If you are of a certain age you may recall the title is from a song used by Donny & Marie Osmond on their TV show in the mid 70’s. It was originally written as a love song by Marty Cooper, however after some editing it became the signature song for the brother and sister.
Today I am not talking about the song, or any member of the talented Osmond Family for that matter but the title seemed to fit. When I started to write this post the song title just came to me, as I am talking about the relationship between Country Music and Rock Music, I could not have come up with a better title. First, I will discuss a very brief overview of each genres history and then some of the many early connections between the two. Just a reminder that you can check out my past posts on The History of Rock and Roll, The Delta Blues and many others for more connections.
As promised I am posting a series on Billie Holiday.
There have been other names but you can connect the dots of important women in Blues and Jazz music with Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday. Most of my readers will know about Holiday but since this is the first in a short series I will give you this link to her bio from BillieHoliday.com.
From Wikipedia I gathered a few things everyone should know about her. She was born Eleanora Fagan on April 7, 1915 in Philadelphia, and to say she overcame horrendous circumstances is and understatement. She was abandoned by her father (believed to be Clarence Halliday) and then passed around by her mother to live among relatives throughout her early life. By the time she was 12 she had been sexually assaulted and was running errands for money at a brothel or scrubbing floors. She re-joined her mother who had left for Harlem by 1929. She began singing in nightclubs as a young teen and her first recordings, with the help of John Hammond were in 1933 at age 18. From there she would work with the leading names in Jazz and Blues including Count Basie and Artie Shaw.
She would rise to the highest height of success and not unlike many in the business she had her issues with alcohol and drug abuse. No doubt a combination of past trauma and getting caught up in the fast life of an entertainer she would struggle with addiction the rest of her life. At a pivotal point in her career she came to the attention of the FBI. This would lead to her incarceration on a drug charge. The song that brought her great success but also got her labeled a subversive or worse was “Strange Fruit”. From her first live performance in 1939 the evocative song about lynching and racism in the South would always stun the audience and serve as an education to many. Her insistence on recording it and continuing to sing it despite the warnings was likely the reason she came to the attention of law enforcement in the first place. Anyone singing protest songs and in this case about racism or lynching, in the late 1930’s and 1940’s attracted unwanted attention from authorities. Particularity for an outspoken Black woman.
“Strange Fruit” is a courageous recording by the legendary Billie Holiday from 1939. This song makes an appearance on my “25 of the Greatest Cover Songs #51-75” post. It is from a poem by another brave soul, Lewis Allan (Abel Meeropol) as a protest against racism and lynchings in the American South. He put the poem to a tune and his wife and others sang it at protest rallies. The lyrics are dark and disturbing. Eventually the song made its way to Holiday who first added it to close her Nightclub act. It was only recorded after her efforts to find a label willing to do it. Her delivery is haunting and deeply emotional. Covered over 100 times. Here is Nina Simone with an equally amazing version from 1965.
You can find my post on Nina Simone from 2019 here.
I have touched on the R&B charts many times throughout my posts, however today I would like to lay out the history as well as point out some of the many milestones achieved by both songs and artists. Charts in the music business are very much about sales and making money. As interesting as we find them, they do not always represent the truly great artists and songs. Sometimes it takes time and reflection to arrive at not only the lasting opinions but the evidence to establish what was overlooked. Read More »
Well it’s time to explore the genre of R&B. For me that means the older traditional stuff, so if you are looking for Drake or Bieber, Beyonce or Rihanna you’ve come to the wrong place. I’ve discussed Rhythm and Blues music in my past posts, particularly the ones on Rock and Roll History and the Delta Blues. So where did the the term come from? Jerry (Gerald) Wexler was a music Journalist working for Billboard Magazine in 1947 and the current terminology being used to describe the music coming from the African American community was racist and demeaning. “Race Music” was perhaps the biggest offender, aslo ‘Harlem Hit Parade” and other terms such as “Sepia” although I found an Atlanta based African American publication still using that term. So Wexler was tasked with coming up with a new term and he landed on ‘Rhythm and Blues’. Now just referred to as R&B, and as a genre is the most popular music in the world. Of course it has long outgrown the tradition definition and styles of music using the then new title, which first officially charted in 1949. Rhythm & Blues charts would last from June 25, 1949 to November 30, 1963. Later R&B would fall under many different chart names including “Hot R&B” to what is now “Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs”.Read More »