Sun | Aug 20, 2017

Outstanding contributions by December-born artistes

Published:Monday | December 28, 2015 | 12:00 AMRoy Black
Jerry Butler
Lou Rawls
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Sharing a birthday with Jesus Christ, as the Music Diaries did on December 25, 2011, is perhaps one of the most fulfilling experiences that one could ever have. Not many outstanding recording artistes have achieved that distinction, but there were several who came close, having been born in the month of December.

A perusal of the December-born roll call of stars shows, among others, Matt Monro, Lou Rawls, Billy Paul, Gilbert O'Sullivan, Andy Williams, Little Richard, Dave Brubeck (pianist), Donny Osmond, Jermaine Jackson, Robin and Maurice Gibb, Sammy Davis Jr, Johnny Otis, Del Shannon and John Denver. The female stars born in December were no less impressive and included Dionne Warwick, Bette Midler, Donna Summer, Britney Spears, Brenda Lee, Connie Francis, and Cindy Birdsong of The Supremes vocal trio.

But perhaps the most outstanding contributions made by December-born artistes to the widespread access of popular music, came from Jerry Butler - born December 8, 1939; Lou Rawls - born December 1, 1933, Dave Bartholomew - born on Christmas Eve 1920 and Frank Sinatra - born December 12, 1915. Bartholomew and Butler are still alive.

Sinatra's birth anniversary this year is of particular significance as it marks his 100th. A number of events were planned for 2015 to commemorate this important milestone. Among them was a concert, dubbed 'Sinatra 100, An All-Stars Grammy Concert', honouring the legacy of the nine-time Grammy winner, and featuring other multiple-Grammy winners like Tony Bennett, Garth Brooks, Alicia Keys, John Legend, Adam Levine, Carrie Underwood and Usher. Official sources stated that the event would be the official and only televised concert special celebrating Sinatra's centennial. Sinatra, who had an immeasurable influence on popular culture, was a one-of-a-kind personality, whose incredible achievements continue to inspire greatness in others to this day. He began his professional career with the Harry James band in 1939 and soon developed into a consummate crooner, who reduced a wartime generation of bobby-soxers to hysteria and fanworship. By the late 1940s, Sinatra had gone fully solo, developing a vocal style highly attuned to dance rhythms and swing, which produced close to a hundred recordings for Radio Corporation of America (RCA Victor label). An instinctive actor, he was best at playing parts that portrayed his own personality, but a vocal chord hemorrhage nearly ended his career in the early 1950s. He, however, fought back to play major roles in several movies. A winner of several awards for movies and musical recordings, Sinatra remains a legend in the entertainment business

music virtuoso

Unlike Sinatra, who was always in the limelight, the December-born Dave Bartholomew was a behind-the-scenes performer who is rated by knowledgeable music aficionados to have outdone Sinatra in terms of their contribution to popular music. He could easily be described at the all-in-one music virtuoso who wore the hats of band leader, trumpeter, songwriter, music arranger, producer, talent scout and businessman. And if that wasn't enough, Bartholomew wrote and sang several outstanding R&B cuts, including When The Saints Go Marching In and The Monkey Speaks His Mind, the latter chiding man for his audacity in likening himself unto monkeys. Bartholomew was adamant, as he represented monkeys' thoughts in the rap:

"There's a certain rumour that can't be true,

that man descended from our noble race,

but the very idea is a big disgrace.

No monkey ever deserted his wife,

starved her baby and ruined her life".

As a songwriter and music arranger, Bartholomew anchored the careers of blues giants Fats Domino and Smiley Lewis, writing, co-writing, arranging and backing the majority of their top hits. For Domino, he worked on Blue Monday, My Girl Josephine, Blueberry Hill and Valley of Tears, among others, while for Lewis, Bartholomew co-wrote his two biggest hits in 1955 - I Hear You Knocking and One Night of Sin, which was successfully covered by Elvis Presley. When two teenagers named Shirley Goodman and Leonard Lee (Shirley and Lee) were struggling to get into the music business, Bartholomew came to their rescue by penning their breakthrough hit, I'm Gone, in 1952 and later arranged their biggest hit, Let the Good Times Roll in 1956. Needless to say, Bartholomew's influence was felt in Jamaica as it was on the back of songs like these that the island's early music was built. By helping to develop and define the New Orleans sound, which had a major impact on the emergence of rock and roll, Bartholomew could easily be regarded as the most important figure in the development of the genre.

Jerry Butler, who turned 76 on December 8, was one of the earliest of the soul singers to bring that genre to perpetual prominence. After 58 years in the entertainment business, Butler still performs at music festivals and supper clubs. His meteoric rise to fame came in 1960, when he did his first solo hit, - He Will Break Your Heart. He co-found the impressions in 1957 and a year later had his, and the group's breakthrough hit with the gospel-tinged soul-cracker, For Your Previous Love. The recording became one of soul music's most enduring numbers. Butler left the group for a solo career in late 1959 and thereafter had hits in every decade from the 1960s through to the 1990s. He subsequently jumped into politics in 1985 and became very active in public office as a commissioner for Cook County, Chicago.

The December-born Lou Rawls saw the light of day on the very first day of the month. His career spanned an astonishing forty-odd albums, three Grammy awards, 13 Grammy nominations, one platinum album, five gold albums and a gold single. He was the versatile song stylist who passed through gospel, blues and jazz, before settling with soul and pop, an achievement that very few artists can boast. It was his recording of, Love Is A Hurtin' Thing - a song nominated twice for the Grammy - that shot Rawls to prominence in 1966. His philosophical songs, like One life To Live, Some Folks Never Learn, What's The Matter With The World and If I Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda, however, remain his best remembered.

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