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Showing posts with label Musician. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Musician. Show all posts


BAEZ, JOAN (1941– ) Singer, Songwriter, Musician

The queen of 1960s folk music, Joan Baez is as well known for her political activism as for her pure soprano. She was born on January 9, 1941, in Staten Island, New York but her family moved frequently in her youth. Her father, a physicist of Mexican heritage, was an academic researcher who had eschewed more lucrative defense work on moral grounds. Joan’s parents, both Quakers, nurtured her social conscience. Her mistreatment by schoolmates because of her dark skin also contributed to her sympathy with the less fortunate.

While attending high school in Palo Alto, California, Baez began playing the guitar. After graduating in 1958, she enrolled at Boston University but soon became caught up in the renaissance of folk music pioneered by Pete Seeger and the Kingston Trio. Playing coffeehouses in Boston and Cambridge, Baez developed a reputation as a keen interpreter of classic folk. In the summer of 1959, she was invited to perform at the first Newport Folk Festival. Her performance made her an overnight star of the folk scene. Baez refused better-paying offers to sign with Vanguard Records, then the premier folk label. In 1960, Vanguard released Joan Baez, an album of traditional folk songs, including “House of the Rising Sun.” The first of Baez’s eight gold records, it reached number three on the charts. Baez continued to tour concert halls and campuses to growing crowds. In 1963, she played to an audience of more than 20,000 at Los Angeles’s Hollywood Bowl. Baez constantly broadened her repertoire, singing spirituals, hymns, and country and western tunes. She also sang songs by contemporary folk and rock artists, including Phil Ochs, Leonard Cohen, the Beatles, and most notably Bob Dylan. In addition to touring frequently together, Baez and Dylan became linked romantically.

By the mid-1960s, Baez was using her celebrity status to bring attention to political and social causes she held dear. In 1964, she refused to pay 60 percent of her income tax as a protest against the United States’s military arms buildup. A vehement opponent of the Vietnam War, Baez was arrested two years later for blocking the doors of an armed forces induction center. She married draft resister David Harris in 1968. Soon after she became pregnant with their son Gabriel, Harris was arrested and sent to federal prison for 20 months.

Baez’s antiwar stance won her both supporters and detractors. She was scheduled in 1967 to perform at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C., a venue controlled by the conservative Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). When the DAR refused to allow her to play the hall, Baez gave an outdoor concert at the Washington Monument that attracted a crowd of more 30,000. Baez was also well-received when she performed at the legendary Woodstock concert in 1969.

In the 1970s, Baez developed her talents as a songwriter with such albums as Blessed Are . . . (1971) and Diamonds & Ruse (1975). The decade also brought her her greatest commercial successa cover of The Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” one of the biggest singles of 1972. The same year, Baez began a long-term association with the human rights watchdog group Amnesty International and took a controversial tour of North Vietnam. In 1979, she helped found Humanitas International Human Rights Committee, an organization devoted to promoting human rights and nuclear disarmament through educational seminars.

In her autobiography And a Voice to Sing With (1987), Baez wrote of “the ashes and silence of the 1980s”—a decade that largely ignored both her music and politics. Nevertheless, she performed to acclaim at the Live Aid concert of 1985 and garnered a Grammy nomination for “Asimbonanga,” a song from Recently (1987), her first studio album in eight years.

Baez devoted much of the early 1990s on what she called “inner work,” including therapy to help her overcome stage fright and other phobias that had plagued her for years. At the same time, she discovered a new generation of singer-songwriters playing, in Baez’s words, “this folk/rock kind of music that still suits me best.” Baez’s own work was revitalized as she began touring with younger artists such as Dar Williams, Indigo Girls, and Sinead Lohan. Heading into her sixth decade in music, Baez maintained that she could now perform “a freer concert than I ever thought I could give.” As she told the New York Times in 2000, in recent years she has succeeded in “get[ting] past the myth of being Joan Baez and learn[ing] to enjoy my life.”

Further Reading
Baez, Joan. And a Voice to Sing With: A Memoir. New York: Summit Books, 1987.
Fuss, Charles. Joan Baez: A Bio-Bibliography. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood, 1996.

Recommended Recorded and Videotaped Performances
Rare, Live and Classic. Vanguard, CD set, 1993.


WASHINGTON, DINAH (Ruth Lee Jones) (1924–1962) Singer, Musician

Known as the “Queen of the Blues,” Dinah Washington was the dominant female singer of rhythm and blues during the 1950s. She was born Ruth Lee Jones in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, in August 1924 (her exact birth date is debated). When she was three, her family moved to Chicago. Ruth received her first musical instruction at home, learning to sing and play the piano from her mother. By her teens, she was a well-known gospel singer at the St. Luke’s Baptist Church.

After winning a talent contest, Jones started performing in local clubs. In 1940, she returned to religious music when gospel singer Sallie Martin hired her as her pianist. Two years later, Jones went back to the nightclub circuit, playing piano at the Three Deuces, a Chicago jazz club where her idol BILLIE HOLIDAY was performing. Soon, Jones herself was singing in the back room. There, she was spotted by bandleader Lionel Hampton, who hired her as his vocalist. Hampton later claimed that he gave Jones the stage name Dinah Washington.

While singing with Hampton’s band, Washington began recording blues songs. In 1943, her “Evil Gal Blues” and “Salty Papa Blues” were hits with African-American audiences. Two years later, “Blowtop Blues”—the only song she recorded with Hampton—made her a star of rhythm and blues. After going solo in 1945, Washington was signed by Mercury Records, which would remain her label for 15 years. While a Mercury artist, she recorded more than 400 songs for the burgeoning urban blues market. With records such as “Long John Blues” (1947) and “Trouble in Mind” (1952), she was considered by many to be the successor of blues great BESSIE SMITH. Washington, however, prided herself on being able to sing in any genre. She had great success with covers of Broadway show tunes and even had a country hit with a cover of Hank Williams’s “Cold, Cold Heart” (1952).

Washington also developed a reputation as a jazz artist. On songs such as “Lover, Come Back to Me,” she had a fruitful collaboration with pianist Wynton Kelly, which some compared to the working relationship between Holiday and Lester Young. Washington frequently performed at jazz clubs and festivals. Her triumphant appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1958 was recorded in the concert film  Jazz on a Summer’s Day (1959). Washington also played the Palladium in London. With Elizabeth II in the audience, the Queen of the Blues announced, “There is but one heaven, one hell, and one queen, and your Elizabeth is an impostor.”

For most of her recording career, Washington’s music was sold nearly exclusively to African Americans. In 1959, however, she broke into the larger mainstream market with “What a Diff ’rence a Day Makes.” In addition to hitting the top 10 on the R&B charts, the record won a Grammy Award. The next year, Washington had three crossover hits. With fellow Mercury artist Brook Benton, she sang the duets “Baby, You’ve Got What it Takes” and “A Rockin’ Good Way,” while on her own she had a number-one hit with the mournful love song, “This Bitter Earth.” On- and offstage, she had a flair for the flamboyant. She loved tight dresses and mink coats and enjoyed shocking people with her rough language. Washington had at least eight husbands and two sons. Late in her career, Washington became sensitive about her weight. Newly married to Detroit Lions football player Dick “Night Train” Lane, she went on a crash diet with fatal results. On December 14, 1963, Lane found Washington’s body in their Detroit home. Only 39, Washington had died from an accidental overdose of alcohol, sedatives, and diet pills.

Further Reading
Barbera, André. “Washington, Dinah.” In  American National Biography, edited by John Arthur Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, vol. 22, pp. 757–758. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
Haskins, James. Queen of the Blues: A Biography of Dinah Washington. New York: William Morrow, 1987.

Recommended Recorded and Videotaped Performances
The Essential Dinah Washington: The Great Songs. Mercury, CD, 1992.
First Issue: The Dinah Washington Story. Polygram, CD set, 1993.
Jazz on a Summer’s Day (1958). New Yorker Films, DVD/VHS, 2000.

BUFFY SAINTE-MARIE (Beverly Sainte-Marie)

SAINTE-MARIE, BUFFY (Beverly Sainte-Marie) (ca. 1941– ) Singer, Songwriter, Musician, Actress

Best-known for her searing protest songs of the 1960s, Buffy Sainte-Marie, a Cree Indian, was born on February 20 in either 1941 or 1942 on the Piapot Reserve in Saskatchewan, Canada. While still an infant, she was orphaned and later adopted by Albert and Winifred Sainte-Marie of Wakefield, Massachusetts. Though her given name was Beverly, she soon was known to her parents by the nickname “Buffy.” By four, Buffy had taught herself to play her family’s secondhand piano and started setting her own poems to music. In her teens, she similarly mastered the guitar. Through her experimentation with the instrument, she developed her own unique playing techniques as well as discovering 32 ways of tuning a guitar, each of which created a different type of sound.

After graduating with honors from the University of Massachusetts, Sainte-Marie moved to New York City and began playing her music at folk clubs in Greenwich Village. An early performance attracted the attention of singer Bob Dylan, who helped arrange for her debut at the Gaslight Cafe on August 17, 1963. Enthusiastic reviews won her a contract with Vanguard Records, the premier recording company in the burgeoning folk music scene. Her first album, It’s My Way (1964), was a huge popular and critical success, earning her the title “Best New Artist of the Year” from Billboard magazine. In performance, Sainte-Marie was hailed for her dynamism. A reviewer in the New York News described her power onstage, writing, “She sings in a clear, husky-timbered voice that can be sweet, lowdown, bitter, compassionate, sprightly, sexy, or wryly humorous. She can purr or belt, warm you into a smile or near chill you with a trembling intensity.” She was equally admired as a songwriter. In the public mind, Sainte-Marie became most closely associated with her protest songs, especially those that exposed the United States’ s mistreatment of Native Americans, including “Native American Child,” “Now That the Buffalo’s Gone,” and “My Country ’Tis of Thy People You’re Dying.” She also showed her commitment to Indian issues by lecturing and performing in benefit concerts on reservations throughout the country.

In addition to protest songs, Sainte-Marie also penned a number of works in a wide array of styles that were hits for other performers. One of the best known was “Universal Soldier,” which, when recorded by Donovan, became an unofficial anthem of the 1960s antiwar movement. She also found great commercial success with two love ballads: “Until It’s Time for You to Go” (1965), which has been covered by hundreds of performers, and “Up Where We Belong,” which as the theme for the film An Officer and A Gentleman earned her an Academy Award in 1982.

Although the popularity of folk music in the United States was fading by the late 1960s, Sainte Marie continued to find an audience overseas. After the birth of her son Dakota, however, she gave up her recording career in 1975 to explore working in television and film. From 1976 to 1981, Sainte Marie was a cast member on the children’s television series Sesame Street. She also scored two films, Harold of Orange (1986) and Where the Spirit Lives (1989), and narrated Broken Rainbow (1985), an Academy Award–winning documentary about land disputes between the Hopi and Navajo Indians. In the 1980s, Sainte-Marie returned to school, earning a Ph.D. in fine arts from the University of Massachusetts. She also taught herself about the latest advances in computer technology and used her knowledge to create a recording studio at her home in Kauai, Hawaii. There, she created Coincidence and Likely Stories (1992), her first new album in more than a decade.

Sainte-Marie’s interest in computers has also carried her in other new directions. Using the computers to manipulate 19th-century photographs of Indians, she has created a series of digital paintings that were featured in a one-woman exhibit at Santa Fe’s Institute of American Indian Arts Museum in 1996. In the same year, SainteMarie also established the Cradleboard Foundation, one of many charitable organizations benefiting American Indians with which she has been involved. To promote tolerance, the Cradleboard Foundation allows Indian students and nonIndian students to learn about one another through communication over the Internet.

Further Reading
Sainte-Marie, Buffy. The Buffy Sainte-Marie Songbook. New York: Grosset and Dunlap, 1971.
Sonneborn, Liz. “Buffy Sainte-Marie.” In Performers. American Indian Lives series. New York: Facts On File, 1995.

Recommended Recorded and Videotaped Performances
The Best of Buffy Sainte-Marie (1970). Vanguard, CD, 1987.


PRICE, FLORENCE (Florence Beatrice Smith) (1888–1953) Musician, Composer

The first African-American woman to compose a symphony, Florence Price was born Florence Beatrice Smith in Little Rock, Arkansas, on April 9, 1888. She was raised in a middle-class family and received her early instruction in music from her mother, a former schoolteacher. Florence gave her first public performance on the piano at four and had her first composition published at 11. After graduating from high school, Florence Smith attended the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, studying piano, organ, and music composition and theory. She returned to the South once she earned her degree and began teaching music on the college level. In 1912 Smith left her job as head of the music department at Atlanta’s Clark University to marry Little Rock attorney Thomas J. Price. While raising two daughters, she gave private music lessons and began to compose in earnest.

Responding to rising racial tensions in Little Rock, the Price family moved to Chicago in 1927. The culturally rich environment of the city had an enormous infiuence on Florence Price’s musical developments. She became acquainted with many fellow musicians and composers and further studied composition at several area schools, including the American Conservatory of Music and the University of Chicago. Price also gave frequent piano and organ performances and taught lessons. She was a particularly important mentor to student Margaret Bonds, who later became a noted composer in her own right.

Living in Chicago, Price also developed contacts with music publishers. They published many of her works, having noteworthy success with her short piano pieces for beginning students. Also in demand were her songs, which often drew on African-American folk material, especially the rhythms of black spirituals. Price’s popular songs included My Soul’s Been Anchored in the Lord and Songs to a Dark Virgin; the latter was set to a poem by her acquaintance Langston Hughes. African-American singers such as MARIAN ANDERSON and LEONTYNE PRICE often sang Price’s works in concert. Price also gained a reputation for her longer, symphonic works, many of which won major music awards. In 1932, four of her works, including Symphony in E Minor, won prizes at the Wanamaker Competition. The next year, her award-winning symphony was performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at the Chicago World’s Fair. Some of Price’s other works were subsequently performed by orchestras in New York, Detroit, and Pittsburgh. Price continued to perform, compose, and teach until her death from a stroke on June 3, 1953. Although in her lifetime she was largely unknown outside of the Chicago area, today she is considered one of the outstanding African American musicians and composers of the 20th century.

Further Reading
Friedberg, Ruth C. “Price, Florence B.” In  American National Biography, edited by John Arthur Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, vol. 17, pp. 858–859. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
Green, Mildred Denby. Black Women Composers: A Genesis. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1983.
Jackson, Barbara Garvey. “Florence Price: Composer.” The Black Perspective in Music 5 (spring 1977), 30–43.

Recommended Recorded and Videotaped Performances
Black Diamonds: Althea Waites Plays Piano Music by African American Composers. Cambria Records, CD, 1993.
The Negro Speaks of Rivers: Art Songs by African-American Composers. Musicians Showcase, CD, 2000.


POWELL, MAUD (1868–1920) Musician

Maud Powell, the United States’s first great concert violinist, was born on August 22, 1868, in Peru, Illinois, and raised in the nearby town of Aurora. With her mother as her teacher, she learned to play simple pieces on the piano at four. At eight, she mastered Mozart’s violin concertos and soon began performing in public. The next year, she began

taking weekly trips to Chicago to study with members of the city’s chamber music society. Seeing her promise, the people of Aurora in 1881 helped Powell’s family fund a year of study in Leipzig, Germany. Powell then continued her musical education at the Paris Conservatory. She later maintained that in Germany she learned to be a musician, while in France she learned to be an artist. In 1883, at 15, Powell embarked on an extended concert tour in England, where she played for the royal family. After another year of instruction in Germany, she performed with the Berlin Philharmonic in 1885. Later the same year, she made her American debut with the New York Philharmonic Society.

Courted by an artist’s manager, Powell contracted to tour throughout the American West in 1887. Playing in venues large and small, she introduced her audiences to many violin masterworks then virtually unknown in the United States. In an era when few women were professional musicians, Powell also promoted other female concert performers and female composers. She set forth her views in a paper titled “Women and Music,” which she elivered at the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. In 1894 Powell made history by being the first woman to lead male musicians in a chamber ensemble. Known as the Maud Powell Quartet, her string ensemble embarked on a series of tours after making their debut at New York City’s Carnegie Hall. The same year, Powell made another historic first by becoming the earliest musician to record with the Victor Talking Machine Company’s Red Seal label. By 1919, she had had more than 70 recordings made of her performances.

After the Maud Powell Quartet disbanded in 1898, Powell performed throughout the world, returning each year for a tour of the United States. In 1904 she married H. Godfrey Turner, a concert manager who took control of her professional affairs. Throughout the rest of her life, Powell maintained a relentless concert schedule that often took her to schools, colleges, and other unconventional venues for concert performances. The rigorous schedule exhausted her, and Powell’s health began to suffer. On January 8, 1920, she died of a heart attack at the age of 51. During her lifetime, she had successfully dispelled conventional wisdom by proving that both an American and a woman could possess the talent to become a world-class classical musician.

Further Reading
Karpf, Juanita. “Powell, Maud.” In  American National Biography, edited by John Arthur Garraty and Mark C. Carnes, vol. 17, pp. 781–782. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.
Shaffer, Karen A. Maud Powell: Pioneer American Violinist. Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1988.

Recommended Recorded and Videotaped Performances
The Recorded Violin, Vol. 1: The History of the Violin on Record. Pearl, CD set, 1993.
Great Violinists, Vol. 1. Pearl-Koch, CD, 1992.