WBGO Blog
  • WBGO Celebrates 100 Years of Robert Johnson

    May 5, 2011. Posted by Michael Downes.

    robertjohnsonMay 8th, 2011 marks the 100th anniversary of Robert Johnson's birth. According to legend, Johnson met the Devil at the crossroads of Routes 61 and 49, and promised him his soul in exchange for supernatural abilities on the guitar. The Devil got the best of him, though--during his lifetime, Johnson never did achieve fame outside the Mississippi Delta. Yet 100 years later, Robert Johnson's name is virtually synonymous with the blues. In a cruel twist of fate, his publishers, who own the rights to the 29 songs he recorded during his lifetime, have since earned millions of dollars re-releasing his material. The moral of the story, of course, is that the Devil is evil (except for the D).

    Take a listen to today's very special Blues Hour, which features Gary Walker, Bob Porter, and Michael Bourne discussing the life, legacy, and mythology of Robert Johnson.

  • Mary Lou Williams Centennial Celebrations Rise Again!

    October 6, 2010. Posted by Becca Pulliam.

    Mary Lou Williams Centennial CelebrationI'm just back from the Mary Lou Williams Centennial Celebration in Madison, WI (where I lived from 1969-82). Mary Lou was briefly an Artist-in-Residence at UW Madison in 1976. Meeting/interviewing her then and immersing myself in her residency put me on my track. Thirty-some years later, it was my honor to participate in this celebration. Madison, by the way, remains one of the all-time hospitable cities - centered on an isthmus between two beautiful lakes - and the home of a dedicated jazz community.

    From Fri through Sun, Howard Landsman and his committee hosted events around town, featuring the UW Hiphop Ensemble, The Music of Mary Lou Wms from 1929-78 presented by her mgr and the Director of the MLW Foundation - Fr Peter O'Brien, and a symposium with Profs Sherrie Tucker, Guy Ramsey, Ted Buehrer and Farrah Griffin. Both MLW biographers - Linda Dahl and Dr. Tammy Kernodle - were in town. On Saturday night at the Capitol Theater, the MLW Collective featuring Madison Poet Laureate Fabu, the magnificent Geri Allen on piano, Kenny Davis on bass, Kassa Overall (the nephew of the current WI Gov and his wife!) on drums, and guest vocalist Carmen Lundy. Everyone was great and all hail Geri. In the first half they presented MLW's Zodiac Suite from the 1940s, but what I loved most was "Peter's Blues" in the second half, animated by Geri's elbows.

    On Sunday morning 8am at Mt Zion Baptist Church, the awesome Leotha Stanley (a committee member) conducted Mary Lou's Mass - a Catholic mass in a Baptist church. After briefly noting that slight mismatch, Stanley launched the choir into an excellent performance, not one bit less stunning than the celebratory May 2010 pfmnces at St. Francis Xavier in Greenwich Village and The Kennedy Center. WOW. Carmen Lundy's singing of the Lazarus story makes time stop for me. Professor George Shirley from the U of MI was the baritone soloist. Sitting in the balcony of this med sized, straightforward sanctuary and facing the choir and a single, modern stained glass window behind it, I had a slightly elevated perspective and felt the joy rising.

    Prof Jimmy Cheatham of the UW Experimental Black Music Ensemble (1972-77) brought MLW to campus in '76. He has passed away, but his wife Jeannie Cheatham came from San Diego to enjoy and be honored by the City of Madison. On Sat night, some of the musicians (older now, like me) gathered to jam in Jimmy and Jeannie's honor. (That link leads you to the Jimmy & Jeannie Cheatham Collection, now online from the Marr Sound Archive at  Univ of Missouri in Kansas City.) It was small with a lot of love. You could not ask for more.

  • Today is the 100th anniv of Milt Hinton's birth .. we celebrated his 80th

    June 23, 2010. Posted by Becca Pulliam.

    Clark Terry was an MC. Ray Brown was the lead-off bass player, with youngster John Clayton. Sylvia Sims sang. Joe Williams sang. Doc Cheatham played duets with newcomer Wynton Marsalis. NY Mayor Dinkins sent a proclamation that June 23, 1990, was "Milt Hinton Day." A choir of first-call bassists canceled whatever to come together and celebrate.

    Bassists, from left: Lynn Seaton, Lonnie Plaxico, Charnett Moffit, Jack Lesberg, Bob Haggart, Milt Hinton, John Clayton, Eddie Gomez, Dick Hyman, Richard David, Bill Crow, Major Holley, Ron Carter and Rufus Reid perform "The Judge Meets the Section" at MH 80th Birthday Concert at Town Hall on June 23, 1990.  Photo by Tad Hershorn
    Bassists, from left: Lynn Seaton, Lonnie Plaxico, Charnett Moffett, Jack Lesberg, Bob Haggart, Milt Hinton, John Clayton, Eddie Gomez, Richard Davis, Bill Crow, Major Holley, Ron Carter and Rufus Reid perform at the MH 80th Birthday Concert at Town Hall on June 23, 1990. Photo by Tad Hershorn

    As host Michael Bourne noted on the two-hour broadcast, the young-at-heart elder statesman had played on more than 600 albums. He and wife Mona Hinton were loved. Milt closed the concert with some solo slap bass, then honored a request to sing "Old Man Time." Dick Hyman on piano, Bob Rosengarden on drums. Please listen.