Real artists, not airheads

By Zev Chafets New York Daily News (KRT) Enough with the Dixie Chicks. And while we’re at it, enough with the other vacant Hollywood sunglasses who have turned opposition to the war into a publicity stunt. Let’s talk instead about some entertainers who have slipped away without much notice while our attention has been focused on Iraq. People like Eva Narcissus Boyd, who died April 10 in North Carolina. Boyd’s showbiz name was Little Eva. In 1962, she recorded a song called “The Loco-Motion” that hit No. 1 on the charts. “There’s never been a dance that’s so easy to do,” she sang, and she was right. The Loco-Motion was so infectiously rhythmic that even white kids could do it. Little Eva came from North Carolina, but she wasn’t a Dixie Chick. She never got her picture on the cover of a national magazine, and if she had any political thoughts, she kept them to herself. But her voice has launched thousands of wedding receptions, and people will be moving round the floor in a loco-motion long after Natalie Maines is forgotten. Earl King died this month, too, in New Orleans. He was one of the great singer-songwriters of the Crescent City’s R’B ascendancy in the late ’50s and early ’60s. As a young man, he wore his hair conked and played the Stratocaster with wry economy. Later in life, he had an Afro and ran a record store with no records in it and gigged around town. He died of diabetes and drinking. In between, King wrote Louisiana classics like “Trick Bag,” and “Those Lonely Lonely Nights.” He also came up with all sorts of upbeat, eccentric gems about medieval castles and street parades and the timeless enmity between in-laws. Tim Robbins makes more news and more money in an hour than Earl King made in the last 20 years. But King had more original thoughts in a minute than Robbins has had in his entire life. Charles (Cholly) Atkins also passed away this month, at age 89. He was a master tap dancer-turned-choreographer who came to Detroit in 1964 and helped to invent the moves of Motown. Atkins taught the Temptations their steps, got the Four Tops to stop moving like a Vegas lounge act and instructed the Supremes to hold up their outstretched hands when they said, “Stop! In the Name of Love.” In the ’60s and ’70s, millions of baby boomers couldn’t pass a full-length mirror without paying tribute to Atkins with some moves _ and some of us, in the privacy of our bedrooms, are still at it. Late in life, Atkins won a Tony for his work on Broadway’s “Black and Blue” and some other nice awards. But at Motown, he was famous for not getting famous. He died as he lived, with style and grace, and a very small portion of the celebrity his talent deserved. On April 21, Nina Simone died in France. She was a singer and pianist who could break your heart or bust your lip, depending on her mood. After the murder of Medgar Evers, in 1963, she wrote and recorded a tune called “Mississippi Goddamn.” When Simone got mad, she stayed mad. In 1973, still furious at her native land, she went into exile in Europe and remained abroad for most of the next 30 years. “I paid a heavy price for fighting the establishment,” Simone once said, and that’s the truth; she paid with her career. It’s a price the Dixie Chicks and the rest of today’s plastic protest artists would never dream of. Which is why they’re not worth talking about. Enough already. ___ ABOUT THE WRITER Zev Chafets is a columnist for the New York Daily News, 450 West 33rd Street, New York, N.Y. 10001; e-mail: [email protected] ___ ‘copy 2003, New York Daily News. Visit the Daily News online at Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.