Mickey Hart is best known as one of two drummers in the improvisational rock music band the Grateful Dead. The sixth of seven members to join the band during its most critically lauded period, Hart’s complex time signatures and often exotic percussive techniques are credited with adding the sonic textures that are among several reasons why the San Francisco band is considered among the most groundbreaking rock bands of the late 1960s and early 1970s. The band’s two-drum lineup was revolutionary in rock music in the 1960s, and the pairing of Hart and Bill Kreutzmann—who collectively became known as the “Rhythm Devils” for their adventurous two-drum approach on live performances of such songs as “Dark Star,” “St. Stephen,” “The Eleven,” and “Drums”—lent musical depth beyond the lead guitar playing of Jerry Garcia and bass guitar playing of Phil Lesh.
Hart officially left the Grateful Dead in 1971 but continued to associate and record with band members before recording the band’s Blues for Allah album in 1975. He rejoined permanently in 1976, playing with the Grateful Dead until the band’s dissolution in 1995 following the death of guitarist and founder Garcia. Hart continued to tour and record both as a solo artist and with the Other Ones, a band containing such former members of the Grateful Dead as Lesh, rhythm guitarist Bob Weir, and keyboardists Bruce Hornsby and Vince Welnick. He also became an outspoken advocate for the spiritual and healing properties of music, particularly as it applies to aging adults, and published several books on the anthropological and spiritual qualities of drumming. In addition, Hart made exhaustive field recordings of drums and percussion instruments from around the world that have been released as part of the United States Library of Congress Archive of Folk Culture.
Hart was born on September 11, 1943, in Brooklyn, New York, and grew up in New York City and on Long Island. His mother, Leah Hart, raised him alone; his father, Lenny Hart, left before Hart’s birth. Both of Hart’s parents were drummers, and his mother arranged for him to study drums when he was in high school. He developed a passion for the big-band style of drummer Gene Krupa and eventually quit school to join the drum and bugle corps in the United States Air Force. Stationed in California, Hart met his father for the first time. The elder Hart was working as a savings and loan executive, but he had retained his interest in drumming. The two men spent an afternoon together, drumming on items in the father’s office, but they lost contact with each other after the initial meeting. Later stationed in Spain, Hart studied judo with a man named Pogo, from whom Hart learned breathing and focused mental techniques that he later applied to his drumming.
Hart was discharged from the Air Force in 1965. He returned to New York to pursue a career as a studio session drummer until Lenny Hart wrote him a letter to invite him to work in a drum store he had recently
Born Michael Hart on September 11, 1943, in Brooklyn, NY.
Joined Grateful Dead as second drummer, 1967; left Grateful Dead, 1971; released first solo album, Rolling Thunder, 1972; rejoined Grateful Dead for performance at Winterland, San Francisco, 1974; appeared on Grateful Dead album, Blues for Allah, 1975; rejoined Grateful Dead permanently, 1976; spoke about health benefits of drumming before U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, 1991; released album and book Planet Drum, 1991; released Mickey Hart’s Mystery Box, 1996; toured and recorded as drummer and percussionist for the Other Ones, a band containing former members of the Grateful Dead, 1999; released album and book Spirit into Sound, 1999.
Awards: Grammy Award, Best World Music Recording for Planet Drum, 1992.
opened in San Carlos, California, a city 30 miles south of San Francisco. Hart convinced his father to change the name of the store from Hart Music to Hart Drum City, and he proceeded to organize drum clinics on the premises. One of the renowned drummers to visit the store was Sonny Payne, who played with jazz legend Count Basie. Hart’s friendship with Payne led him to attend an August 1967 Count Basie performance at San Francisco’s Fillmore Auditorium, where Hart was introduced to Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann. Hart, Kreutzmann, and Payne left the Fillmore to attend a performance by Big Brother and the Holding Company at the Matrix. Payne, unimpressed by the bluesand-psychedelic hybrid of the Janis Joplin-fronted band, left. Hart, on the other hand, was impressed by the band’s performance and stayed with Kreutzmann. The two men later bought a bottle of Scotch whiskey and wandered through the Haight-Ashbury section of San Francisco, drinking and drumming on parked cars.
Kreutzmann invited Hart to visit the Grateful Dead rehearsals, but Hart could never find the band’s rehearsal space. On September 29, 1967, however, Hart attended his first Grateful Dead concert, which was held at the Straight Theater on Haight Street. During the band’s intermission, Kreutzmann invited Hart to sit in with the band on the second set. For nearly two hours, the band performed the song “Alligator,” which segued into the song “Caution,” and Hart was invited to join the band. He moved into a closet in Kreutzmann and Lesh’s Belvedere Street apartment and became the sixth member of the band. A seventh member, keyboardist and composer Tom Constanten, briefly joined the band for the Anthem of the Sun and Live/Dead albums.
During the latter part of the 1960s, Hart became one of the band’s most outspoken proponents of psychotropic drug use, especially lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD), and he also experimented with hypnosis. Hart would often take LSD with Kreutzmann or hypnotize the other drummer before shows in attempts to rhythmically mesh their two drumming styles. He also studied the tabla drums with instructor Shakar Gosh at the Ali Akbar College of Music in San Francisco in 1968. That same year, Lesh introduced Hart to the album The Music of East India, and Hart became preoccupied with one percussionist on the album, Alia Rakha. While performing in New York City with the Grateful Dead, Hart met Rakha, who was performing in New York with Indian sitar player Ravi Shankar. Rakha instructed Hart on how to create new time signatures: he kept a steady ten-count beat while calling out for Hart to play a different beat of various measures at the same time, including nine-counts, eleven-counts, and thirteen-counts. Hart introduced this methodology to Kreutz-mann, and the two men created rhythms for the Grateful Dead that were previously unheard of in the rock music idiom, including seven-count beats over five-count beats and eleven-count beats over nine-count beats on such songs as the Robert Hunter and Lesh composition “The Eleven.”
The new rhythmic approach, combined with the lyrics of Hunter, the experimentations of Constanten and Lesh, and the guitar extrapolations of Garcia, caused critics and audiences to recognize the Grateful Dead as among the most musically accomplished and adventurous rock bands of the time. The group’s long, improvisatory jams became much more focused and interesting, as displayed on the 1968 recording of the group’s second album, Anthem of the Sun. Anthem was two album sides of extended songs that blended seamlessly into each other, employing electronic effects more often associated with such twentieth-century classical composers as John Cage and Edgard Varese. The same year that Anthem of the Sun was released, Hart formed a short-lived improvisatory side project called Mickey Hart and the Hartbeats, which featured the more instrumentally accomplished members of the Grateful Dead and excluded Weir and keyboardist Ron (Pigpen) McKernan. In 1969 Hart also appeared on the debut album by the New Riders of the Purple Sage, which originally featured Garcia and Dave Nelson performing more country music-inflected songs.
In 1968 Hart became the first Grateful Dead member to move out of the Haight-Ashbury district. He rented a 32-acre ranch outside Novato, California, about 40 minutes north of San Francisco. Pigpen and his girl-friend shared the house with Hart, and the Grateful Dead rehearsed in the barn located on the property. In 1969 Hart performed with the Grateful Dead at the Woodstock Festival, a performance that is unanimously described by critics, band members, and fans as among the band’s worst. The group also played at the 1969 concert at California’s Altamont Speedway as a support act to the Jefferson Airplane and the Rolling Stones.
Following the release of the 1969 Grateful Dead albums Live/Dead and AOXOMOXOA, and the 1970 releases Workingman’s Dead and American Beauty, Hart resigned from the group. In response to the enormous debt incurred by the band due to the purchase of expensive equipment, bad bookkeeping, and production cost overruns on the band’s albums during the 1960s, Hart had convinced the band to hire his father as a business manager charged with returning the group to profitability. The elder Hart, however, eventually embezzled funds from the group in amounts estimated to be between $70,000 and $150,000. Hart stayed with the band for nine months after the revelation but then resigned out of embarrassment. The Grateful Dead provided him with a stipend, however, and Hart received a three-record advance from Warner Bros. He used the proceeds to build a 16-track studio on the ranch that he rented.
In 1972 Hart released the solo album, Rolling Thunder, which features Lesh, Weir, and Garcia, as well as Rakha on percussion. The recording also includes West Coast musicians Grace Slick from the Jefferson Airplane, David Frieberg and John Cipollina from the Quicksilver Messenger Service, the Tower of Power horn section, and Stephen Stills from Buffalo Spring-field and Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. The record takes its name from a Shoshone Indian medicine man who also speaks on the album. In 1974 Hart appeared with the Grateful Dead at the Winterland venue in San Francisco for the band’s final show before an extended break from touring. He also provided percussion on the band’s 1975 studio album, Blues for Allah. When the band resumed touring in 1976, Hart returned as the second drummer and percussionist, staying with the band until the Grateful Dead disbanded in 1995 following Garcia’s death.
Beginning in the late 1970s, the Grateful Dead became one of the largest-grossing acts in the entertainment industry, affording its members the opportunity to experiment with side projects. In 1976 Hart fronted the Diga Rhythm Band and released Diga. An album that displays a wide variety of percussion instruments from around the world, it also features the song “Happiness Is Drumming,” which includes Garcia on guitar. The song is noted as the basis for the song “Fire on the Mountain,” which appears on the Grateful Dead album Shakedown Street and on several subsequent Grateful Dead live albums.
Hart teamed with Kreutzmann to record original music for the Francis Ford Coppola Vietnam War film Apocalypse Now. The recording sessions resulted in Hart constructing “The Beast,” a large circular wheel that held such instruments as chimes, bells, and boxed crickets. The Beast became a regular stage fixture for the Grateful Dead. During the 1990s Hart expanded the Beast to include three double-headed drums patterned after a Brazilian surdo, as well as small drums that could be worn around the waist. In 1991 Hart told Musician magazine writer Connor Freff Cochran: “The Beast has been many different things. Right now it’s both acoustic and electronic. I have the big drums, and a set of eight Roto-Toms, but I also have all of my percussion collection sampled and with me on disc. I’m using thousands of sounds.” The sessions for the Apocalypse Now film score were released in 1980 as The Rhythm Devils Play River Music: The Apocalypse Now Sessions.
His 1990 solo release, At the Edge, was inspired by music that Hart called “dreamsongs,” which he said came to him while he was sleeping. In 1991 Hart provided assistance for a concert tour by the Gyoto Monks of Tibet. His fascination with World Music and percussion instruments led to his 1991 book and album Planet Drum. The album features such musicians as duggi tarang and dundun player Sikiru Adepoju; djembe, conga, and shekere player Babatunde Olatunji; Udu drum, balafon, and tabla player Zakir Hussain; and multiple percussionist Airto Moreira. The album received a Grammy Award for Best World Music Recording in 1992.
In the early 1990s, Hart testified on behalf of drum therapy before a United States Senate Committee on Aging. He also interviewed mythologist Joseph Camp-bell on the drum’s mystical significance. Following Garcia’s death in 1995, the individual members of the Grateful Dead decided that the guitarist could not be replaced, and the group disbanded. Hart released Mickey Hart’s Music Box in 1996, about which Musician magazine critic Robert L. Doerschuk claimed: “[Hart’s] integration of Third World percussion over dance beats is effortless and unobtrusive.” The album is notable also as the first major writing collaboration between composer Hart and lyricist Hunter since Rolling Thunder. He formed the Mickey Hart Band in 2000 and occasionally plays live performances with former members of the Grateful Dead in a band called the Other Ones.
Rolling Thunder, Warner Bros., 1972.
Diga, United Artists, 1976.
Music to Be Born By, Rykodisc, 1989.
At the Edge, Rykodisc, 1990.
Planet Drum, Rykodisc, 1991.
Mickey Hart’s Mystery Box, Rykodisc, 1996.
Supralingua, Rykodisc, 1998.
Spirit into Sound, Grateful Dead Records, 1999.
The Best of Mickey Hart: Over the Edge and Back, Rykodisc, 2002.
With the Grateful Dead
Anthem of the Sun, Warner Bros., 1968.
Live/Dead, Warner Bros., 1969.
AOXOMOXOA, Warner Bros., 1969.
Workingman’s Dead, Warner Bros., 1970
American Beauty, Warner Bros., 1970.
Grateful Dead, Warner Bros., 1971.
Blues for Allah, Warner Bros., 1975.
Terrapin Station, Arista, 1977.
Shakedown Street, Arista, 1978.
Go to Heaven, Arista, 1980.
Reckoning, Arista, 1981.
Dead Set, Arista, 1981.
In the Dark, Arista, 1987.
Built to Last, Arista, 1989.
Without a Net, Arista, 1990.
Infrared Roses, Grateful Dead Merchandising, 1991.
(With the Rhythm Devils) The Rhythm Devils Play River Music: The Apocalypse Now Sessions, Passport/Rykodisc, 1980.
(With Airto, Flora Purim) Däfos, 1984; reissued, Rykodisc, 1989.
(With the Other Ones) The Strange Remain, Arista, 1999.
Drumming at the Edge of Magic: A Journey into the Spirit of Percussion, HarperCollins, 1990.
Planet Drum, HarperCollins, 1991.
Spirit into Sound: The Magic of Music, Grateful Dead Books, 1999.
Brightman, Carol, Sweet Chaos: The Grateful Dead’s American Adventure, Pocket Books, 1998.
Buckley, Jonathon, and others, editors, Rock: The Rough Guide, Rough Guides, Ltd., 1999.
George-Warren, Holly, and Patricia Romanowski, editors, The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll, Fireside, 2001.
Selvin, Joel, Summer of Love: The Inside Story of LSD, Rock & Roll, Free Love and High Times in the Wild West, Plume/Penguin, 1994.
Trager, Oliver, The American Book of the Dead: The Definitive Grateful Dead Encyclopedia, Fireside, 1997.
Musician, January 1991, p. 95; June 1991, p. 66; July 1996, p. 89; October 1996, p. 22.
Zig Zag, October 1973; November 1973; December 1973.
"Hart, Mickey." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (March 21, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/hart-mickey
"Hart, Mickey." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved March 21, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/hart-mickey
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Pioneering Nigerian drummer Babatunde Olatunji influenced contemporary jazz's turn to African rhythms back in the 1960s. A respected musician and tireless promoter of African music and culture, he was also a key figure in the rise of world-beat music in the 1980s, and he teamed with Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart to record the Grammy Award-winning 1991 release, Planet Drum. Olatunji died of complications from advanced diabetes in April of 2003, just a day before his 76th birthday, and was eulogized in a variety of publications. Sing Out! 's Richard Dorsett termed him "African music's foremost ambassador of the power of rhythm," while New York Times music critic Jon Pareles recalled the drummer's personal philosophy: "Rhythm is the soul of life," Olatunji liked to say. "The whole universe revolves in rhythm. Everything and every human action revolves in rhythm."
Born on April 7, 1927, Olatunji grew up in the fishing village of Ajido, some 40 miles from Nigeria's largest city, Lagos. His father was a fisherman, and the family belonged to the Yoruba tribe, one of the country's largest ethnic groups. Drumming was an integral part of Yoruba ceremonial life, and Olatunji was fascinated by the form from an early age. "I was very inquisitive," he told Guardian journalist Ken Hunt, "and every weekend I would go to village festivals. I was always behind those master drummers, watching them play." He also came of age during an era when the first radio sets appeared in Nigeria, and he was drawn to the sounds of American jazz, gospel, and classical music heard on the British Broadcasting Corporation's (BBC) World Service.
In his teens, Olatunji moved to Lagos to attend a Baptist school, and he read about a Rotary International Foundation scholarship to the United States in a Reader's Digest magazine. Chosen as a 1950 recipient, Olatunji left his homeland for Atlanta, Georgia, where he enrolled at Morehouse College, a historic black school. He planned to study political science, but his interest in music continued to grow. He began to realize that the rhythms he heard in some Western music—particularly those with links to African American slave culture—had echoes of the West African music of his youth. The Desi Arnaz hit "Babalu" was one example: it was a cover of an Afro-Cuban tune, but it possessed Yoruba roots. "I would sing the whole thing, give them the translation and people were amazed," he told the Guardian. "I would say, 'Well this is what has happened to African music.'"
Contemporary of Martin Luther King Jr.
Olatunji was perplexed that the African American students he met at Morehouse knew so little about the cultural riches of his homeland, and he was drawn into the burgeoning movement to bring traditional African music to a new audience in America. He performed in his first concert at the college in 1953 and became a member of the Morehouse jazz band. During his time at the school, he came to know future civil-rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., just two years his senior. After earning his degree in 1954, Olatunji entered graduate school at New York University, with the goal of becoming a career diplomat. Still short on funds, he formed a drum and dance group that performed traditional West African music at multicultural events in the city; King even hired him to perform at civil rights rallies.
Olatunji was still active in campus politics, and he served as president of the African Students Unions of America for a time. In this capacity, he was invited to take part in the 1958 All African People's Conference in Accra, Ghana. The event had been the idea of Ghana's nationalist president, Kwame Nkrumah, and it was Nkrumah who suggested the career turn that shaped Olatunji's life. "I was still pursuing an academic and political career, but Nkrumah told me I should be our cultural ambassador," Olatunji recalled in an interview with George Kanzler, a writer for the Newark, New Jersey-based Star-Ledger. "He said African culture and personality had to be preserved." Nkrumah even arranged for a large shipment of drums to be sent back to New York for Olatunji.
Historic First Release
A Radio City Music Hall concert that Olatunji participated in served as another turning point. Columbia Records executive John Hammond, who had worked with Billie Holiday and would later discover both Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, signed Olatunji to the label, and his first release, Drums of Passion, appeared in 1959. It is considered the first African music ever recorded in a contemporary U.S. studio. Ethnomusicologists had brought back tapes of traditional ceremonial drumming, but Olatunji's debut "reached a mass public with its vivid sound and exotic song titles like 'Primitive Fire,'" noted Pareles in the New York Times.
Drums of Passion was actually released under the name "Michael" Olatunji but was later reissued under his own name. Poorly informed about his options, Olatunji also signed away his royalty rights, and in the end he earned little money from the record. He wrote music for the Broadway production of Lorraine Hansberry's acclaimed play, A Raisin in the Sun, but earned just $300 from that job. In 1961 he performed at inauguration ceremonies for U.S. President John F. Kennedy, and he released his second LP, Zungo! The following year, he was mentioned with other black icons, including King, in Bob Dylan's "I Shall Be Free." He was invited to perform at the African Pavilion of the 1964 New York World's Fair, and with money earned then he established the Olatunji Center for African Culture in Harlem a year later. There, Olatunji supplemented his income by teaching workshops in African music, dance, and language that were frequented by a new generation of jazz musicians in New York. The burgeoning "free jazz" movement incorporated African polyrhythms into its forms, and West African echoes became standard in new music from John Coltrane, Yusef Lateef, and Clark Terry, among others. Coltrane even dedicated a song, "Tunji," to Olatunji, and the last concert the avant-garde saxophonist gave before his death in 1967 was at the Olatunji Center. Rock musician Carlos Santana covered Olatunji's "Jin-Go-LoBa," first heard on Drums of Passion, under the title "Jingo," for his first single in 1969.
For the Record . . .
Born on April 7, 1927, in Ajido, Nigeria; died on April 6, 2003, in Salinas, CA; son of a fisherman; married; wife's name Amy Bush; children: sons Omotola and Niyi, daughters Folasade and Modupe. Education: Earned degree from Morehouse College, 1954; enrolled at the New York University Graduate School of Public Administration, mid-1950s.
Chorister in United African Methodist Church, Lagos, Nigeria, late 1940s; gave first African musical performance at Morehouse College, Atlanta, GA, 1953;
formed drum and dance group in New York City, c. 1955; performed at Radio City Music Hall, 1957; signed to Columbia Records; released first album, Drums of Passion, 1959; composed music for the Broadway production of A Raisin in the Sun ; performed at the African
Pavilion, New York World's Fair, 1964; founded Olatunji Center for African Culture, Harlem, NY, 1965; taught workshops and classes there in African music and culture; taught at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, CA, and at
the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY, 1970s; signed to Rykodisc, 1986; formed Planet Drum ensemble with Mickey Hart, Flora Purim, and others, released self-titled LP, 1991.
Awards: Grammy Award, Best World Music Album (with Mickey Hart) for Planet Drum, 1991.
Gave Drumming Seminars
Olatunji continued to release records on the Columbia label for a few years in the 1960s, but he still struggled financially. He even thought about moving back to Nigeria at one point. But his influence in the counter-culture deepened, heightened by a new interest in traditional drumming as a path to spiritual self-awareness, and he found extra work teaching at the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California. He also taught at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York. "Drums are for communication, for socialization and, most importantly, for healing," he explained to Austin American-Statesman journalist Michael Point. In the 1980s he gave more than 2,000 performances across American college campuses and abroad as well. His links to Morehouse helped revive his career in 1986, when fellow alumnus Bill Lee introduced him to his son, a young filmmaker named Spike, who hired Olatunji to score part of his groundbreaking 1986 feature-film debut, She's Gotta Have It.
That same year, the Rykodisc label signed Olatunji, and he began releasing records such as 1988's Drums of Passion: The Invocation. Another link to his past surfaced in the form of Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart, who had been a student at a Long Island school that Olatunji visited in the 1960s as part of his educational-outreach work with the Center for African Culture. Hart was fascinated by Olatunji's traditional drums, and in 1991 the pair teamed to form the ensemble Planet Drum. Bringing Brazilian vocalist Flora Purim and a host of other world musicians on board, they recorded an eponymous debut that won the Grammy Award for World Music in 1991.
Elder Statesman of World Music
Olatunji's last studio release was Love Drum Talk for the Chesky label in 1997. He continued to tour extensively, taking with him a group of dancers, musicians, and singers that performed under the name Drums of Passion. They sang in Yoruba and performed traditional West African dances in distinctive raffia costumes. One of his four children, daughter Modupe, was a member of the troupe, as were some of his seven grandchildren. He declared to the Star-Ledger 's Kanzler that he was still an ardent believer in the power of music, and that society was ignoring deeper issues that brought violence and misery to so many lives. "I want to put drums in the hands of young people instead of guns," he told the paper in 1999.
Olatunji was hospitalized because of his diabetes in 2001. He finished work on a new studio album, Healing Session, in 2003, just weeks before he died. The tribute to Olatunji in Sing Out! also mentioned the "rhythm is the soul of life" credo, and Dorsett remarked that "he was right … long before most of us knew it."
Drums of Passion, Columbia, 1959; reissued, Sony, 2002.
Zungo!, Columbia, 1961.
More Drums of Passion, Columbia, 1966.
Drums of Passion: The Invocation, Rykodisc, 1988.
Drums of Passion: The Beat, Rykodisc, 1989.
(With Mickey Hart) Planet Drum, Rykodisc, 1991.
Drums of Passion: Celebrate Freedom, Justice & Peace, Rykodisc, 1993.
Love Drum Talk, Chesky, 1997.
Healing Session, Narada, 2003.
Contemporary Black Biography, Volume 36, Gale, 2002.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, June 24, 1999, p. E10.
Austin American-Statesman, February 10, 1996, p. E11.
Guardian (London, England), April 11, 2003, p. 29.
Houston Chronicle, April 22, 1996, p. 1.
New York Times, April 9, 2003, p. D8.
Sing Out!, Summer 2003, p. 219.
Star-Ledger (Newark, NJ), June 18, 1999, p. 41.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 5, 1998, p. E1.
Times (London, England), April 12, 2003, p. 43.
"Olatunji, Babatunde." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (March 21, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/olatunji-babatunde
"Olatunji, Babatunde." Contemporary Musicians. . Retrieved March 21, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/olatunji-babatunde