Josephine Baker: Dazzling Dancer, Charming Chanteuse, Secret Spy

She was a singer, a dancer, an ex-patriot American, a member of the French Resistance, a Civil Rights activist, a four time divorcee and the mother of twelve adopted children. Her performances on the stages of New York and Paris were legendary. Today we celebrate the life of the fabulous Josephine Baker!

Bleak Beginnings

Her birth name was Freda Josephine McDonald. She was born on June 3, 1906, in St. Louis, Missouri.

Her mother, Carrie McDonald, once had dreams of becoming a dancer, but gave them up and earned her living as a laundress. Her father is listed as Eddie Carson, a vaudeville drummer. (Her father’s identity, however, has been challenged by many, including Josephine’s son, who did extensive research on the topic.) If indeed Eddie was her father, he abandoned her so quickly that Josephine never met him.

Carrie McDonald eventually married a man named Arthur Martin, with whom she had several more children. The family were poor — so poor that Josephine was sent out to work as a maid when she was just eight years old. But housekeeping did not suit Josephine, and she was abused by her employers. Soon she was living on the streets of St. Louis, dancing on corners for money, and dumpster diving for her dinner. Reportedly, she and her mother had a strained relationship and Josephine preferred to live away from Carrie.

At the tender age of thirteen, Josephine met a man named Willie Wells and married him. The marriage only lasted a few months. Josephine left Willie but continued dancing and had some success as a member of a troupe called The Jones Family. In 1921, at age fifteen she met another Willie — Baker this time — and married him. That marriage was also short lived. Later that year, when Josephine was given a chance to perform in New York City, she ditched Willie # 2. Josephine would legally divorce him in 1925, but she decided to keep his name for her professional career.

Angel of Harlem

The Harlem Renaissance was in full bloom. Josephine had success as a chorus girl on Broadway.  She starred in a revue called “Shuffle Along” and in another called “Chocolate Dandies”. (Yes, you read that right.)

Despite those rather exploitative names, Josephine became the highest paid chorus girl in vaudeville. But she was unhappy. The claws of racism were always around her. Of her time in the Big Apple, Josephine said:

“I didn’t get my first break on Broadway. I was only in the chorus in ‘Shuffle Along’ and ‘Chocolate Dandies’. I became famous first in France in the twenties. I just couldn’t stand America and I was one of the first colored Americans to move to Paris.”

Viva La France

In 1925,  when she was just nineteen years old, Josephine was given the opportunity to travel to France and she jumped at it. In Paris she opened in a show called “La Revue Nègre”. (Yes you read that right.)

Josephine was an overnight sensation. Her dancing was erotic and exotic. She famously wore a skirt made only of bananas. She wore little else on stage, often appearing semi nude.

As Josephine’s success grew, she eventually purchased a pet cheetah, which she brought to the shows! She named her big cat “Chiquita” and clothed him in a diamond collar.  Chiquita was known to hang out in the orchestra pit and terrorize the musicians.

Although “Chiquita Bananas” do not admit to it, I am pretty sure they got their logo from Josephine. The Chiquita logo was not created until 1944, supposedly the brainchild of comic strip artist Dik Brown. But take a look. The logo has Josephine all over it.

Josephine quickly became the darling of the “Lost Generation”, hobnobbing with the likes of Ernest Hemingway and the Fitzgeralds. Hemingway called her “the most sensational woman anyone ever saw.”  She was a favorite of Pablo Picasso, who sketched her, and director Jean Cocteau helped her get started in the movie business. She starred in Siren of the Tropics (1927), Zouzou (1934)  Princesse Tam Tam (1935) and Fausse Alerte (1940).

In 1937, at age thirty-one, Josephine married the French industrialist Jean Lion, and became a French citizen. This marriage would last three years.

Josephine Baker dancing with Jean Lion

Ah, Paris in the thirties! It was all so idyllic and romantic! Then the Nazis came.

“All the Boys Think She’s a Spy…”

France declared war on Germany in 1939, after the Nazi occupation of Poland. Josephine was then recruited by the military intelligence agency known as the Deuxième Bureau. Her job was to socialize at parties, which were held in embassies and government ministries, all the while gleaning information about German troop locations. Apparently, her charm, wit and “je ne sais quoi” were perfect elements that enabled her to rub elbows with high ranking officials. She would then report back her findings.

This whole scenario begs the question, why Josephine? It seems a little odd. Can you picture undercover agents at the  Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, recruiting a half naked banana girl? But this was years later. Josephine had matured. America had not yet joined the war. Maybe the French military intelligence figured a black American ex-patriot could sneak around, without raising suspicion. Plus, Josephine had acquired a lot of street smarts from her hard scrabble days in St Louis. She was, no doubt, able to bluff the best of them. She also had to be super smart, and a master of disguise,

Josephine performed her services well. When the Germans invaded France, she left Paris and went to her home in the south of France. There, she housed people who were helping the exiled French government, and supplied them with visas. As an entertainer, she had an excuse for moving around Europe. She secured and transmitted information about airfields, harbors, and German troop concentrations in the West of France. She kept her notes written in invisible ink on her sheet music!

How’s that for some cloak and dagger genius?

After the war, Josephine received several medals of honor for her service. She was made a Chevalier of the Légion d’honneur (the highest order of military merit) by General Charles de Gaulle.

Know Your Rights

In 1947 Josephine married the French conductor Jo Bouillon.

This marriage would last fourteen years. Jo happened to be white (as was her other husband Jean Lion.) 

Throughout her life Josephine had been a victim of racism and was an advocate for human rights. In the 1950’s, although still living in France, she was an important part of the American Civil Rights Movement. When she and Jo traveled to New York they were refused accommodations at 36 hotels because of racial discrimination. (Inter-racial marriage was then illegal in the US.)

Josephine began to write articles about segregation in the United States. She gave a talk at Fisk University, a historically black college in Nashville, Tennessee, on “France, North Africa And The Equality Of The Races In France”.

Throughout her career, Josephine had refused to perform for segregated audiences. In the US, she refused a $10,000 offer to perform at a segregated club in Miami. (Roughly about $150,000 in today’s money.) The club eventually succumbed to Josephine’s wishes, allowing people of all races to enter.

Josephine spoke alongside Dr. Martin Luther King in the 1964 March on Washington for Civil Rights. Josephine, along with Rosa Parks, was one of the few female speakers. It is a powerful speech, and one that is seldom mentioned.  Josephine states:

“I have walked into the palaces of kings and queens and into the houses of presidents. And much more. But I could not walk into a hotel in America and get a cup of coffee, and that made me mad. And when I get mad, you know that I open my big mouth. And then look out, ’cause when Josephine opens her mouth, they hear it all over the world.”

Listen to the whole speech here. (About 3 minutes.)

 

 

She’s A Rainbow

Josephine had suffered several miscarriages in her life, finally undergoing a hysterectomy in 1941. While married to Jo Bouillon, adoption became her passion. Josephine wanted to create a family of children based on how she thought the world was supposed to be. This meant people of all races, religions and nationalities living peacefully side by side. She set about creating this family, adopting children from all corners of the planet. She called her children “The Rainbow Tribe”.

Josephine took the children on trips all over the world, but mostly they lived at her home in the south of France, the Château des Milandes.

En images : souvenirs de Joséphine Baker, la première icône noire, au château des Milandes, en Dordogne

Josephine actually opened the chateau to tourists so people could come in and see kids of all races playing and interacting. She even deliberately raised the children in different religions.

The children were:  French-born Marianne, Moroccan-born Stellina, Korean-born Jeannot, Japanese-born Akio, Colombian-born Luis, Finnish-born Jari, French-born Jean-Claude and Noël, Israeli-born Moïse, Algerian-born Brahim, Ivorian-born Koffi, and Venezuelan-born Mara.

Wow! And you thought Angelina Jolie was eccentric?

Unfortunately, all these adoptions took a toll on her husband Jo. They separated in 1957, after Josephine took in her eleventh child. They officially divorced in 1961.

The Show Must Go On

Josephine began performing again in 1968 at age sixty-two. She still wowed audiences, touring throughout Europe. Her last performance was on April 8, 1975. She was starring in a retrospective revue at the Bobino in Paris, celebrating her 50 years in show business.

Josephine Baker 1950

The show received rave reviews. As usual, Josephine attracted top celebrities.  Members of her audience included  Sophia Loren, Mick Jagger, Shirley Bassey, Diana Ross, and Liza Minnelli.

Sadly, the review was cut short. On April 12, Josephine suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and went into a coma.  She was taken to Pitié-Salpêtrière Hospital, where she died, at age 68.

Fun Facts

  • Grace Kelley, aka Princess Grace of Monaco, was Josephine’s BFF. Oddly, they bonded over civil rights when Josephine was refused service at the Stork Club in New York. Grace, a patron, saw the discrimination, took Josephine by the hand and stormed out.

  • In Paris, during the Banana Dance years, she received 40,000 love letters and over 1,000 marriage proposals.

DIY HALLOWEEN COSTUME- JOSEPHINE BAKER & THE BANANA SKIRT — KRYSTLE DESANTOS

  • In 1951, the NAACP declared May 20 to be “Josephine Baker Day”. 
  • Josephine’s adopted son Jean-Claude Baker wrote a biography about her, published in 1993, titled Josephine: The Hungry Heart. In it he poses theories about Josephine’s true father —  a rich, white, German man.
  • To be fair, Jean-Claude seems a bit snarky. He claims that her many adoptions were because “she wanted a doll”.  He also claims his mother had “slept with most of the Nazi soldiers” before she became a spy.
  • Hemingway thought she was sexy, but he also admired her mind. Reportedly they spend hours in serious conversation.

  • Coretta Scott King asked her to take over the Civil Rights Movement after Martin Luther King was assassinated. Josephine pondered it for several days, but declined because of her children.
  • In later life Josephine went bankrupt. (Yeah, that Rainbow Tribe was expensive!) It was BFF Grace Kelly, by then the Princess of Monaco, who came to the rescue, giving her a villa to live in and financial aid.
  • Husband Jo is buried next to her at Cimetière de Monaco.

Happy Birthday Josephine! You will never be forgotten.

 

 

 

The Mysterious Melody of Taurus

 

April 20 through May 20 marks the astrological sun sign of Taurus.

I have always loved Taurus. Represented by the bull, individuals born under this sign bring in the best of both worlds. They have a powerful (and stubborn!) earth sign ruled by the beautiful and feminine planet Venus. These people are go-getters, manifesters, and serious goal setters. But they do it all with such a lovely artistic flair you will scarcely notice how driven they actually are.

Prone to sensual pleasures, they are experts in culinary delights. Some of the best chefs are Taureans. They are great artists, animal lovers and fashion trend setters. They often have musical ability. Taureans are great with designs, decorating and fabrics.

They are also sexy! Although Scorpio (the polar opposite, or inverted Taurus) usually gets credit for being the “most sexual” of all the signs, it is the horned men and women who really stand out in compelling ways. The bull is a spellbinding presence, full of quiet charisma and unusual traits.

If you don’t believe me, take a look at a few famous Taureans.

Michelle Pfeiffer, born April 29, 1958.

She was Madame Marie de Tourvel of Dangerous Liaisons. Also Catwoman, among other things. She claimed playing the cat was natural for her, as she was very athletic.

Film Critic Roger Ebert said of her: “She is not just a beautiful woman, but an actress with the ability to make you care about her, to make you feel what she feels.”

In her film The Fabulous Baker Boys, Michelle performed the song “Makin’ Whoopie” while strewn on top of a piano. Ebert said of it: “Whatever she’s doing while she performs that song isn’t merely singing; it’s whatever Rita Hayworth did in Gilda and Marilyn Monroe did in Some Like It Hot, and I didn’t want her to stop.”

Audrey Hepburn, born May 4, 1929.

Audiences fell in love with her sweet, unassuming presence and her sense of style. To this day she is a fashion icon. She is best known for her performance as the street wise but vulnerable Holly Golighty in Breakfast at Tiffany’s.

She sang and played a ukulele too!

Jessica Lange, born April 29, 1949.

This Minnesota native has been wowing audiences ever since King Kong swept her off her feet in 1976.  She received two Academy Awards and several Emmys. Her roles include Frances Farmer, Blanche DuBois and Joan Crawford. Most recently she played several notorious femme fatales on the series American Horror Story, including a psychotic nun, a freak show emcee and a New Orleans witch.

Elusive and wispy, yet strong, Jessica seems forever young.

Henry Cavill, born May 5, 1983.

He was the Man of Steel, the Man From U.N.C.L.E, and King Henry VIII’s bestie, Charles Brandon. Entertainment Weekly named him the “Most Dashing Duke” and praised his work on The Tudors for displaying “charm, depth and a killer bod”.  In December 2013, Cavill was named “World’s Sexiest Man” by British Glamour magazine. The same year, Empire magazine placed him third on their list of “The 100 Sexiest Movie Stars 2013”.

I can see why.

Jack Nicholson, born April 22, 1937.

He played a werewolf, a Joker, a madman, a serial killer and a concert pianist.  No one can deny the sinister power of Jack “you can’t handle the truth” Nicholson. He is the recipient of several awards including Academy, Grammy and Golden Globe. He has had one marriage, several affairs, and five children.

Film critic David Thompson said of him: “Nicholson is the Hollywood celebrity who is almost like a character in some ongoing novel of our times. He is also the most beloved of stars—not even his huge wealth, his reckless aging, and the public disasters of his private life can detract from this … For he is still a touchstone, someone we value for the way he helps us see ourselves.”

But remember when he asked the waitress to hold the chicken? And he clarified, “I want you to hold it between your knees.” She threw him out of the restaurant.

Cher, born May 20, 1946.

She was once half of Sonny and Cher, but she quickly surpassed Sonny and carved a solo career for herself.  She is a singer, an Academy Award winning actress and of course — a fashion icon! Cher is quick witted, multidimensional, and a beautiful chameleon.

And don’t forget, she basically put dress designer Bob Mackie on the map.

James MacAvoy, born April 21, 1979.

This Scottish lad first captured hearts as the faun known as Mr. Tumnus, in The Chronicles of Narnia.  Before fame and fortune came his way, he considered becoming a priest and worked in a Glasgow bakery. With a brogue to die for and his intense blue eyes, he quickly caught the attention of critics. James starred in several movies including The Last King of Scotland, Atonement and Macbeth. He has won several prestigious awards including a Golden Globe.

But I like James best as Mr. Tumnus. The horns are a natural.

William Shakespeare, born April 23, 1564.

In addition to being a great writer, the Bard must have been a pretty great lover as well. At the tender age of 17 he impregnated 26 year old Anne Hathaway. He married her and fathered two more children before making his way to London where he wrote and acted in plays.

Some historians believe he had numerous affairs with numerous people, including the elusive “dark lady” and “fair youth” of his sonnets. The Dark Lady (who may or may not have been Venetian poet Emilia Bassano) is portrayed as an older and temperamental woman.

The Fair Youth (who may or may not have been Henry Wriothesley, 3rd Earl of Southampton) is portrayed as a handsome younger man.

No one will ever know the truth. But the Bard had an intimate knowledge of human relationships, a penchant for crossdressers, and a real knack for tales of forbidden love.

Fred Astaire, born May 10, 1899.

He was possibly the most influential dancer in history. Astaire had a career in Broadway, television and the Silver Screen that spanned over 70 years. Michael Jackson claimed to emulate him and copied several of his dance steps, including the flexibility that led to the “Moon Walk”. He is best known for his partnership with fellow dancer Ginger Rogers and movies they made in the 1930’s and 40’s.

What is sexier than knowing all the right moves? And Fred could really pull off a top hat!

Bettie Page, born April 22, 1923.

A native of Nashville, Tennessee, Bettie was an actress, model and Playboy centerfold. She gained a significant profile in the 1950s for her pin-up photos which often portrayed BDSM. (Bettie claimed she had to pose for at least one hour of BDSM or the photographer would not pay her.) Paradoxically, she was also an evangelical Christian, and worked for the Reverend Billy Graham.

Historians say she was best known for her bangs and vivid blue eyes. (I suspect folks were looking at other things as well…)

Apparently, Bettie played the ukulele too!

Moon Magic

Tonight, April 22, at approximately 10 pm Eastern Standard Time, the new moon will enter Taurus. Any new moon is a good time to set intentions, but this particular new moon is rife with meaning.

In the northern hemisphere we are celebrating spring and it is a great time for planting. In the southern hemisphere they are celebrating the autumn harvest. Whether we are planting or harvesting, it is a day closely related to the Earth. April 22nd is also International Earth Day. With Taurus as an Earth sign, we should set intentions for manifesting things to benefit the Earth.

The past few weeks have been stressful for all of us. The Covid virus has brought our planet to her knees.  We have been locked up, hospitalized, laid off from our jobs, quarantined and kept from our loved ones. Many have suffered illness and even death. It is an unprecedented tragedy in human history.

But somethings gotta give. And soon.

Regardless of where anyone stands politically on the matters, we can all agree on one thing. We want the Earth and her people to be happy, healthy and prosperous.

Let’s set that intention today! Imagine how powerful it will be if we all do it.

Have a blessed New Moon Day. And Happy Birthday to Taureans everywhere!

 

 

 

Shipwreck

 

“The legend lives on from the Chippewa on down
To the big lake they call Gitche Gumee
Superior, they said, never gives up her dead
When the skies of November turn gloomy.”    —  Gordon Lightfoot

Some say the Great Lakes are haunted. They have caused the demise of many a sailor, and within their waters lurks the despair of lives cut short.  This is one such story.

They came from Duluth. From Toledo. From Sturgeon Bay, Iron River, St. Joseph, Ashtabula and Milbury. They worked as oilers, engineers, first mates, captains, cooks, watchmen and deck-hands. Their names were John, James, William, George, Russell, Bruce, Oliver and a few Thomases. They were husbands, fathers, sons and brothers, beloved of many. Some were as young as twenty, on their first trip out.

Karl Peckol, b. 1955, Watchman

Some were in their fifties, making a last voyage before retirement.

Frederick Beecher, b. 1919, Porter

Twenty nine men lost their lives in the wreck of the S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald on November 10, 1975.  They are gone but not forgotten.

It started with a mighty ship.

“Pride of the American Side”

The S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald was built in 1958. At 729 feet long, 39 feet high, and weighing in at 13,362 tons she was, at the time, the biggest ship of the Great Lakes. She was worth 7 million dollars (the equivalent of $46 million today!)

By industry standards, the Fitzgerald’s accommodations were top notch. Her furnishings included deep carpeting, tiled bathrooms, drapes over the portholes, and leather swivel chairs in the guest lounge. There were two guest state rooms for corporate clients, a large galley and two dining rooms. The crew’s quarters were air conditioned. The pilot house was outfitted with “state-of-the-art” nautical equipment and a beautiful map room. In a way she was more like a luxury liner than a freight ship.  Up until a few weeks before her loss, passengers had traveled on board as company guests. Frederick Stonehouse wrote:

“Stewards treated the guests to the entire VIP routine. The cuisine was reportedly excellent and snacks were always available in the lounge. A small but well stocked kitchenette provided the drinks. Once each trip, the captain held a candlelight dinner for the guests, complete with mess-jacketed stewards and special clamdigger punch.”

Yet the Fitzgerald had an ominous beginning. When she was christened on June 8, 1958, she slid into the water at a strange angle, then jolted and crashed back into the dock. Spectators said it seemed like the gargantuan ship was “trying to climb back onto the dock”, as if the vessel had a mind of its own.  One observer was so startled by the sight he actually had a heart attack and died!

For seventeen years, the Fitzgerald sailed the Great Lakes. She carried iron ore from the mines of Duluth, Minnesota to iron works in Detroit Michigan, Toledo Ohio, and other ports. She set seasonal haul records. Her nicknames included “The Mighty Fitz”, “Pride of the American Side”, “Toledo Express”, and the “Titanic of the Great Lakes”.  By November 1975, Edmund Fitzgerald had logged an estimated 748 round trips and covered more than a million miles, “a distance roughly equivalent to 44 trips around the world.”

The Voyage

The weather was balmy on the morning of November 9, 1975, when the Mighty Fitz left out of Superior, Wisconsin. She was under the command of  Ernest McSorley, a seasoned captain with many years experience. They were en route to a steel mill on Zug Island, near Detroit, where they would deliver 26,000 tons of iron ore.

November is storm season on the Great Lakes, and so it was not unusual when the National Weather Service predicted that some turbulence would pass just south of Lake Superior that night. The crew probably thought nothing of it.

At around 5 pm, the Fitzgerald joined a second freighter, the S.S. Arthur Anderson,  which was under the command of Captain Jesse Cooper.  Through the two captains’ communications the final reports of the Fitzgerald’s demise would be recorded.

At 7 pm on the night of November 9, the National Weather Service issued a gale warning for all of Lake Superior.  The captains decided it would be best to alter their course northward, seeking shelter along the Ontario coast. At around 1 am the gales turned into a severe winter storm. The Fitz reported winds of 52 knots (60 mph) and waves 10 feet high. That is a pretty bad storm! But by daybreak it had gotten worse. Waves up to 35 feet high were crashing over the deck of the Fitzgerald. McSorely and Cooper, both veteran captains,  thought they had seen everything. They were about to meet their match.

The storm increased to a near hurricane.  Captain Cooper later stated, “I don’t think I even believed it at the time, but they had reports of 92 mile per hour gusts at the Soo.” (He refers to the Soo Locks of Sault Ste. Marie, where ships pass between Lake Superior and Lake Huron.)

The worst of the weather was blowing right toward the ships, so the captains decided to change course again.  They would head south, attempting to reach the safety of Whitefish Bay.  This, however, involved crossing the dangerous ‘Six Fathom Shoals’ – a bed of jagged rocks, hidden in a mere 36 feet of churning water. The shoals could tear a ship to shreds. To make matters worse, it began to snow! In the blizzard white-out, nothing was visible and the captains then had to rely on their radar systems.

At around 3 pm, McSorely reported that his guard rails had collapsed and two vents were damaged. Water was coming in. The bilge pumps were on but unable to empty the ship fast enough. To make matters even worse, within an hour, the Fitzgerald’s radar system failed! The crew now sailed blind, with only radio communication to guide them. Meanwhile, 30 foot waves washed the deck. McSorely, who had been sailing the Great Lakes for 44 years, said this was the worst storm he had ever seen.

At 7 pm the Mighty Fitz had her last communication. Cooper radioed to ask how they were doing. McSorely replied: “We are holding our own.”

They obviously weren’t.

Deadman’s Cove

By 7:30 the snow had cleared. Cooper tried to locate the Fitz, but she had completely vanished. The Arthur Anderson sailed to safety in Whitefish Bay. Cooper then contacted the US Coast Guard and they began a search.

Because the Coast Guard lacked sufficient crew for a full rescue, they asked Cooper to take the Anderson back out and help. Cooper was reluctant to re-enter the terrible storm. But he agreed, further risking his own life to help save the men of the Fitz. Another ship, the S.S. William Clay Ford, bravely joined in as well.  They searched for three days. Reportedly, they found a torn lifeboat and some debris, but nothing else.

On November 14, a US Navy Lockheed aircraft, piloted by Lt. George Conner and equipped to detect “magnetic anomalies” that were usually associated with submarines, found the wreck.

The Edmund Fitzgerald lay about 15 miles west of an inlet in Ontario which was called (ironically, or appropriately) “Deadman’s Cove.” The ship was split in two pieces at the bottom of 530 feet of water.

The bodies of the crew members were never found.

The Fitz had been only 17 miles away from the entrance to the safe harbor of Whitefish Bay.

Legacy

“All that remains are the faces and the names of the wives, and the sons, and the daughters.” — Gordon Lightfoot

One can only imagine the sadness and shock the families faced when they got word the men had been lost on the lake. Doreen Cundy, the widow of watchman Ransom Cundy, received a phone call from a friend, but refused to believe the ship had sunk. She turned on the news and to her horror, saw that her friend had been right.

Ruth Hudson, the mother of deck-hand Bruce Hudson, remembered her son as “adventurous, friendly, and very fond of the Fitz.”

The most bizarre thing about the shipwreck is the quickness in which the ship went down. She had been in steady communication for so many hours, then she just disappeared without so much as a mayday call.  Captain Cooper believes that the Fitz may have hit a shoal that produced a leak, unbeknownst to the crew.

The day after the wreck, Mariner’s Church in Detroit conducted a service for the deceased. The names and occupations of each man was read, and the bell was rang 29 times, once for each man of the Edmund Fitzgerald. A full list of them can be found here.

Gordon Lightfoot, a Canadian composer, saw a news story of the shipwreck in which ‘Edmund’ had been spelled ‘Edmond’. He thought this showed incredible disrespect for the captain and crew. In response, he wrote his ballad “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”.

The haunting melody does justice to the men of the Fitz.

Sailors, R.I.P.

 

 

 

 

Respect!

 

Her musical accomplishments were unprecedented. The Queen of Soul could belt a ballad to beat any band. But Aretha Franklin taught us what is perhaps the most important lesson one can learn in a lifetime: We deserve Respect.

Today we bid good-bye to this talented icon.

Ironically, she shares this death date with another all time great, Elvis “The King” Presley, whom we lost way back in 1977. There seems to be a great symmetry in this. The King of Rock and the Queen of Soul had a lot in common. Both started from humble beginnings, singing Gospel. Both went on to conquer every corner of the music industry including Soul, Blues, Jazz, Ballads, Rock and R &B.

Aretha’s accomplishments are no less that royal.  Born in Detroit, Michigan on March 25, 1942, she began her career singing Gospel in  the New Bethel Baptist Church where her father was a minister. This daughter of a preacher-man would go on to gain unprecedented fame and fortune.

Franklin won a total of 18 Grammy Awards and sold over 75 million records worldwide. In 1987 she was inducted into the Rock and Roll hall of fame. She was the first female artist to be inducted! Yes, Aretha called for “Respect” and got it!

In 2002 she was inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame. Ironically, although her roots were in Gospel, it was not until 2012 that Aretha was inducted into the GMA Gospel Music Hall of Fame. She was listed in Rolling Stone Magazine as one of the “100 Greatest Artists of All Time.”

That is a lot of awards and inductions! 

As a native Chicagoan and a Blues fan, one of my favorite comedies is “The Blues Brothers” starring the late great John Belushi, with a cameo from Aretha.  (If you have not yet seen it and you like to laugh, stream it immediately.)

Elwood Blues and his brother Jake (who just got released from the Joliet Maximum Security Prison)  embark on a “mission from God”. Their aim is to collect money for the orphanage where they were raised to prevent its closing. They will stop at nothing to achieve their goal. (Besides, if they lose they will face the wrath of The Penguin, their childhood nun. She is pretty scary.)

However, the only way Jake and Elwood can possibly earn any money is through music, in which case they must Get the Band Back Together.

At the local soul food diner, they attempt to recruit Matt “Guitar” Murphy. His wife Mrs Murphy, played by Franklin, has other ideas! (Obviously Jake and Elwood missed their mark. They would have done better to just recruit Aretha and the Murphettes!)

Aretha demanded Respect,  taught us  the importance of A Natural Woman and engaged in a good deal of Day Dreaming. But my favorite Aretha song is “Spanish Harlem” written by Ben E, King.

“It is the special one, it’s never seen the sun
It only comes out when the moon is on the run
And all the stars are gleaming
It’s growing in the street
Right up through the concrete
But soft and sweet and dreaming”

Performed here by the Queen of Soul herself.  Hope you like it!

Aretha Franklin Rock In Peace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All About Blue

 

It is a lovely color. It represents the sky and the sea, peacocks, cornflowers, turquoise, sapphire and lapis. Not to mention glaciers, Kentucky grass, robin’s eggs, blueberries, bluebells and blue jays. So how does such a beautiful color get such a bad rap?

Think about it.

When we’re sad, we’ve got the blues. We can be in a blue funk, a blue mood, full of blue notes, and this might even occur on a Blue Monday.  In which case we might find ourselves listening to  – The Blues — an musical institution fueled by hard luck, rough times and downtrodden guitar players.

Not feeling well?  You might be blue around the gills.  A hangover is called the blue flu. In fact, drink enough alcohol and you might get the blue devils (delirium tremens).  Even your malfunctioning computer faces the blue screen of death.

One might impulsively do things out of the blue.  A non-stop chatterbox will talk a blue streak.  An angry person will curse a  blue streak or even scream blue murder. Stubborn people might do something repeatedly, until they are blue in the face.

Afterward they may wonder what in the blue blazes prompted them? On the other hand, their behavior may only occur once in a blue moon.

Get in a fight and you’ll end up black and blue. Worse yet, the blues and twos (ambulances) might take you to the hospital. And if things get really violent. someone may have to call the Boys in Blue.

Just hope you don’t end up in the notorious blue room made famous by the French madman Blue Beard, who murdered several of his wives, left them to rot there and forbade anyone to enter.

When facing  a choice of two evils, you are between the devil and the deep blue sea.  If you continue to look at the matter through blue glasses (as opposed to “rose colored glasses”) you will have a distorted and gloomy view of things.

By remaining ignorant and closed to new ideas, you take the blue pill. (Although Neo in the Matrix chose red.)

Then there is blue and sex.

An unsatisfied man gets blue balls.  Prostitutes were once referred to as blue gowns because of the garments they wore in jail. A bawdy person might tell a blue joke or enjoy a blue movie (pornographic). When we dip into the blue we say something obscene. And of course, novices should always be careful, lest they end up screwed, blued and tattooed.

But it is not all bad. There are plenty of positive blue references too!

Elvis Presley had a Blue Christmas and a bad case of the GI Blues, but he also ended up in Blue Hawaii! 

She wore blue velvet.  (At least in David Lynch’s dreams.) Picasso, Van Gogh and other artists went through very creative painting stints known as blue periods, producing some of their best work.

The very rich are called blue blooded, the best prize of all is the blue ribbon, and the only kind of friend worth having is a true blue one.

Your blue sky thinking just may result in a flash of genius, a new invention or an out of the box solution.  Similarly, you may be inspired by a bolt from the blue, and if you are lucky, you may even travel into the wild blue yonder! Blue can be a great source of happiness and inspiration.

Different colors affect people in different ways. What do you think of blue?

And finally, no study of blue would be complete without this song.

Baby Blue was first recorded by Badfinger in 1972. Sadly, two of the band members, Peter Ham and Tom Evans, had SERIOUS cases of the blues.  Suffering depression, they would both meet their deaths by suicide in the years to come.  Nonetheless, it is a beautiful song.  Hope you like it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Remembering Michael Hutchence

 

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It was twenty years ago today.

On November 22, 1997, Australian rock star Michael Hutchence was found dead in a Ritz-Carlton hotel room in Sydney. His death was ruled a suicide, although family and friends have continued to dispute this.

The question remains: What would cause a young man, at the top of his game, a wealthy international superstar, a new father, much loved by family, friends and the public, to take his own life?

But maybe there is more to this story.  The human mind is a complexity, full of perceived tragedies and horrific imaginings.  There are dark nights of the soul when problems explode and life simply gives no mercy. 

Hutchence was apparently in the middle of one.

Michael Hutchence

Michael Hutchence was born in Sydney, Australia on January 22, 1960, to working class parents. The family lived in Hong Kong for much of Michael’s childhood, but returned to Australia in 1972.  Michael joined a rock band with his friends the Farriss brothers when he was just 17 years old. That band was eventually named INXS. They rose to fame and fortune in the 1980’s and 90’s. Some critics consider INXS to be one of Australia’s finest bands.

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They had a fresh, funky sound, exemplified in their best selling album ‘Kick’.  Writing team Andrew Farriss and Michael Hutchence came up with catchy pop songs as well as deep and soulful ballads. The six talented musicians included horn, keyboard and saxophone players.  None, however, could match the illustrious Hutch on stage.

As the band’s lead singer, he had a seductive voice, plenty of feral cat moves, and a Mick-Jagger-like star quality that is rarely duplicated.  Anyone who saw Hutch in concert was hooked.  And I mean anyone!  Men, women, young, old, straight, gay, no matter.  All went gaga for Hutch.

Michael Hutchence

In 1994, Hutchence began having an affair with celebrity Paula Yates, who was then married to another famous rock star, Bob Geldoff.  Eventually Paula divorced Bob, but what followed was a nasty custody battle that apparently made everyone miserable. In the meantime, Hutch and Paula also had a child of their own, a daughter named Tiger Lily. Legal issues forced Paula to remain in England, continually separated from Hutchence.

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Hutch had also experienced a terrible head injury which reportedly left him with a bunch of physical ailments, including loss of his sense of smell. These difficulties were exacerbated by the fact that the band was, by then, losing its star status, no longer filling stadiums and playing to smaller crowds. According to some, Hutchence had entered the dreaded realm of (gasp!) “aging rock star”. (At the ripe old age of 37.)

I know!  Who makes these dumb rules?

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Michael Hutchence’s corpse was found  at 11:50 AM on the morning of November 22, 1997 in the Sydney Ritz Carlton.  He died alone.  Friends and visitors had been partying with him in the hotel room as late (or early!) as 5AM the same morning. Allegedly the activities included lots of alcohol and unnamed drugs.  Strangely, no coroner’s report was filed as to which substances Hutch actually had in his body when he died. The official cause of his death was strangulation by hanging.

But there is another side to the story. By many accounts, Hutch was a bit kinky. He may never have intended to actually kill himself, but was merely involved in a few rounds of autoerotic asphyxiation.

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‘Nuff said.

This story gets even sadder. Three years later, Paula Yates died of a drug overdose, leaving Tiger Lily an orphan.  Bob Geldoff became her legal guardian.  She recently began a modeling career,  no doubt owing a lot to her father’s gorgeous looks.

hutch daughter

Michael Hutchence remains one of the great, gone too soon artists. On this day we honor him. Here, INXS perform a patchwork of their song ‘Mystify’. Hope you like it!

Hutch Rock In Peace!