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THE ARTSEMERSON BLOG

Maurice’s Mentors

 

Over his expansive career, Maurice Hines has had the honor of encountering and collaborating with some of the finest names in entertainment. As he will tell you in his upcoming show Tappin’ Thru Life: An Evening with Maurice Hines, his special memories feature a starry cast of legendary artists in music, dance and beyond, and are worth their weight in gold. For some people, these names are intimate and familiar. Others are waiting for a more formal introduction. Whether this serves as a trip down memory lane or the first encounter, here are some of the friends that Maurice has made over the years, and some of their beautiful recordings from days gone by.

Duke Ellington

Responsible for the composition of over 3,000 songs in his 50-year career, Duke Ellington has become one of the most recognizable and influential names in American music. With hits including “Sophisticated Ladies,” “It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing” and “Mood Indigo,” Ellington became a success worldwide. In his lifetime, he played over 20,000 performances. In total, Duke Ellington received 13 Grammy Awards—including the award for Lifetime Achievement—and a posthumous Pulitzer Prize. President Johnson presented him with the President’s Gold Medal in 1966, and President Nixon awarded him the Medal of Freedom in 1969. He tragically passed away from lung cancer and pneumonia just after turning 75. At his funeral—which was attended by over 12,000 people—Ella Fitzgerald said, “It’s a very sad day… a genius has passed.”

Ella Fitzgerald

By the end of her career, Ella Fitzgerald had earned herself the nicknames “First Lady of Song” and “Queen of Jazz.” Having worked with some of the greatest names in American music including Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Frank Sinatra, Ella became known for her jazzy interpretations of the Great American Songbook and her ability to imitate the horn sounds of instruments. Fitzgerald recorded for a total of 59 years, selling over 40 million albums and racking up 13 Grammy Awards. She was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Regan and Medal of Freedom by President Bush Sr. Following a series of problematic hospitalizations beginning in 1985, Fitzgerald ended up having to have both legs amputated below the knee due to the effects of diabetes. She passed away in 1996 at the age of 79.

Nat King Cole

As a jazz pianist and popular baritone vocalist, Nat King Cole found success in the genres of big band and jazz. His hit tunes include “Unforgettable,” “Too Young” and “When I Fall in Love.” In 1956, The Nat King Cole Show debuted on NBC, controversially making Cole the first African American to ever host a variety show on cable television. Although the show was short-lived, it provided an outlet for unknown artists of all races to be seen by American families. Nat King Cole also appeared in several films including St. Louis Blues and Cat Ballou. Having been a serious smoker for most of his life, Cole tragically died at the age of 45 from lung cancer.

Frank Sinatra

Sinatra has become a household name in America, conjuring popular tunes from big bands and jazz as well as familiar performances in popular films and musicals. He found huge success in the early 1940s when he was signed to Columbia Records, particularly among “bobby soxers,” as the teenage fan-girls were called at the time. This opened up a whole new demographic for the recording industry that was previously aimed at adults. Among Sinatra’s innumerable hits are “Come Fly With Me,” “Luck Be a Lady,” “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” and “(Theme from) New York, New York.” He was featured in films such as Pal Joey, Guys and Dolls, On the Town, The Manchurian Candidate and From Here to Eternity, for which he won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1953. In addition to touring internationally, Sinatra was a founding member of the “Rat Pack”—a group who frequently appeared together on stage and screen—along with greats Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. He also fraternized with some of the biggest celebrities and leaders of the time, including John F. Kennedy. In his lifetime, he received a total of 11 Grammy Awards, including the Legend Award and the Lifetime Achievement Award. In 1983, he was honored at the Kennedy Center Honors ceremony, and he was awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Reagan in 1985. Following one of many heart attacks, Sinatra passed away in May 1998 after retiring from the stage.

Judy Garland

Fred Astaire once said that Judy Garland was “the greatest entertainer who has ever lived.” Over the course of her career, Garland certainly made her mark on the music and film industries. She began her life in entertainment early as a member of a vaudeville trio with her sisters prior to signing a contract with MGM at the young age of 13. At MGM, Garland appeared in over a dozen movies, receiving a huge break in the legendary film adaptation of The Wizard of Oz as well as Academy Award nominations for her performances in A Star is Born and Judgment at Nuremburg. In 1950, the studio released Garland from her contract, but she quickly found success as a concert singer and recorded several albums. She won multiple Grammy Awards, a Golden Globe Award, as well as a Special Tony Award. Unfortunately, Garland’s personal life was a rocky road, involving five marriages (four of which ended in divorce) and battles with drugs and alcohol that ultimately led to her death at the age of 47.

Sammy Davis Jr.

Given the title of “Mr. Entertainment” during his 60-year career, Sammy Davis Jr. made his debut as a child star at the age of four in his father Sammy Davis Sr.’s vaudeville show, which also featured his mother Baby Sanchez. Allegedly, when the authorities told Davis Sr. that his son was too young to be performing, he bought his son a rubber cigar and billed Davis Jr. as a “dancing midget.” Growing up, Davis Jr. was mentored in tap dancing by Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. In the late 1940s, he was paired as an opener for Frank Sinatra—beginning a lifelong friendship and eventually bringing about the foundation of the “Rat Pack” along with Dean Martin. Davis Jr. continued his rise to fame, appearing in Broadway musicals like Mr. Wonderful and an adaptation of Clifford Odet’s Golden Boy. His Hollywood break came in the role of Sportin’ Life in the film adaptation of the Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess. He also starred in Rat Pack movies such as Salt and Pepper and One More Time. Before his death from cancer in 1990, Sammy Davis Jr. partnered with Gregory Hines for a show simply called “Tap.”

Johnny Carson

The “King of Late Night” had humble beginnings, born in Norfolk, Nebraska. At the age of 14, he entertained with a magic act called “The Great Carsoni.” After several years of being a radio announcer, Carson was hired at the age of 29 to host a network show called “Earn Your Vacation” while also being a substitute host for CBS’s “The Morning Show.” Carson moved to NBC in 1957 to host a daytime game show called “Who Do You Trust?” and again ended up subbing for “The Tonight Show,” which he became the official host of in 1962. Quickly, Carson became a favorite of American TV-watchers, allowing him to continue hosting the show until 1992 when Jay Leno took over. In his career, Carson received six Emmy Awards, a Presidential Medal of Freedom and a Kennedy Center Honors. He died of respiratory failure in 2005, but his legacy lives on with late-night hosts from Dave Letterman to Jimmy Fallon.

Nelson Riddle

As one of the lead composers and arrangers in American popular music, Nelson Riddle had the chance to work with some of the most iconic singers and musicians of the 20th century. He started out by working with big band artists in the 1940s, but Riddle truly developed his signature sound when working in the 1950s and beyond with vocalists like Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, Dean Martin, Peggy Lee, Lina Ronstadt and Frank Sinatra (the last of whom he frequently collaborated with, including on “I’ve Got You Under My Skin”). In addition to his multiple Grammy Awards, Riddle won the Academy Award for Best Original Score for his work on The Great Gatsby. He received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1974. Having been diagnosed with cirrhosis of the liver, Riddle passed away in 1985 at the age of 64.

Joe Williams

Joe Williams moved from a small town in Georgia to Chicago at the age of four. Here, he was exposed to live jazz in concert venues and recordings of great artists like Louis Armstrong, Ethel Waters and Duke Ellington on the radio. He dropped out of school when he was 16 to make a career in vocals, even though he had never been paid more than $5 in a day for singing. After several tours and a few steady club gigs, his big break came in 1954 when he was hired as the vocalist for the Count Basie Orchestra. Over the next seven years, the band recorded hits such as “Every Day I Have the Blues” and “Alright, Okay, You Win.” In 1961, he split off to do a solo career, going on to win two Grammys before his death in 1999 at age 80.

Lena Horne

Dropping out of school in Brooklyn at the age of 16, Lena Horne began performing at the Cotton Club in Harlem.  After being in a Broadway revue, she spent a few years touring with a white swing band and then worked at a local nightclub back in New York. In 1943, she had a long engagement at the Savoy-Plaza Hotel nightclub, which led to a feature in Life magazine and made her the highest-paid black entertainer at the time. She soon signed a seven-year contract with MGM and starred in the film Stormy Weather, among others. When McCarthyism swept the United States in late 1940s, Horne was blacklisted due to her activist anti-discrimination work, leaving her largely unemployed. She also refused to accept any role that was a stereotypical portrayal of an African American woman. In her later years, she starred as Glinda the Good Witch in the film version of The Wiz alongside Michael Jackson and Diana Ross. She won several Grammys and a Tony for her solo show in 1981, after which she largely retreated from public life. Horne died from heart failure in May 2010 at the age of 92.

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