Music

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Bessie Smith the Empress of the Blues

Bessie Smith, (1898-1937), recorded over 80 records for Columbia.  Her legendary recordings sold over ten million copies.  “Down Hearted Blues,” her first recording, sold over one million copies in 1923.

She achieved her biggest hit in 1929 with “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out."

The influence of blues song stylist Smith can be heard in the music of Janis Joplin, Dinah Washington, Mahalia Jackson, and Billie Holiday.

Smith, known as “The Empress of the Blues” was discovered by blues singer Ma Rainey in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in 1910.

Posted by Hugh Smith on 12/12 at 09:17 PM
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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Black History the Music Industry Doesn’t Want You to Know

Are you ready for some spirited commentary and a frank warning with historical background written by Deeann D. Mathews about what happens when a music artist goes to work with a record label? Don’t be shocked by Black History the Music Industry Doesn’t Want You to Know!

Posted by Hugh Smith on 11/14 at 06:13 PM
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Thursday, April 14, 2011

The John H Johnson Vision

John H. Johnson

John H. Johnson was a publishing pioneer way ahead of his time. Download and listen to the John H. Johnson story from BlackHistoryPeople.com.  Enjoy the truth about his creative stroke of genius that paved the way for a targeted mass media empire.

Read all the back issues of Jet from Johnson Publishing, (courtesy of Google Books):

Posted by Hugh Smith on 04/14 at 08:00 PM
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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Soul Train Video Classics are back after 40 Years

August 2010 Highlight: Soul Train Video Classics are back on Track.

Posted by Hugh Smith on 08/11 at 07:30 PM
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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Let Freedom Sing: Songs from the Movement

If you missed the live 2010 White House Celebration of Music from the Civil Rights Movement, here’s the next best thing.

In January, 2009, Time Life released Let Freedom Sing: The Music of the Civil Rights Movement.

The outstanding 3 CD box set includes 2 pages of provocative liner notes written by Public Enemy front man Chuck D.

His comments are part of a large, colorful, 40 page booklet that includes lots of facts about all the songs.

Chuck says “there’s a reason why listening to the past 100 years of black music can bring a sense of voice, sound, meaning, joy, and pain...as well as a historical timeline."

He adds “way before an iPod, these songs rang in my head as they navigated me through my near half a century of life."

What’s great about this collection is the representation of each of the post 1930 - 20th century decades.

Historical facts acknowledging key years pertaining to the civil rights movement are also included in their own highlighted paragraphs weaved between the elaborate music notes.

The Southern Sons kick things off on disc one with “Go Down Moses,” recorded in 1941.

Six of the tracks are from the 1930’s and 1940’s.  Four are from the 1950’s, including Nat King Cole’s stirring 1956 classic “We Are Americans Too."

As you’ll see from the track list below, no decade is left out. The best songs from the civil rights movement are included.

There are some excellent alternative versions rather than hits you might expect.

Otis Redding, not Sam Cooke sings “A Change is Gonna Come.” Bob & Marcia, not Nina Simone sings “Young, Gifted, and Black."

The liner notes have all the back-stories about why these versions were selected.

Watch our 90 second video to hear clips of 3 of the songs.

Let Freedom Sing: The Music of the Civil Rights Movement:


    Disc One
  1. “Go Down Moses” - The Southern Sons, 1941
  2. “Strange Fruit” - Billie Holiday, 1939
  3. “Uncle Sam Says” - Josh White, 1941
  4. “ No Restricted Signs” - The Golden Gate Quartet, 1947
  5. “Black, Brown, and White” - Brownie McGhee, 1947
  6. “The Hammer Song (If I Had a Hammer)” - The Weavers, 1949
  7. “The Death of Emmett Till” parts 1 & 2 - The Ramparts, 1955,
  8. “When Do I Get To Be Called A Man” - Big Bill Broonzy, 1955
  9. “The Alabama Bus” - Brother Will Hairston, 1956
  10. “We Are Americans Too” - Nat King Cole, 1956
  11. “Why Am I Treated So Bad” - The Staple Singers, 1966
  12. “I Shall Not Be Moved” - The Harmonizing Four, 1959
  13. “Oh Freedom” - Harry Belafonte, 1959
  14. “Ride On, Red, Ride On” - Louisiana Red, 1962
  15. “Mississippi Goddam” - Nina Simone, 1964
  16. “ Blowin’ In The Wind” - Bob Dylan, 1962
  17. “We Shall Overcome” - Mahalia Jackson, 1963
  18. “Too Many Martyrs” - Phil Ochs, 1964
  19. “Alabama Blues” - J. B. Lenoir, 1965
  20. “Our Freedom Song” - The Jubilee Hummingbirds, 1965
  21. “A Change Is Gonna Come” - Otis Redding, 1965


    Disc Two
  1. “Forty Acres and A Mule” - Oscar Brown Jr., 1965
  2. “People Get Ready” - The Impressions, 1965
  3. “Nobody Can Turn Me Around” - The Mighty Clouds of Joy, 1966
  4. “I Wish I Knew (How It Would Feel To Be Free)” - Solomon Burke, 1968
  5. “Respect” - Aretha Franklin, 1967
  6. “The Motor City is Burning” - John Lee Hooker, 1967
  7. “Cryin In The Streets” part 1 - George Perkins & The Silver Stars, 1968
  8. “Abraham, Martin, and John” - Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, 1969
  9. “The Prayer” Ray Scott, 1970
  10. “Say It Loud - I’m Black and I’m Proud” part 1 - James Brown, 1968
  11. “And Black is Beautiful” - Nickie Lee, 1968
  12. “Sock It To ‘Em Soul Brother” - Bill Moss, 1969
  13. “Why I Sing The Blues” part 1 - B.B. King, 1969
  14. “I Don’t Want Nobody To Give Me Nothin (Open Up The Door, I’ll Get It Myself)” part 1 - James Brown, 1969
  15. “Stand!” - Sly & The Family Stone, 1969
  16. “Message From A Black Man” - The Temptations, 1969
  17. “Is It Because I’m Black” - Sly Johnson, 1969
  18. “I Was Born Blue” - Swamp Dogg, 1970
  19. “Yes, We Can” part 1 - Lee Dorsey, 1970
  20. “We the People Who Are Darker Than Blue” - Curtis Mayfield, 1970
  21. “Young, Gifted, and Black” - Bob & Marcia, 1970


    Disc Three
  1. “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” - Gil Scott-Heron, 1971
  2. “(For God’s Sake) Give More Power To The People” - The Chi-Lites, 1971
  3. “Smiling Faces Sometimes” - Undisputed Truth, 1971
  4. “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler)” - Marvin Gaye, 1971
  5. “Hercules” - Aaron Neville, 1973
  6. “Get Up, Stand Up” - Bob Marley and The Wailers, 1973
  7. “Fight The Power” part 1 - Isley Brothers, 1975
  8. “Give The People What They Want” - O’Jays, 1975
  9. “Black Is Black” - Jungle Brothers, 1988
  10. “Sister Rosa” - The Neville Brothers, 1989
  11. “The Pride” - Chuck D., 1996
  12. “Unity” - Sounds of Blackness, 2005
  13. “None of Us Are Free” - Solomon Burke, 2002
  14. “Eyes On The Prize” - The Sojourners, 2007
  15. “Down In Mississippi” - Mavis Staples, 2007
  16. “Free At Last” - The Blind Boys of Alabama, 2008

As you can see, this 3-disc box set is excellent.  Don’t know some of the artists?  Discover the songs by checking out Let Freedom Sing: The Music of the Civil Rights Movement.

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Posted by Hugh Smith on 02/24 at 08:00 PM
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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The White House to Host A Civil Rights Music Review

First Lady Michelle and President Barack Obama will host another “In Performance at the White House: A Celebration of Music from the Civil Rights Movement."

You’ll be able to see the show on TV across the USA.

WETA television Washington, DC is producing it for PBS.  It’s scheduled for broadcast on Thursday, February 11, 2010, at 8 pm Eastern.

NPR will also air a one hour concert special of the event (for radio) during February, Black History Month.

Here’s an early list of performers:

  • Natalie Cole
  • Bob Dylan
  • Jennifer Hudson
  • John Legend
  • John Mellencamp
  • Smokey Robinson
  • Seal
  • Blind Boys of Alabama
  • Howard University Choir

Morgan Freeman and Queen Latifah will be the happy couple hosting the show.

Since the theme of the event is music that inspired the Civil Rights Movement, you’ll hear plenty of songs of inspiration.

I especially like the collaboration with The Grammy Museum.

They’ll be offering a downloadable “Music that Inspired the Movement” curriculum for middle and high school teachers, available at GrammyMuseum.org.

"A Celebration of Music from the Civil Rights Movement” is the third “In Performance at the White House” program President Obama has offered.

Watch the slide show below featuring a few of the artists who will perform, and listen to 1 minute of a civil rights movement favorite, Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A Changing."

This version is performed by The Brothers and Sisters of Los Angeles.

The track is from the album, Dylan’s Gospel, courtesy of Powerhouse Radio. Visit Powerhouse Radio on Facebook.

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Posted by Hugh Smith on 01/27 at 08:00 AM
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Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Odetta Sang for Civil Rights

Singer Odetta Felious Gordon, (1930-2008), trained her voice for opera but decided to sing acoustic songs in the folk tradition.  The guitar playing vocalist from Birmingham, Alabama, was one of the first popular African American folk singers in the 1960’s.

Odetta used her influence to raise awareness about civil rights issues.  She passed away December 2, 2008.

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Posted by Hugh Smith on 12/03 at 08:59 AM
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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Martin Luther King Jr. Saluted with Song

Friday, April 4, 2008 marks the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Here are 2 video tributes we created using a couple of albums, now out of print, that salute the Martin Luther King Jr. legacy.

Here’s more background about this 1973 Martin Luther King Jr. Classic Soul Dream Concert.

Read the notes from playwright Tommy Butler about the Martin Luther King Jr. Selma Musical.

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Posted by Hugh Smith on 04/02 at 07:30 AM
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Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Hallelujah for Quincy Jones at 75

March 14, 2008 was the 75th birthday of the phenomenal Quincy Jones.

Musical genius Jones was born in Chicago in 1933.  He studied his craft at Seattle University and at the Berklee College of Music in Boston.

As a black history legend in music, Jones has been honored with 27 Grammy Awards, an Emmy Award, seven Oscar nominations, plus an honorary Oscar.

Quincy has worn all of his industry hats as a musical director, film score creator, composer, musician, producer, conductor, arranger, and record company executive.

In 1953, Quincy Jones was the first arranger/conductor to utilize the newly-invented Fender electric bass in audio recordings.

He played and toured with jazz greats Ray Charles, Lionel Hampton, and Dizzy Gillespie.  Jones has scored over 50 films.

His first film score was “The Pawnbroker,” in 1963.  Jones has produced albums for the very best, including Michael Jackson.  Besides winning all of those Grammy Awards, Quincy Jones has produced the actual network presentation of the Grammys on television.

“Q" recorded “Hallelujah,” Handel’s Messiah: A Soulful Celebration, a contemporary version of the famous classical work in 1991.  Released in 1992, the album featured Patti Austin, Andrae Crouch, Sandra Crouch, Clifton Davis, Charles Dutton, Kim Fields, Edwin Hawkins, Tramaine Hawkins, Linda Hopkins, Al Jarreau, Chaka Khan, Gladys Knight, Johnny Mathis, Marilyn McCoo, Stephanie Mills, Jeffrey Osborne, Phylicia Rashad, Joe Sample, Take 6, Vanessa Williams, Patti LaBelle, Stevie Wonder, and Vanessa Bell Armstrong.

For his incredible story, discover Q - The Autobiography of Quincy Jones.

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Posted by Hugh Smith on 03/19 at 01:02 AM
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Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Margaret Rosezarian Harris Conducts Key Movements

Margaret Rosezarian Harris, (1944 – 2000), was the first black woman to conduct the symphony orchestras of 16 American cities, including Los Angeles, Detroit, and Chicago.

A child prodigy, she played piano at age 3, and at age 10, played a Mozart Concerto with the Chicago Symphony.

Miss Harris started her career as a pianist, but achieved much more attention as a celebrated conductor.

The Chicago, Illinois born Margaret won a scholarship to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia.  She was also a graduate of New York City’s Julliard School of Music.

Margaret Harris conquered Broadway as the music director of the musical Hair in 1970.

She passed away this week, 8 years ago, at age 56.

Classical Trivia: William Grant Still was the first African American to conduct a major symphony orchestra, (The Los Angeles Philharmonic in 1936).

Posted by Hugh Smith on 03/05 at 07:30 PM
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Wednesday, October 10, 2007

James Weldon Johnson's Community Connection

James Weldon Johnson, (1871-1938), wrote the famous poem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing” - now known as The Negro National Anthem.

He wrote several books and poems, including, The Autobiography of an ex-Colored Man, (1912), and Negro American, What Now? (1934).

Johnson collaborated with his brother to write hundreds of songs.  Many of these tunes were featured on Broadway.

He was the first African American admitted to the Florida Bar, marking another of his numerous accomplishments as a contributor to black history.

President Teddy Roosevelt appointed Johnson U.S. Consul to Venezuela and Nicaragua in 1906.  Johnson joined the NAACP in 1916, and became Executive Secretary of the organization in 1920.

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Posted by Hugh Smith on 10/10 at 08:14 AM
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Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Lena Horne Celebrates 90

Celebrating her 90th birthday, Lena Horne, entertainer extraordinaire, was born in Brooklyn, New York on June 30, 1917.

She was a 16-year-old chorus girl at Harlem’s famous Cotton Club in 1933.  Horne’s legacy includes success with radio, movies, television, records, and Broadway.

Her first big Broadway role was in the 1957 production of “Jamaica” with Ricardo Montalban.  As a singer, she’s won 3 Grammy Awards.

Horne has appeared in 16 Hollywood feature films.

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Posted by Hugh Smith on 07/04 at 01:02 AM
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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Diana Ross Challenges 2007 BET Award Recipients to Raise the Bar

On a night in which she was honored with a lifetime achievement award, Diana Ross had some positive words of wisdom for her inexperienced peers.

Ms. Ross encouraged young artists gathered for the June 26, 2007 BET Awards that long careers are possible without using sleaze and vulgarities.

Her 5 decades of success speaks well for Diana’s magic staying power.

As one of the most popular female vocalists of all time, Ms. Ross is now a black history role model for a new generation of performers.

This photo is from her early 2007 I Love You CD.  Diana is still cranking out the hits.

From humble beginnings to international stardom, the career of Diana Ross has stood the test of time.  She has reached out and touched the world as a recording legend, film actor, and night club performer.

"The Boss” began her climb to fame at age 14 as part of a singing group with Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard.

The Primettes sang at parties around Detroit, Michigan.  They auditioned for Motown in 1960.  Owner Berry Gordy renamed the group, the Supremes.  The vocal trio belted out hit after hit during the 1960’s.

In 1970, Diana Ross went solo.  She signed a huge recording contract with RCA in 1981 (after 20 years with Motown).  In 1982, Diana’s star was placed on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Posted by Hugh Smith on 06/27 at 01:15 AM
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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Black History People Visionaries and Pioneers

  • "What did Barbara Jordan do for us?”
  • "I need a report on Diana Ross”
  • “Something on Frederick Douglass”
  • “Do you have information on Malcolm X?”

These are four actual questions from among the many we received in the past week!  Yes, it is hard to find reliable information about African American visionaries and pioneers.

Here are 26 twentieth century personalities responsible for moving the American Dream forward you need to know about (in random order):

  1. Langston Hughes
  2. Marian Anderson
  3. Thomas Bradley
  4. Dr. Ralph J. Bunche
  5. Coretta Scott King
  6. Frederick Douglass
  7. Dr. Charles Drew
  8. Sammy Davis Jr.
  9. Shirley Chisholm
  10. Jesse Owens
  11. James Meredith
  12. Ella Fitzgerald
  13. William H. Hastie
  14. Richard Wright
  15. Malcolm X
  16. Diana Ross
  17. Charles H. Houston
  18. A. Philip Randolph
  19. Andrew Young
  20. Barbara Jordan
  21. Ronald Dellums
  22. Bo Diddley
  23. Rosa Parks
  24. Duke Ellington
  25. Lena Horne
  26. Joe Louis

    If you’d like to learn more about these achievers, (and you’ve signed up for our free black history biographies via email...and have confirmed your subscription), then you’ll be among the first to be able to benefit from an exciting new project profiling these African American legends coming soon.

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    Posted by Hugh Smith on 02/15 at 09:45 AM
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    Wednesday, January 17, 2007

    Ella Fitzgerald gets a Stamp of Approval

    Ella Fitzgerald, (1917 - 1996), a jazz great, was one of the first African American singers to appeal to both black and white audiences.

    Poverty could not suppress the raw talent that was to lead to her eventual success.

    She was born in Newport News, Virginia.  Her family chose to make New York City their adopted home.

    As a teenager in the 1930’s, Fitzgerald began six decades of performance encompassing 250 recordings and 13 Grammy Awards.

    She popularized the jazz style called scat singing.  Her 1938 hit, “A-Tisket, A-Tasket,” derived from nursery rhymes, became her trademark song.

    She sang the songs of the best songwriters, and performed with most of the greats, including Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie.  Diabetes eventually claimed her life at the age of 79.

    On January 10, 2007, Ella Fitzgerald, became the 30th honoree in the popular Black History Heritage commemorative stamp series issued by the U.S. Postal Service.

    The stamp image is a portrait based on a photograph taken around 1956.  As you can see, this likeness captures the joy and excitement that Fitzgerald brought to music.

    Fitzgerald won the National Medal of Arts, presented to her in 1987 by President Ronald Reagan. She was one of five artists awarded Kennedy Center Honors in 1979.

    In 1989, the Society of Singers created an award for lifetime achievement, called it the “Ella,” and made her its first recipient.

    In 2005, Jazz at Lincoln Center inducted Fitzgerald into its Nesuhi Ertegun Jazz Hall of Fame.

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    Posted by Hugh Smith on 01/17 at 09:30 PM
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