Eugene McDaniels, Singer-Songwriter of Soul and Blues, Dies at 76

August 1, 2011


By DENNIS HEVESI

PUBLISHED 8/1/2011 NY TIMES

Eugene McDaniels, whose mellifluous voice brought him high onto the Billboard charts several times in the early 1960s, and who wrote “Feel Like Makin’ Love,” which Roberta Flack took to the top of the charts in 1974, died on Friday at his home in Kittery Point, Me. He was 76.

He died after a brief illness, his wife, Karen, said.

With his four-octave range, Gene McDaniels, as he was first professionally known, hit No. 3 in the spring of 1961 with “A Hundred Pounds of Clay” and No. 5 later that year with “Tower of Strength.” He last hit the Top 40 with “Spanish Lace” in late 1962.

Mr. McDaniels’s songs, including those he wrote for other artists later in his career, jumped from jazz to blues to ballads to gospel and could be peppered with cultural criticism and political protest.

The lyrics of his bluesy up-tempo song “Compared to What,” recorded live at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1969 by the pianist and singer Les McCann and the saxophonist Eddie Harris, include:

“The president, he’s got his war

Folks don’t know just what it’s for

Nobody gives us rhyme or reason

Have one doubt, they call it treason”

After hitting No. 1 in 1974, Ms. Flack’s rendition of Mr. McDaniels’s swooning “Feel Like Makin’ Love” (“Strollin’ in the park, watchin’ winter turn to spring/Walking in the dark, seein’ lovers do their thing”) was nominated for a Grammy. It has since been covered by numerous artists.

Eugene Booker McDaniels was born in Kansas City, Kan., on Feb. 12, 1935, to Booker and Louise McDaniels. The family later moved to Omaha, where his father was a minister.

Gene sang in the church choir, became enthralled by jazz, attended the Omaha Conservatory of Music and moved to Los Angeles when he was 19. There he began as a solo singer before meeting and performing with his jazz idol, Mr. McCann. That led to his signing with Liberty Records.

Later in his career Mr. McDaniels became a producer for, among others, the organist Jimmy Smith and the singers Nancy Wilson and Merry Clayton.

Mr. McDaniels’s first two marriages ended in divorce. Besides his wife, the former Karen Thompson, he is survived by five sons, London McDaniels, Christopher McDaniels, Django McDaniels, Mateo McDaniels and Dylan Patterson; a daughter, Dali McDaniels; a sister, Patricia Nichols; and nine grandchildren.

Although Mr. McDaniels was absent from the charts as a performer after the early 1960s, his writing continued to leave its mark. His songs “have substantial melodies and rich, useful harmonies,” Don Heckman wrote in The New York Times in 1970, adding that it was “difficult to think of any other composer since Bob Dylan who has managed so well to find musical expression for the swirling cultural currents that envelop us.”

 

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1 Carri Coltrane August 10, 2011 at 8:47 pm

Gene and I were partners in every aspect of music for 30 years. He produced my 3 CD’s in 1997 and 1998. I co-produced his CD “Screams and Whispers”. He and I wrote the classic hit, “Meet Me On The Moon”, recorded by the late great Phyllis Hyman and wonderful Kimiko Itoh. He was my dearest friend and I will miss him very much. I was with him the eve before he passed. He was lucid and elegant. His marvelous spirit was ‘moving on’ as he wrote in a song. He told me he wasn’t afraid and was ready. He died peacefully with his wife Karen and closest loved ones around him. He leaves behind a vast catalog of incredible songs containing lyrics that we can all hold in our hearts and sing to the melodies that he and collaborative writers such as Mike Melvoin, Terry Silverlight, Ted Brancato, myself, Paul Anderson, Thomas Snow, Ron Carter, Eddie Gomez, Charlie Ernst, Dennis C. Johnson, Mark Lucas, his own sons, London, Christopher, Django, Mateo, Al Sylvestri and many more, composed. Gene wrote poignant and clever lyrics to Miles’ solos, Bill Evans, Wayne Shorter, John Coltrane, Oliver Nelson, David Sanborn, John Lewis, to name a few. McD also wrote lyrics to Classical composers such as Chopin and Beethoven. Any time we want to hear Gene’s ‘voice’ we can all re-listen to his hit music recorded and sung by himself, Roberta Flack, Les Mc Cann, Melba Moore, Nancy Wilson, Merry Clayton, BB King, Terry Lauber, Kimiko Itoh, Carri Coltrane, Diane Schuur, Joe WIlliams, Gladys Knight, Aretha Franklin. God Bless Eugene McDaniels and thank you for such an incredible human being. Carri Coltrane email: nostwo@comcast.ne

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