Saturday, December 29, 2012

FONTELLA BASS (1940 - 2012)


Best known for the hit song, "Rescue Me", soul singer, Fontella Bass passed away on December 26th.

Music was in in her blood as her mother was gospel singer, Martha Bass who was a member of The Clara Ward Singers and Fontella accompanied her mother on tour at a very young age. By sixteen, she began performing r&b songs at contests in St. Louis before being discovered by blues legend, Little Morton where Fontella first played piano for his band before receiving the opportunity to sing, eventually given a solo spot in his act.

She moved to Chicago to begin her solo music career where she was quickly signed to Chess Records. Her first hit recording was, "Don't Mess Up A Good Thing", a duet with Bobby McClure that reached the top five on the r&b chart in 1965.

Her biggest hit, "Rescue Me" (which features singer, Minnie Riperton on background vocals and future Earth Wind and Fire founder, Maurice White on drums) reached number one on the U.S. r&b chart for four weeks and made it to number four on the Billboard Hot 100 pop chart. Although the song is credited to Raynard Miner and Carl Smith, Bass has been said to have co-written the tune and was promised a credit.

Bass was never able to recapture this great success but she continued to perform, only retiring for a number of years to focus on raising her four children. When her version of  "Rescue Me" was used for an American Express commercial in 1993, that generated renewed interest in the singer.

Fontella Bass was a truly gifted talent and her voice will be missed.

"Rescue Me" - Fontella Bass (1965)

Here is a video of Ms Bass performing her very first hit with Bobby McClure:

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

HAPPY HOLIDAYS


Wishing everyone out there a safe and happy holiday. Now a little music for your listening pleasure:

"Christmas In Killarney" - Bing Crosby (1951)

"Der Trommelmann" - Marlene Dietrich (1964)

"Someday At Christmas" - Stevie Wonder (1966)

"Thank God It's Christmas" - Queen (1984)

"It's The Most Wonderful Time of The Year" - Johnny Mathis (1986) 

"The Christmas Song" - Toni Braxton (2001)

Thursday, December 20, 2012

VH1 DIVAS 2012

VH1 has decided to revive their "Divas" series although the concept has already been stretched thin as they've pretty much covered all of the very few, true divas in existence ( and in some cases, more than once). Part of the inspiration for this revival was the loss this year of two truly important female voices in musical history; Whitney Houston and Donna Summer as the show honors these legends with a tribute and celebration of their legacy.

The problem lies with a large number of the artists rounded-up for this special which features Kelly Rowland, Ciara, Keri Hilson, Demi Lovato and Miley Cyrus that adds up to a group of mostly thin-voiced, second-tier singers with none of them having any serious potential as future "Diva" recipients.

The exception were, surprisingly, a couple of pop singers that could actually belt who were selected by election on reality television; "American Idol" winners, Kelly Clarkson and Jordin Sparks who provide vivid musical numbers with Clarkson bringing the mostly female audience to their feet with her latest single, "Catch My Breath" from her first greatest hits collection while Sparks sizzles in a showstopping number accompanied by r&b powerhouses, Melanie Fiona and Ledisi as they performed an energetic Whitney Houston medley.

Another "Idol" alumni , Adam Lambert was the host of the program and honorary "diva" who kicked-off the show with dramatic flair, reworking the 1983 Bowie hit, "Let's Dance". Later, in true diva fashion, during the Donna Summer segment with Rowland and Hilson, Lambert leaves the ladies in his glittery dust as he effortlessly out-sang them both.

The rest of the show fell flat with Ciara doing a brief dance tribute to Michael Jackson before performing a lackluster new song, "Got Me Good", some band called Metric who is supposed to honor Deborah Harry but only offers a truly horrendous version of "Heart of Glass" and wearing punk drag, Ms Cyrus unconvincingly covers Billy Idol's "Rebel Yell" that has about much bite as a teething infant. Although she is already a big star in her native Britain, Paloma Faith is trying to repeat her success here but based on her performance of her song, "Picking Up The Pieces", there ain't much chance of that happening.

"VH1 Divas"specials are a great way to look back to single-out female musical greatness but it appears like it will be forced out of existence. Taking a long, hard look at the current musical landscape, there doesn't seem to be too many future divas on the horizon.

Take a look at a few segments from "VH1 Divas 2012":



Monday, December 10, 2012

FOCUS ON: DIANA ROSS


There is probably no singer who had such a major impact on me than Diana Ross. I think she's the perfect pop vocalist who is also a stunningly beautiful, glamorous goddess. Perhaps that might sound a little overboard but it's honestly how I felt ever since the very first time I heard and saw this dynamic entertainer. She is the true definition of an all-around performer who has found great success with everything she has attempted, whether first becoming a member of one of the biggest all-female singing groups of all-time to becoming one of the most successful female solo artists of all-time to earning an Oscar nomination for her first film role to performing a free concert in Central Park with the proceeds going to build a children's playground in New York City. Although Miss Ross has earned a reputation (fairly or not) for being a bit of a "diva" but that certainly does not diminish her great talent. But the real reason for her success is that you can sense her pure joy in sharing her gifts to the world and you can't help to be moved and transformed by the power of  Diana Ross.

Diana Ross was born on March 26, 1944 in Detroit, Michigan. Her parents, Ernestine and Fred actually named her "Diane" but a typo on her birth certificate has her listed as "Diana" but she went by Diane at home and school. In her early teens, Diana"s first love was fashion design and she studied at Cass Tech which was a four year prep-school. However, she soon became distracted by music as her school friend, Mary Wilson invited her to join a female singing group, The Primettes. Milton Jenkins, the manager of the male vocal group, The Primes wanted to put together a type of "sister act" with Florence Ballard and Betty McGlown filling out the quartet.

After The Primettes won a singing contest, the next step was a recording contract and they wanted to sign with the new local music company, Motown. Diana called her neighbor, William "Smokey" Robinson who was writing songs for the label, to help get the group an audition with Berry Gordy, the head of Motown. Although Gordy liked what he heard, he felt the teens were too young and wanted them to come back after they finished high school. Betty McGlown dropped out of the group and was replaced by Barbara Martin but the girls were determined to impress Gordy as they would hang out at the studios everyday after school. Eventually, The Primettes performed background vocals for several acts before Gordy finally agreed to sign the group in 1961 but he insisted they change their name. They were given a list of suggestions with Florence deciding on "The Supremes" although Diana thought it sounded a bit too masculine.

By 1962, Barbara Martin decided to leave group with The Supremes now remaining a trio.They released eight singles with none of them reaching anywhere near the top forty before The Supremes had a minor breakthrough with "When The Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes" which made it to number twenty-three on the pop chart.

"Where Did Our Love Go" was written by the in-house team of Holland-Dozier-Holland and originally given to The Marvelettes but they passed on it. The Supremes actually didn't like it much better but recorded it anyway as the team had written their previous charting song. It was a good thing they did as it became the group's first number one song in 1964. Their next four singles, "Baby Love", "Come See About Me", "Stop! In The Name of Love" and "Back In My Arms Again" all went to number one and were also written by Holland-Dozier-Holland.

By 1965, The Supremes were a major international female r&b act that brought glamour and polish to pop music. Many other hit songs followed but.previously each member in the group would share lead singing but after their success, Gordy decided that Ross would now be the official lead singer for The Supremes which left the other two less than thrilled, most especially Ballard. She began to drink excessively, gained weight, missed performances and her relationship with Ross deteriorated. Gordy decided to change the name of the group to "Diana Ross & The Supremes" in 1967 which enraged Ballard even further. Soon, Gordy had had enough and fired Florence Ballard later that year and replaced her with Cindy Birdsong, a singer with Patti LaBelle and The Bluebells. Ballard attempted to start a solo career for several years but died in 1976 at the age of thirty-two of heart disease.

Diana Ross & The Supremes continued on but Gordy had plans for Ross to become a solo artist. After the single, "Someday We'll Be Together" became this line-up's twelfth and final number one hit in 1969 and one last concert in Las Vegas, Diana Ross left The Supremes in 1970. Jean Terrell would replace her as lead vocalist of The Supremes.

Ms Ross released her self-titled debut album later in 1970 that featured the now classic "Reach Out And Touch (Somebody's Hand)" and the smash remake of "Ain't No Mountain High Enough"  that went to number one on the pop and r&b charts. More hits followed including "Remember Me", "Touch me In The Morning", "Love Hangover" and "The Boss".

In 1972, Ross starred in her first film role as jazz vocalist, Billie Holiday in "Lady Sings The Blues". The film was a box-office smash and her performance won her a Golden Globe Award and she was nominated for an Academy Award. She followed this up with "Mahogany" in 1975. The film about a fashion designer who becomes a successful model was another hit and featured the theme song, "Do You Know Where You're Going To" which went to number one on the pop chart and was nominated for an Oscar. Her next part was as Dorothy in the musical, "The Wiz", an African-American version of "The Wizard of Oz" in 1978. Ross was woefully miscast and the film became a costly failure with this putting an unfortunate end to her movie career.

Tension between Ross and Gordy had grown considerably, most especially during the filming of "Mahogany", so after her 1980 album, "Diana" (which was produced by Chic's, Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards and became her biggest solo recording success) and "Endless Love" (her world-wide number one hit duet with Lionel Ritchie for the film of the same name), Ross left Motown to go to RCA Records for a twenty million dollar record deal in 1981.

While at the label, Ross had several successful recordings such as her cover of "Why Do Fools Fall In Love", "Swept Away", "Eaten Alive" and "Missing You" but it did not come close to matching her glory days at Motown. In 1988, Ross decided not to renew her contract with RCA and after making amends with Berry Gordy, re-signed with Motown Records although he had recently sold the company. She recorded four albums on the label but sales were disappointing and she left the label in 1999.

In 2006, Ross had two albums released on EMI; the first was the jazz album, "Blue" which was recorded around 1971-72 and was supposed to follow-up her successful "Lady Sings The Blues" soundtrack record but Gordy decided to shelve the project. The next was "I Love You", her first studio album in seven years and her last to date. It features a collection of love song covers including Queen's "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" and Marvin Gaye's "I Want You" (co-written by Ross's late brother, Arthur).

Diana Ross was inducted in to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame with The Supremes in 1988, was the recipient of a Kennedy Center Honor in 2007, won a long overdue Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award (her only Grammy ever!) earlier this year and has sold well over one hundred million records during her career.

Ms Ross has been married twice. She wed Robert Silberstein, a music executive in 1971 and they had three children, Rhonda, Tracey and Chudney although it was publicly revealed recently that Rhonda was actually the daughter of Berry Gordy. Silberstein and Ross divorced in 1977. She met Arne Naess, Jr., a Norwegian businessman on a trip to the Bahamas in 1985. They married the following year and had two sons, Ross and Evan. The couple separated in 2000 and Naess died in a skiing accident in 2004.


These are just a few of my favorite Diana Ross tunes:

"Ain't No Mountain High Enough" - Diana Ross (1970)

"The Boss" - Diana Ross (1979)

"I'm Coming Out" - Diana Ross (1980)

"Swept Away" - Diana Ross (1984)

"Missing You" - Diana Ross (1984)

Here is some early footage of The Supremes performing live "Back In My Arms Again":


This is Miss Ross performing her hit, "Love Hangover" live on The Midnight Special back in '76:



This is a great music video for the 1985 song, "Chain Reaction" (written by The Bee Gees) that revived the classic "Supremes" sound. She looks amazingly just like she does in The Supremes video above and it even seems like Miss Ross is wearing the same wig:














Thursday, December 6, 2012

55TH ANNUAL GRAMMY AWARD NOMINATIONS

The nominees for the 2012 Grammy Awards were announced in Nashville on December 5th at a concert hosted by LL Cool J and Taylor Swift. Hip-hop's, Jay Z and Kanye West, alt-country band, Mumford & Sons, producer, Dan Auerbach, indie-rock band, Fun. and alt-r&b vocalist, Frank Ocean each received six nominations apiece with Ocean and Fun. earning most of their nominations in the prestigious, major categories.

What was notable this year was that no one artist dominated the nominations and most of the nominees were relatively young,  new voices in music with veteran performers basically shut out for the most part. It's a good sign that The Grammys are finally adapting to the times and open to looking outside the usual box.

The 55th Annual Grammy Awards will be televised on February 10th, 2013 on CBS. Below is a partial list of the nominees. For the complete listing of the nominations, please go to:
Grammy.com


Record Of The Year

"Lonely Boy" - The Black Keys
"Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)" - Kelly Clarkson
"We Are Young" - Fun. Featuring Janelle Monáe
"Somebody That I Used To Know" - Gotye Featuring Kimbra
"Thinkin Bout You" - Frank Ocean
"We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together" - Taylor Swift

Album Of The Year

"El Camino" - The Black Keys
"Some Nights" - Fun.
"Babel" - Mumford & Sons
"Channel Orange" - Frank Ocean
"Blunderbuss" - Jack White

Song Of The Year

"The A Team" - Ed Sheeran
"Adorn" - Miguel
"Call Me Maybe" - Carly Rae Jepsen
"Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)" - Kelly Clarkson
"We Are Young" - Fun. Featuring Janelle Monáe

Best New Artist

Alabama Shakes
Fun.
Hunter Hayes
The Lumineers
Frank Ocean

Best Pop Solo Performance

"Set Fire To The Rain (Live)" - Adele
"Stronger (What Doesn't Kill You)" - Kelly Clarkson
"Call Me Maybe" - Carly Rae Jepsen
"Wide Awake" - Katy Perry
"Where Have You Been" - Rihanna

Best Pop Duo/Group Performance

"Shake It Out" - Florence & The Machine
"We Are Young" - Fun. Featuring Janelle Monáe
"Somebody That I Used To Know" - Gotye Featuring Kimbra
"Sexy And I Know It" - LMFAO
"Payphone" - Maroon 5 & Wiz Khalifa

Best Pop Vocal Album

"Stronger" - Kelly Clarkson
"Ceremonials" - Florence & The Machine
"Some Nights" - Fun.
"Overexposed" - Maroon 5
"The Truth About Love" - Pink

Best Rock Performance

"Hold On" - Alabama Shakes
"Lonely Boy" - The Black Keys
"Charlie Brown" - Coldplay
"I Will Wait" - Mumford & Sons
"We Take Care Of Our Own" - Bruce Springsteen

Best Rock Album

"El Camino" - The Black Keys
"Mylo Xyloto" - Coldplay
"The 2nd Law" - Muse
"Wrecking Ball" - Bruce Springsteen
"Blunderbuss" - Jack White

Best Alternative Music Album

"The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than The Driver Of The Screw And Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do" - Fiona Apple
"Biophilia" - Björk
"Making Mirrors" - Gotye
"Hurry Up, We're Dreaming" - M83
"Bad As Me" - Tom Waits

Best R&B Performance

"Thank You" - Estelle
"Gonna Be Alright (F.T.B.)" - Robert Glasper Experiment Featuring Ledisi
"I Want You" - Luke James
"Adorn" - Miguel
"Climax" - Usher

Best R&B Album

"Black Radio" - Robert Glasper Experiment
"Back To Love" - Anthony Hamilton
"Write Me Back" - R. Kelly
"Beautiful Surprise" - Tamia
"Open Invitation" - Tyrese

Best Rap Performance

"HYFR (Hell Ya F***ing Right)" - Drake Featuring Lil Wayne
"N****s In Paris" - Jay-Z & Kanye West
"Daughters" - Nas
"Mercy" - Kanye West Featuring Big Sean, Pusha T & 2 Chainz
"I Do" - Young Jeezy Featuring Jay-Z & André 3000

Best Rap/Sung Collaboration

"Wild Ones" - Flo Rida Featuring Sia
"No Church In The Wild" - Jay-Z & Kanye West Featuring Frank Ocean & The-Dream
"Tonight (Best You Ever Had)" - John Legend Featuring Ludacris
"Cherry Wine" - Nas Featuring Amy Winehouse
"Talk That Talk" - Rihanna Feautring Jay-Z

Best Rap Album

"Take Care" - Drake
"Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album, Pt. 1" - Lupe Fiasco
"Life Is Good" - Nas
"Undun" - The Roots
"God Forgives, I Don't" - Rick Ross
"Based On A T.R.U. Story" - 2 Chainz

Best Country Solo Performance

"Home" - Dierks Bentley
"Springsteen" - Eric Church
"Cost Of Livin'" - Ronnie Dunn
"Wanted" - Hunter Hayes
"Over" - Blake Shelton
"Blown Away" - Carrie Underwood

Best Country Duo/Group Performance

"Even If It Breaks Your Heart" - Eli Young Band
"Pontoon" - Little Big Town
"Safe & Sound" - Taylor Swift & The Civil Wars
"On The Outskirts Of Town" - The Time Jumpers
"I Just Come Here For The Music" - Don Williams Featuring Alison Krauss

Best Country Album

"Uncaged" - Zac Brown Band
"Hunter Hayes" - Hunter Hayes
"Living For A Song: A Tribute To Hank Cochran" - Jamey Johnson
"Four The Record" - Miranda Lambert
"The Time Jumpers" - The Time Jumpers



ICONA POP ARE "GIRLS GIRLS"

Those Swedish musical party-girls, Caroline Hjelt and Aino Jawo, otherwise known as  Icona Pop are back with a new club-banging anthem. ...