“The Roots of Jazz”


In our recognition of the DIVERSITY of music that flows from “THE ROOTS OF JAZZ,” this year Harlem Jazz & Music Festival salutes 8 historic and iconic pioneers of music.


Aretha Franklin

In her five decades, Aretha Franklin, the undisputed “Queen of Soul,” became a worldwide music legend. In 1966, Franklin signed with Atlantic Records which gave her creative control, and she began revolutionizing soul music by creating a sound all her own.

Franklin was a symbol of Black Pride and soul music. Her songs “Respect,” “You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman,” “Young, Gifted, and Black,” and “Think” became anthems reflecting the growing resistance of African Americans in challenging racial oppression.

In 2009, she sang “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” at President Barack Obama’s inauguration. Franklin was the first woman inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Franklin won 17 Grammys and had 20 Number 1 R&B hits during her career.

Smokey Robinson

Smokey Robinson’s career spans over 4 decades of hits and awards including the Grammy Living Legend Award. He was also inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame.

Robinson founded The Miracles. The group was Berry Gordy’s first vocal group, and it was at Robinson’s suggestion that Gordy started the Motown Record dynasty. Their single, “Shop Around” became Motown’s first #1 hit.

Robinson wrote and produced hits for other Motown greats including The Temptations and Marvin Gaye. The Beatles recorded “You’ve Really Got A Hold On Me” and The Rolling Stones covered the Robinson hit “Going To A Go-Go.” Robinson has accumulated more than 4,000 songs to his credit.


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Tito Puente

Harlem born Tito Puente, bandleader, composer, and musician, was a leading figure in Latin jazz. His showmanship earned him the nickname “King of Mambo.” He studied at the Juilliard School and learned to play a number of instruments including the timbales.

In 1947 Puente formed his own 10-piece band. With other Latin musicians such as Tito Rodríguez and Pérez Prado, he helped give rise in the 1950s to the golden age of mambo. The term salsa first appeared in the 1960s, when it was used to describe the music that had been the mainstay of Puente’s repertoire. Puente wrote many songs, among which “Babarabatiri,” “Ran Kan Kan,” and “Oye Cómo Va” are the most popular. During his career, Puente recorded some 120 albums and also received 5 Grammy Awards.

Edward (Duke) Ellington

Composer, bandleader, and pianist Edward (“Duke”) Ellington is recognized in his lifetime as one of the worlds’ greatest musical composers and performers. A genius for instrumental combinations, improvisation, and jazz arranging brought the world the unique “Ellington” expression in works like “Mood Indigo,” and “Sophisticated Lady.”

Encouraged by Fats Waller, he moved to New York in 1923 and, during the Cotton Club years, developed the style that would bring him worldwide recognition. Ellington would be among the first to focus on musical form and composition in jazz using “call-and-response” techniques in works like “Do Nothin’ till You Hear from Me.” In this respect, he would influence other musical giants such as, Thelonius Monk, Charles Mingus, and Gil Evans.



Dionne Warwick

Dionne Warwick is an internationally renowned pop and rhythm & blues (R&B) superstar whose soulful sound earned her widespread appeal. She is best known for her collaborations with high-profile artists and arrangers such as Burt Bacharach.

Dionne, began singing in church at a young age. In 1962 she released her first single “Don’t Make Me Over,” produced by Bacharach. Top 10 singles from this period included “Walk On By,” and “I Say a Little Prayer.” In 1969 she earned her first Grammy Award, for “Do You Know the Way to San Jose?” A second Grammy followed for “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again.”

She rejoined with Bacharach in 1992, performing on his “That’s What Friends Are For” with Gladys Knight, Elton John, and Stevie Wonder.

Miriam Makeba

Miriam Makeba, South African-born singer who became known as “Mama Afrika,” was one of the world’s most prominent performers in the 20th century. In 1959, Makeba settled in the United States. She excelled at Xhosa & Zulu songs. She also was known for songs that were critical of apartheid. She married trumpeter, and Harry Belafonte protégé, Hugh Masekela. In 1965 she and Belafonte won a Grammy Award for best folk recording for their album An Evening with Belafonte/Makeba. Nelson Mandela, encouraged Makeba to return to South Africa, and she performed there in 1991 for the first time since her exile.


Nina Simone

Nina Simone was an internationally renowned singer who created urgent emotional intensity by singing songs of love, protest, and black empowerment in a dramatic style, with a rough-edged voice.

A student of classical music at the Juilliard School of Music in New York, she began performing as a pianist. Her vocal career began in 1954. Her first album featured “I Loves You, Porgy,” which became in 1959 a worldwide hit.

In the 1960s Simone added protest songs to her repertoire including “Mississippi Goddam.” She also became a close friend of Martin Luther King, Jr., & Malcolm X, and performed at numerous civil rights events. Angered by American racism, Nina left the United States in 1973 and lived in Barbados, Africa, and Europe for the rest of her life.

Harry Belafonte

Born in Harlem, Belafonte moved to Jamaica at an early age. His life in Jamaica was full of rich cultural experiences that influenced his future art.

At Harlem’s American Negro Theatre, Belafonte earned his first leading role in Juno and the Paycock. He made his film debut opposite Dorothy Dandridge in Bright Road. He won a Tony in 1954 for his performance in Almanac. At the same time, Belafonte developed his singing talents. His album, Calypso, topped the charts for thirty-one consecutive weeks and was the first album to sell more than 1 million copies. Belafonte’s television special, Tonight with Belafonte, won him an Emmy. He became the first National African-American TV producer.

Belafonte developed a strong relationship with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Belafonte's work for USA for Africa raised more than $60 million for this cause with “We Are the World.”

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