Edited by Gerald Boerner

    

    
Commentary:

JerryPhoto_thumb2_thumb_thumb_thumb_Today we look at the first six African American women musicians who have made major contributions to the entertainment scene of the 20th century. Many of these individuals are still alive and continue to work for the improvement of the status and experience of Blacks, both in the United States and abroad. Many of these works help to fight for the rights of the Black people in this country from slavery to freedom. Many of them have also participated in both the freedom struggles against the forces of bias, segregation, and relegation to second-class status; the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s and the legislation of the Great Society have given many of these women the opportunity to serve their people. These women continue to fight for the rich heritage of the African Americans.

Billie-Holiday-ky_olsen-300x228

This is the first of a four part series that celebrates lives and contributions of these musicians. It is, by necessity, a long document, but it details the lives and representative work of these very talented individuals.

Let us celebrate the lives and works of these women who used their musical talents for the cause of the African American people and the Civil Rights movement. We now will proceed to examine the lives and works of these African American Women in more detail... GLB

These Introductory Comments are copyrighted:
Copyright©2012 — Gerald Boerner — All Rights Reserved

[ 4375 Words ]
    

    

Quotations Related to Milestones in History — Musicians:

[ http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/musicians.html ]

    

“The wise musicians are those who play what they can master.”
— Duke Ellington

“I went through all the musicians in my life who I admire as bright, intelligent, virtuosic players.”
— David Bowie

“A composer is a guy who goes around forcing his will on unsuspecting air molecules, often with the assistance of unsuspecting musicians.”
— Frank Zappa

“The world must be filled with unsuccessful musical careers like mine, and it’s probably a good thing. We don’t need a lot of bad musicians filling the air with unnecessary sounds. Some of the professionals are bad enough.”
— Andy Rooney

“Those little nimble musicians of the air, that warble forth their curious ditties, with which nature hath furnished them to the shame of art.”
— Izaak Walton

“When we came into the studio I became more and more me, making the tracks and choosing the musicians, partly because a great deal of the time during Bridge, Artie wasn’t there.”
— Paul Simon

“But, I would be naive not to recognize the number of musicians who tell me they have been influenced by me and sight me – as well as Alex and Neil – as a musician who has been a positive influence on their playing.”
— Geddy Lee

“I talked to ex-wives of musicians of the ’70s for research. They’re the funniest people in the world, yet there is this sad, beautiful thing in their eyes that says they’ve seen more than they could ever possibly tell you.”
— Kate Hudson

    

Milestones — Unsung Heroes of Black History: Black Women Musicians, Part 1…

    

    
Harlem Renaissance GraphicThe Harlem Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned the 1920s and 1930s. At the time, it was known as the "New Negro Movement", named after the 1925 anthology by Alain Locke. Though it was centered in the Harlem neighborhood of New York City, many French-speaking black writers from African and Caribbean colonies who lived in Paris were also influenced by the Harlem Renaissance.

Historians disagree as to when the Harlem Renaissance began and ended. The Harlem Renaissance is unofficially recognized to have spanned from about 1919 until the early or mid 1930s. Many of its ideas lived on much longer. The zenith of this "flowering of Negro literature", as James Weldon Johnson preferred to call the Harlem Renaissance, was placed between 1924 (the year that Opportunity: A Journal of Negro Life hosted a party for black writers where many white publishers were in attendance) and 1929 (the year of the stock market crash and the beginning of the Great Depression).

A new way of playing the piano called the Harlem Stride Style was created during the Harlem Renaissance, and helped blur the lines between the poor Negros and socially elite Negros. The traditional jazz band was composed primarily of brass instruments and was considered a symbol of the south, but the piano was considered an instrument of the wealthy. With this instrumental modification to the existing genre, the wealthy blacks now had more access to jazz music. Its popularity soon spread throughout the country and was consequently at an “all time high.” Innovation and liveliness were important characteristics of performers in the beginnings of jazz. Jazz musicians at the time like Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, Jelly Roll Morton, and Willie "The Lion" Smith were very talented and competitive, and were considered to have laid the foundation for future musicians of their genre.

During this time period, the musical style of blacks was becoming more and more attractive to whites. White novelists, dramatists and composers started to exploit the musical tendencies and themes of African-American in their works. Composers used poems written by African American poets in their songs, and would implement the rhythms, harmonies and melodies of African-American music—such as blues, spirituals, and jazz—into their concert pieces. Negros began to merge with Whites into the classical world of musical composition. The first Negro male to gain wide recognition as a concert artist in both his region and internationally was Roland Hayes. He trained with Arthur Calhoun in Chattanooga, and at Fisk University in Nashville. Later, he studied with Arthur Hubbard in Boston and with George Henshel and Amanda Ira Aldridge in London, England. He began singing in public as a student, and toured with the Fisk Jubilee Singers in 1911.

*** Our focus here is upon the unsung heroes of this African American experience as they have contributed to the Arts and Literature over the last two hundred years or so. Today, we focus upon those Black Women who have made significant contributions as musicians — singers, song writers, and opera performers. Typically, their contributions have been ignored in favor of the contributions of their male counterparts, such as Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, "The Lion" Smith, and Jelly Roll Morton. But the dozen women that we feature here have made significant contributions to the body of American Musical scene. For that contribution, we salute them. (Part 1 of 4)
    

         

History Channel’s Unsung Heroes:
Black Women Musicians (Part 1)

    
Aretha Franklin (1942–)

Aretha Franklin is known as the "Queen of Soul" and is an iconic figure of 1960s soul music. (Photo Credit: Getty)

    
aretha-franklinAretha Louise Franklin
(born March 25, 1942) is an American singer, songwriter, and pianist. Although known for her soul recordings and referred to as The Queen of Soul, Franklin is also adept at jazz, blues, R&B, gospel music, and rock. Rolling Stone magazine ranked her atop its "100 Greatest Singers of All Time" list, as well as the ninth greatest artist of all time. She has won 18 competitive Grammys and two honorary Grammys. She has 20 No.1 singles on the Billboard R&B Singles Chart and two No.1 hits on the Billboard Hot 100: "Respect" (1967) and "I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)" (1987), a duet with George Michael. Since 1961, she has scored a total of 45 Top 40 hits on the Billboard Hot 100. Between 1967 and 1982 she had 10 No.1 R&B albums—more than any other female artist. In 1987, Franklin became the first female artist to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

By the end of the year [1967], Franklin not only became a star but she stood as one of the symbols of the civil rights movement partially due to her rendition of "Respect", which had a feminist-powered theme after Franklin recorded it. Franklin’s other hits during the late 1960s included "Think", her rendition of Dionne Warwick’s "I Say a Little Prayer", "Ain’t No Way" and "The House That Jack Built" among others. By the end of the 1960s, Franklin’s title as "the queen of soul" became permanent in the eyes of the media. After a few struggles in 1969, she returned with the ballad, "Call Me" in January 1970. That same year she had another hit with her gospel version of Ben E. King’s "Don’t Play That Song", while in 1971, Franklin was one of the first black performers to headline Fillmore West where she later released a live album. That same year she released the acclaimed Young, Gifted & Black album, which featured two top ten hits, the ballad "Daydreamin’" and the funk-oriented "Rocksteady". In 1972, she released her first gospel album in nearly two decades with Amazing Grace. The album eventually became her biggest-selling release ever, selling over two million copies and becoming the best-selling gospel album of all time.

In 1980, Franklin, among other prominent rhythm and blues and soul artists including Ray Charles and James Brown, appeared in the film The Blues Brothers. Franklin appeared as the wife of musician Matt "Guitar" Murphy, who engages in a brief war of words with Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi before going into "Think". Following that performance, Clive Davis signed Franklin to his Arista Records imprint. The singles "United Together" and the George Benson-featured "Love All the Hurt Away" returned Franklin to the R&B top ten while 1982’s Jump to It, featuring a contemporary R&B production style by Luther Vandross, became a comeback of sorts for Franklin on the pop music chart. The album stayed at No. 1 on the R&B Albums chart for seven weeks and crossed to No. 23 on the Billboard 200 album chart, eventually selling close to 600,000 units and becoming Aretha’s first gold-certified album since the Sparkle soundtrack in 1976. The title track became Franklin’s first number-one R&B hit in five years while also hitting No. 24 on the Hot 100. After the relative failure of her 1983 follow-up, Get It Right, also produced by Vandross, Franklin took some personal time off. Following the July 1984 death of her father, she entered the United Sound Studios in Detroit to record a new album for Arista in October of that year. Inspired by the recent success of fellow artist Tina Turner and Arista’s emerging star Whitney Houston, Arista paired Franklin with Narada Michael Walden.
    

    
Marian Anderson (1897–1993)

Marian Anderson was an internationally celebrated contralto singer and the first African American to sing at the New York Metropolitan Opera. Image ca. 1920s-1930s. After being barred from singing in the concert hall of the Daughters of the American Revolution, singer Marian Anderson, gave a free, open-air recital on the steps of Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday, April 9, 1939 before a crowd estimated at 75,000. (Photo Credit: Bettman/Corbis)

    
marian-anderson-portraitMarian Anderson
(February 27, 1897 – April 8, 1993) was an African-American contralto and one of the most celebrated singers of the twentieth century. Music critic Alan Blyth said "Her voice was a rich, vibrant contralto of intrinsic beauty.” Most of her singing career was spent performing in concert and recital in major music venues and with major orchestras throughout the United States and Europe between 1925 and 1965. Although she was offered contracts to perform roles with many important European opera companies, Anderson declined all of these, preferring to perform in concert and recital only. She did, however, perform opera arias within her concerts and recitals. She made many recordings that reflected her broad performance repertoire of everything from concert literature to lieder to opera to traditional American songs and spirituals.

Anderson became an important figure in the struggle for black artists to overcome racial prejudice in the United States during the mid twentieth century. In 1939, the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) refused permission for Anderson to sing to an integrated audience in Constitution Hall. The incident placed Anderson into the spotlight of the international community on a level unusual for a classical musician. With the aid of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, Anderson performed a critically acclaimed open-air concert on Easter Sunday, April 9, 1939, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C.. She performed before a crowd of more than 75,000 people and a radio audience in the millions. Anderson continued to break barriers for black artists in the United States, becoming the first black person, American or otherwise, to perform at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City on January 7, 1955. Her performance as Ulrica in Giuseppe Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera at the Met was the only time she sang an opera role on stage.

Anderson was also an important symbol of grace and beauty during the civil rights movement in the 1960s, singing at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963. She also worked for several years as a delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Committee and as a "goodwill ambassadress" for the United States Department of State. The recipient of numerous awards and honors, Anderson was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963, the Kennedy Center Honors in 1978, the National Medal of Arts in 1986, and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1991.
    

    
Josephine Baker (1906–1975)

Josephine Baker was not included on the History Channel list, but after facing the racial discrimination in this country, she moved to Paris, France, where she was not only accepted, but thrived. She is notable for her "Rainbow Tribe" of adopted children and vocal criticism of racism in the United States.

    
Josephine_Baker_1950Josephine Baker
(June 3, 1906 – April 12, 1975) was a dancer, singer, and actress who found fame in her adopted homeland of France. Born in St Louis, Missouri, she renounced her American citizenship in 1937 to become French. She was given such nicknames as the "Bronze Venus", the "Black Pearl", and the "Créole Goddess".

Baker was the first African American female to star in a major motion picture, to integrate an American concert hall, and to become a world-famous entertainer. She is also noted for her contributions to the Civil Rights Movement in the United States (she was offered the unofficial leadership of the movement by Coretta Scott King in 1968 following Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination, but turned it down), for assisting the French Resistance during World War II, and for being the first American-born woman to receive the French military honor, the Croix de guerre.

After a short while she was the most successful American entertainer working in France. Ernest Hemingway called her "… the most sensational woman anyone ever saw.” In addition to being a musical star, Baker also starred in three films which found success only in Europe: the silent film Siren of the Tropics (1927), Zouzou (1934) and Princesse Tam Tam (1935). She also starred in Fausse Alerte (English title: The French Way) in 1940.

At this time she also scored her most successful song, "J’ai deux amours" (1931) and became a muse for contemporary authors, painters, designers, and sculptors including Langston Hughes, Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Pablo Picasso, and Christian Dior. Under the management of Giuseppe Pepito Abatino — a Sicilian former stonemason who passed himself off as a count — Baker’s stage and public persona, as well as her singing voice, were transformed.

In 1934 she took the lead in a revival of Jacques Offenbach’s 1875 opera La créole at the Théâtre Marigny on the Champs-Élysées of Paris, which premiered in December of that year for a six month run. In preparation for her performances she went through months of training with a vocal coach. In the words of Shirley Bassey, who has cited Baker as her primary influence, "… she went from a ‘petite danseuse sauvage’ with a decent voice to ‘la grande diva magnifique’ … I swear in all my life I have never seen, and probably never shall see again, such a spectacular singer and performer.”
    

    
Billie Holiday (1915–1959)

Billie Holiday, nicknamed "Lady Day," was one of the most celebrated jazz singers of the earlier 20th century. (Photo Credit: Bettman/Corbis)

    
billie-holidayBillie Holiday
(born Eleanora Fagan April 7, 1915 – July 17, 1959) was an American jazz singer and songwriter. Nicknamed "Lady Day" by her friend and musical partner Lester Young, Holiday had a seminal influence on jazz and pop singing. Her vocal style, strongly inspired by jazz instrumentalists, pioneered a new way of manipulating phrasing and tempo.

Critic John Bush wrote that Holiday "changed the art of American pop vocals forever.” She co-wrote only a few songs, but several of them have become jazz standards, notably "God Bless the Child", "Don’t Explain", "Fine and Mellow", and "Lady Sings the Blues". She also became famous for singing "Easy Living", "Good Morning Heartache", and "Strange Fruit", a protest song which became one of her standards and was made famous with her 1939 recording.

In late 1937, Holiday had a brief stint as a big band vocalist with Count Basie. The traveling conditions of the band were often poor and included one-nighters in clubs, moving from city to city with little stability. Holiday chose the songs she sang and had a hand in the arrangements, choosing to portray her then developing persona of a woman unlucky in love. Her tunes included "I Must Have That Man", "Travelin’ All Alone", "I Can’t Get Started", and "Summertime", a hit for Holiday in 1936, originating in the opera Porgy and Bess a few years earlier. Count Basie had gotten use to Holiday’s heavy involvement in the band. He said, "When she rehearsed with the band, it was really just a matter of getting her tunes like she wanted them, because she knew how she wanted to sound and you couldn’t tell her what to do.”

Holiday found herself in direct competition with popular singer Ella Fitzgerald, with whom Holiday would later become friends. Fitzgerald was the vocalist for the Chick Webb Band, who were in competition with Count Basie. On Jan 16, 1938, in the same day Benny Goodman performed his legendary Carnegie Hall jazz concert, the Count Basie and Chick Webb bands had a battle at the Savoy Ballroom. Chick Webb and Fitzgerald were declared winners by Metronome magazine. Downbeat magazine declared Holiday and Basie the winners. A straw poll of the audience saw Fitzgerald win by a three-to-one margin.
    

    
Mary Lou Williams (1910–1981)

Mary Lou Williams was a jazz pianist and arranger. (Photo Credit: Bettman/Corbis)

    
mary-lou-williamsMary Lou Williams
(May 8, 1910 – May 28, 1981) was an American jazz pianist, composer, and arranger. Williams wrote hundreds of compositions and arrangements, and recorded more than one hundred records (in 78, 45, and LP versions). Williams wrote and arranged for such bandleaders as Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman, and she was friend, mentor, and teacher to Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Tadd Dameron, Dizzy Gillespie, and many others.

In 1924, at age 14 she was taken on the Orpheum Circuit. The following year she played with Duke Ellington and his early small band, the Washingtonians. One high and learned salute to her talent came when she was only 15. One morning at three she was jamming with McKinney’s Cotton Pickers at Harlem’s Rhythm Club. Louis Armstrong entered the room and paused to listen to her. Mary Lou shyly tells what presently happened: "Louis picked me up and kissed me.”

In 1927, Williams married saxophonist John Williams. She met him at a performance in Cleveland where he was leading his group, the Syncopators, and moved with him to Memphis, Tennessee. He assembled a band in Memphis, which included Mary Lou on piano. In 1929 he accepted an invitation to join Andy Kirk’s band in Oklahoma City, leaving 19-year-old Mary Lou to head the Memphis band for its remaining tour dates. Williams eventually joined her husband in Oklahoma City but did not play with the band. The group, now known as Andy Kirk’s "Twelve Clouds of Joy", relocated to Tulsa, Oklahoma, where Williams spent her free time transporting bodies for an undertaker. When the Clouds of Joy accepted a longstanding engagement in Kansas City, Missouri, Williams joined her husband there and began sitting in with the band, as well as serving as its arranger and composer. She provided Kirk with such songs as "Walkin’ and Swingin’", "Twinklin’", "Cloudy’", "Little Joe from Chicago" and others.

From the first sides Kirk made in Kansas City, Williams was on board as pianist and arranger. (Six sides were recorded in Kansas City during 1929 and remaining 17 sides were recorded in Chicago in 1930, and a further two were recorded in New York in 1930.) During one of those trips to Chicago in 1930, Williams recorded "Drag ‘Em" and "Night Life" as piano solos. Williams took the name "Mary Lou" at the suggestion of Brunswick’s Jack Kapp. The record sold briskly, raising Williams to national prominence. Soon after the recording session she signed on as Kirk’s permanent second pianist, playing solo gigs and working as a freelance arranger for such noteworthy names as Earl Hines, Benny Goodman, and Tommy Dorsey. In 1937 she produced In the Groove (Brunswick), a collaboration with Dick Wilson, and Benny Goodman asked Mary to write a blues for his band. The result was "Roll ‘Em", a boogie-woogie piece based on the blues, which followed her successful "Camel Hop", Goodman’s theme song for his radio show sponsored by Camel cigarettes. Goodman tried to put Williams under contract to write for him exclusively, but she refused, preferring to freelance instead.
    

    
Ella Fitzgerald (1917–1996)

Ella Fitzgerald recorded over 200 albums and around 2,000 songs in her lifetime. She helped popularize the vocal improvisation style of "scatting" which became her signature sound. Fitzgerald was the first African American woman to win a grammy. (Photo Credit: Michael Ochs Archives/Corbis) 

    
ella-fitzgeraldElla Jane Fitzgerald
(April 25, 1917 – June 15, 1996), also known as the "First Lady of Song" and "Lady Ella," was an American jazz and song vocalist. With a vocal range spanning three octaves (Db3 to Db6), she was noted for her purity of tone, impeccable diction, phrasing and intonation, and a "horn-like" improvisational ability, particularly in her scat singing.

In January 1935, Fitzgerald won the chance to perform for a week with the Tiny Bradshaw band at the Harlem Opera House. She met drummer and bandleader Chick Webb there. Webb had already hired singer Charlie Linton to work with the band and was, The New York Times later wrote, "reluctant to sign her….because she was gawky and unkempt, a diamond in the rough.” Webb offered her the opportunity to test with his band when they played a dance at Yale University.

She began singing regularly with Webb’s Orchestra through 1935 at Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom. Fitzgerald recorded several hit songs with them, including "Love and Kisses" and "(If You Can’t Sing It) You’ll Have to Swing It (Mr. Paganini)". But it was her 1938 version of the nursery rhyme, "A-Tisket, A-Tasket", a song she co-wrote, that brought her wide public acclaim.

Chick Webb died on June 16, 1939, and his band was renamed "Ella and her Famous Orchestra" with Ella taking on the role of nominal bandleader. Fitzgerald recorded nearly 150 sides with the orchestra before it broke up in 1942, "the majority of them novelties and disposable pop fluff".

Fitzgerald later described the period as strategically crucial, saying, "I had gotten to the point where I was only singing be-bop. I thought be-bop was ‘it,’ and that all I had to do was go some place and sing bop. But it finally got to the point where I had no place to sing. I realized then that there was more to music than bop. Norman … felt that I should do other things, so he produced The Cole Porter Songbook with me. It was a turning point in my life.”

Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Songbook, released in 1956, was the first of eight multi-album Songbook sets Fitzgerald would record for Verve at irregular intervals from 1956 to 1964. The composers and lyricists spotlighted on each set, taken together, represent the greatest part of the cultural canon known as the Great American Songbook. Her song selections ranged from standards to rarities and represented an attempt by Fitzgerald to cross over into a non-jazz audience.

Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Duke Ellington Songbook was the only Songbook on which the composer she interpreted played with her. Duke Ellington and his longtime collaborator Billy Strayhorn both appeared on exactly half the set’s 38 tracks and wrote two new pieces of music for the album: "The E and D Blues" and a four-movement musical portrait of Fitzgerald (the only Songbook track on which Fitzgerald does not sing). The Songbook series ended up becoming the singer’s most critically acclaimed and commercially successful work, and probably her most significant offering to American culture. The New York Times wrote in 1996, "These albums were among the first pop records to devote such serious attention to individual songwriters, and they were instrumental in establishing the pop album as a vehicle for serious musical exploration.”
    

    

The paragraphs in italics above were taken from the slide show published by the History Channel (see References). Click HERE to access that slideshow. The photographs of the women are courtesy of Corbis and Getty Images.

       

    

African American Music Evolution Timeline… (4:24)

    

    

Please take time to further explore more about African Americans, Aretha Franklin, Marian Anderson, Josephine Baker, Billie Holiday, Mary Lou Williams, Ella Fitzgerald, and Black Women Musicians by accessing the Wikipedia articles referenced below…

    

    

References

    

Background information is from Wikipedia articles on:

Wikipedia: African Americans
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/African_Americans

Wikipedia: Aretha Franklin…
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aretha_Franklin

Wikipedia: Marian Anderson…
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marian_Anderson

Wikipedia: Josephine Baker…
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josephine_Baker

Wikipedia: Billie Holiday…
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Billie_Holiday

Wikipedia: Mary Lou Williams…
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Lou_Williams

Wikipedia: Ella Fitzgerald…
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ella_Fitzgerald

Wikipedia: Harlem Renaissance…
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Harlem_Renaissance

History Channel: Black Women in Art and Literature: Black Women Musicians
http://www.history.com/topics/black-women-in-art-and-literature/photos#black-women-musicians

Brainy Quote: Musicians Quotes…
http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/musicians.html

    

Other Posts on related Topics:

Prof. Boerner’s Explorations: Civil Rights: Marian Anderson’s Concert at Lincoln Memorial…
http://www.boerner.net/jboerner/?p=18053

Prof. Boerner’s Explorations: Black Women in History: Josephine Baker…
http://www.boerner.net/jboerner/?p=8389

Prof. Boerner’s Explorations: Black Women in History: Billy Holiday…
http://www.boerner.net/jboerner/?p=8987

Prof. Boerner’s Explorations: Ella Fitzgerald: Wins Amateur Night at the Apollo Theater…
http://www.boerner.net/jboerner/?p=20875