Monday, February 19, 2018

The Beauty of Retrospect, February Model Edition: Iman by Robert Farber, 1977

How do I follow up all of the models I've revisited so far this month?

How about with this?

Are your knees wobbling yet?  Having trouble breathing, perhaps?   Yeah, me too . . . :-O

This intensely exquisite photo of Iman, whom I last featured here in January 2017, was taken by fashion photographer Robert Farber in 1977, and it is the most astonishing picture in her portfolio by a wide margin.  The intricate white lace veil that partially obscures her face - not enough to mask it, but enough to provide a sense of mystery - provides a stark contrast to her dark brown skin and her bare torso.  The black backdrop only adds to the mysterious mood, complementing Iman's own aura.  And I haven't even mentioned her dusky blue eye shadow or ruby lipstick . . ..

I almost melted when I first saw this picture.

Many a man who gazed upon this photo must have imagined gently lifting her veil in order to kiss her tenderly.  I'm sure David Bowie must have, too. :-) 

Friday, February 16, 2018

The Beauty of Retrospect: Nancy Donahue Birthday Extravaganza!

Today's the day! Nancy Donahue marks three score years today. And to close out my celebration of her sixtieth birthday, I thought I'd show seven - yeah, that's right, seven - photos of our beloved birthday girl.  It's like seeing the fireworks on Independence Day, when they always set off the last ones all at once for a grand finish.    

As I noted here before, Nancy is a friend of mine (note the first-name basis), and I've always admired her for her versatility as a model.  She can go from a fresh-faced all-American look, as she bears in the winter-fashion photo above from 1985 . . .

. . . to the glamorous role of a long cool woman in black dress.

And while her glamour can be intimidating when she's photographed in haute couture as haute as coutre can be, as in this incredible jumpsuit in a picture taken by Rico Puhlmann . . .

. . . she can be just as soft and alluring, as she is in the pensive fashion photo below.

Because whatever image she projects, she's still Nancy to me . . . a wonderful, vivacious woman with a spirited personality and a joie de vivre all her own.  In the time I've known her, I've found her to be a warm, wonderful person who's a pleasure to be with.  And she's also a heck of a dancer. :-)

Her personality always comes through, in her smile . . .

. . . and in her poise.

I normally don't go into first person this much on this blog, and I normally don't make a huge deal of the fact that I know so many of the models I feature here, but this is a special occasion, being Nancy's birthday and all, and Nancy herself is special.  See, she was the first top model I ever met after I started connecting with top models on social media as a result of them discovering this blog.  I'd long followed her career, having first seen her in the early eighties, when she seemed appear on the cover of Self magazine every other month. :-) :-D

I first met her at Bergdorf Goodman in New York in December 2010 when she was promoting her BelleCore body buffer during the holiday season, not very long after connecting with her on Facebook.  She greeted me like I was already an old friend, and it was one of the most enjoyable experiences of my life . . . and by having me at some of her social functions, Nancy made it possible for me to have many more similarly enjoyable experiences.

Below is a picture of me with Nancy from that first meeting in Bergdorf Goodman, taken by her (and now our) friend Geoffrey Saunders.  This is the first time I've ever featured a photo of a woman that also includes myself, but don't expect me to make a habit of it.  This blog is definitely not about me. :-) 

Happy birthday, Nancy - love you! ♥

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Beauty of Retrospect, February Model Edition: Happy Birthday, Nancy Donahue! (Part Five)

Nancy Donahue, of course, is more than just a model. She's a versatile woman who has excelled in everything she's tried.  She went back to school - culinary school - and became a pastry chef, working for a catering service in her home state of Massachusetts for many years.  She's also a certified personal trainer and yoga teacher, and she worked as a fitness director at a country club.

Her fitness expertise led her and a group of like-minded individuals to develop a body buffer designed to smooth skin, diminish the presence of cellulite, and ease tense muscles, which she and her partners market and sell as the BelleCore body buffer.  You can learn more about it here.

Oh, and did I happen to mention that she's a triathlete?  And a pretty formidable one, too.

As a result, she remains in such good shape that she's gone back to modeling.  All of these pictures are from her return to her original profession.  

The picture of Nancy Donahue above was taken for New Jersey cosmetics mogul Bobbi Brown, and our birthday girl brings a whole new idea to "casual formal." :-)

The more staid headshot is from a 1997 skin-care ad.  It appeared in Mirabella, the since-folded namesake magazine of former Vogue editor-in-chief Grace Mirabella, aimed at women in their thirties and forties.  Nancy Donahue was 39 at the time this appeared, and it puts to rest the canard that feminine beauty doesn't improve with age. 

And the beautiful woman you see above is the same woman you'd see on the street.


The "No U-Turn" sign in the photo above is appropriately symbolic and symbolically appropriate.  Nancy Donahue lives life forward without turning back. 

The Beauty of Retrospect, February Model Edition: Happy Birthday, Nancy Donahue! (Part Four)

Throughout the 1980s, you could expect to find Nancy Donahue not only on fashion magazine covers and in fashion and beauty editorials, but in numerous clothing and accessories ads, including ads for . . . Hathaway shirts?

Yes, there are such things as Hathaway women's shirts, Both of these photos of Nancy Donahue are from Hathaway ads in fashion supplements of the New York Times Sunday magazine.  The first one is from August 1982, the second one from February 1983. 

So you don't think dress shirts are sexy? :-D 

The Hathaway women's wear ads defined the brand's clothes as style that was "hard to define . . . but easy to recognize."  And especially easy to recognize when Nancy Donahue wore them. :-)

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

The Beauty of Retrospect, February Model Edition: Happy Birthday, Nancy Donahue! (Part Three)

I couldn't resist adding three more pictures of Nancy Donahue from the early eighties. The first two, if I remember correctly, are from the June 1980 issue of the British edition of Vogue, just like the pictures on the previous post, but I don't remember where the third is originally from.

I know this much: All three of these pictures were taken by Denis Piel.

Nancy Donahue has worked with numerous photographers throughout her career, and they read like a who's who list of the most famous fashion photographers: Francesco Scavullo, Irving Penn, Steve Landis, Arthur Elgort, Patrice Casanova, Eric Boman, Stan Malinowski and Patrick Demarchelier.  But she's regularly associated with Denis Piel, and it's easy to see why.  Denis Piel knows how to get the best pose out of his models, and Nancy Donahue has always responded marvelously to Piel on a photo shoot, much like how a great rock band responds to a producer in the recording studio.  The photo above shows our heroine looking glamorous and worldly.  With a lesser model and a lesser photographer, such a pose would look like . . . a woman pushing against a table. 

Nancy Donahue describes her style as "innocence and cool sophistication."  In the photo above, Denis Piel captured both simultaneously.

He concentrated more on the innocence in the photo below, showing Ms. Donahue in a softer, more pensive mood.  

How romantic . . . perfect for today, St. Valentine's Day.

I could devote an entire month on this blog to Nancy Donahue's work with Denis Piel.  Because with a great model like she and a great photographer like he, how could you go wrong? 

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The Beauty of Retrospect, February Model Edition: Happy Birthday, Nancy Donahue! (Part Two)

Nancy Donahue was one of the most sought-after faces in fashion and beauty editorials and advertising in the 1980s. She appeared in ads for jewelry, department stores, and fashion designers such as Perry Ellis, Ralph Lauren, and Donna Karan. She was also in many a fashion or beauty editorial and on many a cover of all of the prestigious fashion and beauty magazines.  Including the U.K. edition of Vogue.

I've shown numerous examples of Nancy Donahue's work throughout the eighties already on this blog, but these pictures are all from the beginning of the decade - specifically, the June 1980 issue of British Vogue.

June is when it gets hot.  These striking pictures showing our heroine really turning on the heat!  I believe the cut of the dress in the photo above is what is called a bias.

My tribute to Nancy Donahue on the occasion of her sixtieth birthday has a bias all right - a favorable one. ;-) 

And how could I not have a favorable prejudice towards a woman who looks so gorgeous in yellow? :-D

Monday, February 12, 2018

The Beauty of Retrospect, February Model Edition: Happy Birthday, Nancy Donahue! (Part One)

Yes, the birthday girl I'm honoring in this retrospective this month is none other than Nancy Donahue, one of the biggest names in the modeling profession in the 1980s.  She was indeed the first top model I ever met in person, and she happens to be one of my dearest friends. :-)  She turns sixty years old this Friday (February 16), and a major milestone like that certainly deserves a big celebration.

And, yes, her date of birth is public knowledge, so I'm not giving anything away that she wouldn't want anyone to know.

I don't think I can ever do her career justice in the time I've given myself to pay tribute to her having reached three score years, but I'll certainly try. :-) 

When Nancy Donahue, whom I last featured here in April 2017, first began modeling in the late seventies, she probably had no idea she'd be at the top of her profession with such rapidity.  But by 1980, she already had covers of Mademoiselle, Self, Redbook and Vogue to her credit.  Not to mention work for Vogue Patterns, the prestigious fashion magazine's sister sewing publication. 

The look on her beautiful face in the photo above, from early 1980, shows just how determined she was to make it in modeling.   She appears ready to take on the world.  And even though she projects a softer look in the photo below, from a about the same time frame . . .

. . . it's obvious that Nancy Donahue is as fearless in pink as she is pretty. :-)

Saturday, February 10, 2018

The Beauty of Retrospect, February Model Edition: Karen Graham, 1981

I couldn't resist showing one more picture of Karen Graham before moving on. :-)

This Victor Skrebneski photo for an Estée Lauder ad shows our heroine walking down a romantic allée, bearing flowering tree branches as it she were ready to offer them as gifts.

That's right, guys, she's a woman who brings us flowers!

The dress, by the way, is by Becky Bisoulis, as if I cared. :-D 

Still one of my favorite models after all these years . . . :-)

Friday, February 9, 2018

The Beauty of Retrospect, February Model Edition: Karen Graham

The first four photos in this post depict Estée Lauder modeling legend Karen Graham, whom I last featured here in April 2017, as you normally would have seen her before she faced the camera.

They're photos are from an ad for Estée Lauder Lauder's Swiss Age Controlling Skincare Program, showing how and why to use the product.  The pictures suggest Ms. Graham getting herself ready to look glamorous.

She must have realized that you don't need to look serious when you're applying skin cream, hence the two photos below.

The picture above shows her smiling slyly as if she knows that photographing a woman while she's moisturizing her face is a joke, and of course she's in on the joke.  But the photo below is a real hoot, because it shows her playfully acknowledging the joke! :-D

I love you too, Karen. :-)

There's no joke about Karen Graham's timeless beauty, though, and her unique look - the result of her bright eyes, her sweet smile, and her uniquely shaped nose - is what made her a legend, as evidenced below.

As a model, she could be vivacious, or soft, as seen below, like the roses in her hands.

She never really needed to be photographed while giving herself a beauty treatment to project intimacy and familiarity. :-) 

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

The Beauty of Retrospect, February Model Edition: Juli Foster For Revlon Rio

The Revlon cosmetics brand is known for its Rio collection of makeup, the colors of which are supposed to emulate the hot colors of Brazilian carnivals.  And Juli Foster, whom I last featured here in February 2016, was one of the many models who have appeared in Revlon ads to promote the "Rio look," as seen below.

She looks like she're ready to have a good time, and with a drink in hand.  But, as always, she isn't smiling.  

Don't assume that her taciturn expression means she's a sour-puss.  Juli Foster is a woman who takes her fun very seriously. :-)

Juli, I drink to you! :-D :-) 

Monday, February 5, 2018

The Beauty of Retrospect, February Model Edition: Nancy Dutiel for Anthony Richards

Nancy Dutiel is best known as the Lancôme spokesmodel who preceded Isabella Rossellini in the  cosmetic firm's U.S. ad campaigns.  But Ms. Dutiel modeled more than just beauty products.   She also modeled clothing on the side, as she does here in this 1982 photo from an Anthony Richards ad.

Anthony Richards is an apparel company that sells its products through catalogs. Catalog modeling isn't glamorous - models call it "bread and butter" work - but Nancy Dutiel could bring glamour to anything.  She could have made the Sears catalog sexy.

This is my first post of Nancy Dutiel on this blog since August 2015. :-) 

Friday, February 2, 2018

The Beauty of Retrospect, February Model Edition: Claire Atkinson

Name any top fashion designer of recent memory - Ungaro, Lacroix, Valentino - and Claire Atkinson modeled for all of them. Usually on the runways, but also in print.

And there are so many stunning photos of her that you can see why I am revisiting her so soon after having first featured her in August 2017.

Here she is in the photo above wowing the crowd at a fashion show in this exquisite Lecoanet Hemant number.   

And while she could sport a very contemporary look, she could also look very conservative, much like the classic Englishwoman that she is, as evidenced below. 

Color, black and white . . . Claire Atkinson shines in either photographic medium. How about a combination of both?  The photo below, taken by Chris Dawes in the early 1980s around the start of her career, is a black-and-white picture that I colorized - or as she would put it, "colourised" - myself. 

Full disclosure requires me to state that Claire Atkinson is a friend of mine, and of course I find her to be as lovely as ever.  Which is why I'm happy to feature a more recent picture of her below, at a June 2016 ceremony honoring Paris-based Japanese designer Kenzo Takada for his receipt of France's Medal of Chevalier de La Legion d'Honneur.

Leave it to Claire Atkinson to outshine the guest of honor. :-) 

Thursday, February 1, 2018

The Beauty of Retrospect: February Model Edition!

It's a short month, but I have a long list of models I want to feature here again to get us through the middle of winter.  Part of the reason I frequently revisit fashion and beauty models that I've featured here before is that they have such extensive portfolios that one or two posts of any given star of the modeling profession is hardly enough.  And don't forget their runway shots and candid photos.

I'll also be doing a very special retrospective in honor of a top model of the 1980s who celebrates a landmark birthday this month.  Who is that, you may ask?  Well, you'll just have to wait and find out.  But her birthday is in the middle of the month, so you won't have to wait long.    

Yes, I know some top models are sensitive about their ages, but this woman's age is public knowledge, so I won't be embarrassing her by marking it here.  Indeed, I'll be celebrating her.  Because . . . well, you may know that I'm friends with some of these women as a result of them having found this blog in the first place.  The birthday girl in question happens to be the first top model I ever met in person.  And that's the only clue you're going to get from me. 

Back tomorrow with my first retrospective post of February 2018.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Updates and Corrections

As January comes to a close, I need to inform you all of updates and corrections to a couple of recent posts.

First, an update to my December 2017 picture of a model from a cigarette ad that I could not identify, which has turned out to be ironically embarrassing for me.  A follower left a message on my post and told me it was model Alison Vietor. I went to the Peter Marlowe model composite site and, sure enough, three of Alison Vietor's comp cards feature the exact same ad. 

Why is that ironically embarrassing?  Because I featured Alison Vietor in a post in July 2011 - nearly six and a half years before.  But when it came to recognizing her in this cigarette ad, I completely dropped the ball.

Models are like actors in some ways, because they can assume different images and identities in their work, and that's why some models become actors (Rene Russo and Andie MacDowell are obvious examples) and why even famous actors become spokesmodels (Catherine Deneuve for Chanel, anyone?)   Alison Vietor, despite her lack of name recognition, is truly a great model for making me not realize it was her. :-)  I counted her as my latest new subject when I posted this picture from the cigarette ad, but, having featured her before, I now have to find a new subject in her place.  Trust me, that will not be a problem. :-)               

The correction involves a post regarding model and designer Sheyla Huff, from November 2017.  I reported that she was associated with the Elite modeling agency A Elite Elegance division, which I said "was a cut above the standard Elite office."  I've since been informed that Elite Elegance was actually a division for older models, and that it didn't last long.  I regret the error. 

Both posts have since been updated and/or corrected.

Okay, with that all done, I now look to February and a look back at models I've previously featured. :-) 

Monday, January 29, 2018

The Beauty of Song, Part Five: Brigitte Zarie

You won't find Brigitte Zarie on the pop charts.

That's because she's a jazz singer.

Brigitte Zarie hails from Canada, where Diana Krall, and earlier honoree on this blog, is from, and she settled in New York in 1995 to pursue her singing career. She sings in English, French and Portuguese, a clear sign of her versatility.

Although she's been active in jazz since the mid-nineties, she didn't record her first album until 2009 - Make Room For Me, which was obviously an appropriate title.  Her follow-up, L'Amour, was released in 2013.

Ms. Zarie is not a singer who relies on the old standards; she writes her own material, including such songs as "Happiest Day Of My Life," The Story Of Love" and "Call On Love" from her first album and "Quiet Nights," "Nobody Else" and "How Can It Hurt" from her second.  Go to her Web site for more information.

As you can tell by the first letter of Brigitte Zarie's surname, I'm ending my fifth series on beautiful women in music here (and by the way, it is the last day of the month).  The sixth series will come soon enough. 

Saturday, January 27, 2018

The Beauty of Song, Part Five: Grace Slick

Grace Slick was the high priestess of San Francisco psychedelic rock back in the 1960s.

Originally from suburban Chicago, Grace Slick ventured west to make a name for herself in music and was first part of of a Frisco band that was somewhat cynically named the Great Society, after President Lyndon Johnson's domestic program.  But when Signe Anderson, the female vocalist in another group that had secured a record deal, suddenly gave up her musical career to pursue motherhood, Ms. Slick replaced her in this other group, an outfit you may have heard of . . . the Jefferson Airplane. :-)

Grace Slick brought to the Jefferson Airplane a voice the complemented the second half of the group's name - it soared - and a couple of tunes from the Great Society, such as "Somebody To Love," written by her brother -in-law, and her own "White Rabbit," which made it clear that "Alice In Wonderland" was about drugs.  Her contributions to the Airplane made their second album, 1967's Surrealistic Pillow, a classic.

The Jefferson Airplane would go on to have other hit albums, including the highly political Volunteers, which featured a recording of "Wooden Ships," a song about escaping America that Ms. Slick's bandmate (and also her lover) Paul Kantner wrote with David Crosby and Stephen Stills. Though Crosby, Stills and Nash also recorded "Wooden Ships," the Airplane's version is considered the definitive one - largely because of Ms. Slick's powerful vocals.

In the seventies, the counterculture that gave the Airplane its tailwind waned, and the group found new life as a pop-rock band with a new sound and a new name, the Jefferson Starship.  It was at this time - 1974, to be exact - that Grace Slick recorded her first solo LP, Manhole.  Ms. Slick stepped back a bit and let fellow vocalist Marty Balin take center stage, and she even quit the band for awhile (and released Dreams, a solo album that reached number 32 on the Billboard Top Two Hundred, the highest-charting of her four solo efforts), but returned in the early 1980s.  By 1985, all of the original Airplane members, including  Kantner and Balin, were gone, and Ms. Slick and the other replacement members continued as yet another band, Starship.  Despite a few hits - including 1985's "We Built This City" and the cheesy 1987 single "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now" - she eventually left, reuniting with the old Jefferson Airplane for a self-titled album in 1989.     

Grace Slick retired from music to concentrate on painting, but she remains as feisty as ever.  In 2017, she let the conservative, homophobic restaurant chain Chick-Fil-A use "Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now" in their commercials . . . and then gave her licensing royalties from the deal to gay-rights activists.

Got a revolution, indeed. :-D

Now that's how to play corporation games. ;-) 

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The Beauty of Song, Part Five: Julianne Regan

Julianne Regan is a former journalist who, like Chrissie Hynde, went from reporting to rocking.

The British singer formed the band All About Eve in 1985 and was its lead singer.  With guitarist Tim Bricheno, bassist Andy Cousin and a drum machine, All About Eve (named for the movie of that title) put out two singles, 1986's "In the Clouds" and 1987's "Flowers in Our Hair" that suggested an "ethereal Gothic sound," according to Wikipedia.

Their self-titled debut album, produced by Paul Samwell-Smith (the original bass player from the Yardbirds, who went on to produce, well, just about everyone!), was released in 1988. Its single "Martha's Harbour" was a hit, and the LP reached number seven on the British album chart, but with its songs suggesting an idealistic hippie vibe, America in the Reagan-Bush late eighties couldn't be bothered.  Despite three more albums - 1989's Scarlet and Other Stories (for which Mark Price joined as a drummer), 1991's Touched By Jesus (which featured a guest appearance from Pink Floyd's David Gilmour) and 1992's Ultraviolet - they failed to get any notice in the United States.  Tim Bricheno left the band after only two LPs. 

All About Eve broke up in 1993, and Ms. Regan worked in different bands after that and continues to do so after a new iteration of All About Eve reunion that lasted for seven years beginning in 1999.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

The Beauty of Song, Part Five: Jane Olivor

Jane Olivor has a lot in common with Barbra Streisand. She has a similar background - Brooklyn-born, steeped in Tin Pan Alley and the pop-standard-influenced MOR of the seventies, celebrated by gay fans of popular music - but she has a much better voice.

She began recording for Columbia - just like Streisand - after a stint in in the New York cabaret circuit and a gig on a cruise ship.  First Night, from 1976, was her first LP, followed by Chasing Rainbows.  Her albums tended to feature pop standards like "Some Enchanted Evening."  Having cited Johnny Mathis as an influence, Jane Olivor got the break of her life when she got to record with her idol.  The pair duetted on "The Last Time I Felt Like This," the theme song from the 1978 movie Same Time, Next Year, based on a play by Bernard Slade and starring Alan Alda and Ellen Burstyn as people married to others who carry on an affair by meeting in a seaside inn annually for a weekend.  (If you haven't seen the movie, I urge you to do so - for the dialogue alone!) The song, written by Marvin Hamlisch and Alan and Marilyn Bergman, was a huge hit, having come on the heels of Mathis' then-recent collaboration with Deniece Williams (which you already know about).

Personal problems and issues with her record company prevented Jane Olivor from recording and performing throughout most of the eighties.  She returned to performing in the early nineties to the delight of her loyal fan base, and she released a new album, Love Decides, in the year 2000; it was her first album of new material since 1982.

After a stint of performances in the new century, Ms. Olivor went on hiatus again in 2008.  Though she's seventy years of age at this writing, I'm not sure she's done yet. :-)    

Thursday, January 18, 2018

The Beauty of Song, Part Five: Melba Moore

Melba Moore has been a staple of American soul music for more than fifty years.

Having grown up in New York City and Newark, Ms. Moore was the daughter of an R&B singer, and she was quick to follow in her mother's footsteps.  She recorded her first song in 1967, "Magic Touch," which was released nineteen years later and has since become a soul classic.  Success later came for her on Broadway as a cast member of the original Broadway production of Hair and as Lutiebelle in Purlie, a musical about blacks in the Jim Crow South; her performance won her the 1970 Tony for Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical.

Ms. Moore followed that up with two LPs, 1970's I Got Love and 1971's Look What You're Doing to The Man.  Her first big pop success, though, came with her single "This Is It," from 1976, written by disco producer Van McCoy; a few years later she scored again with "Pick Me Up I'll Dance," produced by the legendary Philly soul team of Gene McFadden and John Whitehead.  During this time, Melba Moore was a popular variety-show guest, jokingly introduced on one of them by "Mary Tyler Moore Show" actor Ted Knight as "Melba Tyler Moore." (Personal memory. :-D )

Her eighties hits include "Love's Comin' At Ya,""Keepin' My Lover Satisfied" and ""Livin' For Your Love",  and Ms. Moore proved then that she not only could be soulful, she could rock.  Her 1985 single  "Read My Lips" got her nominated for a Best Female Rock Vocal Performance Grammy.

Ms,. Moore has not only racked up more hit singles since the mid-eighties.  She also returned to Broadway, having been in the 2007 revival of Ain't Misbehavin', and she's done some other stage work as well.  Still active as of this writing, Melba Moore isn't ready to quit. 

Monday, January 15, 2018

The Beauty of Song, Part Five: Natalie Merchant

In the late eighties, just when we thought we were going to be drowned forever in dance pop, 10,000 Maniacs - whose actual lineup consisted of 9,995 fewer maniacs - saved us from such a fate, with lead vocalist Natalie Merchant leading the way.  The honesty in her singing was a refreshing antidote to the manufactured MTV-style pop of the time.

10,000 Maniacs had their commercial breakthrough with their 1987 album In My Tribe, produced by the legendary Peter Asher.  Ironically, the album's best-known track is obscure today.  It was a cover of Cat Stevens' "Peace Train," removed from future pressings of In My Tribe by the band to protest Stevens' endorsement of the fatwa issued by the Ayatollah Khomeini of Iran against author Salman Rushdie for a novel that had a problem with Mohammed, the Prophet of Islam.  Stevens had become a Muslim and taken the name Yusuf Islam.

While Yusuf Islam was railing against Salman Rushdie, 10,000 Maniacs continued their success with their 1989 Asher-produced album Blind Man's Zoo, which featured the sweet, empathetic ballad "Trouble Me," solidifying Ms. Merchant's vocal artistry.  1992's Our Time In Eden featured the joyous pop of "These Are Days" and "Candy Everybody Wants," with our heroine in fine form on both songs.  But after a 1993 album of the band's performance on "MTV Unplugged" - which featured Ms. Merchant on a sinewy cover of Patti Smith's and Bruce Springsteen's "Because The Night" - Natalie Merchant left the Maniacs behind for a solo career.

She debuted as a solo performer in 1995 wit h Tigerlily album, featuring the hit songs "Carnival" and "Wonder.  She followed that success with 1998's Ophelia and the album's hit single "Kind & Generous."        

In the twenty-first century, Natalie Merchant has moved toward smaller labels and has been content with smaller audiences, and her music has gotten more personal.  Her 2010 double album Leave Your Sleep was an ambitious folk album about childhood, consisting of songs adapted from poems about the subject from both British and American literature.

Natalie Merchant continues to explore the numerous possibilities in independent folk-rock music, commercialism be damned. That's why so many of us love her.

Fun fact: Natalie Merchant is of Italian descent, and her surname is an anglicization of Mercante; the family name was changed before she was born.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

The Beauty of Song, Part Five: Gladys Knight

Without question, Gladys Knight is the greatest female soul singer to come out of the South.

Originally from Georgia, Gladys Knight began singing at an early age and appeared on a radio talent show when she was still a little girl.  She formed her backing group the Pips, which, included her brother Merald Knight, Jr., in the early sixties. Gladys Knight and the Pips had a few regional successes with a couple of small labels before joining Motown in 1966. 

At Motown, Gladys Knight and the Pips became the first act to release "I Heard It Through the Grapevine", (Marvin Gaye's version, recorded first, was released second; the song has been covered by numerous artists since then).  Gaye's version became the definitive one, but that didn't bother Ms. Kinght, who with the Pips had several Motown hits such as 1967's "Take Me in Your Arms and Love Me," 1970's "If I Were Your Woman," and 1972's "Neither One of Us (Wants to Be the First to Say Goodbye)."  But she had to deal with jealousy from Diana Ross, who had dropped her and the Pips from a tour with the Supremes because Ms. Knight was outclassing her. 

Eventually, Ms. Knight and her Pips left Motown and signed with Buddah Records, and that's when she established herself as the soul singer of the seventies.  Their 1973 single "Midnight Train to Georgia" topped both the Billboard pop and R&B singles chart, and it led to equally impressive hits - "I've Got to Use My Imagination," a medley of "The Way We Were" and "Try To Remember" and "You're the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me."

Gladys Knight eventually went solo, continuing to perform through the 1980s and 1990s.  She sang on the 1985 AIDS charity song "That's What Friends Are For" with Stevie Wonder, Dionne Warwick, and Elton John, and in 1996 the Georgia native performed a wonderful version of Hoagy Carmichael's "Georgia On My Mind" at the opening ceremony of the Atlanta Olympics, the only memorable moment from that ceremony that had nothing to do with Muhammad Ali.  In the twenty-first century, she continues to perform regularly.

And she still has that high-wattage smile. :-) 

Fun fact:  When Paul McCartney was once asked what female recording artist he'd like to sing with apart from his wife Linda,  he scarcely hesitated in answering, "Gladys Knight." :-)   (One wonders why that still hasn't happened.)