ALBERTINA WALKER, SOULFUL GOSPEL SINGER
By WILLIAM GRIMES
Published: October 8, 2010
Albertina Walker, a gospel singer with a lush contralto voice whose group, the Caravans, recorded a string of hits in the 1950s and 1960s and nourished the careers of such greats as the Rev. James Cleveland, Inez Andrews and Pastor Shirley Caesar, died on Friday in Chicago. She was 81.
Doug Mills/Associated Press
Albertina Walker at the White House in 2002.
The cause was respiratory failure, her friend Pam Morris told The Associated Press.
Early on, Ms. Walker was a standout even in Chicago’s teeming, competitive gospel scene, and she became a protégé of Mahalia Jackson. With her good friend James Cleveland at the piano, she spent many evenings singing and socializing at Jackson’s house, listening to critical advice.
“I had seen Roberta Martin and Mahalia Jackson,” she told The Washington Post in 1998. “I wanted to stand up before audiences and deliver the message, win souls for Christ. I wanted to touch dying men and slipping women.”
After touring with the Willie Webb Singers, with whom she recorded her first single, “He’ll Be There,” she joined Robert Anderson and His Gospel Caravan. With the other three singers backing up Anderson — Elyse Yancey, Nellie Grace Daniels and Ora Lee Hopkins Samson Walker — she formed the Caravans in 1951.
“Anderson had an unusual, but pleasing, style of singing behind the beat, which Albertina picked up,” said Anthony Heilbut, the author of “The Gospel Sound: Good News and Hard Times” (1971). “You could think of her as his female counterpart.”
The Caravans’ first big hit, “Mary Don’t You Weep,” helped make them the most popular gospel group in the United States, with hits like “I Won’t Be Back,” “(I Know) The Lord Will Provide,” “Show Me Some Sign,” “Sweeping Through the City,” “No Coward Soldier,” “Tell Him What You Want” and Ms. Walker’s great signature song, “Lord Keep Me Day by Day.”
They became known not only for hit songs but also for incubating future stars like Delores Washington, Cassietta George and Dorothy Norwood. Beginning in the 1970s Ms. Walker performed as a soloist with a variety of church choirs as her backup. Her first solo venture, “Put a Little Love in Your Heart,” released in 1975, was followed by more than 50 albums, including “I Can Go to God in Prayer” and “Joy Will Come.”
“Songs of the Church: Live in Memphis” won a Grammy Award in 1995 for the Best Traditional Soul Gospel Album, and in 2001 she was inducted into the Gospel Music Hall of Fame. President GeorgeW. Bush honored Ms. Walker for her contribution to gospel music in a White House ceremony in 2002.
Albertina Walker, known as Tina, was born on Aug. 29, 1929, on the South Side of Chicago, where she lived her entire life. She was the youngest of nine children. At the age of four she was singing with the youth choir of the West Point Baptist Church, under the direction of Pete Williams, and before long was performing with the Williams Singers. By 17, she was singing with Anderson.
Anderson, although blessed with a top-quality voice himself — he played king to Mahalia Jackson’s queen — made a practice of sharing the spotlight with his best singers, Ms. Walker chief among them. She followed his example as leader of the Caravans, stepping aside and letting her top performers shine.
In the early years, singers came and went. All the original members except Ms. Walker left the Caravans within a few years after it was founded. The early recordings, on the States label, featured tight harmonies and a sweet sound. Bil Carpenter, in “Uncloudy Days: The Gospel Music Encyclopedia,” notes that with the arrival of Bessie Griffin in 1953, the sound became much more dynamic — rhythmically precise with a sharp attack and earthy harmonies.
Although popular, the group struggled in the years before “Mary Don’t You Weep,” touring churches all over the United States but earning relatively little money. “We would put five to six dollars in the gas tank, drive all the way to New York or Mississippi,” Ms. Walker told N’Digo magazine in 2009. “We would pack into one car, nobody had a problem with it either. We would probably make $150 singing, but we would share our rewards and the money would pay a lot of bills back then.”
Ms. Walker can be heard in her prime on the album “The Best of the Caravans” (Savoy), and on the CD and DVD compilation “How Sweet It Was: The Sights and Sounds of Gospel’s Golden Age” (Shanachie), which includes the previously unreleased Caravans song “The Angels Keep Watching Over Me.”
With the arrival of a new crop of young singers — Ms. Andrews, Ms. Washington, Ms. Norwood and Ms. Caesar — that Ms. Walker allowed free rein, the Caravans embarked on a hot streak that continued until 1966, when Ms. Caesar and Ms. Anderson left the group. Ms. Walker kept the Caravans going for a time, bringing in the future disco star Loleatta Holloway, but in the 1970s struck out on her own.
Her later hits included “Please Be Patient With Me,” with Reverend Cleveland, and the poignant anthem “I’m Still Here.” “The Lord went all out with this song,” Ms. Walker told N’Digo. “I must say, I’m still here, and believe me when I say it, it’s been a wonderful life serving the Lord and His people through song.”
JOHNNY EDGECOMBE, PROFUMO SCANDAL FIGURE
By DOUGLAS MARTIN
Published: October 9, 2010
Around lunchtime on Dec. 14, 1962, Johnny Edgecombe, a small-time hustler and jazz promoter angry at being jilted, fired six or seven shots at the London apartment where Christine Keeler, his former girlfriend and a sometime prostitute, was staying.
The shots led to his arrest and brief reports in the London newspapers, but no one could have anticipated their ultimate repercussions: a series of revelations that would help bring down a British government.
After the shooting, Ms. Keeler sought advice from some powerful friends, some of them her clients.
She was known to be talkative and boastful, and in the course of her conversations she spoke of her sexual escapades with a top minister in the British cabinet and a Soviet spy suspect, relating one episode of nude swimming on a royal estate. The stories began to leak out.
More details emerged in Mr. Edgecombe’s trial, and Ms. Keeler, who was 21, sold her story to the tabloid press, which ran pictures of her nearly nude. Questions were asked in the House of Commons. Government officials feared a security breach in the midst of the cold war. Journalists who had heard rumors of the sexual intrigue now produced front-page headlines. What was called the Scandal of the Century had seized much of the world’s imagination.
The biggest casualty was the government minister, John Profumo, the secretary of state for war. Mr. Profumo, the 48-year-old husband of a glamorous movie star, Valerie Hobson, was considered a possible future prime minister. Perhaps most intriguing was the case of the spy suspect, Cmdr. Eugene Ivanov, the assistant naval attaché at the Soviet Embassy in London; he vanished soon after the scandal broke.
Seven months after the shooting incident, Mr. Profumo resigned, admitting he had lied to Parliament about his relationship with Ms. Keeler. The Conservative Party government led by Harold Macmillan later fell. Espionage was never publicly proved.
Mr. Edgecombe, the unwitting catalyst, was acquitted of attempted-murder charges but was convicted of carrying a gun with intent to endanger life. He was sentenced to seven years in prison and served five.
The case brought him lasting notoriety, however; in 2002 he published a memoir, “Black Scandal.” He died on Sept. 26 in London at age 77. His daughter Melody Edgecombe-Jones said the cause was lung and renal cancer.
A big question during the scandal, only months after the Cuban missile crisis, was whether Ms. Keeler, in pillow talk, had passed information to the Russians concerning nuclear missiles.
But to a riveted public, Ms. Keeler’s own life — which included orgies with the rich and famous and liaisons with habitués of low-end nightclubs — was just as compelling.
Mr. Edgecombe, who had been living with Ms. Keeler, told of being quickly ushered out of the house when somebody like Mr. Profumo or Commander Ivanov visited. He said he once had to hide in a closet during one of Mr. Profumo’s visits. On the day of the shooting, he said, he had gone to her home in anguish because she had left him.
John Arthur Alexander Edgecombe was born on Oct. 22, 1932, in Antigua, where his father sailed a two-mast schooner around the Caribbean hauling gasoline, rice and other commodities. The father abandoned the family when his son was 10 and moved to the United States.
As a teenager, Mr. Edgecombe stowed away on a ship to try to find the father he idolized and ended up in a Texas youth jail. At 15, he arrived in Liverpool with all his worldly goods in a paper bag. He became a street hustler, dealing in marijuana and prostitutes.
He also briefly operated a club where drugs were sold illegally. Visiting another club with Ms. Keeler, he got into a knife fight with another West Indian immigrant and cut the man’s face. To protect her and Mr. Edgecombe from the man, Ms. Keeler bought a Luger pistol and gave it to Mr. Edgecombe to carry. It was this gun, Mr. Edgecombe said, that he took to Ms. Keeler’s apartment that October day.
On the day of the shooting he was high on drugs, he said. When a friend of Ms. Keeler’s would not let him in, he threw his body repeatedly at the door before shooting. He said in interviews that he shot at the lock five times and once more near a window. Other accounts say he fired seven shots. Mr. Edgecombe said he had never fired a gun before and had not intended to kill Ms. Keeler.
Ms. Keeler did not testify at the trial, having fled to Spain in March 1963.
Mr. Edgecombe is survived by two daughters from his first marriage, Yasmin Edgecombe and Camilla Filtenborg; a daughter from another relationship, Melody Edgecombe-Jones; and six grandchildren.
He went on to promote and play music, sell craftwork, occasionally live on the breadline and work as a movie extra.
Mr. Edgecombe did not think of himself as a bit player in the Profumo scandal, however.
“The British people wouldn’t hear of a situation where a government minister was sleeping with the same chick as a black boy,” he said in an interview with The Guardian in 1989. “If it had been a white guy, it would have blown over.”
DICK GRIFFEY, FOUNDER OF SOLAR RECORDS
By DENNIS HEVESI
Published: October 4, 2010
Dick Griffey, the founder of the Solar record label — known for bringing a funky, laid back, California sound to soul, R&B and disco in the ’70s and ’80s — died on Sept. 24 in Los Angeles. He was 71.
The cause was complications of quadruple bypass surgery, his daughter Regina Griffey Hughes said.
Solar was an acronym for Sound of Los Angeles Records. It was started by Mr. Griffey in 1977 as a spinoff from Soul Train Records, a company he had founded several years earlier with Don Cornelius, the creator and host of the long-running, dance-driven television variety show “Soul Train.” Mr. Griffey had been the show’s talent coordinator.
Under his aegis, Solar signed groups like Shalamar, the Whispers, Lakeside, Dynasty, Klymaxx, Midnight Star and the Deele. And by 1980, The Los Angeles Times called Mr. Griffey “the most promising new black music executive” in the country.
Shalamar, which included several performers from the “Soul Train” show, went on to score more than a dozen hit singles, among them “The Second Time Around,” which topped the soul music charts and crossed over into the pop market. Other Shalamar hits were “Right in the Socket,” “Make That Move,” “A Night to Remember” and “This Is For the Lover In You.”Also among Solar’s biggest stars were the Whispers, who brought their intricate harmonies to hits like “It’s a Love Thing,” “Chocolate Girl,” “Rock Steady” and — their best known — “And the Beat Goes On,” which Mr. Griffey helped write. Other Solar hits include Lakeside’s “Fantastic Voyage,” Babyface’s “It’s No Crime” and Klymaxx’s “The Men All Pause.”
Mr. Griffey’s “fingerprints were on some of the biggest hits of the ’80s,” the composer and record producer Quincy Jones said in a written statement.
Richard Gilbert Griffey was born on Nov. 16, 1938, in Nashville, Tenn., one of two children of Joseph and Juanita Gilbert Griffey. Besides his daughter Regina, Mr. Griffey is survived by his wife, Carrie Lucas, a singer whom he married in 1974; another daughter, Carolyn Griffey; two sons, Lucas and Che; five grandchildren, and Haile Williams, whom he took in as a teenager and raised as his son. His first marriage ended in divorce.
Mr. Griffey, who grew up in the projects of Nashville, had been a drummer in a band that played in local clubs. At 17, he enlisted in the Navy and became a medical corpsman. After his discharge, he worked as a private-duty nurse.
In the early 1960s he moved to Los Angeles, and within a few years was part-owner of a nightclub, Guys and Dolls, that grew in popularity and eventually attracted performers like Ike and Tina Turner, and Isaac Hayes.
With his booking ability, Mr. Griffey became a concert promoter for stars like Michael Jackson, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Stevie Wonder and many others. “Professionally, I could not talk about my life without there being a chapter on how Dick Griffey, as a promoter, helped to build my career,” Mr. Wonder said in a statement.