One of the biggest mysteries about Hecke Kingdom, who cut a distinctive figure on the Bombay jazz stage in the 1950s and ’60s with his enormous baritone saxophone, was how exactly he pronounced his name. Was the “e” supposed to be silent? As it turns out, you could call him whatever you liked. Though his family didn’t pronounce the “e”, his fans often did. But whether they called him “Heck” or “Heckey”, as concert brochures routinely spelled his name, most people knew one thing about him: that he was a very talented musician.
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Usha Uthup, who won a Padma Shree this year, hasn’t stepped out of the spotlight since she first started belting out Broadway tunes and pop standards in 1969 in venues similar to this one, depicted in the 1972 film Bombay to Goa. She’s performed across the length of the country, recorded more than two dozen albums and has been featured on several popular Bollywood tracks. More importantly, she’s single-handedly created the paint-by-numbers kit that anyone hoping to make a living out of performing pop in India must follow: sing in an Indian language (or several); tour incessantly both in small-town India and to diasporic outposts in New Jersey, Hong Kong and Nigeria; cherry-pick film assignments; and never, ever stop enjoying yourself on stage. “I’m a people’s person,” Uthup told me. “I’ve never been bothered by people saying I play to the gallery – because I do. Without the gallery I’m nothing.”