Category Archives: Arts: Music

Russia’s top Pop Singer Denounces Ukraine War

[NOTE: two hundred and fifty million pop records, 500+ songs, in a dozen or more languages, over a 50-year career and I never heard one of them. A reminder that I’ve led a very sheltered western life. Now, it sounds like she may be the loudest public voice in Russia against Putin’s war. Will it have impact? Can she do it and stay out of jail?]

Russian pop star Alla Pugacheva speaks out against war in Ukraine

Singer who shot to fame in Soviet era asks to be labelled ‘foreign agent’ after husband denounced conflict

Published: Sunday, 18 September 2022

The Russian singer Alla Pugacheva has spoken out against the war in Ukraine and the “death of our boys for illusory goals”.

The remarks are the first time that the pop star, an icon in Russia, has publicly criticised the conflict.

Her husband, Maxim Galkin, joined journalists, human rights activists and Kremlin opponents in being labelled a “foreign agent” last week for opposing the war.

Addressing the Russian justice ministry, Pugacheva told her 3.4 million Instagram followers: “I am asking you to include me on the foreign agents list of my beloved country.

“Because I stand in solidarity with my husband, who is an honest and ethical person, a true and incorruptible Russian patriot, who only wishes for prosperity, peace and freedom of expression in his motherland.”

Alla Pugacheva, the longtime top popstar singer in Russia-USSR. Cover of her song, “Some Day.”

She said her husband wanted “the end of the deaths of our boys for illusory goals that make our country a pariah and weigh heavily on the lives of its citizens”.

Pugacheva, 73, who has sold more than 250m records, became hugely popular during the Soviet era and has remained so over a career spanning more than 55 years.

Galkin, a TV presenter who now lives abroad, has often criticised the war in Ukraine.

Russian media said Pugacheva left the country after the invasion began in February. She was seen in Moscow at the funeral of the former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev on 3 September.

Russian authorities have clamped down on any criticism of the war in Ukraine, handing out fines and prison sentences to dissenters. Many Russian artists who denounced the conflict had their shows cancelled.

Pugacheva has met the Russian president, Vladimir Putin, several times, but she has never publicly supported him.

Listen to: “Some Day”: ”


DeSantis vs. Drag: Putting On An Act?


In 1947, Florida shut down a popular drag club. The state has resurrected the case to do it again.

Last month, Gov. Ron DeSantis filed a complaint against R House, citing a 1947 state Supreme Court decision that shut down a popular female impersonator club.
Image: A drag performer at the Drag Brunch at R House Wynwood during Wynwood Pride on June 20, 2021 in Miami, Fla.

A drag performer at the Drag Brunch at R House Wynwood during Wynwood Pride in Miami on June 20, 2021.Jason Koerner / Getty 

In March 1947, a Florida court ordered the Ha Ha Club — a nightclub famous for its “female impersonators,” as they were called at the time — to close after declaring it a public nuisance.

The order came just a month after Frank Tuppen, a juvenile probation officer with political ambitions, filed a complaint against the venue. He argued that the club’s performers were “sexual perverts” who had embedded “in the minds of the youngsters” who lived in the area “things immoral” and were “breaking down their character.”

The owner of the club, Charles “Babe” Baker, appealed to the Florida Supreme Court, but in October 1947, it affirmed the lower court’s decision that the club was a public nuisance. “Men impersonating women” in performances that are “nasty, suggestive and indecent” injure the “manners and morals of the people,” the court ruled.

Image: Andrea Kinig at the Ha Ha Club in New York City.
Andrea Kinig at the Ha Ha Club in New York City. Herb Breuer / NY Daily News via Getty Images

Last month, nearly 75 later, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican who is widely thought to be eyeing a 2024 presidential run, cited the case that shut down Ha Ha Club in a complaint against Miami restaurant R House over its drag performances.

The 2022 complaint, filed by the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, threatened to revoke R House’s liquor license, arguing that the establishment violated a state public nuisance law by becoming “manifestly injurious to the morals or manners of the people.”

Historians say the parallels between the R House and the Ha Ha Club complaints, and the fact that DeSantis’ administration cited a 75-year-old court decision, reveal how conservatives are resurfacing a decades-old moral panic about LGBTQ people to target queer spaces.

‘Seeding America with queer consciousness’

Baker first opened the Ha Ha Club in April 1933 in New York City’s Midtown Manhattan neighborhood, where it became “Broadway’s favorite hangout spot,” said Michail Takach, who researched the Ha Ha Club for a book he co-authored, “A History of Milwaukee Drag: Seven Generations of Glamour.”

Later that year, Baker traveled south and opened the club in Hallandale, Florida, about 13 miles north of R House, which is in Miami’s Wynwood neighborhood. He opened the club toward the end of the so-called Pansy Craze, which was a time period when drag surged in popularity, particularly in cities, Takach said.

Same-sex sexual relations were illegal at the time in most states, and cross-dressing was criminalized in many cities, though Miami never officially had an anti-cross-dressing law on the books. As a result, Takach said clubs like the Ha Ha Club catered primarily to seemingly straight, cisgender audiences, because drag drew attention and could be a liability to club owners.

Dozens of men dressed as women were locked up on charges of masquerading and indecent exposure at the National Variety Artists’ Exotic Carnival and Ball at the Manhattan Center in 1962. Bettmann Archive / Getty Images

However, Takach wrote in his book that female impersonator clubs offered gay and gender-nonconforming men that performed at these venues “a safe sanctuary where they could not only embrace their identities but make a name for themselves.”

In Baker’s court testimony, he described how he stood at the club’s door every night and greeted all of the guests. The club held three shows from 9 p.m. to 4 a.m., with more than 40 performers who sang, danced and told jokes, according to court documents.

Baker featured some of the most famous female impersonators, including Jackie Maye, whose wardrobe was estimated at the time to have been worth $50,000, Takach said, which would be worth over $1 million in today’s dollars.

His production was also a traveling show, called the Ha Ha Revue, which was inspired by the Jewel Box Revue, a famous touring company of female impersonators — and the first racially integrated drag revue in the country — that operated from 1937 to about 1960, according to Takach’s drag history book.

The traveling version of the Ha Ha Club’s show and the Jewel Box Revue “really did a solid job of seeding America with queer consciousness,” Takach said. “And you have to wonder how much of that played into the gay liberation era — how many children that went to these shows, how many adults that watched these shows, were later part of the gay liberation scene.”

The shows brought queer representation to many cities across the U.S. at a time when gay people were being criminalized and also at a time when drag had fallen “violently out of favor,” Takach said.

“They brought it back in a big way and created a mid-century drag craze in the 1950s that, in some ways, is a parallel and a rival to the RuPaul drag craze of this decade,” he said.

‘A home of perverts, queers, phonies’

On Feb. 2, 1947, after operating his club in Hallandale for 14 years, Baker tried to stop a fight between two customers at the club and called the police. Both he and a customer were arrested for assault and battery, though Baker was never charged, according to court documents.

Just three days later, on Feb. 5, Tuppen — who was running for sheriff of Broward County in an upcoming election — filed his complaint against the club. He claimed multiple men he had arrested for having same-sex sexual relations said they frequented the Ha Ha Club.

James Lathero, the lawyer for the state, asked Tuppen what the general reputation of the Ha Ha Club is, and Tuppen said, “General knowledge, it is nothing but a home of perverts, queers, phonies.” Tuppen’s complaint also alleged that the venue had contributed to “juvenile delinquency” in the county that was “injurious to the manners and morals of the people” residing there.

Baker’s lawyers called more than half a dozen locals who testified that they enjoyed the club’s shows. Baker also testified that his cast had performed for a church and the Kiwanis Club and that it had raised money for the March of Dimes, a nonprofit organization that supports mothers and babies. He also denied that his club was associated with homosexuals and said there was no evidence of “crimes of perversion” at the club.

But the Broward County Circuit Court ultimately declared the Ha Ha Club a public nuisance and ordered  it to close in the spring of 1947.

Baker appealed to the Florida Supreme Court, and one of his lawyer’s, Robert Lane, wrote in the appeal that there were no complaints against Baker’s club during its 14 years in business “until an aspirant for a political office decided to complain,” referring to Tuppen and his run for sheriff.

Lane also argued that “there are different views as to what may injure the manners and morals of the public.”

Despite Baker’s efforts, the Florida Supreme Court affirmed the lower court’s decision in October 1947.

“The lawful evidence presents a dirty picture; the Ha Ha Club looks as if it were a cross between a ‘honky tonk’ and a ‘speak easy,’” wrote Justice William Terrell, who later went on to defend segregation after the Supreme Court struck it down in Brown v. Board of Education. He added that the lower court determined that the Ha Ha Club’s “major connotations were evil, that it was exerting a corrupting influence and that the time had arrived to abate it.”

The case against the Ha Ha Club happened at a time when public support for drag had waned, because law enforcement and media nationwide claimed that gay people were a danger to women and children, Takach said.

“There was a very strong reaction to the liberation that people had felt, and the visibility that gay and lesbian people and gender-nonconforming people had earned during the Pansy Craze,” he said. “It led to many cities creating drag bans, shutting down drag clubs, banning female impersonation completely — silencing the queer nightlife and the queer representation that had really flourished during the Pansy Craze in the early parts of the 1930s.”

‘A cultural panic moment’

Last month, the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation alleged in its complaint against R House that a “nearly nude dancer was filmed parading a young girl through the audience” on or about July 3 and that the video ignited public outrage.

Inquired about it during a news conference, DeSantis said the video prompted the department to investigate further, “and what they found was not only were there minors there — and these are sexually explicit drag shows — the bar had a children’s menu. And you think to yourself: ‘Give me a break, what’s going on?’”

Image: People wait in line to check into their reservations for a Drag Brunch at R House Wynwood on April 9, 2022 in Miami, Fla.
People wait in line for a Drag Brunch at R House Wynwood in Miami on April 9. Daniel A. Varela / Tribune News Service via Getty Images

The complaint threatened to revoke R House’s liquor license and cited the Ha Ha Club case, noting that the Florida Supreme Court recognized that “men impersonating women” in the context of “suggestive and indecent” performances can constitute a public nuisance.

R House’s ownership said in an emailed statement last month that it is aware of the complaint and that it is working with the department through its attorney to “rectify the situation.”

“We are an inclusive establishment and welcome all people to visit our restaurant,” the email said. “We are hopeful that Governor DeSantis, a vociferous supporter and champion of Florida’s hospitality industry and small businesses, will see this as what it is, a misunderstanding, and that the matter will be resolved positively and promptly.” Ownership has not returned an additional request for comment.

There are multiple parallels between the Ha Ha Club case and DeSantis’ complaint against R House, historians said, revealing a cultural cycle.

Just as there was a public backlash to increasing queer visibility after the Pansy Craze, historians said conservatives are now pushing back against LGBTQ people winning major rights such as same-sex marriage.

But unlike in decades past, those who oppose LGBTQ equality cannot “attack gay people per se, so the people they attack are actually trans people or trans youth or drag queens, and then only in connection with children,” said Michael Bronski, a professor of women and gender studies at Harvard University and author of “A Queer History of the United States for Young People.”

Conservatives have increasingly criticized drag brunch performances, like those at R House, and Drag Queen Story Hour events as threatening to children. Some have even gone so far as to call them “grooming” and to call drag performers and other LGBTQ people and their allies “perverts” and “pedophiles,” resurfacing decades-old tropes and language that Tuppen used against the Ha Ha Club in 1947.

Bronski called the backlash against drag today part of a “cultural panic moment,” and Takach said it’s happened throughout history in the U.S.

“People get drawn in by the glamor, and it’s a novelty,” he said of drag, “and then something happens, and the entire community turns on it.”

Maxx Fenning, the president and founder of Prism, a nonprofit that works to expand access to LGBTQ-inclusive education in South Florida, said the complaint against R House, like the one filed against the Ha Ha Club 75 years ago, shows how laws related to “public morals” can be used to disproportionately censor LGBTQ people and topics.

“This Florida Supreme Court case noted that men impersonating women is not in and of itself a verifiable offense, but it’s doing it in an indecent fashion,” he said. “You see very often this use of vague and subjective language to be able to create laws and rulings that seem common sense, but have just enough vagueness to be applied in ways that unnecessarily silence the queer community.”

As for the Ha Ha Club, Babe Baker didn’t shut down his performance after the club was forced to close. In fact, he moved it to about a mile away, to a club called Leon & Eddie’s, a nightclub first opened in New York City by Leon Enker and Eddie Davis and later moved to Miami.

He also started advertising in a “curious” fashion, Takach said. He placed ads in the Miami Herald that prominently featured the word “gay” in phrases like “gay laughs,” “gay surprises,” “gay faces,” “gay music” and “gay dancing.” Even though gay wasn’t widely used at the time to refer to queer people, Takach said Baker chose the word intentionally.

Prior to opening the Ha Ha Club in New York, Baker worked at the Howdy Club, which Takach described as “an unapologetic lesbian bar” and one of the first places in Manhattan to hire lesbians as entertainers and allow women to gather and drink without male company. Takach said it was raided by police regularly, and that the word “howdy” became synonymous code for queer.

The word “gay” similarly became a code in Baker’s newspaper ads, and the Miami Daily News caught on in 1952, Takach said. The paper criticized the Miami Herald, its competitor, for running ads for clubs like Baker’s on one page and then condemning the clubs in the Herald’s editorials. “The words ‘gay,’ ‘ha ha’ and ‘howdy’ have become beacons pointing to the hands of the perverts,” the Miami Daily News wrote, according to Takach.

Baker’s cast performed four times a night at Leon & Eddie’s, and they also went on tour across the country, selling out weeks of shows in cities including Milwaukee; Detroit; Dayton, Ohio; Minneapolis; and Spokane, Washington, Takach said.

“You could say that Broward County won the battle, but Babe Baker won the war.”

Obits: Music & Theology: J. Deotis Roberts & Butch Thompson

J. Deotis Roberts, a pioneer of Black theology, dies at 95

Washington Post — August 16, 2022

By Harrison Smith
August 16, 2022

The night of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in 1968, the Rev. J. Deotis Roberts was attending a conference at Duke University, listening to German theologian Jürgen Moltmann present a paper on the theology of hope.

Dr. Roberts, a soft-spoken Baptist minister and theology professor at Howard University in Washington, had spent years wrestling with philosophical questions about God, existence and meaning. Now he began to wonder what Moltmann’s theology — what any theology — had to say to “a hopeless people” living in an age of anger and despair.

  1. The Rev. J. Deotis Roberts in 2007 at his home in Bowie, Md. (Charmaine Roberts Parker)


The next morning, he asked Moltmann how his approach to Christianity might be applied to Black Americans. The German scholar had no answers.

“It was then,” Dr. Roberts later wrote in an essay, “that the seed of ‘black theology’ began to germinate in my own mind.”

Dr. Roberts went on to help pioneer Black theology, a new perspective on Christianity that evolved in response to the revolutionary spirit of the Black Power movement, with a focus on issues of racial justice and liberation. “I am pleading for a theology of the Black experience which grows out of the soil of our heritage and life,” he wrote in a 1976 article for the Journal of Religious Thought, outlining his vision. “For us faith and ethics must be wed. There can be no separation of the secular and the sacred. Jesus means freedom.”

A first-generation Black theologian, Dr. Roberts rose from an upbringing in the segregated South, where the county prison was within sight of his elementary school, to become the first African American to earn a doctorate from the University of Edinburgh’s divinity school in Scotland. His work emphasized both liberation and reconciliation, drawing from King’s emphasis on nonviolence as well as Malcolm X’s message of Black self-determination. As he saw it, the church had an obligation to address social issues and engage with the daily struggles of marginalized people, including African Americans.

“No theologian of [Christianity] can escape the ethical questions raised by racism,” he wrote in his 1971 book “Liberation and Reconciliation,” “whether white oppression or black response.”

Over the decades, Dr. Roberts’s work became “a touchstone” for generations of Black theologians, according to his former student David Emmanuel Goatley, director of the Office of Black Church Studies at Duke Divinity School. Dr. Roberts was 95 when he died July 22 at his home in Clinton, Md. His daughter Charmaine Roberts Parker confirmed the death but did not cite a cause.

For years, Dr. Roberts was engaged in an intellectual dialogue with the Rev. James H. Cone, who effectively launched Black theology as a formal discipline with his 1969 book “Black Theology & Black Power.” While Cone emphasized the need for liberation, Dr. Roberts insisted that reconciliation was just as important. “He did not want to support any notion of freedom, of liberation, that would in any way create separation,” said the Very Rev. Kelly Brown Douglas, dean of Episcopal Divinity School at Union Theological Seminary in New York.

“If Cone was more spurred on by a Malcolm and the Black Power movement,” she added in a phone interview, “then Roberts was more like a King,” emphasizing a message of nonviolence and reconciliation while pointing to “Christ’s universal relationship to all humanity,” not just White people, who often depicted Jesus as a blond-haired, light-skinned messiah. “For Roberts,” Douglas continued, “Black people had as much right to see Christ in their likeness as did anybody else.”

Dr. Roberts liked to say that he lived “with one foot in the academy and one foot in the church,” and preached and taught at churches while spending much of his academic career at historically Black institutions. He taught at Howard’s divinity school for 22 years before leaving in 1980 to become president of the Interdenominational Theological Center, a consortium of seminaries in Atlanta. He was later a distinguished professor of philosophical theology at Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary in the Philadelphia suburbs, and in 1992 he was elected the first Black president of the American Theological Society, one of the field’s oldest professional associations.

He felt an obligation, he said, to help “overcome the cancer of racism” afflicting seminaries and other religious institutions, in part by bringing more people of color — and more women — into leadership positions. For many years he also taught alongside Latin American theologians at a seminary in Buenos Aires and collaborated with scholars from around the world, focusing in particular on Black theology’s African spiritual heritage.

“Roberts applied himself and his genius to building important bridges between African Americans and Euro Americans; the church and the community; older and younger generations; traditional and contemporary cultured expressions; and between prophetic and praise-based church traditions,” said Adetokunbo Adelekan, a theology and ethics professor at Palmer Theological Seminary, the successor to Eastern Baptist.

“In so doing,” Adelekan continued in an email, “he helped to expand our imagination about the role of the seminary and the church and where the future of the American Church may be.”

The youngest of three children, James Roberts was born in Spindale, N.C., on July 12, 1927. His father was a carpenter, and his mother was a homemaker. According to his daughter, he took the middle name Deotis at the suggestion of his elementary school principal, who said that it meant “learned man” or “scholar.”

He went on to graduate from high school at 16 and studied at historically Black universities, receiving a bachelor’s degree from Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte in 1947 and a bachelor of divinity from Shaw University in Raleigh, N.C., in 1950. During his studies, he supported himself in part by serving as a pastor.

Dr. Roberts earned a master of sacred theology degree in 1952 from Hartford Seminary (now Hartford International University for Religion and Peace) and received his doctorate in philosophical theology five years later. In part, said Goatley, he completed his education in Scotland because of racial barriers at American divinity schools: “There were exceedingly few opportunities in the United States for an African American to be able to pursue a PhD in theology or philosophy.”

The year after he got his doctorate, Dr. Roberts joined the Howard University faculty. He took a leave of absence in the mid-1970s to serve as dean of the theology school at Virginia Union University in Richmond, and taught at Eastern Baptist from 1984 until 1998, commuting to the campus in Wynnewood, Pa., from his home in Silver Spring, Md. Later he taught for three years at Duke.

Dr. Roberts published more than a dozen books, including the essay collection “Quest for a Black Theology” (1971), which he edited with James J. Gardner; “A Black Political Theology” (1974); and “Bonhoeffer and King: Speaking Truth to Power” (2005), which explored the theological perspectives of King and German minister Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

His wife of 66 years, Elizabeth Caldwell Roberts, an elementary school teacher, died in 2019. In addition to his daughter Parker of Clinton, Md., survivors include two other daughters, Carlita Roberts Marsh of Washington and Kristina Roberts, a best-selling author who writes under the pseudonym Zane and lives in Atlanta; eight grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter. He was predeceased by a son, Deotis.

After he started writing about Black theology, Dr. Roberts appeared at conferences and church gatherings to discuss his views, including at a 1989 conference in New York City where speakers noted some of the problems facing Black Americans, including poverty and violence.

“In some respects, we’ve gone backwards in this decade, and racism itself has become more insidious,” he told the New York Times at the time. “If our people are to survive,” he continued, “it will be largely due to how well the Black church carries out its mission.”

Harrison Smith is a reporter on The Washington Post’s obituaries desk. Since joining the obituaries section in 2015, he has profiled big-game hunters, fallen dictators and Olympic champions. He sometimes covers the living as well, and previously co-founded the South Side Weekly, a community newspaper in Chicago.


Nov 28, 1943 – August 14, 2022

     The most elegant gentleman to come out of Minnesota, Mr. Butch Thompson, 
died yesterday in St. Paul. He picked up the New Orleans spirit listening to Jelly
Roll Morton 78s and carried it through the 20th into the 21st century. He was a pianist and a clarinetist, the piano for the bounce, the clarinet for the blues, and if he could've he would've played both at the same time. We worked together for years, a quiet man, and I never knew him except through his music. God bless the memory, God preserve the music.

Born and raised in Marine-on-St. Croix, a small Minne-river town, Butch Thompson was playing Christmas carols on his mother’s upright piano by age three, and began formal lessons at six. He picked up the clarinet in high school and led his first jazz group, “Shirt Thompson and His Sleeves,” as a senior.

After high school, he joined the Hall Brothers New Orleans Jazz Band of Minneapolis, and at 18 made his first visit to New Orleans, where he became one of the few non-New Orleanians to perform at Preservation Hall during the 1960s and ’70s.

In 1974, he joined the staff as the house pianist of public radio’s A Prairie Home Companion. By 1980, the show was nationally syndicated, and the Butch Thompson Trio was the house band, a position the group held for the next six years.

From the early days on APHC, Butch remembers, “It was pretty casual back then. Margaret or somebody would call me and ask if I was busy on Saturday. More than once I remember saying I couldn’t get there by showtime, and being told to show up as soon as I could. Sometimes I’d go onstage without remembering what key something was in. If Garrison was going to sing, I usually couldn’t go wrong with E major.”

By the late ’90s, Thompson was known as a leading authority on early jazz. He served as a development consultant on the 1992 Broadway hit Jelly’s Last Jam, which starred Gregory Hines. He also joined the touring company of the off-Broadway hit Jelly Roll! The Music and the Man, playing several runs with that show in New York and other cities through 1997.

The Village Voice described Butch’s music as “beguiling piano Americana from an interpreter who knows that Bix was more than an impressionist and Fats was more than a buffoon.”

A Motown Genius Is Now Immortal

The Guardian – Lamont Dozier: the  Motown master craftsman who created miracles under pressure

As one third of a legendary songwriting and production partnership, Dozier produced a slew of indelible hits that expressed the joy and frustration of a whole generation

Lamont Dozier, Motown songwriter, dies aged 81

Published: Tuesday, 09 August 2022

Lamont Dozier was not a man much given to discussing the mystical art of songwriting and inspiration. You might have thought he would be. There’s certainly something extraordinary about the sheer quality of the songs he wrote with Brian and Eddie Holland in the 60s and early 70s:

Baby Love, Nowhere to Run, Stop! In the Name of Love, Reach Out I’ll Be There, Heatwave, I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch), Band of Gold, You Can’t Hurry Love, You Keep Me Hangin On and Bernadette among them – a catalogue that meant Holland-Dozier-Holland stood out even amid the riches of songwriting and production talent assembled at Motown. There’s a fair argument for calling this collection of songs the greatest in the history of pop.

And it wasn’t just that these songs were hits – they were the kind of hits that became indelibly imprinted on the brain of anyone with even a passing interest in pop music. But Dozier took a very prosaic attitude to it all, presenting himself not as the genius he clearly was but as a man who’d simply worked hard, “banging on that piano”.

“There’s no such thing as writer’s block,” he contended a few years before his death. “That’s just being lazy. That’s just something you put in your own head. ‘I don’t feel it today’ – that’s bullshit.”

Perhaps that was just the attitude one developed in the hothouse hit factory environment of Motown where, Dozier recalled, songwriting sessions could last for 18 hours straight and founder Berry Gordy was given to announcing “so-and-so needs a hit because they’re going out of town and they need something right away”.

The more successful the label got, the more Gordy seemed to pile on the pressure: in 1965, at the height of Motown’s golden age, he issued an edict: “We will release nothing less than Top 10 product on any artist. Because the Supremes’ worldwide acceptance is greater than the other artists, on them we will release only No 1 records.”

‘No such thing as writers’ block’ … Holland Dozier Holland with Smokey Robinson.
‘No such thing as writer’s block’ … Holland-Dozier-Holland with Smokey Robinson. Photograph: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

It was a challenging environment to which Dozier and the Holland brothers responded in the most incredible fashion. Each of them had started out as a performer in Detroit before being brought together by Gordy. Dozier thought they worked so well together because of their shared background in the church and a mutual love of classical music.

They were, by all accounts, as determined and tough as their boss, and not above provoking the artists they worked with in order to get the best out of them. Diana Ross fled the sessions for Where Did Our Love Go in tears: she hated the song, which Dozier just maintained gave her vocal “the attitude it needed to become a big hit”. Their relationship with Marvin Gaye was also frequently volatile, the singer feeling provoked by the trio deliberately writing songs in a key he felt was too high for him, in order, Dozier said, “to be a little more imaginative, reach up to a falsetto”.

However much trouble their methods caused around Hitsville USA, you couldn’t argue with the end result. Holland-Dozier-Holland were skilled at drawing out performances of startling intensity from artists. Listen to Levi Stubbs’ voice on the Four Tops’ Standing in the Shadows of Love. Or his cry of “Just look over your shoulder!” on Reach Out (I’ll Be There). Or the 1971 single You Keep Running Away, where the singer’s agonies – “Just look at me, I’m not the man I used to be / I used to be proud, I used to be strong” – chafe against the ebullience of the musical backing.

Meanwhile, the Supremes may have been painted as Motown’s poppiest and sweetest group, but there’s a genuine desperation about Ross’s lead vocal on You Keep Me Hangin’ On that is startlingly powerful when combined with the music’s churning relentlessness, the pounding drums, the one-note morse-code guitar.

Holland-Dozier-Holland’s songs occasionally contained a darker undercurrent than was immediately apparent. Martha and the Vandellas’ wonderful 1967 single Jimmy Mack was inspired when Dozier attended a songwriting ceremony in New York where the mother of the songwriter Ronnie Mack – who had died aged 23 from cancer – accepted an award on his behalf for the Chiffons’ He’s So Fine. It takes on a noticeably different hue if you consider that the subject of the Martha Reeves’ pleas to return might be dead.

Standing in the shadows of love … Lamont Dozier
Standing in the shadows of love … Lamont Dozier Photograph: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Although never overtly political, Motown’s golden age played out against a backdrop of turmoil in America, much of it connected to the civil rights movement. And without ever making it explicit enough to harm their commercial chances, Holland-Dozier-Holland frequently seemed to be sending out coded messages to their black American audience.

As the writer Jon Savage subsequently noted, the tense, Bob Dylan-influenced Reach Out (I’ll Be There) “offered advice and sustenance to communities … under extreme duress”. Martha and the Vandellas’ Nowhere to Run, meanwhile, presents itself as a love song but in reality was inspired by the state of America. Dozier later said its claustrophobic atmosphere had more to do with seeing tanks on the streets in the wake of riots and teenagers being shipped off to Vietnam than with romance.

Immediate, accessible pop music that is emotionally impactful and rich with meaning: it was an incredible trick to pull off, but Holland-Dozier-Holland did it again and again. It wasn’t enough to save their relationship with Motown. Promised and then denied their own sub-label, and angry about the way money was distributed in the company, they first went on a go-slow, then left entirely in 1968. The ensuing litigation went on for years, and forced them to use a pseudonym – Wayne-Dunbar – when writing for artists on their own labels, Invicta and Hot Wax.

They had more hits – Freda Payne’s Band of Gold; Give Me Just a Little More Time by the Chairmen of the Board – maintaining the same breathtaking standard that they’d kept at Motown. But Dozier became disillusioned: he claimed the Holland brothers passed on the chance to sign both Funkadelic and Al Green, and their rejection of the latter pre-empted his decision to leave, and another lawsuit.

He pursued a successful solo career as a performer: 1973’s gorgeous Take Off Your Make Up and the following year’s Trying to Hold Onto My Woman suggested songwriting powers undiminished by the break-up of the partnership, and the Afrocentric 1977 album track Going Back to My Roots enjoyed a long afterlife thanks to multiple cover versions. Somehow his friendships with both Berry Gordy and the Holland brothers survived the legal disputes: “Business is business,” he shrugged, “but love is love.”

Lamont performing solo in 2009.
Lamont performing solo in 2009. Photograph: Paul Morigi/WireImage

He moved to London in the 80s and kept writing: he was behind Alison Moyet’s 1984 hit Invisible, and collaborated with Mick Hucknall, who one suspects couldn’t believe his luck, on a string of tracks for Simply Red. Sometimes he dealt in material that nodded to the classic 60s Motown sound, such as the Four Tops’ Loco in Acapulco or Phil Collins’ Two Hearts. None of it was ever likely to supplant Holland-Dozier-Holland’s 60s output in anyone’s affections, but clearly his hitmaking touch was intact.

In his later years, he dabbled in musical theatre, taught courses at the University of Southern California and seemed happy to give interviews in which he reflected on Holland-Dozier-Holland’s peerless achievements; the pressure they’d worked under at Motown; the havoc it had wreaked on their personal lives; the way they’d come up with this song or that song. Ultimately, however, every interview seemed to come back to the same unassuming theme. “It was blood, sweat and tears,” he told the Guardian in 2015. “We just worked and worked … until we came up with things.”

Fly High, Ms. American Pie! Don McLean’s Classic Is 50 & Still Great

The Guardian:‘I said, Don, it’s time for you to reveal’: 50 years later, the truth behind American Pie

In an expansive new documentary, Don McLean talks about the much-discussed meaning of his enduring hit song

Jim Farber 

A long, long time ago – five decades to be exact – America was roiled by wrenching generational showdowns, massive street protests, and a blazing array of social justice movements. Now, half a century later, similar events and dynamics dominate the public conversation. So, perhaps, it’s poetic that precisely five decades have elapsed since a song that captured all that cultural turmoil, American Pie, became a smash hit. “It’s a song that spoke to its time,” said Spencer Proffer, who has produced a comprehensive new documentary about the song, titled The Day the Music Died. “But it’s just as applicable now.”
In fact, American Pie has only gained in fans and expanded in meaning as it has hit successive generations and generated fresh covers. Over the years, it has been interpreted by artists from Madonna (who created a commercially triumphant, if aesthetically limp, take in 2000) to Garth Brooks to Jon Bon Jovi to John Mayer. Throughout the years, journalists have subjected the song to a Talmudic level of scrutiny, while its songwriter, Don McLean, has doled out dribs and drabs of insight into his intent. By contrast, the new documentary offers the first line-by-line deconstruction of the song’s lyrics, as well as the most detailed analysis to date of its musical evolution. “I told Don, ‘It’s time for you to reveal what 50 years of journalists have wanted to know,’” Proffer said. “This film was a concerted effort to raise the curtain.”
In addition, it offers an emotional account of the tragic event that McLean used as his jumping off point for the larger story he wanted to tell.
The event, which McLean dubbed “the day the music died”, shattered the pop world of its day and had a formative effect on the songwriter. On a frigid night in 1959, a small plane carrying Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and JP Richardson (The Big Bopper) crashed in a corn field in Clear Lake, Iowa, minutes after take-off, killing everyone on board.

Continue reading Fly High, Ms. American Pie! Don McLean’s Classic Is 50 & Still Great

Music: Elton John’s Farewell & a Walkout from Aida


AP News: From the end of the world to your town, Elton John’s goodbye

BY WAYNE PARRY — July 16, 2022
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — I think it’s gonna be a long, long time until we see another songwriter and performer like Elton John.

Wrapping up a 50-plus year career with a farewell tour, the British pianist and vocalist has created some of the most memorable and enduring music in the history of pop-rock, songs burned into the collective DNA of humanity.

They may be quite simple, like the basic four-chord glory of “Crocodile Rock,” or dazzlingly complex like the 11-minute magnum opus “Funeral For A Friend/Love Lies Bleeding.”

Elton John

But now that it’s almost done, I hope you don’t mind that I put down in words how wonderful it has been to have Elton John on our radios and in our ears since the late 1960s.

The artist born 75 years ago as Reginald Kenneth Dwight kicked off the final leg of his North American farewell tour Friday night at Citizens Bank Park, home of baseball’s Philadelphia Phillies. And yes, he felt the love that night.

“America made me famous and I can’t thank this country enough,” he told the audience. “Thank you for the loyalty, the love, the kindness you showed me.”

He has sold over 300 million records worldwide, has played over 4,000 shows in 80 countries, and recorded one of the best-selling singles of all-time, his 1997 reworking of “Candle In The Wind” to eulogize Princess Diana, which sold 33 million copies.

Sir Elton (he was knighted in 1998) has scored over 70 top 40 hits, including nine No. 1s, and released seven No. 1 albums in the 3 1/2-year period from 1972 to 1975, a pace second only to that of the Beatles.

He has five Grammy awards, as well as a Tony award for “Aida.” His crooning of “Can You Feel The Love Tonight” in “The Lion King” motion picture has serenaded millions of children, and will entertain future generations of little ones.

The outrageous costumes and oversized glasses he was known for in his early ‘70s heyday are gone now (he dressed as Donald Duck, Pac-Man, the Statue of Liberty, Minnie Mouse, and a Los Angeles Dodgers baseball player, among others). And while the man has not met a sequin or a feather he doesn’t adore, his wardrobe is (by Elton standards) somewhat tamer these days.

He took the stage in a white tuxedo with black lapels, and purple sparkly glasses, walking somewhat tentatively to his shiny black piano to pound out the instantly recognizable opening chord to “Bennie And The Jets.”

Next up was “Philadelphia Freedom,” which he dedicated to the hometown crowd as “one of the greatest cities I’ve ever played in.” It was his 52nd concert in the City of Brotherly Love.

Throughout the night, John rolled out a dazzling array of smash hits spanning musical styles and genres. The gospel phrasings and cadences that so influenced his early work were evident on “Border Song” and “Take Me To The Pilot,” and even the straightforward radio staple “Levon” got a come-to-meeting revved-up ending.

He showed off the prototypical power ballad, “Don’t Let The Sun Go Down On Me,” with its close cousin “Someone Saved My Life Tonight.”

And when longtime guitar sidekick Davey Johnstone donned an inverted Flying-V guitar, it was time for the power chord arena rockers, including Elton’s hardest-rocking song ever, “Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting,” and the brash, boastful and Elton-to-the-bone anthem “The Bitch Is Back.”

Elton largely eschewed his famous falsetto; he still has 100 shows to go on the worldwide farewell tour that runs through next year, and he’s learned over the years how to conserve his voice without sacrificing his style and authenticity.

No matter: the crowd happily supplied the falsetto parts for him, including a mass sing-along of the “la-la-la” chorus on “Crocodile Rock.”

He reached back for only one deep track, “Have Mercy On The Criminal,” featuring Johnstone’s bluesy guitar licks, tucking it amid the dozens of smash hits.

And he avoided tear-jerkers like “Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word” and the gut-wrenching “The Last Song” about a farewell between a father and his son who’s dying of AIDS, in favor of an upbeat, celebratory mood.

“All The Girls Love Alice,” one of the earliest mainstream rock songs to focus on lesbian relationships in the early ‘70s, is an enduring concert staple, as is the straight-from-the-heart “Your Song.”

Before the closing number, “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” Elton peered toward the finish line of his final tour.

“I’m really looking forward to spending the rest of my life with my children and my husband,” he said. “Be kind to yourself. Love each other.”

The consummate showman to the very end, Elton finished the song, and was elevated into the sky on a hydraulic lift as a hole opened in a brick wall atop the stage, engulfed him, and closed again.

So while Elton John will soon be gone from the stage, thank God his music’s still alive.


AP News: US soprano, offended by blackface, pulls out of Italy opera

BY FRANCES D’EMILIO — July 16, 2022
ROME (AP) — Soprano Angel Blue says she won’t perform in an opera in Italy this month because blackface was used in the staging of a different work this summer on the same stage.

The U.S. singer posted a note on her angeljoyblue Instagram page saying she will be bowing out of “La Traviata” at Verona’s Arena this month because the theater recently mounted another Giuseppe Verdi opera, “Aida,” that had performers in blackface.

She blasted such use of “archaic” theatrical practices as “offensive, humiliating, and outright racist.”

Angel Blue, however, was still listed Saturday on the Arena’s website as singing the role of Violetta in “La Traviata” on July 22 and 30.

The theater said it was hoping that Blue, who is Black, would accept an invitation to meet with Arena officials in a “dialogue” over the issue. The Arena, in a statement Friday, said it had “no reason nor intent whatsoever to offend and disturb anyone’s sensibility.”

For decades, U.S. civil rights organizations for decades have publicly condemned blackface — in which white performers blacken their faces — as dehumanizing Blacks by introducing and reinforcing racial stereotypes.

The Arena this summer has mounted performances of “Aida” based on a 2002 staging of the opera classic by Italian director Franco Zeffirelli who died in 2019. That staging uses blackface.

Angel Blue

“Dear Friends, Family, and Opera Lovers,” began the soprano’s Instagram post. “I have come to the unfortunate conclusion that I will not be singing La Traviata at Arena di Verona this summer as planned.”

Referring to Arena’s decision to use blackface makeup in “Aida,‘’ the singer wrote: “Let me be perfectly clear: the use of blackface under any circumstances, artistic or otherwise, is a deeply misguided practice based on archaic theatrical traditions which have no place in modern society. It is offensive, humiliating and outright racist.”

She wrote that she couldn’t “in good conscience associate myself with an institution which continues this practice.”

The theater’s statement said “Angel Blue knowingly committed herself to sing at the Arena” even though the “characteristics” of the 2002 Zeffirelli staging were “well known.”

Still, the theater stressed its hope that her protest would ultimately improve understanding between cultures as well as educate Italian audiences.

“Every country has different roots, and their cultural and social structures developed along different historical and cultural paths,‘’ said the statement by the Arena of Verona Foundation. “Common convictions have often been reached only after years of dialogue and mutual understanding.”

The Arena statement stressed dialogue, “in effort to understand others’ point of view, in respect of consciously assumed artistic obligations.”

“Contraposition, judgments, labeling, lack of dialogue only feed the culture of contrasts, which we totally reject,” said the statement, appealing for cooperation “to avoid divisions.”

It’s not the first time that the use of blackface makeup for a staging of “Aida” in Verona has sparked a soprano’s protest. In 2019, opera singer Tamara Wilson, who is white, protested against darkening her face to sing the title character of an Ethiopian woman in the opera at the Arena.

Big Tip for Long Life: Fiddle Around, Folks


The Guardian:
A truce with the trees’: Rebecca Solnit on the wonders of a 300-year old violin
Made with all-renewable materials, this violin from 1721 reflects a time of magnificent culture – a global gathering from before the climate crisis

Rebecca Solnit. — Thu 7 Jul 2022

For the last 50 years, David Harrington, the founder and artistic director of San Francisco’s Kronos Quartet, has been playing what he calls “pretty athletic music” on a violin made in 1721. I’ve heard him play all kinds of compositions on it, from the galloping notes of Orange Blossom Special to the minimalism of Terry Riley and even the occasional bit of Bach. The instrument made by Carlo Giuseppe Testore in Milan has survived three centuries, providing music for countless audiences, and can be heard on more than 60 Kronos albums.

When I first learned the age of the instrument I was filled with wonder that a delicate piece of craftsmanship could endure for centuries, that something so small and light could do so much, that an instrument made in the 18th century could have so much to say in the 21st. It felt like a messenger from the past and an emblem of the possible, a relic and a promise.

Part of David Harrington’s 301 year-old violin.

This violin is from before. Before James Watt made the steam engine a voracious, ubiquitous device devouring coal and wood and then oil, driving mills, looms, pumps, then locomotive and steamboat engines. Before we began gouging out the Earth so frantically to feed those steam engines and then those internal combustion engines. Before we dug out so much of the carbon that plants had so beautifully sequestered deep in the Earth eons ago. Before human impact exploded into a destructive force with the power to change the acidity of the oceans and the content of the atmosphere. Continue reading Big Tip for Long Life: Fiddle Around, Folks

Paul McCartney at 80: A Great Gig, Not A Hard Day’s Night – And Even A Cheer for Ukraine

Will Paul McCartney still be on stage at 90? I bet he will try: Beatles biographer HUNTER DAVIES on a tear-jerking performance from a living legend

It was a tease of course. He was pacing himself, knowing what was to come, the fireworks and special guests, saving his voice and body so it would last the whole two hours.

In your eighties, as I know only too well, you mustn’t rush things. You might dry up, get confused or fall over.

Paul never thought he would last this long. In the Sixties I remember him and John being unable to imagine performing in their thirties. The notion was grotesque.

So what would they be doing? John presumed he would be a bum, like his Dad. Paul envisaged becoming a teacher. When Paul wrote When I’m Sixty Four, the idea of anyone being 64 was mythical, the oldest he could think of anyone ever being. At the time he was only 16.

Paul never thought he would last this long. In the Sixties I remember him and John being unable to imagine performing in their thirties. The notion was grotesque

Paul never thought he would last this long. In the Sixties I remember him and John being unable to imagine performing in their thirties.
The notion was grotesque.

Now look at him. Especially when he eventually took his jacket off. ‘The only wardrobe change this evening.’

A good joke. Well, as jokes go, at live open air concerts. The songs, especially his own classics, were fab. OK, so he cannot quite reach all the high notes and gets a bit croaky on the low notes.

He was wise not to attempt Yesterday. That has to be a solo, with no effects, and would have given away his age.

Mr Kite was probably a mistake. His heart did not seem in it. It is a John song, which needed John’s voice.

But when he did a George song, Something, playing a ukulele which George gave him, that was funny and touching.

He was just beginning to wilt slightly when he was joined by two guests – Dave something from I think the Poo Fighters, whose name I never got – and then Bruce Springsteen. Wow, what a surprise. Bruce was clearly thrilled to be there, even for just a couple of songs.

They immediately had a rejuvenating effect. Paul always liked singing with John, trying to impress each other.

At the O2, a year or two ago, he had no help on stage with the singing, though a pipe band in kilts suddenly arrived to play Mull of Kintyre. I think that might have been wasted on a Glasto audience.

I did ask him at a family party afterwards how he had managed two hours without a break.

‘Drugs,’ he said. I took that as a joke. Anyone watching him live on Saturday must have seen how fit and healthy he is for 80. Lucky beggar.

I did notice him though having one swig of water. What a cheater.

Her Majesty, when she did a two-hour session giving out honours, never had a drink. Or so I observed six years ago. At the young age of 90.

Will Paul still be performing at 90? I bet he will try. It’s what he enjoys most. He began Wings because he wanted to go on stage again when the Beatles packed up.

At the end after brilliant, belting performances of Lady Madonna, Hey Jude, Helter Skelter, Get Back, I had tears in my eyes. No really, what a softy.

Not just for days gone by, and memories and images of Paul as he was in the Sixties.

Or thoughts of my own life and memories and mortality. But tears of gratitude.

We are so lucky to have had the Beatles in our lifetime. And to have Paul still with us. Still pleasing us. Still pleasing himself…

Hunter Davies is the author of The Beatles, the only authorised biography


McCartney at 80: ”Something” & “Yesterday”

New York Times

. . . ”All my troubles seemed so far away . . .” (No they didn’t; but never mind.)

in EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Hard to think of a better way for Paul McCartney to celebrate his 80th birthday than by singing “Glory Days” onstage with Bruce Springsteen or being serenaded by some 60,000 wellwishers.

Thats right, the “cute Beatle” turns 80 on Saturday. Its one of those cultural milestones that bring a sharp intake of breath — has it been THAT long? — along with an appreciation of what he still has to offer.

For it has been more than a halfcentury now since the Beatles broke up, a realization that hits you like that 1970sera joke about young people saying, “Paul McCartney was in a band before Wings?”

Like several other members of the “hope I die before I get old” generation, including Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones and former Beatles mate Ringo Starr, McCartney keeps working, keeps sharing his music from the stage. Another 1960s icon, Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, is scheduled to play at the Starlight Theatre in Kansas City on his 80th birthday Monday.

My ticket to see the Beatles play at Shea Stadium, NYC, August 1966. Saw them play; couldn’t hear a note: 50,000+, mostly young girls, never stopped screaming. Unforgettable anyway.

“He has a youthful exuberance that is ageless,” said Bob Spitz, a Beatles biographer. “Theres still some of that 21yearold boy that shines through in all of his performances.”

It would be a cliché — and wrong — to suggest time hasnt taken a toll. The fragility in his voice was evident while singing “Blackbird” on Thursday night at MetLife Stadium, the final night of a brief U.S. tour. He struggled for the high notes in “Here Today,” his love letter to John Lennon, who was robbed of a long life by an assassins bullet.

The skill of a sympathetic band, along with the imagination and voices in the audience, patches over the rough spots.

“Yeah, yeah, right, Ive got a birthday coming up,” McCartney said, scanning signs in the audience that reminded him. “Im not trying to ignore it, but…”

The crowd offered a spontaneous “Happy Birthday” serenade, even before Jersey guy Jon Bon Jovi brought out a fistful of balloons during the encore to lead them in another verse.

That other Jersey guy, Springsteen, joined McCartney for the duet on “Glory Days” and a version of “I Wanna Be Your Man.” He later popped up to join the guitar duel from “Abbey Road.”

For most artists, the appearance of such local royalty would be a hardtotop moment. Most artists cant immediately whip out “Let it Be” and “Hey Jude” to follow it.

To mark the birthday, Stereogum magazine asked 80 artists to pick their favorite McCartney song, and the choices were remarkable in their breadth — from the preBeatles 1958 cut “In Spite of All the Danger” (which McCartney performed at MetLife) to his 2016 collaboration with Rihanna and Kanye West “FourFiveSeconds” (which he didnt).

David Crosby and Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys both chose “Eleanor Rigby.” Master showman Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips picked “Magical Mystery Tour.” Steve Earle selected “Every Night,” while Def Leppards Joe Elliott went against type with the gentle “Little Lamb Dragonfly.” Mac DeMarco picked the “Ram” epic, “The Back Seat of My Car.”

Many remarked upon the unfairness of having to pick just one.

Stereogums feature illustrated the varied entry points musicians of different generations have into a living, breathing catalog. For example, it revealed that a largely overlooked album like 1980s “McCartney II” had a far greater impact on developing artists than its reception at the time would have foreshadowed.

On Friday, McCartneys team announced that it was packaging “McCartney II” with his other DIY albums, “McCartney” of 1970 and 2020s “McCartney III, into a boxed set that will go on sale in August.

How vast is the songbook? McCartney performed 38 songs at MetLife, 20 of them Beatles songs, and even managed to miss an entire decade. Remember the 1990s?

With the help of Peter Jackson, who reimagined the “Get Back” sessions for last years television project, McCartney was able to perform a virtual “duet” with Lennon singing his part of “Ive Got a Feeling from the Apple rooftop concert. McCartney also paid tribute to George Harrison, who died in 2001, with a version of “Something” that began with Paul on a ukulele George gave him and built to a full band version.

Spitz recalled a Beatlesera film clip of Lennon telling an interviewer that hed be flabbergasted if it lasted more than 10 years. McCartney stood next to him laughing.

Lennon was right about the Beatles as a unit, but not about the music. He couldnt have imagined that in 2022, one adult standing in line to get into MetLife being overheard asking a companion: “Where are Mom and Dad?”

Advanced birthday be damned, the irrepressibly cheerful McCartney left with a promise when the last firework burst and he walked offstage.

“See you next time.”

Beatles tribute show, Vegas 2020, just before lockdown. Average age of audience: 65. Ticket price: 6 times as much as the original group. Screams almost as b loud, but more hoarse.

Well, FU to Friends University: you Flunked the Freedom of Expression Exam Big Time.

Someday, I’m thinking, there will be a historic marker on (or near) the campus of Friends University in Wichita, Kansas.

Caitlyn Fox, Free Speech Advocate.

And if I last long enough to see it go up, I gotta take a selfie standing next to it. And if I’m really lucky, maybe Caitlyn Fox will take one with me.

I’ll get to Caitlyn in a minute. That Wichita historic marker won’t be  about me, but it will point to where my Quaker journalistic “career” started, in late June of 1977. I lived a year there one week, four and a half decades ago, and from recent reports it seems some things there haven’t changed a bit in those 45 years. Continue reading Well, FU to Friends University: you Flunked the Freedom of Expression Exam Big Time.