BERNIE WORRELL, THE MOST INFLUENTIAL KEYBOARDIST YOU’VE PROBABLY NEVER HEARD OF
Bernie Worrell performing with Leo Nocentelli’s Rare Funk Gathering at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in 2008.Credit Clayton Call/Redferns SOURCE
Keyboardist and composer Bernie Worrell, who helped shape the sound of the band Parliament-Funkadelic and influenced countless artists across a wide range of genres, died Friday at 72.
Worrell announced earlier this year that he had been diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer.
His musical life began early — according to his official biography, he started studying piano at age 3, wrote his first concerto at age 8 and performed with the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C., at 10.
The classically trained keyboardist (he studied at Juilliard and the New England Conservatory of Music) made his name — and an indelible mark on music — in the world of P-Funk.
Worrell, aka “The Wizard of Woo,” was an early member of Parliament-Funkadelic, George Clinton’s sprawling, theatrical and wildly influential funk collective.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame notes that Parliament and Funkadelic “prefigured everything from rap and hip-hop to techno and alternative,” with latter-day disciples including Prince and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Worrell was one of the key collaborators shaping the sounds of the collective.
He was particularly famous for his innovative embrace of the sounds of synthesizers.
In the 1980s, Worrell helped reshape the sound of the Talking Heads and became a regular member of their expanded lineup.
Bernie Worrell performs at the Black Rock Coalition Presents: All The Woo In The World â An All-Star Celebration benefit concert on April 4 in New York City. The concert was raising money for Worrell’s medical costs. Al Pereira/WireImage
“The art of creating is not just pushing a button,” he said. “We’re going to lose
the art of creating — composing — because they won’t even know how to make a chord. The chords are already just on a button. What is the root? What’s the third? What’s the fifth of the chord?
“I feel that a lot of artists and parents who are interested in music should get music back into the mainstream in school systems,” he said. “That’s being lost also.”
You can hear that whole piece, which also explores the social awareness of Parliament/Funkadelic as well as Worrell’s lasting influence on the Talking Heads, here:
From 1991: Funk Legend Bernie Worrell, By Andy Lyman
In January, Worrell announced that he had been diagnosed with late-stage lung cancer. An online fundraiser and star-studded benefit concert helped cover his medical expenses — and gave many in the music community a chance to honor his life while he was still there to hear it.
George Clinton and Bootsy Collins of P-Funk, David Byrne and Jerry Harrison of the Talking Heads, Fred Schneider of the B-52s, Buckethead, Living Colour and Questlove, among others, performed at the “All The WOO In The World” benefit concert in April. And Worrell played too, of course.
The crowd shouted “We love you, Bernie!” as he struggled for words, holding a proclamation from the mayor of Newark, N.J., in his honor. “I don’t know what to —” Worrell said.
Ralph Stanley at the Stagecoach Country Music Festivalin 2012. Karl Walter/Getty Images
One of the early leaders of bluegrass music, Ralph Stanley, has died at age 89. His death was announced by his grandson Nathan Stanley; Stanley’s publicist said in a statement that the cause was complications from skin cancer.
Ralph and his older brother Carter started out in the late 1940s as a duo. After Carter died in 1966, Ralph continued with his band the Clinch Mountain Boys and built a fan base fiercely devoted to his straightforward banjo and archaic-type singing known as the “high lonesome” mountain sound.
Stanley’s sound came in part from the fact that he often sang in a minor key, while his band played in a happy-sounding major key.
John Wright, who wrote a book on Stanley called Traveling the High Way Home, says that tension between minor and major, plus what he called Stanley’s unearthly smokey vocal tone, “gives this old-time mysterious flavor to the singing. The voice sounds like it’s coming out of the past, like a ghost or something like that.”
Stanley himself told WHYY’s Fresh Air in 2002 that he was aware his voice was special, “a gift I think that God’s given me, and he means me to use that.”
DJ Sessions: Young Musicians Carry On Bluegrass Traditions
He and his brother Carter started playing professionally on local radio in Bristol, Va., in 1946, calling their show Farm and Fun Time. Trying to compete against more mainstream country music and rock-and-roll, they moved toward a smoother duet style.
After Carter’s death, Ralph moved back to the traditional sound. He also drew on his childhood experiences in the Baptist Church and started presenting a capella solo and quartet religious songs on the bluegrass stage, something that wasn’t common before.
Ralph Stanley entered the Bluegrass Hall of Fame in 1992, but his unearthly tenor catapulted him to much wider fame when, in 2000 at age 73, he was asked to sing the song “O, Death” for the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou.
He told Fresh Air he was surprised by the reaction, but also gratified with the letters from people who said “that sound caused them to change their life, and I … believe that gift was given to me for that purpose.”
Bill Cunningham, the modern era’s original street style photographer, died Saturday in New York. His passing marked the end of an extraordinary career, during which Cunningham, 87, spent almost 40 years chronicling the world’s ever-changing fashion trends and shifting social mores for the New York Times.
His death also means that fashion reporting — and the wider world of journalism — has been been deflated, diluted, weakened. That is the more profound sadness.
In his wake, there are countless new-generation photographers who prowl the sidewalks looking to capture some rare bird flitting along Fifth Avenue and 57th Street, where Cunningham often waited with his camera in hand. Street style lives on Instagram. It has been enshrined in books, exhibitions, films. And so too was Cunningham’s work. But Cunningham was admired and beloved within the fashion world and beyond not merely because of his skill at transforming style photography into cultural anthropology, but because of the integrity, precision and journalistic fervor with which he did it.
In an industry in which it is sometimes hard to tell what is truth and what is a paid promotion, Cunningham was obsessive in his philosophy of refusal. For decades he worked independently and only grudgingly joined the Times staff — mostly for the health insurance. At a time when fashion influencers regularly receive free airfare, free clothes, free hotels, Cunningham was a journalistic ascetic. He valued his freedom more than anything else.
He was known for his blue French workman’s jacket. It was utterly basic. Wholly of the people. Its only flourish was the bold shade of blue, which on Cunningham seemed less about aesthetics and more about rebellion. Against what? The quotidian elegance of fashion’s favorite color: black. In a sea of black-cloaked editors, Cunningham was not part of the pack. He was not a fashion lemming. He was not chic; he was working.
Bill Cunningham at a September 2013 Marc Jacobs show where celebrities including Winona Ryder, Christina Ricci and Parker Posey claimed front-row seats. (Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Marc Jacobs)
He was known for photographing the most rarefied parties and galas but never partaking of even an hors d’oeuvre or sip of champagne. He tooled around on his bicycle rather than a black Town Car. He stood in the rain, the snow, the cold, the wind focused on nothing more than getting the photograph that he wanted. He always seemed to be working so hard — even as the energy of those many generations his junior had long since flagged.
He called people “kid” and “child.” And he always did so with a combination of dismay and enthusiasm in his voice. His tone always suggested that he suspected — hoped — that everyone was up to something interesting, naughty and just possibly “mahvelous” — as he might say. (He graciously gave this writer permission to include his photographs in her book.)
In many ways, journalism has veered away from telling other people’s stories and instead spends a great deal of time focused on the opinions, style, and personality of the journalist. Fashion has its preening bloggers. Politics has its talking heads. Tech has its know-it-all-and-tell-everyone-about-it millionaires. And everyone has a collection of selfies.
Cunningham bicycling to work in November 2010. (Mark Lennihan/AP)
Cunningham didn’t just prefer to stay in the background, he believed that as a journalist it was the only way that he could do his job. When Bergdorf Goodman celebrated his work in its windows and threw a party in his honor, he spent the evening photographing the other guests. After finally agreeing to participate in the 2010 documentary, “Bill Cunningham New York,” he lamented the constant intrusions that the notoriety brought him as strangers interrupted his work to say hello or ask for a selfie. How could he be a fly-on-the-wall if everyone was looking at him?
Cunningham could be abrupt or brusque to those who got in between his camera and his subject. Do not block his shot! But he was also known for his warmth and quiet. He was not a diva in an industry that seems to cultivate them.
He embraced diversity. He had a soft spot for youthful exuberance and wily outsiders. In his quest to document personal style, he used a wide lens.
So many of the traits that made Cunningham respected and admired are those that should be common in journalism — but often go missing, particularly in fashion reporting. He guarded his integrity with ferocity. He focused on his work — not the seating chart, the gift bag or his personal brand — with joy and passion.
And through the long days, the competing crowds and the petty distractions, he was a gentleman.
Prince Be, the frontman for the psychedelic pop-rap group P.M. Dawn, which in the early 1990s was both popular and maligned — and since then has been both underappreciated and quietly influential — died on Friday at a hospital in Neptune, N.J. He was 46.
The cause was renal failure resulting from complications of diabetes, his wife, Mary Sierra-Cordes, said.
Prince Be had suffered from diabetes for more than two decades, and had various health problems over the years, among them several strokes, including one in 2005 that left him partly paralyzed, and gangrene, which led to the partial amputation of one leg. He had been in nursing homes for the last several years.
Even in an era of earnest bohemianism in hip-hop, P.M. Dawn stood out for its hippie-esque mysticism, fantastical imagery, crypto-Christian references and ethereal musical aesthetic. Prince Be was an early blurrer of the lines between rapping and singing, and between the earthly and the spiritual, inspired in part by the American mystic Edgar Cayce, about whom he learned from his mother, Janice Carr. (Prince Be’s father, Attrell Cordes Sr., died when he was young. His stepfather was a drummer, for Kool & the Gang and others.)
Prince Be was born Attrell Cordes on May 15, 1970, in Jersey City. He and his younger brother, Jarrett, known as DJ Minutemix, formed P.M. Dawn there in the late 1980s. The group’s first demo was made with $600 Prince Be earned as a night guard at a homeless shelter.
P.M. Dawn released its first single in 1989, and two years later released its excellent debut album, “Of the Heart, of the Soul, and of the Cross: The Utopian Experience,” a moody and abstract reframing of hip-hop through a New Age lens. It spawned the single “Set Adrift on Memory Bliss” — based on a sample of the new wave standard “True,” by Spandau Ballet — which became the first rap song by a black act to top the Hot 100, Billboard’s pop singles chart. (Previously, the only hip-hop songs to top that chart were by Vanilla Ice, Marky Mark and the Funky Bunch and, depending on your taxonomic choices, Blondie.)
The next year, P.M. Dawn released the elegant ballad “I’d Die Without You,” which reached No. 2 on the Hot 100. In 1993 the group released its entrancing second album, “The Bliss Album…? (Vibrations of Love and Anger and the Ponderance of Life and Existence).” Like its predecessor, it went gold.
As a producer, Prince Be drew on a wide range of material, sampling everything from the Monkees to Deep Purple. P.M. Dawn’s sound was singular — rooted in hip-hop but unafraid of softness. The group’s experimentation was not always embraced, though, leading to one of the early public schisms between hip-hop’s pop- and street-oriented wings.
In 1991, Prince Be said some impertinent things to Details magazine about KRS-One, the tough-talking political rapper. Retaliation was swift. KRS-One appeared at a 1992 P.M. Dawn performance at the Sound Factory in Manhattan, which was being filmed for MTV, and physically threw the group off the stage. The incident ensured that P.M. Dawn would be almost as well known for the negative reactions it engendered as for its hits. (The group was also parodied in the 1993 film “Fear of a Black Hat,” which satirized hip-hop.)
P.M. Dawn released three more albums between 1995 and 2000, but they were more abstruse than their predecessors and were coolly received.
During those years, Prince Be was producing songs for other artists as well. He was also a well-regarded record collector.
In addition to his brother and his wife, his survivors include his mother; two sons, Christian and Brandon; a daughter, Mia; and four half brothers, Sylvaneous, Jason, Chris and Johnny Cordes.
In 2005, P.M. Dawn appeared on the NBC reality show “Hit Me, Baby, One More Time,” on which nostalgia acts competed against one another by performing both their own songs and other artists’. Prince Be, who had suffered a stroke, had to be assisted onto the stage and performed from a seat.
But P.M. Dawn won the competition. The group donated the $20,000 prize to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
BEAUTIFUL, ALSO, ARE THE SOULS OF MY BLACK SISTERS · A BLOGSITE FOR THE PRAISING OF ALL THINGS BEAUTIFUL AND SUBLIME IN HONOR OF ALL BLACK WOMEN. "ONLY THE BLACK WOMAN CAN SAY WHEN AND WHERE I ENTER, IN THE QUIET, UNDISPUTED DIGNITY OF MY WOMANHOOD, WITHOUT VIOLENCE AND WITHOUT SUING OR SPECIAL PATRONAGE, THEN AND THERE THE WHOLE. . .RACE ENTERS WITH ME." ANNA JULIA COOPER, 1892