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Background information
Birth name: Ernestine Anderson
Born: November 11, 1928 (1928-11-11) (age 82)
Origin: Houston, Texas, USA
Genres: Blues, Jazz
Occupations: Singer
Instruments: Vocals
Labels Qwest Records
Reprise Records
Concord Records
Mercury Records
Associated acts Johnny Otis
Lionel Hampton

Ernestine Anderson (born November 11, 1928) is an American jazz and blues singer. In a career spanning more than five decades, has recorded over 30 albums. In the early 1990s she joined Qwest Records, the label of fellow Garfield High School grad Quincy Jones. She was nominated four times for a Grammy Award. She has sung at Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, the Monterey Jazz Festival (six times over a 33-year span), as well as at jazz festivals all over the world.

BiographyAnderson was born in Houston, Texas, the daughter of a construction worker. At age three, she could sing along with the raw tunes of the legendary Bessie Smith; she soon moved on to the more refined environs of her local church, singing solos in its gospel choir.

Anderson tells of her early life in the book, The Jazz Scene (1998):

"My parents used to play blues records all the time," Ernestine Anderson told me. "John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, all the blues greats. In Houston, where I grew up, you turned on the radio and what you got was country and western and gospel. I don't even remember what my first experience with music was. I sort of grew into it. My father sang in a gospel quartet and I used to follow him around, and both my grandparents sang in the Baptist church choir. And they had big bands coming through Houston like Jimmie Lunceford, Billy Eckstine, Erskine Hawkins, and Count Basie." Ernestine's godmother entered her in a local talent contest when she was twelve years old. "I only knew two songs," she admitted, "On the Sunny Side of the Street" and "So Long". The piano player asked me what key did I do these songs in and I just said "C" for some reason and it was the wrong key. In order to save face I sang around the melody, improvised among the melody, and when I finished one of the musicians told me I was a jazz singer."
Her family moved to Seattle, Washington in 1944, when she was sixteen. Anderson graduated from Garfield High School. When she was eighteen, she left Seattle, to tour for a year with the Johnny Otis band. In 1952, she went on tour with Lionel Hampton's orchestra. After a year with the legendary band, she settled in New York, determined to make her way as a singer. Her appearance on Gigi Gryce's 1955 album Nica's Tempo (Savoy) led to a partnership with trumpeter Rolf Ericson for a three-month Scandinavian tour. Ernestine's first album in the United States was made after her debut album, recorded in Sweden and released here by Mercury Records under the title Hot Cargo (1958), which created a huge sensation. In 1959 Anderson won the Down Beat "New Star" Award and recorded for Mercury to more acclaim, before dividing her time from the mid-60's between America and Europe.

"I don't think jazz ever died. It suffered a setback during the sixties. I had to move to London in order to work because a jazz person couldn't work in the United States when rock 'n' roll became the music. I didn't think it would last this long, and I don't think the rock 'n' roll people thought it would last this long, but it had."
Her re-emergence in the mid-1970s (at which time Ray Brown was her manager) came as a result of a sensational appearance at the 1976 Concord Jazz Festival, a string of albums for Concord Records followed. Anderson has continued her career revival into the 1990s, working with the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, amongst others.

In 2008, her home—which had been in her family for decades—was scheduled for foreclosure for debts of $48,000. The home was saved by donations by friends such as Quincy Jones and Diane Schuur.

Anderson is currently represented by Addeo Music International (AMI).

Selected Discography

1956: MEP 190 - 7" w/Duke Jordan recorded in Sweden (Metronome)
1956: Hot Cargo - (Mercury Records]])
1958: The Toast of the Nation's Critics - (Mercury Records)
1960: My Kinda Swing- (Mercury Records)
1963: The New Sound of Ernestine Anderson Collectable Jazz Classic - (Sue Records)
1977: Hello Like Before - (Concord Records)
1978: Live From Concord To London - (Concord Records)
1980: Sunshine - (Concord Records)
1981: Never Make Your Move Too Soon - (Concord Records)
1983: Big City - (Concord Records)
1985: When the Sun Goes Down - (Concord Records)
1987: Live at the Alley Cat: With the Frank Capp/Nat Pierce Juggernaut - (Bellaphon Records)
1987: Be Mine Tonight - (Concord Records)
1988: A Perfect Match With George Shearing - (Concord Records)
1990: Boogie Down - (Concord Records)
1990: Live at the 1990 Concord Jazz Festival Third Set - (Concord Records)
1991: Boogie Down With the Clayton-Hamilton Orchestra - (Concord Records)
1993: Great Moments With Ernestine Anderson - (Concord Records)
1994: Now and Then - (Qwest Records)
1996: Blues, Dues & Love News - (Qwest Records)
1998: Isn't It Romantic - (Koch International Records)
2000: Ballad Essentials - (Concord Records)
2002: I Love Being Here With You - (Concord Records)
2002: Free Soul: The Classic of Ernestine Anderson - (JVC Japan Records)
2003: Love Makes the Changes - (High Note Records)
2004: Hello Like Before - (JvVC Victor Records)
2009: A Song For You - (HighNote Records)

Grammy History
Career Nominations: 4
Ernestine Anderson Grammy History
Year Category Genre Title Label Result
1996 Best Jazz Vocal Performance Jazz Blues, Dues & Love News Qwest Nominated
1993 Best Jazz Vocal Performance Jazz Now and Then Concord Nominated
1983 Best Jazz Vocal Performance - Female Jazz Big City Concord Nominated
1981 Best Jazz Vocal Performance - Female Jazz Never Make Your Move Too Soon Concord Nominated

Ernestine Anderson was featured in an article in Time magazine, August 4, 1958, "the voice belongs to Negro Singer Ernestine Anderson, at 29 perhaps the best-kept jazz secret in the land" after her first album release. She is inevitably compared to Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Billie Holiday. Ernestine invariably rejects the comparisons. "I wish," she says, "they would let me be just me." She is, and "just me" is plenty good enough.

Anderson was one of 75 women chosen for the book, I Dream a World: Portraits of Black Women Who Changed America (1999), by Pulitzer Prize winning photographer Brian Lanker. Within this book Ernestine Anderson joins such company as Rosa Parks, Coretta Scott King, Oprah Winfrey, Lena Horne, and Sarah Vaughan.

She won the Golden Umbrella award at the Bumbershoot Seattle arts festival in 2002. The award honors artists from the Northwestern United States "who have significantly contributed to the cultural landscape of our region."

Anderson was chosen by the Pacific Northwest Chapter of the Recording Academy (an organization best known for the Grammy Awards) to receive its 2004 IMPACT Award. The IMPACT Award honors Northwest music professionals whose creative talents and accomplishments have crossed all musical boundaries and who have been recognized as an asset to the music community

Ernestine Anderson was featured on the 8-21-10 program. A complete list of songs and artists for this show is available under the “playlists” tab.

Ernestine Anderson is a blues, pop, and- most emphatically- a jazz singer who has recorded nearly thirty albums, entertained audiences all over the world, was nominated for four Grammy Awards, and whose career is in its seventh decade. Unfortunately, her impeccable work has too often passed by unnoticed by a majority of American music listeners.

Ernestine was born in Houston in 1928, the daughter of a construction worker. She was a twin, born just minutes after her sister Josephine. “Pheeny”’s pituitary gland was damaged at birth, resulting in a serious developmental disorder. Ernestine would take very special care of Pheeny for her sister’s entire life.

Ernestine remembers, “My parents used to tell me that when I was three years old, I would sit on the front porch, singing to whatever was playing on the Victrola, such as Bessie Smith. My parents used to play blues records all the time: John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, all the blues greats. When I was a little older, I used to listen to the radio station late at night. They would play music from such big bands as Jimmie Lunceford, Count Basie, Buddy Johnson, Andy Kirk, Billy Eckstine, and Cab Calloway. I sang in the church with my grandmother on Sundays from the time I was three, sometimes taking solos.”

Ernestine’s grandmother entered her in a talent contest when she was twelve years old. “I only knew two songs”, Ernestine says, “’Sunny Side of the Street’ and ‘So Long’. The piano player asked me what key did I do these songs in and I just said ‘C’ for some reason and it was the wrong key. In order to save face I sang around the melody, improvised around the melody, and when I finished one of the musicians told me I was a jazz singer.”

Ernestine’s family moved to Seattle shortly after she entered her teens, and she quickly fell in with a group of fellow aspiring entertainers at a club located upstairs over a butcher shop. She met a young trumpeter there named Quincy Jones, and soon the two of them were members of Bumps Blackwell’s Junior Band. Being in Bumps’ band was often grueling, and sometimes demeaning. Quincy Jones recalled in his autobiography, “Bumps’ motto was: Get the gig, forget the rest. He’d book us anywhere. He once booked us at a provincial carnival in Canada where they made Ernestine Anderson dress up like a shake dancer and advertised us with posters over our tent that showed little black kids eating watermelon with a sign that said, ‘Bumps Blackwell and His All-Colored Harlem Review’. We did eight shows a day and had to ballyhoo outside the tent to bring people in. We were so tired that sometimes we slept on the ground in our white cardigan jackets.”

Ernestine was only sixteen years old when bandleader Johnny Otis hired her away from Bumps. He explained why he wanted the teenager in his book Upside Your Head: Rhythm and Blues on Central Avenue: “…When we played dance halls or auditoriums, I was able to give Ernestine a solo…My musicians and I preferred young Ernestine’s singing. We could hear those pure jazz and blues elements in her work.” After a year with Otis’ legendary revue, Ernestine won a slot singing her first love, jazz, with Lionel Hampton’s top-tier band.
Ernestine herself picks up the story, in a 2004 interview with jazz writer Andrew Gilbert:

Andrew Gilbert: When you first started gaining attention with Johnny Otis, what kind of songs were you singing?

Ernestine Anderson: I really don’t remember the songs I sang, but they were big-band songs. Johnny Otis had several bands. After the first big band there was another one with Little Esther Phillips on a tour headed by the Ink Spots. It’s hard to remember, it was so long ago.

I actually started in Houston with a band headed by Russell Jacquet. During my earlier days I just seemed to connect to big bands. When I was coming up, singing with a big band was how you learned and honed your craft. You learned how to sing in front of an audience and you learned from the older artist on a show, picking up whatever you could. (Listen to Ernestine’s first record, 1947′s “Good Lovin’ Babe” here.)

Gilbert: Tell me about some of your early influences.

Anderson: There were so many, but the earliest one was Ella Fitzgerald. Sarah Vaughan was one of my idols.

In fact, I got so engrossed with Sarah when I first heard her that I tried to sing like her. Then I was told by this person, I should try to find my own identity, that was the only way I was going to have any success in this business. So I stopped listening to singers and just listened to instrumentalists for a couple of years. That’s how I got away from being influenced by other people.

Gilbert: You started gaining some serious national attention when you joined Lionel Hampton’s orchestra in 1952. How did you end up with Hamp?

Anderson: Hamp was in town and my husband heard that Betty Carter was leaving the orchestra and that he was looking for a singer. He pushed me to go and audition for the band and I got the job.

I traveled with that band for a year, and it was one of the hottest bands that Lionel ever had, with Art Farmer, Jimmy Cleveland and Gigi Gryce. Quincy Jones was there too and he was writing for the band, and Jimmy Scott was the other singer.

Gilbert: The band may have been hot, but like a lot of Hamp’s vocalists, you didn’t stay with the orchestra for long.

Anderson: The band was going to Europe and I decided to stay in New York and go out on my own. I’d done two songs on an album that Gryce put together. Someone heard this album and asked me to go over to Scandinavia with Rolf Ericson, a Swedish trumpet player, and it was wonderful, a great experience. I toured Sweden for three-and-half months and stayed three more months. I found out that the Swedish people love jazz. I found that out to be true all over Europe and Asia, every place except our own country. The only reason I came home was that my mom got sick.

Gilbert: Right, making it in Sweden doesn’t necessarily open doors back in the States. But you had some help from San Francisco Chronicle critic Ralph Gleason, one of the founders of the Monterey Jazz Festival.

Anderson: When I first came back to the U.S. from Sweden, I moved to San Francisco with my first album, which featured a Swedish orchestra – “Hot Cargo” with the Harry Arnold Band. I had an acetate of the date and I played it for some people here in Seattle.

So Maggie Hawthorne, a jazz critic, notified Ralph Gleason, and this man did so much for me. He was responsible for getting it off the ground when I came back from Sweden. He made the Monterey Jazz Festival happen and was responsible for getting an article in Time magazine, which was unheard of in those days for a jazz musician. (Listen to “Mad About the Boy” from Hot Cargo here.)

Gilbert: You were recording for Mercury through the early 1960s, and then the bottom fell out for jazz musicians. How did you handle the loss of work?

Anderson: When rock ’n’ roll became the music of America, I moved to London for two years. In order to keep working I had to leave the country. When I came back, that’s when I joined the Buddhist faith, that kept me going.

(Ernestine tried her at pop music, and although she didn’t like the results, the songs sound great today. You can listen to a couple of examples here and here.)

I stopped singing for a while. I just didn’t want to go through the hassle of starting all over again. I decided maybe it was time for me to give it up, and that’s what I did. I came home to Seattle.

Gilbert: So what got you back on the bandstand?

Anderson: A couple of years later I started getting the desire to sing again. A friend, the bassist Red Kelly, had a club in Tacoma and I used to go up there to sing every weekend for a year, just getting my throat together again.

Another friend had a jazz festival on Vancouver Island, and he asked me to do this gig, and everybody was there – Monk Montgomery, Ray Brown, so many musicians. At the end of it Ray asked me if I was ready to come back and start singing again. I told him I needed a record, I couldn’t just start cold.

He called me a week later and said. “I’ve booked you at the Concord Jazz Festival and they’re going to record you there.” That was my first album after getting back in the business. Ray Brown was responsible for that.” (Listen to Ernestine with Ray Brown here.)


In 1998, Ernestine celebrated her 70th birthday with a huge party and performance that benefited two of her favorite charities, the Seattle Children’s Hospital and the Rise n’ Shine Foundation, which provides care for children with diseases related to AIDS. She told a writer for the Seattle Times, “It’s all about the children, these days. They need so much more than we did, when we were growing up.”

Ernestine Anderson continues to perform for enthusiastic audiences today, and released her 26th album, A Song for You, in 2009. “Singing is what keeps me going,” she says. “It’s my life’s work. I don’t know anything else to do and retirement is out of the question.”

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