I didn’t realize how tough this would be. There are so many talented musicians out there, all of whom had an impact on the music industry and world at large but I, obviously, can’t include all of them in my blog. If there were a “not like” button for that, I’d certainly press it!
So what I did was just, somewhat randomly, pick the musicians. There’s no order, or rhyme or real reason, although, I did want to focus on women.
Today I will focus on the first half of the 20th Century and, as the week goes on, will take us through the decades.
1. Josephine Baker (1906-1975)
Born Freda Josephine McDonald in St. Louis, MO on June 3, 1906, her father, a vaudeville drummer, abandoned her and her washerwoman mother, Carrie McDonald. Her mother remarried and three more children followed. As a teenager, Josephine toured the US as a comedic performer, gaining success in and recognition with her performances, but it wasn’t until later when she traveled to Paris where she catapulted to fame. With her dance partner, Joe Alex, she danced a new and exotic routine while wearing only a feather skirt. While she thrived in Paris, the US, with rampant racism, was unkind to her. Her brief return in 1936 to star in Ziegfield Follies was disastrous because American audiences couldn’t accept a black woman with so much power. She returned to Paris. In 1975, on April 8, Josephine premiered at the Bobino Theater in Paris and her reviews were some of the best she had ever had; however, days later she slipped into a coma and died from a cerebral hemorrhage on April 12. More than 20,000 people crowded the streets of Paris to watch her funeral procession. She is buried in Monaco. (For more please visit here.)
Here is footage from 1927 of her dancing, and while the music isn’t original, it’s her dancing talents that you want to look at. Incredible that these moves were once considered “scandalous.” Compared to today’s “twerking…”
And here’s one of Josephine Baker’s last performances, 1974, London:
2. B.B. King (1925- )
Born as Riley B. King on September 16, 1925 on a cotton plantation near Berclair, MI, King was raised by his maternal grandmother. He started playing the guitar by the age of 12 and by 1949 began recording songs. Later that year, King played a dance hall in Twist, AR where, during a performance, two men began to fight knocking over a barrel with kerosene igniting the hall. Once evacuated, King remembered he left his beloved guitar, a Gibson hollow electric, inside. He ran into the burning building to rescue it. King learned the next day that the two men were fighting over a woman named Lucille. He named his beloved Gibson Lucille and continued to name each subsequent guitar that to serve as a reminder to never again run into a burning building or fight over a woman. In the 1950s, he became one of the most important names in R&B turning out hit record after hit record. At 88, King remains busy performing and collaborating with other artists on projects. (For more, please visit here.)
Live in 2001, B.B. King, his guitar and music:
3. Nina Simone (1933-2003)
Born Eunice Kathleen Waymon in Tryon, North Carolina on February 21, 1933, she began playing the piano by ear when she was three years old. In 1954, looking to supplement her income, she auditioned to sing at the Midtown Barn & Grill in Atlantic City, NJ where immediately word spread about her talents. A couple of years later, she came to the attention of the record industry and it was her reading of “Porgy” (from “Porgy & Bess”) that established her on the national level. She passed away in her sleep on April 21, 2003 in France leaving behind a wonderful and beautiful legacy. (For more, please visit here.)
Live in London, 1968, Nina Simone singing “Ain’t Got No, I Got Life”:
And here is one of Nina Simone’s most famous recordings “Feeling Good” (1965) with a montage of pictures of her: