Category Archives: African American culture

Pam Grier@60

via here.

Pamela Suzette Grier (born May 26, 1949) is an iconic American actress. She came to fame in the early 1970s, after starring in a string of moderately successful women-in-prison and blaxploitation films, and has generally remained in the public eye, starring in B-movies such as 1974’s Foxy Brown, and in mainstream films such as Quentin Tarantino’s 1997 film, Jackie Brown.

Introducing Joel Brodsky (1939 – 2007)

via Joel Brodsky Joel Brodsky, American photographer, noted for Ohio Players album cover photography.


Joel Brodsky (7 October 1939 – 1 March 2007) , American photographer, best-known for his risqué Ohio Players album cover photography. His photographs are also featured on the covers of The DoorsStrange Days[1], The Stooges debut album[2], Herbie Mann’s Memphis Underground[3] and the Ohio Players’ Ecstasy[4] and Pleasure[5].

His best-known picture, according to a Washington Post story, was used as the cover of the 1985 The Best of The Doors[6] album. It made in late 1966 and shows a bare-chested Jim Morrison of the Doors, with his arms outstretched.

Brodsky’s photographs appeared on over 400 album covers.

Marvin Gaye @70

Marvin Gaye @70


Sexual Healing

Marvin Gaye (April 2 1939April 1 1984) was an African-American singer, songwriter, composer, multi-instrumentalist, and record producer who gained international fame as an artist on the Motown record label in the 1960s and 1970s. He is best-known for “Sexual Healing,” a 1982 song and the first hit record to use the Roland TR-8081 for bass.

The lyrics of ‘Sexual Healing” song discussed a man’s aching for finding sexual healing with his woman – hence the title “Sexual Healing“. According to David Ritz, when he interviewed Gaye for an autobiography, he noticed comic book pornography in Marvin’s room and mentioned to the singer that he “needed sexual healing” causing Gaye and Ritz to write the lyrics.

1 The famous Roland TR-808 was launched in 1980. At the time it was regarded with little fanfare, as it did not have digitally sampled sounds; drum machines using digital samples were much more popular. In time though, the TR-808, along with its successor, TR-909 (released in 1983), would soon become a fixture of the burgeoning underground dance, techno, and hip hop genres, mainly because of its low cost (relative to that of the Linn machines), and the unique character of its analogue-generated sounds. The TR-808’s sound only became truly desirable in the late 1980s, about five years after the model was discontinued and had become cheaply available on the second hand market.

Gil Scott-Heron @60

Gil Scott-Heron @60


The Bottle

Gil Scott-Heron (born April 1 1949) is an American poet and musician known primarily for his late 1960s and early 1970s work as a spoken word performer. He is associated with African American militant activism, and is best known for his songs “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” and  “The Bottle” (see above).

RIP Uriel Jones (1934 – 2009)

RIP Uriel Jones (1934 – 2009)


Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” (1967) by Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell

Uriel Jones (13 June 1934March 24, 2009) was an African-American musician. Jones was a recording session drummer for Motown Records‘ in-house studio band, The Funk Brothers, during the 1960s and early 1970s.

Jones was first hired by Motown as a fill-in for principal drummer Benny Benjamin; along with Richard “Pistol” Allen, he moved up the line as recordings increased and Benjamin’s health deteriorated. Jones had a hard-hitting, funky sound, best heard on the tracks for the hits “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” – both versions, by Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell in 1967 and the 1970 remake by by Diana Ross, “I Heard It Through the Grapevine” by Marvin Gaye, “Cloud Nine” by the The Temptations (in which he was augmented by “Spider” Webb), Junior Walker‘s “Home Cookin’,” “I Second That Emotion” by Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, “For Once In My Life” by Stevie Wonder, and many more. His influences included Art Blakey. Jones became better known to music fans through his memorable appearance in the feature documentary film, Standing In The Shadows Of Motown.

Island Records @50

Island Records @50

Island Records celebrates its 50th in May. Props to Simon Reynolds for summarizing Island’s succes as managing “in its heyday to achieve that rare feat: combining commercial success with artistic integrity.”[1]

In other words: not selling out.

Padlock EP, one of my most prized Island Records releases

Click the footnotes to hear all four tracks.

The Padlock EP is a compilation of 4 musical compositions written for Gwen Guthrie. The rhythm section to the studio project consisted of Sly and Robbie, keyboards were by Wally Badarou, and mixing and remixing was done by Larry Levan. The Padlock mini-LP was released in 1983 on the Garage Records label and included “Hopscotch[1], “Seventh Heaven[2], “Getting Hot[3], “Peanut Butter[4] and ends with the title track “Padlock”[5]. The sleeve of the German Island pressing was designed by Tony Wright, the illustrator who was also responsible for the artwork to Lee Perry‘s Return of Super Ape album.

Cecil Taylor @80

Cecil Taylor @80


Excerpt from Ron Mann‘s 1981Imagine the Sound” documentary.

Cecil Percival Taylor (born March 15 or March 25, 1929 in New York City) is an American pianist and poet.

Along with saxophonist Ornette Coleman, he is generally acknowledged as on of the innovators of free jazz. Taylor’s music is cited by critics, however, as some of the most challenging in jazz, characterized by an extremely energetic, physical approach, producing exceedingly complex improvised sounds, frequently involving tone clusters and intricate polyrhythms. At first listen, his dense and percussive music can be difficult to absorb, and his piano technique has often been likened to drums and percussion rather than to any other pianists, and resembling modern classical music as much as jazz.

See also: free jazz, atonality, avant-garde jazz

RIP Claude Jeter (1914 – 2009)

Maurice Bottomley says: RIP Claude Jeter.

Claude Jeter (1914  - 2009) by you.

Click for credits

Listen to him here[1] on “Stand By Me“.

Claude A. Jeter (October 26, 1914 – January 6, 2009) was an African American gospel music singer.

Jeter was best known for his falsetto with the Swan Silvertones in which his graceful high melodies served in contrast to the rougher voices of the group’s other members. The group recorded for the several different labels, but never achieved financial success, despite its widespread influence. (I have a very special fondness for this category of artists, the ones whose influence osmotically make their own name disappear).

During the 1950s the group was popular and many of the elements of the group’s style resembled the then-prevalent rhythm and blues vocal group style. Jeter received many offers to perform R&B or rock and roll, but rejected them all, citing a commitment he had made to his mother that he would always sing for the Lord.

Elements of his performances in songs were picked up by later singers such as Al Green and Eddie Kendricks of The Temptations and another of his songs served as Paul Simon‘s inspiration to write his 1970 song “Bridge over Troubled Water“. Paul Simon subsequently gave Jeter a check for $1,000 for inspiring Simon to write “Bridge over Troubled Water”. See for this last trope: cultural appropriation in western music.

RIP Joe Cuba (1931 – 2009)

RIP Joe Cuba

RIP Joe Cuba by you.

I discovered Cuba’s work via the Nu Yorica and Nova Classics 01 compilations. Tracks from those compilations that have acquired cult status include “Do You Feel It?[1]” (most likely his interpretation of the Latin traditional “El Ratón[2]), and “El Pito (I’ll Never Go Back to Georgia)[3].”


Do You Feel It?

His biggest hit was the 1966 “Bang! Bang![4],” which achieved unprecedented success for Latin music in the United States.

Joe Cuba (1931 – February 15, 2009), was a Puerto Rican musician who was considered to be the “Father of Latin Boogaloo“. The lyrics to Cuba’s music used Spanglish, a mixture of Spanish and English, becoming an important part of the Nuyorican Movement, somewhat the Latin version of the Harlem Renaissance.

Fly Girls!

Soul Jazz Presents Fly Girls: B Boys Beware – Revenge of the Super Female Rappers (2008) []

[FR] [DE] [UK]

I’ ve mentioned this before, that the majority of releases in my cd-collection are anthologies. One of the finest anthology labels since the 1990s is Soul Jazz Records. That British company has just released
Fly Girls! (full title Soul Jazz Presents Fly Girls: B Boys Beware – Revenge of the Super Female Rappers), anthology of female rap artists that celebrates the genre’s 30th anniversary. What follows is a wikified version of the liner notes, of which I could not identify the author. Please fill me in on that blank if you own the cd. The liner notes are hyperlinked to Youtube entries.

The compilation is worth its price alone for featuring the below track by Camille Yarborough.


Take Yo’ Praise

The history of female rap on record begins in 1979 in New York City as the clamour of the city’s artists, record companies and producers strove to make it onto vinyl in the wake of The Sugarhill Gang’s squillion-selling hit, “Rappers Delight[1] – released that year on the former soul singer Sylvia Robinson’s Sugarhill Records. It would be the Winley family – comprising sisters Tanya, Paulette – who made the first female rap record produced by their mother Ann and released on their father’s label, Paul Winley Records.

Aside from the singing/rap styles that earlier soul artists such as Aretha Franklin[2], Shirley Ellis[3], Millie Jackson[4] and Laura Lee[5] would occasionally adopt in their songs, female rap (like rap itself) had its antecedents in the groundbreaking black poetry of the 60s and 70s with radical, free-thinking poets such as Nikki Giovanni[6], Camille Yarborough[7] and Sarah Webster Fabio[8] – all of whom are included here – vocalising hitherto unheard expressions of female and black self-determination in their work. These strong, educated, political women not only led the way stylistically but also helped define how a female artist could make their own career path – weaving creativity, politics and family in a way that Missy Elliott[9], Queen Latifah[10] and others have since followed – establishing the boundary-breaking career paths of many female artists in rap. Hip-hop is a culture of which music is only a part; nowadays (and to an extent from the very beginning) the most successful female hip-hop artist is often singer, DJ, actress, manager, political and social agitator and more in multiple combinations.

Hip-hop’s story begins in the tenement blocks and community centres of the South Bronx. In the first three years-or-so history of hip-hop (1976-9) – before the first rap records were made – aspiring female artists could watch onstage the early female MC role models of Sha-Rock (the first female MC in the group Funky Four Plus One[11]) or the Mercedes Ladies[12] (the first female MC and DJ crew). With Tanya and Paulette Winley’s ‘Rappin and Rhymin’ on vinyl by 1979 it would not be until the following year that the first all-female crew made it onto vinyl when The Sequence[13] (featuring a then unknown Angie Stone) was astutely signed, once again, by Sylvia Robinson to Sugarhill Records.

Robinson was not the only woman on the business side of hip-hop. There was Kool Lady Blue who first brought rap out of the Bronx and into downtown NYC at the Roxy nightclub and also later managed The Rocksteady Crew. Monica Lynch who rose to head of A and R and president of Tommy Boy Records, and later vice-president of Warners, comments that because hip-hop was new it did not have the hierarchy of the traditional music industry and women were thus able to move more easily into executive roles. Later, as we shall see, many of the artists moved into the business themselves taking control of their careers and aiding others.

Roxanne Shante is certainly the first female rapper to make a career out of her music. Shante and fellow Queens-resident and producer Marley Marl fought their corner for both their borough (taking on Boogie Down Productions and the Bronx) and anyone else who dared call themselves ‘Roxanne’ in a slanging-match known as The Roxanne Wars[14]. This verbal jousting had its antecedents dating back to the ‘dozens’ of the playground and tower-block (‘Your mother is a …’, ‘No, your mother is a …’) and to the Griot storytellers of Africa. Roxanne Shante, and many others here, effortlessly subverted this – and many other – male-dominated traditions to create and re-write new histories.