I’m pretty much known for exposing people to music that’s a bit off the beaten path. Generally I have a reputation of listening to “weird” music, but for those who have an appreciation for exposure to all Genres they’re often delighted and have found a new favorite to add to their collection. Phillip Yancey famously known as J-Dilla, Jay Dee, or just Dilla was actually such an artist for me roughly a decade ago. In 2002 Jay Dee was a very well known producer to beat-heads and serious followers of hip-hop music. My first Dilla listening experience happened while listening to the Fantastic Vol. 2 album. I woo’ed my husband (then boyfriend) with the Slum Village album while on long scenic drives into the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Most of the folks I shared this Dilla treat with fell in love and ran out for copies…ironically it was already two years old! Although I was super late to the Dilla party there were still tunes a plenty for me to find and enjoy. As a matter of fact, I’m still uncovering Jay Dee productions! What I love about J-Dilla is the fact, while this man was being seriously pursued by both underground and major hip hop artists, he was barely on the radar of any large record label executives or mainstream hip hop fans. He wasn’t the guy yelling his name in the middle of tracks he produced. I read somewhere he was “outed” by Pharell Williams on BET’s 106th and Park when the host asked Pharell who his favorite producer was at the time. Since then Dilla has of course produced countless numbers of amazing works not only for the hip hop group Slum Village, but many R&B singers as well. The world of music lost Jay Dee shortly after his thirty-second birthday in February 2006. He lives on however through his enormous catalogue.
Here is “Fall in Love” from Fantastic Vol.2 Enjoy a knockin’ Dilla tune and a trip on my very own memory lane. http://youtu.be/_Mjco9g5dCY
You can purchase Fantastic Vol.2 on iTunes, eMusic.com, or any well stocked music store.
Check out his webpage at: http://j-dilla.com
Today, which would have been Etta James’ 74th birthday, we celebrate with the song that stands as her most enduring contribution to music: “At Last.”
1960′s At Last! was the album that gave Etta her true identity as a solo artist, and created massive crossover success that made her a household name.
The timeless title track has become a beloved classic known all around the world, from the smallest wedding chapel to the White House, and everywhere between. But many don’t realize just how genius Etta’s recording was.
The song was written for and originated by the Glenn Miller Orchestra in the 1940s, and had been a well-known standard for nearly 20 years before Etta took it on. The sweet, glowing melody, as written, is fairly straightforward and simple…and VERY little like anything that came out of Etta’s mouth in the studio.
Lyricist Mack Gordon and composer Harry Warren, Hollywood’s most prolific hitmaker, had written the number for the 1941 Glenn Miller movie Sun Valley Serenade, but it was held for the following year’s Miller film, Orchestra Wives. Performed as a duet by Lynn Bari (who mouthed the words to Pat Friday’s vocal) and Ray Eberle, the piece has middling-to-good words and a stroke of genius in the opening few bars: Warren flattens “love” (“At last, my love has come along”) from a major to a minor chord. That one note darkens the tone from ecstasy to assonance, from the choir to the blues. [...] James ran with that poignant tone. The emphasis was no longer on I’ve-just-fallen-in-love but on What-took-so-long?, and Will “at last” last?
That approach to the lyrics made it perfect for Gary Ross when he directed the 1998 film Pleasantville, about two teen siblings who find themselves trapped in a 1950s sitcom where everything’s in black and white and the world is claustrophobically limited. As the two outsiders flesh out the lives of the other characters with new knowledge and experiences, things begin to fill in with color. After spending much of the movie in of drab monochrome, Ross builds a key sequence around Etta’s “At Last” as we see, for the first time, the whole screen bloom into vivid color. The result is something pretty special.
“At Last” had never been heard the way Etta did it. Her version was a wild revelation—jazz in its purest definition, a brilliantly original re-interpretation of an existing tune. She’s so sure of what she’s doing that she doesn’t even bother to establish the actual melody before decimating it—she stays true for the first three notes and then flies off into the stratosphere, no longer able to contain herself. Almost everything from there is completely her own, improvising an entirely new melody on the spot, around the chord changes the song was built on—the exact same method behind instrumental solos in every genre from blues to heavy metal to salsa.
Occasionally she touches on one or two of the original notes almost as a reference point more than anything else, but that’s about it. Etta found the heart of that song, crawled in, and rebuilt it from the inside out. And she did it with such confidence and style that now everyone thinks that IS the melody.
If Etta or producers Leonard and Phil Chess could’ve had any idea at the time just how enduring her approach would prove, and how many times her version would be covered over the next five decades, they would’ve been smart to give Etta partial songwriting credit along with Warren and Gordon. The arrangement itself is knockout enough—positively regal, even. All these years, and still every heart in the room throbs at the heavenly swell of those strings. And to think that arrangement was written for the simple melody found on the original sheet music. Etta charged into the song like an explorer conquering an uncharted continent and fearlessly claimed it as her own. When you hear people sing “At Last” today, or even just hear people talk about it, they’re not talking about the song Harry Warren wrote in 1941. They’re talking about the melody Etta James invented.
Like turning the wheel of a kaleidoscope and finding whole new colors and images, Etta turned a simple standard over and over in her hands and shook out a spectrum of sound and emotion no one had dreamed was possible, and created something so stunning in its perfection that now, more than 50 years later, the whole world believes that’s how it always was, and there was never another before it. That is how gifted Etta James was not just as a singer, but as a musician.
Etta may not be here with us to celebrate this birthday, but her shining musical legacy will outlive us all.
“Happy Birthday” was written by Stevie Wonder to popularize the campaign (in which he was significantly involved) to make Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
s birthday a national holiday. In November 1983 President Ronald Reagan signed the holiday into existence. The first official Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was January 20, 1986 and a commemorative concert featuring Stevie Wonder was held. Stevie Wonder also performed the song in October 2011 at the dedication ceremony for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C. “Happy Birthday” also appears on the album Hotter Than July.
I had the wonderful experience of checking out the museum exhibit of the “King Papers” last year when they were here in Atlanta. I can truly say it was a profound moment. One I will never forget. In remembrance of Dr. King’s life and the 40th anniversary of his assassination, I want to share a letter written by him that spoke not only then but in our present day as well. It was written shortly after two teenagers died within the riots.
An Open Letter to Negro Youth
I do not ask you to cool it, on the contrary, I urge you to become active in the freedom movement and to make it an irresistible power. I urge you to be prepared to use your great energy in nonviolent mass action protest in your community.
You can march in the streets and make this nation aware of your just grievances. You can help mobilize your elders to go to the polls and to put their voting power to work for you. You can organize at the grass roots level and demand police protection and respect. You can call for justice and freedom now.
The future of the Negro people may well rest in your hands. It’s up to you.
-Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Dr. King was a great civil rights leader but more than that, he was a prophetic and prolific voice that still stands today. Incredibly, he was probably one of the most profound thinkers of our time. And with a unique blend, he was a combination of Christian servant hood, intellectualism, and relevance in a chaotic time in America. Sometimes we ask the question, “what would Martin say about this issue or that in our present world?” With all our searching, we may never think that maybe Dr. King already answered those questions. It is said in an ancient scripture, “there is nothing new under the sun.” Whether it’s the “Vietnam War” or the “war in Iraq”, issues may come in different forms but it’s still the same issues. Maybe if we read the road map of his words, his speeches, and some of his sermons, we might find he’s already given answer to the issues we see today.
Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of being among an iconic figure within the civil rights movement. A pioneer, a fighter and a beloved person in the fight for freedom, Rev. Joseph Lowery celebrated his 90th birthday in grand style with a musical and theatrical experience highlighting his life work. Presented by the Joseph E. Lowery Institute for Justice and Human Rights, Delta Air Lines, Coca Cola Company and Kia Motors, Inc., the evening was hosted by CNN anchor Soledad O’Brien and included performances by Stevie Wonder, Jennifer Holliday, Peabo Bryson, Lady Tremaine Hawkins, the Blind Boys of Alabama, Cicely Tyson, Dawnn Lewis, Cassi Davis, the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Morehouse and Spelman College Glee Clubs as well as other special guests. Check out the video and pictures from this wonderful event! (more…)
1. We are going to get into the music of Stevie today on Facebook to help pay tribute to an incredible icon of music, so that side will be covered.
2. Stevie is so much more than just a musician, which is part of the reason that his music is timeless.
3. Please no one take a offense at this next statement that I’m about to make… but did you see the competition that Stevie was up against to win the Grammy? That speaks volumes and I’m going to leave it right there.