Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Model Catherine Timmer

Another post, another eighties model.

Catherine Timmer alternated between Paris and New York in the 1980s, being represented in the latter city by the esteemed Zoli agency.  In Paris she was represented by the Delphine agency in the early 1980s and by Marilyn Gauthier Collections in the latter half of the decade. 

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Model Jennifer Taylor

Jennifer Taylor is another face of the '80s, the golden age of modeling.

She worked primarily in Paris, and when she was there she was represented by the City agency.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

TV newswoman Sunlen Serfaty

Sunlen Serfaty is a familiar face on CNN.

A graduate of George Washington University with a B.A. in International Affairs and a concentration in Media and Communication, the Virginia-born-and-raised Ms. Serfaty began her career at ABC News covering the U.S. Senate and the White House before covering Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign.  At CNN, she aggressively covered the 2016 general presidential election campaign between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. 

She continues to handle general assignments out of CNN's Washington bureau, and she remains a popular presence on the cable news channel.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Actress Sara Rue

No Rue in presenting this actress. :-)

Sara Rue has been acting since she was nine years old, when she played the granddaughter of a retired Hollywood screenwriter (played by Burt Lancaster) in the 1988 family-reunion move Rocket Gibraltar.  Since then, she's done many movies, but she's become more associated with television.

Her best-known TV roles to date are as Carmen Ferrara in "Popular" and as Claudia Casey in "Less than Perfect." On "Popular," a 1999-2001 show about teenagers who were either in the "in crowd" or not, Carmen was not in the "in crowd" and was nonetheless determined to achieve her objectives.   On "Less than Perfect," which ran from 2002 to 2006, Claudia, or "Claude," as she was nicknamed, worked as an assistant to a TV anchor and felt like her work was . . . well, less than perfect.  (Anyone detect a Mary Richards influence here?)       

Ms. Rue has had a recurring role on the CBS sitcom "Mom," and she's had recurring or one-shot roles been on too many TV shows to list.

Fun fact: Ms. Rue was born Sara Schlackman. Rue is her mother's maiden name.

Monday, December 4, 2017

TV newswoman Deborah Roberts

You probably know Deborah Roberts as an ABC-TV reporter an anchor. You're probably familiar with her work on the newsmagazine program "20/20," as well as her work as a substitute anchor on the weekend edition of ABC's nightly newscast and on "Good Morning America."  And she's probably glad that you know her as all of that, because the news is her career, and her career is her identity.

But did you know that she's the wife of NBC News personality Al Roker?

In spite of that, Deborah Roberts has managed to maintain her own identity and be her own woman.  Working at a different network from her husband must help.  But in fact, she did work at NBC once - as a general-assignment reporter and later as a "Dateline NBC" correspondent.

Originally from Georgia, Ms. Roberts began her career there, as a reporter for WTVM-TV in Columbus , before moving to WBIR-TV in Knoxville, Tennessee.Later, she worked for WFTV in Orlando, Florida, and covered NASA  - a local beat for a reporter of her location.

Though Ms. Roberts joined NBC in 1990, she has been with ABC since 1995. 

Friday, December 1, 2017

Model Elizabeth Pariente

Elizabeth Pariente is a Mexican model who was active in the 1980s.

She worked in both New York and Paris and was represented in both cities by Pauline's.  Today, she lives in Buenos Aires.  

Thursday, November 30, 2017

TV newswoman Natalie Morales

Natalie Morales is one of the most recognizable faces on NBC News.

The daughter of a Puerto Rican father and a Brazilian mother, Ms. Morales worked on local cable news and at NBC affiliate WVIT-TV in Hartford before joining the National Broadcasting Company's news department.   She was first at the network's sister cable channel MSNBC, where she covered the 2004 presidential election and the Iraq War, and then in 2006 joined NBC's "Today" as a correspondent.  She became a regular host in 2011 and has been the show's West Coast anchor since 2016.

Fun fact: Although Ms. Morales was raised in Delaware, she was born in Taiwan.  Her father was a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Actress Carol Lynley

There's always been something very British about Carol Lynley - her poise, her demeanor, her understatement . . .

. . . and she happens to be an American. :-)

Carol Lynley was a young ingenue when she debuted as an actress in the late fifties. Her portrayal of Janet Willard, a teenager dealing with an unwanted pregnancy and an then-illegal abortion, in the 1959 movie Blue Denim (she had played the same role in the play of the same name) won her a Golden Globe nomination for the most promising female newcomer of the year.

Her sixties movies include 1963's Under The Yum Yum Tree, a sex comedy starring Jack Lemmon as a lustful landlord who tries to seduce Lynley's tenant character (Lemmon later disavowed that movie), the title role in 1965's Harlow (about the actress Jean Harlow) and the 1967 horror movie The Shuttered Room.

One of her biggest roles in the seventies was in 1972's The Poseidon Adventure, as a lounge singer on the ill-fated ocean liner Poseidon, which capsizes in a tidal wave.  Although she is seen performing the song "The Morning After," which won the Oscar for Best Original Song, she didn't actually sing it - she lip-synced it to someone else's voice (not that of Maureen McGovern, who recorded it later).  The response to the song by a member of the Poseidon's crew - "Give me a Strauss waltz any time!" - is the best line in the movie. :-D 

Without giving too much away, Lynley's character is one of the few that make it out of the Poseidon alive.  

Carol Lynley's profile in the movies has diminished in recent years, but she has also performed occasional or one-shot characters in television shows - too many TV shows to list.  :-)   She remains active into her seventies.   

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Model Bhavaja Kat

Bhavaja Kat has been a top model since the 1980s.

She has appeared in various ads and editorials, and she's worked with several other top models in the business.  Among the agencies she's worked with are the Ford and Elite agencies.  She has modeled for the Japanese edition of Elle and the French edition of Marie Claire.  It was also in France - Paris, of course - where Bhavaja started doing runway shows in Paris.  She was at her most successful in Italy and Japan, though, as she did many TV commercials in both countries.

Her poses command attention, whether in a causal pose like the one above, or something more formal, as seen below.

And no matter what look she projects . . .

. . . she never misses a beat. :-)

Full disclosure requires me to state that Bhavaja Kat is a friend of mine.  We both grew up in the same area of New Jersey, though we didn't know each other then.  She now lives in a different part of New Jersey from where I live.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Model/actress/singer/activist Jolie Jones

Yes. All of those. Because Jolie Jones is someone you can't peg or fit into a neat box.

The daughter of legendary jazz musician and record producer Quincy Jones and his first wife Jeri Caldwell, Jolie Jones started out as a model, becoming a face of Revlon and Max Factor in their ads.  But the family business soon came calling, and she pursued a singing career in London while living there in the mid-eighties, working with some of the biggest names on British popular music at the time.  Back in Los Angeles toward the end of the decade, she trained as an actress while remaining active in music; she produced two albums from Brazilian singer Ivan Lins and even managed him.

Her commitment to activism started with demonstrations against nuclear-bomb proliferation in the sevneties, and in she helped found the Los Angeles-based Earth Communications Office to communicate environmental activism to the broader public. Ms. Jones' own group, The Take It Back Foundation, teaches and mobilizes children to take action for the environment.  

Is there anything Jolie Jones won't do?  (That was a rhetorical question. :-) )

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Model/designer Shelya Huff

Shelya Huff is a model from the 1980s, the glory days of modeling.

Originally from Buffalo (the hometown of noted cover girls Dawn Gallagher and Beverly Johnson), Ms. Huff was represented in the eighties by the Zoli agency at first before she went on over to Elite Elegance, which was a cut above the standard Elite office.

That makes sense! :-D

Ms. Huff specialized in advertising work as a model.  Today,  she works as an interior designer and as a home-furnishings consultant, and as the "Duchess of Decor," she strives to get the most out of her clients' interior space.  You can access her Web site here.  

Note: Both of these photos of Shelya Huff are black-and-white photos that have been electronically colorized.  I did it as an experiment.  I say it turned out pretty well, don't you think? :-D 

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Actress Meagan Good

Here's a Good post! :-) 

Meagan Good has had a prolific career as an actress in both movies and television.  She first gained notoriety in the children's TV comedy "Cousin Skeeter" on Nickelodeon, about a boy named Bobby whose life is turned upside down by his cousin Skeeter, who's represented by a puppet.  (It was Nickelodeon, remember.)  Meagan Good played Bobby's talkative friend.

Ms. Good went on to play roles in several movies, most notably 2012's Think Like a Man, a romantic comedy based on Steve Harvey's book "Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man," which explains to women how men view relationships.  Ms. Good played Mya, "the 90 Day Rule Girl," who matches wits with Zeke, "the Player" (portrayed by Romany Malco). 

Her forays into adult television have been less than successful, especially when she played detectives. "Deception," a crime-mystery soap starring Ms. Good as police detective Joanna Locasto, who investigates a murder, and "Minority Report," in which she played Lara Vega, a D.C. police investigator who tries to save would-be victim from potential killers, were both canceled after less than a full season.  But she did play a singer who has an affair with burned-out novelist Hank Moody (played by David Duchovny) in the hit series "Caifornication." 
Meagan Good has also formed her own production company, so she still plans to remain active in show business no matter what. 

Monday, November 13, 2017

TV weather forecaster Amy Freeze

An appropriate name for someone who makes a living predicting snow in the colder months, eh?

Amy Freeze has been a weather forecaster at WABC-TV in New York since 2011, but she has a long history in other cities.  Having gotten her start at KPTV-TV in Portland, Oregon, she worked at WCAU-TV in Philadelphia and then WFLD-TV in Chicago.  It was when she was in Chicago that she would give presentations in local schools about the weather and severe storms.  Ms. Freeze's school-lecture program was called "Weather Education Days."

In New York, Ms. Freeze has a special segment - "The Freeze Factor" – in which she rates the following day's weather on a scale of one to ten.  In 2017, the New Jersey news site NJ.com named her the Top Forecaster in the greater New York area for the year.

Fun fact: She had a cameo in an episode of the NBC series "Scrubs."

Friday, November 10, 2017

French musical actress Prisca Demarez

How does one go from being a psychomotor therapist to being an actress who specializes in stage musicals?  Well, you can ask France's Prisca Demarez.

She spent five years as a therapist helping people develop their senses of being from a holistic standpoint before deciding to pursue her true passion - making people happy as an entertainer.  She started out on Réunion, an overseas French island in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Madagascar., as a radio presenter and a jazz-club singer before getting her theatrical training at the school of actor and director Raymond Acquaviva in Paris. Soon Mlle. Demarez was performing in plays like Shakespeare's Macbeth (as Lady Macbeth) and in The Surprise of Love.  Musicals were her next logical step.

Here is a partial list of the musical productions Mlle. Demarez has appeared in: Titanic, Cabaret, Avenue Q, and French Can-Can.  And she played the Wicked Queen in a production of Snow White

In addition to a coule of short films, Ms. Demarez has also been a model in fashion shows.  She's come a long way from her days in Réunion.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Model Laveda Cooper

Laveda Cooper is a model who stunned the fashion beauty world in the late seventies and early eighties.

The Jacksonville, Florida resident became a model for Fashion Fair, a line of cosmetics for black women, and she also appeared in in  a special anniversary issue of Ebony magazine in 1980, which celebrated the ten most beautiful black women in America.  

And how did she get chosen?  Her sister submitted her for consideration.

"Her intellect, beauty and talent," her sister told Ebony, "blend together to create the unique and rare beauty that is truly Laveda." 

Hey, what are sisters for? :-)

The photo above was taken by someone you might have heard of, a chap named Victor Skrebneski. :-) 

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Actress Candice Bergen

Candice Bergen didn't always want to be an actress.  As the daughter of radio ventriloquist Edgar Bergen (he was a ventriloquist on the radio - how could anyone be sure he wasn't moving his lips?), she resisted the idea of a career in show business, preferring to be a clothing designer when she grew up.  At one point she was a photojournalist.

But the lure of the family business proved too great. Candice Bergen made her movie debut as a university student in the 1966 movie The Group, and soon after that she played an assistant school teacher in the Steve McQueen naval drama The Sand Pebbles.  In the first indication that she was adept at comedy, she appeared in the 1970 political satire The Adventurers, as  a frustrated socialite.

Her biggest roles in the seventies were as Susan in 1971's Carnal Knowledge (Susan was the wife of the character played by Art Garfunkel) and as Jessica Potter, a married woman who's been having an affair, in the 1979 Burt Reynolds comedy Starting Over (Reynolds played her husband).   She also played the love interest of the widowed Oliver Barrett IV in Oliver's Story, the sequel to Love Story.   In between, she became the first woman (and the fourth person overall) to host "Saturday Night Live."

That particular distinction, as it turned out, proved to be a pivotal milestone in Candice Bergen's career.

Not only did she go on to host "Saturday Night Live" four more times (at one point playing Garth Algar's mother in the ongoing "Wayne's World" sketch series, with Mike Myers' Wayne Campbell character having a crush on her - "Party on, Wayne!"), she found herself signing on to a sitcom about a Washington-based TV newswoman having come out of rehab at the Betty Ford Center in "Murphy Brown," which became the 1990s equivalent of "The Mary Tyler Moore Show."  A huge hit, "Murphy Brown" ran for ten seasons on CBS beginning in 1988, earning the sort of big ratings that eluded most other CBS shows of the time. She won the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series five times during the show's run.  Ostensibly still standing for Columbia Broadcasting System, CBS's initials might just as well have stood for "Candice Bergen's Showbox."    

She returned to movies in the early two thousand zeroes, appearing in comedies such as Miss Congeniality, Sweet Home Alabama, and a remake of The In-Laws, but she also found time to do another TV series - as lawyer Shirley Schmidt in "Boston Legal."

Married to French movie director Louis Malle (you know My Dinner with Andre? him) from 1980 until his death from cancer in 1995, she married real estate magnate and philanthropist Marshall Rose in 2000.

Candice Bergen continues to thrive as an actress long after skeptics thought she could, no longer able to be dismissed as just Edgar Bergen's beautiful daughter.  And she's no longer just an actress.  She's an institution. :-)    

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Fashion model Rebecca Ayoko

Best known for her participation in fashion shows, Rebecca Ayoko is one of those runway goddesses who can stun and stir observers in just about anything she wears.

See what I mean? :-D

Originally from the African nation of Togo, a former French colony,  Rebecca Ayoko made her way to Paris in 1980 and met Hachette Filipacchi Magazines' Regis Pagniez, then the director of the French men's magazine Lui but later the publication director and founder of the U.S. edition of Elle.  ("Lui" is French for him; "Elle" is French for "her."  Get it? :-) )   One thing led to another, and Ms. Ayoko signed with the Glamour modeling agency in Paris.

But while Ms. Ayoko did her share of print work (as in the photo above), she made her mark on the runways. She met Yves Saint Laurent and became his muse, becoming one of the most prominent black models in Paris in the 1980s as a result.  She earned the nickname "Queen Of the Studio" for all the time Yves Saint Laurent had her try out his creations as he was working on them.

In 2012, she published an autobiography, titled "Quand les étoiles sont noirs" ("When The Stars Are Black"), which she dedicated to her two children.  Sorry, I don't think there's an English translation.

The Latest Numbers

I have now included 1,110 different women - many of them more than once - across 1,700 posts.  As for my most popular posts . . . still the same - my July 2011 post of TV reporter Kristen Welker is still number one, followed by my September 2009 post of model Sheila Johnson, which is a distant but strong second.  I don't expect that to change . . .  

My last A-Z round begins immediately today.  On this day, November 1 - 11/1 - I am about to post my 1,111th subject. :-)  So here we go! :-D  

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

The Beauty of Song, Part Four: The End

Yes it's over, call it a day.  Sorry that it had to end this way.  No, I'm not.  I ended with Deniece Williams.  That's a great singer to end a series on.

Happy Halloween.  Back soon with a new A-Z round for November and December. 

Saturday, October 28, 2017

The Beauty of Song, Part Four: Deniece Williams

Call her Niecy. :-)

Deniece Williams might have ended up as just another anonymous backup singer, which is how she got her start in music - backing up Stevie Wonder.  Instead, she got a record deal with Columbia Records and caught the attention of Earth, Wind & Fire leader Maurice White and his partner Charles Stepney.  Her 1976 debut album This Is Niecy featured the single "Free," her first big success on the record charts.  She won people's hearts with her bubbly, sweet vocal style.  

Then someone had the brilliant idea to pair her with the legendary Johnny Mathis, and well, crikey me timbers, she went to the toppermost of the poppermost; their single "Too Much, Too Little, Too Late" was number one on the Billboard singles chart for the week ending June 3, 1978, and it was only the third number-one song of 1978 not associated with the Bee Gees or their brother Andy Gibb ("Baby Come Back" by Player and "With a Little Luck" by Paul McCartney and Wings were the first two).  Her collaboration with Mathis was so successful that they reunited in 1982 to record "Without Us," the theme song for the sitcom "Family Ties."

Ms. Williams would have several hits in the eighties, such as "Silly" and "It's Gonna Take a Miracle," followed by her biggest hit ever - 1984's "Let's Hear It For the Boy," from the movie Footloose.  But when a new wave of pop divas diminished her profile, Ms. Williams turned to making gospel records, and she has been just as successful at that as she had been with pop, winning four Grammys for her gospel work, including the Best Pop/Contemporary Gospel Album award for her This Is My Song album in 1999.

Deniece Williams is the American answer to Britain's Linda Lewis (an earlier honoree on this blog).  Like Linda Lewis, she can charm the birds out of the trees.

Let's hear it for the girl. :-) 

Thursday, October 26, 2017

The Beauty of Song, Part Four: Martha Reeves

The spotlight's on Martha Reeves.

Martha Reeves is a leading pioneer in soul music, having fronted her own group for Motown Records before the rise of that label's biggest girl group of all time - the Supremes.  But Martha and the Vandellas (the name "Vandellas" was a reference to Van Dyke Street in Detroit and its most famous resident, Della Reese) were also a force to be reckoned with, with hits like "Heatwave," the epic "Dancing In the Street" (Van Halen's cover of this song is one of the few Motown covers that doesn't suck) and, my favorite, "Jimmy Mack."  

Though Martha and the Vandellas broke up in 1972, Martha Reeves kept on keeping on, continuing to perform and make records, and she eventually formed a new Vandellas group. She is still active and is an indispensable stalwart in American popular music.

Fun fact:  Martha Reeves served as a Detroit city councilwoman from 2005 to 2009.  She was instrumental in getting West Grand Boulevard in Detroit, where Motown opened its first studio in 1958, alternatively named in honor of Motown founder Berry Gordy (Berry Gordy, Jr. Boulevard). 

Monday, October 23, 2017

The Beauty of Song, Part Four: Shirley Manson

If you thought Shirley Manson's music sounded like garbage, you'd be right. Because that's her band's name - Garbage, out of Madison Wisconsin.  Ironically, the band decide to call itself Garbage after hearing a negative appraisal of their sound from a "friend."

Shirley Manson is the only Briton (she's from Scotland) in an otherwise American band.  Garbage was one of the more successful bands of the alternative-rock world Nirvana and Pearl Jam begat in the early nineties.  Their self-titled 1995 debut album featured what would become one of their signature songs, "Only Happy When It Rains," and it got a hugely positive reception from rock fans and critics.  Version 2.0, their 1998 follow-up, was just as enthusiastically received, with songs such as "I Think I'm Paranoid" and "Push It."

In the comparatively barren twenty-first century, the band has continued to put out albums, albeit at a slow rate.  Beautiful Garbage from 2001 and Bleed Like Me, from 2005 were their only output in the two thousand zeroes, and it took seven years (thanks to a self-imposed hiatus) before they released a follow-up to Bleed Like Me - 2012's Not Your Kind of People, which featured "Battle in Me." In the four years after that, while Garbage fans waited for their sixth LP, Ms. Manson made news on her own when, after Kanye West suggested that Beck wasn't a real artist when his Morning Phase album beat out a Beyoncé album for the 2015 Album of the Year Grammy; she said West had no right to pass judgment on what "real artistry" was.

Thanks, Shirley. :-)

Garbage released their sixth album, Strange Little Birds, which Ms. Manson and her bandmates have described as "a sweeping, cinematic record of a unified mood: darkness."  At this writing, Shirley Manson is 51, and  there's no telling how long it will take her and her band mates to release a seventh album.  But I think she's in it for the long haul. :-)

Saturday, October 21, 2017

The Beauty of Song, Part Four: Miranda Lambert

Miranda Lambert has established herself as one of the foremost country singers and songwriters of the twenty-first century.

She got her start performing in her teens in her native Texas and got discovered while playing a gig in Nashville first came to prominence in 2004 with her debut album, Kerosene, which featured hit singles such as the title song, "Bring Me Down." and "Me and Charlie Talking."  With the success of her follow-up LP Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Charlie and everyone else were talking about how Miranda Lambert had become a bona fide country and western star.

Since than, Ms. Lambert has had one successful album after another on the country charts, from 2009's Revolution to Four the Record (a pun on the fact that it was her fourth album) in 2011 and Platinum (the sales of which lived up to its name)  in 2014.   Her hits from the twenty-teens have included songs such as "Mama's Broken Heart" and "Somethin' Bad" (the latter a collaboration with Carrie Underwood, honored previously on this blog).  With the 2016 release of her album The Weight of These Wings, which features the hit country single "Tin Man" (not the America song but a song she co-wrote with Jack Ingram and Jon Randall), Miranda Lambert shows no signs of slowing down.

She was married to country star Blake Shelton for four years beginning in 2011.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Beauty of Song, Part Four: Chaka Khan

Chaka Khan. She is every woman. :-)

Chaka Khan got her start as a soul and funk singer in her native Chicago, singing in different bands in the late sixties before joining the band Rufus.  To say that she was the Rufus's lead singer is like saying that Paul McCartney was the lead singer of Wings.  "In reality," music critic Russell Gersten wrote in 1979, "Rufus is Chaka Khan.  No one else in the group has anywhere near her distinctive talent."

The group got off to a slow start in the early seventies, but fortunes for Rufus changed when Stevie Wonder attended one of their recording sessions and came up with a new song, "Tell Me Something Good."  Chaka Khan's sultry delivery of Wonder's lyrics, with every last syllable enunciated, made it one of the biggest hits of 1974.  Rufus scored more hits with songs such as "Once You Get Started," "Sweet Thing," and "Do You Love What You Feel."

Chaka Khan released her first solo album in 1978, which featured the Ashford and Simpson tune "I'm Every Woman," an instant R&B classic that Whitney Houston (honored on this blog when she was still alive)  would cover.  Not until 1983, when Rufus disbanded after one last hit ("Ain't Nobody"), did Ms. Khan become a full-time solo artist. Then came one of her biggest hits ever.

Chaka Khan was not the first person to cover Prince's "I Feel For You," but she recorded the definitive version (which is not why it isn't called "I Feel 4 U," as Prince called it originally).  Her take on the song featured rapper Melvin Glover (known as Grandmaster Melle Mel) rapping a riff off Chaka Khan's name, addressing her in the second person and expressing desire for her in a fast-talking style that took advantage of the hard-k sounds in her name.  Her old friend Stevie Wonder contributed harmonica solos, and even Barry Manilow dropped by to add backing vocals.  Producer Arif Mardin sampled Stevie Wonder's own "Fingertips" ("Say yeah!") for good measure.  In spite of all the big-name talent behind her, it's still Chaka Khan's record.  It hit number three on the Billboard singles chart.

Chaka Khan has remained active since, with appearances on albums from Steve Winwood - she sang backing vocals on his song "Higher Love" from 1986's Back In the High Life - and Quincy Jones, whose 1990 album Back On the Block album featured our heroine dueting with Ray Charles on a cover of the Brothers Johnson's "I'll Be Good To You."   And she's made many more records.  Which goes to show you that whether in the high life or on the block, Chaka Khan always comes back.

One other thing as a postscript . . ..  While not a rapper herself, Chaka Khan appreciated Melvin Glover's penchant for fast talk and quick rhymes.  But she has wondered how successful he would have been riffing off her name on "I Feel For You" if she had continued to go by her birth name . . . Yvette Marie Stevens. :-) :-D

Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Beauty of Song, Part Four: Roberta Flack

A comprehensive history of seventies black American music would be incomplete without a mention of Roberta Flack.

She got her musical education growing up in Arlington, Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C., when she began to learn to play the piano.  Her talent got her a full scholarship at Howard University when she was fifteen, and upon graduation she became a music teacher in the Washington area, performing in jazz clubs on the side.

Fame came calling when jazz pianist and vocalist Les McCann discovered Ms. Flack performing in a Washington nightclub.  Her debut album First Take, released in 1969, didn't get much attention at first, but when Clint Eastwood, a jazz fan, included a track from the album, her recording of "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," in his 1971 directorial-debut movie Play Misty For Me, both the song and the album went to number one on the Billboard charts.

Ms. Flack went on to have chart-topping hits with 1973's "Killing Me Softly with His Song," written by Charles Fox and Norman Gimbel about, allegedly, a Don McLean performance as experienced by singer-songwriter Lori Lieberman, and 1974's "Feel Like Makin' Love."  But she also made music history with her duets with soul singer Donny Hathaway;  their hits included "Where Is the Love" and "The Closer I Get To You."  They were to seventies soul what Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell had been to sixties soul. 

Unfortunately, Donny Hathaway committed suicide in 1979.  And while Ms. Flack would later record duets with Peabo Bryson and Maxi Priest in, respectively, the eighties and early nineties, they just weren't the same as her duets with Hathaway.     

Roberta Flack has continued her career since the early 1990s, with several albums (including a Christmas disc) and a 2012 album of Beatles covers; when she lived in the Dakota apartment building in New York in the late seventies, she knew, and was friends with, John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

She turned eighty in February 2017, and she's been working on another Beatles cover LP.  Roberta Flack shows no signs of slowing down.  

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

The Beauty of Song, Part Four: Rita Coolidge

The original Delta Lady.

Rita Coolidge, who is more American than most U.S. female singers thanks to her Cherokee heritage,  is to American rock and roll what Pattie Boyd is British rock and roll - a legendary muse.  She was the Indian girl named "Raven" in David Crosby's solo song "Cowboy Movie," and she also inspired inspired Leon Russell's "Delta Lady" (covered by Joe Cocker) and Stephen Stills' "Cherokee." She dated both Russell and Stills, as well as Graham Nash and Derek and the Dominos drummer Jim Gordon.  Ironically, the piano riff used in the coda of Derek and the Dominos' "Layla," which Eric Clapton wrote about Pattie Boyd (Derek was Eric), was Rita Coolidge's creation for another song.  Jim Gordon gave Clapton the riff for keyboardist Bobby Whitlock to play but didn't tell Ms. Coolidge, whom he'd dated and broken up with.

Ms. Coolidge was part of Joe Cocker and Leon Russell's Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour in 1970 and sang the Leon Russell/Bonnie Bramlett song "Superstar" (later recorded by the Carpenters) as a solo feature on that tour.  She was married to Kris Kristofferson for seven years beginning in 1973, and she worked with him.  Her solo career took off in the late seventies, and she found success as a cover artist; she recorded Jackie Wilson's "(Your Love Has Lifted Me) Higher and Higher" and the Temptations' "The Way You Do the Things You Do," as well as contemporary fare like Boz Scaggs' "We're All Alone" and Peter Allen and Carole Bayer Sager's "I'd Rather Leave While I'm In Love."

Today Rita Coolidge is a painter, and she has also published her memoirs.  A new album from our heroine is slated for 2018.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The Beauty of Song, Part Four: Joan Baez

The one and only. :-)

Joan Baez was and remains the high priestess of folk music in the United States.  As a singer, she's best known for her covers of songs from her old boyfriend Bob Dylan; among the Dylan songs she's recorded are "Farewell, Angelina," "Love Is Just a Four-Letter Word," "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue," and "It Ain't Me Babe." But she's also covered many traditional songs like "House of the Rising Sun" (four years before the Animals covered it), "Donna Donna," and "When You Hear Them Cuckoos Hollerin'," as well as covers of tunes from Donovan, John Prine and her late brother-in-law Richard Fariña. She's also written some of her own songs, including "Sweet Sir Galahad."

Ms. Baez began recording for Vanguard Records in 1960, before Dylan got his recording contract with Columbia.  (She would later record for both Columbia and A&M.)  Her covers of his tunes helped get him attention; that is, Dylan wouldn't have a career if not for his old girlfriend.  

Ms. Baez's activism is as legendary as her music.  She's campaigned for civil rights, environmental protection and gay rights, and she's campaigned against the death penalty and every war the U.S. has been in since Korea.  She became legendary for trying to get soldiers at draft boards to desert rather than go to Vietnam.  After the Communists took over all of Vietnam, she campaigned against the Hanoi government for its human rights abuses, making clear her belief that leftist oppression is as inexcusable as rightist oppression.  Her stand against the Socialist Republic of Vietnam actually earned her respect from conservatives who had always been against her. 

Still active and vibrant, Joan Baez has come a long way, having been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2017.  But she still has the same sparkle as that same lovely young lady that Dylan fell in love with so many years ago. 

Thursday, October 5, 2017

The Beauty of Song, Part Four: Patti Austin

When Patti Austin released her 1981 album Every Home Should Have One, which was her commercial breakthrough, the legend at the top of the LP sleeve - "Quincy Jones Presents" - suggested that Quincy Jones had discovered her and that it was her debut album.  None of that is the case.  Every Home Should Have One was in fact her fourth studio album.   

Ms. Austin's first album was End of a Rainbow (the photo above is from the front cover), released in 1976 by CTI, a jazz label.  She was always a jazz artist first and a pop singer second, and End of a  Rainbow gave her the chance to show her abilities as a jazz stylist, be it with her own self-penned material, such as "You Don't Have To Say You're Sorry," or with a cover of Spiral Staircase's "More Today Than Yesterday." Havana Candy, from 1977, continued the trend of her own songs and the odd cover ("Lost in the Stars").

When she sang the lead vocal on "Razzmatazz"on Quincy Jones' 1981 album The Dude, Jones, impressed with her voice, signed her to his Qwest label, and he produced Every Home Should Have One.  Many of the songs on that album were written by former Heatwave member Rod Temperton, who had written and would write hits for another artist Jones worked with at the time . . . Michael Jackson.  One of those songs on Ms. Austin's record, "Baby Come To Me," was recorded as a duet with fellow Dude vocalist James Ingram.  Released as a single in April 1982, it went nowhere . . . but when "Baby Come To Me" got played a lot on a TV soap opera, the popularity of the song with TV viewers led to its re-release six months after its original issue.  It topped the Billboard singles chart for two weeks in February 1983.

Although Ms. Austin never had another pop hit, she became a huge success with her original audience, the jazz crowd.  Albums such as The Real Me, Love Is Gonna Getcha and Sound Advice have burnished her already stellar reputation as a jazz vocalist.