Sunday, June 30, 2019

Black Music Month: Pride Month Playlist (2019)

Call it divine inspiration or just one of those random ideas that pops into one's head while sitting up wide awake in the middle of the night, but when you suddenly realize that Black Music and LGBTQ Pride are celebrated in the same month, what else would you do?

You post a song to your Facebook page and tease that as the spirit hits you throughout the month, more songs will follow. And then after the second post, you realize that you should probably have a plan in advance so that you don't run out of songs or ideas. The result of those plans is this index, and as usual, the process of putting it together has been quite the education. Enjoy!

Sylvester - You Make Me Feel (1978)
It was this song that started this. I was minding my business, but then the spirit came over me and I had to hear this song, see the video again for the umpteenth time, and then of course I had to post it. And from that chain of events this playlist was begotten. We know Sylvester wasn't the first gay choir director, but he was probably the most famous. Watch him werk that fan.

The Weather Girls - It's Raining Men (1982)
This song came out when I was in elementary school in the very early days of music videos. It is so obviously cheesy and over-the-top, which is how I never even noticed anything subliminal. However, now that I have seen the remake with RuPaul...

From Sylvester's episode of Unsung, we learned that The Weather Girls were his backup singers, known then as Two Tons of Fun. Here they are performing Disco Heat (1978) together on American Bandstand (stick around for the interview with Dick Clark and another performance of "You Make Me Feel").

Village People - YMCA (1978)
There is no sugar-coating how terrible this song is, so let's not even address that. Let's focus instead on the fact that in 1980 there was an entire movie built around that song that starring the Village People and Caitlyn (formerly Bruce) Jenner, which is why NO ONE should have been surprised about anything.

Diana Ross - I'm Coming Out (1980)
There is no way that I could have excluded this song, so in honor of the trio of R&B Divas who have already been profiled, here are some pride month selections as honorable mentions. While it might be obvious why Patti LaBelle's New Attitude (1984) works for this playlist, I could just as easily have chosen her homage to Judy Garland in her solo version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow (1981). As for Mama Gladys, there is That's What Friends Are For, a collaboration released in 1985 that featured her along with Stevie Wonder, Dionne Warwick, and Elton John, to raise money for AIDS research.

Luther Vandross - Never Too Much (1981)
Save your outrage because more of you would be more offended if he wasn't on this list. And it was either this song or Bad Boy Having a Party (1982). However, an honorable mention goes out to Everybody Rejoice/Brand New Day from The Wiz (originally written for the play in 1975; featured here in the 1978 film version) because if that song ain't an anthem, I don't know what is.

Cheryl Lynn - Got to Be Real (1978)
This song is a lot older than I realized, but that's what makes it timeless and perfect for this list. Without a doubt, if it ain't playing in the club every weekend, you need to hit up a different spot. Here's something I bet you didn't know: Lynn was Evilene in the touring company for The Wiz, but got her big break after appearing on The Gong Show.

Freddie Jackson - Jam Tonight (1986)
Yeah I know, but who does he think he's fooling by not coming out?

Meshell Ndegeocello - If That's Your Boyfriend (1993)
We were driving back from NYC Easter weekend when the Hub had me listen to a podcast about Ndegeocello's debut album, Plantation Lullabies. The conversation was largely on point, and it's interesting how listening to that put this notion in my head that I have a perspective on music that might be worth sharing. The very next day is when I was inspired to post that Prince tribute on the FB page, which is what led me to devoting this month to writing about music. Look at God.

This was one of the very first CDs I bought back in law school, based on a recommendation made by an ESSENCE magazine article that declared this album as a must-have. So I bought this as part of that buy 6 CDs for a penny scam that everyone did before we could sample music on the internet. Hands down, this is one of thee best albums I have in my collection. And this song is thee sexiest cat joint ever!

RuPaul - Supermodel (1993)
Yes, that is Aunt Esther's voice in the intro. #thatisall

Brownstone - If You Love Me (1994)
Yes, because once you see this scene from Living Out Loud (1998), it makes perfect sense. Trust me.

Billy Porter - Show Me (1997)
GTFOH!!! I did not intend to find this clip and Lord knows this video has my jaw on the damn floor! Even if I had remembered this (which is a very good remake of the 1984 Glenn Jones original, which I did remember), I NEVER would have made the connection between this R&B heartthrob version of Billy Porter and the Goddess of Camp who has been slaying us this year with the most savage of red carpet lewks. Kinky Boots indeed. 

Rahsaan Patterson - You Make Like So Good (2004)
Unlike some other soul singers of earlier eras, Patterson doesn't hide the fact that he is gay. And while this has probably impacted his market appeal, it doesn't impact the beauty of his voice. This brother could sing the phone book and I would pay good money to hear him.

Beyonce - Get Me Bodied (2007)
Of course Queen Bey is on this list. Not only is this is probably my favorite Beyonce song, but it received that status courtesy of a cherished memory involving a dearly departed friend and a wild drunken escapade at a gay club in Rehobeth Beach. All I remember before I got really drunk is the dance challenge I won for dropping it like it was hot against some youngin who just couldn't believe that I had 30 years of dance training. More importantly, this song makes a lot more sense on this list than Formation (2016).

Big Freedia - Y'all Get Back Now (2011)
Confession time: I should hate this song, because when I lived in New Orleans I really hated bounce music. But for whatever reason, those sentiments are meaningless when it comes to Big Freedia (you already knooow). But trust, you will never catch me twerking (not even to this collaboration with my girl Lizzo :)

Janelle Monae - Tightrope (2010)
Monae put the word pansexual in my evolving vocabulary, but I dare not google it (NSFW or for creepy search engines) I'll just post a link to this cover story from Rolling Stone and like everybody else, I will wait to learn if her bae is Tessa Thompson or Lupita Nyong'o. In the meantime, check her out in Make Me Feel (2018) and if you got a Prince vibe from this song like I did, you would be right.

Lizzo - Juice
Although I'm not sure if she has reached that level yet, Lizzo totally comes across as someone who should already be a gay icon. Between her body positivity and unbothered-ness, if she was not the Honorary Grand Marshall of someone's Pride Parade this month, y'all slipping (but I think GLAAD got the memo).

There you have it folks. This is what happens when you allow the spirit to move you. There are a lot of artists who were not included on this playlist, but no worries. A few of them were probably featured elsewhere on the blog this month, or I will just have another topic to revisit next year.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Black Music Month: Sesame Street at 50

What in the world does Sesame Street have to do with Black Music Month and is this just a way for me to finally sit down to write about what is, hands down, the Kid show #GOAT? Well YES, because I've been scheming on a way to write about SS since the Kid became a believer!

My opportunity comes courtesy of a few weekends ago when the road show was in town; however, because we were headed out of town, we had to miss the local festivities. Luckily, what the Kid don't know won't kill me (because therapy ain't cheap for pre-schoolers)...although in my defense, we had too much going on to fit in such an activity. So fast forward to the Monday afternoon drive when NPR's All Things Considered aired a segment about its Tiny Desk Concert with the Sesame Street Muppets. And all of that happens to coincide with the fact that we have reached that golden milestone of 50 years since Sesame Street first premiered!

(For those of you who haven't had any reason to care that Sesame Street has been on TV that long, yeah you're that old.)

So again, what does Sesame Street have to do with Black Music Month? So glad you asked. And since I hope that this won't be the last time I write about the show this year, we will take another opportunity to explore other facets of the show's cultural influence. But to provide some context, from the outset the show intentionally sought to provide positive examples of Black culture in response to the assassination of Martin Luther King and the end of the civil rights era protests. Dr. Chester Pierce, a Black psychologist who consulted with the creators of the show helped to define the roles of Gordon and Susan, the Black nuclear family featured prominently on the show.

Thus, that history and the understanding shared in the NPR interview, it would seem inevitable that if music was intended as a primary vehicle for SS to reinforce educational concepts, then that would mean the incorporation of multiple genres. Because children often listen to the same popular music that their parents enjoy, on SS the music reflected what was popular on the charts in order to appeal to parents and children alike. Which, for example, is how we got a disco album in the late 70s. And a Muppet parody of Shaft...

Various Black music icons appeared on the show through the years, most often to perform a rendition of the alphabet, such as Lena Horne, The Pointer Sisters, Patti LaBelle, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Bobby McFerrin, Usher, Reuben Studdard, and India.Arie. Or maybe it was to perform a SS standard, such as Believe in Yourself by Diana Ross, The Neville Brothers, and Ray Charles; "A New Way to Walk" with Destiny's Child; and Lena Horne again with the classic "It's Not Easy Being Green". Sometimes there were lessons related to concepts like the changing seasons with George Benson; traffic safety with the Four Tops; equality and empowerment with the Pointer Sisters; imagination and adventure with En Vogue; patience with Janelle Monae; and cooperation and unity with John Legend. And to support the reinforcement of the letter/number of the day, there were adaptations of hit songs by Smokey Robinson, BB King, and Queen Latifah.

To illustrate just how integral Black music was to Sesame Street, take note of the variety of genres represented: jazz, blues, gospel, disco, hip hop, world music, and popular R&B. At one point, every major artist of a certain era appeared on the show. One of the most memorable guests was none other than Stevie Wonder, who managed to commandeer an entire episode. He provided the requisite educational content relevant to the target audience--a segment with the alphabet and numbers and some interaction with Grover (who was the Muppet star of that era). Then there was the grand finale that featured a super funky extended version of Superstitious, which made no sense on a children's show in hindsight, but we're all here for it.

The impact of Black music was not just reflected in the visitors to the Street; it was also incorporated into the skits and parodies that involved the regular cast. The Muppets were versatile enough to be used as backup singers to the human guest artists, like the great Cab Calloway, or they could be transformed to suit the parody, such as the Oinker Sisters (soulful trio of gospel singing pigs) and Squiggy Marley (a reggae band of worms). The human cast also got in on the fun with their own version of the Pointer Sisters' Swinging Alphabet and my all time favorite, Gimme Five, a classic send up of 70s doo-wop groups.

As the times and format of the show evolved, the use of music similarly changed. Of course by the 90s when I was in college, I rarely watched, but I did note certain changes such as more famous cameo appearances, younger cast members, and more urban themes as in the closing credits. By this point, because Sesame Street had been on television for more than two decades, its influence extended well beyond the screen. The emergence of Elmo as the star found him taking center stage--more skits, his own segment, and even his own line dance, The Elmo Slide. Other Muppets still had moments to shine, as with this Ernie and Bert take on the Fresh Prince and this hilarious parody of them in this viral video mash up of Warren G and Nate Dogg's Regulate.

Literally, I could find countless examples (and trust, this project has kept the Kid and me entertained). I continue to be amazed with the imagination and creativity that has managed to stay so memorable all these years later. There were clips I hadn't seen in forever, but they were just as enjoyable as the modern clips that bring the Kid so much joy. To think that when the show celebrates 60 years, this song with might be considered a classic. I cannot think of another children's show that has had such a cultural impact or that has been as universally endearing. What other show can say that their theme song has been sung by the likes of Gladys Knight and the Pips or by Jimmy Fallon and The Roots?

Only Sesame Street, the most colorful urban cul-de-sac where humans, monsters, and oversized animals live in peace and harmony. And there you have it--a Black Music Month tribute that's family friendly, educational, nostalgic, and that everybody can appreciate. Especially one that ends with the famous Pinball Song!

Monday, June 17, 2019

Salty Pretzels: Over the Rainbow

It is barely the middle of June and I am already over all of the fake pride on display. This is not a statement of intolerance or homophobia, but a deep eye roll against the corporatization of rainbows and #Pride as a retail commodity and marketing tool.

I got triggered by a recent trip to Target with the Kid. Our intention was to buy her a pair of water shoes and some household items. While we were in the shoe section, I spotted a display of merchandise that was set aside to honor Pride Month, and well...this shit was beyond atrocious (no, I did not misspell shirt). Then I saw this and some shampoo in similar packaging and I just had to walk away.

Meanwhile, the Fourth of July merch is just waiting in the wings and the Back-to-School stuff is sitting on the trucks. Another day, another dollar.

I shared a version of this opinion on my personal Facebook page, but I knew that I needed more time and space to express my full annoyance. It's not just because half of that crap is tacky (and that is not up for debate). It is just typical that 'acceptance' is being exploited as an excuse for companies to chase rainbows to the mythical pot of gold. A marketing strategy is not a movement strategy.

The last thing we need is a repeat of the cultural appropriation that has assimilated Black and Latinx culture, yet denies our equality. As the saying goes: some folks love our rhythm, but ain't interested in our blues. If your support of LGBTQ civil rights goes only as far as the ROY G BIV designs on your clothes, that is exactly the same as listening to hip hop while waiting for your drive thru order from Taco Bell, just before heading to a rally in support of building the Wall.

Ironically, my agitation was fed by the awakening I experienced while watching the season premier of POSE. Thanks to my current obsession with all things having to do with THEE Billy Porter, I was primed for the return of the show. But I was not ready for the education I got in just the first five minutes! I won't spoil anything, but let's just say, it prompted some soul searching.

Because by 1990 where the show resumes, I could not claim youthful naivete as an excuse for my blind spots with respect to the HIV/AIDS crisis. I had just graduated from my all-girls' Catholic high school where I had received comprehensive sex education...enough to know how to prevent pregnancy and to avoid contracting STDs. What I didn't grasp was the insidious message that exposure to HIV/AIDS was the ultimate consequence of carnal sin via pre-marital, unprotected deviant sex. Subsequently, my college activism in the name of awareness was on behalf of my community of heterosexual Black women, and I never gave much thought to the devastation wrought by the disease in the gay community.

Yet, I thought I was an ally when I spoke out against homophobia on my campus. I thought I was an ally when I eagerly watched Ellen's 'The Puppy' (coming out) episode. I thought I was an ally when I defended marriage equality because of my gay and lesbian friends. And all of that would be fine if I remained content to be like white people who declare themselves virtuous because they don't see color.

But being an ally requires so much more than sympathy. It requires more than wearing a rainbow romper to the local drag brunch. It requires that I actually take to heart some of what I learned by watching the season premier of POSE. Because I can't celebrate the fabulous-ness of gay culture without understanding that living free exacts a higher toll than most of us are willing to acknowledge. Too many people paid with their lives so that the rest of us could sing along clueless to the opening song of RENT.

So no, I don't care that the minimum wage workers at Chick-fil-A are more polite. As long as the company's CEO continues to support anti-LGBTQ candidates and policies, I won't eat there. Anheuser-Busch can put rainbows all over their packaging this month, but they are still members of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). That organization has lent its support to various anti-LGBTQ initiatives including the right to discriminate on the basis of religious freedom. And I don't know why folks continue to sue this guy, when the goal should be just the put him out of business. I promise, there are other bakeries in Colorado!

Trust, there are companies that want LGBTQ business 365 days a year. Of course that includes the fashion and cosmetic industry, even though some designers have gone above and beyond the boundaries of good taste this year. Subaru and IKEA were trailblazers in the 90s, along with Absolut Vodka. So this is not a criticism of those brands that are consistently visible beyond the month of June. Nor is this shade intended to overshadow the progress that some brands are making towards better inclusiveness. We've all got to start somewhere.

But there is a line between support and commercial exploitation and I would rather be guilty of being too surly and bitchy than being fashionably fake. I had a similar awakening about these drinking holidays and awareness months...but if the world needs fried chicken in a special pink bucket, then at the very least, the proceeds from the sales should make mammograms more accessible. For all of the tequila and guacamole that gets consumed on Cinco de Mayo, there should be more than enough money raised to fund reunification efforts for immigrant children and their parents. I can make worthy cause recommendations for every holiday and heritage/awareness month. If these companies are really committed to supporting the LGBTQ community (and these brands including Target plan to make donations to worthy causes), then maybe I can eat these rainbow sprinkled pretzels with a little less salt.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Black Music Month: Father's Day Playlist

How are you spending Father's Day? At the moment, I don't know because my brother and I haven't decided on anything yet. Luckily, our Dad is low-key. He would probably be satisfied if I show up unannounced at church (which didn't happen), so I need to think of something cute and endearing involving the Kid for later...

Well, whatever plans you may or may not have, I thought that you might enjoy a playlist (because that is at least one thing I am sure that the Busy Black Woman is doing this month). And to make things interesting, this is a playlist of songs that my Daddy might have chosen if he actually read my blog or if he still listened to music the way he used to. When I pulled out a few of his old vinyls to get his reaction, he seemed intrigued.

R&B/Soul Music

My Dad is a Boomer, so off the bat, you already know he was/is a fan of Motown. And while I could just select a few songs from that era to share, that presents the challenge of deciding which songs. Motown is its own playlist. So the soundtrack for the movie Cooley High (1975) provides me with an easy solution. I know that at the very least, these songs are likely to have him singing along. He and my Mom used to wax nostalgic about taking me as a baby to see this movie (along with Cornbread, Earl & Me) at the theater.

So skipping ahead, I want to highlight some of the popular R&B music that I remember from my youth. My Dad generally did not listen to commercial radio, so these selections come from albums that he still owns or are songs that he liked for whatever random reason:

Dionne Warwick - Walk On By (1964)
There are quite a few of her albums in the old record collection, so I just chose a song without any real knowledge that this is a favorite. But it is one of the few classics that I like and it's my playlist, so here we are.

Bill Withers - Use Me (1972)
Of course Bill Withers is on the playlist because who wasn't a fan of his in the 70s? Withers is the only dude who could make a song about being henpecked sound cool.  

Rufus featuring Chaka Khan - Tell Me Something Good (1974)
My Dad has been known to stop whatever he is doing to listen to Chaka Khan (whom he affectionately calls Shake-a-Cane), which just proves that corny Dad jokes are a universal thing.

Minnie Ripperton - Loving You (1974)
The 70s gave us a lot of provocative album cover art, and even as a child, I saw this and blushed a little. And in my humble opinion, this is also one of the sweetest love songs ever made.

O'Jays - Family Reunion (1975)
This song evokes all kinds of memories (none having to do with family reunions), but definitely a song that I heard a lot as a child. Unfortunately, I could not find the album, so it must have gotten lost, broken, or maybe it was borrowed. However, I did see another O'Jays album in the stash that featured the song Darlin' Darlin Baby (one of my faves).

Stevie Wonder - Isn't She Lovely (1976) 
My Dad probably wore this album out, but this song in particular is one that I recall hearing when I was not much older than my daughter is now. It is the perfect tribute song from a new father to his newborn daughter, and all these years later whenever I hear this, it makes me smile.

The Commodores - Brick House (1977)
So, I didn't say that all of these selections were going to be endearing...and I don't exactly know why this song reminds me of my Dad, but it conjures up a deep-buried memory of him dancing, very much like Cliff Huxtable, wearing shorts, black knee-high socks, and sandals. The same album includes Easy, which I also recall hearing a lot.

Morris Day and the Time - Jungle Love (1983)
Remember what I said about corny Dad jokes? I have no idea why my Dad loves Morris Day...


My Dad LOVES jazz. Most of the albums in his collection are jazz. Whenever he took us anywhere in his car, the radio was tuned to public radio or the university jazz station. His collection isn't unique, broad, or vast, but it covers the bases. So I've chosen to highlight a few of the artists who make multiple appearances:

Charles Mingus - The Fables of Faubus (1959)
This is actually a selection that I am imposing on my Dad--one that I think he should like because I do.

John Coltrane - A Love Supreme (1964)
If you have never heard this album, do yourself a favor and take half an hour to find something to read while this plays in the background. Or just sit still and listen. As I was retrieving the clip for this, my Dad happened to be looking over my shoulder and he shared that this was one of his favorite pieces. And that we have in common.

Pharoah Saunders - The Creator Has a Master Plan (1969)
If you took my advice to listen to A Love Supreme, then if you can set aside another half hour, please listen to this. If you did not listen to Coltrane this time because you are already familiar, then still take the time to listen to this (and stay with it) for quite a journey. Trust me.

Alice Coltrane - Blue Nile (1970)
And once you recover from the cacophony of Pharoah Saunders, you are ready for the centering place where Alice Coltrane takes you. In her own right she was an accomplished musician who made quite a contribution to the genre in the 70s.

Sun Ra - Hidden Spheres (1972)
This comes from one of several Sun Ra albums in the collection. When I showed my Dad this album, all he had to say was that Ra was a deep dude. Then I began my research...and this is clearly the inspiration for what we're hearing and seeing some 40 years later in Afro-futurism. Also check out this Tiny Desk Concert from 2014.

Roy Ayers - Everybody Loves the Sunshine (1976)
I got to see Ayers a few years ago at an outdoor concert venue within walking distance from my parents' house. I invited Dad to come along, but he declined because as always is the case with outdoor events, it had rained and he wasn't interested in trudging through mud or swatting bugs. "That's why we buy albums," he quipped.

Spoken Word

While we were discussing his music tastes, my Dad made an off-handed comment about albums be bought that were not jazz, such as The Last Poets:

The Last Poets - On The Subway (1970)
This is one of those discoveries that I wish I had made as a teenager because I might have come to the conclusion that my Dad was a cool dude. Now I'm blown...but not at all surprised. After all, this is the man who had once been a dashiki-wearing revolutionary.

Gil Scott-Heron - The Bottle (1974)
Again, this is me projecting my tastes and preferences. Of course, I love The Revolution Will Not Be Televised as well, but I see this song as having more of a timeless message (very much like Stevie Wonder's Living For the City released in 1973).


One of my brothers went through a Bob Marley phase and I remember that my Dad seemed to be amused, rather than annoyed (unlike the rest of us because he played the same tape over and over), then of course I made a discovery in the stash:

Bob Marley and the Wailers - Three Little Birds (1977)
Who doesn't love this song? On the rare occasions whenever my Dad sings along, this is one of those songs. Another one is One Love, which is now a favorite of my daughter's, so could there be three generations of Marley lovers in the family?

Hugh Masekela - Grazing in the Grass (1968)
I knew my Dad was a Masekela fan, so a few years ago, I bought tickets for my parents to see him when he came to DC. This is the only song I knew, so the great thing about compiling these lists is the discovery of 40 years worth of other music, such as his cover of No Woman No Cry and Soweto Blues, which was a hit for ex-wife Miriam Makeba (another Dad fave who gets an honorable mention here). 


Finally, we conclude with a short list of gospel favorites, which also takes us out on a sentimental note. Earlier I mentioned that my Dad is not a commercial radio fan, and that is true, except on Sunday mornings. We have been faithful listeners of the same gospel music program for as long as I can remember, including the many years when Daddy wouldn't step foot in a church:

The Edwin Hawkins Singers - Oh Happy Day (1969)
My Dad might not list this song as one of his favorites, so it is here for a different reason. I've taken dance classes for more than 35 years and it's a passion my parents always supported. This song is part of a gospel suite choreographed my longtime dance teacher, so it is included here to highlight one of the most important things that parents can do for their children--show up.

Walter Hawkins & The Love Center Choir - Going Up Yonder (1975)
I've been hearing this song since I was a child. I remember thinking that Walter and Edwin Hawkins were distant relatives of ours, so this is my Auntie Tremaine featured on one of my Dad's favorite songs.

The Commodores - Jesus is Love (1980)
I always thought this was one of Lionel Richie's first solo hits, but I was wrong! Here is some concert footage with the entire group and a gospel choir.

Richard Smallwood - Jesus is the Center of My Joy (1984)
This is another family favorite (DC's own via Howard University). Some 20 years ago, we attended a benefit concert for the high school where my Dad and brothers went, and we still talk about how fantastic Smallwood was. This song in particular is special to me as I chose it for my wedding walk down the aisle with both parents.

Yolanda Adams - The Battle Is Not Yours (1993)
For YEARS, my Dad made us all go to his high school benefit concert, headlined by various gospel and secular artists. Although I don't remember the exact year when Yolanda Adams performed, I recall having a conversation with my Dad that occurred shortly afterwards. I was feeling down about not having a job or maybe I was overwhelmed by the insanity of the job I had at the time, and my Dad invoked this song to encourage me.

Signing Off

So this is where I bring this all together with a somewhat emotional conclusion (well, I will try my best). In the process of putting this playlist together, I gained some insight into my Dad that I probably overlooked all these years. His taste in music doesn't reveal any major surprises, but it does point to a consistency of always moving through life regardless of whatever is going on. Enjoy the party, get to work, fight injustice, take a break, expand your mind, love your family, keep the faith, and always be yourself. Believe it or not, all of those life lessons can be found by flipping through my Dad's old record collection. Imagine what wisdom awaits you in your father's/father-figure's playlist.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Black Music Month: Prince, the Index (Part Two)

For this next phase of favorites, I wanted to frame the nature of my fandom during this era of Prince's career. Until the 90s, I was just a casual Prince fan because I only had 1999, Purple Rain, and Sign O' the Times on tape at the time. Hip hop had captured my attention, so while I still liked Prince's music, it was in college when I evolved into a more significant fan--beyond the casual appreciation of his hit songs that got radio play. I credit that renewed interest to being exposed to other Prince fans (some of whom were really dedicated to the cause) and what I would call an early version of music sharing known as borrowing. If I look right now, I probably have someone else's Prince tape/CD in my collection.

Graffiti Bridge (1990) - The Question of U
I had not listened to this album in years, so revisiting it while compiling this playlist has been like a reunion with someone I remember as a friend from a special moment in time, but hadn't kept up with through the years.  But as soon as we re-connect, it's as if nothing changed. For some reason, I recall this album as an echo of music that had been previously released, so Question is the echo of Under the Cherry Moon...

On the Facebook playlist, I highlighted the fact that Prince introduced us to Tevin Campbell on this album, one of the most underrated talents of the 90s R&B music scene. Prince wrote the song Shh (for I'm Ready which was released in 1993), and though it was not a great hit for Campbell, it was memorable because it was a Prince song that that we might have appreciated more if Prince had released it himself (which he did on The Gold Experience in 1995 as the Artist).

Diamonds and Pearls (1991) - Cream
I enjoyed this album a lot in college, even though I was not the biggest fan of the New Power Generation. This was an era when many established artists were trying to remain relevant, so as others were collaborating with hip hop or incorporating new jack swing, Prince's effort was to bring in a different backup band. Yet this album was still characteristically Prince, with this song as a stand out in live performance.

Love Symbol (1992) - Blue Light
As much as I loved this album and played it to death, it has become problematic for me. My discomfort with it has everything to do with the uneasiness I always felt about the origin of Prince's relationship with ex-wife Mayte Garcia. I just learned that she and I are exactly the same age, and Lord knows I had my fantasies about Prince but their backstory has R. Kellyish vibes to it and that ain't cool. Just listen to the words of The Morning Papers and then read any interview about her memoir and yeah...

So how do I confront the possibility probability that Prince was a very controlling man in all areas of his life, including his intimate relationships? I don't, which is a conscious choice that seems like a contradiction, and maybe someday I will come to different conclusions about him as a man that will impact my love for his music. Today isn't that day.

In the space between my last years of college and my first year of law school, I was content to enjoy and re-discover the Prince music that was already in the atmosphere instead of venturing forward with new material. So I didn't buy The Black Album (1994) or Come (1994) because The Hits/B-Sides (1993) had been released and that 3-disc set kept me occupied until the release of Emancipation in 1996. That means I also missed The Gold Experience (1995) and Chaos and Disorder (1996) which were released during the contract dispute with Warner Brothers.

The Hits/B-Sides (1993) - Nothing Compares 2 U
The great thing about this release is that it led me to engage with a lot of the earlier music that I had missed. I was six years old when Prince released his first album, thus my access to anything prior to Controversy was restricted by the risque content and limited radio airplay. It was via The Hits that I first heard Prince's version of this song featuring Rosie Gaines, because I had only known of Sinead O'Connor's version released in 1990. I had completely missed that it had also been recorded by The Family because I only remembered Screams of Passion (which Prince wrote and recorded as well). Oh, and now there is an even earlier recording of this song with the Revolution that was recently released from 1983.

How Come U Don't Call Me Anymore
I gave this song an Honorable Mention as it stands out as one of those Prince songs that was a hit for someone else...until he covered it. This song was initially recorded by Stephanie Mills in 1983, later to be remade by Alicia Keyes on her debut album. But I'm betting that just like me, you forgot about Mills' earlier version and refer to Keyes' version as a Prince remake.

17 Days - This was the B-side to When Doves Cry. Here is an earlier version with just piano, which explains why I used to think that the title of the song was really 'Let the Rain Come Down'. This was also the song that kept replaying in my head in the aftermath of Prince's death, when it rained for three straight weeks.

Erotic City - This was the B-side to Let's Go Crazy. Today, I clearly hear them sing We can fuck until the dawn, but I swear in 1984 I heard funk and I guess the rest of the world heard what I heard as well because this song got regular radio play. You should also hear the familiar voice of Sheila Escovedo (Sheila E.) on this track. On the Facebook playlist, I took a moment to formally acknowledge her contribution to Prince as his longtime musical collaborator and director by highlighting her hit Glamorous Life. And of course, she was also one of his muses.

One of my friends took issue with my declaration that Sheila E. was the only woman who collaborated and toured with Prince (other than Wendy and Lisa from the Revolution), to deserve special recognition. He asserted that Rosie Gaines and the late Boni Beyer deserved props, and I am always open to receiving correction. However, we shall NOT give anything other than a brief mention to any of those other bishes--not even his ex-wife or Vanity or Apollonia or Sheena Easton or Jill Jones or Susannah Melvoin (from The Family) or Cat Glover and definitely not Carmen Electra (who doesn't even merit a live link).

She's Always in My Hair - The B-side to Raspberry Beret, the piano on this makes me think of The Beautiful Ones (so again, that echo effect). As Prince is one of the few artists whose live performances are just as (if not more) enjoyable as what is released on his albums, here is one of his live performances of this song on the Arsenio Hall Show.

The Gold Experience (1995) - Eye Hate U
I almost made the mistake of declaring that Prince didn't offer much for neo-soul fans during the 90s, but that was clearly my folly in pretending to be a music critic (which I am clearly not), because after listening to this song again I stand corrected.

Emancipation (1996) - Let's Have A Baby
This deeply personal love song offers another echo of The Beautiful Ones and is absolutely heart-wrenching given the tragic fate of Prince and Mayte's son. However, what I remember most about this album was how eagerly anticipated it was, and how my Prince-obsessed BFF from law school and I went to downtown to Tower Records the day it was released. Of course he loved it, but I was lukewarm. Unfortunately, my disappointment resulted in another cooling off phase with Prince music that never rekindled with the same intensity.

My complaint then was that instead of three CDs of music where I didn't love each track, I would have preferred one CD. The major standouts for me were the the covers of other artists: One of Us (which had been a hit that same year for Joan Osborne); Eye Can't Make U Love Me (previously recorded by Bonnie Raitt and George Michael); La, La, La I Love You (classic hit by The Delfonics that was also covered by The Jackson 5); and Betcha By Golly Wow (first recorded by Connie Stevens, then The Stylistics, and later by Phyllis Hyman). Honestly, he could have done an entire album of covers and I would have been more than satisfied.

Honorable Mentions, Artist Collaborations, and Other Notable Work
And I believe it was exactly at this point when, in the midst of putting together the Facebook playlist, I asked myself who has time for this? Who has hours upon hours to devote to putting together a playlist of Prince music only to realize the futility of an abbreviated, superficial effort? There can be no half-stepping, which is why it was necessary to provide an index in the first place; yet, there is no definitive playlist, only snapshots that attempt to highlight his brilliance and genius. Prince was prolific.

Now that's not a direct quote, but that same sentiment was so memorably expressed in a scene from one of my favorite movies of that mid-90s era, Love Jones. But Prince wasn't on that soundtrack because he was working with Spike Lee on Girl 6 in 1996, (which I overlooked based on this theory). I liked Don't Talk to Strangers, which was also released by Chaka Khan (on the aforementioned album that Prince produced for her, and also for the Down In the Delta soundtrack.)

Upon the mention of Chaka Khan again, it is important to highlight a few of other veteran artists with whom Prince collaborated during this era. There was Larry Graham, a former member of Sly and The Family Stone, George Clinton, Patti LaBelle (here is his unreleased version of the same song), Maceo Parker, and Stevie Wonder <== yeah, I know...and he remains unforgiven for this as well.

Prince also collaborated with his contemporaries, such as The Bangles, for whom he wrote Manic Monday (which he recorded, but did not release as a duet with Apollonia). Here is a live performance with them, where Prince seemed content to play guitar and sing backup as necessary as he did with Lenny Kravitz, Sheryl Crow, and Tom Petty (and others at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame Induction for George Harrison). And though this was a primarily performance of his music, he did grant Beyonce about 20 seconds to shine (beginning at 3:19).

And then, one last artist who must be acknowledged for her obvious impact is Joni Mitchell, whom Prince often cited as one of his muses. Here is a live version of A Case of You and a recorded version, which are simply beautiful.

Here the list jumps from 1996 to 2004. So while I always found time to enjoy whatever he put into the universe, my next great encounter with Prince music was the happy accident known as the anecdote about how I got to see the Musicology tour. I've shared this story before--my brother and his then-girlfriend (now wife) were given tickets to the show on the street but they were not interested in going. So they called me, and of course I made it down to the Verizon Center post haste to enjoy the second half of the show.

Musicology (2004) Call My Name
This would be the only time I got to see Prince live in concert. On an otherwise solid CD, this is the stand-out song for me. It is actually one of my favorite songs on this list just because it is familiar and for lack of a better way to describe it, feels very mature. It sounds every bit like a man who has settled into his second marriage after years of being a risque playboy...

Alas, this is where my playlist comes to an abrupt halt because after Musicology, my interest trailed off again. Like all geniuses, his greatest asset (a prodigious output of new music) would eventually become a liability--too much of a good thing. I took him for granted and never considered that there would come a day when the music would stop.

If you visit the official Prince Estate homepage, you will note that there were twelve (12) more years of creative output and material. There were more collaborations. There were a ton of concerts and live performances. There were talk show appearances (including this unforgettable performance on Lopez Tonight where he introduced the world to future prima ballerina Misty Copeland). There were award show appearances. There was the Superbowl. There was the infamous Dave Chappelle Show skit. There was even this very odd cameo that still has me shaking my head because I haven't met anyone who was a fan of this show...

While this was never intended as a definitive list, nor was it intended to stray so far from my original objective, as I said at the outset, nothing about Prince ever goes according to a plan. In this process of revisiting and remembering, I am also discovering yet another range of colors from this musical chameleon. Thus, as I close with Revelation, from HitnRun Phase Two (2015), I look forward to what else I might encounter for the next playlist. In the meantime, Happy Heavenly Birthday!

Black Music Month: Prince, the Index (Part One)

This past Easter Sunday 2019 (April 21) was the third anniversary of Prince's transcendence, so I spent practically all day Easter Monday putting together what I thought would be a 'quick' tribute on the Busy Black Woman Facebook page. The next thing I knew, what I had intended as a few songs morphed into a retrospective of 20 songs selected from albums released from 1978-2004 in chronological order. Then came the intention to recapture what was posted on social media in the form of an index. Then the effort to highlight just those 20 songs became another full-blown tribute with LOTS of bonus material published in two parts!

So here is your roadmap although when it comes to Prince, nothing ever follows an exact plan: (a) The first tribute written contemporaneously when I learned of his untimely passage, (b) the second written for what would have been his 60th birthday last year, (c) and now this unpredictable, unwieldy, and utterly overwhelming index/playlist that I plan to post annually on these dates of remembrance, April 21 and June 7.

For You (1978) - Crazy Fool
The song that gets most of the attention from this album is the one that would introduce Prince as a sexual provocateur, which is how I made the mistake of overlooking this album. Thankfully, I discovered this gem of a song that is so short and sweet, and that hints at that other side of Prince as a lover of love, the hopeless romantic we encounter on some of his underrated ballads.

Prince (1979) - I Feel For You
I first heard this song when it was a hit for Chaka Khan in 1984 and while I knew Prince had written it, I had no idea that he had recorded his own version of it until years later. There are reasons to love both versions, and while I don't have a preference, I will say that the two made beautiful music together as evidenced on Journey 2 The Center of Your Heart from her Come to My House album in 1998.

Another favorite from this album is the classic I Wanna Be Your Lover. I swear this is the video that inspired the infamous meme about Prince and rompers.

Controversy (1981) - Do Me Baby
Again, this was a song that I first heard when it was recorded by Meli'sa Morgan in 1985. I believe it was one of my first 45s...and thinking back on how old I was when I bought it, lawd what did I know?! I can't choose a favorite between both versions.

1999 (1982) - International Lover (1983 acoustic version, previously unreleased)
I LOVE this album. Of course it contains well-known favorites and classics, and is the foretelling of Prince's commercial success for the rest of the decade. In the tradition of great Prince slow jams, the original version of International Lover is one of the best, with its metaphorical conjuring of the mile high club (aboard the "Seduction 747"). Then there is the other side of the same coin, Lady Cab Driver, which is a dance jam that evokes the same brazen lasciviousness, but on terra firma in her "mansion" somewhere. Both songs are sexy as fuck.

Purple Rain (1984)
For the record, this can be your favorite Prince album just as long as you don't call yourself a die-hard fan. That statement doesn't detract from the greatness of this project (which includes the movie); it just puts into context how one defines Prince fandom. Most of us became Prince fans because of this album, so it is more accurate to describe Purple Rain as the portal, not the summit.

With that disclaimer made, my surprise favorites from this project are found in its prophetic dance numbers (captured in these live performances) of I Would Die 4 U and Baby I'm a Star. In essence, Prince told us what to expect from the career that would unfold: I am a star and I would die for you. He was and he did.

Around the World In A Day (1985) - Raspberry Beret
I skipped this album in the Facebook tribute, but now that I have jumped into this rabbit hole, this video and the cover art demonstrate Prince's mastery of visual imagery. This has always been one of my favorite videos so when I discovered the Beatles years later, it clicked that this was a homage to their iconic cover from Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. And the fact that a similar allusion was made by a real music critic back in 1985 has me feeling some kind of way.

Parade (1986) - Kiss
When I started this tribute in the car on the way back from dropping the Kid off at school, it was without a plan or a roadmap of how this would unfold. This song was my first choice because in the vast universe of Prince music, it is one of the most accessible and cleverest dance jams--one that lends itself to various live interpretations. From the same album there was Anotherloverholenyohead, just because in the ever-constant reinvention of his image, this video gave me David Bowie vibes.

My thoughts on Under the Cherry Moon, the movie for which this album was the soundtrack... #nowords

Sign O' The Times (1987) - Adore
Although not included in the original Facebook tribute, this song is THE quintessential classic Prince love ballad! It is not just another great slow jam about having sex (an entire genre that he redefined), but it is about the emotions that transcend love, on levels that are indescribable, other-worldly even. So between lines that declare love is too weak to define just what you mean to me and I've got to have your face all up in the place...this song is unparalleled. And whether they realize this or not, lots of Millennials owe their existence to it!

I just need to point out that if you became a Prince fan because of PR (movie and album), you should have remained a Prince fan because of Sign (movie and album).

Lovesexy (1988) - When 2 R in Love
On an otherwise solid, but overlooked album (because it is overshadowed by Sign), this song demands attention. It is also included on The Black Album (recorded at the same time, but not released until 1994). For me, there is an echo of Purple Rain.

Batman (1989) - Scandalous
Then there is this song...and if I were putting together a Prince slow jam mixtape/playlist (which I did back in college), this song is the climax, pun intended. I wonder if I still have that tape somewhere along with the entire Scandalous Sex Suite...

After listening to that song, you should need a cigarette or some other kind of break. Stretch. Take a short nap. Get a snack, and then come right back for Part Two!

Monday, June 3, 2019

Black Music Month 2019

Once upon a time, back in the day when I was a cynical newbie to blogging, I wrote this piece for Black Music Month...and not too long ago, I finally found a hard copy of that lightening-in-a-bottle piece I wrote nearly twenty years ago for NetNoir. My how things have changed.

First of all, both were somewhat painful to re-read, not because they were poorly written, but because I thought I was so funny and clever. What the heck did I know about anything before I was 35 years old? And how could I have known that contrary to what I said about J. Lo (#29), that she would reinvent herself like Madonna and still be dancing her ass off at 50? Or that my Kid and I would be jamming to the very type of hybrid song I dissed at #41? At least I was right about R. Kelly's sick azz (#8).

And while I will not attempt to go line-by-line to refute or high-five my past opinions, I will say that my stance on Black Music Month has changed. A lil' bit. I still think the BET Awards are whack, but I don't think that I would have nearly as much appreciation for certain veteran artists if not for shows like Unsung. (How else would I have known that I was right about Adina Howard, #33?)

In those early days of opinionating on Al Gore's internet, my position was that popular R&B music had jumped the shark. In 2001, I wrote that it was dead in response to my younger cousin's reenactment of the Lady Marmalade video, in addition to what was getting constant constant radio and/or repeat play on MTV. When I reiterated that sentiment in that 50 Reasons piece four years later, something else must have annoyed me. Whatever was the cause, it must have been before the Dap Kings elevated Amy Winehouse from just another troubled kid to bona fide soul singer. It was definitely before the release of Dave Chappelle's Block Party (but probably after his infamous meltdown and South African retreat). And now I'm trying to recall whether this was written before my girl from dance class hipped me to the Foreign Exchange.

Nevertheless, it was my disappointment that while Jill Scott was out there living life like it was Golden and Anthony Hamilton had told us where he had been Comin' From, I was hearing more from lesser talents. They were sucking up all of the airtime which made it nearly impossible to discover different voices (and this was before Three 6 Mafia won that doggone Oscar). In hindsight those pieces were my declaration of independence from what the industry was telling me that I needed to hear.

For this Black Music Month, I am excited to debunk my own past thinking with respect to the current state of R&B music. I am elated that Beyonce broke the internet with Homecoming and that Donald Glover is out there terrorizing white folks as Childish Gambino (and people of color as Teddy Perkins). But I am just as encouraged that NPR is giving exposure to diverse R&B voices with its Tiny Desk Concerts and that venues like City Winery and concepts like Sofar are providing spaces for showcasing their talents.

Like the flowers that find ways to bloom in concrete, great music will find an audience. For instance, it was Pandora that introduced me to Anthony David, an MTV spotlight that brought Corrine Bailey Rae to my attention, and my daughter's singing along with Leon Bridges on Sesame Street that piqued my curiosity about him. As often as I keep saying that I am not a music critic, it is because I have a decent ear that allows me to determine what I like and maybe express a few reasons why something appeals to me.

This year marks the 40th year of Black Music Month, so in the spirit of commemoration, I am planning a series of pieces that will: (a) catch up with a few artists; (b) pay homage to a number of legends; (c) discover some new voices that deserve attention; and (d) make amends for a couple of past misjudgments. And I will start my amends by acknowledging my ignorance of how this month was designated. It was in 1979 that President Jimmy Carter issued the proclamation, but it was not until President Bill Clinton signed it in 2000 that Black Music Month was officially recognized. Under President Barack Obama, the month became known as African American Music Appreciation Month, a designation that has continued with the current President. The idea to honor the contributions of Black musicians and artists originated with legendary Philadelphia producer Kenneth Gamble, radio personality and music activist (also Gamble's ex wife) Dyana Williams, and DJ Ed Wright from Cleveland.

Finally, I am willing to revise my opinion in #47 because some of my favorite artists have done some excellent remakes (#15). And yes, it was mean to say that about Stevie (#32), but I am not budging from #21 because the Black Eyed Peas still suck (and only deserves partial credit for Yes We Can).