Category Archives: Dusties

A Change Is Gonna Come: Dr. King, President Obama and Sam Cooke

This is the first of a three-part series about the music of Sam Cooke. I have the pleasure of writing about this legendary entertainer one day before what would have been his 81st birthday. What makes this day even more special is that it is the national holiday commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday and President Barack Obama’s second inauguration day. One of Cooke’s most notable compositions ties these three men together in a remarkable thread of history—A Change Is Gonna Come. Cooke wrote the song in 1963, a pivotal year in the Civil Rights Movement.

January 1 marked the 100th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, ending slavery for millions of African Americans. In April, Dr. King began demonstrations in Birmingham, Alabama, where non-violent protestors—men, women and children—were beaten by police officers, bitten by attack dogs and soaked by firemen wielding fire hoses. On June 11, weeks after the Birmingham campaign ended, President John F. Kennedy announced on national television his plan to propose a bill to Congress addressing civil rights issues including voting rights, public accommodations, school desegregation and nondiscrimination in federally supported programs. Hours following the announcement, Medgar Evers was assassinated in Jackson, Mississippi. Evers was the NAACP’s first field secretary in Mississippi. He recruited members and organized voter registration drives and economic boycotts throughout the state. His widow, Myrlie Evers-Williams, delivered the invocation at the presidential inauguration earlier today.

The March on Washington on August 28 drew more than 200,000 people to the nation’s capital for a political rally which culminated in Dr. King’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech. Sadly, once again, tragedy would follow triumph. Nearly three weeks after the historic march, on September 15, a Birmingham church bombing claimed the lives of Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson and Denise McNair. The four girls were attending Sunday school at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, the starting point for many of the protests launched by Dr. King. He performed their eulogies. As the nation grieved the girls’ deaths, an assassin’s bullet would soon end another life in Dallas, and America’s sadness would only intensify.

President Kennedy was assassinated while riding in a motorcade through Dealey Plaza on November 22. His successor, former vice president Lyndon B. Johnson, would eventually sign into law the legislation he introduced which became the Civil Rights Act of 1964. These events and a popular song written by Bob Dylan set the stage for Cooke to compose A Change Is Gonna Come.

Dylan wrote Blowin’ in the Wind performed by folk music trio Peter, Paul and Mary and released in August of 1963. According to Daniel Wolff in You Send Me: The Life and Times of Sam Cooke, the soul singer was impressed by Dylan’s ability to address civil rights issues in a song that was also a hit record. He was compelled to do the same and in December of that year, he did! It’s the lyrics that make Change one of the anthems of the civil rights era. Cooke wrote about being refused entry in public places, “I go to the movie and I go downtown, somebody keep telling me don’t hang around” and rejection from those who should help, perhaps the members of the clergy Dr. King addressed months earlier in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, “Then I go to my brother and I say ‘brother, help me please.’ But he winds up knockin’ me back down on my knees.” The song ends in a majestic climax, a testament to the strength of those who never gave up, “There were times that I thought I wouldn’t last for long. But now I think I’m able to carry on.”

Released in 1964, the song has been covered by several artists including Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin and Terence Trent D’Arby. Many will recall hearing it throughout Mr. Obama’s first presidential run. Others may remember hearing him use one of the lyrics during his 2008 victory speech in Chicago, “It’s been a long time coming, but tonight, because of what we did on this date in this election at this defining moment change has come to America.” Bettye LaVette and Jon Bon Jovi performed Change at the 2009 inaugural concert. I am certain that when Cooke wrote this song 50 years ago, he never envisioned a national holiday for Dr. King or the reelection of the country’s first African-American president whose inaugural event included an invocation by Medgar Evers’ widow.

A Change Has Come.

Thanks for reading this. Please join me in Sounding Off by sharing your favorite rendition of Cooke’s classic song. I look forward to your response.

Kimberly Vann

Disclaimers: All data and information provided on this site is for informational purposes only. Sounding Off makes no representations as to accuracy, completeness, or validity of any information on this site and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information or any losses, injuries, or damages arising from its display or use. Unless otherwise noted, Kimberly Vann is the legal copyright holder of the original material on this blog and it may not be used, reprinted, or published without her written consent.

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The Spinners’ Sophisticated Soul

When I think of the best musical groups of the 70s, the Spinners easily come to mind. From 1972 until 1977, the group consisting of Henry Fambrough, Billy Henderson, Pervis Jackson, Bobby Smith and Philippe Wynne were mainstays on R&B as well as pop radio stations. I believe this quintet impacted 70s music, as much as the Temptations dominated the mid to late 60s.

Like the Tempts, they recorded at Motown. Two of my favorite songs from the group’s Motown era are Truly Yours and It’s a Shame. The first song features Bobby Smith’s sweet and easy vocals. The latter one was co-written and produced by Stevie Wonder with G.C. Cameron singing lead. (Cooley High fans will remember his tearjerker, It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday.)

In 1971, three things happened that would change the group’s fortunes. First, Philippe Wynne joined the group, replacing Cameron who departed for a solo career. Next, they signed with Atlantic Records. Finally, upon their arrival, Thom Bell asked to work with them. A successful producer, arranger and songwriter, Bell had co-written and produced several compositions for the Delfonics (La, La Means I Love You and Didn’t I Blow Your Mind This Time) the Stylistics (Betcha By Golly, Wow and You Are Everything) and other acts.

He had some ambitious ideas for the group. According to John A. Jackson in A House on Fire: The Rise and Fall of Philadelphia Soul, in the summer of 1972, the Spinners recorded four songs Bell produced. The first single, How Could I Let You Get Away, was a silky ballad that reminded many of the Stylistics. However, more radio deejays played the up-tempo “B” side, I’ll Be Around, resulting in the quintet’s first number one hit. The next release, Could It Be I’m Falling in Love was another million-selling R&B smash. The fourth song, One of a Kind (Love Affair), was included on the group’s self-titled album released in 1973, and became their third consecutive top R&B record.

Their second album, Mighty Love, released the following year, not only featured the unforgettable title track, it also contained other favorites: Since I Been Gone, He’ll Never Love You Like I Do and Love Don’t Love NobodyAlthough the Spinners were from Detroit, their Atlantic recordings exemplified the Sound of Philadelphia created primarily by Bell and his partners, Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, founders of Philadelphia International Records. Meaningful lyrics backed by tight horn and rhythm sections, sumptuous string arrangements and stunning background vocals were all part of the Spinners’ trademark style. It was sophisticated soul.

Wynne was another reason for the group’s popularity. Whether he traded vocals with Smith or performed solo, Wynne was one of the best ad-libbers who ever touched a microphone. Check out the last two minutes of Mighty Love. He whoops, stutters, wails and yodels without missing a beat. Sadie is one of the best tributes to mothers ever recorded and his delivery still tugs at my heart, especially around Mother’s Day. Listen to the live, extended version of How Could I Let You Get Away and you’ll hear Wynne do some incredible impersonations of Sam Cooke, Otis Redding and Al Green. After he left the group to go solo, things were never quite the same.

Thanks for reading this; please join me in Sounding Off by sharing your favorite Spinners song. I look forward to your response. I’d also like to wish you a happy, healthy and prosperous 2013!

Kimberly Vann

Disclaimers: All data and information provided on this site is for informational purposes only. Sounding Off makes no representations as to accuracy, completeness, or validity of any information on this site and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information or any losses, injuries, or damages arising from its display or use. Unless otherwise noted, Kimberly Vann is the legal copyright holder of the original material on this blog and it may not be used, reprinted, or published without her written consent.

Before Tammi Terrell, There Was Kim Weston

When most Marvin Gaye fans think about his singing partners, Tammi Terrell usually comes to mind. From 1967 until 1969, the duo recorded timeless performances—several of them written and produced by Nickolas Ashford and Valerie Simpson—including, Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, Your Precious Love, You’re All I Need to Get ByIf I Could Build My Whole World Around You, and Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing.

However, prior to being paired with Terrell, one of Gaye’s other musical partners was Kim Weston. Born December 30, 1939, Weston, a Detroit native, had been performing around the Motor City when a local songwriter named Johnny Thornton asked her to record some demo tapes. Thornton played them for his cousin, Eddie Holland, one of Motown’s producer/songwriters who would eventually become part of the label’s legendary songwriting team Holland-Dozier-Holland. She signed with Motown in 1961.

According to the AMG AllMusic Guide in 1963, Weston scored a minor R&B hit with Love Me All the Way, and, during the following year, recorded her first duet with Gaye, What Good Am I Without You. Unfortunately, Weston turned down a song that later became a smash hit for another Motown act. Gaye and producer William “Mickey” Stevenson wrote Dancing in the Street and offered her a chance to record the song. She said no. Martha Reeves, lead singer of Martha and the Vandellas, said yes and the rest is history. During the summer of 1964, Dancing claimed the number 2 position on Billboard’s Top 100 Chart and is described by the publication as one of the “most potent and enduring dance records of the era.”

It would be another year before Weston would have a top 10 hit as a solo artist–Take Me in Your Arms (Rock Me a Little While) recorded in 1965. Her 1966 follow-up release, Helpless, was also popular among fans. That same year, she and Gaye recorded the album Take Two which featured It Takes Two and It’s Got to Be a Miracle (This Thing Called Love). I was happy to find the LP on one of my bookcases and was even happier to discover it contains What Good Am I Without You.  I heard it for the first time on the Internet last night and liked the song so much that I unpacked my record player so I could hear it again. It reminds me of Brook Benton and Dinah Washington’s Baby (You Got What It Takes). You listen and decide.

In 1967, Weston left Motown for MGM Records and recorded an album which included a stirring version of Lift Every Voice and Sing. In 1972, she performed the Black National Anthem at Wattstax, a daylong concert produced by Stax Records featuring many of the artists from the Memphis-based label. The event was held at the Los Angeles Coliseum to commemorate the Watts riots that occurred seven years earlier.

Thanks for reading this; please join me in Sounding Off by sharing your favorite Kim Weston song. I look forward to your response. I’d also like to wish you a Merry Christmas and a joyous holiday season!

Kimberly Vann

Disclaimers: All data and information provided on this site is for informational purposes only. Sounding Off makes no representations as to accuracy, completeness, or validity of any information on this site and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information or any losses, injuries, or damages arising from its display or use. Unless otherwise noted, Kimberly Vann is the legal copyright holder of the original material on this blog and it may not be used, reprinted, or published without her written consent.

The Temptations: My Quintessential Quintet

My all-time favorite musical group is the Temptations. Although the lineup has changed over the decades,  Eddie Kendricks, Otis Williams, Melvin Franklin, David Ruffin and Paul Williams (no relation to Otis) are the men that first come to mind.

At an early age, I learned how to play 45s on my parents’ Curtis Mathes console–the large floor model in the living room that contained a television, an am/fm radio and a record player. After going through everyone’s records, I compiled my own stack. The Way You Do the Things You Do, I Wish It Would Rain and I’ll Be in Trouble stayed on the turntable. My Girl came later. It was not unusual for my mother to find me on the floor with my head next to one of the speakers. I was hooked on the harmonies; the lyrics were easy to learn and I was mesmerized by the melodies.

As a high school student, my R&B tastes shifted to the Gap Band, the Jacksons, Parliament/Funkadelic, plus thanks to two FM stations, WDAI and WFYR, I was exposed to bands like Genesis, Foreigner and the Police. My musical horizons expanded, but the Temptations were never left behind. Listening to Richard Pegue’s “Best Music of Your Life,” first on WGCI-AM, then WVON, and Herb Kent’s weekend shows on V-103 introduced me to b-sides, album cuts and other gems: You’ve Got to Earn It , Born to Love YouAll I Need and I Could Never Love Another (After Loving You). I loved their five-part harmony as Eddie, Paul and David traded lead vocals on various selections. Remember the four-headed microphone?

As a grown woman, I savored the sight of five handsome, impeccably dressed men—all six feet tall—who danced flawlessly. I still do. Each member possessed his own distinctive style. Eddie had a soothing falsetto and a smile that could melt ice. David could ‘beg and plead for sympathy’ better than anyone else on vinyl. Melvin’s booming bass was authoritative, yet comforting. Otis was a strong and steady baritone/second tenor. And then there was Paul, my favorite Temptation.

Why Paul?  I’ll give you three reasons: Don’t Look Back, Just Another Lonely Night and  For Once in My Life. In the first two songs, Paul’s slightly hoarse vocals were cool, calm and confident. Yet, it was his emotional, show-stopping rendition of For Once in My Life on TCB, a 1968 television special with Diana Ross and the Supremes, that is considered by many, including myself, as Paul’s definitive performance. What made this ballad so powerful to me was his vulnerability, perhaps caused by the weight of the personal demons he battled. A couple years ago, I watched the video on YouTube and was moved to tears. Reading viewer comments, I realized I was not the only one who cried at the computer.

Thanks for reading this; please join me in Sounding Off by sharing your favorite Temptations song and which Temptation you liked the most. I look forward to your response.

Kimberly Vann

Disclaimers: All data and information provided on this site is for informational purposes only. Sounding Off makes no representations as to accuracy, completeness, or validity of any information on this site and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information or any losses, injuries, or damages arising from its display or use. Unless otherwise noted, Kimberly Vann is the legal copyright holder of the original material on this blog and it may not be used, reprinted, or published without her written consent.

Welcome to Sounding Off: Musical Reflections and Recollections

This is the first entry of my new blog, Sounding Off: Musical Reflections and Recollections. I regularly read about music, own countless CDs, 45s and albums ( yes, albums) and watch whatever videos I can find on YouTube. I’m excited about the chance to share my passion with others. While my love  for classic R&B (aka “dusties”) is unapologetic and undeniable, I also look forward to writing about other genres –blues, gospel, jazz, pop and rock.

I grew up on Chicago’s South Side during the 1970s. The Jackson Five’s “Rockin’ Robin” was the first record I remember hearing on WVON Radio. I immediately became a devoted fan of Jackie, Tito, Jermaine, Marlon and Michael. On Saturdays, must-see TV meant watching the Jacksons’ morning cartoon, American Bandstand, then Soul Train in the afternoon. My mother bought a box of Alpha-Bits cereal, at my request, because it contained stickers of the handsome brothers from Gary. A subscription to Right On! magazine was inevitable, but still several years away.

In those days, my dad and I purchased 45s from Joe’s Records near 35th and Giles and Metro Music at 87th and Harper. Many of my selections were influenced by WVON’s playlist and included The Hues Corporation’s “Rock the Boat,” the Jackson Five’s “Dancing Machine,” and Sly and the Family Stone’s “If You Want Me to Stay.”  The radio station was a powerhouse in the black community, where Herb Kent, Richard Pegue, Joe Cobb, Bill “Butterball” Crane, Ed “Nassau Daddy” Cook and other on-air personalities worked their magic behind the microphone.

By the time I began high school in 1979, I was buying albums at a store on 63rd and Halsted. I don’t remember the name of the shop, but it was across the street from Delicious Donuts which was under the “L” station. I also shopped downtown at Rose Records on Adams and Wabash. For house music and 12-inch singles of club favorites, a visit to Imports Etc. on South Plymouth Court was essential. After all these years, hearing “Situation” by Yaz still makes me shake my head, pop my fingers and wiggle my hips.

Please join me in Sounding Off by sharing memories about the records you bought and where you bought them. Thanks for reading this!

Kimberly Vann

Disclaimers: All data and information provided on this site is for informational purposes only. Sounding Off makes no representations as to accuracy, completeness, or validity of any information on this site and will not be liable for any errors, omissions, or delays in this information or any losses, injuries, or damages arising from its display or use. Unless otherwise noted, Kimberly Vann is the legal copyright holder of the original material on this blog and it may not be used, reprinted, or published without her written consent.