Wednesday Open Thread | Classics Week : Billy Eckstine

Today’s Classic is Billy Eckstine.

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William Clarence Eckstine (July 8, 1914 – March 8, 1993)[1] was an American singer of ballads and a bandleader of the swing era. Eckstine’s smooth baritone and distinctive vibrato broke down barriers throughout the 1940s, first as leader of the original bop big-band, then as the first romantic black male in popular music. Eckstine’s recording of “I Apologize” (MGM, 1948) was awarded the Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 1999.


Eckstine’s paternal grandparents were William F. Eckstein and Nannie Eckstein, a mixed-race, lawfully married couple who lived in Washington, D.C.; both were born in 1863. William F. was born in Prussia and Nannie in Virginia. His parents were William Eckstein, a chauffeur, and Charlotte Eckstein. Eckstine was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; a State Historical Marker is placed at 5913 Bryant St, Highland Park, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to mark the house where he grew up.[2] Later moving to Washington, D.C., Eckstine began singing at the age of seven and entered many amateur talent shows. He attended Armstrong High School, St. Paul Normal and Industrial School, and Howard University.[3] He left Howard in 1933, after winning first place in an amateur talent contest.[4] He married his first wife, June, in 1942; she too was a vocalist. After their divorce he married actress and model Carolle Drake in 1953, and they remained married until his death. He was the father of five children and two step-children, including Ed Eckstine, who was a president of Mercury Records, Guy Eckstine, who was a Columbia and Verve Records A&R executive and record producer, and singer Gina Eckstine.[3]

An influence looming large in the cultural development of soul and R&B singers from Sam Cooke to Prince, Eckstine was able to play it straight on his pop hits “Prisoner of Love”, “My Foolish Heart” and “I Apologize”. He had originally planned on a football career, but after breaking his collar bone he made music his focus. After working his way west to Chicago, Eckstine joined Earl Hines’ Grand Terrace Orchestra in 1939, staying with the band as vocalist and, occasionally, trumpeter, until 1943. By that time, he had begun to make a name for himself through the Hines band’s radio shows with such juke-box hits as “Stormy Monday Blues” and his own “Jelly Jelly.”

In 1944, Eckstine formed his own big band and made it a fountainhead for young musicians who would reshape jazz by the end of the decade, including Dizzy Gillespie, Dexter Gordon, Miles Davis, Art Blakey, Charlie Parker, and Fats Navarro. Tadd Dameron and Gil Fuller were among the band’s arrangers, and Sarah Vaughan gave the vocals a contemporary air. The Billy Eckstine Orchestra was the first bop big-band, and its leader reflected bop innovations by stretching his vocal harmonics into his normal ballads. Despite the group’s modernist slant, Eckstine hit the charts often during the mid-1940s, with Top Ten entries including “A Cottage for Sale” and “Prisoner of Love”. On the group’s frequent European and American tours, Eckstine, popularly known as Mr. B, also played trumpet, valve trombone and guitar.

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Dizzy Gillespie, in reflecting on the band in his 1979 autobiography To Be or Not to Bop, gives this perspective: “There was no band that sounded like Billy Eckstine’s. Our attack was strong, and we were playing bebop, the modern style. No other band like this one existed in the world.”

After a few years of touring with road-hardened be-boppers, Eckstine became a solo performer in 1947, and seamlessly made the transition to string-filled balladry. He recorded more than a dozen hits during the late 1940s, including “My Foolish Heart” and “I Apologize.” He was one of the first artists to sign with the newly-established MGM Records, and had immediate hits with revivals of “Everything I Have Is Yours” (1947), Richard Rodgers’ and Lorenz Hart’s “Blue Moon” (1948), and Juan Tizol’s “Caravan” (1949).

Eckstine had further success in 1950 with Victor Young’s theme song to “My Foolish Heart” and a revival of the 1931 Bing Crosby hit, “I Apologize”. However, unlike Nat “King” Cole (who followed him into the pop charts), Eckstine’s singing, especially his exaggerated vibrato, sounded increasingly mannered and he was unable to sustain his recording success throughout the decade.[citation needed]

While enjoying success in the middle-of-the-road and pop fields, Eckstine occasionally returned to his jazz roots, recording with Vaughan, Count Basie and Quincy Jones for separate LPs, and he regularly topped the Metronome and Down Beat polls in the Top Male Vocalist category: He won Esquire magazine’s New Star Award in 1946; the Down Beat magazine Readers Polls from 1948 to 1952; and the Metronome magazine award as “Top Male Vocalist” from 1949 to 1954.

His 1950 appearance at the Paramount Theatre in New York City drew a larger audience than Frank Sinatra at his Paramount performance.

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Among Eckstine’s recordings of the 1950s was a 1957 duet with Sarah Vaughan, “Passing Strangers”, a minor hit in 1957, but an initial No. 22 success in the UK Singles Chart.[1] Even before folding his band, Eckstine had recorded solo to support it, scoring two million-sellers in 1945 with “Cottage for Sale” and a revival of “Prisoner of Love”. Far more successful than his band recordings, these prefigured Eckstine’s future career.

The 1960 Las Vegas live album, No Cover, No Minimum, featured Eckstine taking a few trumpet solos as well. He recorded several albums for Mercury and Roulette during the early 1960s, and he appeared on Motown for a few standards albums during the mid to late 1960s. After recording sparingly during the 1970s for Al Bell’s Stax/Enterprise imprint, Eckstine (although still performing to adoring audiences throughout the world) made his last recording, the Grammy-nominated Billy Eckstine Sings with Benny Carter in 1986.

Eckstine made numerous appearances on television variety shows, including on The Ed Sullivan Show, The Nat King Cole Show, The Tonight Show with Steve Allen, Jack Paar, and Johnny Carson, The Merv Griffin Show, The Art Linkletter Show, The Joey Bishop Show, The Dean Martin Show, The Flip Wilson Show, and Playboy After Dark. He also performed as an actor in the TV sitcom Sanford and Son, and in such films as Skirts Ahoy, Let’s Do It Again, and Jo Jo Dancer

Eckstine was a style leader and noted sharp dresser. He designed and patented a high roll collar that formed a “B” over a Windsor-knotted tie, which became known as a “Mr. B. Collar”. In addition to looking cool, the collar could expand and contract without popping open, which allowed his neck to swell while playing his horns.[citation needed] The collars were worn by many a hipster in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Legend has it that his refined appearance even had an effect on trumpeter Miles Davis. Once, when Eckstine came across a disheveled Davis in the depths of his heroin excess, his remark “Looking sharp, Miles” served as a wake-up call for Davis, who promptly returned to his father’s farm in the winter of 1953 and finally kicked the habit.[5]

In 1984 Eckstine recorded his final album, I Am a Singer, arranged and conducted by Angelo DiPippo and featuring Toots Thielemans on harmonica. He died on March 8, 1993, aged 78.

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If they ever do a movie on Billy Eckstine, I don’t know if he can sing, but I think Terrence Howard should be cast.

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28 Responses to Wednesday Open Thread | Classics Week : Billy Eckstine

  1. rikyrah says:

    Charlton Jimerson ‏@cjimerson2530 Jul
    Johnny #Manziel ate #skittles, drank beer, won the #heisman. Trayvon #Martin ate skittles, drank ice tea, got murdered. #Truth

  2. rikyrah says:

    Claire Huxtable is my hero!

  3. rikyrah says:

    Washington Post ‏@washingtonpost7m
    With the Senate’s approval, B. Todd Jones becomes the ATF’s first permanent director since 2006

  4. Eagles receiver Riley Cooper uses racial slur at a Kenny Chesney concert

    Riley Cooper: “I will jump that fence and fight every nigger here.”

  5. Live streaming now!

    President Obama Honors 2013 NCAA Women’s Basketball Champion UConn Huskies.

  6. Billy Eckstine = handsome! The eyes! The eyes!

  7. rikyrah says:

    Obama’s Martha’s Vineyard Vacation Costs Less Than One Bush Flight To Crawford

    The right is freaking out because Obama is staying in a $345 a night room during his August Martha’s Vineyard summer vacation, but Bush spent more on one flight to Crawford than Obama’s hotel costs.

    The Blaze titled their story, “OBAMA PLAN $7.6 MILLION MARTHA’S VINEYARD VACATION.” Gasp, the president is spending $7.6 million on his summer vacation. Cue, the outrage. How dare he waste taxpayer money on such luxury? At least, this is the emotional response that Republicans and the right wing media are hoping for.

    What Republicans and their media are conveniently leaving out is that President Obama isn’t spending $7.6 million on his vacation. The president is staying at a $7.6 million resort.


    et’s do a little quick math on Obama’s “$7.6 million” summer vacation.

    Nightly room cost: $345

    Estimated Number of Nights Stayed: 7

    Total Cost of Obama’s Room: $2,415

    Number of Rooms Reserved: 75

    Room Cost For Obama’s $7.6 million Vacation: $181,125

    In previous years, President Obama has stayed at a private residence in Martha’s Vineyard, but that option was not available to the president this time, so he is staying at a resort. $345/night doesn’t seem particularly extravagant for the President of the United States. They will need lots of rooms for Secret Service and security, plus transportation, food, and wages, but the total cost will not be $7.6 million.

    Republicans argue that Bush’s vacations were cheaper because many of them were taken at his ranch in Crawford, TX, but this is not true. President Bush spent more taxpayer money on a single flight to Crawford ($805,000) than Obama will be spending on 70 hotel rooms for a week ($181,125). The flight from the White House to Crawford is 1,435.8 miles each way. The distance from the White House to Martha’s Vineyard is 494.8 miles. The flight to Martha’s Vineyard is 75 minutes. The cost of Obama’s flight should be $214,000 each way. What Bush may have gained by owning the ranch was offset by the fact that his flight was three times longer. Obama’s hotel and flight still cost a little less than half as much as one Bush flight to Crawford.

    President Bush also inflated his vacation costs, because he rarely just flew to Crawford and back. The Bush administration tried to combat criticism of the then president’s constant vacationing, by setting up a series of day trips on each vacation. President Bush’s “working vacations” cost taxpayers a small fortune, because he used Air Force One as his personal taxi service to make trips all across the country, and returned to Crawford at night.

  8. rikyrah says:

    Reality gets in the way of far-right shutdown scheme
    By Steve Benen

    Wed Jul 31, 2013 8:00 AM EDT

    As a large group of Republicans push for a government shutdown over the Affordable Care Act, Norm Ornstein offered some compelling context. “You could say it’s a do-nothing Congress but that doesn’t do justice to it,” he said. “These guys are doing something, which is to destroy the economic fabric of the country by holding the functions of government hostage to a non-negotiable demand to eliminate Obamacare.”

    That’s plainly true, though Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), arguably the main ringleader of the scheme, apparently believes destroying the economic fabric of the country by holding the functions of government hostage to a non-negotiable demand to eliminate Obamacare is a fine idea. As Sarah Kliff reported, however, there is a flaw in the right-wing premise.

    [L]et’s make the relatively bulletproof assumption that the White House isn’t on board with defunding Obamacare. The shutdown happens. And Obamacare implementation … well, it continues.

    That’s according to a new Congressional Research Service report, requested by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and flagged by Post Politics’ Rachel Weiner.

    This is no small revelation. For Cruz and his far-right allies, it’s now or never — either they fight tooth and nail to deny federal funding for the Affordable Care Act, or it’s implemented, Americans start receiving benefits, and turning back the clock will be largely impossible. If that means shutting down the government until they get their way, so be it. The key is to stop implementation, no matter the cost.

    But Coburn, himself a far-right red-state senator, asked the non-partisan Congressional Research Service to investigate, and the CRS found that Cruz and other shutdown proponents haven’t quite done their homework. A government shutdown would matter, but it wouldn’t stop Obamacare’s implementation.

  9. rikyrah says:

    The conservative (led) boycott of (some) health insurance

    By Jonathan Bernstein, Published: July 30 at 4:46 pm

    You know, it’s one thing to oppose a policy; that, of course, is perfectly legitimate. It’s another to undermine it’s implementation by using whatever legislative or legal maneuvers are available to keep it from working, even if it imposes widespread costs in the meantime. Oh, and it’s even worse to do that when you have no alternative policy.

    But now, the latest. As discussed last week, conservatives are now trying to talk people out of signing up for insurance through the exchanges. Kevin Drum:

    Lovely. This doesn’t come as a surprise anymore, since [conservative talk show host Twila] Brase is hardly the first conservative to do this, but it’s still a remarkable display of spite and meanspiritedness. Conservatives are just hellbent on trying to keep poor people from getting decent health coverage. The right-wing intelligentsia can claim otherwise, but the plain truth is that no one in the actual governing wing of the Republican Party wants to replace Obamacare with anything else. They just want to repeal it, full stop. For some reason, the mere idea of poor and working-class people getting medical care with taxpayer help drives them into conniptions.

    We can try to think this through a bit. We actually can put a label on what’s happening here; conservatives are trying to organize a boycott of Obamacare. Note that boycotts are not about convincing people that they won’t be getting good value if they purchase a product; instead, boycotts are about putting pressure on those offering the product for sale, even at the cost to the consumer of passing up something she would ordinarily be happy to purchase.

    Except … that’s not what’s actually going on here, is it? After all, it’s not just the exchanges which are governed by the Affordable Care Act. It’s true that the exchanges are the most visible part of the law, but ACA radically changes the regulation regime of all private health insurance, as well as making significant changes in Medicare and Medicaid. Boycotting ACA at this point really means boycotting all health insurance.

    So that’s my question: Are those conservatives who are urging people to boycott health insurance actually practicing what they preach? Have they dropped their health insurance, too?

  10. rikyrah says:

    ATF finally poised to move forward with real leadership
    By Steve Benen

    Wed Jul 31, 2013 8:41 AM EDT

    Ask conservative opponents of gun reforms what they’d like to see from law enforcement, and you’ll probably get a predictable answer: we should enforce the gun laws we already have, not approve new ones. For the last several years, however, that’s been easier said than done.

    Enforcement of existing gun laws generally falls under the purview of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), which has lacked a permanent, Senate-confirmed leader for the last seven years, thanks to opposition from Republicans and the National Rifle Association, both of which have reflexively balked at the very idea of an ATF chief.

    With this in mind, we may be poised for a breakthrough this week.

    NRA director of public affairs Andrew Arulanandam on Tuesday confirmed the organization of 4-milion-plus members would neither fight the nomination of Todd Jones nor support it. He declined to discuss why the NRA, a longtime foe of ATF, decided not to oppose Jones.

    The NRA decision clears the way for senators from pro-gun states — Democrats as well as at least some Republicans — to vote for Jones without fear of political repercussions.

    Jones’ nomination may reach the Senate floor as early as today, and his odds of success are clearly better now thanks to the NRA’s neutrality. That said, Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) continues to rail against the nominee, and yet another filibuster remains a possibility.

    If Jones is considered on the merits, however, Senate support should be pretty easy — he’s already serving as the acting ATF director, splitting his time while also serving as a U.S. Attorney, and he’s done well reforming the ATF, getting the agency back on track after the “Fast and Furious” controversy. The nominee has also received extensive support from the law enforcement community.

    If confirmed, Jones would be the first ATF chief since 2006 — the point at which Congress, at the NRA’s behest, changed the law to make the post that requires Senate approval.

  11. rikyrah says:

    July 30, 2013 1:04 PM
    Thumb on the Scales

    By Ed Kilgore

    So do you wonder why many supporters of traditional public education view charter public schools as dimly as private schools receiving publicly financed vouchers? It’s crap like this, via AP’s Tom LoBianco:

    Former Indiana and current Florida schools chief Tony Bennett built his national star by promising to hold “failing” schools accountable. But when it appeared an Indianapolis charter school run by a prominent Republican donor might receive a poor grade, Bennett’s education team frantically overhauled his signature “A-F” school grading system to improve the school’s marks.

    Emails obtained by The Associated Press show Bennett and his staff scrambled last fall to ensure influential donor Christel DeHaan’s school received an “A,” despite poor test scores in algebra that initially earned it a “C.”

    “They need to understand that anything less than an A for Christel House compromises all of our accountability work,” Bennett wrote in a Sept. 12 email to then-chief of staff Heather Neal, who is now Gov. Mike Pence’s chief lobbyist.

    The emails, which also show Bennett discussed with staff the legality of changing just DeHaan’s grade, raise unsettling questions about the validity of a grading system that has broad implications. Indiana uses the A-F grades to determine which schools get taken over by the state and whether students seeking state-funded vouchers to attend private school need to first spend a year in public school. They also help determine how much state funding schools receive.

    This makes me angry. The whole point of a “charter” public school is strict accountability for results. A “charter” is nothing other than a performance contract. If, as Bennett now claims, the bad grade for his pet school illustrated problems with the scoring system, it should have been discussed publicly after the results were released.

    I’m a long-time supporter of public school choice (and a bitter, last-ditch opponent of vouchers). But it’s getting to the point where you have to put “charter” in quotations when you are talking about some of these schools, particularly in states where the underlying commitment to public education is lacking

  12. rikyrah says:

    Next GOP Pariah? Catholics

    by BooMan
    Tue Jul 30th, 2013 at 09:31:10 AM EST
    I think it is a safe bet that if Pope Francis I lives more than a few years that Catholics will soon be kicked out of the Republican Party and resume their previous status as the semi-black race. The reason is simple. Pope Francis I is on the opposite side of the political divide from Pope John Paul II. The Polish pope was a Cold Warrior who basically took the Reagan-Thatcher line on left-leaning political movements in the Third World, including in Latin America. The Argentinian Jesuit pope isn’t a communist, but he advocates for the poor without any apology.

    For now, conservative American Catholics are trying to parse the distinction, but it isn’t going to work. They are not going to be able to embrace The Slum Pope who wants to “make a mess” of the established order within the Church by encouraging young people to shake up the dioceses and force them to embrace the convicts, drug addicts, and the truly impoverished.

    Our country is uniquely unable to appreciate this change specifically because our right wing succeeded in categorizing the left in the Third World (and, to an extent, even in Europe) as communist in sympathy. The right assumes that the Vatican is an ally in all things, but that is no longer even close to being the case. On so-called family values, the papacy is still reliably conservative, even if it can’t be counted on anymore to demonize homosexuality. But on economic issues, the papacy is now a dedicated enemy of the Republican Party.

    Before long, the right will have no choice but to break from the pope, and then their opposition will grow to a point that the alliance between Catholics and evangelicals will not hold.

  13. rikyrah says:

    Michael Eric Dyson Rips Into Don Lemon, O’Reilly: What About ‘Pathology At Heart Of The White Family?’
    by Noah Rothman | 5:15 pm, July 30th, 2013

    Georgetown University Professor Michael Eric Dyson tore into CNN anchor Don Lemon and Fox News Channel host Bill O’Reilly’s on Tuesday during an appearance with MSNBC host Martin Bashir over their recent criticisms of the fracturing of the nuclear family in the black community. Dyson assailed the political commentators for underplaying the “crass materialism” and drug abuse that typify “the pathology at the heart of the white family.”

    “Don Lemon is a friend of mine, but on then score I think that Mr. Lemon has missed the boat,” Dyson began. “The reality is we can’t blame the victims.”

    “We can’t blame people who are victimized by a vicious attitude that profiles them,” he continued.

    “Bill O’Reilly has advanced no profound commitment to or sympathy for African-American people,” Dyson added. “He’s constantly lecturing us from his bastardized podium where he condescendingly throws out nuggets of wisdom to us without understanding the existential and moral crisis that attend the kind of victimization of black people.”

    RELATED: Don Lemon Defends ‘Controversial’ Comments On The View: ‘That’s Advice My Mother Gave Me In Kindergarten’

    The Georgetown professor said he went to see a film which highlighted the primarily white culture around the use and sale of methamphetamines.

    “Are we going to say white culture is pathologized because it refuses to take care of its children?” Dyson asked hypothetically. “Its kids are going to hell in a hand basket because they are on meth and they don’t care about the fundamental structure of the family?”

    “We can indict the white family,” he continued. “There’s a lot of negativity, there’s a lot of dismissiveness, there’s a lot of crass materialism that refuses to care for the other.”

    We can talk about the pathology at the heart of the white family. What we need to do is speak about common goals of making sure our children are protected and focus on African-American vulnerability that, by the way, Mr. O’Reilly refuses to acknowledge is deeply rooted in the vicious and systemic denial of opportunity to African-American people.

  14. rikyrah says:

    Good Morning, Everyone :)

  15. Yahtc says:

    Thank you so much, rikyrah, for bringing these classic performers to us!

    I am enjoying all of your music articles.

  16. Yahtc says:

    Good morning one and all!

    May your day be wonderful!

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