Yesterday, I saw the news that Cynthia Robinson had died at 69. She was one of the creative forces behind Sly and the Family Stone, the first black female trumpeter to be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame (not that there’s an extensive list of black female trumpeters out there, but maybe there should be).
One of the things I’ve always liked about Sly and the Family Stone is that it’s an ensemble, each member of the band playing an important, integral role to the music. Yes, Sly himself was the star–and rightfully so, given his talent and charisma. But he knew that the band worked best as a band. Cynthia Robinson opens up the classic “Dance to the Music” with her strong voice, helping create the sense of joy that permeates that song, but then blends seamlessly into the whole. That doesn’t make her presence less important; it highlights her skill as a musician.
I really like this clip of the band playing “Than You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” because it highlights the groupness of this group. Everyone shines for just a moment or two, and you can see Cynthia rockin’ and funkin’ it up with one of the finest horn sections in music history. The quality of the clip isn’t great, but the music shines through.
With all the fear and anger roiling around the world right now, this seems like a logical question to ask. Why can’t we be friends? Why do humans have to revert to their lizard brains all the time? Why do we constantly behave as though we are competing with everyone else? Why do we fear those who don’t look like us, or pray like us, or do anything else like us? This isn’t rhetorical. I really want to know.
Maybe I don’t understand because I’m not especially competitive. I don’t care who wins or has the most toys, as long as everyone feels like they got treated fairly and has enough of the necessities. That’s really all I want out of the world, and I don’t think it’s that much to ask.
It’s almost Thanksgiving. I thankful for a roof over my head, decent food, education, good health, my family and friends, my pets, electricity, and indoor plumbing. Nobody is shooting at me or trying to blow me up. I’ve got it pretty good. And my wish to Santa this year is that everybody else in the whole wide world gets the same things. I won’t get it, but I’m gonna keep wishing for it, anyway. And I’ll do whatever small things I can to make my wish come true.
I’ve made all these statements and asked all these questions before. And like a four-year-old, I’ll keep asking until I get a satisfactory answer.
(Special Note: I did spellcheck, like I always do, and the program suggested I replace “pray” with “prey.” Now I think that’s kind of odd. Why would I want to exchange a word that means to ask with a word that means to hunt or be hunted? And just why would the program think that’s what I meant? *sigh* More questions without answers.)
Today is the birthday of one of my lovely blogging and Facebook friends, Sandee Harris. She is fierce and beautiful and funky, so join me in wishing her many happy returns.
Please note that the choice of song today has nothing to do with Sandee personally. In reality, the darkness would probably be a victim of hers. I selected this Allen Toussaint number because it is as funky as she is, and I’m still missing his great musical voice a little bit.
You might not know the name, but you sure do know the voice.
Come on. You know how much you love this song.
Errol Brown was the lead singer for Hot Chocolate, an interracial Funk/R&B group who had a major hit with “You Sexy Thing” in the 70s. (That’s him rockin’ that striped satin suit.) Brown also co-wrote “Brother Louie,” which might be more informally known by its chorus “Louie, Louie, Louie.” (It’s best known these days as the theme to Louis C.K.’s hit comedy on FX.) But the Jamaican born singer-songwriter quit the music business when he got married and had a family. I’ll bet he still sang all the time; you don’t have a voice like that and not love making music. But he didn’t need the fame, which is something I greatly respect. That kind of integrity will be sorely missed.
One of the great voices of Rock/Soul/R&B is silent. Ben E. King died today at 76.
King was most famous for his solo hit, “Stand By Me,” and deservedly so. It’s a fantastic song. King imbued such incredible emotion into that plea for love and loyalty. It’s kind of hard to pin down exactly what’s going on, there’s so many emotions tumbling around each other. There’s sadness and love and happiness, and who knows what else. It is a song about triumph over fear, and it is one of the classics of popular music.
This video was made when “Stand By Me” became a hit for a second time with the 1986 movie of the same title. Based on a Stephen King short story, the movie was a tender, funny, and sad coming of age story about four boys and their friendships. I’d forgotten this video was made to support the film, but I’m sure I must have seen it. (I have to admit that I’m a little partial to John Lennon’s version of “Stand By Me,” but that’s mostly because I’m a little partial to John Lennon.)
My favorite Ben E. King performance was from when he was with the Drifters. “Save the Last Dance for Me” is one of the sweetest and saddest love songs ever. There’s such longing in King’s voice as he delivers the lines, “But don’t forget who’s taking you home and in whose arms you’re gonna be. Save the last dance for me.” I love that yearning ache he conveys so easily.
There seems to be an undercurrent of sadness to much of King’s oeuvre. I’m not sure what kind of sadness he faced in his life, but I know there will be some tears shed for him today. At least we still have these lovely performances to remember him by.
Famed Soul singer Percy Sledge has died from natural causes at 73. While he had a number of popular songs, Sledge was best known for his first and biggest hit, “When a Man Loves a Woman.”
I figure if you’ve got to be known for one song, this is a pretty good one. It’s loving and tender and kind of sad. I admit it’s never been a favorite, but I think that’s partly because I’ve heard it so much. “When a Man Loves a Woman” is one of those ubiquitous songs that just about everyone knows to some degree. You heard it on the radio growing up, or it was in your favorite movie. Or maybe this was the song your older sister danced to at her wedding. Maybe your dad used to sing it to your mom when he thought all you kids had gone to sleep. The very presence of this song in so many people’s lives tells me that it’s a classic. If that’s the only thing fans remember Percy Sledge for, then I think he did all right.
I’ve got some things going on right now, but I’m not quite ready to share anything yet. It’s part of why I’ve been so neglectful of the Jukebox lately. When I’ve got things on my mind, my first instinct is to retreat into myself. My second is instinct is to prove that denial ain’t just a river in Egypt. But I am working on stuff. Just not blog stuff.
So I’ll give you this sublime little bit of Doo Wop from the Orioles. It’s one of those songs that seems ordinary until that moment when the sky opens up and it reveals itself to hold the potential of the universe (you’ll know that moment as soon as you hear it). It’s something I never would’ve heard at all if it hadn’t been for the equally sublime writing of the great Greil Marcus.