(b Chicago, IL, Jan 8, 1967). American R&B singer, writer, producer, and arranger. Kelly was born on the South side of Chicago. Raised, with his three siblings, by a single mother, he was encouraged to pursue a musical career by his high school music teacher and mentor, Lena McLin, who was the chair of the music department at the Kenwood Academy and the niece of the legendary gospel music composer Thomas Dorsey. In high school Kelly formed the group MGM (Musically Gifted Men), which won a $100,000 grand prize on the television talent show Big Break, hosted by Natalie Cole. The group eventually signed with Jive Records, though after creative and financial tensions, three of the members were replaced and the group renamed R. Kelly and Public Announcement. After a moderately successful debut that produced the hit singles “She’s Got That Vibe” and “Honey Love,” Kelly left the group in early ...
Mark Anthony Neal
Olivia Carter Mather
[Alvis Edgar ]
(b Sherman, TX, Aug 12, 1929; d Bakersfield, CA, March 25, 2006). American country musician and businessman. He is widely considered the central figure of the Bakersfield sound, and his dominance of the country charts in the 1960s challenged Nashville’s hegemony and bolstered the West Coast country scene in Bakersfield and Los Angeles. During the 1950s he worked as a guitarist and session player for several Bakersfield artists before signing with Capitol Records in 1957. In 1963 he began a streak of 14 consecutive number-one country hits with “Act Naturally,” which was later covered by the Beatles. Other hits included “Together Again” (1964), “I’ve got a tiger by the tail” (1965), and a cover of “Johnny B. Goode” (1969).
Owens’s songs eschewed themes of hard living and rambling for a portrayal of the male subject as a lonely victim of romance. With his backing band, the Buckaroos, he developed a bright, driving sound which he described as a freight train feel: heavy bass and drums accompanying two Fender Telecaster electric guitars played by Owens and the guitarist Don Rich. The twangy Telecaster sound and high, close harmony of Owens and Rich characterized many of his recordings. The Buckaroos both toured and recorded with Owens, a contrast to country norms. Owens thus established an alternative to the popular “countrypolitan” sound produced in Nashville (he also never joined the “Grand Ole Opry”); in doing so he inspired such country-rock musicians as Gram Parsons and the Flying Burrito Brothers. He also marketed himself as a hard-country artist free of pop influence; in ...
Charles K. Wolfe
(b nr West Monroe, LA, Aug 8, 1921; d Nashville, TN, Feb 24, 1991). American country-music singer, guitarist, songwriter, and publisher. He performed as a guitarist on radio station KMLB (Monroe, LA) before 1950, when he joined the “Louisiana hayride ” on KWKH (Shreveport, LA). Recording contracts with the local Pacemaker label (c1950), Four-Star, and Decca (1951) allowed him to resign his part-time job as a clerk at Sears, Roebuck and concentrate on music. After his initial hit, “Wondering” (1952), he gained national attention with “Back Street Affair” (1952), one of the first country songs to deal forthrightly with adultery. An equally important landmark was “There stands the glass” (1953), a classic drinking song and the first country hit to use the pedal steel guitar, played by Bud Isaacs. It became the favorite backup instrument in country music for the next two decades, and Pierce was the first of many country singers whose slurs, octave jumps, and use of dynamics complemented its sound. During his peak years (...
(b Upper Darby, PA, June 22, 1948). American singer-songwriter, composer, and producer. He began his career as a teenager singing with the bands Woody’s Truck Stop and the more successful rock quartet Nazz. As a member of the latter group, he wrote two of their hit songs, “Hello, it’s me” and “Open your Eyes” (both 1968). After releasing three albums with Nazz, Rundgren left the group and worked as a solo artist, recording most of the vocal and instrumental parts himself. He cited the songwriter Laura Nyro as a significant influence. During the early 1970s Rundgren worked with a trio, Runt, recording two albums, the second entitled Runt: the Ballad of Todd Rundgren (1971), and his own two-record set, Something/Anything? (1972). The latter album brought him unprecedented fame through the singles “I Saw the Light” and a new version of “Hello, it’s me.” The recordings ...
[Bridges, Claude Russell]
(b Lawton, OK, April 2, 1942; d Nashville, Nov 10, 2016). American singer, songwriter, keyboard player, and producer. He is well respected for his solo work—a mix of rock, folk, and country music—but his work as a session musician also brought significant recognition. He began playing piano at the age of four and was playing in clubs in Tulsa as a high school student. His band, the Starlighters, managed to score a spot as the opening act for Jerry Lee Lewis in 1959. Russell moved to Los Angeles the same year and quickly established himself as a session musician, notably with the Wrecking Crew the group of musicians Phil Spector used to accompany his artists. With the Wrecking Crew, the accompanied artists such as the Byrds, Herb Alpert, and Gary Lewis and the Playboys. The keyboard player on hundreds of recordings, he opened his own recording studio in ...
[Westover, Charles Weedon ]
(b Grand Rapids, MI, Dec 30, 1934; d Santa Clarita, CA, Feb 8, 1990). American singer, songwriter, and producer. Growing up, he learned to play ukulele and guitar while immersing himself in country-and-western music. Throughout the second half of the 1950s, he played in a variety of bands while in the military and also in Michigan. He used several different names during his time as a performer, but finally settled on “Del Shannon” in 1960. In the same year Shannon and his fellow musician, Max Crook, were signed to Bigtop Records in New York. The two wrote and recorded the rock and roll hit “Runaway” in 1961, with the single reaching number one on the Billboard chart. In the following two years Shannon wrote and performed several other successful singles, including “So long, baby,” “Hats off to Larry,” and “Little Town Flirt.” His 1963 cover of “From Me to You” was one of the first American covers of a Beatles song. After moving to Amy Records in ...
(b Toronto, ON, Oct 12, 1955). Canadian singer, songwriter, composer, and producer. Growing up in Toronto, Siberry took piano and French horn lessons, and taught herself guitar. While studying microbiology at the University of Guelph, Ontario (BSc 1980), she began to waitress and perform at local cafes. In 1981, Siberry released her self-titled debut album; this was followed by No Borders Here (1984), distributed in the United States by A&M. Siberry is respected as a gifted singer and songwriter. She has cited Van Morrison and Miles Davis as influences, but also draws on gospel, new-wave, and classical styles. Her third album, The Speckless Sky (1985) reached gold-record status in Canada and confirmed her reputation as a major recording artist. Warner records released her fourth album, The Walking (1987), which earned critical if not popular success with its longer, more complex compositions. Siberry launched her own record label, Sheeba, in ...
[Ragsdale, Harold Ray ]
(b Clarkdale, GA, Jan 24, 1939). American singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, producer, arranger, music publisher, television star, and entrepreneur. Harold Ragsdale began his musical career with a high school band that played R&B songs by the Coasters, Drifters, and other R&B groups. In 1955 the family moved to Atlanta, where publisher Bill Lowery signed him as a songwriter and secured his first recording contract with Capitol Records; Capitol’s Head of A&R, Ken Nelson changed Ragsdale’s name to Ray Stevens. After attending Georgia State University, where he studied music, Stevens had his first success with his recording of “Jeremiah Peabody’s Poly Unsaturated Quick Dissolving Fast Acting Pleasant Tasting Green and Purple Pills” (Mercury, 1961). In 1962 he moved to Nashville, supplementing his own recording career with work as a session musician, arranger, and background vocalist. He garnered a number-one pop hit and his first Grammy with his recording of “Everything is beautiful” (Barnaby, ...
(b New York, NY, April 20, 1951; d Edison, NJ, July 1, 2005). American rhythm-and-blues and pop singer, songwriter, and record producer. He was one of the most instantly recognizable African American male vocalists of the 1980s, often performing in a virtuosic style that was at once melismatic, improvisational, and precise. He began his career as a behind-the-scenes songwriter and vocalist, singing on commercial jingles, writing and collaborating on songs for other recording artists, and performing live and recorded background vocals. As backing vocalist he appeared widely, including on David Bowie’s “Young Americans” (1975), Chic’s C’est Chic (1978), Sister Sledge’s We Are Family (1979), and Roberta Flack’s Roberta Flack Featuring Donny Hathaway (1980). Vandross signed to Atlantic’s Cotillion label in the mid-1970s and released two unsuccessful albums with a self-titled group call Luther. He also worked as a vocalist with the disco-oriented band Change on several singles released during the early 1980s....
Charles K. Wolfe and Travis D. Stimeling
(b West Plains, MO, Aug 12, 1927; d Nashville, TN, Oct 27, 2007). American country music singer, songwriter, and record producer. As a boy, he learned country songs of the 1920s from his mother and occasionally pretended to host the Grand Ole Opry. A performance on a local radio show in 1950 led to regular appearances on KWTO, a powerful station in nearby Springfield, and this in turn led to a regular job on Red Foley’s national Ozark Jubilee television show. He signed a recording contract with RCA Victor in 1952 and had early success with “Company’s Comin’” and “Satisfied Mind.” Gospel songs such as “What would you do?” became part of his repertory, and their success encouraged his penchant for including recitation in songs. During the 1960s, thirty-one of Wagoner’s recordings reached the charts, and, by the end of the decade, he produced his own television show, ...