Friday, November 11, 2011


PoPsie: N.Y. Popular Music
Author: Michael Randolph
Reviewed by Fran Lewis

Through the Camera Lens of William “PoPsie” Randolph.

Imagine having a father who was considered the quintessential and most sought after photographer. Many performers do not like having their pictures taken no less having the paparazzo flashing bulbs in their faces at every turn. But, William PoPsie Randolph was unique and his pictures so expressive and so true to life that you can hear the instruments playing as you look at the many pictures and hear the voices of Nat King Cole, Perry Como, Elvis, Frankie Valli and so many more as you look through this amazing collection of photographs and the tribute to a great man by his son Michael Randolph.  Starting out as a band boy and leading up to managing Benny Goodman’s band, there was no stopping him. Hardworking, persistent and definitely having an eye for how to capture the inner soul of each person being photographed he was considered the best photographer during a time when the music industry was changing and world was about to hear not only jazz giving black performers a voice and much more but the birth of rock n’roll, swing in the forties, R&B and much more. Reading both the foreword by Quincy Jones and the introduction you will learn how he lived in this studio for months on end barely having time to change clothes, eating junk food and taking pictures for record companies, publicity firms, newspapers and trade magazines. The book is a timeline of his life as a photographer spanning from the forties with the Big Bands to the Jazz combos, rhythm and blues and let’s not forget my favorite era the birth of rock’n’ roll. Benny Goodman gave William his first camera as a wedding present and needless to say it was more than just a great investment in this man it was the start of a tumultuous career that would span decades.  The impact he had on the music industry was enormous and the one hundred thousand negatives left behind more than just priceless, his legacy. 

Sit back in your most comfortable chair and close your eyes and listen as you take a journey back in time with the author and me to where it all began as I tell you about his life, his career, the stars he met and much more in this picture gallery of photos. Pretend you are in a special museum devoted to just his pictures. Each floor in this museum houses the photos and information for one decade. From the forties to the seventies you will tour each floor, learn about the era and much more. Can you hear Glen Miller’s band or would you prefer the sound of Tommy Dorsey and his band? What about Benny Goodman? Take the journey back in time with me. Welcome to the forties.

Benny Goodman was his mentor and close friend. PoPsie and Benny were almost inseparable. They even argued as if they were brothers. Known for his one of a kind shot in capturing the true inner voice of the person being photographed PoPsie was a legend even in his own right. Starting in 1945 marrying and working with recording companies and magazines his life was one huge whirlwind filled with publicity and photo sessions, parties and club dates. It is amazing that he even had time to change the film in his camera. We begin with the forties and the big band era. On pages 10/11 we see him with Benny Goodman who started him with fifty dollars a week. Creating his own client list was not difficult for this resourceful man.
  Fran Lewis and Irene Brodsky took every step of the stairs to each floor of PoPsie's career. Those stairwells were enriched with the dialog and artistic performances of musicians representing several generations. PoPsie captured this popular music segue through his camera lens. In 1945 he worked as you can see on page 12 at the Chicago Theatre with Benny Goodman. With a last name that he felt was too hard to pronounce and too difficult for others to spell he changed his name to Randolph. Why! Read page 12. The article that follows on pages 12-14 tells about his life as a band boy, how he worked himself up and the fact the he loved playing the trumpet. Can you hear him playing as he sitting in with Benny Goodman or Woody Herman’s bands as he decided whether it was trumpet player or band manager as a career? Listen to Benny play as you can hear the sound of the clarinet on page 14 and feel the music as he plays at the 400 club. On this floor you will see so many photos of so many famous recording stars that you might not want to leave the floor but remember you have to see it all. This is a one- time offer from this reviewer for you to view the amazing work of this great photographer. Let’s start with one of my mom’s favorite singers Billie Holiday who sang her favorite song Embraceable You. My Dad would sing that to her just because she was special. Followed by the sound of glen Miller and his band pictured on the next page and imagine Bob Hope on the trumpet with Les Brown and his band of Renown.
The gallery is filled with so many photos including stars like Louis Prima, Stan Getz and Woody Herman. Press the button under the photo and you can hear the music; see the expressions of the faces of the bandleaders and musicians as they play along with the Four Brothers. The year was 1948 and the place the Terrace Room. On the next wall you can see one of my mom’s favorite singers Mel Torme along with Benny Goodman. The year 1949 and the place the Star 12 Club. My favorite photo of the era besides the ones with Mel Torme playing the drums would be the one with Mahalia Jackson. You can feel the emotions emanating from her face as the author states you can see the “Intensity,” in her face, as she was truly one of the best Gospel singers in the world.
Take the elevator up to the second floor as we leave the era of the big bands and find our way into the fifties. When times and the music changed PoPsie had to adapt to the music and the photos on this floor bring back memories. The year was 1950 and the singer Sarah Vaughn. Press the button: Do you hear her voice singing My Funny Valentine or All of Me. Let’s not forget the amazing photo of Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday also taken in 1950. Nat King Cole and Sarah Vaughn together in Carnegie Hall must have been something extraordinary for listeners and for PoPsie to photograph.  One thing that makes him stand out above the rest are his photos of unlikely pairs of performers like Mel Torme and Teddy Wilson plus Ed Sullivan and Leslie Gore at a party. One performer who was not only dynamic, intense and who created quite a stir on stage and excitement was Johnny Ray. Playing the piano growing up I loved to listen to Liberace and pretend to play as well as he did. The picture was taken in 1953 along with his brother off to the side on the violin. Liberace was totally my favorite musician. 

From the Penguins singing Earth Angel and the many Doo Wop sounds created by Motown, to the sounds of Jackie Wilson, Aretha Franklin and the Drifters William PoPsie captured the true meaning of music and the era in his photographs and in this special tribute to him by his son Michael Randolph. There are so many more to see but you will have to take the rest of the tour by yourself when you have this collection in this book on your bookshelf to enjoy and reminisce along with this reviewer.

Frank Sinatra, Old Blue Eyes smiling is priceless and what would the fifties be without Elvis. Imagine photographing his first LP album picture. Finally, the picture of sultry, sexy and steamy Johnny Mathis singing Chances Are.

PoPsie had a unique flair for understanding each era. He was as the author states, “the indisputable King of photography.” Let’s move up one floor and visit the 60’s and start with my favorite Frankie Avalon who just might entertain us with Venus. Followed by Tab Hunter and Dick Clark on American Bandstand that every teen and even adults regularly watched and enjoyed. From the Shirelles standing in front of the United Nations singing we hope Soldier Boy to the picture of comedian Jimmy Durante with Peggy Lee the sixties really changed the sound of what was played and heard. This decade marked the start of the British invasion of the Beatles. The two photos of the Beatles are fantastic and who knows if you press the button at the bottom of each one you might here Imagine, or even I Want To Hold Your Hand. Let’s not forget two other icons of the sixties Sonny and Cher and Smoky Robinson and the Miracles. The photos on pages 178 and 179 are so expressive and you can feel the music in the air. Let’s move to the 70’s. As the author states the world became “smaller and faster,” and PoPsie once again had to slow his pace. Taking fewer assignments but doing more favors. Deciding to take photos outside of New York. Welcome to the final decade of his life, which begins with Frankie Valli and of course everyone’s favorites, Patti LaBelle and the Blue Belles. My favorite was Bobby Darin who just might be singing Mac the Knife for all of us to hear. The era would not be complete without the sound of Count Basie seene on page 218.
With a foreword written by Quincy Jones and the book published by Hal Leonard Corporation PoPsie NY by Michael Randolph this book is truly more than just a great tribute to his father. It is a way for the world to keep the music of four decades alive forever. 

Our tour has ended but your journey back in time does not have to draw to a close as you too can have this great collection of photographs on your own bookshelf as a reminder of the music, the era and the work of this great man. PoPsie captured the heart and soul of  rock and roll, but also the big bands, the changes in the 70’s and the amazing sixties. From the 40’s through the 70’s PoPsie captured it all. Portraits of so many music icons, stars, groups and of course my favorite group The Tokens would forever make this man and his photos immortal. 

Thank you to Michael Randolph for requesting that I review this book and a special thank you to my dear friend and author Irene Brodsky for having the book delivered right to my door. This was truly an honor.

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