Louis “Thunder Thumbs” Johnson – R.I.P.

I just celebrated a milestone birthday this past Thursday, May 21st but, while I was basking in my special day the news came out that renowned funk bassist and one of the grandfathers of slap bass playing Louis Johnson of The Brothers Johnson had passed that very day. We shared a common birth year and his death served as a stark reminder that tomorrow is not promised. An incredible talent gone way too soon.

 

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Louis Johnson

 (April 13, 1955 – May 21, 2015)

When we think about birthdays it’s usually about the celebration of the years lived and those memories, moments and for me, in particular, special films and music. In the 70’s and 80’s Louis and his brother George played the soundtrack of my life. Songs like: “Get the Funk Out Ma Face”, and “Ain’t We Funkin Now” were always at the top of my playlist.

 

Louis Johnson

Louis’ innovative bass slapping technique

 

Louis and his George got their start playing for Quincy Jones who later went on to produce the brothers debut LP Look Out for #1 in 1976. Over the next five years, the Brothers Johnson racked up three Number One hits on the R&B charts: 1976’s “I’ll Be Good to You,” their 1977 cover of singer-songwriter and soul musician Shuggie Otis’ “Strawberry Letter 23,”(featured in Quentin Tarantino’s film Jackie Brown) and 1980’s smash “Stomp!”

Louis garnered the nickname “Thunder Thumbs” as a nod to his innovative bass slapping technique. His signature sound was from the Music Man StingRay bass which Leo Fender especially made for him to first use and promote, and form his slapping technique.

 

 

 

 

Louis Johnson brought the “funk” to Michael Jackson’s hits “Billie Jean” and “Don’t Stop ‘Til You Get Enough”. He also appeared on “Off the Wall”,”Thriller and artists Paul McCartney, Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin tracks. The Brothers Johnson’s 1980 album Light Up the Night, featuring “This Had to Be” was co-written by Michael, featuring him on background vocals. The album rose to the top of the R&B charts.

Although the news of his passing saddens me, I’m grateful for the time we shared through his incredible musical performances. I honor his legacy and say – Thank you, Louis “Thunder Thumbs” Johnson for bringing the funk! You will be missed.

 

In Memorial

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Thanks, Louis!

 

 

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The “Brat Pack”

“Don’t You Forget About Me Breakfast Club”

The 2015 Billboard Music Awards reminded me it’s been 30 years since the premiere of Director John Hughes‘ “The Breakfast Club”. Molly Ringwald was on hand (she looked good) to reminisce and introduce the band Simple Minds (except not really – it was just the lead singer who wasn’t looking or singing so hot) performing “Don’t You Forget About Me” which coincidentally hit on the Billboard Top 100 – 30 years ago this week.

I did a post a few months back on the original “Rat Pack” –  Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis, Jr. Not the same as the ultra cool “Pack” from the 60’s, this new generation was crowned by the media in the 80’s as the new “Pack” – The “Brat Pack.”

 

Brat Pack

 

 “The Brat” Members were:

Emilio Estevez, Ally Sheedy, Molly Ringwald, Judd Nelson, Anthony Michael Hall,

Rob Lowe, Demi Moore, and Andrew McCarthy

St. Elmo's Fire

St. Elmo’s Fire

Prerequisite to becoming a member of the “Pack” was being cast in either St. Elmo’s Fire or The Breakfast Club.

Breakfast

The Breakfast Club 1985

Directed and written by John Hughes, the coming of age storyline follows five teenagers, each a member of a different high school clique, who spend a Saturday in detention together and come to realize that they’ve bought into their respective stereotypes from peer pressure but are more complex than the labels they wear. They also deal with the pressures and expectations of their parents, teachers, and other authority figures. Critics consider it to be one of the great high school films as well as one of Hughes’ most memorable and recognizable works. Although I love The Breakfast Club, my heart will always belong to Hughes’ other classic – Sixteen Candles (1984). (but that’s another story)

 

Theatrical release poster

Theatrical release poster

The Breakfast Club made the “Brat Pack” icons of their generation and forever associated with the films that we still celebrate and reminisce with each viewing. Although it’s been 30 years the themes still hold true. I don’t think we’ll be forgetting anytime soon the connection and memories of those characters.

Director John Hughes had a knack for tapping into teen angst and connecting with his audience. Some of his other memorable classics include – Sixteen Candles (1984), Pretty in Pink (1986), Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (1986), and Home Alone (1990).

 

John Hughes

John Hughes

John Wilden Hughes, Jr. (February 18, 1950 – August 6, 2009) was honored at the 82nd Academy Awards (March 7, 2010), by Sheedy, Hall, Ringwald, and Nelson who all appeared in a tribute along with other actors who had worked with him including Jon Cryer (Pretty in Pink), Matthew Broderick (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off), and Macaulay Culkin (Home Alone).

 

A little Breakfast Club trivia:

So, tomorrow in honor of John Hughes and the anniversary of the film, I’m going to break out my Breakfast Club DVD and celebrate 30 years of loving this film and bonding forever with “The Pack”.

 

Josephine Baker – Beyond “Bronze Venus”

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Josephine Baker 1920’s

Josephine Baker is most celebrated as the “Bronze Venus” and her infamous “Banana Dance” in Paris c. 1927. However, the sum of her life is so much more! I was blown away by her boldness and sexual freedom, but it wasn’t until I saw the 1991 HBO movie starring Lynn Whitfield as Josephine Baker that I started doing research on her life. Whitfield won an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Special—becoming the first Black actress to win the award in this category which seems apropos since Josephine Baker was The Lady of firsts.

Lynn Whitfield - Josephine Baker Story 1991

Lynn Whitfield – Josephine Baker Story 1991

I’ve always been intrigued by Baker’s provocative reputation but had no idea of her involvement in the fight for justice, racial equality and the civil-rights movement.

Born  Freda Josephine McDonald in St. Louis, Missouri, (June 3, 1906 – April 12, 1975) she was an American-born French dancer, singer, and actress who came to be known in various circles as the “Black Pearl,” “Bronze Venus” and even the “Creole Goddess”. Her parents were Carrie McDonald and Vaudeville drummer Eddie Carson. Growing up poor she started working early cleaning homes and babysitting for wealthy white families.

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Baby Josephine

Baker dropped out of school at the age of 13 and lived as a street child in the slums of St. Louis. Her street-corner dancing attracted attention from the Dixie Steppers which lead to her opportunity to appear in the groundbreaking and hugely successful Broadway revue Shuffle Along (1921). She performed as the last dancer in the chorus line, a position where, traditionally, the dancer performed in a comic manner, as if she were unable to remember the dance, until the encore, at which point she would perform it not only correctly but with additional complexity. Baker’s act set in motion the career which would make her an international star.

 

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Josephine Baker dancing the Charleston, 1926

 

Josephine traveled to Paris, France, for a new venture, and opened in “La Revue Nègre” on October 2, 1925, at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées. Her erotic dancing and performing in next to nothing made her a sensation in Paris. The bohemian culture of interwar Paris embraced Baker’s skin color, allowing her to catapult to stardom. At the Folies Bergère, she performed the Danse Sauvage, wearing a costume consisting of a skirt made of a string of artificial bananas – voila! – a star is born.

 

 

Josephine Baker became the most successful and highest paid American entertainer working in France and the first Black woman to star in a major motion picture. Baker starred in three films which found success only in Europe: the silent film Siren of the Tropics (1927), Zouzou (1934) and Princesse Tam Tam (1935). She also starred in Fausse Alerte in 1940.

However, despite her acclaim in Europe, upon returning to New York in 1936  to star in the Ziegfeld Follies, she walked right back into good ole American racism. Audiences rejected the idea that a black woman could be so sophisticated and she was replaced by stripper Gypsy Rose Lee later in the run. Time magazine referred to her as a “Negro wench”. She returned to Europe heartbroken.

 

Josephine Baker and the French Resistance of World War II

Josephine returned to Paris in 1937, married a Jewish Frenchman, Jean Lion, and became a French citizen. In September 1939, when France declared war on Germany she was recruited by Deuxième Bureau, French military intelligence, as an “honorable correspondent”. Baker collected what information she could about German troop locations from officials she met at parties. She was awarded the Legion of Honor and given a Medal of Resistance for her work during World War II. She was also the first American woman to receive the Croix du Guerre, a notable French military honor.

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Josephine Baker Legion of Honor

 

 Josephine Baker and the Civil Rights Movement

Though based in France, Baker fought for American civil rights in the 1950’s and 1960’s. When she arrived in New York with her fourth husband French composer and conductor Jo Bouillon, they were refused reservations at 36 hotels because she was black. In 1951 when the famous New York Stork Club refused to serve Baker because she was black, she wrote letters to President Truman and enlisted the aid of the NAACP which focused a spotlight on the issues of inequality and racism in popular establishments.

 

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Stork Club Controversy

 

Josephine Baker was one of the few female speakers at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on August 28, 1963 introducing “Negro Women Fighters for Freedom”, including Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Congressman John Lewis. The NAACP, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, named May 20th Josephine Baker Day in her honor.

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Josephine Baker in French uniform – March on Washington 1963

“The Rainbow Tribe”

Long before Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt’s multicultural family, there was Josephine Baker and her “Rainbow Tribe”. Josephine wanted to prove that “children of different ethnicities and religions could still be brothers.” Baker raised two daughters, French-born Marianne and Moroccan-born Stellina, and ten sons; Korean-born Jeannot (or Janot), Japanese-born Akio, Colombian-born Luis, Finnish-born Jari (now Jarry), French-born Jean-Claude and Noël, Israeli-born Moïse, Algerian-born Brahim, Ivorian-born Koffi, and Venezuelan-born Mara.

 

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Josephine Baker and “The Rainbow Tribe”

 

On April 12, 1975 we lost Josephine after she suffered a cerebral hemorrhage, she was 68 years old. She performed right up to her death, starring in a retrospective revue at the Bobino in Paris, Joséphine à Bobino 1975, celebrating her 50 years in show business.The opening night audience included Sophia Loren, Mick Jagger, Shirley Bassey, (best known for recording the theme song to the James Bond film Goldfinger (1964), Diana Ross, and Liza Minnelli.

20,000 people lined the streets of Paris to watch her funeral procession. She received a 21 gun salute, making her the first Black American female to be buried with military honors in France. Josephine Baker leaves behind a legacy of accomplishments including breaking color barriers and fighting for justice and equality around the world. I thank her for channeling her celebrity into championing the rights of all.

 

Celebration of Josephine’s Life and Legacy