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    Louise Tobin, Jazz Vocalist Who Put Her Career on Hold, Dies at 104

    She stopped performing to raise children, at the request of her first husband, the bandleader Harry James. After remarrying, she resumed singing decades later.With the big band era in full swing in 1939, Louise Tobin, a jazz vocalist with Benny Goodman’s orchestra, was on the cusp of nationwide fame. But she soon put her career on hold at the request of her husband, the trumpeter and bandleader Harry James.Mr. James had begun touring with his own band, leaving Ms. Tobin to care for their two sons, Harry Jr. and Tim. And after the couple divorced in 1943, Ms. Tobin devoted herself to raising them for the next 20 years or so.Over time her melodic voice was largely forgotten — until she was invited onstage for an impromptu performance at a New Orleans nightclub in the late 1950s.A recording of that appearance helped jump-start her career, and she soon joined the band of Michael (Peanuts) Hucko, a clarinetist and bandleader. The two became an item, and married in 1967.Ms. Tobin, who spent the next decades traveling the world and making music with Mr. Hucko, died on Saturday at the home of a granddaughter in Carrollton, Texas, her son Harry said. She was 104.The newspapers of her day often compared Ms. Tobin’s warm voice to that of a young Ella Fitzgerald. She became a professional singer as a teenager, after winning a radio talent contest in Dallas in 1932. She was the fourth youngest of 11 siblings, and she eagerly left behind household chores to tour the state with different jazz ensembles.“I was thrilled,” she told The Dallas Morning News in 2010. “My fulfillment was not to have to wash dishes.”In 1934, she joined a local big band, where she met Mr. James, who played first trumpet. They eloped in 1935, shortly after the orchestra split up, and traveled around the country looking for work.By 1937, Mr. James had joined Benny Goodman and His Orchestra, and in 1939 he left to start his own band, which endured for four decades and was the first orchestra to employ Frank Sinatra.By Ms. Tobin’s account, she heard the young Sinatra sing on a local radio show and suggested that Mr. James visit him at the New Jersey restaurant where Sinatra worked as a singing waiter.Ms. Tobin was performing in New York at the time, and she joined Mr. Goodman’s band after a talent scout saw her perform in a Greenwich Village nightclub.She released hit records with Mr. Goodman’s orchestra, like a rendition of “There’ll Be Some Changes Made,” which became one of the most popular songs in the country. But as her career gained momentum, so did that of Mr. James, who became one of the most popular bandleaders of the swing era: In 1942, Columbia Records attributed a shortage of shellac to demand for his records.“We were more trying to establish Harry than we were trying to establish me,” Ms. Tobin said in 2010. “I didn’t juggle it very well.”Mr. James’s success kept him on the road, where he was surrounded by temptation. Shortly after he and Ms. Tobin divorced in 1943, he married the actress Betty Grable.Ms. Tobin was still popular when she quit Mr. Goodman’s band in the early 1940s and returned to Texas with her sons, but music became an afterthought as she raised them. She stayed out of the spotlight until after they had graduated from high school, when she went to see the Dixieland trumpeter Al Hirt play in New Orleans.Mr. Hirt recognized Ms. Tobin and asked her to sing with the band. A recording of the show made its way to the jazz critic and producer George Simon, who asked her to record more songs and sing at jazz festivals.Ms. Tobin was reluctant, but Mr. Simon persuaded her to sing at smaller venues in New York until she felt up to performing before a large audience. In time her confidence returned, and she gave a stirring performance at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1962.The jazz clarinetist Peanuts Hucko and Ms. Tobin at their wedding in 1967 in Littleton, Colo. He became her most enduring collaborator.Steve Larson/The Denver Post, via Getty ImagesWhile she rebuilt her career, Ms. Tobin began singing with Mr. Hucko’s ensemble. Mr. Hucko, who was best known for his stints alongside Louis Armstrong and Glenn Miller and his appearances on Lawrence Welk’s television show, became her most enduring collaborator.After their marriage, they owned and ran a jazz club in Colorado, recorded tribute albums to Mr. Goodman and Mr. Armstrong and toured in Europe, Japan and Australia, where they performed for Prince Charles and Princess Diana. They often sang duets onstage, including a version of “When You’re Smiling,” which was on the 1992 album “Swing That Music,” their final studio recording together.Mr. Hucko died in 2003, after which Ms. Tobin retired.Mary Louise Tobin was born on Nov. 11, 1918, in Aubrey, Texas, north of Dallas, and grew up nearby in Denton. Her father, Hugh, died in a fuel truck crash when she was young, and her oldest brother, Ray, opened a drugstore to help support the family. The children often sang together, but Ms. Tobin was the only one who became a professional singer.She went on the road before completing high school, first traveling with an older sister as a chaperone. Her family was initially shocked by her marriage to Mr. James, but in time they accepted him.After their divorce, Ms. Tobin lived on alimony and what she earned from the occasional show or recording. But she spent most of her time caring for her two sons, including during a worrisome time. Mr. James had received threats that his children could be kidnapped, prompting Ms. Tobin to stay on the move. She lived with her boys in California for a time and enrolled them in military school. She spent two years traveling with them to places like Hawaii, India and Egypt.In addition to her sons she is survived by many grandchildren, great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren.In interviews, Ms. Tobin expressed little regret about her interrupted career and often said that she felt grateful that she had a part in big band jazz at the height of its popularity.“I feel like that was a real era of contribution to the culture of the world,” she said.Jack Kadden contributed reporting. More

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    Irene Cara, ‘Fame’ and ‘Flashdance’ Singer, Dies at 63

    Ms. Cara was a child star from the Bronx who gained international fame as the singer of major pop anthems from movies of the 1980s.Irene Cara, the Academy Award-winning singer who performed the electric title tracks in two aspirational self-expression movies of the 1980s, “Flashdance” and “Fame,” has died. She was 63.Her death at her Florida home was confirmed by her publicist, Judith A. Moose, on Twitter on Saturday. Ms. Moose, who did not specify when Ms. Cara died, said her cause of death was “currently unknown and will be released when information is available.”Ms. Cara, a child actor, dancer and singer, was the voice behind two of the biggest movie theme songs of the 1980s. She performed the title track from the movie “Fame” (1980), which followed a group of artsy high school students as they move through their first auditions to graduation.In 1984, she won the Oscar for best original song as one of the writers of “Flashdance … What a Feeling,” the title song from “Flashdance,” which she also sang. The buoyant song also earned Ms. Cara a Grammy Award in 1984 for best pop vocal performance, female, and a Golden Globe for best original song. The movie, like “Fame,” chronicled the aspirations of a young person seeking to express themselves through art, in this case, dance.Ms. Cara was born Irene Escalera on March 18, 1959, in the Bronx. She repeatedly disputed reports about her birth year, at times describing it as in 1964. Her official Twitter account says she was born in 1962. Her mother told The New York Times in 1970 that a young Ms. Cara, already a busy performer, was 11 years old.Her mother, Louise Escalera, was a cashier and her father, Gaspar Escalera, was a musician and worked at a steel factory. Details on Ms. Cara’s survivors were not immediately available.Ms. Cara grew up in New York City and attended music, acting and dance classes as a child and was said to be able to play the piano by ear at age five. She attended the Professional Children’s School in Manhattan, a school for child performers and children studying the arts.As a child, she sang and danced on Spanish-language television. At 13, she was a regular on “The Electric Company,” a children’s show from the 1970s. She was also a member of its band, the Short Circus.She stayed busy, taking roles in theater, television and film, including the title role in “Sparkle,” a 1976 film about a family of female singers in the 1960s that was remade in 2012.Her breakout role was in the movie musical “Fame,” where she played Coco Hernandez, a student at a school modeled after the high school now known as Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts. On the film’s soundtrack, Ms. Cara sang the title track, “Fame,” and another single, the ballad “Out Here on My Own.”Both songs were nominated for an Oscar in 1981. The film was nominated for several awards and “Fame” won for both best original song and score.She continued to act and make music into the 1990s, when she was embroiled in a legal battle with her record company over her earnings. She was awarded $1.5 million by a California jury in 1993 but Ms. Cara said she was “virtually blacklisted” by the music industry because of the dispute, People magazine reported in 2001.In recent years, she shared songs from her catalog, including some that had not been released, on her podcast, “The Back Story.”In an episode from July 2019, she spoke about her ballad “As Long as it Lasts,” and said it had similar qualities to “Out Here on My Own,” and explained why she connected to both songs.“Very naked, just vocal and piano and a great lyric and a great story within the lyric, those are the kinds of songs I relate to as a songwriter,” Ms. Cara said. More

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    ‘Gangnam Style’ Brought K-Pop to the World, but Haunted Its Creator

    In 2012, the song took over the internet, and it helped pave the way for the global success of Korean pop. But Psy, the artist behind it, spent years trying and failing to replicate the phenomenon.SEOUL — He may not look it, in a spiffy double-breasted suit and a coiffure secured with enough hair gel to reflect the ceiling lights, but the 45-year-old music executive confides a secret as he rubs his temples: He’s hung over.But he doesn’t mind nursing this headache, at well past 2 p.m. on a Thursday in Seoul. Some of his best songwriting ideas come to him, he said, in the malaise that follows a night of hard drinking.The man doing the creative suffering is Psy, the onetime global internet sensation whose 2012 viral music video and earworm of a song, “Gangnam Style,” became the first-ever YouTube offering to surpass one billion views and had the world galloping along with him.The outlandish but irresistibly catchy song and accompanying video — which has Psy doing the tune’s signature horseback dance move in and around Gangnam, an upscale Seoul neighborhood — achieved the breakthrough, worldwide success that had mostly eluded Korean pop acts, or K-pop, before then.The video, which now has some 4.6 billion views, was so culturally pervasive in 2012 that Barack Obama was asked about it on Election Day. NASA astronauts recorded a parody, and a North Korean state propaganda site evoked the dance move to mock a South Korean politician. But for several years in the aftermath of all his viral fame, Psy said, the song’s success haunted him. Even as he was thrust overnight into a Hollywood existence, getting chased around New York City by paparazzi, signing with Justin Bieber’s manager and releasing a single with Snoop Dogg, internally he felt the pressure mounting for another hit.Psy performing “Gangnam Style” live on NBC’s “Today” show in New York, in 2012. At the time, the video for the song had more than 200 million YouTube views; it now has more than 4.6 billion.Jason Decrow/Invision, via Associated Press“Let’s make just one more,” he says he kept telling himself.He moved to Los Angeles in an effort to get a global career going in earnest, an ocean away from his native South Korea, where he was both a fixture of the music charts and a source of comic relief on silly television variety shows. But none of the attempts came close to replicating the formula that made “Gangnam Style” a global success.Psy wasn’t alone in trying to figure out how to reproduce the phenomenon. In South Korea, not only the music industry but government officials and economists, too, were studying just what it was about the tune, the lyrics, the video, the dancing or the man that had vaulted the song to such singular levels of ubiquity.And in the decade since the song and video first put South Korea’s pop music on the map for many around the world, K-pop has become a cultural juggernaut, expanding out from markets in East and Southeast Asia to permeate all corners of the world.Artists like BTS and Blackpink command devoted fans numbering in the tens of millions, and the bands wield an economic impact that rivals a small nation’s G.D.P. The fervor has spilled over beyond music into politics, education and even Broadway.Some say Psy deserves much of the credit.“Psy single-handedly placed K-pop on a different level,” said Kim Young-dae, a music critic who has written extensively about the industry. The song was a “game changer” for the Korean music scene and paved the way for the groundswell of interest and commercial success that the South Korean stars who came after him experienced, Mr. Kim said.Now, 10 years on from his lightning-in-a-bottle moment, Psy, whose real name is Park Jae-sang, is back home in South Korea, where he has started his own music label and management company and is trying to recreate the magic with the next generation of K-pop talent as one of the industry’s tastemakers.“Let’s make just one more,” Psy said he kept telling himself after “Gangnam Style” became a phenomenon.Chang W. Lee/The New York Times“One of the things I love most about this job is that it’s unpredictable. We say among ourselves we’re in the ‘lid business’ — because you don’t know what you’ve got until you open it,” Psy said in an interview at the offices of his music label headquartered in — where else? — the Gangnam neighborhood of Seoul. “You don’t know which cloud will bring the rain.” With 10 artists under his wing, including a newly minted six-member boy band, TNX, Psy says he feels immensely more pressure shaping and stewarding other people’s careers compared to when he was responsible for his alone.And while he can give his budding stars advice based on decades of industry experience, what he can’t do is offer them surefire instructions on making a hit record.For all the years he has spent thinking and talking about “Gangnam Style,” he remains just as mystified as anyone by its success.“The songs are written by the same person, the dance moves are by the same person and they’re performed by the same person. Everything’s the same, but what was so special about that one song?” Psy said. “I still don’t know, to this day.”Psy performing on the grounds of Korea University in Seoul in May.Anthony Wallace/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesIn global terms, Psy and his “Gangnam Style” are the epitome of a one-hit wonder. But in South Korea, he had been well-known as a rapper and musician for a decade before, carving out a path that differed from many of his fellow performers, in that he didn’t count on a boost from his physical appearance or shy away from courting controversy.He never had the chiseled look sought after in South Korea’s pop music industry, and from the release of his first album in 2001, he became notorious for his blunt, profane and at times ribald lyrics. “I Love Sex” was one of the tracks on his debut album, “Psy from the Psycho World!” which was slapped with a ban on sale to minors at the urging of the country’s Christian Ethics Movement.Despite — or perhaps because of — his unapologetic, iconoclastic ways, over the past two decades at home in South Korea, the college dropout has consistently logged chart toppers, best-selling albums and sold-out concerts.“It’s kinda sorta ironic he became so iconic — he went from being occasionally censored to widely celebrated,” said Bernie Cho, president of DFSB Kollective, a Seoul-based creative services agency that offers marketing and distribution solutions to Korean music artists and their labels. “He irreverently winked his way from being the bad boy of K-pop to the golden boy of K-pop.”For a pop song, “Gangnam Style” also unleashed an avalanche of deep think pieces and analyses on the various aspects of South Korea and Seoul it was said to be lampooning: the hypocrisy of the nouveau riche, the superficiality of its social standards and the inequality exemplified by the opulent Gangnam neighborhood.Psy insists the song never intended to deliver any profound social commentary — he was just looking to give people a few minutes of mindless hilarity and a reprieve from reality.If anything, he said, he was poking fun at himself, because he doesn’t aesthetically fit the bill of a posh Gangnam local.A decade on from his lightning-in-a-bottle moment, Psy has started a music label and talent management company. Chang W. Lee/The New York Times“It’s funny because someone who doesn’t look like he’s ‘Gangnam style’ says he is,” he said.Initially targeted for development in the 1970s to expand Seoul south of the Han River, Gangnam has became a coveted address where many of the capital’s wealthy congregate and the best schools are concentrated, an educational disparity likely to ensure that the inequalities symbolized by the neighborhood continue into the next generation.In the years since Psy made Gangnam a globally recognized, if oft-mispronounced, proper noun (“Gang” sounds closest to the latter half of Hong Kong; “nam” like Vietnam), the neighborhood has gotten ever more unattainable for the average South Korean. Nowhere have runaway real estate prices risen as steeply as in the Gangnam area.“If you say you live in Gangnam, people look at you differently,” said Jin Hee-seon, a former vice mayor of Seoul and professor of urban planning at Yonsei University. “It’s an object of desire and envy.”Psy, raised in the greater Gangnam area in a family running a semiconductor business, now lives north of the river with his wife and twin daughters and says he spends little time thinking about the place.A bronze sculpture in Gangnam by the artist Hwang Man-seok, modeled after the signature “Gangnam Style” horse-riding hand motion.Anthony Wallace/Agence France-Presse — Getty ImagesWhat he has recently returned to is his signature live performances.His concerts are legendary in South Korea for raucous good fun. His music — loud and energetic — is often accompanied by dance moves just as outrageous, requiring him to jump, kick and wave his arms wildly in the air. During his six-city tour this year, his first since the pandemic, he said he was surprised to find his joints and limbs as nimble as ever in middle age.In his latest album released this April, his ninth, he collaborated with the rapper Suga of BTS on a single titled “That That.” In the music video, Suga comically duels — and kills — the blue tuxedo-wearing Psy of the 2012 video. (That video has accrued 369 million views.)As for the chase of global fame that once drove him nearly mad, he says he’s made his peace with its absence.“If another good song comes along and if that thing happens again, great. If not, so be it,” he said. “For now, I’ll do what I do in my rightful place.” More