Five years ago today, President Barack Obama broke out in a rendition of “Amazing Grace” while delivering the eulogy for Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who was slaughtered along with eight of his parishioners when a white supremacist gunman opened fire during their Bible study at his church in Charleston, South Carolina.
“Grace” was the theme in Obama’s eulogy. In remembrance of the nine who died, and of a president who unites in troubled times instead of divides, we revisit some of the most moving renditions of the song. Written in 1772 by John Newton, a former slave trader who experienced a conversion to Christianity and became an abolitionist, “Amazing Grace” and its simple ode to redemption and salvation is estimated to be performed 10 million times annually and has appeared on over 11,000 albums.
Among the endless renditions and arrangements are several below that have moved us the most. (Warning: Aretha Franklin appears more than once.) As Obama said of grace on this day in 2015, “May we find ourselves worthy of that precious and extraordinary gift, as long as our lives endure.”
Aretha Franklin: Live at New Temple Missionary Baptist Church (1972)
Al Green (2007)
Whitney Houston singing backup for Bebe and Cece Winans on their Tour (1989)
Etta James (1982)
US Soldiers (2018)
Naturi Naughton at a high school in East Orange, NJ (2016)
Soweto Gospel Choir (2011)
Diana Ross: Christmas in Vienna (1993)
Aretha Franklin: Oprah’s Surprise Farewell Show (2011)
Mahalia Jackson – Amazing Grace
Show ‘Em How We Do It Now! Happy 78th B’Day to Herb Fame of Peaches & Herb [EUR Video Throwback]
*There were many Peaches in Peaches & Herb throughout the decades, but only one Herb. And today is his 78th birthday.
Born Herbert Feemster on Oct. 1, 1942, in the Anacostia section of Washington D.C. , Herb changed his last name to Fame and got his start in the music business after graduating from Roosevelt High School.
While working in a record store, he crossed paths with musician and record producer Van McCoy, who would go on to record the iconic disco staple “The Hustle” in 1975.
Van McCoy ended up signing Herb to Columbia subsidiary Date Records and paired him up with Francine “Peaches” Barker, who had been part of a trio on the label called The Sweet Things under her stage name Francine Day.
From McCoy’s recordings of Fame and Barker – now called Peaches & Herb – came the single, “We’re in This Thing Together,” which was a flop — until months later in December of 1966, when a St. Louis disc jockey played the single’s B-side, a revival of the 1934 hit “Let’s Fall in Love.”
“Let’s Fall in Love” became a hit, and was followed in the next two years by several albums and singles, including the hits “Close Your Eyes,” “Love Is Strange” and “For Your Love.”
Although their careers were taking off around their media image as the “Sweethearts of Soul,” Barker got tired of her years on the road and decided to retire from the duo. Enter singer Marlene Mack (aka Marlene Jenkins), who became the new “Peaches” on stage, while Barker’s vocals remained on all of the duo’s recordings for Date Records.
Herb ended the act in 1970 and took a hard left turn by enrolling in the D.C. police academy. He was a full time police officer until 1976, when he decided to jump back into the music business with a fresh new Peaches. His mentor McCoy suggested local D.C. talent Linda Greene, whose musical training took place at DC’s Sewell Music Conservatory. Fame met Greene and the two hit it off, becoming the most successful Peaches and Herb incarnation of the three to date.
Their first of seven albums together, “Peaches & Herb,” was produced by McCoy for MCA Records and generated the lone hit single, “We’re Still Together.”
Next, Peaches & Herb signed with MVP/Polydor and released the album “2 Hot,” which went gold. It’s first single, “Shake Your Groove Thing,” also went gold and peaked at #5 on the Billboard Hot 100 in March 1979.
The follow-up single was the triple platinum, Grammy-nominated hit “Reunited.” With a wink to the 1960s Peaches & Herb hit “United” (originally recorded and made a hit by The Intruders), “Reunited” reached No. 1 on both the Hot 100, the Billboard R&B chart, and in Canada. It was nominated for a Song of the Year Grammy in 1980.
Subsequent albums with Polydor produced several more hits, including the wedding staple, “I Pledge My Love.”
After changing labels again to the Entertainment Company, Fame and Greene released their seventh and final album in 1983. Scoring only one minor hit, the duo decided to call it quits. Fame returned to law enforcement and joined the U.S. Marshals Service in 1986 as a deputized court security officer at the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims.
Herb Fame recruited at least five more Peacheses in subsequent years, including the first non-black Peaches. He continues to tour and perform with the Peaches du jour…
But he never quite matched the success of his run with Peaches #3, Linda Greene.
RADIOSCOPE RAW Podcast: Our Uncut 1989 Interview with Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam / LISTEN
*Episode 2 of the RadioScope Raw podcast features our 1989 interview with Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam.
The band was assembled and produced by Full Force, with Alex “Spanador” Moseley on guitar and bass, Mike Hughes on drums and keyboards, and Lisa Valez on lead vocals.
After scoring major hits singles from their 1985 debut album “Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam with Full Force” and its singles “I Wonder If I Take You Home,” “Can You Feel the Beat” and the summer of 85’s go-to slow jam “All Cried Out,” their second album, “Spanish Fly,” kept the momentum going in 1987, with its two gold singles “Head to Toe” and “Lost in Emotion.”
We sat down with the New York trio about a week before the May 25, 1989 release of their third album “Straight to the Sky.”
Velez opened up about her vocal ability being questioned, and the group was asked about the emergence of Teddy Riley’s New Jack Swing sound, the extent of Full Force’s influence on their production, and the story behind some of the album’s tracks – including lead single “Little Jackie Wants to Be a Star.”
‘Damn If I Say It You Can Slap Me Right Here!’: The Backlash to ‘Don’t Worry Be Happy’ (EUR Video Throwback]
*On September 24, 1988, Bobby McFerrin made history by giving the Billboard Hot 100 its first ever No. 1 single that was strictly acapella. “Don’t Worry Be Happy,” comprised entirely of sounds out of McFerrin’s body, held the top position for two weeks and went on to earn 1989 Grammy Awards for Song of the Year, Record of the Year and Best Male Pop Vocal Performance.
It was also named by Village Voice critic Michael Musto as the worst song of all time. All Time. It topped Q100 DJ Bert Weiss’ list of tracks he would ban from radio for good, and made Blender’s “50 Worst Songs Ever” list, saying the lyrics were “appalling” and adding, “It’s difficult to think of a song more likely to plunge you into suicidal despondency than this.”
Very rarely has a song so critically acclaimed been equally publicly defamed, with Public Enemy putting a stamp on the vitriol against its responsibility-shirking sentiment with its “Fight the Power” line “Don’t Worry, Be Happy was a number one jam. Damn if I say it you can slap me right here!”
Let’s dip back to this week in 1988 to get a bit of history behind the polarizing song.
“Don’t Worry, Be Happy” was released as part of the soundtrack to the 1988 Tom Cruise movie “Cocktail.”
Thirty-two years ago today, it took the number one spot by knocking off “Sweet Child o’ Mine” by Guns N’ Roses.
Guns N’ Roses – Live At The Ritz – 1988 – Sweet Child O’ Mine
It was knocked off of its two week Hot 100 reign by Whitney Houston’s Olympics-themed “One Moment in Time.”
Whitney Houston – One Moment In Time – (Live at Grammy, 1989)
While “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” was all the rage atop Billboard’s pop-oriented Hot 100, R&B fans tolerated it, at best. The song never made it past No. 11 on Billboard’s Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Tracks, where Jeffrey Osborne’s “She’s On The Left” held down the top spot 32 years ago this week.
McFerrin was already an established, multiple Grammy-winning, respected jazz lyricist before the ‘Don’t Worry Be Happy” detour happened. Bill Cosby had featured him in The Playboy Jazz Festival during the 80s, and had McFerrin re-record “The Cosby Show’s” theme for its fourth season.
McFerrin reportedly said he got the idea for “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” after visiting the San Francisco apartment of jazz duo Tuck & Patti and noticing a poster on the wall with the phrase “Don’t Worry Be Happy,” referring to the popular expression printed on promotional cards and posters during the 1960s from Indian mystic Meher Baba, who claimed he was God in human form.
Inspired by the charm and simplicity of Meher Baba’s phrase “Don’t worry, be happy,” McFerrin wrote the song’s lyrics and overdubbed percussion, melody, lead vocals and other sounds from his own mouth as the backing track. Its use in “Cocktail” didn’t hurt the promotion. Neither did the presence of comedic stars Robin Williams and Bill Irwin in the music video.
But in an era that saw the emergence of Black power-infused hip hop from the likes of Public Enemy, X-Clan and KRS-One, McFerrin’s artistry in creating an acapella masterpiece came was eventually blurred by lyrics that some interpreted as turning a blind eye to pressing societal issues of race and economics that warranted righteous rage from a Black man, not blissful ignorance.
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