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Rob Bowman

[William]

(b Detroit, Feb 19, 1940). American soul singer, songwriter and producer. While at school in the mid-1950s he founded the vocal group the Miracles with Bobby Rogers, Ronnie White, Warren ‘Pete’ Moore and Claudette Rogers. Loosely modelled on the Platters, they achieved little success until Robinson met Berry Gordy. Gordy was impressed with Robinson’s talent and began recording and producing the Miracles and tutoring Robinson in the art of songwriting. However, the group received little support from End and Chess Records, to which they had leased their Gordy-produced singles, and in 1959 Gordy inaugurated the Tamla label and signed the Miracles. Shop Around, which was co-written by Gordy and Robinson and featured the latter’s lead falsetto, provided the label with its first hit the following year. The group achieved a total of 39 hits in the American pop and rhythm and blues charts until Robinson’s departure in 1972...

Article

Jordan A. Yamaji Smith

[Bavitz, Ian Matthias]

(b Northport, Long Island, NY, June 5, 1976).

American hip-hop lyricist, vocalist, and producer. Aesop Rock began his career in alternative/underground hip-hop music with two self-financed albums that blended an eclectic approach to sample-based production with poetic, figurative lyrics. His creative output has helped to establish him as a prolific solo artist with a commitment to renovating the rap genre with politically-charged songs and experimental production techniques.

Aesop’s abstract lyrics have met divided critical responses: some dismiss them as meaningless wordplay, while others argue that more identifiable themes are present across his work. These include contemplations of urban life in New York City, consumerism, wage slavery/labor issues, religion in modern society, and media constructions of reality. Some songs clearly balance abstraction with thoroughly contextualized scenarios; for example, “No Regrets” from the Labor Days LP features the story of a young girl evolving from sidewalk chalk drawings through a full life devoted to her passion for art; and “One of Four (Thank You)” from the ...

Article

David B. Pruett

[Ritchie, Robert James ]

(b Romeo, MI, Jan 17, 1971). American popular musician. Raised in Romeo, Michigan, he relocated to New York City in 1990, where he released his debut album, Grits Sandwiches for Breakfast (Jive Records), which failed to garner wide praise. Through the mid-1990s, Kid Rock struggled to market his stylistic combination of blues, southern rock, heavy metal, and rap, and sales of his next three albums—The Polyfuze Method (Continuum, 1993), Fire It Up (Continuum, 1993), and Early Mornin’ Stoned Pimp (Top Dog, 1996)—were poor. However, amid the growing popularity of rap-metal and nu-metal acts in the 1990s, Kid Rock attracted the attention of Atlantic Records, which, in 1998, signed him to a recording contract and released Devil Without a Cause, a nationwide hit that reached number three on Billboard ’s catalog album chart and sold over 11 million copies by 2003. Kid Rock released five albums in the first decade of the new millennium, three of which—...

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Jonas Westover

(Harry )

(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 ...

Article

Jonas Westover

[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 ...

Article

RZA  

Jared Pauley

[Prince Rakeem; Diggs, Robert Fitzgerald]

(b Brooklyn, NY, June 5, 1969). American Hip-hop producer, rapper, and actor. Often cited as one of the most influential producers in hip hop, he was the chief architect behind the Wu-Tang Clan’s ascent to popularity in 1993. Early in his career he was known as Prince Rakeem and was signed to Tommy Boy Records. With production assistance from Easy Mo Bee, he released the album Ooh I love you Rakeem (1991, Tommy Boy). It flopped and was his only release with Tommy Boy. His production work on the Wu-Tang Clan’s debut album Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) (1993) was more successful and helped usher in a more grimy, hardcore sound to New York hip hop. The album was noted for its use of vintage kung fu movie and soul music samples, and the rappers’ collective chemistry catapulted them into the American mainstream. RZA handled the brunt of the music production on each of the Wu-Tang Clan member’s solo albums, including Method Man’s debut ...

Article

J. Bryan Burton

(b Cook, MN, 1957). American singer, songwriter, guitarist, and producer. Secola is a member of the Anishinabe Nation of northern Minnesota and southern Ontario, Canada. Growing up near the Bois Fort Reservation, Secola was actively involved in music, forming groups with other family members, and playing trombone in the local high school marching band before focusing on guitar playing and songwriting. Secola attended Mesabi Community College, the University of Colorado, and the University of Minnesota earning degrees in public service and American Indian Studies. Following graduation from the University of Minnesota, Secola worked at the Indian Education in Tempe, Arizona, from 1984 to 1993. After releasing his debut CD, Circle, in 1992, Secola and The Wild Band of Indians toured Europe and the United States for much of the following decade, earning a large following for his innovative combination of western and Native American genres, a style he labeled “alter-native.” Secola achieved cult status among young Native Americans with his composition “NDN Kars” (...

Article

Jonas Westover

[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 ...

Article

Stephanie Conn

[Issa ]

(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 ...

Article

Don Cusic

[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, ...

Article

David Sanjek

(b New Orleans, LA, Jan 14, 1938; d Madrid, Nov 9, 2015). American songwriter, producer, arranger, pianist, and singer. It would be difficult to imagine what the repertoire of contemporary New Orleans–based popular music would be, were it not for the prolific pen of songwriter Allen Toussaint. He was responsible for the writing, and in many cases the production, of any number of the city’s best-known and best-loved songs, including “Mother-in-Law” (Ernie K-Doe), “Fortune Teller” (Bennie Spellman), “Working in the Coalmine” (Lee Dorsey), and “Ruler of my Heart” (Irma Thomas). Born in the Gert Town neighborhood of New Orleans, Toussaint received his initial professional break at the age of 17 when he filled in for Huey “Piano” Smith in a performance by Earl King’s band. He soon thereafter recorded an album of instruments under the pseudonym Al Tousan, which included the popular “Java,” re-recorded by Al Hirt. Initially, Toussaint established a professional relationship with local entrepreneur Joe Banashak and wrote numerous songs for his Minit and Instant labels. After those concerns broke up, he formed a firm variously known as Tou-Sea, Sansu, Deesu, or Sansu along with Marshall Sehorn. They also co-founded the Sea-Saint recording studio in ...

Article

Andrew Flory

(Ronzoni )

(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....

Article

Charles K. Wolfe and Travis D. Stimeling

(Wayne )

(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, ...

Article

Barry Long

(b Boston, MA, Oct 3, 1925). American impresario, pianist, and singer. He took classical piano lessons with Margaret Chaloff beginning at the age of seven and studied jazz with teddy Wilson. As a teenager he led a dance band and played Boston nightclubs before attending Boston University. While a student he performed with Max Kaminsky and Wild Bill Davison; after graduation he opened his own club, Storyville (1950). Wein started a record label by the same name a year later and opened a second club, Mahogany Hall, in 1952 where he played in the house band. He also worked alongside Bobby Hackett, Sidney Bechet, Ruby Braff, Jo Jones, and Pee Wee Russell. He was invited and given financial support by Newport, Rhode Island, residents Louis and Elaine Lorillard in 1954 to organize a jazz festival that became an annual tradition and spawned a similar folk festival in ...

Article

Alyssa Woods

(Omari )

(b Atlanta, GA, June 8, 1977). American rapper, singer, and record producer. Kanye West burst onto the rap scene in 2004 with his debut album, The College Dropout, and has established himself as one of the industry’s most prominent artists. Immersed in the Chicago hip-hop scene, he learned to sample and program beats at the age of 15. While studying at Chicago State University, West began selling his beats to prominent rappers and decided to drop out of school to devote more time to his music career. West’s reputation as a producer was solidified by his work on Jay-Z’s album, The Blueprint (2001), where his sped up sample of the Jackson Five’s “I Want You Back” on the song “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)” helped launch the single to the Billboard Top 10. West adopted the technique of speeding up samples from the Wu Tang Clan’s RZA, making this his signature sound....

Article

David Brackett

(b Galveston, TX, Sept 12, 1944; d Los Angeles, July 4, 2003). American soul singer, songwriter and producer. Moving to Los Angeles at a young age, White immersed himself in the local rhythm and blues scene, making recordings under the name Barry Lee and playing, writing, arranging and producing recordings for others. His breakthrough came in 1969 when he began producing for the female vocal trio Love Unlimited. Their hit Walking in the Rain (1972) featured what were to become White's trademarks: sound effects, lush orchestrations, sensitive and unabashedly romantic lyrics and White's speaking voice. Commercial success came in 1973, as a solo singer (I'm gonna love you just a little more baby and Never never gonna give ya up), and as a writer, producer and arranger for the Love Unlimited Orchestra (Love's Theme), a 40-piece group which also performed on White's solo work....