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”.
OK, you’ve been warned – here is this week’s
tomfoolery material that I posted.
ART NOTES – works covering the last fifteen years of the painter J.M.W. Turner in an exhibition entitled Painting Set Free are at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, California thru May 24th.
HAIL and FAREWELL to the lead singer of the 1960’s garage band The Kingsmen, Jack Ely – who had to shout into a poor ceiling microphone in 1963 to sing the song “Louie Louie” – about which I wrote about the song’s back-story at this link – who has died at the age of 71 ….. to the legendary soul singer Ben E. King who has died at the age of 76 … to the Midwest professional wrestling star and promoter Verne Gagne who has died at the age of 89 … and to the stage and TV star Jayne Meadows – whom I recall most from her appearances on the 1977-1981 show on PBS Meeting of the Minds (TV at its very best, I felt) – who has died at the age of 95.
FOOD NOTES – historically, the nation of Switzerland was rather inhospitable to allowing its cities to have any food trucks – until now.
THURSDAY’s CHILD is Kit the Cat – a kitteh at a Utah Humane Society who took on the task of nursing four abandoned newborn Chihuahuas (whose mother is alleged to have died).
BEFORE AN UPCOMING visit to Ireland, former Maryland governor Martin O’Malley predicts that Ireland will vote to legalize same-sex marriage in its upcoming May 22nd national referendum. Speaking of Maryland …..
IN TODAY’S POLL I have listed the “Baltimore Six” – and, to an extent, their backers – as the official losers of this week’s poll. Partly because it’s such a depressing subject, but mainly because it’s been virtually the only topic of discussion on MSNBC (edging out the Supreme Court hearing and almost every other event) and I don’t want to spend my time scouting out thirteen other choices when there is only one story covered. Also speaking of Maryland ….
AN INTERESTING HISTORICAL footnote to history is that Spiro Agnew was elected governor of Maryland in 1966 as a … hold-onto-your-hats .. “liberal” governor.
And that is because the 1966 Democratic candidate was George Mahoney – a Dixiecrat who capitalized on a bitter eight-way split in the party to win the Democratic gubernatorial primary (with just over 30% of the vote).
His campaign slogan was ”Your home is your castle – protect it” – a statement that was considered aimed at those opposed to open housing and other civil rights goals – and Agnew (who expressed no divisive comments in his campaign) was reckoned to have received as much as 70% of the black vote, as a sort of “fusion” Republican candidate that one saw in that era.
However, as The Economist magazine noted in its quite informative 1996 obituary of Spiro Agnew (no longer available on-line) “his liberal phase …. did not last long”.
SPORTING NOTES – as a way of excising its sexist past, the Washington Post writer John Feinstein believes that the Masters golf establishment should adopt Paula Creamer’s suggestion and institute a Women’s Masters tournament – in the autumn, after the other majors (both men’s and women’s) have been held.
END of an ERA – five years after parting ways with host Jerry Lewis, the Muscular Dystrophy Association announced the end of its Labor Day telethon that used to feature numerous celebrities from across the entertainment world (including Frank Sinatra’s legendary arranging of a reunion between Dean Martin and host Jerry Lewis, nearly forty years ago).
BRAIN TEASER – try this Quiz of the Week’s News from the BBC.
…… and finally, for a song of the week ………………………… some time ago, a regular reader asked if I had profiled a certain singer (which I had not). I had not listened to the music of Phyllis Hyman in some time – partly because she died twenty years ago (next month) and because some of her early work was part of the disco era – not my favorite sort of music. But recently I heard songs of hers more in a style I like: and after learning of her fascinating life story it seems as good a time as any for a new look. Britain’s Independent newspaper obituary opined in its assessment of her career, “Given the right breaks: Phyllis Hyman’s soulful voice might have reached as many millions as Whitney Houston’s, Patti Labelle’s or Gladys Knight’s have. Instead, Hyman had to settle for a cult following on the R&B and jazz scenes”.
She was born in Philadelphia in 1949 but grew-up in Pittsburgh: the daughter of a black man and an Italian mother (not unlike Franco Harris) and is the second cousin of Earle Hyman (who portrayed Cliff Huxtable’s father in The Cosby Show). After leaving school, she performed with several groups in the early 70’s (New Direction, All the People and The Hondo Beat) before briefly leading her own band from 1974-75. She also had a cameo role in the 1974 film Lenny (about Lenny Bruce) before being noticed by two executives at Epic Records, who signed her in 1975 that led to her moving to New York.
It was her work with singer Jon Lucien that led to her next break: being seen by R&B singer Norman Connors at a club, who was in the midst of recording his fourth album. And her appearance on his single You Are My Starship helped launch her career (as well as enhancing his own). They next recorded a cover version of Betcha By Golly Wow! by The Stylistics.
She briefly performed with one of my favorite jazz musicians, tenor saxophonist Pharoah Sanders (and what a pleasant surprise to learn that) while recording her self-titled debut album in 1977 on Buddha Records. In the years to follow, she either performed with (or was produced by) several musicians who had worked with Miles Davis – guitarist Reggie Lucas, bassist Michael Henderson and percussionist Mtume – all of whom who left jazz for the field of R&B music … again, a pleasant surprise to me.
When Buddah was bought by Arista Records in 1978, her career took off (with the title track of the album Somewhere in My Lifetime produced by Barry Manilow) and she went on to further R&B chart hits such as You Know How to Love Me. In the late 70’s she married her manager Larry Alexander (the brother of Jamaican pianist Monty Alexander) but which ended in divorce, partly due to her growing cocaine habit.
She had her only pop chart Top Ten hit with 1981’s Can’t We Fall in Love Again? – a duet with Michael Henderson. At this time, she appeared in the Broadway musical Sophisticated Ladies – a tribute to Duke Ellington. This earned her a Theater World award (for Best Newcomer) as well as a Best Supporting Tony nomination.
The next few years saw problems between herself and her record label … which she did work-arounds involving work with the Four Tops, The Whispers and Chuck Mangione. She also toured as a solo artist and spoke at college music classes.
In 1983, she recorded the song “Never Say Never Again”, intended as the title song for the James Bond movie. However, Michel Legrand, who wrote the score for the film, had threatened to sue (claiming he contractually had the rights to the title song) and so a different song was written (and sang by Lani Hall).
After leaving Arista in 1985, Phyllis Hyman went to the Philadelphia International label of Gamble/Huff, where she recorded Living All Alone in 1987, with its title track reaching the Top 20 of the R&B charts.
The year of 1991 saw the best-selling album of her career, as Prime of My Life featured “Don’t Wanna Change the World” (her first #1 R&B song), the quiet storm hit “When You Get Right Down to It” as well as “Living in Confusion”. The next year she once again appeared on a popular Norman Connors song “Remember Who You Are”.
Alas, “Prime of my Life” was the last album release of her life … as Phyllis Hyman committed suicide on July 1, 1995 … just a few weeks short of her 46th birthday, and only a few hours before she was due to perform at the Apollo Theater in Harlem.
Her manager attributed her suicide to being diagnosed as bi-polar years earlier. Others attribute part of the problems due to a lack of chart success, battles with both weight gain and drug usage, and still others to financial problems. Whichever, her posthumous album release I Refuse to be Lonely had numerous melancholy songs, with the final track’s title “Give Me One Good Reason to Stay” (by Gamble/Huff) taking on an ominous tone in death.
Of all of her songs, my favorite is a ballad from her debut album, I Don’t Want to Lose You – a Thom Bell-written song originally made famous by The Spinners in 1975. And below you can listen to it.