El Chozas/Jose Antonio Munoz
Flamenco artist Jose Antonio Munoz, a.k.a. El Chozas (a popular gypsy-flamenco nickname), was born in Seville, Spain, in 1949. His love of music began as a young boy performing in the summer Andalusian festivals of his hometown, the region's capital. Munoz is somewhat of an enigma, but his music is anything but. He sings with heart-wrenching confessional conviction. The title "Los Tormentos," from his 2008 album Mi Tierra y Mi Sangre, is powerful. It deserves a place in your soul.
Artist: El Chozas/Jose Antonio Munoz
Song: Los Tormentos
Album: Mi Tierra y Mi Sangre
The Wrens are the indie-flavored eccentric pop-rock foursome from New Jersey via Delaware founded in the late '80s by Charles Bissell (guitar vocals), Kevin Whelan (bass vocals), Greg Whelan (guitarist), and Jerry MacDonnell (drums). The Wrens rode an endless music-biz rollercoaster brimming with excitement, woes, and bull-goggy steadfastly sticking it out, recording some great music. The luminous title "Sleep," from the compilation Rock the Net: Musicians for Neutrality, is something you could listen to for years.
Artist: The Wrens
Album: Rock the Net: Musicians for Neutrality
Singer/songwriter extraordinaire Amos Lee's talent is impossible not to notice. Born an only child in 1978 in hardscrabble South Philadelphia, he was given his first guitar by his stepfather. After graduating from the University of South Carolina with an English degree, Lee taught elementary school for two years. Then he set off to New York to pursue his art. His work with Norah Jones was the catalyst of his professional career. Lee is a "you can hear a pin drop" performer, compelling and captivating. He has toured with legends Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, and Van Morrison. Lee's greatness is tastefully wrapped in his sincere delivery. "Street Corner Preacher," from his 2008 album Last Days at the Lodge, produced by Don Was, is earnest and authentic.
Vocalist and songwriter Nicole Atkins was born and raised in Neptune City, New Jersey. By the age of 13, Nicole developed good old-school taste in music (Traffic, Cream), picked up the guitar, and taught herself to play. In the late '90s, Atkins attended art school in North Carolina, where she calloused her fingers and made her bones in the band Los Parasols before moving to New York and going solo. The title "Party's Over," from the 2007 album Neptune City, produced by Tore Johansson, is well dressed and winning.
Samite of Uganda
African-expatriate activist and musician Samite Mulondo was born in Kampala, Uganda. As a very young boy, Samite was taught by his grandfather to play the African flute. By 8, he developed a strong desire to make music his life, but kept secret his ambition from his disapproving, business-minded father. By 12 Samite was given a Western flute, becoming one of the best flutists in East Africa. In the late '70s, during dictator Idi Amin's rule, Samite's elder brother was tortured and murdered. As a result, Samite fled to Kenya, where his professional music life began. There, he fell in love with an American teacher, married, then emigrated to upstate New York in 1987. In 2002, Samite founded Musicians for World Harmony. According to his Website, the organization is dedicated to enabling musicians throughout the world to share their music, promoting peace, understanding, and harmony, with special emphasis on the displaced, distressed, and severely disadvantaged children. "Musajawatu," from the 1992 album Pearl of Africa Reborn, is a serene, beautiful, and uplifting piece.
Rhythm-and-blues singer and actress Ruth Brown, a.k.a. "Miss Rhythm," was born Ruth Weston, the eldest of seven children in Portsmouth, Virginia, in 1928. By the age of 4 Brown started singing in church under the tutelage of her choir-director father. Miss Rhythm's early career began singing in USO shows. Nearing the age of 17 she ran away from home with trumpeter Jimmy Brown and took his name. Shortly thereafter, DJ Willis Conover championed her signing to Atlantic Records. En route to New York City, Brown's legs were severely injured in a car wreck. Though it took her years to recover, she went on to become the highest-selling black female singer of the early '50s. Brown's accolades include a Grammy (best jazz vocal for Blues on Broadway) and a Tony Award (best actress for Black and Blue). In the '80s she spoke out strongly about segregation-era exploitation of early R&B performers, spurring the creation of the Rhythm & Blues Foundation by the music industry. She was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1993. Some of her film collaborations include John Waters, Norman Lear, Redd Foxx, and John Sayles. Musical collaborations include jazz greats Thad Jones and Mel Lewis. Brown passed in 2006, but she leaves us with a great catalog of memories, including her 1949 hit "So Long," from The Essentials: Ruth Brown.