Artist Spotlight: Tony Bennett

Born August 3, 1926, Anthony Dominick Benedetto would be professionally known as an American singer of big bands, show tunes and jazz, he would be known around the music industry as Tony Bennett. Born and raised in Astoria, New York to an Italian-American family, Tony would have a way for music at an early age. Fighting in the last stages of the second World War as an infantryman, he would soon venture home and develop a singing technique that would allow him to sign with Columbia Records. 

Bennett’s first hit song, “Because of You,” would rise to popularity in 1951, with several hit songs such “Rags to Riches” right before in 1950. Tonys career would take a downturn during the rock music era but would make a comeback in the 90’s. He would put out a gold record album and would remain a popular recording artist and concert performer. Having won 19 grammy awards, and two Emmys, he has sold over 50 million records worldwide. 

Tony would grow up listening to Al Jolson, Judy Garland and Bing Crosby along with many jazz artists like Louis Armstrong and Joe Venuti. By the age of ten, Tony was singing and performing at local show businesses. He would study painting and music at New York’s School of Industrial Art, but would drop out at the age of 16 to help his father support his family. Eventually his music career would come to a pause in 1955 when the rock and roll era would begin and the dynamic for the music industry changed as it would become harder for existing musicians to do well. Bennett would eventually make a comeback and would rise to popularity in the early 1990’s as he would follow up many concerts with performances and appearances on TV shows such as MTV, Late Night with David Letterman and Late night with Conan O’Brien.

Bennett would make an altering record that would cater to the younger crown and would bridge the generation gap. He would connect with the rock crown in such a way that would make win him the Grammy for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Performance.

Till this day Bennett has performed and released many duets with artists such as Carrie Underwood, Amy Winehouse, Queen Latifah and Lady Gaga. 

André will never forget the first time that he met Tony Bennett. He heard his delightful tunes through a door at a Beverly Hills Hotel, he remembers as it were yesterday, he was singing, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” Tony would then open the door as André would be standing there, he would invite André in and allow him to listen to his music live and in person in his hotel room. André was just amazed at how he phrased his music and how he composed. Tony Bennett has been one of André greatest idols to have made such a positive impact in his singing career.

Artist Spotlight: Al Jarreau

Born March 12,1940, Alwin Lopez Jarreau, also known as “Al” was a Grammy winning American Singer and musician. Throughout his career, Al received a total of seven Grammy awards and was nominated for many more. Al is most well known for his best album, Breakin’ Away, which was released in 1981. He was among the performers of the 1985 charity song, “We are the World”.

Jarreau was raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and was the 5th of 6 children. He was raised by his father who was a Seventh-day adventist church minister and singer. Al and his siblings sang along with their mother, whom was a church pianist all throughout church benefits and concerts. Growing up, Jarreau attended Lincoln High School where he would then attend Ripon College and obtain his Bachelors degree in Psychology. Al would earn his Masters degree only two years later, in Vocational Rehabilitation from the University of Iowa in 1964.

In 1968 Al would venture south in hopes of some exposure having recently made jazz as his primary occupation. He received much exposure from the Johnny Carson Show, David First and Dinah Shore. He would perform at nightclubs and would perform in between acts of rising stars like John Belushi and Bette Midler. During this, Christian spirituality began influencing his work and he found much guidance through his lyrics at the time. In 1975 he would be working with pianist Tom Canning as he would be spotted by Warner Bros. Records. He would go on to perform on Saturday Night Live on Valentines Day 1976.

In 1978 he would win his first Grammy Award for best Jazz Vocal Performance for his recent album, ‘Look To The Rainbow’. He would reach much success with his most infamous album, Breakin’ Away in 1981 which would include his hit song, “We’re In This Love Together”. He would also win Best Male Pop Vocal Performance and reach 69 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart and number 26 on the R&B chart.

Jarreau would tour and perform with Chick Corea, Kathleen Battle, Gregor Praecht, Miles Davis, George Duke, David Sanborn and George Benson. He would go on to perform on the broadway production of Grease in 1996. On March 6, 2001 he would receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. He appeared on American Idol as part of a duet with Paris Bennett.

In 2010 Jarreau was hospitalized in a France hospital after having performed in Barcelonnette and was being treated for respiratory problems. Recently, on February 8th, 2017, after being hospitalized for exhaustion in Los Angeles, Jarreau cancelled the remainder of his 2017 tour. Due to respiratory failure, Al passed away at the age of 76, only two days after announcing his retirement.

To André, Al Jarreau was a great mentor that he greatly enjoyed meeting and enjoyed listening to as he grew. André saw his rhythm as “fascinating and moving”. This would greatly impact André, as he now moves crowds with his fascinating lyrics.

Artist Spotlight: Eladio Reyes

Warren Farrell, PH. D., author of “Why Men Are the Way They Are” and “Women Can’t Hear What Men Don’t Say,”  speak about Eladio: “Eladio’s music resonates in my soul. Its quality- the recording, voice and music- not only makes me appreciate his music, but deepened my appreciation of Jazz.”

Clarence Mc Donald, Piano Legend & Grammy Recipient, speaks about one of Eladio’s CD’s entitled: Home. “Home is a great and refreshing project. It is unusual these days to hear a CD that has the character of live musicianship coupled with meaningful and timely lyrics. Home has a young feel and old appeal.”

I met Eladio Reyes in June of 1999 when he was just starting his CD project called ‘Home’  He couldn’t stop talking about Susanna Reyes and how she moved him, she was pretty special in his life. A third generation Angelino, Eladio was born the seventh of nine children, the youngest of four boys. Raised by a single mother married to an evangelical religion, Eladio the first half of his life spreading the gospel before local congregations and traveling door to door, from South Central projects to Bel Air estates. Eladio the evolving artist, however, soon exhausted evangelism’s spiritual offerings. At age 23, his natural gifts of instrumentation and composition in hand, he took leave of evangelism’s safe haven in the direction of musical experimentation. At the time, his new CD entitled ‘Home’  we are benefited by Eladio’s journey, as one the few are emboldened to take, as it allowed him to transcend the limitation of the close and familiar in order to offer his audience the vicarious means to do likewise.

From his bag of musical tricks, Eladio extracts a stunning variety of classical and contemporary fugues. Where these might clash in the hands of another, here they  settle into an easy, but by no means simple, coexistence. Such synergy in sound is no doubt a mystical function of Eladio’s own diverse origins; for in his music, as in his features, no one origin exists apart from the others, or is even singularly identifiable. Listening, as in looking, the moment you’re certain you’ve isolated one genre, it becomes something other — teasing, inviting further listening.

In his busy schedule, we had an opportunity to collaborate on now the opening song of my current show entitled: “Something to keep me hangin’ on.” Every time I sing it – I think of him. He was a gentle spirit and he once wrote for me an autograph: To – André – “My dynamic beautiful loving brother from another mother. You are full of light and jumping with joy….I am so honored and inspired. Love and blessings, with all the dressing.”- Eladio.

While I was on tour in Montreal, Canada last year, Eladio died suddenly after visiting the hospital. Gone to soon, I said…and what will I do to keep his name alive….

Along with this blog, my new CD entitled: Naturally is dedicated to Eladio Reyes and Ken Swiatek.



Artist Spotlight: Major Harris

Major Harris III, born February 9, 1947 was an American R&B singer in the Philadelphia soul sound as well as with the Delfonics. This solo artist would have a huge hit which would be his 1975 hit single “Love Won’t Let Me Wait.”

Born in Richmond, Virginia, Harris began his career early by singing with groups such as: The Charmers, The Teenagers, The Jarmels, and Nat Turners Rebellion. Early in the 1970s, he became a member of the Delfonics as he took over for previous member, Randy Cain. Harris then quit the group in 1974 to pursue his solo career. Signed with Atlantic Records, Major Harris scored a number of R&B hits within the United States, this included his Top Ten single “Love Won’t Let Me Wait”, which was at highest #5 on the United States Billboard Hot 100 chart. The song itself then scored #37 in the United Kingdom top 50 in September of 1975. HIs hit, “love Won’t Let Me Wait” was awarded the gold disk by the R.I.A.A. on June 25, 1975.

As his success as a solo artist diminished, Major then returned to the Delfonics, where he would continue to tour with the ensemble and used the name in the 1990s and 2000s. Major Harris unfortunately passed away in late 2012. He died at the tender age of 65 from congestive heart and lung failure.

Harris has left such an impact on André, “I feel so close to this song,” André says, as this artist has inspired him to use his dynamic vocal range to record one of Harris’ greatest songs, “Love Won’t Let Me Wait.” The song, “Love Won’t Let Me Wait” brings back such a nostalgic feeling to André as, “it is also a song that my Mother loved so dearly.”

Artist Spotlight: Thom Bell

Born on January 26, 1943, Thomas Randolph Bell, or better known as “Thom Bell,” is an American songwriter, arranger and producer born in Jamaica. Thom is best known as one of the creators of the Philadelphia style soul music within the 1970s.

Thom was trained as a musician, once he was classically trained as a musician growing up, he moved to Philadelphia as a teenager. He was inspired to sing with artists such as, Kenny Gamble, Leon Huff, and Daryl Hall. It was in Philadelphia where Bell’s first big break would happen. His big break in soul music came from Cameo Records which was stationed in Philadelphia. He was then introduced to a local group called The Delfonics in 1967, and had then gone on to produce two singles for them on the label, Moonglow. His smooth and luscious style to soul music made for great display of his talents. He went on to use those production talents and be a part of large group hits for the Philly Groove Label. These hits included La-La (Means I Love You) and Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time), which were such a great hits that in 1970 they were nominated for a Grammy Award.

In 1971, Thom had moved into another local group and began producing for them, they were known as The Stylistics, which were part of Avco Records. Bell then teamed up with the Philadelphia songwriter known as, Linda Creed. This partnership then included Russel Tompkins, JR and the lead singers of The Stylistics, by teaming up with them, Bell then went ahead and helped them generate three albums with such memorable tracks. This would set Thom Bell and Linda Creed up to be one of the era’s dominant soul songwriting teams. This team would produce such hits like “Stop, Look, Listen (To Your Heart),” “You Are Everything,” “Betcha by Golly, Wow,” “Break Up to Make Up,” and “You Make Me Feel Brand New”.

By 1972, Bell had then decided to move over to Atlantic Records and begin production with the group The Spinners. The group had been with Motown Records for a while, but later moved over to Atlantic Records after receiving very little attention. This huge collaboration with Thom Bell would successfully last for seven years and within those years they would create 8 original albums, to which five of those albums were gold and included many top chart hits such as “Mighty Love,” and “Ghetto Child”.

When 1975 rolled around, Thomas Bell was awarded a Grammy for Best Producer of the Year. Subsequently, Bell had much success within the R & B realm and went ahead to work on and continue creating such commercial appeal all the while still creating hit singles.

Thomas Bell has always been such an inspiration to André and his musical endeavors. Growing up listening to hits such as “Betcha By Golly Wow” would only push young André to later produce the song himself. The song is nothing short of a hit as, to why this song brings back such fond memories to André from when he was young. This heartfelt single will leave you with an attitude so positive and loving, that you cant help but to just smile when you listen to it.

Artist Spotlight: Anita Baker

Anita Denise Baker was born on January 26th, 1958 in Toledo, Ohio. The American singer-songwriter was to begin her career in the 1970’s. Chapter 8, was the funk band she had joined and eventually she would later release her first solo album, The Songstress, in the year 1983. A couple of years later she would release her platinum-selling album, Rapture. Her album would include her Grammy winning single “Sweet Love”. Up until now, Baker has won a total of eight Grammy Awards and has quite the credit under her belt, with five platinum albums and one gold album. 

With a vocal range of contralto, Baker would begin singing R&B at Detroit nightclubs at the tender age of 16. At one of those performances she would be discovered by David Washington, a bandleader that would have her audition for a spot in the funk band, Chapter 8. 

Anita would join the group in 1975 and would obtain a deal with Ariola Records in 1979. The first album, Chapter 8, would feature duets that band members Anita Baker and Gerald Lyles would partake in. Sadly, short after the album release, Ariola Records would be bought out by Artist Records and Chapter 8 would be dropped from the label solely because they believed that the groups lead singer, Anita, did not have “star potential”.

Anita would return to Detroit and obtain jobs as a waitress and receptionists for law firms. As a former band mate of Chapter 8, she was reached out to by former members and persuaded her to start her solo career. She began her solo career with Beverly Glen label and would release her first solo album, The Songstress, in 1983. She had much success with her singles such as, “No More Tears”,  “ Will  You Be Mine” and “Angel”. Her mainstream success began in 1986 with her second album release of, Rapture. She would release multiple singles as well and would soon then begin promoting her first tour. Her album had sold 8 million copies worldwide, while 5 million were in the United States alone.Up until now Anita has had great success, from appearing on Frank Sinatra’s Duets album, to returning to the charts in 1994 with Rhythm of Love.

To André, Anita has been such a great influence to his life, as the light that emanates from Anita, emanates from André as well. Baker has been so passionate about staying in the R&B roots, and with those roots being so embedded into her passion for singing and songwriting, it is something that André is passionate about as well. Anita was always so gracious and inviting to André, she always had a hug waiting for you and her vocal ability was forever present on stage.The sweet and funny songstress would be one of the greatest interviews that André would have on Stevens-Thomas with Notes, a radio show André produced. One interview that would leave such a positive impact on André.

Artist Spotlight: Morgana King

Maria Grazia Morgana Messina, who many have come to know as Morgana King, is a beloved actress as well as an American Jazz Singer. Born on June 4, 1930, in Pleasantville, New York, Morgana was one of five siblings. Her singing career began at the tender age of sixteen, she first sang at a Greenwich Village nightclub in 1953, where a record label would take interest in her for her multi-octave range. Three years later, she would release her first album, For You, For Me, For Evermore.

Morgana would go ahead and headline many clubs, hotels and concert halls. She would tour the United States, Europe, Australia and South America. She would perform at many venues that would benefit AIDS Research, along with annual Jazz Festivals. King would also perform records with over 36 other musicians over her career. Some musicians would include: Ben Aronov, Clifford Carter, Don Costa, Eddie Daniels, Ted Nash and many more. It is said that she holds more than two hundred songs and has produced more than thirty albums. She was a Grammy Award Nominee for Best New Artist in 1964.

Along with singing, Morgana has also participated in films like The Godfather Parts I and II. She portrayed the Italian- American wife of Vito Corleon. Portraying Carmela Corleon gave her the opportunity to display her vocal skills during the film. She acted as Vitos wife of 40 years and the mother to their four children: Sonnie, Fredo, Michael and Connie

Her voice is quite notable for her four-octave range and continued to pursue new music trends with her voice. She has influenced many people throughout her life and continues to do so today.

Some 15 – 20 years ago Andre would have the opportunity to meet Morgana King, they would spend many wonderful times together. He credits her for teaching him the ropes about show business. Andre till this day remembers her kindness, that she would even cook for him his favorite – Italian Sausage (a pot full with onions). Morgana King would leave an impression and a true mark on André Stevens-Thomas to continue his dream of becoming the Contemporary R&B/Jazz artist that he has become.


Artist Spotlight: Esther Phillips

Andre Stevens-Thomas draws inspiration from many artists. One source of inspiration, Esther Phillips, famously said to Andre, “You ought to be on soul train!” Finally, he knows what she meant.

Esther Mae Jones, also known as Little Esther Phillips (December 23, 1935 – August 7, 1984) was born in Galveston, Texas. As a child her parents divorced, so her time was divided between her father in Houston and her mother in in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles.

Esther was brought up singing in a church, and one day—thanks to a little encouragement from her sister—entered herself in a local talent contest. At only 14 years old, she managed to catch the attention of Johnny Otis. Otis owned the club: the year was 1949.

So impressed was Otis that he recorded her for Modern Records, and added her to his traveling revue, “The California Rhythm and Blues Caravan.” Esther Phillips was originally billed as “Little Esther Phillips,” after she reportedly took the surname from a gas station sign.

The first hits of Esther Phillips were recorded for Savoy Records, and included such titles as “Mistrusting Blues”, which went to number one that year along with “Cupid Boogie”. Other hits during the 1950s include “Misery”, “Deceivin’ Blues”, “Wedding Boogie”, and “Faraway Blues”.

At the end of 1950, Esther left Otis and the Savoy label to sign with Federal Records. This move ultimately proved to be disastrous for her career. Part of Esther’s problem was that she was not recording with Otis, the other was her frequent drug use. By the middle of the decade she was chronically addicted to drugs, and by 1954 had returned to Houston to live with her father and recover.

Ultimately Phillips made a comeback in 1962 under the Lenox record label. She was no longer billed as “Little Esther Phillips”, but as simply “Esther Phillips.” Esther went on to release the hit “Release Me” with produce Bob Gans, as well as a number of other minor R&B hits. Her success in the 1960s ultimately led to her signing with Atlantic Records, when she scored again with the Jimmy Radcliffe song “Try Me”.

Esther’s battle with heroin ultimately proved to be too much, and she checked into rehab in 1969. Despite producing a few more hits, she never regained the status she once commanded in the music industry. She died at age 48 in 1984, due to liver failure from drug use.

Click to listen to Esther’s single, “Home Is Where the Hatred Is.”