Tag: Nat King Cole

R.I.P. Grammy Award Winner, Legendary Song Stylist and Civil Rights Activist Nancy Wilson, 81

by Jim Farber via nytimes.com

Nancy Wilson, whose skilled and flexible approach to singing provided a key bridge between the sophisticated jazz-pop vocalists of the 1950s and the powerhouse pop-soul singers of the 1960s and ’70s, died on Thursday at her home in Pioneertown, Calif. She was 81.

Her death was confirmed by her manager, Devra Hall Levy, who said Ms. Wilson had been ill for some time; she gave no other details.

In a long and celebrated career, Ms. Wilson performed American standards, jazz ballads, Broadway show tunes, R&B torch songs and middle-of-the-road pop pieces, all delivered with a heightened sense of a song’s narrative.

“I have a gift for telling stories, making them seem larger than life,” she told The Los Angeles Times in 1993. “I love the vignette, the plays within the song.

Some of Ms. Wilson’s best-known recordings told tales of heartbreak, with attitude. A forerunner of the modern female empowerment singer, with the brassy inflections and biting inflections to fuel it, Ms. Wilson could infuse even the saddest song with a sense of strength.

In her canny signature piece from 1960, “Guess Who I Saw Today”(written by Murray Grand and Elisse Boyd), a woman baits her husband by dryly telling him a story in which he turns out to be the central villain. In her 1968 hit, “Face It Girl, It’s Over” (by Francis Stanton and Angelo Badale), Ms. Wilson first seems to throw cold water in the face of a deluded woman who fails to notice that her lover has lost interest in her. Only later does she reveal that she is the benighted woman scorned.

“Face It Girl,” an epic soul blowout, became one of Ms. Wilson’s biggest chart scores, making the Top 30 of Billboard’s pop chart and Top 15 on its R&B list.ing News

Her biggest hit came in 1964, when “(You Don’t Know) How Glad I Am”(Jimmy Williams and Larry Harrison), a rapturous R&B ballad delivered with panache, reached No. 11 on Billboard’s pop chart.

Three years later she became one of the few African-Americans of her day to host a TV program, the Emmy-winning “Nancy Wilson Show,” on NBC.

Ms. Wilson released more than 70 albums in a five-decade recording career. She won three Grammy Awards, one for best rhythm and blues recording for the 1964 album “How Glad I Am,” and two for best jazz vocal album, in 2005 and 2007. In 2004, she was honored as a Jazz Master by the National Endowment for the Arts. Nancy Wilson’s album “How Glad I Am,” from 1964, won a Grammy Award for best rhythm and blues recording.

For her lifelong work as an advocate of civil rights, which included participating in a Selma to Montgomery, Ala., protest march in 1965, she received an award from the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change in Atlanta in 1993 and an N.A.A.C.P. Hall of Fame Image Award in 1998.

In 2005, she was inducted into the International Civil Rights Walk of Fame at the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site, also in Atlanta.

“As an artist then, taking such a political stand came with professional risks,” she told the blog Jazz Wax in 2010. “But it had to be done.”

Continue reading “R.I.P. Grammy Award Winner, Legendary Song Stylist and Civil Rights Activist Nancy Wilson, 81”

R.I.P. Grammy Award-Winning Singer and Chart-Topping Artist Natalie Cole

Natalie Cole performing in 2007. (Credit: Radek Pietruszka/European Pressphoto Agency)

Natalie Cole, the Grammy Award-winning singer whose hits included “Inseparable,” “This Will Be,” “Our Love,” “Pink Cadillac” and “Unforgettable,” a virtual duet with her father, Nat King Cole, that topped the Billboard charts in 1991, died in Los Angeles on Thursday. She was 65.

Maureen O’Connor, a spokeswoman for Ms. Cole, confirmed her death without giving a cause, according to The Associated Press. Ms. Cole had undergone a kidney transplant in 2009 and had suffered from other ailments recently, forcing the cancellation of a series of tour dates in November and December.

Ms. Cole — who was raised around jazz royalty in the company of her father and her mother, Maria Hawkins Cole, a singer who worked with Duke Ellington and Count Basie — came into her own as a singer in the 1970s by staking out her own territory in R&B. Her first album, “Inseparable,” in 1975, won two Grammys, and “Sophisticated Lady,” on a follow-up album the next year, won another.

Ms. Cole’s reputation declined for several years, partly because of struggles with drug addiction. But she came back, creating the biggest hit of her career by uniting, at least in the studio, with the legacy and voice of her father, singing along with him on a recording of his standard “Unforgettable” and winning several Grammys in 1991.

The song reached a level of success that Ms. Cole said stunned her, even with the combined wattage of her name and her father’s.

“The shock of it all is that this record is getting airplay,” Ms. Cole said in an interview at the time. “It’s absolutely shocking to see it between Van Halen and Skid Row on the charts, totally out of its element. It should be encouraging to record companies and my contemporaries.”

Watch Ms. Cole perform one of her biggest hits, her debut single from 1975, the #1 R&B hit and #6 Pop hit “This Will Be”, live on “Midnight Special” below:

article by Randy Kennedy via nytimes.com; additions by Lori Lakin Hutcherson

First Lady Michelle Obama Shares Holiday Traditions in “Ladies’ Home Journal” Cover Story

First lady Michelle Obama on the cover of 'Ladies' Home Journal'
First Lady Michelle Obama on the cover of ‘Ladies’ Home Journal.’ (Ladies’ Home Journal)

First Lady Michelle Obama has shared her family’s favorite holiday traditions with Ladies’ Home Journal for this month’s cover story  In a piece called Christmas at the White House, Mrs. Obama reveals the holiday tunes and cooking activities she and her closest loved ones enjoy to make the season bright.  “The sounds of Christmas in the Obama White House mean James Taylor, Mariah Carey and Nat King Cole,” reports New York’s Daily News about how America’s Mom-in-Chief sets a seasonal mood.

Christmas at the White House is certainly a grand experience compared to Michelle Obama’s humble holidays with her mother, father and brother growing up in the South Side of Chicago. Even though they were of working class means, Christmas was enriched through her mother’s loving attentiveness.  “Christmas has always been a special time in my household. Growing up, we lived in a little-bitty apartment, but my mom put her heart and soul into decorating that house,” she remembers. “She would take cardboard and make a chimney over our radiator because she wanted us to feel like we had something for Santa Claus to come down.”

In addition to sharing personal family memories, the first lady dazzles in the photo shoot accompanying the piece in a golden brocade dress that shows off her amazing arms.

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R.I.P. Blues Music Legend Bobby “Blue” Bland

Bobby "Blue" BlandRobert Calvin “Bobby” Bland (January 27, 1930 – June 23, 2013, né Brooks), also known as Bobby “Blue” Bland, was an American singer of blues and soul. He was an original member of the Beale Streeters, and was sometimes referred to as the “Lion of the Blues”. His storied career came to an end this weekend, when he passed away at the age of 83 due to complications from an ongoing illness.

Bland was also known as the “Sinatra of the Blues” because of his super-suave persona and his flawless 1961 album Two Steps From the Blues, which should be required listening for anyone who appreciates soul.  Along with such artists as Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, and Junior Parker, Bland developed a sound that mixed gospel with the blues and R&B. His music was also influenced by Nat King Cole.

Bland was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1981, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1992, and received theGrammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997.

To learn more about his life and music, click here. To see him do his thing, click below:

article by Lori Lakin Hutcherson

R.I.P. Leo Branton Jr., Civil Rights Lawyer Who Defended Angela Davis

April 6, 1972: Defense attorney Leo Branton listens to Angela Davis as the two walk from court at San Jose. For obit of Branton.
April 6, 1972: Defense attorney Leo Branton listens to Angela Davis as the two walk from court at San Jose.

Leo Branton Jr., a civil rights and entertainment lawyer whose stirring defense of ’60s radical Angela Davis brought him his most celebrated victory in a six-decade career often spent championing unpopular cases, died of natural causes Friday in Los Angeles. He was 91.  His death was confirmed by his son Tony Nicholas.

Branton, the only African-American graduate of Northwestern University’s law school in 1948, helped singer Nat King Cole integrate an exclusive Los Angeles neighborhood, defended Communists in McCarthy-era Los Angeles and won misconduct cases against the Los Angeles Police Department decades before Rodney King became a household name.

“He was a hero of mine,” said Connie Rice, a prominent Los Angeles civil rights attorney who helped lead efforts to reform the LAPD after the King beating.  “All the things I’ve done, Leo Branton did 50 years before I even thought about going to law school. He saw himself not as a private practitioner out to make money for himself but as a lawyer with the skills to be a champion for black liberation.”

Continue reading “R.I.P. Leo Branton Jr., Civil Rights Lawyer Who Defended Angela Davis”

Born On This Day in 1919: Legendary Jazz Musician and Singer Nat King Cole

Nat ColeNathaniel Adams Coles (March 17, 1919 – February 15, 1965), known professionally as Nat King Cole, was an American singer and musician who first came to prominence as a leading 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.

Cole was one of the first African Americans to host a television variety show, The Nat King Cole Show, and has maintained worldwide popularity since his death from lung cancer in February 1965, based on his classic renditions of  “Unforgettable,” “Mona Lisa,” “Laura,” and “The Christmas Song.”  Learn more about his life and music here, and watch his uncomparable version of “Nature Boy” below:

article by Lori Lakin Hutcherson