Minnie Riperton Turns 69!

 

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Photoshoot from 1975 in L.A. (credit Michael Ochs Archives)

 

Today marks the 69th birthday of daughter, mother, wife, songstress, and songwriter Minnie Riperton. Riperton passed on July 12th, 1979. She was 31 years old. Gone Too Soon! It has been 38 years since the multi-octave, Angelic voice that dwelled inside her was silenced forever.

We remember Minnie Riperton for her remarkable voice – a lyric coloratura soprano, which she used to set new vocal parameters in pop music. Classically trained in Opera, Riperton vocally backed artists such as Etta James and Stevie Wonder, and in her own career, she was able to subtly blend her agile opera styles into the soul and R&B music she sang.

Ultimately, she set the high note template for the likes of Mariah Carey and others in pop music.

Riperton was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1976. However, she continued recording, touring, was nominated for an American Music Award for favorite soul/R&B Female Artist, as well as became a spokesperson for the American Cancer Society until her death 3 years later.

Minnie Riperton’s Legacy is rooted in her vocal Perfection and her ability to communicate the sentiments of a song to the masses like no other. Happy Birthday, Minnie Riperton!

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That Weekend in L.A. with George Benson

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In late September of 1977 jazz guitarist and newly minted crossover R&B crooner, George Benson landed in Los Angeles to record his landmark live album at the legendary Roxy Theatre.  At the time, Los Angeles was in the midst of creating incredible historic and enduring moments.  The months leading up to Benson’s performance on the night of September 30th at the Roxy Theatre, Angelinos had not only witnessed the inauguration of President Jimmy Carter with the rest of America, but locally experienced remarkable events that ranged from the unforgettable imagery of NASA’s Space shuttle Enterprise soaring across the sky piggy-backed on a Boeing 747 jet, experiencing the frenzy of the redefining sci-fi soon to be juggernaut film Star Wars, to welcoming Mayor Tom Bradley—arguably the most politically and socially significant person west of the Rockies in the ‘70s—into his second term, collectively breathed a sigh of relief with the capture of the sick “Freeway Killer” all while watching new Dodgers’ manager Tommy Lasorda lead his team into the NLCS*.  Los Angeles was indeed primed and ready to receive a George Benson performance.

A year prior, Benson’s popularity reached the zenith of his career with the release of his hit single “This Masquerade” from his two time Grammy award winning album Breezin’. His sure-fire vocals and scats, which mirrored his guitar melodies and jazz riffs, catapulted him into the upper echelon of R&B crooners of the era.  Benson, for the first time, effectively crossed over from the jazz genre solidly into the world of R&B and pop. Attracting new and larger audiences for his live performances, Benson was indeed primed to deliver for a slick and beautifully complex L.A. audience.

On the afternoon of September 30th, Benson made his way up Sunset Boulevard amid fancy cars, infamous traffic, Hollywood sunshine, larger-than-life billboards, palm tree-lined streets, and of course a bit of that iconic L.A. smog on his way to the Roxy Theatre. The theatre on Sunset, commonly known as The Roxy, was founded by producers and Hollywood insiders Lou Adler, Elmer Valentine, David Geffen, Elliot Roberts, and Peter Asher who together opened its doors for business just four years earlier.  In a short time, The Roxy had emerged as the venue of choice for up and coming artists to showcase their talents to a consuming audience bent on catching a glimpse of the new hot thing. Upon Benson’s arrival, he was met by his well rehearsed and longtime band, which consisted of Stanley Banks on Bass, Ronnie Foster on synthesizer, the late Ralph MacDonald on percussion, Phil Upchurch on rhythm guitar, Harvey Mason on drums, and the late Jorge Dalto on piano.  He quickly rehearsed the setlist and worked out any kinks to create a flawless show.  After rehearsal, Benson met with the late producer Tommy LiPuma to work out stage sounds and board mixes.  In conversation with Benson, LiPuma agonized over what to name the album and pondered a few ideas. Ultimately, not wanting to apply a common and yet all too mundane moniker like George Benson Live at the Roxy, which is a style that has been used to name other albums recorded live at The Roxy, rather LiPuma settled on George Benson Weekend in L.A.  The title implied a happening–an event that was not to be missed.  Benson loved it.

That very night in late September, Benson stepped on stage to a sold out and packed Roxy.  The audience was filled with Angelino fans eager to be lifted to the next level by the magic of Benson’s performance.  Music industry heavy hitters such as Aretha Franklin, the late Minnie Ripperton, the late Natalie Cole, Bonnie Raitt, Tom Scott, the late Leon Russell, and even actors David Soul and Keith Carradine were nestled into the crowd to certify Benson’s rising star as an R&B and pop artist.  Benson’s music swept over the audience and filled the gritty theatre with a lively atmosphere of celebration, which aided in the release of tension for residents of L.A.  His skillful jazz licks and well-seasoned vocals easily carried the audience to a place of both respite and pleasure.  Benson and his band opened with songs such as the aptly named “Weekend in LA,” written especially for this live event.  Then in grand style, summoned for the first time, he performed  “On Broadway,” which, after this night, would become his signature song. Next, Benson dug in on the heartfelt “Down Here on The Ground,” which was followed by  the driving “California P.M.”  And finally, to round out half of the album’s set, he sang out in fantastic fashion “The Greatest Love of All,” which he recorded a few months earlier for the Muhammad Ali film, The Greatest.  The late Whitney Houston’s recording of “The Greatest Love of All” became the first of her many signature songs.  The Roxy audience cheered, shouted, and erupted in applause throughout the lively performance while Benson continued to perform the rest of the evening.  His songs’ fed L.A’s appetite for epic and uniquely cultured music.

In the end, Benson performed at The Roxy for three nights.  The L.A. audience embraced his music amid the electric climate of the late seventies.  Certainly, Benson was ready for his proverbial “Hollywood close-up,” which was made possible by his newfound crossover appeal. The Roxy was the perfect venue to bring together the complex and slick L.A. audience.  The live recording of George Benson Weekend in L.A. captured a magical evening that not only demonstrated how a guitar and jazz riffs could bring a crowd to a frenzy but more so, spoke to the issues of the era.   The entire live album, upon a contemporary listen, is infused with the promise of hope and change.  Without question, the 80s kept that promise.  That weekend in L.A. with George Benson was indeed a happening, which we can revisit and experience anytime. The album is a classic. 

George Benson Weekend in L.A. was released three months later in January of 1978. Benson’s weekend effort garnered him the Grammy for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for the song “On Broadway.”  Benson’s album, which turned 40 years old earlier this month is impeccably recorded and is a must listen.

 

*Not to get all sporty here but the Dodgers won the NLCS in a 3-1 victory over the Phillies and went to the World Series to battle the Yankees.  Reggie Jackson with a little help from the rest of the Yankees sent the Dodgers packing 4-2. It’s a good thing they had George Benson Weekend in L.A. to soothe the hurt.

AAMAM: The End Is For The Grown And Sexy! Part 30 of 30

Ok people we have come to the end of African American Music Appreciation Month or some of you may know it as Black Music Month (check out part 1 of 30 for more info). It’s been great. We started it off with James Brown and the relevance of his voice in a new era, listened to Milles Davis’ greatest recording ever, acknowledged the death of Ornette Coleman and how he change the sound of jazz, celebrated the life of BB King and my experience with him, we dedicated “We Shall Overcome” to the citizens of Charleston and the tragedy that took place there, and we jammed to the greatest hip hop group ever, the Fugees “Mona Lisa can I get a date on Friday and if you’re busy I wouldn’t mine taking Saturdaaaay aaaay  aaay  round up the posse fugee coming round the way . . .!” That was just to name a few of the great music experienced over the past 29 days. It’s ok to go back and check out what you missed.

AAMAM is a great time to celebrate the power of black music and the swaying force it has in black culture. It’s also a great time to remember those unique and soulful artist who created it and listen to their messages they addressed in American life as black artist.

So in the end, lets just listen to some thing nice and sweet! No troubling issues about society or a cultural point to be made. Just a nice and easy up tempo contemporary song about enduring love. Justsoulyouknow dedicates this song to AAMAM!chrisette-michele41

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Take a listen to soul crooner Kem and my girl Chrisette Michele work it out on the duet “If It’s Love.” Grab your significant other, pick a part and sing along. Careful, this is for the grown and sexy! Ha!

Peace!

AAMAM: When The Glory Comes! Part 29 of 30

gloryGlory, the theme song to the 2014 film Selma, about the march for voting rights that began in Selma, Alabama and ended in the state capital of Montgomery. The song, written by rapper Common and singer John Legend, which garnered and Oscar, recalled images of the march and reminded the listener of the struggles that happened not too long ago. Glory also, sadly, sent a message that those struggles long ago still exist today as it made reference to Ferguson, Missouri.

Moreover, Glory continues to speak to the struggles of our time. New verses that include Baltimore and Charleston can easily find their place in between the choruses of this song.

The struggle continues.

Remember. Step up. Press on.

“Now the war is not over

Victory isn’t won

But we’ll fight on to the finish

Then when it’s all done

We’ll cry Glory!

We’ll cry Glory!”

AAMAM is glorious!

 

 

AAMAM: Screamin’ The Gospel! Part 28 of 30

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Archie Brownlee is on the far right. (1936-1960)

The Five Blind Boys Of Mississippi were no doubt one of the greatest, if not THE greatest singing group in gospel music.  Noted for their strong harmonies and hard gospel singing style the group delivered deeply emotional and spiritual Christian messages in song. Helping to catapult the group, which had its beginnings in the Piney Woods School for the blind near Jackson, Mississippi, was lead vocalist Archie Brownlee.  His vocal presence was commanding and felt immensely in every song.  Brownlee became famous for his ability to release an intense guttural scream in song.  In a spiritual sense he was attempting to connect with the Angels and God in heaven.

Vocals like Brownlee’s were, for the most part, unprecedented in recorded gospel music of the era, rather, vocals like his were most familiar within the walls of the Black church.  Many of Five Blind Boys Of Mississippi’s contemporaries heavily borrowed from their hard gospel harmonic singing style and the guttural screams of Brownlee.  Pop artist such as James Brown, Little Richard, and Sam Cooke, who have their roots in gospel music, cited The Five Blind Boys Of Mississippi and Archie Brown as influential in their craft.

Take a listen to the Five Blind Boys Of Mississippi and the screams of Archie Brownlee.

Enjoy AAMAM!

AAMAM: Public Enemy’s Rhetoric! Part 27 of 30

pe“1989 the number another summer

Sound of the funky drummer . . . ”

If you know the rest of these lyrics to this song then you are the an esteemed hip hop head or you were there when legendary rap group Public Enemy dropped the song that summer of ’89 on the soundtrack to director Spike Lee’s controversial film Do The Right Thing (also released almost a year later on the album Fear Of A Black Planet).

Public Enemy wrote the song to unify Black urban youth and to encourage them to speak out against oppression and the injustices that mirrored the inequities of the Civil Rights Movement, a little more than 20 years earlier.  Rapper Chuck D’s voice is hard to ignore—it demanded attention as he enlightened his listening audience on then current cultural and political situation of Black urban youth while he also encouraged them to resist oppressive powers in the summer of 1989.

To a certain extent Fight The Power is apropos in its message of encouragement today. Constant encouragement to fight an oppressive power structure is a good thing and required not just for Black urban youth but for all Americans.

AAMAM fights the power!

AAMAM: The Marvelous Voice Of Luther Vandross. Part 26 of 30

lutherWhen celebrating African American Music Appreciation Month we must marvel at the Black voice in song.  It has a wonderful vibrato and tone filled with hope everlasting.  It can gracefully reach a brutal yet angelic fortissimo then in an instant render into a peaceful pianississimo whisper.  It can bounce around in a most staccato way and still lull a baby to sleep amid the bright lights and big city.  It tells stories of the Black experience past, present, and future.  It seeps into our memories and keeps us warm at night and calm in the midst of a storm. And it certainly can fill us with an abundance of joy!

Singers who have mastered the art, temperament, and technical requirements of the Black voice such as Billie Holiday, Nat Cole, Ella Fitzgerald, Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Minnie Riperton, Teddy Pendergrass, Chaka Khan, Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, Rachelle Farrell, Lalah Hathaway, Jose James, Ledisi, and Gregory Porter, just to name but a few, have delivered various musical motifs to global life.

Only select singers can be singled out to be examined for their abilities, cultural merits and social achievements and their motif of love. In this case, there is one singular Black voice, among few, who is known almost exclusively for the vocal ability to croon about love. Luther Vandross can be counted among those who have mastered the art, temperament, and technical requirements of the Black voice. Known at times as the “heavy weight of soul,” Vandross, with his voice, carved out a place for lovers to dwell. His voice smooth and alluring signaled both men and women to come hither (I’m having fun with this).  With a seemingly effortless glissando from a low holler to a righteous scream through several octaves, Vandross’ voice formed to cupid’s function.

Luther Vandross has many songs that can be used as examples to show how his voice, in all its power and ability, can set the tone in the mind and hearts of any listener. However, this post will use his 1983 release “Make Me A Believer” and that quintessential love motive. With its smooth glossy 80’s feel it tells of one lover’s desire to hold another in full belief that love will never end all the while Vandross’ voice is marvelous in tale.

AAMAM has a voice for lovers!