I, Too, Sing America!

Welcome to Black Music Month (BMM) on Justsoulyouknow.  All month long I will be posting photos that are both historic and iconic as well as cool and awesome.  Every other day or so, I will feature an amazing photo then give a little detail about that photo or the individuals contained in the photo.  I intend to connect you to the amazing history of Black Music as well as demonstrate why Black Music maters.

Patti wasn't the first to kick off her shoes and sing a verse

Patti wasn’t the first to kick off her shoes and sing a verse!

First up is this amazing photo of Mahalia Jackson and Dean Martin sharing a good hearty laugh together.  Life Magazine’s Allen Grant took this photo on Oct 1, 1958 during rehearsals for Bing Crosby’s new T.V. show called The Bing Crosby Show: Presented by Oldsmobile.  During the time of this photo Mahalia Jackson was at the top of her game.  She had just recorded her latest gospel album titled Live at Newport ’58, where she was part of the first ever Gospel Showcase of the Newport show.  Her album was released in early ’59 and would later be consistently touted as one of the greatest live gospel albums ever recorded.  Jackson was riding high on her new found fame as a singer/actor on the silver screen as well.  Her performance in the film St Louis Blues, where she beautifully sang and acted, garnered great reviews from critics.  Her appearance on the Bing Crosby’s show, which brought her image directly into the living rooms of America, was risky and bold.  America was in the midst of an epic battle, which involved African Americans attempt to gain inclusion in American society while powerful whites labored to hold onto a segregated America.  Jackson’s appearance threatened the national sponsorship of the show because America had yet to fully embrace an integrated performance on TV.  However, as history has informed us, it was in part though the power of Black music that the civil rights struggle changed minds and freed a nation.

Check out the result of their rehearsal below:

The Myth of Lauryn Hill: Still Flippin’ On a Dirty Mattress?

Lauryn Hill goes to JailSo by now we have all heard about the on going tax troubles of the magnificently talented Lauryn Hill.  As of May 6th she was sentenced to 3 months in a federal prison to be followed by 3 months of house arrest for tax evasion.  For several years (around 10yrs), Hill lived in a state of self-imposed reclusiveness.  She perceived herself deeply imbedded in the hostile environment known as the music industry.  Hill also attributed her reclusive life to a season of personal crisis that stemmed from her struggle to explore an artistic freedom to her identity and to her purpose in life.  In this process of seemingly self-discovery and self-reflection she became enraged with the realities of life; more specifically, she was incensed by the dynamics of our economic system and how she intimately fit into it as a music artist.  Hence Hill’s frustrations were poorly assessed and then her actions were misdirected.

Hill and guitarTo cap off tax woes, on May 3rd Lauryn Hill released her new single Neurotic Society (Compulsory Mix).  This is her first solo studio recording since her 1998 epic masterpiece The Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill. The song is a much-anticipated release for her loyal fans who have been eagerly awaiting something from Hill.  However, for Hill this release was uncelebrated and indeed, as a portion of the song title suggest, is ‘compulsory’.  In a statement written on Hill’s tumblr page, she suggests that this released was rushed to satisfy the legal goodwill of her debt and part of a contract fulfillment with her newly signed deal with Sony records.  On her site Hill states,

I was ‘required’ to release [the song] immediately, by virtue of the impending legal deadline. I love being able to reach people directly, but in an ideal scenario, I would not have to rush the release of new music… but the message is still there.

The message may be still there, however, it is mired by its intent to satisfy everyone but the long-suffering ‘L Boogie’ fan.  Its hurried, manic, and its urgent verbal cadence is off putting in terms of the amazing legacy previously laid down by L Boogie over a decade ago.  Reviews of the song by fans are mixed to say the least. Rather a battle of polarized fans of die-hards who, without regard, follow and buy anything L Boogie puts her finger on vs others fans who are about to drop her off a at the bridge if she doesn’t come out bangin’.  An honest discerning fan will assess the track, which is solely written and produced by Hill as a failing effort.

Lauryn Hill reflectingThat same honest fan whom performs a cursory analysis of the song will find it falls short of the previously mythic larger than life Lauryn Hill recordings that somehow remain fresh in our minds.  Its tax bill driven release sent the single to a sad musical landscape of amateur music–attempting to lockstep with seasoned professionals.  At its worst, the track’s music is entirely distracting bordering on annoying.  The lyrics are overused baseless metaphors.  L Boogie attempts a less than tepid foray into intelligent verse and dangerous word play. Smart and edgy it is not!  Instead its tone is angry and vengeful. I guess as it should be. She’s pissed!

Neurotic Society (Compulsory Mix) is not what we were expecting.  It is a dangerous release for her.  The song reveals she is not who we thought she was.  It alone will topple the regal-ness of Lauryn Hill if it is not backed up by an entire album that sits us on our ass and makes us take notice and re-embrace Ms Lauryn Hill as we once imagined her: ‘Flippin’ in the ghetto on a dirty mattress’.  Head Over Hills by Ernie BarnesIf that does not happen, the song will leave the honest fan wondering where is that great lyricist, singer, and poet who cleverly placed the experience of Black life at the center of her soulful and hip hop drenched conversations with the music world all while cloaked in femininity that could easily be embraced by any sensible brotha?  L Boogie is a giant.  L Boogie was a giant. Neurotic Society (Compulsory Mix) threatens to expose her as a once upon a time genius.  As such, if she is not careful, the masses will easily and happily toss her to the rocks on the side of the road like many others only to be remembered moments after she has taken her last breath.

Only time will tell.  We have at lest 6 months to wait until L Boogie pays her debt to a ‘sane’ society and gets back to work on fixing the wrong that is Neurotic Society (Compulsory Mix) Everything isn’t everything! However, we can be sure of two things: death and taxes! Ha!

Check out Neurotic Society (Compulsory Mix) below:

The POTUS and His Vinyl Close Up

POTUSAlbum covers, since their inception, have always been a great sign-post of the climate of our times.  Their images are visual cues that direct everyone from the culturally focused individual to the political astute citizen to the casual music listening fan toward the current grand social narrative of the day.  Savvy musical artists in cahoots with photographers and visual artists (in this new era of entertainment it is most likely the director of artist branding) design their album covers to attract and stimulate interest in their content.  Some of these efforts have been regrettable and forgettable, while others have been remarkably memorable and remain culturally relevant decade after decade.

So, what kind of visual cues are being made about the grand current social narrative when dime-a-dozen digital artists place the POTUS,  Barack Obama, on the cover of iconic album covers?  Does Obama’s presidency serve as the musical content in which the dime-a-dozen digital artist is trying to attract and stimulate the culturally focused individual and the casual political fan?  Either way, the following album covers containing the image of the POTUS are indeed memorable and culturally relevant . . . at the moment.  And if anything, are too cool to be regrettable.

[Try to make out some of the original album covers and artists]

1 1A 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19

Scandal: I Know Why Bey Lip-Synched!

Beyonce Lip SynchingOk, it’s been over a week since Beyonce sang the Star Spangled Banner on the Capital steps in celebration of the historical second inauguration of President Barack Obama.  The following day of the event it was revealed that she lip-synched her performance on such a momentous occasion, which set off a firestorm of commentary and opinions that ranged from it being the best performance of her life to so what!  Well, the following is my commentary and opinion of her performance and most likely not the last public discharge on the happening before Beyonce’s next performance: the Superbowl Halftime Show.

So what is it that I have to say that has not already been said?  Well I hope to put into context the reason Beyonce decided to lip sync the tune and the reason we were all talking about it.

First let me say that to me her performance was not surprising.  During her live performance, I thought it was just good.  It wasn’t spectacular or all that! Just good. I’ve heard better. The next day, when I heard she might have lip-synched her performance I thought, “Ok, I’m not surprised.”  Please understand the Star Spangled Banner is a relatively easy song to sing.  I can sing it (albeit it may not be pleasing to your ears).  Its melody, which has it’s origins in an 1800 century English social club was composed no doubt while inebriated, is catchy and memorable which is why you can hum along when you forget Francis Scott Key’s words, which he scribed almost a century later.  Although it is an easy song to sing, what makes its performance special lies in the ability of the singer.  Here is the reason why shower singers or alone-in-the-car singers like me will never be asked to sing the song in public.  The song’s simple melody provides plenty of space for the gifted singer to seemingly perform vocal miracles at will.  Not many can do this.  Able gifted singers are free to explore the boundaries of their gift with this song. The ability to perform at this level is what makes it an amazing anthem and exciting to listen to, especially when sung by someone who is indeed capable.  Enter Bey.

Let me be clear here, I’m not hating on her, she is simply neither capable nor gifted enough to perform the song in a spectacular manner.  And for that matter a lot of folks are not either.  Bey’s vocal prowess is limited.  She lacks the range and power needed to create a memorable performance.  A few articles, penned in her defense last week, announced she was one of the greatest singers of all time.  Ha, this is laughable.  Her mentors are still around, right?  She possesses nowhere near the vocal talent of Patti, Chaka, Gladys, Anita, and certainly not Aretha.  These truly gifted singers at Bey’s age were unrivaled in their talent.  Bey, to no fault of her own, does not have what it takes in terms of her physical voice to match any performance of her mentors.

Aretha at 30 around Bey's age.

Aretha at around Bey’s age, 30.

Even in comparison to her contemporaries such as Ledisi, Jennifer Hudson, Alicia Keys and I’ll throw in the untouchable and seasoned Rachelle Ferrell just to f**k with the curve, she falls extremely short of the mark.

What Bey did was not unprecedented. That day the choir, not the soloist, lip-synched to a prerecorded track.  Also in 2009, the cellist Yo-Yo Ma and the violinist Itzhak Perlman “string-synched” their performance because string instruments are notoriously temperamental in cold weather.  They did this because they had no physical control over their instrument . . . like Bey.

Ok knowing this about her lack of ability, it’s great she did in fact lip sync her performance.  Can you imagine what it might have sounded like?

So, why was this a scandal if others have in essence faked their performance as well?  It’s the expectation created by the event.  We the people expect the best when it comes to such events like the Presidential inauguration.  For decades the best and most significant/impact-ful singers, poets, writers, and politicians were gathered together to help set the tone of the up coming Presidency.  With this type of talent we the people expect the best.  Bey’s lip synching performance was not the best for the American people.  Of course her fans beg to differ or simply shrug it off and say, “so!”  Along with the fact that most Americans hold high expectations of all portions of the inauguration we also expected the best from Bey, which would have been a live, sincere, and authentic performance.  However, when it comes to the singing talent of Bey, I feel most of the world has been duped into believing what she is not.  I believe we have confused her ability to entertain with the ability to sing.  These are two very different things.  Let’s not get it twisted, Bey is not a singer and never has been a singer.  As mentioned, she is not physically capable of sangin’.  What I mean by this is I doubt she can belt out any tune in my living room sans a mic with enough power, conviction, skill, or emotion to move me.  Please realize this, I refer to my vocal luminaries to guide me in the direction of a person who is truly gifted in voice. [a few of my vocal luminaries in terms of women are of course Patti, Chaka, Aretha, Rachelle, but also Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, Mahalia Jackson, Whitney Houston, and again Jennifer Hudson . . .] I recognize and embrace those singers who match my vocal luminaries and move me.  I will never embrace anyone who falls short of this high bar as a singer.  Why would I accept anything less or mediocre?  Bey can indeed hold a tune, but so can many others.  Bey is mediocre.  Rather than a singer I define her as an extremely successful entertainer.  She possesses many abilities to entertain her fans and even me.  An entertainer does it all to appeal to a mass audience.  She can hold a tune, dance, and act.  Bey is an entertainer! I like entertainers; I like being entertained.  Ben Vereen and Sammy Davis, Jr. were entertainers who were also in the top ten of the list in all those categories that define an entertainer.  They could sing, dance, and act on a high level.

Davis acting his ass off in the film "A Man Called Adam"

Davis acting his ass off in the film “A Man Called Adam” click here

Unlike Vereen and Davis, I believe Bey being mediocre in all of these is still able to dupe the American public into thinking she is a singer on a high level.  She is not the best singer, she is not the best dancer, and she is not the best actor by any stretch of the imagination.  Today’s entertainer does it all and is categorized wrongly as a singer.  And it is because of this wrongly placed moniker Bey, an entertainer, was chosen and expected to do the work of a singer at the Presidential inauguration.  I believe this was made a scandal because we expected Bey to be that amazing singer and she failed us.

Furthermore, I believe Bey knows she can’t sing on that level.  According to all the reports and articles, Bey at the last minute decided to lip sync her performance.  Why?  Was she nervous? Did she forget the words?  I think not! She has sung the Star Spangled Banner many times before both live and lip-synched.  I believe she did not feel capable of creating a memorable performance with her knowingly limited skill.  I can imagine her saying to H.O.V.A., “I know I’m not going to be able to sing anything better than what I did in the studio yesterday not to mention I have not practiced with the Marine Band.”  She lacked the ability and with this lacked the confidence to even try.  In so many words she had no guts, no courage, no gumption . . . in essence no Balls!  This is completely expected when you don’t believe in your own talent.  Bey demonstrated pure fear.  Any stellar singer worth anything would have marched out on the steps of the Capital and did the damn thang!  Four years ago Aretha Franklin sang her ass off in colder weather and very little warm up time.  In an interview about her spectacular performance she commented that she wished she had more time to warm up because her performance would have been better . . .  Balls!  Oh and she also commented she wanted to give this historical occasion an atmosphere of authenticity.  However when you are unsure of you own instrument or lack the ability you will fold like a wet noodle.  Luckily Bey recorded a stand in the day before and tagged out of the task.

With all this being said I feel Bey’s credibility, as a singer is unchanged in my mind. I didn’t expect her to do anything more.  Hell, if anything it should have been better, after all, she recorded in near perfect conditions in a studio the day before.  In the end, I hope you can understand the context of Bey’s performance or lack there of.  She is a physically limited singer, which she is fully aware of who lacks the self-confidence to perform on the grandest of stages all while an audience who has been duped into believing she is a singer who can create something amazing!

Oh, the scandal!

This coming Sunday when you are watching the Superbowl Halftime Show remember you are watching an entertainer and not a singer, so don’t expect to be amazed much by her vocal performance.  However you will be greatly entertained.

Ndegeocello Sings Simone!

Me'Shell NdegeocelloI confess I’ve been a fan of bassist/singer/songwriter Meshell Ndegeocello since she dropped her first album Plantation Lullabies in the early 90s.  I’ve watched her perform in L.A. several times and once in Atlanta in 2007, which was memorable I must say.  However, even more memorable than that was when I saw her years earlier live at the Virgin Mega store in Hollywood.  Ndegeocello played a small in-store set then signed copies of her second released Peace Beyond Passion (96).  I clearly remember asking her, as she signed the cover of my freshly bought CD, “Where’d you get that funk from?” like the P-Funk lyric.  She smiled and said, “Yes, right there!”  Wow! I just had a brief moment with Meshell Ndegeocello, whoa!

Over the years I’ve enjoyed the limitless range of Ndegeocello’s music.  As a serious soul music lover, I’ve especially relished in her exploration of the many nuances of soul. Ndegeocello and her music easily moved beyond the essentialist theory of the black artist.  She approached several other genres of music in her own unique way.

So, when I heard she was in the process of recording an album of Nina Simone songs I was excitedly perplexed (this is a good thing).  What would it sound like? Would it be funky with heavy bass lines? Or would the songs be reconfigured in emotion filled ballads with spoken word-like delivery? (You know how she does).

Nina Simone and Meshell Ndegeocello, on the one hand, are quite unique in their own right who together share some similarities.  Scholar Salamishah Tillet suggests, “Ndegeocello, like Simone, has dared to cross musical boundaries, express bold politics and be a steadfast presence as an African American woman instrumentalist in a male-dominated music scene.”  Also their similarities continue in terms of their fitting into socially comfortable places in America.  On the other hand, they are opposites in terms of the musical RESPONSE to their perspective eras; Simone confronted racial inequality amid social and civil unrest while Ndegeocello struggled in a post civil rights climate with her personal sexuality within rigid cultural mores.  A struggle afforded her by the work of Simone, in all seriousness.

Ndegeocello’s new album, Pour Une Âme Souveraine (For A Sovereign Soul) was released in October and is a wonderfully crafted tribute to Simone.  Pour Une Ame SouveraineFirst and foremost, Ndegeocello’s voice is perfect for the songs she sings while her musical approach is spot on.  She organically moves away–though not far–from the musical intention of Simone certainly due to the contemporary climate of the times. Ndegeocello finds a laid back groove for each song that departs from what NPR calls the “urgent” tone of Simone.  Her small group of musicians recorded the album with an obvious audible post soul aesthetic that is undeniably Ndegeocello.  She invited vocalist/musicians such as Cody ChesnuTT, Toshi Reagon, Sinead O’Connor, and Lizz Wright to join her on this tribute to Simone.  Collectively they sing with heartfelt respect for Simone whom Ndegeocello calls “royalty.”

This tribute album is a way to remember the indescribable force that was Nina Simone. Ndegeocello stated in a recent interview she hopes, “to get more people interested in her, check out her catalog and sort of revive it, and also use her story and learn from her story.”  After hearing the album it is clear to me that Ndegeocello was the perfect person to put forth this stellar tribute. Yes, Ndegeocello sings Simone!  In the end, I have to agree with Dr. Tillet when she suggests, Ndegeocello “has always been Simone’s heir apparent.

Your Sunday iPod add: Michael Kiwanuka: Raw Soul Folk

Here is your Sunday iPod add . . . any song form Michael Kiwanuka’s debut album Home Again.  For months now I have seen Kiwanuka’s face on the sidebar of my facebook page staring at me suggesting I should click on his image to hear his new music.  I’ve also seen his image on the bottom of my iTunes in a star-studded line up of what other listeners bought.  For months I have pass over his image and move on the next artist that caught my interest.

Well, today, after church and my daughter’s long rehearsal for a play, I headed home and I logged on.  There he was Michael Kiwanuka staring at me.  While eating my corndog I clicked on his image.  Wow! What took me so long to do this? What was I waiting for? Kiwanuka’s music combined the essential elements of acoustic soul and folk in the best way.  My musical taste are admittedly broad so, I listen to just about anything (I merely talk about the soul I listen to on this blog) and it’s been a quite along time since I’ve listen to some good contemporary acoustic folk music, rather, acoustic soul folk music.

I listened to a few of his songs and videos on youtube with amazement.  Kiwanuka, a 25 year old Brit with roots in Uganda has manage to capture a unique musical rawness of a generation and a half ago.  A recent USA Today article described his music as “warm and familiar as Sunday morning” and make sensible vocal comparisons to “Otis Redding” and “Bill Withers.”  However, I’ll take it a step further and easily compare him to the likes of badass guitar slingers and song poets such as Neil Young, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, and Richie Havens without reservation. He’s that good! His music is soulful and righteously folk yet contain just enough blues to elicit a mystical wonder that conjures images of deals being made at a Mississippi crossroads.

Listen to Michael Kiwanuka! Don’t sleep on MK! Don’t be like me and pass on him.

Add his album to your iPod and you will thank me later.

Check his videos below:

You gotta check out his version of Hendrix’s “Waterfall”

Your Sunday iPod Add: (You Caught Me) Smiling!

Everyone loves a great sincere smile.  A smile is a simple action that is free; it cost nothing to give or receive.

Someone once said this about a smile:

If you have only one smile in you, give it to the people you love. Don’t be surly at home, then go out in the street and start grinning ‘Good morning’ at total strangers.

Maya Angelou

But you’re so busy changing the world; just one smile can change all of mine.

Jack Johnson

Children show me in their playful smiles the divine in everyone.

Michael Jackson

Peace begins with a smile . . .

Mother Teresa

You caught me smiling, again!

Sly and The Family Stone

Here is your Sunday iPod add. Enjoy . . . and smile! You’ll thank me later.