In these news-heavy times, the passing of near-famous and once-famous men and women — tinker, tailor, soldier, spy-like — doesn’t always get the attention it deserves. When duly noted, though, a time, a song, a style, a piece of history, a flicker of film emerge, to make us remember, to allow for a salute, to take you back.
As in “Oh Happy Day,” the balm of gospel to lift you up. The felinely, sublimely voice of a unique singer hard to forget. For football and pro sports fans, the television world of different voices, loud, enthusiastic, like a runaway stagecoach. For teens from the Dick Clark world of “American Bandstand,” a Mouseketeer. In the seductive voice and face of a woman who spanned black-and-white Bogey movies, scintillating soaps, television and full-Technicolor westerns. The smooth, cool, historic trappings of a charismatic young California senator, when that state was a state of mind as well as of geography.
We salute and remember: Edwin Hawkins, Dolores O’Riordan, Keith Jackson, Doreen Tracey, Dorothy Malone and John Tunney.
The meeting of the 18th-century hymn “Oh Happy Day” and Edwin Hawkins, a composer and arranger, a church and family performer, was entirely auspicious and right. The Oakland native formed the Northern California State Youth Choir and his first album was “Let Us Go Into The House Of The Lord.”
Hawkins recorded “Oh Happy Day” as a single and it became a hit as a pop song and a rhythm-and-blues number, providing inspiration to George Harrison and his “My Sweet Lord.”
In the voice and story of Dolores O’Riordan, there was sweetness, punkishness, a touch of fey, an edge of the 1990s, when she and her group the Cranberries were top drawer, rebellious and musically sublime, with a definitive Irish lilt to songs like “Zombie.” She had that same look: dark hair, cheekbones, a style at once challenging and ready to take flight. She was 46.
Keith Jackson was a boisterous man. You could tell by the size of his voice and the shadow he cast. As a sports announcer or sportscaster, he was a television legend. Long before television sports included a bunch of ex-jocks opining in their three-piece suits, Jackson was a Southern enthusiast, born in Roopville, Georgia. For ABC Sports, he covered everthing — baseball, the NBA, Wide World of Sports and so on. But it was in college football, where the Alabamas and Georgias of the world ruled, that he thrived the most, like a track star running through a cornfield. A Georgia Bulldog, his classic exclamation was: “Whoa, Nellie!” He died Jan. 12 at age 89, just before the Alabama-Georgia national championship game.
If you were a kid, not yet in high school in the 1950s, you knew her name, Doreen Tracey, and maybe all of the Mickey Mouse Club boys and girls (Annette Funicello was the reigning princess). After that, you graduated to American Bandstand. The British born Tracey was 74.
Dorothy Malone, who died at the age of 92, was all kinds of screen star — television and movies, blonde and heroine and good and bad girl — most memorably, to me, as a rare bookstore clerk to an inquisitive Humphrey Bogart in “The Big Sleep.” She thrived in Technicolor-long blond hair, and was dangerous in “Written on the Wind” (Oscar for Best Supporting Actress), “The Tarnished Angels” (black and white, based on a Faulkner novel), “Warlock” and “The High and the Mighty” (in which John Wayne costarred).
John Tunney had all kinds of pedigree, including being a golden California boy. He became a senator from California in the 1970s at a time when California politicians tended to be colorful with a touch of show business. He was preceded by hoofer George Murphy and the curmudgeon language professor S. I. Hayakawa. Rumor had it that Tunney — handsome as all get out — was considered to be the model for the Robert Redford role in “The Candidate.” His father was a heavyweight boxing champ in the Roaring Twenties.