Genius thereminist Clara Rockmore was born Clara Reisenberg in Vilna (now Vilnius), Lithuania, in 1911. Her family settled in New York City in the early '20s. The young Clara was a violin prodigy, eventually picking up and mastering the theremin, which she said gave her "terrific freedom," and by the mid-'20s, she became a driving force in the electronic-music movement. The Soviet musician/inventor and alleged spy Léon Theremin personally taught the very beautiful Rockmore and fell madly in love, proposing marriage several times. Providentially, Rockmore declined, as Mr. Theremin disappeared (either kidnapped or hightailed it) behind the Iron Curtain in 1938. Rockmore's version of George Gershwin's "Summertime," from Clara Rockmore's Lost Theremin Album, recorded in 1975 with sister Nadia Reisenberg on piano, is beyond sublime and a great introduction to a very mystifying and extraordinary artist.
Artist: Clara Rockmore
Album: Clara Rockmore's Lost Theremin Album
Hip-hop artist/producer Akrobatik (a.k.a. Jared Bridgeman) hails from Boston. Lyrics from "Here and Now" seem to tell his story: " I come from a place that's cold and dark / Where brothers gotta dodge bullets just to make their mark / Yo I grew up in the eighties around domestic violence / But my family was proud so we kept it silent ..." Akrobatik has collaborated with B-Real (of Cypress Hill), Chuck D, Mr. Lif, Talib Kweli, and many other rap notables. Soundtrack credits include HBO's The Wire and PlayStation's Amplitude. Akrobatik also has a weekday-morning sports-radio spot on Boston's JAM'N 94.5. The title "A to the K (Featuring B-Real)," from his album Absolute Value, includes infusions of melody that pay homage to old-school R&B.
Genre: Alternative Rap
Song: A to the K (Featuring B-Real)
Album: Absolute Value
Songstress Danielle Howle is from West Columbia, South Carolina. She sings haunting, infectious torch-folk. Her storytelling sits atop unexpected melodies and flavorful arrangements. Howle has opened for Bob Dylan, Gillian Welch, Steve Earle, and the late Elliott Smith, to name a few. "Fields of Cotton," from her 2006 release Thank You Mark, is a forlorn tale whose melody will sneak up on you.
Artist/songwriter Norman Greenbaum is best known for his 1969 No. 1 mega-hit "Spirit in the Sky." Greenbaum was born and raised in Malden, Massachusetts, where he attended Hebrew school, and later went to Boston University, where he played local coffeehouses. He moved to Calfornia for good in the mid-'60s. In 1972, Greenbaum took time off from the recording industry and started a dairy farm. He returned to the music business in the '80s as a manager and promoter. "California Earthquake," from the album Spirit in the Sky: The Definitive Anthology, should be revisited and played loudly.
Artist: Norman Greenbaum
Song: California Earthquake
Album: Spirit in the Sky: The Definitive Anthology
Legendary composer, record producer, jazz musician, publisher, and sharp-elbowed businessman Clarence Williams was born on October 8, 1898, in Louisiana and grew up in a musical home in New Orleans, where his father was a bass player and hotel owner. The young Williams got his start performing in his father's hotel. He co-wrote many jazz and blues standards, including "T'Aint Nobody's Business If I Do." His résumé includes Bessie Smith, Bunk Johnson, Fats Waller, Louis Armstrong, Coleman Hawkins, and his wife, blues singer Eva Taylor. Williams formed a publishing company as early as 1915, going on to sell the catalog of nearly 2,000 songs to Decca Records in the '40s. Clarence Williams III (best known for his portrayal of Linc in The Mod Squad) is his grandson. Williams died in 1965 in Queens, New York, leaving behind an outstanding body of work. "Whoop It Up," from the album Quadromania: You Rascal You, is a classic.
Artist: Clarence Williams
Song: Whoop It Up
Album: Quadromania: You Rascal You
The Black Angels
The Black Angels is a five-piece band from Austin, Texas. It first recorded in 2005. Stephanie Bailey (drums, percussion), Christian Bland (guitar), Kyle Hunt (keyboards, percussion, bass, guitar), Alex Maas (vocals), and Nate Ryan (bass, guitar) make the music--and Adam Demetri is the band's visual artist, using 16mm projections and psychedelic oils onstage. Currently touring, the Black Angels will be performing at the three-day All Points West Music Festival in New Jersey, beginning on August 8, along with Radiohead, Kings of Leon, and The Secret Machines. The title "Deer-Ree-Shee," from 2008 release Directions to See a Ghost, could have been in your parents' secret stash: It's wonderfully old-school long hair.