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: Mose Allison

Mose John Allison, Jr., was born on November 11th, 1927 in Tippo, Mississippi. Mose is a singer and songwriter, along with being a jazz blues pianist. Beginning piano lessons at only five years of age, Mose had not only picked it up very well, but began playing other instruments in high school, such as the trumpet. The current 88 year old wrote his first song at the tender age of thirteen. From high school he then went on to college, where he then graduate from Louisiana State University in 1952 with a degree in English Studies.

Allison’s career began in 1956 when he moved to New York. His career began by performing with Phil Woods, Al Cohn, Zoot Sims and Stan Getz. Prestige Records issued his debut album in 1957 titled, Back County Suite. His record label then went ahead and released his next album in 1963, which was composed of only vocals which was titled, Mose Allison Sings. Allison was later then marketed as a pop star, but later records such as Columbia and Atlantic saw him more as a blues artist due to his previous albums. Mose sang tribute to many influential artists such as Mojo Triangle and Jimmy Rogers.

The Long Island Music Hall of Fame then inducted Mose Allison in 2006. His albums had stopped for quite some time, but in 2010 Mose released his newest album, The Way of the World, after not releasing an album for nearly 12 years. Mose’s music has influenced many artists such as: Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, Tom Waits, The Who, and The Yardbirds, along with such artists, he has greatly influenced André Stevens Thomas as well. André has never heard anyone sing with such a melody like Mose does. His impeccable and exciting melody only accentuates his lyrics.

Artist Spotlight: Philippé Soul Wynne

Phillip Walker (April 3, 1941 – July 14, 1984) or better known as Philippé Soul Wynne, was an American singer. Philippé was born in Detroit, Michigan on April 3rd, 1941, he was raised in Cincinnati, Ohio and that is where he sought his passion to start singing, he began as a gospel singer and later moved into R&B. Walker is better yet known for his lead singing role in “The Spinners.”

He gained much success by singing with the Pacemakers back in 1968, which would be the year that his musical career would begin. His fascinating vocals would be attained by James Brown’s J.B.’s a short time after he would move forward from the Pacemakers. Some time after, Wynne would spend time in Germany as the lead vocalist for the Afro Kings before he would replace his cousin, who was at the time the lead singer for The Spinners. This is where Philippé would sing with the group until 1977 and during his time with The Spinners, they would achieve great success through albums and singles.

In 1977, Wynne would go solo and release his first album. He would continue and enlighten the lives of many and perform numerous hit songs while being a featured vocalist on Funkadelic’s single “Knee Deep,” a #1 hit on the Billboard R&B chart. Philippé would make a guest appearance on Gene Dunlaps, “Something Inside My Head,” along with Treacherous Three’s , “Whip It” before he would release his final self-titled album.

Philippé would encourage the lives of many, one being André Stevens-Thomas. With much inspiration from André, he till this day has shown much admiration and fascination for what Philippé was able to accomplish. André sees him as being such an influence to the R&B community that even in todays times, Philippé continues to lift the moods of many all the while his captivating vocals continue to influence many vocalists, just like André himself.

Artist Spotlight: Nat King Cole

Nat King Cole (March 17, 1919 – February 15, 1965) was an American Jazz singer known for his deep but mellow baritone voice. Nat was born and raised in Montgomery Alabama where he grew up playing the organ in church, until he joined a touring Broadway show that landed him in Long Beach, California. From there he started his own band, and quickly gained the attention of the Los Angeles television and music scene for his signature swing sound. After years of producing national hits, Nat’s success led him to host his own variety show on NBC, The Nat King Cole Show, making him the first African American host of a show of that kind.

Nat King Cole was openly inspired by the performances of Earl Hines. He began his career in the mid-1930s while he was still just a teenager. He adopted the name Nat Cole, and acquired his nickname, “King”, while performing at a jazz club. His nickname was presumably reinforced by the nursery rhyme about “Old King Cole.”

Legend has it that Nat King Cole’s singing career didn’t actually start until a drunken barroom patron demanded that he sing the song, “Sweet Lorraine”. Cole has since gone on record saying that the fabricated story “sounded good, so I just let it ride”. He frequently sang in between instrumental numbers, and people started to request more vocal numbers. He obliged. There was once a customer that requested a certain song, but it was a song that Cole did not know. Instead he sang “Sweet Lorraine”. The trio was tipped 15 cents ($0.85 today) for the performance, or a nickel apiece.

Cole went on to produce many hits, like “(Get Your Kicks on) Route 66″ (1946), “Nature Boy” (1948), “Mona Lisa” (1950), “Too Young” (the #1 song in 1951), and his signature tune “Unforgettable”. One of his last major hits, “Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy Days of Summer”, was produced in 1963, two years before his death. It reached #6 on the Pop chart.

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.”