Ray Charles

Remembering Ray Charles

It was 13 years ago today since we lost him, and he will certainly never be replaced. Today we pay tribute to the man they called simply the Genius: Brother Ray Charles.

Born on September 23, 1930 in Albany, Georgia, Charles was diagnosed as partially blind at five and completely blind at seven. Nevertheless, he saw music with more clarity than almost any pianist-singer of the 20th century. Charles helped to invent modern-day R&;B with his deeply soulful, gospel-influenced piano playing and singing, in a recording career that lasted for five and a half decades.

The great success of the 2004 biopic ‘Ray’ was just one modern-day measure of his influence and reputation in contemporary music. Jamie Foxx won Best Actor at the Oscars for his portrayal of the great man, and the following year, guested on Kanye West’s gigantic US hit ‘Gold Digger,’ which sampled Ray’s ‘I Got A Woman’ and stayed at the top of the Billboard Hot 100 for ten weeks.

Charles’ own first chart appearance came just four years after the end of World War II, when he was part of the Maxin (also known as McSon) Trio. Their ‘Confession Blues’ was a big R&B record in 1949, after which Ray made the chart in his own name for the first time in 1951, on the Swing Time label, with ‘Baby Let Me Hold Your Hand.’

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Prince Purple Rain

Remembering Prince One Year After His Death

A year ago today, we lost the legendary Prince.

Prince died from a fentanyl overdose while at his Paisley Park home in Chanhassen, Minnesota at the age of 57 on April 21, 2016.

365 days later, and accepting the news hasn’t gotten easier.

Ever since he was signed at the young age of 18, Prince captured our hearts and imaginations with his powerful lyrics and groovy tunes.

He released 39 studio albums over the course of his career, with four of them hitting #1 in the United States: Purple Rain, Around the World in a Day, Batman, and 3121. The latter was the only one to debut at the top spot when it was released in 2006. Overall, Prince has sold over 100 million records, making him one of the best-selling artists of all time.

In terms of awards, Prince has a full trophy cabinet: he’s won seven Grammy Awards, an American Music Award, a Golden Globe Award, and an Academy Award for the film Purple Rain. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004–the first year he was eligible to do so.

If there were barriers, Prince wouldn’t just push them out of the way… he’d blow them to smithereens. His flamboyant fashion sense and heavy use of purple made him stand out in an era of black and more black. He was defiant in business, too: in 1993, he famously changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol during a contractual dispute with Warner Bros. He released five records between 1994 and 1996 to hasten the process of getting out of his contract.

To celebrate Prince’s legacy, here are 10 of his biggest hits:


10. “Diamonds and Pearls”

Peak Position: #3


9. “Sign o’ the Times”

Peak Position: #3

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issac hayes

Strings Attached: How Symphonic Soul Scored Big In The ’70s

Symphonic soul has been around as long as the music itself. People used the word “soul” to describe the playing of bebop musicians, many of whom did not fear working with strings. Charlie Parker, the founding father of bebop, jazz’s mid-century revolution, did so in 1949; Miles Davis hired Gil Evans to give his music an orchestral backdrop in 1957. Before them, swing bandleaders gained a reputation for a questing, highly accomplished, multi-layered music that influenced classical composers in return: Stan Kenton, Duke Ellington, and Count Basie were among them, the latter retaining his deceptively simple playing style amid an orchestra that stimulated both the synapses and the dance glands: soul amid art, if you like. Musicians craved complexity, a challenge; Duke Ellington’s series of suites co-written with Billy Strayhorn, such as ‘Such Sweet Thunder’ (1957), aimed to give jazz and the blues all the texture and depth of classical music. Rhythm’n’blues also deployed orchestral arrangements: Little Willie John’s beautiful ‛Let Them Talk’ (1959) perfectly combined blues, gospel and pop while sweetened with strings.

As R&B and jazz fed the development of soul in the early 60s, the focus turned to the beat and the vocals rather than the sweetening: Detroit’s Motown rose on a crashing snare drum and the sort of heavyweight rhythm section that sweated dancefloors. But the arrangements grew increasingly complex, even if few fans seemed to notice at the time. In the space of a year, The Supremes’ records transformed from the comparatively simplistic 1964 chant ‘Where Did Our Love Go’ to the more complex ‘Stop! In The Name Of Love’, and just months later they were singing ‘I Hear A Symphony’. Their writers, Holland-Dozier-Holland, were commercially and musically ambitious, and their August 1966 smash hit for Four Tops, ‘Reach Out I’ll Be There’, was like two different songs in a mini-suite.

The Supremes ImageAcross town, a rival label to Motown, Ric-Tic, was recording an orchestra that played soul, The San Remo Golden Strings, releasing several singles, the best known of which was ‘Hungry For Love’. Motown eventually absorbed Ric-Tic and many of its artists, and released a version of ‘Reach Out I’ll Be There’ credited to San Remo Strings. But another industrial metropolis in the Midwest was ahead of Detroit when it came to experimenting with an early form of symphonic soul: Chicago. (more…)

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Leon Ware

Soul Icon Leon Ware Dies At 77

Leon Ware, the much-admired and widely-travelled soul artist, writer and producer, passed away yesterday (23) at the age of 77. He wrote for many of the leading names in the R&B world, including Donny Hathaway, Minnie Riperton, the Isley Brothers and Quincy Jones, and made many fine records in his own name. But he will forever be most closely associated with his writing and production of Marvin Gaye“>Marvin Gaye‘s memorable 1976 album I Want You.

LEONWARE-MarvinBorn in Detroit in 1940, Ware was an aspiring artist before he won his songwriting spurs. At 14, he was part of the vocal group the Romeos, whose number included a similarly fresh-faced Lamont Dozier. As a member of the Gaylords, he had the distinction of having Berry Gordy as his first producer, when Leon was still only 17. “But I wasn’t a patient teenager,” Ware told Adam White for his Billboard Book of Number One Rhythm & Blues Hits, “and he was very busy with Jackie [Wilson] and this other group, so I walked off.”

I Wanna Be Where You Are,jpgHe retained close ties to Motown over a 20-year period, and began writing in earnest in 1967, and had early credits on albums by the Isley Brothers and Ike and Tina Turner. Ware released his own first album in 1972, and had significant songwriting success the same year with Michael Jackson’s ‘I Wanna Be Where You Are.’ The song, which went to No. 2 R&B and No. 16 pop in the US, was co-written with Diana Ross‘ brother, who went by the working name T-Boy and was signed to Motown’s Jobete Music publishing company.

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