BUCHI EMECHETA, NIGERIAN NOVELIST
Buchi Emecheta, a British-based Nigerian writer who, in “Second-Class Citizen,” “The Joys of Motherhood” and other novels, gave voice to African women struggling to reconcile traditional roles with the demands of modernity, died on Jan. 25 at her home in London. She was 72.
The cause was dementia, her son Sylvester Onwordi wrote in the British magazine New Statesman.
Ms. Emecheta (pronounced BOO-chee em-EH-cheh-tah) came to the attention of British readers in the early 1970s when New Statesman began running her accounts of the travails of a young Nigerian woman in London. Adah, a thinly disguised version of the author, lived in a dreary apartment, worked menial jobs to support her young children and abusive husband, studied at night and weathered the slights meted out by a racist society. Buoyed by ambition and pluck, she remained undaunted.
“In the Ditch,” a novel based on those columns, appeared in 1972.
With the publication two years later of a second Adah novel, “Second-Class Citizen,” critics in Britain and the United States hailed the arrival of an important new African writer. Like her immediate predecessor Flora Nwapa, Ms. Emecheta revealed the thoughts and aspirations of her countrywomen, shaped by a patriarchal culture but stirred by the modern promise of freedom and self-definition.
“Scarcely any other African novelist has succeeded in probing the female mind and displaying the female personality with such precision,” the Sierra Leonean scholar Eustace Palmer wrote in African Literature Today in 1983.
In several novels set in Nigeria, including “The Bride Price” (1976), “The Slave Girl” (1977), “The Joys of Motherhood” (1979) and “Double Yoke” (1983), Ms. Emecheta dramatized, in often harrowing detail, the dire poverty and tight web of family obligations that thwarted aspiring women, their worth determined by the number of sons they could bear.
“Emecheta’s women do not simply lie down and die,” The Voice Literary Supplement wrote in 1982. “Always there is resistance, a challenge to fate, a need to renegotiate the terms of the uneasy peace that exists between them and accepted traditions.”
She was born Florence Onyebuchi Emecheta on July 21, 1944, in Yaba, near Lagos, to Jeremy Nwabudinke and Alice Okwuekwuhe. When she was 9, her father, a railway worker, died of complications of combat wounds he had suffered in Burma during World War II.
After being kept at home while her younger brother went to school, in accordance with tradition, Florence won a scholarship to Methodist Girls’ High School at 10. Her mother died a year later, and she was passed from one distant relative to another in Lagos while she attended school. One day she was beaten in front of her class when she announced that she wanted to be a writer.
It was a cherished dream, born when she visited the family’s ancestral village, Ibuza, and listened to a blind aunt telling stories about their people, the Ibo.
“I thought to myself, ‘No life could be more important than this,’” Ms. Emecheta told The Voice Literary Supplement. “So when people asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up, I told them I wanted to be a storyteller — which is what I’m doing now.”
At 16 she married Sylvester Onwordi, a student to whom she had been engaged since she was 11. When he went to Britain to study accounting she followed, with their two children in tow. Three more children would follow in rapid succession.
Mr. Onwordi, a failure at school, took out his frustrations on his young wife, whose early attempts to write he regarded with suspicion. When asked to read the manuscript of her first novel, “The Bride Price,” he burned it. After painstaking reconstruction, it was published after her Adah novels.
Much to her husband’s astonishment, Ms. Emecheta left the marriage and, from 1965 to 1969, worked as a library officer at the British Museum. Aided by a government grant, she studied nights at the University of London while working as a youth counselor for the Inner London Education Authority. She received a sociology degree in 1972.
As her novels attracted critical attention, Ms. Emecheta began lecturing at universities in the United States. In Nigeria, she was a visiting professor of English at the University of Calabar in 1980 and 1981.
Ms. Emecheta said that editors had cut a large section of the book without her permission. It was based on research she had carried out surreptitiously after taking a job as a cleaning woman at Sandhurst, the royal military academy, for that purpose. She and her son Sylvester started their own press, the Ogwugwu Afor Publishing Company, whose first title was “Double Yoke,” in 1983.
That year she received a publicity coup when the literary journal Granta listed her among the 20 best young British novelists, placing her alongside such rising stars as Martin Amis, Ian McEwan and Salman Rushdie.
Ms. Emecheta took an experimental leap with the postcolonial fantasy “The Rape of Shavi” (1984), about an airplane carrying Western passengers that crashes in a mythical sub-Saharan country. Once repaired, the plane returns to Europe, carrying with it the king’s son. Disaster ensues.
With “Gwendolen” (1989), published in the United States as “The Family,” Ms. Emecheta returned to more familiar fictional territory, telling the story of a Jamaican girl sexually abused in Jamaica by her uncle and in England by her father, whose child she bears.
Through the female protagonist of “Kehinde” (1994) and the male protagonist of “The New Tribe,” Ms. Emecheta explored the predicament of Nigerians with their feet in two cultures.
“My books are about survival, just like my own life,” she told the Nigerian magazine The Voice in 1996.
Ms. Emecheta, who received the Order of the British Empire in 2005, wrote a memoir, “Head Above Water” (1986), and several books for children, including “Tich the Cat” (1979) and “The Moonlight Bride” (1981).
In addition to her son Sylvester, survivors include another son, Jake Onwordi, and a daughter, Alice Emecheta.
AL JARREAU, SINGER WHO SPANNED JAZZ, POP, AND R&B WORLDS
Al Jarreau, a versatile vocalist who sold millions of records and won a string of Grammys for his work in pop and R&B as well as his first love, jazz, died on Sunday in Los Angeles. He was 76.
His death was announced by his manager, Joe Gordon, who said that Mr. Jarreau had been hospitalized for exhaustion two weeks ago. On the advice of his doctors, he had canceled his tour dates and retired from touring.
Mr. Jarreau did not begin a full-time musical career until he was nearly 30, but within a few years he had begun attracting notice for a vocal style that was both instantly appealing and highly unusual. Critics were particularly taken by his improvisational dexterity, in particular his virtuosic ability to produce an array of vocalizations ranging from delicious nonsense to clicks and growls to quasi-instrumental sounds.
Although he made his initial mark in the jazz world, Mr. Jarreau’s style, and his audience, crossed stylistic barriers. His music incorporated elements of pop, soul, gospel, Latin and other genres. It was a mark of his eclecticism that he won six Grammys across three different categories: jazz, pop and R&B. He was also among the performers on a Grammy-winning children’s album, “In Harmony: A Sesame Street Record.”
If Mr. Jarreau’s highly accessible, intensely personal style defied easy classification, that very accessibility — and, perhaps, the mere fact of his considerable commercial success — left some jazz purists skeptical.
Reviewing a concert by Mr. Jarreau at the Savoy in New York in 1981, Stephen Holden of The New York Times encapsulated what many saw as both the pros and the cons of Mr. Jarreau’s singular style:
“Al Jarreau may be the most technically gifted singer working in jazz-fusion today,” Mr. Holden wrote. Of the evening’s performance, however, he continued: “Mr. Jarreau’s concert lacked the emotional range of great jazz. He is such a prodigious talent that the absence of even the slightest blues inflections kept his music from cutting deeply.”
But critics’ reservations never deterred Mr. Jarreau, who prided himself, as he told The Los Angeles Times in 1986, on his “jazz attitude,” which he defined as “the idea of being open to each and every moment as a chance to create something different.”
Alwin Lopez Jarreau was born in Milwaukee on March 12, 1940, into a musical family. His father, a minister, was a fine singer; his mother played the piano in church. Young Al began singing at 4, harmonizing with his siblings. As a youth he sang in church, as well as with street-corner harmony groups and local jazz bands.
Mr. Jarreau earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Ripon College in Wisconsin in 1962, and a master’s in vocational rehabilitation from the University of Iowa in 1964. Afterward he moved to San Francisco, where he worked as a rehabilitation counselor for people with disabilities.
But Mr. Jarreau found he could not resist the pull of jazz and before long was singing in local nightclubs. By the late ’60s, he had quit his day job and embarked on a nightclub career, first on the West Coast and eventually in New York.
He reached a national audience with the album “We Got By,” released by Warner Bros. in 1975 to critical praise and commercial success.
Though advertised as his debut, it was actually his second album. A decade earlier, Mr. Jarreau had quietly recorded an album, later released on the Bainbridge label under the title “1965.” Though Mr. Jarreau took legal action, without success, to block its belated release in 1982, it is esteemed by jazz connoisseurs today.
Appearances on “Saturday Night Live” and other television shows raised his profile, as did extensive touring. In 1981 he had his biggest hit with the song “We’re in This Love Together,” which reached No. 15 on the Billboard pop singles chart.
He won his first Grammy in 1978, for best jazz vocal performance, for his album “Look to the Rainbow.” He won his last in 2007, for best traditional R&B vocal performance; the award was shared by Mr. Jarreau, George Benson and Jill Scott for their collaborative performance “God Bless the Child.”
In between, in 1982, Mr. Jarreau earned a Grammy for best pop vocal performance by a male artist for the title track of his album “Breakin’ Away.” That year, he also received the Grammy for best jazz vocal performance by a male artist, for his version of Dave Brubeck’s “Blue Rondo à la Turk,” from the same album.
Among Mr. Jarreau’s best-known recordings was the theme song for the long-running television series “Moonlighting,” for which he wrote the lyrics to Lee Holdridge’s music. He appeared on Broadway as a replacement in the role of the Teen Angel in the 1994 revival of “Grease.”
Mr. Jarreau’s first marriage, to Phyllis Hall, ended in divorce. He is survived by his wife, the former Susan Player; a son, Ryan; two brothers, Marshall and Appie; and a sister, Rose Marie Freeman.
Mr. Jarreau canceled a number of concert dates in 2010 after experiencing heart and breathing problems during a European tour. He was hospitalized for 11 days but resumed his touring schedule after his release, and had continued to perform until recently.
Shortly after his 2010 hospitalization, he said in an interview that his health problems had not been as serious as reports suggested, but joked that he appreciated the attention they received in the media because it proved that he was a celebrity. “I figured,” he said, “‘Yeah, maybe I have arrived.’”