Generally people only remember a day when a significant event happens. I cannot recall what I was doing on August 25, 1985 or August 25, 1992, but I can recollect exactly what I was doing on the morning of August 26, 2001 when I found out that Aaliyah had died in a plane crash the night before. I was preparing to celebrate my boyfriend’s (at the time) birthday. I had recently arrived back from a vacation/pre-birthday trip with my boyfriend to the Bahamas and decided to pay my mom a visit. Her distressed face instantly wiped the smile from mine. She asked if I had heard what happened; I said no. When she told me that Aaliyah had perished in a plane crash in the Bahamas, a place I had just returned from three days ago, I was devastated. I fell into a depression that only ceased when the events of 9/11 occurred.
I was 27 at the time and refused to believe that someone so endearing could be gone in such a flash. I had been rocked by the deaths of artists of my generation before – the deaths of Tupac and Notorious B.I.G. and the suicide of Kurt Cobain were all sudden. But their deaths were all violent and one could assert that the lives they led somehow contributed in their demise. Aaliyah’s death was an accident – something that should never had been and could only be attributed to fate. At that time, Aaliyah’s death symbolized the extinction of a promise. Aaliyah’s was just starting to break out – with roles in Romeo Must Die and Queen of the Damned her star was just starting shoot into the stratosphere. The trio of Aaliyah, Missy Elliot and Timbaland was undeniable. The futuristic production of Missy and Timbaland mixed with Aaliyah’s melodic soprano vocals added a much needed layer to R&B in the 90s. Her music reminded me of the songs created by Donna Summer and Giorgio Moroder –progressive yet timeless. Her style was sexy but not slutty. She exuded a sweetness that was palpable through television screens and radio speakers. Her sincerity was commendable. There was no one that was not in love with Aaliyah; her death almost seemed like a cruel joke. Only there was no punch-line. Her catalog, albeit small, left an impression on R&B that can never be erased. Dying young, beautiful and full of promise places her in the pantheon of artisans like James Dean, Richie Valens and Buddy Holly.
It hard to believe that 10 years have passed since Aaliyah’s death – life has served many changes, but since her passing there has remained one constant when it comes to the Princess of R& B, the public’s love for her is everlasting. Yesterday celebrities and fans alike took to Twitter, Facebook, etc. to express their love and remembrance for Aaliyah and I shall do the same. Aaliyah, your presence in music is still missed. Thank you for the music you gave us before you were so abruptly taken away. May your sweet soprano tone continue to brighten the skies of heaven.
“Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing” – a 1968 single released by Motown, sung by the incomparable Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell. For me this title is more than just a name to a classic song, it sums up my feelings for Nick Ashford. On August 22, Nickolas Ashford lost his battle with throat cancer. News of his death sent tremors throughout the music and dance communities that were stronger than the earthquake that made New York City the day after his death was announced. Nick Ashford was a recording artist and one half of one of the most dynamic songwriting duos in R&B and pop music history.
As part of Ashford & Simpson, he and his wife, Valerie Simpson not only recorded some great disco and R&B classics, they also helped to pen the “Motown Sound” and define disco. Together they turned Diana Ross into The Boss, influenced Ray Charles to Go Get Stoned, made Chaka Kahn into Every Woman and created magic for Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell that anyone living on a mountain high or valley low could feel. When they lifted their voices in song, they were as Solid as titanium.
In a sense, New York City was the genesis of Ashford & Simpson; they met at Harlem’s White Rock Baptist Church in 1963. The Big Apple was their home and along with their singing and songwriting careers, the duo was also DJs for Manhattan’s KISS-FM and opened Sugar Bar, located on 254 West 72nd Street, in 1996. Their music kept the dance floors of New York City’s most memorable clubs and parties packed with sweaty souls all singing their lyrics word for word, hustling, moving and not missing a beat.
As a music lover, his passing affects me deeply, but I know that when I step on a dance floor and hear my favorite Ashford &Simpson jam, “It Seems to Hang On”, I know I will lose it as I always have. I will bring my hands to my mouth, kiss the sky, hold my hands up high and give thanks that a star like Nick Ashford was allowed to burn for 70 years and left such luminous memories behind in the form of music and lyrics that will survive until the end of ages. My deepest condolences go out to his wife Valerie Simpson and their two daughters. Personally, I cannot fathom the loss of a true life partner – a husband, father and business partner. I hope she will find solace in the knowledge that she and her husband provided a voice and helped contributed to the soundtrack of an era where music was still about artistry, not branding, and that millions of music lovers mourn with her. Nick Ashford’s funeral is planned for tomorrow at Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church. A repast is scheduled at Sugar Bar.
As the fall 2011 season begins on Broadway, there is buzz about a new musical coming in spring 2012. Peter Quilter’s End of the Rainbow, a production about the last months of Judy Garland’s life,is poised to begin performances March 19 at a theater to be announced. The show is set in London in 1968 and chronicles her problematic life on and offstage as Garland finishes her final performances in The Smoke. Two-time Oliver Award winner Tracie Bennett will reprise the role of Garland, which she originated in London, on Broadway. End of the Rainbow features several of Garland’s signature songs including “Over the Rainbow” and will make its US debut in January in Minneapolis as it gears up for its Broadway run.
Born Frances Ethel Gumm in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, Judy Garland was the youngest child of Vaudevillian parents. She started in show business at the tender age of two joining her older sisters on stage as The Gumm Sisters. In 1935, she signed a contract with MGM and in 1937 appeared in the first of a string of successful “backyard musicals” co-starring Mickey Rooney. In 1938, she began filming The Wizard of Oz playing the role of Dorothy, the character she is most known for. Her years at MGM and following her departure from the studio were tumultuous at best. Throughout her life she suffered mental and physical illnesses and battled alcohol and drug addiction. She was married five times and had three children, Liza Minnelli, Lorna Luft and Joey Luft. Judy Garland died at age 47 in London. Her legacy remains as a performer, one of the greatest female stars of all time and a gay icon.
Oh Sugar, Honey, Ice, Tea…guess who is back? Its 2011 hip-hop cash king Jay-Z and his once protégé producer turned Michael Jackson wannabe and superstar in his own right, Kanye West. I am sure all you FAMERS have seen the video for “Otis”, which has been on rotation on MTV and plastered all over the internet. “Otis” is the first video to be released from their collaboration Watch the Throne, and features a vocal and instrumental sample from Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness”, a flame-shooting overhauled Maybach and a mountainous American flag draped over a hanger (oh did I also mention there are models too).
The video is directed by Spike Jonze, known for cranking out a great video or two, has been well received by critics and the public and looks more like the outtakes of a video shoot rather than a video itself. It is not contrived, the concept not overly artistic, it is just Jigga and Kanye kicking it, whipping around in a super Maybach with models in the backseat and “Parks and Recreation” star Aziz Ansari making a brief cameo. As simplistic as it gets, “Otis” gets high marks for showing two hip-hop moguls having fun. But for me the best part of the song or video is the Redding sample. Although I did cringe at the blasphemy of using the legendary soul singer’s most famous hit in an almost haphazardly fashion (hey, I am an old head), I must admit the track did grow on me. The best samples take great beats and hooks and transform them into new music. And that is exactly what Kanye West did with “Otis”.
The production of the song harkens back to tracks like “Izzo (H.O.V.A.)”, which featured a sample of Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back” or “Hard Knock Life” which used a sample from the musical Annie. Although the shrieks at the end of the video can be unnerving, the sample introduces the music of Otis Redding to Millennials, a generation who has probably never heard of him and gives old heads like me the opportunity to relive the joy of Redding’s music in another form. And besides the track being a headbanger, the Maybach shown in the video is being auctioned to aid the East African drought relief efforts.