Speech Differences And Stutter Series-Disabled Legend Chris Trapper

Chris Trapper is a musician based in Boston, Massachusetts who is most known as the lead singer of the band, The Push Stars. With The Push Stars, Chris Trapper wrote material for 4 studio albums and 3 self-produced discs. Several of his songs have been picked up for major motion picture soundtracks including There’s Something About Mary and Say It Isn’t So and for television shows such as Pepper Dennis, ER, and Malcolm in the Middle.

Chris Trapper’s 2002 solo project “Songs from the Drive-In” showcased “his formidable storytelling talents,” according to the Boston Phoenix. In 2003 Chris Trapper received a prestigious SOCAN award (Canadian songwriters and music publishers) for his songwriting contribution to Great Big Sea/Sea of No Cares album/Warner Music/Canada. Chris Trapper’s album Gone Again spawned a series of live music videos by director Christopher Seufert. Chris Trapper also toured the Push Stars with Matchbox 20.

Chris Trapper’s songs have been winning awards as well as the hearts of devoted listeners ever since his arrival on the Boston music scene in 1995. Chris Trapper is most widely known as the front man for the nationally acclaimed pop/rock band The Push Stars, whose “honest, heartfelt songs with timeless melodies” were described as “the kind of music that songwriters love” by Rob Thomas of Matchbox 20.

With The Push Stars, Chris Trapper has written material for 4 studio albums and 3self-produced discs. Several of his songs have been picked up for major motion picture soundtracks including There’s Something About Mary and Say It Isn’t So and for television shows such as Pepper Dennis, ER, and Malcolm in the Middle. Chris Trapper’s 2002 solo project “Songs from the Drive-In” showcased “his formidable storytelling talents,” according to the Boston Phoenix.

Chris Trapper’s 2nd solo release, “Gone Again,” serves up 11 new songs with a Dixieland flavour provided by Boston’s renowned Wolverine Jazz Band. The newest release “Hey, You” is his 1st rock/pop solo record, featuring guest appearances by The Push Stars, Great Big Sea, Sonando, Martin Sexton, Matt Beck (Matchbox 20) and Duke Levine (Mary Chapin Carpenter).

In addition to numerous Boston Music Awards, Chris Trapper received 2 Gold Records, a Platimun record, and the prestigious SOCAN Award twice for his songwriting work with Newfoundland’s Great Big Sea. Antigone Rising covered his song “Waiting, Watching, Wishing” on their latest album release. In 2006, he filmed cameo appearances for an episode of “Pepper Dennis,” the WB romantic comedy, and for “August Rush,” an upcoming film with Robin Williams.

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Schizophrenia Series-Disabled Legend Alexander “Skip” Spence

Alexander Lee “Skip” Spence was born on 18 April, 1946 in Windsor, Ontario, Canada and died on 16 April, 1999 from lung cancer. Alexander “Skip” Spence was 52, just 2days shy of his 53rd birthday.

Alexander “Skip” Spence was a musician and singer-songwriter best known for his work with Jefferson Airplane, Moby Grape and as a solo artist. Alexander “Skip” Spence and his family relocated to San Jose, California in the late 1950s. Alexander “Skip” Spence’s career was plauged by drug addictions coupled with mental health problems, and is described by a biographer as man who “neither died young nor had a chance to find his way out. Unlike the advice in the Neil Young song, he both burned out and faded away;” yet during his tenure in the public eye, he had a profound impact on the outsider music and psych-folk genres.

Alexander “Skip” Spence was a guitarist in an early line-up of Quicksilver Messenger Service before Marty Balin recruited him to be the drummer for Jefferson Airplane. After 1 album with Jefferson Airplane, their debut Jefferson Airplane Takes Off, he left to co-found Moby Grape, once again as a guitarist. It was with Moby Grape that Alexander “Skip” Spence found his greatest musical fame, writing among other songs, “Omaha”, from Moby Grape’s 1st album (1967) a song identified in 2008 by Rolling Stone Magazine as 1 of the 100 greatest guitar songs of all time.

Alexander “Skip” Spence is acknowledged as having been instrumental in the formation of the Doobie Brothers, by way of introducing John Hartman to Tom Johnston, and encouraging their musical development.

During the recording session of Moby Grape’s 2nd album, Wow, in 1968, Alexander “Skip” Spence attempted to break down a bandmate’s hotel room door with a fire axe, while under the influence of LSD. Alexander “Skip” Spence’s deterioration in New York and the “fire axe incident” are described by bandmate Jerry Miller as follows: “Skippy changed radically when we were in New York. There were some people there that were into harder drugs and a harder lifestyle, and some very weird shit. And so he kind of flew off with those people. Skippy kind of disappeared for a little while. Next time we saw him, he had cut off his beard, and was wearing a black leather jacket, with his chest hanging out, with some chains and just sweating like a son of a gun. I don’t know what the hell he got a hold of, man, but it just whacked him. And the next thing I know, he axed my door down in the Albert Hotel. They said at the reception area that this crazy guy had held an ax to the doorman’s head.”

As described by bandmate Peter Lewis, it appears that both Jerry Miller and bandmade Don Stevenson were targets of Alexander “Skip” Spence: “We had to do (the album) in New York because the producer (David Rubinson) wanted to be with his family. So we had to leave our families and spend months at a time in hotel rooms in New York City. Finally I just quit and went back to California. I got a phone call after a couple of days. They’d played a Fillmore East gig without me, and Skippy took off with some black witch afterward who fed him full of acid. It was like that scene in The Doors movie. He thought he was the anti-Christ. He tried to chop down the hotel room door with a fire axe to kill Don (Stevenson) to save him from himself. He went up to the 52nd floor of the CBS building where they had to wrestle him to the ground. And Rubinson pressed charges against him. They took him to the The Tombs (and then to Bellevue) and that’s where he wrote Oar. When he got out of there, he cut that album in Nashville. And that was the end of his career. They shot him full of Thorazine for 6 months. They just take you out of the game.”

During his 6 months in Bellevue, Alexander “Skip” Spence was diagnosed with schizophrenia. On the day of his release, he drove a motorcycle, dressed in only his pajamas, directly to Nashville to record his only solo album, with no other musicians appearing on it, the now-classic psychedelic/folk album Oar (1969, Columbia Records).

Alexander “Skip” Spence continued to have minor involvement in later Moby Grape projects and reunions. Alexander “Skip” Spence contributed to 20 Granite Creek(1971) and Live Grape(1978), though his bandmates always included at least 1 of his songs on group recordings, irrespective of whether he was capable of performing with the group at the time. Alexander “Skip” Spence had been similarly remembered by Jefferson Airplane, whereby his song, “My Best Friend” was included on the group’s definitive Surrealistic Pillow album (1967), despite his departure from the group.

Due to his deteriorating state and notwithstanding that he was no longer functioning in the band, Alexander “Skip” Spence was supported by Moby Grape band members for extended periods. Voluminous consumption of heroin and cocaine resulted in a further involuntary committal for Alexander “Skip” Spence, based on “Aqualung”-like behaviours. As described by Peter Lewis, “Skippy was just hanging around. He hadn’t been all there for years, because he’d been into heroin all that time. In fact he actually ODed once and they had him in the morgue in San Jose with a tag on his toe. All of a sudden he got up and asked for a glass of water. Now he was snortin’ big clumps of coke, and nothing would happen to him. We couldn’t have him around because he’d be pacing the room, describing axe murders. So we got him a little place of his own. He had a little white rat named Oswald that would snort coke too. He’d never washed his dishes, and he’d try to get these little grammar school girls to go into the house with him. He was real bad. One of the parents finally called the cops, and they took him to the County Mental Health Hospital in Santa Cruz. Where they immediately lost him, and he turned up days later in the women’s ward.”

Mental illness, drug addiction and alcoholism thus prevented Alexander “Skip” Spence from sustaining a career in the music industry. Much of his life was spent in third party care, as a ward of the State of California, and either homeless or in transient accommodations in his later years. Alexander “Skip” Spence remained in and around San Jose and Santa Cruz, California. Peter Lewis regularly visited Alexander “Skip” Spence during the latter years of his life: “The last 5 years I’d go up‚ he lived in a trailer up there‚ Capitola. I used to hang around with him; we’d spend the weekends together. But he just basically kind of hit the…he was helpless in a way in terms of being able to define anything or control his feelings.”

As 1 of his 4 children, son Omar Spence, recalls, “When I saw my dad, it broke my heart. …There were moments of clarity when he was genius smart, and then he’d wander off having a conversation with himself. Here’s a homeless guy that most people would walk past and pity, and he’d say, ‘I’ve been working on a song’, and he’d scratch out some bar chords and musical notes on a napkin.”

Spence died More Oar: A Tribute to Alexander “Skip” Spence, an album featuring contributions from Robert Plant, Tom Waits, Beck, among others, was released a few weeks after his death. Prior to its release, the CD was played for Alexander “Skip” Spence at the hospital, in his final stages before death. As Peter Lewis recalls, “He was in a coma‚ and the last thing to go is your hearing. And they had More Oar in there and were playing it for him as they pulled the plug and we were holding his hands. I mean‚ it was like this death of Van Gogh or something. That’s the drama of it. You know…it was just so intense.”

Alexander “Skip” Spence’s “Land of the Sun”, one of the only post-Grape recordings he ever completed, was nearly placed on the X-Files soundtrack, Songs In The Key of X. Alexander “Skip” Spence had been commissioned to write the song.

In June, 2008, an Alexander “Skip” Spence Tribute Concert was held in Santa Cruz. The concert featured Alexander “Skip” Spence’s son, Omar Spence, who has sung with various configurations of Moby Grape in recent years. Omar Spence, singing his father’s songs, was backed by the Santa Cruz White Album Ensemble, with Dale Ockerman and Tiran Porter, both formerly of the Doobie Brothers, and both of whom have played with various members of Moby Grape in several bands over the past 3 decades. Keith Graves of Quicksilver Messenger Service played drums. Peter Lewis joined the group onstage for the finale. An additional Alexander “Skip” Spence tribute concert is planned for October, 2008.

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Schizophrenia Series-Disabled Legend James Beck Gordon

Jim Gordon was born James Beck Gordon in 1945 Los Angeles, California, USA. James Beck Gordon is an American recording artist, musician and songwriter. The Grammy Award winner was one of the most requested session drummers in the late 1960s and 1970s and was a member of the blues-rock supergroup, Derek & The Dominos.

James Beck Gordon began his career backing the Everly Brothers in 1963 at the age of 17, he went on to become one of the most sought after recording session drummers in Los Angeles where, in 1968, he recorded with Mason Williams on the hit “Classical Gas”. During this period, he performed on many notable recordings including Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys, Gene Clark with the Gosdin Brothers by Gene Clark and The Notorious Byrd Brothers by The Byrds. James Beck Gordon at the top of his career was so busy as a studio musician that he would fly back to Los Angeles every night when playing in Las Vegas to do 2 or 3 record dates, then return in the afternoon in time for the 8pm show at Caesars Palace.

In 1969 and 1970, he toured as part of the backing band for the group Delaney & Bonnie, which at the time included Eric Clapton. Eric Clapton subsequently took over the group’s rhythm section — James Beck Gordon, bassist Carl Radle and keyboardist-singer-songwriter, Bobby Whitlock. They formed a new band which was eventually called Derek & The Dominos. The band’s 1st studio work was as the house band for George Harrison’s 3 disc set All Things Must Pass. James Beck Gordon then played on the Derek & The Dominos’ 1970 double album Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs, James Beck Gordon contributing the elegiac piano coda for the title track, “Layla”, co written by James Beck Gordon and Eric Clapton. James Beck Gordon also toured with the band on subsequent U.S. and UK tours, but the group split in spring 1971 before having completed the recording of their 2nd album.

In 1970, James Beck Gordon was part of Joe Cocker’s Mad Dogs and Englishmen tour. In 1971, he toured with Traffic, appearing on 2 albums with them, including The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys. Later in 1972, James Beck Gordon was part of Frank Zappa’s 20-piece “Grand Wazoo” big band tour, and the subsesequent 10-piece “Petit Wazoo” band. Perhaps his most well-known recording with Frank Zappa was the title track of the 1974 album Apostrophe (‘), a jam with Frank Zappa and Tony Duran on guitar and Jack Bruce on bass guitar, for which both Bruce and James Beck Gordon received a writing credit. James Beck Gordon worked with Chris Hillman again when he was the drummer in the Souther-Hillman-Furay Band from 1973 to 1975. Some of his best work was with Dave Mason on his 1970 album Alone Together, where James Beck Gordon set new standards for rock drumming.

James Beck Gordon was also the drummer on the Incredible Bongo Band’s Bongo Rock album, released in 1972. James Beck Gordon’s drum break on the LP’s version of “Apache” has been repeatedly sampled by rap music artists.

In the late 1970s, James Beck Gordon complained of hearing voices in his head, primarily those of his mother. Unfortunately, his physicians did not diagnose his condition as schizophrenia and instead treated him for alcohol abuse.

In June 1983, he murdered his mother. It was not until his trial in 1984 that he was properly diagnosed. Due to the fact that his attorney was unable to use the insanity defense, he was sentenced to 16 years to life in prison with a possibility of parole. James Beck Gordon has served his sentence at the California Men’s Colony in San Luis Obispo, Atascadero State Hospital in Atascadero, and the State Medical Corrections Facility in Vacaville. As of 2008, he remains incarcerated. Currently, there is a petition on line to assist him in either being released from prison or placed in a facility where he is able to receive more sophisticated treatment.

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Club Feet or Foot Series-Disabled Legend Dudley Moore

Dudley Stuart John Moore, CBE was born on 19 April, 1935 in Dagenham, Essex, England, UK and died on 27 March, 2002 aged 66, as a result of pneumonia, secondary to immobility caused by the palsy, in Plainfield, New Jersey, USA. Rena Fruchter was holding his hand when he died, and she reported his final words were “I can hear the music all around me”. Dudley Moore was interred in Hillside Cemetery in Scotch Plains, New Jersey. Rena Fruchter later wrote a memoir of their relationship (Dudley Moore, Ebury Press, 2004).

Dudley Moore was an English Golden Globe-winning actor, comedian and musician.

Dudley Moore first came to prominence as 1 of the 4 writer-performers in Beyond the Fringe in the early 1960s and became famous as half of the hugely popular television double-act he formed with Peter Cook. Dudley Moore’s fame as a comedic actor was later heightened by his success in Hollywood movies such as 10 with Bo Derek and Arthur in the late 1970s and early 1980s, respectively. Dudley Moore was often known as “Cuddly Dudley” or “The Sex Thimble”, a reference to his short stature and popularity with women.

Dudley Moore was born the son of a railway electrician in Dagenham, Essex, England. Dudley Moore’s working-class parents showed little affection to their offspring (as his older sister publicly revealed). Dudley Moore was notably short: 5′ 2½” (1.59 m) and was born with a club foot that required extensive hospital treatment and which, coupled with his diminutive stature, made him the butt of jokes from other children. Seeking refuge from his problems he became a choirboy at the age of 6 and took up piano and violin. Dudley Moore rapidly developed into a very talented pianist and organist and was playing the pipe organ at church weddings by the age of 14. Dudley Moore attended Dagenham County High School where he received musical tuition from a dedicated teacher, Peter Cork. Peter Cork became a friend and confidant to Dudley Moore, corresponding with him until 1994.

Dudley Moore’s musical talent won him a scholarship to Magdalen College, Oxford and whilst studying music and composition there, he performed with Alan Bennett in the Oxford Revue. Alan Bennett then recommended him to the producer putting together Beyond the Fringe, a comedy revue, where he was to first meet Peter Cook. Beyond the Fringe was at the forefront of the 1960s satire boom and after enormous success in Britain, it transferred to the USA where it was also a major hit.

During his university years, Dudley Moore took a great interest in jazz and soon became an accomplished jazz pianist and composer, as well as working with such leading musicians as John Dankworth and Cleo Laine. In 1960, he left Dankworth’s band to work on Beyond the Fringe. During the 1960s he formed the acclaimed “Dudley Moore Trio” (with drummer Chris Karan and bassists Pete McGurk and later Peter Morgan). Dudley Moore’s admitted principal musical influences were Oscar Peterson and Errol Garner. In a later interview he recalled the day he finally mastered Errol Garner’s unique left hand strum, and he was so excited he walked around for several days with his left hand constantly playing that extraordinary cadence. Dudley Moore’s early recordings included “My Blue Heaven”, “Lysie Does It”, “Poova Nova”, “Take Your Time”, “Indiana”, “Sooz Blooz”, “Bauble, Bangles and Beads”, “Sad One for George” and “Autumn Leaves”. The trio performed regularly on British television, made numerous recordings and had a long-running residency at Peter Cook’s club, The Establishment.

Dudley Moore composed the soundtracks for the films Bedazzled, Inadmissible Evidence, Staircase, and 6 Weeks, among others.

In the early 1970s, he had a brief relationship with British singer-songwriter Lynsey De Paul, whom he met at a party.

After following the Establishment to New York City, Dudley Moore returned to the UK and was offered his own series on the BBC. Not Only… But Also (1965) was commissioned as a vehicle for Dudley Moore, but when he invited Peter Cook on as a guest, their comedy partnership was so notable that it became a fixture of the series. Peter Cook and Dudley Moore are most remembered for their sketches as 2 working-class men, Pete and Dud, in macs and cloth caps, commenting on politics and the arts, but they fashioned a series of character one-offs, usually with Dudley Moore in the role of interviewer to one of Peter Cook’s upper-class eccentrics. The pair developed an unorthodox method for scripting the material by using a tape recorder to tape an adlibbed routine that they would then have transcribed and edited. This would not leave enough time to fully rehearse the script so they often had a set of cue cards. Dudley Moore was famous for “corpsing”—the programmes often went on live, and Peter Cook would deliberately make him laugh in order to get an even bigger reaction from the studio audience. Regrettably, many of the videotapes and film reels of these seminal TV shows were later erased by the BBC (an affliction which wiped out large portions of other British television productions as well, such as Doctor Who), although some of the soundtracks (which were issued on record) have survived. Dudley Moore and Peter Cook co-starred in the film Bedazzled (1967) with Eleanor Bron, and also had tours called Behind the Fridge and Good Evening.

Their 3 albums of the late 1970s as Derek and Clive, were widely condemned for their use of obscene language and shocking, ad-libbed content. Shortly following the last of these, Ad Nauseam, Dudley Moore made a break with Peter Cook, whose alcoholism was affecting his work, to concentrate on his film career. When Dudley Moore began to manifest the symptoms of a disease that eventually killed him (progressive supranuclear palsy), it was at first suspected that he too had a drinking problem. 2 of Moore’s early starring roles, were the titular drunken playboy Arthur, and to a lesser extent the heavy drinker George Webber in 10.

In the late 1970s, Dudley Moore moved to Hollywood, where he appeared in Foul Play (1978) with Goldie Hawn and Chevy Chase. The following year saw his breakout role in Blake Edwards’s 10, which he followed up with the movie Wholly Moses. Soon thereafter Arthur (film), an even bigger hit than 10, which also starred Liza Minnelli and Sir John Gielgud (who won an Oscar for his role as Arthur’s stern but loving man servant) and Geraldine Fitzgerald.

Dudley Moore was nominated for a Best Actor Academy Award but lost to Henry Fonda (for On Golden Pond). Dudley Moore did, however, win a Golden Globe award for Best Actor in a Musical/Comedy. In 1984, Dudley Moore had another hit, starring in the Blake Edwards directed Micki + Maude, co-starring Amy Irving. This won him another Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Musical/Comedy.

Dudley Moore’s subsequent films, including an Arthur sequel and an animated adaptation of King Kong, were inconsistent in terms of both critical and commercial reception. In later years Peter Cook would wind-up Dudley Moore by claiming he preferred Arthur 2: On the Rocks to Arthur.

In addition to acting, Dudley Moore continued to work as a composer and pianist, writing scores for a number of films and giving piano concerts, which were highlighted by his popular parodies of classical favourites. In addition, Dudley Moore collaborated with the conductor Sir Georg Solti to create a 1991 television series, Orchestra!, which was designed to introduce audiences to the symphony orchestra. Dudley Moore later worked with the American conductor Michael Tilson Thomas on a similar television series from 1993, Concerto!, likewise designed to introduce audiences to classical music concertos.

In 1987, he was interviewed for the New York Times by the music critic Rena Fruchter, herself an accomplished pianist. They became close friends. At that time Dudley Moore’s film career was already on the wane. Dudley Moore was having trouble remembering his lines, a problem he had never previously encountered. Dudley Moore opted to concentrate on the piano, and enlisted Rena Fruchter as an artistic partner. They performed as a duo in the U.S. and Australia. However, his disease soon started to make itself apparent there as well, as his fingers would not always do what he wanted them to do. Symptoms such as slurred speech and loss of balance were interpreted by the public and the media as a sign of drunkenness. Dudley Moore himself was at a loss to explain this. Dudley Moore moved into Rena Fruchter’s family home in New Jersey and stayed there for 5 years, but this, however, placed a great strain on both her marriage and her friendship with Dudley Moore, and she later set him up in the house next door.

Dudley Moore was deeply affected by the untimely death of Peter Cook in 1995, and for weeks would regularly telephone Peter Cook’s home in London just to get the answerphone and hear his friend’s voice. Dudley Moore attended Peter Cook’s memorial service in London and at the time many people who knew him noted that Dudley Moore was behaving strangely and attributed it to grief or drinking. In November 199, Dudley Moore teamed up with friend and humorist Martin Lewis in organising a 2 day salute to Peter Cook in Los Angeles which Dudley Moore co-hosted with Martin Lewis.

Dudley Moore was married and divorced 4 times: to actresses Suzy Kendall and Tuesday Weld (by whom he had a son, Patrick, in 1976); Brogan Lane and Nicole Rothschild (1 son, Nicholas, born in 1995).

Dudley Moore maintained good relationships with Suzy Kendall particularly, and also Tuesday Weld and Brogan Lane. However, he expressly forbade Nicole Rothschild to attend his funeral. At the time his illness became apparent, he was going through a difficult divorce from Nicole Rothschild, despite sharing a household in Los Angeles with not only her but also her previous husband.

Dudley Moore dated and was a favorite of some of Hollywood’s most attractive women, including the statuesque Susan Anton.

In June 1998, Nicole Rothschild was reported to have told an American television show that Dudley Moore was “waiting to die” due to a serious illness, but these reports were denied by Suzy Kendall.

On 30 September 1999, Dudley Moore announced that he was suffering from the terminal degenerative brain disorder Progressive Supranuclear Palsy, and the illness had been diagnosed earlier in the year.

In December 2004, the UK’s Channel 4 television network broadcast Not Only But Always, a television movie dramatising the relationship between Dudley Moore and Peter Cook, although the focus of the production was on Peter Cook. Around the same time, the relationship between the 2 was also the subject of a stage play called Pete and Dud: Come Again.

Honours and awards

In June 2001, Dudley Moore was appointed a Commander of the Order of The British Empire (CBE). Despite his deteriorating condition, he attended the ceremony, mute and wheelchair-bound, at Buckingham Palace to collect his honour.

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Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Series-Disabled Legend Hans Keller

Hans Keller was born in 1919 and died in 1985, Hans was an Austrian-born British musician and writer who made significant contributions to musicology and music criticism, and invented the method of ‘Wordless Functional Analysis’ (in which a work is analysed in musical sound alone, without any words being heard or read).

Hans Keller was born into a well-to-do and culturally well-connected Jewish family in Vienna, and as a boy was taught by the same Oskar Adler who had, decades earlier, been Arnold Schoenberg’s boyhood friend and first teacher. Hans Keller also came to know the composer and performer Franz Schmidt, but was never a formal pupil. In 1938 the Anschluss forced Hans Keller to flee to London (where he had relatives), and in the years that followed he became a prominent and influential figure in the UK’s musical and music-critical life. Initially active as a violinist and violist, he soon found his niche as a highly prolific and provocative writer on music as well as an influential teacher, lecturer, broadcaster and coach.

An original thinker never afraid of controversy, Hans Keller’s passionate support of composers whose work he saw as under-valued or insufficiently understood made him a tireless advocate of Benjamin Britten and Arnold Schoenberg as well as an illuminating analyst of figures such as Mozart, Haydn, Beethoven and Mendelssohn. Much of this advocacy was carried out from within the BBC, where he came to hold several senior positions.

Hans Keller’s gift for systematic thinking, allied to his philosophical and psycho-analytic knowledge, bore fruit in the method of ‘Wordless Functional Analysis’ (abbreviated by the football-loving Hans Keller as ‘FA’), designed to furnish incontrovertibly audible demonstrations of a masterwork’s ‘all-embracing background unity’. This method was developed in tandem with a ‘Theory of Music’ which explicitly considered musical structure from the point of view of listener expectations; the ‘meaningful contradiction’ of expected ‘background’ by unexpectable ‘foreground’ was seen as generating a work’s expressive content. An element of Hans Keller’s theory of unity was the ‘Principle of Reversed and Postponed Antecedents and Consequents’, which has not been widely adopted. Hans Keller’s term ‘homotonality’, however, has proved useful to musicologists in several fields.

Hans Keller was married to the artist Milein Cosman, whose drawings illustrated some of his work.

As a man very prominent in the world of ‘contemporary music’ (even working for several years as the BBC’s ‘Chief Assistant, New Music’), Hans Keller had close personal and professional ties with many composers, and was frequently the dedicatee of new compositions. Those who dedicated works to him include:

Benjamin Britten (String Quartet No.3, Op. 94)
Benjamin Frankel (String Quartet No.5, Op.43)
Philip Grange,
David Matthews (Piano Trio No.1; ‘To Hans Keller’)
Bayan Northcott,
Buxton Orr (Piano Trio No.1; ‘In admiration and friendship’),
Robert Simpson (Symphony No.7; ‘To Hans and Milein Keller’).
Robert Matthew-Walker (Piano Sonata No.3 – ‘Fantasy-Sonata: Hamlet’), Op.34

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Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Series-Disabled Legend Charles Mingus

Charles Mingus was born on 22 April 1922 in Nogales, Arizona and died on 5 January 1979 at the age of 56 in Cuernavaca, Mexico, where he had traveled for treatment and convalescence. Charles’ ashes were scattered in the Ganges River.

At the time of his death, Charles Mingus had been recording an album with singer Joni Mitchell, which included vocal versions of some of his songs (including “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat”) among Mitchell originals and short, spoken word duets and home recordings of Joni Mitchell and Charles Mingus. The album also featured Jaco Pastorius, another massively influential bassist and composer.

Charles was an American jazz bassist, composer, bandleader, and occasional pianist. Charles was also known for his activism against racial injustice.

Charles is highly ranked among the composers and performers of jazz, and he recorded many highly regarded albums. Dozens of musicians passed through his bands and later went on to impressive careers. Charles’ tunes—though melodic and distinctive—are not often re-recorded, in part because of their unconventional nature. Charles was also influential and creative as a band leader, recruiting talented and sometimes little-known artists whom he assembled into unconventional and revealing configurations.

Nearly as well known as his ambitious music was Charles’ often fearsome temperament, which earned him the nickname “The Angry Man of Jazz.” Charles’ refusal to compromise his musical integrity led to many on-stage eruptions, though it has been argued that his temper also grew from a need to vent frustration.

Charles was prone to depression. Charles tended to have brief periods of extreme creative activity, intermixed with fairly long periods of greatly decreased output.

Most of Charles’ music retained the hot and soulful feel of hard bop and drew heavily from black gospel music while sometimes drawing on elements of Third Stream, free jazz and even classical music. Yet Charles avoided categorisation, forging his own brand of music that fused tradition with unique and unexplored realms of jazz. Charles focused on collective improvisation, similar to the old New Orleans Jazz parades, paying particular attention to how each band member interacted with the group as a whole. In creating his bands, Charles looked not only at the skills of the available musicians, but also their personalities. Charles strove to create unique music to be played by unique musicians.

Due to his brilliant writing for mid-size ensembles—and his catering to and emphasizing the strengths of the musicians in his groups—Charles is often considered the heir apparent to Duke Ellington, for whom he expressed unqualified admiration. Indeed, Dizzy Gillespie had once claimed Charles reminded him “of a young Duke”, citing their shared “organisational genius.”

Charles was raised largely in the Watts area of Los Angeles, California. Charles’ mother’s paternal heritage was Chinese and English, while historical records indicate that his father was the illegitimate offspring of a black farmhand and his Swedish employer’s white granddaughter.

Charles’ mother allowed only church-related music in their home, but Charles developed an early love for jazz, especially the music of Duke Ellington. Charles studied trombone, and later cello. Much of the cello technique he learned was applicable to double bass when he took up the instrument in high school.

Beginning in his teen years, Charles was writing quite advanced pieces; many are similar to Third Stream Jazz. A number of them were recorded in 1960 with conductor Gunther Schuller, and released as Pre-Bird, referring to Charlie “Bird” Parker.

Charles gained a reputation as something of a bass prodigy. Charles toured with Louis Armstrong in 1943, then played with Lionel Hampton’s band in the late 1940s; Louis performed and recorded several of Charles’ pieces. A popular trio of Charles Mingus, Red Norvo and Tal Farlow in 1950 and 1951 received considerable acclaim, but Charles’ mixed origin caused problems with club owners and he left the group. Charles was briefly a member of Ellington’s band in the early 1950s, and notorious temper reportedly led to his being the only musician personally fired by Ellington (although there are reports that Sidney Bechet in 1925 was another), after an on-stage fight between Charles and Juan Tizol.

Also in the early 1950s, before attaining commercial recognition as a bandleader, Charles played gigs with Charlie Parker, whose compositions and improvisations greatly inspired and influenced him. Charles considered Charlie Parker the greatest genius and innovator in jazz history, but he had a love-hate relationship with Charlie Parker’s legacy. Charles Mingus blamed the Parker mythology for a derivative crop of pretenders to Charlie Parker’s throne. Charles was also conflicted and sometimes disgusted by Charlie Parker’s self-destructive habits and the romanticised lure of drug addiction they offered to other jazz musicians. In response to the many sax players who imitated Charlie Parker, Charles Mingus titled a song, “If Charlie Parker were a Gunslinger, There’d be a Whole Lot of Dead Copycats” (released on Mingus Dynasty as “Gunslinging Bird”).

In 1952 Charles co-founded Debut Records with Max Roach, in order to conduct his recording career as he saw fit; the name originated with a desire to document unrecorded young musicians. Despite this, the best known recording the company issued was of the most prominent figures in bebop. On 15 May, 1953, Charles joined Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, and Max Roach for a concert at Massey Hall in Toronto, which is the last recorded documentation of the two lead instrumentalists playing together. After the event, Charles chose to overdub his barely-audible bass part back in New York; the original version was issued later. The 2 10″ albums of the Massey Hall concert (one featured the trio of Bud Powell, Charles Mingus and Max Roach) were among Debut Records’ earliest releases. Charles may have objected to the way the major record companies treated musicians, but Gillespie once commented that he did not receive any royalties “for years and years” for his Massey Hall appearance. The records though, are often regarded as among the finest live jazz recordings.

In 1955, Charles was involved in a notorious incident while playing a club date billed as a “reunion” with Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, and Max Roach. Bud Powell, who had suffered from alcoholism and mental illness for years (potentially exacerbated by a severe police beating and electroshock treatments), had to be helped from the stage, unable to play or speak coherently. As Bud Powell’s incapacitation became apparent, Charlie Parker stood in one spot at a microphone, chanting “Bud Powell…Bud Powell…” as if beseeching Bud Powell’s return. Allegedly, Charlie Parker continued this incantation for several minutes after Bud Powell’s departure, to his own amusement and Charles Mingus’ exasperation. Charles Mingus took another microphone and announced to the crowd, “Ladies and gentlemen, please don’t associate me with any of this. This is not jazz. These are sick people.” This was Charlie Parker’s last public performance, about a week later Charlie Parker died after years of alcohol and drug abuse.

Charles Mingus often worked with a mid-sized ensemble (around 8–10 members) of rotating musicians known as the Jazz Workshop. Charles Mingus broke new ground, constantly demanding that his musicians be able to explore and develop their perceptions on the spot. Those who joined the Workshop (or Sweatshops as they were colorfully dubbed by the musicians) included Pepper Adams, Jaki Byard, Booker Ervin, John Handy, Jimmy Knepper, Charles McPherson and Horace Parlan. Charles Mingus shaped these promising novices into a cohesive improvisational machine that in many ways anticipated free jazz. Some musicians dubbed the workshop a “university” for jazz.

The decade which followed is generally regarded as Charles Mingus’s most productive and fertile period. Impressive new compositions and albums appeared at an astonishing rate: some 30 records in 10 years, for a number of record labels (Atlantic Records, Candid, Columbia Records, Impulse! Records and others), a pace perhaps unmatched by any other musician except Ellington.

Charles Mingus had already recorded around 10 albums as a bandleader, but 1956 was a breakthrough year for him, with the release of Pithecanthropus Erectus, arguably his first major work as both a bandleader and composer. Like Ellington, Charles Mingus wrote songs with specific musicians in mind, and his band for Erectus included adventurous, though distinctly blues-oriented musicians, piano player Mal Waldron, alto saxophonist Jackie McLean and the Sonny Rollins-influenced tenor of J. R. Monterose. The title song is a 10 minute tone poem, depicting the rise of man from his hominid roots (Pithecanthropus erectus) to an eventual downfall. A section of the piece was improvised free of structure or theme.

Another album from this period, The Clown (1957 also on Atlantic Records), with an improvised story on the title track by humorist Jean Shepherd, was the first to feature drummer Dannie Richmond. Dannie Richmond would be his preferred drummer until Charles Mingus’s death in 1979. The two men formed one of the most impressive and versatile rhythm sections in jazz. Both were accomplished performers seeking to stretch the boundaries of their music while staying true to its roots. When joined by pianist Jaki Byard, they were dubbed “The Almighty Three”.

Though he initially expressed rather mixed feelings for Coleman’s innovative music: “…if the free-form guys could play the same tune twice, then I would say they were playing something…Most of the time they use their fingers on the saxophone and they don’t even know what’s going to come out. They’re experimenting.” Charles Mingus was in fact a prime influence of the early free jazz era. Charles Mingus formed a quartet with Dannie Richmond, trumpeter Ted Curson and saxophonist Eric Dolphy. This ensemble featured the same instruments as Coleman’s quartet, and is often regarded as Charles Mingus rising to the challenging new standard established by Coleman. Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus, the quartet’s sole album, is frequently included among the finest in Charles Mingus’s catalogue.

In 1963, Charles Mingus released The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady, a sprawling, multi-section masterpiece, described as “one of the greatest achievements in orchestration by any composer in jazz history.” The album was also unique in that Charles Mingus asked his psychotherapist to provide notes for the record.

1963 also saw the release of an unaccompanied album Mingus Plays Piano. Charles’ piano technique, though capable and expressive, was somewhat unrefined when compared to Herbie Hancock or other contemporary jazz pianists, but the album is still generally well regarded. A few pieces were entirely improvised and drew on classical music as much as jazz, preceding Keith Jarrett’s landmark The Köln Concert in those respects by some 12 years.

In 1964 Charles Mingus put together one of his best-known groups, a sextet including Dannie Richmond, Jaki Byard, Eric Dolphy, trumpeter Johnny Coles, and tenor saxophonist Clifford Jordan. The group was recorded frequently during its short existence; Johnny Coles fell ill during a European tour. On 28 June, 1964 Eric Dolphy died while in Berlin, and Charles Mingus was evicted from his New York home in 1966.

Charles Mingus’s pace slowed somewhat in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In 1974 he formed a quintet with Dannie Richmond, pianist Don Pullen, trumpeter Jack Walrath and saxophonist George Adams. They recorded 2 well-received albums, Changes 1 and Changes 2. Charles also played with Charles McPherson in many of his groups during this time.

Cumbia and Jazz Fusion in 1976 sought to blend Colombian music (the “Cumbia” of the title) with more traditional jazz forms.

In 1971, Charles Mingus taught for a semester at the University at Buffalo, The State University of New York as the Slee Professor of Music.

By the mid-1970s, Charles Mingus was suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (popularly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease), a wastage of the musculature. Charles Mingus once formidable bass technique suffered, until he could no longer play the instrument. Charles continued composing, however, and supervised a number of recordings before his death.

The music of Charles Mingus is currently being performed and reinterpreted by the Mingus Big Band, which plays every Tuesday at Iridium Jazz Club in New York City, and often tours the rest of the U.S. and Europe. Elvis Costello has written lyrics for a few Mingus pieces. Charles Mingus had once sung lyrics for one piece, “Invisible Lady”, being backed by the Mingus Big Band on the album, Tonight at Noon: Three of Four Shades of Love.

In addition to the Mingus Big Band, there is the Mingus Orchestra and the Mingus Dynasty, each of which are managed by Jazz Workshop, Inc., and run by Charles’s widow Sue Graham Mingus. Other tribute bands are also active all around the US and the world, including Mingus Amungus in the San Francisco Bay Area, and the Swedish Mingus Band Siegmund Freud’s Mothers in Stockholm.

Epitaph is considered by many to be the masterwork of Charles Mingus. It is a composition which is more than 4,000 measures long, requires 2 hours to perform and was only completely discovered during the cataloging process after his death by musicologist Andrew Homzy. With the help of a grant from the Ford Foundation, the score and instrumental parts were copied, and the piece itself was premiered by a 30-piece orchestra, conducted by Gunther Schuller. This concert was produced by Charles Mingus’s widow, Sue Graham Mingus, at Alice Tully Hall on 3 June, 1989, 10 years after his death. Epitaph is one of the longest jazz pieces ever written.

Considering the number of compositions that Charles Mingus has written, his works have not been recorded as often as comparable jazz composers. Of all his works, his elegant elegy for Lester Young, “Goodbye Porkpie Hat” (from Mingus Ah Um) has probably had the most recordings. Besides recordings from the expected jazz artists, the song has also been recorded by musicians as disparate as Jeff Beck, Andy Summers, Eugene Chadbourne, and Bert Jansch and John Renbourn with and without Pentangle. Joni Mitchell sang a version with lyrics that she wrote for the song. Elvis Costello has recorded “Hora Decubitus” (from Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus) on My Flame Burns Blue (2006). “Better Git It in Your Soul” was covered by Davey Graham on his album “Folk, Blues, and Beyond.” Trumpeter Ron Miles performs a version of “Pithecanthropus Erectus” on his EP “Witness.” New York Ska Jazz Ensemble has done a cover of Charles Mingus’s “Haitian Fight Song”, as have Pentangle and others. Hal Willner’s 1992 tribute album Weird Nightmare: Meditations on Mingus (Columbia Records) contains idiosyncratic renditions of Charles Mingus’s works involving numerous popular musicians including Chuck D, Keith Richards, Henry Rollins and Dr. John. The italian band Quintorigo recorded an entire album devoted to Charles Mingus’ music, titled Play Mingus.

As respected as Charles Mingus was for his musical talents, he was often feared for his sometimes violent onstage temper, which was at times directed at members of his band, and other times aimed at the audience. Charles Mingus was physically large, prone to obesity (especially in his later years), and was by all accounts often intimidating and frightening when expressing anger or displeasure.

When confronted with a nightclub audience talking and clinking ice in their glasses while he performed, Charles Mingus stopped his band and loudly chastised the audience, stating “Isaac Stern doesn’t have to put up with this shit.” Charles once played a prank on a similar group of nightclub chatterers by silencing his band for several seconds, allowing the loud audience members to be clearly heard, then continuing as the rest of the audience snickered at the oblivious “soloists”.

Guitarist and singer Jackie Paris was a first-hand witness to Charles Mingus’s irascibility. Paris recalls his time in the Jazz Workshop: “He chased everybody off the stand except [drummer] Paul Motian and me… The three of us just wailed on the blues for about an hour and a half before he called the other cats back.”

While onstage at a memorial concert in Philadelphia, he reportedly attempted to crush his pianist’s hands with the instrument’s keyboard cover, then punched trombonist Jimmy Knepper in the mouth.[On 12 October, 1962, Charles Mingus slapped Jimmy Knepper in the mouth while the 2 men were working together at Charles Mingus’s apartment on a score for his upcoming concert at New York Town Hall and Jimmy Knepper refused to take on more work. The blow broke a cap and its tooth stub. According to Jimmy Knepper, this ruined his embouchure and resulted in the permanent loss of the top octave of his range on the trombone. This attack ended their working relationship and Jimmy Knepper was unable to perform at the concert. Charged with assault, Charles Mingus appeared in court in January, 1963 and was given a suspended sentence. In another incident, saxophonist Jackie McLean, fearing the bassist was about to kill him, nearly stabbed Charles Mingus after Charles Mingus punched him.

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Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Series-Disabled Legend Lead Belly

Huddie William Ledbetter, was born in January, 1888 and died on 6 December, 1949 in New York City, New York, USA and was buried in the Shiloh Baptist Church cemetery in Mooringsport, 8 miles (13 km) west of Blanchard, Louisiana, in Caddo Parish.

Lead Belly was an American folk and blues musician, notable for his clear and forceful singing, his virtuosity on the 12 string guitar, and the rich songbook of folk standards he introduced.

Ledbetter is best known as Leadbelly or Lead Belly. Though many releases list him as “Leadbelly,” he himself spelled it “Lead Belly.” This is also the usage on his tombstone, as well as the Lead Belly Foundation.

Although he most commonly played the 12 string, he could also play the piano, mandolin, harmonica, violin, concertina, and accordion. In some of his recordings, such as in one of his versions of the folk ballad “John Hardy”, he performs on the accordion instead of the guitar. In other recordings he just sings while clapping his hands or stomping his foot. The topics of Lead Belly’s music covered a wide range of subjects, including gospel songs; blues songs about women, liquor and racism; and folk songs about cowboys, prison, work, sailors, cattle herding and dancing. Lead Belly also wrote songs concerning the newsmakers of the day, such as President Franklin Roosevelt, Adolf Hitler, Jean Harlow, the Scottsboro Boys, and Howard Hughes.

Lead Belly’s date of birth is uncertain. Lead Belly was probably born in January 1888, although his gravestone gives his year of birth as 1889. The earliest year given for his birth has been 1885, although other sources stated either 1888 or 1889. According to the 1900 census, Hudy (the spelling given in the census) is 1 of 2 listed children (the other is his step-sister, Australia Carr), of Wes and Sallie (Brown) Ledbetter of Justice Precinct 2, Harrison County, Texas. Wesley and Sallie were legally born on wednesday 26 February, 1888, shortly after Lead Belly’s likely date of birth, even though they had lived together as husband and wife for years. The 1900 census, differing from the usual census in that it lists the month and year of birth, rather than just the age, states the birth year of ‘Hudy’ Ledbetter to be 1888 and the month listed as January; Huddie’s age is listed as 12. The census of 1910 and the census of 1930 confirm 1888 as the year of birth.

The day of his birth has also been debated. The most common date given is 20 January, but other sources suggest he was born on 21 or 29 January. The only document we have that Lead belly, himself, helped fill out is his World War II draft registration from 1942 where he gives his birth date as 23 January, 1889.

Lead Belly was born to Wesley and Sallie Ledbetter as Huddie William Ledbetter in a plantation near Mooringsport, Louisiana, but the family moved to Leigh, Texas, when he was 5 years old. By 1903, Lead Belly was already a ‘musicianer’, a singer and guitarist of some note. Lead Belly performed for nearby Shreveport, Louisiana audiences in St. Paul’s Bottoms, a notorious red-light district in the city. Lead Belly began to develop his own style of music after exposure to a variety of musical influences on Shreveport’s Fannin Street, a row of saloons, brothels, and dance halls in the Bottoms.

At the time of the 1910 census, Lead Belly, still officially listed as ‘Hudy’, was living next door to his parents with his first wife, Aletha “Lethe” Henderson, who at the time of the census was 17 years old, and was, therefore, 15 at the time of their marriage in 1908. It was also there that he received his first instrument, an accordion, from his uncle, and by his early 20s, after fathering at least 2 children, he left home to find his living as a guitarist (and occasionally, as a laborer). Lead Belly would later claim that as a youth he would “make it” with 8 to 10 women a night.

Influenced by the sinking of the RMS Titanic in April 1912, he would go on to write the song “The Titanic”, which noted the racial indifferences of the time. “The Titanic” was the first song he ever learned to play on a 12 string guitar, which was later to become his signature instrument. Lead Belly first played it in 1912 when performing with Blind Lemon Jefferson (1897-1929) in and around Dallas, Texas. Lead Belly noted that he had to leave out the verse about boxer Jack Johnson when playing before a white audience.

Lead Belly’s volatile nature sometimes led him into trouble with the law. In 1915 he was convicted “of carrying a pistol” and sentenced to do time on the Harrison County chain gang, from which he miraculously escaped, finding work in nearby Bowie County under the assumed name of Walter Boyd. In January 1918 he was thrown into prison for the second time, this time after killing one of his relatives, Will Stafford, in a fight over a woman. In 1918 he was incarcerated in Sugar Land, Texas, where he probably learned the song Midnight Special. In 1925 he was pardoned and released, having served 7 years, or virtually all of the minimum of his 7 to 35 year sentence, after writing a song appealing to Governor Pat Morris Neff for his freedom. Lead Belly had swayed Governor Neff by appealing to his strong religious values. That, in combination with good behavior (including entertaining by playing for the guards and fellow prisoners), was Lead Belly’s ticket out of jail. It was quite a testament to his persuasive powers, as Neff had run for governor on a pledge not to issue pardons (pardon by the governor was at that time the only recourse for prisoners, since in most Southern prisons there was no provision for parole). According to Charles K. Wolf and Kip Lornell’s book, The Life and Legend of Lead belly (1999), Neff had regularly brought guests to the prison on Sunday picnics to hear Lead belly perform.

In 1930, Lead Belly was back in prison, after a summary trial, this time in Louisiana, for attempted homicide — he had knifed a white man in a fight. It was there, 3 years later, that he was “discovered” by musicologists John Lomax and his 18 year old son Alan Lomax during a visit to the Angola Prison Farm. They were enchanted by Lead Belly’s talent, passion, and singularity as a performer and recorded hundreds of his songs on portable aluminum disc recording equipment for the Library of Congress. They returned to record in July of the following year (1934). On 1 August, Lead Belly was released (again having served almost all of his minimum sentence), this time after the Lomaxes had taken a petition to Louisiana Governor O.K. Allen at Lead belly’s urgent request. The petition was on the other side of a recording of his signature song, “Goodnight Irene.” A prison official later wrote to John Lomax denying that Lead Belly’s singing had anything to do with his release from Angola, and state prison records confirm that he was eligible for early release due to good behavior. A descendant of his has also confirmed this. For a time, however, both Lead Belly and the Lomaxes believed that the record they had taken to the governor had hastened his release from Angola.

There are several, somewhat conflicting stories about how Ledbetter acquired his famous nickname, though the consensus is that it was probably while in prison. Some say his fellow inmates dubbed him “Lead Belly” as a play on his last name and reference to his physical toughness; others say he earned the name after being shot in the stomach with shotgun buckshot. Another theory has it that the name refers to his ability to drink homemade liquor, which Southern farmers, black and white, used to make to supplement their incomes. Blues singer Big Bill Broonzy thought it came from a supposed tendency to lay about “with a stomach weighted down by lead” in the shade when the chain gang was supposed to be working. (This seems unlikely, unless it was ironic, given his well-known capacity for hard work.) Whatever its origin, he adopted the nickname as a pseudonym while performing, and it stuck. Regarding his toughness, it is also recounted that during his second prison term, another inmate stabbed him in the neck (leaving him with a fearsome scar that he subsequently covered with a bandanna), and he took the knife away and in turn almost killed his attacker with it. Lead belly – King of the 12 String Guitar Retrieved on 30 January, 2007.

Bob Dylan once remarked, on his XM radio show, that Lead Belly was “One of the few ex-cons who recorded a popular children’s album.”

It was the Depression and jobs were very scarce. A month after his release and in need of regular work in order to avoid having his release canceled and being sent back to prison, in September 1934, Lead Belly met with John A. Lomax and begged him to take him on as a driver. For 3 months he assisted the 67 year old John Lomax in his folk song collecting in the South. (Alan Lomax (then 19) was ill and didn’t accompany them on this trip.) In December, Lead Belly participated in a “smoker” (group sing) at an MLA meeting in Bryn Mawr College in PA., where John A. Lomax had a prior lecturing engagement. Lead Belly was written up in the press as a convict who had sung his way out of prison. On New Year’s Day, 1935, the pair arrived in New York City, where John Lomax was scheduled to meet with his publisher, Macmillan, about a new collection of folk songs. The newspapers were eager to write about the “singing convict” and Time magazine made one of its first filmed newsreels about him. Lead Belly attained fame (though not fortune). The following week, he began recording with the American Record Corporation (ARC), but achieved little commercial success with these records. Part of the reason for the poor record sales may have been because ARC insisted on releasing only his blues songs rather than the folk songs for which he would later become better known. In any case, Lead Belly continued to struggle financially. Like many performers, what income he made during his lifetime would come from touring, not from record sales. In February 1935, he married his sweetheart, Martha Promise, who came north from Louisiana for the purpose. The month of February was spent recording his and other African-American repertoire and interviews about his life with Alan Lomax for their forthcoming book, Negro Folk Songs as Sung by Lead Belly (1936). Concert appearances were slow to materialize, however, and in March 1935, Lead Belly accompanied John A. Lomax on a 2 week lecture tour of colleges and universities in the Northeast, culminating at Harvard. These lectures had been scheduled before John Lomax had teamed up with Lead Belly. At the end of month, John Lomax decided he could no longer work with Lead Belly and gave him and Martha money to go back to Louisiana by bus. Lead Belly gave Martha the money that he had earned from 3 months of performing, but in installments, on the pretext that Lead Belly would drink it all if given a lump sum. From Louisiana Lead Belly then successfully sued Lomax for the full amount and for release from his management contract with Lomax. The quarrel was very bitter and there were hard feelings on both sides. Curiously, however, in the midst of the legal wrangling Lead Belly wrote to John A. Lomax proposing that they team up together once again. But it was not to be. Nor was the book the Lomaxes published that year about Lead Belly financially successful.

In January of 1936, Lead Belly returned to New York on his own without John Lomax for an attempted comeback. Lead Belly performed twice a day at Harlem’s Lafayette theater in a live dramatic recreation of the Time Life newsreel (itself a recreation) about his prison encounter with John A. Lomax, in which he had worn stripes, even though by this time he was no longer associated with Lomax. Life magazine ran a 3 page article titled, “Lead Belly – Bad Nigger Makes Good Minstrel,” in the 19 April, 1936 issue. It included a full-page, colour (rare in those days) picture of him sitting on grain sacks playing his guitar and singing. Also included was a striking picture of Martha Promise (identified in the article as his manager); photos showing Lead Belly’s hands playing the guitar (with the caption “these hands once killed a man”); Texas Governor Pat M. Neff; and the “ramshackle” Texas State Penitentiary. The article attributes both of his pardons to his singing of his petitions to the governors, who were so moved that they pardoned him. The article’s text ends with “he… may well be on the brink of a new and prosperous period.” Lead Belly failed to stir the enthusiasm of Harlem audiences. Instead, he attained success playing at concerts and benefits for an audience of leftist folk music aficionados. Lead Belly developed his own style of singing and explaining his repertoire in the context of Southern black culture, taking the hint from his previous participation in John A. Lomax’s college lectures. Lead Belly was especially successful with his repertoire of children’s game songs (as a younger man in Louisiana he had sung regularly at children’s birthday parties in the black community). Lead Belly was written up as a heroic figure by the black novelist, Richard Wright, then a member of the Communist Party, in the columns of the Daily Worker, of which he (Wright) was the Harlem editor. The 2 men became personal friends, though Lead Belly himself was a-political — if anything, a supporter of Wendell Willkie, the centrist Republican candidate, for whom he wrote a campaign song.

In 1939, Lead Belly was back in jail for assault, after stabbing a man in a fight in Manhattan. Alan Lomax, then 24, took him under his wing and helped raise money for his legal expenses, dropping out of graduate school to do so. After his release (in 1940-41), Lead Belly appeared as a regular on Alan Lomax and Nicholas Ray’s groundbreaking CBS radio show, Back Where I Come From, broadcast nationwide. Lead Belly also appeared in night clubs with Josh White, becoming a fixture in New York City’s surging folk music scene and befriending the likes of Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, Woody Guthrie, and a young Pete Seeger, all fellow performers on Back Where I Come From. During the first half of the decade he recorded for RCA, the Library of Congress, and for Moe Asch (future founder of Folkways Records), and in 1944 headed to California, where he recorded strong sessions for Capitol Records. Lead belly was the first American country blues musician to see success in Europe. In 1949 Lead Belly had a regular radio broadcast on station WNYC in New York on Sunday nights on Henrietta Yurchenko’s show. Later in the year he began his first European tour with a trip to France, but fell ill before its completion, and was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig’s disease. Lead Belly’s final concert was at the University of Texas in a tribute to his former mentor, John A. Lomax, who had died the previous year. Martha also performed at that concert, singing spirituals with her husband.

Lead Belly styled himself “King of the 12-string guitar,” and despite his use of other instruments like the concertina, the most enduring image of Lead Belly as a performer is wielding his unusually large Stella 12-string. This guitar had a slightly longer scale length than a standard guitar, slotted tuners, ladder bracing, and a trapeze-style tailpiece to resist bridge lifting.

Lead Belly played with finger picks much of the time, using a thumb pick to provide a walking bass line and occasionally to strum. This technique, combined with low tunings and heavy strings, gives many of his recordings a piano-like sound. Lead Belly’s tuning is debatable, but appears to be a downtuned variant of standard tuning; more than likely he tuned his guitar strings relative to one another, so that the actual notes shifted as the strings wore. Lead Belly’s playing style was popularised by Pete Seeger, who adopted the 12-string guitar in the 1950s and released an instructional LP and book using Lead belly as an exemplar of technique.

In some of the recordings where Lead Belly accompanied himself, he would make an unusual type of grunt between his verses. Lead Belly would do this grunt, “Haah!”, through many of his songs, such as, Looky Looky Yonder, Take this Hammer, Linin’ Track and Julie Ann Johnson. It gave a somewhat catchy sound to the songs. Lead Belly explains that, “Every time the men say ‘haah’, the hammer falls. The hammer rings, and we swing, and we sing”, an apparent reference to prisoners’ work songs. The grunt represents the tired deep breaths the men would take while working, singing and pausing in cadence with the work.

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