More stories

  • in

    Douglas Turner Ward, Pioneer in Black Theater, Dies at 90

    AdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyDouglas Turner Ward, Pioneer in Black Theater, Dies at 90A founder of the Negro Ensemble Company in New York in the 1960s, he was outspoken about limited opportunities for fellow Black actors and directors.Douglas Turner Ward, right, in 1971 with the director and producer Michael Schultz on the set of the play “The Sty of the Blind Pig.”Credit…Edward Hausner/The New York TimesFeb. 22, 2021Douglas Turner Ward, an actor, playwright and director who co-founded the celebrated Negro Ensemble Company, a New York theater group that supported Black writers and actors at a time when there were few opportunities for them, died on Saturday at his home in Manhattan. He was 90.The death was confirmed by his wife, Diana Ward.Mr. Ward was establishing his own career as an actor in 1966 when he wrote an opinion article in The New York Times with the headline “American Theater: For Whites Only?”“If any hope, outside of chance individual fortune, exists for Negro playwrights as a group — or, for that matter, Negro actors and other theater craftsman — the most immediate, pressing, practical, absolutely minimally essential active first step is the development of a permanent Negro repertory company of at least Off-Broadway size and dimension,” he wrote. “Not in the future … but now!”The article got the attention of W. McNeil Lowry, the Ford Foundation’s vice president of humanities and the arts, who arranged a $434,000 grant to create precisely the kind of company that Mr. Ward was proposing. Thus the Negro Ensemble Company was born, in 1967, with Mr. Ward as artistic director, Robert Hooks as executive director and Gerald S. Krone as administrative director.The company went on to produce critically acclaimed productions, among them Joseph A. Walker’s “The River Niger” (1972), which won the Tony Award for best play in 1974 and was adapted for film in 1976. Mr. Ward not only directed the play but also acted in it, earning a Tony nomination for best featured actor in a play.Other notable productions by the company included Samm-Art Williams’s “Home” (1979) and Charles Fuller’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama “A Soldier’s Play” (1981), about a Black officer investigating the murder of a Black sergeant at a Louisiana Army base during World War II, when the armed forces were segregated. The cast included Denzel Washington and Samuel L. Jackson. (It, too, was adapted for film, as “A Soldier’s Story,” in 1984.)Frank Rich of The Times called the production, directed by Mr. Ward, “superlative.” (The play was revived last January on Broadway, starring Blair Underwood, before being forced to close because of the pandemic.)The Negro Ensemble Company became — and continues to be — a training ground for Black actors, playwrights, directors, designers and technicians. Many of the troupe’s actors over the years went on to become stars, among them, in addition to Mr. Washington and Mr. Jackson, Angela Bassett, Louis Gossett Jr. and Phylicia Rashad.Mr. Ward, right, in 1967 with the ensemble company co-founder Robert Hooks. They started the troupe that year with a grant from the Ford Foundation, setting up headquarters at St. Mark’s Playhouse in the East Village.Credit…Don Hogan Charles/The New York TimesThe company, and Ford’s contribution, won immediate praise after its founding. The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said the grant represented “a magnificent step toward the creation of new and greater artists in the community,” and Roy Wilkins, the executive director of the N.A.A.C.P. at the time, said the foundation had “recognized the potential in the Negro theater” and the talent of “hundreds of actors and entertainers who have struggled individually.”The company began racking up Obie, Tony and Drama Desk awards and recording firsts. In 1975, the Times critic John J. O’Connor acknowledged the historical significance of a “superb” television production of Lonne Elder III’s play “Ceremonies in Dark Old Men,” set in 1950s Harlem. “The event marks the debut of a major Black theater organization, the Negro Ensemble Company, on American network television,” he wrote.Mr. Ward starred with Rosalind Cash in 1975 in the well-received ABC television movie adaptation of the play “Ceremonies in Dark Old Men.” Credit…Bert Andrews/ABC, via Getty ImagesThe company enabled Mr. Ward to solidify his own career as an actor and director.“I love acting for the communal thing — you know, working with people,” he said in an interview with The Times in 1975. But directing, he added, “sort of happened to me.”“I never had any intention of functioning as a director,” he continued, “but as the artistic director of the company, I choose the plays, and if I can’t find someone to direct them for us, I do it myself.”One of the first plays he directed was Richard Wright and Louis Sapin’s “Daddy Goodness” (1968), about a town drunk in the rural South who falls into such a stupor that his friends think he is dead.In an interview, Mr. Fuller said, “Doug is the only director I have worked with that could read any play and know whether its story line and characters would ‘work’ onstage.”The Negro Ensemble Company was not immune to criticism, however. The founders were criticized early on for setting up their headquarters at the St. Mark’s Playhouse in Manhattan’s East Village rather than at a theater in Harlem, and for appointing a white administrator, Mr. Krone. (He died last year at 86.)Mr. Ward, front left, on opening night of a revival of “A Soldier’s Play” in New York last January. He shook hands with the play’s author, Charles Fuller. Credit…Sara Krulwich/The New York TimesRoosevelt Ward Jr. was born on May 5, 1930, in Burnside, La., to Roosevelt and Dorothy (Short) Ward, impoverished farmers who owned their own tailoring business. His family moved to New Orleans when he was 8, and he attended Xavier University Preparatory School, a historically Black Roman Catholic institution.Mr. Ward was admitted to Wilberforce University in Ohio in 1946, then transferred to the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, where he studied politics and theater. He quit college at 19 and moved to New York City, where he met and befriended the playwrights Lorraine Hansberry and Mr. Elder.In the late 1940s, Mr. Ward joined the Progressive Party and took to left-wing politics. He was arrested and convicted on charges of draft evasion and spent time in prison in New Orleans while his case was under appeal. After his conviction was overturned, he moved back to New York and became a journalist for the Communist Party newspaper The Daily Worker.He also began studying theater, joining the Paul Mann Actors Workshop and choosing the stage name Douglas Turner Ward, in homage to two men he admired: the abolitionist Frederick Douglass and Nat Turner, who led a revolt against slavery.One of Mr. Ward’s first acting roles was in Eugene O’Neill’s “The Iceman Cometh” in 1956 at Circle in the Square in Manhattan; another was as an understudy in Ms. Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun” on Broadway in 1959, with Sidney Poitier and Claudia McNeil in the lead roles.He also began developing as a playwright. In 1965, an Off-Broadway double-bill production of his satirical one-act comedies “Happy Ending” and “Day of Absence” became a hit, bringing him a Drama Desk Award for outstanding new playwright. Surviving a transit strike, the production ran for 15 months.Mr. Ward had lead roles in many plays, including “Ceremonies in Dark Old Men,” for which he won the Drama Desk Award, and “The Brownsville Raid,” about an incident of military racial injustice in a Texas town. Clive Barnes, reviewing “Brownsville” for The Times, wrote “Ward, who, to be frank, I usually admire more as a director than an actor, has never been better.”Among his many awards and honors, Mr. Ward received the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Humanitarian Award. In 1996, he was inducted into the Theater Hall of Fame.He continued to write into his later years. Last March, he published “The Haitian Chronicles,” a series of three plays that he had been working on since the 1970s, all centered on the Haitian Revolution, which threw off colonial rule in the early 1800s. His wife said that he had considered the project his magnum opus and that she and others were hoping to have the plays staged in New York with alumni from the Negro Ensemble Company.In addition to Ms. Ward, whom he married in 1966, he is survived by their two children, Elizabeth Ward-Cuprill and Douglas Powell Ward, and three grandchildren.At the Negro Ensemble Company, Mr. Ward often played matchmaker in connecting actors to roles, seeking out opportunities for people whom he knew had not been getting much work.“Doug never saw N.E.C. as a place to feature himself,” the playwright Steve Carter, who was a production coordinator for the company, said in a phone interview for this obituary in 2017. “He was always looking for new people.”Mr. Carter, who died last year, said Mr. Ward had been known for his willingness to step into any role in which he was needed. He recalled in particular a 1972 production of “A Ballet Behind the Bridge,” by the Trinidadian playwright Lennox Brown. With the actor Gilbert Lewis unable to appear one evening, Mr. Ward was hastily summoned to fill in.“Doug went on with script in hand,” Mr. Carter said. Then Mr. Ward actually injured his hand on the set and began bleeding profusely, but he refused to go to the hospital until he had finished the show.“He would always do what was necessary for N.E.C.,” Mr. Carter said.Alex Traub contributed reporting.AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More

  • in

    Fernando Hidalgo, Cuban-Born TV Host, Dies at 78

    #masthead-section-label, #masthead-bar-one { display: none }The Coronavirus OutbreakliveLatest UpdatesMaps and CasesVaccine RolloutSee Your Local RiskNew Variants TrackerAdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyThose We’ve LostFernando Hidalgo, Cuban-Born TV Host, Dies at 78For 14 years, “El Show de Fernando Hidalgo,” a racy variety show with a Cuban flair, was appointment viewing in Latino households across the United States.Fernando Hidalgo in Los Angeles last year. His Spanish-language variety show, “El Show de Fernando Hildago,” aired from 2000 to 2014.Credit…GP/Star Max, via GC ImagesFeb. 22, 2021Updated 3:22 p.m. ETThis obituary is part of a series about people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others here.Every weeknight for 14 years, Fernando Hidalgo burst into the living rooms of Spanish-speaking households across the United States to lively Cuban fanfare, as dancers in colorful lingerie shimmied to bongos and trumpets and a theme song bearing his name.Broadcasting from a studio in Hialeah Gardens, Fla., just outside Miami, Mr. Hidalgo filled his show with interviews, monologues, skits with winking double entendres, scantily clad dancers who shocked abuelas and a generous helping of live Cuban music for nostalgic abuelos. At 7 p.m. or 11 p.m., “El Show de Fernando Hidalgo,” which aired on América TeVé and later on MegaTV, was appointment viewing in Latino households, particularly in South Florida, New York and Puerto Rico.Mr. Hidalgo produced and starred in an English-language film, “Ernesto’s Manifesto,” in 2019.Credit…Nereida DellanMr. Hidalgo died on Feb. 15 at Doctors Hospital in Coral Gables, Fla. He was 78. His death was confirmed by his son Marlon Corona, 28, who said the cause was complications of Covid-19.América TeVé said in a statement that Mr. Hidalgo showed an “enormous talent for interpreting the sensibilities of our community, as well as his impressive capacity for improvisation and thematic renewal.”Fernando Corona was born in Marianao, Cuba, on Sept. 18, 1942, to Robert Corona, a Cuban soldier who later owned a flower business, and Concepción (Hidalgo) Corona, a homemaker, his son said.He was an adolescent when he moved with his family from Cuba to Chicago, where he got a job reading poems about Cuba on the radio, said Nereida Dellan, his former wife.As he established himself as a performer and a broadcaster, Mr. Hidalgo took his mother’s maiden name as a stage name, Ms. Dellan said.His career took him to Puerto Rico and Venezuela and back to the United States as he acted in and hosted shows, including a situation comedy, “Cómo Ser Feliz en el Matrimonio,” or “How to Be Happily Married.” He also hosted a game show similar to “The Newlywed Game” called “Los Casados Felices,” or “The Happy Married Couples.”The Coronavirus Outbreak More

  • in

    U-Roy, Whose ‘Toasting’ Transformed Jamaican Music, Dies at 78

    AdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyU-Roy, Whose ‘Toasting’ Transformed Jamaican Music, Dies at 78He popularized the genre in which the D.J. adds a vocal and verbal layer to a recorded track, a precursor of rap.U-Roy performing in 1984 in Montego Bay, Jamaica. “I think we can call him the ‘Godfather of Rap,’” an authority on reggae music said. Credit…David Corio/Redferns, via Getty ImagesFeb. 19, 2021Updated 6:54 p.m. ETU-Roy, who helped transform Jamaican music by expanding the role of D.J. into someone who didn’t just introduce records but added a layer of vocal and verbal improvisation to them, a performance that was known as toasting and that anticipated rap, died on Wednesday in Kingston, Jamaica. He was 78.His label, Trojan Records, posted news of his death, in a hospital, but did not give a cause.U-Roy, whose real name was Ewart Beckford, wasn’t the first toaster, but he expanded the possibilities of the form with his lyricism and sense of rhythm. Just as important, he took it from the open-air street parties, where it was born, into the recording studio.“I’m the first man who put D.J. rap on wax, you know,” he told The Daily Yomiuri of Tokyo in 2006, when he toured Japan.In 1970, his singles “Wake the Town,” “Rule the Nation” and “Wear You to the Ball” held the top three positions on the Jamaican charts. Those songs and his subsequent debut album, “Version Galore,” made him a star not only in Jamaica but also internationally.His “inspired, lyrical, goofy and always swinging toasts” (as Billboard once put it) made him the king of the form, earning him the nicknames Daddy U-Roy and the Originator (although he acknowledged that D.J.s like King Stitt and Count Machuki worked the territory before him).“He elevated talking and street talk to a new popular art form,” Steve Barrow, author of several books on reggae history, told The Daily Yamiuri in 2006. “So I think we can call him the ‘Godfather of Rap,’ because he did that on record before anyone was rapping on record in America.”In 2010 U-Roy recalled his breakthrough with humility.“Is jus’ a talk me have,” he told The Gleaner of Jamaica. “Is like the Father say, ‘Open up your mouth and I will fill it with words.’”Ewart Beckford was born on Sept. 21, 1942, in the Jones Town section of Kingston. In his youth the music of Jamaica began to be disseminated by “sound systems,” groups of D.J.s and engineers with portable equipment who would set up for street dances and parties. A D.J. would introduce the tracks and fill transitions with patter.U-Roy never made it through high school; he was D.J.-ing at 14. He made his professional debut at 19, working with the sound systems of Dickie Wong and others. Later in the 1960s he teamed up with King Tubby, who had one of Jamaica’s more famous sound systems and was developing the genre known as dub — bass-heavy remixes of existing hits that played down the vocal tracks and that left U-Roy plenty of space to toast.“That’s when things started picking up for me,” he told The Los Angeles Times in 1994.Duke Reid, a leading producer, heard him at a dance and brought him into the studio for his breakthrough recordings. He quickly stole the spotlight from the singers on the tracks, earning top billing and becoming a star in his own right.In the late 1970s, U-Roy had his own sound system, in part to foster new toasting talent.“That was the biggest fun in my life when I started doing this,” he told the magazine United Reggae in 2012.His influence was profound. U-Roy and fellow Jamaican toasters provided a foundation for hip-hop in the early 1970s. D.J.s at parties in New York City, notably the Jamaican-American DJ Kool Herc in the Bronx, picked up the idea of Jamaican toasting and adapted it to rapping over disco and funk instrumentals.In 2007, U-Roy was awarded the Jamaican Order of Distinction.He released numerous singles and albums across a half century. His recent albums included “Pray Fi Di People” (2012) and “Talking Roots” (2018).Information on his survivors was not immediately available.U-Roy collaborated with numerous artists over the years, including some from Africa. In 2010, he still seemed surprised at the stir he had caused when he visited Ivory Coast on a tour.“In the airport is like every customs officer, every man who work on the line, want to take a picture with me,” he told The Gleaner.“If me come out of the hotel me have to have security,” he added. “Is a mob.”AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More

  • in

    Milford Graves, Singular Drummer and Polymath, Dies at 79

    AdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyMilford Graves, Singular Drummer and Polymath, Dies at 79His free-jazz drumming style was unlike anything heard before, but his explorations and inventions went far beyond music.Milford Graves in 2018 at his Queens home, where his studies ranged from music to cardiology to botany. Sought after by a wide range of students, he was known to most simply as Professor.Credit…George Etheredge for The New YorkFeb. 19, 2021Updated 6:01 p.m. ETBy the time Milford Graves took up the jazz drum kit, in his early 20s, he had spent years playing timbales in Afro-Latin groups. But on the kit he was confronted with the new challenge of using foot pedals as well as his hands. Rather than learn the standard jazz technique, he drew from what he already knew.In the Latin ensembles, “we’d be doing dance movements while we were playing,” he remembered in a 2018 profile in The New York Times. “So I said: ‘That’s all I’ll do. I’m going to start dancing down below.’ I started dancing on the high-hat.”The resulting style was unlike anything heard before in jazz.Mr. Graves mixed polyrhythms constantly, sometimes carrying a different cadence in each limb; the rhythms would diverge, then vaporize. He removed the bottom skins from his drums, deepening and dilating their sound. Often he used his elbows to dampen the head of a drum as he struck it, making its pitch malleable and introducing a new range of possibilities.But he wasn’t a drummer exclusively, or even first. Mr. Graves, who died at 79 on Feb. 12 at his home in South Jamaica, Queens, was also a botanist, acupuncturist, martial artist, impresario, college professor, visual artist and student of the human heartbeat. And in almost every arena, he was an inventor.“In the cosmos, everything — planets — they’re all in motion,” Mr. Graves said in “Milford Graves Full Mantis,” a 2018 documentary film directed by his longtime student Jake Meginsky.“We’ve got so much cosmic energy going through us, and the drumming is supposed to be very related to the intake of this cosmic energy,” he added. “That’s the loop that we have with the cosmos.”His life had taken one last poetic turn. In 2018, seemingly at the start of a late-career renaissance, Mr. Graves learned he had amyloid cardiomyopathy, a rare heart disease known as stiff heart syndrome. He was given six months to live. But since the 1960s he had been studying the human heart, focusing on the power of rhythm and sound to address its pathologies. So he became his own patient, using remedies and insights that he had developed over decades. He lived for over two more years.His daughter Renita Graves said his death was attributed to congestive heart failure brought on by amyloid cardiomyopathy.Mr. Graves said of his diagnosis: “It’s like some higher power saying, ‘OK, buddy, you wanted to study this, here you go.’ Now the challenge is inside of me.”Milford Robert Graves was born on Aug. 20, 1941, in Queens and raised there in the South Jamaica Houses, a public-housing development. His mother, Gonive (William) Graves, was a homemaker, and his father, Marvin, drove a limousine. (Early in Milford’s career, Marvin Graves would drive his son to performances in the limo.)By the time Milford could read, he was already drumming. The first band he put together, in junior high school, was a drum-and-dance group, and he was soon at the fore of his own Latin music ensembles, including the McKinley-Graves Band and the Milford Graves Latino Quintet.By the mid-1960s he had found his way to the avant-garde, at first through collaborations with the saxophonist Giuseppi Logan. He then joined the New York Art Quartet, whose 1964 debut album prominently featured Mr. Graves’s elusive drumming; it has since become part of the free-jazz canon.Mr. Graves, on drums, playing with his frequent collaborator Giuseppi Logan in 1965 at the opening of a Manhattan bookstore.Credit…Eddie Hausner/The New York TimesMeanwhile he undertook a serious study of the Indian tabla while continuing to push his style toward the brink. In a 1965 column for DownBeat magazine, the poet and organizer Amiri Baraka enthused that Mr. Graves’ drumming “must be heard at once.”“Graves has a rhythmic drive, a constant piling up of motor energies, that makes him a distinct stylist,” Mr. Baraka wrote.Mr. Graves joined the band of the saxophonist Albert Ayler in 1967; its historic performances included an appearance at John Coltrane’s funeral. That same year Mr. Graves won the DownBeat critics’ award for the brightest young talent.He began to appear more often as a leader, or in duos, and embraced a full-body approach to performing. He vocalized more from behind the drum set, usually in a babble or a rhythmic cry. As his career went on, his performances came to include philosophical, humorous lectures in roughly equal measure to the music.Mr. Graves performing in 2013 on opening night of the Vision Festival in Brooklyn, where he was honored.Credit…Ruby Washington/The New York TimesWith Black Nationalism gaining steam, Mr. Graves helped lead the way for a cadre of musicians seeking self-determination in the industry. He started the Self-Reliance Project record label to release his own albums and became involved in actions on behalf of student protesters and revolutionary groups.For much of the 1960s he lived with his wife and children in the East New York section of Brooklyn, then returned to his old neighborhood in 1970, moving into the South Jamaica house where his grandparents had lived.They had once used the house’s basement as a neighborhood speakeasy, but when Mr. Graves moved in he converted it into a dojo, where he practiced and taught Yara, a martial art of his own creation. Its name is the Yoruba word for agility, and its practices mixed East Asian traditions with West African dance, as well as insights from Mr. Graves’s close study of live praying mantises.The basement eventually became his laboratory, where he focused on cardiology, acupuncture and herbalism. He also worked in a veterinary lab during the 1970s, where he set up and ran clinical tests to investigate new medicines.In the house’s garden, he mixed plants from all parts of the world. “I have a global garden,” he said in the documentary. “My garden’s not like people. You’ve got all these people of different ethnicities, they all hang out in their own communities. This don’t work like that. They all hang out together.”In addition to his daughter Renita, Mr. Graves is survived by his wife of more than 60 years, Lois Graves; three other daughters, Kim, Monifa and Lenne’ Graves; his son, Kevin; and grandchildren.At the invitation of Bill Dixon, a trumpeter and organizer, Mr. Graves joined the faculty of the Black Music Division at Bennington College, where he taught for 39 years, traveling to Vermont once a week for classes.But he also ministered to musicians who traveled from afar to seek him out and to a devoted following of men living in the neighborhood who respected him as a community elder. For decades he hosted martial arts workshops, herbalism clinics and salons that doubled as drum lessons. To all the participants, he was known simply as Professor.Mr. Graves often demanded that visitors submit to recording their heart beats for research purposes. Initially he worked with analog tape recorders, attaching speakers to people’s chests. After receiving a Guggenheim fellowship in 2000, he bought a full suite of computers and loaded them with the LabView application, which he programmed to measure and document the wide range of sonic frequencies created by the human heart.Mr. Graves in 2018 in his lab at his Queens home. He programmed computers to measure and document the wide range of sonic frequencies created by human heart.Credit…George Etheredge for The New York TimesHe then created a kind of electronic music out of the frequencies and sought to use this music to strengthen the natural heartbeat. In recent years he developed a partnership with Carlo Ventura, a cardiologist at the University of Bologna, doing research that demonstrated, they said, that his heart music could be used to stimulate stem cell growth as well.Late in life, Mr. Graves began creating sculptural works inspired by his research into the heart, and he was quickly embraced by the visual art world. In the months before he died, he was the subject of a far-ranging and well-received retrospective exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in Philadelphia.In a 2009 interview for All About Jazz, Mr. Graves said he had always sought to treat every second of the waking day as a chance for inquiry.“Don’t tell me how many years you’ve been doing something,” he said. “I want to know how completely you’re filling that time, how you’re spending each nanosecond.”AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More

  • in

    Peter G. Davis, Music Critic of Wide Knowledge and Wit, Dies at 84

    AdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyPeter G. Davis, Music Critic of Wide Knowledge and Wit, Dies at 84He wrote with passion and bite about classical music, and especially opera, over a 50-year career at The Times and New York magazine.Peter G. Davis in 1990 on a visit to Sissinghurst Castle Garden in England. As a student years earlier he toured  Europe’s summer music festivals.Credit…Scott ParrisFeb. 19, 2021, 2:43 p.m. ETPeter G. Davis, who for over 30 years held sway as one of America’s leading classical music critics with crisp, witty prose and an encyclopedic memory of countless performances and performers, died on Feb. 13. He was 84.His death was confirmed by his husband, Scott Parris.First as a critic at The New York Times and later at New York magazine, Mr. Davis wrote precise, sharply opinionated reviews of all forms of classical music, though his great love was opera and the voice, an attachment he developed in his early teens.He presided over the field during boon years in New York in the 1960s and ’70s, when performances were plentiful and tickets relatively cheap, and when the ups and downs of a performer’s career provided fodder for cocktail parties and after-concert dinners, not to mention the notebooks of writers like Mr. Davis, who often delivered five or more reviews a week.He wrote those reviews with a knowing, deadpan, at times world-weary tone. During a 1976 concert by the Russian violinist Vladimir Spivakov, an activist protesting the treatment of Jews in the Soviet Union threw a paint bomb at the stage, splattering Mr. Spivakov and his accompanist. Mr. Davis wrote, “Terrorists must be extremely insensitive to music, for tossing paint at a violinist playing Bach’s ‘Chaconne’ is simply poor timing.”He maintained faith in the traditions of classical music not for the sake of perpetuating the past but for their intrinsic power, and he looked askance at those who tried to update them just to be trendy.In a 1977 review of the Bronx Opera’s staging of “Fra Diavolo,” by the 19th-century French composer Daniel Francois Auber, he decried what he saw as a “refusal to believe in the piece by treating it as an embarrassment, a work that needs a maximum of directorial gimmicks if the audience is to remain interested.”He could be equally dismissive of new music and composers who he thought were overhyped. The minimalist composer Philip Glass and Beverly Sills (early on “a dependable, hard-working but not especially remarkable soprano” who became a star, he felt, only after her talents had peaked) were regular targets.In a review of a performance of Mr. Glass’s work at Carnegie Hall in 2002, he wrote, “It was pretty much business as usual: the same simple-minded syncopations and jigging ostinatos, the same inane little tunes on their way to nowhere, the same clumsily managed orchestral climaxes.”Which is not to say that Mr. Davis was a reactionary — he championed young composers and upstart regional opera companies. His great strength as a critic was his pragmatism, his commitment to assess the performance in front of him on its own terms while casting a skeptical eye at gimmickry.“He was a connoisseur of vocal music of unimpeachable authority,” said Justin Davidson, a former classical music critic at Newsday who now writes about classical music and architecture for New York magazine. “He had a sense that the things he cared about mattered, that they were not niche, not just entertainment, but that they cut to the heart of what American culture was.”Peter Graffam Davis was born on March 3, 1936, in Concord, Mass., outside Boston, and grew up in nearby Lincoln. His father, E. Russell Davis, was a vice president at the Bank of Boston. His mother, Susan (Graffam) Davis, was a homemaker.Mr. Parris, whom he married in 2009, is his only immediate survivor.Mr. Davis fell in love with opera as a teenager, building a record collection at home and attending performances in Boston. During the months before his junior year at Harvard, he took a tour of Europe’s summer music festivals — Strauss in Munich, Mozart in Salzburg, Wagner in Bayreuth.He encountered European opera at a hinge point. It was still defined by longstanding traditions and had yet to fully emerge from the destruction of World War II, but poking out of the wreckage was a new generation of performers: the French soprano Régine Crespin, the Austrian soprano Leonie Rysanek, the Italian tenors Franco Corelli and Giuseppe di Stefano. Mr. Davis got to see them up close.Mr. Davis’s 1997 book is exhaustive, exhilarating and often withering history of opera in America.He graduated from Harvard in 1958 with a bachelor’s degree in music. After spending a year at a conservatory in Stuttgart, Germany, he moved to New York to complete a master’s degree in composition at Columbia University.Mr. Davis wrote a number of musical works of his own in the early 1960s, including an opera, “Zoe,” and a pair of Gilbert and Sullivan-esque operettas. But he decided that his future lay not in writing music but in writing about it. He became the classical music editor for both High Fidelity and Musical America magazines, as well as the New York music correspondent for The Times of London.He began writing freelance articles for The New York Times in 1967, and in 1974 was hired as the Sunday music editor, a job that allowed him to supplement his near-daily output of reviews — whether of recordings, concerts or innumerable debut recitals — with articles he commissioned from other writers. “He had a superb memory,” said Alex Ross, the classical music critic for The New Yorker. “Anything you threw at him, he was able to speak about precisely and intelligently.”Mr. Davis moved to New York magazine in 1981. There he could pick and choose his reviews as well as occasionally stand back to survey the classical music landscape.Increasingly, he didn’t like what he saw.As early as 1980, Mr. Davis was lamenting the future of opera singing, blaming an emphasis on “pleasing appearance and facile adaptability” over talent and hard work and a star system that pushed promising but immature vocalists past their physical limits.The diminished position of classical music in American culture that he documented did not spare critics, and in 2007 New York magazine let him go. He went back to freelancing for The Times and wrote regularly for Opera News and Musical America.For all his thousands of reviews, Mr. Davis seemed most proud of his book “The American Opera Singer” (1997), an exhaustive, exhilarating and often withering history in which he praised the versatility of contemporary American performers while taking many of them to task for being superficial workhorses.“I can’t think of a music critic who cares more deeply about the state of opera in America,” the critic Terry Teachout wrote in his review of the book for The Times. “Anyone who wants to know what is wrong with American singing will find the answers here.”AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More

  • in

    Rupert Neve, the Father of Modern Studio Recording, Dies at 94

    AdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyRupert Neve, the Father of Modern Studio Recording, Dies at 94His equipment became the industry standard and influenced the sound of groups like Nirvana, Fleetwood Mac, the Grateful Dead, Santana, Chicago and the Who.Rupert Neve in 2009 at a mixing console at the Magic Shop recording studio in New York City. His revolutionary Neve 8028 console (not shown here) had a huge impact on the music industry.Credit…Joshua ThomasFeb. 19, 2021, 2:43 p.m. ETWhen the Seattle grunge band Nirvana recorded their breakthrough album, “Nevermind,” at Sound City Studios in Van Nuys, Calif., in 1991, they used a massive mixing console created by a British engineer named Rupert Neve.The Neve 8028 console had by then become a studio staple, hailed by many as the most superior console of its kind in its manipulating and combining instrumental and vocal signals and as responsible in great part for the audio quality of albums by groups like Fleetwood Mac, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, the Grateful Dead and Pink Floyd.For Dave Grohl, Nirvana’s drummer and later the leader of Foo Fighters, the console “was like the coolest toy in the world,” he told NPR in 2013 when his documentary film about the California studio, “Sound City,” was released. “And what you get when you record on a Neve desk is this really big, warm representation of whatever comes into it.”He added, “What’s going to come out the other end is this bigger, better version of you.”In 2011, long after forming Foo Fighters, Mr. Grohl purchased the console as Sound City was closing, took it to his garage and used it to record the band’s album “Wasting Light.”Mr. Neve’s innovative, largely analog equipment has been used to record pop, rock, jazz and rap — genres distinct from his preferred one: English cathedral music, with its organs and choirs.After his death last Friday, the influential hip-hop engineer Gimel Keaton, known as Young Guru, tweeted: “Please understand that this man was one of a kind. There is nothing close to him in the engineering world. RIP to the KING!!!”Mr. Neve (pronounced Neeve) died in a hospice facility in San Marcos, Tex., near his home in Wimberley, a Hill Country town that he and his wife, Evelyn, moved to in 1994. He was 94. The causes were pneumonia and heart failure, according to his company, Rupert Neve Designs.Arthur Rupert Neve was born on July 31, 1926, in Newton Abbott, in southwestern England. He spent most of his childhood near Buenos Aires, where his parents, Arthur Osmond and Doris (Dence) Neve, were missionaries with the British and Foreign Bible Society.Rupert developed a facility with technology as a boy taking apart and repairing shortwave radios. It accelerated during World War II, when he served in the Royal Corps of Signals, which gave communications support to the British Army.After the war, working out of an old U.S. Army ambulance, he started a business recording, on 78 r.p.m. acetate discs, brass bands and choirs as well as public addresses, like those by Winston Churchill and Queen Elizabeth II when she was a princess.His future father-in-law was unimpressed. When Mr. Neve spoke to him about marrying his daughter, Evelyn Collier, the older man couldn’t imagine recording as a way of making a living.“He’d never heard of it,” Mr. Neve told Tape Op, a recording magazine, in 2001. “To him a recorder was a gentleman who sat in a courtroom and wrote down the proceedings.”During the 1950s, Mr. Neve found work at a company that designed and manufactured transformers. He also started his own business making hi-fi equipment.With his expanding knowledge of electronics, he recognized that mixing consoles performed better with transistors than with vacuum tubes, which were cumbersome and required very high voltage.He delivered his first custom-made transistor console to Phillips Studios in London in 1964, and its success led to thousands more orders over the years — bought by, among others, Abbey Road Studios in London (in the post-Beatles years), the Power Station in Manhattan and the AIR Studios, both in London and on the Caribbean island of Montserrat, founded by George Martin, the Beatles’ producer.The singer-songwriter Billy Crockett bought a Neve console about eight years ago for his Blue Rock Artist Ranch & Studio, which is also in Wimberley. He is quick to extol its “warm, open, transparent” sound.“It’s all about his transformers,” he said in a phone interview, referring to the components that Mr. Neve designed that connect microphone signals to the console and the console to a recording medium like vinyl or a CD. “They provide something intangible that makes the mix fit together. So when people get poetic about analog, it’s how the sound comes through the transformers.”Mr. Neve received a Technical Grammy Award in 1997. In a 2014 interview with the Recording Academy, which sponsors the Grammys, he said he was pleased with the loyalty that his consoles had fostered.Mr. Neve in 2013 with the musician Dave Grohl at a screening of “Sound City,” Mr. Grohl’s documentary film about the famed recording studio in Los Angeles. The film was being shown at the SXSW Music, Film + Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas. Mr. Neve’s pioneering mixing console was at the heart of Sound City.Credit…Michael Buckner/Getty Images for SXSW“I’m proudest of the fact that people are still using designs of mine which started many years ago and which, in many ways, have not been superseded since,” he said. “Some of those old consoles are really hard to beat in terms of both recording quality and the effects that people will get when they make recordings.”In addition to his wife, Mr. Neve is survived by his daughters, Evelyn Neve, who is known as Mary, and Ann Yates; his sons, David, John and Stephen; nine grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.Mr. Neve was more aware of the engineers who handled his consoles than of the singers and bands whose albums benefited from his audio wizardry.That preference was borne out when rock stars approached him after the screening of Mr. Grohl’s “Sound City” documentary at the SXSW Film Festival in Austin in 2013.“They all wanted to take pictures with him,” Josh Thomas, the general manager of Rupert Neve Designs, said in a phone interview. “And after each picture, he asked me, ‘Why is he important?’”AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More

  • in

    Prince Markie Dee, Founding Member of Rap Trio Fat Boys, Dies at 52

    AdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyPrince Markie Dee, Founding Member of Rap Trio Fat Boys, Dies at 52The group’s lighthearted rhymes and winning comedic approach helped speed hip-hop’s absorption into pop culture.From left: Prince Markie Dee, the Human Beat Box and Kool Rock-Ski of Fat Boys. “Wipeout,” the group’s collaboration with the Beach Boys, was their biggest hit.Credit…David Corio/Redferns, via Getty ImagesJon Caramanica and Feb. 19, 2021Prince Markie Dee, who as a member of the trio Fat Boys released some of hip-hop’s most commercially successful albums of the 1980s and helped speed the genre’s absorption into pop culture, died on Thursday in Miami. He was 52.His death was confirmed by Rock the Bells, a SiriusXM station where he had been a host. No cause was given.In the mid-1980s, Fat Boys were among hip-hop’s best known groups; their 1987 album “Crushin’” went platinum and featured a collaboration with the Beach Boys, “Wipeout,” that was their biggest hit, reaching No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100. That year, the group starred in a full-length comedy, “Disorderlies.”Hip-hop was just beginning to become accepted into the mainstream of American pop culture, and the group’s lighthearted rhymes, accessible dance routines and winning comedic approach made them effective ambassadors on hits including “Jailhouse Rap,” “Stick ’Em” and “Can You Feel It.” Some of their songs were about food and played on their image as harmless heavyweights.Prince Markie Dee was born Mark Anthony Morales on Feb. 19, 1968. He formed the Disco 3 in the early 1980s along with Darren (the Human Beat Box) Robinson and Damon (Kool Rock Ski) Wimbley, friends from the East New York section of Brooklyn. They won a 1983 talent show at Radio City Music Hall and were signed to a management contract by the show’s promoter, who suggested they change their name to Fat Boys.Their size became their gimmick, their calling card and their accelerator. Their manager once organized a promotional contest in which fans could guess the group’s collective weight.The group released seven full length albums; in addition to their platinum “Crushin’,” three went gold. In 1984, Fat Boys appeared on the Fresh Fest tour, the first hip-hop arena tour. Four years later, the group recorded a new version of “The Twist” with Chubby Checker. The trio also appeared in the films “Krush Groove” and “Knights of the City” before breaking up in the early 1990s. Mr. Robinson died in 1995 at age 28 after he fell off a chair while rapping for friends and lost consciousness.Mark Anthony Morales also hosted “The Prince Markie Dee Show” on LL Cool J’s Rock the Bells channel on SiriusXM radio.Credit…Robin Marchant/Getty ImagesPrince Markie Dee released a pair of solo albums in the 1990s, the first of which spawned the hit single “Typical Reasons (Swing My Way).” At the same time, he was beginning to work as a songwriter and producer for Uptown Records, collaborating with Father MC and Mary J. Blige. He helped write and produce Ms. Blige’s 1992 breakout hit “Real Love” and worked on her debut album, “What’s the 411?” He also worked on songs and remixes for Destiny’s Child, Mariah Carey and others.Information about survivors was not immediately available.Later in his career, Mr. Morales was a radio personality at WMIB-FM and WEDR-FM in Miami and on SiriusXM. But he was best known for being one of the Fat Boys when the group’s songs were seemingly everywhere.“I would be walking and all of a sudden I would hear music ricochet off the walls,” the rapper Fat Joe wrote on Instagram, recalling how Fat Boys’ beatboxing — “huh huh huh ha huh” — was “the first song they would play at the block party to summon you to appear.”He called Mr. Morales “a great guy, a legend and pioneer.”AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More

  • in

    Lynn Stalmaster, Hollywood’s ‘Master Caster,’ Dies at 93

    AdvertisementContinue reading the main storySupported byContinue reading the main storyLynn Stalmaster, Hollywood’s ‘Master Caster,’ Dies at 93With his eye for talent, he was a godsend to directors and could make careers. Ask John Travolta, Jeff Bridges, Dustin Hoffman, Geena Davis and many more actors.Lynn Stalmaster collected his honorary Oscar from Jeff Bridges in 2016. He was the first and only casting director, to date, to receive the award. Credit…Chris Pizzello/Invision, via Associated PressFeb. 18, 2021Updated 5:37 p.m. ETLynn Stalmaster, an empathetic and tenacious casting director who altered the careers of hundreds of actors, including John Travolta, Jeff Bridges and Christopher Reeve, and cast hundreds of Hollywood films and television programs, died on Feb 12. at his home in Los Angeles. He was 93.The cause was heart failure, said his son, Lincoln.Billy Wilder, Robert Wise, Hal Ashby, Mike Nichols, Sydney Pollack and Norman Jewison all relied on Mr. Stalmaster’s keen ability to discern the inner life of a character and match it to the thousands of actors who inhabited his mental Rolodex. This alchemical process, as Tom Donahue, the filmmaker behind “Casting By,” a 2012 documentary about the craft, put it, raised Mr. Stalmaster’s work to a high art.“Lynn had a wonderful gift,” said Mr. Jewison, the director and producer of films like “In the Heat of the Night” and “Fiddler on the Roof,” both of which were cast by Mr. Stalmaster. Mr. Jewison was the first filmmaker to give a casting director his own film credit when he had Mr. Stalmaster listed on “The Thomas Crown Affair,” released in 1968.“I was always encouraging him to find offbeat people,” Mr. Jewison said. “For ‘Fiddler on the Roof,’ I had to find actors who could speak Russian. Lynn found them in San Francisco, where there was a big Russian community. None of them were actors. He was so ingenious. And he was very good at reading with actors. He could keep them calm and secure.”Once a shy teenager who had trained as an actor and been in the trenches of auditions in the 1950s, working in television and on radio, Mr. Stalmaster was attuned to the actor’s experience and became a fierce advocate for those he believed in. After meeting an 18-year-old John Travolta, he pushed for him to get the role that eventually went to Randy Quaid in “The Last Detail,” the Hal Ashby film, starring Jack Nicholson, that came out in 1973.It was a dead heat between the actors, Mr. Travolta recalled in a phone interview, but Mr. Quaid’s physical presence was more akin to the character’s, as Mr. Ashby and Mr. Stalmaster told Mr. Travolta in a midnight phone call praising his work.Mr. Stalmaster was behind John Travolta’s star-making turn in the TV show “Welcome Back, Kotter” as the swaggering high school punk manqué Vinnie Barbarino, at right.Credit…ABCAt the time, Mr. Travolta was doing theater and commercials in New York, but Mr. Stalmaster so believed in him that he hounded him for two years. When a role came up for a character on a comedy television pilot set in a Brooklyn high school, Mr. Stalmaster pressed him to turn down a lead part in a Broadway show and return to Los Angeles for an audition.He got the part — what proved to a career-making turn as the swaggering punk manqué Vinnie Barbarino in a show that would find its own place in television history: “Welcome Back, Kotter.”“He was quite determined,” Mr. Travolta said of Mr. Stalmaster. “He did not let them consider anyone else. After ‘The Last Detail,’ he had told me: ‘Do not worry. This will happen.’”Mr. Stalmaster had a hand in countless other careers.He nudged Mike Nichols to cast a young Dustin Hoffman in “The Graduate.” LeVar Burton was in college when Mr. Stalmaster cast him as the lead in what became in 1977 the hit television series “Roots.”Geena Davis had trained as an actress but was working as a model when Mr. Stalmaster cast her in a minor role in “Tootsie,” Sydney Pollack’s 1982 romantic comedy starring Mr. Hoffman. It was her first audition, and the role would be her film debut.After seeing Christopher Reeve in a play with Katharine Hepburn, Mr. Stalmaster suggested him for a small part in “Gray Lady Down” (1978), Mr. Reeve’s first film role, and then successfully lobbied for him to be the lead in “Superman,” released that same year.“Lynn understood the actor’s process and the actor’s plight,” said David Rubin, a fellow casting director and president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. (Mr. Stalmaster was his former boss and mentor.) Mr. Stalmaster’s career, he said, showed that “being a success in Hollywood and being a mensch are not mutually exclusive.”In 2016 Mr. Stalmaster became the first — and so far, only — casting director to receive an honorary Academy Award for his body of work. At the Oscars ceremony, Mr. Bridges recalled how Mr. Stalmaster had jump-started his own career back in the early 1970s. At the time, Mr. Bridges was in his early 20s and trying to figure out if he wanted to make a life in the business when Mr. Stalmaster offered him a part in “The Iceman Cometh,” John Frankenheimer’s 1973 film based on the Eugene O’Neill play.“This is some heavy stuff,” Mr. Bridges remembered thinking, as he told the awards audience. “It scared the hell out of me. I didn’t want to do it, to tell you the truth. I didn’t think I could pull it off.”But he did, and the experience — terrifying but also joyful, he said — made him realize that he could make a life in acting. “Gotta thank you, man,” Mr. Bridges said, nodding to Mr. Stalmaster, “for heading me down that road. Lynn Stalmaster is the Master Caster.”Lynn Arlen Stalmaster was born on Nov. 17, 1927, in Omaha, Neb. His father, Irvin Stalmaster, was a justice of the Nebraska Supreme Court; his mother, Estelle (Lapidus) Stalmaster, was a homemaker. Lynn had severe asthma, and when he was 12 the family moved to Los Angeles for its temperate climate.He became interested in theater and radio as a student at Beverly Hills High School, and, after serving in the Army, earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television in Los Angeles.Mr. Stalmaster in the late 1970s. He was attuned to the actor’s experience and a fierce advocate for those he believed in.Credit…Tony Korody/Sygma, via Getty ImagesMr. Stalmaster had roles in a few films, including “Flying Leathernecks,” a 1951 John Wayne picture, and a day job as a production assistant to Gross-Krasne, a company that in the early 1950s made films for television. When its casting director retired, he was promoted to the job and soon opened his own agency.“I would spend the days meeting new actors, all these great new talents,” he said in “Casting By,” the documentary. He was working on “Gunsmoke” and other hit television shows in 1956 when Robert Wise, the director who would make “West Side Story” and “The Sound of Music,” asked him to cast “I Want to Live,” the 1958 film starring Susan Hayward based on the story of Barbara Graham, a prostitute sentenced to death row.Mr. Wise wanted actors who looked like the actual characters in Graham’s life. It was Mr. Stalmaster’s big break, he recalled, as he found new faces to round out the cast, giving the movie “a verisimilitude, the truth” the director wanted to achieve.His marriage to Lea Alexander ended in divorce, as did an early, brief marriage. In addition to his son, Lincoln, Mr. Stalmaster is survived by his daughter, Lara Beebower; two grandchildren; and his brother, Hal.Mr. Stalmaster’s kindness was as much an element of his art as his matchmaking abilities, Mr. Rubin said. But he was no pushover, and he was enormously persuasive, “firm in his creative point of view,” Mr. Rubin said, “but extremely skillful at convincing others that it was actually their idea.”AdvertisementContinue reading the main story More