First Ladies for President's Day
It may be President’s Day, but I’ve been enthralled this morning with rare footage of several of my all-time favorite First Ladies of Song.
Thanks to Dick LaPalm, the former aide to Nat King Cole and Chess Records Vice-President, for sending this clip of Peggy Lee, Sarah Vaughan, Roberta Flack, and Aretha Franklin performing a medley of Duke Ellington classics including “I Ain’t Got Nothin’ But the Blues,” “Rocks in My Bed,” “I’ve Got It Bad,” “Azure,” and “Mood Indigo.” That’s Paul Gonsalves on tenor saxophone, and it comes from a 1973 TV special in tribute to Ellington. As you’ll see, the intricate arrangement allows for each of these distinct voices to be heard separately and together, and how perfectly they execute this homage to Sir Duke. Stay through to the end to see Ms. Flack conveying her enthusiasm with a little shimmy shake.
Credit Doug Ramsey, biographer of Paul Desmond and proprietor of Rifftides, a blog I check everyday, for turning me on to this film of Billie Holiday with Count Basie in 1952. Lady Day was a member of the Basie band in 1937-'38, but due to contractual conflicts (she was with Columbia, Basie with Decca) they made no studio recordings together. There are, however, three air-checks from the Savoy Ballroom that have been in circulation for decades; here's "Swing Brother Swing" from '37, The '52 footage finds Lady guesting with the Count on superb renditions of “God Bless the Child” and “Now Baby or Never.”
Today is Nancy Wilson’s 75thbirthday. She's pictured above at age 67. Her nicknames pretty much tell the story: "Sweet Nancy", "The Baby", "Fancy Miss Nancy" and "The Girl With the Honey-Coated Voice.” As you'll see, Bill Cosby calls her a "beautiful lady" and whispers, "Have mercy!" to Robert Culp as they watch her on this clip singing “The Song Is You” in a 1966 episode of “I Spy.” We'll feature Ms. Wilson in tonight's Jazz a la Mode, including a couple of selections from her great date with Cannonball Adderley, as well as Nancy singing the classic blues, "Call It Stormy Monday," and a new one for the ages, "Knitting Class."