Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A Double Farewell

This past December, the music world lost two more talented (and quite contrasting) performers of the 1960s. The day after Christmas, St. Louis R&B singer Fontella Bass passed away after complications of a heart attack at the age of 72. She was best known for her 1965 hit single, "Rescue Me," which reached #1 on the R&B chart, #4 on the Billboard Hot 100, and #11 in the UK. Although songwriter credit is given to Raynard Miner and Carl William Smith at Chess Studios in Chicago, many sources also credit Bass herself as a co-writer. Recorded in just three takes, the call-and-response sounds of "umm, umm" were unintentional and were in place of forgotten lyrics during the taping. This song also included Maurice White, later of Earth, Wind & Fire, on drums. With her fantastic vocals on this soul/pop tune, here's the late Fontella Bass performing on Shindig! in 1965.


Earlier in the month on December 11th, the best-known contemporary Indian musician Ravi Shankar passed away at the age of 92. In the mid-'50s and '60s, Shankar toured Europe and America playing classical Indian music on the sitar, and recorded albums with World Pacific Records. The Byrds also recorded at the same studio and heard Shankar's music, which led them to incorporate some of its elements in theirs, introducing the genre to their friend George Harrison of The Beatles. Harrison became interested in Indian classical music, bought a sitar, and used it to record the song "Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown)". This led to Indian music being used by other musicians, thus creating the raga rock trend and impacting psychedelic music. In 1966, Harrison went to India for six weeks to study the sitar with Shankar, an association which greatly increased Shankar's popularity, making him "the most famous Indian musician in the world." In 1967, he won a Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music Performance for West Meets East, and performed at the Monterey Pop Festival where he was introduced to new generation of music fans. Here's an excerpt from his four-hour performance (whow!) at the Pop Festival, as captured for the historic D. A. Pennebaker documentary (Shankar appears at about 7:00 into the clip).

Farewell to these talented performers, and thanks for the music!

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