Today Zero to 180 turns eight.
Several months ago, I received a surprise phone call from writer, Steve Rosen, who informed me that he was putting together a feature article for Cincinnati Magazine that uses my “Cincinnati in Song” piece as a launching point.. Furthermore, for this piece, I was invited to contribute a 500-word sidebar of my Top Ten Cincinnati songs — such a marvelous birthday gift! . To help generate buzz for this article (entitled “Sing a Song of Cincinnati“) in the magazine’s December issue, I rolled out my Top Ten on Zero to 180’s Facebook page one song per day (beginning December 1st), with supplemental historical details not previously disclosed.
Unfortunately, today’s post threatens to undo all the positive momentum, as a result of the misguided decision to unfurl a new guitar arrangement of the “Midnight Cowboy” theme by Silver Spring-based music duo, Dubble Trubble.
Dub-inspired pop fusion (or so it says in their press packet), this take on John Barry‘s haunting soundtrack theme may one day end up as the title track of the duo’s debut collection — Twelve O’Clock Cowboys — of late-night sounds (streaming audio link):
Richard Harrington recently observed that Joni Mitchell submitted her own composition for the film — titled “Midnight Cowboy” — only to have the song rejected!. The sole recording of Mitchell’s soundtrack offering, notes Harrington, can be found on the Atlantic debut album by Washington, DC’s one-time “favorite folk singer” (and Roberta Flack collaborator), Donal Leace, who departed us this past November due to COVID-19.
Leace enjoyed the backing of a number of heavy-hitting musicians on his 1972 album, including Grady Tate & Bernard Purdie (drums), Jerry Jemmott & Ron Carter (bass), Keith Jarrett (piano), David Spinozza, Ernie Calabria & Richie Resnicoff (guitar), Ralph McDonald (percussion), and Roberta Flack & Joel Dorn (backing vocals).
Richard Harrington graciously shared his own research notes about Donal Leace to help ensure this information is distributed to the widest possible audience:
- Donal Leace passed away Sunday at 81 in Texas due to Covid-19 after some long-term health issues.
- Leace has a deep DC history, initially as a popular folk musician and songwriter in the ’60s and early ’70s (he kept performing well into the early 2000s) and later as a long-time educator at DC’s Duke Ellington School of the Arts.
- Donal was much loved in the community for his gentle nurturing spirit, supple singing and spirited performance.
- According to Harrington, who knew Leace as a friend since the late 1960s, Donal came here in 1960 to attend Howard University, earning income in the burgeoning folk scene centered around the Cellar Door. In fact, he for many years lived in an apartment above the club and was a frequent, sometimes last-minute, opening act for many touring acts (and opened for many of them on tour as well).
July 1964 issue – “Capitol Doings – Washington Folk Scene“
(Source: Richard Harrington)
- The report on Washington DC’s folk scene in the July 1964 issue of Hootenanny (above) includes this information = “‘Washington’s favorite folk singer’ is Don Leace. Don has been singing ‘songs indigenous to the American Negro’ for five years. He is a drama major at Howard University, and has directed ‘light’ (as opposed to classical) theatrical productions. He was the first professional talent booked into the original Shadows, but the Cellar Door is now known as ‘the home of Don Leace.’ Don helped Tom Lyons open the Cellar Door last summer, and he designed the lighting system, which he and Tom built themselves. He has taken folk courses at the University of Pennsylvania and has appeared at the Second Fret in Philadelphia, at Dallas’ PM, and at Baltimore’s Blue Dog. A relaxed performer, he establishes an instant rapport with audiences. On and off-stage (perhaps to maintain his luck), Don wears an Israeli good luck medallion, a large bronze coin which is a traditional talisman.”
- Leace — who split a live album with Carol Hedin recorded in 1962 at the Shadows (predecessor to the Cellar Door) where he started out (along with Charlie Byrd’s Showboat Lounge in Adams Morgan at 18th & Columbia) — would record at least two other albums, including Donal Leace in 1972 and Leace on Life in 1992. During the folk boom, Leace was earning $250 a week at the Shadows, a “huge sum” at the time.
- Graduated Howard, and earned graduate degrees from George Washington University (theater) and Georgetown (library studies).
- At DC’s Western High School, Leace first taught English. When the school later became the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, Leace taught theater and speech and was chair of the drama department.
- In 2000, Leace was named to the Washington Area Music Awards Hall of Fame and in 2003 to Washingtonian Magazine’s Washington Music Hall of Fame.
- Leace had a long-time relationship with Roberta Flack, who was his vocal coach for five years, as both were teaching in the DC public school system. Leace is the one who introduced her to Ewan MacColl’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” via a weirdly upbeat version by the folk duo Joe & Eddie (their’s, called “The First Time,” came out in 1963). Flack taught it to her middle school glee club students and it was a highlight during her long term residency at Mr. Henry’s on Capitol Hill. She eventually recorded it for her 1969 debut on Atlantic, First Take, in a spare, slowed-to-a-crawl, sensual/mournful reading. Nothing happened until 1971 when Clint Eastwood’s directorial debut, Play Misty for Me, featured it uncut (a rarity for a long song in a movie) in a steamy romantic interlude featuring him and Donna Mills. In early 1972, Atlantic released it as a single and it went to No. 1 for six weeks, propelling First Take, which had lingered low, to the top of the charts. Won Song of the Year Grammy in 1973 and album. Inducted into Grammy Hall of Fame in 2016. Ironically, Donal probably made more money off one of his songs being sampled by Kanye West on 2005’s Late Registration album, a chart-topper album and four-times platinum. A vocal sample from Donal’s “Today Won’t Come Again” is featured on “Hey Mama.”
- According to Washington Post‘s Bob Levey, in a 2001 “Coffee with Bob” piece, Leace became Donal when a Post typesetter left the end D off a Cellar Door ad and he liked it. Harrington notes he was still Donald in a Post review in 1965, as a senior at Howard, a 1969 review, and in assorted ads (specified below):
(#1) “The Senior Makes a Stand” by John Pagones. The Washington Post, Times Herald (1959-1973); Washington, D.C. [Washington, D.C] 26 – Dec 1965: G8.
(#2) Display Ad 350 — No Title. The Washington Post, Times Herald (1959-1973); Washington, D.C. [Washington, D.C] 09 – July 1967: H5.
(#3) Article 5 — No Title. The Washington Post, Times Herald (1959-1973); Washington, D.C. [Washington, D.C] 17 – Dec 1967: K8.
(#4) “A Stirring Performer” By Hollie I. West. The Washington Post, Times Herald (1959-1973); Washington, D.C. [Washington, D.C] 17 – Mar 1969: B9.
- Leace is also name-checked in a 2017 Washington Post piece by David Montgomery about Dave Chappelle‘s alma mater, Duke Ellington School of the Arts:
“By day, Chappelle’s teachers could sense an idiosyncratic mind at work. ‘He was interested in the thing that makes something happen, the motivation behind things,’ says Donal Leace, whose theater history class was a freewheeling forum for students to try out monologues and scenes. Years later, in tribute to one of his favorite teachers, Chappelle brought a camera crew back to Leace’s classroom to film a scene for ‘Chappelle’s Show.'”
(logo by Viv)
Zero to 180 Milestones: Years 0-7
- Inaugural Zero to 180 post that established a bona fide cross-cultural link between Cincinnati (via James Brown’s music recorded and distributed by King Records) and Kingston, Jamaica (i.e., Prince Buster’s rocksteady salute to Soul Brother Number One).
- 1st anniversary piece that featured an exclusive “Howard Dean” remix of a delightful Sesame Street song about anger management (with a special rant about how WordPress’s peculiarities made me homicidal the moment I launched this blog).
- 2nd anniversary piece that refused to acknowledge the milestone but instead celebrated the under-sung legacy of songwriter/session musician, Joe South – with a link to South’s first 45, a novelty tune that playfully laments Texas’s change in status as the nation’s largest state upon Alaska’s entry into the Union.
- 3rd anniversary piece that revealed the depths to which Zero to 180 will sink in order to foist his own amateur recordings onto an unsuspecting and trusting populace.
- 4th anniversary piece that formalized – as a public service – musical chord changes for an old (and tuneless) “hot potato” playground game called ‘The Wonderball.’
- 5th anniversary piece that paid tribute to the Buchanan & Goodman “break-in” records that helped fuel (along with Mad Magazine) this young music fanatic’s appetite for satire.
- 6th anniversary piece that introduced contemporary music product (dub-inspired pop fusion) — in direct violation of Zero to 180’s must-be-20-years-or-older policy.
- 7th anniversary piece that gave the previous year’s submission a good swift kick in the pants.