Thursday, August 16, 2018

Aretha Franklin

Her singing was beautiful, stirring, singular.

Here is a video of Ms. Franklin performing "I Say a Little Prayer," her exquisite 1968 cover version of Dionne Warwick's wonderful hit song from 1967, written by Burt Bacharach and Hal David.  The video, according to the YouTube description, is from a 1970 broadcast of a Cliff Richard TV show.

And, here is the recording of the song from the album Aretha Now, which was released in June of 1968:

One of the (many) things I enjoy about Ms. Franklin's version of "I Say a Little Prayer" is that, for more than the first half of the song, she doesn't sing the word "prayer." 

She sings, repeatedly: "I say a little..."

And then, her background singers finish the lyric:  "...prayer for you."

The vocals by the background singers are also, notably, quite beautiful. And--in the above live performance--the choreography performed by them (the minimal, elegant movements) is terrific.  I note, with particular pleasure/enjoyment, the recurring moments in the performance, during which the three singers tilt their heads--briefly, minimally--up and down. I don't know who came up with that, but I think it's fantastic.

Lastly, here is a live version of another of my favorite songs by Ms. Franklin (a song which was co-written by her): 1968's "(Sweet Sweet Baby) Since You've Been Gone."  According to YouTube, the performance took place in Amsterdam.

And, here is the original recording of the song:

Sunday, August 12, 2018


Like so many others, I have, during the past year, thought about Charlottesville, Virginia a great deal.  The events of August, 2017--a year ago today--were, are, heartrending. (I lived in Charlottesville--a vibrant and beautiful city--from the spring of 1995 until the start of 2001.)

Last week, PBS's Frontline program featured a very good documentary about Charlottesville--and about the neo-Nazis and white supremacists who descended upon the city.

The PBS report, a joint effort by Frontline and the journalistic organization ProPublica, was titled Documenting Hate: Charlottesville.  Unlike other Frontline programs I have seen, over time--programs presided over by an unseen narrator--the Charlottesville documentary featured an on-camera correspondent, ProPublica's A.C. Thompson.  Mr. Thompson also served as one of the program's producers.

The program can be seen at this link:

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Ted Williams, cont'd

The Ted Williams documentary, referred to in the prior post (Ted Williams: "The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived"), aired on Monday, on PBS stations; it was superb.

The review below, by Chad Finn of The Boston Globe, appeared in the paper the day before the film aired.  Finn is the Globe's sports media columnist.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Ted Williams's last game, Fenway Park, 1960

On Monday evening (July 23rd), PBS's American Masters series will focus on baseball's Ted Williams.

Included in the documentary is color film of Williams's last game, in 1960, made at Fenway Park by a college student in Boston, Bill Murphy; this is the first time the film has been seen publicly.

As is well-known, Williams hit a home run (his 521st) in his final at-bat. Compressed/edited views of his four plate appearances, in the game (including, indeed, the home run at-bat), can be seen in Mr. Murphy's footage.

This week, in advance of the PBS program, a piece about Murphy, and the striking color film he took, appeared in The New York Times; the footage can be viewed within the article.

I don't know if all PBS stations will be carrying the Ted Williams documentary on the same evening; please check your area's television listings.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Keith Textor, of The Honeydreamers (1921-2018)

I was very saddened to learn, recently, of the death of singer, arranger and composer Keith Textor.   He died in California in February, two weeks after falling, and suffering a head injury.  He was 96.  His wife, singer Sylvia Textor, died in 2014, at age 89.

Mr. Textor was the leader of, and a founder of, the five-singer vocal group The Honeydreamers (also known, over time, by the three-word name, The Honey Dreamers). The group was formed in 1946, at Minnesota's St. Olaf College.

Textor had studied music at the school, graduating in 1943. After serving in the Navy, he returned to St. Olaf, to earn an additional music degree. In 1946, when The Honeydreamers was founded, Sylvia Textor (known, then, as Sylvia Mikelson) became one of its singers. She was, at the time, a student at St. Olaf, studying music, and performing in the school's widely-known choir. She and Keith Textor would marry in 1949.

Early in the The Honeydreamers' career, the group performed in Minneapolis, and later relocated to Chicago.  In 1949, the group joined Dave Garroway's Chicago-based NBC television show Garroway at Large. In December of 1949, when bandleader Kay Kyser brought his longtime radio program, the College of Musical Knowledge, to NBC-TV (broadcasting from Manhattan's International Theatre), The Honeydreamers became part of the cast.

The Honeydreamers, at International Theatre, for Kay Kyser show;
Sylvia Textor and Keith Textor are in the foreground.

The group, at the time, featured Keith Textor, Sylvia Textor (she was known on Kay Kyser's program as Sylvia Michaels), singers Bob Davis and Marion Bye (also married to one another), and Lew Anderson. Anderson later became well-known for playing Clarabell the Clown, on the Howdy Doody TV show; he portrayed Clarabell from 1954 until 1960, when the program left the air.

The Honeydreamers left the Kay Kyser Show after its first season, and in the fall of 1950, Keith and Sylvia Textor left the group. They soon became a singing duo on Fred Waring's TV show on CBS.  In 1954, they were featured on Sid Caesar's Your Show of Shows, for the last several months the program was on the air.

In a 1981 interview for my book about early television, Keith Textor said the following, about the era, and its fundamental live component.

"You took a risk when you went on live," he said. "Something was bound to happen of an accidental nature nearly every show."  He recalled that Max Liebman, the producer of Your Show of Shows, "used to say, if you drop your hat, or you drop a handkerchief, that becomes the star of the number right there, 'cause people's eyes focus right on that thing."

Keith and Sylvia Textor, in 1951 television magazine

In the late 1950s, the Textors, with two other partners, founded what became a highly successful production company, best-known for creating and recording commercial jingles. With the two partners, Keith Textor had, several years earlier, written one of TV's most famous theme songs: "Smile, You're on Candid Camera."  In the 1960s and 1970s, Textor also released several albums featuring his own Keith Textor Singers.

Textor also worked in the 1970s with Jim Henson. During the second season of Sesame Street, in 1970, music written by Textor was featured in a number of short films produced by Henson for the television program.  Textor also served as musical arranger and conductor for a Muppets special--The Muppets Valentine Show--which aired in 1974 on ABC. The special was the first of two pilot shows for what would, in 1976, become The Muppet Show.


Here is a video of The Honeydreamers--performing a song on NBC's Colgate Comedy Hour, in September of 1950; the group's number begins at approximately 42:30, in the video.

The Colgate Comedy Hour featured rotating hosts; the episode, above, starred Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis; it was their first appearance as hosts of the program. The show (like Kay Kyser's show) aired from New York's International Theatre. The Honeydreamers (and the Comedy Hour's other performers, that week, including guest star Marilyn Maxwell), were listed in the scrolling credits, at the show's start--as were the Martin & Lewis program's three writers, which included the writing team of Ed Simmons and Norman Lear.  Simmons and Lear had come to television during the summer of 1950. They wrote, for a brief period, for Jack Haley's Ford Star Revue, on NBC; the Ford Star Revue was the summer replacement, in 1950, for Kay Kyser's program.

Top photograph: The Honeydreamers, from 1949 or 1950, during their time on Kay Kyser's television show. From the top of the photo, clockwise: Lew Anderson, Marion Bye, Keith Textor, Sylvia Textor, and Bob Davis (NBC-TV photo).  Photo, above, of Keith and Sylvia Textor, from TV Digest, weekly television guide, 1951.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Robert Kennedy, and Juan Romero

After Robert Kennedy was shot, fifty years ago this week, a seventeen-year-old busboy who worked at Los Angeles's Ambassador Hotel, Juan Romero, knelt beside Kennedy, and attended to him, comforted him, briefly. Kennedy and Romero had shaken hands, a moment before the shooting.

"Is everybody OK?" Kennedy, who would die the next day, asked. Romero told him yes.  Kennedy then turned his head toward his right, Romero recalled, in a newspaper interview which appeared earlier this week. "Everything will be OK," Romero heard him say.

Shortly after, Romero placed a rosary, which he had in one of his pockets, around one of Kennedy's hands.

Juan Romero with Robert Kennedy (Photo: Boris Yaro/ Los Angeles Times)

Here is a brief interview with Mr. Romero, now 67, which aired on National Public Radio last week.

Here, too, is a story from June 2nd's Daily News, in New York:

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

John Prine, on CBS's "Late Show"

There was a wonderful segment, recently--April 12th, to be precise--on Stephen Colbert's CBS program.  

The segment featured singer/musician/songwriter John Prine.  He performed "Summer's End," a song from his new album, The Tree of Forgiveness. The performers Sturgill Simpson and Brandi Carlile joined him, on the program.

I have watched the video of the appearance many times, since then. 

The song; Prine's quiet, unadorned, lovely vocal performance of it, on CBS; and the performances of the accompanying singers and musicians:  they were/are deeply moving, and very beautiful.