Category: Blog

Q&A: Seven Questions with Roger Thomas of Naturally 7

With a distinct acapella style they call “vocal play, Naturally 7 is a New York based vocal septet that has contributed to America’s soundtrack with their unique style. Featuring Roger Thomas, Warren Thomas, Rod Eldridge, Lee Ricardo, Dwight Stewart, Garfield Buckley, and Kelvin “Kelz” Mitchell, Naturally 7 has made their mark by using their voices to replicate music instruments to accompany their choral harmonies.

The group recently released their seventh album, Both Sides Now, which features classics spanning over a century from Roberta Flack’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” to Paul McCartney’s “Pipes of Peace.”

Roger Thomas, co-founder, of the group Naturally 7 spoke with the National Museum of African American Music about the group’s new album, Both Sides Now, their repertoire of music, and career highlights.

What have been some of your career highlights?

Roger Thomas: I suppose one career highlight has been going on three world tours with Michael Bublé. We did that three world tours that pushed us out in front of about 4 million people. That’s nothing to sneeze at. We did Quincy Jones’ 75th birthday and we became friends with him. We were the only group that was on the stage that night that he didn’t know who we were. They had the greats there like James Ingram, Patti Austin, Herbie Hancock. He was just so overjoyed by what we did. That was really cool for us. Also, we did the [2011] BET Honors did a tribute for Herbie Hancock and showed the world what we were doing.  We’ve had so many highlights. All of it has been a blessing.

For those discovering Naturally 7 for the first time, can you describe the group’s sound and explain what vocal play is?

Roger Thomas: We are acapella and most people know it means singing without instruments. Vocal play is when you become the instruments, meaning actually mimicking the instruments. Often times when you sing acapella, you just sing the ooh’s and aah’s, but it isn’t taking the place of modern instruments. So that’s exactly what we do is when you hear the sound, you hear the instruments and literally believe that you’re hearing the regular instruments that you would hear when you are listening to other genres like R&B, hip hop, pop, funk, gospel, it doesn’t make any difference, we’re going to sell that world of sound just with our voices. We’re not really chained to any particular genre, but coming out of the church, gospel and R&B and coming out of New York; in our set people are going to hear anything from classical music to rock.

Let’s talk about the album, Both Sides Now. What would you say is the difference between this album and your previous albums?

Roger Thomas: First of all, if you were listening to the album before this one, Hidden in Plain Sight, they are both extremes. We actually don’t have a lot of vocal play on this album. This was a specialty project where we concentrated on the choral aspect, the harmonies, and almost going back to our roots where we originally came from. The theme of the album was classical and classics, so that’s what we kind of did. If you listened to the album before this it was urban, hip hop, R&B, and just completely different.

How do you pick the songs that you are going to put on the album? Because looking at your discography, there are a lot of Simon and Garfunkel songs and then you do a Roberta Flack song; there’s a wide range. So how do you narrow your songs down?

Roger Thomas: (laughs) I’m going to be honest with you. From the time we got together in 1999, we found that more people were more surprised that we would even know that song, so the effect of that was overwhelming. So, you can imagine seeing seven black guys on stage, people would think we were about to do some Donny Hathaway, Earth Wind & Fire, but we like to do stuff that people don’t expect. We can take a song like “In the Air Tonight,” and then make a hip hop version out of it, and we have our own lyrics and our verses, and the chorus is hip hop. We like kind of doing things where people end up shocked. At Carnegie Hall earlier this year, they did a 1960s movement, and we did “Summer in the City” and we mixed it with Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five’s “The Message.” They didn’t expect us to mix those together. That’s our goal, and that’s what we like to do. In a set, Roberta Flack’s song “First Time I Ever Saw Your Face,” they may have not heard a male sing that song. It’s not even a black white thing, it can be gender.

Do you ever get feedback from the artists whose songs you put the Naturally 7 spin on?

Roger Thomas: Yes, we have to clear songs. One of the songs, “Everything She Wants,” by George Michael, we had to clear. This was before he passed and he was like “oh my goodness I love what you guys did with it. I give you permission, I hope you have a lot of success with it.” I’d love to hear from Paul Simon, we haven’t had that. We’ve heard from James Taylor’s people, some how they got wind of it, and asked us to put it on their Facebook page and they loved it. We did a song for Quincy Jones called “Wall of Sound,” and in the middle of it, we did “Off the Wall.” Quincy produced “Off the Wall,” so you can imagine his face when we hit that. We love when we get a chance for the original artist to hear it.

 

Since your voices are your instruments, how do you care for them? Do you get a lot of sore throats? (laughs)

Roger Thomas: (laughs) We actually police each other. We have to remind each other “bring your voice down.” So even talking actually, loud talking, hurts us more than singing every day. We police that and sleep. None of us smoke, we are very careful with our instruments since it’s inside of us, we have to take care of ourselves. If someone gets a cold or something, then that affects the show and what people are going to hear. I’m not saying that we never lose our voices, because we do, but the show goes on.

Why is it important to have the National Museum of African American Music?

Roger Thomas: One of my pet peeves that people just forget too quick. It could be something that happened five years ago and it’s already forgotten. People forget how we got here from something that just happened 10 years ago, 15 years ago, or even 100 years ago. So, people are visual people so to actually see something that will help. In a museum situation, if we are teaching people this is what has taken place, these are the steps that have been taken to get to the steps that you are on now, and that way you can even know there are other steps. People have to know how they got to where they are and know the people that paved the way and the events that happened along the way.  If you don’t know that then you’re doomed to repeat history. I truly believe we have to lift up our heroes and the people that have made it possible for us to be where we are.

Keep up with Naturally 7 by checking out their website.

About the Author

Shameika Rhymes
Shameika Rhymes

Shameika Rhymes is a journalist of all trades. She can usually be found producing television news and has written for outlets like ET Online, ESSENCE, EBONY Magazine, JETMag.com, Shondaland.com, SoulTrain.com, WEtv.com and her own website, www.themofochronicles.com. Follow her on Twitter @Mofochronicles @WriterShameika

Profile: Linda Martell

African Americans have contributed to many facets of America’s soundtrack. One area that isn’t discussed as much is the contributions to the country genre. It’s a widely known fact that country legend Charley Pride came on the scene in 1966 and became the first black country artist to experience country music success. Pride was the first black country singer to perform on the Grand Ole Opry. What seems to have gotten lost in the history books is who the first Black woman was to perform on the show. Linda Martell, was the first black woman to appear on the Grand Ole Opry in 1969.

Martell was born in South Carolina in 1941 where she developed an appreciation for country, blues, jazz, and R&B music. At the age of 5 she began singing in the church choir and performing R&B songs with a small group around Columbia, South Carolina that included shows at the Charleston Air Force Base.

Martell’s first recorded work was with R&B group Linda Martell & the Anglos with a single in 1962. The group recorded another single in 1964.

During one of her performances at the Air Force Base, Martell was harassed by officers who insisted she sing a country song. She finally gave in to their requests, blowing them away, changing the course of her career. Martell caught her big break in 1969 after that performance landed her a trip to Nashville, Tennessee for a demo recording session. The tape landed in the hands of producer Shelby Singleton who signed Martell to his Plantation Records label.

The summer of 1969 was a busy one for Martell. Her song “Color Him Father” from her debut album, Color Me Country made the Top 25 on the Billboard Hot Country Charts.

Linda Martell made history as the first African American woman to appear on the Grand Ole Opry sharing the stage with musician Roy Acuff for her debut performance. She would go to make almost a dozen more appearances on the legendary show.

Her debut and only album was released by Plantation Records in 1970. She released two more singles “Before the Next Teardrop Falls,” and “Bad Case of the Blues” which both landed on the Top 60 charts.

She appeared on shows like Country Carnival, 16th Avenue South, Midwestern Hayride, the Bill Anderson Show, and Hee Haw.

Linda Martell retired in 1974 to care for her children.

In 2014, she appeared on the Swedish television show Jill’s Veranda where she sang along with the host of the show and explained why she left the music business behind. The show also revealed she became an educator, but the video proves her voice has just gotten better with age like a fine wine.

About the Author

Shameika Rhymes
Shameika Rhymes

Shameika Rhymes is a journalist of all trades. She can usually be found producing television news and has written for outlets like ET Online, ESSENCE, EBONY Magazine, JETMag.com, Shondaland.com, SoulTrain.com, WEtv.com and her own website, www.themofochronicles.com. Follow her on Twitter @Mofochronicles @WriterShameika

Remembering Jackson Family Patriarch Joe Jackson

Joseph “Joe” Jackson, the patriarch who launched the musical Jackson family dynasty passed away on June 27, 2018 after a battle with cancer.  The story of how the Jackson 5 rose to fame from Gary, Indiana is a well known tale. It’s also a well publicized story of how the entire Jackson family cemented their role in all facets of entertainment, making them music royalty. Over the years Joe Jackson faced his share of the wrath of the media, the same media that preyed on his son Michael Jackson before his death in 2009 and after.

In 2014, I spoke with Joe Jackson for SoulTrain.com, that was also shared on his website,  in a rare exclusive interview about how he was working on telling his life story, if he had any regrets about his career, and what’s missing in music. However, there’s no word if the project he mentioned in 2014 was completed.

Here is an excerpt of that interview:

Shameika Rhymes (SR): Mr. Jackson it is an absolute pleasure to be speaking with you. Are you still working on the documentary “A Journey in My Shoes” that you mentioned on the “Piers Morgan Show” in 2013?

Joe Jackson: Thank you. I am, but instead of a documentary it will actually be a book instead called “A Journey in My Shoes” that will be my legacy. It’s about my life story. It’s about how I tried to get my boys out there and how hard I had to work several jobs to sustain my family. It’s about the rejection, the fighting, and the struggles, and the bad press that I’ve received for what I have done. It’s about the things that I had to go through to make my boys the superstars they became all over the world. It even addresses the flack I received about the way that I decided to raise my children.

SR: The music industry has changed so much since the Jackson 5 signed on with Motown. Mr. Jackson, what do you think is missing in music today?

Joe Jackson: It was easier back then, artists wanted it and wanted to be stars and they showed up prepared and they were developed, so they had lasting careers.

There’s a lack of artist development today, artists are just focused on putting out their music and then you never hear from them again. That’s just my thoughts on it.

SR:  We spoke with Eddie Ray and he was the first African American executive at Capitol Records that tried to get the Jackson 5 signed onto their label. However, you made the decision to go with Motown instead. Do you think things would have been different had you decided to go with Capitol instead of Motown?

Joe Jackson: I think I made a good choice wouldn’t you say? (laughs)

SR: Absolutely! Mr. Jackson, when you look back on your life, especially your career, do you have any regrets?

Joe Jackson: No regrets at all. I enjoyed what I did and reached the goals that I set. My goal was to help my family make it and I achieved that. People had a lot to say about how it was done, but my family laughed all the way to the bank.

SR: Are you pleased with the way fans have kept your son Michael’s memory alive?

Joe Jackson: Yes, very much so. I appreciate it so much how they have remembered Michael. When I travel all over the world, fans show our family so much love. I just want to say thank you very much to the fans. I really appreciate all that they do for our family.

Rest in peace Mr. Jackson, your contributions to America’s soundtrack will always be remembered. Thank you for sharing your musical family with the world.

About the Author

Shameika Rhymes
Shameika Rhymes

Shameika Rhymes is a journalist of all trades. She can usually be found producing television news and has written for outlets like ET Online, ESSENCE, EBONY Magazine, JETMag.com, Shondaland.com, SoulTrain.com, WEtv.com and her own website, www.themofochronicles.com. Follow her on Twitter @Mofochronicles @WriterShameika

Q&A: Melba Moore

For decades Melba Moore has knocked down doors, paving the way for African American actresses and singers making her mark on America’s soundtrack. From being the first Black woman to replace a white actress, Diane Keaton, in the lead role in the Broadway musical Hair, to being the first African American woman to take home a Tony Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in the musical Purlie, and later starring as the female lead on Broadway in the musical Les Miserables, making her the first African American woman to perform in that role. Melba Moore rose to the top of the charts with hits like “Falling,” “You Stepped into My Life,” “Love’s Comin’ At Ya,” and “A Little Bit More,” to name a few. She then took her talents to television where she starred in her own variety show Melba. She eventually found love, got married, and together they crafted her music career through Hush Productions, which also jump started the careers of a multitude of artists that created the R&B soundtrack of the 80s.

Melba Moore spoke with the National Museum of African American Music about her contributions to America’s soundtrack through the decades in various genres, and some of her favorite moments in music history.

You are a woman of so many firsts, how does that feel knowing that you are the one that paved the way and opened the door for a lot of African American Women?

Melba Moore: It just showed me that God is in control of everything; no matter how smart or stupid you are, because first of all you have a chance. I didn’t have an agent or a manager. I left my career as a public-school music teacher in New Jersey.  I wanted to try my hand at being a professional singer. My stepdad was a performer and so was my mother, so I know I caught the fever from them. I know that when people have desires and dreams that God put in you that it doesn’t always mean it’s going to turn out like it has for me, but you definitely should pursue it to see if there’s something to it. I didn’t think that I would be a star or an outstanding artist, but I knew I wanted to be in the field.

What is your biggest career highlight?

Melba Moore: It would definitely be Purlie and wining a Tony Award for Best Supporting Actress. That just catapulted me all by itself. I had never really been anywhere but New York City

Did you audition for that role? How did you get the part?

Melba Moore: I was actually learning how to audition after I had already been in the musical Hair and I had already replaced Diane Keaton when she left the show. One of the girls in the show told me about this random audition for this black musical called Purlie and I went and got the part, it wasn’t really acting I was just being country and got the part. I didn’t have a manager or an agent at the time. I’ve never really gotten anything auditioning. I still don’t know how to audition (laughs).

You have dabbled in a lot of different genres. Let’s walk through them, starting with the 1960s when you were backing Aretha Franklin and Dionne Warwick. How was that experience?

Melba Moore: I was so glad to be out of that classroom honey! It really was fun. I sang with people like Valerie Simpson and several others you won’t know but they were talented fun people to work with. I worked all the time and I made a very good living. I quit teaching school; and saw that I could make a living and put a roof over my own head being in the music industry. I was ecstatic and I could have kept doing that, but one of the recording sessions was for the Broadway musical Hair and that’s how I got into theater.

Let’s hop into the 70s with the classic hit “You Stepped into My Life.”

Melba Moore: That’s when I first met my first manager and we married. He was truly, a young gifted, talented, uneducated man from the south that came up to New York City, and every young black man wanted to be a manager, but he was really good at it. He said you already have a Broadway career, and we need to make you a lead singer in R&B.  He was going out working on getting record deals and songwriters and producers for me. He went out and got Van McCoy for me. He got me signed to Buddah Records. That’s when you really have to have a manager because you have to meet with executives and plan out how you are going to get and pay these songwriters and producers, and what kind of music you’re going to do and what genre you can fit into. I’m very good and diverse now but back then I couldn’t tell you where I could go and what I should do. As a backup singer, first of all you could wind up staying in the background forever and if you do that you never develop a singing personality. He helped me with these songs to develop my singing personality and my style.

During that time period, you were singing songs that were disco and dance music. Were you comfortable singing that type of music since you were coming from the theater?

Melba Moore: No, actually theater was the thing that took me out of my comfort zone, I was scared to death doing that. Looking back, it came across natural, but it didn’t feel natural. Dance music, I was comfortable doing that, and I had really good producers and songwriters.  “You Stepped into My Life,” and that was really handcrafted for me by Gene McFadden and John Whitehead. We basically started to develop a rapport with them. Teddy Pendergrass would come up and do backgrounds on our records and stuff. “You Stepped into My Life” was very successful. With the Bee Gees, every single album had been successful so we tried to pick one that hadn’t been released, and we picked “You Stepped into My Life.” It was Gene McFadden and John Whitehead’s arrangement on it that made it such a hit. My little barbie doll voice was just so cute on it (laughs). I think that combination working with them helped me fit into the dance genre.

You continued working with McFadden & Whitehead into the 80s, but you had more of a sophisticated sound. Talk about that.

Melba Moore: I was developing a sound and developing a rapport with songwriters because they learn how to write for you and also doing concerts, my voice was developing and getting better.

The duet you did with Freddie Jackson, “A Little Bit More” in the 80s is a classic!

Melba Moore: Now that was written for us by Gene McFadden and John Whitehead. We had formed our company, [Hush Productions/Orpheus Inc.], in an effort to get me established. We did “Just a Little Bit More” as duet. We had already mentored and placed Freddie Jackson with Capitol Records. We helped co-manage and mentor as well, and continued to develop myself, that’s the type of environment we were in, I’m crediting my now ex-husband, for making sure things were developed and you have to watch these things and babysit them, you can’t just throw it out there. There are record companies to deal with, tours, promotors, all kinds of people. It’s a business, not just the artistic side of it.

 Another hit for you in the 80s was “Love’s Comin’ at Ya.” Can you talk about working with super producer/songwriter Paul Laurence?

Melba Moore: He was another one of our artists. Paul wrote for me, “Love’s Comin’ at Ya.” which was a huge hit for me. He’s a great songwriter. He came along with a bunch of really talented people that we had like Meli’sa Morgan and Kashif. Kashif had a whole stable of songwriters and musicians and producers. Eventually we brought them all aboard and managed their careers so I had access to all these best songwriters and producers of the 80s all right under our company. Our company had access to them, it was a good company.

How about “Read My Lips,” and some of the songs you took on had sort of a rock vibe to them. Talk about that.

Melba Moore: Well what I think what my husband was trying to do was explore the pop side of me. We had really been focused on the black side of me and we knew that worked out for us and we didn’t lose our base without going off too far trying to explore that aspect.

You also did a duet with Kashif called “Love the One I’m With (A Lot of Love).” What was it like working with Kashif?

Melba Moore: I loved working with Kashif, because Kashif was like a vocal coach. The thing that attributed to his style of music aside from the synthesizers and the musicality of his music, but his vocal arrangements are very technical. But since I’m slow, the more I sing something the better it gets and the more technical you make it for me, the easier it is for me. So, with Kashif, he knew exactly what he wanted. Everyone that came out of Kashif’s camp was like that, very picky about tones and how they want you to say the word, and very detailed how he wanted it and it made it easier.

 Going back to Kashif- with his impact on the music industry and his contributions, what are your thoughts on the lack of tributes, or posthumous awards since his passing?

Melba Moore: I think that because our company didn’t do like what Berry Gordy did; he promoted his company and artists, like with Motown 25, he reminded you who he was, which was Motown and he put them on the map and kept them on the map and we didn’t do that. You have to promote and market, that’s what it’s about or people forget. They don’t honor you because they love your music, and they do love your music, they don’t honor you because they forgot about you. That’s my opinion.

 Going into the 90s and early 2000s you ventured into Gospel. What was that transition like?

Melba Moore: I was already a born-again Christian, so I said let me learn how to sing gospel since I wasn’t brought up singing it. So, I was in church all the time anyway, so I met people who helped me get with Dr. Bobby Jones and I wasn’t a gospel singer. He let me sing “Lean on Me.”

I had people like Shirley Murdock who wrote some songs for me and helped me tell my testimony and gave me gospel music so that I could get into gospel music. I did everything backwards (laughs). I would have sung it as a child but I was Catholic.

To wrap things up, what is your favorite moment in music history?

Melba Moore: I think of the first time I saw Aretha Franklin live and I couldn’t believe those little hands could play the piano like that! The first time I met her, she said, “God is in the blessing business honey, because you sure can sing.” She told me that I could sing! Another one, was Patti Labelle said, “that voice is so powerful.”  Another one is seeing James Brown on The Ed Sullivan Show. We have had so many unique personalities, it’s hard to mention them all. There’s so many moments.

 

About the Author

Shameika Rhymes
Shameika Rhymes

Shameika Rhymes is a journalist of all trades. She can usually be found producing television news and has written for outlets like ET Online, ESSENCE, EBONY Magazine, JETMag.com, Shondaland.com, SoulTrain.com, WEtv.com and her own website, www.themofochronicles.com. Follow her on Twitter @Mofochronicles @WriterShameika

Remembering Prince: Some of the Best Prince Cover Songs

You can’t mention contributions to America’s soundtrack or Black Music Month without mentioning the one that lauded the Minneapolis sound complete with a keyboard mixture of rock, pop, funk, and soul, laced with sexual lyrics. The music of Prince impacted much of the 80s dance and pop music. With a range that consisted of singing, dancing, songwriting, composing, producing, and playing multiple instruments, the talents of Prince was and still is unmatched. He died on April 21, 2016 at 57 years old.

Aside from his stellar and often provocative performances, Prince had established himself as a collaborator. Several of his songs were remade by other artists.

As we remember Prince, we’re taking a look at how some of the artists in the industry have paid homage to Prince over the years with covers of some of his music.

In the early ‘80s, R&B singer Stephanie Mills took on the hit “How Come You Don’t Call Me Anymore.”

Alicia Keys later remade the song basing her cover version on Stephanie Mills’ version.

 

The Pointer Sisters recorded their version of the 1979 song “I Feel for You.”

Chaka Khan put her vocals to her version of “I Feel for You” making it an instant classic in 1984 with some Minneapolis funk sprinkled throughout the single.

Rebbie Jackson put her version of the song on the Centipede album.

Meli’sa Morgan’s rendition of “Do Me Baby” became an instant classic.

 

Tom Jones took the song “Kiss” and made it his own by turning it into an electro-funky jam.

 

George Clinton covered “Erotic City” for the PCU movie soundtrack.

TLC covered the single “If I Was Your Girlfriend” on their CrazySexyCool album.

Jazz great Herbie Hancock reworked the Prince single “Thieves in the Temple” by turning it into a jazzy instrumental.

With a Timbaland beat behind him, and dove sounds weaved in an out of the song, Ginuwine covered “When Doves Cry” in 1996.

Mariah Carey featuring Dru Hill covered  Prince’s “Beautiful Ones” in 1997.

D’Angelo put his soulful funky stamp on the song “She’s Always in My Hair” in 1997.

In 2000, Tina Turner covered a techno-rock version of the song “Baby I’m a Star” as part of an advertising campaign for Target. The song was also released on the album All That Glitters.

KeKe Wyatt covered the classic “Diamonds & Pearls” by Prince and The New Power Generation.

 

While the list of artists covering Prince’s music is a lengthy one, it just shows the impact that his music had on the industry and America’s soundtrack.

About the Author

Shameika Rhymes
Shameika Rhymes

Shameika Rhymes is a journalist of all trades. She can usually be found producing television news and has written for outlets like ET Online, ESSENCE, EBONY Magazine, JETMag.com, Shondaland.com, SoulTrain.com, WEtv.com and her own website, www.themofochronicles.com. Follow her on Twitter @Mofochronicles @WriterShameika

A Celebration of Legends Tribute Playlist

Celebrating the artists that have contributed to America’s soundtrack is all part of the National Museum of African American Music’s annual Celebration of Legends event. This year’s honorees Charlie Wilson, Nile Rodgers, Yolanda Adams, Mona Scott–Young and Keb’ Mo’ were presented with the Rhapsody & Rhythm Award.

“Charlie Wilson, Nile Rodgers, Yolanda Adams, Mona Scott–Young and Keb’ Mo’ represent the talented, accomplished and decorated musical pioneers that the National Museum of African American Music seeks to elevate,” said NMAAM President and CEO H. Beecher Hicks III. “Their storied careers have a prominent place in history, and we’re proud to honor them with this award.”

To honor the legends, artists such as Anthony Hamilton, BeBe Winans, Avery Sunshine, Tamia, Tweet, Lil Mo, Stokley Williams, Johnny Gill, and Kathy Sledge gathered in Nashville to pay tribute to the artists that influenced them in their own careers. We created a playlist of the amazing performances!

A Celebration of Legends

The National Museum of African American Music kicked off Black Music Month by celebrating legendary musicians and industry giants during the fifth annual Celebration of Legends Gala at War Memorial Auditorium. “A legend is someone who has had an impact for many years, someone who inspires us, someone who has been active in their community and made a difference in the world even beyond their music and that’s how we define it,” explained NMAAM President/CEO Henry Beecher Hicks III.

The annual event celebrates African American music and the trailblazers that have made an impact and helped to craft America’s soundtrack.

This year’s honorees of the “Rhapsody & Rhythm” awards included “Uncle” Charlie Wilson, CHIC founder, producer, guitarist Nile Rodgers, Blues star and NMAAM National Chair Keb’ Mo, gospel great Yolanda Adams, and music manager, producer Mona Scott-Young.

To tribute these amazing artists, the lineup included Anthony Hamilton, who put his soulful stamp on Keb’ Mo’s “Am I Wrong.” “Keb’ Mo’ is an incredible man, an incredible father, and a great Blues guy, and I can’t wait to do this for him,” Hamilton said before his performance.

Anthony Hamilton (photo courtesy of Autumn Skye Productions)
Keb’ Mo’
(photo courtesy of Autumn Skye Productions)

BeBe Winans, Tamia, and Avery Sunshine took the audience to church with their tribute to Yolanda Adams. “I am a part of the Yolanda Adams tribute and she has inspired me so much over the years. Music is such an amazing thing, it touches the soul, it speaks heart to heart, and it’s very important to just give them their roses,” said Tamia.

Avery Sunshine (photo courtesy of Autumn Skye Productions)
Tamia and Yolanda Adams (photo courtesy of Autumn Skye Productions)

Mint Condition front man, Stokley Williams was a part of the Charlie Wilson tribute and got the crowd moving with his rendition of the Gap Band’s “Yearning for Your Love.”

Stokley Williams (photo courtesy of Autumn Skye Productions)

Stokley said Wilson’s career has impacted him in becoming part of the soundtrack to his life.   “Charlie Wilson for me is so many things because his group, his voice was so distinctive in my upbringing, from junior high to roller skating days, it just set the tone. Music is one of those things that set the tone, it’s like your soundtrack. Musically he set the world on fire, he’s just amazing. There’s no one like him,” said Stokley. “His voice has always touched me in a way. He’s giving the younger generation a lot of information so that we can just continue that legacy.”

Johnny Gill lit the stage on fire with his rendition of “Outstanding,” and got the audience involved during his tribute to Charlie Wilson, from handing the mic to Yolanda Adams to get the crowd hype with singing to coaxing the legend to take the lead on his own song.

Johnny Gill (photo courtesy of Autumn Skye Productions)
Charlie Wilson (photo courtesy of Autumn Skye Productions)

NMAAM National Chair India Arie presented Charlie Wilson with his award. Charlie Wilson is so humble he couldn’t believe what all the fuss was about.  “I’m just having fun. I was just a young boy and it grows to this.” Wilson kept the fun going by breaking into his song “I’m Blessed” during his acceptance speech.

India Arie and Charlie Wilson (photo courtesy of Autumn Skye Productions)

The tribute for Mona Scott-Young included a video message from Missy Elliott, a performance from Tweet, and a moving speech from Lil Mo.

Lil Mo (photo courtesy of Autumn Skye Productions)

During her speech, Scott-Young was appreciative of the recognition of her role as a long-time music manager. “They say that it’s a thankless job, but tonight I have to disagree.”

Mona Scott-Young (photo courtesy of Autumn Skye Productions)

The DJ played hit after hit that Nile Rodgers contributed to America’s soundtrack followed by Kathy Sledge performing her tribute to the legend.

Kathy Sledge and Nile Rodgers (photo courtesy of Autumn Skye Productions)

The plot twist of the night was Rodgers’ collaborator country star Keith Urban made a surprise appearance. He delivered a moving speech about his friend. During his speech, Rodgers shared the good news that he is cancer free!

I caught up with some of the honorees, performers, and NMAAM leadership on the red carpet!

 Why it’s important to celebrate legends:

“Anyone that does something impactful in any profession, it’s important to let them know that their work is important. It keeps them going, keeps them inspired, and lets them know that we appreciate it and it has impacted our lives. That’s the reason why we do any of the work that we do, we want to make an impact and make the world a better place. Sometimes, even the artists that get the acclaim day in and day out, it’s nice to let them know that their work actually does matter, that their music matters,” explained Henry Beecher Hicks III.

NMAAM President/CEO H. Beecher Hicks III and NMAAM Director of Development LoLita Toney (photo courtesy of Autumn Skye Productions)

“Well who else is going to celebrate us if we don’t? That’s the most important thing that we celebrate ourselves because we’ve got a lot of contributions to the world,” said Dr. Bobby Jones.

Dr. Bobby Jones (photo courtesy of Autumn Skye Productions)

“They gave us music that we can set our lives to, like our weddings, kids are born to it, they make things better. So why not let them know that we appreciate it while they are still here. Everybody wants to give you your roses while you are in your box, but I want to smell mine,” said Anthony Hamilton.

On being honored:

Yolanda Adams expressed her gratitude for being recognized. “I’m excited to be here because I’m being honored, so that’s number one. As for myself and all of the honorees tonight, we are all so thankful that we are being recognized by the museum,” said Adams.

Mona Scott-Young said it’s inspiring to be honored.  “A lot of times we realize after the fact what people’s contributions are. There is something uplifting about people recognizing the work that you’ve done while you are still here.  I think it’s important, it’s encouraging, and it sends a message to the people coming behind that there is an opportunity to do those things. So, recognizing those things while we are still here, I am grateful that I’m here to enjoy this moment.

On the importance of the National Museum of African American Music:

Nile Rodgers explained why it’s important to have a place to learn the history of African American music. “I have traveled all over the world, and every musicologist worth their weight in anything have all said to me that what we call pop music is all a derivative from African American R&B, Soul, Funk, Jazz, or whatever you want to call it, that’s where it comes from. There’s no theoretical, rhythmic, or groove basis for what we call pop music or Rock & Roll later on, it just didn’t exist until we did what we did,” said Rodgers.

Charlie Wilson weighed in saying it’s important for people to know the history of music. “When you’re gone, and the young ones are coming up, I just think they need to know who was before them and how important it was to hold on to what you got, and to be able to tell somebody about that, God’s been good to somebody! Amen!”

Yolanda Adams agreed. “I think the museum is definitely needed to see how huge the role we played in the world. Music changes the world.”

“We’re an incredible people, we’ve done some incredible things and had some challenges, but we still remain resilient, we are awesome. So, we should have a place where people can go and see the legacy, the people, and the history,” said Hamilton.

NMAAM Director of Development LoLita Toney says the museum gives the opportunity to tell the history of America’s soundtrack. “If you don’t tell your truth, then people will tell it for you. If people don’t know the facts, then they will make it up. So, let’s tell the story and let’s give credit where credit is due. African Americans are American culture so let’s tell that story,” said Toney.

NMAAM President/CEO Hicks summed it up, “this museum and this music is about celebration, it’s about preservation; it’s about education, so we just want the world to know how important this music is to our country and to our culture.”

This is an event you don’t want to miss next year!

The gala is a major fundraiser for the museum that benefits our educational and community programs.

Profile: Yolanda Adams

Inspiration, healing, and encouragement is what you get when your turn on any song by gospel great Yolanda Adams. The award winning artist has carried the torch for contemporary gospel and inspirational albums for decades. Her contribution to America’s soundtrack solidified her spot as one of the National Museum of African American Music’s Rhapsody & Rhythm Award honorees at this year’s Celebration of Legends Gala on May 31 at War Memorial Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee.

Known as the “Queen of Contemporary Gospel Music,” the “First Lady of Modern Gospel,” and the “Reigning Queen of Urban Gospel,” Adams has a slew of accolades including multiple GRAMMY Awards, Dove Awards, NAACP Image Awards, BET Awards, an American Music Award, and a Soul Train Music Award. Billboard named Adams as the top Gospel Artist of the Decade ending in 2009.

Her mother studied music, and Yolanda and her five younger siblings heard everything from jazz to classical to rhythm and blues. Adams soaked up the sounds of gospel legends James Cleveland and the Edwin Hawkins Singers, jazz legend Nancy Wilson, and R&B icon Stevie Wonder. Her wide range of sonic textures, combined with years in the church choir, helped to create her pioneering blend of modern gospel mixed with R&B and an infusion of jazz. With her signature sound, Yolanda Adams helped to transform the gospel music landscape.

Before stepping into music full time, Adams was a school teacher in Houston, Texas and a part time model. In the late 80s, Yolanda released her debut album, Just as I Am.

She was initially criticized for embracing secular music and fashion while singing gospel music. In the ’90s, gospel music became more mainstream, and in 1999 she got her big break with the release of the highly acclaimed album, Mountain High… Valley Low. The album garnered Adams a GRAMMY Award. Single from the album include the hit, “Open My Heart,” “Yeah,” and “Fragile Heart.”

 

She went on to release a Christmas album, and then in 2001, released the live album The Experience, which netted her a second GRAMMY. She has gone on to win multiple GRAMMYs.

She has released a total of 13 albums over the years.

In 2017, Adams was inducted into the Gospel Music Award’s Hall of Fame for outstanding achievements in the Christian music industry. Most recently, the singer was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) for the successful production, “SpongeBob SquarePants: The Musical.”

Yolanda Adams is multi-talented with her career reaching from producer, songwriter, singer, actress, author, and the former radio host of her own nationally syndicated morning gospel show.  Yolanda Adams is a living legend, worthy to be praised for her contributions to America’s soundtrack by fusing together secular and gospel music.

About the Author

Shameika Rhymes
Shameika Rhymes

Shameika Rhymes is a journalist of all trades. She can usually be found producing television news and has written for outlets like ET Online, ESSENCE, EBONY Magazine, JETMag.com, Shondaland.com, SoulTrain.com, WEtv.com and her own website, www.themofochronicles.com. Follow her on Twitter @Mofochronicles @WriterShameika

Profile: Keb’ Mo’


National Museum of African American Music National Chair Keb’ Mo’ is a musical force to be reckoned with that has contributed to various genres of America’s soundtrack.

With 14 albums, 4 GRAMMY Awards, 11 GRAMMY Nominations, multiple Blues Foundation Awards, and BMI Awards, it’s only fitting that Keb’ Mo’ is one of the National Museum of African American Music’s Rhapsody & Rhythm Award honorees at this year’s Celebration of Legends Gala on May 31.

Keb’ Mo’s career took off in 1994 with his self-titled album released under his moniker.

Ever since then, Keb’ has cultivated a reputation as a modern master of American roots music which is displayed in his live and studio performances. He has influenced several generations of artists, including those that came before him. Artists like B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Solomon Burke, and Robert Palmer have covered his songs. His list of collaborations with artists like fellow NMAAM National Chair India Arie, Taj Mahal, Natalie Cole, Vince Gill, and Amy Grant prove that his music transcends genres from R&B to country.

His skills on the guitar have afforded him invitations to Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Festival and inspired Gibson Brands to issue Keb’ Mo’ signature model guitars.

Keb’ Mo’ has also ventured into the television and film arena. He played Robert Johnson in the 1998 documentary Can’t You Hear the Wind Howl? He also appeared in the film Honeydripper and on the television series “Touched by an Angel.”

Keb Mo’s claim to television fame is creating “I See Love,” which is the theme song for the television hit show “Mike & Molly.”

He also created “Martha’s Theme” for the television show “Martha Stewart Living.” Keb’ Mo’ was the music composer for the show “Memphis Beat” and in 2017, nine songs from Keb’s discography were featured in the film, Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Higher Ground. He also had his first lead acting role in the same film. He went on to appear on the CMT series “Sun Records” as blues great Howlin’ Wolf.

Keb’s version of America the Beautiful can be heard on the series finale of the show “West Wing” and he played it during the In Performance at the White House event for President Barack Obama.

In 2017, Keb’ Mo’ released TajMo, a collaborative album with the legendary Taj Mahal.

The multi-generational duo earned a GRAMMY Award for Best Contemporary Blues Album earlier this year.

Keb’Mo’s ability to take listeners on a journey with his guitar along with his storytelling with his witty lyrics, and raspy bluesy-soulful vocals continues to make him one of the most decorated living blues artists.

About the Author

Shameika Rhymes
Shameika Rhymes

Shameika Rhymes is a journalist of all trades. She can usually be found producing television news and has written for outlets like ET Online, ESSENCE, EBONY Magazine, JETMag.com, Shondaland.com, SoulTrain.com, WEtv.com and her own website, www.themofochronicles.com. Follow her on Twitter @Mofochronicles @WriterShameika

Profile: Nile Rodgers

You can’t listen to music today without hearing some influence from none other than the multi-talented Nile Rodgers. The guitarist, songwriter, producer, and composer has helped to craft the sound of America’s soundtrack for over four decades. Nile’s signature sound is embedded across various genres of music from Diana Ross to Madonna, David Bowie, Daft Punk, Sam Smith, and Eric Clapton.  With more than 200 production credits to his name, it’s easy to see why Nile Rodgers is one of the National Museum of African American Music’s Rhapsody & Rhythm Award honorees at this year’s Celebration of Legends Gala.  The Celebration of Legends benefits NMAAM’s various educational and community programs, including its Emerging Artist Series.

As the co-founder and member of the legendary group CHIC, he wrote songs like “Le Freak,” “Everybody Dance,” and “Good Times,” “I Want Your Love,” all which are still timeless hits that can get you up out of your seat dancing no matter where you are.

The song “Good Times” helped spark the hip hop movement when Sugar Hill Gang sampled the song for “Rapper’s Delight.”

The group garnered nine Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominations. In 2017, Nile Rodgers was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a solo artist.

Rodgers and his late Chic band mate Bernard Edwards co-wrote and co-produced the 1979 Sister Sledge album, We Are Family, and the title track was recently selected for preservation in the Library of Congress.

Nile produced and co-wrote with Edwards Diana Ross’s 1980 hit solo album diana, including the breakout hits “I’m Coming Out,” and “Upside Down.”

He and Edwards worked with Debbie Harry, scored the soundtrack to Soup for One, and produced for Teddy Pendergrass, Johnny Mathis, and Carly Simon before dissolving their partnership in 1983.

Rodgers released his first solo album Adventure in the Land of the Good Groove in 1983 and his production on the late David Bowie’s bestselling album, Let’s Dance in 1983 became a worldwide hit.  From that point on, Rodgers became the go-to producer for pop, dance, and rock music. HE worked with Duran Duran, INXS, and positioned Madonna for pop royalty by producing her 1984 album Like A Virgin. His second solo album B-Movie Matinee in 1985 kept him on the cutting edge of pop music as the genre evolved and he worked with artists like Michael Jackson and Grace Jones. CHIC reunited and released a new album, CHIC-ism in 1992 reintroducing the group’s music to a new crop of artists. MC Lyte and Salt-N-Pepa sampled “Upside Down,” while the Notorious B.I.G. sampled “I’m Coming Out” on his 1997 hit “Mo Money Mo Problems. Will Smith grabbed onto the hook of “He’s the Greatest Dancer” for his 1998 hit “Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It.”

Rodgers has also scored the soundtracks to movies like Coming to America, Beverly Hills Cop III, Rush Hour 2, and Semi-Pro to name a few. He has also put his stamp on video game soundtracks as well.

In 2013, his work with Daft Punk on the duo’s Random Access Memories won a Grammy for Album of the Year, and the lead single “Get Lucky” proved to be just that by topping the chars in 35 countries and earning Rodgers two more Grammy Awards.

Earlier this year, Rodgers confirmed a new CHIC album, It’s About Time, is on the way and will feature a host of collaborations from artists like Bruno Mars, Anderson .Paak, Craig David, and Stefflon Don to name a few. It’s About Time was originally scheduled for a 2015 release but was put on hold following news that Rodgers had been diagnosed with cancer. The cancer has since been removed. “My prognosis is 100% recovery,” he wrote on his blog in 2017.

The impact of Nile Rodgers contributions to the American Soundtrack that transcends all styles of music across a multitude of generations is one that will remain evident for years to come. His style is a dance-rock signature sound that any dance, funk-inspired, soul, electronic musicians can trace back their inspiration back to him. We’ll just continue to celebrate the “Good Times” and “Dance, Dance, Dance” every time his music is played.

 

 

About the Author

Shameika Rhymes
Shameika Rhymes

Shameika Rhymes is a journalist of all trades. She can usually be found producing television news and has written for outlets like ET Online, ESSENCE, EBONY Magazine, JETMag.com, Shondaland.com, SoulTrain.com, WEtv.com and her own website, www.themofochronicles.com. Follow her on Twitter @Mofochronicles @WriterShameika