Archive for the ‘Tributes’ Category

Remembering Kitty Wells, with the music leading the way

July 17, 2012

Over the past twenty-four hours, much has been said about the legacy of Kitty Wells (check out this from The New York Times), the first true female country star. Her pioneering efforts towards the advancement of country music, especially for women, place her among the most important country singers who ever will live.

For modern country music listeners its hard to imagine a time when Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, and Tammy Wynette weren’t icons and legends but in the 1950s, their careers wouldn’t have even been possible. At that time, females weren’t looked at as lead performers much less recording stars.

That all changed 60 years ago with the release of “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angles,” an answer song to Hank Thompson’s “The Wild Side of Life:”

Wells’ landmark recording was bold to say the least, and even banned from most country stations due to its subject matter that men are the reason most women cheat. But the song managed a climb to #1 and earn a spot in the history books:

While “It Wasn’t God” remains Wells’ most lauded career achievement, her lengthy career spun other classic singles as well, most notably “Making Believe,” which climbed to #2 for an unheard of fifteen straight weeks in 1955:

Another of her classic singles, “Searching (For Someone Like You)” hit #3 in 1956:

Her timeless and classy approach to country music endeared her to fans around the world as did her marriage to fellow country star Johnnie Wright. At the time of his passing last fall, they had been married 70 years. Here’s one of their many duets, the gospel song “Singing His Praise:”

Wells also had many other hit singles up through the early 1970s. They include:

“Amigo’s Guitar” (#5, 1959):

“Password” (#4, 1964):

I’ll leave you with a first rate tribute song in honor of Wells, here’s Laura Cantrell’s “Kitty Wells Dresses,” released last year:

The greatest legacy of Donna Summer? Her songwriting

May 21, 2012

The music world is once again reflecting on the career of another magnificent singer gone far too soon. This time, though, demons aren’t the downfall but rather unfortunate and cruel health woes.

But the legacy of Donna Summer stretches farther than her title “Queen of Disco.” It would have to, as more energy has been spent on the whole “disco sucks” movement than on celebrating its merits.

Summer’s greatest achievement came as a songwriter not as a singer. When she and husband Bruce Sudano teamed up to pen a song about his parent’s divorce, they wrote one of the finest heartbreak ballads in the modern era of country music.

As the story goes, “Starting Over Again” was written specifically for Dolly Parton who released it as the lead single from Dolly, Dolly, Dolly in 1980. A big hit, the song quickly topped the country chart and saw the top 40 0n the pop chart.

Fifteen years later, the song would see another lease on life as the title track to Reba McEntire’s 20th anniversary album of coversReleased as a single, McEntire’s version was less successful only hitting #19.

But what McEntire lacked in airplay she gained in overall magic. Her version of the song managed to update Parton’s campy confection with a dose of twang that highlighted the mournful lyric, and brought the song to life. In her hands, “Starting Over Again” became story centric for the first time. And what a story it is.

The song opens by setting the scene – the couple has sold their home, split their earnings and parted ways. It becomes apparent they’re scared, as this couple has never been on their own. To make matter worse, with grown children and shattered dreams, they don’t have many options for people to lean on as they get back on their feet.

What’s clear from the beginning is their paths in life. He’s moved on to an apartment and big deal scheming with a friend. But not one to forget, she’s now living with her sister and pouring over their more than 30 years of “left over” memories.

The construction of this tale, not to mention all the small details that bring it to life, place the listener in the heart of their struggle and pain. His ease at moving forward is perfectly juxtaposed with her struggle to come to terms with the status of her now shattered life.

But it’s Summer and Sudano’s ability to relay important details such as the length of the marriage (“30 Odd Years”) and the status of the kids (“And The Kids are all Grown”) that elevate this above your average love-gone-wrong song. The pair present a packed four minutes where every important detail is perfectly placed in just the right spot. “Starting Over Again” highlights a known truth about songwriting – the simpler a lyric, the harder it is to construct. They manage to make something extremely hard look very easy.

And that’s best exemplified by the bridge. The glimpses into the psyche of the couple are breathtaking:

What will the neighbors say
They’re talkin’ talk it’s small town news
They’re facing fifty years old wrecking up a happy home
And this far down the road
You find yourself alone
Two fools

In the end, there isn’t any resolution to the story, as Summer and Sudano opt to  let the heartbreak linger long after the story ends. Like the lyric’s most memorable line (all the kings horses/and all the kings men/couldn’t put mom and daddy back together again” ) the song can’t be put back together either. This choice to end the song deep within the couple’s pain only makes it resonate that much more.

Summer’s passing, at 63, further illustrates the state of flux within the modern musical landscape, where singers settle for modernity in place of pushing for greatness. Summer’s 70s disco heyday may be outdated in 2012, but her ability to craft, and be associated with, songs like “Starting Over Again” will ensure her legacy will live on into the decades to come.

Dolly’s 1980 original version:

Reba McEntire’s cover from 1995:

Donna Summer’s own take on the song (It’s a shame, but she never recorded it herself. However, she did sing it on TV specials a few times):

What Elizabeth Edwards means to me

December 8, 2010

Like the rest of the world, I was deeply saddened to hear of the passing of Elizabeth Edwards yesterday. I knew the day would come, but wasn’t prepared at all. The news hit me like a wave – another gifted soul lost to a horrible disease – A mother who won’t be able to see her children into adulthood and a women who had to deal with unimaginable sadness and loss yet never let pain dictate her life.

I first became aware of Mrs. Edwards when her husband John ran for the presidency in 2004. Life seemed simple back then, they were known as the couple who celebrated their wedding anniversaries at Wendy’s. I could tell they had a deep love for each other (or at least bought into the media’s idea of their marriage) and were a special couple.

I remember being in my dorm room at college glued to the television, March 22, 2007, watching the press conference announcing her cancer had returned. At the time I was caught up in the breaking news of it all but I couldn’t believe it was happening again. I never could have imagined the press conference marked the beginning of the end.

Later that year I had the pleasure of meeting Mrs. Edwards when she came to Colby-Sawyer to stump for John. I remember it was a beautiful Saturday early in September. I made my mom come up because I knew this was an event not to be missed. We had been following her on TV for the past few years and I was excited to see her in person.

I vividly remember how sunny it was that day and thinking, wow, why isn’t she wearing sunglasses? I know I would never have been able to stand in the sun that long without them. But the truly remarkable thing was her kind spirit.

At the end of the event, we were waiting in line to have our picture taken with her and our camera died just before we could get the photo. Being the amazing person she will forever be, Mrs. Edwards made sure one of her field producers got the picture before she left. She cared about each and every person there and even though we didn’t know her personally, she made sure we got the photo. That’s what I will always remember when I think of her.

My mom and I with Elizabeth Edwards during her visit to Colby-Sawyer College September 22, 2007 (six months to day of announcing publicly her cancer had returned) 

I was looking at that photo this morning on my computer and thinking about how happy I am to have that moment as a memory in my life. Getting to meet her was a tiny moment in my college career but one that now shines equally as bright as everything else that defined my life those last four years.

When I look back on that visit to Colby-Sawyer, I think about what it must’ve taken for her to make all those public appearances after knowing the truth about John’s relationship with his videographer. To be able to put that all aside and support him in his bid for the presidency, took an unbelievable amount of courage and grace.

In fact, Mrs. Edwards deserves praise for how she handled herself amidst that whole mess. How a woman battling terminal cancer can add a stress of that magnitude to her life and still hold herself with dignity is truly remarkable. She faced so much sorrow in her life and never let it affect her negatively. I wish I could be half as strong when face battles in my own life as she was with hers.

What I’ve come to learn throughout my life is the cancer seems to effect some of the nicest most kind people ever put on the plant. I find those who deserve it least get hit the hardest. I know so many good people who were struck down in their prime from this awful disease.

But what I believe is that in every death there is a lesson to be learned for each of us fortunate enough to still have life. We are put on earth with the purpose of growing into ourselves and learning just what the limit is to what we can handle. In that regard, Mrs. Edwards was the ultimate warrior, fighting for her spot in life.

So, what does Mrs. Edwards, mean to me? When I reflect on these past six years of seeing her make countless television appearances promoting her books or talking about the end of her long marriage, I don’t see the hurt or the pain. When I look back, I see a woman, who until she took her last breath, held herself with the highest integrity. She had a strong will to live when others would’ve thrown in the towel. Mrs. Edwards, is a beacon, a symbol of not letting go or giving up until the bitter end. She, like so many others who succumbed to cancer, will be remembered for their battle to rid their bodies of the awful disease that would take their lives.

But I will remember the compassionate soul who wouldn’t let me go without getting that photograph; the woman who cared about everyone she came in contact with no matter for how long – the reluctant celebrity who wouldn’t be around that long yet we felt we knew forever.