Music Week:Celebrating the Producers and Composers

** Before we continue with music week, I just have to say that I am happy that I am alive to witness the historic events in Denver last night where Barack Obama was nominated to represent the Democratic party for president of the United States.  I am not afraid to admit that I cried.  More thoughts to come next week.  Now back to music week.

It’s one thing to be a great crooner or have a voice from heaven.  Gifts such as these come from The Creator and they are a blessing to us all.  However, having a voice does not mean one can make music that will last a lifetime.  Great music is often the culmination of a divine partnership between songwriter, producer, and artist.  And while the artist name is the one who gets the credit on the record, we must recognize the visionaries who work behind the scenes as well.  Here are some great songwriters, composers and producers we should never forget.

Burt Bacharach: Simply one of the best songwriters of all time.  Somehow he has managed to write songs that are timeless and have been successfully done over and over time and again.  Check out names of some of them:

The Look of Love, Walk On By, Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head, Don’t Make Me Over, A House Is Not A Home, Alfie, Anyone Who Had A Heart, What The World Needs Now Is Love, Do You Know The Way To San Jose… and many more! 

This guy practially made the career of Dionne Warwick.  I don’t know of anyone who has a more classically universal songbook.

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Smokey Robinson :  During the Motown era Smokey Robinson was Motown!  He wrote songs for himself with The Miracles, The Temptations, Diana Ross and the Supremes. Martha and the Vandellas, Gladys Knight and the Pips, you name them.  He was a songwriting fool.  He managed to write successfully long after the 60’s, and is known for a second career of solo projects that included Quiet Storm, perhaps his most popular among night time R&B radio stations.  Smokey Robinson is an American treasure.

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Quincy Jones: Probably my favorite producer/composer of all time.  I would strongly suggest reading his book, “Q” The Autobiography of Quincy Jones.   There you will find that accolades and experiences of this icon who has been nominated for 79 grammy awards and has won 27 of them.  He’s done everyting from Pop, Funk, Soul, Big Band, Jazz, Pop and Swing.  The long list of legends he has worked with include Dizzy, Sinatra, Dinah Washington, Peggy Lee, and Lionel Hampton to name a few.  He’s also done several movie scores for various motion pictures and televison dramas.  He may be best known to the newer generation for his work with Michael Jackson’s, Off The Wall and Thriller.  If you read his book you will find that he’s probably lived on of the most complete lives possible for any person.  Without Q, 20th Century music would not be the same.

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Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis:  More on the modern tip, these guys started with a group called Flyte Time in Minneapolis.  While jamming with the group, “The Time”, they ventured into producing for the likes of The S.O.S. Band.  After a flight was delayed due to bad weather, they showed up late for a concert while on tour with Prince and were fired.  Probably the best thing that ever happend to them because they were able to go into producing full time.  From there they took off producing hits for the likes of, Cherrelle, Alexander O’Neal, Michael Jackson, Usher, The Human League, The Sounds of Blackness and many others.  Their most well known work was with Janet Jackson in her hey day.  Jam and Lewis really know how to tap into an artist core and bring out the best in them.

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Babyface:  To be direct Kenneth Edmonds owned the 90’s with not only his own hits, but with starting strong the careers of Toni Braxton, TLC, and Boyz II Men.  He also wrote and produced the music score for Waiting To Exhale.  I have a friend who is an accomplished bassist in his own right.  He is a frequent concert goer and has seen the very best groups and bands since the 70s.  He swears to this day that a concert Babyface gave two years ago in a small venue was the very best he has ever seen.  Babyface has a way with words and he can be vulerable and sly at the same time.  He says things most artist would never say – and makes it smooth and acceptable.

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Billy Strayhorn: Another old school icon, this guy wrote Lush Life at the age of 16.  Who has that kind of depth at such a tender time in life?  What is that about? He also composed, Take The A Train for Duke Ellington.  As a matter of fact he practially became Ellington’s exclusive composer until the time Strayhorn began to write musicals. 

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Duke Ellington said, Billy Strayhorn … “….Billy Strayhorn was my right arm, my left arm, all the eyes
in the back of my head, my brainwaves in his head, and his in mine.” Quincy Jones called Strayhorn, “The boss of arrangers.”

**Tomorrow- the irony of hip hop, gangster rap, and Hollywood success

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