"There are not many artists that touched me the way Minnie Riperton did. Her pureness and beauty permeated this planet with a song that only 'she' could master, and on the day that she died...
:::B I O G R A P H Y:::
Minnie Julia Riperton (November 8, 1947 - July 12, 1979) was a soul singer from Chicago, Illinois, most noted for her abilities in the **whistle register (see below) and her 1975 hit single "Lovin' You". Having possessed a rare five octave vocal range, she displayed the ability to imitate instrumentation and even birds.
As a child, Riperton studied music, drama, and dance, and seriously considered a career in opera. However, her affiliation with the famous Chess Records record label soon allowed her to sing backup for Etta James, Fontella Bass, and Stevie Wonder. Riperton sang lead vocals for several small, unsuccessful bands before teaming up with her husband, composer Richard Rudolph, to start her solo career. Stevie Wonder agreed to produce her album, Perfect Angel, featuring "Lovin' You", a ballad to her two-year old daughter Maya.
Minnie and Maya
Riperton was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a mastectomy in 1976. She became an active spokeswoman for the American Cancer Society and was awarded the Society Courage Award from President Jimmy Carter. She died in 1979 at the age of 31 and was interred in the Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles, California.
In addition to her musical legacy, Minnie Riperton is survived by her son, Marc Rudolph and daughter, Maya Rudolph, a current cast member of Saturday Night Live.
Early childhood Minnie Julia Riperton was born on November 8, 1947 to Daniel and Thelma Riperton. The youngest of eight children in a very musical family, Riperton embraced the arts very early in life. Although she started in ballet and modern dance, Riperton's parents recognized her coloratura abilities early in life, and she soon shifted to music and voice.
Minnie Riperton received operatic vocal training at the Lincoln Center by Miss Marion Jeffery. There she would practice breath control, holding vowels for extended times and phrase enunication, with particular care for diction. Jeffery also would train all of her range, which is rather unusual in operatic training as many classical purists deem the seventh octave unmusical.
While studying, Riperton sang operettas or a show tune, in preparation for a life in opera. Jeffery was so convinced in her pupil's coloratura abilities, she strongly pushed her to study the classics further at Chicago's Junior Lyric Opera. However, this was the '60s and Minnie was becoming very interested in soul, rhythm and blues, and rock. After graduating from high school, she enrolled at Loop College, but dropped out after a mere three weeks.
Early career Riperton's first professional appearance occurred when she was 15 as part of The Gems. Raynard Miner, a blind pianist, heard Riperton during her membership in Hyde Park's A Capella Choir. The Gems had relatively limited commercial success with Chess Records, but the group proved to be a good outlet to expose Riperton's talents to the music industry at large. Eventually the group became a session trio (to back other albums) called 'Studio Three'.
In 1964 the Gems released a local-hit "I Can't Help Myself" and their last single, "He Makes Me Feel So Good" was released in 1965. After that the group released records under numerous names - most notably 1966's "Baby I Want You" by the Girls Three and 1967's "My Baby's Real" by the Starlets. The former has achieved cult-status with Northern Soul fans and remains a favorite.
The latter was a Motown-styled song reminiscent of Tammi Terrell. In 1968 "Watered Down" was released as a follow-up, under the name the Starlets. Ultimately it was the last release of Riperton's girl-group. "My Baby's Real" by the Starlets and "He Makes Me Feel So Good" by the Gems can be purchased on CD on Ace's Where the Girls Are V.3.
Andrea Davis While a part of 'Studio Three', Riperton met her mentor, producer Billy Davis. He would write her first local hit "Lonely Girl" and "You Gave Me Soul". In honor of Davis, she used the "showbiz name", Andrea Davis, for the release of those two singles. Afterwards, she would use her real name.
Rotary Connection Some months after her Andrea Davis singles hit the radio, Riperton would join the Rotary Connection, a funky rock-soul group creation of Marshall Chess, the son of Chess Records founder Leonard Chess. The band consisted of Riperton, Chess, Judy Hauff, Sidney Barnes and Charles Stepney.
While she was in Rotary Connection, she met Richard Rudolph, her future husband and songwriting partner. The group released their debut in 1967, eventually releasing four more albums, 1968's Aladdin, the Christmas album Peace, Songs, and finally 1970's Dinner Music.
"Lovin' You" In 1973, a college rep for Epic Records found Riperton, then a semi-retired homemaker and mother of two in Gainesville, Florida. After he heard a demo of the song "Seeing You This Way", which showcased her coloratura, the rep took the tape to Don Ellis, VP of A&R for Epic. Minnie signed with Epic Records and the family moved to Los Angeles, California.
After meeting with Stevie Wonder and recording the background for his song "It Ain't No Use" with Deniece Williams and Lani Groves, Wonder produced Minnie's second LP entitled Perfect Angel. Including the rock-soul anthem "Reasons", the second single "Take A Little Trip", and the third single "Seeing You This Way", sales of the album started out slow.
Epic was ready to move on to the next record, but Rudolph convinced them to release another single. With the fourth single "Lovin' You", the album really caught on. In 1974, the song went to the top of the charts in the US, number two in the UK in 1975, and number three on the R&B charts in the US.
The album Perfect Angel went platinum, and Minnie was finally revered as the "lady with the high voice". The album also featured the song "Every Time He Comes Around", featuring Deniece Williams as the operatic soprano in the background. People who don't know the music of Riperton well may believe her to be a one-hit wonder, despite having a fairly successful R&B career.
Later career After Perfect Angel, Minnie Riperton and Richard Rudolph started on Riperton's second album Adventures in Paradise. Keyboardist Joe Sample played throughout the album and helped co-write "Adventures in Paradise". The album was a modest success. Despite the R&B hit "Inside My Love" (a number five US R&B hit, later covered by Trina Broussard, and Chanté Moore), the album didn't match the success of Perfect Angel. Riperton would sink back into mainstream obscurity, but enjoyed a good career in R&B.
Richard and Minnie
In 1976, Riperton's attorney Mike Rosenfeld and her husband orchestrated a move to Capitol Records. After inking a new deal with Capitol, Minnie released her third album titled, "Stay In love". This album featured another collaboration with Stevie Wonder in the funky, disco tune,
1979 saw the release of her fourth (and final during her lifetime)album, eponymously called Minnie. The last song Minnie recorded was Give Me Time, a melancholy ballad once again featuring Stevie Wonder. Her last televised performance was on an episode of The Merv Griffin Show (aired July 6, 1979), where she performed Memory Lane, featuring her enunciating the phrase "Oh Why", high in the seventh octave.
Illness and death In 1976 Riperton revealed to Flip Wilson, who was guest-hosting for Johnny Carson, that she had breast cancer.
Minnie continued touring in 1977 and 1978, but eventually the cancer took its toll. Despite a mastectomy, the disease had already spread to her lymph nodes and in 1979 was discovered to be terminal. At the end, Minnie entered Cedars-Sinai Hospital, and at approximately 10:00 a.m. on July 12, 1979, she died, with her husband by her side, aged 31.
Post-demise After Riperton passed, several artists recorded posthumous duets with Minnie, including Peabo Bryson and Michael Jackson. After her last single, Give Me Time, Love Lives Forever was released in 1980. Richard Rudolph had a song that never got recorded. The song, Now That I Have You was given to Teena Marie, who recorded it (and co-produced it with Rudolph) for use on her sophomore LP Lady T. Finally, in 1982, Capitol Records released The Best Of Minnie Riperton, a greatest hits collection.
Vocal ability Aside from her various hits, Riperton is perhaps best remembered today for her ability to sing in the whistle register. She had a rare facility in this register, and was capable of executing trills, runs, and other vocal acrobatics in this register. Riperton possessed a five-octave coloratura soprano vocal talent (the liner notes to her Petals legacy album ascribe to her a five and a half octave range), easily singing well into the seventh octave.
She was also noted for her ability to sound almost mechanical or instrumental in the whistle register. In "You Take My Breath Away," she sings a crescendo scale ending two octaves above the staff. Having an innate ability to imitate many instruments helped lead to her discovery while she was a secretary at Chess Records.
Covers, references, and sampling The plot of an early episode of South Park centers on a male singer's inability to hit the F6 in "Lovin' You". Deniece Williams and Tamar Braxton have stated that Minnie was an inspiration in the development of their vocal talents.
"Lovin' You" was sampled in Stagga Lee's "Roll Wit M.V.P." In 1989 British ambient group The Orb sampled Lovin' You on their breakthrough single, "A Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain That Rules from the Centre of the Ultraworld".
In 1991 Shanice Wilson covered "Lovin' You", updating it for a 90's sound. In 1991 & 1993, rap group A Tribe Called Quest sampled Riperton's "Baby This Love I Have" for the song "Check the Rhyme" off of the The Low End Theory. Following that, on their next album, Midnight Marauders, they sampled "Inside My Love" for "Lyrics to Go".
In 1992 Rachelle Ferrell sings (and sustains) an E7 in "It Only Took A Minute", demonstrating a technique of Minnie Riperton, to sing a note so high, it loses any real human color and thus sounds instrumental. In 1997, her song "Inside My Love" was used by Quentin Tarantino in his movie Jackie Brown (film).
In 1999 Mariah Carey mimicked Riperton in her song "Bliss", the third track on her album Rainbow. Carey can be heard singing the phrase 'On and On' in such a manner her voice sounds almost like a steaming tea kettle to illustrate her feelings. In 2000, her song "Inside My Love" was used in a sex scene for the movie Road Trip. In 2001 one of Riperton's earlier songs, "Les Fleur", was covered by 4hero, using Carina Andersson as the lead vocalist.
In 2001 Welsh based DJ Je?an Jacques Smoothie scored a worldwide hit with "2 People", which directly sampled Riperton's "Inside My Love". By the way the song was done, it almost appeared as if Riperton was actually a guest vocalist rather than a sampled voice.
In 2001 On an episode of Grilfriends, Joan (Tracee Ellis Ross) sings Lovin' You into a hairbrush (imitating a singer), and sings the F6 so off-key and shrill, Yvonne (Cee Cee Michaela Harshaw) kicked in the door believing Joan to be in distress. In 2002 Chanté Moore played a wedding singer on Girlfriends and sang "Lovin' You", executing the high note in her own style.
In 2003 Kenny Lattimore and wife Chanté Moore covered "Here We Go". In 2003 Japanese R&B singer Ken Hirai covered Riperton's song "Lovin' You" in his album "Ken's Bar"
In 2004 Adam Lopez instrumentalized in the background of his song "Stay With Me", imitating a piccolo in a manner similar to Minnie Riperton. In 2005 Tireh duplicated Riperton's bridge acrobatics that she displayed on her climax for "Memory Lane" by sustaining notes in the whistle register to mimic the sound of a violin, in his song titled "Who Would Have Known".
"Inside My Love" samples the middle-8 Rhodes riff. British-American singer-songwriter Julia Fordham wrote and recorded the song "Roadside Angel" as a tribute to Minnie. It appears on her 2001 album Concrete Love, which also includes Julia's cover of "Lovin' You" as an unlisted bonus track. A live version also appears on Julia's album That's Live.
In 2006 Japanese singer Minako Honda covered Riperton's song "Lovin' You" in her album "Kokoro wo komete...(?????...)". As compared with the original melody, it is lower arranged by the seminote.
In 2006 Hip Hop artist Busta Rhymes sampled "Inside My Love" for the song "You Can't Hold The Torch" from "The Big Bang" album
Trivia Minnie Riperton was largely responsible for the label of "coloratura soprano" in non-classical music. Minnie trained early on to sing classical music and initially wanted to pursue that genre. However, the sixties ushered in rock and roll, and Minnie left opera to pursue a career in popular music. She brought her label with her, and when she became famous, she was revered as the "lady with the high voice" or the coloratura soprano. To this day in popular music, a coloratura in pop music denotes a singer of acrobatic range.
**The Whistle Register (also called the flageolet register and in Speech Level Singing the super-head register) is the highest register of the human voice.
Physiology and definition
The physiology of the whistle register is the most poorly understood of the vocal registers. It is known that when producing pitches in this register vibration occurs only in some anterior portion of the vocal folds. This shorter vibrating length naturally allows for easier production of high pitches. The physiological process that causes this is not currently known.
The whistle register is most commonly used to produce pitches around and above soprano C. By the physiological definition just detailed, it is a configuration of the vocal folds and not a range of pitches. There is, however, no universally agreed scheme for classifying vocal registers, so it is common to see other definitions. Uses of the whistle register
In European classical music, the whistle register is only rarely called for. When it is, it is exclusively used by coloratura sopranos to produce pitches above C6. Probably the best-known example of the whistle register in European classical music is in the "Queen of the Night" aria (properly titled "Der Hölle Rache kocht in meinem Herzen") from the Mozart opera Die Zauberflöte; it calls for pitches up to F6.
In Western popular music, the whistle register is used with more variety and to produce much higher pitches than are called for in classical music. While it is most often used by females, such as Mariah Carey, there are a few male singers who use it. Among male singers, the one who holds the Guinness Book of Records record (C#8, ) for highest vocal note by a male, Adam Lopez, makes extensive use of the whistle register. There are also non-musical uses of the whistle register. Famously, a very high pitch, properly produced, can shatter glass. This was demonstrated, for example, by Jaime Vendera on the television show MythBusters (though those pitches were not in the whistle register). It is also common for children of both sexes and for young women to shriek loudly in a way that sounds much like the whistle register, though it is not known whether the physiological mechanism is in fact the same.
The Mystery And Real-Life Tragedy Was her death an accident or suicide?
Did powerful men in Hollywood drive her to the edge?
THE coroner's report, dated Nov. 19, 1965, was the last chapter in the tragic story of a genuine, strikingly beautiful entertainer. Within the 18-page report labeled "Case No. 20813" was the long-awaited conclusion: Dorothy Jean Dandrige, Hollywood's first authentic Black sex symbol, had died from acute drug intoxication due to an overdose of Tofranil, an antidepressant. She was only 42.
When the final curtain rang down, the star of such movies as Carmen Jones and Porgy and Bess was found lying on the bathroom floor of her Sunset Strip apartment. It marked the end of the troubled life that was punctuated by pain, sorrow, disappointment and one heart-breaking tragedy after another. But there were triumphs, too, prompting those who knew her best to compare her life to a bright, shiny apple that has internal bruises. On the outside she was beautiful and surrounded by all the trappings that befit a star. But on the inside she suffered from the personal turmoil that wreaked havoc on her soul.
This year (September 8) marked the 28th anniversary of Dorothy Dandridge's death, and her name still evokes some special thoughts and feelings. For many who knew her personally or simply worshipped her from afar, the adulation, the memories and the mysteries still remain. And that continuing interest has led to the birth of several screenplays based on the sex goddess' life, with the mention of such stars as Janet Jackson, Jasmine Guy and former Miss America Vanessa Williams being cast in the lead role.
Dandrige, a 5-foot-5, honey-colored woman, was a ravishing beauty who had a sensual swagger. She became the silver screen's hottest Black sex symbol and was described at one time as one of the five most beautiful women in the world. Her beauty, grace, good singing voice and acting ability all came into play during the transformation of her life into a classic Hollywood tale -- one with a bittersweet mixture of joy and pain. First there was the fruit of her labor -- the fame, the $100,000 per movie, a collection of jewels, a mansion in Hollywood Hills and a white Thunderbird car that was accentuated by the matching white beaver coat in which she wrapped herself. She was a star among stars.
Sadly, though, whatever glory she grasped from that pedestal was often overshadowed by the seemingly inevitable and heavy doses of disaster and despair -- two failed marriages, an abortion after an affair with producer/director Otto Preminger, a child who suffered brain damage, a floundering career, loss of a fortune in bad investments, eight lawsuits from creditors, the foreclosure on her elegant home and, finally, the embarrassment of bankruptcy. "There's no doubt that the tragedies, some of them extreme in nature, directly contributed to Dorothy's death," says Earl Mills, who began serving as Dorothy's manager in 1951 and was still in that position when she died. "Each tragic event took a little bit more out of her and eventually there was nothing else to take."
The tragedy that took the most involved her daughter, Harolyn, who was mentally retarded as a result of brain damage suffered at birth. Dorothy, who at the time was married to Harold Nicholas of the dancing Nicholas Brothers, was constantly burdened with guilt and depression because she believed she was responsible for the child's condition. It was two years after the birth that she learned the horrible truth -- Harolyn's mentality, doctors said, wouldn't develop beyond that of a four-year-old.
It was speculated that somehow, before delivery, the infant's supply of oxygen had been interrupted. Dorothy believed she waited too long to go to the hospital. But it was later said, however, that the brain damage could have been caused during delivery. "Dottie never got over the overwhelming guilt she felt because she thought she was responsible for her child's condition. She lived with that thought every day of her life," says Geraldine Branton, who at one time was married to Harold's brother, Fayard Nicholas, and was Dorothy's best friend. "You could never convince her she wasn't at fault. And nothing she did made up for what she felt she had done."
Harolyn was taken from doctor to doctor in a desperate attempt to find a cure for her problem. There was none. Dorothy sank deeper into her depression, and at the same time, her marriage to Harold Nicholas was crumbling. They drifted apart, and after seven years their marriage ended in divorce in 1949.
Now the walls seemed to be closing in on Dorothy. She felt she had failed as a mother and a wife. And now without a husband, without money and with a child to care for, she had to get back to what she knew best -- performing. But before renewing the career she had put on hold after her marriage, she reacquainted herself with famed vocal coach and composer Phil Moore. Years earlier, he had worked with Dorothy and her sister, Vivian, when they were billed as "The Wonder Children" and, later, as "The Dandridge Sisters" (which included Etta Jones).
After Moore boosted her confidence and taught her to mask her shyness, Dorothy found private care for her daughter and hit the nightclub circuit. She was like a little girl trying to be brave in a very frightening world at the time she took her first big-time job at the Mocambo in Hollywood. "I had no material and no confidence," she said of that engagement, "and to top it off, I was shy. But the people just seemed to like to look at me."
They really liked what they saw -- the flawless figure, the dreamy eyes, the smooth cafe au lait complexion, the sensuous mouth and the smooth elegance. She went on to conquer international audiences and break attendance records at hotels, including New York's Waldorf-Astoria.
There, Dorothy became the first Black to sing in the hotel's world-famed Empire Room, and over the years she integrated many of the other previously "White only" night spots. Although some Blacks accused her of having "gone over to the other side" because of her romances with White men, she uses her career as a platform to speak out for civil rights. She refused to perform in any club that wouldn't set aside a special table near the stage for members of the NAACP in the city in which she was scheduled to perform. She was proud of that and frequently wore an "EQUALITY" button that the National Urban League was distributing in those days.
Dandridge's singing career continued to blossom, and all the time she exhibited a joyous and tranquil facade. But as was the case so many times in her life, what seemed to be reality really wasn't. She suffered inside and fought hard to hide the tears. The truth is, she hated everything about working in nightclubs -- the cigarette smoke, the liquor; the men who ogled her and those who threw themselves at her. But this was the only way to make the much-needed money, and she believed it was the best way to achieve her ultimate goal -- movie stardom.
In 1953, her perservance paid off. After bit parts in some forgettable, low-budget films, she starred opposite Harry Belafonte in MGM's all-Black production of Bright Road. A year later, Carmen Jones, the '50s' most lavish all-Black production, based on Bizet's opera Carmen, made her an international star. Again starring with Belafonte, she took the title role and twisted it around her finger, playing a sultry factory worker who corrupts Belafonte, dumps him and is killed by him for her unfaithfulness.
The performance won her worldwide acclaim and an Oscar nomination as Best Actress of the Year, another first for a Black. She was turning up on all the major magazine covers, and for men -- both Black and White -- she had become the No. 1 object of their desire. When she thought that she had finally achieved her dream, tragedy struck again. Racism stil had its place in Hollywood. Dorothy Dandridge had been elevated to leading-lady status, and on the screen leading ladies make love to leading men. But Hollywood wasn't prepared for what it created.
With the exception of Belafonte and Sidney Poitier, there were no romantic Black male leads. And with Dorothy's sex appeal, her character had to sizzle. Producers didn't know how to handle an intimate Black-White relationship on screen, and, with no solutions in sight, they ignored it.
So after her performance in Carmen Jones raised some great expectation for the future, her bubble suddenly burst. Roles didn't come her way. It was three years before she appeared in another film, Island in the Sun, where she was cast in her first interracial love role -- a role that had to be limited to little more than hand holding.
Surely the lack of roles greatly frustrated this Cleveland-born star, but the compromises made in the few roles she got infuriated her. She was a perfectionist, a strong woman who had the courage to face the controversies that her characters might have created. "Dorothy was probably as frustrated as any actress could be who was Black," says Brock Peters, who(starred with her in Carmen Jones. "She had the talent and the looks, but she couldn't find an open door so those talents could be displayed regularly and appreciated by the audiences she developed through Carmen Jones."
Ironically, it was the sexy role in Carmen Jones that brought Dorothy international fame, but, friends say, that was an image she didn't like and one she tried desperately but unsuccessfully to shake. Producers always wanted to cast her in the role of the girl with no sense of mortality, a passionate woman of easy virtue. There were no offers to play diversified, untyped characters. "Dottie absolutely hated the sexpot image and, subsequently, she felt that her good looks were a curse," says Branton. "She wanted people to take her seriously, so much so that the had hoped to make enough money to produce a script of her own -- a script that had some social significance."
Dorothy's search for significant roles continued and, in 1959, she was cast in her last important American film, Porgy and Bess. But by this time, her personal life was becoming totally unglued. She was frantically searching for love, only to be frequently greeted with disappointment and heartache. Men openly took advantage of her trust and generosity. One of her romances involving Otto Preminger was characteristic of her lack of luck with men. The producer-director and Dorothy had become romantically involved during the filming of Carmen Jones, and he relationship, close friends say, progressed to the point of talk about marriage--until she became pregnant. According to these insiders, Preminger walked out, an abortion followed and it was the end of another bitter, unfilling romance.
Before she rebounded, enter White restaurateur Jack Denison who, her friends say, was "the most disastrous and destructive element in Dorothy's life." He was a handsome, smooth-talking man who reportedly jumped at the chance to woo a vulnerable, heartsick woman. In her autobiography, Everything and Nothing: The Dorothy Dandridge Tragedy, she said: "Some people kill themselves with drink, others with overdoses, some with a gun; a few hurl themselves in front of trains or autos. I hurled myself in front of another White man."
Denison showed her warmth, admiration and love, then dropped the magic word--marriage. They were wed in 1959. "That marriage was the major catastrophe in her life -- a catastrophe that contributed to her death more than people will ever know," Mills says. "Denison was a con artist who wanted to life off her earnings and have her provide financially for his sinking restaurant business. He put up a good front, but on their wedding night he told her he was broke."
fter that litany of dispair, Dorothy somehow got herself together and by early 1965 had begun to turn her life around. The vitality for which she was known was back, and with it came new job offers. She was scheduled to receive $10,000 for appearing in New York's Basin Street East, another $50,000 would come from an acting role in an American Western, and she already had gotten a $10,000 advance to write her autobiography. Bigger still, though, was the deal she completed south of the border. In Oaxaca, Mexico, she signed a $100,000 contract to do two films there, and she immediately flew back home to prepare for her New York engagement. The next day she was dead, found sprawled on her bathroom floor naked, except for a blue head scarf. She was the victim of tranquilizers.
Authorities never determined whether the actress' death was an accident or suicide. But friends are quick to rule out suicide because she was experiencing such a dramatic, positive turnaround in her life. Perhaps it's fitting that the questions still surround the life and death of Dorothy Dandridge. She was an enigma. And we may never know exactly what occurred in those last few moments of her life. Whatever happened, it brought about a much-too-early end to the life of a brilliant but troubled star.
Your roar Lion, and purr, Lioness,
translates like so many
echoes of power within
love..and love within
masculine and feminine beauty.
Do you realize how
much we miss you?
Do you hear the siren
song of our hearts,
a melody saturated
for what you've left behind?
You laid a fine foundation
..and each time that we are gifted
as we peruse your treasure in
the way you 'slapped it down
like a winning trump card',
we are enraptured to such a degree
that we can hear the pounding
of our hearts, literally.
We feel gratitude and pride
even at this very moment,
because we are reminded
of your legacy and
it's far reaching effect
on all that we are.
As we peer into your beauty
an inimitable beauty,
adorned by your blackness,
a blackness that we share.
Again, we say..
Roar, Dear Lion
and purr, Lioness,
in the Key of "We",
and by the roads that you've
paved and traversed
let us walk
the happiest of highways
Steppin originated in Chicago's African American community as a dance formerly referred to as the BOP, a smooth calm dance of striding, gliding, dipping, and dabbing to music by popular African American big bands and singing groups during the late 50's and early 60's. Events were hosted at places like Chicago's Savoy, The Club Delisa, The Time square, The Checkerboard, etc.
There were also the famous Rent, Quarter, Waist-line, or Basement parties on a smaller neighborhood scale. There were two select groups of Chicago Boppers in the late 50's and early 60's, who most would agree to be the forerunners of Steppin. They were called *Gousters and Ivy Leaguers: young African Americans from Chicago's West and Southside communities, separated only by fashion and style of dance. Gousters were cool and suave with an adopted style of fashion from the notorious Gangsters of the 40's and 50's,ie., baggy suits (think Zoot) and pleated pants, and were cool, calm, and collective.
Ivy Leaquers were prep school types, the college look, stove pipe pants, crew cuts, knit shirts, Harvard, Yale, or Princeton prototypes. The BOP was the most popular dance in Chicago; often sharing the popularity spotlight with individual dances like the Twist, The Monkey, The Mash Potatoes, The Twine Time, etc.. It also had The Walk, a slowed down version of The Bop. The intimate side of things, truly one of the most graceful aspects of Steppin one could ever witness and many around Chicago say actually existed before the Bop. The fact of the matter is, the Walk remain a major part of Chicago Steppin and continue to exist as the intimate aspect of the dance. The BOP remained popular through-out the 60's up until the Viet Nam War and the invasion of Love, Peace, Flower Power, and the Mod era.
In addition, public protest, the advancing forces of the civil rights movement, and racial tensions surfaced around the country that helped force African American dance and music to take drastic changes throughout the community. Songs reflected the times, the War, Civil Rights, Revolution or Protest rather than dancing. It was in fact fashionable and popular to listen to music rather than dance.This followed by the threat of revolution by so-called Black Militants, the sexaul revolution, intergration, and politics pushed The Bop deep into African American neighborhoods where it existed as a mere shadow but continued to survive up until it resurfaced in popularity during the mid 70's.
It returned with a faster pace and a more entertaining presence. It had to in order to contend with the presence of the Disco invasion. In the late 70's, when Disco took a sudden fall in popularity and individual dance like the Spank, The Dazz, etc. dominated the social arena, the bop again fell deep within the shadows of the African American social atmosphere. This time it lasted well up into the 80's when the Bop got a face lift, a new identity and a new name currently known as Steppin.
It had a new sound of music reserved solely for Steppin, a new identity, high fashion wear, a smooth beat, and a cool and smoothness about it like never before.
The African American community quickly adopted Steppin as tradition and cultural history much like the Blues, Jazz, and R&B. In reference to its history, and with the rise in popularity at clubs like the infamous Mr Ricky's Chic Ric's, Steppin and Steppers were immediately embraced as the social elite. Steppin swept Chicago's African American social scene with a fury that has lasted for decades; never failing to change with the music and times or be faced with the threat of slipping back into the shadows of African American social life. It is in fact a dance of changing music and times with a deep history that seems to survive where other dance forms failed. When we look at Steppin, we see fashions from rag time up until today; when we listen to it, we hear music from big band days up until rapp artist and contemporary artist of today; when we perform it, we move with the grace of the Swing, The Jitterbug, The Walk, and the Bop; when we feel it, we feel it through the 4-5 generations that we see at almost every major Steppers events, enjoying themselves as one unified body.
Steppin is the History of an African American dance. It is the social history of Chicago's African American social life. Its the Jazz of Ballroom dancing, and the story of the evolution of an African American dance as it traveled the roads of the African American experience. It is in fact, African American Social History communicated through dance. I draw this final yet partial conclusion. Steppin is the History of an African American social dance that never fail to manifest in African American communities and generations, its tradition, history, art form, culture, lifestyle, excitement, entertainment, music, fashion, sound, unity, and much much more in the form of energetic dance. It shall soon transcend the social atmosphere of America with universal appeal to all much like the Blues, Jazz, R&B, and Soul. Only time will tell.
*Gouster was a form of dress that was adopted by many high school students in the mid 1960s in Chicago. The dress consisted of baggy pants and long collar shirts. Some young men wore Borsalino hats or what was described as "Old Men Comforts".
Others would purchase cashmere coats to create more of a "gangster" look. Gousters had a reputation for being cool, not flashy. During this period, men would have their clothes tailor-made with pleated pants, simply referred to as "pleats". Later, many gousters started to purchase Italian knit shirts to complement their pleated pants. Many high schools were termed "Gouster Schools" due to the large percentage of students that dressed in the fashion. "Gouster Schools" were, in many cases, contrasted with "Ivy League Schools", where a majority of students wore the more "preppy" "Ivy" style, characterized by Brooks Brothers shirts, pants without pleats Kangaroo hats, and saddle shoes or penny loafers. Socially, the fashion groups remained distinct, with Ivys and Gousters choosing not to hang out with each other.