PHIL RAMONE, PRODUCER FOR MUSIC’S BIGGEST STARS
By BEN SISARIO
Published: March 30, 2013
Phil Ramone, a prolific record producer and engineer who worked with some of the biggest music stars of the last 50 years, including Ray Charles, Frank Sinatra, Paul Simon, Billy Joel and Barbra Streisand, died on Saturday in Manhattan. He was 79. Though it was widely reported that he was 72, public records and his family confirm that he was born Jan. 5, 1934.
His death was confirmed by his son Matthew. He did not immediately give the cause, but Mr. Ramone was reported to have been admitted to a Manhattan hospital in late February for treatment of an aortic aneurysm.
In his 2007 memoir, “Making Records: The Scenes Behind the Music,” written with Charles L. Granata, Mr. Ramone defined the role of record producer as roughly equivalent to that of a film director, creating and managing an environment in which to coax the best work out of his performers.
“But, unlike a director (who is visible, and often a celebrity in his own right), the record producer toils in anonymity,” he wrote. “We ply our craft deep into the night, behind locked doors. And with few exceptions, the fruit of our labor is seldom launched with the glitzy fanfare of a Hollywood premiere.”
Mr. Ramone’s career was one of those exceptions. He was a trusted craftsman and confidant in the industry who was also one of the handful of producers widely known to the public. He won 14 Grammy Awards, including producer of the year, nonclassical, in 1981, and three for album of the year, for Mr. Simon’s “Still Crazy After All These Years” in 1976, Mr. Joel’s “52nd Street” in 1980, and Mr. Charles’s duets album, “Genius Loves Company,” in 2005. He also produced music for television and film, winning an Emmy Award as the sound mixer for a 1973 special on CBS, “Duke Ellington … We Love You Madly.”
Mr. Ramone was born in South Africa and grew up in Brooklyn. His father died when he was young, and his mother worked in a department store. A classical violin prodigy, he studied at the Juilliard School but soon drifted toward jazz and pop, and apprenticed at a recording studio, J.A.C. Recording.
In 1958, he co-founded A & R Recording, a studio on West 48th Street in Manhattan, and built a reputation as a versatile engineer, working on pop fare like Lesley Gore as well as jazz by John Coltrane and Quincy Jones. He ran the sound when Marilyn Monroe cooed “Happy Birthday” to President John F. Kennedy in 1962, and three years later won his first Grammy as the engineer on Stan Getz and João Gilberto’s landmark album “Getz/Gilberto.”
As a producer, he had a particularly close association with Mr. Joel and Mr. Simon; the back cover of Mr. Joel’s 1977 album “The Stranger” features a photograph of Mr. Ramone posing with Mr. Joel and his band at a New York restaurant.
“I always thought of Phil Ramone as the most talented guy in my band,” Mr. Joel said in a statement on Saturday. “He was the guy that no one ever, ever saw onstage. He was with me as long as any of the musicians I ever played with — longer than most. So much of my music was shaped by him and brought to fruition by him.”
Mr. Ramone’s relationships with those men were deep enough that he named two of his sons after them: Simon and William (known as B. J.); they survive him, along with Matthew, his third son, and his wife, Karen.
As a producer, Mr. Ramone was known for a conservative sound rooted in jazz and traditional pop, and in later years his biggest successes included albums with Mr. Charles, Tony Bennett, Elton John and others.
But he was also a proponent of new technologies. He was an early advocate for digital recording, and pushed for Mr. Joel’s “52nd Street” to be one of the first commercially released albums on compact disc, in 1982. Mr. Sinatra’s 1993 album “Duets,” featuring stars like Bono, Ms. Streisand and Natalie Cole, was made by connecting Mr. Sinatra’s studio in Los Angeles with others around the world using fiber-optic cables.
In an interview with Billboard magazine in 1996, Mr. Ramone explained why he believed a producer should not leave too much of his “stamp” on a recording.
“If our names were on the front cover, it’d be different, but it’s not on the front cover, and the audience doesn’t care,” he said. “If you think you have a style and you perpetrate that onto people, you’re hurting the very essence of their creativity.”
“The reward of producing,” he continued, “comes when somebody inside the record company who has a lot to do with what’s going on actually calls you and says, ‘Boy, this record really came out great.’ Or when other artists call you and want to work with you.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: March 30, 2013
An earlier version of this article misidentified one of Phil Ramone’s sons. His name is Simon, not Paul.
DEKE RICHARDS, CREATOR OF MOTOWN HITS
By PETER KEEPNEWS
Published: March 27, 2013
Deke Richards, the leader of the Motown songwriting and producing team responsible for some of the Jackson 5’s biggest hits, died on Sunday in Bellingham, Wash. He was 68.
The cause was esophageal cancer, his family said.
In 1969, Mr. Richards teamed in Detroit with Berry Gordy Jr., the founder of Motown, and the songwriters Freddie Perren and Alphonzo Mizell, to work with the Jackson 5, a virtually unknown brother act from Indiana that had recently signed with the label. Collectively billed as the Corporation, the four struck gold immediately.
The Jackson 5’s first three singles, “I Want You Back,” “ABC” and “The Love You Save” — all written and produced by the Corporation, and all featuring the vocals of a very young Michael Jackson — reached No. 1 on the Billboard singles chart. The Corporation went on to write and produce other hits for the Jackson 5, including “Mama’s Pearl” and “Maybe Tomorrow.”
Mr. Richards later worked, both with the Corporation and on his own, with Diana Ross, Martha and the Vandellas, the Four Seasons and others.
He had already reached the top of the charts before working with the Jackson 5. He was briefly a member of another four-person Motown collective, the Clan, which wrote and produced “Love Child,” a No. 1 single for Diana Ross and the Supremes in 1968.
Deke Richards was born Dennis Lussier on April 8, 1944, and grew up in Los Angeles, where his father, Dane Lussier, worked as a screenwriter.
He played guitar in local bands before he began doing production work for Motown in 1966. After Mr. Gordy named him the Jackson 5’s producer, he brought in Mr. Perren and Mr. Mizell to work with him and, he later recalled, asked Mr. Gordy for songwriting and production advice. Mr. Berry, who had begun his career as a songwriter but had not done any writing or producing for several years, eventually became a full-fledged member of the team.
The Corporation developed a distinctive sound for the Jackson 5 that some have called “bubblegum soul,” blending upbeat pop melodies with rhythm-and-blues grooves. The formula was designed to reach a wide audience, and it did, bringing the group international stardom.
In later years Mr. Richards’s primary focus was the Poster Palace, a company he operated that sells vintage movie posters, but he continued to take on occasional musical projects. Last year he produced “Come and Get It: The Rare Pearls,” a compilation of previously unreleased Jackson 5 recordings.
Survivors include his wife, Joan Lussier, and a brother, Dane Lussier.
EDWARD BLAND, ‘CRY OF JAZZ’ FILMMAKER AND COMPOSER
“The Cry of Jazz,” a 1959 film by Edward Bland, commented on racism and created an uproar in intellectual circles.
By PAUL VITELLO
Published: March 26, 2013
Edward Bland made only one film before deciding to pursue a career as a musician, composer and arranger. And that film, “The Cry of Jazz,” a 34-minute documentary explaining jazz in the context of black history, was by his own account amateurish.
But within a year of its release in 1959, “The Cry of Jazz,” which Mr. Bland produced on a shoestring budget with some friends, became an improbable film landmark of sorts — not as a work of art but as a manifesto of black militancy.
Using the didactic voice-over style popular in educational films of the 1950s, Mr. Bland, who died on March 14 at 86, interspersed selections from jazz performances, scenes of deprivation in the ghettos of Chicago and a stilted portrayal of an argument over jazz at an interracial social gathering of college-educated young people.
During the argument, an unbridgeable racial divide seems to open in the floor. At a time when it was an article of faith in the civil rights movement that all people, no matter their color, were essentially the same, Mr. Bland’s film depicted a group of black men explaining to their white peers that the opposite was true — that after centuries of battling racial oppression, black Americans were actually quite different from white Americans under the skin, and in many ways better.
Moreover, whites would never grasp the dimensions of the divide, they said, and jazz was the perfect illustration: whites could play jazz and appropriate it, their argument ran, but they would never understand it, or the people who created it.
The movie caused an uproar. Notable intellectuals took sides. The novelist Ralph Ellison called it offensive. The poet LeRoi Jones, later known as Amiri Baraka, called it profoundly insightful. An audience discussion after a screening in 1960 in Greenwich Village became so heated that the police were called.
The British critic Kenneth Tynan, in a column for The London Observer, wrote that it “does not really belong to the history of cinematic art, but it assuredly belongs to history” as “the first film in which the American Negro has issued a direct challenge to the white.”
Mr. Bland went on to write arrangements for Lionel Hampton, Dizzy Gillespie and Sun Ra. He also wrote orchestrations for television shows and movies, including the racially charged 1984 suspense drama “A Soldier’s Story.”
He died of cancer at his home in Smithfield, Va., his wife, Mary Batten Bland, said.
While “The Cry of Jazz” became a staple of academic film studies and black history departments, Mr. Bland began working in New York on both commercial and avant-garde musical ventures. In the 1960s he produced concerts for the “Jazz in the Garden” series at the Museum of Modern Art. His compositions for chamber orchestra were performed by the Baltimore, Detroit, Memphis and St. Louis Symphonies and the Chicago Civic Orchestra.
Edward Osmund Bland was born on July 25, 1926, on the South Side of Chicago to Edward and Althea Bland. His father, a postal worker and self-taught literary critic whose friends included Ellison, Gwendolyn Brooks and Langston Hughes, died in the Battle of the Bulge. Mr. Bland also served briefly in the Army during World War II, after which he attended the University of Chicago and the American Conservatory of Music, in Chicago, on the G.I. Bill.
Besides his wife, survivors include two sons, Edward and Robert; a daughter, Stefanie Batten Bland; and a granddaughter.
In the 1990s, “The Cry of Jazz” was rediscovered by scholars as an early example of independent black filmmaking. It was reissued in restored form on DVD in 1996. In 2010 it was added to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress as “a historic and fascinating film that comments on racism and the appropriation of jazz by those who fail to understand its artistic and cultural origins.”
Mr. Bland told an interviewer in 1998 that he was somewhat baffled by the continued interest in his film. “It was considered the work of madmen” when it was originally released, he said. “Black racists. At best it was considered a personal statement. Bad music, bad thinking, bad acting, bad writing and bad photography. Unfair to jazz, because we made jazz a political act.”
In hindsight, he added, the criticism reflected the times. “The concept of black culture was not around in the United States until 10 or 15 years later,” he said. Friends and family said he never substantially altered his viewpoint about jazz and race. But, he once told an interviewer, “I do wish we had made a better film.”
LORI MARCH, ‘SECRET STORM’ ACTRESS
By ANITA GATES
Published: March 26, 2013
Lori March, who reigned as the matriarch of the long-running daytime television drama “The Secret Storm” for 13 years, died on March 19 in Redding, Conn. She was 90.
The death was confirmed by her stepson Philip Taubman, a former reporter and editor for The New York Times.
In a career that included work on Broadway, in film and on prime-time television, Ms. March’s longest-running role was that of Valerie Hill Ames Northcote, who she played on CBS from 1961 until “The Secret Storm” was canceled in 1974. After her screen husband died, Valerie married her stepdaughter’s psychiatrist, eventually played by Ms. March’s first husband,Alexander Scourby.
Lori von Eltz was born on March 6, 1923, in Los Angeles. Her mother, Peggy Prior, was a screenwriter in the 1920s. Her father, Theodor von Eltz, was a character actor who began his career in silent films and went on to appear in “Topper,” “Magnificent Obsession” and other films in the 1930s and 1940s. When her parents divorced in 1928, Lori and her brother, Ted, were at the center of a bitter custody battle and placed in a foster home. But when her mother remarried, Lori was adopted by her stepfather, Joseph Moncure March, the screenwriter and poet best known for “The Wild Party.”
Ms. March studied acting at HB Studio and began her career in the early 1950s. Her television debut was on a 1952 episode of “Manhunt” and her Broadway debut in “Cyrano de Bergerac,” starring José Ferrer, in 1953. Her other Broadway appearances included “Charley’s Aunt” (1953, also with Mr. Ferrer) and “The Chalk Garden” (1955). Her Off Broadway work included John Houseman’s 1954 “Coriolanus,” with Robert Ryan.She made two feature films, both in 1956 — “Lovers and Lollipops,” a romance praised mostly for its pretty photography, and “Ransom!,” a drama with Glenn Ford and Donna Reed — but devoted most of her time to television. She appeared on anthology series like “Playhouse 90,” “Armstrong Circle Theater” and “The United States Steel Hour.”
Viewers of “The Twilight Zone” saw her in 1960 as Fritz Weaver’s anxious wife, preparing her family to escape nuclear annihilation by stealing a rocket ship and heading to another planet in the episode “Third From the Sun.” “Perry Mason” fans saw her on five episodes over the years, at least twice as a murder defendant.
Regional theater was a part of Ms. March’s later career, and she often worked with Mr. Scourby, who was an audiobook narrator (he was the voice of the Bible) as well as an actor, during their 41-year marriage. They played husband and wife in a dinner theater production of “High Spirits” (a musical version of Noël Coward’s “Blithe Spirit”) in Darien, Conn., in 1977, and patient and doctor in “Old World” at Hartford Stage in 1979. That same year Ms. March played George Grizzard’s helpless wife in an East Hampton, N.Y., production of “Deathtrap.” Ms. March continued to work in television, particularly on soap operas. Her final screen appearance was in a 1988 episode of “Another World.”
Ms. March, who lived in Redding, was widowed three times. Mr. Scourby, with whom she had a daughter, died in 1985. In 1988 she married Howard Taubman, a music and theater critic for The Times, who died in 1996. Her third husband, Milton Williams, was a public relations executive. They were married from 1997 until his death in 2008.
Besides her stepson Mr. Taubman, her survivors include her daughter, Alexandra S. Mackler; a granddaughter; another stepson, William C. Taubman; and four step-grandchildren.
BOB TEAGUE, WNBC REPORTER WHO HELPED INTEGRATE TV NEWS
Published: March 28, 2013
Bob Teague, who joined WNBC-TV in New York in 1963 as one of the city’s first black television journalists and went on to work as a reporter, anchorman and producer for more than three decades, died on Thursday in New Brunswick, N.J. He was 84.
The cause was T-cell lymphoma, his wife, Jan, said.
Mr. Teague established a reputation for finding smart, topical stories and delivering them with sophistication. Though he later criticized TV news as superficial and too focused on the appearance of reporters and anchors, his own good looks and modulated voice were believed to have helped his longevity in the business.
Mr. Teague followed in the footsteps of Mal Goode, who became the first black network TV reporter in 1962. Mr. Goode was assigned to the ABC News United Nations bureau because network executives feared his presence in the main studio would be too disruptive, TV Guide reported. WNBC, the NBC-owned station in New York, hired Mr. Teague, a seasoned newspaper reporter, the next year. As racial tensions mounted in the 1960s, he was often sent into minority neighborhoods. In July 1963, he was a principal correspondent for “Harlem: Test for the North,” an hourlong network program prepared after riots broke out in the neighborhood.
“They felt black reporters would be invulnerable in a riot,” Mr. Teague said in an interview with The Associated Press in 1981. They were not, but he and others proved themselves to be good reporters. He won praise in September 1963 for his first-person report about protesting racial injustice on a picket line.
Just two years after being hired, Mr. Teague was given his own weekly program, “Sunday Afternoon Report.” He also became a frequent replacement on NBC network news and sports programs.
But even as he carved a niche at NBC, including occasional service as anchor, he grew disillusioned with many aspects of the TV news business. In his 1982 book, “Live and Off-Color: News Biz,” he complained that executives’ lust for ratings led them to prefer spectacle over serious news.
“A newscast is not supposed to be just another vehicle for peddling underarm deodorants,” he wrote. “The public needs to know.”
He criticized the major stations’ practice of scheduling their news programs at the same time of day, saying that by doing so they were all essentially providing the same information. He suggested that each channel present the news in a separate time slot. The slots could then by rotated so that all would get access to the most popular times.
Robert Lewis Teague was born in Milwaukee on Jan. 2, 1929, to a mechanic and a maid. He was a star football player at the University of Wisconsin, winning all-Big 10 honors. A journalism major, he passed up offers from four professional football teams to become a reporter for The Milwaukee Journal. He joined the Army in 1952.
In 1956, he moved to New York and found work as a radio news writer for CBS. He soon joined The New York Times as a sports copy editor and went on to cover major sporting events as a reporter.
He left The Times for the NBC job.
In 1968, he published “Letters to a Black Boy,” written in the form of letters to his 1-year-old son, Adam, many about race. The letters were meant to be read when Adam was 13.
At the time he wrote the book, Mr. Teague’s views were growing more conservative. “Government handouts constitute the most damaging assault on black pride and dignity since the founding of the Ku Klux Klan,” he wrote. He generally supported conservative candidates, including Herman Cain for the Republican presidential nomination in 2012. He retired from NBC in 1991.
Mr. Teague lived in Monmouth Junction, N.J. His first marriage, to the dancer Matt Turney, ended in divorce. In addition to his wife, the former Jan Grisingher, he is survived by his son and three grandchildren.
The changing public response to Mr. Teague and others in the first wave of black television journalists was suggested in a letter he received that he described in an article in The New York Times Magazine.
“When you first began broadcasting the news on television, I watched you every night, but I realize now, years later, that I was so conscious of the fact that you were black that I didn’t hear a word you said about the news,” it read.
“Now, I am happy to say, I still watch you every night, but only because you are a damn good newscaster.”
JAMES M. NABRIT, A FIGHTER FOR CIVIL RIGHTS
James M. Nabrit III, second from right, in 1964 with three fellow NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund lawyers: Jack Greenberg, left, Norman Amaker and Michael Meltsner, right.
Published: March 27, 2013
James M. Nabrit III, a civil rights lawyer who fought school segregation before the Supreme Court and helped ensure that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala., was allowed to go forward, died on Friday in Bethesda, Md. He was 80.
The cause was lung cancer, said Ted Shaw, a close friend and the former director-counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
Mr. Nabrit, who worked at the defense fund from 1959 to 1989, argued 12 cases before the Supreme Court and won 9. For many years he served as the low-profile but essential second-in-charge when the group was the most persistent and prominent legal voice fighting to enforce school integration and end Jim Crow laws in the South.
“Jim was involved in many of the most important matters of the civil rights movement,” Mr. Shaw said. “The public didn’t know who he was, but civil rights lawyers knew him.”
Mr. Nabrit grew up among pillars of the civil rights movement. His father, James M. Nabrit Jr., helped Thurgood Marshall argue the cases that led to the Supreme Court’s landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954 and later became president of Howard University in Washington.
The younger Mr. Nabrit also worked with Mr. Marshall, who hired him as a lawyer with the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund in 1959. Mr. Marshall, who later became the first black Supreme Court justice, founded the fund in 1940.
“When I was hired, he announced to everyone that my job title was ‘low man on the totem pole’ and that I was to be addressed as ‘boy,’ ” Mr. Nabrit recalled in a 2001 interview with the magazine The Washington Lawyer. “He always kept everyone laughing.”
Mr. Nabrit’s first assignment was to help write a Supreme Court brief arguing against an appeal of a decision that Mr. Marshall had won in Louisiana. The lower court ruling was affirmed.
In 1965, Mr. Nabrit helped write a comprehensive plan for a 50-mile march for voting rights from Selma to Montgomery that the Alabama authorities were trying to prevent. It was written to help bolster a claim by Dr. King and his associates that they had a constitutional right to conduct the march.
The plan was so elaborately detailed — noting how many marchers could participate, the route they would take and even in what farm fields they planned to sleep along the way — that The New York Times observed that the march “may take on the appearance of a biblical wandering.”
Mr. Nabrit, who wrote the plan with Jack Greenberg, the fund’s director-counsel for many years, and others, liked to joke later that it “was my only biblical writing.”
An earlier march from Selma, on March 7, 1965, ended violently when Alabama state troopers attacked civil rights supporters on the Edmund Pettus Bridge. A second attempt ended with marchers turning around after crossing the bridge. After a judge approved the plan that Mr. Nabrit had helped write, the march — eventually 25,000 strong — went forward later that month. Congress passed the Voting Rights Act that summer.
One of the most prominent cases Mr. Nabrit worked on involved school segregation in Denver in the early 1970s. Unlike states in the South during the Jim Crow era, Colorado had no school segregation law. Instead, Denver’s school board had created segregated schools by gerrymandering the school district’s attendance zones.
When the case arrived at the Supreme Court, Mr. Nabrit began helping Gordon G. Greiner, a Denver lawyer. “The Denver case presented a different set of complications because we had to prove the cause of school segregation,” Mr. Nabrit recalled.
When the Supreme Court ruled in 1973 that the Denver school board had deliberately segregated part of the school district, it was the first time in nearly 20 years that the court had not ruled unanimously in a school desegregation case. Justices Lewis F. Powell Jr. and William H. Rehnquist dissented.
“We were very fortunate to be presenting arguments attacking the Jim Crow legal system at a time when the majority of the court wanted to do away with Jim Crow,” Mr. Nabrit recalled.
James Madison Nabrit III was born on June 11, 1932, in Houston. He grew up in Washington, where he attended segregated public schools through part of high school. He finished high school at the Mount Hermon School for Boys, now Northfield Mount Hermon, in Massachusetts.
He graduated from Bates College and Yale Law School and then worked briefly for a private law firm. He spent two years in the Army before Mr. Marshall hired him.
Mr. Nabrit’s wife of more than 50 years, Roberta Jacqueline Harlan, died in 2008. No immediate family members survive.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: March 30, 2013
An obituary on Thursday about the civil rights lawyer James M. Nabrit III misstated the year that the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, for which he worked, was founded. It was 1940, not 1957.