Category Archives: Printed Matters

Ayana Contreras of Reclaimed Soul talks with Emily J. Lordi, author of Donny Hathaway Live

Soul singer/Songwriter Donny Hathaway’s life and untimely death are both shrouded in mystery.
Though artists like Stevie Wonder, Amy Winehouse, and Aretha Franklin have called him an influence, there is very little biographical work about him. I sat down with Emily Lordi, author of “Donny Hathaway Live”. Lordi’s recent book uses the album of the same name as a jumping off point for uncovering Hathaway’s legacy and his unique contributions to 20th century popular music.

Listen to Part Two of this conversation here: https://soundcloud.com/vocalo/ayana-contreras-of-reclaimed-soul-talks-with-emily-lordi-author-of-donny-hathaway-live-part-2

 

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Donny Hathaway in Chicago.

donnyhathawayback

Donny Hathaway was born in Chicago and raised in St. Louis. Early in his career, he returned to Chicago. During that time period, roughly from 1968 until about 1971, Donny was very prolific. In this hour of Reclaimed Soul, Ayana Contreras explores Donny Hathaway’s early work arranging and writing for other artists in Chicago: from Albertina Walker, Syl Johnson, and Curtis Mayfield, to The Five Stairsteps and Little Milton. We’ll also hear some of his classics, compositions, and some of his very first recordings.

For more on Donny’s career, check out the recently published book “Donny Hathaway Live” by Emily J. Lordi.

Catch fresh installments of Reclaimed Soul Thursdays at 8pm (CST) on vocalo.org or over the air on 91.1fm

 


In Rotation: Ayana Contreras of Vocalo’s Reclaimed Soul on a softly stratospheric Andrew Hill LP

Image

The music that is currently in rotation (in my head), as excerpted from

Ayana Contreras, DJ and host of Vocalo’s Reclaimed Soul, blogger at darkjive.com

The Natural Four, Natural Four This was released here in Chicago on Curtis Mayfield’s Curtom label in 1974. The Natural Four was a group that came here from San Francisco to record because Chicago was a soul-music center. Unfortunately, aside from scoring a Top 40 hit with this album’s classic lead track, “Can This Be Real,” the group was unable to break through. Natural Four brims with loping strings, aggressive horns, and slinky harmonies.

Andrew Hill, Lift Every Voice I collect old Blue Note albums, and I’m often initially attracted to their covers. This 1970 release features Hill’s face superimposed over stars and violet nebulas, and the record itself is softly stratospheric in its energy. Hill leads a crowd of vocalists and an instrumental quintet that includes Richard Davis on bass and Carlos Garnett on tenor sax. With song titles such as “Love Chant,” “Ghetto Lights,” and “Hey Hey,” the record gently envelops you with a sense of perpetual motion—sometimes it feels like you’re swinging in a hammock, and sometimes it’s like you’re running electrically in the streets.

Sunday Williams, “Where Did He Come From Sunday Williams recorded this single in Chicago around 1969 for Bill Meeks’s Alteen label, based on Stony Island Avenue. It did OK locally, mainly thanks to the cheery flip side, “Ain’t Got No Problems” (which features the hook “Know what to do with my man, yeah!”). Really, both songs are stellar. But “Where Did He Come From” has a hauntingly beautiful staccato horn intro, coupled with dreamy vibes and a rock-solid bass line.

Proof positive that I do listen to stuff that’s not from Chicago, sometimes. For the rest of the article, click here.


La Cade: The little hair care company that made some big waves.

La Cade Products was another of many Chicago-based black hair care firms (that I detail here) during the late 60s through the 1970s. Though not as well-known as Supreme Products (who created Duke and Raveen) or Johnson Products (who created Soft Sheen, Afro Sheen, and Ultra Sheen), La Cade left behind scant but fascinating evidence of its existence.

First off, it left some pretty great advertisements starting around 1972 (my favorite is above, from a 1974 issue of Ebony Magazine). How’s that for swagger? There’s a sort of street romantic and cinematic appeal to the image used. They also came up with some clever product names: one of which got them in legal trouble… but we’ll dig into that later in this post.

Most notably, to me (and probably, many Darkjive readers, as well) is that sometime around 1974 La Cade decided to put together a small recording division, based at their Corporate Headquarters (2411 South Michigan in Chicago). They recorded no less than two artists on two singles: both of which are as gritty and charismatic as the ad above.

The first is “Beginning of the Void” backed by “Love Me Too” by Danny Hunt (who sounds to me very much like a young Stevie Wonder on his records). I actually love this record. Very soulful, with a stone cold groove, the lyrics are remarkably socially aware and include:

Just another ghetto child

never see his Daddy smile

He’s in the beginning of his void

The following year, Hunt released a beast of a cut arranged by the iconic Tom Tom Washington and released on Dynamite Records (another tiny Chicago-based imprint). Last time I checked, Danny Hunt was alive and well in the Chicago-area singing Gospel music.

The other record I have found is by Walter “Butterball” Davis, titled “Baby (Wacha Doin to me)” backed by “Girl Stop Begging”. He had also put out a record called “Nobody Cares for a Junkie” on Butterball Records… it’s deep. Really deep. But, Back to “Girl Stop Begging”: the cut is a bluesy-funky little gem penned by Davis himself.

Both records suffered from lack of promotion and distribution and stalled out. It was about this time that La Cade trademarked a product name that I think is very seventies and cool: “The Last Tangle”, presumably inspired by the controversial 1972 film “Last Tango in Paris”. In the film (which was Rated X at the time), Marlon Brando’s middle-aged character has a torrid affair with a soon to be married young Parisian woman with scandalous results. Oh yes, these folks had some swagger.

Not long after La Cade’s foray into the Record Business, they were embroiled in a legal battle with one Roux Laboratories over a product name. The Laboratories were initially contesting La Cade’s claim to copyright the term “Mink” as in La Cade’s product “Ultra Mink”. Roux Laboratories apparently had a hair product called “White Minx” and stated that the product names were too close for comfort. The case took a turn when Roux Laboratories’ counsel stated:

MR. SULLIVAN: I would like to renew my running objection that the only question involved here is the applicant’s right to use the descriptive term “ultra.”
We do not object to its use of the term “Mink,” which has been disclaimed by applicant. Neither have we objected to the use of others using the term “Mink,” but we are objecting to the use of the descriptive term “ultra” which we had adopted and used as part of the “ultra White Minx” trademark but using “ultra” merely in its descriptive connotation, and that is the whole substance of this opposition.
ROUX LABORATORIES, INC. v. LA CADE PRODUCTS CO. 558 F.2d 33 (1977)

Ultimately, Roux Laboratories’ counsel dropped the complaint, but not without costing La Cade a lot of money in legal fees. By 1977, the firm had stopped advertising in Ebony Magazine, had stopped releasing records, and the trail goes otherwise cold. But, in a few short years, La Cade surely left behind some waves: both soundwaves and hair waves. Jive on!


Wilbur Holmes: images of the West Side with Grit and Grace

photo by wilbur holmes, circa mid 1970s

Carlos of Surplus of Options (a smokin’ hot Antique/Resale shop full of curiosities here in Chicago) found these pictures… in fact, he picked up dozens of them… at a West Side Junk shop for almost nothing. I was immediately struck by the photos, both for their composition and tone. I bought the pictures from him with the promise that I’d share them with Darkjive readers.

All of the photos came from the same lot and are presumed to have been taken by one Wilbur Holmes (who apparently had a way with the ladies, based on the subject matter of many of his shots). A good number of his photos had West Side subject matter, such as the Garfield Conservatory and Malcolm X College. At first, the photographer was a mystery. Only one shot (not pictured here) had his name embossed in the corner.

A bit of research turned up that Mr. Holmes worked for the post office for 40 years (as well as being a self-employed photographer).

I found some of his shots published in Jet Magazine, during the 1970s (image below from the March 4, 1971 issue).

He was a First Lieutenant in the Army in World War II, and he died in 1991. If you know/knew Mr. Holmes and have more info, please share it here in the comments section. I’m so grateful that Darkjivers are so good at sharing…

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Dorothy Donegan: Chicago’s own Jazz Cover Girl

Darkjive focuses mainly on soul music born and bred here in Chicago during the golden era of Chicago Soul: the 1960s through the late 1970s. Anyone who knows me, however, knows I am passionate about a variety of music that has come out of our city: especially soul, blues, and jazz.

That said, recently an old cover of local titan-of-print Ebony Magazine (from July of 1946!) caught my eye for both the byline and the cover girl:

The cover featured local jazz pianist Dorothy Donegan, and the byline read: “Is Jazz Going Highbrow?”

A graduate of DuSable High School, Donegan studied music with Walter Dyett, as did so much of our homegrown talent (like Nat King Cole). She was noted for her abundance of sass and personality (which was apparent in her stage show, but never really translated to record sales). That personality helped win her a following in Chicago’s South Side club scene which featured spots like the Crown Propeller Lounge where a contortionist named Atlantis (though some say she was called Aquanetta) performed in a fish tank (pictured at left in 1954 with King Kolax… underwater).

That abundance of personality proved to be both a blessing and a curse. The New York Times’ Ben Ratliff once wrote:

“Her flamboyance helped her find work in a field that was largely hostile to women. To a certain extent, it was also her downfall; her concerts were often criticized for having an excess of personality.”

Dorothy Donegan won an American Jazz Master fellowship from the National Endowment of the Arts in 1992. She was 70 years old.

Very sassy, indeed.

Below, Dorothy Donegan performing in 1945. Jive and jitterbug on!


Ebony is Back…. and fly!

Oh. Goodness. To be clear, Ebony never left us, but it did sort of lose influence in the Black Community. But, wow, have they stepped up. And, I’m prouder than ever to pass by their headquarters here in Chicago (on South Michigan Avenue).

To give a little background, Ebony (launched in the 1940s by the Johnson Family) was by far the most popular, influential Black Magazine in America for decades. At its peak, Ebony was home to Pulitzer Prize winning photographer Moneta Sleet, Jr., among other giants in the publishing field. By the 21st Century, their popularity (along with magazines in general) had waned, and by 2010, they well undersold expectations and were in need of an aesthetic revamp. There was talk of selling the magazine. But, first they gave it another shot.

The first move they made was to bring in Desiree Rogers as CEO. Then they hired Amy DuBois Barnett (of Honey Magazine [sadly shuttered circa 2006]) as Editor, and brought in young, fresh talent from Vanity Fair and a slew of other sources. Next, the team commenced in the first full overhaul of the magazine since 1945.  The first revamped Ebony was published in April 2011.

In recent offerings, they’ve captured cutting edge yet approachable black culture, art, music, and thought (recent features have covered topics as varied as the recent retrospective of Black visual artist Glenn Ligon, underground soul /vocalist Jesse Boykins III, what Black Fashion Bloggers were wearing during New York’s Fashion Week [hint: it was fly], and cultural critic Touré unpacked the rhetoric of “Post-Blackness“). They also represent the full tonal spectrum of black beauty in their fashion/beauty sections, something that had been slipping a bit in recent years. For more on Ebony’s legacy in the fashion world, click here.

In short, they worked it out. It shows. Check out September 2011’s cover, above.

As of 2011, Ebony’s circulation averaged 1,235,865 (a 10.9 percent increase), and Jet’s swelled to 820,557 (a 7.6 percent increase).

Jive on.


Theaster Gates’ Dorchester Projects

What do you get when you mix a maverick artist with strong community ties and an Urban Planner? For one thing, Theaster Gates. For another, the Dorchester Projects, pictured above. Theaster has been purchasing properties in the Woodlawn/Grand Crossing neighborhood for a few years now, and has quietly acquired the stock of the former Dr. Wax record store as well as the now defunct Prairie Avenue Bookstore (both businesses were revered in their respective collector communities). He created a home for glass lantern slides that depict the canon of Western Fine Art. Using reclaimed materials, he is turning his properties into cultural community hubs, featuring curators and programming that reflects the collections and the community.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I’ll be curating the record collection in May and June of 2011, culminating in a series of talks on Chicago Music History (details to follow) and a couple of good, old-fashioned dance parties starring local-born music.

Read the New York Times article about what’s poppin on the South Side with the Dorchester Projects.


Bon Bon Vie: good good life…

The line is designed by Shari Neal, who explained to Afrobella:

“I always wanted to design tee shirts, but I just never sat down to do it until fairly recently. In the past I had done tee shirt designs for other people and I finally decided to do something for myself.

The name of the company comes from the T.S. Monk song Bon Bon Vie (Gimme The Good Life)”, especially the lines below:

The man promised me a raise (I said who?)
Who’s gonna raise me when I’m dead?

Oh, I’m so tired of putting that clock every day (Working every day)
All day skatin’ on thin ice

Lord knows we could use a holiday, baby
Just the two of us would be so nice…

I feel like those lyrics sometimes, as I’m sure a lot of people do. I like my job, but at the same time, I really want to truly be self-sufficient one day. It’s a really amazing feeling to have something you created (whether it be a blog, t-shirt business, whatever) do well and be able to sustain you financially.”

I love the word-based graphics, and the messages of the line (many of which are Chicago-centric).  Plus the prices are just right.  Jive on!

http://www.wearbonbonvie.com/


Tonite! New School Poetics Presents: These Are The Breaks – Chicago Book Launch

 

Idris Goodwin is back home to Chicago tonight to celebrate the recent publication of his first book. It’s a collection of prose, poetry, and essays titled THESE ARE THE BREAKS.
These Are The Breaks is the debut collection by NEA award-winning playwright, HBO Def Poet, and critically acclaimed “indie” rapper, Idris Goodwin. Diverse in scope and wickedly satirical, Goodwin’s poetic essays sample race, class, and culture, transcending the page with hip-hop musicality. Goodwin cross-fades past and present, personal and political: Motown’s last vinyl factory juxtaposes against Bronx rap legends battling in open-air arenas; Chicago’s Public School system contrasts against Santa Fe’s tourism industry; an Egyptian child drowns in the Dead Sea as Nat Turner sprints across Death Valley. These Are The Breaks is the literary mixtape of our cacophonous times.

It’s scheduled to hit shelves in March 2011, but he’ll be selling advance copies after the performance.

If you don’t live in Chicago…

If want to secure a copy sooner than later visit www.WriteBloody.com to place a preorder or just contact me www.idrisgoodwin.blogspot. com or if you use a Kindle you can purchase at Amazon.com.

 

 

NEW SCHOOL POETICS presents
THESE ARE THE BREAKS – CHICAGO BOOK LAUNCH
Hosted by Poet, Educator ,WBEZ Correspondent Kevin Coval
Featured Performers: Award Winning Playwright/Performer Tanya Saracho & Poet Lamar “the trufe” Jorden, star of the critically acclaimed documentary Louder Than A Bomb
CHICAGO URBAN ARTS SOCIETY
http://www.chicagourbanart society.org/

 

2229 South Halsted Street
Chicago, IL
 
$5 donation, students free.  No one turned away 

click here for a downloadable preview of the book, slated to hit stores Spring 2010.