Category Archives: Performers

Lionel Hampton and the Sanctified Church

Some jazz critics and fans who admired other aspects of Lionel Hampton’s musicianship criticized him for his raw blues riffing, hard backbeat, screaming and honking saxophones, and stunts like marching into the audience with his horn players or getting the audience to clap along.

“I learned all that in the Sanctified Church: the beat, the hand-clapping, marching down the aisles and into the audience” he explained in a 1987 interview.

“When I was six or seven and temporarily living with my grandmother in Birmingham, Alabama, she’d take me to the Holiness Church services, not just on Sundays but all the time. They’d have a whole band in the church—guitars, trombones, saxophones, drums—and they’d be rocking. I’d be sitting by the sister who was playing the big bass drum, and when she’d get happy and start dancing in the aisle, I’d grab that bass drum and start in on that beat. After that, I always had that beat in me.”

This according to “Lionel Hampton, who put swing in the vibraphone, is dead at 94” by Peter Watrous (The New York times CLI/52,228 [1 September 2002] pp. 1, 35).

Today is Hampton’s 110th birthday! Below, performing Flying home, which is widely cited as a forerunner of rhythm and blues.

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Filed under Jazz and blues, Performers

Lily Pons arrives

Writing in 1955, a colleague recalled Lily Pons’s 1931 Metropolitan Opera debut:

“If all goes well on the first night of a new career in America, ‘a new Pope has been chosen’, as an old saying goes. Lily was a success and remained one.”

“In Lucia, though her age was something on the order of 30, she looked like a teenager. It was rumored that she was only 18; she was so dainty, petite, and graceful that everyone was willing to believe it.”

“For the first time in history a French coloratura had conquered America, and the novelty of it seemed to please everyone. Lily became their favorite toy, their baby doll, replete with Jaguars, Siamese cats, or Tibetan dogs with jeweled leashes accompanying her everywhere, like the descendant of some Grand Lama.”

This according to “Coloraturas at the Metropolitan” by Giacomo Lauri-Volpi, reprinted in Lily Pons: A centennial portrait (Portland: Amadeus, 1999, pp. 38–45).

Today is Pons’s 120th birthday! Above, costumed for Lakmé, with a friend; below, performing that opera’s Où va la jeune Hindoue? (popularly known as Bell song), one of Pons’s signature arias.

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Filed under Opera, Performers, Romantic era

Paul Robeson’s activism

Throughout his performing career Paul Robeson was fashioning an activist cultural theory to help to liberate his people and, increasingly, to support the cause of persecuted people everywhere.

His decision to sing the traditional songs of cultures in addition to his own—including songs in Chinese, Hebrew, and Russian—reflected his deepening and expanding identification with oppressed humanity irrespective of color.

This according to “‘I want to be African’: Paul Robeson and the ends of nationalist theory and practice, 1914–1945” by Sterling Stuckey (Massachusetts review XVII/1 [spring 1976] pp. 81–138; reprinted in Going through the storm: The influence of African American art in history (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994, pp. 187–227).

Today is Robeson’s 120th birthday! Above, the singer, actor, and activist in 1942; below, singing Go down Moses, a classic African American spiritual—a genre that Robeson considered one of the finest examples of black artistic expression.

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Filed under Black studies, Performers, Politics

María Malibrán in public and private

Although 19th-century Parisian salon music was usually described in feminine terms (not including genius), the roles it played in social and political discourse preclude its disparagement as trivial; the genre should be approached as a social category rather than a formal one. The contrast between María Malibrán’s unconventional public life and her semi-private works is best understood in this context.

Malibrán published four song anthologies as well as many individual songs, which were not, however, composed to show off her virtuosity. These works illuminate how in salon music the authorship of singer and composer recedes behind an unspecific poetic I. Malibrán’s true voice is situated between her virtuosity as singer and her comparatively restrained compositions.

This according to “Voiceless songs: Maria Malibran as composer” by Mary Ann Smart, an essay included in Authorschaft—Genie—Geschlecht: Musikalische Schaffensprozesse von der Frühen Neuzeit bis zur Gegenwart (Köln: Böhlau, 2013, pp. 137–58).

Today is Malibrán’s 210th birthday! Below, her L’Écossais.

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Filed under Performers, Romantic era

Christa Ludwig’s legacy

Christa Ludwig has been called “the Earth Mother of all singers”, and the designation is fitting in every possible way—the arresting beauty of the sound itself, the reassuring strength of her technique, and the intense expressiveness of her singing, wed to a disarming simplicity and directness that sets her apart from some of her famous contemporaries. That lack of pretentiousness is a hallmark of her offstage personality as well, for which she is adored by fans and colleagues alike.

As a teacher, Ludwig sets exactly the right tone by asserting herself firmly as the person in charge, yet with an inviting warmth and charm. She is not shy about bestowing compliments when warranted, but she is an exacting teacher, not reluctant to cut off a singer after two or three notes to correct an errant rendition.

In short, Christa Ludwig is everything that a professional singer should be, and the fact that she was able to sing for so long with such excellence is perhaps the highest tribute of all.

This according to “The listener’s gallery” by Gregory Berg (Journal of singing LXV/1 [September–October 2008] pp. 119–24).

Today is Ludwig’s 90th birthday! Above, in 2015; below, singing Mahler’s Urlicht.

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Allen Toussaint’s legacy

Ranking among America’s most influential and versatile musical figures, Allen Toussaint excelled as a songwriter, arranger, session pianist, and producer. His influence extends across the popular music landscape; though he is most often associated with the music of his native New Orleans, he enjoyed success in R&B, jazz, country, blues, and pop. His piano playing blended the wealth of Crescent City styles, barrelhouse blues, marching band references, jazzy intervals, and sweeping octave leaps.

By the late 1950s Toussaint was already cranking out hits and frequently doubling as keyboard player and/or producer. In the 1960s two of his instrumentals became huge pop standards—Java for Al Hirt and Whipped cream for Herb Alpert. Glen Campbell’s version of his Southern nights was nominated for the Country Music Association Song of the Year award in 1977, and he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998.

This according to “Toussaint, Allen” by Ron Wynn (Encyclopedia of the blues II [2006] pp. 1005–396); this encyclopedia is one of many resources included in RILM music encyclopedias, an ever-expanding full-text compilation of reference works.

Today would have been Toussaint’s 80th birthday! Above, receiving the National Medal of Arts from President Obama in 2013; below, his classic Yes we can can.

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Filed under Performers, Popular music

Ruth Brown’s legacy

Ruth Brown’s recordings—including, just for starters, 5-10-15 hours, (Mama) He treats your daughter mean, and Oh what a dream—have come to define for generations of music lovers the epitome of 1950s-era R&B: elegant and swinging, yet with a sassy sexiness that proclaimed the freedom-seeking spirit of a new generation.

Generations of vocalists, extending into the present day, have cited her as a major musical role model. And they weren’t all women: Little Richard patterned his squeal on his hit Lucille after Brown’s squeal on (Mama) He treats your daughter mean three years earlier.

This according to “Ruth Brown” by David Whiteis (Living blues XXXVII/1:188 [February 2007] pp. 69–71).

Today would have been Brown’s 90th birthday! Above, performing in 2005; below, Little Richard’s muse in 1955.

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Filed under Performers, Popular music

Palghat Raghu finds a teacher

In a 1995 interview, Palghat R. Raghu recalled how he became a disciple of the legendary Palghat T.S. Mani Iyer.

“I was born in Rangoon. My grandfather was a self-made musician and in the locality he was known as Rangoon Radhakrishna Iyer. I was fond of drumming on biscuit tins for rhythm. [A relative] who came to our house presented me with a small mṛdaṅgam. It was a slow progress.”

“[A friend] suggested that I should have the guidance of Palghat Mani Iyer. So we shifted to Palghat. But Mani Iyer did not accept me as a disciple at our first meeting. My grandfather told him beseechingly, ‘We want to entrust Raghu in your hands. The boy is eager to learn from you.’ There was no encouraging response from Mani Iyer.”

“Two or three days we visited his house expecting a favorable reply; but no word of acceptance from Mani Iyer. It was here I found the hand of God coming to my rescue. One day when we were waiting in Mani Iyer’s residence, a close friend of his came there with a vessel of halwa and gave a piece to me and told Mani Iyer ‘Mani, this boy plays exceedingly well. I have heard him.’ That settled it. Mani Iyer asked me to come every day for lessons.”

Quoted in “Challenges brought out his best” by S.V. Krishnamurthy, an article included in The Hindu speaks on music (Chennai: Kasturi & Sons, 1999, pp. 245–47).

Today would have been Palghat Raghu’s 90th birthday! Above and below, the master in his element.

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Mozart in Naples

In 1984 the Scottish National Portrait Gallery acquired two oil paintings signed by Pietro Fabris and dated to 1771. An old label on the frame indicates that the paintings were produced for William Hamilton, the British ambassador at Naples from 1764 to 1800, and the Viscount Kenneth Mackenzie, later Lord Fortrose, who spent time in Naples from 1769 to 1771.

While in the first picture, depicting a scene of fencing, a character sitting at the table has been identified as Niccolò Jommelli, there have been many doubts about the identity of the characters in the second picture, showing a chamber concert. They are now identified as Leopold and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the first at the harpsichord and the second, waiting to play, in front of a triangular spinet.

This according to I Mozart e la Napoli di Hamilton: Due quadri di Fabris per Lord Fortrose by Domenico Antonio D’Alessandro (Napoli: Grimaldi & C. Editori, 2006)

Above, the painting in question (click to enlarge); Wolfgang and Leopold are on the left; Lord Fortrose in in the center, with his back turned, with Hamilton on his left and Gaetano Pugnani on his right, both playing violins. Fabris himself peers out at the viewer from the lower left, holding the painting-in-progress.

Below, Mozart’s symphony in G major, K. 74, which he completed during this visit to Naples.

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Filed under Classic era, Iconography, Performers

Paco de Lucía’s roots

Flamenco purists may carp at Paco de Lucía’s incorporation of classical, Afro-Cuban, and jazz elements into his music, but no one can deny his prodigious knowledge of flamenco’s traditions or his ability to perform it like no other guitarist before him.

He insisted that all of his musical explorations and innovations are based on a solid commitment to flamenco tradition. “Everything I have heard has influenced me as a musician. But I have been careful about putting it in the music—my flamenco is not a fusion. I have always been careful that it doesn’t lose the essence and the roots and the traditions of flamenco. I have incorporated other styles, but they have not altered the philosophy of my music.”

This according to “Flamenco buena: Paco de Lucia’s guitar sings” by Felix Contreras (JazzTimes XXXIV/6 [July–August 2004] p. 44).

Today would have been Paco de Lucía’s 70th birthday! Below, performing in Carlos Saura’s Flamenco, flamenco (2010).

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Filed under Europe, Performers