I’ve learned so much about the history and culture of my state (NY) and local communities in which I reside (Buffalo NY and Piercefield NY in the Adirondack Mountains) through the traditional music of these places.
Similarly, my interest in local and state history has informed my understanding and appreciation of the music of our forebears. Before mass media came into the home, you got your music as you got your food – from someplace local, mostly. The newspaper, perhaps. Travelling shows, yes. But also from people in your community. Family members, neighbors, coworkers. What did they sing about? And what can those long-forgotten songs tell us about a community? Continue reading
The Heritage Museum of Orange County in Santa Ana, CA provided the stage set for a new music video, “Spirit of 1776,” which the production team calls a “suffragette anthem”, scheduled for release in time for Women’s Equality Day celebrations.
Observed on August 26th each year, the occasion commemorates American women’s campaigns to win the vote from 1848 to 1920. The music video is inspired by an actual suffrage campaign wagon called the “Spirit of 1776” used in New York State as a speakers’ platform and in suffrage parades prior to 1920. Continue reading
On the eve of the opening of the Erie Canal navigation season, acclaimed performer and teaching artist Dave Ruch will present a treasure trove of music and stories from the workers, captains, crews, immigrants, and professional songwriters who plied their trades on upstate New York’s iconic waterway.
This special concert is being presented live in an online format on April 30, 2014 at 7:30 pm eastern daylight time, available around the world to anyone with an internet-connected computer or device. The Erie Canal navigation season opens on May 1, 2014. Continue reading
About 100 years before some New Yorkers were shocked by the sexually-provocative twerk during the 2013 MTV Music Awards show on television, other New Yorkers were shocked by the tango.
After it first appeared in Paris, London, and Berlin from its starting place in Argentina, the tango soon came to New York where it became wildly popular in 1913. The tango’s rhythm has been described as “exciting and provocative” and the dance steps as “hot, passionate and precise.” Women often wore slit skirts when they danced the tango and there was full body contact with their partners, upwards from their upper thighs and pelvis. Routinely, the dancers’ hips were thrust forward and sometimes their legs were intertwined and hooked together. Continue reading
On April 11 at 7 p.m., Gospel Jubilee is coming to Proctors Theatre in Schenectady, NY. Gospel Jubilee is third annual celebration of soulful music, and features national recording artist and BET Sunday Best winner Crystal Aikin, along with a diverse line-up of gospel luminaries. The event will have a special tribute to Artis Kitchen. Kitchen was a gospel promoter and producer in the Capital District who passed away in 1986 and who played a prominent role in Albany for the gospel community.
Kitchen first brought his gospel ministry to a large regional audience with the airing of his “Spiritual Time” radio show on WABY. He later became famous for his television show “Spiritual Time with Bro. Artis Kitchen” on WTEN. Continue reading
I wrote an article about early black musicians in New York State back in December, but I decided to omit Joe Pell from that piece for two reasons. He seemed never to have been a full-time musician (as were the other performers in the article), and, in December, nearly all the information I had on Pell came from his obituary, and obituaries are not always the best place to locate objective, unbiased information about a person.
I have since been able to confirm much of what was written upon his passing, and I present here an annotated obituary of this talented and beloved black performer. My annotations appear within square brackets. Continue reading
The New York Lottery announced a new campaign Monday reminding the public that Lottery provides aid for education across New York State. As part of this program, a new television commercial was created featuring students singing “Thank You For Being A Friend,” written by Andrew Gold and made popular as the theme to the television show “The Golden Girls,” to unsuspecting people who buy Lottery tickets in a convenience store.
The Lottery has also launched a statewide contest to provide students with an opportunity to win $10,000, $5,000 or $2,500 to benefit their school’s music education program. Named “New York Sings” the contest offers students the opportunity to film themselves singing their own interpretation of “Thank You For Being A Friend.” Continue reading
Performer and Teaching Artist Dave Ruch will be doing a special live webcast concert of New York State traditional music at 8pm EST on Wednesday, January 22. Wherever you are in the world, you can tune in.
Ruch specializes in uncovering and performing the music of everyday people from earlier days in New York State – singing woodsmen, African-American fiddlers, War of 1812 soldiers and sailors, square dance musicians, back-porch ballad singers, farmers, canallers, domestics, Iroquois peoples, and more. Continue reading
Following the run of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show at Brooklyn’s Ambrose Park, showman Nate Salsbury, in the 1890s, sought another production to fill the vacant venue. His first thought–for an exhibition on Italian industry–did not get very far because his poor health prevented him from planning it.
Searching for something “purely national and a novelty,” he decided on a show that would provide a “picture of the South,” to be called “Black America.” Salsbury hired Billy McClain, a black entertainer who had already been doing a show called “The South before the War,” to manage the production. Continue reading
Bells ringing from a forest of steeples, horseshoes striking cobblestones, boat whistles in the harbor, Yiddische mamas scolding children from tenement windows. These are instantly recognizable noises that evoke a historical time and place, adding up to what today’s historians sometimes call a “soundscape.”
In today’s cities when the most characteristic sound may be the giant crash of falling brick walls as old buildings are demolished, soundscapes are a precious way of experiencing history outdoors. This heritage is particularly relevant in urban settings where so many layers of the city have gone missing. Continue reading
The film 12 Years a Slave tells the story of Solomon Northup, a free black man who was lured away from Saratoga Springs, New York in 1841, and sold into slavery. Though he played the fiddle (and the men who tricked him into leaving Saratoga told him they wanted him to fiddle for a circus), the film overstates Northup’s status as a musician. Primarily, he earned his money from other work.
In his 1853 autobiography however, Northup wrote that prior to moving to Saratoga he had performed: “Wherever the young people assembled to dance, I was almost invariably there.” He attained some renown in Washington County, since: “Throughout the surrounding villages my fiddle was notorious.” Continue reading
Quietly, a line of singers circled a lone tree on the edge of the Harlem River, in the shadow of the 145th Street Bridge, late Sunday afternoon on September 29. The group swelled in numbers as the shadows lengthened. Hums, moans, soft cries and low tones began to form a chorus of spirit noises as the performance “Saved” got underway. Continue reading
What you see here is one of the most recognizable trademarks ever, a logo that has been used by many companies around the world. The dog in the image is not fictional. His name was Nipper, and a few years after his death, Nipper’s owner sold a modified painting of his dog to a recording company. The rest is history, and part of that history includes a heretofore unknown North Country native.
From humble beginnings, he became famous for his wide-ranging knowledge of recording and his ability to invent. Perhaps most important of all, he traveled the world and was the first person to record the music of a number of countries, saving it for posterity. Continue reading
Nationally acclaimed folk musicians Jay Ungar and Molly Mason along with Kim and Reggie Harris will present a free concert at the Clark Auditorium of the New York State Museum in Albany at 7:00 p.m. this Saturday, September 21st. The concert features Civil War music and highlights a weekend celebration of the Museum’s award-winning exhibition “An Irrepressible Conflict: The Empire State in the Civil War.” Continue reading
They’ll be spinning Adirondack legends in songs and stories, but they’re practically legends themselves. Chris Shaw, Dan Berggren, Bill Smith, and newcomer Alex Smith, will be in Bolton Landing for a free concert in Rogers Park on September 15. Adirondack Legends: a festival of new and traditional Adirondack music and stories, will be presented by the Lake George Mirror.
Adirondack Legends was organized by Chris Shaw, the Lake George native who has made a career of singing Adirondack folk songs and telling Adirondack tales. His repertoire includes some of the region’s earliest songs, and the revived interest in the Adirondack Songbook of Marjorie Lansing Porter is one inspiration for the show, he said. Continue reading
In June 1874, music lovers in Northern New York were excited. For the second time in three years, Blind Tom, the world-renowned black pianist and entertainer and arguably the first black superstar to perform in the U.S., was coming to Malone. For years after the Civil War, he had been wowing audiences throughout the U.S., Great Britain, Canada, continental Europe, and South America with his one-man show which was part vaudeville and part classical piano music.
Tom had many talents including the ability to: play the piano, coronet, French horn and flute; sing and recite speeches of well-known politicians in Greek, Latin, German and French; mimic any music a member of the audience might offer for him to hear; and use his voice to make the sounds of locomotives, bagpipes, banjos and music boxes. While singing one song, he could play a second with his right hand, and a third with the left. Continue reading
On New Year’s Eve the cigar smoke was thick on the sidewalk in front of the famed jazz club, the Lenox Lounge. Men in tuxes and women in clingy gowns stepped out of white stretch limos, three deep on Malcolm X Avenue, a.k.a Lenox Avenue in Harlem, as blue notes popped from the chromed doorway.
A huge bejeweled crowd could be glimpsed dancing and drinking through the wide octogon window. Continue reading
Richard Whitby’s career in music had blossomed, and after years of hard work, he was offered Second Chair Trombone in John Philip Sousa’s band, and First Chair upon the lead trombonist’s imminent retirement. It was a tremendous honor, and highly regarded confirmation of his great talent, but there was a problem: Richard was still under contract to Carl Edouarde, who had no intentions of releasing him from a prominent run at New York’s Palace Theater. Continue reading
Obituaries vary widely in their historical value. Sometimes they’re elaborate; at times they are understated; some leave out important facts; and some, well … some are just hard to explain. Like this one from March 1952: “Richard A. Whitby, a native of Warrensburg, died on Wednesday of last week at his home in Albany. Survivors are his wife, Mrs. Kathryn M. Waring Whitby; two sisters, Mrs. Frank Chapman and Miss Kate Whitby of Yonkers.” Continue reading
The Churubusco Live-In, planned as the 1970 sequel to the historic Woodstock concert of 1969, was in deep trouble. The town of Clinton, which included Churubusco, sought legal help to shut the event down. J. Byron O’Connell, an outstanding trial attorney, was bombastic at times, and his aggressive quotes [if long-haired people came to the village, “they’re just liable to get shot”] appeared in major newspapers in Boston, New York, and elsewhere. As Churubusco’s representative, he sought to derail the concert and preserve the hamlet’s quiet, rural life, while the promoters, Hal Abramson and Raymond Filiberti, fought back. Continue reading