Tag Archives: soul

Celebrate Black Music Month

This month, Black Music Month, is as profound to the African America Diaspora as Black History Month. We are the inventors and creators of sounds that changed world cultures.

If we were to begin way back in the cradle of civilization centuries ago it all began with the drum. When we were captured and brought to the so-called New World we brought with us the rhythms that dictate our souls. It is a fact that African American people are responsible for the great music known as Jazz, Gospel, Blues, Soul, R&B, Rap, Hip Hop, and just about every musical sound we hear that featured and directly speak to the glorious past.

During the despicable era of slavery and segregation prior to the Civil Rights Movement the hallowing sounds of gospel music delivered an in-your-face sound that fed the souls of a 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.

This brings me to historic and game-changing record label – Motown and 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, prior to Motown Records rarely did you see the face of an African American on the cover of an album or black music heard on white radio. The music we enjoyed was called “race music” and it was segregated in the same way America was prior to 1959, when Motown was founded. Prior to Motown Records few black performers enjoyed anything close to crossover success. By the way, an album is what was used to play music before CD’s.

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

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. Form a tiny little basement studio we were 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 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 heart. I’m sure with you and millions around the world as well. 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 able to perform for us today – 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 haven more glorious and wonderful than I could ever imagine. And that’s my Thought Provoking Perspective…

JUST A SEASON


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…


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…


Elegance and Grace Personified aka Lena Horne

1There is nothing that gives me more pride than paying homage to the remarkable trailblazers who paved the way for others to follow. None was more significant that the lady known as “the Horne”! The electrifying beauty and uncompromising performer Lena Horne shattered racial boundaries by changing the way Hollywood presented black women for six decades through a singing career, stage, television, and in films.

She is best described in her own words saying, “my identity was clear because I no longer have to be a ‘credit,’ I don’t have to be a ‘symbol’ to anybody. I don’t have to be a ‘first’ to anybody. I don’t have to be an imitation of a white woman that Hollywood sort of hoped I’d become. I’m me, and I’m like nobody else.”
In 1933, Ms. Horne was pushed into a job at the Cotton Club by her mother, who knew the Harlem nightclub’s choreographer. The segregated club attracted white clientele, who liked to watch the top black entertainers of the day, such as Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway, surrounded by what was promoted as a “tall, tan and terrific” chorus of girls.

The Horne, as she was endearing called because of her striking beauty and voice, considered one of the most beautiful women in the world, attracted the attention of Hollywood in 1942. She was the first black woman to sign a meaningful long-term contract with a major studio, a contract that said she would never have to play a maid. This single act transformed the image of the African American woman in Hollywood.

As a film historian, Donald Bogle said, “Movies are a powerful medium and always depicted African American women before Lena Horne as hefty, mammy-like maids who were ditzy and giggling… Lena Horne becomes the first one the studios begin to look at differently… Really just by being there, being composed and onscreen with her dignity intact paved the way for a new day” for black actresses.

In Hollywood, Ms. Horne received previously unheard-of star treatment for a black actor. Her reputation in Hollywood rested on a handful of classic musical films. Among the best were two all-black musicals from 1943: “Cabin in the Sky,” as a small-town temptress who pursues Eddie “Rochester” Anderson; and “Stormy Weather,” in which she played a career-obsessed singer opposite Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. She shared billing with hugely famous white entertainers such as Gene Kelly, Lucille Ball, Mickey Rooney and Red Skelton but was segregated onscreen so producers could clip out her singing when the movies ran in the South. “Mississippi wanted its movies without me,” she once told the New York.

Metro Goldwyn Mayer studios featured Ms. Horne in movies and advertisements as glamorously as white beauties including Hedy Lamarr, Rita Hayworth, and Betty Grable. James Gavin, who has written a biography of Ms. Horne, said: “Given the horrible restrictions of the time, MGM bent over backward to do everything they could. After MGM, she was an international star, and that made her later career possible, made her a superstar.” Ms. Horne appeared on television and at major concerts halls in New York, London, and Paris. She starred on Broadway twice, and her 1981 revue, “Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music,” set the standard for the one-person musical show, reviewers said. The performance also netted her a special Tony Award and two Grammy Awards. She was formidable and the first black cabaret star for white society.

As a songstress, her repertoire consisted of sophisticated ballads of Cole Porter, George and Ira Gershwin, Frank Loesser and Billy Strayhorn. She loved the music but also said she liked surprising the white audience who expected black entertainers to sing hot jazz or blues and dance wildly. In her singing, Ms. Horne showed great range and could convincingly shift between jazz, blues, and cabaret ballads. New Yorker jazz writer Whitney Balliett praised her “sense of dynamics that allowed her to whisper and wheedle and shout.”

She told the New York Times in 1981, “I thought, ‘How can I sing about a penthouse in the sky, when with the housing restrictions the way they are, I wouldn’t be allowed to rent the place?” In the late 1940’s and 1950’s, she chose to focus on quietly defying segregation policies at upscale hotels in Miami Beach and Las Vegas where she performed. At the time, it was customary for black entertainers to stay in black neighborhoods, but Ms. Horne successfully insisted that she and her musicians be allowed to stay wherever she entertained. One Las Vegas establishment reportedly had its chambermaids burn Ms. Horne’s sheets.

In 1963, Ms. Horne appeared at the civil rights March on Washington with Harry Belafonte and Dick Gregory and was part of a group, which included authors James Baldwin and Lorraine Hansberry that met with Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy to urge a more active approach to desegregation. Ms. Horne also used her celebrity to rally front-line civil rights activists in the South and was a fundraiser for civil right groups including the NAACP and the National Council of Negro Women.

Working closely with NAACP Executive Secretary Walter White, Ms. Horne said she wanted to “try to establish a different kind of image for Negro women.” They successfully challenged the casting system that had long marginalized black performers onscreen by having them portray servants, minstrels or jungle natives.

To Ms. Horne’s surprise, her efforts to overcome servile screen parts was resented by many black actors who viewed her as a threat more than a pioneer. She said she was perceived as a danger to the system of informal “captains” in the black acting community who worked as liaisons with film producers when they needed “natives” for the latest Tarzan picture.

After the triumph of her 1981 Broadway show, she led an increasingly isolated life in her Manhattan apartment. Over my lifetime, I have seen and known giants who have illuminated the world. None shined brighter than “The Horne”. A life rich in wonder who now belong to the ages. Rest In Peace Ms. Horne as you take your rest among the ghost of the great. And that’s my thought provoking perspective…


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


The Power Of One

462_160This morning as you search your heart, you will pray and ask your God for his help that allows you to survive. It is a fact and all of us know that we need the help of someone in this divided as the nation where racial issues are more prominent than ever. The world is the most segregated; every race is against every other race. I would argue that the old ways like the church is not the answer.  I think most people have come to know that your life means nothing in the grand scheme of things.

The black preacher once was the moral authority in the African American community; today, they are just hustlers and scammers. The church was a concrete institution that use to be and was known as the pillar of the civil rights movement was nurtured and the driving force behind the limited rights gained during the 1959s and 1960s. Black people today face a crisis of biblical proportions at every level of life in America. Over the past few weeks, racism has returned to the forefront of American life.

What I would ask, instead of just relying on prayer, rather commit to action. I suggest you, everyone take action by bombarding your social media accounts and post everything you see and know about the atrocities about to occur concerning this new era. It was Rosa Parks, the mother of the civil rights movement, who one day refused to give up her seat for a white passenger and with that simple act of defiance made it possible for you to not endure such indignities today.

I believe in the power of one and that one is you! This is a Birmingham, Alabama moment. If each of us do our part in what appears to have all the signs of a movement for justice and equality we will succeed. You and your souls are at risk, the lives of your people’s future survival too. So if you’ve been harassed, humiliated or disrespected by law or witnessed it – stand up! In this new age, if you don’t it will bring about the ugly past and nothing will change if you don’t. And that’s my thought provoking perspective…

YOU HAVE THE POWER USE YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA VEHICLES TO SPREAD THE WORD, BE A REPORTER, AND SHARE THE INFORMATION VIA EVERY AVENUE. EVERY OTHER GROUP UNITES – IT IS TIME THE BLACK AMERICA TO UNITE NOW!

 


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