Rock the Oscars: John Legend

john-legendOn September 26, 2009, future Oscar winner John Legend headlined a concert at Robinson Center.

Born in Ohio, he graduated from high school at age 16 ranked number two in the class.  He attended college at the University of Pennsylvania. In Philadelphia during college, he started performing shows–eventually playing gigs up and down the eastern seaboard.  In 2001, he started performing with Kanye West.  His debut solo album was released in 2004 and was certified gold.  It won the 2006 Grammy for Best R&B album.

In addition to his own work, he has been a much-sought after collaborator.  Between both ventures, he continued to pick up accolades and release hit songs and albums.  At the time he visited Little Rock, he was promoting the album Evolver.

Since his time in Little Rock, he has toured extensively, released more albums, and continued to tour.  He won the Oscar for Best Song for “Glory” from Selma.  At last year’s Oscars, the film La La Land in which he appears, was nominated for several Academy Awards.  It won six but NOT Best Picture.

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Black History Month – Aretha Franklin and Robinson Center

wjc-arethaTwo days before the Clinton Presidential Center opened, at Robinson Center Music Hall, patrons were warmed by the musical talents of Aretha Franklin.

She shared the Robinson stage with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra.  The ASO brough Miss Franklin to town as part of the festivities surrounding the opening of the presidential library.  Long a favorite of the Clintons, Miss Franklin sang at his 1993 inaugural festivities the night before he took the oath of office.

Resplendent in a series of white dresses, Miss Franklin was in top form feeding off the love from the audience.  While backstage she may have been dealing with back and knee issues (which the Culture Vulture saw first hand), when she stepped on to the stage she was giving her all as she rolled through hit after hit from her starry career.  She sang, she played the piano, she entertained!

It was a sold out house and her voice and energy reached the last row of the balcony.

Born in Memphis, she moved to Detroit before age five and grew up singing at church.  After gaining some fame singing gospel songs, at 18 she switched to more secular music.  After initially singing for Columbia Records, she moved to Atlantic Records, later to Arista, and now has her own label.

Among her hits are “Respect,” “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman,” “Chain of Fools,” “Think,” “Share Your love with Me,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” “Spanish Harlem,” “Break It to Me Gently,” “Jump to It,” “Get It Right,” and “Freeway of Love.”

Franklin received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1979 and became the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. NARAS awarded her a Grammy Legend Award in 1991, then the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1994, the same year she was a Kennedy Center Honoree in 1994.  In 1999, she received the National Medal of Arts from Bill Clinton.  George W. Bush bestowed her the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005.  She has 17 Grammy Awards and 14 additional nominations.

Black History Month – Marian Anderson and Robinson Center

marian-anderson-9184422-1-402Marian Anderson was likely the first African American to perform on the stage of Robinson Auditorium shortly after it opened in 1940.

Born on February 27, 1897, in Philadelphia, much of her singing career was spent performing in concert and recital in major music venues and with famous orchestras throughout the United States and Europe between 1925 and 1965.

In 1939, the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) refused permission for Anderson to sing to an integrated audience in Constitution Hall. The incident placed Anderson into the spotlight of the international community on a level unusual for a classical musician.  First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt resigned her membership in the DAR in protest and arranged for Anderson to perform an open-air concert on Easter Sunday in 1939.   She sang before a crowd of more than 75,000 people and a radio audience in the millions. Two of the pieces she sang in that recital were by Little Rock native Florence Price.

When Anderson performed at Robinson Auditorium in 1940, two pieces by Price were part of that concert as well.

She received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963, the Kennedy Center Honors in 1978, and the National Medal of Arts in 1986.  Two years before her 1993 death, she received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

Black History Month – John Legend at Robinson Center

john-legendOn September 26, 2009, John Legend headlined a concert at Robinson Center.

Born in Ohio, he graduated from high school at age 16 ranked number two in the class.  He attended college at the University of Pennsylvania. In Philadelphia during college, he started performing shows–eventually playing gigs up and down the eastern seaboard.  In 2001, he started performing with Kanye West.  His debut solo album was released in 2004 and was certified gold.  It won the 2006 Grammy for Best R&B album.

In addition to his own work, he has been a much-sought after collaborator.  Between both ventures, he continued to pick up accolades and release hit songs and albums.  At the time he visited Little Rock, he was promoting the album Evolver.

Since his time in Little Rock, he has toured extensively, released more albums, and continued to tour.  He won the Oscar for Best Song for “Glory” from Selma.  Tonight, the film La La Land in which he appears, is nominated for several Academy Awards.

Black History Month – Count Basie and Robinson Center

count-basieWilliam James “Count” Basie performed at Robinson Center throughout his career.  His first appearance was in the early days of the building, when it was known as Robinson Memorial Auditorium.  His last appearance was in the early 1980s.

Born in New Jersey, he grew up playing the piano.  He arrived in Harlem in the early 1920s and took part in the rise of jazz during the 1920s.  He split the decade between touring and playing in a variety of Harlem night spots.  In 1929, he relocated to Kansas City and became the pianist for Bennie Moten.  It was during this time that he started arranging for bands as well.  By 1936, Basie had his own band – Count Basie and His Barons of Rhythm.  He also started introducing blues music into his sets.

In 1937, he moved back to New York.  It would be his base throughout the 1940s. Though he also started appearing in films starting in 1942.  He also started incorporating bebop into his music.  After World War II, he disbanded his Big Band and reformed with an orchestra.  He would lead this group until the early 1980s.

While an outstanding musician, he was also notable for his role as a composer, arranger, and bandleader. He was constantly experimenting.  When two of his tenor saxophonists were complaining, he split them and placed them on opposites of the band creating dueling tenor saxes. He also started incorporating flutes into his orchestra, introducing them into more popular music.

As a musical personality, he joined the ranks of Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, and Louis Armstrong in helping to break the color barrier. He was featured in movies and TV at time that segregation was still well in practice.

Over his career, Count Basie received nine Grammy awards and has four recordings in the Grammy Hall of Fame.  He was a 1981 Kennedy Center Honors recipient, and received the Grammy Trustees Award in 1981 and Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award posthumously in 2002.

Black History Month – Maya Angelou and Robinson Center

1414mayaOn February 23, 1998, Maya Angelou appeared with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra in a concert at Robinson Center.  The evening featured Dr. Angelou narrating Joseph Schwantner’s tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “New Morning for the World.”

Dr. Angelou, a former resident of Stamps, Arkansas, was not a stranger to Little Rock. She had appeared before at Wildwood Park and would later appear at the Clinton Presidential Center.

A former Poet Laureate of the United States and Tony nominated actor, she won a Grammy Award for her reading of “On the Pulse of the Morning” which had been written for the first inauguration of Bill Clinton as President of the United States.

A poet, author, educator, dancer, singer, actor, and activist, she wrote seven autobiographies. The most notable was arguably I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.  Born in St. Louis, she spent part of her childhood in Arkansas before moving to California.  She led a peripatetic life both geographically and career-wise ending as a professor at Wake Forest and residing in North Carolina.  It was there that she died in May 2014.

Black History Month – Natalie Cole at Robinson Center

natalie-coleOn April 3, 2005, Natalie Cole performed at Robinson Center with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra.  She also performed a retro-duet with her late-father, Nat King Cole.  As noted previously on this blog, he had graced the Robinson stage himself in the 1940s and 1950s.  Helaine Freeman from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette noted that “Cole took her listeners through music genres that included a bit of jazz, a dash of blues and a fistful of R&B/pop.”

Cole was born in 1950 the daughter of the crooner and of singer Maria Hawkins Cole.  At age 6 she sang on her father’s Christmas album and started performing publicly at age 11.  After attending private schools, she attended both the University of Massachusetts and University of Southern California.  After college, she was signed with Capitol Records, her father’s label.  Her first album was released in 1975, which garnered her a Grammy Award for Female R&B Vocal Performance.

Throughout the 1970s, she had a series of successful albums. She became the first female singer to have two platinum albums in one year.  In the 1980s, her recording career slowed down, but by the late part of the decade, she had a resurgence.

In 1991, she recorded the album Unforgettable…with Love in which she sang songs her father had made famous.  The best known track was the title song, “Unforgettable” in which she dueted with him.  It won Album of the Year, Record of the Year, and Traditional Pop Vocal Performance of the Year at the Grammy Awards.

In the 2000s, she continued to sing and record switching between R&B and jazz genres.  She also started performing with symphony orchestras.

She cancelled several concerts in December 2015 and died on December 31, 2015.