Today, StoryCorps, the oral history project that has collected more than 40,000 interviews and is heard weekly on NPR’s Morning Edition, will bring its MobileBooth to Millennium Park. StoryCorps founder David Isay joins host Tony Sarabia and WBEZ’s Richard Steele for an hour of music and conversation about songs as a vehicle for storytelling.
Richard Steele's Songs that tell stories:
"It Was a Very Good Year," by Frank Sinatra
Frank Sinatra was one of the few entertainers who only had to use his last name…SINATRA…to be recognized. This native New Jersey show biz icon was a recording star that did it all. He was an Academy Award-winning actor and a phenomenal concert performer. One of the many recordings he did over his long career took the form of a complete story outline. The song is “It Was A Very Good Year”. Sinatra recorded it in 1965 and won a Grammy for it during the following year. The song was originally written for a folk group called The Kingston Trio. They recorded in 1961, but nobody remembers it. Sinatra’s version turned out to be one of the most successful recordings he ever made.
"Minstrel And Queen," by Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions
Curtis Mayfield was born in Chicago in 1942 and his music always reflected his Windy City roots. His mother was an evangelist so he literally grew up in church. He picked up the guitar at an early age and taught himself how to play. A short time later he met Jerry Butler (now a Cook County Commissioner) when they sang in a church choir. Jerry, who was a few years older, asked young Curtis to join his band, which later became The Impressions. A couple of years after their million selling record called For Your Precious Love, Butler and the group parted company and Curtis became the lead singer as well as the group’s main songwriter. Minstrel and Queen was one of the many hit songs he wrote and the lyrics definitely contained one of the best stories. Another interesting story is how a Jamaican singer named Pat Kelly adopted the song and performed it as a serenade to Queen Elizabeth. In Jamaica the song became known as Queen Majesty.
"The Green Door," by Jim Lowe
Jim Lowe started out as an obscure singer/songwriter who recorded for Mercury Records in the mid 1950’s. He had done a few recordings that got minor attention and minimal radio airplay. When he recorded the novelty record Green Door in 1956, it became a surprise hit and soared to number one on the record charts. The lyrics were all about the speculation surrounding “what was behind the Green Door”. Jim Lowe went on to become a very successful New York City radio personality on a powerhouse station called WNEW. I listened to him often while worked a nightshift on a very mundane job. We never did find out what was behind the Green Door.