Wednesday, June 30, 2010

June 30: Chet Atkins died on this date in 2001...

... he was 77-years-old when he passed away from cancer.
Chester Burton Atkins was born in Luttrell, Tennessee. In his 1974 autobiography, Country Gentleman, Chet wrote, "We were so poor and everybody around us was so poor that it was the forties before anyone even knew there had been a depression."

Before the guitar, he played a ukulele, later moving on to the fiddle. When he was nine, he traded an old pistol and some chores with his brother Lowell for a guitar. Atkins was a sensitive youth who made music his obsession. Because of his asthma, he was forced to sleep in a straight-back chair in order to breathe comfortably. On those nights, he would play his guitar until he fell asleep holding it, a habit which lasted his whole life.

Atkins became an accomplished guitarist while he was in high school. He used the restroom in the school to practice, because it gave better acoustics. His first guitar had a nail for a nut and was so bowed that only the first few frets could be used. He later purchased a semi-acoustic electric guitar and amp, but he had to travel many miles to find an electrical outlet since his home had no electricity.

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Chet Atkins Certified Guitar Player DVD As seen on PBS


Atkins did not have a strong style of his own until 1939 when he heard Merle Travis picking over WLW radio. This early influence dramatically shaped his unique playing style. Whereas Travis's right hand used his index finger for the melody and thumb for bass notes, Atkins expanded his right hand style to include picking with his first three fingers, with the thumb on bass.

After dropping out of high school in 1942, Atkins landed a job at WNOX-AM radio in Knoxville. There he played fiddle and guitar with singer Bill Carlisle and comic Archie Campbell as well as becoming a member of the station's Dixieland Swingsters, a small swing instrumental combo. After three years, he moved to WLW-AM in Cincinnati, Ohio, where Merle Travis formerly worked.

After six months he moved to Raleigh and worked with Johnnie and Jack before heading for Richmond, Virginia, where he performed with Sunshine Sue Workman. Atkins's shy personality worked against him, as did his musical style causing many to doubt he was truly "country." He was fired often but was soon able to land another job at another radio station due to his unique playing ability.

Traveling to Chicago, Atkins auditioned for Red Foley, who was leaving WLS-AM's National Barn Dance to join the Grand Ole Opry. Atkins made his first appearance at the Opry in 1946 as a member of Foley's band. He also recorded "Guitar Blues," for Nashville-based Bullet Records that year.

Chet worked up to a solo spot on the Opry. When his spot was cut, Atkins moved on to KWTO-AM in Springfield, Missouri. however, he was fired for not sounding "country enough."

While working with a Western band in Denver, Colorado, Atkins drew the attention of RCA Victor. He made his first RCA recordings in Chicago in 1947.  He also did some studio work for RCA that year but had relocated to Knoxville where he worked with Homer and Jethro on WNOX's new Saturday night radio show The Tennessee Barn Dance and the popular Midday Merry Go Round.

In 1949 he left WNOX to join Mother Maybelle and the Carter Sisters back on KWTO. This incarnation of the old Carter Family featured Maybelle Carter and daughters June, Helen and Anita. Their work soon attracted attention from the Grand Ole Opry. The group relocated to Nashville in mid-1950. Atkins began working on recording sessions, performing on WSM-AM and the Opry.

While he hadn't yet had a hit record on RCA his reputation grew. Atkins's first hit single was "Mr. Sandman," followed by "Silver Bell," a duet with Hank Snow. His albums also became more popular, and he was featured on ABC-TV's The Eddy Arnold Show during the summer of 1956; as well as on Country Music Jubilee in 1957 and 58.

In addition to recording, Atkins became a design consultant for Gretsch, who manufactured a popular Chet Atkins line of electric guitars from 1955–1980. Atkins also became manager of RCA's Nashville studio, eventually inspiring and seeing the completion of the legendary RCA Studio B, the first studio built specifically for the purpose of recording on the now-famous Music Row.

Chet, along with Owen Bradley, are created the smoother country music style known as the Nashville sound, which expanded country's appeal to adult pop music fans as well.

Atkins's picking style, inspired by Merle Travis, Django Reinhardt, George Barnes and Les Paul, brought him admirers within and outside the country scene, both in the United States and internationally. Atkins produced records for Perry Como, Elvis Presley, the Everly Brothers, Eddy Arnold, Don Gibson, Jim Reeves, Jerry Reed, Skeeter Davis, Connie Smith, Waylon Jennings and others.

Chet was diagnosed with cancer in the 1990s, but he continued to perform. He died on June 30, 2001 at his home in Nashville.

Atkins received numerous awards, including 14 Grammy Awards and in 1993, was awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award. He also won nine Country Music Association Instrumentalist of the Year awards. Billboard magazine awarded him their Century Award, their "highest honor for distinguished creative achievement" in December 1997.

He is a Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum inductee. In 2002, Atkins was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The following year, Atkins ranked #28 in CMT's 40 Greatest Men of Country Music.


Tuesday, June 29, 2010

June 29: Rosemary Clooney died on this date in 2002…

… she was 74 years-old when she passed away.

… she died on June 29, 2002.

Rosemary Clooney was born in Maysville, Kentucky.  She came to prominence in the early 1950s with the novelty hit "Come On-a My House" which was followed by other pop numbers such as "Botch-a-Me" (a cover version of the Italian song Ba-Ba-Baciami Piccina by Alberto Rabagliati), "Mambo Italiano,” "Tenderly,” "Half as Much,” "Hey There" and "This Ole House."She went on to success as a jazz vocalist.

When Clooney was fifteen, her mother and brother, Nick, moved to California. She and her sister, Betty, remained with their father. Rosemary, Betty and Nick all became entertainers In 1945, the Clooney sisters won a spot on Cincinnati, Ohio's radio station WLW as singers. Her sister Betty sang in a duo with Clooney for much of her early career.

Clooney's first recordings, in May 1946, were for Columbia Records. She sang with Tony Pastor's big band. Clooney continued working with the Pastor band until 1949, making her last recording with the band in May of that year and her first as a solo artist a month later, still for Columbia.

In 1951, her record of "Come On-a My House,” produced by Mitch Miller, became a hit. It was her first of many singles to hit the charts—despite the fact that Clooney hated the song passionately. She had been told by Columbia Records to record the song, and that she would be in violation of her contract if she did not do so. Around 1952, Rosemary recorded several duets with Marlene Dietrich.

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16 Biggest HitsGirl Singer: An Autobiography


In 1954, she starred, along with Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, and Vera-Ellen, in the movie White Christmas. In later years, Clooney would often appear with Crosby on television, such as in the 1957 special The Edsel Show, and the two friends made a concert tour of Ireland together.

On November 21, 1957, she appeared on NBC's The Ford Show, Starring Tennessee Ernie Ford, a frequent entry in the "Top 20" and featuring a musical group called "The Top Twenty." In 1960, Clooney and Crosby co-starred in a 20-minute CBS radio program aired before the midday news each weekday.

She starred, in 1956, in a half-hour syndicated television musical-variety show The Rosemary Clooney Show. The show featured The Hi-Lo's singing group and Nelson Riddle's orchestra. The following year, the show moved to NBC prime time as The Lux Show Starring Rosemary Clooney but only lasted one season. The new show featured the singing group The Modernaires and Frank DeVol's orchestra.

Clooney left Columbia Records in 1958, doing a number of recordings for MGM Records and then some for Coral Records. Finally, toward the end of 1958, she signed with RCA Victor Records.

Clooney's career languished in the 1960s, partly due to problems related to depression and drug addiction. (Clooney suffered for much of her life from bipolar disorder. She revealed this and other details of her life in her two autobiographies; This for Remembrance: the Autobiography of Rosemary Clooney, an Irish-American Singer, and Girl Singer: An Autobiography.

In 1964, she went to Reprise Records, and in 1965 to Dot Records. She moved to United Artists Records in 1966. Beginning in 1977, she recorded an album a year for the Concord Jazz record label, which continued until her death in 2002 from lung cancer.

In 1999, Clooney founded the Rosemary Clooney Music Festival, held annually in Maysville, her hometown. She performed at the festival every year until her death. Proceeds benefit the restoration of the Russell Theater in Maysville, where Clooney's first film, The Stars are Singing, premiered in 1953.

She received the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002.

She is also the aunt of Academy Award winning actor George Clooney.


Tuesday, June 22, 2010

June 22: Judy Garland died on this date in 1969 ...

... she was 47 years-old when she passed away.

Through a career that spanned 45 years, Judy Garland attained international stardom as an actress in musical and dramatic roles, as a recording artist and on the concert stage. Respected for her versatility, she received a juvenile Academy Award, won a Golden Globe Award, as well as Grammy Awards and a Special Tony Award.

She was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in A Star is Born and for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in the 1961 film, Judgement at Nuremberg. When she was 40, she became the youngest recipient of the Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement in the motion picture industry.
Born Frances Ethel Gumm in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, Garland's parents were vaudevillians who settled in Grand Rapids to run a movie theatre featuring vaudeville acts.
"Baby" - as Frances was called by her parents and sisters - inherited her family's love for song and dance. Baby Gumm's first appearance came at the age of two-and-a-half when she joined her two older sisters, Mary Jane "Suzy/Suzanne" Gumm and Dorothy Virginia "Jimmie" Gumm on the stage of her father's movie theater during a Christmas show. They  sang "Jingle Bells."

Accompanied by their mother on piano, The Gumm Sisters performed at their father's theater for the next few years. After rumors of lewdness by her father surfaced, the family moved to Lancaster, California, in June 1926. They bought another theater, and began working to get the three daughters into motion pictures.

After appearing in vaudeville with her sisters, Garland was signed to Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer as a teenager. There she made more than two dozen films, including nine with Mickey Rooney and the 1939 film with which she would be most identified, The Wizard of Oz. After 15 years, Garland was released from the studio but gained renewed success through record-breaking concert appearances, including a return to acting beginning with critically acclaimed performances.

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Judy At Carnegie Hall: Fortieth Anniversary EditionThe Judy Garland Collection


Despite her professional triumphs, Garland battled personal problems throughout her life. Insecure about her appearance, her feelings were compounded by film executives. Garland was plagued by financial instability, often owing hundreds of thousands of dollars in back taxes. She married five times, with her first four marriages ending in divorce.

On June 22, 1969, Garland was found dead in the bathroom of her Chelsea, London house. At the inquest the cause of death was "an incautious self-overdosage" of barbiturates. The coroner said that the overdose had been unintentional and that there was no evidence to suggest she had committed suicide. Surviving her were her children, Liza Minnelli, Lorna Luft and Joey Luft.

Judy Garland's legacy as a performer and a personality has endured long after her death. The American Film Institute named Garland eighth among the Greatest Female Stars of All Time. She has been the subject of over two dozen biographies since her death, including the well-received Me and My Shadows: A Family Memoir by her daughter, Lorna Luft.

Luft's memoir was later adapted into the multiple award-winning television miniseries, Life with Judy Garland: Me and My Shadows, which won Emmy Awards for two actresses portraying Garland, Tammy Blanchard and Judy Davis.

English actress Tracie Bennett portrayed Garland to critical acclaim in a dramatization of her eventual decline and months preceding her death in a play titled End of the Rainbow at London's Trafalgar Studios. Both the play and Bennett received Laurence Olivier Award nominations.

Garland was posthumously awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1997. Several of her recordings have been inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. These include "Over the Rainbow," which was ranked as the number one movie song of all time in the American Film Institute's "100 Years...100 Songs" list.

Four more Garland songs are featured on the list: "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" (#76), "Get Happy" (#61), "The Trolley Song" (#26), and "The Man That Got Away" (#11). Garland has twice been honored on U.S. postage stamps, in 1989 as Dorothy, and in 2006 as Vicki Lester from A Star Is Born).

In 1999, the American Film Institute placed her among the ten greatest female stars in the history of American cinema.


Tuesday, June 15, 2010

June 15: "First Lady of Song" Ella Fitzgerald died on this date in 1996...

... she was 79 years-of-age when she passed away.

"Lady Ella," Ella Jane Fitzgerald was an American jazz and song vocalist. With a vocal range spanning three octaves she was noted for her purity of tone, impeccable diction, phrasing and intonation, and a "horn-like" improvisational ability, particularly in her scat singing.
Fitzgerald was born in Newport News, Virginia. When she was young, Fitzgerald wanted to be a dancer, although she loved listening to jazz recordings by Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby and The Boswell Sisters, especially the lead singer Connee Boswell.

In 1932, her mother died from a heart attack. At one point worked as a lookout at a bordello and also with a Mafia-affiliated numbers runner. When the authorities caught up with her, she was first placed in an orphanage then the New York Training School for Girls in Hudson, New York, a state reformatory.

She made her singing debut at 17 on November 21, 1934 at the Apollo Theater. in Harlem, New York. She pulled in a weekly audience at the Apollo and won the opportunity to compete in one of the earliest of its famous "Amateur Nights." She had originally intended to go on stage and dance but, intimidated by the Edwards Sisters, a local dance duo, she decided to sing Connee Boswell's "Judy" and "The Object of My Affection. She won the $25.00 first prize.

In January 1935, Fitzgerald won the chance to perform for a week with the Tiny Bradshaw band at the Harlem Opera House where she met drummer and bandleader Chick Webb. She began singing regularly with Webb's Orchestra through 1935 at Harlem's Savoy Ballroom. Fitzgerald recorded several hit songs with them, including "Love and Kisses" and "(If You Can't Sing It) You'll Have to Swing It (Mr. Paganini)."

But it was her 1938 version of the nursery rhyme, "A-Tisket, A-Tasket," a song she co-wrote, that brought her wide public acclaim.

Chick Webb died on June 16, 1939, and his band was renamed "Ella Fitzgerald and her Famous Orchestra" with Ella taking on the role of bandleader. Fitzgerald recorded nearly 150 sides during her time with the orchestra.

In 1942, Fitzgerald left the band to begin a solo career. She had several popular hits while recording with such artists as the Ink Spots, Louis Jordan, and the Delta Rhythm Boys on the Decca label.

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Pure Ella

With the demise of the Swing era and the decline of the great touring big bands, a major change in jazz music occurred. The advent of bebop led to new developments in Fitzgerald's vocal style, influenced by her work with Dizzy Gillespie's big band.

It was in this period that Fitzgerald started including scat singing as a major part of her performance repertoire. While singing with Gillespie, Fitzgerald said, "I just tried to do [with my voice] what I heard the horns in the band doing."

Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Cole Porter Songbook, released in 1956, was the first of eight multi-album Songbook sets Fitzgerald would record for Verve Records between 1956 to 1964 after leaving Decca. Fitzgerald's song selections ranged from standards to rarities and represented an attempt by Fitzgerald to cross over into a non-jazz audience.

Fitzgerald had a number of famous jazz musicians and soloists as sidemen over her long career. The trumpeters Roy Eldridge and Dizzy Gillespie, the guitarist Herb Ellis, and the pianists Tommy Flanagan, Oscar Peterson, Lou Levy, Paul Smith, Jimmy Rowles, and Ellis Larkins all worked with Ella mostly in live, small group settings.
Ella Fitzgerald is considered a top interpreter of the Great American Songbook. Over a recording career that lasted 59 years, she was the winner of 13 Grammy Awards including one for Lifetime Achievement in 1967.

Other major awards and honors she received during her career were the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Medal of Honor Award, National Medal of Art, first Society of Singers Lifetime Achievement Award, named "Ella" in her honor, Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the George and Ira Gershwin Award for Lifetime Musical Achievement.


Monday, June 7, 2010

June 7: Jazz singer and songwriter Kenny Rankin died on this date in 2009...

... he was 69 years old when he passed away.  

Rankin was raised in the multicultural hotbed of the Washington Heights section of New York. While he was introduced to music by his mother who enjoyed singing, he also absorbed a broad array of musical influences, from AfroCuban to Top 40 to Jazz to Brazilian.

As a teenager, he signed with Decca Records and released a handful of singles. A few years later, he signed with Columbia Records, and found himself playing guitar on Bob Dylan's landmark 1965 album Bringing It All Back Home. Not long after, he performed on The Tonight Show.

Kenny developed a considerable following during the 70s with a steady flow of albums, three of which broke into the Top 100 of the Billboard Album Chart. His preference for jazz was evident from an early age, but he gravitated towards pop in order to be accepted.

By the 90s he was established enough that he started to sing more songs in his preferred jazz-oriented style and attract new listeners while no alienating his existing fans.

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The Jazz Channel Presents Kenny Rankin (BET on Jazz)


Rankin appeared on The Tonight Show more than twenty times. Host Johnny Carson was so impressed by him that he wrote the liner notes to Rankin's 1967 debut album Mind Dusters, which featured the single "Peaceful."

Kenny's friend Helen Reddy would reach #2 Adult Contemporary and #12 Pop in 1973 with a cover of it, released as her follow-up single to "I Am Woman." Georgie Fame also had a hit with this song in 1969, his only songwriting credit to hit the British charts reaching number sixteen and spending 9 weeks on the chart.

Rankin's accompanists from time to time included Alan Broadbent, Mike Wofford and Bill Watrous, and on such occasions the mood slips easily into a jazz groove. His compositions have been performed by artists such as Mel Tormé and Carmen McRae, while Stan Getz said of him that he was "a horn with a heartbeat."

Rankin was deeply interested in Brazilian music and his Here In My Heart, on which he used jazz guests including Michael Brecker and Ernie Watts, was recorded mostly in Rio De Janeiro. More contemporary songs were given an airing following his move to Verve Records, including the Beatles' "I've Just Seen A Face" and Leon Russell's "A Song For You."

Rankin's own unique gift for reworking classic songs such as The Beatles' "Blackbird," which he recorded for his Silver Morning album, so impressed Paul McCartney that he asked Rankin to perform his interpretation of the song when McCartney and John Lennon were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Rankin was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer in early 2009. He died in Los Angeles, California - where he had resided for many years - from the disease on June 7, 2009. He was 69 years old.