Jazz crooner/trumpeter/trombonist and bandleader Billy Eckstine was born July 1914 in Pittsburgh into a big family. During his teens, Eckstine wrestled with the idea of a career in football, but after breaking his collarbone and then winning a talent contest while attending Howard University, he decided that singing had more appeal and took on the club scene with great success. In 1944, Eckstine founded the Billy Eckstine Orchestra, then went solo in 1947. The elegant baritone is credited with introducing the bebop big band sound to the world. Eckstine's popularity hit its acme between WWII and the beginning of the rock 'n' roll era. Collaborations include Earl "Fatha" Hines, Sarah Vaughan, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Dexter Gordon, and Art Blakely. The 1945 title "Cottage for Sale," from the collection Jukebox Hits 1943-1953, is nostalgically beautiful and timely.
Artist: Billy Eckstine
Song: Cottage for Sale
Album: Jukebox Hits 1943-1953
Elbow is the magical-sounding Manchester, England-based rock quintet founded in 1990 by childhood friends Guy Garvey, Craig Potter, Mark Potter, Pete Turner, and Richard Jupp. Elbow received the U.K.'s Nationwide Mercury Prize in 2008. With over eighteen years together, the band has kept its ethereal, richly elegant sound, pulling like the tide. The title "Not a Job," from Elbow's 2004 release Cast of Thousands, is dripping with bittersweetness. Catch 'em before their entire tour is sold out.
Headlights is the Central Illinois indie-rock unit founded in 2004 by Tristan Wraight, Erin Fein, and Brett Sanderson. Touring members include Nick Sanborn, John Owen, and Kenny Seibert. Their 2008 album Some Racing, Some Stopping was written and recorded in an old farmhouse bookended by train tracks and a warehouse. Listen to the wintery title "January," frosted in OMG harmonies and tambourine dreams, in front of a crackling fireplace.
Album: Some Racing, Some Stopping
Brownie McGhee & Sonny Terry
Blues duo Brownie McGhee (guitar) and Sonny Terry (harmonica) are a dominant force in blues lore. Walter Brown McGhee was born 1915 in Tennessee into a musical family; he caught polio as a child and was left with a limp. Terry (Saunders Terrell) was born 1911 in North Carolina into a musical family and lost his sight in two farm accidents. McGhee and Terry first met in 1939 playing with Paul Robeson in Washington, D.C. In 1941 the two were busking in New York City, and by 1944 the pair made their first recording. In 1947, they moved on to separate projects but reunited for Tennessee William's musical of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in 1955, recording three albums together that year. Their partnership flourished through the mid-'70s. Collaborations included Lead Belly, Woody Guthrie, and Pete Seeger. Sonny Terry passed away in 1986, and McGhee in 1996. Both are in the Blues Foundation's Hall of Fame. The title "Better Day," from Smithsonian Folkways American Roots Collection, is an authentic and serendipitous marvel.
Artist: Brownie McGhee & Sonny Terry
Song: Better Day
Album: Smithsonian Folkways American Roots Collection
Jessica Lea Mayfield
Kent, Ohio-based singer/songwriter and guitarist Jessica Lea Mayfield's voice is lilting, aching, and magnetic. Her band includes her brother David on upright bass and Dr. Dog's guitarists Scott McMicken and Frank McElroy. Mayfield's freshman LP With Blasphemy So Heartfelt, produced by Dan Auerbach of The Black Keys, proves this young lady sings with an old soul. The title "I'm Not Lonely Anymore" resonates with forlorn expertise. Currently on tour.
Global-rock visionary Peter Gabriel was born into a musical home in Surrey, England. Gabriel started writing songs as a lad, and in 1967, he and schoolmates co-founded legendary art-rock band Genesis. In 1975, Gabriel left Genesis to start his solo career. Collaborations include Robert Fripp, Sinéad O'Connor, and Thomas Newman. Among Gabriel's many accolades are several Grammys (most recently nominated for the Wall-E soundtrack), the British Phonographic Industry Award, and the Ivor Novello Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007. Gabriel's charitable work stretches for miles, from Amnesty International to Witness, which exposes human-rights violations worldwide. The title "Don't Give Up," from the 1986 album So, shared with songbird Kate Bush, is the anthemic and generous mantra of the tireless Mr. Gabriel.
Artist: Peter Gabriel
Song: Don't Give Up