Tag Archives: Blues

Happy Birthday, Bonnie Raitt

8 Nov

Bonnie RaittToday Bonnie Raitt turns a very youthful 66 years old. I would like to honor and pay tribute to Bonnie Raitt and thank her for all of her energy in making the world a better place.

Bonnie Raitt is a lifelong activist. Born in California in 1949, Raitt’s parents were both musicians and performers and provided a home full of diverse musical influences. She also developed a strong social conscience early, enrolling in Radcliffe College’s African Studies program.

My plan was to travel to Tanzania, where President Julius Nyerere was creating a government based on democracy and socialism. I wanted to help undo the damage that Western colonialism had done to native cultures around the world. Cambridge was a hotbed of this kind of thinking, and I was thrilled.

I love that she talks about her own privilege and about colonization. While in school, she met and befriended legendary blues promoter Dick Waterman. This sparked her childhood fondness for performing and she quickly found herself enmeshed in the local blues and folk scene. Although she had planned to finish her college education, she had a chance to move to Philadelphia to work with a number of her musical heroes and took it.

While most people are familiar with her Grammy-winning work since 1989’s brilliant Nick Of Time, she had a celebrated muscial career and began releasing critically acclaimed albums in 1971. Her bluesy sound and musical excellence dazzled critics and her core of fans but found little in the way of commercial success. She was eventually dropped by her label, Warner Bros., in a purge that also cost Van Morrison and Arlo Guthrie their contracts. She took the time to regroup and work with her idols, eventually working on a project produced by Don Was. That connection led to the resurgence of her career. Eight albums, nine Grammy’s and a 2000 induction into the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame later, she’s still going strong.

Throughout it all, she has been a dedicated activist. Her second album featured a dedication “To the people of North Vietnam…” recognizing the human cost of war. She helped found Musicians United for Safe Energy and has campaigned for numerous causes. It’s quite telling that her website features a prominent ACTIVISM button with numerous links and opportunities for her fans to help make the world a better place.

She also pushes for fairness and equality in her profession. Recognizing that most of the original blues performers were victims of exploitative contracts, she works tirelessly to establish funds for the generation that inspired her. She also recognizes the gender inequities in the music business and has been a vocal part of the Women Who Rock movement. An engaging speaker with a genuine heart, a passionate advocate for social justice, and an amazing musician, I wish you a very happy Birthday! Raitt is another woman I think I could cross the road for; her talent and sense of social justice  make me fall in love with her.

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Celebrating Ma Rainey, Mother of the Blues

26 Apr

On this date in 1886 a pioneer in American music was born in Columbus, GA. Gertrude Pridgett was a precocious singer, joining a local revue at the age of 14 and joining the touring Rabbit Foot Minstrels within a couple of years. She met William “Pa” Rainey in 1904 and they were soon married. They travelled and performed together and she was billed Madame Gertrude Rainey, eventually shortening it to Ma Rainey to match her song and dance partner’s stage name. They soon began their own travelling show, Rainey and Rainey — Assassinators of the Blues.

Rainey had a powerful voice and a deep instinct for the sound of the blues. She blended the styles she encountered (including country blues and gospel) and created a unique blend that has influenced successive generations. She took the road tradition of the bluesman, with music and lyrics steeped in a history of slavery, and adapted it for the stage, creating a new art form. Known as the Mother of the Blues, she was an early influence on blues and jazz great Bessie Smith; poet Langston Hughes also considered her an influence, pointing to the cadence of her performance. Rainey also wrote original songs, somewhat unusual for her generation of interpretive singers.

As the blues gained national attention, Rainey was one of the first African-Americans ever to record their singing. (The first known was Mamie Smith in 1920.) In 1923, she signed a contract with Paramount. In the space of six years she made over 100 records for the label, working with rising stars like Louis Armstrong. While recording, she continued to tour with Pa Rainey as well as the Wildcats Jazz Band led by black music pioneer Thomas Dorsey. Travelling throughout the South and Midwest, she performed for both black and white audiences.

By the end of the 20s, the blues was falling out of national fashion, so Paramount dropped her. She continued to tour, modifying her show to acknowledge the declining interest in vaudeville and minstrel shows. Her shrewd business sense kept her earnings largely intact, and she bought her own tour bus. When she tired of the road, she returned to Georgia in 1935. Retiring from performing, she bought and operated two theaters in Columbus, living well off the proceeds until her death from a heart attack in 1939.

Rainey’s amazing musical sense, great interpretation of blues standards (including the classic formulation of the song See See Rider), songwriting, and fostering of younger talent make her one of the most important singers of the 20th Century. She has been honored with induction into the Blues Hall of Fame (in 1983) and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (in 1990 as an “early influence,” quite apt given the debt acknowledged by Janis Joplin, Eric Burdon, Mama Cass, and many others.) For more information on Ma Rainey and her contemporaries in shaping this uniquely American sound, try the aptly titled documentary, Wild Women Don’t Have the Blues.

Women’s History Month 2012: Bonnie Raitt

2 Mar

Today we honor and celebrate a talented musician and lifelong activist, the incomparable Bonnie Raitt. Born in California in 1942, Raitt’s parents were both musicians and performers and provided a home full of diverse musical influences. She also developed a strong social conscience early, enrolling in Radcliffe College’s African Studies program.

My plan was to travel to Tanzania, where President Julius Nyerere was creating a government based on democracy and socialism. I wanted to help undo the damage that Western colonialism had done to native cultures around the world. Cambridge was a hotbed of this kind of thinking, and I was thrilled.

While in school, she met and befriended legendary blues promoter Dick Waterman. This sparked her childhood fondness for performing and she quickly found herself enmeshed in the local blues and folk scene. Although she had planned to finish her college education, she had a chance to move to Philadelphia to work with a number of her musical heroes and took it.

While most people are familiar with her Grammy-winning work since 1989’s brilliant Nick Of Time, she had a celebrated muscial career and began releasing critically acclaimed albums in 1971. Her bluesy sound and musical excellence dazzled critics and her core of fans but found little in the way of commercial success. She was eventually dropped by her label, Warner Bros., in a purge that also cost Van Morrison and Arlo Guthrie their contracts. She took the time to regroup and work with her idols, eventually working on a project produced by Don Was. That connection led to the resurgence of her career. Eight albums, nine Grammy’s and a 2000 induction into the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame later, she’s still going strong.

Throughout it all, she has been a dedicated activist. Her second album featured a dedication “To the people of North Vietnam…” recognizing the human cost of war. She helped found Musicians United for Safe Energy and has campaigned for numerous causes. It’s quite telling that her website features a prominent ACTIVISM button with numerous links and opportunities for her fans to help make the world a better place.

She also pushes for fairness and equality in her profession. Recognizing that most of the original blues performers were victims of exploitative contracts, she works tirelessly to establish funds for the generation that inspired her. She also recognizes the gender inequities in the music business and has been a vocal part of the Women Who Rock movement. An engaging speaker with a genuine heart, a passionate advocate for social justice, and an amazing musician, Bonnie Raitt is the perfect launch to Women’s History Month on TSM.  Raitt is another woman I think I could cross the road for; her talent and sense of social justice  make me fall in love with her.

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