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David Sanjek

(b Madison, WI, Dec 27, 1944). American singer. An underrated and insufficiently recognized artist, she is accomplished in country, blues, rhythm-and-blues, and rock. She began performing in college and released her first solo recording, Deep Are the Roots, in 1964. She joined the ensemble Mother Earth (named after a Memphis Slim song), who were signed to Mercury Records in 1968. Their first album, Living with the Animals, includes Nelson’s signature self-penned song, “Down So Low,” a grieving but never glum ballad. Mother Earth recorded three other albums on Mercury and one each for Reprise and Columbia, before breaking up in 1973. Nelson also released a splendid solo album of country songs in 1970. She has subsequently performed solo or as a member of star-studded ensembles. Her 1974 duet with Willie Nelson, “After the Fire Is Gone,” received a Grammy nomination in 1974. Owing to discomfort with the state of the music business, Nelson dropped out for the better part of the 1980s, although she sang back-up for Neil Young and appeared with him at Live Aid in ...

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Miles White

Musical genre. Dating from the mid-1990s, neo-soul typically features heartfelt love songs that reflect the complexity of contemporary romantic relationships. In its emotional depth it recalls bluesy, gospel-based soul music of the 1960s but is rendered through a more nuanced set of musical conventions. The genre definition is contested because, although the term has been used by music writers, industry publicists, and musicologists, the musicians whom it purportedly identifies have tended to reject it. Nonetheless, there are a number of artists, songs, and aesthetic features that distinguish it as a unique style of contemporary black popular music.

Neo-soul often contains spoken-word poetry or a vocal delivery that is more restrained than traditional soul. It is also rendered in a relatively narrow pitch range that is much less melismatic than its predecessor. Tempos tend to favor slow to mid-tempo grooves and the style draws from jazz, gospel, blues, funk, hip-hop, and world music. It largely ignores digital synthesizers in favor of traditional horns, drums, percussion, and older instruments such as the Fender Rhodes electric piano and the Hammond B3 organ, as well as acoustic and electric guitars. Subtle use of drum machines and turntable sampling is employed on occasion but rarely foregrounded....

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Megan E. Hill

(b Osaka, Japan, 1957). Jazz and blues pianist, singer, and composer of Japanese birth. She took piano lessons briefly as a child and was exposed to the blues while growing up in Osaka in the 1960s and 1970s. As a high school student, she formed the Yoko Blues Band with classmates. The band earned some success, winning first prize and a recording contract in a television-sponsored contest. In 1984 she moved to the United States to pursue a jazz and blues career in Chicago. Initially a singer, she studied piano with boogie, blues, and jazz pianist Erwin Helfer. In the early 1990s Noge established the Jazz Me Blues Band, which has played regularly in Chicago since its formation. In addition to Noge on piano and vocals, the ensemble has included Noge’s husband, Clark Dean, on soprano saxophone, saxophonist Jimmy Ellis, trombonist Bill McFarland, and bassist Tatsu Aoki. In addition to playing more conventional jazz and blues, Noge has made a name for herself through the unique compositions she has written for the group, which meld Japanese folk music styles with Chicago blues. Active in the broader Asian American community, she cofounded the Chicago Asian American Jazz Festival in ...

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Jonas Westover

(b Boston, MA, May 10, 1937). American music critic, publicist, and editor. Solomon is best known for her contributions to the Village Voice, but has also written for Down Beat, Country Music, Hit Parader, the News World, and Us. She was one of the first women involved in popular music criticism; her work focused on folk music of the 1960s, jazz, blues, rock, and country music. Solomon’s column in the Village Voice was called “Riffs.” She also served as editor for the magazine ABC-TV Hootenanny (1963–4), which highlighted performers on the television show of the same name who were just beginning to rise to fame, including Judy Collins, Earl Scruggs, and Doc Watson. Other writers whose work appeared in the magazine included Theodore Bikel and Jean Shepard. Another of her important editing positions was on the magazine New Musical Express (NME) in the 1970s. Solomon also had a brief tenure as a publicist for Chess Records, where she produced a number of liner notes. Her commentary on such diverse subjects as J.J. Cale and Paul McCartney has given her voice a lasting impression in the music business....

Article

Maureen Mahon

[Willie Mae ]

(b Ariton, AL, Dec 11, 1926; d Los Angeles, CA, July 25, 1984). American blues singer, songwriter, harmonica player, and drummer. When she was 14 years old, Thornton left home to join Sammy Green’s Hot Harlem Review, a traveling variety show that toured the south. She developed an act that incorporated comedy and singing, carrying on the sound and attitude of classic blues women such as Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey. Thornton left the troupe in 1947 and settled in Houston, Texas, where Don Robey, owner of Peacock Records, signed her in 1951. While touring with Johnny Otis in the early 1950s, Thornton got her nickname after her performance at Harlem’s Apollo Theater brought down the house. Commenting on Thornton’s physical size and vocal power, venue manager Frank Schiffman called her “Big Mama.”

“Hound Dog” (1953) was Thornton’s third single for Peacock and her first and only hit. Written for Thornton by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller at the suggestion of Otis, “Hound Dog” featured Thornton’s commanding blues shout, notable for its confident growl and saucy attitude, against spare guitar and drum instrumentation and a rumba rhythm. Thornton’s version stayed on the rhythm and blues charts for 14 weeks, seven in the number one position. “Hound Dog” was covered numerous times, most famously by Elvis Presley in ...

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Excello  

Joe C. Clark

Record company. Excello was founded in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1952 by Ernie Young, owner of a chain of jukeboxes and record stores. The label was a subsidiary of Young’s Nashboro Records, established a year earlier, which focused on gospel music. Excello initially featured some R&B and hillbilly music but was primarily a blues label. Notable artists included Arthur Gunter, Ted Garrett, Earl Gaines, Roscoe Shelton, the Crescendos, the Gladiolas, and the Marigolds.

In 1956 Jay Miller of Crowley, Louisiana, began producing a number of important swamp blues releases for Excello, including recordings by Lightnin’ Slim, Lazy Lester, and Slim Harpo. Young founded Nasco Records, another subsidiary that centered on pop music, in 1957. Young sold Excello and Nashboro in 1966 to Crescent Amusement Company; Miller’s association with Excello ended soon thereafter. The label issued releases through the mid-1970s featuring a number of southern soul artists, including Maceo and the King’s Men, Z.Z. Hill, Freddie North, and Kip Anderson. In ...

Article

Paul Oliver

[Allen, Fulton ]

(b Wadesboro, NC, July 10, 1907; d Durham, NC, Feb 13, 1941). American blues singer and guitarist. He began to lose his sight as a teenager and was completely blind by 1928. He was the outstanding exponent, though not an innovator, of the eastern or Piedmont style of blues. Influenced by Blind Blake, Blind Gary Davis, and Buddy Moss, he formulated an eclectic style, playing fast runs and swinging rag rhythms on guitar (often against cross-rhythms on a washboard) to accompany his gritty singing. Davis played for him on the traditional “Rag Mama Rag” (1935, Voc.), one of his earliest successes. Fuller adapted old songs such as the British ballad “Our Goodman,” which became “Cat Man Blues” (1936, Voc.). Although he was probably at his best with fast ragtime themes like “Step it up and go” (1940, Voc.), he was also a master of slow blues such as “Weeping Willow” (...

Article

Suzanne Flandreau

[CBMR]

The Center for Black Music Research (CBMR) was founded in 1983 at Columbia College Chicago by Samuel A. Floyd, Jr. Its mission has remained the same since its inception: to document, preserve, and promote the music of the African Diaspora. This mission is accomplished through publications, conferences and symposia, performances, research fellowships, and the Library and Archives, housing books and research collections.

The Center’s flagship publication, Black Music Research Journal (1980–), antedates Floyd’s move to Columbia College. The Center has also published Lenox Avenue (1995–1999), the scholarly journal for a grant-funded project which explored music’s role in the arts of the African Diaspora. Various newsletters, including Black Music Research Newsletter/CBMR Bulletin (1977–1990), and CBMR Digest (1990–) informed members about the Center’s activities. Kalinda! (1994–1997), Stop-Time (1998–2000), and Cariso! (2003–2006) were published for specific grant-funded projects. The Center’s publications also include a bibliographic and reference series consisting of five CBMR monographs, ...

Article

Joe C. Clark

Record company founded by Houston-based African American entrepreneur Don Robey in 1949. It focused primarily on rhythm-and-blues and gospel music. Robey’s initial label, Peacock Records, was created to record bluesman Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown. The label also recorded Big Mama Thornton’s rendition of “Hound Dog,” which was later covered and made famous by Elvis Presley. Gospel artists including the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi, the Mighty Clouds of Joy, the Dixie Hummingbirds, and the Bells of Joy joined the label and provided much of its success during the early 1950s.

In 1952 Peacock acquired the Memphis-based rhythm-and-blues label Duke from WDIA DJ David James Mattis. Its roster included Rosco Gordon, Bobby “Blue” Bland, and Johnny Ace. Robey later formed additional subsidiary labels: Sure Shot; Song Bird, which featured gospel music; Back Beat, formed in 1957 to meet the growing teen market; and Peacock’s Progressive Jazz label.

In 1973 Robey retired and sold the Duke/Peacock label, affiliated labels, and publishing companies to ABC-Dunhill Records. Its catalog consisted of nearly 2700 songs and approximately ...