NEW YORK (AP) — Gil Scott-Heron, considered one of the godfathers of rap with his piercing social and political prose laid against the backdrop of minimalist percussion, flute and other instrumentation, died May 27, 2011, at age 62.
Scott-Heron came to prominence in the 1970s as black America was grappling with the violent losses of some of its most promising leaders and what seemed to many to be the broken promises of the civil rights movement. His songs often had incendiary titles — “Home is Where the Hatred Is” or “Whitey on the Moon” — and through spoken word and song he tapped the frustration of the masses. He took on political issues including apartheid and nuclear arms. In later years, he became known more for his battle with drugs than his music, but he continued to perform and put out music.
Scott-Heron was born in Chicago on April 1, 1949. He was raised in Jackson, Tenn., and in New York before attending Lincoln University in Pennsylvania. Before turning to music, he was a novelist, at age 19, with the publication of “The Vulture,” a murder mystery. He also authored a social satire.
His most famous song was “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised,” which critiqued mass media. He followed up that recording with more than a dozen albums, collaborating mostly with musician Brian Jackson. His last album, “We’re Still Here,” was a collaboration with artist Jamie xx and a reworking of his acclaimed 2010 album “I’m New Here.”
Though never a mainstream artist, he was an influential voice whose music was considered a precursor of rap. His recordings were sampled by artists including Common, Mos Def, Kanye West and Tupac Shakur.
LAS VEGAS (AP) — Bob Flanigan, 84, an original member of the four-part jazz vocal harmony group The Four Freshmen, died May 15, 2011, of congestive heart failure.
“Flanigan’s voice was indestructible,” said Ross Barbour, 82, the group’s last remaining original member. “He could drive all day and all night without stopping between gigs, and when our voices were on the edge Bob was still in full form.”
While at Butler University in Indiana, Flanigan and his cousins, Ross Barbour and Don Barbour (who died in a car crash in 1961), formed the group in 1948 with Hal Kratzsch (who died in 1970). Flanigan played trombone and bass and sang lead parts. The group produced more than 50 albums and 70 singles, and had six Grammy nominations over the years. Don Barbour died in a car crash in 1961. Kratzsch died in 1970.
The group’s best-known recordings were “It’s a Blue World,” “Mood Indigo,” “Day by Day” and “Graduation Day.” The group was credited as an early influence on Beach Boys founder Brian Wilson.
Flanigan retired in 1992 but kept a hand in the changing cast of performers — its current cast is Brian Eichenberger, Curtis Calderon, Vince Johnson and Bob Ferreira — and management of the group’s name.
LAS VEGAS (AP) — Dolores Fuller, 88, the onetime actress-girlfriend of Hollywood director Ed Wood, and star in the low-budget movies “Glen or Glenda” and “Jail Bait,” died May 9, 2011, after a long illness.
Fuller also co-wrote the lyrics to Elvis Presley movie songs, including “Rock-a-Hula Baby” for “Blue Hawaii,” She co-wrote Nat King Cole’s “Someone to Tell it To” and Peggy Lee’s “Losers Weepers.” Her Dee Dee Records launched Johnny Rivers’ career.
Born Dolores Eble in Indiana, she decided to get into the movie business at age 10 as an extra in “It Happened One Night.”
TOKYO (AP) — Norio Ohga, 81, Sony’s president and chairman from 1982 to 1995, died of multiple organ failure April 23, 2011.
As a young man and aspiring opera singer, Ohga wrote to Sony to complain about the quality of its tape recorders. That move changed the course of his life, as the company recruited the man whose love of music would shape the development of the CD and transform the Japan-ese electronics maker into a global software and entertainment empire.
Ohga’s connection to music steered his work. He insisted the CD be designed at 4.8 inches in diameter to hold 75 minutes worth of music — in order to store Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony in its entirety. Sony sold the world’s first CD in 1982, and CDs overtook LP record sales in Japan five years later. Ohga was key in building the Sony brand, especially working on design and quality to make products that were attractive to consumers. Ohga was a Sony executive by his 30s, a rarity in a Japanese company. He left the day-to-day business in about 2000.
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Bandleader Orrin Tucker, 100, died April 9, 2011.
His orchestra had the 1939 hit “Oh Johnny, Oh Johnny, Oh!” and he later owned the Stardust Ballroom in Los Angeles. He formed a band in 1933 and recorded his version of the 1917 song with vocalist Evelyn Nelson. Tucker made more than 70 records, including several million-selling hits.
NEW YORK (AP) — Classical guitarist Rolando Valdes-Blain, 89, died April 2, 2011.
Born in Cuba, he immigrated to New York as a child. In the 1930s, he and his brother, Alberto, had a weekly music show on WNYC radio. After serving in World War II, he toured worldwide, performed with the Spanish Ballet and appeared in Tennessee Williams’ Broadway play “Camino Real.” He also composed the music for the play “Bullfight.” Valdes-Blain founded the Guitar Department at the Manhattan School of Music and performed at the White House in 1968.
LOS ANGELES (AP) — John Walker, 67, an American-born guitarist and frontman for the Walker Brothers, died May 7, 2011, of liver cancer.
Walker had continued to work until just a few weeks before his death, making his last concert appearance in Los Angeles in March.
The Walker Brother produced such 1960s hits as “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore,” “Make it Easy on Yourself” and “My Ship Is Comin’ In.”
While The Beatles and other British groups were remaking the face of rock ’n’ roll during the so-called British invasion of America in the mid-1960s, Walker moved from the United States to England instead. There, he and two other Americans, bassist Scott Engel and drummer Gary Leeds, called themselves the Walker Brothers and each adopted Walker as his surname. They had instant success with their first British recording, 1964’s “Love Her,” and a string of hits quickly followed.
Walker, who was born John Maus, took up the guitar at age 14 and began performing professionally in the late 1950s. He began using the name Walker when he was 17.
He, Engel and drummer Al “Tiny” Schneider, first used the name Walker Brothers when they worked as the house band at the Hollywood nightclub Gazzari’s, shortly before he and Engel moved to Britain and joined Leeds. As part of the Walker Brothers, he toured the world and sold more than 23 million records, according to his Web site.
The group appeared on numerous European television shows in the 1960s, including “Ready, Steady, Go,” “Top of the Pops” and “Beat Club.”
He worked with such musicians as Glen Campbell, with producer Phil Spector and songwriters Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart, who wrote for The Monkees and other groups.
Although he returned to the United States in the 1980s, Walker continued to tour England every year as part of a “Silver ’60s” show until his health declined last year.
FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — Cornell Dupree Jr., a guitarist who played on R&B and jazz hits with artists including Aretha Franklin and Miles Davis, died May 8, 2011. He was 68.
When he was just out of high school, he went to work in Manhattan with saxophonist King Curtis Ousley, another Fort Worth native. Dupree, who went on to be a studio player, played guitar on “Respect” by Franklin, “Rainy Night in Georgia” by Brook Benton and “Memphis Soul Stew” by King Curtis. He toured with Franklin’s band from the late 1960s through the mid-1970s.
NEW YORK (AP) — New York-born composer Peter Lieberson, who wrote his most inspired songs for his great love, the late mezzo-soprano Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, died of complications from lymphoma April 23, 2011. He was 64.
His works were performed by the top U.S. orchestras and soloists, including cellist Yo-Yo Ma and pianists Emanuel Ax and Peter Serkin. Lieberson was the son of Goddard Lieberson, then president of Columbia Records, and Vera Zorina, an actress and former ballerina. He earned a doctorate from Brandeis University and taught composition at Harvard University.
GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP, N.J. (AP) — Ted Prior, who spent 50 years performing the music of Elvis Presley before adoring fans throughout southern New Jersey, died May 15, 2011. He was 68.
Prior had never missed a show before being diagnosed with cancer last fall. His streak of nearly 10,000 performances ended when he was forced to miss a New Year’s Eve show in Ocean City.
Prior’s career path began at age 14, when at a party he picked up a cheap guitar he had no idea how to play and sang along to a record of “Stuck On You.” A friend yelled out, “Hey Ted, you sound just like Elvis!” Prior soon began taking guitar lessons, grew out his hair and started learning every Elvis song he could. But throughout his career, he always referred to himself as an Elvis performer, not an impersonator.
Prior also toyed with original music for a while and did a few tours with the Ohio Express, years after the band scored a hit with “Yummy Yummy Yummy (I’ve Got Love In My Tummy)” and long after many of the original members had quit.
KINGSTON, Jamaica (AP) — Lloyd Knibb, 80, an influential Jamaican drummer who played with The Skatalites and helped develop the ska beat, died of liver cancer May 12, 2011. He was 80.
Knibb was an original member of The Skatalites, a Jamaican ska and reggae band created in 1964. His frenetic style was one of the band’s hallmarks and is best heard on songs including “Guns of Navarone” and “Freedom Sounds.”
The Skatalites broke up in the 1960s, but reunited two decades later in New York. Two of their albums, “Hip Bop Ska” and “Greetings from Skamania,” were nominated for Grammy awards in the 1990s.
Their music has influenced bands including 311, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones and No Doubt.
Knibb last performed with The Skatalites in April.
“Knibb was simply the most important and influential modern drummer this country produced,” said Herbie Miller, director of the Jamaica Music Museum. “A master percussionist, he contributed to every style of popular and not so popular musical form … As a drummer he established a rhythmic syntax through bold innovative advances.”
WELLFLEET, Massachusetts (AP) — Bernard Greenhouse, 95, acclaimed cellist and founding member of the renowned Beaux Arts Trio, died in his sleep May 13, 2011.
Born in Newark, N.J., Greenhouse began playing cello at age 8. In 1955, he founded the Beaux Arts with violinist Daniel Guilet and pianist Menahem Pressler. The trio performed around the world, including regular appearances at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Guilet left in 1969. There were no other changes until Greenhouse retired from the Beaux Arts in 1987. During his years with the trio, Greenhouse taught at several schools, including the Juilliard School of Music and Rutgers University. He continued to play and teach into his 1990s.