Tag Archives: American music

RIP Jerry ‘I Am What I Am’ Herman (1931 – 2019)

“I Am What I Am”

Jerry Herman was an American composer and lyricist, known for his work in Broadway musical theater. He composed the scores for the hit Broadway musicals Hello, Dolly!Mame, and La Cage aux Folles. He was nominated for the Tony Award five times, and won twice, for Hello, Dolly! and La Cage aux Folles.

By pure coincidence I was watching Paris Is Burning (1990) this afternoon, it features the Jerry Herman-penned gay anthem “I Am What I Am” from La Cage Aux Folles.

Paris Is Burning (1990)
This is the bit from Paris Is Burning (1990) where Brooke and Carmen sing “I Am What I Am” on the beach.

RIP Allee Willis (1947 – 2019)

Allee Willis  was an American eccentric best-known as a songwriter, writing or co-writing “I’ll Be There For You” (1994, Friends theme song); “September” (1978) and “Boogie Wonderland” (1979) by Earth, Wind & Fire; and “What Have I Done to Deserve This?” (1987) by Pet Shop Boys.

Child Star

There are plenty of short portraits of her on YouTube, most of them filmed in her house which, she says, was the MGM partyhouse built in 1937.

There is also her 1974 album Child Star.


She also recorded the song “Big Adventure” (1985) with Pee-Wee Herman.

RIP Irving ‘calypso’ Burgie (1924 – 2019)

 Jamaica – Mento 1951-1958 (2009)

Irving Burgie was an American songwriter best-known for two songs: “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” and “Jamaica Farewell“, both made famous by Harry Belafonte on his album Calypso.

I’m interested in the era when traditional folk songs (which are per definition authorless) were appropriated by Western musicians and turned into pop hits.

This seems to also have been the case with the Belafonte songs Irving Burgie “wrote” .

In the words of Sholem Stein:

Harry Belafonte, a New Yorker of Jamaican origin, released wildly popular “calypso” hit records in the period 1956-1958. In reality “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” and “Jamaica Farewell” – both featured on Calypso (1956) and both written by Irving Burgie – were mento songs sold as calypso. Previously recorded Jamaican versions of these now classic “calypso” hits can be heard on the compilation Jamaica – Mento 1951-1958 (2009) [above].

Louise Bennett-Coverley gave Harry Belafonte the foundation for his 1956 hit “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” by telling him about the Jamaican folk song “Hill and Gully Rider” (the name also given as “Day Dah Light”).”

“Jamaica Farewell” was compiled and modified from many folk pieces to make a new song. Burgie acknowledged his use of the tune of another mento, “Iron Bar””.–Sholem Stein

I remember vividly how one night my parents went to a Harry Belafonte concert in Antwerp and lodged me and my brother in a fancy hotel which had a pool that was partly inside and partly outside the hotel. It was winter and the pool outside was steaming into the open air. This must have been before the first oil crisis. (update: I called my mother, it was the Sofitel, located on the Boomsesteenweg 15, Aartselaar)

RIP Darondo (1946 – 2013)

Darondo  was an American musician who released a couple of singles in the 1970s of which “Didn’t I” eventually became popular in the 2000s.

In view that his compositions never became hits, he was less than a one-hit wonder. However, the current upload of “Didn’t I”scored more than five million listens over the last five years.

Darondo’s voice has been described as a cross between Ronald Isley and Al Green.

In the paucity of his recorded material, he resembles Shuggie Otis and Sixto Rodriguez.

Somehow his death did not appear on my radar back in 2013. These however: Junior Murvin, Lou Reed, JJ Cale, Bobby Bland, Ray Manzarek, Vincent Montana, Jr., Kevin Ayers, Donald Byrd and Cecil Womack, did.

RIP Ric ‘Car’ Ocasek (1944 – 2019)

Ric Ocasek was an American musician famous for his work with The Cars.

I have no connection with the man, nor with his music, it’s just too much bombast for me. However, my database shows that one of their songs was featured in a film I liked in the 1990s.

The song is “Moving in Stereo” and the film Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982).

De mortuis nil nisi bonum, but … the problem with this kind of music is, in the words of music critic Bill Flanagan:

“Bit by bit the last traces of Punk were drained from New Wave, as New Wave went from meaning Talking Heads to meaning the Cars to Squeeze to Duran Duran to, finally, Wham!”.

Just What I Needed” (1978)

Anyway, to end on a good note, their song “Just What I Needed” (1978) is in the The Pitchfork 500.

RIP Daniel “songs of pain” Johnston (1961 – 2019)

“Urge” from Songs of Pain (1981).

Daniel Johnston was an American singer-songwriter regarded as a significant figure in outsiderlo-fi, and alternative music scenes.

Johnston’s cult status was propelled when Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain wore a T-shirt at the 1992 MTV music awards that featured artwork from Johnston’s 1983 album Hi, How Are You, a T-shirt that music journalist Everett True had given him. Cobain listed Yip/Jump Music as one of his favorite albums in his journal in 1993.

Much of Daniel Johnston’s music has focused on the subject of unrequited love, revolving around his own experiences with Laurie Johnson, an early obsession. Notably is “Urge” (above) on 1981’s Songs of Pain.

His work is collected on Songs in the Key of Z (2000), a collection of outsider music.

RIP RAMM:ΣLL:ZΣΣ (late 1960 – 2010)

RAMM:ΣLL:ZΣΣ was an American artist.

Somehow I missed this death. The passing of Pedro Bell brought it to my attention.

I want to show you three things:

RAMMΣLLZΣΣ: It’s Not Who But What (2018), a 9-minute documentary on RAMM:ΣLL:ZΣΣ in which the art of Ramm is described as Transformers meets a mad scientist.
Beat Bop” (1983), an early hip hop recording in which Ramm raps.
Style Wars, a documentary on early hip hop and graffiti which features “Beat Bop” (above).