In 1866 the Fisk Free Colored School was established in Nashville, Tennessee by the American Missionary Association. Housed in abandoned Union hospital barracks, Fisk set out to educate former slaves with the support of donations from former abolitionists. As those donations declined over the next five years, Fisk fell on hard times.
To save the institution, Fisk’s treasurer, George Leonard White, decided to gamble on the extraordinary voices of the young black singers who had begun to share with him the songs of their ancestors. Over the objections of his colleagues and sponsors, White and his assistant, a frail young African American pianist named Ella Sheppard, led a choir of nine young former slaves (now called the Fisk Jubilee Singers) up from Nashville to perform for congregations in the North along the route of the Underground Railway.
The Jubilees, as they were eventually called, struggled through a schizophrenic world of liberal ministers and adoring audiences, but also poor receipts, and segregated hotels, restaurants and trains. They made their way to New York, where they chose for their debut Steal Away, Swing Low, Sweet Chariot and Deep River, the secret hymns their ancestors sang in fields and cabins and brush arbor churches, the spirituals they were about to introduce into the universal canon of Christian worship,.
A gospel singer and arranger, Sallie Martin was born near Atlanta, Georgia. In her early twenties she began singing in a church choir in Cleveland, and, by 1929, had moved to Chicago and joined a chorus directed by Thomas Dorsey, later known as the Father of Gospel Music. With him, in 1933, Martin co-founded the National Convention of Gospel Choirs and Choruses. During the remainder of the 1930s, she served as Dorsey’s song demonstrator and bookkeeper, singing and selling his compositions at churches and conventions. In some churches Martin encountered resistance, “because, you see, they didn’t like the idea of you having rhythm…but I got saved patting my feet…it would be impossible for me to just absolutely stand still and sing.”
James Haskins, One Nation Under a Groove: Rap Music and its Roots (New York: Hyperion Books, 2000); Adam Woog, From Ragtime to Hip-Hop: A Century of Black American Music (Detroit: Lucent Books, 2007).
Stacy Gueraseva, Def Jam, Inc. (New York: One World, 2005); James Haskins, One Nation Under a Groove: Rap Music and its Roots (New York: Hyperion Books, 2000); Stephen Thomas Erlewine, "Public Enemy." Allmusic.com 14 Mar. 2007. http://allmusic.com/cg/amg.dll?p=amg&sql=11:48jgtq6ztu4o~T1.
Stacy Gueraseva, Def Jam, Inc. (New York: One World, 2005); Ronin Ro, Raising Hel. (New York: Amistad, 2005).
Scott Yanow, Jazz: a Regional Exploration (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2006); Potomac River Jazz Club, http://www.prjc.org/roots/williams.html; Doug Ramsey, Jazz Matters – Reflections on Some of its Makers (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1989); Joe Bailey, “The Texas Shuffle”: Lone Star Underpinnings of the Kansas City Jazz Sound. (Journal of Texas Music History: Volume 6, Issue 1, 2006); David Oliphant, Texan Jazz. (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1996).
Berry Gordy, Jr. was born November 28, 1929 in Detroit, Michigan, the seventh of eight children to Bertha Fuller Gordy and Berry “Pops” Gordy, Sr. The Gordy parents were strict disciplinarians who encouraged their children to demonstrate a good work ethic and an entrepreneurial spirit. Gordy dropped out of high school to become a professional boxer. He served in the U.S. Army in Korea between 1951 and 1953 and returned to Detroit to open a jazz music store. When it failed, Gordy worked on the assembly line at the Ford Plant, but by 1959 he quit that job to become a professional songwriter. In late 1957 Gordy had his first hit record, “Reet Petite,” for popular rhythm and blues artist Jackie Wilson. Soon afterwards he wrote “Lonely Teardrops,” Wilson’s greatest hit.
It may be impossible today to understand fully the shock and outrage which alto saxophonist Ornette Coleman's 1959 arrival in New York caused within the jazz community. Coleman's innovations freed his quartet from traditional structures of form, chordal harmony, tonality, and rhythm, and though his work has sharply divided opinion, he is widely acknowledged as having transformed the way in which jazz is heard and performed.
Born in 1930 in Fort Worth, Texas, Coleman began playing tenor saxophone in rhythm and blues (R&B) bands, his own style rooted in the bebop idiom. Though undocumented, his early development suggests something unique – Coleman was assaulted and his tenor saxophone destroyed after a particularly off-putting dance solo in Baton Rouge. In 1949 Coleman settled in Los Angeles where he worked as an elevator operator and independently studied music theory. On the alto saxophone, which remains his primary voice, Coleman developed a plaintively raw and vocalized tone, exploring micro-tonalities and speech-like cries. In Los Angeles Coleman befriended drummers Ed Blackwell and Billy Higgins, as well as trumpeter Don Cherry, all of whom would later become mainstays in Coleman’s ground-breaking Atlantic quartets. In 1958 Coleman found a willing partner in pianist Paul Bley, and with Higgins, Cherry, and bassist Charlie Haden the quintet recorded a live performance at the Hillcrest Club, The Fabulous Paul Bley Quintet.
Energetic jazz singer, bandleader, performer, and composer, Cabell “Cab” Calloway III was born on Christmas Day, 1907 to Cabell Calloway Jr. and Martha Eulalia Reed in Rochester, New York. Calloway was raised in Baltimore, Maryland and in high school he sung with a group called the Baltimore Melody Boys.
Calloway attended Crane College in Chicago for pre-law but soon abandoned his studies for a career in the music industry, following the path of his sister, Blanche, an established singer. He started out performing for various Chicago night clubs, eventually securing a spot as a drummer and singer at the Sunset Club, a popular jazz venue in Chicago’s South Side. While working at the Sunset, Calloway earned the reputation of being a charismatic, lively performer and in 1928 served as the club’s master of ceremonies. One year later he led the house band, the Alabamians.
The Last Poets, a group of musicians and poet performers, originated out of the civil rights movement, with an emphasis on the black re-awakening. The original Last Poets were founded on Malcolm X’s birthday, May 19, 1968 at the former Mount Morris Park (Now Marcus Garvey Park), at 124th Street and Fifth Avenue in East Harlem, New York City. The original members, Felipe Luciano, Gylan Kain, and David Nelson took the name from a poem by South African poet Keorapetse Kgositsile, who believed that he was in the last era of poetry before guns would take over. They brought together music and spoken word.
The Original Last Poets would soon be overshadowed however by a group of the same name that spawned from a 1969 Harlem writer’s workshop called “East Wind.” Jalal Mansur Nuriddin, Umar Bin Hassan, Abiodun Oyewole, and percusionist Nilaja are considered the core members of this group. In 1970 this group appeared on their self titled album. The Original Last Poets garnered some attention for their soundtrack to the 1971 film “Right On!” Following their debut album which made the top-ten lists, The Last Poets released The Last Poets (1970) and This is Madness (1971). Due to their politically charged lyrics both groups were targeted by COINTELPRO, Richard Nixon’s counter intelligence program along with other politically active organizations such as the Black Panthers.
Iain Cameron Williams, Underneath A Harlem Moon: the Harlem to Paris
Years of Adelaide Hall (London: Continuum, 2002);
Reggae, which originated in Kingston, Jamaica in the late 1970s, is a by-product of ska and rocksteady music. While ska tends to be a more upbeat tempo and rocksteady slower, they come together to form reggae. Reggae’s distinctive sound incorporates the piano, guitar, drums, and bass. These tempered instruments come together to create a rhythmic and melodic pattern that remains steady throughout the complete song. While drums create the imbricate rhythms and sliding pitches in reggae songs, the artists tends to use their own voice to create such an effect.
In the late 1970s, Jamaica was going through difficult times both politically and economically. These conditions inspired reggae as the new genre of music, reggae. Reggae is said to be an optimistic answer to the numerous years of oppression Jamaica has experienced. Its upbeat melody was intended to lift the spirits of the poverty stricken and oppressed. At the beginning of its time, reggae caused much controversy because of its reference to politics and religion; its philosophical and opinionated lyrics caused a worldwide dissemination.
David Katz, Solid Foundation: An Oral History of Reggae (New York: Bloomsbury, 2003); http://lastfm.com.
Prince Rogers Nelson, songwriter, singer, producer, and all-round musical icon, was born on June 7, 1958 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Music was a part of Prince’s family; his father, John Nelson, was a jazz pianist whose stage name was Prince Rogers, and his mother, Mattie Nelson, was a vocalist. Prince’s home life, however, was turbulent, and he left home at the age of 12 and was adopted into another family.
From a young age Prince began to teach himself many musical instruments, including the drums, bass, and guitar. While in high school he joined the band Grand Central along with Andre Anderson and Charles Smith (who was later replaced by Morris Day). Prince left school at age 16, by which point he had already begun helping to create what would become known as the “Minneapolis Sound,” characterised by industrial-sounding drum machines and synthesizer riffs.
Stax Records is an American record company known for its talented, and often integrated, rhythm and blues (R&B) musicians. Founded by Estelle Axton and her brother Jim Stewart in 1957 as Satellite Records, in 1960 the company moved into the Capitol Theater in Memphis, Tennessee. Later that year, a recording made in the new studio of Rufus and Carla Thomas's song “Cause I Love You” gained popularity in the Memphis area which led to a series of deals giving Atlantic Records the distribution rights to future Satellite releases. The deal provided the young company with a national audience. With national distribution came the revelation that another “Satellite Records” predated the one in Memphis and Stewart and Axton changed their company’s name to Stax, a combination of the first letters of their last names.
Wes Montgomery was a jazz guitarist whose natural genius and distinctive sound earned him recognition as one of the most important jazz musicians of the 20th century. Montgomery was born on March 6, 1925 in Indianapolis, Indiana into a musically inclined family. Although he was given his first instrument as a child, Montgomery’s interest in guitar would not be ignited until he was 19 years old and married. After first hearing records from swing and jazz guitarist Charlie Christian, he bought an affordable guitar and amplifier and taught himself how to play. Partly in order to lower the volume for neighbors and because he found it awkward to use a pick, he soon adopted his own style of using his right thumb to pluck the strings. Although somewhat unconventional, the softer and deeper tone it produced still serves as one of his trademarks.
The Sugar Hill Gang, known as the first nationally popular African American hip-hop group, comprised three members: Mike Wright (Wonder Mike), Henry Jackson (Big Bank Hank), and Guy O’ Brien (Master Gee), all from Englewood, New Jersey. The group is best known for its 1979 hit single, “Rapper’s Delight,” which was also the first hip hop single to rank in the top 40 hits and to become part of a multi-platinum selling album. Rapper's Delight is also credited with popularizing hip hop as a new musical genre.
Wright, Jackson and O'Brien were discovered and signed to Sugar Hill Records by producer Sylvia Robinson and her husband, record tycoon, Joe Robinson. Sylvia Robinson had become aware of the large block parties that sprang up in the New York area, which featured a new style of music defined as underground hip hop. Robinson met Wright, Jackson, and O'Brien at one of these parties where the three were performers and signed them to the Sugar Hill label. They were given the stage name, Sugar Hill Gang and soon afterward they recorded "Rapper's Delight."
Russell Simmons, a multimillionaire who is estimated to be the third wealthiest man in the Hip-Hop industry, just behind Jay-Z and Sean “Diddy” Combs, was born on October 4, 1957 in Queens, New York City. His parents were Damian Simmons, a public school administrator, and Evelyn Simmons, a New York City park administrator. Simmons is one of four brothers. While growing up he lived a life of poverty as his block in Queens was known at that time as the area’s drug capitol. Even Simmons himself became involved with dealing marijuana in his early youth.
Simmons first became involved with hip hop music at the age of 20 when in 1977 he attended a party in a small club where an MC (Master of Ceremonies) was shouting call-and-response rhymes. Inspired by that experience, Simmons began promoting MCs, like the one from the former party, and booking them for shows. Although he lacked musical talent, Simmons felt his promotions were a way to become involved in the industry. Simmons often lost money on these early promotions but he continued to work on building successful acts and his own career.
Guitarist, singer, and songwriter Charles Edward Anderson “Chuck” Berry was considered a pioneer of rock and roll and a major influence on 20th century popular music. His songs such as “Johnny B. Goode” and “Roll Over Beethoven” are rock and roll standards.
Chuck Berry was born in St. Louis, Missouri on October 18, 1926 to a middle class family which included six siblings. His father Henry worked in a flour mill and his mother Martha was a college graduate. Chuck’s mother played piano and both she and his father were church singers instilling in their son an early interest in music.
Despite his middle class family background, Berry as a teenager joined two high school friends in committing a short string of armed robberies in Kansas City, Missouri. They were arrested and Berry was convicted and served three years in prison between 1944 and 1947.
Shortly after he was released Berry married Themetta Suggs. The couple had two children and Berry settled into family life while working at an automobile assembly plant in St. Louis and taking jobs as a carpenter with his father. In his free time Berry finally pursued an early fascination with guitar, taking lessons from Ira Harris, a local jazz guitarist.
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