Thursday, February 10, 2011

Black History Month: Francis Johnson & Betty Carter

By J9 of J9's MusicLife

To celebrate Black History month, through February check out a series of features acknowledging parts of black history as it relates to music.

Francis Johnson, Band Leader & Composer

Francis "Jack" Johnson (1792–1844) was an African-American musician and composer during the Antebellum period.  Being an African-American composer was rare in the U.S. during this time.  Some say he was born in Martinique in the West Indies and moved to Philadelphia as an adult.  Johnson played many instruments including the keyed bugle, cornet, and violin.  He wrote more than 300 compositions of various styles—operatic airs, Ethiopian minstrel songs, patriotic marches, ballads, cotillions, quadrilles, quicksteps, and other dances.  Today he's considered one of the "founding fathers" of the American musical style.

Johnson was the first:
  • African-American composer to have his works published as sheet music.
  • African-American to give public concerts.
  • to participate in racially integrated concerts in the U.S.
  • African-American musician and probably the first American musician to tour Europe with a band.

To read more and listen to some of Johnson's pieces, click here.

Betty Carter, The Godmother of Jazz

Betty Carter (1929 - 1998) was born Lillie Mae Jones in Flint, Michigan. Her father led a church choir and her mother, like most religious African-Americans during that time, believed Jazz was "the devil's music."  As a kid, Carter studied piano at the Detroit Conservatory and as a teenager, went pro after winning a talent contest.  Later, she became a regular on the local club circuit, singing, and playing piano.

By the age of 20, Carter moved to New York and started touring with Lionel Hampton.  This is also the time she honed her scat singing ability.  Hampton was behind creating her stage name as it came from his nickname for her, "Betty Be-Bob".

Carter later went on to sing and tour with Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, and Ray Charles.  She also did a series of duets with Charles including the classic, Baby It's Cold Outside.  Carter was known for her improvisational technique and idiosyncratic vocal style.  It was said she used her voice like a musical instrument.

To read more and view a clip of her singing, click here.

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