Published: August 22, 2012

  • Willa Ward, who lent her pure, note-bending voice to the Ward Singers, one of the most famous and influential groups of what is considered the golden age of gospel singing, died in Philadelphia on Aug. 12. She was 91.


Willa Ward sang backup for stars like Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Chubby Checker and Patti LaBelle.

Her daughter Rita Scarlet confirmed her death.

“He’s your joy in sorrow/He’s your hope for tomorrow,” Ms. Ward intoned as the high backup voice in the Ward Singers’ 1950 hit “Surely God Is Able.” It was one of nearly 90 songs that the group recorded in its heyday, from the mid-1940s to the late ’50s.

Among their other hits were “I’m Climbing Higher and Higher,” “O My Lord What a Time” and “How I Got Over,” all of which were soon covered by two leading white gospel groups, the Blackwood Brothers and the Statesmen Quartet.

“I think they were the best gospel group in the golden era,” Anthony Heilbut, a gospel historian, record producer and author of “The Gospel Sound” (1971), said in an interview. “And if it’s understood that gospel music provides the origins of modern rhythm and blues and rock ’n’ roll, the Ward Singers would have to be counted as the most influential gospel group.”

In his 2012 book, “The Fan Who Knew Too Much,” Mr. Heilbut wrote that “Aretha Franklin’s style is steeped in the Ward Singers’ hard gospel, from its shouting tempo to its lilting hoop notes.” Little Richard, he said, patterned his “preacher’s growl” on the style of Marion Williams, one of the most famous gospel singers, who joined the Ward Singers for about a decade.

Willa Ward was the last of the original Ward Singers, the most renowned of whom was her younger sister, Clara. The group was formed by their mother, Gertrude, who was singing at a church in Philadelphia when she brought her daughters to the pulpit in 1934. Both girls had mellifluous voices and piano training. First known as the Consecrated Gospel Singers, the group was soon singing in churches all along the East Coast.

In 1943 they performed at the National Baptist Convention in Nashville with Willa leading the song “If We Never Needed the Lord Before” (the next words were “we sure do need him now”). The song’s wartime message brought the group to national attention. With their dynamic surges and sudden octave-high leaps, the Wards and their evolving cast of singers, wearing rhinestone-studded choir gowns, would pack sports arenas and convention halls around the country.

Willa left the Ward Singers in 1958 and formed a pop group, the Gay Charmers Trio, and later a duo with Toni Rose, both of which performed in nightclubs. She also sang backup for stars like Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Chubby Checker and Patti LaBelle.

Willarene Ward was born in Philadelphia on Dec. 13, 1920, soon after her parents moved there from South Carolina. Gertrude Ward died in 1981.

Besides her daughter Rita, Ms. Ward is survived by another daughter, Charlotte Sims, and two grandchildren. Her first husband, John Moultrie, died in 1966, and her second husband, Harry Royster, died in 1993.

Of the sisters, Clara went on to greater fame, forming the Clara Ward Singers. Even after Clara died in 1973, the group continued to perform. In 1999, it appeared at the Roots of American Music Festival at Lincoln Center. “Willa Ward, Clara’s sister, was on piano,” Jon Pareles wrote in The New York Times, “splashing florid barrelhouse filigrees and glissandos.”



NEIL ARMSTRONG | 1930-2012



Neil Armstrong, as photographed by Buzz Aldrin, working near the Eagle lunar module after the landing on July 20, 1969. More Photos »


Published: August 25, 2012

  • Neil Armstrong, who made the “giant leap for mankind” as the first human to set foot on the moon, died on Saturday. He was 82.

His family said in a statement that the cause was “complications resulting from cardiovascular procedures.” He had undergone heart bypass surgery this month in Cincinnati, near where he lived. His recovery had been going well, according to those who spoke with him after the surgery, and his death came as a surprise to many close to him, including his fellow Apollo astronauts. The family did not say where he died.

A quiet, private man, at heart an engineer and crack test pilot, Mr. Armstrong made history on July 20, 1969, as the commander of the Apollo 11 spacecraft on the mission that culminated the Soviet-American space race in the 1960s. President John F. Kennedy had committed the nation “to achieving the goal, before the decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth.” It was done with more than five months to spare.

On that day, Mr. Armstrong and his co-pilot, Col. Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., known as Buzz, steered their lunar landing craft, Eagle, to a level, rock-strewn plain near the southwestern shore of the Sea of Tranquillity. It was touch and go the last minute or two, with computer alarms sounding and fuel running low. But they made it.

“Houston, Tranquillity Base here,” Mr. Armstrong radioed to mission control. “The Eagle has landed.”

“Roger, Tranquillity,” mission control replied. “We copy you on the ground. You’ve got a bunch of guys about to turn blue. We’re breathing again. Thanks a lot.”

The same could have been said for hundreds of millions of people around the world watching on television.

A few hours later, there was Mr. Armstrong bundled in a white spacesuit and helmet on the ladder of the landing craft. Planting his feet on the lunar surface, he said, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” (His words would become the subject of a minor historical debate, as to whether he said “man” or an indistinct “a man.”)

Soon Colonel Aldrin joined Mr. Armstrong, bounding like kangaroos in the low lunar gravity, one sixth that of Earth’s, while the command ship pilot, Michael Collins, remained in orbit about 60 miles overhead, waiting their return. In all, 12 American astronauts walked on the moon between then and the Apollo 17 mission in 1972.

The Apollo 11 mission capped a tumultuous and consequential decade. The ’60s in America had started with such promise, with the election of a youthful president, mixed with the ever-present anxieties of the cold war. Then it touched greatness in the civil rights movement, only to implode in the years of assassinations and burning city streets and campus riots. But before it ended, human beings had reached that longtime symbol of the unreachable.

The moonwalk lasted 2 hours and 19 minutes, long enough to let the astronauts test their footing in the fine and powdery surface — Mr. Armstrong noted that his boot print was less than an inch deep — and set up a television camera and scientific instruments and collect rock samples.

After news of Mr. Armstrong’s death was reported, President Obama, in a statement from the White House, said, “Neil was among the greatest of American heroes.”

“And when Neil stepped foot on the surface of the moon for the first time,” the president added, “he delivered a moment of human achievement that will never be forgotten.”

Charles F. Bolden Jr., the current NASA administrator, said, “As long as there are history books, Neil Armstrong will be included in them, remembered for taking humankind’s first small step on a world beyond our own.”

Mr. Bolden also noted that in the years after the moonwalk, Mr. Armstrong “carried himself with a grace and humility that was an example to us all.” The historian Douglas Brinkley, who interviewed Mr. Armstrong for a NASA oral history, described him as “our nation’s most bashful Galahad.” His family called him “a reluctant hero who always believed he was just doing his job.”

Indeed, some space officials have cited these characteristics, as well as his engineering skills and experience piloting X-15 rocket planes, as reasons that Mr. Armstrong stood out in the astronaut corps. After the post-flight parades and a world tour for the three Apollo 11 astronauts, Mr. Armstrong gradually withdrew from the public eye. He was not reclusive, but as much as possible he sought to lead a private life, first as an associate administrator in the space program, then as a university professor and director of a number of corporations.

Neil Alden Armstrong was born on Aug. 5, 1930, in the small town of Wapakoneta, Ohio, to Stephen Armstrong and the former Viola Louise Engel. His father was a state auditor, which meant the family moved every few years to a new Ohio town while Neil was growing up. At the age of 6, Neil and his father took a ride in a Ford Trimotor airplane, known as the Tin Goose. It must have made an impression, for by the time he was 15, he had learned to fly, even before he got his driver’s license.

Neil became an Eagle Scout when the family later moved back to Wapakoneta, where he finished high school. (The town now has a museum named for Mr. Armstrong.) From there, he went to Purdue University as an engineering student on a Navy scholarship. His college years were interrupted by the Korean War, in which Mr. Armstrong was a Navy fighter pilot who flew 78 combat missions, one in which he was forced to eject after the plane lost one of its ailerons, the hinged flight-control panels on the wings.

In “First Man: The Life of Neil Armstrong,” James R. Hansen wrote that in Mr. Armstrong’s first year at Purdue, Charles E. Yeager broke the sound barrier in the rocket-powered Bell X-1. It was exciting but bittersweet for the young student. He thought aviation history had already passed him by.

“All in all, for someone who was immersed in, fascinated by, and dedicated to flight,” Mr. Armstrong told his biographer, “I was disappointed by the wrinkle in history that had brought me along one generation late. I had missed all the great times and adventures in flight.”

During the Korean War, Mr. Armstrong was in the unit that the author James A. Michener wrote of in “The Bridges at Toko-Ri.” Back at Purdue after the Navy, Mr. Armstrong plunged more earnestly into aeronautical engineering studies, his grades rising and a career in sight.

By this time, he had also met Janet Elizabeth Shearon, a student in home economics from Evanston, Ill. Soon after his graduation, they were married, in January 1956.

They had two sons, Eric and Mark, who survive. A daughter, Karen, died of an inoperable brain tumor in 1962. The couple were divorced in 1994; Janet Armstrong lives in Utah. In 1999, Mr. Armstrong married Carol Knight, a widow 15 years his junior; she also survives. They lived in Indian Hill, a suburb of Cincinnati.

Other survivors include a stepson and stepdaughter; a brother, Dean; a sister, June Armstrong Hoffman, and 10 grandchildren.

After his first marriage, the newlyweds moved to California, where Mr. Armstrong had been hired as an experimental test pilot for the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics, the forerunner of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, at Edwards Air Force Base. His first flight in a rocket plane was in the Bell X-1B, a successor to the plane Mr. Yeager had first flown faster than the speed of sound.

Mr. Armstrong impressed his peers. Milt Thompson, one of the test pilots, said he was “the most technically capable of the early X-15 pilots.” Another colleague, Bill Dana, said he “had a mind that absorbed things like a sponge and a memory that remembered them like a photograph.” He made seven X-15 flights at 4,000 miles per hour, reaching the edge of space, and piloted many more of the most innovative and dangerous aircraft ever developed.

In 1958, Mr. Armstrong was chosen as a consultant for a military space plane project, the X-20 Dyna-Soar, and was later named one of the pilots. But the young test pilot was attracted by another opportunity. NASA was receiving applications for the second group of astronauts, after the Mercury Seven. His reputation after seven years at the NASA flight center at Edwards had preceded him, and so he was tapped for the astronaut corps.

“I thought the attractions of being an astronaut were actually, not so much the Moon, but flying in a completely new medium,” Mr. Armstrong told his biographer.

At Houston, the new astronaut began training for flights in the two-person Gemini spacecraft, the successor to the smaller Mercury capsules and forerunner to the three-person Apollos. Mr. Armstrong became the first American civilian astronaut to fly in space, as commander of Gemini 8. He and his co-pilot, David R. Scott, were launched on March 16, 1966. They performed the first successful docking of two vehicles in space, their Gemini linking with an unmanned Agena in an essential test for later operations on lunar flights.

Once docked, however, the joined spacecraft began to roll. Attempts to steady the vehicle were unavailing. On instructions from Mission Control, Mr. Armstrong separated Gemini from the Agena, but the rolling only increased, to the point that the astronauts were in danger of passing out. The problem was evidently in the Gemini itself. The astronauts turned the control thrusters off, switching to the re-entry control system. Stability was restored, but once the re-entry propulsion was activated, the crew was told to prepare to come home before the end of their only day in orbit.

Next, Mr. Armstrong was the backup commander for Apollo 8, the first flight to circumnavigate the Moon, doing so at Christmastime in 1968. It was the mission that put Apollo back on track after a cockpit fire during a launching pad rehearsal had killed three astronauts in January 1967. And it put Mr. Armstrong in position to command Apollo 11.

If everything went well with the lunar module test on Apollo 9 and with a shakedown flight to lunar orbit on Apollo 10, then Mr. Armstrong was in line to land on the Moon with Buzz Aldrin and with Michael Collins as the command module pilot. As the commander, NASA officials decided, Mr. Armstrong would be the first to walk on the Moon.

About six and a half hours after the landing, Mr. Armstrong opened the hatch of the four-legged lunar module and slowly made his way down the ladder to the lunar surface. A television camera followed his every step for all the world to see. A crater near the landing site is named in Mr. Armstrong’s honor.

Mr. Armstrong and Colonel Aldrin left a plaque on the Moon that read: “Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the moon. July 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind.”

After leaving the space program, Mr. Armstrong was careful to do nothing to tarnish that image or achievement. Though he traveled and gave speeches — as he did in October 2007, when he dedicated the new Neil Armstrong Hall of Engineering at Purdue — he rarely gave interviews and avoided the spotlight.

In the biography “First Man,” Dr. Hansen noted, “Everyone gives Neil the greatest credit for not trying to take advantage of his fame, not like other astronauts have done.” To which Janet Armstrong responded: “Yes, but look what it’s done to him inside. He feels guilty that he got all the acclaim for an effort of tens of thousands of people.” Then she added: “He’s certainly led an interesting life. But he took it too seriously to heart.”

For a time, he was an associate NASA administrator for aeronautics, but he tired of a Washington desk job. Ignoring many high-level offers in business and academia, he returned to Ohio as a professor of aeronautical engineering at the University of Cincinnati and bought a farm near Lebanon, Ohio. He also served as a director for several corporations.

“He remained an advocate of aviation and exploration throughout his life and never lost his boyhood wonder of these pursuits,” his family said in the statement.

Mr. Armstrong re-entered the public spotlight a couple of years ago to voice sharp disagreement with President Obama for canceling NASA’s program to send astronauts back to the Moon. Later, he testified to a Senate committee, expressing skepticism that the approach of relying on commercial companies would succeed.

Last September, Mr. Armstrong testified to a House committee that NASA “must find ways of restoring hope and confidence to a confused and disconsolate work force.”

Almost as soon as the news of his death was announced, there was an outpouring of well wishes and fond memorials on Web sites and social media, a reflection of the extraordinary public acclaim that came to a very private man.

“As much as Neil cherished his privacy, he always appreciated the expressions of good will from people around the world and from all walks of life,” his family said. “While we mourn the loss of a very good man, we also celebrate his remarkable life and hope that it serves as an example to young people around the world to work hard to make their dreams come true, to be willing to explore and push the limits, and to selflessly serve a cause greater than themselves.”

John Schwartz contributed reporting. Susan C. Beachy contributed research.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: August 26, 2012

An earlier version of this obituary misstated the name of the Ohio town where Mr. Armstrong lived. It was Indian Hill, not Indian Hills.





Published: August 20, 2012

Phyllis Diller, whose sassy, screeching, rapid-fire stand-up comedy helped open the door for two generations of funny women, died on Monday at her home in the Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles. She was 95.

Library of Congress, N.Y. World Collection

Phyllis Diller with Johnny Carson on “The Tonight Show.”                            More Photos »


Michael Blake/Associated Press

Phyllis Diller in 2003.

Her agent, Fred Wostbrock, confirmed her death.

Ms. Diller, who became famous for telling jokes that mocked her odd looks, her aversion to housekeeping and a husband she called Fang, was far from the first woman to do stand-up comedy. But she was one of the most influential. There were precious few women before her, if any, who could dispense one-liners with such machine-gun precision or overpower an audience with such an outrageous personality.

One chestnut: “I once wore a peekaboo blouse. People would peek and then they’d boo.”

Another: “I never made ‘Who’s Who,’ but I’m featured in ‘What’s That?’ ”

Ms. Diller, a 37-year-old homemaker when she took up comedy, mined her domestic life for material, assuring audiences that she fed Fang and her kids garbage soup and buried her ironing in the backyard. She exuded an image that was part Wicked Witch of the West (a role she actually played in a St. Louis stage production of “The Wizard of Oz”) and part clown.

In her many television appearances she would typically sashay onstage wearing stiff, outsize, hideous metallic dresses (she did this, she said, so she could lie to her audiences about the state of her body, which was really trim and shapely); high-heeled shoes or boots studded with rhinestones; and a bejeweled collar better suited to a junkyard dog or a fur scarf that she claimed was made from an animal she had trapped under the sink.

Slinking along on skinny legs, her feet invariably pointed outward, penguin-style, she originally carried a long bejeweled cigarette holder that held a make-believe cigarette from which she continually flicked imaginary ashes. (Ms. Diller, who did not smoke, later discarded the cigarette holder.)

Her hair was the blond flyaway variety, sometimes looking as if it was exploding from her scalp; her eyes were large and ferocious, her nose thin and overlong (she ultimately tamed it through plastic surgery). And then there was that unforgettable, ear-shattering voice, which would frequently explode into a sinister cackle that seemed perfectly matched to her image as the ultimate domestic demon.

Among Ms. Diller’s few female predecessors was Jean Carroll, sometimes called “the female Milton Berle,” who made numerous appearances in nightclubs and on Ed Sullivan’s variety show, where she mined her marriage and family for laughs. There were others: Minnie Pearl was an outrageous Southern spinster, Moms Mabley an outspoken black philosopher.

But Ms. Diller’s hard-hitting approach to one-liners — inspired by Bob Hope, who became an early champion — was something new for a woman. Her success proved that female comedians could be as aggressive or unconventional as their male counterparts, and leave an audience just as devastated. She cleared the way for the likes of Joan Rivers, Roseanne Barr, Whoopi Goldberg, Ellen DeGeneres and numerous others.

Although Ms. Diller used writers to help create her act, she estimated that she wrote 75 percent of the jokes herself. Her approach to humor was methodical. “My material was geared towards everyone of all ages and from different backgrounds, and I wanted to hit them right in the middle,” she explained in her autobiography, “Like a Lampshade in a Whorehouse: My Life in Comedy” (2005), written with Richard Buskin. “I didn’t want giggles — I could get those with my looks — I wanted boffs, and I wanted people to get the joke at the same moment and laugh together. That way I could leave everything to my timing.”

She liked jokes that piled on the laughs in rapid succession. A favorite of hers was this one: “I realized on our first wedding anniversary that our marriage was in trouble. Fang gave me luggage. It was packed. My mother damn near suffocated!”

Phyllis Ada Driver was born on July 17, 1917, in Lima, Ohio, the daughter of Perry Driver, an insurance executive, and the former Frances Ada Romshe. As a child she became interested in classical music, writing and theater.

After briefly attending the Sherwood Conservatory of Music in Chicago, she entered Bluffton College in Bluffton, Ohio, near Lima, with thoughts of becoming a music teacher. She met Sherwood Anderson Diller in her senior year in college, and they were married in 1939.

She never taught music. The Dillers moved to California, where he was an inspector at a Navy air station and later held various other jobs — none, by Ms. Diller’s account, for very long. They struggled financially, even with Ms. Diller working. She wrote a shopping column for a newspaper in San Leandro and advertising copy for a department store in Oakland, then moved on to writing and promotion jobs at radio stations in Oakland and San Francisco.

She started to move toward a career in show business without realizing it. She was poor and unhappy, and she would meet other poor and unhappy women at the Laundromat and regale them with accounts of her home life. She also tried to inject humor into the advertising and publicity copy she wrote. Word spread about Phyllis Diller, and soon she was being asked to give presentations at parties and P.T.A. meetings.

Her husband thought she should be paid to make people laugh. She lacked the confidence to do it until she read a self-help book, “The Magic of Believing” by Claude M. Bristol. Inspired by its message of empowerment, she began to write her own comedy routines, hired a drama coach to give her more stage presence, and took whatever paid or unpaid performing jobs she could get: at hospitals, women’s clubs, church halls.

She made her bona fide professional debut at the Purple Onion, a San Francisco nightclub, in 1955. At first her act contained as much singing as joke-telling, with Ms. Diller’s persona more mock sophisticate than housewife from hell — her signature numbers included “Ridiculous,” a parody of the Eartha Kitt number “Monotonous” — but she gradually developed the character and the look that would make her famous.

She was soon being booked at nightclubs all over the country, and she became nationally known after several dozen appearances on Jack Paar’s “Tonight Show,” beginning in 1958.

She was believable as well as hilarious when she talked about her husband, Fang; her mother-in-law, Moby Dick; and her sister-in-law, Captain Bligh. She was so believable that shortly after she divorced Sherwood Diller in 1965, his mother and sister sued her for defamation of character in an effort to keep her from talking about them in her act. She insisted that she was talking about a fictional family, not them, and eventually settled out of court.

Ms. Diller was never really the grotesque-looking woman she made herself out to be; her body, in fact, was attractive enough that when she posed nude for a Playboy photo spread the pictures ended up not being published — the magazine was going for laughs, and decided that they looked too good to be funny.

And despite her self-deprecating humor, she was concerned about her looks, especially as she began to detect signs of aging in her television appearances in the early 1970s. She became one of the first celebrities not just to have plastic surgery but also to acknowledge and even publicize that fact. By the 1990s she had had more than a dozen operations, including two nose jobs, three face-lifts, a chemical peel, a breast reduction, cheek implants, an eyeliner tattoo and bonded teeth.

She never tried to conceal the work and even kept a plastic surgery résumé, which she would give to anyone who asked. And she continued to make jokes about her appearance. “The ugly jokes would remain a part of my act because my image was already so well established,” she wrote in her autobiography. “Audiences had bought into it because, facially at least, it had been the truth, and for them it would continue to be the truth.”

Although Ms. Diller was a frequent guest on other people’s variety shows, her own network television ventures — “The Pruitts of Southampton” (1966-67), a sitcom, and “The Beautiful Phyllis Diller Show” (1968), a variety hour — were both short-lived. Late in life she had a recurring role on the soap opera “The Bold and the Beautiful” and did voice-over work on “Family Guy” and other cartoon shows.

Her movie career was not particularly distinguished. While she made a number of films, including three with Bob Hope — “Boy, Did I Get a Wrong Number!” (1966), “Eight on the Lam” (1967) and “The Private Navy of Sgt. O’Farrell” (1968) — none were as funny as she was.

But her career was not limited to movies, television or stand-up comedy. Between 1971 and 1981 she appeared as a piano soloist with some 100 symphony orchestras across the country under the transparently phony name Dame Illya Dillya. Although her performances were spiced with humor, she took the music seriously. A review of one of her concerts in The San Francisco Examiner called her “a fine concert pianist with a firm touch.”

She also appeared on Broadway, stepping into the lead role in “Hello, Dolly!” for three months in late 1969 and early 1970. She painted, too. And she wrote a number of books, including “Phyllis Diller’s Housekeeping Hints,” “The Joys of Aging and How to Avoid Them” and her autobiography.

Her marriage to Sherwood Diller lasted 26 years; in 1965, the same year the Dillers divorced, she married Warde Donovan, an actor. That marriage, too, ended in divorce. She never remarried, but she was the companion of Robert Hastings, a lawyer, from the mid-1980s until his death in 1996.

Ms. Diller is survived by a son, Perry; a daughter, Suzanne Mills; four grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.

When she appeared in Las Vegas in May 2002, three years after suffering a heart attack, Ms. Diller announced that this would be her last stand-up performance. She stuck to that decision. Her final performance was captured in the 2004 documentary “Goodnight, We Love You,” directed by Gregg Barson.

Asked by Bob Thomas of The Associated Press in 2005 whether she missed performing, Ms. Diller answered: “I don’t miss the travel. I miss the laughter. I do miss the actual hour.

“I don’t want to sound like I’m on dope, but that hour is a high; it’s as good as you can feel. A wonderful, wonderful happiness, and great power.”

Daniel E. Slotnik contributed reporting.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: August 22, 2012

An obituary on Tuesday about the comedian Phyllis Diller misstated the location of her death. She died in the Brentwood neighborhood of Los Angeles, at her home — not in the city of Brentwood, Calif.





Published: August 17, 2012

  • Carl Davis, a record producer and music impresario who helped shape the sound of Chicago soul on classics like “Duke of Earl” and “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher,” died on Aug. 9 at his home in Summerville, S.C. He was 77.


Carl Davis

The cause was pulmonary fibrosis, said Gus Redmond, a longtime associate.

Though Chicago’s soul scene was less celebrated than those of Detroit or Memphis, it was rich with talent, and Mr. Davis was at the center of it through the 1960s and ’70s. He worked with Curtis Mayfield, Major Lance, Jackie Wilson, Tyrone Davis, the Chi-Lites and many others in a number of capacities, including producer, scout, manager and record company boss.

“Like Berry Gordy, he understood the modern recording industry of the ’60s and ’70s, and really understood how to make hit records,” said Robert Pruter, who has written several books about soul and R&B music in Chicago.

Carl Henry Davis was born in Chicago on Sept. 19, 1934, to a family full of musicians. But Mr. Davis himself “couldn’t play a note,” his brother George said in a recent interview.

Instead, his talent was recognizing hits, which he refined while working for the popular disc jockey Al Benson in the mid-1950s. Mr. Davis got the job because he knew how to use a typesetting machine. But with a reputation as a hit-spotter, he entered the record business and rose quickly.

In Mr. Pruter’s book “Doowop: The Chicago Scene,” Mr. Davis explains how a half-formed vocal riff he heard during a 1961 rehearsal with a minor group, the Dukays, resulted in one of the biggest songs of the era, “Duke of Earl.”

“Through the door I kept hearing… I thought they were saying, ‘do cover,’ ” he recalled. “They said, ‘We’re just rehearsing our next session. We haven’t even written all the lyrics to the song yet.’ And I said, ‘Run it down, let’s hear it.’ They started, and the song just knocked me. I said, ‘Let me tell you something. If you don’t cut this song tomorrow, there ain’t no session.’ ”

Credited to the group’s lead singer, Gene Chandler, and produced by Mr. Davis, “Duke of Earl” was released on the Vee-Jay label in late 1961. It stayed at No. 1 for five weeks in early 1962 and was Vee-Jay’s first million seller.

In 1962, Mr. Davis was hired by the Columbia subsidiary Okeh as director of A&R, or artists and repertory. His productions there, particularly upbeat tunes by Major Lance like “The Monkey Time,” “Hey Little Girl” and “Um, Um, Um, Um, Um, Um” — most written by Mr. Mayfield and arranged by Johnny Pate — crystallized a new Chicago sound. With punchy brass, Latin-tinged percussion and elegant arrangements, it was sweeter than Motown and cooler than Stax.

After leaving Okeh in 1965, Mr. Davis worked at the Brunswick label, where he recorded Mr. Wilson’s “(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher” and songs by Barbara Acklin and Mr. Chandler. He also released numerous songs by the Chi-Lites, including “Oh Girl,” a No. 1 hit in 1972, and “Are You My Woman? (Tell Me So),” which was prominently sampled in Beyoncé’s 2003 hit “Crazy in Love.”

He also founded the labels Dakar, home to Tyrone Davis (no relation), and Chi-Sound, whose acts included the Chi-Lites and Manchild, where the R&B singer and producer Kenneth Edmonds (a k a Babyface) got his start.

By the early 1980s, with soul music long out of fashion, Mr. Davis closed Chi-Sound, his last label. His autobiography, “The Man Behind the Music: The Legendary Carl Davis,” published in 2011, gives details of his later jobs as a security guard and a chauffeur. But in 2007 he revived the label, and Mr. Redmond said it is still active.

In addition to his brother, Mr. Davis’s survivors include his wife, Dedra; his children, Pamela, Carl Jr., Tre, Julio, Carleen and Jaime Davis and Kelli Morris; and a number of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

In a 1982 interview with the music journalist Dave Hoekstra, Mr. Davis gave his view on the difference between the Motown and Chicago soul sounds.

“Motown used to put a picture frame together, put in all the background and set the artist to the frame,” he said. “We in Chicago tend to start with the artist, put him there and frame everything around him.”




Worth/Associated Press

From left, Denny Doherty, Michelle Gilliam, Scott McKenzie, Cass Elliott and John Phillips in London in October 1967.


Published: August 20, 2012

  • Scott McKenzie, who performed the 1967 ballad “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair),” which became a defining hit for the counterculture generation and helped draw tens of thousands to the Haight-Ashbury district for the Summer of Love, died on Saturday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 73.

The cause was unknown, said Dr. Frank Snyder, one of his physicians. A Web site devoted to Mr. McKenzie said that he had been ill for several weeks and that he suffered from Guillain-Barré syndrome, a disorder that causes the immune system to attack the nervous system.

“San Francisco” was written by John Phillips, a founder of the Mamas and the Papas, who had been a friend of Mr. McKenzie’s since high school. The two started a band called the Journeymen, which recorded several albums in the 1960s.

In the song, Mr. McKenzie sang lyrics like these with a slow, almost mournful cadence:

All across the nation, such a strange vibration.

People in motion.

There’s a whole generation, with a new explanation.

“San Francisco” hit a nerve with people looking to protest what they saw as an unjust social order, and it rocketed to No. 4 on the pop charts.

But despite the song’s success and a subsequent tour with the Mamas and the Papas, Mr. McKenzie never had another hit single. He took a break from the music business and moved to Virginia Beach, where he was married briefly to Anzy Wells, Dr. Snyder said.

In the late 1980s he made a comeback of sorts. He toured with a reconstituted Mamas and the Papas and, with Mr. Phillips, Mike Love and Terry Melcher, wrote “Kokomo,” an upbeat love song that became a No. 1 hit for the Beach Boys.

Born Philip Blondheim on Jan. 10, 1939, in Jacksonville, Fla., Mr. McKenzie grew up under difficult circumstances. His father died before he was 2 and his mother was forced to travel for work, so he was raised by his grandmother. No immediate family members survive.

In discussions with friends, he expressed mixed feelings about the song that defined his career and life. Fame in the short run had been overwhelming and even terrifying. He found it “sick” and “perverse” that strange women wanted to sleep with him.

But over time, his view of the song changed.

Chris Campion, who is writing a biography of John Phillips, interviewed Mr. McKenzie this year and said that the singer had told him that soldiers returning from Vietnam would sing the song on the airplane to San Francisco. He later became friends with some of those veterans and would tour the Vietnam Veterans Memorial with them.

“He was grateful that he had the opportunity to have such an impact on their lives,” Mr. Campion said.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

Correction: August 23, 2012

A picture caption on Tuesday with an obituary about the singer Scott McKenzie, using information from The Associated Press, misspelled the name of one of the people shown with Mr. McKenzie in London in 1967. She is Michelle Gilliam (better known as Michelle Phillips), not Michele Gillian.





Published: August 19, 2012

  • William Windom, who won an Emmy Award playing an Everyman drawn from the pages of James Thurber but who may be best remembered for his roles on “Star Trek” and “Murder, She Wrote,” died on Thursday at his home in Woodacre, Calif., north of San Francisco. He was 88.


William Windom with the Emmy Award he won in 1970 for his role in the sitcom, “My World and Welcome to It.”

The cause was congestive heart failure, said his wife, Patricia.

Mr. Windom won the Emmy for best actor in a comedy series in 1970 for his performance in “My World and Welcome to It,” a whimsical TV show based on Thurber’s humorous essays and fantastic cartoons. He subsequently toured the country with a solo show based on Thurber’s works.

But filmgoers and television viewers may be more likely to associate him with roles that, though also fanciful, had a distinctly darker tone. He teamed up with Rod Serling on episodes of both “The Twilight Zone” (“Five Characters in Search of an Exit” in 1961 and “Miniature” in 1963) and “Night Gallery”; played the president in “Escape From the Planet of the Apes”; and had a memorable role in an early episode of “Star Trek.” He was also a guest star on “The Rookies,” “The Streets of San Francisco” and dozens of other television shows.

Not until 1985 did Mr. Windom find another role that drew on his avuncular side with such success: he appeared in more than 50 episodes of “Murder, She Wrote” as the leading physician of Cabot Cove, Me., and a close friend of Jessica Fletcher, the lead character played by Angela Lansbury.

William Windom was born on Sept. 28, 1923, in Manhattan to Paul Windom, an architect, and the former Isobel Wells Peckham. He was named after an ancestor, William Windom, a Minnesota congressman who also served as secretary of the Treasury under Presidents James A. Garfield and Benjamin Harrison.

Mr. Windom attended Williams College in Massachusetts. Before becoming an Army paratrooper in World War II, he joined the Army Specialized Training Program, under whose auspices he studied at the Citadel, in South Carolina; Antioch College, in Ohio; and the University of Kentucky.

While stationed in Frankfurt, during the postwar Allied occupation, he enrolled in the new Biarritz American University in France and became involved in drama there. “To be honest, I signed up because I thought it would be an easy touch,” he told The New York Times in an interview for this obituary in 2009, “and we had heard that actresses had round heels.”

It was in Biarritz that he did his first bit of acting, playing the title role in “Richard III,” and when he returned to the United States he continued to perform at Fordham University — his sixth institution of higher education. “I figure it all adds up to about two years’ worth of education,” he said.

Mr. Windom found work in the New York theater as well as in radio and on television, making numerous appearances on live dramas in the early 1950s. He ultimately appeared in more than a dozen Broadway plays, including a four-show season with the American Repertory Theater and a 1956 revival of Noël Coward’s “Fallen Angels.” He also performed for several seasons in summer stock in places like Bucks County, Pa., and the Southbury Playhouse in Connecticut, and he later toured the United States and other countries with one-man shows about Thurber and the World War II journalist Ernie Pyle.

Mr. Windom made his first film appearance as the prosecuting attorney in the 1962 drama “To Kill a Mockingbird,” sparring with Gregory Peck’s defense lawyer. His subsequent movies included “The Americanization of Emily” in 1964, directed by Arthur Hiller; Robert Altman’s “Brewster McCloud” in 1970; and the John Hughes comedy “She’s Having a Baby” in 1988.

Another notable television role was as the male lead in “The Farmer’s Daughter,” a situation comedy that ran on ABC from 1963 to 1966. His character, a Minnesota congressman (like Mr. Windom’s forebear), is a widower who hires a Swedish-American governess (Inger Stevens) to care for his sons.

Mr. Windom, who was also a tournament chess player, was married five times. Besides his wife of 37 years, Patricia, he is survived by four children, Rachel, Heather, Hope and Rebel; and four grandchildren.

His biggest critical success was “My World and Welcome to It,” which was broadcast for only one season, 1969-70. But in certain circles he is probably better known for the “Doomsday Machine” episode of “Star Trek.” He played Commodore Matt Decker, the sole survivor of a spacecraft who, along with the crew of the Enterprise, tries to neutralize a planet-destroying robot ship.

Despite the fame that television brought him, it was a stage role that Mr. Windom remembered most fondly.

“A lot of people today think the first thing they saw is the first thing that ever happened, and that means ‘Star Trek’ or ‘Murder, She Wrote,’ ” he told The Times. “But the thing I’m most proud of is playing ‘Richard III’ in Biarritz.”


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