I post a weekly diary of historical notes, arts & science items, foreign news (often receiving little notice in the US) and whimsical pieces from the outside world that I often feature in “Cheers & Jeers”. For example …..
OK, you’ve been warned – here is this week’s
tomfoolery material that I posted.
ART NOTES – a survey of Pop Art of the 1960’s in an exhibition entitled Pop Goes the Easel is at the Lyman Allyn Art Museum in New London, Connecticut through August 10th, 2013.
TWO ORGANIZATIONS that often do not work well together – the UN and the World Bank – are finding it easier to do so, being headed by two Korean-born officials.
ALONG AMONGST the nations of Great Britain, consolidating police forces has been accomplished by Scotland – in order to save money, yet not cut staffing below a certain level.
BRAIN TEASER – try this Quiz of the Week’s News from the BBC.
SUNDAY’s CHILD #1 is Gypsy the Cat – whose family believes she crawled into a hole under the sink to seek shelter (during the recent tornadoes in Moore, OK) and may have survived by drinking rainwater …. but after a trip to the vet that included an IV to help her dehydration she is expected to be just fine.
AS USUAL the redoubtable Amanda Marcotte advises caution in laughing too hard over the remarks by Miss Utah at a recent beauty pageant:
On the one hand, she really can’t go full Fox News and denounce those evil salary-earning women without both offending large numbers of people and also causing the audience to wonder if she aspires for nothing more than trophy-wife status.
On the other hand, if she applauds sisters doing it for themselves, the relatively conservative audience for beauty pageants will turn on her. You try coming up with a coherent 30-second sound bite while your brain frantically processes the no-win situation you’re in. It’s harder than it looks.
BACK to the FUTURE – the veteran heavy metal band Black Sabbath has scored its first #1 album in the UK for nearly 43 years.
WHO WOULDA THUNK IT? – the Boston Pops Orchestra this Saturday will feature – at its summer home outdoors at Tanglewood – a symphonic performance of the works of Jerry Garcia featuring Warren Haynes.
………. and for a song of the week ………………………………………….. from 1949 to 1960, Atlantic Records benefited mightily from the recordings of singer Ruth Brown – so much so, that its then-headquarters at West 57th Street was known as the “House that Ruth Built”. Her song stylings that blended R&B, pop and jazz led the singer Frankie Laine to refer to her as “Miss Rhythm” and no less than Little Richard has cited her as a vocal influence.
Born as Ruth Weston in Portsmouth, Virginia in 1928, she began singing in church but then showed more interest in singing at USO clubs. At age 17, she eloped with trumpeter Jimmy Brown to sing at nightclubs and was inspired by Sarah Vaughan and Billie Holiday. A month into a job singing for Lucky Millender’s band in 1947 … she was fired for delivering a round of drinks to members of the band (as an underage person). Luckily, Cab Calloway’s sister Blanche was able to offer her a nightclub gig in Washington, D.C. where her big break soon came.
This is when the noted jazz disk jockey Willis Conover – later to become famous world-wide as a Voice of America jockey and the subject of a music profile I wrote two years ago – liked Ruth Brown’s singing enough to recommend her to Ahmet Ertegun, president of the (then) fledgling label, Atlantic Records. Before she could record her first tune, though: similar to Carl Perkins, she endured an automobile accident on her way to New York. Fortunately, Atlantic waited for her nine-month recuperation to end.
It paid off: as her May 1949 debut song “So Long” (backed by Eddie Condon’s jazz band) reached #4 on the R&B charts. She had other R&B chart hits, such as Teardrops from My Eyes in 1950 and 5-10-15 Hours from 1952: both of which reached #1 and were written by Rudy Toombs – a prolific songwriter whose most famous hit was “One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer”.
In 1953, she had another #1 R&B chart – and which also cracked the Top 25 mainstream pop charts – with (Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean – which became her signature tune. Throughout the decade, she had crossover hits such as “Lucky Lips” (written by Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller) and “This Little Girl’s Gone Rockin'” (written for her by Bobby Darin) and had a successful career right up until 1960 ……. when at age 32 she retired from music to raise a family.
Fifteen years later in 1975, she made a comeback musically: with some album releases that included some ballads and jazz tunes (in addition to her old R&B hits).
By the end of the decade she branched out into comedy, radio and acting. First was a role in the short-lived McLean Stevenson show Hello, Larry then a role in the director John Waters’ sock-hop satire film Hairspray in 1985. In 1987, Brown starred in Allen Toussaint’s off-Broadway musical Staggerlee – which led to a starring role in the Broadway musical Black and Blue in 1989. She also hosted two shows for National Public Radio: “Harlem Hit Parade” and “BluesStage”.
All along, she had been concerned at the plight of many musicians who never profited from the music they made (due to unscrupulous record company owners and producers) and years later she helped found the Rhythm & Blues Foundation in order to achieve that goal. I heard Ruth Brown years ago talking with Boston public radio host Eric Jackson about her work, and he was (pleasantly) surprised to hear Ruth talk about “My gal, Bonnie Raitt” – who has been a major supporter of the organization to this day.
During the past few decades, Ruth Brown continued to tour and record occasional albums – such as a roots music album in 1997 which won a Grammy nomination. She also released her memoirs entitled Miss Rhythm in 1995.
Ruth Brown died in November, 2006 at the age of 78 following a heart attack and stroke.
Her legacy is quite strong, and in many fields: there is an excellent compilation album of her 1950’s hits. From her time on Broadway, she has both a 1989 Tony Award – from her stint in “Black and Blue” – as well as a Grammy for her album Blues on Broadway from that same year. And she was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1993.
Her aforementioned Grammy-nominated 1997 album was named after a famous quote of hers. “R&B stands for rhythm and blues … but it also stands for Ruth Brown” …… and on the strength of her career: who could disagree?
Of all of her work, my favorite is her #5 R&B chart (and #64 pop chart) hit “I Don’t Know” – not the Willie Mabon blues tune, but one written by Bobby Stevenson with lyrics by Brook Benton (of “Rainy Night in Georgia” fame). And below you can listen to it.
Should I let myself go
In his direction
Is his love strong enough
For my heart’s protection
When he crushes my eager lips
My heart starts doing flips
Whenever I feel his touch
I get a thrill that’s much too much
Too much, too much, too much
I don’t know
(I don’t know, I don’t know)
I don’t know
(I don’t know, I don’t know)
But he loves me so good
Til I think I should, oh, oh