Music

Thomas ‘Fats’ Waller

Fats Waller

Fats Waller

Born May 21, 1904, in New York City, Fats Waller became a professional pianist at 15, working in cabarets and theatres, and soon became deeply influenced by James P. Johnson, the founder of the stride school of jazz piano. Waller’s innovations to the Harlem stride style laid the groundwork for modern jazz piano.

By the late 1920s he was also an established songwriter whose work often appeared in Broadway revues. From 1934 on he made hundreds of recordings with his own small band. His best-known compositions, “Ain’t Misbehavin'” and “Honeysuckle Rose”, were inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame posthumously, in 1984 and 1999.  Continue reading

Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday

Billie Holiday was a true artist of her day and rose as a social phenomenon in the 1950s. Her soulful, unique singing voice and her ability to boldly turn any material that she confronted into her own music made her a superstar of her time. Today, Holiday is remembered for her masterpieces, creativity and vivacity, as many of Holiday’s songs are as well known today as they were decades ago. Holiday’s poignant voice is still considered to be one of the greatest jazz voices of all time.

Holiday (born Eleanora Fagan) grew up in jazz talent-rich Baltimore in the 1920s. As a young teenager, Holiday served the beginning part of her so-called “apprenticeship� by singing along with records by Bessie Smith or Louis Armstrong in after-hours jazz clubs. When Holiday’s mother, Sadie Fagan, moved to New York in search of a better job, Billie eventually went with her. She made her true singing debut in obscure Harlem nightclubs and borrowed her professional name – Billie Holiday – from screen star Billie Dove.

Although she never underwent any technical training and never even so much as learned how to read music, Holiday quickly became an active participant in what was then one of the most vibrant jazz scenes in the country. She would move from one club to another, working for tips. She would sometimes sing with the accompaniment of a house piano player while other times she would work as part of a group of performers.  Continue reading

Marion Anderson

Marion Anderson

Marion Anderson

Marian Anderson (February 27, 1897 – April 8, 1993) was an African-American contralto and one of the most celebrated singers of the twentieth century. Music critic Alan Blyth said “Her voice was a rich, vibrant contralto of intrinsic beauty.” Most of her singing career was spent performing in concert and recital in major music venues and with famous orchestras throughout the United States and Europe between 1925 and 1965.

Although offered roles with many important European opera companies, Anderson declined, as she had no training in acting. She preferred to perform in concert and recital only. She did, however, perform opera arias within her concerts and recitals. She made many recordings that reflected her broad performance repertoire of everything from concert literature to lieder to opera to traditional American songs and spirituals.  Continue reading

Eubie Blake

Eubie Blake

Eubie Blake

Eubie Blake was one of the most important figures in early-20th-century African-American music, and one whose longevity made him a storehouse of the history of ragtime and early jazz music and culture. Born in Baltimore in 1883, Blake began playing piano professionally when he was 16; he wrote his first composition, “Sounds of Africa,” (later retitled “Charleston Rag”) around the same time. His career did not really take off until he met Noble Sissle in 1915. Together, Blake and Sissle wrote many hits. Blake also collaborated with Andy Razaf (on “Memories of You”), Henry Creamer, and other writers, composing more than 350 songs.

Blake, Sissle, and Europe began collaborating on the musical Shuffle Along in 1916, but were interrupted by World War I and Sissle and Europe’s military service overseas. Europe and Sissle returned to the United States in 1919. Europe died shortly after returning from Europe; Blake and Sissle continued working on the musical until its premiere in 1921.  Continue reading

Blind Tom Bethune

The Story of Thomas Bethune also known as Thomas Wiggins
also known as “Blind Tom” (1849 – 1908) by Barbara Schmidt

Safely tucked away in a few scattered archives across the nation are pages of sheet music–compositions with titles such as “Battle of Manassas” and “Virginia Polka” that are dormant testimony to the life of the child named Tom who composed them–a child who lived a century past and whose musical abilities still remain a medical and scientific mystery. One common thread of explanation found in all attempts to explain Tom by those who witnessed his performances is that he embodied the spirit of a higher power.  Continue reading

Upcoming Black History Posts
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  • Muriel O. Farmer
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