Michael Jackson Goes to Japan

Anyone who’s been following this blog for a while will probably have figured out by now that I love covers. I can’t get enough of hearing people’s interpretations of well-known songs. I love witnessing the hard work they put into their music, and the way they share a little of themselves with their listeners.

This week’s cover that I adore is an arrangement of Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal,” led by professional musician Yoshimi Tsujimoto on the shakuhachi and backed by Yuko Watanabe and Erina Ito on the koto.

To learn more about all three musicians, check out this article. I hope they collaborate on other projects in the future!

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Micki Grant on the cover of her LP "Lovin' Kind of Woman"

History Hunt: Micki Grant

This week marks the 1st anniversary of History Hunt! Looking back, I’ve learned so much about musicians from all kinds of different places in history, from those who lived nearly a thousand years ago to musicians who are still alive and making music to this day. I’m so glad to have the opportunity to share the lives and music of these great people with you, and I’m looking forward to many more anniversaries!

For today’s History Hunt post, it’s time to visit another musician whose career is ongoing, someone who’s a woman of many talents.

Micki Grant was born as Minnie Perkins on June 30 in Chicago, Illinois. We don’t know the exact year of her birth, though it’s often quoted as 1941, because Grant doesn’t like to share it.

During her childhood, Grant recalls in an interview with the Dramatists Guild of America, there was always music in the air. This music was often blues music, such as W. C. Handy’s “Saint Louis Blues,” and was performed by her father, who had taught himself how to play the piano by ear. Grant would often sit on the piano stool beside her father and then improvise her own songs when he was finished.

When Grant was either six or eight years old, she played the part of the Spirit of Spring in a play at the community theatre. It was then, as she touched the flowers to make them come to life, that she decided she wanted to have a career in theatre when she grew up, and that same year she began taking acting lessons (for free!).

Later, when she was nine, she started taking violin lessons while her sister learned how to play the piano. Unfortunately, Grant was discouraged from taking piano lessons by her sister’s teacher, as the teacher believed she didn’t have the talent to play the piano–something that Grant soon proved wrong.

As she grew up, Grant took up other instruments. She learned to play the double bass, as there was a vacancy in a newly formed string orchestra that she volunteered to fill. Her violin teacher began teaching her how to play the instrument, even though Grant’s mother thought she was too small for it! She also learned to play the sousaphone in high school, another very large instrument. And, by the time she was sixteen or seventeen, she was directing the youth choir at church!

At this point, Grant wanted to become a famous novelist, though she knew she also wanted to work in theatre. How music would fit into her plans, she wasn’t sure just yet. Still, it remained a part of her life as she continued her education at three separate universities. At the University of Illinois, for example, she played in both the jazz ensemble and the concert orchestra, and when she studied double bass at the Chicago School of Music, she also played in its concert orchestra as well.

Though she spent some time in Los Angeles, it was in New York that Grant’s musical career really took off. On her own time, she learned to play the guitar (which she considers “a very friendly instrument”) and sang protest songs. Her paid work included singing in the off-Broadway plays The Blacks, Brecht on Brecht, and The Cradle Will Rock. In 1965, when she was twenty-four, thanks to her well-received musical theatre roles, she became one of the first African-Americans to land a role on an American soap opera, which was Another World. Almost right away, she became the first African-American to have a soap opera storyline written exclusively for her.

Grant wasn’t just interested in performing in musical theatre: she was also into writing plays and their music and lyrics. In 1970, she became the Urban Art Corps’ artist in residence and started what was to be a fifteen year-long collaboration with Vinnette Carroll, who was the first African-American woman to be a Broadway director. Together, they created Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope, a Broadway musical that Grant also starred in. It was the first Broadway musical to be written solely by a woman, and when it finally closed, it was after 1065 performances–a huge success by any definition.

Throughout her career, Grant worked on numerous musicals, sometimes contributing the bulk of the work and at other times content to take the backseat. She’s also had fun writing music and lyrics for commercials, and for club singers. She’s won multiple awards over the years, including three Tony Awards, the NAACP’s Image Award, and the Dramatists Guild’s Lifetime Achievement Award. She was the first woman to receive  Grammy for Best Score for Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope. And she’s had not one, but two “Micki Grant Day”s given in her honour: one in Brooklyn in 1990 and another in Newark, New Jersey in 1993.

Those of you who are lucky enough to find yourself in New York City between February 27 and March 6 will have the opportunity to see Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope for yourselves, put on by the York Theatre Company. If anyone goes, let me know how it was–I’d love to hear about it!

In the meantime, for those of us who won’t be able to make it to the performance, here’s the reprise of “I Gotta Keep Moving,” as sung by Micki Grant and Alex Bradford:

If you’re enjoying the History Hunt series, why not drop me a tip or subscribe to me at Patreon? History Hunt will always be free–this is just an option for my readers to show their appreciation.

To Learn More (Sources):
Micki Grant with Kia Corthron, interview on Dramatists Guild of America site (mild language, racism mention)
Micki Grant, by Phiefer L. Brown in Notable Black American Women, Book 2 (ed. Jessie Carney Smith)
Micki Grant on The History Makers
Micki Grant on Music Theatre International
York Theatre Company to Launch Winter MUSICAL IN MUFTI Series in February at Broadway World
Micki Grant at Oxford Reference
Micki Grant at Wikipedia.org
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Super Mario Strikes Again!

As a nearly lifelong fan of the Super Mario series (some of my earliest memories are of watching my cousins play Super Mario Bros. for the NES), I never get tired of listening to remixes of its main theme. The only thing better than finding a cool new remix, as far as I’m concerned, is finding a cool new remix and learning something in the process.

Recently, I discovered a video of a young woman in Taipei, Taiwan, playing her own version of the Super Mario Bros. Theme (and the Underground Theme), complete with sound effects. This time, however, instead of playing it on the violin, this performer plays it on the sheng. The sheng is a Chinese instrument that was first invented over three thousand years ago and remains popular in a slightly modernised form to this day. And apparently it’s perfectly suited to playing videogame music!

Clara Schumann with an improved mini-biography: "A child prodigy who was one of the first to adopt performing by memory and whose brilliant performances were so loved that flowers were thrown at her feet at her 50th anniversary concert."

History Hunt: One Year Later

Next week is the first anniversary of the History Hunt series. My first post was made on January 16, and featured a short paragraph on Tibors de Sarenom. When I started the series, I thought that writing a little about my chosen forgotten musicians would be enough to inspire my readers to go out and learn more about them. But quickly I realised that it wasn’t just that these musicians had been forgotten: the information about them is scattered about the internet. Sometimes the write-ups about them that exist are conflicting and it would take some work to find the truth. Sometimes there’s no way to find the truth at all with the information available. And so my History Hunt posts grew and grew.

That was fine when I first moved to Ottawa: my studio was small, and so I had more time to devote to research. But as I gain more students by the week, my research time has reduced. Researching for and writing a 1000-word article every single week has become impractical, especially since it’s important for me to integrate what I’ve learned into my own teaching.

And so, for the next few months at least, my History Hunt articles will be appearing once every two weeks. I’ll be using my week “off” to ensure that the students of my studio gain a well-rounded understanding of music history and learn music that’s far more representative of the musical world, both past and present. And my first project will be this:

Clara Schumann

What’s wrong with this picture?

Remember this picture, and how it was all about Clara Schumann performing music by her male friends and family? Well, I’ve fixed it! For those who can’t read my handwriting in the header image, it says:

“A child prodigy who was one of the first to adopt performing by memory and whose brilliant performances were so loved that flowers were thrown at her feet at her 50th anniversary concert.”

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be making sure to add to my poster so that my students can see for themselves what a varied place Western Classical music history really is. And I’ll keep you all updated on how it goes!

Until next time!

Happy New Year With the Wheel Of Musical Impressions!

Happy 2016, everyone! I hope you all had a great holiday and are ready to meet the new year’s joys and challenges head-on!

First of all, I have a little site news: on Christmas Day, I became a kitty foster parent for the first time, and I’ve already had my first success story! I’ve added a section on my website where you can see who I’m hosting as well as read about the kitties who found their forever homes with loving families. I hope that if you’re in the Ottawa area and looking to add some warmth and fuzziness to your life that you’ll consider adopting one of the cats from J’s Animal Rescue!

Second, here I am with my first musical link of the new year! I first learned of Jimmy Fallon’s Wheel of Musical Impressions a little while ago. Guests on his show are randomly assigned a singer to imitate and a song to sing. Since singers work very hard to have their own, unique sound and tend to be well known for the music they specialise in, the results can be pretty funny!

Here’s a video of Ariana Grande guest starring on the show, including the amazing duet she and Jimmy Fallon sing at the end:

If you’d prefer to skip to a singer/song in particular, you can click the links below:

Britney Spears singing Mary Had a Little Lamb
Aaron Neville singing Cheerleader
Christina Aguilera singing The Wheels on the Bus
Sting singing I Can’t Feel My Face
Celine Dion (and Sting!) singing I Can’t Feel My Face