Nina Simone


Eunice Kathleen Waymon, better known as Nina Simone (February 21, 1933 – April 21, 2003), was an American singer, songwriter, pianist, and civil rights activist.

Although she disliked being categorized, Simone is generally classified as a jazz musician. Her work covers an eclectic variety of musical styles, such as jazz, soul, folk, R&B, gospel, and even pop music. Her vocal style is characterized by passion, breathiness, and tremolo. Simone recorded over 40 live and studio albums, the biggest body of her work being released between 1958 (when she made her debut with Little Girl Blue (Nina Simone album) and 1974. Songs she is best known for include My Baby Just Cares for Me, I Put A Spell On You, I Loves You Porgy, Feeling Good,, Sinnerman, and Nuff Said: Ain’t got no-I got life.

Nina Simone lifted jazz, blues, and rhythm and blues singing to a higher level with her ease at storytelling through musical notes and vibrant rhythm. She was able to go beyond ordinary music-making to relate to a greater frame of reference—to an ever expanding world fan and supporter base for this unique music. Simone made a difference and served the greater good in the world of music.


Youth (1933–1954)

Simone was born Eunice Kathleen Waymon in Tryon, North Carolina, one of eight children. From a baby she showed genuine love of music and as a very young child was noted for her spirited clapping, on beat at church! She began playing piano at her local church and showed prodigious talent on this instrument. Her concert debut, a piano recital, was made at the age of ten. During her performance, her parents, who had taken seats in the front row, were forced to move to the back of the hall to make way for white people. Simone refused to play until her parents were moved back. This incident contributed to her later involvement in the American Civil Rights Movement (1955-1968) movement.

Simone’s mother, Mary Kate Waymon (who lived into her late 90’s) of African slaves, American Indian and Irish descent was a strict Methodist minister; her father, John Divine Waymon, descended from African slaves was a handyman and sometime barber who suffered bouts of ill-health. Mrs. Waymon worked as a maid and her employer, Mrs. Miller, hearing of Nina’s talent, provided funds for piano lessons. A petite, silver-haired, bird-like English woman with a Russian painter husband became her tutor and subsequently, Miz Mizz Mazzy,(Nina’s name for her) created a local fund to assist in Eunice’s continued education.

At age seventeen, Simone moved to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where she taught piano and accompanied singers to fund her own studying as a classical music pianist at New York City’s Juilliard School of Music. With the help of a private tutor she studied for an interview to further study piano at the Curtis Institute, but she was rejected. Simone believed that this rejection was because she was a black woman and it fueled her hatred of the racial injustice in the United States. It seemed that her dream to become the first African-American classical pianist would not be fulfilled.

Early success (1954–1959)

Simone played at the Midtown Bar & Grill on Pacific Avenue in Atlantic City, New Jersey to fund her studying. The owner said that she would have to sing as well as play the piano in order to get the job. She took on the stagename “Nina Simone” in 1954 because she didn’t want her mother to know that she was playing “the devil’s music.” “Nina” (meaning “little girl” in Spanish) was a nickname a boyfriend had given to her and “Simone” was after the French actress Simone Signoret, whom she had seen in the movie Casque d’or. Simone played and sang a mixture of jazz, blues and classical music at the bar, and by doing so she created a small but loyal fan base.

After playing in small clubs she recorded a rendition of George Gershwin’s “I Loves You Porgy” (from Porgy and Bess) in 1958, which was learned from a Billie Holiday album and performed as a favor to a friend. It became her only Billboard top 40 hit in the United States, and her debut album Little Girl Blue soon followed on Bethlehem Records. Simone would never benefit financially from the album, because she sold the rights for $ 3000. It meant that she missed out on more than 1 million dollars of royalties (mainly because of the successful re-release of “My Baby Just Cares for Me” in the 1980s). After the success of Little Girl Blue, Simone signed a contract with a bigger company under the label Colpix Records, followed by a string of studio and live albums (Simone, 1992; Brun-Lambert, 2006). Colpix relinquished all creative control, including the choice of material that would be recorded, to Nina in exchange for her signing with them. Simone, who at this point only performed pop music to make money to continue her classical music studies, was bold with her demand for control over her music because she was indifferent about having a recording contract.

Life Performances

Simone’s regal bearing and commanding stage presence earned her the title the “High Priestess of Soul.” Her live performances were regarded not as mere concerts, but as happenings. In a single concert she could be a singer, pianist, dancer, actress and activist all simultaneously. On stage Simone’s versatility became truly evident, as she moved from gospel to blues, jazz and folk, to numbers infused with European classical stylings, and counterpoint fugues. She incorporated monologues and dialogues with the audience into the program, and often used silence as a musical element. She could be very strict, in this regard, admonishing the audience to keep quiet until not a pin-drop could be heard. About this, Simone herself said:

“It’s like mass hypnosis. I use it all the time”

Many recordings exist of her concerts, expressing fragments of her on-stage power, wit, sensuality and occasional menace. Throughout most of her live and recording career she was accompanied by percussionist Leopoldo Flemming and guitarist and musical director Al Shackman.

Civil rights era (1964–1974)

Simone was made aware of the severity of racial prejudice in America by her friends Langston Hughes, James Baldwin (writer), and Lorraine Hansberry (author of the play Raisin in the Sun). In 1964, she changed record labels, from the American Colpix Records to the Dutch Philips Records, which also meant a change in the contents of her recordings. Simone had always included songs in her repertoire that hinted to her African-American origins (such as “Brown Baby” and “Zungo” on Nina at the Village Gate in 1962). But on her debut album for Philips, Nina Simone In Concert (live recording, 1964), Simone for the first time openly addresses the racial inequality that was prevalent in the United States with the song “Mississippi Goddam.” It was her response to the murder of Medgar Evers and the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama, killing four black children. The song was released as a single, being boycotted in certain southern states. With “Old Jim Crow” on the same album she reacts to the Jim Crow Laws.

From then onwards, the civil rights message was standard in Simone’s recording repertoire, where it had already become a part of her live performances. She covered Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” on Pastel Blues (1965), which is a statement on the lynching of black men in the South, and sang the W. Cuney poem “Images” on Let It All Out (1966), talking about the absence of pride in the African-American woman. Simone wrote the song “Four Women” and sings it on the album Wild Is the Wind (1966). It is about four different stereotypes of African-American women.

Simone again moved from Philips to RCA Victor Records in 1967. She sang “Backlash Blues,” written by her friend Langston Hughes on her first RCA album, Nina Simone Sings The Blues (1967). On Silk & Soul (1967) she recorded Billy Taylor’s “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free” and “Turning Point.” The last song illustrates how white children would get indoctrinated with racism at an early age. The album Nuff Said (1968) contains live recordings from the Westbury Music Fair, April 7, 1968, three days after the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King. She dedicated the whole performance to him and sang “Why? (The King Of Love Is Dead),” a song written by her bass player directly after the news of Dr. King’s death had reached them.

Together with Langston Hughes, Simone turned the late Lorraine Hansberry’s unfinished play “To Be Young, Gifted and Black” into a civil rights song. She performed it live on Black Gold (1970). A studio recording was released as a single, and the song became the official “National Anthem of Black America” and has been covered by Aretha Franklin on Young, Gifted and Black) (1972) and Donny Hathaway.

Being “difficult”

Simone had a reputation in the music industry for being volatile and sometimes difficult to deal with, a characterization with which she strenuously took issue. In 1995, she reportedly shot and wounded her neighbor’s son with a BB gun (pneumatic pistol) after his laughing disturbed her concentration. She also fired at a record company executive whom she accused of stealing royalties.

In New York City, she was seen after finishing her set in a club performance, in the wee small hours, to demand her payment immediately, in a loud and angry voice, while exiting to her limosine. She gave the impression that people were taking advantage of her.

It is now recognized that this ‘difficulty’ was not just the result of an over-exacting artistic rigor, but her raging outbursts and diva-like extremes were actually the result of a medical condition, possibly clinical depression or borderline personality disorder, for which Simone had to take medication. All this was only known to a small group of people around the singer for many years. The biography Break Down And Let It All Out, written by Sylvia Hampton and David Nathan revealed this secret in 2004.

Later life (1978–2003)

Simone impulsively left the United States in September 1970. The continuous performances and decline of the Civil Rights movement had exhausted her. She flew to Barbados, expecting her husband and manager, Andrew Stroud, to contact her when she had to perform again. However, Stroud interpreted Simone’s sudden disappearance (and the fact that she left behind her wedding ring) as a cue for a divorce. As her manager, Stroud was also in charge of Simone’s income. This meant that after their separation Simone had no knowledge about how her business was run, and what she was actually worth. Upon returning to the United States she also learned that there were serious problems with the tax authorities, causing her to go back to Barbados again. Simone stayed in Barbados for quite some time, and had a lengthy affair with the Prime Minister, Errol Barrow. A friend, singer Miriam Makeba, convinced her to come to Liberia. After that she lived in Switzerland and the Netherlands, before settling in France in 1992. Simone’s divorce from her husband and manager can be seen as the end of her most successful years in the American music business, and the beginning of her (partially self-imposed) exile and estrangement from the world for the next two decades (Simone & Cleary, 1992; Brun-Lambert, 2006).

After her last album for RCA Records, It Is Finished (1974), it was not until 1978 that Simone was convinced by CTI Records owner Creed Taylor to record another album, Baltimore. The album was not a commercial success, but did get good reviews and marked a quiet artistic renaissance in Simone’s recording output. Her voice had not lost its power over the years, but developed an additional warmth and a vivacious maturity. Her choice of material retained its eclecticism, ranging from spiritual songs to Hall & Oates’ “Rich Girl.” Four years later Simone recorded Fodder On My Wings on a French label. It is one of her most personal albums, with nearly all of the autobiographical songs written by herself. In the 1980s Simone performed regularly at Ronnie Scott’s jazz club in London. The album Live At Ronnie Scott’s was recorded there in 1984. Though her onstage style could be somewhat haughty and aloof, in later years, Simone particularly seemed to enjoy engaging her audiences by recounting sometimes humorous anecdotes related to her career and music and soliciting requests. Her autobiography, I Put a Spell on You, was published in 1992. She recorded her last album A Single Woman in 1993.

In 1993 Simone settled near Aix-en-Provence in the south of France. She had been ill with cancer for several years before she died in her sleep at her home in Carry-le-Rouet on April 21, 2003, aged 70. She left behind a daughter Lisa Celeste, now an actress/singer who took on the stage name Simone and has appeared on Broadway theater in Aida.


On Human Kindness Day 1974 in Washington, DC more than 10,000 people paid tribute to Simone for her music and commitment to humanity. Simone received two honorary degrees in music and humanities from the University of Massachusetts and Malcolm X College. She preferred to be called “Dr. Nina Simone” after these honors were bestowed upon her. Only two days before her death, Simone was awarded with an honorary diploma by the Curtis Institute, the school that had turned her down at the start of her career.

Best-known work

Simone had her first and biggest hit in America with a rendition of George Gershwin’s “I Loves You Porgy,” a track from her debut album Little Girl Blue (1958). It peaked at number 18 in the pop singles chart and number 2 on the black singles chart. In 1987, she experienced a resurgence in popularity when “My Baby Just Cares for Me” from the same album, became a hit all over Europe after it was featured in a Chanel no. 5 perfume commercial. A music video was then created by Aardman.

Well-known songs from her Philips years include “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” on Broadway-Blues-Ballads (1964), “I Put a Spell on You,” Ne Me Quitte Pas and “Feeling Good” on I Put A Spell On You (1965), “Lilac Wine” and “Wild Is the Wind” on Wild is the Wind (1966). “Feeling Good” was used in a Sky Movies advertisement, a 24 promotional advertisement, and in the drama series Six Feet Under (a promo for the fourth season). Several cover versions were made, most notably by British rock band Muse and Michael Bublé. It was sampled in a song by Mary J. Blige on her album The Breakthrough (2006). “Sinnerman” (from the 1965 album Pastel Blues) featured in the films The Thomas Crown Affair (1999), Cellular (2004), and Inland Empire (2006), an episode of the TV series Homicide – “Sins of the Father,” an episode of the TV series Scrubs and on the soundtrack for the videogame Marc Ecko’s Getting Up: Contents Under Pressure. Hip-hop producer Kanye West sampled “Sinnerman” for the Talib Kweli single “Get By.” Talib Kweli also recorded a hip-hop remake of Four Women, which is featured on Reflection Eternal with DJ Hi-Tek. A remixed version by Felix da Housecat was used in the soundtrack of the film Miami Vice (2006). It was also covered by 16 Horsepower.

Well-known songs from her RCA-Victor years include “House of the Rising Sun” on Nina Simone Sings The Blues (1967), “Ain’t Got No – I Got Life,” “Gin House Blues” and “Do What You Gotta Do” on Nuff Said (1968), the Bee Gees’ “To Love Somebody” and Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin” and “I Shall Be Released” on To Love Somebody (1969).
“Ain’t Got No-I Got Life,” a medley from the musical Hair, gave Simone a new and younger audience when it became a surprise hit, reaching number 2 in the UK charts in 1968. It has since become one of her most popular songs. It has been used in a television advertising campaign in the United Kingdom for Müller Dairy and returned to the UK Top 30 in a remixed version by Groovefinder in 2006.
Simone had recorded the traditional song “House of the Rising Sun” in 1961 and it featured on Nina At The Village Gate (1962), predating versions by Dave Van Ronk, and Bob Dylan. It was picked up by The Animals and became their signature hit. They repeated this with a Simone cover of “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood.” “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood” was also featured in the “J’adore Dior” perfume commercial.


Brenda Lee


Brenda Lee (December 11, 1944 – ) is an American country-pop singer, who was immensely popular during the 1950s and 60s. In the 60s, she had more charted hits than any other woman, and only three male acts (Elvis Presley, Ray Charles, and The Beatles) outpaced her. She was also one of the earliest pop stars to have a major international following.

Lee was given the nickname Little Miss Dynamite in 1957 after recording Dynamite, as the explosive sound pouring out of her diminutive, pre-teenage frame amazed audiences and promoters alike. Hits like “Sweet Nothin’s,” “I’m Sorry,” and “All Alone Am I” followed. Her general popularity faded as her voice matured in the late 1960s, but she successfully continued her recording career by returning to her roots as a country singer.

Lee’s song, “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” is a perennial favorite that has sold more than five million copies. She has been inducted into both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Country Music Hall of Fame.

Early years

Lee’s father, Ruben Tarpley, was the son of a farmer in Georgia’s red-clay belt who spent 11 years in the U.S. Army playing baseball. Her mother, Annie Grayce Yarbrough came from a working-class family in Greene County, Georgia, and had a Cherokee great-grandparent.

Brenda was born in the charity ward of Grady Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia, on December 11, 1944, weighing four pounds, 11 ounces at birth. She attended grade schools wherever her father found work, primarily in the corridor between Atlanta and Augusta. Her family was poor, and she shared a bed with her two siblings in a series of three-room houses without running water. Life centered around her parents’ finding work, their extended family, and the Baptist Church, where Brenda sang solos every Sunday.

The family had a battery-powered table radio that fascinated Brenda as a baby. By the time she was two, she could reportedly hear songs on the radio once and be able to whistle the complete tune. By the time she was three, she would earn free treats or coins for singing at the local candy store.

Brenda’s voice, pretty face, and complete absence of stage fright won her wider attention from the time she was five. At six, she won a local singing contest sponsored by the elementary schools. The reward was a live appearance on an Atlanta radio show, Starmakers Revue.

Benda’s father died in 1953, and by the time she turned ten, she had become the primary breadwinner of her family by singing at events and on local radio and television shows. Her break into big-time show business came when an Augusta DJ convinced Red Foley to hear her sing before a show. Foley was transfixed by the huge voice coming from the tiny girl and immediately agreed to let her perform the Hank Williams standard Jambalaya on stage that night, unrehearsed. The audience erupted in applause and refused to let her leave the stage until she had sung three more songs.

Less than two months later, on July 30, 1956, Decca Records offered her a recording contract. She began her recording career at age 11 with rockabilly songs like “BIGELOW 6-200″ (a telephone number), “Little Jonah,” and “Dynamite,” which led to her lifelong nickname, “Little Miss Dynamite.” He first hit was “One Step at Time” (1957).

The height of her career

Although Brenda began as a country country, Decca’s management felt it best to market her exclusively as a pop artist. The result was that none of her best-known recordings from the 1960s was released to country radio stations. Despite her obvious country sound, she would not have another country hit until 1969.

Brenda achieved her greatest success on the pop charts in the late 50s through the mid 60s. Her biggest hits during this time include a rockabilly version of the country classic “Jambalaya (On the Bayou),” the sexy R & B tune “Sweet Nothin’s,” and the Nashville-style ballads “I’m Sorry,” “I Want to Be Wanted,” “All Alone Am I,” and “Fool #1.”

“I’m Sorry” (1960) was Brenda’s signature song. It hit number one on the Billboard pop chart and was her first gold single. Although not released as a country song, it was the first big hit to use what was to become the new “Nashville Sound”—a string orchestra and legato harmonized background vocals.

The overall biggest selling track of Lee’s career, however, is a Christmas song. In 1958, when she was 13, Owen Bradley asked her to record a new song written by Johnny Marks, who had had success writing Christmas tunes for country singers, most notably “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” (Gene Autry) and “A Holly, Jolly Christmas” (Burl Ives). Lee recorded the song, “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” in July with a prominent twanging guitar part by Hank Garland. Decca released it as a single that November, but it sold only 5,000 copies. It did not do much better when it was released again in 1959, but eventually became a perennial favorite and sold over 5 million copies.

Touring in England in 1959, Lee’s 1961 rockabilly release “Let’s Jump the Broomstick” did not chart in the U.S., but went to number 12 in the UK. She also had two Top-10 hits in the UK that were not released as singles in her native country: “Speak To Me Pretty” peaked at number three in early 1962, followed by “Here Comes That Feeling.” Her last Top-10 single on the U.S. pop charts was 1963’s “Losing You.” She continued to have other minor hits such as her 1966 song “Coming On Strong” and “Is It True?” in 1964.

Country comeback

During the early 1970s, Lee re-established herself as a country music artist and earned a string of Top-10 hits on the country charts. The first of these was 1973’s “Nobody Wins,” which reached the Top 5 that spring and also became her last Top 100 pop hit, peaking at number 70. The follow-up, the Mark James composition “Sunday Sunrise,” reached number six on Billboard magazine’s Hot Country Singles chart that October. Other major country hits for Lee included “Wrong Ideas” and “Big Four Poster Bed” (1974); and “Rock On Baby” and “He’s My Rock” (1975). After a few years of lesser hits, Lee began another run at the Top 10 with 1979’s “Tell Me What It’s Like.” Two follow-ups also reached the country Top 10 in 1980: “The Cowboy and the Dandy” and “Broken Trust” (the latter featuring vocal backing by The Oak Ridge Boys). A 1982 album, The Winning Hand, featuring reissues of a number of Lee’s 1960s Monument hits, as well as that of Dolly Parton, Kris Kristofferson, and Willie Nelson, was a surprise hit, reaching the Top Ten on the U.S. country-albums chart. Her last well-known hit was 1985’s “Hallelujah, I Love Her So,” a duet with George Jones.

Over the ensuing years, Lee has continued to record and perform all around the world, previously cutting records in four different languages. In 1992, Lee recorded a duet (“You’ll Never Know”) with Willy DeVille, on his album Loup Garou.


Along with Connie Francis, Brenda was one of the first female singing idols, achieving huge popularity with a long string of hits. Many of her hits from the 50s and 60s are classics and her holiday song, “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree,” is a perennial favorite.

Brenda’s marriage to Ronnie Shacklett in 1963 was a successful one, and he has been credited with ensuring her long-term financial success. They have two daughters, Jolie and Julie, and three grandchildren.

Celebrating over 50 years as a recording artist, Brenda Lee was given the Jo Meador-Walker Lifetime Achievement award by Source Nashville in September 2006. Lee is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Rockabilly Hall of Fame, and the Hit Parade Hall of Fame.



Tammy Wynette


Tammy Wynette (May 5, 1942 – April 6, 1998) was a country singer and songwriter. She was known as the “First Lady of Country Music.” Wynette’s signature song, “Stand by Your Man,” was one of the biggest selling hit singles ever and became an icon of the female country vocal genre.

Beginning in 1966, her career spanned 30 years and produced many memorable hits. Wynette’s troubled marriage to country star George Jones brought additional fame and produced many fine duet recordings. The emotional tone of her performances and poignant, honest lyrics of her songs made her a “voice” not only as a country singer but also for American women in general.

Early life

Tammy Wynette was born Virginia Wynette Pugh near Tremont, Mississippi, the only child of William Hollis Pugh (died 1943) and Mildred Faye Russell (1922–1991). As a girl, she was called Wynette (pronounced Win-NET), or Nettie, instead of Virginia.

Her father was a farmer and local musician. He died of a brain tumor when Wynette was only nine months of age. Her mother worked in an office, as a substitute school teacher, and on the family farm. After the death of Hollis, Mrs. Pugh left Wynette in the care of her grandparents, Thomas Chester and Flora A. Russell, and moved to Memphis to work in a World War II defense plant. In 1946, she married Foy Lee, a farmer from Mississippi.

Wynette was raised on the Itawamba County farm of her maternal grandparents where she was born. The place was partly on the border with Alabama. Wynette claimed that the state line ran right through their property, joking that that “my top half came from Alabama and my bottom half came from Mississippi.” As a youngster, she worked in the fields picking cotton alongside the hired crews. She grew up with her aunt, Carolyn Russell, who was only five years older than she was. Wynette sang gospel tunes with her grandmother and also learned to play the piano and the guitar.

As a child and teenager, country music provided an escape from her hard life. Wynette grew up idolizing Hank Williams, Skeeter Davis, Patsy Cline, and George Jones, and would play their records over and over on the inexpensive children’s record player she owned, dreaming of one day being a star herself.

She attended Tremont High School, where she was an all-star basketball player. A month before graduation, she married her first husband, Euple Byrd, a construction worker. Byrd, whom she left before the birth of their third daughter, was not supportive of Wynette’s ambition to become a singer. Her early jobs included working as a waitress, a receptionist, a barmaid, and in a shoe factory. In 1963, she attended beauty school in Tupelo, Mississippi, and became a hairdresser. She would renew her cosmetology license every year for the rest of her life, just in case she should have to go back to a daily job.

When her youngest child developed spinal meningitis, Wynette tried to make extra money by performing at night. In 1965, she sang on the Country Boy Eddie Show on WBRC-TV in Birmingham, Alabama, which led to a brief tour with the well known country star Porter Wagoner. In 1966, she moved with her three girls from Birmingham to Nashville, where she pounded the pavement to get a recording contract. After being turned down repeatedly, she auditioned for producer Billy Sherrill, who signed her to Epic Records.

Rise to fame

Sherrill suggested Wynette consider changing her name to something that might make a better impression with the public. In her 1979 memoir, Stand by Your Man, Wynette relates that she was wearing her long, blond hair in a ponytail at their meeting, and Sherill said she reminded him of Debbie Reynolds in the film Tammy and the Bachelor. He suggested “Tammy” as a possible name; thus, she became Tammy Wynette.

Her first single, “Apartment #9″ (written by Johnny Paycheck), was released in late 1966, and reached the top 50 on the U.S. country charts. In 1967, she had hits with “Your Good Girl’s Gonna Go Bad,” “My Elusive Dreams” (a duet with David Houston), and “I Don’t Wanna Play House,” all of which reached the country top ten.

Wynette had three number one hits in 1968: “Take Me to Your World,” “D-I-V-O-R-C-E,” and her best known song, “Stand by Your Man” (which she said she wrote in fifteen minutes). In 1969, she had two additional number one hits: “Singing My Song” and “The Ways to Love a Man.” That same year, Wynette earned a Gold record (awarded for albums selling in excess of one million copies) for “Tammy Wynette’s Greatest Hits.” She was the first female country artist to do so.

During this time, she began a tumultuous relationship with country mega-star George Jones, whom she would later marry. Their collaboration would produce many memorable duets (including the number one hit, “We’re Gonna Hold On”) and made them in effect, the reigning king and queen of country music. They would continue to record together, even after their divorce, through the mid 1990s.

Movie director Bob Rafelson used a number of Wynette’s songs in the soundtrack of his 1970 film, Five Easy Pieces. Her chart success continued into the 1970s with such hits as “Good Lovin’ (Makes it Right)” (1971), “He Loves Me All the Way” (1971), “Bedtime Story” (1972), “Kids Say the Darnedest Things” (1973), “Woman to Woman” (1974), “You and Me” (1976), “‘Til I can Make it on My Own” (1976), and “Womanhood” (1978).

Home life and problems

Wynette married her second husband, Don Chapel, shortly after her first divorce became final. While still married to Chapel, however, around 1968, she began a relationship with the legendary country singer George Jones, one of her girlhood idols. Eventually Wynette parted with her second husband and married Jones. Their daughter, Georgette, was born in 1970. It was a difficult marriage, however, due largely to Jones’ alcoholism, and they were divorced in 1975.

Wynette’s private life was as troubled as many of her songs. Over the course of her life, she had five husbands: Euple Byrd (married 1959–divorced 1966); Don Chapel (married 1967–annulled 1968); George Jones (married 1969–divorced 1975); Michael Tomlin (married 1976–annulled 1976); and George Richey (married 1978). Wynette also had a much-publicized relationship with actor Burt Reynolds in the 1970s.

Her marriage to Richey, who later became her manager, proved to be the lasting love of her life. Even that relationship, however, was not without controversy. In 1978, Wynette reported that she had been mysteriously abducted by a masked man at a Nashville shopping center, driven 80 miles south in her luxury car, beaten, and released. No one was ever arrested or identified. Years later, Tammy’s daughter, Jackie Daly, alleged that Tammy told her that the kidnapping story was a fabricated to disguise the fact that George Richey was beating her.

She also had a number of serious physical ailments beginning in the 1970s, including operations on her gall bladder, kidney, and on the nodules on her throat.

Later career

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, Wynette dominated the country charts. She had 17 number one hits and helped redefine the role and place of female country singers. Beginning in the early 1980s, however, her chart success began to wane. While her singles and albums continued to reach the country top 40, big hits were few and far between. Meanwhile, her medical problems continued, including inflammations of her bile duct.

In 1988, she filed for bankruptcy as a result of a bad investment in two Florida shopping centers. Her 1987 album Higher Ground broke through with a new contemporary sound, broadening her audience.

Stand By Your Man, meanwhile, was becoming truly iconic. First, it had been been brought to a new and much wider audience with hilarious charm in The Blues Brothers 1980 motion picture, by the unlikely characters of Jake and Elwood Blues. Later, in 1992, future First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton said during a 60 Minutes interview that she was not “some little woman, standing by my man, like Tammy Wynette.” The remark set off a firestorm of controversy, and Mrs. Clinton eventually apologized. Wynette was nonetheless a Clinton supporter and later performed at a Clinton fund raiser.

Wynette recorded a song with the British electronica group The KLF in late 1991, titled “Justified and Ancient (Stand by the JAMs),” which became a number one hit in 18 countries the following year. In the video versions, scrolling electronic titles declared: “Miss Tammy Wynette is the first lady of country music.” Wynette appeared seated on a throne.

The 1993 album Honky Tonk Angels gave her a chance to record with Dolly Parton and Loretta Lynn for the first time. Though yielding no hit singles, the album did well on the country charts. The following year, she released Without Walls, a collection of duets with a number of country, pop and rock and roll performers, including Wynonna Judd, Elton John, Lyle Lovett, Aaron Neville, Smokey Robinson, Sting, and others. Wynette also designed and sold her own line of jewelry in the 1990s.

In 1994, she suffered an abdominal infection that almost killed her. She was in a coma for six days.

In 1995, she and George Jones recorded their first new duet album in 13 years. They last performed together in 1997, at Concerts in the Country, in Lanierland, Georgia. Wynette joined with other famous singers on the U.K. number one hitPerfect Day in 1997, written by Lou Reed and recorded for charity.


After years of medical problems, numerous hospitalizations, approximately twenty-six major surgeries and an addiction to large doses of pain medication, Tammy Wynette died at the age of 55 on April 6, 1998, while sleeping on the couch in her living room in Nashville, Tennessee. The coroner later declared that she died of a cardiac arrhythmia. She is interred in Woodlawn Memorial Park Cemetery, Nashville.


Miriam Makeba


Miriam Makeba (4 March 1932 – 9 November 2008), nicknamed Mama Africa, was a Grammy Award-winning South African singer and civil rights activist.

In the 1960s she was the first artist from Africa to popularize African music around the world. She is best known for the song “Pata Pata”, first recorded in 1957 and released in the U.S. in 1967. She recorded and toured with many popular artists, such as Harry Belafonte, Paul Simon, and her former husband Hugh Masekela.

Makeba campaigned against the South African system of apartheid. The South African government responded by revoking her passport in 1960 and her citizenship and right of return in 1963. As the apartheid system crumbled she returned home for the first time in 1990.

Makeba died of a heart attack on 9 November 2008 after performing in a concert in Italy organized to support writer Roberto Saviano in his stand against the Camorra, a mafia-like organization local to the region of Campania.

Early years

Zenzile Miriam Makeba was born in Johannesburg on 4 March 1932. Her mother was a Swazi sangoma (traditional healer-herbalist). Her father, who died when she was six years old, was a Xhosa. When she was eighteen days old, her mother was arrested for selling umqombothi, an African homemade beer brewed from malt and cornmeal. Her mother was sentenced to a six-month prison term, so Miriam spent her first six months of life in jail. As a child, she sang in the choir of the Kilmerton Training Institute in Pretoria, a primary school that she attended for eight years.

In 1950 at the age of eighteen, Makeba gave birth to her only child, Bongi Makeba, whose father was Makeba’s first husband James Kubay. Makeba was then diagnosed with breast cancer, and her husband left her shortly afterwards

Her professional career began in the 1950s when she was featured in the South African jazz group the Manhattan Brothers, and appeared for the first time on a poster. She left the Manhattan Brothers to record with her all-woman group, The Skylarks, singing a blend of jazz and traditional melodies of South Africa. As early as 1956, she released the single “Pata Pata”, which was played on all the radio stations and made her name known throughout South Africa.

She had a short-lived marriage in 1959 to Sonny Pillay, a South African singer of Indian descent. Her break came in that year when she had a short guest appearance in Come Back, Africa, an anti-apartheid documentary produced and directed by American independent filmmaker Lionel Rogosin. The short cameo made an enormous impression on the viewers and Rogosin managed to organise a visa for her to attend the première of the film at the twenty-fourth Venice Film Festival in Italy, where the film won the prestigious Critics’ Award. That year, Makeba sang the lead female role in the Broadway-inspired South African musical King Kong; among those in the cast was musician Hugh Masekela. She made her U.S. debut on 1 November 1959 on The Steve Allen Show.


I always wanted to leave home. I never knew they were going to stop me from coming back. Maybe, if I knew, I never would have left. It is kind of painful to be away from everything that you’ve ever known. Nobody will know the pain of exile until you are in exile. No matter where you go, there are times when people show you kindness and love, and there are times when they make you know that you are with them but not of them. That’s when it hurts.

—Miriam Makeba

Makeba then travelled to London where she met Harry Belafonte, who assisted her in gaining entry to the United States and achieving fame there. When she tried to return to South Africa in 1960 for her mother’s funeral, she discovered that her South African passport had been cancelled. She signed with RCA Victor and released Miriam Makeba, her first U.S. studio album, in 1960. In 1962, Makeba and Belafonte sang at John F. Kennedy’s birthday party at Madison Square Garden, but Makeba did not go to the aftershow party because she was ill. President Kennedy insisted on meeting her, so Belafonte sent a car to pick her up and she met the President of the United States. In 1963, Makeba released her second studio album for RCA, The World of Miriam Makeba. An early example of world music, the album peaked at number eighty-six on the Billboard 200. Later that year, after testifying against apartheid before the United Nations, her South African citizenship and her right to return to the country were revoked. She was a woman without a country, but the world came to her aid, and Guinea, Belgium and Ghana issued her international passports, and she became, in effect, a citizen of the world. In her life, she held nine passports, and was granted honorary citizenship in ten countries.

In 1964, Makeba and Masekela were married, divorcing two years later.

In 1966, Makeba received the Grammy Award for Best Folk Recording together with Harry Belafonte for An Evening with Belafonte/Makeba. The album dealt with the political plight of black South Africans under apartheid, and it was one of the first American albums to present traditional Zulu, Sotho and Swahili songs in an authentic setting. From the time of her New York debut at the Village Vanguard, her fame and reputation grew. She released many of her most famous hits in the United States, including “The Click Song” (“Qongqothwane” in Xhosa) and “Malaika”. Time called her the “most exciting new singing talent to appear in many years,” and Newsweek compared her voice to “the smoky tones and delicate phrasing” of Ella Fitzgerald and the “intimate warmth” of Frank Sinatra. Despite the success that made her a star in the U.S., she wore no makeup and refused to curl her hair for shows, thus establishing a style that would come to be known internationally as the “Afro look”. In 1967, more than ten years after she wrote the song, the single “Pata Pata” was released in the United States and became a worldwide hit.

I’d already lived in exile for 10 years, and the world is free, even if some of the countries in it aren’t, so I packed my bags and left.

—Miriam Makeba

Her marriage to Trinidad-born civil rights activist, Black Panther, and Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee leader Stokely Carmichael in 1968 caused controversy in the United States, and her record deals and tours were cancelled. As a result, the couple moved to Guinea, her home for the next 15 years, where they became close with President Ahmed Sékou Touré and his wife, Andrée. Makeba was appointed Guinea’s official delegate to the United Nations, for which she won the Dag Hammarskjöld Peace Prize in 1986. She also separated from Carmichael in 1973 and continued to perform primarily in Africa, Europe and Asia, but not in the United States, where a de facto boycott was in effect. Makeba was one of the entertainers at the 1974 Rumble in the Jungle match between Muhammad Ali and George Foreman held in Zaïre. She addressed the United Nations General Assembly for the second time in 1975. She divorced Carmichael in 1978 and married an airline executive in 1980.

In those years, when I came to the States, people were always asking me why I didn’t sing anymore. I’d tell them, ‘I sing all around the world—Asia, Africa, Europe—but if you don’t sing in the US, then you haven’t really made it.’ That’s why I’ll always be grateful to Paul Simon. He allowed me to bring my music back to my friends in this country.

—Miriam Makeba

After the death of her daughter Bongi in 1985, she decided to move to Brussels In the following year, Hugh Masekela introduced Makeba to Paul Simon, and a few months later she embarked on the very successful Graceland Tour, which was documented on music video. Two concerts held in Harare, Zimbabwe, were filmed in 1987 for release as Graceland: The African Concert. After touring the world with Simon, Warner Bros. Records signed Makeba and she released Sangoma (“Healer”), an a cappella album of healing chants named in honour of her mother who was an “isangoma” (“a healer”). Shortly thereafter, her autobiography Makeba: My Story was published and subsequently translated from English into other languages including German, French, Dutch, Italian and Spanish. She took part in the Nelson Mandela 70th Birthday Tribute, a popular-music concert staged on 11 June 1988 at Wembley Stadium, London, and broadcast to 67 countries and an audience of 600 million. Also referred to as Freedomfest, Free Nelson Mandela Concert, and Mandela Day, the event called for Mandela’s release.

Return to South Africa

Nelson Mandela’s 70th Birthday Tribute increased pressure on the government of South Africa to release Mandela, and in 1990, State President of South Africa Frederik Willem de Klerk reversed the ban on the African National Congress and other anti-apartheid organisations, and announced that Nelson Mandela would shortly be released from prison. Mandela, who was effectively released from Victor Verster Prison in Paarl on 11 February 1990, persuaded Miriam Makeba to return to South Africa. She returned home on 10 June 1990, on her French passport.

In 1991, Makeba, with Dizzy Gillespie, Nina Simone and Masekela, recorded and released her studio album, Eyes on Tomorrow. It combined jazz, R&B, pop, and African music, and was a hit in Africa. Makeba and Gillespie then toured the world together to promote it. In November of the same year, she made a guest appearance in the episode “Olivia Comes Out of the Closet” of The Cosby Show. In 1992, she starred in the film Sarafina!. The film’s plot centers on students involved in the 1976’s Soweto youth uprisings, and Makeba portrayed the title character’s mother, “Angelina”. The following year she released Sing Me a Song.

On 16 October 1999, Miriam Makeba was nominated Goodwill Ambassador of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). In January 2000, her album, Homeland, produced by Cedric Samson and Michael Levinsohn for the New York City based record label Putumayo World Music, was nominated for a Grammy Award in the Best World Music Album category. She worked closely with Graça Machel-Mandela, who at the time was the South African first lady, for children suffering from HIV/AIDS, child soldiers, and the physically handicapped.

In 2001, she was awarded the Otto Hahn Peace Medal in Gold by the United Nations Association of Germany (DGVN) in Berlin, “for outstanding services to peace and international understanding”. She shared the Polar Music Prize with Sofia Gubaidulina. The prize is regarded as Sweden’s foremost musical honour. They received their Prize from Carl XVI Gustaf King of Sweden during a nationally-televised ceremony at Berwaldhallen, Stockholm, on 27 May 2002. She also took part in the 2002 documentary Amandla!: A Revolution in Four-Part Harmony, where she and others recalled the struggles of black South Africans against the injustices of apartheid through the use of music. In 2004, Makeba was voted 38th in the Top 100 Great South Africans. Makeba started a worldwide farewell tour in 2005, holding concerts in all of those countries that she had visited during her working life.

Death and legacy

On 9 November 2008, she became ill while taking part in a concert organized to support writer Roberto Saviano in his stand against the Camorra, a mafia-like organisation local to the Region of Campania. The concert was being held in Castel Volturno, near Caserta, Italy. Makeba suffered a heart attack after singing her hit song “Pata Pata”, and was taken to the “Pineta Grande” clinic, where doctors were unable to revive her. Her publicist notes that Makeba had suffered “severe arthritis” for some time. She and family members were based in Northriding, Gauteng, at the time of her death.

On 25, 26 and 27 September 2009, a tribute show to Makeba entitled “Hommage à Miriam Makeba” and curated by Grammy Award-winning Beninoise singer-songwriter and activist Angélique Kidjo for the Festival d’Ile de France, was held at the Cirque d’hiver in Paris. The same show but with the English title of “Mama Africa: Celebrating Miriam Makeba” was held at the Barbican in London on 21 November 2009. Mama Africa, a documentary film about the life of Miriam Makeba, co-written and directed by Finnish film director Mika Kaurismäki, was released in 2011. On 4 March 2013 Google honored her with a doodle on the homepage.




Free was an English rock band formed in London in 1968 best known for their 1970 signature song “All Right Now”. They disbanded in 1973 and lead singer Paul Rodgers went on to become a frontman of the band Bad Company along with Simon Kirke on drums; lead guitarist Paul Kossoff formed Back Street Crawler and died from a drug-induced heart failure at the age of 25 in 1976. Bassist Andy Fraser formed Sharks.

The band was famed for its sensational live shows and nonstop touring. However, early studio albums did not sell very well – until the release of Fire and Water which featured the massive hit “All Right Now”. The song helped secure them a place at the huge Isle of Wight Festival 1970 where they played to 600,000 people.

By the early 1970s, Free was one of the biggest-selling British blues-rock groups; by the time the band dissolved in 1973, they had sold more than 20 million albums around the world and had played more than 700 arena and festival concerts. “All Right Now,” remains a rock staple, and had been entered into ASCAP’s “One Million” airplay singles club.

Rolling Stone has referred to the band as “British hard rock pioneers”. The magazine ranked Rodgers No. 55 in its list of the “100 Greatest Singers of All Time”, while Kossoff was ranked No. 51 in its list of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time”.

Free were signed to Island Records in the UK and A&M Records in North America. Both labels became part of the PolyGram group in 1989, then Universal Music Group in 1998; UMG now controls the band’s catalogue worldwide.


Most remarkable about the birth of Free was the young age of the band members who first came together to rehearse and play their first gig that same evening at the Nag’s Head pub in Battersea, London, on 19 April 1968. Bass player Andy Fraser was 15 years old, lead guitarist Paul Kossoff was 17, and both lead singer Paul Rodgers and drummer Simon Kirke were 18. By November of that year, having been given the name Free by Alexis Korner, they had recorded their first album Tons Of Sobs for Island Records and, although it was not released until the following year, the album documents their first six months together and contains studio renditions of much of their early live set.

Paul Kossoff and Simon Kirke first became friends in the R&B band Black Cat Bones but they wanted to move on. Paul Kossoff saw vocalist Paul Rodgers singing with Brown Sugar while visiting the Fickle Pickle, an R&B club in London’s Finsbury Park. He was immediately impressed and asked if he could jam with Rodgers onstage. Along with Kirke, they would go on to form Free with the addition of Andy Fraser, who at the age of 15 had already been playing with John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers.

Unlike their previous albums Tons of Sobs and Free, Fire and Water – released in 1970 – was a huge success, largely due to the album containing the hit single “All Right Now”, which reached No. 1 on the UK rock music charts, No. 2 on the UK singles chart and No. 4 on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart. The album reached No. 2 in the UK charts and No. 17 on the U.S charts making it the most successful Free album. Highway was their fourth studio album, recorded extremely quickly in September 1970. Though widely considered[by whom?] to be an excellent follow-up to Fire and Water, Highway performed poorly in the charts, reaching No. 41 in the UK and No. 190 in the US.

In April 1971, due to differences between singer Paul Rodgers and bassist Andy Fraser, the drug problems of guitarist Paul Kossoff, and inconsistent record sales, the band broke up. This led to the release of the live album in 1971 called Free Live!. Early in 1972 the band set aside their differences and reformed in an effort to save Kossoff from his growing drug addiction, and in June of the same year released Free at Last.

But all was not well with the band. Bassist Andy Fraser left the band in mid-1972 due to Paul Kossoff’s unreliability in being able to perform at shows or even showing up. The remaining members recruited Japanese bass player Tetsu Yamauchi and keyboardist John “Rabbit” Bundrick, who had worked with Kossoff and Kirke during Free’s initial split, recording Kossoff, Kirke, Tetsu and Rabbit and what would be Free’s final album, Heartbreaker. Free disbanded in early 1973 with Rodgers and Kirke going on to form Bad Company that same year. Fraser went on to form the band Sharks and later The Andy Fraser Band, and Kossoff would form the band Back Street Crawler.

With Kossoff in better health again in late 1975, he was delighted that ex-colleagues Rodgers and Kirke asked him to join them on stage for two nights. A British tour was set to begin on 25 April 1976 with Back Street Crawler headlining with Bad Company in support of Back Street Crawler’s second album, but again Kossoff’s drug addictions contributed to a drastic decline in the guitarist’s health. On a flight from Los Angeles to New York City on 19 March 1976, Paul Kossoff died from drug-related heart problems at the age of 25. Some speculate[who?] that he was forced to take drugs due to his illness.

Alexis Korner played a part in the Free story, recommending Andy Fraser to the band, providing the name “Free” and encouraging their early efforts. The sound that would be a trademark of Free is heard in songs like “All Right Now”, “Trouble On Double Time”, “Fire And Water” and “Wishing Well”, with Paul Rodgers being known in the rock media as “The Voice”. Rodgers would go on to explore the heavy blues stylings of Free again in his solo career during the 1980s and 1990s, and in the bands The Firm and The Law.

“All Right Now” was a No. 1 hit in over 20 territories and recognized by ASCAP(American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers) in 1990 for garnering 1,000,000 plus radio plays in the US by late 1989, and in 2000 an award was given to Paul Rodgers by the British Music Industry when “All Right Now” passed 2,000,000 radio plays in the UK.

Most recently Paul Rodgers has joined the remaining members of Queen (Brian May and Roger Taylor), as vocalist. In September 2008, Queen + Paul Rodgers released their first studio album The Cosmos Rocks. Rodgers also performs Free and Bad Company songs whilst on tour with Queen, in addition to the traditional Queen songs and new cuts from their most recently released album.


Billie Holiday


Billie Holiday (April 7, 1915 – July 17, 1959), also called Lady Day, was an American singer who, with Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald, is considered one of the greatest vocalists in jazz music. Though without technical training or an outstanding vocal range, Holiday expressed a depth of private feeling and a distinctive phrasing that would influence later generations of jazz vocalists.

Discovered by the legendary Columbia Records producer John Hammond, Holiday spent much of the 1930s working with some of the most noted jazz musicians of the the era, including the Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, and most importantly, the saxophonist Lester Young. Young and Holiday would collaborate in what many consider some of jazz music’s greatest recordings. Holiday recorded two of her best-known songs during this time: her own composition “God Bless the Child” (1939) and “Strange Fruit” (1939), a somber and racially charged composition about the lynching of blacks in the South. Her collaboration with white band leaders Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw was also groundbreaking recognition of black artistry in an era of strict racial segregation.

Holiday’s emotion-laden singing, influenced by the blues singer Bessie Smith and jazz singer and trumpeter Louis Armstrong, drew self-evidently from a life of emotional deprivation. Abandoned at birth by her father, she passed her youth in a succession of homes where she was abused, neglected, and possibly raped. Falling into prostitution while barely a teenager, she later became dependent on drugs and alcohol and was arrested several times on narcotics-related charges. She also gravitated toward glamorous, irresponsible, and abusive men, and themes of heartbreak and false love seared into her often-melancholy songs.

By the late 1940s, Holiday’s heroin addiction and alcoholism began to diminish her voice. Despite drug-related arrests that limited her professional career, she made a series of critically acclaimed late recordings. Holiday died in near poverty at 44, placed under arrest for heroin possession while on her deathbed.

While it is convenient to ascribe Holiday’s art to her tortured life and reckless living, her singing transcends and to a degree universalizes hardship, testifying not to an artistic imperative for loose living but to the resilience of the human spirit. Holiday’s art, while grounded in personal suffering, expresses empathy for the suffering without justifying self-inflicted harm through a life of irresponsible choices.


Born Eleanora Fagan in 1915, in Philadelphia, Billie Holiday had a difficult childhood which greatly affected her life and career. Much of her childhood is clouded by conjecture and legend, some of it propagated by her autobiography, Lady Sings the Blues (1956), which is known to contain many fallacies and inaccuracies.

Holiday grew up in the Fells Point section of Baltimore, Maryland. According to her autobiography, her house was the first on their street to have electricity. Her mother, Sadie Fagan, was allegedly only thirteen at the time of her birth (although this has been disputed); her father Clarence Holiday, a jazz guitarist who would play for the band leader Fletcher Henderson, was reportedly just fifteen. There is some controversy regarding Holiday’s paternity, but Clarence Holiday accepted paternity, yet was hardly a responsible father.

Raised primarily by her mother and a succession of relatives, the young girl changed her name to Billie, reportedly because she liked a movie star Billie Dove. Holiday dropped out of school in the fifth grade and cleaned floors and did other jobs in a nearby brothel, listening to the records of early jazz and blues artists. Particularly she was attracted to two of the most popular artists of the twenties, Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong, both of whom had a great influence on her.

When she was ten, Holiday was sexually assaulted and sent to a reform school for children. Scarred by these experiences, Holiday moved to Harlem in New York City to join her mother in 1928. According to her accounts, she was recruited by a brothel, worked as a prostitute, and even imprisoned for a short time. It was in Harlem that she started singing for tips in various night clubs in the early 1930s. According to legend, penniless and facing eviction, she sang “Body and Soul” in a local nightclub, reducing the audience to tears. She later worked at various clubs for tips, including Pod’s and Jerry’s, a well known Harlem jazz club. She was just twenty when the influential producer and talent scout John Hammond heard her fill in for a better-known performer and was astonished at the slow and emotionally suggestive quality she brought to jazz and pop standards.

Hammond managed to get Holiday recording sessions with Benny Goodman, booking her for live performances in various New York clubs. In 1935, her career got a big push when she recorded four sides that became hits, including “What a Little Moonlight Can Do” and “Miss Brown To You.” This landed her a recording contract of her own, and from 1935 to 1942, she laid down masters that would ultimately become an important segment of early American jazz. Sometimes referred to as her “Columbia period” (after her recording label), these recordings represent a large portion of her total body of recording work.

During this period, the American music industry was still highly segregated, and many of the songs Holiday were given to record were intended for the black jukebox audience. She was often not considered for the “best” songs of the day, which were often reserved for white singers. However, Holiday’s style and fresh sound soon caught the attention of musicians across the nation, and her popularity began to climb. Peggy Lee, who began recording with Benny Goodman in the early 1940s, is often said to have emulated Holiday’s light, sensual style.

In 1936, she was working with Lester Young, who gave her the now-famous nickname of “Lady Day.” Holiday joined Count Basie in 1937 and Artie Shaw in 1938. She was one of the first black women to work with a white orchestra, an impressive accomplishment during that period.

The Commodore years and “Strange Fruit”

Holiday was working for Columbia in the late 1930s, when she was introduced to a song entitled “Strange Fruit,” which began as a poem about the lynching of a black man written by Abel Meeropol, a Jewish schoolteacher from the Bronx. Meeropol used the pseudonym “Lewis Allen” for the work. The poem was set to music and performed at teachers union meetings, where it was eventually heard by the manager of Cafe Society, an integrated nightclub in Greenwich Village, who introduced it to Holiday. Holiday performed the song at Cafe Society in 1939, a move that by her own admission left her fearful of retaliation. Holiday later said that the imagery in “Strange Fruit” reminded her of her father’s death, and that this played a role in her determination to perform it.

She approached Columbia about recording the song, but was refused due to the song’s subject matter. She arranged to record it with an alternate label, Commodore, Milt Gabler’s alternative jazz label in 1939. She would record two major sessions at Commodore, one in 1939 and one in 1944. Although there were far fewer songs recorded with Commodore, some of her biggest hits were under this label, including “Fine and Mellow,” “I Cover the Waterfront,” and “Embraceable You.” “Strange Fruit” was highly regarded and admired by intellectuals, and is in a large part responsible for her widespread popularity. “Strange Fruit’s” popularity also prompted Holiday to record the type of songs that would become her signature, namely slow, moving, love ballads.

It is widely conjectured that this is the period where Holiday first began what would become a long, and ultimately fatal, history of substance abuse. Holiday stated that she began using hard drugs in the early 1940s.

Her personal life was as turbulent as the songs she sang. She married trombonist Jimmy Monroe (a small-time drug dealer) on August 25, 1941. While still married to Monroe, she took up with trumpeter Joe Guy as his common law wife. She finally divorced Monroe in 1947, and also split with Guy. In 1947, she was jailed on drug charges and served eight months at the Alderson Federal Correctional Institution for Women in West Virginia. Her New York City Cabaret Card was subsequently revoked, which kept her from working in clubs there for the remaining 12 years of her life.

Later life and work

By the 1950s, Holiday’s drug abuse, drinking, unfortunate taste in abusive men, and deteriorating health set her life on a slow and steady decline. While instantly recognizable, Holiday’s voice coarsened and did not project the bouncy, girlish vibrancy of first recordings in the mid-1930s. A certain bittersweet dignity added depth to her delivery. Many called her voice lovingly sweet, weathered and experienced, sad and sophisticated. As she aged, the effects of her drug abuse were evident. Her last major recording, Lady in Satin, was released in 1958, and revealed a woman with an extremely limited range, but wonderful phrasing and emotion. The recording featured a backing from a 40-piece orchestra conducted and arranged by Ray Ellis, who said of the album in 1997:

I would say that the most emotional moment was her listening to the playback of “I’m a Fool to Want You.” There were tears in her eyes… After we finished the album I went into the control room and listened to all the takes. I must admit I was unhappy with her performance, but I was just listening musically instead of emotionally. It wasn’t until I heard the final mix a few weeks later that I realized how great her performance really was.

On March 28, 1952, Holiday married Louis McKay, a Mafia “enforcer.” McKay, like most of the men in her life, was abusive, but did try to get her off drugs. They were separated at the time of her death. Holiday was also rather openly bisexual and was rumored to have had several affairs with notable stage and film actresses, including Tallulah Bankhead, as well as with film director Orson Welles.

Her late recordings on Verve Records are as well remembered as her Commodore and Decca work. From 1952 to 1959, Holiday released a little more than 100 new recordings for this label, which would constitute about a third of her recorded work. Her voice reflects a rugged timber on these tracks, reflecting a vulnerability in the once grand and bold diva. Her performance of “Fine and Mellow” on CBS’s The Sound of Jazz program is memorable for her interplay with her long-time friend Lester Young; both were less than two years from death.

Holiday toured Europe in 1954 and again from late 1958 to early 1959. While in London in February 1959, Holiday made a memorable televised appearance on the BBC’s Chelsea at Nine, singing, among other songs, “Strange Fruit.” Holiday made her final studio recordings (with Ray Ellis and his Orchestra, who had also recorded her Lady in Satin album the previous year) for the MGM label in March 1959 (included in her complete Verve recordings collection.) These final studio recordings were released posthumously on a self-titled album, later re-titled and re-released as Last Recordings. She made her final public appearance at a benefit concert at the Phoenix Theater in Greenwich Village, New York City on May 25, 1959. According to the masters of ceremony at that performance, Leonard Feather (a renowned jazz critic) and Steve Allen, she was only able to make it through two songs, one of which was Bessie Smith’s classic blues “Ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do.”

On May 31, 1959, she was taken to Metropolitan Hospital in New York, suffering from liver and heart problems. On July 12, she was placed under house arrest at the hospital for possession, despite evidence suggesting the drugs may have been planted on her. Holiday remained under police guard at the hospital until she died from cirrhosis of the liver on July 17, 1959, at the age of 44. In the final years of her life she had been progressively swindled out of her earnings, and she died with only $0.70 in the bank and $750 on her person.

Billie Holiday is interred in Saint Raymond’s Cemetery, Bronx, New York.


Some fifty years after her death, Billie Holiday is among the most recognizable singers of the jazz era. Jazz and pop vocalists of the time usually sang melodramatic ballads and novelty songs associated with the Tin Pan Alley tradition and rarely explored emotional depths. Holiday’s primary influences, the jazz trumpeter and singer Louis Armstrong and blues singer Bessie Smith were powerful exceptions whose lives mirrored Holiday’s, and whose vocal delivery left no doubt they had lived through what they were singing. In her autobiography Holiday admitted, “I always wanted Bessie’s big sound and Pops’ feeling.” Holiday’s personal and emotional delivery revolutionized the jazz vocal tradition by personalizing even the most banal material with a authentic and inimitable emotion.

Holiday’s unconventional aesthetic sensibility led her to refine beat and the melody, often reinventing the standard melody with harmonies borrowed from her favorite horn players, Armstrong and Lester Young. Holiday’s best performances remain among the most sensitive and original vocal performances ever recorded.

The artistic stature of Holiday muic only grew after her death. She influenced such singers as Janis Joplin and Nina Simone, and in 1972, Diana Ross played her in a movie version of Holiday’s autobiography, Lady Sings the Blues. The film was a commercial success and earned an Academy Award for Best Actress nomination for Ross. In 1987, U2 released “Angel of Harlem” as a tribute to Billie.

Holiday struggled against racism her entire career and achieved fame despite a turbulent, often self-destructive life. She is also often cited as an example for her early efforts to stand up and speak out against discrimination and racism. She is now considered one of the most important vocal stylists of the twentieth century.


Master Juba


Master Juba (ca. 1825 – ca. 1852 or 1853) was an African American dancer active in the 1840s. He was one of the first black performers in the United States to play onstage for white audiences and the only one of the era to tour with a white minstrel group. His real name was believed to be William Henry Lane, and he was also known as “Boz’s Juba” following Dickens’s graphic description of him in American Notes.

As a teenager, he began his career in the rough saloons and dance halls of Manhattan’s Five Points neighborhood, moving on to minstrel shows in the mid-1840s. “Master Juba” frequently challenged and defeated the best white dancers, including the period favorite, John Diamond. At the height of his American career, Juba’s act featured a sequence in which he imitated a series of famous dancers of the day and closed by performing in his own style.

In 1848 “Boz’s Juba” traveled to London with the Ethiopian Serenaders, an otherwise white minstrel troupe. Boz’s Juba became a sensation in Britain for his dance style. He was a critical favorite and the most written about performer of the 1848 season. Nevertheless, an element of exploitation followed him through the British Isles, with writers treating him as an exhibit on display. Records next place Juba in both Britain and America in the early 1850s. His American critics were less kind, and Juba faded from the limelight. He died in 1852 or 1853, likely from overwork and malnutrition. He was largely forgotten by historians until a 1947 article by Marian Hannah Winter resurrected his story.

Existing documents offer confused accounts of Juba’s dancing style, but certain themes emerge: it was percussive, varied in tempo, lightning-fast at times, expressive, and unlike anything seen before. The dance likely incorporated both European folk steps, such as the Irish jig, and African-derived steps used by plantation slaves, such as the walkaround. Prior to Juba’s career, the dance of blackface performance was more faithful to black culture than its other aspects, but as blackfaced clowns and minstrels adopted elements of his style, Juba further enhanced this authenticity. By having an effect upon blackface performance, Juba was highly influential on the development of such American dance styles as tap, jazz, and step dancing.

Early life and career

Little is known about Juba’s life. Scant details appear in primary sources, and secondary sources—most dating to years after his death—are of dubious validity. Dance historian Marian Hannah Winter proposed that Juba was born to free parents in 1825 or later. Showman Michael B. Leavitt wrote in 1912 that Juba came from Providence, Rhode Island, and theater historian T. Allston Brown gives his real name as William Henry Lane. According to an August 11, 1895, item in the New York Herald, Juba lived in New York’s Five Points District. This was a slum where Irish immigrants and free black people lived amidst brothels, dance houses, and saloons where black people regularly danced. The Irish and black populations intermingled and borrowed elements of folk culture from each other. One area of exchange was dance, and the Irish jig blended with black folk steps. In this environment, Juba learned to dance from his peers,including “Uncle” Jim Lowe, a black jig and reel dancer who performed in low-brow establishments. Juba was dancing for food and tossed coins by the early 1840s. Winter speculated that by about age 15, Juba had no family.

Primary sources show that Juba performed in dance competitions, minstrel shows, and variety theaters in the Northeastern United States beginning in the mid-1840s. The stage name Juba probably derives from the juba dance, itself named for the central or west African term giouba. “Jube” and “Juba” were common names for slaves in this period, especially those rumored to have dancing or musical talent. Documentation is confusing, as there were at least two black dancers using the name Juba at this time. For example, in 1840 a man named Lewis Davis was using the name “Master Juber” and making his living “travelling through the states, dancing negro extravaganzas, breakdowns, &c”. He was arrested for theft in New York City.

An anonymous letter from 1841 or early 1842 in the tabloid newspaper the Sunday Flash states that Juba was working for showman P. T. Barnum. The writer stated that Barnum had managed the dancer since 1840, when he had disguised the boy as a white minstrel performer—by making him up in blackface—and put him on at the New York Vauxhall Gardens. In 1841, the letter alleges, Barnum went so far as to present his charge as the Irish-American performer John Diamond, the most celebrated dancer of the day. The letter further accuses Barnum of entering Juba-as-Diamond in rigged dance competitions against other performers:

The boy is fifteen or sixteen years of age; his name is “Juba;” and to do him justice, he is a very fair dancer. He is of harmless and inoffensive disposition, and is not, I sincerely believe, aware of the meanness and audacity of the swindler to which he is presently a party. As to the wagers which the bills daily blazon forth, they are like the rest of his business—all a cheat. Not one dollar is ever bet or staked, and the pretended judges who aid in the farce, are mere blowers.

Writer Thomas Low Nichols supported parts of the story in an 1864 book of social history. He states that in 1841 Diamond quit his work as a dancer in the employ of Barnum and was replaced by “a genuine negro”, whom Barnum billed as “the champion nigger-dancer of the world”. The black dancer would have debuted in the spring of 1841. Nichols never identified the dancer as Juba, but later writers concluded that the boy was that performer. Historian Eric Lott has identified the irony of this arrangement: a black man imitating a white man imitating a black man.

Beginning in the early 1840s, Juba began a series of dance competitions known as challenge dances. He faced white rival John Diamond, who advertised that he “delineate[d] the Ethiopian character superior to any other white person”. Sources disagree about the date of their first contest; it may have occurred while Diamond was still working for Barnum or a year or two later. This advertisement from the July 8, 1844, New York Herald is typical of the publicity the matches generated:

GREAT PUBLIC CONTEST Between the two most renowned dancers in the world, the Original JOHN DIAMOND and the colored boy JUBA, for a Wager of $200, on MONDAY EVENING July 8 at the BOWERY AMPHITHEATRE, which building has been expressly hired from the Proprietor, Mr. Smith, for this night only, as its accommodations will afford all a fair view of each step of these wonderful Dancers. The fame of these two Celebrated Breakdown Dancers has already spread over the Union, and the numerous friends of each claim the Championship for their favorite, and who have anxiously wished for a Public Trial between them and thus known which is to bear the Title of the Champion Dancer of the World. The time to decide that has come, as the friends of Juba have challenged the world to produce his superior in the art for $100. That Challenge has been accepted by the friends of Diamond, and on Monday Evening they meet and Dance three Jigs, Two Reels, and the Camptown Hornpipe. Five Judges have been selected for their ability and knowledge of the Art, so that a fair decision will be made. Rule—Each Dancer will select his own Violin and the victory will be decided by the best time and the greatest number of steps.

Historian James W. Cook has suggested that Juba and Diamond may have staged their first competition as a form of mutual publicity. Claims of black superiority over an acclaimed white rival were otherwise unheard of in the climate of racial segregation and white supremacy that permeated New York City and the country at large in the mid-1840s.

Challenge dances usually employed three judges. One sat on the stage and counted time, another sat in or near the orchestra pit and judged style, and the third went under the stage and observed the dancer’s execution to listen for “missing taps, defective rolls and heel work, the lagging in the breaks”. After the dance, they compared notes and chose the winner. Audience members and friends of the competitors bet on the outcome and could name the victor by popular acclaim in the case the judges could not come to a decision. According to an undated reference by Leavitt, Juba lost one challenge, at the Boylston Gardens in Boston, but records show that he beat Diamond in all other competitions. An undated clipping from the Harvard Theatre Collection, written by a fan of minstrelsy, describes the single dance competition that Diamond managed to win: “One of the fiddlers played a reel for him [Juba], and he shuffled, and twisted, and walked around, and danced on for one hour and fifteen minutes by the watch.” Then Juba made a loud strike with his left foot as the crowd cheered and he got a drink from the bar. Diamond was next and tried to act cool but resolute. He knew that he would displease Barnum by losing and he had his race at stake: “There was another thing about this match-dance that made Diamond want to win. You see it was not only a case of Barnum’s Museum against Pete Williams’s dance-house, but it was a case of white against black. So Jack Diamond went at his dancin’ with double energy—first, for his place, next, for his color.” He beat Juba’s time and “gave a hop, skip and a jump, a yell and a bow”. A black man shouted out, “He’s a white man, sure … but he’s got a nigger in his heel.” The two had their most famous matchup in New York City in 1844, where Juba beat Diamond for $500. Juba then traveled to Boston, billing himself as the “King of All the Dancers”, and played for two weeks, with competitions versus Frank Diamond (no relation to John).

In 1842, English writer Charles Dickens toured New York’s Five Points. This was around the time of the challenge dances, and Dickens was possibly drawn by rumors of Barnum’s disguising of a black youth as a white minstrel performer. There the writer witnessed a performance by “a lively young negro” at the Almack’s tavern and brothel at 67 Orange Street in the infamous Mulberry Bend. The November 11, 1842, edition of the New York Herald later identified this dancer as Juba. Dickens wrote in his American Notes,

The corpulent black fiddler, and his friend who plays the tambourine, stamp upon the boarding of the small raised orchestra in which they sit, and play a lively measure. Five or six couples come upon the floor, marshalled by a lively young negro, who is the wit of the assembly, and the greatest dancer known. He never leaves off making queer faces, and is the delight of all the rest, who grin from ear to ear incessantly …

… But the dance commences. Every gentleman sets as long as he likes to the opposite lady, and the opposite lady to him, and all are so long about it that the sport begins to languish, when suddenly the lively hero dashes in to the rescue. Instantly the fiddler grins, and goes at it tooth and nail; there is new energy in the tambourine; new laughter in the dancers; new smiles in the landlady; new confidence in the landlord; new brightness in the very candles.

Single shuffle, double shuffle, cut and cross-cut; snapping his fingers, rolling his eyes, turning in his knees, presenting the backs of his legs in front, spinning about on his toes and heels like nothing but the man’s fingers on the tambourine; dancing with two left legs, two right legs, two wooden legs, two wire legs, two spring legs—all sorts of legs and no legs—what is this to him? And in what walk of life, or dance of life, does man ever get such stimulating applause as thunders about him, when, having danced his partner off her feet, and himself too, he finishes by leaping gloriously on the bar-counter, and calling for something to drink, with the chuckle of a million of counterfeit Jim Crows, in one inimitable sound!

Juba may have capitalized on the free publicity given him by Dickens as he made the jump from the saloon to the stage. An undated excerpt from the New York Herald describes Juba’s appearance with a minstrel troupe at Pete Williams’ dance hall on Orange Street:

… [T]hose who passed through the long hallway and entered the dance hall, after paying their shilling to the darky doorkeeper, whose “box-office” was a plain soap box, or a wooden one of that description, saw this phenomenon, “Juba,” imitate all the dancers of the day and their special steps. Then Bob Ellingham, the interlocutor and master of ceremonies, would say, “Now, Master Juba, show your own jig.” Whereupon he would go through all his own steps and specialties, with never a resemblance in any of them to those he had just imitated.

In this performance, Juba imitated the white minstrel performers Richard Pelham, Frank Brower, John Daniels, John Smith, James Sanford, Frank Diamond, and John Diamond. The idea that Juba could “imitate himself” after mimicking his rivals points up, according to Lott, “minstrelsy’s fundamental consequence for black culture, the dispossession and control by whites of black forms that would not for a long time be recovered”. Nevertheless, Juba’s imitations of his white rivals asserted his greater mastery of the styles then current in blackface dance. They also asserted that this was an artistic medium worthy of imitation. James W. Cook writes, “in a sense, the Imitation Dance served as a powerful act of defiance from someone who, more typically, would have lacked any means of broader representational control”.

Dancers came to recognize Juba as the best and his fame soared. By 1845, he was so well known that he no longer had to impersonate a white minstrel on stage. He toured through New England with the Georgia Champion Minstrels in 1844. The bill called him “The Wonder of the World Juba, Acknowledged to be the Greatest Dancer in the World. Having danced with John Diamond at the Chatham Theatre for $500, and at the Bowery Theatre for the same amount, and established himself as the King of All Dancers. No conception can be formed of the variety of beautiful and intricate steps exhibited by him with ease. You must see to believe.”

In 1845, Juba began touring with the Ethiopian Minstrels. The troupe gave him top billing over its four white members, unprecedented for a black performer. From 1846, Juba toured with White’s Serenaders, under the tutelage of Charles “Charlie” White, as a dancer and tambourine player off and on until at least 1850. He played a character named Ikey Vanjacklen, “the barber’s boy” in a piece called “Going for the Cup, or, Old Mrs. Williams’s Dance”, one of the earliest known minstrel sketches. It focused on Juba’s dancing in a milieu of competition and showing off. The plot follows two characters trying to fix a dance contest by soaping the floor in a way that will make all of the competitors fall except Ikey. They bet on Vanjacklen, but in the end, the judge steals the money.

European tour

In 1848, a dancer billed as “Boz’s Juba” performed in London, England. He was a member of the Ethiopian Serenaders, a blackface minstrel troupe under the leadership of Gilbert W. Pell (or Pelham). The company had performed in England two years prior, when they had made minstrelsy palatable to middle-class British audiences by adopting refinements such as formal wear. With Boz’s Juba as its newest member, the company toured middle-class theaters and lecture halls in the British Isles for the next 18 months.

The identity of Boz’s Juba is open to doubt. “Boz” was a pen name used by Dickens. The Ethiopian Serenaders quoted from Dickens’s American Notes in their press releases, and The Illustrated London News considered the black dancer to be the same person Dickens had seen in New York in 1842. Dickens never refuted the claims. Nevertheless, the Serenaders’ assertions were promotional, and Dickens may not have remembered the exact look or characteristics of the dancer he had seen in the Five Points. Writers from the period and later have generally identified Boz’s Juba as the same person Dickens had seen during his visit to New York and who had danced against Diamond.

Boz’s Juba seems to have been a full member of Pell’s troupe. He wore blackface makeup and played the endman, Mr. Tambo (a tambourine player) opposite Pell’s Mr. Bones (on the bone castanets). He sang standard minstrel songs, such as “Juliana Johnson]” and “Come Back, Steben”, and he performed in sketches and “conundrum” contests. Despite this apparent level of integration into the act, advertisements for the troupe set Juba’s name apart from the other members. The Serenaders continued through Britain and played establishments such as the Vauxhall Gardens. The tour ended in 1850. Its run of 18 months was the longest uninterrupted minstrel tour in Britain at that time. Juba and Pell then joined the troupe headed by Pell’s brother, Richard Pelham. The company was renamed G. W. Pell’s Serenaders.

Juba was the most written about performer in London for the summer 1848 season, no easy feat considering the large number of competitors. He proved a critical favorite, with commentators doting on him praise normally accorded to popular ballet dancers. That August, the Theatrical Times wrote, “The performances of this young man are far above the common performances of the mountebanks who give imitations of American and Negro character; there is an ideality in what he does that makes his efforts at once grotesque and poetical, without losing sight of the reality of representation.” An anonymous clipping from the 1848 season says,

[T]he dancing of Juba exceeded anything ever witnessed in Europe … The American Juba has for some years drawn immense audiences whenever he has appeared. He is quite young, being only in his seventeenth year. Mr. Dickens, in his ‘American Notes,’ gives a graphic description of this extraordinary youth, who, we doubt not, before many weeks have elapsed, will have the honor of displaying his dancing attainments in Buckingham Palace.

One reviewer wrote, “Juba is a musician, as well as a dancer. To him, the intricate management of the nigger tambourine is confined, and from it he produces marvelous harmonies. We almost question whether, upon a great emergency, he could not play a fugue upon it”. His only known negative review during his British tour came from The Puppet-Show on August 12, 1848:

The principal feature in entertainments at Vauxhall is Juba: as such at least he is put forth—or rather put first—by the proprietors. Out of compliment to Dickens, this extraordinary nigger is called ‘Boz’s Juba,’ in consequence, we believe, of the popular writer having said a good word for him in his American Notes: on this principle we could not mention the Industrious Fleas as being clever without having those talented little animals puffed all over London as being under the overwhelming patronage of the Showman. Juba’s talent consists in walking round the stage with an air of satisfaction and with his toes turned in; in jumping backwards in a less graceful manner than we should have conceived possible; and in shaking his thighs like a man afflicted with palsy. He makes a terrible clatter with his feet, not owing so much to activity on his part as to stupidity on the part of his boot-maker, who has furnished him with a pair of clumsy Wellingtons sufficiently large for the feet and legs of all the Ethiopians in London: besides this, he sometimes moves about the stage on his knees, as if he was praying to be endowed with intelligence, and had unlimited credit with his tailor. As a last resource, he falls back on the floor …

The piece goes on to describe a drunken man the critic met after Juba’s performance:

When again we saw him he was labouring (like a horse—or, rather, an ass) under the influence of champagne. We understood that he was imitating Juba, and he behaved so ridiculously that he may actually be said to have surpassed him.

Master Juba’s stint with Pell makes him the earliest known black performer to tour with a white minstrel troupe. Scholars disagree over why he was allowed to do so. Dance historian Marian Hannah Winter argues that Juba was simply too talented to be held back. Dance historian Stephen Johnson sees Juba’s talent as less central to the matter, and emphasizes the element of exoticism and exhibition in the tour. During the same period, exhibits of Arab families, Bushmen, Kaffir Zulus, and Ojibway warriors appeared in London. A reviewer for the Manchester Guardian gave an almost anthropological description of Juba, unheard of for other performers:

But the great feature of the entertainment, and that which we imagine attracted the large and respectable audience present, was undoubtedly “Master Juba,” the immortalized of Boz. This “phenomenon” (as the bills describe him) is a copper-coloured votary of Terpsichore,—the Monsieur Perrot of Negro life in the southern states; and possesses the additional attraction of being a “real nigger,” and not a “sham,” like his vocal associates. He is apparently about eighteen years of age; about 5 feet 3 inches in height; of slender make, yet possessing great muscular activity. His head is very small, and his countenance, when at rest, has a rather mild, sedate, and far from unpleasing expression.

Pell’s advertising repeatedly alleged that Juba’s dance was authentic, and the reviewers seem to have believed him. The same Manchester critic remarked that Juba’s dances “illustrated the dances of his own simple people on festive occasions”.The few reviews of Juba as a solo performer after his tour with Pell (and thus out of the exhibitionist mode) are more negative. Dance scholar Thomas DeFrantz has said that Master Juba’s stage persona “buffered associations between the potent black body onstage and the preferred impotent everyday, male slave body”. Scholar of African American studies Maurice O. Wallace adds that Juba was an example of how “those strategies of black cultural performance … have historically coalesced to shape black masculine subjecthood in Eurocentric contexts”. However, Wallace cautions that by the time Juba had reached London, he had “[transcended] the racial gaze” and was seen as a dancer first and black man second.

Later life and career

Documents next show Juba back in the United States, performing a solo act in working-class music halls, concert saloons, and entr’actes in nondescript theaters in New York: he had gone from obscurity to the limelight and back again. The American critics were not as kind as their English counterparts. A reviewer for the Era wrote on August 4, 1850, that “[Juba is] jumping very fast at the Colosseum, but too fast is worse than too slow, and we advise [Juba] to be wise in time. It is easier to jump down than to jump up”; and on August 11, 1850, “Juba has jumped away—by the way of an earnest yet friendly caution, let us hope that he will not throw himself away. Be wise in time is a wholesome motto”. The Huddersfield Chronicle and West Yorkshire Advertiser on November 30, 1850, wrote, “The performances of Boz’s Juba have created quite a sensation in the gallery, who greeted his marvellous feats of dancing with thunders of applause and a standing encore. In all the rougher and less refined departments of his art, Juba is a perfect master.”

The last known record of Juba places him at the City Tavern in Dublin, Ireland, in September 1851: “Boz’s Juba appears here nightly and is well received”. A performer known as Jumbo is reported as having died two weeks later in Dublin. Dance historian Marian Hannah Winter said that Juba died in 1852 in London. More than 30 years later, theater historian T. Allston Brown wrote that Juba “married too late (and a white woman besides), and died early and miserably. In a note addressed to Charley White, Juba informed him that, when next he should be seen by him [White], he would be riding in his own carriage. It has been said that in 1852 his skeleton, without the carriage, was on exhibition at the Surrey Music Hall, Sheffield, England.” Mahar has given the date as 1853. He would have been in his late 20s.

The cause of Juba’s death is a matter of speculation. Winter cited his “almost superhuman schedule” and the “[burning] up his energies and health” as the culprits. Assuming all of the Jubas are the same person, the record suggests that Juba worked day and night for 11 years—from 1839 to 1850. Especially in his early days, Juba worked for food, and would have been served the typical tavern meal of the time, fried eels and ale. Such a demanding schedule, coupled with poor food and little sleep, likely doomed Juba to his early death.

Performance style

Playbills tell us, broadly, what Juba did during his performances. No known description of Juba’s dancing by a contemporary was written by anyone of his own race, class, or profession. While he was clearly a remarkable dancer, it is impossible to gain precise knowledge of his style and technique, or of the degree to which he differed from his largely forgotten black contemporaries. The sources lack precise points of comparison. The more detailed accounts come from British critics, to whom Juba must have been more of a novelty than to Americans. These writers were catering to a white, middle class, British audience. Other descriptions come from promotional material and thus cannot be trusted to be objective. Juba was described as a “jig dancer” at a time when the word still connoted Irish folk dancing but was in the process of changing to encompass black dance. The Irish jig was common at this time, so skillful improvisation may account for the inordinate amount of attention Juba received.

These accounts offer only ambiguous choreographic descriptions. While these descriptions often offer exacting detail, they contradict one another. Some attempt an almost scientific precision, while others emphasize the impossibility of Juba’s style. The reviews do agree that Juba’s dance was novel to the point of indescribability, frenzied, varied in tempo and tone, well-timed, percussive, and expressive.

He was an integral member of the troupes with which he toured, as evidenced by the roles he played in the minstrel show presented by Pell’s Ethiopian Serenaders. Juba did three dances in two forms. He performed “festival” and “plantation” dances in formal attire with Thomas F. Briggs on banjo, and dressed in drag to perform the role of Lucy Long in the song of that name, sung by Pell.There is little evidence to indicate whether Juba portrayed the wench role in sexual or burlesque style. However, a review from Manchester, England, implies that it was the former:

With a most bewitching bonnet and veil, a very pink dress, beflounced to the waist, lace-fringed trousers of the most spotless purity, and red leather boots,—the ensemble completed by the green parasol and white cambric pocket handkerchief,—Master Juba certainly looked the black demoiselle of the first ton to the greatest advantage. The playing and singing by the serenaders of a version of the well-known negro ditty, furnished the music to Juba’s performance, which was after this fashion:-Promenading in a circle to the left for a few bars, till again facing the audience, he then commenced a series of steps, which altogether baffle description, from their number, oddity, and the rapidity with which they were executed … The promenade was then repeated; then more dancing; and so on, to the end of the song.

Existing images of Juba offer more hints. Two depictions, from a review of Juba at the Vauxhall Gardens, published in The Puppet-Show on August 12, 1848, show a drunken man imitating Juba’s performance; he seems to be doing a cake-walk, his leg kicked high, his hat in his extended arm. A caricature of Juba shows him with knees bent and legs spread, one leg poised to land hard on the floor; arms in close. The most common image of Juba, originally from June 18, 1848, edition of The Era, shows him in a position similar to this one; his hands rest in his pockets. One British account, in an issue of The Illustrated London News from August 5, 1848, is accompanied by an illustration that shows Juba performing what seems to be a jig.


Writers struggled to find words to describe what they saw Juba do. A Brighton reviewer wrote that “[t]he effort baffles description. It is certainly original, and unlike anything we have ever seen before”. Another wrote of “a series of steps, which altogether baffle description, from their number, oddity, and the rapidity with which they were executed”. Writers struggled to compare Juba’s steps to forms familiar to British audiences. Inevitably, the comparisons were to rural folk dances or to those of the exotic reaches of the British Empire:

The dances he introduced were distinguished for eccentricity, rapidity of motion, and the accuracy of the time kept. They approximated, in some respects, to those wild dances that may be witnessed sometimes in the remoter parts of the Highlands, including the sword dance, as there known; besides having the same idea of clanking the heels, as pervades the Polka. But it is not the office of the legs alone to do all this; the head, arms, and body generally take full share of duty, and assume such extraordinary positions, that only a being possessed of the power of Proteus could calculate upon taking.

Nevertheless, such comparisons cannot be taken as true indications of Juba’s personal style. As a blackface minstrel, and thus parodist, Juba may have incorporated conscious parodies of such dances into his act. He also made facial expressions as he danced. Charles Dickens wrote of the young black dancer in New York that “[h]e never leaves off making queer faces”.


Juba seems to have presented varied styles at different tempos during a single performance. Confused reviewers struggled to explain how he moved each part of his body independently at its own speed and how he repeatedly changed his rhythm and tone. A critic for The Morning Post wrote, “Now he languishes, now burns, now love seems to sway his motions, and anon rage seems to impel his steps.” A London audience member who saw Juba at the Vauxhall Gardens wondered, “How could he tie his legs into such knots, and fling them about so recklessly, or make his feet twinkle until you lose sight of them altogether in his energy.” The Mirror and United Kingdom Magazine declared, “Such mobility of muscles, such flexibility of joints, such boundings, such slidings, such gyrations, such toes and such heelings, such backwardings and forwardings, such posturings, such firmness of foot, such elasticity of tendon, such mutation of movement, such vigour, such variety, such natural grace, such powers of endurance, such potency of pastern.” The Manchester Examiner captured something of the rhythm of Juba’s performance:

Surely he cannot be flesh and blood, but some more subtle substance, or how could he turn, and twine, and twist, and twirl, and hop, and jump, and kick, and throw his feet almost with a velocity that makes one think they are playing hide-and seek with a flash of lightning! Heels or toes, on feet or on knees, on the ground or off, it is all the same to Juba; his limbs move as if they were stuffed with electric wires …


The percussive sounds Juba made during his performances were another element that distinguished his dance from standard Irish jigs. Contemporary reviewers often alluded to these sounds. Playbills asked audiences to remain silent during Juba’s dances so they could hear the percussion of his steps. The Manchester Guardian remarked, “To us, the most interesting part of the performance was the exact time, which, even in the most complicated and difficult steps, the dancer kept to the music.” An anonymous clipping from c. 1848 said, “… the dancing of Juba exceeded anything ever witnessed in Europe. The style as well as the execution is unlike anything ever seen in this country. The manner in which he beats time with his feet, and the extraordinary command he possesses over them, can only be believed by those who have been present at his exhibition.” A critic in Liverpool compared his steps to Pell on the bones and Briggs on the banjo. The Morning Post wrote, “He trills, he shakes, he screams, he laughs, as though by the very genius of African melody.” Descriptions also show elements of the hand jive in his dance.

Juba accompanied his dances with rapid-fire laughter synchronized to the tempo of the dance. An anonymous London critic wrote,

[T]here never was such a laugh as the laugh of Juba—there is in it the concentrated laugh of fifty comic pantomimes; it has no relation to the chuckle, and, least of all to the famous horse laugh; not a bit of it—it is a laugh distinct, a laugh apart, a laugh by itself—clear, ringing, echoing, resonant, harmonious, full of rejoicing and mighty mirth, and fervent fun; you may hear it like the continuous humming sound of nature, permeating everywhere; it enters your heart and you laugh sympathetically—it creeps into your ear, and clings to it, and all the subsequent sounds seemed to be endued with the cachinatory quality … “Well, though the laugh of Juba be wondrous, what may be said of Juba’s dancing?”


Juba’s dance certainly incorporated elements of authentic black culture, but to what extent is uncertain. Elements of Juba’s style are part of the black dance aesthetic: percussion, variable time signature, use of the body as an instrument, changes in tone and pacing, extreme gestures and poses, and emphasis on solo dancing. Juba may very well have exuded Africa’s cool aesthetic: composure and vitality.

Historians have ascribed the inability of British critics to describe Juba’s style to his use of African-derived forms unfamiliar to the British middle class. White accounts of his performances reflect similar descriptions of slave dances from the Caribbean and the United States. Juba was heir to the traditions of free northern black people, and Johnson has pointed to evidence that he was performing “a quite specific, African-infused plantation dance”. Descriptions of his dance hint that Juba performed black steps such as the walk-around, the pigeon wing, a primordial Charleston, the long-bow J, trucking, the turkey trot, the backward spring, the wailing jawbone, and tracking upon the heel. However, Johnson cautions that “I might see any number of dance steps here, if I look longingly enough.”

Juba was in a white-dominated field playing for largely white audiences; he likely compromised his culture’s music and dance in order to survive in show business. This was true of his comedy sketches and songs, which did not stray from standard minstrel fare. One London observer in the 1840s who witnessed slave dances on a South Carolina plantation called them “poor shufflings compared to the pedal inspirations of Juba”. Juba’s dance may have been an amalgamation of African and European precedents. Dickens’s piece on the New York dancer, describing leg movements only, points to the Irish jig, but he also refers to Juba performing the single and double shuffle, which are black-derived steps. Historians Shane and Graham White have argued that black people of this period performed European steps in a different style from whites. Historian Robert Toll has written that Juba “had learned a European dance, blended it with African tradition, and produced a new form, an Afro-American dance that had a great impact on minstrelsy”. Dance historians Marshall and Jean Stearns have agreed, saying that “in the person of William Henry Lane, the blend of British folk with American Negro dance in the United States had, by 1848, resulted in a striking new development. So foreign observers, who were in a position to view its emergence objectively, treated it as an original creation.”

Legacy and historiography

The terms juba dancer and juba dancing became common in variety theaters after Master Juba popularized them. Actors, minstrels, and British clowns inspired by Juba and other minstrels adopted blackface and performed dances similar to Juba’s as a stage character called the “Gay Negro Boy”. The character spread to France (from 1860) and Belgium (from 1865) when British circuses toured there. Elements of these dances were still found among British whiteface clowns as late as the 1940s. Juba’s rave reception in Manchester may have presaged that city’s later status as the center of dance in the United Kingdom. Less happily, Juba reinforced the racist caricature of the naturally musical black among white audiences.

While the name Juba passed into dance history, for many decades the man himself did not. For over 90 years after his death, Juba was largely forgotten by dancers and historians, appearing only in brief, racist passages in sources such as histories of minstrelsy. Stephen Johnson has postulated that this indicates that either white entertainers and historians consciously downplayed Juba’s significance, or that Juba was simply not that influential. Even black historians ignored Juba until the mid-20th century, preferring to focus on Juba’s older and more obviously respectable contemporary Ira Aldridge, an African American actor who became a leading light of the European stage.

In 1947, dance and popular culture historian Marian Hannah Winter began the resurrection of Juba’s reputation with her article “Juba and American Minstrelsy”. Juba, according to Winter, surmounted the hurdles of race and class to succeed as a professional dancer. Winter was the first to write of Juba as a man who introduced elements of African dance to the Western lexicon and thus fostered the creation of a distinct American dance idiom. In so doing, Juba, according to Winter, reclaimed for African Americans elements that had been stolen in the racist culture of 19th-century America and, in the process, invented tap dancing. In short, Winter “made [Juba] significant”.

When Winter wrote her article, there was little scholarship in African American studies, dance history, or minstrelsy studies. Winter based her article on, at most, six sources. Nonetheless, later writers have largely accepted and echoed her thesis. As recently as 1997, musicologist Dale Cockrell wrote that “[t]he best treatment of Juba, though it is shot through with errors, is still Winter 1948″. Winter’s view that Juba was the “most influential single performer of nineteenth-century American dance” is now the consensus. His career shows that black and white people actually did collaborate to an extent in blackface minstrelsy.

Scholars in recent decades have repeatedly pointed to Juba as the progenitor of tap dancing and, by extension, step dancing. Winter wrote that “[t]he repertoire of any current tap-dancer contains elements which were established theatrically by him”. Dancer Mark Knowles has echoed this assertion, calling Juba “America’s first real tap dancer”. Music historian Eileen Southern calls him the “principal black professional minstrel of the antebellum period (and) a link between the white world and authentic black source material”. Scholars point to Juba as the first African American to insert aspects of authentic black culture into American dance and theater. In so doing, Juba ensured that blackface dance was more authentically African than the other elements of the minstrel show. Wallace has gone so far as to call Juba “the pater alios of black masculine dance history, and the ‘initiator and determinant of the form itself,’ a form which lends visible expression to the difficult dialectics of black masculinity”. Johnson, however, has cautioned against this interpretation. His reading of the primary sources sees more evidence of eccentricity in Juba’s dance than of a proto-tap or -jazz.