Tag Archives: Michael Jackson

Happy Birthday Sly Stone

1-The genius whose government name is Sylvester Stewart, creator and frontman, of Sly & The Family Stone harnessed all of the disparate musical and social trends of the late 60s. This group shook up the music world creating a wild, brilliant fusion of soul, rock, R&B, and psychedelic funk that broke boundaries down without a second thought. The band was comprised of men and women, and blacks and whites, making the band the first fully integrated group in rock’s history caused an integration shone through the music, as well as their message.

Before Stone, very few soul and R&B groups delved into political and social commentary; after him, it became a tradition in soul, funk, and hip-hop that evolved into the mainstream body of music. The Family Stone’s arrangements were ingenious, filled with unexpected group vocals, syncopated rhythms, punchy horns, and pop melodies. Their music was joyous, but as the 60s ended, so did the good times. Stone became disillusioned with the ideals he had been preaching in his music, becoming addicted to a variety of drugs in the process.

His music gradually grew slower and darker, culminating in 1971s There’s a Riot Going On, which set the pace for 70s funk with its elastic bass, slurred vocals and militant Black Power stance. Stone was able to turn out one more modern funk classic, 1973s Fresh, before slowly succumbing to his addictions, which gradually sapped him of his once prodigious talents. Nevertheless, his music continued to provide the basic template for urban soul, funk, and even hip-hop well into the ’90s.

During 1966, Sly formed the Stoners, which featured trumpeter Cynthia Robinson. Though the Stoners didn’t last long, he brought Robinson along as one of the core members of his next group, Sly & the Family Stone. Formed in early 1967, the Family Stone also featured Fred Stewart (guitar, vocals), Larry Graham (bass, vocals), Greg Errico (drums), Jerry Martini (saxophone), and Rosie Stone (piano), who all were of different racial backgrounds.

The group’s eclectic music and multiracial composition made them distinctive from the numerous flower-power bands in San Francisco, and their first single, “I Ain’t Got Nobody,” became a regional hit for the local label Loadstone. The band signed with Epic Records shortly afterward, releasing their debut album, A Whole New Thing, by the end of the year.

The record stiffed, but the follow-up, Dance to the Music, generated a Top Ten pop and R&B hit with its title track early in 1968. Life followed later in 1968, but the record failed to capitalize on its predecessor’s success. “Everyday People,” released late in 1968, turned their fortunes back around, rocketing to the top of the pop and R&B charts and setting the stage for the breakthrough success of 1969’s Stand! At this point, the group took over the sound of the music industry!

Featuring “Everyday People,” “Sing a Simple Song,” “Stand,” and “I Want to Take You Higher,” became the Family Stone’s first genuine hit album, climbing to number 13 and spending over 100 weeks on the charts. Stand! Marked the emergence of a political bent in Stone’s songwriting (“Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey”), as well as the development of hard-edged, improvisational funk like “Sex Machine.” The Family Stone quickly became known as one of the best live bands of the late 60s, and their performance at Woodstock was widely hailed as one of the festival’s best.

The non-LP singles “Hot Fun in the Summertime” and “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin)” b/w “Everybody Is a Star” became hits, reaching number two and number one respectively in late 1969/early 1970. Both singles were included on Greatest Hits, which became a number two record upon its fall 1970 release.

While the group was at the height of its popularity, Sly was beginning to unravel behind the scenes. Developing a debilitating addiction to narcotics, Stone soon became notorious for arriving late for concerts, frequently missing the shows altogether. I personally paid to see Sly and the Family Stone on three different occasions and have yet to see him perform. However, it did not deter me from being one of their biggest fans.

Stone’s growing personal problems, as well as his dismay with the slow death of the civil rights movement and other political causes, surfaced on “There’s a Riot Goin’On”. Though the album shot to number one upon its fall 1971 release, the record — including “Family Affair,” Stone’s last number one single — was dark, hazy, and paranoid, and his audience began to shrink slightly.

During 1972, several key members of the Family Stone, including Graham and Errico, left the band; they were replaced by Rusty Allen and Andy Newmark, respectively. The relatively lighter Fresh appeared in the summer of 1973, and it went into the Top Ten on the strength of the Top Ten R&B hit “If You Want Me to Stay.” Released the following year, Small Talk was a moderate hit, reaching number 15 on the charts and going gold, but it failed to generate a big hit single. High on You, released in late 1975 and credited only to Sly Stone, confirmed that his power and popularity had faded. “I Get High on You” reached the R&B Top Ten, but the album made no lasting impact.

Sly virtually disappeared for years later to resurface destitute and homeless, but the sound he created lives on. It is said that most people get 15 minutes of fame while others become infamous for inspiring generations with a sound that changed the music world for all times. And that’s my thought provoking perspective…


Patti LaBelle

1-As I thought about a woman to give great praise and highlight during this month dedicated to great women and their achievements. My choice was Patricia Edwards better known to the world as Patti LaBelle or to those who love her as “Miss Patti”. She is renowned as a Grammy Award winning recording artist, author, and actress with over 50 years in the music industry. Miss Patti spent 16 years as lead singer of Patti Labelle and the Bluebells a group that changed their name to “Labelle” in the early 1970s and released the iconic song “Lady Marmalade”.

She started a solo career shortly after the group disbanded in 1977 becoming an established crossover success with “On My Own”, “If You Asked Me To”, “Stir It Up”, and the hit “New Attitude”. She has also recorded huge R&B ballads; “You Are My Friend”, “If Only You Knew”, and “Love, Need and Want You”.

Miss Patti possesses the vocal range far greater than any soprano. Her musical legacy and influence, she has rewarded her with inductions into the Grammy Hall of Fame, the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the Apollo Hall of Fame, and the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame. The World Music Awards presented her with the prestigious Legend Award. She has sold over 50 million records worldwide.

She released her self-titled album in 1977 to critical success, with the highlights being the dance singles “Joy To Have Your Love” and “Dan Swit Me”, and the pop-R&B ballad “You are My Friend”, a song she and her husband co‑wrote. Her subsequent follow-ups, however, 1978s “Tasty”, 1979s “It’s Alright with Me”, and 1980s “released”, failed to be as successful. Though well-established in some circles, LaBelle never followed her live performance success with hit records, which was often the case with the Bluebelles. In 1981, she was switched to Philadelphia International Records.

Miss Patti found success outside of music, performing on Broadway, TV, and movies. Her first film role was “A Soldier’s Story” and later issued for the soundtrack of Beverly Hills Cop. She garnered headlines in 1985 for her show-stopping performances, first at Motown Returns to the Apollo where she opened the show with Joe Cocker singing “You Are So Beautiful” where she received high praise. In the same show, she engaged in the so-called “infamous mic toss” between her and Dianna Ross during the show’s finale “I Want to Know What Love Is”. In fact, most views thought she stole the show.

A longtime resident of Philadelphia married Armstead Edwards, who had one child and tow adopted boys who were the children of their next-door neighbor after their mother died of cancer. Following the death of her youngest sister Jackie Padgett, the couple raised Padgett’s teenage children. In 2000, the couple announced their separation. Their divorce was finalized in 2003.

As lead singer of the legendary group Labelle, Patti LaBelle has been called one of the pioneers of the disco movement due to singles such as “Lady Marmalade” and “Messin’ With My Mind”. In turn, “Lady Marmalade” has been also called one of the first mainstream disco hits. Rolling Stones Magazine includes LaBelle in its 100 Greatest Singers List, citing her as an influencing factor to “generations of soul singers” including Luther Vandross, Alicia Keys, Beyoncé, Mary J. Blige and Christina Aguilera.Other singers who have been inspired by Patti LaBelle are Ashford & Simpson, Celine Dion, Donna Summer, Jennifer Hudson, Jody Watley, Macy Gray, Mariah Carey, Martha Wash, Paula Abdul, Fantasia Barrino, Whitney Houston, and Ariana Grande as well as Oleta Adams, and Regina Belle.

I could go on for days praising this woman for her longevity and accomplishments but space does not allow it. But, if you have ever seen this show-stopping songstress, I am sure you will agree. As the old adage says, she is one in a million, rather I would say she is one who only appears once in a lifetime. And that’s my thought provoking perspective…


Black History: The Temptations

11(2)Some tunes stand the test of time, like “My Girl” and the same can be said about some groups. When you hear the melodies and incomparable classic of the Temptations today you immediately think of the greatest group of voices that ever sang a song.

The Grammy-Winning Temptations achieved their legendary fame as one of the most successful acts to record for Motown Records. It’s rare for someone to change the course of time but this group changed the face of music. Often imitated but rarely duplicated!

The original group included second tenor/baritone Otis Williams, first tenor Elbridge “Al” Bryant, bass Melvin Franklin, first tenor/falsetto Eddie Kendricks and second tenor/baritone Paul Williams (no relation to Otis). Among the most notable future Temptations were lead singers David Ruffin and Dennis Edwards both of whom became successful Motown solo artists after leaving the group. Other members included Richard Street, Damon Harris, Ron Tyson, Ali-Ollie Woodson, Theo Peoples, G.C. Cameron and about fifty members total over time.

The history of the Temptations started in Detroit the home of Motown Records around 1961 as the Elgins. Overtime, as members came and went the new members carried the torch with finesse for decades. I would say this was accomplished because of the group’s mantra was “no one member is bigger than the group” and although the lineup frequently changed their impeccable sound did not.

A Motown-centric biography on the Temptations would start pretty glumly. Success eluded the group at first. Working at Motown was a “Dream Come True,” but even that song didn’t bring lasting fame. In 1963, a violent scuffle between Elbridge Bryant and Paul Williams preceded “Al’s” exit. Enter David Ruffin whose weathered tenor injected intriguing angst into the sweetest songs.

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The Temptations with David Ruffin and new tunes by Smokey Robinson was the injection of magic and the just kept coming. The Kendricks led song, “The Way You Do the Things You Do,” broke pop’s Top 20 and “My Girl,” 1964 became their signature. Meanwhile, Ruffin switched off with Kendricks at lead was like nothing that has come before or since.

Norman Whitfield, a rival producer, offered brawnier hits than Robinson’s, like “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg” and “I Wish It Would Rain.” By the late ’60s, his collaborations with Eddie Holland, and Barrett Strong, had earned him exclusive control over the music of the Temptations.

The group developed its own recognizable style. The Temptations wardrobe ran the fashion gamut: tuxedos, capes, leather, linen, blues, limes, you name it. But the Tempts always looked sharp and fun in their costumes. Eddie Kendricks held some sway over this easy sophistication.

Under the direction of Broadway hoofer Cholly Atkins, the Temptations became renowned dancers, as well. Daily two-hour rehearsals ensured their movements were precise and spectacular enough to rivet fans from bare stages. Paul Williams’ choreography, including the Temptation Walk, oozed sheer erotic energy.

Onstage, group harmony ruled. Offstage, conflicts abounded, particularly between Ruffin and the others. Too much ego and flakiness cost him his membership in 1968. Though he released his own smash, “My Whole World Ended,” solo super-stardom was not meant to be.

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Enter, ex-Contour Dennis Edwards’ convincing vocals, new songs by the Temptations re-emphasized the ensemble. Whitfield’s ambitious “psychedelic soul” phase fused denser grooves with sociopolitical observations, helping fans dance and think at once. Commercially, the Tempts stayed put on “Cloud Nine.”

In 1971 brought both returns and departures after “Just My Imagination,” a throwback to their tender ballads. Exit Eddie Kendricks for a solo career and the disco-esque hits, “Keep on Truckin'” and “Boogie Down.” Exit Paul Williams died as a result of suicide. Two new tenors, Richard Street and Damon Harris gamely met the challenge and held their own against the older classics.

In 1975 things shifted from Harris to Glenn Leonard. Then from Dennis Edwards to Louis Price to Dennis Edwards (who’d leave and come back several times). Then from Motown to Atlantic in 1977, then back to Motown in the early ’80s. Just in time for a reunion tour with David Ruffin and Eddie Kendricks!

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Enter the great Ali Ollie Woodson who played an integral part in keeping the Temptations from becoming just a nostalgia act. I would refer to him as the Temptations Temptation. I mean this in the sense that by the early 1980s, the Temptations were no longer posting hit after hit as they had in the 1960s and ’70s with songs like “Papa Was a Rolling Stone,” “My Girl,” and “I Wish It Would Rain.” They soared once again with Ali!

In 1989, in flesh and in spirit, the six classic members shared the stage once more at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Smooth spokesman Otis Williams, beloved Batman fanatic Melvin Franklin, ethereally elegant Eddie Kendricks, dynamic David Ruffin, and hard-hitting Dennis Edwards all accepted the award post harmoniously for the late Paul Williams.

All I can say is thanks for the spirit of these great men for their contribution to the world. The Temptations will live for all times. Thank you fellas! And that’s my thought Provoking Perspective…

 


A Tribute To Black Music

5White folk use to call music sung by black performers race music as they pretended not to listen to it – but stole it for white artists to use; nonetheless. Since it is true that black people are the first people to make a sound, the drum has been the foundation of rhythm since the beginning of time. Music is a world all unto itself, and some say it is the greatest communicator.

If we were to go way back to the cradle of civilization eon’s ago; it all began with the drum. When the African was captured they brought the drum to the so-called New World; bringing the rhythms that dictated our souls. It is a fact that African American people are responsible for creating all of the great music genres; Jazz, Gospel, Blues, Soul, R&B, Rap, Hip-Hop, and just about every musical sound we hear directly speaks to our glorious past.

During the despicable era of slavery and segregation, before the Civil Rights Movement, the mystical sounds of gospel music delivered an in-your-face sound that fed the souls of black people and that outlet produced some of the most timeless music ever created. Before I go further, let’s remember that it was Michael Jackson whose music video was the first black music to air on MTV just a short while ago.

I want to pay special homage to a place that was just tiny little building in Detroit that became the Mecca of black music called Motown, also known as Hitsville that changed that world. Its existence was historic and game-changing – thanks to its founder Mr. Barry Gordy. Let’s be honest, can you imagine a world without “The Motown Sound”? For many who don’t know or have forgotten, before Motown Records rarely did you see the face of an African American on the cover of an album or black music heard on mainstream radio.

The music we enjoyed and others stole was called “Race Music.” As strange as seems music was segregated the same way America was prior to the 1960s at the time Motown was founded. Before Motown, few black performers enjoyed nothing close to crossover success. By the way, an album is what was used to play music before CDs.

Motown was the first record label owned by an African American that primarily feature black artists, and its soul-based subsidiaries were the most successful proponents of what came to be known as The Motown Sound. It had a style of music with a distinct influence and soul touching flavor. From its Hitsville U.S. A building on 2648 West Grand Boulevard, Detroit, Michigan served as Motown’s headquarters produced the most universally recognized stable of songwriters and performers of our time or any time.

The music produced by Motown made a nation of people living in this nation without a nationality proud with its awe-inspiring run of hits that spoke to the essence of our souls and from that 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 Smokey Robinson, 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 in order 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 number one 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.

Although Mr. Gordy sold Motown, and it’s now in the hands of others, its legacy resides in a very special place in my hearts as well as 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 who are no longer with us to perform – thank you for your contribution – Rest in Peace. My guess is that they are walking around heaven all day singing with gleeful harmony the same way as it touched our souls when they were with us in this earthly realm. It must make heaven more glorious and wonderful than one could ever imagine. And that’s my Thought Provoking Perspective…


Happy Birthday Flo: The Original Dream Girl

22Remembering Florence Ballard on the day of her birth! I thought about titling this piece “Supremely Floriffic” because she was the founding member of the original and most popular girl group The Supremes. Yet, history records her as “The Forgotten Supreme”.

Florence, Diana Ross and Mary Wilson grew up in the now demolished Brewster Projects of Detroit. To make a fascinating story short, after begging Motown Records founder Berry Gordy for work, they were hired to sing. They recorded a string of hits for Motown, which still stand as a museum on East Grand Boulevard in Detroit. Florence Ballard had a very soulful voice that added great harmony to the group.

Few Motown acts could be put into the same caliber as The Supremes. Some say the Beatles were the greatest group of that era, but I differ in that because almost any Motown act would amply fit in that category, if it were not for racism. You see most black groups of that era were restricted by their color to perform on what was known as the “Chitlin Circuit”. Until Motown, the work of black artists fell into a category called “Race Music”.

Regardless of the real reason or the reason you might believe for her dismissal. In 1967, Ballard was removed from the Supremes lineup and replaced her with Cindy Birdsong. Flo signed away, all her rights to “The Supremes”, for $139.804 in 1968, in a hush/hush meeting in the Northland Inn. After leaving the group, she signed with ABC Records in 1968 forging on an unsuccessful solo career.

It is presumed the 1981 Broadway musical Dreamgirls that chronicles a fictional group called “The Dreams” had a number of plot components that paralleled events in the Supremes’ career. The central character of Effie White, like Florence Ballard, is criticized for being overweight, and is fired from the group.

The film version of Dreamgirls released in 2006 features more overt references to Ballard’s life and the Supremes’ story, including gowns and album covers that are direct copies of Supremes originals. Jennifer Hudson won both a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for her portrayal of Effie White. In her Golden Globe acceptance speech, Hudson dedicated her win to Florence Ballard.

As a member, Ballard sang on sixteen top forty singles with the group, including ten number-one hits. After being dropped from the label, Ballard struggled with many of life’s problems for a period of three years. Ballard was making an attempt for a musical comeback when she died of cardiac in February of 1976 at the age of 32. Ballard’s death was considered by one critic as “one of music’s greatest tragedies”. Ballard was posthumously inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of the Supremes in 1988.

On Friday, Feb 27th, almost 5000 people lined the street in front of the New Bethel Baptist Church to say goodbye to her. Diana Ross arrived and was booed by the crowd. The Reverend C.L. Franklin (Aretha’s dad) presided over the service. Members of the Four Tops, Marvin Johnson and Thearon Hill served as pallbearers and Stevie Wonder was an honorary one.

In the spirit of Black History I will not dishonor Flo’s memory with innuendo or any of the rumors that have circulated during and since her death. However, I will say this, not unlike many artists who live a soap-opera type career. She as well as many of Motown’s successful group lends credence to the old belief that great art comes from troubled lives. But even in the face of hardship their legend remains for all of eternity.Sleep well and rest in peace “Dream Girl”. And that’s my thought provoking perspective…

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Conspiracy Theory: Prince Was Murdered

028_1601I am generally not into or believe in conspiracy theories, but I have lived long enough to have seen this before. In the case of Prince’s untimely demise under suspicious circumstances. I am reminded of one of my granddaddy use to say. “this dog just don’t hunt!” It’s almost like “they” could not get the story right as to the cause of death. More importantly, when considering what happens to his product and the money makes me ask the question – is there any truth to what’s being reported. I think he was killed!!!

Let’s get go back in time and look at the history of black music artists. First and foremost, NO black performer has been allowed to obtain and fully own the music! We have all heard the stories back to Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Tupac, Whitney, and Jimi Hendrix, who fought for the rights to their masters and suddenly died. Michael Jackson, who did own the Beatles’ catalog and the music of others died mysteriously and Prince! Each of these artists was or had been in furious battles with the music industry forces all dying under suspicious circumstances.

I think it’s more to it than the price of fame! Those forces regained control and profited greatly when each died. It is important to note that a few days before Prince’s death, at his last public appearance, he told fans to ‘Wait a few days before you waste your prayers.’ These sound like the words of someone who knew he was in the crosshairs. Noticing the parallels with Michael Jackson’s death and other black music icon are astonishing.

Here are some important questions: Who will wrest control of Prince’s enormous back catalog now he is dead? Will Warner Brothers buy the rights to his music from his heirs in a cut-price deal, the same way Sony got their hands on Michael Jackson’s catalogue after his death? Who gets control over the thousands of unreleased songs in his vault? It has been suggested by music industry sources that his songs could be used for the next hundred years by manufactured, replaceable, corporate-enslaved pop stars. This amounts to trillions of dollars.

In the classes I teach, I have a favorite saying that I preach – “if you follow the money, you will always get the right answer!” Just watch and see who gets the money, you will find out who is the culprit!!! And that’s my thought provoking perspective…


Black History: Siedah Garrett

siedah garrettWhile thinking about someone in the music industry to pay homage to for their tremendous contributions to Black Music and Black History. I decided upon Siedah Garrett because she does not get the recognition she so rightly deserves. Now, I have a confession to make before I go further – I got chills thinking about this amazing lady who in my view is one of the most unsung female artists of our time Siedah Garrett.

Siedah is a Grammy Award Winning, and twice Oscar-nominated songwriter and recording artist. As I began writing this article, I was astounded by her accomplishments that included writing songs and performed backing vocals for many of the legends in the music industry. Such as Michael Jackson, Dennis Edwards, Brand New Heavies, Quincy Jones, Tevin Campbell, Donna Summers, Madonna, and Jennifer Hudson to name a few of the many great artists.

What further amazed me was that she has had huge hits singing duets but not one hit of her own. Most notably with Michael Jackson and she co-wrote Jackson’s #1 single “Man In The Mirror” as well as touring with him on his tours. She also had a number one hit with Temptations great Dennis Edwards “Don’t Look Any Further”.

She has been nominated for two Academy Awards for Best Original Song and has won a Grammy Award for Best Song Written for Visual Media for co-writing “Love You I Do” performed by Jennifer Hudson for the 2006 musical film Dreamgirls. Garrett was involved In 1987 Michael Jackson’s Bad album, singing a duet with Jackson on “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You”. The association with Jackson enabled her to sing on several Quincy Jones albums.

She co-wrote his hit songs “Tomorrow A Better You, Better me” on the “Back On The Block” and “The Secret Garden” albums. She forayed into the world of acting starring in a TV sitcom pilot for NBC called “Wally and the Valentines” as well as other television appearances. She hosted the show America’s Top 10. In another association with Maysa Leak’s (of the group Incognito) debut solo album as co-writer of the track “Sexy” in which she also sang backing vocals.

A few years later, she joined the Brand New Heavies, collaborating on their Shelter album. As part of the band, she co-wrote their top 5 hit “Sometimes” and enjoyed a minor hit with Carole King’s “You’ve Got A Friend”. Garrett worked with Madonna as a backing singer and dancer on The Re-Invention Tour in 2004.

Garrett’s professional involvement with Madonna goes back some years as she previously supplied backing vocals on some of Madonna’s earlier material including True Blue, and Who’s That Girl. She represented America in the opening ceremony of 2007 Special Olympics World Summer Games singing the song “I Know I Can”, and in the opening ceremony of Expo 2010 Shanghai China, singing the song “Better City, Better Life” with Jonathan Buck, both songs which she co-wrote with Quincy Jones.

Few artists have maintained such esteemed longevity with so many of the greats as Siedah. Whether she knows she’s great or not – I for one want to give props to this very special lady who gave so much to her craft and in my eyes “amazing” and not unsung at all. And that’s my Thought Provoking Perspective…


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