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In Memoriam: Edwin Starr, Hank Ballard and Mongo Santamaria
(Posted April 8, 2003)

With so many things happening in the world right now that demand our attention, it is inevitable that some events will go unnoticed. Right now we'd like to say some words of appreciation for three artists who recently passed away.

Edwin Starr : The much-loved soul singer, whose hits included "War" and "25 Miles," died of a heart attack on April 2, 2003. Born Charles Hatcher in 1942, Starr was one of the first to challenge Motown's dominance in Detroit with the mid-60s classics "Agent Double O Soul" and "Stop Her On Sight" on Ric-Tic Records. Berry Gordy soon acquired the Ric-Tic label, primarily so he could gain access to Starr. The investment was soon repaid, as Starr notched up eight top 40 r&b singles between 1969 and 1973. He also performed the soundtrack for Hell Up In Harlem which contained the essential mellow groove "Easin' In." Although "Easin' In" seemed to be a potential hit, Motown would not issue it as a single, and Starr was soon recording for several independent labels. He made a comeback in the late 70s thanks to disco-funk smashes "I Just Wanna Do My Thing," "Contact" and "H.A.P.P.Y. Radio." When the hits stopped coming, Starr concentrated on his European fan base, which had never deserted him. He maintained an active performance schedule up until his death. Of course, his signature tune "War" is particularly relevant these days and receiving continued airplay on oldies stations.

Hank Ballard : One of r&b's pioneers, Ballard died on March 2, 2003 of cancer. The peak of his popularity was between 1953 and 1961, so his music doesn't receive much attention these days, but back in the day his compositions "Sexy Ways," "Get It" and "Work With Me Annie" were notorious for their risqué content. In fact, several stations banned his records, which only made his reputation grow larger. You could say he was one of the first singers to bring raw black sexuality to the mainstream, leaving a definite impact on rock music. Ballard also wrote "The Twist," which became a worldwide phenomenon in Chubby Checker's sanitized version.   James Brown showed his appreciation for Ballard by making him a member of his entourage in the late 60s and early 70s, writing and producing his last hit "From The Love Side" in 1972. Ballard was 75 years old.

Mongo Santamaria : The electrifying percussionist Santamaria had been thrilling audiences since the 50s. Recognized as a master of rhythm, Santamaria worked with Ray Charles, Dizzy Gillespie and Tito Puente in addition to leading his own bands. Equally comfortable doing jazz, soul or Latin music, among his enduring works are "Afro Blue" and "Watermelon Man." His 70s recordings for Vaya (Afro-Indio, Sofrito) contain some nasty funk sides and are recommended to all. He died on February 1, 2003 at the age of 80.

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