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Black Music Month Spotlight: My Favorite Black Musicians of The Past

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Since this is my first year celebrating black music month, I’d like to share my favorite black musicians of the past. As an early twenty-something, I am so grateful to be able to appreciate these musicians and their impact on music today.

Janet Jackson- As a 90’s kid, I grew up listening to her and Michael. On her birthday last month, I rediscovered her music via a bunch of tracks that were not released as singles and songs released as alternative versions. My favorite Janet songs are “The Knowledge“, “Velvet Rope“, “Special“, “Funky Big Band” and the guitar mix version of “Black Cat“.  My favorite Janet music video is “Alright“.

When I was a kid, my parents recorded The Velvet Rope tour on VHS when it came on HBO. I loved watching that concert over and over. I also liked watching a VHS tape I still have called The Rhythm Nation compilation, which has all the music videos from the album Rhythm Nation 1814.

Death, the punk band If you have viewed the documentary A Band Called Death like I have, then you know that this band has a unique and special story. In the mid-70’s the band’s original line-up (David, Bobby, and Dannis Hackney) recorded the master tapes for what would become the album Death For The Whole World To See. Unfortunately, the band’s name prevented any record company from fully supporting them, and the music would remain unknown until 2008.

I liked that David Hackney, the band’s late guitarist and founder, was willing to stick to what he believed the band should be. He was the one who came up with the name Death and the spirituality around it, and I liked how he incorporated some of  his beliefs into the song “Let The World Turn“.

Another thing I like about this band is that they were willing to play rock music during a time when black musicians were expected to do Motown or soul and disco music. Some tracks on For The Whole World To See incorporate funk and rock, which is really cool.

Overall, I think this band was ahead of their time. Listening to them led me to discover the Afro-punk music genre, so I’m happy I learned about them.

Poly Styrene from the punk band X-Ray Spex- I love how Poly yelled the lyrics with so much fire and conviction. She didn’t care how she sounded, because she had something she wanted people to hear no matter what. I also liked that she held her ground in a mostly white, male-dominated genre.  I love the song “Oh Bondage, Up Yours!” because it really lets you know who she is. Heck, the entire Germ Free Adolescents album reflects her bold spirit. R.I.P. Poly.

Rock Musician Chuck Berry- He was the first classic rock musician I ever listened to. I have four songs from him on my iPod, but I like watching live clips of him on YouTube because you can see how awesome his guitar playing was. Like most people, I think “Johnny B. Goode” is the best.

Blues-Jazz Singer Billie Holiday- I love her voice, especially when it was younger because it was so golden. I love the way she stretches out the words on songs like “Billie’s Blues” because it allows me to savor the emotion in her voice. I also liked how she could fight when she wanted to. According to a BBC documentary I watched, she once hit a guy with a chair because he made a lewd gesture toward her when she was performing the haunting anti-lynching song “Strange Fruit“.

Jazz Singer Sarah Vaughan- Her young voice is like drinking something warm and sweet. It always gives me a good, soothing feeling when I listen to it. She is my number one favorite female jazz singer. My favorite song by her is “Autumn in New York“. I wish I could go back in time and see her live. Recently, I discovered a beautiful live version of the song “Over The Rainbow“.

Jazz musician and bandleader Cab Calloway- I’ve had a couple of his songs on my iPod, but I’ve recently added four more and have become fascinated by him. His upbeat songs like “Jumpin Jive” are so energetic and fun to listen to. I love that he is multi-talented; he could sing, dance, scat, compose songs, and lead a band. Not to mention, he had his own dictionary of slang words!

Besides Sarah, he is someone else I’d love to see live. Recently, I watched this great documentary about him called Sketches and have been watching some live footage of his performances. One that has become a favorite is “St. Louis Blues“. In the past, I also remember loving the live version of “Jumpin Jive” with The Nicholas Brothers from the film Stormy Weather.

Honorable Mentions:

Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong– I love Ella’s voice and scatting and Louis’s voice and trumpet playing, but I think they sound best together. They are they perfect combo. Love their versions of  “Summertime” and “Dream a Little Dream of Me“.

Michael Jackson- My favorite song by him will always be “Human Nature“. It holds a special place in my heart because I love the lyrics and his vocals and this song helped me put imagery into my poetry when I was in high school. I don’t really have a particular favorite music video, but I always enjoyed watching the movie Moonwalker on VHS. R.I.P. Michael.

 

Movie Review: St. Louis Blues (1958)

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St. Louis Blues, 1958

Source: Wikipedia

Summary (Partly taken from IMDB): Will Handy grows up in Memphis with his preacher father and his Aunt Hagar. His father intends for him to use his musical gifts only in church, but he can’t stay away from the music of the streets and workers. Once he gives in to the lure of blues and jazz, Handy discovers a gift for songwriting and becomes an accompanist for the speakeasy singer Go Go Germaine. However, he must soon choose between his father’s wishes and his own.

My Review:  One of the best things about this film is its star-studded cast. Will Handy is played by musician Nat King Cole, Go Go Germaine by singer-actress Eartha Kitt, and Go Go’s husband by musician Cab Calloway. Other notable stars include gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, actresses Pearl Bailey and Ruby Dee, and Ella Fitzgerald.

Besides the cast, their performances are very memorable. Nat King Cole does a great job on playing the cornet, singing, and acting. Eartha Kitt’s character  is  sexy and assertive and Kitt plays the role well. In addition, Kitt’s singing is a lovely mix of angelic and soulful.  Furthermore, Pearl Bailey’s small singing role in the film is just as good as Mahalia Jackson’s and Ella Fitzgerald’s.

The only lackluster element of the film is the storyline. A fusion of the film The Jazz Singer and the life of the real W.C. Handy, it is nothing more than a way to incorporate some of the songs that Handy wrote. If you have seen The Jazz Singer or enough references to the film, then the storyline will be predictable.

Overall, the film is a fantastic tribute to the contributions and influence of W.C. Handy. If you enjoy blues, jazz, gospel, or love musicals, then I recommend this film.

 

Here is the trailer for St. Louis Blues

 

 

Why Janet Jackson Should Be Remembered as A True Musician

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Source: Wikipedia

When the Superbowl was approaching earlier this year, some of the media took it upon themselves to remember Janet Jackson’s notorious 2004 half-time show wardrobe malfunction. Since then, this incident as well as Janet’s last three albums (Damita Jo, 20 Y.O., and  Disclipine)  seems to have made Janet’s sexuality more memorable than anything else.  However, there are many reasons that Janet should be remembered as a true musician.

1. She has paved the way for many musicians of today.

Janet’s “Pleasure Principle” music video inspired R&B singer Cassie’s “Me & U” music video.

Janet’s chair dance from the music video for “Miss You Much” influenced Britney Spears’ “Stronger” music video.

Janet’s music videos for “Love Will Never Do Without You” and “That’s The Way Love Goes” influenced Ciara’s “Body Party” music video.

 The angry feeling evoked in Janet’s song “Black Cat” can be heard in Christina Aguilera’s song “Fighter“.

2.  Her 1997 album The Velvet Rope showed that you can be sexy, socially conscious, and emotionally vulnerable as a woman.

Rope Burn” is a sexy song that involves sadomasochism.

Free X-One” is a song that supports those who are gay and bi-sexual.

What About” is a explicit, angry song that discusses being physically abused in a relationship.

Special” is a hopeful song that Janet channeled her depression into.

3. Collectively, her songs have an innovative and eclectic sound.

Rhythm Nation” from the album Rhythm Nation 1814- combines new jack swing with funk.

Funky Big Band” from the album Janet- combines jazz with hip-hop beats.

Velvet Rope” from the album The Velvet Rope– combines violin with dance beats.

Trust A Try‘ from the album All For You- combines orchestra, hip-hop beats, and rock.

4. She has been and is an amazing live performer with an electrifying stage presence and an angelic voice.

Janet live at the Grammy’s in 1987– “What Have You Done For Me Lately” and “Nasty”

Janet live at the MTV VMA’s in 1993– “That’s The Way Love Goes” and “If”

Janet live at The Velvet Rope Tour in 1997–  “Let’s Wait a While” and “Again”

Janet live in 1997/98 (Velvet Rope era)– “I Get Lonely”

Janet live at MTV Icon in 2001– “All For You”

Bonus: She has shown that sometimes alternate versions of songs are just as good or better than the original.

Black Cat (Guitar Mix)– this song features Vernon Reid of the band Living Colour on guitar.

Together Again (Deeper Mix)– a slower R&B version of the song.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why Every Black Person Should Celebrate Black Music Month

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On Sunday June 1st, I discovered that June was Black Music Month when For Harriet,  the blog I’m interning for mentioned on about having t-shirts with the names of female black musicians. Since then, I’ve realized that other black people may not be aware of Black Music month and why it should be celebrated.

According to the website for the National Museum for African American Music, black music month was originally founded in 1979 by Kenny Gamble, Ed Wright, and Dyana Williams in order to celebrate the impact  of black music. However, it wasn’t formerly recognized as a national event until the year 2000.

In 2009, President Barack Obama took it further by calling Black Music Month by a second name, African American Music Appreciation Month.

With all the hip-hop and R n’ B music dominating the charts and radio airwaves, it seems unnecessary to have an entire month dedicated to black music. However, we have done so much more than this.

For instance, any true rock music enthusiast will tell you that rock came from blues, jazz, country, and gospel mixed together. Recently, I did a Buzzfeed listicle featuring some of the black men and women who influenced rock in the past and a little taste of the rock music being done by black musicians today.

Thanks to the multimedia and multi-genre movement  known as Afropunk, black people have a chance to express themselves in ways that aren’t shown in most of the mainstream media. Last month, I did a post on my top ten Afropunk musicians.

We should take this month to celebrate the fact that black people have and will contribute so much amazing music in various genres. They may not sell a million records or win a ton of awards, but that shouldn’t matter. As long as ears are listening, music will always matter.

 

 

 

 

Written by Serena Zola

June 4, 2014 at 2:10 PM

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