From la gogue,
From la gogue,
One Sunday, a pastor invited his granddaughter up to the pulpit to sing for the congregation. When he saw the six-year-old child was nervous, he whispered, “If you can think it, you can do it.” The child stepped onto the stack of books her grandfather had placed for her. She looked at the people in the pews, closed her eyes, and sang the hymn “Jesus Loves Me.” Dionne Warwick (born Marie Dionne Warrick) gave her first public performance in 1946 at St. Luke’s AME Church in Newark, New Jersey.
Dionne Warrick grew up steeped in the tradition of gospel music. Sacred song surrounded her at church and at home. Her mother was a founding member of a gospel group called the Drinkard Singers. The group sang regularly at Hope Baptist Church in Newark and recorded on the Chess, Savoy, and Verve labels. The group backed up Mahalia Jackson at a 1951 concert at Carnegie Hall and in 1957 was featured at the Newport Jazz Festival’s first gospel program. As a child, Dionne sang in the New Hope Baptist Church choir, along with her sister Dee Dee and her aunt, Cissy Houston, mother of Whitney. Gospel music was the family’s ministry.
Dionne was fourteen years old when she and her sister, along with friends Myrna Utley and Carol Slade, formed their own group called the Gospelaires, performing at churches and gospel caravans in and around New Jersey. When they’d gained enough experience, and mustered the confidence, the group crossed the Hudson and entered the amateur night contest at Harlem’s legendary Apollo Theatre. Amateur Night at the Apollo launched the careers of hundreds of singers, including Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, James Brown, and Sarah Vaughn. When the contest ended that night, the Apollo added another name to its list of Amateur Night winners: the Gospelaires.
A representative from Savoy Records in Newark came backstage and asked if any of the contestants thought they could sing back-up at an upcoming recording session. Without skipping a beat, Dionne piped up and said her group could do it. After the Savoy recording session, the Gospelaires became the go-to female backup group in New York City, lending their voices to recordings by the Shirelles, Ray Charles, Bobby Darin, Dinah Washington, Ben E. King, Chuck Jackson, and Solomon Burke, among others.
In the summer of 1961, the Gospelaires landed a gig backing up the Drifters on the recording of “Mexican Divorce,” by Brill Building songwriters Burt Bacharach and Bob Hilliard. That’s when Dionne’s distinctive voice caught the composer’s attention. Bacharach asked if she’d like to record some demos for songs he was writing with a lyricist named Hal David. One of the songs Dionne recorded was “It’s Love That Really Counts.” Burt pitched the song to Florence Greenberg, owner of Scepter Records, as a record for the Shirelles. He played the demo for her, and Greenberg's reaction wasn’t what he expected. “Forget the song,” she told him. “Get the girl singer!”
Dionne signed with Burt and Hal, and around the same time signed a contract with Florence Greenberg, with the understanding she could record only on weekends. During the week, she was working on her degree in music education at the Hartt School of the University of Hartford.
Now that Dionne was under contract, there was the matter of when to release her debut single and what song it should be. Among the demos she'd recorded for Bacharach and David was a song called “Make It Easy on Yourself.” Dionne fell in love with it and hoped it would be her debut recording. Burt and Hal agreed.
Weeks later, while driving home from Connecticut, Dionne turned on the radio and was devastated by what she heard. It was the voice of Jerry Butler. The song was “Make It Easy on Yourself,” the song Burt and Hal had promised her.
Dionne confronted the writers at their office in the Brill Building and had it out with them. After all the demos she’d done for them, she felt used and exploited. Burt and Hal tried to explain that placing the song with Jerry Butler was Florence Greenberg's decision, and not theirs. Greenberg didn’t think Dionne’s voice was right for the song. Burt and Hal promised to write another song for Dionne, a song just as good as “Make It Easy on Yourself.” But Dionne wasn’t buying what the guys were selling. “Don’t make me over, man!” she shouted, meaning don’t lie to me, and stormed out of the office.
Hal was stunned when the twenty-two-year-old singer walked out the door, but he was thrilled by the parting gift Dionne had left him: the title of the new song he and Burt would write for her.
“Don’t Make Me Over” was released October 1962, and though it's hard to believe, it wasn’t the A-side of the single. Florence Greenberg never liked the song and tried to bury it on the B-side of “I Smiled Yesterday.” But she couldn’t hide the song from deejays, who flipped over the record and gave “Don’t Make Me Over” the air time it needed. The record climbed to #21 on the U.S. Billboard Hot 100 chart.
And, yes, Dionne Warrick’s last name was spelled Warwick now. Either Scepter Records, or a typesetter, misspelled her name on the record, and when Scepter failed to correct it on the second printing, Dionne decided to stay with Warwick.
“Don’t Make Me Over” was the first of fifty-six Warwick singles to make the Billboard Hot 100 chart, including thirty-nine hits written by Bacharach and David, such as “Anyone Who Had a Heart,” “Walk on By,” and “I Say a Little Prayer.” Dionne Warwick sang the songs with ease and honesty, as she continues to do today, never taking the listener out of the song by drawing attention to herself with vocal tricks.
“Don’t Make Me Over” put Dionne Warwick on the road to stardom and launched the most successful singer and songwriting team in pop music history: Warwick, Bacharach, and David.
On July 10, 1962, NASA blasted a Thor-Delta rocket into the space from Cape Canaveral, Florida. Sitting on top was Telstar, a 174-pound communications satellite developed by AT&T. Telstar looked like a large metallic beach ball, covered with transistors and solar panels, but that beach ball changed the life of earthlings.
Two days after Telstar was launched into orbit, a satellite station in the mountains of Andover, Maine, beamed a signal to outer space. Telstar picked up the signal and relayed it back to earth. A satellite station on the coast of Brittany, France, received the signal, and on its monitors appeared the United States flag waving outside the station in Maine. The team in France witnessed the first transatlantic television signal in history.
From there Telstar went public, relaying over 600 television, telephone, and telegraph signals between North America and Europe during its operational life. Telstar led the way to global communication and the twenty-four-hour news cycle, but don’t hold that against it. Telstar was one of the wonders of the Space Age and captured people’s imaginations worldwide.
It certainly captured the imagination of Joe Meek, the English songwriter, engineer, and record producer, who also happened to be a genius. In a makeshift studio in his apartment above a leather shop in north London, he wrote “Telstar,” an instrumental he recorded with the Tornadoes. As part of the song, Joe wanted to include the sound of a rocket blasting off into space. But how? Remember, this was ages before the internet. He didn't have the luxury of downloading a sound effect with the click of a mouse. But Joe Meek was known for innovation.
He found the sound he wanted in his apartment, in the loo. The toilet, of course! He recorded the sound of the flushing toilet, then passed the tape backwards and forwards through his equipment at different speeds. And, by George, he did it! He created the roar of a rocket launch.
“Telstar” shot to number one on the UK and U.S. charts in 1962, selling approximately five million records worldwide. Joe Meek and the Tornadoes were the advance guard of the British Invasion. "Telstar" was the first record by a Britsh group to reach #1 on the U.S. charts. That wouldn't happen again until 1964, when the Beatles released "I Want to Hold Your Hand." Even today, in the twenty-first century, Joe Meek's recording sounds as cool and space-agey as ever.
Telstar, the satellite, is long out of service, but still orbiting the earth. You can see it occasionally with a pair of binoculars. Some night when the stars are out, look up and give it a wave.
A retired NYPD lieutenant named Ralph Sagasse ran a gay bar at 128 West 45th Street, just off Time Square. The Peppermint Lounge was little more than a hole in the wall until a new dance called the Twist swept America, thanks to Chubby Checker and his 1960 blockbuster hit. The dance eventually rotated around Mr. Sagasse’s bar. One night in 1961, according to Peppermint lore, Merle Oberon and Prince Serge Oblensky walked into the joint and partied to the music of Joey Dee and the Starlighters. What happened next is straight out of an old Warner Brothers movie.
Columnists Earl Wilson and Cholly Knickerbocker reported the Hollywood star and Russian royal were seen slumming at a dive bar in midtown. Café Society had discovered the Peppermint Lounge and pandemonium followed. Police needed barricades and patrolmen on horseback to control the crowds trying to get into the hottest spot in town.
No one was prepared for the sudden turn of events; not Ralph Sagasse; not Joey Dee and the Starlighters, whose weekend gig turned into a thirteen-month run; and not the goodfellas running rackets out of the backroom. Joey Dee and the Starlighters's recording of "The Peppermint Twist" became a hit and made the bar internationally famous: "Meet me, baby, down at 45th Street/Where the Peppermint twisters meet."
Who came to the Peppermint Lounge? Just about everyone it seemed, including Frank Sinatra, Audrey Hepburn, Norman Mailer, Noel Coward, Tennessee Williams, Marilyn Monroe, Truman Capote, and John Wayne, of all people, among other celebrities. The Beatles came, and so did the Rolling Stones, and Liberace. Even Greta Garbo showed up. She didn’t do the Twist, but she reportedly snapped her fingers. The Jet Set mingled on the dance floor with teenagers from Jersey and twisted the night away.
By 1965, the Twist was on the wane, making way for new dances such as the Watusi and the Frug. The Jet Set moved on to the Upper East Side and Sybil Burton’s posh new discotheque called Arthur. The Peppermint Lounge closed its doors in December ’65, not for lack of customers, but for lack of a liquor license.
Ralph Sagesse and the guys in the backroom had a good thing going. But the bar’s sudden fame piqued the curiosity of the New York State Liquor Authority, which discovered Ralph wasn't the bar’s real owner. Mr. Sagesse was a front man for a member of the Genovese crime family who actually owned the joint. The Liquor Authority pulled the bar's license, and the Peppermint party was over.
If you were at the shore that summer, you couldn't miss it, "The Girl from Ipanema" drifting from transistor radios on the beach. The seductive voice of Astrud Gilberto, backed by Stan Getz's cool sax, made it the summer song of '64.
With music by Antonio Carlos Jobim, lyrics by Vinicius de Moraes, and English lyrics by Norman Gimbel, "The Girl from Ipanema" tells the story of a young woman who "walks like a samba to the sea," as she passes a young man on the beach. He would "give his heart gladly," but she doesn't know he exists. The song became an international hit, peaking in the U.S. at #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and helped popularize bossa nova, the new sound of Brazil.
Two summers earlier, Jobim and de Moraes were writing songs for a movie called Blimp, a comedy about a Martian who lands on earth, smack in the middle of Carnival in Rio. The Martian sees a female earthling passing by, breathtaking in her bikini, and marvels at her beauty. Cue music: "The Girl Who Passes By."
The song was almost finished. All it needed were two more verses, but Jobim and de Moraes had run out of steam. So they headed to their favorite bar to refuel. Veloso Bar was a block from Ipanema beach and ran along Rue Montenegro. From where they sat, Jobim and de Moraes had a view of the street and the people passing by. One of the people passing by was Heloisa Pinto, who'd often walk by the bar in her bikini.
She was seventeen years old and a regular at the beach. Jobim and de Moraes had seen her a number of times before and admired her beauty. But on this day, they saw something else: the inspiration they needed to finish the song. With some lyric rewrites and musical adjustments, "The Girl Who Passes By" became "The Girl from Ipanema." Jobim and de Moraes caught lightning in a bottle that day, and, according to legend, wrote the song on cocktail napkins.
After releasing the song in Brazil, Jobim flew to New York City in March 1963 to work on an album with his friend Joao Gilberto, the guitarist, and Stan Getz. The album was titled Getz/Gilberto. Joao Gilberto planned to sing the Portugese lyrics to "The Girl from Ipanema," but he needed someone to sing the lyrics in English. Joao had the perfect singer in mind: Astrud, his wife, only she didn't know it. He wanted it to be a surprise and sprang the idea on her in the recording studio. He knew what Astrud's quiet voice would bring to a song about unattainable love. Plus, she was fluent in English. Astrud, who was twenty-four years old, had sung informally for a few years, with Joao, Jobim, and other musicians when they got together. The recording of "The Girl from Ipanema" would be her first professional gig.
But the album hit a roadblock when Creed Taylor, the producer, had second thoughts. He worried a bossa nova album would be a commercial flop, given the shifting taste in popular music. The Beatles and the British Invasion were looming on the horizon. He put Getz/Gilbeto into deep freeze for over a year. The album was finally released in March 1964, along with Astrud Gilberto's single of "The Girl from Ipanema," with English lyrics. Happy surprise, the song rocketed to the top of the charts.
Getz/Gilberto, released on Verve Records, became the first jazz album to win the Grammy Award for Best Album of the Year. It's now considered a jazz classic and one of the bestselling jazz albums of all time. The single sold more than two million copies and won the Grammy for Record of the Year. Astrud Gilberto earned Grammy nominations for Best Vocal Performance, Female, and Best New Artist of 1964. By some accounts, "The Girl from Ipanema" is the second-most recorded pop song, after the Beatles' "Yesterday." More than fifty years on, the song has become a timeless classic of summer love and longing. Not too shabby for a tune orginally written for a Martian. But wait . . .
Can you feel the cool ocean breeze? Can you hear the crash of waves breaking on the shore? If you fall under the spell of Astrud Gilberto and Stan Getz, blame it on the bossa nova.