By Thomas Sellers Jr.
Whether cleaning up the house, riding down the road or doing a quick Youtube search, my mom Alma would eventfully end up jamming certain songs.
Usually on her playlist were “Tonight is the Night,” “Clean Up Woman,” and of course “No Pain.” Over time I learned the name behind the amazing, powerful voice. Miami native Betty Wright was the artist behind those R&B classics. Back on May 10 a piece of my mother’s young adulthood passed away with Wright.
The Grammy Award winner not only wrote hits for herself but others including Gloria Estefan, Joss Stone, and Jennifer Lopez. She is survived by her four children and millions of fans. Wright is a reminder that once a voice is recorded, a song is written and a tune is engineered, it will outlive the artist.
Of course the year 2020 took some greats from the music industry. Some notables were Bonnie Pointer of the Grammy-winning group the Pointer Sisters, Power Trip lead singer Riley Gale and DJ/producer Erick Morillo who brought us “I Like to Move It.”
In the second part of this The Best Sellers’ List Series, we are going to say goodbye to some music legends and rank my top 10.
- Ellis Marsalis
November 14, 1934- April 1, 2020
The Crescent City is known for jazz. The Marsalis family is gifted at the genre. And on April 1 one of the iconic members of that family passed away. The New Orleans jazz legend was one of the first victims of COVID-19 dying from complications at age 85.
Marsalis earned his family namesake as a famed pianist. When Marsalis wasn’t busy releasing one of his nearly 20 albums, he was a music educator. His past students included Harry Connick, Jr. and Terence Blanchard. Marsalis help create jazz greatness as the patriarch of his family. His jazz dynasty included his four sons. His son, saxophonist Branford Marsalis, noted how his father was a great musician, teacher and father.
- Helen Reddy
October 25, 1941-
September 29, 2020
In the 100th year of women’s right to vote in the United States, some celebrations for the milestone featured the song “I Am Woman.” It took a woman who has been all over the world to bring us such a meaningful and powerful classic. Helen Reddy, the 1970s pop star became a cultural icon behind the hit song .
The woman who passed away in late September was more than just “I Am Woman.” She was known as the queen of 70s pop. She reigned as the world’s top-selling female singer in 1973 and 1974. Her other hits included ″Delta Dawn,″ ″Angie Baby,″ Leave Me Alone (Ruby Red Dress),″ and ″Ain’t No Way to Treat a Lady.″ Reddy also made waves on screen, starring in her own weekly television variety program, The Helen Reddy Show, and appearing in Disney’s Pete Dragon and Airport 1975.
- Benny Mardones
November 9, 1946-June 29, 2020
One song can make an person iconic, legendary and even a little creepy. Benny Mardones, a singer-songwriter, passed away in the summer. He is mostly known for the 1980 ballad “Into the Night.”
Just go give the song a listen. It’s a great number and is easy-listening. But if you pay attention to the words in the ballad, you will have a few questions about Benny’s intentions. But for now let’s put those queries behind and pay tribute to Mardones’ contributions to the music industry. Mardones released three major albums during his lifetime, but his legacy is most associated with his song “Into the Night,” which hit the Billboard charts on three separate occasions.
- Peter Green
October 29, 1946- July 25, 2020
We travel over the pond to pay tribute to Peter Allen Greenbaum. The artist also known as Peter Green, was a major factor to the success and sound of Fleetwood Mac as a singer-songwriter, guitarist, and founding member.
He was voted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame back in 1998. Green blended rock and blues into the pioneering sound of Fleetwood Mac. Green had a personal touch on the sound as the guitarist. He penned many of the band’s early hits including “Black Magic Woman” and “Oh Well.”
- Andre Harrell
September 26, 1960- May 7, 2020
Not all music greatness is on stage or the voice heard on the track. There are dozens and dozens of men and women who put the right people in the best positions to create everlasting sounds. Back in May, the industry lost a giant behind-the-scenes in Andre Harrell.
Harrell was a veteran music executive known for founding the popular hip-hop label Uptown Records. He had a long business relationship with another music industry pioneer Sean “Diddy” Combs. Harrell was a popular and influential figure in the music industry, helping shepherd such artists as Mary J. Blige and The Notorious B.I.G. to success.
Harrell was a driving force behind the 1990s hip-hop sound and style. The former CEO of Motown Records gave a generation its Motown. For that I say thank you Sir.
- Charlie Daniels
October 29, 1936-
July 6, 2020
Back in 2005 I didn’t realize I was meeting country music royalty. If you ever been in the same room with the late Charlie Daniels, you can look at him and tell he’s very important.
He had an energy about him that day back in 2005 at the then Memphis Motorsports Park.
Before Mr. Daniels enjoyed the Sam’s Town 250 that day and his the stage with his band, he was working the room. He eventually made his way over to me. Mr. Daniels chatted with me for a few minutes about The Millington Star. Once I mentioned Tipton County, he called over his friend Isaac Hayes.
“He knows a little something about that place,” Mr. Daniels said. I’m standing there in disbelief about how cool both Hayes and Daniels were that day.
Over time I learned that Daniels was a country music and Southern rock legend. The 83-year-old will live on as a Country Music Hall of Famer and Grand Ole Opry member. He released 32 studio albums from 1970-2016. The biggest hit of his career is 1979s “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” which earned him his first and only Grammy Award.
- Eddie Van Halen
January 26, 1955-October 6, 2020
If you enjoyed rock in the 1980s, you heard of the rock band Van Halen. That legendary group was founded by iconic guitarist Eddie Van Halen. Growing up he was known as Edward Lodewijk Van Halen.
America got to know the man as a musician and songwriter. Before passing at the age of 65, Van Halen and guitar became synonymous with each others.
As the group “Jump” up the charts, Van Halen was the main songwriter and guitarist. Van Halen co-founded the group in 1972 with his brother, drummer Alex Van Halen, bassist Mark Stone, and singer David Lee Roth.
Eddie provided us with many great guitar riffs. The best is the solo toward the end of the song “Jump.”
- Bill Withers
July 4, 1938-
March 30, 2020
As the world was coming to grips with the pandemic, the music world was caught off guard by the passing of Bill Withers. The industry was made better by the singer-songwriter behind such beloved ’70s soul hits as “Lean On Me” and “Ain’t No Sunshine,” In a piece of irony, it was heart complications that took Withers away at the age of 81. A man who put so much of his heart and soul into his compositions helped us get married, endure heartbreak, fall in love and pay tribute to those who paved the way for us.
“Grandma’s Hands” is a powerful piece that recognizes those who preceded you. Then classics like “Lovely Day,” “Just the Two of Us,” and “Use Me,” are simply jams that still sound great today. Withers won three Grammy Awards and was nominated for six more.
- Kenny Rogers
August 21, 1938- March 20, 2020
Unfortunately, another music legend’s death was overshadowed by the global pandemic in March. But know the legendary Kenny Rogers gets his spotlight he earned through an amazing career. From the screen to the stage, Kenny Rogers know how to entertain. To most he will be a country music icon for hits like “Island in the Stream” and “The Gambler.”
His family confirmed his death on March 20 on Twitter from natural causes. The actor/musician was 81. Thankfully he was able to enjoy being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2013. Rogers earned that selection from singing, songwriting, producing and playing of instruments.
I will remember Rogers from his collaborations with Lionel Richie. “Lady” was released a year before my birth in September 1980. It was a crossover hit for Rogers and exposed him to people like my parents. It allowed me to grow up hearing Rogers on a regular basis. So this holiday season I will appreciate Rogers’ duet with Wynonna Judd a little bit more with “Mary Did You Know.”
- Little Richard
December 5, 1932-May 9, 2020
The term rock and roll legend is tossed around too much. On May 9, a true and real rock icon passed way in Little Richard. He was transcendent from his music to his style on stage. Before the 87-year-old left the arena called earth, Little Richard’s left a major legacy with his flamboyant performance style. Richard was ahead of his time by several decades. He paved the way for artist like Prince, Lady Gaga and Marilyn Manson.
In his peer group, Richard was a trailblazer paving the way for popular music entertainers, from the Beatles and Elton John. In the mid 1950s, Richard had hits including “Long Tall Sally,” “Tutti Frutti,” “Slippin & Slidin,” and “Jenny, Jenny.”
Little Richard helped establish the very core of rock and roll’s original American songbook, providing the genre with several of its first-ever bona fide standards. The music industry lost a pioneer that will live forever through his music and influence.
THOMAS SELLERS JR. is the editor of The Millington Star and both the sports editor and a weekly personal columnist for West 10 Media/Magic Valley Publishing. Contact him by phone at (901) 433-9138, by fax to (901) 529-7687 and by email to email@example.com.