Marcus Shelby is a perennial Bay Area jazz favorite who’s compositions explore the African American experience. Shelby finds deeper meaning for his work sharing the music he loves and its history with young people in schools and juvenile halls. Learn more about Marcus Shelby.
In a new book, “Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs,” Johann Hari writes how Billie Holiday was targeted by the Federal Bureau of Narcotics after she refused to be silent about racism:
One night, in 1939, Billie Holiday stood on stage in New York City and sang a song that was unlike anything anyone had heard before. ‘Strange Fruit’ was a musical lament against lynching. It imagined black bodies hanging from trees as a dark fruit native to the South. Here was a black woman, before a mixed audience, grieving for the racist murders in the United States. Immediately after, Billie Holiday received her first threat from the Federal Bureau of Narcotics.
Harry had heard whispers that she was using heroin, and—after she flatly refused to be silent about racism—he assigned an agent named Jimmy Fletcher to track her every move. Harry hated to hire black agents, but if he sent white guys into Harlem and Baltimore, they stood out straight away. Jimmy Fletcher was the answer. His job was to bust his own people, but Anslinger was insistent that no black man in his Bureau could ever become a white man’s boss. Jimmy was allowed through the door at the Bureau, but never up the stairs. He was and would remain an “archive man”—a street agent whose job was to figure out who was selling, who was supplying and who should be busted. He would carry large amounts of drugs with him, and he was allowed to deal drugs himself so he could gain the confidence of the people he was secretly plotting to arrest.
Established in 1986, the Walk of Fame is the creation of the Philadelphia Music Alliance, a community-based organization dedicated to the preservation and promotion of Philadelphia’s rich musical legacy, supporting the current music scene and mentoring the next generation of music makers.
One of the finest R&B vocal groups of the ’50s, Lee Andrews & the Hearts specialized in smooth ballads and were influenced by similar vocal acts like the Moonglows, the Orioles, the Drifters, the 5 Royales, the Five Keys, the Midnighters, and the Ravens, while lead vocalist Lee Andrews’ influences were mostly solo artists like Bing Crosby, Frankie Laine, Frank Sinatra, and especially Nat King Cole. These two key influences — a harmonizing four-part vocal base with a strong but tender tenor voice leading the way — was the foundation of the Hearts’ hard-to-beat sound.
The daughter of a preacher, Pearl Bailey began singing at the age of three (her brother, Bill Bailey, also taught her a few dance steps). She was performing professionally by her early teenage years and after touring as a dancer for several years, she featured both as a singer and dancer with jazz bands led by Noble Sissle, Cootie Williams and Edgar Hayes. She began performing as a solo act in 1944, and wooed nightclub audiences with her relaxed stage presence and humorous asides. After briefly replacing Sister Rosetta Tharpe in Cab Calloway’s Orchestra during the mid-’40s, she debuted on Broadway during 1946 in the musical St. Louis Woman. Bailey earned an award for most promising newcomer, and made her first film, Variety Girl, in 1947.
In tandem with the visionary production team of Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, arranger and producer Thom Bell was among the principal architects of the lush and seductive Philly soul sound, one of the most popular and influential musical developments of the 1970s. Born in Philadelphia in 1941, Bell studied classical piano as a youth; he joined Gamble’s harmony group the Romeos in 1959, and by the age of 19 was working as a conductor and arranger for hometown hero Chubby Checker. Within months he began writing original material for Checker as well, eventually joining the singer’s production company. When Checker’s organization folded, Bell signed on as a session pianist with Cameo Records, where he first worked with the local soul group the Delfonics. When their manager Stan Watson formed the Philly Groove label in 1968, Bell came aboard as a producer, helming Delfonics classics like 1968’s “La La Means I Love You” and 1970’s “Didn’t I Blow Your Mind This Time.”
Tenor saxophonist and composer Michael Brecker is a multiple Grammy winner, and the first to win both the “Best Jazz Instrumental Performance” and “Best Jazz Instrumental Solo” awards two years in a row. As a result of his stylistic and harmonic innovations, Michael is among the most studied instrumentalists in music schools throughout the world today.
Born into a musical household in 1949 in Philadelphia, Michael’s father had played records by Dave Brubeck and Clifford Brown for his sons and took Michael and his older brother Randy to see Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk and Duke Ellington. While Randy took up trumpet, Michael launched his studies on clarinet and alto sax. When moved by the genius of John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins, among others, Michael switched to tenor in high school. After studying, as did his brother, at the University of Indiana, he moved to New York City, landing work with several bands before co-founding the pioneering jazz-rock group Dreams in 1970.