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Article

Val Wilmer

[Cecil Valentine ]

(b Kingston, Jamaica, March 28, 1926; d Romford, Oct 10, 2009). Jamaican trumpeter, flugelhorn player, conductor, arranger, bandleader, journalist, and broadcaster. Self-taught on clarinet, he changed to trumpet to play with the big bands of the drummer Redver Cooke and the saxophonist Eric Deans, then formed the Beboppers with Ernest Ranglin and Dizzy Reece. He performed annually with the Jamaica All-Stars, and in 1950 he formed a septet which included Joe Harriott. From 1954 he promoted concerts and festivals, organizing the annual Big Band, which featured the island’s leading talents, notably Wilton “Bogey” Gaynair, Don Drummond, and the pianist (later politician) Seymour “Foggy” Mullings. Ranglin, Roland Alphonso, and the trombonist Emanuel “Rico” Rodriguez joined this ensemble to accompany such visiting artists as Sarah Vaughan, Donald Byrd, and Jimmy Owens. Bradshaw, who played in a raw, direct style influenced by Dizzy Gillespie, was a tireless promoter of Jamaican music. For 25 years he served as president of the Jamaican Federation of Musicians, and he arranged the island’s national anthem. Although he recorded extensively and toured throughout the Americas playing reggae, jazz was his preferred mode of expression. Among the guests who appeared with his poll-winning small group are Roy Haynes, Reece, Coleridge Goode, and Byard Lancaster. In the 1990s he travelled to England annually, playing in Birmingham with Andy Hamilton’s band....

Article

Jayson Greene

(b New York, NY, April 18, 1942). American rock critic. Known as “the dean of American rock critics,” Christgau first emerged as one of the trade’s earliest professionals. Beginning in 1967 as the music columnist for Esquire, Christgau worked briefly at the Village Voice and Newsday as a critic before beginning his 37-year tenure as music editor of the Village Voice in 1974. During this time, Christgau mentored dozens of critics and established the Voice as a widely acknowledged home for serious rock criticism. He also inaugurated, in 1971, the annual Pazz & Jop music poll, which compiles the “top ten” lists submitted by music critics nationwide.

Christgau is perhaps best known for his capsule reviews, which have been published since 1969 in his Consumer Guide columns. Dry, witty, terse, and densely packed with allusions and asides, Christgau’s blurbs, accompanied by assigned letter grades, promoted a persuasive style of serious, incisive criticism of rock music; many of his reviews have been reprinted in popular book-length compilations. He was an early supporter of the hip-hop and riot grrrl movements and an avid proponent of African popular music. Few rock critics have established such a national presence and identity. Rock musicians ranging from Lou Reed of the Velvet Underground to Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth have name-checked him in song....

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Alex Harris Stein

(b New York, NY, June 27, 1928). American writer. After graduating from Hamilton College (1950) and serving in the military (1950–51), he worked as a magazine editor in New York (1952–58) before striking out on his own as a freelance writer. He has since published prolifically on a wide range of subjects and is best known for his series of historical novels for young adults. Collier is also a jazz trombonist, and he has published six books on jazz. His first, The Making of Jazz (1978), was well received and became one of the first widely used textbooks on jazz history. His subsequent works, however, have sparked controversy, owing to his tendency to stake out provocative positions. For example, in his biography of Duke Ellington (1987), Collier contends that Ellington never realized his early potential later in his career. In ...

Article

Marysol Quevedo

[Catalino ]

(b Guayama, PR, Feb 12, 1926; d Baltimore, MD, Aug 5, 2003). Puerto Rican songwriter and journalist. He studied sociology and journalism at the Universidad de Puerto Rico. In 1960 he moved to New York, where he worked as a sports journalist for the newspaper La Prensa. He had an affinity for songwriting from his teens and continued to write songs throughout his career; it had become his main activity by the time the salsa singer Joe Quijano recorded his song “Efectivamente” (Volví a Cataño, Spanoramic, 1965). Curet Alonso developed a style featuring romantic as well as socially conscious lyrics, which at times delivered politically charged messages. He described a series of compositions from the 1970s, which told the stories of everyday people of marginalized neighborhoods, as corte social (“social edge”). He collaborated with many musicians, writing hit songs for influential salsa singers, including Roberto Roena, Willie Colón, Héctor Lavoe, and Cheo Feliciano. Although mostly known for his salsa compositions he also worked in other Latin American genres, notably the Puerto Rican ...

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Alex Harris Stein

(b Toronto, ON, Feb 13, 1913; d Escondido, CA, May 27, 2001). American writer and record producer. In 1934 she settled in Chicago, where she became active as a jazz journalist and promoter, writing for the Chicago Herald-Examiner and Down Beat, founding the Chicago Rhythm Club, and promoting listening concerts featuring such performers as Earl Hines and Billie Holiday. At one such concert, Dance was responsible for bringing together Benny Goodman and Teddy Wilson in one of the first highly publicized interracial collaborations in jazz. She also produced her first recordings for the Okeh label (1935). In 1937 she relocated to New York, where she produced many of the legendary Duke Ellington small band recordings, collaborated with Red Norvo, Mildred Bailey, and Bob Crosby, and managed Chick Webb, organizing swing battles at the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem featuring the Webb Orchestra and Ella Fitzgerald. Among the many concerts that she organized was Benny Goodman’s historic ...

Article

Alex Harris Stein

(John )

(b Philadelphia, PA, Aug 30, 1946). American writer on jazz. He began listening to jazz while attending high school in North Philadelphia and consolidated and expanded his interest while attending Temple University (1964–9). He was jazz editor for Musician (1982–5), a columnist at the Philadelphia Inquirer (1982–96), a contributor to the Boston Phoenix (1983–6), staff writer for 7 Days (1988–90), and has been a contributing editor for The Atlantic Monthly (from 1984). He was a columnist for the Village Voice (1990–4) and was appointed lead jazz critic there in 2004. Davis was the target of critic Stanley Crouch’s controversial Jazz Times column, “Putting the White Man in Charge,” (April 2003). He has also contributed to Stereo Review, Down Beat, and Jazz Times. Davis has written six books; another, a biography of John Coltrane, is in progress....

Article

Jack Hamilton

(b Jersey City, NJ, Sept 2, 1964). American rock critic. Best known as the longtime popular music critic for the Chicago Sun-Times, DeRogatis began writing music criticism as a high school student in Jersey City, New Jersey. In 1982, his senior year, he conducted the last known interview with renowned rock critic Lester Bangs, whose biography DeRogatis would later author. DeRogatis attended New York University and began writing for the Sun-Times in 1992. In 1995 he left the paper for a position at Rolling Stone magazine but was fired within a year after making public a dispute with publisher Jann Wenner over a negative review that the magazine declined to run. DeRogatis returned to the Sun-Times in 1998, where he remained until accepting a position in the English Department at Columbia College (Chicago) in spring of 2010.

An opinionated and high-profile critic, DeRogatis has been at the center of several notable controversies. The most infamous case came in ...

Article

Jayson Greene

(b Alameda, CA, Jan 7, 1945). American rock journalist, author, and broadcaster. His father, born Fong Kwok Seung, changed his surname to Torres and posed as a Filipino in order to immigrate to the United States and sidestep the Chinese Exclusion Act. The family subsequently adopted the surname Fong-Torres. Ben Fong-Torres studied radio, television and film at San Francisco State University (BA 1966). He worked as a writer and senior editor for Rolling Stone, coming on board in 1969, shortly after the magazine’s inception, and staying until 1981. During his tenure, he conducted interviews with Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones, Linda Ronstadt, Marvin Gaye, Jefferson Airplane, Sly and the Family Stone, Paul McCartney, Bonnie Raitt, Steve Martin, and many others. His interview with Ray Charles received the Deems Taylor Award for Magazine Writing in 1974. Fong-Torres was also a DJ for San Francisco rock station KSAN-FM from ...

Article

Caroline Polk O’Meara

[Jones, Alexander Roger Wallace ]

(b New York, NY, 1967). American musician and writer. Frere-Jones has performed with his band Ui since the early 1990s, when he also began writing about music for publications including the Village Voice, New York Times, and Spin. Since 2004 he has been the pop music critic at The New Yorker. His columns often cover popular musicians, but he has also been an early champion of many lesser-known groups from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs to the Sleigh Bells. His experience as a professional musician shines in his authorial voice; he writes accessibly and in depth about musical content. Frere-Jones’s controversial 2007 New Yorker article, “A Paler Shade of White,” produced a large amount of support and criticism in the press. The wide-ranging article began with him mourning the absence of African American music traditions in indie rock (centering on the group Arcade Fire) before addressing the question of musical miscegenation, which he claims is sadly absent in most current rock music. Frere-Jones’s clever quips are frequently quoted in the work of other writers, making him something of a critic’s critic....

Article

Jayson Greene

(b Philadelphia, PA, June 4, 1952). American music writer. Fricke studied English at Muhlenberg College, Allentown, Pennsylvania (BA 1973). He worked as a writer, DJ, and publicist for the legendary local club the Main Point in Philadelphia before moving to New York in 1978. Prior to joining Rolling Stone, he served as an editor at the Long Island weekly Good Times and as a staff writer for the rock magazine Circus. In 1980 he became the American correspondent for the British music weekly Melody Maker, a position he held for nearly two decades.

Fricke’s first Rolling Stone album review was published in 1979; he was hired as a full-time staff member in 1985. In 1992 he was made Music Editor and then assumed his current position as Senior Writer three years later. He maintained a column, known as Fricke’s Picks, for nearly twenty years. In his countless reviews, magazine features, CD and box-set liner notes, Fricke has written about garage and classic rock, American blues, punk, and its various offshoots with boundless enthusiasm, keen-eared discernment, and a colorful, eye-grabbing prose style. He has appeared on numerous episodes of the VH1-aired ...

Article

Daphne G. Carr

(b Sussex, England, June 25, 1946). British popular music scholar and critic. Frith is a foundational figure in intellectual inquiry on popular music since his first book, The Sociology of Rock (1978). His scholarly work has influenced the terrain of cultural studies in the study of popular music, beginning with mass culture, media, criticism, consumption, leisure, and youth; moving to questions of “authenticity,” taste, cultural hierarchy, and legitimacy; record production and producers; questions of copyright and public policy; and historical accounts of local scenes and live music. Frith has written a number of influential general texts on popular music, co-edited numerous foundational anthologies, educated several generations of British pop scholars, and served as a prominent public intellectual on popular music as culture. Frith was a founding member of International Association for the Study of Popular Music and a founding editor of the journal Popular Music (...

Article

George J. Grella

(b Arlington, MA, Dec 17, 1954). American composer, singer, broadcaster, and journalist. He taught himself to play drums, piano, and guitar as a teenager, after seeing Soft Machine open for Jimi Hendrix when he was 13. He attended the Rhode Island School of Design (BA 1976), where he played jazz piano, sang, composed chamber music, and organized free-jazz ensembles. He moved to New York and worked as a graphic designer and illustrator, producing work for Paul Bley’s label Improvising Artists and for composer La Monte Young, while making music on the side. Garland followed the twin paths of piano improvisation and composition for chamber ensembles in the minimalist style and later joined Nigel Rollings’s band Ad Hoc Rock; with Rollings he sang and played drums, guitar, and keyboards and appeared at The Kitchen, Carnegie Hall, and in the Noise Fest at White Columns (1981). In ...

Article

Judith A. Sebesta

(Simon )

(b Chicago, IL, Feb 25, 1928; d Beverly Hills, CA, Sept 11, 2009). American librettist. He began his prolific and diverse career at 16 writing for radio. After moving to television in the 1950s, he collaborated with such well-known early television actors as Sid Caesar and Mel Brooks. His career in that medium peaked with M*A*S*H, for which he wrote the pilot and subsequently wrote, produced, and occasionally directed the hit series. His screenwriting credits include Tootsie (1982) and Oh, God! (1977), for which he was nominated for an Oscar. His librettos for A Funny Thing Happened on to the Way to the Forum (1962) and City of Angels (1989) both won Tony Awards. After Gelbart’s death from cancer in 2009, Jack Lemmon, Carl Reiner, and Woody Allen all named him the best American comedy writer they had ever known....

Article

Michael C. Heller

(Mitchell )

(b Brooklyn, NY, March 21, 1948). American jazz and film critic and historian. After studying English at Grinnell College (BA 1972), he returned to New York and began writing on film for the Hollywood Reporter (1972) and on jazz for Down Beat (1972–3). Citing influence from the writers Martin Williams and Dan Morgenstern, he decided to focus his efforts exclusively on jazz and in 1973 was hired as a music critic by the Village Voice. His regular column “Weather Bird” became highly influential during the next three decades. Unlike critics who concentrated primarily on recent performances, Giddins wrote on a range of topics, including the legacies of historical figures, contemporary developments, and issues relating to jazz advocacy and education. From the 1980s he began publishing collections of his essays as well as book-length monographs, including biographies of Charlie Parker (1987), Louis Armstrong (...

Article

David Brackett

(b Boston, MA, Dec 15, 1943). American writer. Guralnick received an MFA in creative writing from Boston University (1971). He is best known for his historical work on popular music, with an emphasis on “roots music”: blues, rhythm-and-blues, country music, and early rock and roll. His first books on music, Feel Like Going Home (1971) and Lost Highway (1979), featured sharply etched portraits of blues, country, and rockabilly musicians, both well-known and obscure, from the 1920s through the 1950s. Sweet Soul Music (1986) focused on African American popular music of the 1960s in the context of the racial politics of the period. He has subsequently produced epic biographies of musicians from the same historical and generic terrain: Robert Johnson, Elvis Presley, and Sam Cooke. The two-volume history on Presley (published in 1994 and 1999) is particularly noteworthy, providing a specificity of detail on Presley’s life and music previously unavailable. Guralnick’s approach as a writer often resembles that of academic historians, in that attention remains focused on his subjects even as it celebrates them. He shares with first-generation rock critics a strong interest in the pioneers of early rock and roll and the music of their antecedents. However, he departed from convention with his provocative claim regarding the interrelatedness of pre-1950s country and blues in his early books. This was at the time an innovative assertion that anticipated current scholarly formulations about these musics....

Article

Beau Bothwell

(b Detroit, MI, Sept 13, 1970). American writer, filmmaker, and cultural critic. She received undergraduate and graduate degrees in film from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. Her short film, I Am Ali, won Best Short Film at the Newport International Film Festival in 2002. Her 2010 documentary, Black August: A Hip-Hop Documentary Concert, grew out of her work with the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, and integrates footage from the Black August Hip Hop Benefit Concert series and interviews with musicians, academics, and activists on political prisoners and the injustices of the prison system.

As a journalist hampton has published on hip hop and popular culture in magazines such as The Village Voice, Harper’s Bazaar, Vibe, and The Source. She was an editor for The Source in the 1990s, and a contributing writer at Vibe. She has profiled or interviewed the most successful figures in hip hop of the 1990s, including Jay-Z, Nas, Tupac, and Biggie Smalls, who after being the subject of a college documentary film assignment later became a friend and the godfather of hampton’s daughter. As familiar as she is with the most commercially successful side of commercial hip hop, hampton has also written critically and personally about the often problematic relationship between young black women and popular hip hop. She cowrote an unreleased autobiography of Sean “Jay-Z” Carter, and later collaborated with him on ...

Article

(b Natchitoches, LA, Sept 25, 1939). American popular music critic. As the stepson of an electronics engineer in the aerospace industry, he moved frequently as a child. From his native Louisiana, he went first to Dallas and then to various locales in southern California. This helped him develop wide-ranging tastes, as he was exposed at an early age to a variety of popular genres, from country to rhythm and blues and from crooners to rock and roll.

By the sixth grade Hilburn had discovered his love of writing, and he became the editor of his high school and college newspapers. Upon graduation from the California State University, Northridge (1961), he worked briefly as a journalist for a San Fernando Valley newspaper, the Valley Times (1961–63) and then in the public relations department of the Los Angeles Unified School District. In 1966 he began freelancing at the ...

Article

Rebecca Schwartz-Bishir

(b Austin, TX, May 16, 1963). American dance critic. She studied ballet while growing up before earning a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Maryland and a master’s degree in journalism from Northwestern University. Early in her career she worked for the Buffalo News, the Daily Herald in Arlington Heights, Illinois, and for English-language journals in Munich, Germany. She freelanced for the Washington Post until 1996, when she succeeded Alan Kriegsman, the Post’s long-time writer and the first dance critic to win a Pulitzer Prize.

Kaufman’s writing about dance has earned her notice, including the Missouri Lifestyle Journalism Award for Arts and Entertainment Reporting (2001), and the Pulitzer Prize for Criticism (2010). She has covered such diverse subjects as George Balanchine and Michael Jackson, and she has examined dance in ballets, film, popular culture, and everyday life. In July 2000 she broke the story that works by Martha Graham may not have copyright protection. Kaufman’s style blends acute description and historical savvy with fearless wit. She explains the hard truths and beautiful meanings of the art of movement....

Article

Mark Anthony Neal

(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 ...

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Simon Warner

(b Asheboro, NC, April 10, 1960). American Author and journalist. Kemp’s career was founded on his journalistic work and, in more recent years, his publications on popular music topics. A graduate of East Carolina University, Kemp began as a newspaper reporter but then, during the late 1980s, secured work with the alternative music title Option and, by 1991, had risen to editor. He caught the eye of Rolling Stone and became music editor of the magazine during the early 1990s. His tenure coincided with the rise of a number of key acts from the period from Pearl Jam to Beck. Later he became vice president of the music editorial division for the music video network MTV. In 1997 he earned a Grammy nomination for his liner notes to a retrospective of protest singer Phil Ochs, Farewells and Fantasies. Departing MTV in 2000, he concentrated on writing his memoir of Southern life, ...