I’m continuing the conversation from last week where I evaluated the use of Black gospel choirs to elevate the songs of non-Black artists. I haven’t decided whether it’s an all-out appropriation, some appreciation or callous apathy on their part but I suspect it’s a tradition that will continue. It will continue because some of us don’t have any cultural or racial pride and think of ourselves less than. Except when we’re validated by others (esp. whites). Even if that means we abdicate our musical heritage to anybody who shows an appreciation for early Aretha Franklin. We forget it’s the use of a music borne from pain, suffering and survival from experiences unique to African-Americans and part of our never-ending (but lax on acknowledging) contributions to the good ol’ USA.
Which brings me to the second conversation in this series about white artists who appropriate their version of the Black (American) experience and sell it back to us. Now the question that needs to be asked is why are those artists given a blanket credibility and support when we won’t even support actual Black artists who aren’t putting out what I’m calling XXX Porn & Warfare set to a beat? I think I already answered my question but I’m putting it out there for consideration anyway…..
I recall when Amy Winehouse’s 2nd CD “Back to Black” was released and people were falling all over themselves to declare it the best thing since sliced bread. Now bear in mind that I actually like Winehouse – as well as her 1st CD “Frank”. I lived in the UK when “Frank” was released so I was already familiar with her as an artist, but hardly anyone knew who she was Stateside. The 2nd CD got this huge push by her label and suddenly she was on every trendy/cool/buzz list.
Justin Timberfakelake is another artist who was benefited greatly from his Black alliances. With him there’s an added twist in that Black males in the industry wanted to work with him and sought him out to expand their own influence as tastemakers. He’s used Black male choreographers, songwriters, producers, et al to craft his sound and image. It’s when you evaluate his relations with Black female artists in the music biz that you see the advantages afforded him as a white male.
I have two words for you: Janet Jackson. Her career has NOT been the same since that Super Bowl wardrobe malfunction while he’s gotten off scott free. I’m still pissed off about it and I’m not even that big a Jackson fan. I can easily spot the hypocrisy though and know that if it had been Madonna and Kayne West for example she would’ve gotten flack for her association with a Black man but her career wouldn’t have been so negatively impacted. As I featured the “Like A Prayer” song in my first post, that video was considered controversial for many reasons but there was never any question about who was in charge. When Pepsi got complaints about her frolicking with a Black male saint she laughed all the way the bank.
Now I could go into more history of soul music, the discrimination, the way it was derogatorily called “race” music, the emergence of Motown and “blue-eyed” soul but that would require several detailed posts and there are numerous books that lay it all out if you take a Music History course. Suffice it to say this “going Black” wasn’t invented in the past few years by a handful of 20-something artists.
Back in the day you had the Righteous Brothers, Buddy Holly and Elvis were castigated for singing Ni**er music and radio was very segregated. Of course if you paid attention to the movies Dreamgirls (itself an appropriation of the Motown history with the Supremes) or even Cadillac Records it touches on the practice of white artists who remade the soul records of the day and not credit the artists or pay the writers. That’s the tip of the iceberg by the way.
Even the all-hallowed Beach Boys ripped off Chuck Berry. Sing along to Surfin’ USA and realize it sounds just like Sweet Little Sixteen – and why. It was outright thievery that they had to be sued and years later forced to pay the man for his work. Led Zeppelin liberally borrowed from blues artists…as did the Stones and even the Beatles. So why are these white (male) groups held in the highest regard and paid handsomely when so many of the musicians they “gave tribute to” died broke and forgotten? Things that make you go hmmm.
I have just been troubled by this most recent emergence of white artists, particularly from the UK who are young and have the benefit of skilled marketers at their disposal. Cough **Duffy** Cough. The Police was retooling reggae to an international audience 20+ years ago and are still widely respected. I may listen to these newer artists’ music but with an awareness of the struggles of the actual Black artists who may be trying to compete in the same genre but are NOT getting the full court press roll-out. I have to be selective in who I decide to financially support by purchasing their products or seeing them live.
You know for every Adele there’s an Estelle who had to move to the US and get her name attached to US rappers like Kanye West to get adequate label interest. At some point even she lamented about it. She was justified because Winehouse had been nominated for a Music of Black Origin Award against other artists who were in fact of Black origin. Like who you will because music is subjective, but be aware of where it came from and who’s reaping the rewards of previous generations’ sacrifices. It’s why rock and jazz aren’t considered “Black” anymore and why some idiot frat boy wannabe like Asher Roth can rap about how cool it is being white and lazy and get away with it. Once we’ve given away our heritage and legacy and what will we have left?