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Celia Cruz was born Úrsula Hilaria Celia de la Caridad Cruz Alfonso in Havana, Cuba. She was the oldest of fourteen kids. Celia would sing in radio contests to win cakes. Her early music reflected her Afro-Cubana heritage, and was influenced by santeria and made use of the Lucumi dialect.
Cruz was on tour in Mexico when Castro came to power. The story is that she and her band refused to come back, and were banned from re-entry. In the mid sixties, Cruz settled in NY. Cruz says ¡Azúcar! because she used to tell a story onstage about ordering coffee with sugar. She got sick of telling the whole story, so she just started saying ¡Azúcar! She has three honorary doctorates and a National Medal of Arts.
Cruz is buried in The Bronx, along with some soil from Cuba she picked up from a visit to Guantánamo Bay. After her death, it was revealed from declassified US State Department papers that she had been a member of the youth wing of Cuba's pre-Revolution communist party, the Popular Socialist Party, and may have used early concerts to communicate with communist leaders in South America.
Shabba Ranks, born Rexton Rawlston Fernando Gordon, is a toaster from St. Ann, Jamaica. His first stage name was Co-Pilot. He collabed with Chuck Berry, and KRS-One. He has a cameo at the end of the video for the A$AP Ferg song named for him. He won Grammys for his albums As Raw as Ever and X-tra Naked.
While Shabba is best known for his contributions to dancehall, he can also be considered critical to the development of reggaeton- the riddim of his song 'Dem Bow' is the defining characteristic of the reggaeton beat. It was so popular in Puerto Rico that early Puerto Rican reggaeton was known as Dembow. Ranks lives in NYC and, in 1992, stated that the word of God advocated for the death of homosexuals. He covered a Sly and the Family Stone song on the Addams Family Values soundtrack.
Yellowman went to the Alpha Boys School in Kingston as a child. He was the first dancehall artist to be known for slackness- lyrics about vulgar or sexual behavior. Yellowman is albino, and has fought cancer several times. He lost part of his jaw during a surgery to remove a malignant tumor. He has spoken out against violence and homophobia. He had a big hit with a cover of Fats Domino’s Blueberry Hill.
His song, Zungguzungguguzungguzeng, has been sampled heavily, across many genres, by acts like Junior M.A.F.I.A., Sublime, Tupac, and P.O.D. ft. Matisyahu! When Beenie Man covered it in 2020, Yellowman said, I wish somebody else did do Zungguzungguguzungguzeng, maybe Shaggy or Sean Paul….Me nuh even hear it.
When Grace Jones was dating her former bodyguard, Dolph Lundgren, things could often be tumultuous.
She was due to record with Trevor Horn in a studio fifteen minutes from her house, and didn't show for three days, because she was busy cutting up and burning Dolph's wardrobe in the fireplace.
Jones preferred to take cocaine as a suppository. As a young model in Paris, she lived with Jerry Hall and Jessica Lange. She was in Conan the Destroyer and A View to a Kill, but turned down a role in Blade Runner. She did ecstasy with Timothy Leary. She did acid with Hell’s Angels.
Grace’s baby shower was thrown by Andy Warhol and Debbie Harry at the Garage. She and Andy walked in late to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s wedding and interrupted the ceremony. Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards wrote Le Freak one New Year’s Eve after Grace forgot to put them on the list for Studio 54. She is banned for life from Disney World for smoking doobs and showing boobs.
Lizzy Mercier Descloux
Lizzy Mercier Descloux dropped out of art school in Paris, fell in love with Michel Esteban, and hung with the punks at Harry Cover in Rue de Halles. She and Esteban started a successful music magazine, then declared punk was dead. The moved to New York, where he would found ZE Records, and she picked up a guitar. Lizzy roomed with Patti Smith, and dated Richard Hell.
Chris Blackwell sent her to make Mambo Nassau at Compass Point Studios, while Grace Jones cut Nightclubbing next door. She worked with Soweto musicians in apartheid-era South Africa (before Paul Simon.) One of Chet Baker's final recordings was on her 1986 album One For The Soul. Mercier Descloux moved to Corsica in the mid-nineties and dedicated herself to painting before she passed in 2004.
Here is your playlist for the week, followed by a buttload of videos to spiral into.
First up is Celia Cruz sound checking with Guantanamera from the 2008 doc Soul Power, capturing the Zaire 74 music festival that happened concurrently with the Ali/Foreman Rumble in the Jungle fight.
Here’s another clip from the same film, with Muhammad Ali. Some of this doc was shot by Albert Maysles, but I’m not sure if he had anything to do with either of these scenes.
Now we have Shabba’s super horny performance on the Arsenio Hall Show. His suit is very good.
This next one is Yellowman. He looks cool as hell in this video and he is singing about ketchup and burgers and macaroni, but they cut out the end of the song where he sings about different kinds of pussy.
One more Grace and Dolph picture, because… look at them.
Here’s Grace, as painted by Keith Haring.
Here’s Grace doing some creative direction in Boomerang.
Aaand here’s Grace giving some romantic advice in Conan the Destroyer.
This link takes you to something that Richard Hell wrote after Lizzy Mercier Descloux’s death.
Here’s a great frenetic Lizzy live performance.
A little bonus photo from Lizzy and Patti’s Rimbaud cosplay sessions.
That’s it for this week! Thanks for reading- please feel welcome to strike up a conversation on Instagram, I like talking about this shit. And, as always, nothing helps me more than you sharing this newsletter- so please sign up your father-in-law without his consent. He probably won’t know how to unsubscribe, and you’ll have something to talk about.