Music & Me: A Love Letter to Black Music

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What can I say about Black music? Imagine being a kid growing up in a house that was filled with the sounds of classic soul on Saturday mornings, which was always the perfect house cleaning soundtrack. Soul Train was also in the TV lineup that day, of course. Or, picture this: listening to your favorite artists’ records while staring at the album covers as a kid. Perhaps you also had a floor model TV on which you watched your favorite music VHS tapes over and over again. Or enjoyed the quiet storm that accompanied you on many car rides and put you to sleep at night.

These were my experiences growing up. Black music has literally been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. One of my earliest memories of anything is looking at the inner gatefold photo of Michael Jackson’s Thriller album while listening to the record on my older sisters’ Fisher Price record player. From that moment on, music has been a constant companion.

 As the youngest in a big family, I heard it ALL growing up, for better or worse. Whether it was traditional quartet gospel in the car with my dad, new jack swing and golden era hip hop by way of my older brother, or the classic R&B and pop that could be heard coming out of my older sisters’ bedrooms…it all had a lasting impact on me.

The rich history of Black music is nothing short of amazing. The innovators and visionaries who have contributed to all of its incarnations—from blues, country, and rock and roll, to jazz, soul, and funk—is a literal “who’s who” of greatness. The natural ties that bind all those genres, as well as their impact on subsequent genres, is equally fascinating.

Take blues music, for instance, and its core trait of artists baring their very souls and leaving it all on a track. That is a direct similarity to gospel and soul at their cores, and there have been several artists who vacillated between blues and gospel throughout their careers. Then there is the fact that funk music quite literally laid the foundation for hip hop music, through both sampling and the inherent rawness of each genre.

Black music is the music that gets me through each day. Positive, feel good vibes needed in the morning? The Brothers Johnson’s “I’ll Be Good To You” did the trick for me yesterday. Motivation needed to get through the day? D Train’s “Keep On” is a personal go to for that. Evening wind down time? Duke Ellington and John Coltrane’s “In A Sentimental Mood” is the perfect soundtrack. Quiet storm? You can never go wrong with LTD’s “Love Ballad.”

I think you’re probably starting to get the point by now. Black music is ingrained in our very DNA. It’s a feeling. It’s a vibe. It’s love. It’s happiness. It’s sorrow. It’s expression. Blues. Country. Gospel. Jazz. Soul. Funk. Disco. Post-disco. Pop. New jack swing. Hip hop. Neo soul. R&B. It is, in short…everything.

All these unmitigated facts bring to mind the ridiculous (to say the least) statements recently made by Jann Wenner, Rolling Stone co-founder and former Rock & Roll Hall of Fame board member. In case you missed it, he essentially had the audacity to say that Black and women artists and musicians lacked the intellect to be interviewed by him and subsequently be featured in his new book.

He said, and I quote:

 “the people had to meet a couple criteria…insofar as the women, just none of them were as articulate enough on this intellectual level” and “Stevie Wonder, genius, right? I suppose when you use a word as broad as ‘masters,’ the fault is using that word. Maybe Marvin Gaye, or Curtis Mayfield? I mean, they just didn’t articulate at that level.” Also, “for public relations sake, maybe I should have gone and found one Black and one woman artist to include here that didn’t measure up to that same historical standard, just to avert this kind of criticism.” The gall of it all.

It is almost as laughable as it is sad. It’s only laughable because of the absurdity; however, it is particularly sad that this level of ignorance exists in the heart and mind of someone of his standing in the music industry. I truly wonder if he is aware of the actual history of rock and roll music, for instance. To be on the board of such a prestigious and well known entity (which has definitely been problematic before), one would think that he would know what’s up. If not for the creativity, innovation, blood, sweat, and tears of artists like Big Mama Thornton, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Fats Domino, and Chubby Checker, the genre would not even exist.

Aside from rock and roll specifically, is he saying that Ray Charles was not a genius? Marvin Gaye? Stevie Wonder? Curtis Mayfield? (Yes, he mentioned the latter three in passing after being pressed—still insulting). What about Prince? Michael Jackson? Barry White? Isaac Hayes? Really? Let’s not forget the many women: Aretha Franklin, Patrice Rushen, Teena Marie (the Ivory Queen of Soul), Sheila E., and Angela Winbush. All women who have either sang, written, produced, or played their own work or the work of others. What’s crazy is that the likes of Wenner probably deemed Patrice and Teena as one hit wonders, as I have noticed the mainstream typically (and wrongfully) does.

Yes, he is just one man, but his statements rightfully infuriated a lot of people. Why? In a world where Black people have always had to go above and beyond to receive the most basic level of recognition in various settings—from educational institutions to corporate workplaces—the idea of any Black artist, but especially our legends who endured discrimination while being the innovators that they were, still not being deemed “good enough” by the establishment’s standards is a major slap in the face. Like, what you are NOT going to do is belittle and minimize the contributions of Black people to popular music (and pop culture in general) when we have always been the originators and the standard of what IS popular.

Let me bring this on home: all our lives would be a lot less flavorful without Black music. Imagine being in a room full of people you don’t know, but a song like “Before I Let Go” by Maze featuring Frankie Beverly or “Candy” by Cameo comes on, and for those few moments, you all know each other because you know exactly what to do. Dance (most likely doing the electric slide) and sing (because everyone knows all the words). It is the music that binds, motivates, and inspires us. We can party to it, praise to it, grieve to it, fall apart to it, put ourselves back together to it, fall in love to it, and heal broken hearts to it. I have personally done all of these things, and then some. The love and appreciation for it is real. Let’s all continue to appreciate and love all that it is, and all that it has been in our lives. Forever, for always…for love.

Written by Ashley Boone, aka Music & Me. Ashley is an educator by day, and a music lover for life. She is the creator of Music & Me, an online blog dedicated to her love of music and favorite artists. The name was taken from an early solo song and album by Michael Jackson. Connect with her on Instagram @musicandmeinc.