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Solange, 2016.

Solange Knowles (1986- ) is an American R&B singer best known as the little sister of picture-perfect Beyonce. She has had three number one hits on the American dance charts:

Beyonce's sister gets attacked

2008: I Decided

Solange - Sandcastle Disco [Official Video]

2008: Sandcastle Disco

Solange T O N Y a Msica video

2009: T.O.N.Y.

The last two she wrote with Cee-Lo of Gnarls Barkley. All three songs are from her second album, “Sol-Angel and the Hadley St. Dreams” (2008). Like Raphael Saadiq, her music sounds like it is from the 1960s but made now –  neo-Motown sort of stuff. Partly because she loves old soul music and partly, no doubt, because she is desperately trying not to sound like her sister! Her first album, “Solo Star” (2003), was all over the place in terms of musical style. Hadley Street is the street in Houston, Texas where her father’s record company stands and where she recorded the album.

She was never one of the main members of Destiny’s Child, though she has been a dancer and backing singer for them and one time did fill in for Kelly Rowland. When she was 15 she travelled the world with them as a dancer. After that her father thought she was old enough to handle a recording contract. Out of that came “Solo Star”.

“Solo Star” did not do well. She went into acting and landed parts in two films: she played the daughter of Vanessa Williams and Cedric the Entertainer in “Johnson Family Vacation” (2004) and then the head black cheerleader in “Bring It On: All or Nothing” (2006), the third film in that series.

In 2004 she married a football player, Daniel Smith. They had a son later that year, Daniel Julez J. Smith, and moved to the mountains of Idaho. In 2007 they divorced. Solange moved to Hollywood with her son.

Up to this point she had taken whatever opportunities came her way. They were great opportunities but she lacked inner direction. In Idaho it seems she got her head together and made up her mind to become a singer and songwriter, singing the kind of music she liked, not whatever producers like the Neptunes or Timbaland were pushing at her, making her sound like every other singer out there. She knew she liked Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye, the Supremes and so on, and she started from there, writing songs. That was the beginning of what became “Hadley St. Dreams”.

In August 2009 she cut off her hair. It was a brave move but it seems to have worked out well: she looks better in short hair. It brings out the beauty of her face much more.

She made my list of women with the most beautiful lips, just ahead of Molly Ringwald.

As someone who hates how Beyonce is pushed so hard at us and as someone who is a second son, it is hard for me not to like Solange. But even apart from that I do like her music more (featured here twice so far).

I know someone who knows someone who knows someone who knows her! Yes, we are that tight.

– Abagond, 2010.

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PhyllisHyman02

Phyllis Hyman (1949-1995) was an American R&B and jazz singer. Nancy Wilson says she is one of the two best singers she has ever known, the other being Sarah Vaughan. Phyllis Hyman had a very unhappy love life and sang about it honestly. She never had a gold record, yet she had a strong following among her fans.

These songs made it into the top 20 on the American R&B charts:

  • 1978: Somewhere in My Lifetime (#12)
  • 1979: You Know How to Love Me (#12)
  • 1981: Can’t We Fall in Love Again (#9)
  • 1986: Old Friend (#14)
  • 1986: Living All Alone (#12)
  • 1991: Don’t Wanna Change the World (#1)
  • 1991: Living in Confusion (#9)
  • 1992: When You Get Right Down to It (#10)

These are the songs she liked best:

  • Be Careful (How You Treat My Love)
  • Somewhere in My Lifetime
  • Meet Me on the Moon
  • When I Give My Love (This Time)

They made her think about the past and the future, about love and pain and happiness.

She was born in Philadelphia but grew up poor in the housing projects of  Pittsburgh, in St Clair Village. Even as a girl her singing talent and stage presence were apparent. She said it was a gift from God: she did not grow up singing in church, she did not even have a record player to listen to music on. She stood 6 foot 1 (1.85 m).

The three singers who had the biggest effect on her:

  • Nancy Wilson, who she modelled herself after and who later helped her;
  • James Brown, whose business sense she liked; and
  • Minnie Riperton, whose way of putting her feelings into her singing she copied.

After performing with some bands in the early 1970s, she came to New York in 1975 to sing in the jazz clubs there. She soon came to the attention of producer Norman Connors. She recorded a cover of the Stylistics song, “Betcha By Golly Wow”. It got to #29 on the R&B charts.

In time she found herself at Arista working with Clive Davis. He favoured Angela Bofill over her and then along came a new girl named Whitney Houston. Arista told her it was over.

She went to sing on Broadway in the Duke Ellington tribute, “Sophisticated Ladies” for a few years and sang on other people’s songs. She even sang on television ads: “Aren’t you hungry for Burger King now?”

In 1985 she joined Gamble & Huff at Philadelphia International Records. They gave her complete freedom to sing the songs she wanted in the way she wanted.

Even though she was loved by a million people and was at the height of her talent, she was sad and alone. She had no man to love her. She also feared losing her beauty as she gained weight. She drank too much and missed concert dates. In 1993 her mother, grandmother and a close friend all died in the same month.

Then on a Friday afternoon, June 30th 1995, she took her life in an apartment in New York just hours before she was to appear at the Apollo Theatre. Her funeral was held on her 46th birthday.

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AliciaKeysAlicia Cook (c. 1979- ), better known by her stage name of Alicia Keys, was one of the top American R&B singers of the 2000s. She is best known for “Fallin'” (2001) , which made her name and is still her most unforgettable song to date. Smokey Robinson says she is one of the best new singers.

So far six of her songs have hit number one on the American R&B chart:

  • 2001: Fallin’
  • 2003; You Don’t Know My Name
  • 2004: If I Ain’t Got You
  • 2004: My Boo (with Usher)
  • 2007: No One
  • 2008: Like You’ll Never See Me Again

“Superwoman” and “Teenage Love Affair” never hit number one.

Half these songs also hit number one on the American pop chart:  “Fallin'”, “My Boo” and “No One”.

For comparison, during this same period Beyonce had five number one hits on both the R&B and pop charts in America and Mariah Carey had three each.

Mariah and Beyonce have sold way more records than Alicia Keys: they have been at it longer and their music crosses over to white audiences better.

Alicia Keys is not only talented and successful but beautiful – one of the most beautiful black women according to white people. She is half Italian by blood and looks nearly white.

Her father is black (Jamaican); her mother is white (Italian-American). She considers herself to be black, not biracial or mixed race. Unlike with Mariah Carey, it has never been a question. Also, unlike Carey, her early music was more clearly black too.

She was born in Harlem. Her parents split when she was two. She saw little of her father, a flight attendant, though he did remain in her life. Her mother was often poor but somehow she always found money for Alicia’s piano lessons. Alicia:

I’ve had a deep love for music since I was four… . Music came before everything, everything, everything. I would risk everything for it.

By seven she could play classical piano. By 11 she was writing songs. One of the songs on her first album she wrote at 14. She continued to learn and practise her singing and piano.

In 1997 she got a record deal with Columbia Records – and dropped out of Columbia University. But then Columbia Records did what they did to Aretha Franklin and Bruce Springsteen before her: tried to make her into someone else:

I felt that they wanted me to be a clone of Mariah or Whitney, and I couldn’t do that. I’m not the sequined dress type, or the high-heeled type, or the all-cleavage type. I’m not coming like that for no one.

They parted ways.

Clive Davis, the very man who brought us Whitney Houston, stepped in. He was struck by her talent and beauty. She was struck by how he took her seriously.

After many delays – Davis was kicked out of Arista and formed J Records, bringing Keys with him – she completed her first album in 2001. “Nothing before its time,” she says. Davis got her on Oprah’s television show and the rest is history.

– Abagond, 2009.

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OBIT AALIYAH

Aaliyah Haughton (1979-2001), better known as just Aaliyah, was an American R&B singer who sold 24 million records worldwide and was an up-and-coming Hollywood actress. She died eight years ago today at the age of 22 in a plane crash. She called her singing “street but sweet”. As one fan at her funeral put it, she was beautiful both on the outside and on the inside.

Her number one songs on the American R&B charts:

  • 1994: Back & Forth
  • 1996: If Your Girl Only Knew
  • 1996: One in a Million
  • 1998: Are You That Somebody?
  • 2002: Miss You

I mainly remember her for these (their chart position in parentheses):

1998: Are You That Somebody? (#1)

2001: More Than a Woman (#7)

2002: Rock the Boat (#2)

Aaliyah was born in Brooklyn but mainly grew up in Detroit. Her mother gave up being a singer so that she could bring up Aaliyah and her older brother, Rashad. (Despite their Arab names, they seem to be Catholic.)

Aaliyah had singing lessons from an early age, took part in school plays and at age 11 appeared on the television talent show, “Star Search”:

Aaliyah in Star Search

1990: My Funny Valentine

She lost, but later that year she performed with Gladys Knight in Las Vegas and a year later got her first record deal. You see, her uncle was married to Gladys Knight and managed R. Kelly! Kelly wrote and produced Aaliyah’s first album, “Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number” (1994).

It came out when she was 15 and produced a number one hit, “Back & Forth”.  But she was not the only 15-year-old girl with a number one hit that year: Brandy had one too: “I Wanna Be Down”.

That summer Aaliyah and R. Kelly got married! They both deny it but there is a marriage certificate. Aaliyah put down her age as 18, not 15. Her parents had the marriage annulled because she was underage.

After that Aaliyah and R. Kelly parted ways. She went to Atlantic Records where Timbaland and Missy Elliott wrote and produced her second and third albums: “One in a Million” (1996) and “Aaliyah” (2001).

She graduated from high school in 1997 and then went into acting, her second love. She appeared in “Romeo Must Die” (2000) opposite Jet Li  and in Anne Rice’s “Queen of the Damned” (2002).  At the time of her death she was set to appear in the Matrix films and was on a level with the likes of Rosario Dawson, Jessica Alba and Zoe Saldana in terms of the sort of parts she was getting.

Flying back to Florida from the Bahamas on August 25th 2001 after doing the video for “Rock the Boat”, the plane went down right after take-off and blew up. She and seven others on board died instantly. The plane was overloaded.

At her funeral in New York her body was taken to the church in a silver casket inside a glass carriage pulled by horses. At the end of the funeral they let 22 white doves fly into the sky, one for each year of her short life.

– Abagond, 2009, 2015.

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MichaelJackson02
Michael Jackson (1958-2009), the King of Pop, the Gloved One, was an American singer of pop, R&B and rock music. He sold 750 million records worldwide – only Elvis Presley and the Beatles can even hope to match that – and had the number one album of all time, “Thriller” (1982), which sold 65 million. Janet Jackson is his sister.

He was American, he was black, he was universal. Even Imelda Marcos, she of the many shoes, cried at his death.

He was famous also for his dancing, making moves that no one thought possible, like the moonwalk.

His number one songs on the American R&B chart:

  • 1969: I Want You Back (Jackson 5)
  • 1969: Who’s Lovin’ You (Jackson 5)
  • 1970: ABC (Jackson 5)
  • 1970: The Love You Save (Jackson 5)
  • 1970: I’ll Be There (Jackson 5)
  • 1971: Never Can Say Goodbye (Jackson 5)
  • 1974: Dancing Machine (Jackson 5)
  • 1979: Don’t Stop ’til You Get Enough
  • 1979: Rock With You
  • 1982: The Girl is Mine (with Paul McCartney)
  • 1983: Billie Jean
  • 1983: Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’
  • 1983: Somebody’s Watching Me (with Maxwell)
  • 1985: We Are the World (as part of USA for Africa)
  • 1987: I Just Can’t Stop Loving You (with Siedah Garrett)
  • 1987: Bad
  • 1988: The Way You Make Me Feel
  • 1988: Man in the Mirror
  • 1988: Another Part of Me
  • 1992: Remember the Time
  • 1992: In the Closet
  • 1995: You Are Not Alone

This does not even list the songs that “merely” made it to the top ten, like “Thriller”, “Ben”, “Got to be There” and “Black or White”.

On top of all that he made music videos into an art form in their own right, thus making MTV’s name. The strange thing is, MTV did not want to play him at first because he was black!

He was on stage by age six, on television coast to coast by age 11. Everyone loved his music, even white people, even then.

But growing up so famous meant he never had a proper childhood. That is why Elizabeth Taylor was one of the few who understood him. Even worse, his father was cruel. In some sense he was never a boy and yet always a boy.

He bought a place north of Los Angeles and called it Neverland Ranch, after the Neverland of Peter Pan. He put in a zoo, a roller coaster and a Ferris wheel. He invited children over, many of them dying of cancer.

Some of the children stayed over night and, sadly, some parents took advantage of that to spread ugly stories about him to take him to court for his millions, in 1994 and 2005.

Nothing was ever proved, but he had become so strange by the early 1990s – he had a pet llama and doctors were slowly turning him white – that many believed it.

He married, twice, first to Lisa Marie Presley, daughter of Elvis, and then Debbie Rowe. He had two children by Rowe, Prince Michael (1997) and Paris Katherine (1998). They divorced and he had a third child by an unknown woman, Prince Michael II (2002), better known as Blanket.

Hoping to make a comeback, Jackson sold out 50 shows in London for 2009, but then died suddenly just weeks before the first show.

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sheila

Sheila Ferguson (1947- ) is an American R&B and disco singer, better known in Britain than in her home country. She is the one who sang “When Will I See You Again” (1974) as the lead singer of the Three Degrees. She is also the first black woman to have her own sitcom in Britain, “Land of Hope and Gloria” (1992).

She was with the Three Degrees for 20 years, from 1966 to 1986, being the lead singer for most of it. They were a Philadelphia copy of the Supremes, the creation of doo-wop producer Richard Barrett, who also brought the world Frankie Lymon, the Chantels and Little Anthony.

At first the Three Degrees had no big hit songs. They were in Las Vegas opening for the likes of Engelbert Humperdinck and Wayne Newton. There they perfected their act.

Then one day Gamble and Huff saw them perform. They were songwriters and music producers from Philadelphia who gave us such songs as “Me and Mrs Jones” (1972), “If  You Don’t Know Me By Now” (1972) and “Love Train” (1973). They wanted to write a song for the Three Degrees: “When Will I See You Again”.

It was a hit first in Britain, where it went to number one, and then in America, where it reached number two. They had another hit that year in both countries: “T.S.O.P”, where they sang little more than “Doo-doo-doo-dah-doo, doo-doo, it’s time to get down”.

In America they pretty much sank out of sight after that, but in Britain they became the biggest girl group since the Supremes! They went on to have a string of hits there in the late 1970s, like “Take Good Care of Yourself” (1975), “Woman in Love” (1979) and “My Simple Heart” (1979).

Britain had never seen black women quite like them before: the big hair, the nails, the big red lips. They performed in towns that had never seen anything so Hollywood before except on television. Their years in Vegas were paying off. And their most famous fan, as it turned out, was Prince Charles himself. He even invited them to the palace to perform. Being a prince has its advantages.

But then the glory days came to an end: Ferguson was having an affair with Barrett, who was still managing them. It was tearing the group apart: she had to choose between  the Three Degrees or Barrett. She chose the Three Degrees and in 1981 they fired Barrett. It proved to be a huge blow. Ferguson turned to drink. In 1986 she left the Three Degrees and they went on without her. The Three Degrees are still together today.

Ferguson married an Englishman, settled down in Britain and brought up her twin daughters. To help them know their roots she wrote a cook book about soul food. In the 1990s she got into acting, both on the London stage and on British television. In 2007 she came out with her first album since her Three Degrees days, “New Kind of Medicine”.

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Marian Anderson (1897-1993) was an American singer. It was 70 years ago this Easter, on April 9th 1939, that she sang at the Lincoln Memorial. Toscanini said that a voice like hers comes along only once every hundred years. Her singing could bring people to tears or make them shout for joy. Despite her great talent, White Americans at first refused to hear her sing – because she was black. In time they changed their minds, making her the first black singer whose appeal crossed over the colour line in America in a big way.

She sang at the Lincoln Memorial because she could not sing at Constitution Hall, one of the top concert halls in the capital, Washington, DC. It was owned by the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR). Even though Anderson was world famous by then, they said no because she was black.

Eleanor Roosevelt, the first lady, heard about this. She belonged to DAR and asked them to reconsider. They still refused. Roosevelt quit DAR and set it up so Anderson could sing at the Lincoln Memorial instead. Anderson sang there on Easter Sunday 1939 to 75,000 people and to millions across the country who heard her on the radio. Her first song was “My Country ‘Tis of Thee”.

She was born over a hundred years ago in South Philadelphia. She grew up singing in church and at school. She loved to sing more than anything, but she did not know that a black person could make a living from music till one day when she was walking down the street and saw a black woman play the piano.

So she dreamed of becoming a singer. She went to apply to a music school. She stood in line all day but they did not call on her till everyone was gone. They told her, “We don’t take coloured.”

She had to get a private teacher. After two teachers taught her everything they knew she went to see Giuseppe Boghetti, a famous voice instructor. He said he had no time to take on another student, but when he heard her sing “Deep River” he changed his mind. He became her teacher for over 20 years.

As good as she was she soon found that she had little future in America: she could not fill a concert hall because few whites would come. So in 1928 she went to Europe. She was a huge success there. They could see past her colour. She even sang for kings.

By the time she came back to America in 1935 she was world famous. Now the white people would pay to see her. She sang in cities all across the country and then came at last to Washington, DC….

It was not just DAR that was racist: as famous as she was many hotels and restaurants turned her away too and many concert halls would not allow blacks to sit next to whites even if it meant losing her. But her example helped to bring change.

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