Noel Nicola


Noel Nicola, one of the founders of modern Cuban trova music, died of cancer Aug. 7 in Havana, his friends said. He was 58.

At his memorial service, Silvio Rodriguez joined others in a rendition of one of Mr. Nicola's most famous songs -- "Es mas, te perdono," or "Furthermore, I forgive you."

Mr. Nicola was born in the Cuban capital Oct. 7, 1946, into a family of musicians. He was composing songs by the time he was 13 years old.

His first onstage performance came in 1968, next to Cuban greats Rodriguez and Pablo Milanes.

The trio and several others founded the modern Cuban trova movement -- music with roots in the troubadour ballads composed during the island's wars of independence. Modern Cuban trovas recall American protest songs of the 1960s and 1970s that focused attention on social problems through musical storytelling.

Mr. Nicola performed in more than 30 countries in Europe, Africa, and North and South America. He also spent some of his time composing music for movies and the theater.

Emery 'Detroit Junior' Williams Jr.

Blues Pianist, Songwriter

Blues pianist and songwriter Emery "Detroit Junior" Williams Jr., 73, an energetic performer who entertained audiences despite losing a leg to diabetes, died Aug. 9.

Mr. Williams died of heart failure at his Chicago home, said longtime friend Bruce Iglauer, founder and president of Alligator Records.

In a musical career that spanned more than 50 years, Mr. Williams was known for his sense of humor and wild performances, which often featured him playing the piano while lying on the floor.

"He just loved being on the bandstand," Iglauer said. "He'd kick the piano bench over and drop to his knees and play. . . . He was a one-man blues party."

A native of Haynes, Ark., Mr. Williams learned to play piano at a young age and had performed in clubs in Michigan by the time he was 19.

He got the nickname "Detroit Junior" after arriving in Chicago in the 1950s and recording his first single, "Money Tree."

Mr. Williams was a tireless songwriter but recorded only four albums under his own name. Koko Taylor recorded three of his compositions. One of his songs, "Call My Job," was a hit for Albert King.

Helen L. Phillips

Metropolitan Opera Singer

Helen L. Phillips, 86, a soprano who broke the color barrier among singers at the Metropolitan Opera seven years before Marian Anderson's historic debut, died July 27 at New York's Isabella Geriatric Center. No cause of death was given.

Although the opera company had no formal policy barring nonwhites from appearing on its stage, Ms. Phillips became the first black chorister when she was hired as an extra for five performances of Mascagni's "Cavalleria Rusticana" from December 1947 through February 1948, said Met archivist Jeff McMillan. In 1933, a troupe of black dancers performed with the Met, he said.

In January 1955, Anderson became the first black singer to perform a major role at the Met, portraying Ulrica in Verdi's "A Masked Ball."

A native of St. Louis who graduated from Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Mo., Ms. Phillips went on to build a career as a soloist in the early 1950s. She sang at Manhattan's Town Hall in 1953 and with orchestras in Madrid and St. Louis, where she also sang with the opera company.

In 1954, Ms. Phillips sang the part of Queenie in a production of "Show Boat" at New York's City Center. She also performed more than 500 times as part of a State Department entertainment tour of Austria and West Germany.

Phillips later became a teacher and vocal coach.