Search This Blog

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Al Hibbler..............

Al Hibbler

Albert George "Al" Hibbler (August 16, 1915 – April 24, 2001) was an American baritone vocalist who sang with Duke Ellington's orchestra before having several pop hits as a solo artist. Some of his singing is classified as rhythm and blues, but he is best classified as a bridge between R&B and traditional pop music.  According to one authority, "Hibbler cannot be regarded as a jazz singer but as an exceptionally good interpreter of twentieth-century popular songs who happened to work with some of the best jazz musicians of the time."

Hibbler was born in Tyro, Mississippi, and was blind from birth.  At the age of 12 he moved to Little Rock, Arkansas where he attended Arkansas School for the Blind, joining the school choir. Later he began working as a blues singer in local bands, failing his first audition for Duke Ellington in 1935.  However, after winning an amateur talent contest in Memphis, Tennessee, he joined a band led by Jay McShann in 1942, and the following year joined Ellington's orchestra, replacing Herb Jeffries.

He stayed with Ellington for almost eight years, and featured on a range of Ellington standards including "Do Nothin' Til You Hear From Me", the words for which were written specifically for him and which reached # 6 on the Billboard pop chart (and # 1 for eight weeks on the "Harlem Hit Parade") in 1944, "I Ain't Got Nothin' But the Blues," and "I'm Just a Lucky So-and-So." Although Hibbler's style was described as "mannered", "over-stated", and "full of idiosyncrasies" and "bizarre vocal pyrotechnics", he was also considered "undoubtedly the best" of Ellington's male vocalists.  Whilst with Ellington, Hibbler won the Esquire New Star Award in 1947 and the Down Beat award for Best Band Vocalist in 1949.

Hibbler left Ellington's band in 1951 after a dispute over his wages. He then recorded with various bands including those of Johnny Hodges and Count Basie, and for various labels including Chess, Mercury, and Norgran, a subsidiary of Verve Records, for whom he released an LP, Al Hibbler Favorites, in 1953.  In 1954 he released a more successful album, Al Hibbler Sings Duke Ellington, and in 1955, he started recording with Decca Records, with immediate success. His biggest hit was "Unchained Melody", which reached # 3 on the US pop chart, and its success led to network appearances, including a live jazz club remote on NBC's Monitor. Other hits were "He," "11th Hour Melody" and "Never Turn Back" (all in 1956). "After the Lights Go Down Low" (also in 1956) was his last top ten hit.

In the late 1950s and 1960s, Hibbler became a civil rights activist, marching with protestors and getting arrested in 1959 in New Jersey and in 1963 in Alabama. The notoriety of this activism discouraged major record labels from carrying his work, but Frank Sinatra supported him and signed him to a contract with his label, Reprise Records.   However, Hibbler made very few recordings after that, occasionally doing live appearances through the 1990s. In 1971, Hibbler sang two songs at Louis Armstrong's funeral. In 1972 he made an album, A Meeting of the Times, with another fiercely independent blind musician, the multi-instrumentalist Rahsaan Roland Kirk.

He died at Holy Cross Hospital in Chicago in 2001, at the age of 85.

Obituary from the Independent:

Over the years, Duke Ellington hired more than 30 vocalists to sing with his bands. Al Hibbler, a rich-toned baritone whose over-stated style was full of idiosyncrasies, was undoubtedly the best of the men. Blind from birth, Hibbler formed a special relationship with Ellington during his eight years with the band. "He has ears that see," Ellington said.

Albert Hibbler, singer: born Little Rock, Arkansas 16 August 1915; married; died Chicago, Illinois 24 April 2001.

Over the years, Duke Ellington hired more than 30 vocalists to sing with his bands. Al Hibbler, a rich-toned baritone whose over-stated style was full of idiosyncrasies, was undoubtedly the best of the men. Blind from birth, Hibbler formed a special relationship with Ellington during his eight years with the band. "He has ears that see," Ellington said.

"He'd guide me out to the mike from the wings by talking," Hibbler said. "I'd walk straight to his voice. I'm the straightest walker you'd ever see, and I never used a cane. When it was time for me to come off, Duke would talk from the wings, and I'd follow his voice again. When we walked in the street, he'd put his shoulder to mine every so often, and I'd follow again. That way a lot of people never knew that I was blind."

Ellington was not always able to protect his protégé, however. On one occasion whilst the band was playing onstage at the San Francisco Opera House, Hibbler stepped outside the stage door for some air. The band heard his screams and when the musicians rushed out they found that someone had sneaked up to Hibbler, squashed out a cigarette in his face, and run off.

It's not quite clear whether it was the pianist Mary Lou Williams or the trumpeter Ray Nance who brought Hibbler to Ellington's attention. At the time, in 1943, Ellington already had four girl vocalists and certainly didn't need another. "A smart business mind would never have considered it," said Ellington. "But the first time I heard him I told him 'You're working for me.' He learned song after song, and soon he was our major asset."

"I liked Hibbler with Duke," Quincy Jones said. "He had the same sound as Harry Carney's baritone sax in the band ­ that coarseness, the deep-rooted earthiness and warmth."

"I learned a lot from Hibbler," Ellington said. "I learned about senses neither he nor I ever thought we had. He had so many sounds that even without words he could tell of fantasy beyond fantasy. Frank Sinatra calls Hibbler and Ray Charles his two ace pilots." When Sinatra established his Reprise record company in 1961 Hibbler was one of the first solo artists he recorded.

Hibbler had perfect pitch and demonstrated it to me once as we walked along Lime Street in Liverpool, when he called out the notes in the cries of circling seagulls. He was proud of his unsighted abilities, and when someone asked him if he would ever want to see, answered, "No, I want to see the world as I see it in my mind and not see it like it actually is."

In 1972 Hibbler made an album with another fiercely independent blind musician, the multi-instrumentalist Rahasaan Roland Kirk. Kirk used to insist on choosing his own postcards and then dictating the written message. I have a card from Tokyo printed with congratulations on being a big girl now that I am three and another from Paris showing the Duke of Wellington examining the corpse of Napoleon. Playing three reed instruments simultaneously to accompany Hibbler, Kirk sounded like the entire Ellington band.

Hibbler studied voice at the Conservatory for the Blind in Little Rock. After working with local bands he was granted an audition with the Ellington band in 1935 but turned up drunk and didn't get the job. He returned to working with local bands until he joined the one led by Jay McShann in 1942. "It was a gas to have Hibbler on the stand," McShann remembers. "He was outgoing and he loved people."

In May 1943, eight years after the first disastrous audition, he finally joined Ellington. Never a jazz singer, he recorded a string of hits with Ellington that included "Don't You Know I Care?", "I'm Just a Lucky So and So", and "I Ain't Got Nothin' But the Blues". In 1947 he sang the opening part of Ellington's Liberian Suite, "I Like the Sunrise", which turned out to be one of his best recordings. That same year he recorded two instrumentals that Ellington had written in 1940, now with added lyrics and retitled "Don't Get Around Much Any More" and "Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me".

"Duke's tenor player taught me a lot about singing," Hibbler said. "I would sit beside him and he'd take that horn and blow low notes right in my ear. 'Get down there, way down,' he'd say." Whilst with Ellington Hibbler won the Esquire New Star Award and the Downbeat award for Best Band Vocalist.

In 1950, when Mercer Ellington, Duke's much less talented son, formed his own band, Duke gave him Hibbler to be his singer and that year Hibbler had a hit when he recorded "White Christmas" with Mercer. Frightened that Mercer was doing too well, Duke snatched Hibbler back. But their long association ended unhappily in September 1951 with a squabble over whether Hibbler, who had taken a job as a solo at the Hurricane Club in Boston where Duke had first heard him, was allowed to freelance. Ellington was furious. "How dare you sing without me? Who d'you think you are? Billy Eckstine? Frank Sinatra?" Hibbler's reply was imaginatively obscene.

He took off on a successful solo career which included recordings with Count Basie, Johnny Hodges, Gerald Wilson and his records under his own name figured highly in the charts. The million-seller "Unchained Melody" (1955) went to No 5 in the Hit Parade and four other songs of his won places in the US Top Thirty. In all he made 18 albums under his own name between 1952 and 1982.

By Steve Voce

Here's a few tunes for ya:

Dedicated to you
How long
Danny boy
I got it bad (and that ain't good)
If I knew you were here
Don't take your love from me
Song of the wanderer
White Christmas
I surrender, dear
Nobody knows the trouble I've seen
Fat and Forty (w/ The Tab Smith All-Stars)
Stormy weather
Fat and Forty (w/ Billy Strayhorn)
My little brown book
Honeysuckle Rose
Feather roll blues
The blues came falling down
My ev'a lovin' baby
Old folks
I'm traveling light
Now I lay me down to sleep
Lover, come back to me
This is always
Tonight I shall sleep (with a smile on my face)
I won't tell a soul I love you
Ghost of love
Trees (2)
Hey baby
Summertime (2)
It don't mean a thing(if it ain't got that swing)
Ol' man river
What will I tell my heart
On a slow boat to China
Poor butterfly
I love you sweetheart of all my dreams
Believe it beloved
By the river St. Marie
There is no greater love
It must be true
After the lights go down low
After the lights go down low (2)
I don't stand a ghost of a chance
You'll never know
Night and day
Pennies from heaven
Shanghai Lil
Stella by starlight
September in the rain
Where are you
Count every star
There are such things
Where or when

No comments:

Post a Comment