The 25 greatest musicians from Hampton Roads (2022)

From the landing point for early settlers to its role in the segregation movement, Hampton Roads is a region rich in significant American history.

Our pedigree is just as impressive and important in the realm of popular music.


Whether birthing voices that defined genres or cultivating musicians whose DNA can be traced all over the imprint of contemporary sound, Hampton Roads claims an army of key figures dotting, and underscoring, the timeline of American music culture.

So to honor Tidewater's musical heroes, and create a baseline for our region's musical greatness, we decided to compile a list of the 25 Greatest Musicians in Hampton Roads History.


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Newport News

Search her vast catalog, dozens of records spanning 50 years, and you find no trace of bitterness. Melancholic numbers, sure; somber introspection, absolutely. But no matter what she sang, whether she was as "helpless as a kitten up a tree" in "Misty" or willing to give her soul to call a guy her own in "Lover Man," Ella Fitzgerald conveyed boundless optimism.

Her voice, one of the purest instruments of the 20th century, radiated joy – always. Her music embodied the "power of positive thinking" long before Norman Vincent Peale wrote the book in 1952. By then, Fitzgerald was 35 years old and one of the most visible artists of any genre. She had been swinging and crooning hopelessly romantic songs for 14 years and had already experienced enough trauma and despair for someone twice her age.

Yet she sang – and kept singing – songs with an unfettered exuberance and stunning technical prowess few could touch. Broken-hearted melodies, salty blues, it didn't matter; Fitzgerald was happiness in a bouffant wig and designer gown.

Despite all the heartache she faced, she never became the tragic mythic figure of a Billie Holiday, though both had terrible luck with men. Drugs were passed around like hors d'oeuvres among her musician peers, but Fitzgerald never touched the stuff. When TV was still a new thing, she was among the first black faces to grace the screen, in color and black and white, as the nation was mired in hostile segregation.

Fitzgerald was supported by some of the most iconic figures of her day. In 1955, superstar actress Marilyn Monroe lobbied for her to headline the Mocambo, the most popular nightclub in West Hollywood. Monroe promised the owner she'd show up every night, ensuring a media frenzy. Fitzgerald was booked, Monroe showed up, and the place was sold out. After that, Fitzgerald's performances were never again exclusive to only small nightspots.

A few years later, in 1959, Fitzgerald became the first black woman to win a Grammy. She sang at JFK's inauguration in '61. The jazz world has long claimed her, and rightfully so, but Fitzgerald is essentially the greatest pop singer to bless a mic. The eternally youthful glow and ebullience of her style has informed virtually every important singer who followed her.

Ella Jane Fitzgerald was born in Newport News on April 25, 1917. Her parents were never married, and the relationship ended when Fitzgerald was barely a year old. She later recounted that her father had been a gifted guitar player, or so she heard. She never knew much about him, because she never met the man.


When Fitzgerald was 6, her mother got married, and the family moved to Yonkers, N.Y., where Fitzgerald's half-sister Frances was born. By all accounts, Fitzgerald was a happy child, a tomboy who loved to dance and play stickball in the streets with the boys.

But in 1932, when she was 15, the outgoing girl drew into herself after her mother died, leaving her behind with an abusive stepfather. Fitzgerald never specified what kind of abuse she endured, but it was so bad that she ran away to live with her Aunt Virginia in Harlem.

In adolescence, Fitzgerald was restless and often truant from school. She ran numbers for gangsters and served as a lookout for a bordello until the police caught up with her. She was sent "up the river," so to speak, to a reform school for girls in Hudson, N.Y., where conditions were harsh and punitive, to say the least. Fitzgerald and the others were routinely beaten by a male staff. The 15-year-old Fitzgerald ran away from the reform school and, for a time, was homeless on the streets of New York City during the Great Depression.

Two winters later, while taking in a performance of a dancing duo called the Edwards Sisters at the Apollo Theater, Fitzgerald decided to stick around afterward to compete in the amateur hour. She initially wanted to dance but, intimidated by the fancy footwork of the Edwards Sisters, decided to sing instead. She remembered the records her mother used to play, songs by the Bos­well Sisters. Fitzgerald was a fan of Connee Boswell, whose lithe style left a deep impression. Ragged, pigeon-toed and visibly nervous, Fitzgerald was booed before she opened her mouth. But when she did, she silenced the house as she sang two numbers by the Boswell Sisters, "Judy" and "The Object of My Affection."

Fitzgerald won first place at the Apollo and soon afterward met bandleader Chick Webb, who saw her as a "diamond in the rough." He groomed the gawky street kid to front his orchestra and soon started recording her.

In 1938, Fitzgerald scored her first smash, a swing version of the nursery rhyme "A-Tisket, A-Tasket," which became her signature. The song sat atop Billboard's pop charts for 10 weeks. At 21, Fitzgerald's style was, for the most part, firmly established. Her keen sense of rhythm was evident, the pitch and intonation precise and crisp. And there was that irrepressible buoyancy, a smile-inducing sunniness backed by the hottest swing band around.


When Webb died in 1939, it was yet another personal blow for Fitzgerald.

The man had been something of a father figure. Without his guidance, she was seduced by Benny Kornegay, a seedy New York City street character much older than Fitzgerald. Their marriage was annulled, and the young singer was devastated. But her talent continued blossoming in the 1940s with a series of innovative recordings for Decca Records.

Influenced by the then-new bebop style, Fitzgerald's breakneck scatting – zipping around the beat, improvising the melody – was featured on several hits during this time, most notably 1945's "Flying Home," cited by several critics as one of her finest scat recordings. Fitzgerald explored more of the power and range of her voice, impressing fellow musicians who saw her as not just a "chick singer" but a fellow player whose skills and artistic imagination rivaled any of the "greats" of the era. As with Dizzy Gillespie, an off-beat sense of humor glinted in her approach. Like Charlie Parker, she could improvise with dazzling technique.

By 1955, Fitzgerald's career had skyrocketed thanks largely to her manager, visionary jazz impresario and producer Norman Granz, who formed Verve Records around her talent.

Between 1956 and 1964, Granz oversaw the lushly produced American Songbook series, eight albums, some multiple disc sets, featuring Fitzgerald's interpretations of songs by some of the country's most important composers.

The songbook series moved Fitzgerald out of the bop realm and into the higher echelon of pop, the thoughtful and sympathetic arrangements supporting her often-sensitive and always-imaginative interpretations. Her contemporaries tried similar songbook treatments – Frank Sinatra and Sarah Vaughan immediately come to mind. But Fitzgerald's elegant albums became the most endearing and popular.


As rock started to edge its way into pop culture with the rise of Elvis and Gene Vincent, as Ruth Brown became the "R" and "B" in rhythm and blues, as Berry Gordy started slowly building what would become Motown, Fitzgerald occupied a unique space in American pop. She eventually won 14 Grammys and sold more than 40 million albums.

Here was a black woman, unassuming and struggling with weight issues, whose popularity rested exclusively on the wonder of her voice, an aural sunbeam that warmed and brightened anything it touched.

Many may have fallen in love to her music, but Fitzgerald's personal life was lonely.

Away from the stage, she was painfully shy. With the constant demands of touring, a marriage to jazz bassist Ray Brown ended in 1953 after six years. They were hardly ever in the same place at the same time. Their adopted son, Ray Jr., was mostly raised by one of Fitzgerald's aunts.

The joy inherent in her music extended to her philanthropic efforts.

She supported several extended family members, sending nieces, nephews and cousins to college. Privately and never with any publicity, she gave generously to charities dedicated to helping children in need. She never forgot how difficult her childhood had been.


A few years before she died in 1996 at age 79, Fitzgerald's body had been devastated by diabetes, both legs amputated below the knee. She hadn't been able to perform for years. But her legacy had long been cemented.

A harsh childhood, a largely nonexistent love life, wavering self-esteem – none of that darkened her music, a remarkable feat that's still an anomaly today, when a performer's hardships are myth­ologized before any real talent becomes apparent. Fitzgerald was often clear-eyed about her life and work.

"I went through all those experiences," she once said in an interview. "I feel great that I have been able to pay those dues, because when you pay them, then you know what it's all about. That's how we become greater, by learning to face these things."

Ella Fitzgerald was great before she knew it. And still is Hampton Roads' greatest musician.

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Starting in 1949 and for about a decade, no hip club or rowdy house party on the black side of the tracks was without a stack of Ruth Brown records.


They spun all night on the turntable and boasted a regal red and black label with "Atlantic" across the top, the company her hits helped build. And the smashes came in steady succession, including "Teardrops From My Eyes," which was Atlantic's first 45 rpm release and sat atop Billboard's R&B chart for 11 weeks in 1949, "5-10-15 Hours," "Mambo Baby," "Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean" and others.

Fusing the fervent gospel she absorbed as a choir girl at Emmanuel AME Zion Church in her native Portsmouth with the jump blues sound pioneered by the likes of Louis Jordan, Brown laid the groundwork for "rhythm and blues," a phrase coined by legendary Atlantic producer Jerry Wexler.

Her singing was loud and forceful, much like the way she talked, complemented by the blaring horns and syncopated rhythms that accompanied her.

Assertive, bold and sexy, Brown's hits coincided with the rise of rock 'n' roll in the 1950s, and she was as much a significant presence in that realm as she was in R&B. In Detroit, a teenage Aretha Franklin studied Brown's records when she wasn't singing in her father's church and tending to her two baby boys. A decade later, Franklin would become the Queen of Soul, mining gold hits at Atlantic. But if it weren't for Ruth Brown, once known as "Queen of the Jukebox," it's hard to imagine a career like Franklin's. And without Brown's two dozen hits, Atlantic certainly would not have become an R&B powerhouse, where such soul titans as Ray Charles, Solomon Burke and Wilson Pickett made some of their finest recordings.

The woman born Ruth Weston grew up the oldest of seven on London Street in Portsmouth. Her talent was nurtured at Emmanuel AME, where her father directed the choir. She also sang in the choir at I.C. Norcom High School, Class of 1944. But Portsmouth provided few opportunities for a black girl with star dreams.

When she wasn't helping her mother take care of her younger siblings, the aspiring singer scrubbed and dusted the homes of white folks and helped her mother clean at Kramer's, a cafe on Fourth Street in Portsmouth.


In what little spare time she had, Brown dug the country music broadcasts on WTAR and the Billie Holiday records a New York City uncle had left behind on one of his visits.

After high school, the urge to perform seemed to grow by the day, and Brown started singing Bing Crosby songs for soldiers and sailors at Langley Field, Fort Eustis, Camp Lee and Little Creek Naval Amphibious Base.

"Lots of times my parents didn't even know I was on a base, because I lied a lot to get to where the music was," Brown said in a 1988 profile in The Virginian-Pilot. "I was supposed to be going to choir rehearsal."

But Dad soon found out.

"One time I got really unlucky and my father showed up at one of those performances," Brown said. "He stood up at that stage, and I stopped singing immediately. I think he probably whipped me for about 10 blocks."

Fed up with Portsmouth, Brown ran away from home in 1945 with a charming trumpeter named Jimmy Brown, whom she later married. After she found out he was already married to another woman, their union was annulled, but Brown kept the last name. She hustled around Washington and other cities on the East Coast, singing in clubs or wherever she could find work.


Jazz radio broadcaster Willis Conover caught her act in 1948 and recommended her to the suits at Atlantic Records, which had opened barely a year before. Brown became the first female act signed to the label.

Her first record, the weepy blues ballad "So Long," which Franklin later covered, was a moderate hit in 1949. Brown overhauled her sound on her next hit, "Teardrops From My Eyes," a bouncy number spiked with honking saxophones. Brown's ebullient voice drives the rhythm, gleaming with confidence and sass to spare.

In 1955, the 27-year-old singer, resplendent in a toile dress with a trendy flared skirt, made an appearance on "Showtime at the Apollo," one of few TV programs that featured black acts. Brown was electrifying while wailing "Mama, He Treats Your Daughter Mean," her 1953 chart-topper and a pioneering single in the merger of rock and soul sensibilities. In the performance, Brown exhibits the dramatic touches – exaggerated, sometimes comical facial expressions and gestures – that would serve her well as an actress on TV and Broadway, raw talent that decades later garnered her a Tony Award.

When Brown decided to concentrate on raising her two sons at the start of the '60s, the hits dried up. As the pop world moved on to Motown and the Beatles, Ruth Brown was all but forgotten.

Without a record contract or any singing gigs, the '50s star went back to the work she used to do as a teenager in Portsmouth: cleaning the homes of well-to-do whites.

She remained in contact with a few showbiz friends, including blues great B.B. King, who sometimes paid her bills when times got rough.


In the mid-'70s, comic legend Redd Foxx, whom Brown befriended during her glory days as the most important woman in R&B, facilitated Brown's re-entry in entertainment.

She appeared in the sitcom "Hello, Larry," which aired for two seasons on NBC starting in 1979. She played Motormouth Maybelle in the 1988 John Waters film "Hairspray."

The next year, Brown won a Tony Award for her brash blues and jazz performances in Broadway's "Black and Blue."

Brown also took home a Grammy that year, her first, in the jazz category for her album "Blues on Broadway."

In the midst of her '80s resurgence, Brown, who hadn't received a dime for all those records she sold for Atlantic, took legal action to recoup her share. The ordeal went on for nine years; Brown won and finally started receiving payment. With the advocacy of longtime fan Bonnie Raitt, the veteran singer was instrumental in the formation of the nonprofit Rhythm & Blues Foundation, an organization dedicated to helping artists long forgotten by an industry obsessed with the next big thing.

Brown was still touring and performing well into her 70s, until her health started to decline.


On Nov. 17, 2006, Brown died from complications following a heart attack and stroke. She was 78.

By the time of her death, R&B had changed several times, surviving the onslaught of funk, disco and hip-hop. Threads of the confidence, fervency and potent sexiness of Brown's style can be found in the songs of her musical daughters and granddaughters – including Chaka Khan, Mary J. Blige and Jill Scott.

Brown's music got the party started back in the day, but it also blazed the pathway for a soul revolution.

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Virginia Beach

Give him any sound – palpitating tablas, bleats from an alarm, a baby's coos, splices of a blues-suffused voice from a classic soul record – and Timbaland creates pop revelations.

No matter who sang over the track, Timbaland's production was the star; sleek and almost entirely electronic but fluid and sharp in its musicality.


In the mid-'90s, when the Virginia Beach producer/rapper first hit the scene, the marriage between soul and hip-hop was still somewhat awkward. Teddy Riley, an influence on the artist born Timothy Mosley, had merged elements of the two styles nearly a decade earlier with his New Jack Swing sound. But Riley's work, though brilliant in spots, could be abrasive and self-consciously trendy. Timbaland's mix of melodic R&B structures and hip-hop beats was smooth as glass and hard-hitting, buttressed by a pronounced rubbery bounce.

You can't sit still to a Timbaland track like Missy Elliott's "Get Ur Freak On" or Justin Timberlake's "Suit & Tie" – at the very least, your head nods to the beat.

He had obviously absorbed as much Zapp and Roger, the legendary electro-funk band, as rap group Run DMC while attending Salem High School in Virginia Beach in the late 1980s. Back then, when Timbaland wasn't hanging out with the Thornton brothers, who later became the hip-hop act Clipse, and Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo, who became the Neptunes, Timbaland made beats on his Casio keyboard in his bedroom.

Soon after Timbaland became a sensation, his canvas, so to speak, expanded; the tones and colors of his music sharpened and deepened. Funk, R&B and hip-hop anchored his productions, but Timbaland didn't limit himself to those styles. He also didn't have to court a pop audience.

The mainstream enfolded him.

Timbaland's career began in earnest after high school.

(Video) Performers Who Died In Front Of Their Audiences


He had started DJing while a student at Salem, becoming a part of a performance collective called S.B.I. (Surrounded By Idiots), which featured his friend Melvin Barcliff, a rapper known as Magoo, and Pharrell Williams. But it was his Portsmouth friend, Missy Elliott, who facilitated the connection that launched them both.

She introduced him to DeVante Swing, a Hampton native and member of the '90s urban-pop group Jodeci. At that time, around 1992, Elliott was part of a group called Sista, which had scored a deal with Elektra Records. Elliott talked DeVante into letting Timbaland produce Sista's debut. But Timbaland's beats and the quartet's harmonies went unheard by the public, as Elektra shelved the album and dropped the group from its roster for unspecified reasons.

DeVante then moved Elliott and Timbaland to New Jersey, where they joined his songwriting team and wrote cuts for Jodeci's 1995 platinum album, "The Show, the After-Party, the Hotel." Timbaland's sound started saturating urban-pop airwaves the next year via "Pony," the smash single from Ginuwine's 1996 multiplatinum debut, "Ginuwine ... the Bachelor." Timbaland's work received more mainstream attention later that year when urban-pop star Aaliyah released her long-awaited sophomore album, "One in a Million," featuring lyrics by Elliott and beats by Timbaland on the title track and "If Your Girl Only Knew," both crossover hits.

But Timbaland's more daring and innovative productions were heard on Elliott's five albums released between 1997 and 2005, all platinum sellers boasting game-changing hits such as "Get Ur Freak On" and "Work It."

His creativity and imaginative use of rhythm accents shifted the paradigm of pop music. Imitations soon abounded, and continue to this day.

During those peak years in the late '90s, Timbaland also stepped into the spotlight, albeit tentatively, on albums featuring him rapping alongside his high school chum, Magoo, and a host of others.


After Timbaland reinvigorated music on urban radio and in the clubs, Disney-friendly pop stars looking for an edge, including Nelly Furtado and Justin Timberlake, sought out his Midas touch in the studio. Timbaland's stylish productions were, hands down, the best thing about Timberlake's solo albums, especially 2006's "FutureSex/LoveSounds," which spawned the No. 1 smash "SexyBack," one of Timbaland's finest productions.

In recent years, Timbaland's profile has been relatively low, but his musical reach is still substantial.

His list of clients reads like a who's who in modern pop, including Madonna, Beyoncé and Cher. Timbaland was the main producer of Timberlake's album, "The 20/20 Experience," one of last year's few pop blockbusters.

Sounds that seem weird and disparate become smooth and harmonious in the music of Timbaland. Beats stutter and stop, zip and bounce. Melodies snake through the spacious arrangements.

Timbaland's productions are often akin to urban-pop wizardry – and he'll always make you move.

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Gene Vincent could never escape the shadow of Elvis.

In 1956, few could.

The pouty-lipped singer from Memphis with the swivel hips and melodramatic singing style was a cultural tsunami, upsetting a Norman Rockwell-like pop scene where barely three years earlier Wonder Bread tunes such as "(How Much Is) That Doggy in the Window" had been colossal hits.

Then came Elvis with his slick hair and the saucy moves he'd learned from hanging out in black juke joints in and around his hometown. Once RCA started selling his records by the truckload, major labels scrambled for a similar rock king.

Meanwhile, in the Tidewater area, 21-year-old Vincent Eugene Craddock was in the Navy and had just recouped from a terrible motorcycle accident that left him with a permanent limp. A few years before, while a student at Norview High School, he had taught himself to play guitar. After the bike accident, Vincent started to seriously consider a career in music.

With the help of his friend Bill "Sheriff Tex" Davis, director of operations for WCMS radio station in Norfolk, Vincent cut a demo of a song he'd written with Davis, a blues-suffused ditty called "Be-Bop-A-Lula." Davis sent the demo to Capitol Records, and the company sent Vincent and his backing band, the Blue Caps, to Nashville to re-record the song, which the label rush released.


Vincent's yearning voice saunters and struts in the song, backed by a spacious, stripped-down rhythm section with stinging, quick guitar licks and spare drums – all hallmarks of rockabilly. Craddock, who changed his name to the more showbiz-friendly Gene Vincent shortly before he signed a record contract, became a sensation. His marquee song, written on the fly in 20 minutes, would become an important single in the evolution of rock, with a spare and potent production free of affectations – and the first record Paul McCartney ever bought.

Vincent's image matched the sly sexiness of "Be-Bop-A-Lula" – the greasy hair with the curly bangs, the leather jackets and upturned collars, the reputation for gunplay. He wasn't as handsome as Elvis, but he was more accessible, not only in his blue collar, bad-boy-next-door image, but also in his artistic approach. His style was subtle but powerful, richer with more pronounced country and blues elements than what was heard on early Elvis records.

"Be-Bop-A-Lula" was Vincent's biggest hit, peaking at No. 7 on Billboard's pop chart. But subsequent singles were stronger, especially "Race With the Devil" (1956), which boasts a deep sense of groove. Vincent locks into it, clearly inspired by the invigorating musicianship of the Blue Caps, his pals from Norfolk.

His last significant hit, 1957's "Lotta Lovin'," sailed into the Top 20. But the attractive rough edges of his earlier singles had been sanded down, the guitars noticeably tamer, with corny background vocals added to the mix. As Vincent applied more pop gloss, his stardom in the United States faded.

At the dawn of the '60s, the artist was big overseas despite some tragic setbacks. During a 1960 tour of England, Vincent was in a car crash that killed his friend, 21-year-old singer Eddie Cochran. Vincent was never the same after that.

Capitol didn't renew his contract when it expired in 1963. The singer recorded for several labels, looking for the comeback hit that eluded him. He started drinking heavily; his marriage fell apart. And his personal problems affected his performances.


While visiting his father in Newhall, Calif., on Oct. 21, 1971, Vincent died from a ruptured stomach ulcer. He was 36. His career as a hit maker was brief, but Vincent left his fingerprints all over rock, his influence resonant in the music of Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and Lyle Lovett, to name a few.

Beyond the long shadow of Elvis Presley, Gene Vincent was a swaggering revolution all his own.

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Even with paths cleared by unconventional black women in entertainment, the Oprah Winfreys and Whoopi Goldbergs, Missy Elliott wasn't supposed to be a star, especially in hip-hop.

Women had already blazed trails in that patriarchy-obsessed and sometimes problematic realm, but still the likes of Elliott, a chunky chick from Portsmouth, were nonexistent before 1997, the year she blew onto the scene like a sharp wind from nowhere with her multiplatinum debut, "Supa Dupa Fly." And more than 15 years later, there still isn't anyone quite like the rapper/producer/singer/songwriter/label executive born Melissa Arnette Elliott. She cleared her own pathway to superstardom, fueled partly by a desire to escape memories of a traumatic childhood.

Elliott was clever, and in an image-obsessed pop world, she had to be. She laughed at herself before anyone had a chance to make fun of her.


In the video for her first single, "The Rain (Supa Dupa Fly)," she sported what looked like an inflated trash bag, all while rapping in a droning voice about smoking weed, the perils of Humpty Dumpty and anything else that zigzagged through her mind. The single, which sampled Ann Peebles' 1973 soul-blues classic "I Can't Stand the Rain," was a refreshing shot of humor in a self-serious urban-pop world, where female rappers were either scowling tomboys or oversexualized pin-up fantasies come to life.

Perhaps to overcompensate for a face and figure that weren't the norm in pop, Elliott fashioned herself into a cartoon in her dreamlike, sci-fi-inspired videos – a medium to which she brought a bold sense of whimsy, sexiness and streetwise choreography. Not since Michael Jackson had a performer used the music video so artfully, turning stereotypes inside out, creating an outrageous, funky galaxy where Elliott morphed into a superhero, a Barbie doll, or a Kangol-wearing break dancer covered in swarming honey bees. Anything was possible in the weird world of Missy Elliott.

Her image was buttressed by the music. Working with her longtime friend, innovative Virginia Beach producer Tim "Timbaland" Mosley, she crafted a sound unlike anything heard in pop. But she gave that sound to others before stepping out on her own. Elliott/Timbaland's big break came via urban-pop star Aaliyah in 1996, the year they produced tracks on her sophomore album, "One in a Million."

The sound – decidedly edgy with left-of-center atmospheric touches, all anchored by a rubbery funk bottom – was best captured on the title track and "If Your Girl Only Knew," hits that catapulted Aaliyah's album sales into multiplatinum territory well before she died in 2001 in a plane crash.

Once Elliott stepped into the spotlight, she and Timbaland deepened and greatly expanded the formula on her albums, starting with "Supa Dupa Fly." Five subsequent efforts released between 1999 and 2005, including back-to-back classics "Miss E … So Addictive" (2001) and "Under Construction" (2002), generated top 10 singles that brought fresh ideas and textures to pop.

"Get Ur Freak On," for instance, is one of Elliott's crowning moments, a hypnotic, almost avant-garde track built on elements of bhangra, Indian music cultured in Great Britain.


Like Donna Summer's "I Feel Love" two decades before, "Get Ur Freak On" reinvigorated dance music, manipulating ideas of space and rhythm.

Many imitations have sprung up since the song first hit the clubs and airwaves, and more than a decade later, "Get Ur Freak On" still retains its freshness.

The woman behind such a daring image and sound had survived a hard-knock life in Portsmouth. Elliott frequently witnessed her father, a former Marine, beat her mother. At age 8, a cousin raped her. Pat Elliott, Missy's mother and a former dispatcher for what is now Dominion Virginia Power, left her husband when Missy was 13. Afterward, they struggled in Portsmouth.

"I've got a different lens on the past now," Pat told The Pilot in 2011. "If I had to go back through it, I would. Why? Because I got a Missy from that. I had to grow and learn to be an independent mom, to think on my own. And guess who had to help me? A little kid with an old mind. I leaned on her. We leaned on each other."

Shortly after Elliott became a star, she bought several homes, including one for her mother in Virginia Beach, where Pat oversees her daughter's personal finances.

Almost a decade has passed since Elliott's last album, 2005's "The Cookbook." During that time, she's been absent from the pop scene, emerging briefly to promote a 2011 episode of VH1's "Behind the Music" that chronicled her rise. It was revealed in the media before the show's premiere that Elliott had been diagnosed with Grave's disease, a thyroid condition, in 2008. She reportedly has been working on new material with Timbaland, but nothing significant has surfaced.


As pop has become too self-serious again, saturated with unimaginative, funk-deprived, techno-splashed drivel, Elliott's witty and wildly creative musical presence is sorely missed. Her unorthodox image and music worked, she said, because she believed in herself.

"We have our up and down moments of life," the artist said in a 2011 interview with The Pilot. "But when you believe in yourself and not conform to what the world wants you to be and do what your heart tells you, you can do anything. Even when doors are shut, God makes sure another one opens."

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Virginia Beach

Pharrell Williams hit his stride as a producer in the late '90s just as trends in urban-pop were shifting.

Gangsta rap, the sensation that muscled its way into the mainstream earlier in the decade, had become a parody of itself. Neo-soul offered a grown-up alternative, echoing elements of Marvin Gaye and Donny Hathaway, with a lyrical pointedness derived from hip-hop. But by the early 2000s, the style had started to lose some steam.

Meanwhile, Pharrell was obsessed with space.


He and his production partner, Chad Hugo, played with futuristic sounds, squishy synthesizers and knocking, clipped beats that would have sounded cheesy in the hands of others. But the Virginia Beach natives, known as the Neptunes, approached their productions with an appealing mix of naivete and a musical sharpness that belied their ages. Fresh out of high school, they soon became one of the most sought-after production duos in pop, crafting hits for Britney Spears, Snoop Dogg and Babyface, to name a few.

But once Pharrell added his odd, slightly off-key vocals to the tracks, starting with Jay-Z's "Excuse Me Miss" and Snoop Dogg's "Beautiful," he gave the productions an attractive accent, a certain playfulness that was refreshing in a scene where so many took themselves too seriously. In the sleek spaciousness of a Neptunes production, Williams' vocals stood out even when they were in the background.

His time to shine as a solo act was inevitable.

Pharrell's first single, "Frontin'," a not-so-subtle nod to "Off the Wall"-era Michael Jackson, ruled pop radio during summer 2003, crowning Billboard's pop chart.

Even with the success of that single, Pharrell was tentative about releasing a full solo album, making artistic detours with his rock group N.E.R.D and continuing production work with Hugo. "In My Mind" appeared in 2006, peaking at No. 3 on Billboard's album chart. Eight years passed before Pharrell's second solo effort, "G I R L," which hit the streets this month.

During the long stretch between albums, Pharrell became something of a pop powerhouse, the go-to guy for hot collaborations. In 2013 he was prominent on "Get Lucky" by Daft Punk and "Blurred Lines" by Robin Thicke, two of the year's biggest singles. The success carried over to this year's Grammy Awards, where Pharrell was a big winner, including a gleaming gramophone for producer of the year. He accepted the trophies in a much-talked-about brown hat that looked like a combination of a park ranger hat and the Arby's logo.


He wore a black version of the same headgear on the Oscars telecast, where he performed his No. 1 smash "Happy," the irrepressible feel-good song from the "Despicable Me 2" soundtrack. It garnered an Academy Award nomination.

The odd fashion choice is yet another extension of Pharrell, a pop personality who fits in but not quite. At 40, with 20 years in the business, he still looks like a skinny suburban teenager. His eternally youthful look, coupled with his hodgepodge, skater boy fashion sense, seems to give him license to write absurd, sophomoric lyrics and sing them with hardly a trace of irony. Artists younger than Pharrell can barely get away with that.

Yet his productions have evolved over the years, becoming more sophisticated and seamless as he amalgamates terse rock, the hip-hop of his high school years, and the sunny pop and effervescent funk and R&B of his '80s childhood. Vintage is crisply new again in the hands of Pharrell Williams, a man who seems to always find an inventive space as trends around him shift and fade.

The 25 greatest musicians from Hampton Roads (7)


Crooning that swaying melody in a piercing, sky-high tenor, Wayne Newton fooled many listeners when his 1963 hit, "Danke Schoen," reached the airwaves.

Some thought the 21-year-old singer was a woman. The saccharine love song with the German title would become his signature, a mainstay in his shows years after his voice coarsened and deepened. Newton's version of "Danke Schoen" also became something of a cult hit again in the 1980s, thanks to its inclusion in the movie "Ferris Bueller's Day Off." The performer scaled the charts a few more times, scoring with "Daddy Don't You Walk So Fast," his last million-seller in 1972.


But Newton's legacy far exceeds his handful of hits.

He remains the ultimate Vegas lounge singer, paving the way for a slew of acts – the exciting, the cheesy, and everything in between.

Newton wasn't even in kindergarten when he started singing.

Born in Norfolk in 1942, his family relocated to Roanoke when he was 6. Soon after the move, the boy's musical talents were cultivated with piano and guitar lessons. By the time his folks moved to Phoenix, Newton and his brother Jerry, both still boys, were working as a rockabilly duo. Their act soon took them to Las Vegas in the early '60s as sprawling developments, shopping malls and convention centers sprang up amid the glitzy hotels and showrooms.

By 1963, Jerry had dropped out of the act, and Wayne went solo, becoming a star in Vegas. A decade later, around the time his recording career peaked, he became an institution.

His show – schmaltzy, over-the-top, sometimes affecting, always engaging – had Newton playing multiple instruments and flashing a Colgate smile that melted the women who dominated his audience.


(Video) He Tried To Mess With A Royal Guard & Big Mistake

Dubbed "Mr. Las Vegas" and "The Midnight Idol," he was such a fixture, his performances a perennial tourist attraction, that his star power seemed to dim away from the storied Strip.

In 1971, at the height of his Vegas fame, Newton returned to Roanoke for a homecoming concert at the Roanoke Civic Center, with a capacity of more than 10,000. He drew a crowd of only 600, according to a 1984 article in The Ledger-Star.

Still, Newton's appeal – and his wealth – continued to grow over the years. At one point, he was in the Guinness Book of World Records as the highest-paid cabaret singer in the world. His main home, "Casa de Shenandoah," a nod to his Virginia roots, sat on 52 acres, with 20 custom cars and a helicopter. His getaway home in Elizabeth City, N.C., was an antebellum mansion.

In 1999, more than 30 years after "Danke Schoen" turned him into a sensation, Newton signed a 10-year deal with Stardust Resort and Casino in Las Vegas, to which he agreed to perform six concerts a week in a showroom bearing his name. It was the first deal of its kind. Newton's last Stardust show, however, was in spring 2005.

Although beset in recent years by financial and legal woes, including the sale of his beloved Casa de Shenandoah estate, Newton still tours around the world. His voice is grainier now, but the charm still packs them in, as the 71-year-old performer sings songs of undying love and gratitude.

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Virginia Beach


Edward Theodore Riley, whom friends and family called "Teddy," saw the change on the horizon and found a way to blend it with the vintage.

During his teenage years in Harlem in the 1980s, hip-hop and all its defiant glory mirrored the attitude of his neighborhood. The culture was born out of a sense of desperation. Musicians with no instruments manipulated turntables and break beats from old James Brown records. Subway trains became moving canvases for restless street artists. Fashion, the slouching jeans and chunky jewelry, was far funkier than the slick polyester suits favored by brothers of the previous decade. The drug trade, especially this new thing called crack, had turned city blocks into war zones. And the music of hip-hop – amelodic with layers of aggressive rhythm – echoed the frustration and the anger of it all.

Riley, who had been playing instruments in church since the age of 5, was as conversant with gospel and Motown as he was with the burgeoning hip-hop scene. So by the mid-'80s, around the time he was a senior in high school and started producing records, Riley fused the melodic structures of classic R&B with the abrasive sonic textures of hip-hop. The sound became known as "New Jack Swing," and it was inescapable in the 1990s.

Early in the decade, Riley, one of pop's most sought-after producers, had grown tired of the hectic pace of New York City and relocated to Virginia Beach. He opened Future Records Recording Studio, a 3,300-square-foot building, where he produced a variety of acts, including his group BLACKstreet and Michael and Janet Jackson.

Riley's musical vision bore fruit almost immediately. His early production work with fellow Harlem native Keith Sweat revealed a nuanced understanding of soul and the production techniques of hip-hop. Sweat's 1987 debut, "Make It Last Forever," is a New Jack Swing classic, bristling with Teddy's jagged programmed drums and looping bass lines, awash with flashy, dazzling synthesizers. It was startling, much more streetwise than the glittery ballads of urban radio mainstays Luther Vandross and Freddie Jackson.

Sweat's whining tenor and vulnerable, lovesick lyrics gave New Jack Swing a romanticism that connected it with the soul sounds of the '70s, the music on which Riley and Sweat had been weaned. Yet this fresh approach was buttressed by a sleekness, a snarling, hip attitude that gave the sound a modern swagger. "Make It Last Forever" sold more than 3 million copies.


Not content to stay behind the scenes, Riley formed Guy, an urban pop trio, around the time he was working with Sweat. Riley sang background vocals and produced the music while singer Aaron Hall handled lead vocals. Riley's production style expanded quickly in the early '90s, becoming much edgier through his work with hip-hop group Wreckx-N-Effect, and its hit song "Rump Shaker." He was tapped by Quincy Jones to co-produce Michael Jackson's last great album, 1991's "Dangerous."

When Riley wasn't mining platinum hits in his Virginia Beach studio, he encouraged local talent. He discovered the Neptunes, Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo, talented high school friends who like Riley just a few years before showed great promise as producers. Of course, Riley hunch was spot-on as the Neptunes became one of the hottest production teams of the 2000s.

His commercial success peaked in 1996 when "No Diggity," a single by his group BLACKstreet and one of his best productions, topped Billboard's Hot 100. Built on a Bill Withers sample, the song incorporated more of the smooth soul nuances that had started to become obscured by all the flash and noise of his productions.

In the last decade or so, Riley's profile has cooled. He has been working on new BLACKstreet material and with budding artists overseas. In 2008, his Virginia Beach studio was destroyed by a fire.

Much of New Jack Swing, a style that was so exciting nearly 25 years ago, hasn't aged well. But it captures the zeitgeist of urban pop at the dawn of the '90s, when the romanticism of the soul movement clashed with the brutal, in-your-face ethos of hip-hop.

Teddy Riley found harmony between the two.


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Newport News

Soul great Chaka Khan launched her solo career and crowned the charts in 1978 with her signature hit, "I'm Every Woman," in which she wails, "Anything you want done, baby, I do it naturally."

She could have been singing about Pearl Bailey, who turned 60 that year and was, by then, a showbiz legend whose natural talent had carried her into various fields, from Broadway to the United Nations, dissolving barriers along the way.

Bailey, of Newport News, achieved stardom at a time when brown-skinned women were relegated to demeaning roles – usually the sassy maid.

She was indeed sassy, her sharp wit and sexiness subverted by good-natured joshing, a "sugar" here or a "honey child" there, all derived from her early career in vaudeville. Whether sharing the stage with the affable Andy Williams or the ultra-smooth Nat King Cole, Bailey was always a glamorous bundle of contradictions: assertive but harmless, forbidding but ingratiating, flirtatious but somehow asexual.

Her chameleonic talent as a singer, dancer, comedian, author and actress transcended racial divides in the 1940s, when she started as a cabaret performer.


Although striking and magnetic in her youth, with chiseled cheekbones and bow lips, Bailey didn't meet the beauty standard set by her peers Lena Horne and Dorothy Dandridge – from whom she almost stole the show in the 1954 movie "Carmen Jones." Bailey was a sometimes affecting vocalist with a rich, resonant tone; she'd half-sing and half-speak her lyrics.

But her instrument wasn't in the same category with Sarah Vaughan's, or fellow Newport News native Ella Fitzgerald's. Still, Bailey achieved a measure of pop success at a time when black female singers, including those with once-in-a-lifetime voices, were frequently absent from the upper reaches of Billboard's pop chart.

In 1952, Bailey's version of "Takes Two to Tango" sailed to No. 7 on the charts. It was her only hit single, but she was a consistently strong seller in the burgeoning album market. "For Adults Only," which hit the streets in '59, became Bailey's biggest album. It's a camp classic of mildly suggestive numbers such as "You Can Be Replaced," which presaged the strutting feminism of Beyoncé but with far less bombast and spectacle. Bailey's sophisticated musical accompaniment, swirling with elements of cabaret, swing and brassy pop, was overseen by her husband, Louie Bellson, the respected white jazz drummer whom Bailey married in London in 1952.

When her album sales stalled in the 1960s, Bailey concentrated on Broadway. In 1967, just a year before the iconic rock musical "Hair" became a sensation on the Great White Way, Bailey starred in an all-black version of "Hello Dolly!" with Cab Calloway and a young Morgan Freeman. She played the title role, and the next year, at age 50, Bailey received a Tony Award for her performance.

Later in the 1980s, Bailey was still a visible star, winning an Emmy Award in 1986 for her role as a fairy godmother in "Cindy Eller: A Modern Fairy Tale," an episode in the famed ABC Afterschool Special series.

Whereas many of her peers died early or had faded from pop relevance, Bailey stayed busy, appearing in Duncan Hines commercials during the MTV era when she wasn't studying for her bachelor's degree in theology, which she received in 1985, at age 67, from George Washington University. Bailey also was passionate about politics. An outspoken Republican, she was appointed by President Gerald Ford as a special ambassador to the United Nations in 1975.


In 1990, the year Bailey died, Dana Owens, an Afrocentric rapper from New Jersey calling herself Queen Latifah, was gaining momentum with her debut album, "All Hail the Queen." Years later, Latifah, who bears a close resemblance to a young Bailey, would become a pop powerhouse with a career encompassing movies, TV and mainstream product endorsement.

But without a trailblazer like Pearl Bailey, it's difficult to imagine much smoother paths to becoming "every woman" in entertainment.

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Bruce Hornsby was tired of being a "disco whore."

After graduating from the University of Miami in 1977, he returned to his native Williamsburg to figure out what he wanted to do with the rest of his life. Music would play a prominent role, for sure, but he was literally trying to find his groove, singing and playing piano in local clubs and bars. Gradually, though, Hornsby added to his act the songs he was writing with his younger brother John. At last, he and the band were able to stop playing "Brick House" by the Commodores and "do our own thing," Hornsby said in an interview with The Pilot last summer.

But with no viable music scene in Williamsburg, Hornsby and his brother headed for Los Angeles to chase their songwriting dreams. That was in 1980. By the middle of the decade, after a stint in Sheena Easton's band, Hornsby, with his group The Range, became one of the era's biggest sensations.


In 1986, the group topped Billboard's Hot 100 with "The Way It Is," a breezy, indelible melody with lyrics that captured the cynicism of the time and were partly inspired by his early life in Williamsburg. In a conversational, off-handed style, Hornsby delivered such lines as:

Well, they passed a law in '64

To give those who ain't got a little more

But it only goes so far

'Cause the law don't change another's mind

When all it sees at the hiring time


Is the line on the color bar

Named after the surprise hit, the group's debut for RCA Records sold more than 3 million copies. And in 1987, Hornsby and the Range won the Grammy for best new artist.

" 'The Way It Is' was a real fluke, a wonderful accident commercially," Hornsby said last year. "Most of the execs at RCA thought it was a B-side. It broke in England, on BBC Radio 1, then spread internationally, and then became a hit in the U.S. So the label pretty much left me alone and allowed me to do what I wanted to do musically for 18 years."

Hornsby never repeated the success of his signature hit. But in an age when splashy videos and overproduced, synthesizer-heavy music dominated pop, Hornsby established himself as his own musical entity with a wide-ranging artistic vision that has carried him through various categories – jazz, blues, rock and bluegrass – without settling in one.

When artifice was quickly obliterating thoughtful musicianship in pop, Hornsby carved out his own space, garnering critical kudos and a devoted fan base along the way, even as his records stopped selling in large numbers. He was like a cool college professor, amalgamating different musical theories and ideas and making it all look easy with the support of sharp musicians.

Hornsby has consistently released solid albums over the years, including his 1988 sophomore set, "Scenes From the Southside," perhaps his strongest effort; "Harbor Lights," a 1993 virtuosic blend of jazz and pop; and "Camp Meeting," a smart straight-ahead jazz set released in 2007. But his lasting legacy is still "The Way it Is," which has been sampled and referenced by an array of artists, most notably rap superstar Tupac Shakur on his 1996 hit "Changes."


In 1990, Hornsby moved back to Williamsburg, the city that inspired his signature hit, and where he had felt too artistically confined nearly two decades earlier. But the return, in a way, has provided an ideal place for his artistry, given that his wide-ranging music has long carried an earnest, studied feel, much like Williamsburg.

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Decades after he'd become a star in jazz, folding classical guitar techniques into the idiom, Charlie Byrd often returned to Chuckatuck, the village (now part of Suffolk) where he was born.

It was an unlikely source for his daring musical inspiration. As a child, Byrd absorbed a "very black blues style," his description of his father's guitar playing. Years later, the style seeped into his own technique, as Byrd also braided influences from jazzman Django Reinhardt, and two classical guitarists with whom he studied in the early '50s, Andrés Segovia and Sophocles Papas.

By the middle of the decade, Byrd was making adventurous records like "Byrd's Word" (1955), which established him on the jazz scene as an artist to watch.

But after years of performing in venerable halls around the world, after serenading kings and queens, after playing alongside some of jazz's most respected names, Byrd still came home to Chuckatuck, where his father ran a general store in the 1930s and where Byrd had developed a broad view of the world.


"I think it was a good place to grow up," Byrd said in a 1985 Ledger-Star interview, when he was 59 years old. "After I grew up and lived in larger places, I always felt this was sort of a microcosm. Here, you knew personally all the different levels of society."

But as a teenager with a passion for music, Chuckatuck provided only so much.

His curiosity about other cultures eventually led him to Brazil in 1961, where he fell in love with the bossa nova sound. During that time, Byrd had been gigging around Washington, D.C., and went on a tour of South America under the aegis of the U.S. State Department.

Once Byrd returned stateside, he hooked up with his friend, saxophone great Stan Getz, and the two recorded "Jazz Samba," the seminal 1962 album that sparked the bossa nova sensation in American pop. It featured the breezy, groove-rich single, "Desafinado," which peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard pop singles chart.

A mature, sophisticated set, "Jazz Samba" crowned Billboard's Hot 100, briefly turning Getz and Byrd into the equivalent of rock stars. Nearly two years after that, four guys from Liverpool calling themselves the Beatles appeared on "The Ed Sullivan Show" and turned the pop world upside down. The refined, accessible sounds found on "Jazz Samba" wouldn't become ubiquitous on pop radio again.

But Byrd continued making strong albums, integrating Latin, classical and jazz elements, binding them all with a tasteful, often beautiful sense of melody. He toured regularly until his health started to fail. Byrd was living in Annapolis, Md., when he died on Dec. 2, 1999, of cancer. He was 74.


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Virginia Beach

Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo were scrawny nerds, awkward and miserable together at summer camp, when they first met.

They were 12 years old, living in Virginia Beach, and became fast friends through a shared passion for making beats. Williams' friend, Shae Haley, soon started hanging out with the two, and a performance trio took shape, settling on the name N.E.R.D. – an acronym for No One Ever Really Dies.

The group's musical identity, an idiosyncratic fusion of rock, hip-hop and '80s R&B, became a pop sensation only after Williams and Hugo had established themselves as The Neptunes, one of the most sought-after pop production teams of the late '90s and early 2000s. After overseeing hits for an array of acts, including urban-pop singer Kelis and hip-hop veteran Snoop Dogg, N.E.R.D. released its 2002 debut, "In Search Of ...."

But it wasn't exactly a runaway hit. The album was initially released in Europe the year before and retooled with funky live instrumentation for stateside release. The album went gold, selling half a million copies – good but nowhere near the multi-platinum sales the Neptunes regularly crafted for others.

On N.E.R.D.'s next two albums – 2004's "Fly or Die" and 2008's "Seeing Sounds" – the group's adventurous style started to coalesce. The pop conventions of Neptunes songs were turned inside out. Cheeky in-jokes, baroque instrumentation, disco-influenced synthesizers and anything else the guys felt like throwing into the mix studded sprawling, ambitious rock songs.


(Video) The Egles New Kid In Town

However, "Seeing Sounds" didn't repeat the commercial success of its two predecessors. And N.E.R.D. seemed to lose steam on its last release, 2010's "Nothing," which vacillated between courting Billboard's Top 10 with mindless, radio-friendly tunes and extending the explorative rock-funk workouts of previous albums. "Nothing" went nowhere.

But N.E.R.D. was never intended as a strictly commercial outlet for the three friends from Virginia Beach. It was a playground for their restless musical energy, an often fun place where the absurd and the clever clashed.

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Virginia Beach

Judy Kay Newton was so driven by her passion for music, so focused on becoming a star that she skipped her graduation ceremony at First Colonial High School in Virginia Beach and headed to California, guitar in hand.

Before moving to Los Angeles, young Judy was a regular at the Knight's Club, a popular joint in Virginia Beach back in the '60s, where she heard a variety of local and national acts, fueling her desire to perform.

More than a decade passed before her pop star dreams came true, with a Grammy win and gold and platinum albums. By then, she was known all over the world as Juice Newton.


Singing on the "Today Show," lip-syncing on "Solid Gold," hamming it up in cheesy music videos in steady rotation on this new thing called MTV, Newton was among the most visible female acts of the early '80s.

With thick blond curls raining past her shoulders, doe eyes and cheekbones the camera loved, Newton was an embodiment of girlish womanliness. And it was all bolstered by her music, an innocuous, thoughtful blend of pop, rock and country.

Her big hits – "Angel of the Morning," "Queen of Hearts," "The Sweetest Thing (I've Ever Known)" and "Love's Been a Little Bit Hard On Me" – were feathery, sometimes clever songs of unrequited love and tender yearnings. A delicate balance of fragility and toughness informed her music and image. The formula worked, paving the way for the likes of Taylor Swift.

As her star rose, pop music was becoming more and more image-driven. The artful use of the music video, which Michael Jackson mastered with the 1982 release of "Thriller," had become a prominent tool in selling an act. The cultural tsunami that was Madonna was two years away when Newton was ubiquitous on pop radio. She was, in a sense, a bridge between the female pop troubadours of the '70s and the effervescent, video-ready vixens of the '80s. But early on, Newton maintained an air of mystery about her personal life and was clear-eyed about her success.

"There's room for lots of people in this business. If you have something worthy, your time will come," Newton said in a 1981 profile in The Pilot. "But, no, the odds aren't in your favor. There's a lot of room for talent yet there's not a lot of space – if you know what I mean."

In 1984, Newton moved further into country sounds, sanding away the catchy pop elements of her earlier hits. She scored one smash album of country material, 1985's "Old Flame." But afterward, the hits dried up and she concentrated on her family. These days, Newton records independently, mostly in the Americana vein, and still tours. She cemented her legacy back in the '80s, connecting the integrity of the folk and pop scenes that nurtured her with the flashy artifice of the vintage MTV era.


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It may have been a trumpet. Or was it a saxophone?

Behind and between the harmonies extolling salvation and comfort in the Lord, the voices imitated instruments and underscored the emotional force of the song, which was usually joyous.

That was the point of jubilee music, the secularized gospel performed by the Golden Gate Quartet, one of the most stylish vocal groups to emerge in the 1930s.

Initially known as the Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet, it was formed in 1934 by four talented black male students at Booker T. Washington High School in Norfolk. The original members included Willie Johnson (baritone and narrator), Henry Owens (first tenor), William Langford (second tenor) and Orlandus Wilson (bass). During an era of hostile and sometimes horrifically violent segregation, black neighborhoods, churches and even nightclubs became incubators for styles that revolutionized pop.

The deep feeling of the blues and gospel rose from the same source and informed the "devil music" of jazz. Nuances of the religious and secular expressions converged in the music of the Golden Gate Quartet.


Once the guys had a name, a reference to the "golden gates of heaven," not the San Francisco bridge, they soon found receptive audiences in churches around Tidewater and on local gospel radio stations.

By 1937, the group landed a contract with Bluebird Records, a subsidiary of RCA Victor. Elements of swing, the hottest sound around, rippled through renditions of "Go Where I Send Thee" and "When the Saints Go Marchin' In." Influential early recordings such as "Noah" from 1939 were undoubtedly heard by a young Elvis Presley, a fan of Southern gospel. The strutting rhythm arrangement and vocal phrasing echo through "Jailhouse Rock," the 1957 classic by the Memphis rock king.

At the start of the '40s, the quartet dropped "Jubilee" from its name and switched to RCA, where the guys recorded with folk singer Leadbelly. By then, the Golden Gate Quartet's reputation extended well beyond Hampton Roads. In crisp tuxedos, the Quartet performed at President Franklin Roosevelt's inauguration – and returned several times afterward to harmonize at various White House events. The Quartet peaked during World War II with a string of hits on Okeh Records, including "Shadrack" from 1947.

But the lines between religious and secular "message music" started to blur in the 1950s and early '60s, with the rise of groups like the Dixie Hummingbirds and the Soul Stirrers featuring a young Sam Cooke, gospel's first teen hearthrob. Personnel shifted, and the Golden Gate Quartet found more consistent success and gigs in Europe, including a residency in Paris.

In the 1960s, the group added real instruments: drums, piano, bass and guitar. A new version of the Golden Gate Quartet still performs today, extending the improvisation and dynamic vocal interplay that started way back in the '30s, when four Booker T. Washington high school buddies decided to weave the divine and the worldly.

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Clarence Clemons was the grandson of a preacher man, and Clemons' father enforced the same deeply religious ways in his house, which was in what is now Chesapeake. Young Clemons was surrounded by the sounds of Southern gospel, the fervor of which would later inform his style on the saxophone, invigorating the earnest rock music of Bruce Springsteen, Clemons' longtime friend and employer.

But growing up in Norfolk County in the '50s and early '60s, Clemons had no plans to become a musician. On Christmas Day when he was 9 years old, his father bought him a Pan American alto saxophone. The boy was disappointed; he'd been wanting a Lionel train. But father knew best: The elder Clemons made his son practice the instrument in the back of the fish market he owned. He also paid for private lessons.

It was only after a knee injury crushed his dreams of becoming a pro football player that Clemons started to take music seriously. By that time, he was 26 years old and paying the bills as a counselor at an all-boys school in New Jersey. Clemons' life and career changed forever on a windy, rainy night in 1971 when he met a young Springsteen.

Years later, neither could ever agree on the details of that night, and the mythology around that first encounter grew and grew. But both said the musical chemistry between them was immediate, and Clemons soon became a key member of Springsteen's E Street Band. Their camaraderie was indelibly captured in the iconic cover shot of "Born to Run," Springsteen's 1975 breakthrough, featuring the scruffy rock star leaning on the shoulder of Clemons, whose magnetic presence was as big as Springsteen's.

But neither ever upstaged the other; the mutual respect was palpable. You sensed that they simply enjoyed playing together and were so comfortable with each other that they often hugged and kissed onstage.

Clemons smartly exploited the fame he gained from his connection with Springsteen. He established a solo career, occasionally playing behind the likes of Aretha Franklin, and scored a few hits of his own, including "You're a Friend of Mine," a 1985 duet with Jackson Browne. Outside of music, Clemons occasionally acted on TV and the silver screen.


Hardly an inventive or daring saxophonist, Clemons still managed to establish a signature sound, an ingratiating, down-to-earth style warmed by the gospel of his childhood. It also carried a lot of swagger, a streetwise posture that was all rock 'n' roll.

Despite health challenges that often left him in unrelenting pain, Clemons continued to tour with Springsteen until he was too weak to do so. Surrounded by loved ones, including his saxophone-playing nephew, Jake, who later replaced him in the E Street Band, Clemons died of complications from a stroke on June 18, 2011. He was 69.

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JoAnn Falletta knew she'd been seen as a novelty.

Back in 1991, the 36-year-old Falletta was appointed the 11th music director of the Virginia Symphony Orchestra, the first woman in the position. Despite her youth, the native New Yorker had the experience and the smarts for the gig. She knew her worth.

"You have to have a personal dignity and confidence that makes the orchestra buy into your idea of the piece," Falletta said in a 1991 interview with The Pilot. "I don't know if this is a compliment or not, but I've had two people say to me, 'After about 10 minutes I forgot you were a woman.'"


By then, she had developed an expansive repertory, mastering demanding pieces by Britten, Ravel and Rachmaninoff. Although her career has been built on her highly regarded skills as a conductor, Falletta is also a talented classical guitarist. But once she'd decided to concentrate on conducting, her ascension in the classical world was relatively swift.

When Falletta became the music director of the VSO, her doctorate in conducting from the prestigious Juilliard School in Manhattan was only two years old. By then, she'd already cut her teeth with a decade as the music director with the Queens Philharmonic Orchestra in the late '70s and by turning around the Long Beach Symphony Orchestra.

In the decorous world of classical music, long dominated by aging European men, Falletta brought a sometimes playful exuberance to the conductor's role with an incisive command of the material.

Critics have often noted the fine balance she achieves between gutsy showmanship and a sensitive understanding of the music's complexities. She's won two Grammys for her recordings as a conductor.

"Classical music is probably the most traditional environment in which one can work," Falletta said in 1991. "In short, audiences expect a conductor to be a tyrant – screaming for perfection and maybe breaking a baton or two. And women aren't supposed to behave like that. So how can a woman conduct?"

Like JoAnn Falletta, with style, grace and passion.


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Newport News

In 1980, all the great bluesmen were either dead or had long before done their best work. The style hadn't been prevalent in the mainstream for years and was mostly relegated to smoky clubs where only the devoted flocked.

But the blues never died.

Over the years, new talent emerged and kept it going. Some were just glorified copycats. Others had the courage to extend or add to what the titans had done so many years before. And although they upset ornery gatekeepers who preferred the blues with rust and no gloss, those brave new blues souls found fame and fortune nonetheless.

Among them was Robert Cray, the Georgia-born singer-musician, who released his debut, "Who's Been Talkin'," in 1980, a decade after he played in bands while at Denbigh High School in Newport News. The album established Cray as someone to watch in the blues world – an artist whose smooth approach had as much in common with Al Green as B.B. King.

He also became something of a symbol for the '80s gentrification of the blues, a racial representative of what used to be. But a closer listen revealed the integrationist aspirations of the era in which Cray developed – as a teenager in Newport News, Cray absorbed the Beatles and Bob Dylan as much as bluesmen Muddy Waters and Freddy King.


To borrow a phrase from Thelonious Monk, the "ugly beauty" of the blues – the imperfect vocal phrasing that added to the music's authenticity, the frayed edges, the deliberate distortion – was virtually nonexistent in Cray's music. His style was never messy; the man didn't waste a note. And even at his most soulful and searing, there was something precise and exact about Cray's approach.

His audience and his asking price for gigs mushroomed in 1986, when his fifth album, "Strong Persuader," became an out-of-nowhere pop smash. Spurred by the single "Smoking Gun," a big hit on Billboard's pop and mainstream rock charts, album sales soared past 2 million. Cray also took home a Grammy. Rolling Stone magazine ranks "Strong Persuader" as No. 42 on Rolling Stone's list of the 100 greatest albums of the '80s.

The singer-musician continued releasing earnest albums that blurred the lines between blues, pop, rock and R&B. If anything, he realized the crossover dream inside a genre so many had forgotten.

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When Mike Watt straps on his bass guitar and fingers the strings, he pulls from a variety of styles, from folk to funk. But the Portsmouth-born musician is renowned for his contributions to the evolution of punk rock, which he absorbed in San Pedro, Calif., where he grew up.

As a founding member of the Minutemen, the seminal punk trio formed in 1980, Watt and his band mates expanded the possibilities of a style that some dismissed as dissonance with an attitude.


The Minutemen, which included vocalist/guitarist D. Boon and drummer George Hurley, tirelessly wove eclectic styles and political themes through several well-regarded albums, most notably on "Double Nickels on the Dime," an ambitious, sprawling effort with more than 40 songs, released in 1984. Watt's thoughtful licks on the bass propelled the music, giving it structure and fluidity.

As critical praise abounded and the band's audience started to swell across the country, the Minutemen were poised for a major breakthrough. But that was tragically thwarted when D. Boon died in a car crash on Dec. 22, 1985. Devastated, Watt considered quitting music altogether, but he and Hurley formed fIREHOSE the next year and tried earnestly to carry on the spirit of the Minutemen.

The group eventually landed a major label deal with Columbia Records. But the magic of the Minutemen's energetic and restless sound was never recaptured, and fIREHOSE disbanded in 1994.

The next year, Watt became a solo artist, and his brilliance on the bass became more pronounced with his 1995 solo debut, "Ball-Hog or Tugboat?," an all-star affair featuring members of Nirvana, the Beastie Boys, Sonic Youth and Red Hot Chili Peppers.

In early 2000, Watt nearly died from an infection. After months of recovery he played on the Stooges' reunion tour. Watt hosts a poplar Internet radio show, "The Watt From Pedro Show," when he's not performing.

The 25 greatest musicians from Hampton Roads (19)

Newport News


At the dawn of the '50s, it was a common pipe dream of teenage friends whiling away the hours harmonizing on street corners and in the echoey halls of buildings: An escape from the streets and stardom were in reach if they became a group with a catchy name and scored a record deal.

In 1949, two sets of brothers from Newport News – Rudy and Bernie West and Raphael and Ripley Ingram – formed a quartet called The Sentimental Four. Later, after singer Dickie Smith joined the fold, the guys became known as The Five Keys.

Their lush, pitch-perfect harmonies were informed by gospel and the rich tradition of stylish vocal groups in Hampton Roads, like the Golden Gate Quartet. Nationally known attractions – the Swan Silvertones in the gospel realm and the Ink Spots on the secular side – also left an impression on the young men. As the Five Keys, they synthesized those influences into a silken and robust blend, singing frothy ballads backed by spare arrangements with horns, a nascent R&B sound that helped shape the genre.

Their doo-wop dreams came true in 1951 when the group signed with the Los Angeles-based Aladdin Records. The group's first hit, "The Glory of Love," originally recorded by Benny Goodman, topped Billboard's R&B charts that year. The Five Keys were in demand, headlining prestigious venues such as the Apollo in Harlem.

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The lineup was interrupted the next two years, with a couple of the members joining the Army. Ramon Loper and Ulysses Hicks replaced Rudy West and Smith. In 1955, while playing a date in Boston, Hicks died suddenly of a heart attack, and Rudy returned to the fold.

Despite the early personnel shifts, the Five Keys continued releasing hit records on Aladdin, all sentimental ballads, including "Someday Sweetheart" and "Red Sails in the Sunset." After a brief stop at RCA, the group signed with Capitol Records in 1954, the recording home for Frank Sinatra and Nat King Cole. There, the hits continued, including "Ling Ting Tong," a novelty song riddled with Asian stereotypes. It landed them a spot on "The Ed Sullivan Show." The dreamy ballad "Out of Sight, Out of Mind" was the group's biggest pop hit, peaking at No. 23 on Billboard's Hot 100.


But as pop and R&B became more brazen toward the close of the '50s with the emergence of Little Richard, Chuck Berry and Portsmouth native Ruth Brown, the dewy love-drunk ballads of the Five Keys started to fall out of style.

The group continued to perform sporadically over the years, resurfacing in the '70s during a brief resurgence of doo-wop and all things '50s. But the legacy of the Five Keys – the impeccable phrasing and soulful, full-bodied harmonies – was extended with the birth of Motown in the early '60s and the lush Philly Soul sound of the '70s. The Five Keys were inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2002.

The 25 greatest musicians from Hampton Roads (20)


In 2012, as Randy Blythe sat in a jail cell in Prague, the capital city of the Czech Republic, the other members of Lamb of God considered calling it quits.

The metal band's lead singer and artistic anchor who helped shape this group into a staple of its genre had been arrested for manslaughter. A teen fan whom Blythe had pushed off the stage at a 2010 concert in the city died from injuries he sustained when his head hit the floor. Blythe was eventually found not criminally liable and released from jail. But the inability to tour during the trial and Blythe's legal bills nearly bankrupted the group.

With heavier security and Blythe's frequent reminders from the stage to "take care of each other," Lamb of God returned to the road with its shows once again freewheeling events filled with frantic rhythms and slam dancing, but all done safely.


Blythe, who grew up in Chesapeake, joined Lamb of God in 1995. To that point the group had played mostly instrumentals. Blythe added much-needed focus, character and nuance as the frontman. After Lamb of God's 2004 release "Ashes of the Wake," the band gained respect in the metal realm, mixing melody and thoughtful lyrics into the grind of chugging guitar riffs and machine gun-like kick drum rhythms.

Over the years, with Blythe's coarse voice at the microphone, the music of Lamb of God has never resorted to sheer dissonance. His dark growls and screams all serve the melodic structure of the songs. The sonic assault is balanced by deft songcraft, something that still sets Lamb of God apart in a genre full of clones.

The 25 greatest musicians from Hampton Roads (21)


They were never friends.

The hammy exchanges between legendary "Tonight Show" host Johnny Carson and his sometime musical director, Portsmouth native Tommy Newsom, were all for the cameras.

"I just say hello to him," Newsom told Larry Bonko of The Ledger-Star in 1978. "We do not socialize. ... He has given me crystal, real nice things. I don't give him anything. I send him a thank-you note."


The sentiment was reflective of Newsom's acerbic personality, which served as a great foil for Carson's hip, casually snide humor.

"Tommy lacks polish," Carson once said during a monologue on "The Tonight Show." "Even when he's nude he has static cling."

Newsom, who played saxophone in the NBC Orchestra and often substituted for musical director Doc Severinsen, stood out on the show without trying. His straight-laced, insurance salesman suits, always brown or blue, contrasted with Severinsen's flashy threads.

Away from the Burbank, Calif., studio where "The Tonight Show" was recorded, Newsom was an accomplished musician and arranger, writing music charts for folk-pop star John Denver, country stalwart Kenny Rogers, opera legend Beverly Sills and jazz guitarist (and fellow Hampton Roads native) Charlie Byrd.

Newsom's love for music started early in his childhood in Portsmouth. He became a professional musician at age 13, blowing his sax in Doug Parker's local 12-piece orchestra. When Newsom graduated from Cradock High School in 1945, his classmates predicted in the yearbook that Newsom would become a famous bandleader.

He played around Hampton Roads while attending what is now Old Dominion University. Newsom completed graduate work in music at the Peabody Conservatory and Columbia University. During his three years with the Air Force, he was a member of the Airmen of Note, a swing band. Newsom sharpened his skills and learned the ropes of show business playing in the big bands of Vincent Lopez and Benny Goodman.


He joined the NBC Orchestra in 1962 when he was 33. As he reluctantly became something of a star, Newsom also played concerts around the country, often headlining venues in Hampton Roads. He recorded five albums, starting with 1990's "Tommy Newsom & His TV Jazz Stars." Newsom was living in Portsmouth with Patricia, his wife of 50 years, when he died of cancer on April 28, 2007. He was 78.

Although he and Carson were never chums, they shared an undeniable chemistry on "The Tonight Show." When Carson retired in 1992, Newsom didn't stick around.

He left that year, too.

The 25 greatest musicians from Hampton Roads (22)


In the 1950s, Keely Smith was instantly recognizable with her signature look: short, raven-dark bangs and a pageboy haircut that tapered and curled around the ears, framing wide, impish eyes.

As a performer her straight-no-chaser style stood out in an era of demure torch singers, and paired well with her duet partner, and former husband, Louis Prima, one of the most musically daring and raucous entertainers of his generation.


Prima was already an established act in 1948 when he played a concert in Virginia Beach, while looking for a female vocalist to join his band. That year, Smith, then known by her birth name, Dorothy Keely, turned 16. She had been singing around her native Norfolk for about five years, sometimes featured on the Joe Brown Radio Gang, a program broadcast from the NorVa Theater. She was also a vocalist with Saxie Dowell and his Navy orchestra. Keely, who had attended Maury High School, auditioned for Prima and won the spot.

She soon changed her name to something more showbiz-friendly: Keely became her first name combined with Smith, her stepfather's last name. The young performer toured the country with Prima, playing the icy foil to his rambunctious, razzle-dazzle showman. The chemistry between Prima, who was 22 years older than Smith, was instant, and the pair became a sensation.

On July 13, 1953, while in Virginia Beach for a performance at the Surf Club, the couple secretly married. Soon afterward, they became one of the hottest lounge acts in Las Vegas. Her deadpan responses to Prima's wild antics paved the way for the likes of Sonny and Cher, a comparison Smith detested.

"Alone, I'm not a deadpan. I'm a real person, and a singer," she told Mal Vincent in a 1974 interview with The Pilot. "The comparison to Sonny and Cher has really gotten on my nerves."

Beyond the glitzy Vegas strip, Prima and Smith were also a hit on the pop charts, sailing into the Top 20 in 1958 with "That Ol' Black Magic," the duo's biggest hit. The next year, during the first-ever Grammy Awards, Prima and Smith took home a golden gramophone for their revival of the Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer standard.

But Smith was unhappy in the marriage and divorced Prima in 1961. She recorded sporadically during the decade, as she concentrated on her family, and played clubs and lounges in the '70s. She briefly staged a comeback in the mid-'80s.


Though not in the same league as other star female pop acts of the 1950s, like Peggy Lee and Patti Page, Smith was still an affecting vocalist, injecting American pop standards, blues and show tunes with personality and a winking sense of humor. At a time when female pop divas were all glamour and placid smiles, Keely Smith worked attitude and sass as only a chick from Tidewater could.

The 25 greatest musicians from Hampton Roads (23)


Maybe it was a combination of growing up so close to the water in Norfolk and absorbing the spirited gospel of his father's church that informed General Norman Johnson's "beach soul" sound.

His name may not ring a bell right away, but if you were frolicking around with a transistor radio back in the early '70s then you surely heard his plaintive tenor on "Give Me Just a Little More Time," a jaunty classic on which Johnson sang the lead as a member of the R&B-pop group Chairmen of the Board.

The song, a million-selling smash in 1970, has since been covered by dance-pop tart Kylie Minogue and recently used in a Swiffer commercial. It was also one of the early productions of the legendary Motown team Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland, after their acrimonious split from the fabled Detroit label.

Though the hallmarks of classic Motown imbue the single – the swinging, subtle blend of churchy gospel and highly polished pop – it is Johnson's pleading, yelping vocal that gives the song life. Influenced by the dynamic and underrated Chicago soul star Billy Stewart, who died the year "Give Me Just a Little More Time" became a hit, Johnson's approach rippled with calypso-spiced trills, giving whatever he sang a sunny buoyancy.


Johnson, who was also a talented songwriter, started his solo career in Detroit in the 1960s. He wrote "Patches," an almost cinematic tale of a farm boy becoming a man, which blues singer Clarence Carter turned into a Grammy-winning gold seller in 1970. Johnson also wrote or co-wrote the big hits of Honey Cone, a short-lived girl group, best known for "Want Ads," a No. 1 pop smash in the summer of '71.

But by the mid '70s, following a dispute with his record label, Johnson's career started to cool. He signed with Arista Records, Clive Davis' then-new company, but a self-titled 1976 album went nowhere. Frustrated with the pop business, Johnson decided to work as an independent artist, never again signing with a major label.

Starting in the '80s, Johnson made his living touring the international beach music circuit, where his distinctive bright style found a cult-like audience. The performer, who had long before settled in Atlanta, was recovering from knee surgery when he died on Oct. 13, 2010. Johnson was 69.

The 25 greatest musicians from Hampton Roads (24)

Virginia Beach

When the Thornton brothers started rapping in the early '90s, mainstream hip-hop was in the throes of "gangsta rap." The gun-obsessed rhymes of Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg and Tupac were garnering multiplatinum sales, their thugged-out videos in constant rotation on MTV. The Bronx-born, Virginia Beach-raised brothers – Gene, known as "Malice," and Terrence, known as "Pusha T," collectively known as Clipse, absorbed it all.

By the time the brothers launched their career, with the help of producers Pharrell Williams and Chad Hugo of the Neptunes, old chums from Virginia Beach, Clipse had synthesized its gangsta rap influences into cinematic, sometimes startling, tales of the drug underworld.


The group's 2002 debut, "Lord Willin'," was a hit, bristling with lurid tales of drug trafficking and the drama it entails, all driven by the crisp, sleek production of the Neptunes. The album was a critical smash and went gold, selling more than half a million copies.

But label politics stalled momentum, holding up the release of Clipse's 2006 sophomore album, "Hell Hath No Fury," another critically well-received effort teeming with grim tales of drug life. When the duo's third album, "Til the Casket Drops," appeared three years later, the crime-and-drugs-obsessed rhymes, though glimmering with clever wordplay here and there, started to get stale.

Clipse soon broke up. Malice left to follow the Lord, becoming a born-again Christian, while Pusha T continued spinning seedy criminal stories over smart beats. His solo debut, "My Name Is My Name," was released last year on Kanye West's G.O.O.D Music label, earning a spot on Rolling Stone's list of top albums of the year.

Earlier this year, rumors of a Clipse reunion were shot down by Pusha T, who was recording solo material with the Neptunes.

The 25 greatest musicians from Hampton Roads (25)


Gary Levone Anderson was a pretty boy from Florida who grew up in Norfolk and hung out at the Attucks Theatre on Church Street in the '50s, back when the venue was known as the Booker T.

In 1961 at age 22, Anderson, sporting a slick pompadour and a flashy stage name, "U.S. Bonds," became, for a brief spell, the biggest pop star in the country.

That year, he crowned the pop charts with "Quarter to Three," a raucous blend of gospel and nascent frat rock, with the vocals and instruments roughly mixed together, creating a style that was decidedly raw and edgy. Known as the "Norfolk Sound," it was a wild amalgamation of doo-wop and gospel-fired soul, inspired in part by the sanctified, palpitating rhythms often heard spilling out of Sweet Daddy Grace's House of Prayer at Church Street and Princess Anne Road. The prominent honking saxophone, played by Gene Barge, brought a strident blues element often heard on R&B records at the time.

"Quarter to Three" has long been cited by critics as a pioneering single that helped shape rock 'n' roll. Once the record took off, swiftly selling a million copies, the singer became known as Gary U.S. Bonds. Pop fans and DJs had mistaken his first moniker for the name of a group. Bonds was discovered by Frank Guida, a Sicilian-American songwriter and producer who also owned a record shop, Frankie's Got It, on Granby Street. Guida signed Bonds to his fledgling label, Legrand Records, which released "Quarter to Three" and a flurry of other Bonds singles, including "School Is Out," "School Is In," "Dear Lady Twist," and "Twist, Twist, Señora."

But by the mid '60s, soon after Motown became the sound of young America and blues-obsessed British bands invaded the pop charts, Bonds fell into obscurity. At the dawn of the '70s, he was living in Long Island, N.Y., and playing the oldies circuit around the world. Bruce Springsteen, a fan of Bonds' early records, helped the veteran performer make a comeback in the early '80s with a pair of best-selling albums, "Dedication" and "On the Line," which Springsteen produced, featuring members of the E Street Band.

At 74, Bonds still sports the jet-black hair and wide dazzling smile, as he tours the nostalgia circuit, singing the rowdy hits of his youth that helped lay the foundation for modern rock.

Color code

Orange: R&B

Yellow: Hip-hop

The 25 greatest musicians from Hampton Roads (26)

Weekend Scoop


Check out the latest entertainment and arts news, then plan your weekend with a look ahead at what's happening around Hampton Roads.

Blue: Blues/rock

Gold: Jazz

Green: Pop

Purple: Classical

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See a video of Sam creating these prints.

Rashod Ollison, 757-446-2732,


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