Rock ‘n’ roll was bred between the church and the nightclubs in the soul of a queer black woman in the 1940s named Sister Rosetta Tharpe. She was there before Elvis, Little Richard and Johnny Cash swiveled their hips and strummed their guitars. It was Tharpe, the godmother of rock ‘n’ roll, who turned this burgeoning musical style into an international sensation.
Perhaps it’s no surprise that Tharpe was always surrounded by music growing up. Born Rosetta Nubin in Arkansas to Willis Atkins and Katie Bell, Tharpe came from a family of religious singers, cotton pickers and traditional evangelists. She picked up the guitar at four years old, and at the age of six she accompanied her mother to perform with a travelling evangelist troupe in churches around the South. By the mid-1920s, Tharpe and her mother settled in Chicago, where they continued performing spiritual music. As Tharpe grew up, she began fusing Delta blues, New Orleans jazz and gospel music into what would become her signature style.
Although Tharpe’s distinctive voice and unconventional style attracted fans, it was still the mid-1930s. Female guitarists were rare, and even more so was a musician who pursued both religious and secular themes, a fact that alarmed the gospel community. But Tharpe — young and innovative — was determined to keep experimenting with her sound. Her persistence and grit paid off, and by 1938, she had joined the Cotton Club Revue, a New York City club that became especially notable during the Prohibition era. She was only 23 at the time, a feat that was only amplified when she scored her first single, “Rock Me,” a gospel and rock ‘n’ roll fusion, along with three other gospel songs: “My Man and I,” “That’s All” and “Lonesome Road.”
Mekurya was born on 14 March 1935, in Yifat, Ethiopia. He began his musical studies on traditional Ethiopian instruments such as the krar and the masenqo, and later moved on to the saxophone and clarinet. Upon reaching adolescence, he began his professional career in 1949 as a part of the Municipality Band in Addis Ababa. In 1955 he joined the house band at Addis’ Haile Selassie I Theatre, and in 1965 joined the famous Police Orchestra. He was also one of the first musicians to record an instrumental version of shellela, a genre of traditional Ethiopian vocal music sung by warriors before going into battle. Mekurya took the shellela tradition seriously, often appearing onstage in a warrior’s animal-skin tunic and lion’s mane headdress. He continued to refine his instrumental shellela style, recording an entire album in 1970, Negus of Ethiopian Sax, released on Philips Ethiopia during the heyday of the Ethiojazz movement. Mekurya continued to work alongside many of the biggest orchestras in the Ethiopian capital, accompanying renowned singers Alemayehu Eshete, Hirut Beqele, and Ayalew Mesfin.
Armed with the incredible vocalist Bilal, The Roots performed the signature track from Detroit, a film about the race riots in 1967. “It Ain’t Fair” glares unflinchingly, takes a knee and raises a fist against the societal construct that has systematically denied equality of experience to those “presumed inferior,” to quote one of Bilal’s verses. And it achieves all this while covering its heart with its right hand. This reflective hymn tenderly yanks your heart strings and offers a window into the ethos of those who would like to stand for the flag but cannot in good principle, lest these same evils continue to exist.
Those lucky enough to be in the Tiny Desk audience witnessed masters at work. Black Thought is truly one of the most intelligent emcees ever, and his razor-sharp lyricism was on full display. Questlove, a musical and cultural historian nonpareil, was both a metronomical and moral anchor. It felt like the culmination of decades of academic rigor and boom-bap sessions, fittingly backed by a seven-piece horn section. Bilal’s falsetto-laced vocals and warm resonance evoked powerful messaging reminiscent of Curtis Mayfield’s “Don’t Worry,” delivered with the eccentricity of Prince.
Late last year, Common premiered “Letter to the Free” at the Tiny Desk and later won an Emmy for the song. It wouldn’t surprise me if “It Ain’t Fair” becomes another award-winning performance when the Oscars roll around early next year. This is a song that deserves to be heard in the millions of households that watch The Roots every night.
“It Ain’t Fair”
Curtis L. Jones Jr (Trombone), Arnetta Johnson (Trumpet), Hiruy E. Tirfe (Sax), Richard L. Tate II (Sax), Joseph Streater (Trumpet), Norman J. Bradshaw (Trombone), Damon Bryson (Sousaphone), Ahmir (Questlove) Thompson (Drums), Tarik (Black Thought) Trotter (Emcee), Bilal Oliver (Vocals)
Astrud Gilberto was born Astrud Evangelina Weinert, the daughter of a Brazilian mother and a German father, in the state of Bahia, Brazil. She was raised in Rio de Janeiro. She married João Gilberto in 1959 and emigrated to the United States in 1963, residing in the U.S. from that time. Astrud and João divorced in the mid-1960s and she began a relationship with her musical partner, American jazz saxophone player Stan Getz.
She sang on two tracks on the influential 1963 album Getz/Gilberto featuring João Gilberto, Stan Getz, and Antônio Carlos Jobim, despite having never sung professionally before this recording. The 1964 single version of “The Girl from Ipanema”, taken from the 1963 album, omitted the Portuguese lyrics sung by João Gilberto, and established Astrud Gilberto as a Bossa Nova singer. It sold over one million copies and was awarded a gold disc. In 1964, Gilberto appeared in the films Get Yourself a College Girl and The Hanged Man. Her first solo album was The Astrud Gilberto Album (1965). Upon moving to the United States, she went on tour with Getz. Beginning as a singer of bossa nova and American jazz standards, Gilberto started to record her own compositions in the 1970s. She has recorded songs in Portuguese, English, Spanish, Italian, French, German, and Japanese.
In 1982, Gilberto’s son Marcelo joined her group, touring with her for more than a decade as bassist. In addition, he collaborated as co-producer of the albums Live in New York (1996) and Temperance (1997). Her son Gregory Lasorsa played guitar on the Temperance album on the song “Beautiful You”, which features singer Michael Franks.
Gilberto received the Latin Jazz USA Award for Lifetime Achievement in 1992, and was inducted into the International Latin Music Hall of Fame in 2002. In 1996, she contributed to the AIDS benefit album Red Hot + Rio produced by the Red Hot Organization, performing the song “Desafinado” (Portuguese for “slightly out of tune”, or “off key”) along with George Michael. Although she did not officially retire, Gilberto announced in 2002, that she was taking “indefinite time off” from public performances.
Her original recording of “Fly Me to the Moon” was edited as a duet using a recording of the same song by Frank Sinatra for the soundtrack of Down with Love (2003). Her recording “Who Can I Turn To?” was sampled by The Black Eyed Peas in the song “Like That” from the album Monkey Business. Her vocals on “Berimbau” were sampled by Cut Chemist in his song “The Garden”. Her recording of “Once I Loved” was featured in the 2007 film Juno. The “Astrud” track on Basia Trzetrzelewska’s 1987 album, Time and Tide, is a tribute to Gilberto.
Gilberto is an ardent advocate of animal rights.
Gilberto was born in New York City to Brazilian parents, bossa nova pioneer João Gilberto and singer Miúcha, who were briefly living in the city at the time of her birth. She often traveled with her father when he recorded albums in different countries; she lived in Mexico at age three and moved to Rio de Janeiro at age five. Gilberto’s parents separated when she was seven, and she spent her time between Rio de Janeiro with her mother and New York with her father.
Gilberto recalls that her childhood was “music nonstop”; when reflecting on her father’s influence, Gilberto states, “He taught me to be a perfectionist. But my mother taught me how to lose it. And you can hear it in my music today, I think.” She grew acquainted with popular artists such as Caetano Veloso, David Byrne, and Stan Getz, who often visited her father’s home to collaborate. She began singing with her mother at a young age and participated in professional musicals such as Saltimbancos and Pirlimpimpim. At the age of seven, she made her recording debut on her mother’s first solo album, Miúcha & Antônio Carlos Jobim (1977). Two years later, she performed at Carnegie Hall with her mother and Stan Getz.
lis & Tom is a bossa nova album recorded by Brazilian singer Elis Regina and singer/songwriter Antônio Carlos Jobim, released in 1974.
Recorded over a 16-day period at MGM Studios in Los Angeles, California, the album was an old wish of Elis, who always wanted to record a full album of Jobim’s songs with him. The dream finally came true in 1974, when Elis was celebrating her 10th anniversary as an artist of Philips Records. The label approved the project as a gift for her.
The Allmusic review by Thom Jurek awards the album 4.5 stars and states “This beautiful — and now legendary — recording date between iconic Brazilian vocalist Elis Regina and composer, conductor, and arranger Tom Jobim is widely regarded as one of the greatest Brazilian pop recordings.”
It was ranked 11th on Rolling Stone’s Top 100 Brazilian albums of all time.The album was inducted into the Latin Grammy Hall of Fame in 2007. On September 2012 it was voted by the audience of Radio Eldorado FM, of Estadao.com and of Caderno C2+Música (both the latter belong to newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo) as the fourth-best Brazilian album ever.
Stan Getz – Tenor sax
Joao Gilberto – Guitar, vocals
Antonio Carlos Jobim – Piano
Tommy Williams – Bass
Milton Banana – Drums
Astrud Gilberto – vocals
When talking about bossa nova, perhaps the signature pop music sound of Brazil, frequently the first name to come to one’s lips is that of Antonio Carlos Jobim. With songs like “The Girl From Ipanema” and “Desafindo,” Jobim pretty much set the standard for the creation of the bossa nova in the mid-’50s. However, as is often the case, others come along and take the genre in a new direction, reinventing through radical reinterpretation, be it lyrically, rhythmically, or in live performance, making the music theirs. And if Jobim gets credit for laying the foundation of bossa nova, then the genre was brilliantly reimagined (and, arguably, defined) by the singer/songwriter and guitarist João Gilberto. In his native country he is called O Mito (The Legend), a deserving nickname, for since he began recording in late ’50s Gilberto, with his signature soft, near-whispering croon, set a standard few have equaled.
Born in 1931 in Juazeiro in the northeastern state of Brazil known as Bahia, Gilberto seemed obsessed with music almost from the moment he emerged from the womb. His grandfather bought him his first guitar at age 14 (much to the dismay of João’s father). Within a year, the result of near constant practicing, he was the leader of a band made up of school friends. During this time Gilberto was absorbing the rhythmic subtlety of the Brazilian pop songs of the day, while also taking in the rich sounds of swing jazz (Duke Ellington and Tommy Dorsey), as well as the light opera singing of Jeanette MacDonald. At 18, Gilberto gave up on his small town life and headed to Bahia’s largest city, Salvador, to get a foothold in the music industry performing on live radio shows. Although he was given the opportunity to sing, instant stardom was not in the offing, but his brief appearances on the radio brought him to the attention of Antonio Maria, who wanted Gilberto to become the lead singer for the popular radio band Garotos da Lua (Boys From the Moon) and move to Rio de Janeiro.