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.

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