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The Funk Show
Cubie Burke: A Memorial PDF Print E-mail
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Friday, 16 May 2014 21:33

Cubie Burke passed away Wednesday May, 14, 2014. He was 49. Cubie was a member of the First Family of Soul, known as the 5 Stairsteps & Cubie. He was a professional dancer, singer, song writer, actor, Choreographer and teacher at QBiquity Productions. The 5 Stairsteps & Cubie were made up of Alohe (Rami), Clarence Jr., James, Dennis, Kenneth (Keni), and Cubie. Cubie Burke’s debut in show business occurred at 16 months old with the Five Stairsteps at Chicago’s Regal Theater.  He would appear on stage in the early days with his siblings the Five Stairsteps dancing and performing with them. Besides the Stairsteps, Cubie also performed with Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, and Prince. Cubie also spoke French, German and Spanish and some Italian.

In a 2011 interview that I had with Cubie and his brother Clarence Burke Jr., they had reminisced about a gig when Clarence was supposed to bring Cubie out on stage. Clarence Jr. had said that the place went wild when Cubie came out and it was total mayhem. He said “it was a riot.” The fans started jumping on stage and they picked up the entire Burke group including Cubie. The out of control fans put them on their shoulders and started jumping around and singing. Clarence had said “Everybody loved Cubie, they went crazy over Cubie.”[i]

Cubie mentioned that he had recently compiled a list of people who had been influential in his life. One was Clarence and as he had gotten older, he said that he really appreciated his presence. “Clarence has been a leader for me; he was not only a great guy, but a great pioneer in music.” Clarence responded “Now, I look to you, my youngest brother. It goes back around. I look at Cubie as one of the greats, what I have seen out there. There are a lot of bad people out there. I include my brother of what I know of him, his abilities… he is definitely one of them for sure. If he wasn’t my brother, I would say that’s a bad dude; his name is Cubie! He’s awesome. He did this all on his own without the Stairsteps”. Cubie further stated “I am not just a dancer; I am a classical dancer, which makes me a classical artist. Growing up with artists, I could not appreciate the work of other people. I watched my brothers and my sister; The Stairsteps on YouTube recently as they danced and came up to the microphone one after the other. My brothers and my sister were artists, they were working hard and were not trying to out due each other, they were performers. I really appreciated what it was to be a Stairstep.” Also, during the interview Cubie gave homage to the person that he said mentored him. It was song writer and producer Clyde Otis “.[ii]

Cubie Burke first appears on record on the 1967 album Jimmy Bishop – On Stage Live At The Nixon Theater performing with the Stairsteps. The group performed Don't Waste Your Time and Something’s Missing. His photograph appeared with the group on the 1968 Buddah LP Our Family Portrait by The 5 Stairsteps & Cubie. The album included the track which included a 3 year old Cubie titled New Dance Craze.  It would be released as the B side of their first Curtom single titled Don't Change Your Love. Curtis Mayfield produced their next album in 1968/1969 titled Love's Happening. The New Dance Craze was also included on this album. The 5 Stairsteps & Cubie released a total of five singles on Curtom Records. Cubie’s voice also appeared on the 1970 Buddah LP called Stairsteps by the Five Stairsteps on the track Vice The Lights. Cubie would appear with the Five Stairsteps on a variety of television shows like The Merv Griffin Show in 1968 and The Barbara McNair Show in 1971.

Cubie Burke grew up in Englewood NJ, graduating from high school there. At the age of 15 he was invited by a friend named Shelly to try dance lessons and then enrolled in classes.  He began working with a few local choirs and that association led to an audition with the Dance Theater of Harlem.  He received a full scholarship to the Dance Theatre of Harlem at the age of 16. Cubie began dancing with the Dance Theater of Harlem professionally at the age of 17. He is quoted as saying “What I liked about ballet that interested me was that it was so detailed. I was interested in that. They wanted me to take tap classes. I didn’t take the classes, but I wish that had I had now.” He also was a professional dancer with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Dance Theater of Harlem, with Complexions — A Concept in Dance and the Atlanta Ballet. He was the only African American lead dancer that the Atlanta Ballet has ever had.[iii] He appeared as a dancer and Interviewee in the 2008 film Wolf Trap's Face of America. He also is a contributor to the 1999 film Choreography by Esaias Johnson, a 2000 film titled Tributary which included the New York City Ballet and the Dance Theater of Harlem, and is a performer in the 1997 film Dance Esaias : Esaias Johnson, choreographer.

He performed at the closing ceremonies of the 1984 Summer Olympics and the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona Spain. He also performed for Prince’s company Paisley Park studios.  He also was the choreographer for the 1997 Soul Train Music Awards held at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles, California on March 8, 1997. He choreographed the opening number for the Isley Brothers. In addition to that Cubie choreographed routines for the Atlanta Hawks organization.

Cubie’s solo recording debut occurred in 1982 with the release of the single Down for Double on the Rissa Chrissa label. A full album was never recorded, because of the breakup of the record company. Cubie then returned his energy back to dance. He was also a songwriter and the names of the compositions are Fix Me, which is about anything about ourselves that we would want to be fixed, Beautiful Holy; which is about God, who is holy, Every Now and Then; which is a break up song, No Turning Back; which is a song about not giving up, Together Again; which is dedicated to the families of the U.S. troops plus Magenta and Mother of Love also originals. All of these songs are unreleased and were copy written in 2011. The recordings made their debut on The Funk Show in January 2012. Cubie also recorded a song with the Invisible Mans Band that has never released.

As an actor Cubie appeared in an episode of Unsolved Mysteries: Season 9, Episode 20; called Unexplained Death: Tupac Shakur (aired 14 Mar. 1997). His character had been an eyewitness to the murder of Tupac Shakur. The hit by of Tupac Shakur titled Keep Ya Head Up was a cover of Ooh Child by the Five Stairsteps. Cubie was also founder of his production company in 1997 called QBiquity Productions.

Cubie Burke is survived by his daughter Decoda Kareem, granddaughter Aaliyah Kareem, his mother Betty Burke, father Clarence Burke, siblings Rami (Alohe Burke), James Burke, Dennis Burke, Kenneth Burke plus other family members, friends and fans.

 

Howard Burchette



[i] Telephone Interview of Cubie Burke and Clarence Burke Jr. by Howard Burchette, January 10, 2011; production studio of 90.7 WNCU FM, North Carolina Central University, Durham, NC

[ii] Telephone Interview of Cubie Burke and Clarence Burke Jr. by Howard Burchette, January 10, 2011; production studio of 90.7 WNCU FM, North Carolina Central University, Durham, NC

[iii] Telephone Interview with Cubie Burke by Howard Burchette, August 3, 2011; production studio of 90.7 WNCU FM, North Carolina Central University, Durham, NC

Last Updated on Monday, 19 May 2014 12:56
 
Soul Serenade – The Story of King Curtis PDF Print E-mail
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Thursday, 13 March 2014 13:38

On August 13, 1971 Curtis Ousley, had hosted a get together at his newly renovated Manhattan eight-family brownstone and had gone outside to turn down the air conditioning for his guests. He stopped and asked a drug addict that had been loitering on the steps of his building to move. A fight ensued between the two, resulting in Curtis getting stabbed in the heart. He was pronounced dead before the ambulance reach the hospital. Ousley was only 37 years old, ending a music career which began in the 1950s. He was known to the world as King Curtis. He had been an important figure in the careers of Aretha Franklin, Sam Cooke, John Lennon, The Coasters, The Shirelles, Buddy Holly, Bernard Purdie, Billy Preston, Cornell Dupree, Joe South, Shirley Scott, The Rascals, Champion Jack Dupree, Esther Phillips, and many others.


King Curtis was born in Fort Worth, TX on February 7, 1934. He was a saxophonist, a band leader, a song writer and producer. His range of music spanned from Jazz, to R&B, to Rock to Blues. He could play and master it all. He began playing the saxophone at the age of 12 and went to school with Ornette Coleman who himself would later become a Jazz great in the music business. Upon graduation from high school, he would turn down a college scholarship to join the Lionel Hampton Big band where he began to write and arrange music. By 1952, he moved to New York City and became a studio musician recording for a variety of labels. One of his early sessions was on the 1958 Atlantic recording of Ruth Brown’s This Little Girl's Gone Rockin', and the 1959 RCA recording session of the Jazz Pop group called The Three Suns. The earliest recording that featured King Curtis as a solo artist was a 1958 four track EP and picture sleeve released by RCA titled King Curtis, Count Hastings, Leroy Kirkland's Hi-Flyers, Leroy Kirkland ‎– The Battle For The Beat. His screaming saxophone solo is famous as it was used in the 1959 Coasters classic titled: Yakety Yak. Quickly King Curtis was recognized as an artist that could sell records and his first album was released by Atco in 1959 titled: Have Tenor Sax, Will Blow. Other recordings would follow like the 1960 release on ABC-Paramount titled: Beatnik Hoedown / King Neptune's Guitar. In 1960 three classic Jazz albums were released with King Curtis as a front man on the Esquire, Prestige and New Jazz record labels. The titles were Soul Meeting (with Nat Adderley and Wynton Kelly), The New Scene Of King Curtis and Soul Battle (featuring Oliver Nelson, King Curtis, Jimmy Forrest). During this period he toured as the King Curtis Quintet.

 

The Jazz releases are masterful and superb, but King Curtis was much in demand for R&B and Rock and Roll and the record companies continued to record him under these genres selling a lot of material. Tru-Sound which was a Jazz and Blues label would release an album in 1961 featuring King Curtis playing older Rhythm and Blues and Jazz standards in an early rock and roll style titled Old Gold. Three more would follow in 1962 titled: It's Party Time With King Curtis, Doing The Dixie Twist and a classic Blues album called Trouble In Mind. In 1962 Scepter Records which released material by Dionne Warwick, B.J. Thomas released a cult classic album titled: Give A Twist Party featuring the Shirelles and King Curtis. This effort was the early Rock and Roll sound. 

 

RCA would release in 1961 the King Curtis Combo ‎– Arthur Murray's Music For Dancing The Twist! This contained an easy listening pop sound. His first major hit occurred in 1962 on Enjoy Records with the release of Soul Twist. That was followed by an album titled: Soul Twist With King Curtis under the name King Curtis And The Noble Knights.

 

The popularity of King Curtis would increase with his association under Capitol Records beginning in 1962 with Country Soul, but he became a household name with his 1964 release Soul Serenade. The title track from the album would become his signature piece throughout his career. Capitol would follow-up with a 1965 album titled Plays The Hits Made Famous By Sam Cooke.

 

The big move for King Curtis was in 1966 with his collaboration with Atlantic Records for their Atco label. At Atlantic, he not only would record the majority of his more popular albums and singles but he also became a much in demand producer and leader. Atco first released That Lovin' Feeling

in 1966, followed by the great Live At Small's Paradise. In 1967 the Plays The Great Memphis Hits album was released. They record company would release a single by King Curtis that would become his second signature piece called Memphis Soul Stew. It was probably his most popular single recording of his career. In 1968 the Sweet Soul album was released with a rerecording of Soul Serenade. Atlantic / Atco also had begun using him on their recordings for Aretha Franklin, Eddie Harris, Herbie Mann, The Rascals, Bonnie & Delaney Bramlett, Donny Hathaway, Esther Phillips and others. Probably the most famous King Curtis solo was on the 1967 Aretha Franklin classic Respect. One great album that has been overlooked is the 1969 Jazz Soul album Shirley Scott & The Soul Saxes featuring Hank Crawford, David Newman and King Curtis.

 

He would begin using his new band about the time when he was at Atco called the King-Pins, who were some of the best of the best musicians of the day. Atco continued riding the success and popularity of King Curtis with Instant Groove in 1969, Get Ready in 1970 and finally the classic Live At Fillmore West in 1971. This recording occurred March 5–7, 1971 at the Fillmore West venue in San Francisco. For this date, he hired a special lineup for the King-Pins who were: Cornell Dupree, Jerry Jemmot, Pancho Morales, Billy Preston, Bernard Purdie, and Truman Thomas. They were accompanied by the The Memphis Horns of the Stax Records fame. This album was a recording of the King Curtis performance which was the opening act for Aretha Franklin. King Curtis and the King-Pins backed her up during her show. Atlantic would release highlights of it on an album titled: Aretha Franklin - Live at Fillmore West. He had been Franklin’s musical director. One week after the release of the highly successful King Curtis - Live At Fillmore West, he was murdered.

 

‎After his death Atlantic continued to release material by this great man like the 1972 album Everbody's Talkin' and the 1973 live album King Curtis & Champion Jack Dupree - Blues At Montreux.  RCA Records would release a masterful live recording of a Sam Cooke concert with King Curtis as the band leader called Sam Cooke ‎– One Night Stand! At The Harlem Square Club. There are many more singles and recordings with the great King Curtis that I have not mentioned within this article and I am sure that newly unreleased recordings will pop up in the future. The newly syndicated TV show “Soul Train” choose the King Curtis recording Hot Potatoes as its first theme song in 1971. Perhaps, this was a way of remembering him by Don Cornelius. His only Grammy award occurred in 1970 for the Best R&B Instrumental Performance for Games People Play by Joe South.

 

Music fans all over the world were robbed on August 13, 1971 when the great King Curtis was killed. Whenever you hear the phrase or title Soul Serenade or Memphis Soul Stew a picture of King Curtis comes up in ones mind. Surely, he would have contributed much more to the world had he lived.


For a sampling of some of the music of King Curtis, copy and paste the link below into your browser:

https://www.prx.org/pieces/88596-soul-serenade-a-tribute-to-king-curtis

 

Howard Burchette

 

 

Last Updated on Thursday, 13 March 2014 15:02
 
A Stairstep Story: Remembering Clarence Burke, Jr. PDF Print E-mail
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Thursday, 20 June 2013 17:59

A Stairstep Story:

Remembering Clarence Burke, Jr.  

(The Invisible Man)

Clarence Newton Burke Jr. (25th May 1949 - 26th May 2013) of the family act The Five Stairsteps, known as the First Family of Soul was the brain child, the main songwriter, choreographer, musician, guitarist, and lead singer. The group consisted of four brothers and one sister, with Clarence Jr, Alohe Jean, James, Dennis, Kenneth "Keni", and Cubie.

The group first began performing after Mrs. Betty Burke organized her children for a talent fundraising show in benefit for the school library. They won first prize which led to other local talent shows with the Five Stairsteps winning first prize for every show. The group apparently also won first prize during amateur night at the Regal Theater just prior to their recording duet. Mr. Clarence Burke Sr. had known Fred Cash of the Impressions and he convinced Fred to come to their house where his kids auditioned for him. Fred was convinced that the children had talent and were marketable and set up a telephone audition for Curtis Mayfield. The result was a recording contact with Mayfield’s new record company called Windy C Records. In 1966 they released Don't Waste Your Time / You Waited Too Long which reached No. 16 on the Billboard R&B chart in 1966. This was followed by World of Fantasy / Playgirl's Love then the Come Back / You Don't Love Me. An LP quickly followed up in 1967 on Windy C produced by Curtis Mayfield. All of the songs on the album were written by Curtis Mayfield, Clarence Burke Jr, Clarence Burke Sr. and Gregory Fowler. Stage presence was taught to Clarence Jr. by Clarence Sr. in the beginning. In 1967 the group now billed as the Five Stairsteps & Cubie released Something's Missing which went up to No. 17 on the billboard charts. Windy C released a total of seven singles between 1966 and 1967 with heavy marketing for the Five Stairsteps. The singles Ain't Gonna Rest (Till I Get You), You Can't See, and Change Of Pace were not included on the freshmen album. In 1967 the album Jimmy Bishop On Stage Live At The Nixon Theater was released featuring Billy Stewart, The Delfonics, the Ambassadors, The Intruders and The Five Stairsteps and Cubie. The Stairsteps were recorded live performing Somethings Missing and Don't Waist Your Time plus dialogue

This was followed-up by an album in 1968 on Buddah Records produced by a 17 year old Clarence Burke Jr. assisted by the jazz great Johnny Pate called Our Family Portrait. The LP featured each one of the Five Stairsteps & Cubie including Mamma and Papa Stairstep. Lead singer Clarence Jr. shared the spotlight with Kenneth who sang lead on A Million To One, James III who sang lead on You Make Me So Mad, Alohe Jean who sang lead on The Look of Love, Cubie who sang lead on The New Dance Craze and Mama and Papa Stairstep who sang lead on Windows of the World/I Remember You. Our Family Portrait was a total family affair. Buddah would release three singles between 1967 and 1968 with The Shadow of Your Love being the last, which was not included on the album. Finally the record company released a variety album in 1968 featuring the Five Stairsteps & Cubie called Classmates highlighting similar acts like Judy White, Henry Lumpkin, Tony Lamarr, and Timothy Wilson.

The following year saw a different direction for the Five Stairsteps & Cubie with an album release on Curtom Records again produced by Curtis Mayfield. Their first release was Don’t Change Your Love which became a signature song for the group. Curtom released two 45 singles in 1968 titled Don't Change Your Love / New Dance Craze and Stay Close To Me / I Made A Mistake. A full album followed in 1969 called Loves Happening. Several of the selections were covers of the Impressions compositions like Loves Happening, Madam Mary, Stay Close To Me, and Little Young Lover. The Five Stairsteps and The Impressions had a bond. Curtis Mayfield referred to the Burke children as his babies. The Loves Happening album was written mostly by Curtis Mayfield and it did not include any Clarence Burke Jr. Compositions. The 1969 year was also a milestone for the Five Stairsteps, as they were featured in a concert and film called “It’s Your Thing”. This was an Isley Brothers concert movie recorded live at Yankee Stadium. Clarence Jr. and the Five Stairsteps performed on the show backed up by the Midnight Movers Unlimited. Other acts were Judy White, the Sweet Cherries, the Brooklyn Bridge, Patti Austin, the Young Gents, Ike & Tine Turner, the Winstons, Moms Mabley, the Carla Ward Singers, and others. The Five Stairsteps became a major force in the world of R&B. The final Curtom release in 1969 was We Must Be In Love that included duets from Clarence Jr, and Kenneth Burke. Two of the Curtom singles featured Kenneth Burke on lead vocals instead of Clarence which were Stay Close To Me and Baby Make Me Feel So Good. The last Curtom single Madame Mary was not included on the album which featured the lead vocals of Clarence Jr.

The year 1970 would be a milestone for the Five Stairsteps after the release of "O-o-h Child" written by Stan Vincent. This signature song reached number eight on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, while peaking at number fourteen on the R&B charts. The flip-side of Ooh Child was Dear Prudence which was also played on popular radio. Buddah Records would then release Who Do You Belong To and Because I Love You on several 45 releases. The self-titled album called  Stairsteps was a combination of songs written by Clarence Burke Jr, Stan Vincent, John Lennon and Paul McCartney. It featured Clarence Burke on guitar, Kenneth Burke on bass and Bernard Purdy on drums. The album is a masterpiece and the year 1970 through 1971 was a metamorphosis for the Five Stairsteps. The Clarence Burke Jr. composition Vice The Lights was a total funk and psychedelic delivery and is a Stairsteps classic. The group would open up their stage show in 1970 with Because I Love You which was  a psychedelic soul ballad composed by Clarence Burke, Jr.

America Standing was released in 1970 by the Five Stairsteps which was a hard rock record. This was a cover of the Steppenwolf classic Monster. That year the group incorporated a funk and black rock psychedelic sound into their stage act. They would open up their show with a cover of Jimi Hendrix Purple Haze and Music Lover from Sly & the Family Stone. Their own composition Don't Change Your Love became a psychedelic production blended with slick choreography. Drummer Jerome Bailey from Richmond Virginia joined the act in 1970. His photo was included on the 1971 The Stairsteps album cover with the group. He would leave the group to join the Chambers Brothers and then eventually Parliament-Funkadelic. The 1971 The Stairsteps album was also produced by Stan Vincent containing compositions from Clarence Burke Jr, Stan Vincent and George Harrison. The lead vocals on the album were performed by Clarence, Alohe and Kenneth. Buddah Records would release Didn't It Look So Easy, I Love You – Stop, and Hush Child between 1971 and 1972. During this time Alohe Jean (Rami) Burke retired from the group and served her country in the United States military. Upon completing her service she enrolled in college and furthered her education completing her bachelors and masters degrees in the sciences. A final Buddah single was released in 1972 that would not be included on an album called Every Single Way / Two Weeks Notice, returning back to a sweeter softer soulful sound much like that of 1967.

Clarence Jr. would not appear again in recorded music until 1976 with the invitation of Billy Preston to appear on the Quincy Jones album called I Heard That!!. He and his brother Kenneth "Keni" recorded the chorus on the recording Superstition as the Stairsteps. They were joined by Stevie Wonder, Bill Withers, Billy Preston and the Brothers Johnson on the tune. That was also the year of the Stairsteps reunion resulting in the album 2nd Resurrection produced by Billy Preston and the Burke brothers. The lead vocals and instrumental solos were performed by the Burke brothers of Clarence Jr, James, Kenneth and Dennis.  The songwriting was done by the Burke brothers as well and Dark Horse Records owned by George Harrison released the album. It has become a masterpiece. The following year Kenneth Burke released his debut solo album Keni Burke also on Dark Horse. Clarence Jr. would appear again in 1978 as a guitarist on the Herbie Mann Super Mann album. The following year in 1979 he appeared again as a guitarist on the debut album for the R&B act Touch Of Class. Clarence one told me that the group Touch of Class substituted for his brothers as the Stairsteps shortly before the group finally retired. That year also Venus Dodson ‎who had been a singer with Leroy Burgess (Black Ivory) and Patrick Adams released her solo album Night Rider, and Clarence Jr. appeared on it as a background vocalist.

The year 1979 also became a milestone for Clarence Burke Jr. with his second reunion of his brothers under the project named The Invisible Man's Band. The first single All Night Thingwritten by Clarence Burke became a club hit and was played heavily on FM radio. The first album The Invisible Man's Band was released in 1980 featuring Clarence Burke Jr, James Burke, Kenneth (Keni) Burke and Dennis Burke. The follow-up album Really Wanna See You was released in 1981. The last release by The Invisible Man's Band was a 1982 12 inch single called Sunday Afternoon, which was the only completed recording from an unfinished album. The Invisible Man's Band would never tour.

 In 2001 he appeared in the chorus of the US progressive metal band Dream Theater’s on its recording called Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From A Memory. Lately, the fans of Clarence Burke Jr. have enjoyed seeing him perform as a solo artist and with others acts. His performance at Ashford & Simpson’s Sugar Bar in NYC was well received with him performing his own compositions as well as Sly Stone and Curtis Mayfield. The last release by Clarence Burke Jr. was a digital download of a live recording of “Somebody’s Watching You”.  He would appear on The Funk Show twice and we were planning for a third interview. Clarence N. Burke Jr. was the invisible man and will be missed by all for a long time to come.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 10 July 2013 19:25
 
Two Silent Microphones from the Fraternity of Soul! PDF Print E-mail
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Saturday, 23 March 2013 18:34

Two Silent Microphones from the Fraternity of Soul!

(Remembering Richard Street and Damon Harris of the Temptations)

Most people who follow Soul music from the 1960’s know about the legacy of the Temptations. The group’s lineage dates back to 1960 in Detroit, Michigan with teenager Otis Williams who formed a group in the 1950’s called the Distants. The group had gone through a variety of name changes and its lead singer was Richard Street. After a breakup of the group, the remnants merged with the remnants of a rival group called the Primes. The new members were Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams joining Otis Williams and bass vocalist Melvin Franklin now calling themselves the Elgins. The group was signed to Motown who changed its name to the Temptations. Lead vocals in the beginning were by Eddie Kendricks and Paul Williams. Because of a lack of hits in the early years the company brought in a new lead singer named David Ruffin. In 1968 Ruffin was replaced by Dennis Edwards as the new lead singer. In 1970 Richard Street the former lead singer of a Motown act called the Monitors was hired to stand in for Paul Williams from time to time. Williams was often ill and was officially replaced in 1971. Kendricks left the group in 1971, because of a business disagreement and he was replaced with a 21 year old tenor vocalist from Baltimore named Damon Harris. Harris led a group called the Young Tempts that sang Temptations songs. Their name was soon changed by the Isley Brothers to the Young Vandals, who signed them to their label T-Neck. The new lineup for the Temptations in 1971 was Damon Harris, Richard Street, Otis Williams, Melvin Franklin, and Dennis Edwards. The group would now have a new look and a new sound.

The Temptations entered into a new era with this lineup scoring a #1 hit on the US Top 10 chart in 1972 called "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone". That was followed by "Masterpiece" in 1973 that reached #1 on the R&B No. 1 chart. They kept the #1 position on that chart the same year with "Let Your Hair Down".  In 1974 the release "Happy People" and in 1975 "Shakey Ground" both reached #1 on the R&B No. 1 chart. 

Richard Street who contributed to many of the Temptations hits during his tenure with the group left in 1993 because of business disagreements. Damon Harris left the group in 1975 and got back together with the former members of the Young Vandals renaming the group Impact. The group would release their first album on Atco in 1976 backed up by the MFSB orchestra. A second album was released on Fantasy in 1977 and in 1978 Harris released his only solo album called “Silk”. In 1997 Damon Harris was diagnosed with prostate cancer and founded the Damon Harris Cancer Foundation in 2001. He died of prostate cancer on February 18, 2013 at the age of 62. Nine days later Richard Street died from pulmonary embolism on February 27, 2013 in Las Vegas, Nevada. By coincidence Bobby Rogers a founding member of Smokey Robinson & the Miracles and a Motown alumnus passed away on March 3, 2013.

Some of the Temptations classics featuring a prominent role for Richard Street were "Superstar (Remember How You Got Where You Are)", "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone" "Masterpiece”, "Hey Girl (I Like Your Style)" and "Heavenly”. Damon Harris contributed heavily to "Superstar (Remember How You Got Where You Are)"  "Take a Look Around", "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone”, "Masterpiece", "Plastic Man" and "Love Woke Me Up This Morning". The two of them would sing together on most of these recordings.

The Temptations are the one and only Fraternity of Soul. Damon Harris and Richard Street have joined the long list of martyrs from the Temptations membership. Their microphones have been silenced, but their legacy lives on.

Damon Harris was a guest of Howard Burchette on The Funk Show in August of 2007. He shared his history with the Temptations, the group Impact and his work in prostate cancer awareness.  

Howard Burchette

Last Updated on Monday, 25 March 2013 12:38
 
Black Byrd: The Story of Dr. Donald Byrd PDF Print E-mail
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Wednesday, 13 February 2013 22:15

It was literally impossible for any HBCU (Historically black colleges and universities) college student of the mid and late 1970's not to know who Donald Byrd was. Our musical diet consisted of the usual Funk stuff of the day, but also the Jazz turned Soul-Jazz and Funk artists like Herbie Hancock, Quincy Jones, the Crusaders, George Benson, Roy Ayers, Harvey Mason, Ramsey Lewis and Donald Byrd. He was popular amongst college students. Perhaps it came from the fact that he spent so much time as a professor in various universities around the country and he knew the likes and dislikes of a young college student especially of the HBCU. Also, the connection might have come from the fact that he had created three to four groups mainly made up of his former students from HBCU’s namely The Blackbyrds. We loved Donald Byrd and he identified with us. Donald Byrd also represented something to a lot of us. He became a bridge between the popular music of the day (R&B, The Funk and Disco) and Jazz. I first saw Donald Byrd perform in 1975 when I was freshman at St. Augustine’s College. He was one of the headliners of a Jazz series located at NC State University that year. The opening act was the Blackbyrds, who also were the rhythm section behind Dr. Byrd.  This had been one of my first live Jazz concert experiences. The other acts in the series were Dizzy Gillespie, Dave Brubeck, and Herbie Mann and I saw all of them.  This had become a part of my foundation of Jazz appreciation. Jazz had been around me all of my life, but this experience had opened the door much wider to it.

I remember in the winter of 1977 a college friend and myself were sitting in RDU airport waiting for our gates to open. It was a long wait and I remember we were just sitting watching people and just discussing what ever world events were happening at that time. You could not help but notice the tall beautiful woman who was dressed in a fur hat, a long fur coat, boots and expensive looking jewelry walking back and forth between the seat where she and her husband were sitting and the airline check-in counter. I remember Jeff and I agreeing that we could not afford a woman like that. We continued sitting and talking and I noticed that the woman’s husband kept looking in my direction. As a matter of fact every time I turned my head he was staring at us. I then said “Jeff, I don’t know if you noticed, but that guy over there keeps staring at us”. He said “Man, I noticed that too and it’s ticking me off! Let’s go say something to him!” Well we started walking over towards the man and I remember thinking what am I going to say to him when I get in front of him. He had his cap pulled down over his eyes. After I got maybe six feet away from him, I said to Jeff “Hey, that’s Donald Byrd!” He said “Yes! You’re right that is Donald Byrd!”  By that time Dr. Byrd saw that we had recognized him and he had a big smile on his face. Both of us in turn also had big grins on our faces as well. He knew that we were college students and he just wanted to have someone to talk to.  He invited us to sit down with them and he asked us where we went to school. He began to tell us about his Jazz career and Blue Note Records. He talked about Howard University and The Blackbyrds. He talked some about North Carolina Central University and asked us if we had heard the new music from N.C.C.U. That was his new group from North Carolina Central University. I immediately responded “absolutely!” Soon it was time for he and his wife to leave and he said “I only have one of these, but here is a cassette of some of my music”. After they left we both looked at each other and said “Man that was Donald Byrd!”

Dr. Donald Byrd was born Donaldson Toussaint L'Ouverture Byrd II in Detroit in 1932. He played in a military band in the Air Force and then joined Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers while working on his masters at Manhattan School of Music. He would replace the great trumpet player Clifford Brown in the group. While still an active member of Blakey’s group, he would also record with other Jazz Legends like Jackie McLean, Horace Silver and others. His first solo recording with his own group resulted in the At the Half Note Café album. He co-led this group with baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams.  BY 1961 he recorded the classic Royal Flush album and then the Free Form album in 1962. He would record about 59 albums initially. Some were on Brunswick, Colombia, Savoy, Prestige and Esquire, but the majority were on Blue Note Records.

In 1969 Donald Byrd ventured in the same direction as Miles Davis and experimented with blending Jazz with other musical elements like Rock and R&B. The album was called Fancy Free which became a Jazz-fusion project. Other albums would follow like Electric Byrd and Ethiopian Knights which were in the Jazz Fusion or more modern Acid Jazz style. These would be the prerequisite to the partnership with Donald Byrd and the Mizell brothers. The first product from this collaboration would the 1973 LP Blackbyrd.  It became a hit and soon would be the blueprint for the new sound that Donald Byrd would be known for. The sound was funkier and also included vocals from Fonce and Larry Mizell. The popular Bluenote album contained two hits like Blackbyrd and Flight Time. The follow-up was Street Lady later on that same year with the same Byrd – Mizell formula. It two was a hit. Donald Byrd was now developing a whole new audience with his new sound of funk elements. The hits from this LP were the title track and Lansana's Priestess. That same year Donald Byrd would use the same formula with the Mizell brothers to produce a group of his former students from Howard University. They would take their name from his 1973 LP Blackbyrd and the debut album by the Blackbyrds was released in 1974. Donald Byrd’s franchise continued to be a success with his solo efforts and his Blackbyrds projects. His newest audience was the college aged students from the mid and late 1970’s.

During this period Donald Byrd would release Stepping Into Tomorrow (1975), Places And Spaces (1975), and Caricatures (1976) all with the Mizell brothers. He would produce the soundtrack to the movie Cornbread, Earl and Me in 1975. However, in 1978 he would record Thank You... For F.U.M.L. (Funking Up My Life) for Electra Records which he produced himself. This was a pure funk album. This would be followed by three more funky albums on Electra under the name Donald Byrd & 125th Street, N.Y.C. Two out of the three were produced by Isaac Hayes.

Donald Byrd like Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock and others, was important because he created new forms of Jazz mixed with Rock, R&B and Funk. He stood out from these other artists because his musical influence continued to live and grow through groups like the Blackbyrds, The Three Pieces, N.C.C.U. and beyond. When you would hear the Blackbyrds, you thought of Donald Byrd. He was Jazz, he was Funk and he was the Blackbyrd.

Howard Burchette

Last Updated on Friday, 22 February 2013 08:58
 
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