09-23: Average White Band AWB 1974 - Etta Baker w/ Taj Mahal 2004 - Bellini La Sonnambula Cecilia Bartoli 2009

1700 – Nicolaus Adam Strungk (German composer & violinist)
1835 – Vincenzo Bellini (Italian opera composer)
1836 – Maria Malibran (French-born Spanish dramatic mezzo-soprano & guitarist)
1837 – R. J. S. Stevens (English composer & organist)
1896 – Gilbert Duprez (French dramatic tenor, teacher & composer)
1937 – Caro Roma [Carrie Northly] (American singer, popular songwriter & conductor)
1940 – Rhené-Bâton (French conductor & composer)
1970 – Bourvil [André Robert Raimbourg] (French actor & singer)
1973 – Manuel Borguñó (Spanish composer)
1974 – Robbie McIntosh (Scottish funk & R&B drummer, Average White Band)
1982 – Jimmy Wakely (American country singer, songwriter, guitarist & actor)
1984 – Anatoly Novikov [Анато́лий Но́виков] (Russian composer)
1987 – O. B. McClinton (American country singer, songwriter & guitarist)
1988 – Arwel Hughes (Welsh conductor & composer)
1995 – Booker T. Laury (American blues, gospel & jazz pianist & singer)
2004 – André Hazes (Dutch levenslied folk singer)
2006 – Sir Malcolm Arnold (English composer, conductor & trumpeter)
2006 – Etta Baker (American blues & folk guitarist, singer, songwriter & banjoist)

The Average White Band blew everybody away when they burst onto the international scene in 1973–74. They were anything but average, of course. The idea that a bunch of lads from Dundee, Scotland could be this soulful and this funky was nothing short of astonishing. So what a terrible loss it was for the band when so soon after their initial success, their 24-year-old drummer Robbie McIntosh became yet another drug-overdose statistic in the world of popular music. Members of the band were at an after-concert party in Los Angeles when McIntosh and bassist/guitarist Alan Gorrie were given a substance they believed was cocaine by the party's host. The drug turned out to be not cocaine, but heroin. By the time the two were discovered by Cher, who also happened to be at the party, McIntosh had already died. Cher managed to keep Gorrie conscious long enough for medical attention to arrive, saving his life; he remains in the AWB to this day. The band soldiered on, replacing McIntosh, ironically enough, with their first black member, Steve Ferrone, whose father was from Sierra Leone. The Average White Band remains one of the most enduring dance bands of the 70s funk-disco period, and has the distinction of being the 15th most-sampled group in history.

Three luminaries of 19th-century bel canto opera also figure on our list. Vincenzo Bellini was one of the great composers of the bel canto period, along with Giachino Rossini and Gaetano Donizetti. Known for his long, florid melodies, Bellini's most-performed operas today are La sonnambula (1831), Norma (1831), and his final work, I puritani (1835), which was not premiered until four months after his death of an intestinal infection at the age of 33. He lives on as one of opera's most popular composers, but not as one of the few cocktails it's acceptable to drink before noon. The "Bellini" is named not after the composer, but after 15th-century painter Giovanni Bellini: the color of the drink reminded its Venetian inventor of a particular shade of pink in one of the master's oils.

Mezzo-soprano Maria Malibran also lived a tragically short life, succumbing at age 28 to internal injuries she'd sustained months earlier in a fall from her horse. She might have survived if she hadn't stubbornly refused to be seen by a doctor. This should give you an idea of her personality - Malibran is considered, in fact, to have been the quintessential diva of opera. It's appropriate that Malibran should have passed away on the first anniversary of Bellini's death, since she was in fact known especially for both Bellini and Rossini roles. Bellini even made an adaptation of I Puritani to suit her slightly-lower voice for the role of Elvira, and had promised to write a new opera especially for her when his own death foiled those plans.

After all these enormously talented figures sadly dying in their 20s and early 30s, we can take some comfort in the life of tenor Gilbert Duprez, who lived to the ripe age of 89. Duprez was yet another star of bel canto, who created the role of Edgardo in Donizetti's Lucia di Lammermoor in 1835. But he is perhaps better-known for having been the first tenor we know of to sing the infamous "high C" not in a falsetto voice, but from the chest voice, during a performance of Rossini's William Tell in 1831. Unfortunately, such vocal feats take a particular physical toll on singers, like Duprez, who are of small stature, and it wasn't many years before the excess wear and tear on his voice began to become apparent. After a slackening of his performing schedule in the 1840s, and a final performance of Lucia in 1851, Duprez retired from the stage and devoted the remainder of his life to teaching young singers and composing. And it's perhaps for this that he could credit his longevity. For the life of a busy opera singer is a lot like the life of a busy rock musician. Performing music for a living is in most cases hard, exhausting work!


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