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Unsung


Unsung

 

The Tidewater/Hampton Roads area produces many Unsung but talented individuals who have inspired artists and impacted music all over the world, but remain relatively unknown to the area.




Weldon Irvine

Weldon Irvine Weldon Irvine
Born in Hampton, Virginia in 1943, Weldon Jonathan Irvine, Jr., became a renaissance man of sorts; a musician, a composer, playwright, poet, bandleader, lyricist, and even a Rapper.  His music covered Jazz, Funk, Hip-Hop, Gospel, R&B, and more.

Raised by his grandparents, Major and Mrs. Walter R. Brown, Weldon's grandmother was an accomplished musician who played stand-up bass in a number of Classical ensembles in the area, while his grandfather was dean of men at Hampton Institute (now University).  Weldon started playing piano in his teens.  Weldon attended Hampton Institute, majoring in English, with minors in speech, drama and music theory. He graduated in 1965, and by then had already gained some notoriety with his association with the college-based Bill Barnwell Quintet that took top honors at the 1964 Intercollegiate Jazz Festival at Villanova University..  In 1965, Irvine moved to New York to pursue his music career.  Weldon was recruited into the Big Band scene with the likes of Kenny Dorham and Joe Henderson. 
 
Weldon  formed his own 17 piece band that included musicians like Billy Cobham, Randy Brecker Tom Browne and Lenny White.  All were relatively unknown and unsung during the time but toured the world.  Soon Irvine was on the road with Nina Simone as her organist, co-writer, arranger, bandleader, and road manager.

CERTIFIED VMSOUL LEGEND

Nina Simone urged Irvine to write lyrics to a song based on the same title of Lorraine Hansberry’s play, To Be Young, Gifted, and Black.  In a flash of inspiration, Weldon Irvine wrote the lyrics to what became a civil rights anthem sung by Nina Simone, and covered by such great artists as Donny Hathaway, Aretha Franklin, Elton John,  Stevie Wonder, and Dionne Warwick.  This is the best known of Irvine’s over 500 published compositions.
For  nearly two weeks, he struggled to come up with something. "It was the only time in my life that I wrestled with creating," he says. "Usually, I just open the door and it comes."

On the fourteenth day, it came. He remembers it vividly. "I was in my Ford Galaxy on my way to the bus station to pick up a girlfriend from down south," he recalls. "I was stopped at a red light at Forty-First Street and Eighth Avenue when all the words came to me at once. I tied up traffic at that red light for fifteen minutes, as I scribbled on three napkins and a matchbook cover. A whole bunch of irate taxi drivers were leaning on their horns. I wrote it, put it in the glove compartment, picked up the girl, and didn't look at it until she got back on the bus to go home."

When he finally read it, he was awestruck. He remembers thinking, "I didn't write this. God wrote it through me."    Source:  Chicken Bones: A Journal
 
While a lot of musicians rejected a new style of music, Hip-Hop, Weldon “Master Wel” Irvine embraced it, mentoring and inspiring such politically conscience Hip-Hop giants as Mos Def, Talib Kweli.  He has given piano lessons to other Hip-Hop artists like Common and Q-Tip.  He has worked with KRS-One, Grand Master Flash, Gang Starr, Big Daddy Kane, Ice Cube and others.  On the other hand, Weldon Irvine has also worked with such Jazz giants as Miles Davis and Stanley Turrentine.

Weldon  produced and financed THE AMADOU PROJECT, a CD commemoration of the 1999 slaying of the young and unarmed Amadou Diallo, who was shot to death by four New York City police.  The CD features a host of Spoken Word Artists, Rappers and MCs, including close associates Don Blackman and Carla Cook, as well as voice-overs by the parents of young Diallo.

Irvine also  worked on several musicals, namely 'Young Gifted and Broke', 'The Vampire And The Dentist', 'The Will' and 'Keep It Real', all of which contained music penned by Weldon.

Weldon was the recipient of a SPIRIT AWARD, given to him by the Medgar Evers Student Association and Akeem Productions, February, 2002.
In April 10,  2002, the Associated Press released this news article:

'A man killed himself with a rifle yesterday on the front lawn of a Uniondale office complex, Nassau police said.
The apparent suicide took place at the EAB Plaza, on Hempstead Turnpike, just west of the Meadowbrook Parkway and across from Nassau Coliseum.
It happened about 3:20 p.m., while workers were inside the large office complex.
Homicide Det. Sgt. Richard Laursen said police do not know who the man is or how he got there.
He said the man was wearing a tailored button-down shirt, gray slacks and black shoes and was dark-skinned, possibly Hispanic or light-skinned African-American.
They had no age estimate for the man. He apparently carried the .22-caliber rifle used in the shooting in a black garment bag, according to police.
The body was taken to the Nassau medical examiner for an autopsy.'
 
The man was identified a week later as Weldon Jonathan Irvine, Jr.

His contributions live on as a memorial to his vast and varied talents.

    * "We Gettin' Down" (1975) sampled by A Tribe Called Quest on "Award Tour" (1993)
    * "Morning Sunrise" (1979) sampled by Memphis Bleek feat. Jay-Z on "Dear Summer" (2005)

Gotham City Insider Blog on Weldon Irvine

Weldon Irvine Documentary

Hi Dai.



 
Sharon Redd

Sharon Redd

Norfolk born, Sharon Redd, is from a musical family.  Her father, Gene Redd, was a producer and musical director for King Records.  Her brother, Gene Redd Jr., wrote and produced for Kool & the Gang.  Her sister, Penny Ford, is a recording artist with a couple of albums of her own.
Redd teamed with songwriter and record producer Bobby Susser at the United Artists records label. Her first release there was a song originally released by Hank Williams, "Half As Much.
Sharon Redd   Sharon Redd

Redd soon found herself starring in a long running, Austrailian production of the musical, Hair.  Redd also appeared in a number of other productions, including her own television special.  Sharon Redd also appeared in a spin-off from The Mary Tyler Moore Show-- Rhoda, starring Valerie Harper, where Redd played the role of Sherrye.
When Bette Midler needed some replacements for her background singers, Sharon Redd auditioned and became one of Midler’s Harlettes.  Redd also provided backing vocals for other artists, like Carol Douglas ("Burnin'" and "Night Fever") and Norman Connors ("You Are My Starship")
In 1977, Sharon Redd, Charlotte Crossley, and Ula Hedwig called themselves, Formerly of the Harlettes, and released an album.  Soon after, Redd signed with Panorama Records and then Prelude Records recording 3 successful albums for Prelude.
Sharon returned to a lucrative career as a background vocalist.  One of the groups she performed with was Soirée, which included Luther Vandross and Jocelyn Brown. In 1991 Redd released her final solo single, "All the Way to Love."
Redd died of pneumonia on May 1, 1992 while planning a comeback. Dance Music Report magazine reported that her death was AIDS-related.

 
The Equatics

Out of Hampton High School in 1972 emerged a versatile and talented band.

The Equatics
Equatics photo courtesy Benjamin Crawford. Front row, left to right:
Carlton Savage, Renon Sumpter, Calvin Billups, Daniel “Buddy” Slade, Benjamin Crawford.
Back row, left to right: Alvin Paige, Leo Davis, “Coach” Frank Johnson.
Taken on the Hampton High School auditorium stage, circa 1972.


The Equatics had plenty of local influences. Crawford recalls The Jessie Powers Band, Soulfonics, Soul Pride, the ensemble that would later become Washington DC’s Trouble Funk and “Little” Joe and the Everyday People as specific inspiration.

Full story at
Now - Again Records