The Music Industry Mourns

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Andre Harrell (1960-2020), Betty Wright (1953-2020), Little Richard (1932-2020)

Within four days we saw three music legends leave this world. The first was on Thursday, May 7, 2020 with the passing of Andre Harrell. Harrell, who has been hailed with the 1986 founding of Uptown Records and starting the careers of Sean “P. Diddy” Combs and Mary J. Blige, would go on he would have a short stint as president and CEO of Motown Records. In his 2018 interview with The HistoryMakers’ interviewer Harriette Cole, he shared his memories of growing up: “… I remember green grass and I remember chains around the grass that kept it in order. I remember when the chains got broken and the grass no longer was kept and the projects got rougher. People standing in the front stoop always being weary about who’s standing there because, you know, kids are mean and we would be snapping on each other and then if you come late at night, you didn’t want to bump into the wrong people… I remember always having a lot of kids to play with. I remember the first time that the DJ brought the equipment out, Disco King Mario who was formerly in the Black Spades. He reverted from being in a gang and started being a DJ…

Alonzo Brown & Andre Harrell

With this as an influence, he later described meeting Alonzo Brown at Charles Evans Hughes High School in Manhattan: “I met Alonzo and one of my TE classes and we both were writing rhymes. And we would compare rhymes in the staircase. And we said “We should be a group, Dr. Jeckyll, Mr. Hyde”. Alonzo lived on 110 Street and Madison… We started rapping. We did our first little party in the Clinton projects in the community center. We would say the same rhymes about 9 times, you know, you only had a little bit of rhyme. But then we became the biggest rap group in Harlem.”

The HistoryMakers was unfortunately never able to interview Little Richard and Betty Wright, but their legacy certain lives on through The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Little Richard, who was the second of the three to pass on Saturday, May 9, 2020, is spoken about by over seventy HistoryMakers, including by Leon Huff (1942 – ), co-founder of Philadelphia International Records, who recalled: “I was really into rock and roll. That’s what I really wanted to do. Because I was looking at people like Little Richard and Fats Domino… They had a show called American Bandstand used to come on every day. And I had to see that show because they had all those famous Black artists who used to come on there. And the first time I seen Little Richard I was like blown away. Because he had a band called The Upsetters. Boy, I was like dazzled with that.”

Little Richard & The Upsetters

R&B singer Tyrone Davis (1938 – 2005) was equally as impressed with Little Richard, citing him as inspiration for his own singing career: “I was listening to Elvis Presley had ‘Jailhouse Rock,’ and Little Richard had records like ‘Tutti Frutti.’ That’s the way I wanted to sing. I didn’t want to be no group. I didn’t want to be no group singer. I wanted to sound like these guys.”

Astronaut and aircraft commander Capt. Winston Scott (1950- ), who played the trumpet as a teenager, recalled when he “got to play behind some of the big names of the day like a guy named Carl Henderson, Solomon Burke, and Betty Wright… in the Black community as you know this music is such a big part of the community. You have a lot of really fine musicians coming up as youngsters, so it was not unusual for some of us to really excel and we get a chance to play behind some of these people.”

Betty Wright

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