Europe went on to direct the regimental band as well, travelling over 2,000 miles playing various shows in France. Many onlookers were amazed at the quality of sound that came from these African American musicians. Whilst performing for both European and American military audiences and citizens, Europe came to the conclusion that for African Americans, constructing their own music would be much more influential than imitating their White counterparts. By doing so, African Americans as a whole could develop richly as a society and culture. The fifth video continues this theme. With “Jazz Comes to Paris,” Burke tells how jazz exploded onto the scene in France after WWI, specifically along the Rue Fontaine in Paris where a lively black population dwelled. Interlocutors, such as Brent Hayes Edwards of Columbia University, discussed the French’s fascination with the “other,” in this instance, the African American musician seen as the ‘colonial other’ on the Paris stage. Jazz roots are discussed from two viewpoints: one as originating from “jungle music” produced by savages and Africans; the other as a vision of modernity, with African Americans as the originators of jazz. Racial ties also became less strict and interracial relationships began to surface during this time, which made forms of racial equality seem more within reach. Eugene Bullard, Bricktop, and Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes are shown avid appreciation for their experiences working at France’s thriving nightclubs catering to the jazz sound.
In the final video of the series, “Three Women Artists in Paris,” experiences of three remarkable artists are highlighted during the 1920s-30s: sculptors Augusta Savage and Nancy Elizabeth Prophet, and the painter Lois Mailou Jones. In spite of gaining racial equality, if one was void of financial resources, one would be bound to struggle, as was the case of Nancy Elizabeth Prophet. She detailed her hardships in many of her works, such as “Silence” and “Poverty.” Nonetheless, Prophet was able to finish many works and exhibit them in Paris when virtually no galleries in the U.S. would accept them due to her race. Augusta Savage faced similar issues, when an American art program rescinded her admission upon finding out she was Black. Artist Lois Mailou Jones came to Paris during a sabbatical from Howard University, and remarks that she received her first feelings of absolute freedom while in France. Once these artists returned to the U.S. after gaining fame in France, they found it difficult to construct art on their own terms because of the prevailing racial climate.
What each of the segments in this series does rather well is explore African American experiences that might otherwise be left untouched in both American as well as European histories. Although very short in length, each chapter provides a vital critique of the time and struggles faced by many African Americans while living in America and the solace they found in Paris. This is an integral piece to use in a curriculum catering to History, African American studies, European Studies, and various forms of Art and Music History.
Reviewed by Floyd Daniel Hobson III
February 1st, 2013
Harry Belafonte was not only one of the most popular entertainers of his era, he also had an integral role in the Civil Rights Movements and led many other humanitarian efforts over the course of his career. These are detailed in three products released in 2011-2012.
Title: My Song: A Memoir
Author: Harry Belafonte, with Michael Shnayerson
Formats: Hardcover, Paperback, eBook, Audiobook
Release date: October 2011 (1st ed.)
The subtitle of the 2012 paperback edition aptly sums up Harry Belafonte’s autobiography: a memoir of art, race, and defiance. Over the past few years, Belafonte, who is now 85, has worked tirelessly to cement his considerable legacy—one that goes far beyond his “King of Calypso” moniker. Though this may sound somewhat self-serving, readers will benefit greatly from Belafonte’s first-hand account as told to Michael Shnayerson through a series of in-depth interviews. Of course ample space is given to Belafonte’s early years in the Caribbean and New York, as well as his acting career and musical triumphs. His work as a political activist, however, is the most captivating aspect of the memoir. After a number of humiliating episodes on the entertainment circuit, particularly in Las Vegas, Belafonte dedicated his life to fighting racism, both in the U.S. and abroad. This led to a close friendship with Martin Luther King, Jr., who turned to Belafonte to marshall the forces of the entertainment industry in support of the Civil Rights Movement. Not only did Belafonte bankroll much of King’s work, but he was also a key negotiator with both Robert Kennedy during his term as U.S. Attorney General, and with John F. Kennedy, in efforts to move the civil rights bill forward. Episodes related during this period will certainly enlighten and inspire many readers, as will those related to his later efforts to battle apartheid in South Africa and free Nelson Mandela.
Overall, this is a thoroughly engaging book with a great deal more substance than the typical entertainer biography—but then Belafonte was no typical entertainer. He’s led an extraordinary life that few can equal.
Title: Harry Belafonte: Sing Your Song; The Music, Hope and Vision of a Man and an Era
Director: Susanne Rostock
Publisher: Docurama Films; distributed by New Video Group
Format: DVD (104 min., NTSC, Region 1)
Release date: May 29, 2012
Belafonte worked with his production company, Belafonte Enterprises, and director Susanne Rostock on this biopic companion to his autobiography. Though something of a “Cliff Notes” version of the book, the DVD does capture the key biographical elements, frequently making use of the same first-person interviews with Belafonte that were transcribed in My Song. These interviews often come across as a bit stilted, but there are plenty of other commentators that weigh in and add gravitas. What’s really captivating, however, is the archival footage from Belafonte’s ground- breaking television shows from the late 1950s-1960s and from various concerts speeches as shown in the following trailer:
Many will be seeing this footage for the first time, and it’s definitely worth the price of the DVD just to have access to Belafonte’s early television specials. Educators at all levels should also find the documentary to be an extremely useful and engaging device for teaching various facets of Black history.
Title: Playlist: The Very Best of Harry Belafonte
Publisher: Sony Legacy
Release date: May 29, 2012
Released on the same day as Sing Your Song, this short 14-track compilation offers a brief overview of Belafonte’s recording career, including the calypso “Matilda” and two other folk songs from his groundbreaking album Belafonte (1956), “Jamaica Farewell” from Calypso (1956), “Man Smart (Woman Smarter), “Mama Look a Boo Boo” and (of course) “Banana Boat Song (Day-O)” from Belafonte at Carnegie Hall (1959), the “My Angel” duet with Miriam Makeba from An Evening with Befonte/Makeba, and several additional songs, primarily drawn from the 1950s-1960s. If you’re looking for a single disc overview of Belafonte’s career, this is a start. Let’s hope that Legacy will soon devote a complete box set to Harry Belafonte.
Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss
February 1st, 2013
Title: Classic Blues Artwork from the 1920’s
Format: Calendar + CD
Publisher: Blues Images
Release date: August 2012
John Tefteller’s annual Classic Blues calendar for 2013 features more amazing artwork from the 1920s, some of which rivals R. Crumb in originality. Each month of the calendar is also illustrated with rare photographs of blues musicians, birth and death dates, brief biographies, and sample song lyrics.
The accompanying CD includes the songs that are featured in the January to December artwork, plus 7 bonus tracks. Personal favorites include Blind Willie Johnson’s “Dark Was the Night, Cold Was The Ground,” Blind Blake’s “Police Dog Blues,” and Hi Henry Brown’s “Titanic Blues.” All of the selections on the CD were transferred from the original 78 rpm records and remastered by Richard Nevins. Between the calendar and the CD, you have two products that will satisfy any blues fan on your holiday shopping list.
Classic Blues Artwork from the 1920’s, Vol. 10 is available at select music and book stores, from Blues Images, or Amazon.
Reviewed by Ian Hallagan
December 1st, 2012
Title: Ernie K-Doe: The R&B Emperor of New Orleans
Author: Ben Sandmel
Publisher: Historic New Orleans Collection
Format: Book (hardcover, 304 p.)
Release date: May 2012
Ben Sandmel’s pictorial tome to Ernie K-Doe is befitting the iconic New Orleans R&B singer, which is a mighty feat given K-Doe’s grandiose self-mythologizing. The “Emperor of the Universe,” as K-Doe often referred to himself, began his reign in 1961 when “Mother-in-Law” topped black and white radio charts, and years after his passing, continues as a leading figure of New Orleans’ nightlife—a life-sized effigy of K-Doe frequents all the town’s biggest happenings, as fancifully dressed as its irascible namesake, though decidedly much quieter.
Sandmel chronicles Ernie K-Doe’s rise to fame, positions him within New Orleans’ legendary R&B scene that includes the likes of Fats Domino, Huey “Piano” Smith, Earl King, Chris Kenner, Allen Toussaint, Eddie Bo, Ray Charles, Little Richard, and Guitar Slim, and recounts how K-Doe’s affable showboating and flamboyant idiosyncrasies grew even as, and especially when, his star began to fade.
The singer turned cult radio personality turned scenester nightclub owner was his own biggest publicist. “There have only been five great singers of rhythm and blues—Ernie K-Doe, James Brown, and Ernie K-Doe,” he reveled with egomaniacal zaniness. In 1962, Ernie K-Doe challenged the Godfather of Soul himself to a Battle of the Blues, and despite wide claims to the contrary, K-Doe proclaimed himself the victor. His legend was also spread with an equal measure of bad publicity, as his big personality came with many downsides like excessive drinking and spending, vainglory, opportunism, and paranoia. And yet he joked, perhaps obliviously, through many career and personal defeats.
The following tribute to Ernie K-Doe, compiled by the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame, opens with a 1980s performance and closes with the K-Does dancing in the Mother-In-Law Lounge:
Ernie K-Doe: The R&B Emperor of New Orleans has all the hallmarks of the best music biographies. K-Doe’s tirelessly entertaining personality offers a lot in the way of content. But Sandmel’s account improves on the tales K-Doe spun, perfectly framing the musician’s offbeat jive talk with a skillfully understated yet probing and witty literary voice, telling of New Orleans’ local treasure while casting him within universal themes. And Sandmel’s writing paints the details with a precision en par with the book’s amazing collection of archival photos. He sets the scene of K-Doe’s famous Mother-in-Law Lounge thusly:
“Close by New Orleans’s French Quarter, an elevated highway casts shadows upon north Claiborne Avenue. Old men play checkers in the gloom below, seated on milk crates and abandoned car seats. Steely-eyed teens cruise restlessly on children’s bicycles three sizes too small, their knees pumping high above the handlebars. People flinch at sudden loud noises, fearing they may be gunshots, which are not infrequent.”
Sandmel honors K-Doe’s memory without ever idealizing him and humors K-Doe without ever patronizing him. Without a doubt, Ernie K-Doe was a larger-than-life character. Sandmel gives him the story he deserves.
Reviewed by Betsy Shepherd
December 1st, 2012
Title: When I Left Home: My Story
Author: Buddy Guy with David Ritz
Publisher: Da Capo Press
Formats: Hardcover (320 pgs.), eBook, Audiobook
Release Date: May 8th, 2012
“Baby,” Lightnin’ told me, “I look out there into a sea of white cotton. Only it ain’t cotton- it’s college kids paying to hear the same sh*t I been playing down in Houston for years.”
This excerpt of a conversation with Lightnin’ Hopkins is a perfect example of why the new Buddy Guy autobiography is a great choice for any fan of the blues looking for a casual, fun and still informative read.
When I Left Home is an “as told to” style autobiography, but in this case it works well. The book reads as though you yourself have managed to get Guy to sit down over a cool drink and tell you about his life. Sometimes there are tangents about a crazy night in a Chicago nightclub or a pretty lady who ran him ragged, and sometimes it’s just a personal tour through the commercial evolution of the blues.
Starting with his earliest days living as a Southern sharecropper entranced enough with the sound of his neighbors two-string to jerry-rig his own guitars from cans and screen-door wires, and continuing through Guy’s current role as a laidback and respected elder statesmen of the blues, When I Left Home leaves you feeling as though you know the musician. The conversational tone of this book is so strong that when, on the last page, Guy invites the reader to Legends, his Chicago Club, you feel as though you could show up, slap him on the back and be instant friends.
Now with all this praise, it still must be said that this is not necessarily the clearest written book, and if you want to read a peer-reviewed educational resource on the history of Chicago blues, you probably have better options. This is an autobiography, however, and Guy seems to have made a lot of friends wherever he went, so if you want some insight into his peers, the street’s opinion on, say, Howling Wolf’s temper, Muddy Waters’ relationships with women, Lightnin’ Hopkins’ financial savvy, or a whole mess of bluesmen’s best dirty jokes, When I Left Home is the perfect choice for a light vacation read.
Reviewed by Dorothy Berry
December 1st, 2012
Title: Hendrix on Hendrix: Interviews and Encounters with Jimi Hendrix
Editor: Steven Roby
Publisher: Chicago Review Press
Formats: Book (hardcover, 362 p.), eBook
Release date: October 2012
Steven Roby, noted Hendrix historian and author of Becoming Jimi Hendrix (2010) and Black Gold: The Lost Archives of Jimi Hendrix (2002), now entices fans with a new volume that “assembles the most important Hendrix interviews” from print, radio and TV sources, even previously unpublished court transcripts. Over 50 interviews are included and presented in chronological order, beginning in December 1966 and concluding with “The Last Hendrix Interview” conducted in London on September 11, 1970 (a week prior to his death), by Keith Altham from the Record Mirror.
While many of these interviews, particularly those from mainstream U.S. publications, have been readily available, Roby has translated reviews from the foreign press, transcribed BBC radio interviews, and dug through counter culture newspapers in order to deliver the most significant extant sources. As editor, he also provides context for each interview, weaving together a story line that’s especially helpful for readers not as familiar with the arc of Hendrix’s career.
Roby concludes the book with a compilation of quotes by and about Hendrix, followed by an appendix with an extensive 1995 interview he conducted with Eric Burdon, who first “crossed paths with Hendrix in 1965” while Hendrix was touring with Little Richard. Burdon reminisces about Hendrix’s “psychedelic sacrifices,” their final jam session together, and events directly before and after Hendrix’ death.
For Hendrix fans as well as those studying 1960s rock music, race relations, drugs and the counter culture, this new book ties together many different threads. But most of all, Roby attempts to let Hendrix tell the story in his own words—“what was on the man’s mind and what he had to endure as one of the highest-paid rock acts of the late 1960s.” And what ultimately led to his death.
Reviewed by Brenda Nelson-Strauss
December 1st, 2012
Welcome to the July 2012 issue of Black Grooves, sponsored by the Archives of African American Music and Culture.
This month we’re featuring albums to spice up your Fourth of July celebrations, from Satchmo at the National Press Club: Red Beans and Rice-ly Yours (complete with recipes) to BeBe Winans’ patriotic offering America America to the party igniting Twenty Dozen by NOLA’s Dirty Dozen Brass Band.
Among the reissues covered this month are Paul Simon’s Graceland 25th Anniversary box set, Time Will Reveal: The Complete Motown Albums of Debarge, and two Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry produced albums—Super Eight by George Faith and Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry presents Candy McKenzie.
Other jazz and world music offerings include David Murray Cuban Ensemble Plays Nat King Cole En Español, the compilation The Bariba Sound 1970-1976 by Benin’s Orchestre Super Borgou de Parakou, and the self-titled debut album Konkoma from the London-based Afro-funk band.
Hip hop releases range from the environmentally conscious rap of Tem Blessed & The Blest Energy Band on Re-Energized to Del The Funky Homosapien & Parallel Thought’s old-school Attractive Sin to the witty and humorous Beaus$Eros by the hyper-literate L.A. rapper known as Busdriver.
Wrapping up this issue is the electro-pop album Coastal Grooves by Blood Orange (the artist formerly known as Lightspeed Champion), Ruben Studdard’s relationship testimony Letters From Birmingham, Anita Wilson’s soul-gospel fusion Worship Soul, Betty Wright’s partnership with The Roots on Betty Wright: The Movie, emerging Brooklyn soul/reggae/rock artist Cole Williams’ double EP Out of the Basement, Out of the Box, and the DVD Musical Threads: Expressions of a People featuring Indiana University’s Tyron Cooper and Marietta Simpson.
July 2nd, 2012
In order to pay tribute to the many indie labels issuing black music, we’ve decided to profile one or more of these companies each month. For the July issue we’ve chosen the Tuff City Music Group out of New York City, primarily because we recently discovered them ourselves and want to spread the word about their great catalog. Though there are any number of boutique labels in the UK that reissue black music, especially soul and gospel, there are far fewer in the U.S., in part due to lengthier copyright terms. For this reason, we are especially grateful for Tuff City’s longtime commitment to the discovery and release of rare recordings. Vinyl lovers take note─many titles are issued on both LP and CD.
Founded 22 years ago by Aaron Fuchs, a former editor for Cash Box, Tuff City Records began as a hip hop label, issuing material by such notable artists as The 45 King, Cold Crush Brothers, Davy DMX, Lakim Shabazz, Ghetto Philharmonic, and Spoonie Gee, among others. Fuch’s underground record company eventually transitioned to a reissue label and has since “rescued hundreds of blues, jazz, funk, soul and R&B treasures from obscurity,” with a special emphasis on New Orleans funk and soul. Concurrent with the new focus on previously unreleased material came the launch of several subsidiary labels. The Tuff City Music Group now includes:
Ol’ Skool Flava, “the label on which the most popular of Tuff City’s original old school hip hop releases are once again pressed.” New releases include: Captain Rock to the Future Shock: Rare Hip Hop and Electro 1982-1985 (Ol’ Skool Flava CD 4032).
Night Train International issues “obscure blues, jazz, and R&B by such artists as Ray Charles, Lowell Fulson, Jimmy Witherspoon, Johnny Otis, Charles Brown, Jay McShann, and Joe Liggins.” New releases include: Unreleased,by Ray Charles (reviewed in this issue); You Ain’t Nothing but a Teenager, by King Solomon; Searching for a Joy Ride, by George Porter’s Joy Ride (Night Train International CD 7151); and New Orleans Will Rise Again, an anthology featuring songs apropos to the yearnings and hopes of the current state of New Orleans’ mind, with all proceeds donated to the New Orleans Musicians’ Clinic.
Funky Delicacies issues “should-have-been-classic funk that collectors salivate over, featuring artists like Ike Turner, Andre Williams, Trouble Funk and dozens and dozens of others.” New releases include: Funky Funky New York: Rare & Unreissued NY Funk 1969–1976 (DEL CD 0073); Its Hard Times, by Black Nasty & A.D.C. Band (DEL LP 0076); Funky Funky Soul Folks (DEL LP 0074); and Funky Funky New Orleans 5 (DEL CD 0072).
Soul-Tay-Shus “has brought forth powerful soul from Andre Williams, Lee Rogers, Joe Hunter and others.” New releases include Northern Souljers Meet Hi Rhythm: Rare & Unreleased Jams by Detroit Indies Recorded in Memphis 1965-1968 (Soul-Tay-Shus CD 6357); Detroit, Michigan!: Rare Northern Soul 1965–1968, by The Fabulous Peps (Soul-Tay-Shus CD 6348); and Red Beans & Biscuits, by Andre Williams (Soul-Tay-Shus CD 6361).
Tuff City, the original label, reissues many of the original titles on vinyl and CD. New releases include The Best of YZ (reviewed in this issue) and Grooves For A Quiet Storm by The 45 King (Tuff City CD 3010).
Read the entire Tuff City story and download their July catalog. We’ll review more Tuff City releases in future issues of Black Grooves.
Posted by Brenda Nelson-Strauss
July 7th, 2006
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