Saturday, February 13, 2021

Godspeed Chick Corea

Jazz legend Chick Corea died February 9 2021 at the age of 79. The cause was cancer.

Chick Corea was born Armando Corea in Chelsea, Massachusetts on June 12 1941. His father was a jazz trumpeter and the bandleader of a Dixieland band in Boston in the Thirties and Forties. It was his father who started him on the piano when Chick Corea was only four years old. He was eight he took up the drums. At age eight, Chick Corea studied piano under concert pianist Salvatore Sullo. From when he was very young he was influenced by such jazz greats as Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker.

Chick Corea began playing gigs when he was only in high school. Mr. Corea studied musical education for only a month at Columbia University in New York City and six months at the Juilliard School. Even though he stopped attending both Columbia University and Julliard, Chick Corea stayed in New York City to pursue his music career.

He began his career in the early Sixties and played with such artists as Mongo Santamaria, Stan Getz, Hubert Laws, Miles Davis, and others. He released his first solo album, Tones for Joan's Bones, in 1966. It would be followed by over 75 more solo albums. In 1970 he formed Chick Corea formed the band Circle with bassist Dave Holland. Throughout the Seventies he continued to play as a sideman with other artists, such as Miles Davis and Stanley Clarke. In 1992 he founded his own label, Stretch Records.

Chick Corea numbers among the most talented jazz keyboardists. He had a skill with the keys that few others possessed. He was among the pioneers of jazz fusion, and with Circle he explored free jazz. Among his many talents was a gift for improvisation.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Experiencing Technical Difficulties

Before anything else, I want to apologize for not making a real blog post this evening. Currently I have a cold that makes it difficult to do much of anything. And please don't worry about me. It's not COVID-19. I particularly feel guilty about not making a post today as for the past few weeks A Shroud of Thoughts has been dominated by eulogies of celebrities who have died. I don't know what it is about the month of January, but I swear more celebrities die that month than any other. And, sadly, as in the case of this year, those deaths sometimes continue into February. Indeed, tomorrow I will try to get a eulogy for jazz legend Chick Corea out.

Anyway, next week I hope to put out my annual Black History Month posts. I want to write a post on Milestone Comics character Static (Nineties kids might remember the animated series Static Shock) and the film St. Louis Blues (1958), among other things.

Anyway, I will leave you with a photo of my dearest Vanessa Marquez. This is a headshot from when she was only 21. At the time her only screen credits were Stand and Deliver (1988), Night Children (1989) and the WonderWorks television movie Sweet 15 (1990). 

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

The Late Great Mary Wilson of The Supremes

Mary Wilson, founding member of The Supremes and the only member to remain with The Supremes for the entirety of their history, died yesterday at the age of 76. The Supremes were the best charting female group in American history and in the Sixties their success at times rivalled The Beatles.

Mary Wilson was born on March 6 1944 in Greenville, Mississippi. Her parents moved to St. Louis and later Chicago. For a time she lived with her aunt and uncle in Detroit. Her mother eventually joined her in Detroit. Mary Wilson befriend fellow future Supreme Florence Ballard when they were both in elementary school. It was in 1958 that Miss Ballard met Paul Williams and Eddie Kendricks of a singing group called The Supremes. The Primes' manager, Milton Jenkins, decided to form a sister group to The Primes to be called The Primettes. The first two members of The Primettes were BettyMcGlowan and Florence Ballard.  Florence Ballard brought Mary Wilson into The Primettes, who then brought in a classmate, Diana Ross.

The Primettes developed a local following. It was after the group won a local talent contest that Diana Ross asked an old neighbour, Smokey Robinson (who was then a member of The Miracles, one of Motown's biggest groups) to get them an audition with Motown. Motown executive Barry Gordy thought they were too young and inexperienced and asked them to return following their high school graduation. Later in the year The Primettes recorded a single for Lu Pine Records in Detroit, "Tears of Sorrow." The single failed to chart and it was not long after that Betty McGlown left The Primettes to get engaged. She was replaced by Barbara Martin.

n an effort to get signed to Motown, The Primettes began visiting Hitsville U.S.A. (the headquarters of Motown at the time) regularly after school. After some time Barry Gordy let them contribute backing vocals and hand claps to the songs of such artists as Mary Wells and Marvin Gaye. It was in January 1961 that Mr. Gordy finally decided to sign the group, but on the condition that the group's name would be changed. He gave the group various names to choose from, and they settled on The Supremes.

The Supremes' first single for Motown was "I Want a Guy." It failed to chart, as did their next single. The third single, "Your Heart Belongs to Me" peaked at 95 on the Billboard Hot 100, while their fourth single peaked at no. 90 on the Billboard Hot 100 and at no. 25 on the Billboard R&B chart. The Supremes would have their first minor hit with "When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes," which hit no. 23 on the Billboard Hot 100 and no. 2 on the Billboard R&B chart. It was in 1964 that The Supremes had their first major hit. "Where Did Our Love Go" hit no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and the Billboard R&B chart. It went to no. 3 on the British singles chart.

"Where Did Our Love Go" was the first of four consecutive no. 1 records in the United States for The Supremes. Ultimately, The Supremes would have twelve singles hit no. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100. They would proved to be the best charting female group in American history. Through the years, changes would come to The Supremes. It was in 1967 that Barry Gordy decided to change the name of the group to "The Supremes with Diana Ross" and later to "Diana Ross & The Supremes."

It was also in 1967 that Florence Ballard was suffering from depression and failing to show for recording dates and arriving at shows late. Barry Gordy eventually asked Cindy Birdsong of Patti LaBelle & the Blue Belles to Florence Ballard in The Supremes. It was in 1970 that Diana Ross left The Supremes to pursue a solo career. Jean Terrell replaced her as the group's lead singer. It was after Diana Ross's final concert with The Supremes on January 14 1970 that Barry Gordy wanted to replaced Jean Terrell with Syreeta Wright. Mary Wilson refused to go along with this change and as a result Jean Terrell remained the lead vocalist of The Supremes.

While The Supremes would not see the success that they had in the Sixties, they did well on the charts in the early Seventies. The Supremes would undergo more changes as the decade wore on, with Cindy Birdsong leaving to be replaced by Lynda Laurence and Jean Terrill leaving to be replaced by Scherrie Payne. While The Supremes remained a popular live act, their fortunes on the charts declined as the Seventies continued. They performed their last concert at the Drury Lane Theatre in London on June 12 1977. Mary Wilson was the only original Supreme remaining.

In the Sixties The Supremes appeared frequently on variety and music shows, including Top of the Pops, Shivaree, Shindig, Ready Steady Go!, Hullabaloo, and The Hollywood Palace. They also guest starred on an episode of Tarzan, playing a trio of nuns. Mary Wilson appeared with the other Supremes on the game show To Tell the Truth as well as on her own. The Supremes also appeared on the game show What's My Line. In the Seventies the appeared on The Merv Griffin Show, Soul Train, The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour, and The Mike Douglas Show.

After The Supremes disbanded, Mary Wilson launched a solo career. She released a self-titled solo album in 1979 and another solo album, Walk the Line, in 1992. A live album, Up Close: Live from San Francisco, was released in 2007. She continued to be popular as a live performer, performing in Las Vegas and elsewhere. She appeared in the TV movies Tiger Town and Jackie's Back!, as well as the feature film Golden Shoes (2015). Mary Wilson also continued to appear regularly on television, even competing on Dancing with the Stars in 2019. It was only two days before her death that she announced she planing to release new material with Universal Music Group.

In addition to her music career, Mary Wilson also worked with the NAACP, the Susan G. Komen foundation, and St. Jude's Hospital.

The Supremes formed a large part of my childhood. While I am too young to remember much of the group's success in the Sixties, their songs were still frequently played on radio stations in the Seventies beyond. Mary Wilson was always my favourite of The Supremes. I always thought she was the best vocalist out of all of them. Her solo career proved that she was a talented performer all on her own. Not only was Mary Wilson an incredibly talented artist who, with The Supremes, changed the course of musical history, but she was also pivotal in preserving the history of Motown. On her YouTube channel she had uploaded 51 videos, everything from  old Supremes footage to performances from Las Vegas to her own thoughts on various Motown legends. Mary Wilson was much more than one of The Supremes. She was very much a star in her own right.

Monday, February 8, 2021

Super Bowl Commercials 2021

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on many things, among them Super Bowl commercials. In fact, such big name advertisers as Budweiser, Coca-Cola, and Pepsi did not buy ads during this year's big game. There were also some first time advertisers during this Super Bowl, such as Uber Eats and Door Dash. There were even commercials for things one does not usually see advertised during the Super Bowl, such as diapers.

Perhaps because of the pandemic and the fact that many traditional advertisers bowed out this year, 2021's crop of Super Bowl commercials were an unimpressive lot. Many tried for humour and missed the mark. Others simply weren't that interesting. Regardless, I managed to find a few that do seem worthy of airing during the Super Bowl.

Cheetos: "It Wasn't Me"

I thought this commercial with Ashton Kutcher, Mila Kunis, and Shaggy was funny. And Shaggy's parody of his own song "It Wasn't Me" was great.

M&M's: "Sorry"

This commercial features various people apoligizing for various things, some of which are timely. I love the punchline with M&M's spokescandies.

Uber Eats: "Wayne's World" and "Shameless Manipulation"

These are two interrelated commercials that feature the return of Mike Meyers and Dana Carveey as Wayne and Garth. That alone makes them worth watching for this Gen Xer. Fortunately, they are both funny as well. The first commercial aired prior to the game, while the second one aired during the game.

With any luck by the time of the next Super Bowl the pandemic will be over and the 2022 crop of Super Bowl commercials will be better.