Haitian drummer Frisner Augustin died in
Port-au-Prince, Haiti, on February 28, 2012, at the age of 63. He was a master
drummer and teacher who preserved the vodou drumming tradition and popularized
it through La Troupe Makandal, a drum and dance group based in Brooklyn. He
also taught drumming at Hunter College and in various programs for children. He
was named a National Heritage Fellow by the National Endowment for the Arts in
Reggae record producer Philip Burrell died in
Kingston, Jamaica, on December 3, 2011, at the age of 57. His numerous
recordings were intended to project a positive image during the rise of
sexually explicit dancehall music. In the 1980s he founded Exterminator Records
and employed out-of-work session musicians despite the popularity of
synthesizers and drum machines.
Click here to hear a segment of a live radio interview that Cliff Kelley did with CBMR Executive Director Monica Hairston O’Connell on WVON 1690 radio immediately following Cornelius’s passing in February.
Television producer Don Cornelius died in Los
Angeles on February 1, 2012, at the age of 75. His popular television show Soul
Train, first broadcast in Chicago in 1970 and then broadcast nationwide,
showcased black popular music and dance to American viewers for over three
Cape Verdean singer who often performed barefoot to express her solidarity with
poor women, died on December 17, 2011, in Mindelo, Sao Vicente, Cape Verde at
the age of 70. She specialized in morna, a Cape Verdean popular lament,
and though she began singing in taverns in her teens, her career took off in
the late 1980s and 1990s with a series of best-selling albums that eventually
made her an international star. She won a GRAMMY award for best contemporary
world music album for Voz d’Amor in 2003.
Singer-songwriter Dobie Gray, whose birth name is
not known, died in Nashville on December 6, 2011. He is believed to have been
71. He had an early hit with “The In Crowd” in 1965, but his most famous song
was “Drift Away,” recorded in 1973. After his recording career, he moved to
Nashville and wrote country music for Ray Charles and George Jones among others.
Heavy D (Dwight Errington Myers)
died in Los Angeles on November 8, 2011, at the age of 44. He was the MC of
Heavy D & the Boyz, who had five hit albums between 1987 and 1994 and
pioneered the melding of rap with R & B. He became the president of Uptown
Records and recorded with R & B singers, including Michael Jackson. He also
became a television and film actor.
Singer Whitney Houston, whose three-octave range
and lush soprano made hers one of the iconic voices in late twentieth-century
popular music, died in Los Angeles on February 11, 2012, at the age of 48. Her
albums sold in the millions, and she won three GRAMMY awards.
Jazz impresario and educator Phoebe Jacobs died in
New York on April 9, 2012, at the age of 93. She worked as a contractor for
Decca Records and as a publicist for Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, and Benny
Goodman, among others. After her friend Louis Armstrong died in 1991, she promoted
his legacy in various ways, including helping to establish the Louis Armstrong
Archives at Queens College and the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Queens. She headed the
Louis Armstrong Educational Foundation, devoted to community-based philanthropy,
including a music therapy department at Beth Israel Medical Center named for
Armstrong, and countless educational programs intended to introduce school
children to jazz. Jacobs was a long-time friend and supporter of the CBMR.
Rhythm and blues singer Etta James (Jamesetta Hawkins)
died in Riverside, California, on January 20, 2012, at the age of 73.
Bandleader Johnny Otis first recognized her singing and songwriting abilities
when she was fifteen, which led to her first rhythm and blues hit, “Roll with
Me Henry,” and to a career on the chitlin’ circuit. In the 1960s she moved to
Chess Records, for which she recorded her greatest songs, including “At Last,”
“Tell Mama,” and “I’d Rather Go Blind.” During her later career she devoted her
powerful voice to blues, rhythm and blues, and jazz. She won six
GRAMMY awards and was named to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993, the
Blues Hall of Fame in 2003, and the GRAMMY Hall of Fame in 2008.
Bandleader and songwriter Johnny Otis (John Alexander
Veliotes) “the godfather of rhythm and blues” died in Altadena, California,
on January 17, 2012, at the age of 90. Ethnically Greek, he grew up in an
African-American neighborhood and described himself as “black by persuasion.”
He began his career as a drummer with black dance bands, eventually heading his
own band. During the heyday of rhythm and blues he discovered and promoted a
number of popular artists, including Little Esther Philips, Big Mama Thornton,
Jackie Wilson, Hank Ballard, Little Willie John, and Etta James. His biggest
hit, “Willie and the Hand Jive,” came in 1959 with his band The Johnny Otis
Show. Later he became a disc jockey and had a long-running rhythm and blues television
show before becoming active in politics, the church, and even organic
gardening. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994
Jamaican record producer Winston Riley died in
Kingston, Jamaica, on January 19, 2012, at the age of 68. Artists like Tenor
Saw and Buju Banton started their careers on his Techniques label and in the
1970s his dancehall records were hits in Britain and Europe and have been
Sam Rivers, free jazz performer
and composer, died in Orlando, Florida, on December 26, 2011, at the age of 88.
Rivers studied at the Boston Conservatory and Boston University, and performed
at various times with Miles Davis, Cecil Taylor, and Dizzy Gillespie, but he is
best known as a free jazz multi-instrumentalist whose Studio Rivbea was one of
the main venues of the New York loft scene in the 1970s.
Reggae musician and deejay King Stitt (Winston Sparks)
died in Kingston, Jamaica, on January 31, 2012, at the age of 72. In the 1960s
he was a pioneer at toasting, rhyming over ska and rock steady backing tracks. Toasting,
based in turn on the rhymed jive of American radio disc jockeys, is considered
to be one of the main influences on rap. Stitt worked primarily for Clement
Dodd’s Downbeat Sound System before making studio recordings, and continued to
perform internationally up until his death.
Blues guitarist Hubert Sumlin died in Wayne, New
Jersey, on December 4, 2011, at the age of 80. His cryptic, cutting guitar was
the signature sound behind the many Chess recordings of bluesman Howlin’ Wolf
(Chester Burnett), one of the most popular Chicago artists of the 1950s and
1960s. After Wolf’s death, Sumlin became a bandleader and singer featured at
blues festivals in his own right and idolized by a younger generation of blues
and rock musicians.
Donna Summer (born
LaDonna Andrea Gaines) died in Naples, Florida, on May 17, 2012, at the
age of 63. Few artists can be said to have defined a style; Summer’s recordings
combined soul-tinged vocals and synthesized sound to create disco. She survived
the backlash against disco, continuing to record, including the GRAMMY-winning
single “Hot Stuff” in 1979. Later she succeeded as a songwriter, actress, and
Joe Thompson (right) performed with James Leva at the CBMR’s 2006 conference, held jointly with the Society for American Music.
Fiddler Joe Thompson died in Burlington, North
Carolina, on February 20, 2012, at the age of 93. Thompson’s music reached back
into the mid-nineteenth century: he learned to play the fiddle from his
father, whose father, also a fiddler, had been a slave. Thompson, along with
his brother and a cousin, formed a string band in their teens and played at
dances throughout North Carolina. Thompson was “discovered” in 1973 by
folklorist Kip Lornell and subsequently performed at folk festivals, including
a Folk Masters program at Carnegie Hall in 1990.
Thompson was a featured performer in several presentations of the CBMR’s program “Black Banjo and Fiddle Traditions in the United States,” which was prepared by and presented in collaboration with folklorist Cecelia Conway.
The National Endowment for the
Arts awarded him a National Heritage Fellowship in 2007.
Soprano Camilla Williams died in Bloomington,
Indiana, on January 29, 2012, at the age of 92. She is believed to have been
the first African-American woman to perform with a major American opera
company, when she sang the lead role in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly with
the New York City Opera in 1946. She also sang before Dr. King’s “I Have a
Dream” speech in Washington, D.C. and at his Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in
1964. After her operatic career, she taught voice at colleges in New York City
before beginning a twenty-year tenure teaching at Indiana University.