BMM2017

A small tribute to icons & living legends that have giving us a great contribution to this art we know and love called.... MUSIC.


  GEORGE DUKE   Day 1 George Duke  George Duke was an accomplished keyboardist, producer, arranger, bandleader, and composer. He was successful in both popular music and jazz, and straddled both sides of that aisle for most of his career. Duke grew up in Marin City, California, and in high school played in his first jazz group. His early influences were Miles Davis, Les McCann, and Cal Tjader, all of whom played a role in the diversity of his composing, playing, and arranging. After graduating from high school, he attended the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and majored in trombone and composition with a minor in contrabass; he received his bachelor's degree in music in 1967. He continued his studies at San Francisco State University, where he earned a master's degree, and briefly taught at Merritt Junior College in Oakland. While in school, Duke was part of a house band at San Francisco's Half Note with Al Jarreau. The band backed some of the biggest names in jazz, including Sonny Rollins and Dexter Gordon.     He also began his recording career in 1967 while still in school. His first recording, The George Duke Quartet, Presented by the Jazz Workshop, was released on Germany's Saba imprint, which later became MPS, a label he enjoyed a fruitful relationship with in the '70s. In 1969 Duke heard a record on the radio by French violinist Jean-Luc Ponty, and through his relationship with Pacific Jazz honcho Dick Bock he was able to make contact with Ponty; they eventually recorded The Jean-Luc Ponty Experience with the George Duke Trio in 1969. The band played a slew of club gigs in the Bay Area, and at one such performance he was heard by audience members Frank Zappa and Cannonball Adderley. He was invited to join Zappa's Mothers of Invention and accepted, spending much of 1969 and 1970 with him. Duke then spent 1971-1972 as pianist with Cannonball Adderley's band, and then returned to Zappa from 1973-1975.     In 1975 he worked with Sonny Rollins and co-led a group with Billy Cobham. Throughout these years, Duke recorded six albums for MPS: Solus/The Inner Source, Faces in Reflection, I Love the Blues, She Heard My Cry, Feel, The Aura Will Prevail, and Liberated Fantasies, all of which are now regarded as jazz and jazz-funk classics. Duke signed to CBS in late 1975 and released his first solo album for the imprint, From Me to You, in 1976, and began scandalizing jazz critics with his inclusion of funk, disco, and soul elements in his compositions, and in the array of musicians who performed with him. In 1978 he recorded his breakthrough, the crossover funk album Reach for It; it took him into the upper reaches of the pop charts, and moved his concert appearances from clubs to arenas. Follow the Rainbow and Brazilian Love Affair both landed in 1979 and ran up the charts as well.     By the late '70s he was also producing projects for jazz, pop, and Brazilian artists including Raul de Souza, Dee Dee Bridgewater, and A Taste of Honey, whose single "Sukiyaki" hit the top spot on the pop, adult contemporary, and R&B charts and went multi-platinum. Duke became a producer of note, going on to score hits with Jeffrey Osbourne ("Stay with Me Tonight," "On the Wings of Love") and Deniece Williams ("Let's Hear It for the Boy," "Do What You Feel"). After that, production played as large a role as making his own records -- during part of the '80s almost surpassing it. Duke produced a diverse range of projects -- including records by the Pointer Sisters, Barry Manilow, Smokey Robinson, Melissa Manchester, 101 North, George Howard, Gladys Knight, Najee, Take 6, Howard Hewett, Chanté Moore, Everette Harp, Rachelle Ferrell (his key collaborator in the early '90s), Gladys Knight, Keith Washington, Gary Valenciano, Johnny Gill, and Anita Baker -- in a wide range of styles. Many of these records charted highly.  Duke began the '80s with the first Clarke/Duke Project recording (with bassist Stanley Clarke) that netted his own number Top 20 crossover hit, "Sweet Baby" (number 19 Pop, number 6 R&B). He also released the solo works Dream On, Guardian of the Light, and Rendezvous as well as another Clarke/Duke Project album before leaving Epic for Elektra in 1984. There he recorded Thief in the Night, George Duke, and Night After Night. Duke's music delighted mainstream audiences and crossed over from pop to adult contemporary to the R&B charts effortlessly.     The '90s commenced for Duke with a third and final Clarke/Duke Project recording before he signed to Warner Bros. upon the courting of legendary label boss Mo Ostin. While his debut for the label, 1993's Snapshot, hit the charts because of its smash single "No Rhyme, No Reason" (sung by Ferrell), the biggest surprise for audiences came later, in 1995, with the release of The Muir Woods Suite. A large jazz concept work, it was recorded live at the Montreux Jazz Festival with Duke playing keyboards, Clarke on bass, Chester Thompson on drums, and Paulinho Da Costa on percussion fronting a symphony orchestra. It was actually recorded in 1993, but Duke spent two years "fixing" the tracks before it was released in 1995; he later performed it numerous times in concert. Jazz critics who had long derided his pop success and wrote him off suddenly took notice again. Duke, however, was courting no one. In 1996 he released Illusions and nailed another single in the Top 40 with "Love Can Be So Cold." Some of the players and singers featured on the album included Ferrell, James Ingram, Joyce Kennedy, Mervin Warren, Marvin Winans, the Emotions, Lori Perry, and Everette Harp. Duke finished the decade with a string of albums for Warner including a second concept work, After Hours, before leaving the label after 2000's Cool.     Duke threw another change-up in 2002 with Face the Music, issued on BPM. He played mostly acoustic piano on the date -- something he hadn't done in years -- and used the same core band on the entire recording (another rarity). His main sidemen for the date were bassist Christian McBride, drummer Lil' John Roberts, and Jef Lee Johnson on guitar. Though there are other instruments and players, these men appear on every track. The album Duke was released in 2005, a hodgepodge of music he'd left off other projects. In 2006 he released In a Mellow Tone, a more traditional jazz album with Brian Bromberg on upright bass and Terri Lyne Carrington on drums, and the jazz critics took notice once again. Duke returned to jazz-funk and R&B for 2008's Dukey Treats, on Heads Up/Telarc, once more using singers and a slew of musicians. It was followed by Déjà Vu in 2010. In 2012, he produced Jeffrey Osborne's Time for Love album (released in 2013). During the sessions, Duke's wife of 40 years, Corine, died from complications due to cancer. After some time spent away from music in order to properly grieve, he entered the studio in early 2013, and recorded DreamWeaver, which was released in July of that year. Undergoing treatment for chronic lymphocytic leukemia, Duke passed away in a Los Angeles hospital the following month, just over a year after the passing of his wife. He was 67 years old. ~ Thom Jurek, Rovi  ( Taken from Spotify.com )

GEORGE DUKE

Day 1 George Duke

George Duke was an accomplished keyboardist, producer, arranger, bandleader, and composer. He was successful in both popular music and jazz, and straddled both sides of that aisle for most of his career. Duke grew up in Marin City, California, and in high school played in his first jazz group. His early influences were Miles Davis, Les McCann, and Cal Tjader, all of whom played a role in the diversity of his composing, playing, and arranging. After graduating from high school, he attended the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and majored in trombone and composition with a minor in contrabass; he received his bachelor's degree in music in 1967. He continued his studies at San Francisco State University, where he earned a master's degree, and briefly taught at Merritt Junior College in Oakland. While in school, Duke was part of a house band at San Francisco's Half Note with Al Jarreau. The band backed some of the biggest names in jazz, including Sonny Rollins and Dexter Gordon.

 

He also began his recording career in 1967 while still in school. His first recording, The George Duke Quartet, Presented by the Jazz Workshop, was released on Germany's Saba imprint, which later became MPS, a label he enjoyed a fruitful relationship with in the '70s. In 1969 Duke heard a record on the radio by French violinist Jean-Luc Ponty, and through his relationship with Pacific Jazz honcho Dick Bock he was able to make contact with Ponty; they eventually recorded The Jean-Luc Ponty Experience with the George Duke Trio in 1969. The band played a slew of club gigs in the Bay Area, and at one such performance he was heard by audience members Frank Zappa and Cannonball Adderley. He was invited to join Zappa's Mothers of Invention and accepted, spending much of 1969 and 1970 with him. Duke then spent 1971-1972 as pianist with Cannonball Adderley's band, and then returned to Zappa from 1973-1975.

 

In 1975 he worked with Sonny Rollins and co-led a group with Billy Cobham. Throughout these years, Duke recorded six albums for MPS: Solus/The Inner Source, Faces in Reflection, I Love the Blues, She Heard My Cry, Feel, The Aura Will Prevail, and Liberated Fantasies, all of which are now regarded as jazz and jazz-funk classics. Duke signed to CBS in late 1975 and released his first solo album for the imprint, From Me to You, in 1976, and began scandalizing jazz critics with his inclusion of funk, disco, and soul elements in his compositions, and in the array of musicians who performed with him. In 1978 he recorded his breakthrough, the crossover funk album Reach for It; it took him into the upper reaches of the pop charts, and moved his concert appearances from clubs to arenas. Follow the Rainbow and Brazilian Love Affair both landed in 1979 and ran up the charts as well.

 

By the late '70s he was also producing projects for jazz, pop, and Brazilian artists including Raul de Souza, Dee Dee Bridgewater, and A Taste of Honey, whose single "Sukiyaki" hit the top spot on the pop, adult contemporary, and R&B charts and went multi-platinum. Duke became a producer of note, going on to score hits with Jeffrey Osbourne ("Stay with Me Tonight," "On the Wings of Love") and Deniece Williams ("Let's Hear It for the Boy," "Do What You Feel"). After that, production played as large a role as making his own records -- during part of the '80s almost surpassing it. Duke produced a diverse range of projects -- including records by the Pointer Sisters, Barry Manilow, Smokey Robinson, Melissa Manchester, 101 North, George Howard, Gladys Knight, Najee, Take 6, Howard Hewett, Chanté Moore, Everette Harp, Rachelle Ferrell (his key collaborator in the early '90s), Gladys Knight, Keith Washington, Gary Valenciano, Johnny Gill, and Anita Baker -- in a wide range of styles. Many of these records charted highly.

Duke began the '80s with the first Clarke/Duke Project recording (with bassist Stanley Clarke) that netted his own number Top 20 crossover hit, "Sweet Baby" (number 19 Pop, number 6 R&B). He also released the solo works Dream On, Guardian of the Light, and Rendezvous as well as another Clarke/Duke Project album before leaving Epic for Elektra in 1984. There he recorded Thief in the Night, George Duke, and Night After Night. Duke's music delighted mainstream audiences and crossed over from pop to adult contemporary to the R&B charts effortlessly.

 

The '90s commenced for Duke with a third and final Clarke/Duke Project recording before he signed to Warner Bros. upon the courting of legendary label boss Mo Ostin. While his debut for the label, 1993's Snapshot, hit the charts because of its smash single "No Rhyme, No Reason" (sung by Ferrell), the biggest surprise for audiences came later, in 1995, with the release of The Muir Woods Suite. A large jazz concept work, it was recorded live at the Montreux Jazz Festival with Duke playing keyboards, Clarke on bass, Chester Thompson on drums, and Paulinho Da Costa on percussion fronting a symphony orchestra. It was actually recorded in 1993, but Duke spent two years "fixing" the tracks before it was released in 1995; he later performed it numerous times in concert. Jazz critics who had long derided his pop success and wrote him off suddenly took notice again. Duke, however, was courting no one. In 1996 he released Illusions and nailed another single in the Top 40 with "Love Can Be So Cold." Some of the players and singers featured on the album included Ferrell, James Ingram, Joyce Kennedy, Mervin Warren, Marvin Winans, the Emotions, Lori Perry, and Everette Harp. Duke finished the decade with a string of albums for Warner including a second concept work, After Hours, before leaving the label after 2000's Cool.

 

Duke threw another change-up in 2002 with Face the Music, issued on BPM. He played mostly acoustic piano on the date -- something he hadn't done in years -- and used the same core band on the entire recording (another rarity). His main sidemen for the date were bassist Christian McBride, drummer Lil' John Roberts, and Jef Lee Johnson on guitar. Though there are other instruments and players, these men appear on every track. The album Duke was released in 2005, a hodgepodge of music he'd left off other projects. In 2006 he released In a Mellow Tone, a more traditional jazz album with Brian Bromberg on upright bass and Terri Lyne Carrington on drums, and the jazz critics took notice once again. Duke returned to jazz-funk and R&B for 2008's Dukey Treats, on Heads Up/Telarc, once more using singers and a slew of musicians. It was followed by Déjà Vu in 2010. In 2012, he produced Jeffrey Osborne's Time for Love album (released in 2013). During the sessions, Duke's wife of 40 years, Corine, died from complications due to cancer. After some time spent away from music in order to properly grieve, he entered the studio in early 2013, and recorded DreamWeaver, which was released in July of that year. Undergoing treatment for chronic lymphocytic leukemia, Duke passed away in a Los Angeles hospital the following month, just over a year after the passing of his wife. He was 67 years old. ~ Thom Jurek, Rovi

(Taken from Spotify.com)

  SARAH VAUGHAN    Sarah Lois Vaughan was born in Newark, New Jersey, on March 27, 1924. Outside of their regular jobs—as a carpenter and as a laundress—her parents were also musicians. Growing up in Newark, a young Sarah Vaughan studied the piano and organ, and her voice could be heard as a soloist at Mount Zion Baptist Church.    Vaughan's first step toward becoming a professional singer was taken at a talent contest held at Harlem's Apollo Theater, where many African-American music legends made their name. After being dared to enter, she won the 1942 competition with her rendition of "Body and Soul." She also caught the attention of another vocalist, Billy Eckstine, who persuaded Earl Hines to hire Vaughan to sing with his orchestra.    In 1944, Vaughan left Hines to join Eckstine's new band. Also working with Eckstine were trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and saxophonist Charlie Parker, who introduced the group to a new form of jazz, known as bebop. An inspired Vaughan brought bebop into her singing, which can be heard in the 1945 recording of "Lover Man" that she made with Parker and Gillespie.    After performing with Eckstine's orchestra for a year, Vaughan briefly worked with John Kirby before leaving big bands behind to become a solo artist (though she often reunited with Eckstine for duets). Having already been given the nickname "Sassy" as a commentary on her onstage style, it was while striking out on her own that she was dubbed "The Divine One" by a DJ in Chicago. In the late 1940s, her popular recordings included "If You Could See Me Now" and "It's Magic."    The next decade saw Vaughan produce more pop music, though when she joined Mercury Records she also recorded jazz numbers on a subsidiary label, EmArcy. She sang hits like "Whatever Lola Wants" (1955), "Misty" (1957) and "Broken-Hearted Melody" (1959), which sold more than a million copies. Vaughan gave concerts in the United States and Europe, and her singing was also heard in films such as  Disc Jockey  (1951) and  Basin Street Revue  (1956).    After the 1950s, shifting musical tastes meant that Vaughan no longer produced huge hits. However, she remained a popular performer, particularly when she sang live. In front of an audience, her emotional, vibrato-rich delivery, three-octave vocal range and captivating scat technique were even more appealing. Though her voice took on a deeper pitch as Vaughan got older—likely due in part her smoking habit—this didn't impact the quality of her singing, as could be heard on "Send in the Clowns," a staple in her repertoire.    Vaughan's later recordings include interpretations of Beatles songs and Brazilian music. Over the years, she collaborated with people like producer Quincy Jones, pianist Oscar Peterson and conductor Michael Tilson Thomas. Vaughan won her first Grammy thanks to her work with Thomas and the Los Angeles Philharmonic on  Gershwin Live!  (1982).    Vaughan's final concert was given at New York's Blue Note Club in 1989. She passed away from lung cancer on April 3, 1990, at age 66, in Hidden Hills, a suburb of Los Angeles, California. Married and divorced four times, she was survived by her adopted daughter.    Throughout her career, Vaughan was recognized as a supremely gifted singer and performer. She was invited to perform at the White House and at venues like Carnegie Hall, was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Grammy in 1989 and was selected to join the Jazz Hall of Fame in 1990. She also received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.    ( Taken from Biography.com )

SARAH VAUGHAN

Sarah Lois Vaughan was born in Newark, New Jersey, on March 27, 1924. Outside of their regular jobs—as a carpenter and as a laundress—her parents were also musicians. Growing up in Newark, a young Sarah Vaughan studied the piano and organ, and her voice could be heard as a soloist at Mount Zion Baptist Church.

Vaughan's first step toward becoming a professional singer was taken at a talent contest held at Harlem's Apollo Theater, where many African-American music legends made their name. After being dared to enter, she won the 1942 competition with her rendition of "Body and Soul." She also caught the attention of another vocalist, Billy Eckstine, who persuaded Earl Hines to hire Vaughan to sing with his orchestra.

In 1944, Vaughan left Hines to join Eckstine's new band. Also working with Eckstine were trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and saxophonist Charlie Parker, who introduced the group to a new form of jazz, known as bebop. An inspired Vaughan brought bebop into her singing, which can be heard in the 1945 recording of "Lover Man" that she made with Parker and Gillespie.

After performing with Eckstine's orchestra for a year, Vaughan briefly worked with John Kirby before leaving big bands behind to become a solo artist (though she often reunited with Eckstine for duets). Having already been given the nickname "Sassy" as a commentary on her onstage style, it was while striking out on her own that she was dubbed "The Divine One" by a DJ in Chicago. In the late 1940s, her popular recordings included "If You Could See Me Now" and "It's Magic."

The next decade saw Vaughan produce more pop music, though when she joined Mercury Records she also recorded jazz numbers on a subsidiary label, EmArcy. She sang hits like "Whatever Lola Wants" (1955), "Misty" (1957) and "Broken-Hearted Melody" (1959), which sold more than a million copies. Vaughan gave concerts in the United States and Europe, and her singing was also heard in films such as Disc Jockey (1951) and Basin Street Revue (1956).

After the 1950s, shifting musical tastes meant that Vaughan no longer produced huge hits. However, she remained a popular performer, particularly when she sang live. In front of an audience, her emotional, vibrato-rich delivery, three-octave vocal range and captivating scat technique were even more appealing. Though her voice took on a deeper pitch as Vaughan got older—likely due in part her smoking habit—this didn't impact the quality of her singing, as could be heard on "Send in the Clowns," a staple in her repertoire.

Vaughan's later recordings include interpretations of Beatles songs and Brazilian music. Over the years, she collaborated with people like producer Quincy Jones, pianist Oscar Peterson and conductor Michael Tilson Thomas. Vaughan won her first Grammy thanks to her work with Thomas and the Los Angeles Philharmonic on Gershwin Live! (1982).

Vaughan's final concert was given at New York's Blue Note Club in 1989. She passed away from lung cancer on April 3, 1990, at age 66, in Hidden Hills, a suburb of Los Angeles, California. Married and divorced four times, she was survived by her adopted daughter.

Throughout her career, Vaughan was recognized as a supremely gifted singer and performer. She was invited to perform at the White House and at venues like Carnegie Hall, was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Grammy in 1989 and was selected to join the Jazz Hall of Fame in 1990. She also received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

(Taken from Biography.com)

  NAT KING COLE   Born on March 17, 1919, in Montgomery, Alabama, Nat King Cole was an American musician who first came to prominence as a jazz pianist. He owes most of his popular musical fame to his soft baritone voice, which he used to perform in big band and jazz genres. In 1956, Cole became the first African-American performer to host a variety television series, and for many white families, he was the first black man welcomed into their living rooms each night. He has maintained worldwide popularity since his death in 1965.     Known for his smooth and well-articulated vocal style, Nat King Cole actually started out as a piano man. He first learned to play around the age of four with help from his mother, a church choir director. The son of a Baptist pastor, Cole may have started out playing religious music.  In his early teens, Cole had formal classical piano training. He eventually abandoned classical for his other musical passion—jazz. Earl Hines, a leader of modern jazz, was one of Cole's biggest inspirations. At 15, he dropped out of school to become a jazz pianist full time. Cole joined forces with his brother Eddie for a time, which led to his first professional recordings in 1936. He later joined a national tour for the musical revue  Shuffle Along , performing as a pianist.  The following year, Cole started to put together what would become the King Cole Trio, the name being a play on the children's nursery rhyme. They toured extensively and finally landed on the charts in 1943 with "That Ain't Right," penned by Cole. "Straighten Up and Fly Right," inspired by one of his father's sermons, became another hit for the group in 1944. The trio continued its rise to the top with such pop hits as the holiday classic "The Christmas Song" and the ballad "(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons."          By the 1950s, Nat King Cole emerged as a popular solo performer. He scored numerous hits, with such songs as "Nature Boy," "Mona Lisa," "Too Young, " and "Unforgettable." In the studio, Cole got to work with some of the country's top talent, including Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald, and famous arrangers such as Nelson Riddle. He also met and befriended other stars of the era, including popular crooner Frank Sinatra.        As an African-American performer, Cole struggled to find his place in the Civil Rights movement. He had encountered racism firsthand, especially while touring in the South. In 1956, Cole had been attacked by white supremacists during a mixed race performance in Alabama. He was rebuked by other African Americans, however, for his less-than-supportive comments about racial integration made after the show. Cole basically took the stance that he was an entertainer, not an activist.  Cole's presence on the record charts dwindled in the late 1950s. But this decline did not last long. His career returned to top form in the early 1960s. The 1962 country-influenced hit "Rambin' Rose" reached the number two spot on the  Billboard  pop charts. The following spring, Cole won over music fans with the light-hearted tune "Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days of Summer." He made his last appearances on the pop charts in his lifetime in 1964. Modest successes compared to his earlier hits, Cole delivered two ballads—"I Don't Want to Hurt Anymore" and "I Don't Want to See Tomorrow"—in his signature smooth style.  Cole made television history in 1956, when he became the first African-American performer to host a variety TV series.  The Nat King Cole Show  featured many of the leading performers of the day, including Count Basie, Peggy Lee, Sammy Davis Jr. and Tony Bennett. Unfortunately, the series didn't last long, going off the air in December 1957. Cole blamed the show's demise on the lack of a national sponsor. The sponsorship problem has been seen as a reflection of the racial issues of the times with no company seemingly wanting to back a program that featured African-American entertainers.  After his show went off the air, Cole continued to be a presence on television. He appeared on such popular programs as  The Ed Sullivan Show  and  The Garry Moore Show .  On the big screen, Cole had first started out in small roles in the 1940s, largely playing some version of himself. He landed some sizable parts in the late 1950s, appearing in the Errol Flynn drama  Istanbul  (1957). That same year, Cole appeared in the war drama  China Gate  with Gene Barry and Angie Dickinson. His only major starring role came in 1958, in the drama  St. Louis Blues , also starring Eartha Kitt and Cab Calloway. Cole played the role of blues great W.C. Handy in the film. His final film appearance came in 1965: He performed alongside Jane Fonda and Lee Marvin in the light-hearted Western  Cat Ballou .        In 1964, Cole discovered that he had lung cancer. He succumbed to the disease just months later, on February 15, 1965, at the age of 45, in Santa Monica, California. A "who's who" of the entertainment world, including the likes of Rosemary Clooney, Frank Sinatra and Jack Benny, attended the legendary musician's funeral, held a few days later in Los Angeles. Released around this time,  L-O-V-E  proved to be Cole's final recording. The title track of the album remains hugely popular to this day, and has been featured on a number of film soundtracks.     Since his death, Cole's music has endured. His rendition of "The Christmas Song" has become a holiday classic and many of his other signature songs are frequently selected for film and television soundtracks. His daughter Natalie also carried on the family profession, becoming a successful singer in her own right. In 1991, she helped her father achieve a posthumous hit. Natalie Cole recorded his hit "Unforgettable" and put their vocals together as a duet.     Cole married for the first time when he was only 17. He and first wife Nadine Robinson divorced in 1948. Only a short time later, Cole married singer Maria Hawkins Ellington, with whom he raised five children. The couple had three biological children, daughters Natalie, Casey and Timolin,  and two adopted children, daughter Carol and son Nat Kelly.      ( Taken from Biography.com )

NAT KING COLE

Born on March 17, 1919, in Montgomery, Alabama, Nat King Cole was an American musician who first came to prominence as a jazz pianist. He owes most of his popular musical fame to his soft baritone voice, which he used to perform in big band and jazz genres. In 1956, Cole became the first African-American performer to host a variety television series, and for many white families, he was the first black man welcomed into their living rooms each night. He has maintained worldwide popularity since his death in 1965.

Known for his smooth and well-articulated vocal style, Nat King Cole actually started out as a piano man. He first learned to play around the age of four with help from his mother, a church choir director. The son of a Baptist pastor, Cole may have started out playing religious music.

In his early teens, Cole had formal classical piano training. He eventually abandoned classical for his other musical passion—jazz. Earl Hines, a leader of modern jazz, was one of Cole's biggest inspirations. At 15, he dropped out of school to become a jazz pianist full time. Cole joined forces with his brother Eddie for a time, which led to his first professional recordings in 1936. He later joined a national tour for the musical revue Shuffle Along, performing as a pianist.

The following year, Cole started to put together what would become the King Cole Trio, the name being a play on the children's nursery rhyme. They toured extensively and finally landed on the charts in 1943 with "That Ain't Right," penned by Cole. "Straighten Up and Fly Right," inspired by one of his father's sermons, became another hit for the group in 1944. The trio continued its rise to the top with such pop hits as the holiday classic "The Christmas Song" and the ballad "(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons."

 

 

By the 1950s, Nat King Cole emerged as a popular solo performer. He scored numerous hits, with such songs as "Nature Boy," "Mona Lisa," "Too Young, " and "Unforgettable." In the studio, Cole got to work with some of the country's top talent, including Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald, and famous arrangers such as Nelson Riddle. He also met and befriended other stars of the era, including popular crooner Frank Sinatra.

 

 

As an African-American performer, Cole struggled to find his place in the Civil Rights movement. He had encountered racism firsthand, especially while touring in the South. In 1956, Cole had been attacked by white supremacists during a mixed race performance in Alabama. He was rebuked by other African Americans, however, for his less-than-supportive comments about racial integration made after the show. Cole basically took the stance that he was an entertainer, not an activist.

Cole's presence on the record charts dwindled in the late 1950s. But this decline did not last long. His career returned to top form in the early 1960s. The 1962 country-influenced hit "Rambin' Rose" reached the number two spot on the Billboard pop charts. The following spring, Cole won over music fans with the light-hearted tune "Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days of Summer." He made his last appearances on the pop charts in his lifetime in 1964. Modest successes compared to his earlier hits, Cole delivered two ballads—"I Don't Want to Hurt Anymore" and "I Don't Want to See Tomorrow"—in his signature smooth style.

Cole made television history in 1956, when he became the first African-American performer to host a variety TV series. The Nat King Cole Show featured many of the leading performers of the day, including Count Basie, Peggy Lee, Sammy Davis Jr. and Tony Bennett. Unfortunately, the series didn't last long, going off the air in December 1957. Cole blamed the show's demise on the lack of a national sponsor. The sponsorship problem has been seen as a reflection of the racial issues of the times with no company seemingly wanting to back a program that featured African-American entertainers.

After his show went off the air, Cole continued to be a presence on television. He appeared on such popular programs as The Ed Sullivan Show and The Garry Moore Show.

On the big screen, Cole had first started out in small roles in the 1940s, largely playing some version of himself. He landed some sizable parts in the late 1950s, appearing in the Errol Flynn drama Istanbul (1957). That same year, Cole appeared in the war drama China Gate with Gene Barry and Angie Dickinson. His only major starring role came in 1958, in the drama St. Louis Blues, also starring Eartha Kitt and Cab Calloway. Cole played the role of blues great W.C. Handy in the film. His final film appearance came in 1965: He performed alongside Jane Fonda and Lee Marvin in the light-hearted Western Cat Ballou.

 

In 1964, Cole discovered that he had lung cancer. He succumbed to the disease just months later, on February 15, 1965, at the age of 45, in Santa Monica, California. A "who's who" of the entertainment world, including the likes of Rosemary Clooney, Frank Sinatra and Jack Benny, attended the legendary musician's funeral, held a few days later in Los Angeles. Released around this time, L-O-V-E proved to be Cole's final recording. The title track of the album remains hugely popular to this day, and has been featured on a number of film soundtracks.

 

Since his death, Cole's music has endured. His rendition of "The Christmas Song" has become a holiday classic and many of his other signature songs are frequently selected for film and television soundtracks. His daughter Natalie also carried on the family profession, becoming a successful singer in her own right. In 1991, she helped her father achieve a posthumous hit. Natalie Cole recorded his hit "Unforgettable" and put their vocals together as a duet.

 

Cole married for the first time when he was only 17. He and first wife Nadine Robinson divorced in 1948. Only a short time later, Cole married singer Maria Hawkins Ellington, with whom he raised five children. The couple had three biological children, daughters Natalie, Casey and Timolin,  and two adopted children, daughter Carol and son Nat Kelly. 

 

(Taken from Biography.com)

  PATTI LABELLE   Soul diva Patti LaBelle enjoyed one of the longest-lived careers in contemporary music, notching hits in a variety of sounds ranging from girl group pop to space-age funk to lush ballads. Born Patricia Holt in Philadelphia on May 24, 1944, she grew up singing in a local Baptist choir, and in 1960 teamed with friend Cindy Birdsong to form a group called the Ordettes. A year later, following the additions of vocalists Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash, the group was rechristened the Blue Belles; with producer Bobby Martin at helm, they scored a Top 20 pop and R&B hit in 1962 with the single "I Sold My Heart to the Junkman," subsequently hitting the charts in 1964 with renditions of "Danny Boy" and "You'll Never Walk Alone."   In 1965, the quartet -- now known as Patti LaBelle & the Bluebelles -- signed to Atlantic, where they earned a minor hit with their version of the standard "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." The group's Atlantic tenure was largely disappointing, however, and in 1967 Birdsong replaced Florence Ballard in the Supremes. The remaining trio toured the so-called "chitlin circuit" for the remainder of the decade before signing on with British manager Vicki Wickham in 1970; Wickham renamed the group simply LaBelle and pushed their music in a funkier, rock-oriented direction, and in the wake of their self-titled 1971 Warner Bros. debut they even toured with the Who. (The trio also collaborated with Laura Nyro on her superb R&B-influenced album Gonna Take a Miracle.)   By 1973, LaBelle had gone glam, taking the stage in wildly theatrical, futuristic costumes; a year later they became the first African-American act ever to appear at New York's Metropolitan Opera House, a landmark performance that also introduced their lone chart-topping single, the Allen Toussaint-produced classic "Lady Marmalade." However, after two more albums -- 1975's Phoenix and the following year's Chameleon -- LaBelle disbanded, and its namesake mounted a solo career, issuing her eponymous debut in 1977. In addition to subsequent releases including 1979's It's Alright with Me and 1980's Released, LaBelle also turned to acting, co-starring in a 1982 Broadway revival of Your Arms to Short to Box with God.     Upon signing with the Philadephia International label, LaBelle scored a number one R&B hit with "If You Only Knew," from 1983's I'm in Love Again. Two years later, she reached the pop Top 20 with her Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack contribution "New Attitude." Her subsequent MCA debut, 1986's The Winner in You, went platinum on the strength of the Burt Bacharach-penned "On My Own," a duet with Michael McDonald, while the follow-up, 1989's Be Yourself, featured a pair of cuts written by Prince. Released in 1991, Burnin' earned a Grammy for Best Female R&B Performance. LaBelle recorded less and less frequently in the years to follow, in 1995 publishing her autobiography, Don't Block the Blessings: Revelations of a Lifetime. She returned five years later to release When a Woman Loves and then signed to Def Soul for 2004's Timeless Journey and 2005's all-covers Classic Moments. In 2007 the holiday album Miss Patti's Christmas appeared, while 2008 saw the release of Live in Washington D.C., a live album recorded in 1982. ~ Jason Ankeny, Rovi  ( Taken from Billboard.com )

PATTI LABELLE

Soul diva Patti LaBelle enjoyed one of the longest-lived careers in contemporary music, notching hits in a variety of sounds ranging from girl group pop to space-age funk to lush ballads. Born Patricia Holt in Philadelphia on May 24, 1944, she grew up singing in a local Baptist choir, and in 1960 teamed with friend Cindy Birdsong to form a group called the Ordettes. A year later, following the additions of vocalists Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash, the group was rechristened the Blue Belles; with producer Bobby Martin at helm, they scored a Top 20 pop and R&B hit in 1962 with the single "I Sold My Heart to the Junkman," subsequently hitting the charts in 1964 with renditions of "Danny Boy" and "You'll Never Walk Alone."


In 1965, the quartet -- now known as Patti LaBelle & the Bluebelles -- signed to Atlantic, where they earned a minor hit with their version of the standard "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." The group's Atlantic tenure was largely disappointing, however, and in 1967 Birdsong replaced Florence Ballard in the Supremes. The remaining trio toured the so-called "chitlin circuit" for the remainder of the decade before signing on with British manager Vicki Wickham in 1970; Wickham renamed the group simply LaBelle and pushed their music in a funkier, rock-oriented direction, and in the wake of their self-titled 1971 Warner Bros. debut they even toured with the Who. (The trio also collaborated with Laura Nyro on her superb R&B-influenced album Gonna Take a Miracle.)


By 1973, LaBelle had gone glam, taking the stage in wildly theatrical, futuristic costumes; a year later they became the first African-American act ever to appear at New York's Metropolitan Opera House, a landmark performance that also introduced their lone chart-topping single, the Allen Toussaint-produced classic "Lady Marmalade." However, after two more albums -- 1975's Phoenix and the following year's Chameleon -- LaBelle disbanded, and its namesake mounted a solo career, issuing her eponymous debut in 1977. In addition to subsequent releases including 1979's It's Alright with Me and 1980's Released, LaBelle also turned to acting, co-starring in a 1982 Broadway revival of Your Arms to Short to Box with God.

 

Upon signing with the Philadephia International label, LaBelle scored a number one R&B hit with "If You Only Knew," from 1983's I'm in Love Again. Two years later, she reached the pop Top 20 with her Beverly Hills Cop soundtrack contribution "New Attitude." Her subsequent MCA debut, 1986's The Winner in You, went platinum on the strength of the Burt Bacharach-penned "On My Own," a duet with Michael McDonald, while the follow-up, 1989's Be Yourself, featured a pair of cuts written by Prince. Released in 1991, Burnin' earned a Grammy for Best Female R&B Performance. LaBelle recorded less and less frequently in the years to follow, in 1995 publishing her autobiography, Don't Block the Blessings: Revelations of a Lifetime. She returned five years later to release When a Woman Loves and then signed to Def Soul for 2004's Timeless Journey and 2005's all-covers Classic Moments. In 2007 the holiday album Miss Patti's Christmas appeared, while 2008 saw the release of Live in Washington D.C., a live album recorded in 1982. ~ Jason Ankeny, Rovi

(Taken from Billboard.com)

  STEVIE WONDER   Stevie Wonder is a much-beloved American icon and an indisputable genius not only of R&B but popular music in general. Blind virtually since birth, Wonder's heightened awareness of sound helped him create vibrant, colorful music teeming with life and ambition. Nearly everything he recorded bore the stamp of his sunny, joyous positivity; even when he addressed serious racial, social, and spiritual issues (which he did quite often in his prime), or sang about heartbreak and romantic uncertainty, an underlying sense of optimism and hope always seemed to emerge. Much like his inspiration, Ray Charles, Wonder had a voracious appetite for many different kinds of music, and refused to confine himself to any one sound or style. His best records were a richly eclectic brew of soul, funk, rock & roll, sophisticated Broadway/Tin Pan Alley-style pop, jazz, reggae, and African elements -- and they weren't just stylistic exercises; Wonder took it all and forged it into his own personal form of expression. His range helped account for his broad-based appeal, but so did his unique, elastic voice, his peerless melodic facility, his gift for complex arrangements, and his taste for lovely, often sentimental ballads. Additionally, Wonder's pioneering use of synthesizers during the '70s changed the face of R&B; he employed a kaleidoscope of contrasting textures and voices that made him a virtual one-man band, all the while evoking a surprisingly organic warmth. Along with Marvin Gaye and Isaac Hayes, Wonder brought R&B into the album age, crafting his LPs as cohesive, consistent statements with compositions that often took time to make their point. All of this made Wonder perhaps R&B's greatest individual auteur, rivaled only by Gaye or, in later days, Prince. Originally, Wonder was a child prodigy who started out in the general Motown mold, but he took control of his vision in the '70s, spinning off a series of incredible albums that were as popular as they were acclaimed; most of his reputation rests on these works, which most prominently include Talking Book, Innervisions, and Songs in the Key of Life. His output since then has been inconsistent, marred by excesses of sentimentality and less of the progressive imagination of his best work, but it's hardly lessened the reverence in which he's long been held.  Wonder was born Stevland Hardaway Judkins in Saginaw, Michigan, on May 13, 1950 (his name was later altered to Stevland Morris when his mother married). A premature infant, he was put on oxygen treatment in an incubator; it was likely an excess of oxygen that exacerbated a visual condition known as retinopathy of prematurity, causing his blindness. In 1954, his family moved to Detroit, where the already musically inclined Stevie began singing in his church's choir; from there he blossomed into a genuine prodigy, learning piano, drums, and harmonica all by the age of nine. While performing for some of his friends in 1961, Stevie was discovered by Ronnie White of the Miracles, who helped arrange an audition with Berry Gordy at Motown. Gordy signed the youngster immediately and teamed him with producer/songwriter Clarence Paul, under the new name Little Stevie Wonder. Wonder released his first two albums in 1962: A Tribute to Uncle Ray, which featured covers of Wonder's hero Ray Charles, and The Jazz Soul of Little Stevie, an orchestral jazz album spotlighting his instrumental skills on piano, harmonica, and assorted percussion. Neither sold very well, but that all changed in 1963 with the live album The 12 Year Old Genius, which featured a new extended version of the harmonica instrumental "Fingertips." Edited for release as a single, "Fingertips, Pt. 2" rocketed to the top of both the pop and R&B charts, thanks to Wonder's irresistible, youthful exuberance; meanwhile, The 12 Year Old Genius became Motown's first chart-topping LP.  Wonder charted a few more singles over the next year, but none on the level of "Fingertips, Pt. 2." As his voice changed, his recording career was temporarily put on hold, and he studied classical piano at the Michigan School for the Blind in the meantime. He dropped the "Little" portion of his stage name in 1964, and re-emerged the following year with the infectious, typically Motown-sounding dance tune "Uptight (Everything's Alright)," a number one R&B/Top Five pop smash. Not only did he co-write the song for his first original hit, but it also reinvented him as a more mature vocalist in the public's mind, making the similar follow-up "Nothing's Too Good for My Baby" another success. The first signs of Wonder's social activism appeared in 1966 via his hit cover of Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind" and its follow-up, "A Place in the Sun," but as Motown still had the final say on Wonder's choice of material, this new direction would not yet become a major facet of his work.  By this time, Wonder was, however, beginning to take more of a hand in his own career. He co-wrote his next several hits, all of which made the R&B Top Ten -- "Hey Love," "I Was Made to Love Her" (an R&B number one that went to number two pop in 1967), and "For Once in My Life" (another smash that reached number two pop and R&B). Wonder's 1968 album For Once in My Life signaled his budding ambition; he co-wrote about half of the material and, for the first time, co-produced several tracks. The record also contained three more singles in the R&B chart-toppers "Shoo-Be-Doo-Be-Doo-Da-Day," "You Met Your Match," and "I Don't Know Why." Wonder scored again in 1969 with the pop and R&B Top Five hit "My Cherie Amour" (which he'd actually recorded three years prior) and the Top Ten "Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday." In 1970, Wonder received his first-ever co-production credit for the album Signed, Sealed & Delivered; he co-wrote the R&B chart-topper "Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours" with singer Syreeta Wright, whom he married later that year, and also scored hits with "Heaven Help Us All" and a rearrangement of the Beatles' "We Can Work It Out." In addition, two other Motown artists had major success with Wonder co-writes: the Spinners' "It's a Shame" and the Miracles' only pop number one, "Tears of a Clown."  1971 proved a turning point in Wonder's career. On his 21st birthday, his contract with Motown expired, and the royalties set aside in his trust fund became available to him. A month before his birthday, Wonder released Where I'm Coming From, his first entirely self-produced album, which also marked the first time he wrote or co-wrote every song on an LP (usually in tandem with Wright), and the first time his keyboard and synthesizer work dominated his arrangements. Gordy was reportedly not fond of the work, and it wasn't a major commercial success, producing only the Top Ten hit "If You Really Love Me" (plus a classic B-side in "Never Dreamed You'd Leave in Summer"). Nonetheless, it was clearly an ambitious attempt at making a unified album-length artistic statement, and served notice that Wonder was no longer content to release albums composed of hit singles and assorted filler. Accordingly, Wonder did not immediately renew his contract with Motown, as the label had expected; instead, he used proceeds from his trust fund to build his own recording studio and to enroll in music theory classes at USC. He negotiated a new deal with Motown that dramatically increased his royalty rate and established his own publishing company, Black Bull Music, which allowed him to retain the rights to his music; most importantly, he wrested full artistic control over his recordings, as Gaye had just done with the landmark What's Going On.  Freed from the dictates of Motown's hit-factory mindset, Wonder had already begun following a more personal and idiosyncratic muse. One of his negotiating chips had been a full album completed at his new studio; Wonder had produced, played nearly all the instruments, and written all the material (with Wright contributing to several tracks). Released under Wonder's new deal in early 1972, Music of My Mind heralded his arrival as a major, self-contained talent with an original vision that pushed the boundaries of R&B. The album produced a hit single in the spacy, synth-driven ballad "Superwoman (Where Were You When I Needed You)," but like contemporary work by Hayes and Gaye, Music of My Mind worked as a smoothly flowing song suite unto itself. Around the same time it was released, Wonder's marriage to Wright broke up; the two remained friends, however, and Wonder produced and wrote several songs for her debut album. The same year, Wonder toured with the Rolling Stones, taking his music to a larger white audience.  For the follow-up to Music of My Mind, Wonder refined his approach, tightening up his songcraft while addressing his romance with Wright. The result, Talking Book, was released in late 1972 and made him a superstar. Song for song one of the strongest R&B albums ever made, Talking Book also perfected Wonder's spacy, futuristic experiments with electronics, and was hailed as a magnificently realized masterpiece. Wonder topped the charts with the gutsy, driving funk classic "Superstition" and the mellow, jazzy ballad "You Are the Sunshine of My Life," which went on to become a pop standard; those two songs went on to win three Grammys between them. Amazingly, Wonder only upped the ante with his next album, 1973's Innervisions, a concept album about the state of contemporary society that ranks with Gaye's What's Going On as a pinnacle of socially conscious R&B. The ghetto chronicle "Living for the City" and the intense spiritual self-examination "Higher Ground" both went to number one on the R&B charts and the pop Top Ten, and Innervisions took home a Grammy for Album of the Year. Wonder was lucky to be alive to enjoy the success; while being driven to a concert in North Carolina, a large piece of timber fell on Wonder's car. He sustained serious head injuries and lapsed into a coma, but fortunately made a full recovery.  Wonder's next record, 1974's Fulfillingness' First Finale, was slightly more insular and less accessible than its immediate predecessors, and unsurprisingly, imbued with a sense of mortality. The hits, however, were the upbeat "Boogie On, Reggae Woman" (a number one R&B and Top Five pop hit) and the venomous Richard Nixon critique "You Haven't Done Nothin'" (number one on both sides). It won him a second straight Album of the Year Grammy, by which time he'd been heavily involved as a producer and writer on Syreeta's second album, Stevie Wonder Presents Syreeta. Wonder subsequently retired to his studio and spent two years crafting a large-scale project that would stand as his magnum opus. Finally released in 1976, Songs in the Key of Life was a sprawling two-LP-plus-one-EP set that found Wonder at his most ambitious and expansive. Some critics called it brilliant but prone to excess and indulgence, while others hailed it as his greatest masterpiece and the culmination of his career; in the end, they were probably both right. "Sir Duke," an ebullient tribute to music in general and Duke Ellington in particular, and the funky "I Wish" both went to number one pop and R&B. The hit "Isn't She Lovely," a paean to Wonder's daughter, became something of a standard. Not surprisingly, Songs in the Key of Life won a Grammy for Album of the Year; in hindsight, though, it marked the end of a remarkable explosion of creativity and of Wonder's artistic prime.  Having poured a tremendous amount of energy into Songs in the Key of Life, Wonder released nothing for the next three years. When he finally returned in 1979, it was with the mostly instrumental Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants, ostensibly the soundtrack to a never-released documentary. Although it contained a few pop songs, including the hit "Send One Your Love," its symphonic flirtations befuddled most listeners and critics. It still made the Top Ten on the LP chart on Wonder's momentum alone -- one of the stranger releases to do so. To counteract possible speculation that he'd gone off the deep end, Wonder rushed out the straightforward pop album Hotter Than July in 1980. The reggae-flavored "Master Blaster (Jammin')" returned him to the top of the R&B charts and the pop Top Five, and "Happy Birthday" was part of the ultimately successful campaign to make Martin Luther King's birthday a national holiday (Wonder being one of the cause's most active champions). Artistically speaking, Hotter Than July was a cut below his classic '70s output, but it was still a solid outing; fans were so grateful to have the old Wonder back that they made it his first platinum-selling LP.  In 1981, Wonder began work on a follow-up album that was plagued by delays, suggesting that he might not be able to return to the visionary heights of old. He kept busy in the meantime, though; in 1982, his racial-harmony duet with Paul McCartney, "Ebony and Ivory," hit number one, and he released a greatest-hits set covering 1972-1982 called Original Musiquarium I. It featured four new songs, of which "That Girl" (number one R&B, Top Five pop) and the lengthy, jazzy "Do I Do" (featuring Dizzy Gillespie; number two R&B) were significant hits. In 1984, still not having completed the official follow-up to Hotter Than July, he recorded the soundtrack to the Gene Wilder comedy The Woman in Red, which wasn't quite a full-fledged Stevie Wonder album but did feature a number of new songs, including "I Just Called to Say I Love You." Adored by the public (it was his biggest-selling single ever) and loathed by critics (who derided it as sappy and simple-minded), "I Just Called to Say I Love You" was an across-the-board number one smash, and won an Oscar for Best Song.  Wonder finally completed the official album he'd been working on for nearly five years, and released In Square Circle in 1985. Paced by the number one hit "Part Time Lover" -- his last solo pop chart-topper -- and several other strong songs, In Square Circle went platinum, even if Wonder's synthesizer arrangements now sounded standard rather than groundbreaking. He performed on the number one charity singles "We Are the World" by USA for Africa and "That's What Friends Are For" by Dionne Warwick & Friends, and returned quickly with a new album, Characters, in 1987. While Characters found Wonder's commercial clout on the pop charts slipping away, it was a hit on the R&B side, topping the album charts and producing a number one hit in "Skeletons." It would be his final release of the '80s, a decade capped by his induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.  New studio material from Wonder didn't arrive until 1991, when he provided the soundtrack to the Spike Lee film Jungle Fever. His next full album of new material, 1995's Conversation Peace, was a commercial disappointment, thought it did win two Grammys for the single "For Your Love." That same year, Coolio revived "Pastime Paradise" in his own brooding rap smash "Gangsta's Paradise," which became the year's biggest hit. Wonder capitalized on the renewed attention by cutting a hit duet with Babyface, "How Come, How Long," in 1996. During the early 2000s, Motown remastered and reissued Wonder's exceptional 1972-1980 run of solo albums (Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants excepted) and also released The Definitive Collection, a representative single-disc primer.  In 2005, after a decade had transpired without a new studio album, Wonder released A Time to Love, which was bolstered by collaborations with Prince and Paul McCartney, as well as one with daughter and "Isn't She Lovely" inspiration Aisha Morris. His far-reaching influence continued to be felt through samples, cover versions, and reinterpretations, highlighted by Robert Glasper Experiment and Lalah Hathaway's Grammy-winning version of "Jesus Children of America." Well into the late 2010s, Wonder continued to appear on albums by other artists, including Snoop Dogg, Raphael Saadiq, and Mark Ronson. All the while, Wonder regularly toured. From November 2014 through 2015, he celebrated the approaching 40th anniversary of Songs in the Key of Life with lengthy set lists that included all 21 songs of the classic album. ~ Steve Huey & Andy Kellman, Rovi  (  Taken from Spotify.com )

STEVIE WONDER

Stevie Wonder is a much-beloved American icon and an indisputable genius not only of R&B but popular music in general. Blind virtually since birth, Wonder's heightened awareness of sound helped him create vibrant, colorful music teeming with life and ambition. Nearly everything he recorded bore the stamp of his sunny, joyous positivity; even when he addressed serious racial, social, and spiritual issues (which he did quite often in his prime), or sang about heartbreak and romantic uncertainty, an underlying sense of optimism and hope always seemed to emerge. Much like his inspiration, Ray Charles, Wonder had a voracious appetite for many different kinds of music, and refused to confine himself to any one sound or style. His best records were a richly eclectic brew of soul, funk, rock & roll, sophisticated Broadway/Tin Pan Alley-style pop, jazz, reggae, and African elements -- and they weren't just stylistic exercises; Wonder took it all and forged it into his own personal form of expression. His range helped account for his broad-based appeal, but so did his unique, elastic voice, his peerless melodic facility, his gift for complex arrangements, and his taste for lovely, often sentimental ballads. Additionally, Wonder's pioneering use of synthesizers during the '70s changed the face of R&B; he employed a kaleidoscope of contrasting textures and voices that made him a virtual one-man band, all the while evoking a surprisingly organic warmth. Along with Marvin Gaye and Isaac Hayes, Wonder brought R&B into the album age, crafting his LPs as cohesive, consistent statements with compositions that often took time to make their point. All of this made Wonder perhaps R&B's greatest individual auteur, rivaled only by Gaye or, in later days, Prince. Originally, Wonder was a child prodigy who started out in the general Motown mold, but he took control of his vision in the '70s, spinning off a series of incredible albums that were as popular as they were acclaimed; most of his reputation rests on these works, which most prominently include Talking Book, Innervisions, and Songs in the Key of Life. His output since then has been inconsistent, marred by excesses of sentimentality and less of the progressive imagination of his best work, but it's hardly lessened the reverence in which he's long been held.

Wonder was born Stevland Hardaway Judkins in Saginaw, Michigan, on May 13, 1950 (his name was later altered to Stevland Morris when his mother married). A premature infant, he was put on oxygen treatment in an incubator; it was likely an excess of oxygen that exacerbated a visual condition known as retinopathy of prematurity, causing his blindness. In 1954, his family moved to Detroit, where the already musically inclined Stevie began singing in his church's choir; from there he blossomed into a genuine prodigy, learning piano, drums, and harmonica all by the age of nine. While performing for some of his friends in 1961, Stevie was discovered by Ronnie White of the Miracles, who helped arrange an audition with Berry Gordy at Motown. Gordy signed the youngster immediately and teamed him with producer/songwriter Clarence Paul, under the new name Little Stevie Wonder. Wonder released his first two albums in 1962: A Tribute to Uncle Ray, which featured covers of Wonder's hero Ray Charles, and The Jazz Soul of Little Stevie, an orchestral jazz album spotlighting his instrumental skills on piano, harmonica, and assorted percussion. Neither sold very well, but that all changed in 1963 with the live album The 12 Year Old Genius, which featured a new extended version of the harmonica instrumental "Fingertips." Edited for release as a single, "Fingertips, Pt. 2" rocketed to the top of both the pop and R&B charts, thanks to Wonder's irresistible, youthful exuberance; meanwhile, The 12 Year Old Genius became Motown's first chart-topping LP.

Wonder charted a few more singles over the next year, but none on the level of "Fingertips, Pt. 2." As his voice changed, his recording career was temporarily put on hold, and he studied classical piano at the Michigan School for the Blind in the meantime. He dropped the "Little" portion of his stage name in 1964, and re-emerged the following year with the infectious, typically Motown-sounding dance tune "Uptight (Everything's Alright)," a number one R&B/Top Five pop smash. Not only did he co-write the song for his first original hit, but it also reinvented him as a more mature vocalist in the public's mind, making the similar follow-up "Nothing's Too Good for My Baby" another success. The first signs of Wonder's social activism appeared in 1966 via his hit cover of Bob Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind" and its follow-up, "A Place in the Sun," but as Motown still had the final say on Wonder's choice of material, this new direction would not yet become a major facet of his work.

By this time, Wonder was, however, beginning to take more of a hand in his own career. He co-wrote his next several hits, all of which made the R&B Top Ten -- "Hey Love," "I Was Made to Love Her" (an R&B number one that went to number two pop in 1967), and "For Once in My Life" (another smash that reached number two pop and R&B). Wonder's 1968 album For Once in My Life signaled his budding ambition; he co-wrote about half of the material and, for the first time, co-produced several tracks. The record also contained three more singles in the R&B chart-toppers "Shoo-Be-Doo-Be-Doo-Da-Day," "You Met Your Match," and "I Don't Know Why." Wonder scored again in 1969 with the pop and R&B Top Five hit "My Cherie Amour" (which he'd actually recorded three years prior) and the Top Ten "Yester-Me, Yester-You, Yesterday." In 1970, Wonder received his first-ever co-production credit for the album Signed, Sealed & Delivered; he co-wrote the R&B chart-topper "Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours" with singer Syreeta Wright, whom he married later that year, and also scored hits with "Heaven Help Us All" and a rearrangement of the Beatles' "We Can Work It Out." In addition, two other Motown artists had major success with Wonder co-writes: the Spinners' "It's a Shame" and the Miracles' only pop number one, "Tears of a Clown."

1971 proved a turning point in Wonder's career. On his 21st birthday, his contract with Motown expired, and the royalties set aside in his trust fund became available to him. A month before his birthday, Wonder released Where I'm Coming From, his first entirely self-produced album, which also marked the first time he wrote or co-wrote every song on an LP (usually in tandem with Wright), and the first time his keyboard and synthesizer work dominated his arrangements. Gordy was reportedly not fond of the work, and it wasn't a major commercial success, producing only the Top Ten hit "If You Really Love Me" (plus a classic B-side in "Never Dreamed You'd Leave in Summer"). Nonetheless, it was clearly an ambitious attempt at making a unified album-length artistic statement, and served notice that Wonder was no longer content to release albums composed of hit singles and assorted filler. Accordingly, Wonder did not immediately renew his contract with Motown, as the label had expected; instead, he used proceeds from his trust fund to build his own recording studio and to enroll in music theory classes at USC. He negotiated a new deal with Motown that dramatically increased his royalty rate and established his own publishing company, Black Bull Music, which allowed him to retain the rights to his music; most importantly, he wrested full artistic control over his recordings, as Gaye had just done with the landmark What's Going On.

Freed from the dictates of Motown's hit-factory mindset, Wonder had already begun following a more personal and idiosyncratic muse. One of his negotiating chips had been a full album completed at his new studio; Wonder had produced, played nearly all the instruments, and written all the material (with Wright contributing to several tracks). Released under Wonder's new deal in early 1972, Music of My Mind heralded his arrival as a major, self-contained talent with an original vision that pushed the boundaries of R&B. The album produced a hit single in the spacy, synth-driven ballad "Superwoman (Where Were You When I Needed You)," but like contemporary work by Hayes and Gaye, Music of My Mind worked as a smoothly flowing song suite unto itself. Around the same time it was released, Wonder's marriage to Wright broke up; the two remained friends, however, and Wonder produced and wrote several songs for her debut album. The same year, Wonder toured with the Rolling Stones, taking his music to a larger white audience.

For the follow-up to Music of My Mind, Wonder refined his approach, tightening up his songcraft while addressing his romance with Wright. The result, Talking Book, was released in late 1972 and made him a superstar. Song for song one of the strongest R&B albums ever made, Talking Book also perfected Wonder's spacy, futuristic experiments with electronics, and was hailed as a magnificently realized masterpiece. Wonder topped the charts with the gutsy, driving funk classic "Superstition" and the mellow, jazzy ballad "You Are the Sunshine of My Life," which went on to become a pop standard; those two songs went on to win three Grammys between them. Amazingly, Wonder only upped the ante with his next album, 1973's Innervisions, a concept album about the state of contemporary society that ranks with Gaye's What's Going On as a pinnacle of socially conscious R&B. The ghetto chronicle "Living for the City" and the intense spiritual self-examination "Higher Ground" both went to number one on the R&B charts and the pop Top Ten, and Innervisions took home a Grammy for Album of the Year. Wonder was lucky to be alive to enjoy the success; while being driven to a concert in North Carolina, a large piece of timber fell on Wonder's car. He sustained serious head injuries and lapsed into a coma, but fortunately made a full recovery.

Wonder's next record, 1974's Fulfillingness' First Finale, was slightly more insular and less accessible than its immediate predecessors, and unsurprisingly, imbued with a sense of mortality. The hits, however, were the upbeat "Boogie On, Reggae Woman" (a number one R&B and Top Five pop hit) and the venomous Richard Nixon critique "You Haven't Done Nothin'" (number one on both sides). It won him a second straight Album of the Year Grammy, by which time he'd been heavily involved as a producer and writer on Syreeta's second album, Stevie Wonder Presents Syreeta. Wonder subsequently retired to his studio and spent two years crafting a large-scale project that would stand as his magnum opus. Finally released in 1976, Songs in the Key of Life was a sprawling two-LP-plus-one-EP set that found Wonder at his most ambitious and expansive. Some critics called it brilliant but prone to excess and indulgence, while others hailed it as his greatest masterpiece and the culmination of his career; in the end, they were probably both right. "Sir Duke," an ebullient tribute to music in general and Duke Ellington in particular, and the funky "I Wish" both went to number one pop and R&B. The hit "Isn't She Lovely," a paean to Wonder's daughter, became something of a standard. Not surprisingly, Songs in the Key of Life won a Grammy for Album of the Year; in hindsight, though, it marked the end of a remarkable explosion of creativity and of Wonder's artistic prime.

Having poured a tremendous amount of energy into Songs in the Key of Life, Wonder released nothing for the next three years. When he finally returned in 1979, it was with the mostly instrumental Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants, ostensibly the soundtrack to a never-released documentary. Although it contained a few pop songs, including the hit "Send One Your Love," its symphonic flirtations befuddled most listeners and critics. It still made the Top Ten on the LP chart on Wonder's momentum alone -- one of the stranger releases to do so. To counteract possible speculation that he'd gone off the deep end, Wonder rushed out the straightforward pop album Hotter Than July in 1980. The reggae-flavored "Master Blaster (Jammin')" returned him to the top of the R&B charts and the pop Top Five, and "Happy Birthday" was part of the ultimately successful campaign to make Martin Luther King's birthday a national holiday (Wonder being one of the cause's most active champions). Artistically speaking, Hotter Than July was a cut below his classic '70s output, but it was still a solid outing; fans were so grateful to have the old Wonder back that they made it his first platinum-selling LP.

In 1981, Wonder began work on a follow-up album that was plagued by delays, suggesting that he might not be able to return to the visionary heights of old. He kept busy in the meantime, though; in 1982, his racial-harmony duet with Paul McCartney, "Ebony and Ivory," hit number one, and he released a greatest-hits set covering 1972-1982 called Original Musiquarium I. It featured four new songs, of which "That Girl" (number one R&B, Top Five pop) and the lengthy, jazzy "Do I Do" (featuring Dizzy Gillespie; number two R&B) were significant hits. In 1984, still not having completed the official follow-up to Hotter Than July, he recorded the soundtrack to the Gene Wilder comedy The Woman in Red, which wasn't quite a full-fledged Stevie Wonder album but did feature a number of new songs, including "I Just Called to Say I Love You." Adored by the public (it was his biggest-selling single ever) and loathed by critics (who derided it as sappy and simple-minded), "I Just Called to Say I Love You" was an across-the-board number one smash, and won an Oscar for Best Song.

Wonder finally completed the official album he'd been working on for nearly five years, and released In Square Circle in 1985. Paced by the number one hit "Part Time Lover" -- his last solo pop chart-topper -- and several other strong songs, In Square Circle went platinum, even if Wonder's synthesizer arrangements now sounded standard rather than groundbreaking. He performed on the number one charity singles "We Are the World" by USA for Africa and "That's What Friends Are For" by Dionne Warwick & Friends, and returned quickly with a new album, Characters, in 1987. While Characters found Wonder's commercial clout on the pop charts slipping away, it was a hit on the R&B side, topping the album charts and producing a number one hit in "Skeletons." It would be his final release of the '80s, a decade capped by his induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

New studio material from Wonder didn't arrive until 1991, when he provided the soundtrack to the Spike Lee film Jungle Fever. His next full album of new material, 1995's Conversation Peace, was a commercial disappointment, thought it did win two Grammys for the single "For Your Love." That same year, Coolio revived "Pastime Paradise" in his own brooding rap smash "Gangsta's Paradise," which became the year's biggest hit. Wonder capitalized on the renewed attention by cutting a hit duet with Babyface, "How Come, How Long," in 1996. During the early 2000s, Motown remastered and reissued Wonder's exceptional 1972-1980 run of solo albums (Journey Through the Secret Life of Plants excepted) and also released The Definitive Collection, a representative single-disc primer.

In 2005, after a decade had transpired without a new studio album, Wonder released A Time to Love, which was bolstered by collaborations with Prince and Paul McCartney, as well as one with daughter and "Isn't She Lovely" inspiration Aisha Morris. His far-reaching influence continued to be felt through samples, cover versions, and reinterpretations, highlighted by Robert Glasper Experiment and Lalah Hathaway's Grammy-winning version of "Jesus Children of America." Well into the late 2010s, Wonder continued to appear on albums by other artists, including Snoop Dogg, Raphael Saadiq, and Mark Ronson. All the while, Wonder regularly toured. From November 2014 through 2015, he celebrated the approaching 40th anniversary of Songs in the Key of Life with lengthy set lists that included all 21 songs of the classic album. ~ Steve Huey & Andy Kellman, Rovi

( Taken from Spotify.com)

  ARETHA FRANKLIN   Aretha Franklin is one of the giants of soul music, and indeed of American pop as a whole. More than any other performer, she epitomized soul at its most gospel-charged. Her astonishing run of late-'60s hits with Atlantic Records -- "Respect," "I Never Loved a Man," "Chain of Fools," "Baby I Love You," "I Say a Little Prayer," "Think," "The House That Jack Built," and several others -- earned her the title "Lady Soul," which she has worn uncontested ever since. Yet as much of an international institution as she's become, much of her work -- outside of her recordings for Atlantic in the late '60s and early '70s -- is erratic and only fitfully inspired, making discretion a necessity when collecting her records.  Franklin's roots in gospel ran extremely deep. With her sisters Carolyn and Erma (both of whom would also have recording careers), she sang at the Detroit church of her father, Reverend C.L. Franklin, while growing up in the 1950s. In fact, she made her first recordings as a gospel artist at the age of 14. It has also been reported that Motown was interested in signing Aretha back in the days when it was a tiny start-up. Ultimately, however, Franklin ended up with Columbia, to which she was signed by the renowned talent scout John Hammond.  Franklin would record for Columbia constantly throughout the first half of the '60s, notching occasional R&B hits (and one Top 40 single, "Rock-a-bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody") but never truly breaking out as a star. The Columbia period continues to generate considerable controversy among critics, many of whom feel that Aretha's true aspirations were being blunted by pop-oriented material and production. In fact, there's a reasonable amount of fine items to be found on the Columbia sides, including the occasional song ("Lee Cross," "Soulville") where she belts out soul with real gusto. It's undeniably true, though, that her work at Columbia was considerably tamer than what was to follow, and suffered in general from a lack of direction and an apparent emphasis on trying to develop her as an all-around entertainer, rather than as an R&B/soul singer.  When Franklin left Columbia for Atlantic, producer Jerry Wexler was determined to bring out her most soulful, fiery traits. As part of that plan, he had her record her first single, "I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)," at Muscle Shoals in Alabama with esteemed Southern R&B musicians. In fact, that was to be her only session actually at Muscle Shoals, but much of the remainder of her '60s work would be recorded with the Muscle Shoals Sound Rhythm Section, although the sessions would actually take place in New York City. The combination was one of those magic instances of musical alchemy in pop: the backup musicians provided a much grittier, soulful, and R&B-based accompaniment for Aretha's voice, which soared with a passion and intensity suggesting a spirit that had been allowed to fly loose for the first time.  In the late '60s, Franklin became one of the biggest international recording stars in all of pop. Many also saw Franklin as a symbol of black America itself, reflecting the increased confidence and pride of African-Americans in the decade of the civil rights movement and other triumphs for the black community. The chart statistics are impressive in and of themselves: ten Top Ten hits in a roughly 18-month span between early 1967 and late 1968, for instance, and a steady stream of solid mid- to large-size hits for the next five years after that. Her Atlantic albums were also huge sellers, and far more consistent artistically than those of most soul stars of the era. Franklin was able to maintain creative momentum, in part, because of her eclectic choice of material, which encompassed first-class originals and gospel, blues, pop, and rock covers, from the Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel to Sam Cooke and the Drifters. She was also a fine, forceful, and somewhat underrated keyboardist.  Franklin's commercial and artistic success was unabated in the early '70s, during which she landed more huge hits with "Spanish Harlem," "Bridge Over Troubled Water," and "Day Dreaming." She also produced two of her most respected, and earthiest, album releases with Live at Fillmore West and Amazing Grace. The latter, a 1972 double LP, was a reinvestigation of her gospel roots, recorded with James Cleveland and the Southern California Community Choir. Remarkably, it made the Top Ten, counting as one of the greatest gospel-pop crossover smashes of all time.  Franklin had a few more hits over the next few years -- "Angel" and the Stevie Wonder cover "Until You Come Back to Me" being the most notable. Her Atlantic contract ended at the end of the 1970s. She signed with the Clive Davis-guided Arista and scored number one R&B hits with "Jump to It," "Get It Right," and "Freeway of Love." Many of her successes were duets, or crafted with the assistance of contemporaries such as Luther Vandross and Narada Michael Walden. In 1986 Franklin released her follow-up to Who's Zoomin' Who?, the self-titled Aretha, which saw the single "I Knew You Were Waiting for Me," a duet with George Michael, hit the top of the charts. There was also another return to gospel in 1987 with One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism. Franklin shifted back to pop with 1989's Through the Storm, but it wasn't a commercial success, and neither was 1991's new jack swing-styled What You See Is What You Sweat.  Now solidly an iconic figure and acknowledged as one of the best singers of her generation no matter what her record sales were, Franklin contributed songs to several movie soundtracks in the next few years before releasing the R&B-based A Rose Is Still a Rose in 1998. So Damn Happy followed five years later in 2003 and again saw disappointing sales, but it did generate the Grammy-winning song "Wonderful." Franklin left Arista that same year and started her own label, Aretha's Records, two years later. A duets compilation, Jewels in the Crown: All-Star Duets with the Queen, was issued in 2007, followed by her first holiday album, 2008's This Christmas. The first release on her own label, A Woman Falling Out of Love, appeared in 2011. She signed to RCA and realigned with Clive Davis, who connected her with the likes of Babyface and OutKast's André 3000 for Sings the Great Diva Classics, for which she covered Gladys Knight, Barbra Streisand, and Adele, among others. Despite sometimes poor health, she continued to select new projects to work on; ever the institution, her reputation is secure as one of the best singers of the modern era. ~ Richie Unterberger & Steve Leggett, Rovi  ( Taken from Spotify.com )

ARETHA FRANKLIN

Aretha Franklin is one of the giants of soul music, and indeed of American pop as a whole. More than any other performer, she epitomized soul at its most gospel-charged. Her astonishing run of late-'60s hits with Atlantic Records -- "Respect," "I Never Loved a Man," "Chain of Fools," "Baby I Love You," "I Say a Little Prayer," "Think," "The House That Jack Built," and several others -- earned her the title "Lady Soul," which she has worn uncontested ever since. Yet as much of an international institution as she's become, much of her work -- outside of her recordings for Atlantic in the late '60s and early '70s -- is erratic and only fitfully inspired, making discretion a necessity when collecting her records.

Franklin's roots in gospel ran extremely deep. With her sisters Carolyn and Erma (both of whom would also have recording careers), she sang at the Detroit church of her father, Reverend C.L. Franklin, while growing up in the 1950s. In fact, she made her first recordings as a gospel artist at the age of 14. It has also been reported that Motown was interested in signing Aretha back in the days when it was a tiny start-up. Ultimately, however, Franklin ended up with Columbia, to which she was signed by the renowned talent scout John Hammond.

Franklin would record for Columbia constantly throughout the first half of the '60s, notching occasional R&B hits (and one Top 40 single, "Rock-a-bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody") but never truly breaking out as a star. The Columbia period continues to generate considerable controversy among critics, many of whom feel that Aretha's true aspirations were being blunted by pop-oriented material and production. In fact, there's a reasonable amount of fine items to be found on the Columbia sides, including the occasional song ("Lee Cross," "Soulville") where she belts out soul with real gusto. It's undeniably true, though, that her work at Columbia was considerably tamer than what was to follow, and suffered in general from a lack of direction and an apparent emphasis on trying to develop her as an all-around entertainer, rather than as an R&B/soul singer.

When Franklin left Columbia for Atlantic, producer Jerry Wexler was determined to bring out her most soulful, fiery traits. As part of that plan, he had her record her first single, "I Never Loved a Man (The Way I Love You)," at Muscle Shoals in Alabama with esteemed Southern R&B musicians. In fact, that was to be her only session actually at Muscle Shoals, but much of the remainder of her '60s work would be recorded with the Muscle Shoals Sound Rhythm Section, although the sessions would actually take place in New York City. The combination was one of those magic instances of musical alchemy in pop: the backup musicians provided a much grittier, soulful, and R&B-based accompaniment for Aretha's voice, which soared with a passion and intensity suggesting a spirit that had been allowed to fly loose for the first time.

In the late '60s, Franklin became one of the biggest international recording stars in all of pop. Many also saw Franklin as a symbol of black America itself, reflecting the increased confidence and pride of African-Americans in the decade of the civil rights movement and other triumphs for the black community. The chart statistics are impressive in and of themselves: ten Top Ten hits in a roughly 18-month span between early 1967 and late 1968, for instance, and a steady stream of solid mid- to large-size hits for the next five years after that. Her Atlantic albums were also huge sellers, and far more consistent artistically than those of most soul stars of the era. Franklin was able to maintain creative momentum, in part, because of her eclectic choice of material, which encompassed first-class originals and gospel, blues, pop, and rock covers, from the Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel to Sam Cooke and the Drifters. She was also a fine, forceful, and somewhat underrated keyboardist.

Franklin's commercial and artistic success was unabated in the early '70s, during which she landed more huge hits with "Spanish Harlem," "Bridge Over Troubled Water," and "Day Dreaming." She also produced two of her most respected, and earthiest, album releases with Live at Fillmore West and Amazing Grace. The latter, a 1972 double LP, was a reinvestigation of her gospel roots, recorded with James Cleveland and the Southern California Community Choir. Remarkably, it made the Top Ten, counting as one of the greatest gospel-pop crossover smashes of all time.

Franklin had a few more hits over the next few years -- "Angel" and the Stevie Wonder cover "Until You Come Back to Me" being the most notable. Her Atlantic contract ended at the end of the 1970s. She signed with the Clive Davis-guided Arista and scored number one R&B hits with "Jump to It," "Get It Right," and "Freeway of Love." Many of her successes were duets, or crafted with the assistance of contemporaries such as Luther Vandross and Narada Michael Walden. In 1986 Franklin released her follow-up to Who's Zoomin' Who?, the self-titled Aretha, which saw the single "I Knew You Were Waiting for Me," a duet with George Michael, hit the top of the charts. There was also another return to gospel in 1987 with One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism. Franklin shifted back to pop with 1989's Through the Storm, but it wasn't a commercial success, and neither was 1991's new jack swing-styled What You See Is What You Sweat.

Now solidly an iconic figure and acknowledged as one of the best singers of her generation no matter what her record sales were, Franklin contributed songs to several movie soundtracks in the next few years before releasing the R&B-based A Rose Is Still a Rose in 1998. So Damn Happy followed five years later in 2003 and again saw disappointing sales, but it did generate the Grammy-winning song "Wonderful." Franklin left Arista that same year and started her own label, Aretha's Records, two years later. A duets compilation, Jewels in the Crown: All-Star Duets with the Queen, was issued in 2007, followed by her first holiday album, 2008's This Christmas. The first release on her own label, A Woman Falling Out of Love, appeared in 2011. She signed to RCA and realigned with Clive Davis, who connected her with the likes of Babyface and OutKast's André 3000 for Sings the Great Diva Classics, for which she covered Gladys Knight, Barbra Streisand, and Adele, among others. Despite sometimes poor health, she continued to select new projects to work on; ever the institution, her reputation is secure as one of the best singers of the modern era. ~ Richie Unterberger & Steve Leggett, Rovi

(Taken from Spotify.com)