In a city of news junkies and scores of high-profile figures in politics and the media, the most-watched journalist in Washington may well have been Jim Vance. With 45 years as the face of WRC-TV (Channel 4), he was the region’s longest-serving television news anchor. He presided over the area’s top-rated newscasts and became a public figure in his own right. He gained broad sympathy for his openness about his struggles with drugs and depression.
Mr. Vance, who was 75, died July 22. The death was announced by WRC-TV, where he had worked since 1969, but no further details were provided. He announced his diagnosis of cancer earlier this year.After three years as a reporter for Channel 4, Mr. Vance ascended to the anchor’s chair in 1972, putting him in the first wave of black news anchors in major news markets.
In addition to reading the news, he also delivered pointed commentaries, often on sensitive racial topics. Mr. Vance sat alongside a revolving cast of co-anchors and was often second or third in the local ratings until he teamed with Doreen Gentzler in 1989. Together, with sportscaster George Michael and meteorologist Bob Ryan, they vaulted Channel 4 to the top of the local ratings and stayed there for more than 25 years.
In the nation’s capital, Mr. Vance’s 11 p.m. newscasts with Gentzler regularly drew more viewers than the prime-time shows of the three major cable networks — CNN, Fox and MSNBC — combined.
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.
There’s an avalanche of thoughts that tumble through one’s mind when you are left to ponder the extraordinary (yet criminally underrated) career of George Michael following his shocking death on Christmas Day at the age of 53. But for this writer, the date of January 30, 1989, remains a moment that underlines the sheer gift, curse and deeply complex appeal of the ultimate white rhythm and blues vocalist. It was at Los Angeles’s Shrine Auditorium during the American Music Awards where Michael stepped on a debate-igniting, cultural land mine.
The former member of the monstrous pop duo Wham! was coming off the unfathomable commercial triumph of his critically-acclaimed solo debut Faith, which would go on to sell 25 million copies worldwide (10 million in the U.S. alone). Michael was now being viewed as a worthy addition to the ‘80s holy pop trinity of Michael Jackson, Prince and Madonna. When you headline your own sold-out world tour (The 1988 Faith trek became the second-highest-grossing tour of that year, pulling in nearly $20 million), fire off six consecutive top five singles on the Billboard charts (fueled by the one-two punch of the No. 1 rockabilly-dipped-in-soul title track and the dark, controlling church-infused ballad “Father Figure”) and win Album of the Year at the Grammys, you can pretty much write your own check.
But before that coronation solidified his place as a legit music industry behemoth, Michael found himself at the center of a racial tsunami when he won two AMAs for Favorite Album (Soul/R&B) and Favorite Male Artist (Soul/R&B). This was the era of the “Crossover Negro,” especially in the recording biz, as the aforementioned King of Pop and The Purple One — alongside the likes of Whitney Houston, Janet Jackson, Tina Turner, and Lionel Richie — all took turns ruling the top of the charts. Teddy Riley was leading the multi-platinum New Jack Swing wave. And hip-hop’s golden age was just kicking off, forcing MTV to create Yo! MTV Raps just to keep up with the street-infused genre’s groundbreaking stars like N.W.A., Public Enemy, Eric B & Rakim, Salt-N-Pepa and De La Soul. Black culture was cool and was only going to get cooler in the next decade.
For many African-American followers, their first introduction to the East Finchley, London native was Wham!’s 1982 cheeky, disco-rap rave-up “Young Guns (Go For It).” Michael and his conspicuously silent partner Andrew Ridgeley were pushed as cutesy teen idols that indulged in the funk.
But while Wham!’s No. 1 commercial breakthrough, 1984’s overtly day-glow single “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go,” made them global stars, it was a heaven-sent slow jam that forever gave Michael his ‘hood pass. At just 17 years old, the gifted singer/songwriter wrote and produced the mournful torch song “Careless Whisper,” a mammoth hit that not only reached No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, but also became a top 10 hit on the U.S. Hot Black Singles, earning its place as a quiet storm staple on R&B radio. “I’m never going to dance again/Guilty feet have got no rhythm,” remains one of that era’s most heartbreaking lines ever recorded. This was a different cat.