Tag: Death

Remembering Muhammad Ali (1942 – 2016)

Born Cassius Clay in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1942, Muhammad Ali became an Olympic gold medalist in 1960 and the world heavyweight boxing champion in 1964. Following his suspension for refusing military service, Ali reclaimed the heavyweight title two more times during the 1970s, winning famed bouts against Joe Frazier and George Foreman along the way. Diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 1984, Ali devoted much of his time to philanthropy, earning the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2005. He died on June 3, 2016, in Phoenix, Arizona.

Early Life

Boxer, philanthropist and social activist Muhammad Ali was born Cassius Marcellus Clay Jr. on January 17, 1942, in Louisville, Kentucky. Ali showed at an early age that he wasn’t afraid of any bout—inside or outside of the ring. Growing up in the segregated South, he experienced racial prejudice and discrimination firsthand.

At the age of 12, Ali discovered his talent for boxing through an odd twist of fate. His bike was stolen, and Ali told a police officer, Joe Martin, that he wanted to beat up the thief. “Well, you better learn how to fight before you start challenging people,” Martin reportedly told him at the time. In addition to being a police officer, Martin also trained young boxers at a local gym.

Ali started working with Martin to learn how to spar, and soon began his boxing career. In his first amateur bout in 1954, he won the fight by split decision. Ali went on to win the 1956 Golden Gloves tournament for novices in the light heavyweight class. Three years later, he won the National Golden Gloves Tournament of Champions, as well as the Amateur Athletic Union’s national title for the light heavyweight division.

Olympic GoldIn 1960, Ali won a spot on the U.S. Olympic boxing team, and traveled to Rome, Italy, to compete. At 6′ 3″, Ali was an imposing figure in the ring, but he also became known for his lightning speed and fancy footwork. After winning his first three bouts, Ali defeated Zbigniew Pietrzkowski from Poland to win the light heavyweight gold medal.

After his Olympic victory, Ali was heralded as an American hero. He soon turned professional with the backing of the Louisville Sponsoring Group, and continued overwhelming all opponents in the ring. Ali took out British heavyweight champion Henry Cooper in 1963, and then knocked out Sonny Liston in 1964 to become the heavyweight champion of the world.

Often referring to himself as “the greatest,” Ali was not afraid to sing his own praises. He was known for boasting about his skills before a fight and for his colorful descriptions and phrases. In one of his more famously quoted descriptions, Ali told reporters that he could “float like a butterfly, sting like a bee” in the boxing ring.

Conversion to Islam and Suspension

This bold public persona belied what was happening in Ali’s personal life, however. He was doing some spiritual searching and decided to join the black Muslim group the Nation of Islam in 1964. At first he called himself “Cassius X” before settling on the name Muhammad Ali. (The boxer eventually converted to orthodox Islam during the 1970s.)

Ali later started a different kind of fight with his outspoken views against the Vietnam War. Drafted into the military in April 1967, he refused to serve on the grounds that he was a practicing Muslim minister with religious beliefs that prevented him from fighting. He was arrested for committing a felony and almost immediately stripped of his world title and boxing license.

The U.S. Department of Justice pursued a legal case against Ali, denying his claim for conscientious objector status. He was found guilty of violating Selective Service laws and sentenced to five years in prison in June 1967, but remained free while appealing his conviction. Unable to compete professionally in the meantime, Ali missed more than three prime years of his athletic career. The U.S. Supreme Court eventually overturned the conviction in June 1971.

Boxing Comeback

Prior to the Supreme Court’s decision, Ali returned to the ring in 1970 with a win over Jerry Quarry. The following year, Ali took on Joe Frazier in what has been called the “Fight of the Century.” Frazier and Ali went toe-to-toe for 14 rounds before Frazier dropped Ali with a vicious left hook in the 15th. Ali recovered quickly, but the judges awarded the decision to Frazier, handing Ali his first professional loss after 31 wins. Ali soon suffered a second loss, to Ken Norton, but he beat Frazier in a 1974 rematch.

Another legendary Ali fight, against undefeated heavyweight champion George Foreman, took place in 1974. Billed as the “Rumble in the Jungle,” the bout was organized by promoter Don King and held in Kinshasa, Zaire. For once, Ali was seen as the underdog to the younger, massive Foreman, but he silenced his critics with a masterful performance. He baited Foreman into throwing wild punches with his “rope-a-dope” technique, before stunning his opponent with an eighth-round knockout to reclaim the heavyweight title.

Ali and Frazier locked horns for their grudge match in Quezon City, Philippines, in 1975. Dubbed the “Thrilla in Manila,” the bout nearly went the distance, with both men delivering and absorbing tremendous punishment. However, Frazier’s trainer threw in the towel after the 14th round, giving the hard-fought victory to Ali.

After losing his title to Leon Spinks in February 1978, Ali defeated him in a September rematch, becoming the first boxer to win the heavyweight championship three times. Following a brief retirement, he returned to the ring to face Larry Holmes in 1980, but was overmatched against the younger champion. Following one final loss in 1981, to Trevor Berbick, the boxing great retired from the sport.

Philanthropy and Diagnosis of Parkinson’s

In his retirement, Ali devoted much of his time to philanthropy. He announced that he had Parkinson’s disease in 1984, a degenerative neurological condition, and was involved in raising funds for the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center in Phoenix, Arizona. Over the years, Ali also supported the Special Olympics and the Make-A-Wish Foundation, among other organizations.

Ali traveled to numerous countries, including Mexico and Morocco, to help out those in need. In 1998, he was chosen to be a United Nations Messenger of Peace because of his work in developing nations.

In 2005, Ali received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush. He also opened the Muhammad Ali Center in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky, that same year. “I am an ordinary man who worked hard to develop the talent I was given,” he said. “Many fans wanted to build a museum to acknowledge my achievements. I wanted more than a building to house my memorabilia. I wanted a place that would inspire people to be the best that they could be at whatever they chose to do, and to encourage them to be respectful of one another.”

Despite the progression of his disease, Ali remained active in public life. He was on hand to celebrate the inauguration of the first African-American president in January 2009, when Barack Obama was sworn into office. Soon after the inauguration, Ali received the President’s Award from the NAACP for his public service efforts.


Ali was survived by his fourth wife, Yolanda, whom he had been married to since 1986. The couple had one son, Asaad, and Ali had several children from previous relationships, including daughter Laila Ali, who followed in his footsteps by becoming a champion boxer.

Universally regarded as one of the greatest boxers in history, Ali’s stature as a legend continued to grow even as his physical state diminished. He continues to be celebrated not only for his remarkable athletic skills but for his willingness to speak his mind and his courage to challenge the status quo.

FILE - In this Oct. 1, 1975, file photo, Muhammad Ali's throws a right at Joe Frazier in the 13th round in their title bout in Manila, Philippines. It was, Muhammad Ali would later say, the closest thing to death he had ever known.  He and Joe Frazier had gone 14 brutal rounds in stifling heat off a Philippines morning before Frazier's trainer Eddie Futch mercifully signaled things to an end, his fighter blind and battered and feeling pretty close to death himself. It was 40 years ago and the ``Thrilla in Manilla’’ still lives in sporting lore. (AP Photo/FILE)

*Originally published on Biography.com.

I “Feel” Like Being Suicidal

To Whom It May Concern:

I’m suicidal. And no, it’s not what you think. I am safe. I am not harming myself. I do not have a plan, and I do not plan on doing anything. But I’m suicidal. And I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t.

People think of things like suicide in such black or white terms. But much like everything else we are so quick to place into categories, being suicidal falls into a gray area for me. Sometimes, I wonder if it does for anybody else. See I can be in a really great mood, right? I could be having the best day of my life. Still, suicidal thoughts will linger. I don’t have to be in a bad mood to be suicidal. I will still have those thoughts if I’m surrounded by the people I love, or if I’m doing something I’m passionate about.

I wake up most mornings thinking I’d be better off dead. But I’m quickly distracted by my husband and son, who are sound asleep next to me. I still feel it, but I try not to give power to it. Throughout the day I am faced with challenges that directly affect my subconscious. Either the suicidal thoughts get louder, or they remain just a feeling.

I should explain better; sometimes being suicidal is different than suicidal thoughts. It’s an actual feeling. The feeling that you have an itch you can’t scratch, that a dark cloud is shrouding you. It’s anxiety and depression, it’s mixed state. You’re drowning, there’s no air, and coming down from that feeling takes so long you think it’s impossible. You have blinders on and you don’t know what’s going to happen next. You just have to push through. And while this feeling is happening, you go through your day, as normal as you can, without feeding the feeling.

Some days are harder than others, and today happens to be one of those days. I know I’m not feeling good, and I’ve taken that into account. But I woke up thinking my family is better off without me. Then I started thinking about finances and my heart sunk a little more. I started thinking about my parents and my depression got worse. And I started thinking about everything my husband does so I can test a career in writing, and God, he can do better than me. It’s not fair to him. If I can’t impress the people surrounding me now, can I face how my son will inevitably feel about me? And I just start crying, because it’s all too much, and I’m just a joke. I feel like I’m drowning, over and over and over again. It would be so much easier to end things, and my family could finally get away from how terrible I am.

The way I feel isn’t a reflection of reality though. I know I have things to live for, I know things will get better. I know my family loves me, and the people who don’t like me don’t matter. In fact, they probably don’t give a shit. I know this feeling will pass. I just wish my mind and my body would work towards getting better.

I’m not bad yet. I haven’t made any attempts in almost two years, and I’m really proud of that. Every attempt I’ve made to take my own life ends the same way; I fade into a sleep, and I do regret my actions. I think I used to romanticize my own death back when I had nothing to lose. Now everything is on the line, and I’m terrified of the day my thoughts will become louder than my voice. But I know realistically it may not always be this way, and I may need to admit myself to the hospital again someday.

I have great plans for my future and for my family. So please don’t worry. I don’t intend to end my life and I’m not self-harming. And if I was, I’d go to the hospital. I wanted to write this so people better understood feeling suicidal. It’s so much more than just one day someone decided to end it. It goes deeper than that. It’s years of torment, even on good days. It mostly doesn’t happen randomly — it’s a build up. I don’t want to die; my subconscious and my illness may disagree, but today my voice is louder, and I will not succumb to the evils of my mind.

People with mental illness live in dark places and gray areas. It’s not something that shuts off and on — it comes in waves, it peaks and it fades. But these feelings are never gone. And I wish more than anything in this world they would disappear. I am a warrior of my own mind, and I will continue defending my inner peace. Every day may be hard; but it makes me stronger every day.

If you or someone you know needs help, please visit the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also reach the Crisis Text Line by texting “START” to 741-741. Head here for a list of crisis centers around the world.


*Originally published on The Mighty.

What Will Your L.E.G.A.C.Y. Be?


Less than 2 weeks ago I attended a funeral and 1 month before that I attended another. Both young women were exactly that – young – as they were both under 40 years old and died of unforeseen health complications. Neither one of them had chronic health conditions nor were they “sickly”. Both of them woke up in the morning not expecting to die. They were both rushed to the hospital & fortunately had the opportunity to say their final goodbye’s to their loved ones who were by their side. Both funerals were lovely and well attended. The outpouring of love was imminent & it was sad to say goodbye to someone so young.

Over the years I have found that the only good part about going to funerals is that they tend to bring people together, including people who haven’t seen each other in a while & family from all over. We are all able to reflect on the life & legacy of the person we are there to honor but when it’s all said & done, we are left to reflect on our own legacy.

So here I am pondering my own legacy. Who will show up at my funeral? What do people really think of me? Will anybody remember me at all?

As another year unfolds, I’ve decided to take a look at my own legacy & the direction of my life before it’s over. To me, legacy means a lot:

L is for your loved ones. What will they say about you when you’re gone?

E is for everybody else outside of family. What do your friends truly think of you?

G is for God. Did you get right with God before leaving this earth? Before you go to meet your maker (and we all WILL meet Him), it is imperative that you develop a relationship with Him. Your eternal life depends on it.

A is for attitude. Did you have a positive attitude despite whatever trials you’ve gone thru? People will most remember how you treated them and it’s always better to leave people with a high opinion of you because of your positive attitude.

C is for community. Did you do something for the greater good? How much did you try to help out others? What, if anything, was the cause that you hold near & dear?

Y is for you. Did you carry yourself in the highest esteem possible? Taking care of yourself is very important – eating healthy, exercising, laughing, spending time with loves ones & serving God – is the best way to spend your life.

No, we are all not meant to be the President of the United States, own a Fortune 500 company or be a famous superstar. But we will ALL leave a legacy. It’s just up to us to determine what that will be.

What do you think your Legacy will be? Does it align with what you want your Legacy to actually be?

Remembering Natalie Cole (1950-2015)


Natalie Cole was born in Los Angeles, California, on February 6, 1950, to singers Nat King Cole and Maria Cole. Although she didn’t plan on a singing career, she took a summer job singing with a band in 1972. Albums soon followed, as well as two Grammy Awards for her debut album, Inseparable (1975). After a bout with addiction, Cole returned in the 1990s with Unforgettable… with Love, featuring renditions of songs previously sung by her father. Cole died in 2015 at the age of 65.

Early Life

Natalie Maria Cole was born on February 6, 1950, to vocal legend Nat King Cole and jazz singer Maria Cole in Los Angeles, California. Growing up with talented and renowned parents, Cole was raised in an environment that nurtured her natural musical ability. At the age of 6, she recorded “I’m Good Will, Your Christmas Spirit” with her father, and by age 11, the young songstress had begun performing in the community.

Natalie Cole’s world suddenly changed when she was 15 years old: In February 1965, her father died of cancer. The tragedy put a strain on Cole’s relationship with her mother. Later that same year, her mother moved the family to Massachusetts, where Natalie attended Northfield Mount Hermon High School.

Although a career in music would be an obvious choice for Cole, she set her sights on something different: Following high school, she enrolled at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she majored in child psychology. She briefly transferred to the University of Southern California, where she pledged the Upsilon Chapter of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority. Her time at USC was short-lived, however, as she soon transferred back to the University of Massachusetts Amherst, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in 1972.


Cole, who had begun performing again over a summer break in Amherst, at a venue called “The Pub,” met the writing and producing team of Chuck Jackson and Marvin Yancy in 1975. The duo helped Cole land a deal with Capitol Records and, later that year, create the album Inseparable. With hit songs such as “This Will Be (An Everlasting Love),” the album exploded onto the music scene, earning the young starlet her first two Grammy Awards—for best new artist and best female R&B performance.

Cole’s career took flight, and throughout the 1970s, she turned out four gold and two platinum records. Her third—and first platinum—album, Unpredictable (1977), donned yet another No. 1 R&B hit: “I’ve Got Love on My Mind.”

In 1979, Cole was awarded her very own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, both signifying and solidifying her prowess as a performer.

Cole hit a lull in her career in the early 1980s due to her struggle with drug addiction, subsequently parting ways with Capitol Records. She began recording again after a stint in rehab in 1983, and was back on the charts with a megahit by the mid-’80s: “Pink Cadillac.”

In 1991, Cole released the career-defining album for which she is best known, Unforgettable… with Love. Her debut album with Elektra Records, Unforgettable pays tribute to her father, featuring many beautiful renditions of standards previously recorded by Nat King Cole. The album’s breakout single, “Unforgettable,” features a track dubbed over a previous Nat King Cole recording, as to create the sound of a father-daughter duet. The album sold more than 7 million copies and garnered several honors, including the coveted Grammy for album of the year.

The ’90s saw Cole release many other popular albums, including Snowfall on the Sahara and The Magic of Christmas (both released in 1999), an album of holiday standards recorded with the London Symphony Orchestra. Cole also launched her acting career before the end of the decade, appearing on television series of the time.

In 2001, Cole starred as herself in Livin’ for Love: The Natalie Cole Story, a TV-movie adaptation of her 2000 autobiography, Angel on my Shoulder. The book has been described as an exposé of the private struggle that accompanied Cole’s rise to fame. Also in 2000, Elektra released Natalie Cole: Greatest Hits, Vol. 1, an album highlighting the singer’s career.

Cole’s 2008 release, Still Unforgettable, was well-received, winning the singer yet another Grammy, this time for best traditional pop vocal album.

Love and Marriage

In 1976—not long after Inseparable was released—Cole married producer Marvin Yancy. An ordained Baptist minister, Yancy reintroduced religion to Cole, who became a devout Babtist during their union. The couple welcomed their son, Robert Adam Yancy, into the world in 1977, before divorcing in 1980.

Cole remarried in 1989, to record producer Andre Fisher. The couple divorced in 1995. She wed her third husband, Bishop Kenneth Dupree, in 2001. The marriage was short-lived, however, ending in 2005.

Personal Life and Death

The death of her father greatly affected Natalie Cole, which was obvious through her songwriting and tributes. In her 2000 autobiography, Angel on my Shoulder, Cole exposed her depression and heavy drug use throughout her career. She began using recreational drugs while attending college in Amherst. Cole’s addiction became so prominent in her life that on more than one occasion it nearly killed her. She overcame her addiction after checking into rehab in 1983.

In 2008, Cole was diagnosed with hepatitis C, a disease of the liver. Because of the strain hepatitis C takes on your body, Cole’s kidneys began to fail. She was lucky enough to receive a kidney transplant in 2009 at USC.

Natalie Cole died on December 31, 2015 at the age of 65 in Los Angeles. Her family released a statement saying, “It is with heavy hearts that we bring to you all the news of our Mother and sister’s passing. Natalie fought a fierce, courageous battle, dying how she lived..with dignity, strength and honor. Our beloved Mother and sister will be greatly missed and remain UNFORGETTABLE in our hearts forever.” Cole leaves behind a legacy as one of the most celebrated and iconic women in R&B.

Which Deaths Matter The Most?

The past several months have been scarred by international crisis and turmoil, from strife in Gaza to the downing of Flight MH17 and the gruesome murders of the American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff. News is so grim that The Washington Post recently published an accounting of what it called “the hideous carnage wreaked” between June and early September: an untold number killed in Syria (where the civil war’s death toll may now exceed 200,000, though the UN has stopped counting); more than 5,500 killed in Iraq; over 1,500 killed in Ukraine; and nearly 2,000 killed by Ebola in West Africa. An estimated 550,000 to 1.4 million people could be infected with Ebola by January in a worst-case scenario.

When it comes to the humans behind these statistics, however, not all casualties are covered equally. Researchers have found that the U.S. media gives more sustained and personalized attention to some deaths than to others. What informs the decision about whether a victim of violence or disaster gets an obituary, or is simply subsumed into a bigger number?

“The international news calculus is always the same,” explains Jack Lule, chair of journalism and communication at Lehigh University, who has studied how The New York Times editorial page responded to the attacks of September 11, 2001. “First, is there a local person in the disaster or on board a plane that has crashed? If so, the local victims get intense focus that simplifies [the] international crisis or conflict for readers. … Overall, there is this concept of ‘worthy’ and ‘unworthy’ victims in the media.”

Before the murders of James Foley and Steven Sotloff, ISIS had slaughtered thousands of people. But it was the public and brutal killing of “local” journalists—and the coverage these acts received in the U.S. by fellow reporters—that seems to have turned U.S. public opinion and the Obama administration dramatically in favor of the current military campaign against ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

This kind of focus on local victims was clearly visible in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, when The New York Times published informal but detailed obituaries for more than 2,500 of those killed. The amount of coverage devoted to individual lives was extremely unusual for a mass-casualty event with a death toll close to 3,000. “This was certainly a traumatic event for the country, but for The Times, it was really also a local reporting event,” Lule explains. “It’s harder to say whether they would have done something like this if the event had happened in San Francisco or Los Angeles.”

But what happens when disaster, natural or otherwise, strikes overseas, as it did repeatedly this summer? How does the U.S. media prioritize the rest of the world? William C. Adams, professor of public policy and public administration at George Washington University, attempted to answer this question in a 1986 study of news coverage of 35 natural disasters between January 1972 and June 1985 that each took at least 300 lives, including cyclones, typhoons, hurricanes, and earthquakes. Tallying the minutes major television networks (NBC, ABC, and CBS) devoted to each, he found that the severity of the disaster did not by itself predict the amount of coverage an incident received—more deaths did not necessarily translate to more airtime. For example, among earthquakes occurring in six countries in 1976, he wrote: “Guatemala experienced one of the worst earthquakes in this century in the Western hemisphere,” with the official death toll later put at 4,000. “Yet, proportionate to the number of victims, it received one-third of the coverage given the Italian earthquake” that killed nearly 1,000 people that year.

Adams found that other than the death toll, two factors mattered most in predicting how much coverage an international disaster received on U.S. television: the event’s geographic proximity to the U.S., and the number of U.S. tourists who visited the country in which the disaster took place. This latter factor, explains Robert Lichter, director of the Center for Media and Public Affairs at George Mason University, is a measure of a country’s “cultural proximity” or interest for American news consumers.

Adams’s research dealt with mass-casualty natural disasters; wars and attacks are subject to different calculations in the media. “The possibility that someone might have wanted … to kill people directs greater attention to those who have specifically been targeted,” says Christine Muller, an American studies lecturer at Yale University who researches how popular culture generates meaning in the wake of extreme events. According to Mardi Horowitz, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, many people experience a heightened level of distress when they see other human beings acting as predators.

The New York Times, for example, compiled individual portraits of several of those killed on Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, which was shot down over eastern Ukraine in July with 298 passengers aboard. By contrast, after Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared in March with 239 passengers onboard for reasons that remain unclear, the paper devoted an article to the victims as a group—which included “artists and corporate salespeople, foreign businesspeople and technology firms”—but did not focus on any specific individual. While Flight 370 vanished mysteriously, Flight 17 appears to have involved a clearer villain: pro-Russian separatists firing a Russian-made missile. And with antagonists comes the natural human inclination to establish and memorialize protagonists.

Then there’s the “newsworthiness” of the event—a subjective determination by journalists that is often predicated on factors like the fame or distinction of the victims or the shock factor of the story.

“Yes, an American journalist fits into the model that makes us feel empathy for the victim, but the video of the beheading of an American journalist has a particular novelty and severity that sets it apart,” says Lichter. Alternatively, when a plane crashes in the middle of a war zone and investigators are scrambling to collect bodies and personal effects, there’s a visceral element of surprise to the story that drives sustained and personalized coverage. While readers may be somewhat familiar with a crash investigation that centers on mechanical errors and inclement weather, the notion that another person or group of people shot down a plane (even by mistake) carries weight.

Tragedies that seem to have a deeper significance also tend to get more attention. A tornado that kills schoolchildren is horribly sad; a young man who guns down kindergarteners holds a mirror to the society in which he lives. “There are exceptions of course, but if we perceive there is something more meaningful, more than an accident or a tornado, there is much more of an urge to memorialize” the victims, says Marita Sturken, a professor of media, culture, and communication at New York University.

Another factor is the presence of children, explains Andrew Silke, a criminology professor at the University of East London. For example, more than 2,000 people died this summer in fighting between Israel and Hamas in Gaza; early in the conflict, however, the death of four Palestinian boys playing on a beach “stood out,” in the words of a New York Times report, “because they were inarguably blameless, children who simply wanted to play on their favorite beach.” Says Silke: ”Children in mass tragedies … usually receive more attention than adults in similar situations.” Patrick R. Grzanka, professor of psychology at the University of Tennessee, notes that children can help bridge the psychological space between readers and subjects separated by physical or cultural distance, though race, class, and other social factors may buffer these effects.

In some cases, high death tolls actually numb news consumers to important stories. Psychologists call the phenomenon “collapse of compassion” and have demonstrated that interview subjects report feeling less empathy for the suffering of groups than that of individuals, so that, perversely, sympathy may diminish as death tolls rise. A hypothetical attack that claims 1 victim will likely stoke less fear and receive less press attention than one that claims 11 victims, explains John F. Morrison, a lecturer at the University of East London who researches terrorism. But the media will treat an attack that kills 101 victims similarly to one that kills 111 victims—both are “mass-casualty” events, despite the higher death toll of the second. “Now apply this to conflicts which have thousands of victims,” he says.

And all this has very real consequences. When a news outlet decides whose life is worthy of coverage and which deaths are instead part of a larger statistic, it shapes the public’s perspective of a given crisis and even, at times, sways government policy. Without personal stories of those lost, it’s nearly impossible to comprehend or empathize with a calamity happening a world away. On the other hand, when the media covers every individual killed in a certain disaster, it may be at the expense of another crisis that deserves attention.

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*Originally published on The Atlantic.

Remembering Allen Toussaint (1938 – 2015)

A producer, bandleader, arranger, songwriter, session musician and all-around musical eminence, Allen Toussaint impacted the New Orleans music scene of the Sixties in much the same way that Dave Bartholomew had in the Fifties. Toussaint, in fact, apprenticed under Bartholomew at sessions for such legends as Fats Domino, so it was a seamless transition when the R&B baton passed between generations in New Orleans. Born and raised in the Crescent City, Toussaint left his stamp on the city’s contemporary R&B scene. His greatest contribution was in not allowing the city’s old-school R&B traditions to die out but by keeping pace with developments in the rapidly evolving worlds of soul and funk. In addition, he brought the New Orleans sound to the national stage, and it remains a vital and ongoing part of our musical heritage to this day.

Toussaint came into his own as a studio auteur for the Minit and Instant labels from 1960-63. He produced, arranged and sometimes wrote a string of classic sides for such New Orleans R&B artists as Lee Dorsey, Jessie Hill, Ernie K-Doe and Chris Kenner. Many listeners heard New Orleans-style piano for the first time via Toussaint’s playing on Ernie K-Doe’s #1 hit, “Mother-in-Law.” “Fortune Teller,” written pseudonymously by Toussaint and recorded by Benny Spellman, became a virtual standard among British Invasion bands. The early Rolling Stones and Who, among others, included it in their live repertoire.

As writer Ed Ward put it, “Toussaint was the main exponent of what the locals called the carnival sound-a raucous, polyrhythmic beat that was solid but complex, like a rhythm and blues rumba crossed with the second-line rhythms of Professor Longhair.” Toussaint’s run was interrupted by a stint in the army from 1963-65. Upon returning to New Orleans, Toussaint picked up where he left off, forming Sansu, a production company, with partner Marshall Sehorn. A string of soul/R&B singles from singer Lee Dorsey followed in 1965-66, including “Ride Your Pony,” “Working in the Coal Mine” and “Holy Cow.”

Toussaint also groomed a quartet of top-drawer New Orleans musicians known as the Meters. They served as the Sansu house band while releasing funky instrumentals under their own name. In 1973, Toussaint and Sehorn built their own Sea-Saint studio, which attracted local musicians like Dr. John (“Right Place Wrong Time”) and the Neville Brothers, as well as established stars like Paul McCartney, Paul Simon and Robert Palmer. Labelle recorded their 1975 chart-topper “Lady Marmalade” at Sea-Saint with Toussaint. In addition to his endless resume of productions, various Toussaint-penned songs-published under his own name and the pseudonym Naomi Neville (his mother’s maiden name)-have been covered by such notables as the Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds, Bonnie Raitt, Boz Scaggs, Little Feat, Al Hirt, Herb Alpert and Glen Campbell.

It’s worth noting that although he was inducted in the “nonperformer” category, Toussaint is a talented pianist and performer who has recorded under his own name. His solo discography includes an instrumental album, The Wild Sound of New Orleans by Tousan, released in 1958. Two of his early instrumentals later became standards for other artists. “Java,” by Al Hirt, hit #4 in 1964, and “Whipped Cream” served as the title track of the third album by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, which topped the album chart for eight weeks in 1965. Toussaint also cut a trio of sleek, contemporary R&B albums for Warner Bros. in the Seventies. His induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame came two days after his 60th birthday. Mr. Toussaint was awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Obama in 2013.

He is survived by his two children, Alison and Clarence.


Remembering Julian Bond (1940-2015)

Julian Bond was born on January 14, 1940, in Nashville, Tennessee. He became a civil rights activist while in college. In 1965, he was elected to Georgia’s state legislature, but his opposition to the war in Vietnam meant that it would take a U.S. Supreme Court ruling for him to be allowed to take his seat. Bond later served as the head of the Southern Poverty Law Center and of the NAACP. Bond died on August 15, 2015 at the age of 75.

Horace Julian Bond, generally known as Julian Bond, was born in Nashville, Tennessee, on January 14, 1940. His family moved to Pennsylvania five years later, where his father served as the first African-American president of Lincoln University. In 1957, Bond enrolled at Atlanta’s Morehouse College, where he helped found The Pegasus, a literary magazine, and interned at TIME magazine.

While still a student, Bond became a founding member of the Committee on Appeal for Human Rights. He led nonviolent student protests against segregation in Atlanta parks, restaurants and movie theaters. In Raleigh, North Carolina, Bond helped form the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in 1960. The next year, he left Morehouse to serve as the SNCC’s communications director, a position he held for five years. He returned to Morehouse a decade later and received a degree in English.

In 1965, Bond was voted into the Georgia House of Representatives. However, the state congressional body refused to swear him into his seat because he had endorsed a SNCC statement that decried the war in Vietnam. Martin Luther King Jr. organized a protest rally on Bond’s behalf. In 1966, the case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, which unanimously ruled in Bond’s favor on the basis of freedom of speech.

Bond was finally able to take his seat in the Georgia House of Representatives in 1967. He served in the Georgia House until 1975, and went on to serve in the Georgia Senate from 1975 to 1986. During his tenure in the state legislature, Bond wrote over 60 bills that were ratified as law.

Bond attended the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, where he was nominated as a vice-presidential candidate. He was the first African American to receive the honor, but withdrew his name because he was not old enough to hold the office according to constitutional guidelines.

In 1986, Bond entered a Democratic primary to run for the U.S. House of Representatives in Georgia. He lost the heavily contested race to John Lewis, another civil rights leader and former SNCC member.

From 1971 to 1979, Bond served as president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization he also co-founded. He was president of Atlanta’s chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People before becoming the chairman of the national NAACP, a position he held from 1998 until 2010. He is now chairman emeritus of the NAACP and president emeritus of the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Bond continued to be a prominent voice in the media. He was a commentator for NBC’s Today show, wrote a national newspaper column and produced poems that have appeared publications such as the Nation and the New York Times. He was also a professor of history at the University of Virginia and an adjunct professor at American University.

Julian Bond died on August 15, 2015, after a brief illness. He was 75 years old. In a statement, Southern Poverty Law Center co-founder Morris Dees said, “With Julian’s passing, the country has lost one of its most passionate and eloquent voices for the cause of justice. He advocated not just for African Americans, but for every group, indeed every person subject to oppression and discrimination, because he recognized the common humanity in us all.”


*Originally published on Biography.


Remembering B.B. King (1925 – 2015)

A singer and guitarist born into a sharecropping family on September 16, 1925, in Itta Bena, Mississippi, B.B. King—born Riley B. King—became one of the best-known blues performers, an important consolidator of blues styles, and a primary model for rock guitarists. Following his service in the U.S. Army, he began his career as a disc jockey in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was dubbed “the Beale Street Blues Boy.” That nickname was soon shortened to “B.B.”

King made his first recording in 1949, and the next year began a 12-year-long association with Kent/RPM/Modern, for which he recorded a string of rhythm and blues hits, including “You Know I Love You,” “Woke Up This Morning” and “Three O’Clock Blues,” which reached No. 1 on the R&B charts and became his first national hit. He also toured the nightclub circuit continuously, averaging more than 300 shows annually for over 30 years. His style of music earned him the title “King of the Blues.”

Coincidentally, the year that King made his first recording was also the same year that he named his beloved guitar. King attended a dance in Twist, Arkansas, that had a barrel lit with kerosene in the middle of the dance floor, used to keep the crowd warm late at night. While there, a fight broke out and the barrel was knocked over, causing a fire to spread throughout the venue. Everyone evacuated, including King, but he rushed back inside to retrieve his prized guitar.

Luckily, he managed to escape with his guitar as the building collapsed around him. King later learned that the fight erupted because of a woman who worked at the venue named Lucille. From then on, King named his guitar “Lucille” to remind himself never to do anything so foolish again.

In 1962, King signed with ABC Records, which released Live at the Regal (1965), a benchmark blues concert album. In 1969, he released his biggest hit single, “The Thrill is Gone.” The first bluesman to tour the Soviet Union in 1979, by this time he had also become the first bluesman to enter the pop mainstream, making regular appearances in Las Vegas, Nevada and on network television.

King also found commericial success with the many collaborations he’s made over the years, including with artists Eric Clapton, Elton John, Sheryl Crow, Van Morrison and Bonnie Raitt. In 1987, King was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

One of music’s best-regarded performers, King picked up the Grammy Award for Best Traditional Blues Album in 2006 for his duets album 80, having won the award multiple times over the decades. Later that year, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President George W. Bush. The legendary singer and guitarist also became the subject of his own museum, which opened its doors in 2008. The B.B. King Museum and Delta Interpretive Center in Indianola, Mississippi, is dedicated to King’s music, the music which influenced him, and the history of the delta area.

Also in 2008, King released his latest studio album One Kind Favor to critical acclaim. He did his own take on songs by John Lee Hooker, T-Bone Walker and Lonnie Johnson, earning yet another Grammy Award for his efforts, marking his 15th win. In February 2012, King played a special gig at the White House with Buddy Guy and others. He and his fellow performers were accompanied by President Barack Obama on the song “Sweet Home Chicago.”

King played more than 250 concerts per year well into his 70s. In his 80s, the number of tour dates the guitarist booked have been more limited in number. His health has been deteriorating over the past few years. After a shaky concert in April 2014 at the Peabody Opera House in St. Louis, fans voiced their concern about King on social media saying he appeared to be suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or dementia. After that show, the blues legend issued a public apology for his erratic performance. In October 2014, the 89-year old fell onstage during a performance at Chicago’s House of Blues and cancelled several upcoming gigs. In a statement issued on his web site after the fall, it said the singer had been “diagnosed with dehydration and suffering from exhaustion.” But no matter where he is, King has his signature guitar “Lucille” in his hands.

B.B. King died on May 14, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada, leaving behind an enduring, global-spanning musical legacy.


*Taken from Biography.com