The heavenly choir gained some new members as we mourn the passing of three musical icons over the past week.
Andre Harrell constructed a Hip-Hop empire upon the foundations of Rhythm and Blues. The Bronx native started off as half of the rap duo Dr. Jeckyll & Mr. Hyde along with his childhood chum Alonzo Brown while toiling at his “day job,” selling advertising space for local radio stations. That was before he secured a position with impresario Russell Simmons.
After founding his own label, Uptown Records, the efforts of Al B. Sure!, Mary J. Blige, Jodeci, Heavy D & The Boyz, the Notorious B.I.G., and new jack swing pioneer Teddy Riley, dominated the late 1980s and 90s charts and Harrell became a bonafide mogul.
One of the first to see the marketing potential of rap, he started the ad agency NuAmerica. In perhaps his biggest coup, he mentored an ambitious intern named Sean Combs before he became evolved into the multi-faceted entrepreneur of Bad Boy Productions.
Andre O’Neal Harrell died from heart related ailments at his West Hollywood home on May 7 at 59.
Singing in the “whistle register” is no easy feat. It requires the ability to produce notes well above the falsetto register, a deed physically impossible for most singers. Beyoncé exhibited this ability on her Grammy winning track “Love on Top.” Other practitioners include Mariah Carey and the late Minnie Riperton.
One of the earliest songstresses to use this in popular soul music was Betty Wright, who died on May 10, at 66 in Miami, the city of her birth, of cancer of the uterus.
Wright was more than just a technical virtuoso. Within her songs she wove complex melodramas. Long before it became fashionable, she established independence by founding her own (successful and still in existence) label, Ms. B Records, in the 1980s.
Growing up with gospel music (the Pentecostal church), she vacillated between the sacred and the profane, her performances and recordings chronicling the intimate interplay between genders that many interpreted as a voice of feminist empowerment, especially for Black womanhood.
Well before Amber Rose articulated the concept of “slut shaming,” Wright waxed upon the double standard of sexual hypocrisy in “Girls Can’t Do What the Guys Do (and still be a lady),” at the tender age of 14. By 1971, the now 17-year-old scored national attention with what became her signature hit “Clean up Woman.”
“Elvis may be the King of Rock and Roll, but I am the Queen.”
—attributed to Little Richard
Another offspring of the Pentecostal church, Macon Ga. native Richard Wayne Penniman, spent his life wavering between the sacred and the profane. Also a seasoned performer by 14—thanks to the mentoring of gospel-rock icon Sister Rosetta Tharpe—he burst upon the charts as “Little Richard,” with 1955’s “Tutti Frutti” (Italian for “All Fruits”). Released with its raucous lyrics revised for mass consumption, it was later covered by Pat Boone (another Pentecostal disciple) to greater financial revenue.
Acknowledging the perversions driving his music, he walked away from stardom to embrace the ministry in 1957, but reverted to his secular urges in the 1960s. This began a pattern of yo-yoing between the denunciation and embrace of these primal impulses that continued until his death on May 9 of bone cancer in Nashville, Tenn. He was 87.