Singer Eva Cassidy was born in Washington, D.C. on February 2, 1963. She began singing at an early age, and eventually garnered attention in her hometown.
Many came to admire her jazz and blues work. But during Cassidy’s lifetime, her fame was largely limited to the DC area. While she was singing, she also worked at Behnke Nursery in Maryland doing greenhouse work between 1981 and 1995. In 1992, she released an album of duets with Chuck Brown, The Other Side. But on November 2, 1996, at the age of 33, Cassidy died from melanoma.
Several months before she died, she released a live album, Live at Blues Alley. The album provided Cassidy with more fans, and it began to receive wider attention after her death. Additional posthumous albums added to Cassidy’s legacy. Artists such as Paul McCartney became fans, and a 2001 Nightline episode about Cassidy became one of the most popular segments ever on the show.
Today, through the wonders of the Internet, many more music fans are familiar with Cassidy’s beautiful voice. Unfortunately, she never knew how much she would be appreciated. But fortunately for us, we have her music, as well as some camcorder video from a performance at Blues Alley in D.C. Check out Eva Cassidy singing Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time.”
What is your favorite Eva Cassidy recording? Leave your two cents in the comments.
Willie Nelson’s upcoming album pays homage to the songwriting brothers George and Ira Gershwin. Summertime: Willie Nelson Sings Gershwin (2016) reminds us that Nelson’s acoustic guitar Trigger and his voice are two of the best friends a music standard can have.
In 1978, Willie Nelson surprised many with his album devoted to the Great American Songbook, Stardust. But nowadays, nobody is really surprised when Nelson ventures outside classic country music in areas such as reggae, jazz, or blues.
On songs such as “Summertime,” Willie Nelson proves he is still one of our great song interpreters with his version of the often-covered “Summertime.” Check out Willie and Trigger on “Summertime” below.
The album features such classics as “I Got Rhythm” and “They Can’t Take That Away From Me.” Below, is his new version of “Someone to Watch Over Me,” which he had previously covered with a different arrangement for Stardust.
A few other singers join Nelson on a couple of the tracks. Cyndi Lauper joins Nelson on a playful “Let’s Call The Whole Thing Off.” And Sheryl Crow helps out on “Embraceable You.” For a limited time, you may listen to songs from the album on NPR.
Singer-songwriter Arthur Conley was born in Georgia on January 4, 1946 and died of cancer on November 17, 2003. Conley is best known for his singing of the wonderful song “Sweet Soul Music.”
Conley helped create the classic recording with Otis Redding, but the song’s creation comes from a history of digressions. Similarly, Conley’s life had its own digressions.
The Singer and Co-Writer
Arthur Conley started off his career as the lead singer of Arthur & the Corvets in 1959, recording three singles with the group in the early 1960s. But he went on his own and eventually had his biggest hit with “Sweet Soul Music” in 1967.
Conley had hit singles in the U.S. through the early 1970s, with some ups and downs in the music industry. In 1975, he moved to Europe, eventually settling in the Netherlands and changing his name, using his middle name and his mother’s maiden name, to Lee Charles.
After his relocation, Conley became a successful entrepreneur and continued to work in the music industry and promote other bands. His moves likely were prompted by discrimination he faced for being gay, and he died in relative obscurity in a small village near the German border.
Still, most people remember him for the great joy he brings to his recording of “Sweet Soul Music.”
The Co-Writer Otis Redding
Conley had some help in writing “Sweet Soul Music.” The great Otis Redding, after hearing Conley’s earlier music, asked Conley to record on his label and the two men later worked on writing “Sweet Soul Music” together.
Conley admired Redding, who mentored Conley in the music business. While name-dropping the great soul singers in the song, Conley insisted they include Redding’s name.
But “Sweet Soul Music” was not created by only Conley and Redding. The two men wrote the song while jamming on the work of another great singer-songwriter, Sam Cooke. Cooke’s song was “Yeah Man,” which had appeared on Cooke’s album Shake when the album was released after Cooke’s death.
I first heard “Yeah Man” years after “Sweet Soul Music” and initially thought Cooke had created a variation on “Sweet Soul Music.” But the truth was the other way around. “Yeah Man” created the foundation for “Sweet Soul Music.”
Listening to “Yeah Man,” one is not surprised that Cooke is listed as a co-author of “Sweet Soul Music” (following a lawsuit by Cooke’s surviving business partner).
The Movie That Inspired the Opening Riff
Our story does not end here, because there is still that great opening riff of “Sweet Soul Music” to discuss. Cooke’s “Yeah Man” was not the only tune that influenced the creation of “Sweet Soul Music.” The opening riff of “Sweet Soul Music” comes from one of the great movie scores, Elmer Bernstein’s score for the Western The Magnificent Seven (1960).
Although like many, I know the movie’s riff by heart, I had never made the connection to “Sweet Soul Music” until reading about it. But after listening to them side-by-side, it now seems obvious. You may hear the riff in this video, set to start where the riff first appears at the 23-second mark.
Other Versions of “Sweet Soul Music”
The lively “Sweet Soul Music” has been performed by a number of great artists. There are wonderful recordings by artists like Sam & Dave, whose song “Hold On, I’m Comin'” is referenced in Conley’s version.
Wilson Pickett, who is mentioned in “Sweet Soul Music” along with his song “Mustang Sally,” also has performed a version of “Sweet Soul Music.” Cyndi Lauper, Ben E. King, and Billy Joel joined forces to perform a version of the song as part of a medley on the Sixth Anniversary Late Night with David Letterman special.
Similarly, Bruce Springsteen has performed the song a number of times in concert. I remember hearing him sing it during the 1980s at a concert in Cleveland during his Tunnel of Love tour. Springsteen made a few lyric changes (as in the July 1988 performance below).
At the time, I knew the original, but knew little about the songwriters or that “Sweet Soul Music” started out from a Sam Cooke song. I just knew it was incredibly fun.
We’re still dancing to one of the greatest songs compiled by a committee of geniuses. Oh yeah, oh yeah.
Photo of Arthur Conley via public domain. What is your favorite version of “Sweet Soul Music”? Leave your two cents in the comments.
Jennifer Nettles, who rose to fame as lead singer of the country band Sugarland, has been touring as a solo artist following the release of her solo debut album That Girl (2014). Recently, while in Melbourne, Florida on her Playing With Fire Tour, Nettles covered Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m On Fire,” a song from his Born in the USA (1984) album.
Check out Nettles performing “I’m On Fire” live. Afterwards, she sang “You Can’t Go Home,” which she had recorded as a duet with Bon Jovi on the country version of the official release.
On August 4, 1904, Helen Clare Schroeder — who became famous as Helen Kane — was born in the Bronx. Kane, who started out as a performer in vaudeville and Broadway, became famous as a singer and in films.
Despite Kane’s successful career, she’s mostly remembered today for two things. Kane introduced the world to the hit song “I Wanna Be Loved by You” in 1928 in Oscar Hammerstein’s show Good Boy. And she inspired the cartoon Betty Boop.
The Betty Boop connection resulted in a lawsuit. Kane sued Paramount Pictures and Boop-animator Max Fleischer for unfair competition and wrongful appropriation.
Fleischer had initially created the character as a dog, but by 1932 when Kane filed the lawsuit, Betty Boop was an animated human. Kane lost the lawsuit because the judge decided she could not show that she had originated the singing style herself. She may have copied the style from African-American performer Baby Esther.
In 1983, Cyndi Lauper reflected Kane’s style in her own cover of “He’s So Unusual” on her album She’s So Unsual. Kane’s hit “I Wanna Be Loved by You” has also been covered, but Kane’s performance remains the definitive version that can only be imitated.
This video’s creator took Kane’s version of “I Wanna Be Loved by You” and added images of both Kane and Betty Boop.
For some pure Betty Boop, here is the 1932 cartoon, “Boop-Oop-A-Doop.”
As for Helen Kane, after the Boop lawsuit, her career went through several ups and downs. Her flapper style lost favor during the Great Depression, but she made several TV appearances in the 1950s and 1960s until she passed away on September 26, 1966 at age 62 in Queens, New York. She’s buried at the Long Island National Cemetery.
Dan Healy, Kane’s third husband who had been married to her for 27 years, was with her when she died. To hear more Helen Kane, head over to the Internet Archive. For more photos of Kane, check out 21st Century Flapper.
As for Betty Boop, her popularity has fluctuated through the years too. But she still appears in various media today and will help keep Helen Kane’s memory alive for a long time to come.