"PoPsie's" Impact on Music History
William Randolph was the preeminent paparazzo photographer of the New York music scene from the 1940's through the 1970's. Literally living in his studio shooting on assignment for various record companies, publicity firms, newspapers and trade magazines, he chronicled the transition from the Big Bands into the small tight Jazz combos.
He was also there for the jump from the studio crafted pop of Tin Pan Alley to the savage rhythms of Rock and Roll and the uptown sounds of rhythm & blues into the soul that laid the foundation of today's sounds. The 100,000 negatives left behind after Randolph's death in 1978 constitute a truly astounding collection. The range of the material is astonishing: When Frank Sinatra was named "King of the Singers" at The Copa during a broadcast on WINS with comic Phil Silvers officiating; "PoPsie" was there to snap the "King" with his crown. When Elvis Presley came to New York to cut his first records for RCA Victor, "PoPsie" was in the studio with him. When Bobby Darin signed with Atlantic Records (for the string of hits that included the smash "Mack the Knife"), "PoPsie" got the shot. When Harry Belafonte entered a New York studio to launch the mid-50's calypso craze, "PoPsie" documented the occasion. He also photographed all of the major teen idols through the years from Eddie Fisher and Tab Hunter to Frankie Avalon, Jimmy Clanton and Fabian.
He captured the Righteous Brothers in the recording studio and Smokey Robinson and the Miracles onstage during an appearance of the Ed Sullivan show. He snapped Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers ("Why Do Fools Fall in Love") boarding a plane for their first and only British tour.
"PoPsie" also captured the times when the music world carried over to other areas like sports and politics. He photographed Jackie Robinson and Buddy Johnson when they collaborated on the single "Did you see Jackie Robinson hit that Ball".
He captured Robert Kennedy when he collaborated with the release of the "Kennedy Years" recordings. "PoPsie" was also present at release parties, movie premiers and at numerous other functions all around the city. "PoPsie" was there when Elizabeth Taylor arrived at the world premiere of James Dean's last movie "Giant" in 1957. The list of celebrities from the movie, sports and entertainment worlds is almost as vast as the performers from the music world.
When disc jockey Alan Freed invented Rock & Roll at his renowned all-day concerts at the Paramount Theatre and the Brooklyn Fox in the 50's, "PoPsie" was there, clicking off priceless performance and backstage shots of such immortals as Bill Haley and the Comets; Bo Diddley; The Platters and many other performers, including spontaneous crowd shots that captured the moment.
Thanks to his photographs, "PoPsie" captured the true heart of the original rock & roll explosion.
Another facet of the "PoPsie" style was his affinity for odd couples: Chuck Berry jamming with Trini Lopez ("If I had a Hammer"); Perry Como at the piano with Brenda Lee ; Alan Freed trading one-liners with Salvador Dali; Count Basie backing up Pat Boone, of all people, on a TV special; Dr. Joyce Brothers interviewing the Beatles; beefcake singer Tom Jones hanging out with the Rolling Stones at the New York Playboy Club; Nat "King" Cole meeting composer W. C. Handy ("St. Louis Blues); Ella Fitzgerald nightclubbing with the great Billie Holiday. These unique shots offer fascinating glimpses of an era that has never before been so lovingly detailed.
"PoPsie" was always after the one-of-a-kind shot, and he succeeded with a startling consistency because most of his subjects trusted him. "PoPsie" was a friend to a lot of the entertainers stemming from his early days as "Sweeney the Greek", a shoeshine boy that hung out around nightclubs during the early thirties. He also was a close personal friend of Benny Goodman who got "PoPsie" started by purchasing his first camera as a wedding gift and financing his venture for the first two years after he got started in the early 1940's.
"PoPsie" also excelled at portraiture. His rates were among the highest in the industry at the time and for good reason. He was great at capturing the moment in the studio. Some of the biggest names in the industry utilized "PoPsie" as their portrait photographer and he always delivered the best.
"PoPsie's" work in portraits, usually for record company publicity departments anxious to present memorable images of their artists, always exceeded their expectations. In this traditionally restrictive format, "PoPsie" created an aura of innocent eagerness about his subjects that is today recognizable as a full-fledged style, much in the way that George Hurrell, working in Hollywood, forged a style out of movie-star portraits. Had it not been for "PoPsie", many of these pioneering artists would be nothing but blanks in our cultural consciousness today.
Who else, after all, photographed that greatest of the one-hit wonder doo-wop groups, the Penguins ("Earth Angel")? Who else got shots of the Dominoes (Sixty Minute Man" - and a group that spawned both Clyde McPhatter and Jackie Wilson); Question Mark and the Mysterians ("96 Tears") and Darlene Love, the soaring gospel lead on many of the great Phil Spector records of the early '60s and who also later co-starred in the series of "Lethal Weapon" movies as Danny Glover's on screen wife?
Among the many other artists "PoPsie" shot were Aretha Franklin; Ben E. King andThe Drifters; Carole King (an original Brill Building songwriter in the late 50's, now known for having recorded one of the best-selling albums of all time, Tapestry); electric-guitar pioneer Les Paul and his wife Mary Ford; Motown superstars Marvin Gaye and Mary Wells; producers Phil Spector, Quincy Jones, Lou Adler and Don Kirshner (the creator of the mid-60s "bubblegum" sound); Brook Benton ("It's Just a Matter of Time"); Bobby "Blue" Bland ("Turn on Your Love Light"); famous NY city disc jockey Murray "The K" Kaufman ("The Fifth Beatle"); and Sam "The Sham" Samudio ("Wooly Bully") and many others. From the Jazz world he photographed dozens of performers as diverse as Freddie Hubbard, Dr. Billy Taylor, Max Roach, Sonny Stitt and vocalists like Peggy Lee, Esther Phillips, Anita O'Day and Cathy Preston.
His portrait of Miles Davis from the early 50's brings back the brooding cool of the bebop era with accuracy unmatched by any other contemporary lens man.
For inquiries concerning sales and licensing of "PoPsie" photos please contact:
Michael Randolph (609) 645-2713 email: PoPsie-photos (at) att.net
ŠAll Images Copyright Michael Randolph