Saturday, July 23, 2011

Amy Winehouse R.I.P.

Singer Amy Winehouse passed yesterday at the age of 27. The cause is not yet known.

Amy Winehouse was born in Southgate, London. She took an interest in singing while still a child. She attended the Susi Earnshaw Theatre School and then the Sylvia Young Theatre School in Westminster, the BRIT School for Performing Arts and Technology in Croydon, the Southgate School in Enfield,  and the Ashmole School in Southgate.

Miss Winehouse began writing music after receiving her first guitar at age 13. She would eventually be signed by Island/Universal. Her first album, Frank, was released in 2003. The album received good reviews from critics and peaked at #13 on the albums chart in the United Kingdom and at 26 on the Billboard Top R&B/Hip Hop Albums in the United States. Four singles were released from the album.

Amy Winehouse would have much more success with her second album, Back to Black, released in 2006. The album received widespread critical acclaim. It was also a smash hit. It topped at #2 on the Billboard Top 200 albums chart in the United States and #1 on the UK albums chart. Six singles were released from the album. She would also appear as a featured artist on Mark Ronson's song "Valerie (released 2007)" and Tony Bennett's rendition of "Body and Soul" released in 2011.

I cannot say I was a huge Amy Winehouse fan. I liked some of her songs and others I did not. That having been said, I cannot deny that she was a fantastic vocalist. Indeed, she was one of the few vocalists today who could match the R&B artists of the Fifties and Sixties. I also cannot deny the impact her career, short though it may have been, on music today. No less than Lady Gaga has credited Amy Winehouse as paving the way for more unconventional female artists herself. Welsh soul artist Adele has credited Miss Winehouse with opening up the United States for similar artists such as herself and fellow Welsh soul singer Duffy.  Along with English pop singer Lily Allen, Miss Winehouse has been considered part of a new wave of female music artists, which would include Lady Gaga and Adele. While her career was short, then, Amy Winehouse would appear to have a lasting impact on modern music.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Roberts Blossom R.I.P.

Character actor Roberts Blossom passed on 8 July 2011 at the age of 87.

Roberts Blossom was born on 25 March 1924 in New Haven, Connecticut. Much of his childhood was spent in Cleveland, Ohio. He graduated from Asheville School in Asheville, North Carolina. He went to Harvard for a year before he was inducted into the United States Army during World War II. Following the war he started acting in local, Cleveland theatres.

Mr. Blossom would make his debut on Broadway in the play The Infernal Machine. He made his television debut the same year in an episode of Naked City. From the late Fifties into the Sixties he appeared in such shows as The Art Carney Show The DuPont Show of the Month, Brenner,  and The Defenders. he appeared in the short film The Sin of Jesus (1961).  On Broadway he appeared in the plays A Cook for Mr. GeneralThe Ballad of Sad Cafe, The Physicists, and  Operation Sidewinder.

In the Seventies Roberts Blossom appeared in the movies The Hospital (1971), The Witches of Salem: The Horror and the Hope (1972), Slaughterhouse Five (1972), The Great Gatsby (1974), Handle with Care (1975), Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Escape from Alcatraz (1979), and Resurrection (1980).  On television he was a regular on Another World and appeared in the mini-series Mourning Becomes Electra. He guest starred on Beacon Hill.

In the Eighties Mr. Blossom appeared in such movies as Christine (1983), Reuben, Reuben (1983), Flashpoint (1984), Vision Quest (1985), The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), Always (1989), and Home Alone (1990). He guest starred on the shows Amazing Stories, Moonlighting, Tales From the Darkside, The Equaliser, and The Twilight Zone. In the Nineties he appeared in the films Doc Hollywood (1991), and The Quick and the Dead (1995). He guest starred on the shows Northern Exposure, Crossroads, and Chicago Hope.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Songwriter Jerry Ragovoy R.I.P.

Jerry Ragovoy, who wrote such hit songs as The Rolling Stones' "Time Is On My Side" and Janis Joplin's "Piece of My Heart," passed on 13 July 2011 at the age of 80. The cause was complications from a stroke.

He was born Jordan Ragovoy in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on 4 September 1930. He started out in the music business as a record buyer for the record department of Tregoobs, an appliance store in Philadelphia. In 1953 he and the store's owner, Herb Slotkin, founded the record label Grand to record The Castelles, a local doo wop group.  He was later hired by Chancellor Records, where he wrote arrangements for Frankie Avalon. He wrote the song "About This Song Called Love" for Fabian.

In 1962 he moved to New York City in hopes of becoming a Broadway songwriter, but his career plans were sidetracked by his success as a writer of pop songs. With Bert Berns he wrote the hit "Cry Baby" for Garnett Mimms and The Enchanters. He wrote "Time Is On My Side," perhaps his best known hit, for jazz trombonist Kai Winding. It was recorded by Irma Thomas in 1964. It was soon followed in 1964 by The Rolling Stones' version, which went to number 6 on the American Billboard Hot 100.

During his career Mr. Ragovoy would write several successful songs, most being soulful ballads similar to "Time Is On My Side." Among the songs he wrote were "All I Know is the Way I Feel," "I Can't Wait Until I See My Baby's Face," "Move Me No Mountain," "Pata Pata," and "You Better Believe It." Janis Joplin would have particular success with his songs, recording not only "Piece of My Heart," but covers of "Try (Just a Little Bit Harder)," "Get It While You Can," and "My Baby" as well.

Jerry Ragovoy was certainly a great talent as a songwriter. He wrote songs that had real emotion behind them. He was also versatile. While his best known songs tended to be ballads, he also co-wrote "Pata Pata" with African singer Miriam Makeba and the rocker "You Better Believe It" recorded by Small Faces. His impact on popular music was fairly large, giving The Rolling Stones their first full fledged hit in the United States and Janis Joplin the biggest hit of her career."

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Actress Googie Withers Passes On

Googie Withers CBE, AO passed Friday, 15 July 2011 at the age of 94.

Googie Withers was born Georgette Lizette Withers in Karachi, British India (now Pakistan) on 12 March 1917. Her Indian nanny gave her the nickname "Googie," which meant "dove" or "crazy" depending on whom one asked. From a very young age she had wanted to be a dancer. She took her first lessons when she was only four years old. She attended Fredville Park School in Nonnington, Kent and then the Convent of the Holy Family in Kensington in London. She studied at the Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts in London and later at the Helena Lehmiski Academy in Birmingham.

Googie Withers made her stage debut at the age of 12 in a Christmas pantomime entitled The Windmill Man at the Victoria Palace Theatre in London. At age 15 she won the Open Dancing Championship of Great Britain with partner Vera Morris. At age 17 she enrolled in a dancing school run by Buddy Bradley.  She started appearing in the chorus lines of such shows as Ballyhoo and Nice Goings On not long after. She received her first led role with the show Happy Weekend. Miss Withers would go from Happy Weekend to her first movie roles, in Windfall (1935) and The Girl in the Crowd (1935).

Prior to the Second World War, Miss Withers' career would be a mixed bag.  She would work with some very prestigious directors. Before the war she appeared in four movies directed by Michael Powell: The Girl in the Crowd, The Love Test (1935), Her Last Affaire (1936), and Crown v. Stevens (1936).  She also appeared as Blanche in The Lady Vanishes (1938).  While Googie Withers much preferred dramatic parts, however, the studio dyed her hair blonde and insisted on using her in comedies. She appeared in the George Formby farce Trouble Brewing (1940) and the Tommy Trinder comedy She Couldn't Say No (1940).

It would largely be because of Michael Powell that Googie Withers' career would take a different course. He cast her in the film One of Our Aircraft is Missing (1942), in which she played one of the Dutch resistance. Afterwards she would let her hair go back to its natural brunette and play more serious roles than she had been permitted before the war. She appeared in such films as Michael Powell's The Silver Fleet (1943), the classic horror portmanteau film Dead of Night (1945), Pink String and Sealing Wax (1945), It Always Rains on Sundays (1945), Miranda (1948), and Night and the City (1950).  In the Fifties Miss Withers made her television debut, appearing in an episode of BBC Sunday Night Theatre in 1953. She also appeared in an episode of Rheingold Theatre. She appeared in the films White Corridors (1951), The Magic Box (1951), Derby Day (1952), and Port of Escape (1956).

It was on the set of It Always  Rains on  Sunday that Miss Withers met fellow actor John McCallum. The two married, and in 1958 moved to Mr. McCallum's native Australia after he was offered a job with the TC Williamson theatrical agency. Both continued to appear on stage in Australia and the United Kingdom, although Miss Withers would not appear on film again until 1971 in Nickel Queen. In the Seventies she appeared frequently on television. She was the prison governess on the series Within These Walls. She also appeared in such shows as Seasons of the Year, ITV Saturday Night Theatre, and Boney. In the Eighties she appeared on the show Screen Two. Her final roles on the big screen were in the movies Country Life (1994) and Shine (1996).

Googie Withers was a very versatile actress who could play any number of roles. She played a surgeon in White Corridors. She played a murderer in Pink String and Sealing Wax. She played a housewife harbouring a former lover turned escaped convict in It Always Rains on Sunday. In the TV series Within These Walls she played the prison governess with liberal attitudes. And while she may not have found the roles challenging, Miss Withers did very well in the comedies of the Thirties. She was a very talented actress and one who was quite capable of playing anything. Even had her name not been so unusual, she would be memorable for her rather singular talent.