Art Laboe 1925-2022
I’m sure we all have a list of times and places to which we yearn to be transported in order to bear witness to particular musical events. My own would include the Miles Davis Nonet at the Royal Roost in 1948, Charlie Parker, Fats Navarro and Bud Powell at Birdland in 1950, Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane at the Five Spot in 1957, James Brown at the Apollo in 1963 and Andy Warhol’s Exploding Plastic Inevitable at the Dom in 1966. That’s a lot of time-machine trips to New York. But also very high on the list would have been one of the weekly dances hosted by the disc jockey Art Laboe at El Monte Legion Stadium, east of Los Angeles, where between 1955 and 1961 he presented star singers and vocal groups, mostly doo-wop and R&B, to a young and mixed audience of Hispanics, blacks and whites. Mr Laboe died in Palm Springs last Friday, aged 97, the day after taping his final radio show, and I’ve just finished writing his obituary for the Guardian. In 1963, two years after the last of the dances, Frank Zappa and Ray Collins wrote a song in tribute, which they recorded with Cleve Duncan of the Penguins. “Memories of El Monte” always makes me feel as though I know exactly how it must have felt to be there.