AAMAM: Sorrow, Memory, and Poetry Part 4 of 30

billieRecorded on April 20, 1939 Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” spoke of the haunting imagery all to familiar to African Americans especially in the South. Holiday’s voice and cadence embodied the sorrows, horrors, loss, and spiritual pain that was lynching.  The lyrics of “Strange Fruit,” which became Holiday’s signature song, was written as a poem by Jewish writer and teacher Abel Meeropol in 1937.  He responded in poetry to a photo image of a lynching.  Meeropol hoped his poem would add voice the atrocities of lynchings and help further the campaign of antilynching laws, which were vigorously shot down in the Senate during era of the song’s popularity.

This is AAMAM. Listen to remember and be well.

AAMAM Begins With The Godfather Of Soul! Part 1 of 30

James-BrownWow! It’s June already! So that means it’s African American Music Appreciation Month. America has officially recognized and celebrated the contributions of African American composers, musicians, and singers since 1979. Thanks President Jimmy Carter.

To celebrate, I’ll attempt to post a song a day of the best songs ever composed, sung, and recorded by our (yours and mine) favorite and amazing African American musicians and singers ever!

First up, James Brown’s “Say It Lout-I’m Black And I’m Proud!” Released in August of 1968, “Say It Loud” ushered in a bold new perspective of “Blackness” and identity for African Americans in a newly realized post Dr. Martin L. King era. The song became the sonic manifestation of Black empowerment!

Happy AAMAM!

What’s Going On: Black Conversations and Football Dreams

Marvin_AlbumcoverIn 1967, Tammi Terrell, Marvin Gaye’s long time duet partner, collapsed into Gaye’s arms while on stage.  Terrell was diagnosed with brain cancer.  She battled this retched diseased for the next three years losing her battle in March 1970. Gaye was devastated and went into a stupor.  He became a recluse and confined himself to his Detroit home.  Future NFL Hall of Famers Lem Barney and Mel Farr whom befriended Gaye two years prior–Barney was said to have boldly knocked on

Tammi Terrell with Gaye

Tammi Terrell with Gaye

Gaye’s front door to introduce himself to the singer wherein which the singer invited him into his home and they became friends along with Mel Farr, later.  Gaye, Barney, and Farr hung out together, partied together and played sports together.  When Gaye became withdrawn with grief and sorrow as a result of Tammi Terrell’s death, friends Barney and Farr went to pay their dear friend a visit in an effort to cheer him up.  They succeeded in getting Gaye to get out and become more active and exercise.  They played basketball, golf, jogged, and lifted weights.  One day according to Barney, the singer invited he and Farr to the famed Hitsville studio, which wasn’t unusual, to watch him record tracks for an upcoming album.  However, this day was different! Gaye handed out lyric sheets to Barney and Farr.  Gaye wanted the two brawny football players on his record.  Lem_Barneydetroit-lions-mel-farr-52-topps-1970-orange-back-nfl-american-football-card-43888-p_1_He needed their voices to re-create a sonic atmosphere of what it sounded like when brothers-particularly Black men, came together to hang out, talk, and get caught up with each other.  As a result, Barney and Farr stepped up to the microphone to be heard signifying on arguably one of the most recognizable song intros ever recorded.  That song was “What’s Going On?”

“What’s Going On?” was Marvin Gaye’s passionate protest of the Vietnam War.  Gaye’s new album of the same name was an epoch departure from the singer’s smoking love and slow groove ballads prior.  Needless to say, Berry Gordy, founder of Motown and composer of the “Motown Sound”–a music crafted to be non abrasive (to white sensibilities and radio) and catered to a pop oriented cross-over audience, found Gaye’s new album ridiculous in the Motown idiom.  Consequently, Gaye’s album was not released for six months.

During the six-month struggle with Motown, Marvin Gaye refused to record any new music or take on any performance gigs, which Biographer Ben Edmonds suggests lost him a half million dollars.  Rather what Gaye did in fact was to train to play in the NFL! Yes, the National Football League! He wanted to leave music behind.  Gaye believed he could play the game because he had several dreams of catching a pass and running it back for a touch down during the Super Bowl. He enlisted his football buddies Barney and Farr to help him train so that he would be able to get a try-out with the Detroit Lions.  They agreed.  As a youth, Gaye never play a down of football citing that his father would have beat him if he played sports because preacher’s kids didn’t play sports. However, at this point in his life he was serious about his new endeavor.  He worked out, ran daily and implemented a rigorous weight lifting regime. Gaye even practiced with the Eastern Michigan University football team to work on his fundamentals and catching technique.  Gaye’s biographer David Ritz suggests he worked him-self into great shape and gained 25 to 30lbs of muscle.

Jesse Jackson and Gaye Play a little B-Ball shortly After his Football workouts

Jesse Jackson and Gaye Play a little B-Ball shortly After his Football workouts

Other writers describe Gaye as fitting the bill of a football player as he was 6’1”, strong and had become fast from his workouts.

In the end, Gaye’s dream of catching a pass in the NFL and running it back for touchdown never materialized.  Barney and Farr arranged a meeting between Gaye and the head coach of the Detroit Lions, Joe Schmidt.  Coach Schmidt, through many conversations with Gaye, denied Gaye a tryout for fear of a lawsuit if the singer was injured.  Gaye, of course, was disappointed and hurt.  He felt he wasted his time, effort as well as lost money (cancelled concert bookings) while training to play football all to be shut down before even setting foot on a field.

In January 1971, “What’s Going On” single was released (without Gordy’s knowledge) and became one of Gaye’s largest hits.  The single quickly reached gold status and both Lem Barney and Mel Farr, as record personnel, received their RIAA gold records–making them the only NFL Hall of Famers to have a gold record. That’s What’s Going On!

Happy Black Music Month!

Gaye speaks with his dad about those football dreams!

Your Sunday iPod add: Zo!’s ManMade . . . it’s not too late!

zo albumWelcome to your Sunday iPod add.

For a few weeks now I have shared some of my favorite neo soul and jazz artist in an effort to reveal what I call good music–part of my endeavor to listen to good music this year. So far I’ve only shared female artists who embody the elements of what I call good music.  Exposed in my search for good music, I’ve found female soul artists are simply more abundant and fill every nook and cranny of the soul genre.  But the Men are not lost in this crowd.

With that being said we switch gender.  Below is the first of many men to follow who are deeply committed to creating various styles of good music from soul to R&B to jazz.

Lorenzo Ferguson, better known as Zo! to his fans, latest album ManMade was released a year ago and is a shining example of well thought out fun and conscious soul.  Zo!, who hails from the Foreign Exchange (+FE) camp of talented singers, songwriters, and musicians, has orchestrated, as usual, a great collaborative effort.  Zo! recorded this album with familiar, amazing and capable voices like underground neo-soul artist-soon-to-be-legend Gwen Bunn on bouncy cut “Count To Five”; Erro Soul himself: Eric Roberson on the retro 80s jam “We Are On The Move; and duets by Choklate with Phonte (“Making Time”) and Anthony David with Carmen Rogers (“Show Me The Way”) bang out some awesomeness that you must to hear.

zo!!Overall the album is couched in the modernity of astutely assembled soul.  It fills the genre of “synth soul.” Zo!’s release is polished yet grooves in a raw organic way.  The music and lyrics are straightforward and positive. They have substance! Also Zo! has a talent for crafting strong and catchy choruses, which make the album highly listenable from beginning to end.

Enough said! If you are craving some good modern soul to make your head bop and you weren’t sure where to look for it, here it is! Take a listen and enjoy it’s not too late!

Add Zo!’s ManMade to your iPod.  You will thank me later!

African American Violinists: Old Presence New Genres

Afro-Cuban violinist

José White Afro-Cuban violinist (1856)

The African-American musician has occupied a crucial space in American history.  The African-American violinist is but one of these musicians.  Since bondage, they have with their music, shown a preponderance of excellent artistry.  The African-American violinist has navigated huge challenges in pursuit to education and training on a particular instrument that embodied the elite in European society.  These violinists have over time, masterfully incorporated overwhelming ancient African rhythms and minor tones into European music theory.  As such, the violinist has improvised a musical genre where one did not exist.  They used music to carve out spaces of privilege and have certainly tasted tiny bits of liberty in an era of enslavement.  Solomon Northup notes his peculiar status as a violinist while held captive in his 1853 narrative:

Alas! Had it not been for my beloved violin, I scarcely can conceive how I could have endured the long years of bondage. It introduced me to great houses–relieved me of many days’ of labor in the field–supplied me with conveniences for my cabin with pipes and tobacco and extra pairs of shoes, and oftentimes led me away from the presence of a hard master . . .(p.217)

With the drag of the bow across the vibrating string, the African-American violinist sonically opened a path that led Black bodies out of the perceived state of the primitive and into enlightening agents of sophisticated art.

African-American violinists and their musicianship have been present in the various epochs of African-American history from Black bodied violinist whom were present as slave ships traversed the Atlantic en rout to a new world with the likes of ship fiddler Joseph Antonio Emidy, who due to his grand musicianship suffered the same fate as Solomon Northup albeit more than 50 years earlier.  (Emidy went on to teach and conduct chamber music in Brittan) to Jacques Constantin Deburque, who organized the Negro Philharmonic Society of New Orleans in the 1830s to Joseph Douglass, a herald virtuoso and grandson of the late great orator Frederick Douglass (who played some violin himself), toured the U.S. and Europe for over 30 years and became the “first violinist ever to record for Victor Talking Machine Company” to Stuff Smith, who is known for swinging his violin in the pop music genre in the first half of the 20th century.  Collectively these African-American violinists have contributed to a continuum of violin music, which still rolls on today.



Black violinist such as Aaron Paul Dworkin; carry on the excellent artistry that has always accompanied them.  Classically trained, Dworkin is one of the top violinists in the country.  He was awarded the MacArthur Fellowship a.k.a. the “Genius Award” in 2005.  His passion to pass on the art of classical music has led him to lend his talents to teaching the urban underprivileged, to serving on the National Arts Policy Commission, and mentoring youth in his own program the Sphinx Organization.

Beyond the classical, contemporary African-American violinists are found in all genres of music further expanding and redefining the musical capabilities of the violin.  Artists such as Obed Shelton, shares his musical praises in gospel, Ken Ford, Karen Briggs, and Regina Carter (she is a Genius Award winner, too [2006]) all smoothly bow in the jazz genre.

Regina Carter

Regina Carter

Will B and Kev Marcus of Black Violin

Will B and Kev Marcus of Black Violin

Meanwhile several ‘Young Gifted and Black’ violinist are actively involved in a cultural and generational call and response as

they incorporate elements of R&B, soul, and hip-hop in their music.  Musical groups such as Nothing But Strings and Stuff Smith inspired Black Violin as well as soloist Seth G, innovate genres of music by recalling overwhelming ancient African rhythms intertwined with classical delivery, which harkens back to the work of early African-American violinists.  One soloist who has separated himself from the rest in terms of his use of minor tones and incorporating vocals is Marques Toliver.  Toliver is able to ebb and flow through out all genres of music.  Critics have lauded him as too big and broad to fit into any one box.”  Again improvising a new musical genre where one did not exist.

Marques Toliver

Marques Toliver

As a signpost of a sophisticated musician, the African-American violinist has traveled through time, bow in hand, continuously creating musical spaces to witness and musically recount the presence of Black bodies in America.  Today they retain classic elements of music as well as rhythmically bow and pluck their strings in new genres of music demonstrating excellent artistry.

Please search the web for more African-American violinists. The above are just a few and they’re a are plenty.

Check these sources for more info:





Scott, Horne: Setting the Pace!

Scott and Horne are setting the pace.

Scott and Horne are setting the pace.

In the above photo are band leader/pianist/singer/actress Hazel Scott (23) and singer/actress Lena Horne (26).  These talented beauties are posing for a quick photo op during the filming of the 1943 musical I Dood It! where they appeared and performed as themselves and not as written characters.  It was Scott’s first film appearance!

These two sirens of song and screen paved the proverbial road for African-American women singers and entertainers in America.

Lena Horne and Hazel Scott were pioneers and standard bearers of Black beauty in the American mainstream.  Their image on stage and under the bright lights was embraced by all and allowed them to ascend beyond Black genre cinema and entertainment during an era of perpetual Jim Crow and segregation . . . as long as they kept quiet about the state of race relations.  However, Scott and Horne were unable to keep quiet.  In there own way, they participated and held significant roles in the struggle for civil rights.  For this, they were shunned and maligned by the very forces that once welcomed them into the arena of mass appeal.

Scott’s career suffered and never regained the heights it once held in the mid-century when she was falsely accused of being a Communist sympathizer.  Meanwhile, Horne’s career stagnated as Hollywood distanced themselves from her as she continuously made alliances with outspoken leaders of the Civil Rights movement.  Her career never soared as high as it should have.

There is much more that you should know about the lives of these two pacesetting women.  If you want to know more on the amazing musical genius of Hazel Scott before she posed for the above photo, her marriage to Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., and later her ‘exiled’ time in Paris, you have to read pianist and biographer Karen Chilton’s book Hazel Scott: The Pioneering Journey of a Jazz Pianist, from Cafe Society to Hollywood to HUAC.  Equally, as well, if you want to know more about Lena Horne’s life, her controversial marriage, her struggle to stay embedded in entertainment, and how she used and resented her beauty, you really need to read James Gavin’s book Stormy Weather: The Life of Lena Horne.

In the end, both Scott and Horne defined the very definition of Black beauty and sophistication in the public as necessary requirements for crossover appeal, which still exist today (See Beyonce, Alicia Keys, and Jennifer Hudson).

Black beauty and Black music telling its story since day one in America!

Enjoy the remaining days of BMM!

Take a look at Scott and Horne’s kick ass scene:

Keys and Maxwell Get Steamy!

Alicia Keys, Maxwell, and Keys husband Swizz Beatz celebrate slow burning soul duets!

Alicia Keys, Maxwell, and Keys husband Swizz Beatz celebrate slow burning soul duets!

Weather it’s on a sultry dance floor or in a red-light basement, or in those dark private spaces where attraction is mutually communicated, the slow burning soul duet has been responsible for bringing bodies together for years.  Alicia Keys’ duet with Maxwell “The Fire We Make” will certainly continue that time-honored tradition.

Not since Teddy Pendergrass and Stephanie Mills recorded Peabo Bryson’s “Feel The Fire” in 1980 has there been such a magnetic and hot duet!  Keys and Maxwell combine their popular sex appeal (evident in the video below) and vocal talent to create a classic feeling song that is robust in sexual desire and anticipation.  Keys vocals are filled with tension and emotion, while Maxwell’s falsetto soars, almost Prince-like, to new heights as he mirrors her yearning.

The slow burning soul duet provides a space for listeners to role-play and perform for one another lyrical scenes of love.  Overall, slow burning soul, Alicia Keys and Maxwell has placed black romance in the public sphere.  They have invited black (and white) bodies to express deep feelings of love and wanting, while engulfed in smooth tempos, squeezable chords, and passionate lyrics.

This is soul! This is Black music! Happy BMM!

Grab a partner and take a listen!