Tag Archives: Jazz

Happy Birthday Luther Vandross

2It is with great pride and pleasure I take in resurrecting the ghost of the greats that enriched my life, and dare I say made the world a better place.  I’ve highlighted and spotlighted many enormous champions of the African American experience, along with many who, regardless of their station, changed the world and made tremendous contributions. This was to also include the monumental musical giants of our time. In fact, I would be remissed if I did not acknowledge the spirits of those artists and entertainers whose presence will live within us for eternity.

I am rarely at a loss for words, but the voice of Luther Ronzoni Vandross was so passionate and powerful that I have no words; other than to say the day Luther Vandross transitioned to the great beyond was a mighty loss. We will never hear a voice of such quality, sweetness, or grace every again. So on this day I want to put you in a mellow mood with these attached videos of the legacy Luther left for use to enjoy. Rest In Peace. And that’s my thought provoking perspective…


All Hail The Queen

1The world renowned Diva Aretha Franklin is without question the most profound voice of our time. She is universally considered the Queen of Soul standing head and shoulders above all others. However, she is not only a giant of the soul music genre, but to pop and gospel music as well; more than any other performer, she epitomized soul derived from her gospel-charged roots. The Queen established an astonishing run of hits like “Respect,” “I Never Loved a Man,” “Chain of Fools,” “Baby I Love You,” “I Say a Little Prayer,” “Think,” “The House That Jack Built,” and so many more great tunes during her career that we love.

Aretha or Ree Ree, as we affectionately call her sometimes, earned the title “Lady Soul” early in her career but I think “Queen of Soul” is more appropriate, which she has worn uncontested since she recorded her first tune. As much of an international institution as she’s become, much of her work, if not all, is fitfully inspired by her gospel roots making her music a must and in some cases a necessity, for our listening pleasure.

Franklin grew up in the bosom of gospel music, one of six children, and daughter to a Baptist preacher. Moving from her birthplace of Memphis, Tenn. and finally settling with her family in Detroit. Her early years were filled with musical experiences and environments from two cities that were brimming with groundbreaking music – from gospel to soul to R & B – in the 1950s and 60s.

Franklin’s first recordings with Columbia did not receive the accolades the label thought they would receive, and it wasn’t until she began her career at Atlantic Records did she find her real place in music, eventually becoming the recipient of 18 Grammies.

Aretha’s voice has been the prize to which so many females over the last 50 years have set their eyes, striving to emulate with success her depth of feeling, her soulful cadence and the natural essence that seems to flow from within her and into her music. From girl groups to solo artists, so many women, young and old, see her more than just a role model for music, but for womanhood in general.

As a compliment to the Queen, I see her in the metaphorical sense like the guy from the movie “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” which was about a man who gets younger as he ages. She gets better with time! Aretha’s ongoing, lifelong career is bar-none one of the most profound and greatest of our time. Her music remains the foundation for so many to live by and love, and it has stood the test of time. All Hail the Queen. And that’s my Thought Provoking Perspective…

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The Aftermath Of Integration

1I recently had a conversation with a group of young people, none of which lived during the age of government segregation. Each had strongly convoluted opinions about the era that were not based in fact. This made me think about how much the current world view has changed the reality of black life, as it relates to a historical perspective.

First, white folk never wanted it and chatted go back to Africa at the time. It was never intended to be fair or equal! I am not suggesting that integration should not have happened, but it did have a negative impact on black life and the future of African Americans in many ways. Two prominent ways were in the areas of family and black business.

One thing that happened, for sure was that the black community stopped supporting the businesses in their own communities. After segregation, African Americans flocked to support businesses owned by whites and other groups, causing black restaurants, theaters, insurance companies, banks, etc. to almost disappear. Today, black people spend 95 percent of their income at white-owned businesses. Even though the number of black firms has grown 60.5 percent between 2002 and 2007, they only make up 7 percent of all U.S firms and less than .005 percent of all U.S business receipts.

I took the opportunity to educate these young people that in 1865, just after Emancipation, 476,748 free blacks – 1.5 percent of U.S. population– owned .005 percent of the total wealth of the United States. Today, a full 135 years after the abolition of slavery, 44.5 million African Americans – 14.2 percent of the population — possess a meager 1 percent of the national wealth.

If we look at relationships from 1890 to 1950, black women married at higher rates than white women, despite a consistent shortage of black males due to their higher mortality rate. According to a report released by the Washington DC-based think tank the Urban Institute, the state of the African American family is worse today than it was in the 1960s, four years before President Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act.

In 1965, only 8 percent of childbirths in the black community occurred out of wedlock. In 2010, out-of-wedlock childbirths in the black community are at an astonishing 72 percent. Researchers Heather Ross and Isabel Sawhill argue that the marital stability is directly related to the husband’s relative socio-economic standing and the size of the earnings difference between men and women.

Instead of focusing on maintaining black male employment to allow them to provide for their families, Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act with full affirmative action for women. The act benefited mostly white women and created a welfare system that encouraged the removal of the black male from the home. Many black men were also dislodged from their families and pushed into the rapidly expanding prison industrial complex that developed in the wake of rising unemployment.

Since integration, the unemployment rate of black men has been spiraling out of control. In 1954, white men had a zero percent unemployment rate, while African-American men experienced a 4 percent rate. By 2010, it was at 16.7 percent for Black men compared to 7.7 percent for white men. The workforce in 1954 was 79 percent African American. By 2011, that number had decreased to 57 percent. The number of employed black women, however, has increased. In 1954, 43 percent of African American women had jobs. By 2011, 54 percent of black women are job holders.

The Civil Rights Movement pushed for laws that would create a colorblind society, where people would not be restricted from access to education, jobs, voting, travel, public accommodations, or housing because of race. However, the legislation did nothing to eradicate white privilege. Michael K. Brown, professor of politics at University of California Santa Cruz, and co-author of“Whitewashing Race: The Myth of a Color-Blind Society” says in the U.S., “The color of one’s skin still determines success or failure, poverty or affluence, illness or health, prison or college.”

Two percent of all working African Americans work for another African American’s within their own neighborhood. Because of this, professionally trained Black people provide very little economic benefit to the black community. Whereas, prior to integration that number was significantly higher because of segregation people in the black community supported each other to sustain their lives and families.

The Black median household income is about 64 percent that of whites, while the Black median wealth is about 16 percent that of whites. Millions of Black children are being miseducated by people who don’t care about them, and they are unable to compete academically with their peers. At the same time, the criminal justice system has declared war on young Black men with policies such as “stop and frisk” and “three strikes.”

Marcus Garvey warned about this saying:

“Lagging behind in the van of civilization will not prove our higher abilities. Being subservient to the will and caprice of progressive races will not prove anything superior in us. Being satisfied to drink of the dregs from the cup of human progress will not demonstrate our fitness as a people to exist alongside of others, but when of our own initiative we strike out to build industries, governments, and ultimately empires, then and only then will we as a race prove to our Creator and to man in general that we are fit to survive and capable of shaping our own destiny.”

Maybe this proves that once past truths are forgotten, and the myths that are lies are born with an unfounded reality detrimental to all, but those who seek to benefit. As I have often said, “I firmly believe education is the single most important ingredient necessary to neutralize those forces that breed poverty and despair. We can change the world but first, we must change ourselves.” And that’s my thought provoking perspective…

Twitter @JohnTWills

Source: Black Atlanta Star


Remember Mr. Excitement: Jackie Wilson

462_160The amazing Jackie Wilson was known to his many fans as “Mr. Excitement”! He was one of the most inspirational and pioneering artists of the 1950s when Black music was called “Race Music.” He was one of the most underrated performers of all times.

What is not known by many is that Berry Gordy wrote some of his biggest hits. In fact, it was because of him that we have a Motown Records Company. For the record, when you look at Elvis Presley what you see is a carbon copy or at least an attempt to be Mr. Jackie Wilson. This man was an innovator, and one of the early initiators of what became to be known as Soul Music.

In his early years, the pretty boy was a prize fighter and had a reputation for being rather quick-tempered. In spite of his phenomenal success, his personal life was full of tragedy. In 1960, in New Orleans, Wilson was arrested and charged with assaulting a police officer when fans tried to climb onstage with Wilson. He shoved a policeman who had shoved one of the fans.

On February 15, 1961, in Manhattan, Wilson was injured in a shooting. It is said, the real story behind this incident was that one of his girlfriends, Juanita Jones, shot and wounded him in a jealous rage; when he returned to his Manhattan apartment with another woman, fashion model Harlean Harris, an ex-girlfriend of the late Sam Cook. Supposedly, his management concocted a story to protect Wilson’s reputation that Jones was an obsessed fan, who had threatened to shoot herself and that Wilson’s intervention resulted in his being shot.

Wilson was shot in the stomach: The bullet would result in the loss of a kidney, and lodged too close to his spine to be operated and removed. However, in early 1975, in an interview with author Arnold Shaw, Wilson maintained it actually was a zealous fan who he didn’t know that shot him. “We also had some trouble in 1961. That was when some crazy chick took a shot at me and nearly put me away for good….” Nonetheless, the story of the zealous fan was accepted, and no charges were brought against Jones. A month and a half after the shooting incident, Jackie was discharged from the hospital and apart from a limp and discomfort for a while; he was quickly on the mend.

At the time, Jackie had declared annual earnings of $263,000, while the average salary a man earned at the time was just $5,000 a year, but he discovered that, despite being at the peak of success, he was broke. Around this time, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) seized Jackie’s Detroit family home. Tarnopol and his accountants were supposed to take care of such matters. Fortunately, Jackie made arrangements with the IRS to make restitution on the unpaid taxes and to re-purchase the family home at auction.

As far as money troubles went, this was not even the beginning for Wilson. Nat Tarnopol had taken advantage of Jackie, mismanaging Wilson’s money ever since he took the role of Wilson’s manager. He even had power-of-attorney over Wilson’s finances, giving him complete control over Jackie’s money. Shortly before Wilson suffered a heart attack in 1975, Tarnopol, and 18 other Brunswick executives were indicted on charges of mail fraud and tax evasion stemming from bribery and payola scandals. Also in the indictment was the charge that Tarnopol owed at least $1 million in royalties to Wilson.

In 1976, Tarnopol and the others were found guilty; an appeals court overturned their conviction 18 months later. Although the conviction was overturned, judges went into detail, outlining that Tarnopol and Brunswick Records did defraud their artists of royalties and that there was sufficient evidence for Wilson to file a lawsuit. However, a trial to sue Tarnopol for royalties never took place, as Wilson lay in a nursing home comatose. Sadly, Wilson died riddled with debt to the IRS and Brunswick Records.

Freda Hood, Wilson’s first wife, with whom he had four children, divorced him in 1965 after 14 years of marriage, frustrated with his notorious womanizing. Although the divorce was amicable, Freda would regret her decision. Freda never stopped loving him, and Jackie treated her as though she were still his wife.

His 16-year-old son, Jackie Jr., was shot and killed on a neighbor’s porch in 1970, and two of Wilson’s daughters also died at a young age. His daughter Sandra died in 1977 at the age of 24 of an apparent heart attack. Jacqueline Wilson was killed in 1988 in a drug-related incident in Highland Park, Michigan. The death of Jackie Jr. devastated Wilson. He sank into a period of depression, and for the next couple of years he remained a recluse mostly, drinking and using drugs.

Wilson’s second marriage was to model Harlean Harris in 1967 with whom he had three children, but they separated soon after. Wilson later met and lived with Lynn Crochet. He was with Crochet until his heart attack in 1975. However, as he and Harris never officially divorced, Harris took the role of Wilson’s caregiver for the singers remaining nine years.

On September 29, 1975, Wilson was one of the featured acts in Dick Clark’s Good Ol’ Rock and Roll Revue, hosted by the Latin Casino in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Where he was in the middle of singing “Lonely Teardrops” when he suffered a heart attack, during the middle of the line “My heart is crying.”

When he collapsed on stage, audience members initially thought it was part of the act. Clark then ordered the musicians to stop the music. Cornell Gunter of The Coasters, who was backstage, noticed Wilson was not breathing. Gunter was able to resuscitate him, and Wilson was then rushed to a nearby hospital.

Medical personnel worked nearly 30 minutes to stabilize his vitals, but the lack of oxygen to his brain caused him to slip into a coma. He briefly emerged in early 1976, and was even able to take a few wobbly steps but slipped back into a semi-comatose state. He was a resident of the Medford Leas Retirement Center in Mount Holly, New Jersey when he was admitted to Virtua Memorial Hospital due to having trouble taking nourishment.

Jackie Wilson died on January 21, 1984, at the age of 49 from complications of pneumonia. Initially, he was buried in an unmarked grave at Westlawn Cemetery near Detroit. In 1987, a fundraiser collected enough money to purchase a headstone. Maybe the song “Lonely Tear Drops” came from his soul and spoke to the singer in a way that no one understood, as it seemed to be the story of his life. And that’s my Thought Provoking Perspective…


The Powerless Of Blackness

2I am not against anyone or culture. However, I make it a priority to speak to that which others have forgotten or simply don’t know about the African American Diaspora. I believe when you know who you are, believe in yourself, then and only then can you be empowered with the spirit of power. This is the problem!

Black people have been robbed of their history and past, which makes it virtually impossible to know your true history and who you are by design  It was not until about the 1920s that any knowledge of our past was revealed. Later in the 1960s more information was discovered in the form of our true history came to light. By that I mean, not the lies of His-Story!

Let me ruffle some feathers here – WE ARE NOT FREE! As a people, we are no better off today than the day Dr. King spoke about his dream, an elusive dream I might add; that was more like a nightmare than a dream of progress. We can go back to post Civil War and find that statistics about the black condition tell it is nearly the same as today. Further, in 1960 there were only 103 black elected officials, in 1990 there were over 9000, and today there are more than that with a black president. Still, nothing changed regarding our condition. In fact, it got worse! So the correlation between black elected official does not result in improvement or empowerment for black people.

I will readily admit that we have access in some areas, but access to the greater community does not translate into progress. The ideology of divide and conquer causes us to misunderstand that we are seen in one of two categories – good blacks or bad blacks. To be more succinct, as Malcolm said, “house niggers and field niggers”! Look around, there are far more Field Negros today, and the few House Negros de-emphasized their blackness and forgot about the masses of black people.

Few black people have read “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” I would suggest that you do because, in that novel, Uncle Tom was the strong black and Sambo was the bad black House Negro. So you see the trick that was played on us and how they flipped the script making us believe something other than the truth. So in today’s vernacular, we call those who are against our interests Uncle Tom’s, who is not the person strong enough to protect your interest. Yet, we follow the sellouts!

The power of blackness has been eroded by those who call themselves black conservatives sent to confuse your thinking. First, the root word “conserve” means to hold on to what you’ve got. For example, America was founded based on a slave mentality. Therefore, what the conservatives are saying, codeword anti-black, “we want to take out country back” is indicative of their intent. So I have to say to the black conservatives, you had nothing to hold on too, so the question then becomes; do you want slavery?

In essence, the concept of benign neglect, which was not based on empirical reality, ultimately blamed the victim and thus ignored the effects of the flawed structure of society in this nation. We did not listen to the few black leaders that preached freedom, and there were only a few; if they had your interest at heart they would know freedom is not given by any oppressor – it is taken, which mean you have to struggle, fight, and maybe die for it. Instead, most black people will choose to support every issue of any other group – instead of interest that directly affects you.

To this point, we’ve been playing a game we can’t win. At this moment, all black people have is hope, and that is all we have ever had – and it alone with our so-called leaders have failed us. It’s time to play to win! Join me as a member of the “Common Sense Party” to survive and not follow fools! And that’s my thought provoking perspective…

 


Champion Of The People

th (1)Bob Marley was the Third World’s first pop superstar. In all honesty, I don’t like the term third world because as Bob Marley said one love, which means one world. He was the man who introduced the world to the mystic power of reggae. He was a rocker at heart and gifted songwriter. He brought the lyrical force of a Bob Dylan with the personal charisma of a John Lennon, and the essential vocal stylings of Smokey Robinson into one voice. But to be clear, Bob Marley was so much more and in a class by himself which is why he became a legend!

In 1999 Time Magazine chose Bob Marley & The Wailers’ Exodus as the greatest album of the 20th century. This spoke to his international acclaim where his message continues to reverberate among people around the world. My favorite song is the huge political hit “Stand-up, Stand-up for your Rights”. The true testament of his greatness is the volume of greats artist who have recorded the many great songs he’s written.

Marley, in has life and after his death, evolved into a global symbol of freedom. Author Dave Thompson wrote in his book Reggae and Caribbean Music, laments what he perceives to be the commercialized pacification of Marley’s more militant edge, stating:

“Bob Marley ranks among both the most popular and the most misunderstood figures in modern culture … Gone from the public record is the ghetto kid who dreamed of Che Guevara and the Black Panthers, and pinned their posters up in the Wailers Soul Shack record store; who believed in freedom; and the fighting which it necessitated, and dressed the part on an early album sleeve; whose heroes were James Brown and Muhammad Ali; whose God was Ras Tafari and whose sacrament was marijuana.

Instead, the Bob Marley who surveys his kingdom today is smiling benevolence, a shining sun, a waving palm tree, and a string of hits which tumble out of polite radio like candy from a gumball machine. Of course, it has assured his immortality.”

His songs and music spoke to the struggles of the least of thee and to the souls of the ordinary person trapped outside of the establishment, which has endeared him to his fans and the world. As we celebrate and pay homage to this month dedicated to Black Music; I would be remised not to include Bob Marley as one of the greatest musical legends of our time – if not all times.

I know right now Bob Marley is “Jamming” right now with the ghosts of the greats! And that’s my Thought Provoking Perspective…

@johntwills


The House Of Soul

There was once a time and not too long ago when black music was rarely heard by the masses. The great music that African American performers created was not allowed to be played on the radio. It was called “race music”, however, the white performers stole this music. So many of those African American performers never made much money, if any at all as a result, and I am stopping short of calling this a crime, which is what it was.

Then came a man named Berry Gordy, who changed the face of music.  I would like to take this opportunity pay homage and say THANK YOU Mr. Gordy for Motown for your contribution to the world, our pride – as well as having the vision to know it was possible.

Most people do not know or remember that before Motown Records few black performers enjoyed anything close to crossover success. Black music was, then, called “race music” and was segregated in the same manner as the rest of America before 1959, when Motown was founded. Let me also remind you that rarely could the face of a black person be seen on an album cover before Motown’s founding. By the way, an album is what was used for music before CDs.

Motown was a company that primarily featured African American artists and its soul-based subsidiaries became the most successful proponents of what came to be known as “The Motown Sound”. This was a style of soul music with a distinct influence on all who heard it. From its Hitsville U.S.A Building on 2648 West Grand Boulevard, Detroit, Michigan that served as Motown’s headquarters. The label produced the most universally recognized stable of songwriters and performers of our time or any time.

From this tiny little basement studio, the world was introduced to Michael Jackson, the Supremes, Diana Ross, Smokey Robinson, the Miracles, Mary Wells, Marvin Gaye, the Temptations, Four Tops, the Commodores, Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder, Jr. Walker and the All-Stars, David Ruffin, Eddie Kendricks, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Rick James, Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson, Teena Marie, DeBarge, the Jackson Five, Martha and the Vandellas, the Marvelettes and Motown’s Funk Brothers studio band just to name a few of the artists that graced our souls and touched our hearts making us proud.

Many of Motown’s best-known hits were written by Barrett Strong, Norman Whitfield and the songwriting trio of Holland-Dozier-Holland, who became major forces in the music industry. For example, it’s a known fact in the music industry that to get a number one hit song someone would have to write more than thirty songs. Holland-Dozier-Holland had a string of more than fifty hits in a row with some becoming number one with several different artists, like the hit “I heard it through the Grapevine”. This is profound and will never happen again. No songwriter will ever achieve this feat – guaranteed.

Mr. Gordy did sell Motown, and it’s now in the hands of others. However, its legacy resides in a very special place in my heart, and I’m sure millions around the world. So again I say, thank you Motown for the music, the love, the magic, and the many great memories.

Lastly, to the legends that are no long able to perform for us today – thank you for your contribution – Rest in Peace. I know walking around heaven all day listening to the harmony of your souls must make heaven more glorious and wonderful than I could ever imagine. And that’s my Thought Provoking Perspective…


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