Sad news to pass along this morning. Don Cornelius, the creator and host of Soul Train, was found dead in his California home earlier today. TMZ is reporting that the 75-year-old died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, after struggling with health issues and a messy divorce over the course of the last few years.
His longtime friend, Quincy Jones, just released the following statement to USA Today: “I am shocked and deeply saddened at the sudden passing of my friend, colleague, and business partner Don Cornelius. Don was a visionary pioneer and a giant in our business. Before MTV there was Soul Train, that will be the great legacy of Don Cornelius. His contributions to television, music and our culture as a whole will never be matched. My heart goes out to Don’s family and loved ones.”
Back in 2010, VH1 put a spotlight on Cornelius and the revolutionary program that he created with the VH1 Rock Doc, Soul Train: The Hippest Trip In America. To remember exactly how awesome Soul Train was, take a look at this incredible footage of the Soul Train audience doing a line-dance to “Respect Yourself” by the legendary Staple Singers.
Sad news to pass along. After a long battle with leukemia, it has been announced that the legendary singer Etta James has died at the age of 73. The storied American blues, soul, rhythm and blues, rock and roll, gospel, and jazz singer’s terminal illness was originally diagnosed with leukemia back in 2010, and finally succumbed to the illness with her husband, Artis Mills, and her sons by her side.
Born and raised in Los Angeles, James began formal vocal training at age five, participating in her local Baptist Church’s choir, and by age 14 she had a number one hit in 1955 with her doo-wop band, Peaches, entitled “The Wallflower (Dance With Me, Henry).” James signed to Argo Records in 1960 under which she released her two most lauded albums, At Last! and The Second Time Around. Her two most highly-regarded songs are “At Last,” released in 1961, and “I’d Rather Go Blind,” released in 1968.
Over her illustrious career, James released 30 albums and 58 singles, despite battling a heroin addiction in the 1960s and ’70s. James won six Grammys and 17 Blues Music Awards, and was ranked by Rolling Stone magazine as #22 on the 100 Greatest Singers Of All Time list and #62 on their 100 Greatest Artists list. James was inducted into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame in 1993, the Blues Hall of Fame in 2001, and the Grammy Hall of Fame in both 1999 and 2008.
Her timeless work has been noted as a primary influence by artists like Adele, Kanye West (who sampled her take on “My Funny Valentine” for his song “Addiction”) and Beyoncé, who portrayed James in the 2008 film Cadillac Records. Beyoncé even performed “At Last” during the inauguration ceremony for President Barack Obama in 2009. Even today, her voice is all over pop radio: Her vocals from the song “Something’s Got a Hold on Me” have been sampled by both Avicii (“Levels”) and Flo Rida (“Good Feeling”) for the choruses of their wildly popular songs.
Etta James was truly a music legend, and will be remembered and revered always for her soul shaking vocals and talent as singer, performer and songwriter.
Heavy D, pictured at right (alongside Sandy "Pepa" Denton and Flavor Flav), passed away today at the age of 44.
Sad news to pass along. TMZ is reporting that rapper/actor Dwight “Heavy D” Arrington died earlier this afternoon after collapsing outside his Beverly Hills home. He was 44 years old.
“The Overweight Lover Heavy D” rose to prominence as the frontman of Heavy D & The Boyz in the late 80s after being signed to Uptown Records, which was perhaps the preeminent practitioner of the New Jack Swing sound that dominated that era. The group released Livin Large to some fanfare in 1987, but the group really saw their exposure grow when they were tapped to write the theme song to the hit show In Living Color in 1990. Shortly thereafter, Heavy D experienced his greatest commercial success with his 1991 cover of “Now That We Found Love,” which ended up spending 15 weeks in the Billboard Top 40 in the summer of 1991, peaking at #11.
The cause of Heavy D’s death has yet to be revealed. We’d like to extend our condolences to Heavy D’s family and friends during this extremely difficult time.
Last night, eulogies for Steve Jobs flooded all sorts of social media platforms (in many cases powered, as was often observed, by devices Jobs himself spearheaded). These goodbye wishes were frequently interspersed with Occupy Wall Street updates, with no sense of inherent irony. That sort of contradiction is part of what makes Steve Jobs unique and much-loved. Jobs is a quintessential American in the old style—a modernist entrepreneur in a post-modern era. Popular opinion may have turned against those who turn money into more money, but Americans will always love those whose fortune is made in production.
The legacy of Steve Jobs since his return to Apple in 1996 has been as the most influential music-industry executive, despite not working in the music industry. To an extent, Jobs’s eulogies were already written in August when he resigned from his post at Apple. For our part, we keep returning to Kelefa Sanneh’sNew Yorker profile. With the rise of high-speed internet and digital music, the music industry was in a panic, having lost control of all but the earliest stages of music distribution. The innovation of the iPod was to adapt a music-playback device to the internet era, and use that as a springboard into the music-distribution business. Apple gave the music industry a shot in the arm, and yet a decade later, it’s still not clear to what extent that industry will recover. The tech industry, on the other hand, is still booming.
The world lost a truly creative and brilliant mind yesterday when it was announced that Apple, Inc. co-founderSteve Jobs died at the age of 56. Though Jobs was not a traditional celebrity, he certainly had an impact on the lives of nearly everyone in recent years, and few people have not been changed by his creations and what he brought us. As a tribute, we wanted to share what some of our VH1 talent has been saying since the news of his passing was announced. R.I.P. Steve.
And finally, Bret Michaels wrote a lengthier, moving statement on his MySpace page: First I must express my deepest condolences to Steve’s wife Laurene, his family and friends. He showed great strength and perseverance through his illness and continued to be an innovator all the while remaining positive while fighting his battle with cancer. I can only thank Steve for his innovation, inspiration and creativity while touching all of our lives in some way shape or form. Again my condolences. He will be missed.
[Photo: Getty Images]
At last month’s 2011 Video Music Awards, Tony Bennett introduced Bruno Mars‘ outstanding tribute to Winehouse by sharing a short clip of himself and Winehouse in the studio cutting a cover of the jazz standard “Body And Soul.” As of now, it’s one of the last pieces of recorded music that Winehouse contributed to before her tragic and untimely passing, although if the rumors hold up, there may be more Winehouse cuts on the way someday soon.
Aside from being a very pleasant rendition of the song, the thing that strikes us the most about this video is seeing Amy Winehouse in the habitat where she always felt the most comfortable — the studio. Most of the memories that we have of the last few years of her life are paparazzi shots of her strung out on the streets of London, wasting away before our very eyes. This video, in which Winehouse looks both healthy and happy, stands in stark contrast those tabloid images. Sure, she appears a bit fidgety at times, but we attribute that behavior not to drugs, but rather to her uniquely personal method of channeling the ghosts of great jazz singers past, like Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holliday (both of whom not-so-coincidentally recorded versions of “Body And Soul”). We’ll also admit it breaks our heart more than a little bit to watch the way that she coyly batted her mascara-laden eyelashes at the inimitable Bennett, knowing that we’ll never get to see her do that again.
Aaliyah’s mystique was transcendental even before she tragically passed ten years ago today, so it’s not surprising that the impression she left and music she made continues to cause a rippling impact on music culture. For fans, her music was the backdrop to their lives, scoring everything from fun-filled rooftop dance parties to the moments when boots were knocked. Her peers in the music industry held her in the highest of regards, and those close to her have, for years, commented on her spirit’s ability to penetrate and inspire.
Having never met R&B’s trail-blazing beauty, Young Money’s Draketweeted to Aaliyah just last night, nodding at his belief that she is, like an angel, actively guiding him through his career. But Drake is certainly not alone in sending messages out into the ether to celebrate the late singer; in an era where grieving is often done in a public forum, we’re lucky to be privy to a layer of digital mourning that, before social media, we may not have experienced. We’ll be adding to this post throughout the day, so take a look at the tweets and iconic photos below from the likes of close collaborators like Timbaland, Missy Elliott, Busta Rhymes, and more. And please, by all means, feel free to share your memories and tweets of Aaliyah with us in the comments as well.
Ten years ago today, the life of pioneering R&B singer (and budding movie star) Aaliyah was cut tragically short when the Cessna 402B carrying her and eight others, including the pilot, crashed 200 feet beyond the runway in the Bahamas. Her talent is such that she is not an artist we look back on in our memories, but one whose music and influence have remained very much a part of our lives in the decade following her untimely passing. Even so, such a milestone calls for a more focused remembrance. Here at VH1 HQ, we’ve already revisited The Fader‘s reposted 2008 cover story tribute (and are rocking its attendant mixes) and for our money the best of today’s tributes comes courtesy Julianne Escobedo Shepherd, remembering Aaliyah at Life + Times:
We?d already been through the years of Janet [Jackson] and of SWV, who brought elements of hip-hop culture to R&B, but Aaliyah was the first to fuse R&B cool fully to hip-hop swagger, just in time for rap to take over the world. She transformed Tommy baggies and boxers into a look so feminine it was almost preternatural, and when she sang about desire, it was so knowing you knew she was one-upping her subject.
The 2011 VMAs are airing live from Los Angeles on Sunday night, and the latest addition to the evening’s already-stellar lineup is Tony Bennett. The 85 year-old (!) will captain what’s sure to be an emotional tribute to recently-deceased singer Amy Winehouse. Introducing a slew of performers who are currently being kept confidential by the folks in MTV’s ivory tower, we’re excited to see that Bennett, who had recently collaborated with Winehouse on a duet due this fall, “Body and Soul,” will make an appearance on the notoriously youthful VMA stage. While the majority of the MTV audience’s demographic was not yet even a twinkle in their parents’ eyes when Bennett took home his first Grammy in 1963, this certainly isn’t the first time an elder statesman has been booked on MTV’s annual celebration of the year’s best music videos. Want to see what we mean? Check out our list of the Top 5 Oldest People To Appear On-Camera at The VMAS!
5) George Clinton, 52 Years-Old (1993): George Clinton presented the Best R&B Video award alongside West Coasters Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre in ’93. Then 52 years-old, the funk innovator and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee must have been pretty psyched to hand Moonmen over to the lovely ladies of En Vogue. And the Funky Divas were most likely equally as pleased!
3) Diana Ross, 55 Years-Old (1999): Who could forget the jiggle heard ’round the world? When Mary J. Blige accompanied Lil’ Kim, Lil’ Kim’s breast, and Motown sensation Diana Ross to present the award for Best Hip-Hop in ’99, all hell broke loose! The then-55-year-old Rosstook it upon herself to, on live television, cup and jiggle Kim’s pasty-covered, partially-exposed boobie.
We’d only just begun to mourn the loss of songwriter Jerry Leiber when we got word that Nickolas Ashford, half of the songwriting and performing duo Ashford & Simpson, had also passed away at 70 after a battle with throat cancer. If Leiber and Stoller soundtracked the R&B of the pre-Beatles era, Ashford & Simpson were, alongside Holland/Dozier/Holland, their spiritual successors. Nick Ashford had a hand in writing “You’re All I Need To Get By” and many more Motown hits, not just for Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell but also a slew of other artists, notably Diana Ross. With Ashford & Simpson producing, Ross scored a number of solo hits with both older Ashford & Simpson compositions like “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” and new ones like “Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand).”
Even as they wrote and produced hit after hit for Motown, they notoriously butted heads with its founder, Berry Gordy, insisting on retaining the rights to their compositions and productions. Their often-bitter struggle paved the way for songwriters of all stripes to protect their intellectual property.
All of this is not to mention the duo’s illustrious career as a performing duo, scoring R&B hits throughout the 1970s and 1980s, crossing over to the pop charts most successfully with “Solid” in 1984. They have continued to perform and record together. Above, watch the duo perform “Gimme Something Real” in New York City in 2006. Read more…