By Donnell Hilton
The song is the thing, at least for me. I seek them out, they are treasure. Not all of them, of course, but there are indeed enough to last a lifetime. I’ve always looked to music to bring color to the world when it didn’t seem to have much and also to accompany its brightest moments, hopefully making them that much more luminous. The search for these Bright Moments (thank you Rahsaan Roland Kirk) continues to be a most worthwhile endeavor. Just recently, whilst listening to an album I love -- Duke Ellington’s Black, Brown and Beige (Columbia/Legacy), I found myself drawn to the fifth song on the album and not the fourth. The fourth is one of Ellington’s seminal compositions, “Come Sunday” sung by legendary gospel singer Mahalia Jackson. The fifth song is the same composition with a shorter arrangement and instead of vocals it features one of best Jazz violinists of the ‘40s, Ray Nance. The performance is subtle, beautiful, and yearning…yet another reminder that multiple plays of an album can reveal more over time.
Some songs and albums are so good that they need sharing, especially if I know of someone who would enjoy it as much as I. Recently while trolling the internets for music, I stumbled across Benjamin Clementine, a British-born singer, songwriter, poet, and pianist whose voice drew me in immediately. His album At Least for Now (Capitol Records) is all that I hoped it would be and more. After hearing the first single, “Condolence,” I hoped it would be as good and it is. Clementine’s piano playing and vocals, peppered with some strings and percussion, make for a remarkable first outing. The album is populated with line upon line of a poetic sensibility that is passionate, urgent, and revealing, such as “London” with the lyric, “Though my preferred ways are not happening, I won’t under estimate who I am capable of becoming." There are so many good songs: “Adios,” “Nemesis,” “Cornerstone,” “Quiver a Little.” The follow up can’t come soon enough. I’d love to hear him do a rendition of Weill’s “Pirate Jenny.”
By Donnell Hilton
As this 100 part weekly series winds to a close over the coming weeks I figured I'd do some music best-of lists in these final five installments including this week's Top Ten Best NYC Subway Songs. While a tough list to compile, due to the sheer number of songs out there that reference the most frequently used mode of transportation here in New York City, it was still a fun one to draw up.
For this top ten, rather than just do say 70's rock or 90's hip-hop or any one specific genre, I tried to cover several genres and eras, and even still just scratched the surface. The selections are mostly subway themed songs - although some are overall NYC themed but with subway references in them like the ones by Fear and VU which placed in the last two positions for that very reason. Some others that almost made the list include "F Train" by Babe the Blue Ox, Unsane's “D Train,” "The L Train Is A Swell Train And I Don't Want To Hear You Indies Complain" by Out Hud, "Subway: The Last 'I Love New York' Song" (from the musical Mayor), and another musical one - "Subways Are for Sleeping" from the musical of the same name. In comments below please feel free to add any songs you think should have made the list.
1) Duke Ellington Orchestra “Take the ‘A’ Train” (1941) "You must take the 'A' train / To go to Sugar
Hill, way up in Harlem." Even if they don't realize it, everyone knows this song - a jazz standard and signature tune for Duke Ellington and his orchestra with lyrics. Literally a classic and one that pops
into my head every time I take the A train, and I rate it number one on my list for its historic relevance. Honorable mention to another jazz classic: "GG Train" by Charles Mingus about the line now known
simply as the "G" line - as the "L" line used to be the "LL" line.
By early afternoon on Tuesday (January 1st), the estimated 50 tons of garbage left behind by the crammed crowds of approximately one million partiers, who had descended upon Times Square the night before to ring in the new year, had been cleaned up and by this morning when I passed through the "crossroads of the world" you could not tell that such a large scale, multi-faceted event had taken place there at all. Instead, on this first day of business of the new year for most, New Yorkers were rushing in every direction returning to work or maybe to the gym to live up to their New Year's resolution, many clutching newspapers with front page stories on 2013 predictions. At least two NYC papers reported on changes New Yorkers and New York can expect in 2013. These include a better prepared NYC for another Sandy, and a return of the NY Marathon. Also coming in March is the dreaded but inevitable public transit fare increases when flat train/bus fares will increase from $2.25 to $2.50 and monthly unlimited passes increase from $104 to $112, which still not bad compared to the BART or most other US public transit systems. Another much talked about change to take place this year is in mid-March when the new law banning "big gulp" soda drinks from being sold in NYC goes into effect. This has been both controversial and fodder for late night talk shows since the law was pushed in 2012 by the health conscious mayor Michael M. Bloomberg.
Today is the 98th birthday of actor/singer Herb Jeffries. Although not widely recognized today (especially among non-black audiences, during his heyday in the 1930s and '40s he was an enormously popular singer and the first black actor to star in Westerns. I'd probably know nothing of him except for my tenure in the Black Cinema section at Amoeba, where elderly gentleman regularly treated me to their reminiscences about a black singing cowboy they'd idolized as kids.
Herber Jeffries was born September 24, 1913 in Detroit, Michigan to Afro-Sicilian pianist Umberto Balentino and his Irish-American wife, Mildred. He never knew his father and was raised by his single mother, who ran a boarding house. Although light-skinned and almost surely able to "pass," he identified as black and associated himself with Detroit's Howard Buntz Orchestra, which brought him a measure of local fame.
Recently, one of my boyfriend’s favorite celebrities died from one of his least favorites diseases.
Dixie Carter passed away April 10, of complications from endometrial cancer.
Cancer has been an unwelcome houseguest in our lives for a while now. The boyfriend’s from the Lone Star State, where getting cancer seems to be as common as sequenced sweaters and tuxedos matched with leather boots. The stars at night are big and bright deep in the heart of Texas, but so it seems are a few malignancies.
No amount of my assurances will convince the boyfriend he won’t necessarily get cancer; it’s neither a birthright, nor a curse – but he’s already decided which hospital will treat him and where to find the best wig for the occasion. It’s the “wedding day” daydream equivalent for the hypochondria set.