R.I.P Chuck Berry, 90; Musical Legend and Architect of Rock ’n’ Roll

article by Jon Pareles via nytimes.com

Chuck Berry, who with his indelible guitar licks, brash self-confidence and memorable songs about cars, girls and wild dance parties did as much as anyone to define rock ’n’ roll’s potential and attitude in its early years, died on Saturday. He was 90.

The St. Charles County Police Department in Missouri confirmed his death on its Facebook page. The department said it responded to a medical emergency at a home and Mr. Berry was declared dead after lifesaving measures were unsuccessful.

While Elvis Presley was rock’s first pop star and teenage heartthrob, Mr. Berry was its master theorist and conceptual genius, the songwriter who understood what the kids wanted before they knew themselves. With songs like “Johnny B. Goode,” “Maybellene” and “Roll Over Beethoven,” he gave his listeners more than they knew they were getting from jukebox entertainment.

Chuck Berry (photo via nytimes.com)

His guitar lines wired the lean twang of country and the bite of the blues into phrases with both a streamlined trajectory and a long memory. And tucked into the lighthearted, telegraphic narratives that he sang with such clear enunciation was a sly defiance, upending convention to claim the pleasures of the moment. In “Sweet Little Sixteen,” “You Can’t Catch Me,” “Rock n Roll Music” and other songs, Mr. Berry invented rock as a music of teenage wishes fulfilled and good times.  (The Beach Boys reworked his “Sweet Little Sixteen” into “Surfin’ U.S.A.” Mr. Berry sued them and won a songwriting credit.)

Born Charles Edward Anderson Berry on Oct. 18, 1926, in St. Louis, he grew up in a segregated, middle-class neighborhood there, soaking up gospel, blues, and rhythm and blues, along with some country music.He spent three years in reform school after a spree of car thefts and armed robbery.

He received a degree in hairdressing and cosmetology and worked for a time as a beautician; he married Themetta Suggs in 1948 and started a family. By the early 1950s, he was playing guitar and singing blues, pop standards and an occasional country tune with local combos. Shortly after joining Sir John’s Trio, led by the pianist Johnnie Johnson, he reshaped the group’s music and took it over.

From the Texas guitarist T-Bone Walker, Mr. Berry picked up a technique of bending two strings at once that he would rough up and turn into a rock ’n’ roll talisman, the Chuck Berry lick, which would in turn be emulated by the Rolling Stones and countless others. He also recognized the popularity of country music and added some hillbilly twang to his guitar lines. Mr. Berry’s hybrid music, along with his charisma and showmanship, drew white as well as black listeners to the Cosmopolitan Club in St. Louis.

In 1955, Mr. Berry ventured to Chicago and asked one of his idols, the bluesman Muddy Waters, about making records. Waters directed him to the label he recorded for, Chess Records, where one of the owners, Leonard Chess, heard potential in Mr. Berry’s song “Ida Red.”

A variant of an old country song by the same name, “Ida Red” had a 2/4 backbeat with a hillbilly oompah, while Mr. Berry’s lyrics sketched a car chase, the narrator “motorvatin’” after an elusive girl. Mr. Chess renamed the song “Maybellene,” and in a long session on May 21, 1955, Mr. Chess and the bassist Willie Dixon got the band to punch up the rhythm.

“The big beat, cars and young love,” Mr. Chess outlined. “It was a trend and we jumped on it.”

The music was bright and clear, a hard-swinging amalgam of country and blues. More than 60 years later, it still sounds reckless and audacious.

To read full article, go to: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/18/arts/chuck-berry-dead.html

Stevie Wonder to be Honored by ASCAP with Inaugural “Key of Life” Award at “I Create Music” Expo in Los Angeles

Stevie Wonder (photo via hookedoneverything.com)

article by Lori Lakin Hutcherson (@lakinhutcherson)

ASCAP, the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, announced today that it will honor legendary musician Stevie Wonder with its inaugural “Key of Life” Award at this year’s ASCAP “I Create Music” EXPO in Los Angeles, April 13 – 15, where Wonder will also appear in a keynote “I Create Music” session.

The “Key of Life” Award celebrates Wonder’s incomparable, peerless contributions to the world through his music. In the future, the honor will be presented to songwriters and composers who best exemplify his legacy through their commitment to the art form he elevated through his talent, dedication and unparalleled heart.

“Stevie has deservedly been given every award imaginable,” said ASCAP President Paul Williams. “Yet he continues to innovate and elevate the art of songwriting to the point where no honor can truly capture what he means to his creative kin at ASCAP, and to songwriters and music lovers worldwide. This award has been created as a way to honor his singularly inspirational songwriting career and to recognize his spirit in generations to come.”

The 25-time Grammy winner has been an ASCAP member for the better part of five decades, amassing more than 60 Billboard Hot 100 hits during his time with the performing rights organization, including eternal anthems like “Superstition,” “My Cherie Amour,” “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours,” “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” and “I Just Called to Say I Love You.” Wonder received ASCAP’s highest individual prize, the Founders Award, in 1984, and was honored during the organization’s 100th birthday celebrations with a once-in-a-lifetime Centennial Award.

Now in its 12th year, ASCAP’s “I Create Music” EXPO is the United States’ largest conference for songwriters, composers, artists and producers in all music genres. Last year’s conference was the most well attended in EXPO history, attracting 3,000 participants from up-and-comers to GRAMMY winners.

For more information on the ASCAP EXPO and to register for this year’s conference, visit: https://www.ascap.com/expo.

FEATURE: Morris Robinson, the Unexpected Opera Star: ‘A Lot of the Purists, They Don’t Believe My Story’

Opera singer Morris Robinson (photo via latimes.com)

article by Christopher Smith via latimes.com

Opera is often called the most irrational art form. Seen through that lens, bass singer Morris Robinson’s unlikely career path makes wonderful sense.At a young age, from a family and culture that reveres singing, Robinson aspired to be a drummer instead. He ignored college music scholarships and conservatory programs for a free-ride to play football at a military college. Afterward, bypassing all thought of studying music at grad school, he worked for a Fortune 500 company in regional sales of data storage.

At 30, in finally attempting to sing professionally, he tried out for the chorus of “Aida” at the Boston Lyric Opera, the biggest company in New England. A week later, the music director handed him music for a solo role, accompanied by a plea: “Please don’t screw it up.”

“A lot of the purists, they don’t believe my story,” Robinson said. “They don’t believe it until they witness it themselves.”

Now 47 and equipped with 18 years of major roles with A-list companies nationally and internationally, Robinson has forged a life path in opera that seems inevitable in retrospect. After all, he was “the rare person,” L.A. Opera music director James Conlon said, “born with the great voice where strength predates technique. It’s a round, large voice.”

“A lot of people force their voices, they either yell or scream, which decays the quality of the sound. Morris himself is big, and that voice is right there without him having to make it that way, so he can sing with beautiful rounded sounds.”

Morris Robinson and Brenton Ryan in L.A. Opera’s “The Abduction From the Seraglio.” (Craig T. Mathew / Mathew Imaging)

With this level of vocal entitlement, Robinson might seem to be a natural. But throughout his life he seemed to ignore, even actively ward off, singing — though it was always around him.

Raised in a musical clan in Atlanta, Robinson had a dad, mom and three young sisters who all sang. Around 6, he participated in a church choir and then the Atlanta Boy Choir, alternately immersed in religious and secular music.  But singing was at best a backdrop, maybe even an obstacle. “I felt like I could do something special, but I could never figure out what it was,” he said.

“At first, I always was in the choirs, but to me, at heart, I was a drummer. Because if you’re going to be in a church in the South, there has to be rhythm. It was always about beats, beats, beats.”

He entered a performing arts high school. His senior year he made all-city band and all-state chorus.

But all he really cared about?

Continue reading

Chance the Rapper Donating $1 Million of Spring Tour Ticket Sales to Chicago Public Schools

Chance the Rapper (photo via rollingstone.com)

article by Dan Hyman via rollingstone.com

Chance the Rapper announced on Monday that he will donate $1 million to the Chicago Public Schools Foundation “for arts and enrichment programming.” The announcement came at a press conference held at Westcott Elementary School in the Grammy-winning rapper’s native South Side neighborhood of West Chatham, during which he presented an oversized check to students flanking him on both sides.

The announcement comes days after the Coloring Book rapper met with Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner to discuss what he believes is a lack of state funding directed towards the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) systems. “The governor gave me a lot of vague answers in our meeting and since has called me over the weekend,” Chance told a group of reporters and students gathered on Monday. It’s a sentiment he shared minutes after his talk with Rauner on Friday, when he told the Governor, via reporters, to “Do your job!” “Our talks were unsuccessful,” Chance continued. “Gov. Rauner still won’t commit to giving Chicago’s kids a chance without caveats or ultimatums.”

Chance’s efforts principally stem from Rauner’s veto of a bill that was set to delegate $215 million in funding to CPS, “an important compromise on behalf of the schools and the students across the state,” Chance noted. As a result, CPS may have to lay off thousands of staff or, as Chance passionately explained, even cut the school year short by 13 days. “This means over 380,000 kids will not have adult-supervised activities in June and could possibly be put in harm’s way,” he explained.

The rapper said his $1 million donation was made possible through ticket sales for his upcoming spring tour and a joint effort between concert promoters (including Live Nation, AEG and Ticketmaster) and local venues and promoters across the country. The rapper did not give specifics on how the money would be raised, but noted that the aforementioned companies “were able to band together to use funds from ticket sales to donate to CPS.”

On top of the rapper’s $1 million, Social Works, a local non-profit organization Chance created last year, will match every $100,000 raised for the CPS with an additional $10,000 to be allocated for specific Chicago public schools. (The charity has set up a website to receive donations for CPS.) In light of the $1 million donation, Chance will give out 10 additional $10,000 donations to select local schools, including Westcott Elementary.

To read full article, go to: Chance the Rapper Donating $1 Million to Chicago Public Schools – Rolling Stone

Harlem Stage in New York Director Simone Eccleston Named Kennedy Center’s 1st Director of Hip-Hop Culture 

Simone Eccleston (photo via nbcwashington.com)

article by Jordan Murray via nbcwashington.com

The Kennedy Center announced their first director of hip-hop culture and contemporary music Wednesday. Simone Eccleston, currently the director of programming at Harlem Stage in New York, will assume the role March 13. Eccleston’s new role will include leading a center-wide commitment to hip-hop culture and contemporary music, which includes R&B, soul, folk and roots, indie, world music and Latin music, according to a release.

Eccleston will also work as a partner with other areas of the Kennedy Center to highlight the collaborative nature of hip-hop music. The program will also aim to increase opportunities for community involvement and participation. Hip-hop is based on five core elements — deejaying, emceeing, break-dancing, graffiti writing and knowledge of self — the Kennedy Center said, all of which build and transform communities through art and action.

“With the Kennedy Center serving as the preeminent home for our nation’s arts and culture, the creation of a programmatic platform for hip-hop culture is deeply significant,” Eccleston said in a statement. She also said hip-hop culture has influenced and contributed to every aspect of American society and helps drive innovation and creative expressions across many different disciplines. “It is also an important catalyst for community building, activism and empowerment.”

Kennedy Center Senior Vice President Robert van Leer said the nature of hip-hop culture can create collaborations with the dance, theater, music and education programs. “We are thrilled to have an arts administrator of Simone’s caliber join us — someone who can lead that exploration of what hip-hop at the Kennedy Center can become in the coming years,” van Leer said in a statement. “And we believe it is the Center’s responsibility to develop and elevate thought-leaders like Simone to champion the bright future of our nation’s cultural institutions.”

Last March, the center appointed MC, rapper and record producer Q-Tip as its first artistic director for hip-hop culture.

To read full article, go to: Kennedy Center Names First Director of Hip-Hop Culture | NBC4 Washington

Rihanna Named the 2017 Harvard University Humanitarian of the Year 

Rihanna (photo via news.harvard.edu)

article via Harvard Gazette

Rihanna has been named the 2017 Harvard University Humanitarian of the Year, and is accepting the Peter J. Gomes Humanitarian Award at a ceremony today. “Rihanna has charitably built a state-of-the-art center for oncology and nuclear medicine to diagnose and treat breast cancer at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Bridgetown, Barbados,” said S. Allen Counter, the Harvard Foundation’s director.

“In 2012, she founded the nonprofit the Clara Lionel Foundation Global Scholarship Program [named for her grandparents] for students attending college in the U.S. from Caribbean countries, and supports the Global Partnership for Education and Global Citizen Project, which provides children with access to education in over 60 developing countries, giving priority to girls, and those affected by lack of access to education in the world today. ”

An international musical phenomenon, the Barbados-born singer, actress, and songwriter — whose full name is Robyn Rihanna Fenty — has sold more than 200 million records. The Harvard Foundation recognizes prominent public-spirited leaders each year in honor of the late Rev. Professor Peter J. Gomes.

Past honorees include physician-statistician Hans Rosling; actor James Earl Jones; Nobel Peace Prize Committee chairman Thorbjørn Jagland; U.N. Secretaries General Ban Ki-moon, Kofi Annan, Boutros Boutros-Ghali, and Javier Pérez de Cuéllar; gender rights advocate Malala Yousafzai; anti-child-labor spokesman Kailash Satyarthi; tennis player and activist Arthur Ashe; former Health and Human Services Director Louis W. Sullivan; and farmworker rights advocate Dolores Huerta.

To read more: Rihanna named Humanitarian of Year | Harvard Gazette

R.I.P. Clyde Stubblefield, 73, James Brown’s Legendary ‘Funky Drummer’ 

Clyde Stubblefield (photo via nytimes.com)

article by  via nytimes.com

It took only 20 seconds for Clyde Stubblefield to drum his way to immortality. They came near the end of James Brown’s “Funky Drummer,” recorded in a Cincinnati studio in late 1969. Brown counts him in — “1, 2, 3, 4. Hit it!” — and Mr. Stubblefield eases into a cool pattern, part bendy funk and part hard march. It’s calm, slick and precise, and atop it, Brown asks over and over, “Ain’t it funky?”

It was. That brief snippet of percussion excellence became the platonic ideal of a breakbeat, the foundation of hip-hop’s sampling era and a direct through line from the ferocious soul music of the civil rights era to the golden age of history-minded hip-hop of the 1980s and 1990s.

Though Mr. Stubblefield wasn’t enamored of the song — “I didn’t like the song. I still don’t really get off on it,” he told Paste magazine in 2014— its mark became indelible. Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power,” LL Cool J’s “Mama Said Knock You Out,” Boogie Down Productions’ “South Bronx,” Sinead O’Connor’s “I Am Stretched on Your Grave,” George Michael’s “Freedom! ’90” and Kenny G’s “G-Bop”: Mr. Stubblefield’s “Funky Drummer” break appeared as a sample in all of those songs, and over a thousand more, from the 1980s to the present day. It made Mr. Stubblefield, who died on Saturday in Madison, Wis., at 73, perhaps the most sampled drummer in history.

The cause was kidney failure, said his manager, Kathie Williams.

Mr. Stubblefield was born on April 18, 1943, and grew up in Chattanooga, Tenn., where he was drawn to the rhythms of local industrial sounds, from factories to trains. “There was a factory there that puffed out air — pop-BOOM, pop-BOOM — hit the mountains and came back as an echo,” he told Isthmus in 2015. “And train tracks — click-clack, click-clack. I listened to all that for six years, playing my drums against it.”

By his late teenage years, he was already playing drums professionally, and he moved to Macon, Ga., after playing with Otis Redding, who hailed from there. There, he performed with local soul acts, and was introduced to Brown by a club owner. Soon, he was flying to join Brown on the road, and became a permanent band member.

He performed with him on and off for about six years, one of two key drummers — the other was John Starks, who was also known as Jabo — playing on the essential James Brown albums of the civil rights era: “Cold Sweat,” “I Got the Feelin’,” “It’s a Mother,” “Say It Loud — I’m Black and I’m Proud” and “Sex Machine.” He performed at some of Brown’s most important concerts, including at the Boston Garden after the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and for United States service members in Vietnam.

His sharp funk provided the anchor on anthems like “Cold Sweat,” “Say It Loud — I’m Black and I’m Proud,” and “I Got The Feelin’.” Always, his playing was complex but collected — his flourishes between beats were as essential as the beat itself. Brown demanded a lot of his band, and Mr. Stubblefield, with playing that had punch, nimbleness and wet texture, never appeared to be breaking a sweat.

To read full article, go to: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/18/arts/music/clyde-stubblefield-dead.htmlrref=collection%2Fsectioncollection%2Farts&action=click&contentCollection=arts&region=rank&module=package&version=highlights&contentPlacement=9&pgtype=sectionfront&_r=0