America’s soundtrack isn’t complete without mentioning newer acts that are putting their stamp on the R&B/Soul genre. Leon Bridges looks and sounds like a throwback to the 60s era with his permed wavy hair, and a voice that has prompted comparisons to legends like Sam Cooke and Otis Redding. The Texas native told GQ in an interview earlier this year that he doesn’t want to be compared to Cooke because his style is different. “”I wanna shine,” he told GQ. “Of course, the inspiration’s there, but you know, my music, my writing is nothing like Sam Cooke.” His first album, Coming Home in 2015, had a 60s musical vibe to it, but Bridges told GQ the structures and compositions weren’t something you would have heard in that decade.
The R&B star, born as Todd Michael Bridges, honed his musical talent performing in and around his native Fort Worth, Texas. He gained industry interest with his SoundCloud uploads of multiple recordings. He eventually signed to Columbia Records, where he released his debut album. Coming Home debuted at number six on the Billboard 200 and was nominated for a GRAMMY for Best R&B Album.
The video for one of the album’s singles “River” was also nominated.
“Better Man” was also featured in the 2018 film Pacific Rim Uprising.
In 2016, Bridges took on a role as a collaborator by co-writing and being featured on Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ “Kevin,” and Kacey Musgraves’, “Present Without a Bow.” He also recorded “On My Own” with Lecrae for Birth of a Nation: The Inspired by Album and recorded twice with Gary Clark Jr., on a collaborative cover of Neil Young’s “Ohio.”
In 2018, Bridges released “Bet Ain’t Worth the Hand,” “Bad Bad News,” and then “Beyond” as the first singles off his second album, Good Thing which hit the Top Ten.
His new album Good Thing is a newer more contemporary sound that remixes Bridges soulful signature with the R&B of today. In an interview with NPR, Bridges assures his fans that he hasn’t departed from his sound, “I came into the whole music industry with this retro sound. That’s still a part of me,” Bridges says. “But that doesn’t totally define who I am as an artist.”
Whatever direction Bridges goes in from here, he’s still weaving his soulful contribution into America’s soundtrack.
This week marks the untimely death of Aaliyah. America’s soundtrack wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the late rising star’s musical impact on R&B. Aaliyah Haughton was born on January 16, 1979 in Brooklyn, New York, but was raised in Detroit, Michigan. At the age of 11, the young singer competed on the television show Star Search, but didn’t walk away with a win.
However, later that year, she performed with the legendary Gladys Knight who was the former wife of her uncle and manager, Barry Hankerson, at a stint in Las Vegas.
At 15 years old, Aaliyah took the industry by storm with her 1994 debut album Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number, produced by R. Kelly.
The album sold over a million copies and earned platinum status based on the success of two hit singles form the record, “Back and Forth,” and her rendition of the Isley Brothers’ hit, “At Your Best (You Are Love).”
While still in high school, Aaliyah released her sophomore album, One in a Million in 1996, produced by dynamic duo Timbaland and Missy Elliott. The album showcased her maturity along with a seductive edge with laid back hip hop beats.
The album sold two million copies. The first single, “If Your Girl Only Knew,” went double platinum and contains Timbaland’s signature syncopated beats and Missy “Misdemeanor” Elliott’s lyrics. “4 Page Letter” and “Hot Like Fire” were also hits.
Aaliyah landed in the spotlight in 1997 when she recorded “Journey to the Past,” the Academy Award nominated theme song for the film Anastasia. She performed the song during the 1998 Oscars.
On her next soundtrack effort, “Are You That Somebody?” for the 1998 film Dr. Dolittle, starring Eddie Murphy, went to number one on the R&B charts and earned Aaliyah her first GRAMMY nomination.
In 2000, the singer made her acting debut in the film Romeo Must Die, opposite martial arts star Jet Li in a Romeo and Juliet inspired story. She was the executive producer of the movie’s soundtrack and performed the hit, “Try Again,” which landed her another GRAMMY nomination as well as two MTV Music Awards for Best Female Video and Best Video from a Film.
In July 2001, her third album Aaliyah was released and reached number 2 on the Billboard album chart. It sold 2.4 million copies worldwide. Aaliyah featured the smash singles “We Need a Resolution,” “More Than A Woman,” and “Rock the Boat”. The same year, she was working on the film Queen of the Damned, and signed on to appear in two upcoming sequels of the blockbuster thriller, The Matrix.
Then tragedy struck. August 25, 2001, 22-year-old Aaliyah was killed when a small Cessna passenger plane carrying the star and her video crew crashed and burst into flames shortly after takeoff in the Bahamas. They had just finished working on her video “Rock the Boat.” Aaliyah and seven others, including the pilot are believed to have died instantly, and a ninth passenger passed away later at a hospital.
At the end of 2002, the posthumous album, I Care 4 U, hit the charts at number three; it mixed some of the singer’s biggest hits with a selection of unreleased material. The title track was a Top 20 pop hit, and “Miss You” topped the R&B charts early the next year.
Even 17 years later, Aaliyah’s musical impact is still being felt from her cutting-edge style to being ahead of her contemporaries by not being afraid of taking chances on a new sound. Her music has been sampled by Drake, Jennifer Lopez, Kendrick Lamar, Jay Z, The Weeknd and many more over the years. While it’s impossible to know whether the nicknamed, “Baby Girl” would have ended up following the trends that surfaced in the industry after her death, but one thing is for certain, her music is timeless and still lives on.
The world has lost an icon that shaped the genre known as soul. Aretha Franklin passed away August 16 at the age of 76. America’s soundtrack wouldn’t be complete without the soulful vocal stylings of Aretha Franklin. The Queen of Soul broke barriers and paved the way for those following in her footsteps. Her voice was the epitome of gospel, soul, and the blues all rolled into one making her one of the greatest singers of all time.
Aretha Franklin was born on March 25, 1942 in Memphis, Tennessee and grew up in Detroit to Baptist preacher, Reverend Clarence LaVaughn “C.L.” Franklin and gospel singer Barbara Siggers Franklin. By the time she was 10, her mother passed away and the family relocated to Detroit, Michigan where C.L. began preaching at New Bethel Baptist Church where he gained national recognition. His services were broadcast locally and in other urban markets around the country, and 60 of his sermons, including the legendary “The Eagle Stirreth Her Nest,” were released in album form. Aretha got the best musical education with some of the greatest vocalists of the gospel genre that were frequent guests at the Franklin household. Aretha and her siblings great up listening to Clara Ward, Mahalia Jackson, and James Cleveland.
Starting at an early age, Aretha began singing at her father’s church and by the age of 14, her first recordings turned up on an album called Spirituals. Spirituals was released locally on the J.V.B. label in 1956 and re-released on the Battle label in 1962. Aretha’s five tracks formed the basis of the 1964 album Songs of Faith: The Gospel Sound of Aretha Franklin, issued on Checker Records, with additional material recorded by Franklin at services in other locations. She performed with C.L’s traveling revival show and became friends with Sam Cooke. Although gospel music was her foundation, Franklin also drew her musical prowess from blues and jazz legends such as Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington, and Sarah Vaughn to help develop her own vocal stylings. She was also inspired by Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, and Nat King Cole, Lavern Baker, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers. With a diverse range of influences, Franklin was able to fuse them all together to speak to the world in her own voice that defined soul music. Before she signed with Atlantic, she spent six years at Columbia Records. She was signed to the label in 1960 by John Hammond, the label’s legendary producer and talent scout, who’d heard a demo she cut in New York.
In an interview with SoulTracks, Sam Cooke’s younger brother L.C. Cooke talked about writing Aretha Franklin’s song “Once in a While (Please Answer Me). “I was on my way to record in Atlanta, Georgia. So, I had just gotten out the shower, and had a towel wrapped around me. Aretha Franklin had stopped by, so I came out singing that song, she asked me what it was and I told her it was something I wrote. Aretha sat on my bed and cried until I gave her that song. That girl sat there and literally cried until I said I’ll let you record it. She said, “you can write another song, I just love that song. So, I said okay, you can have it,” said L.C.
Meanwhile Franklin’s tenure at Columbia yielded nine R&B hits including “Today I Sing the Blues” and “Runnin’ Out of Fools.” She also scored some pop crossover hits including “Rock-a-Bye Your Baby with a Dixie Melody” and “Won’t Be Long.” The songs were were far removed from the fiery, gospel-tinged soul for which she would become known.
Jerry Wexler signed Franklin when her contract with Columbia expired. With her switch to Atlantic in 1966, Aretha proceeded to revolutionize soul music with some of the genre’s greatest recordings. Her reign began with her first Atlantic single, “I Never Loved a Man (the Way I Loved You),” a performance that unleashed the full force of Franklin’s mezzo-soprano.
Offering call-and-response background vocals on this and other tracks were Aretha’s sisters, Carolyn and Erma. The Sweet Inspirations, a Memphis-based vocal quartet that included Cissy Houston, also contributed background vocals to Franklin’s work in the studio and onstage. Franklin’s greatest contribution to America’s soundtrack landed in the form of “Respect,” which was her soulful take on the Otis Redding penned song.
The song reached number one on both the R&B and Pop charts, earning Franklin her first two GRAMMYS. It was the opening song on 1967’s I Never Loved a Man the Way I Loved You. Other songs from the album included “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man,” “Dr. Feelgood” and her cover of “A Change Is Gonna Come,” Sam Cooke’s civil rights-era anthem.
Her next three albums; Aretha Arrives (1967), Lady Soul (1968) and Aretha Now (1968)—included “Chain of Fools,” “Think,” “Baby, I Love You,” “Since You’ve Been Gone (Sweet Sweet Baby)” and a soulful rendering of Carole King’s “A Natural Woman (You Make Me Feel Like).”
Her fifth Atlantic album, Aretha in Paris (1968) was recorded live in Europe. In 1968, she was hailed the Queen of Soul when legendary deejay Pervis Spann, the Blues Man, placed a crown on her head during a performance in Chicago. In 1968, Franklin performed at the funeral of her father’s friend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., where she paid tribute to him with a stirring rendition of “Precious Lord.”
In the 1970s, Franklin saw even more success as she released albums Spirit in the Dark (1970), Aretha Live at Fillmore West (1971), Young, Gifted and Black (1972) and Amazing Grace (1972). Spirit in the Dark featured five songs written by Franklin, which was more than on any album she released. Her 14th album You was released in 1975 and her tenure with Atlantic Records came to an end in 1979 after 19 albums. Franklin won eight consecutive GRAMMY Awards for Best R&B Female Vocal Performance, the last one for her 1974 single, “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing.”
That same year her father was shot during a home robbery and went into a coma and never recovered. Aretha’s next home was Arista Records. In 1982, she released Jump to It, produced by Luther Vandross, earning another GRAMMY nomination.
In 1985 Franklin returned to the top of the charts with another hit album: the pop record Who’s Zoomin’ Who? Featuring the single “Freeway of Love,” as well as a collaboration with the band The Eurythmics, making that record one of Aretha’s biggest-selling albums. In 1987, Franklin became the first female artist to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
That same year, she released the album One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, which won the GRAMMY for Best Soul Gospel Performance. Franklin scored the second number one pop hit of her career, “I Knew You Were Waiting (for Me),” a duet with George Michael.
In 1993, she was invited to sing at former President Bill Clinton’s inauguration and the following year she received both a GRAMMY Lifetime Achievement Award and Kennedy Center Honors. She also later stood in for Luciano Pavarotti, who was too ill to accept his Lifetime Achievement Award, with her rendition of “Nessun Dorma.”
In 1998, Franklin was back on the charts with A Rose Is Still a Rose which was written and produced by Lauryn Hill.
In 2003, Franklin released her final studio album on Arista, So Damn Happy, and left the label to found Aretha Records. Two years later, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and became the second woman ever to be inducted into the UK Music Hall of Fame. In 2008 she received her 18th GRAMMY Award for “Never Gonna Break My Faith,” a collaboration with Mary J. Blige.
She was also invited to sing at the 2009 inauguration of former President Barack Obama.
In 2011 Franklin released her first album on her own label, A Woman Falling Out of Love. In 2014, Franklin released Aretha Franklin Sings the Great Diva Classics which reached number three on the R&B charts.
Franklin was able to stay relevant and have hits over the course of her six-decade career crafting a sound and foundation that music in the future will follow forever. Over the course of her career, she earned 44 GRAMMY nominations, 18 GRAMMY Awards, and many more accolades. While her music lives on, the spirit and soul of Aretha Franklin will continue to be celebrated for years to come. Rest in peace Queen of Soul. We thank you for the music Aretha Franklin!
Multi-platinum GRAMMY Award winning R&B singer Faith Evans has contributed to America’s soundtrack for over two decades. With eight studio albums, over 18 million albums sold, and over 30 singles released, it’s evident why Faith Evans is being honored at this year’s Black Music Honors with the Urban Music Icon Award.
With her powerful soulful vocals and talent for songwriting and record production, Faith is known as the ‘First Lady of Bad Boy’ after Sean “Puffy” Combs signed her to his influential Bad Boy Records label in 1994. That same year, she married Christopher Wallace, the Notorious B.I.G.
Faith was three years old when she first sang in public, she belted out “Let the Sunshine In” from the musical “Hair” to her church congregation. When she was 14, she sang in a touring gospel group, The Spiritual Uplifters, that performed in New York, Philadelphia, and Connecticut. After graduating from high school in the early 90s, Faith found regular session work, singing background vocals on demo tapes for artists like Al B. Sure! And Christopher Williams, which eventually caught the eye of Sean Combs. That led her to co-write lyrics for Mary J. Blige, and songs for Usher’s self-titled debut album in 1994.
Evans released her debut album Faith in 1995. It was an album she had written or co-written on almost every song yielding four singles including “You Used to Love Me” and “Soon as I Get Home.”
Her second album, Keep the Faith was released in 1998 and garnered two Top 10 hits “Love Like This” and “All Night Long.”
Her third album Faithfully was released in 2001, her last for Bad Boy, and she collaborated with the Neptunes, Mario Winans, Havoc, and Battlecat.
After parting ways with Bad Boy, she signed with Capitol Records to release her fourth album, The First Lady in 2005. Faith has three Platinum certified albums including Faith, Keep the Faith, and Faithfully.
She also released her holiday album, A Faithful Christmas. In 2008, Faith added New York Times Best Selling author to her resume with her book Keep the Faith: A Memoir with Aliya King.
Evans took a hiatus before returning to the industry in 2010 with her own music label, Prolific Music Group. She released her fifth album Something About Faith that same year.
In 2012, Faith co-created, executive produced, and starred in TV One’s reality show, “R&B Divas.” In 2014, Faith released her another studio album Incomparable on her label.
In 2016, Faith hit the road with the acclaimed “Bad Boy Family Reunion Tour” playing to thousands of fans across the country. In 2017, Faith released a duets album with the Notorious B.I.G. called The King & I.
Faith Evans continues to make an impact on the music industry both with her singing and songwriting inspiring and paving the way for artists to follow in her footsteps.
When you think of R&B group New Edition and New Jack Swing, the name Bobby Brown is synonymous with both. With a receipt of hits, and a career that paved the way for many artists and entertainers today, it’s evident why the singer/songwriter dubbed the “King of R&B” will be honored at this year’s Black Music Honors as the R&B Soul Music Icon Award recipient.
Brown got his start singing in the church choir, and at the age of 12, he formed a group with his friends Ricky Bell, Michael Bivins, Ralph Tresvant, and Ronnie DeVoe. Under the name New Edition, they won several talent shows and was eventually discovered by talent scout Maurice Starr who landed them a recording contract. In 1983, the group released their debut album, Candy Girl, which was a collection of songs that made the boy group the next coming of the Jackson 5.
The group went on to release hits like “Candy Girl,” “Mr. Telephone Man,” and “Cool it Now.”
Brown left the group in 1986 to pursue what would become an iconic solo career. In December 1986, Brown released his first solo album, King of Stage, with the ballad, “Girlfriend,” but it failed to push him into the spotlight he craved.
With a reinvention as an adult artist, and he turned to acclaimed songwriters/producers Teddy Riley, L.A. Reid, and Babyface to help craft his new sound. The result was a project that shed his “bubblegum” image. It was released in 1988, a new R&B album called Don’t Be Cruel, that sold over eight million copies and had five top charted songs on Billboard’s Hot 100 Singles including the single, “My Prerogative.”
The bestselling album made Brown a leader of the new jack swing genre. Brown also won his first GRAMMY in 1990 for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for “Every Little Step.” His energetic high-powered performances became part of his signature.
Don’t Be Cruel also garnered Brown two American Music Awards, a Soul Train Music Award, and a People’s Choice Award.
The album’s success landed him two spots on the Ghostbusters II soundtrack, including the hit “On Our Own,” and a cameo in the 1989 film.
In 1992, the proclaimed ‘bad boy’ married Pop princess Whitney Houston, and together they had a daughter Bobbi Kristina Brown. His album Bobby was released in 1992, selling more than three million copies, spawning several hits including “Humpin’ Around,” “Get Away,” and “Good Enough.”
He won his second GRAMMY for Best Male R&B Vocal Performance for “Humpin’ Around.” He and Whitney recorded a song “Something in Common” that was released as a single from the Bobby album. Brown released his fourth solo album Forever in 1997.
In 1996, Brown rejoined the group New Edition for their reunion album, Home Again.
In 2012, Brown released his fifth album The Masterpiece and married his manager Alicia Etheredge-Brown and together they formed their production company Brown Ribbon Entertainment. The couple is currently working with BET and Jesse Collins Entertainment for his self-titled mini-series, “The Bobby Brown Story” to be released in September.
Brown’s musical impact on the stage with his intense choreography, energetic moves, and the art of music seduction can be seen in many of the artists that followed in his footsteps.
Brother-sister duo BeBe & CeCe Winans have made a lasting impact on America’s soundtrack. The siblings hail from the Gospel dynasty, The Winans. Together or with their individual successes, it’s clear to see why the multi- GRAMMY, Dove Award winners are being honored at this year’s 3rd Annual Black Music Honors. They will be awarded the Gospel Music Icon Award.
BeBe and CeCe Winans are hailed as the first true Christian crossover artists to hit the mainstream by taking their message and reaching audiences across various genres. Together they have nine successful gold and platinum recordings.
Benjamin, “BeBe” Winans is the seventh child and youngest male of the Detroit Gospel family. The inspirational singer, songwriter, and producer has earned numerous awards, penned hits for other artists, and released his own solo projects. He also honed his acting skills starring in The Manchurian Candidate, and Broadway’s The Color Purple. He currently serves as Executive Music Producer for the OWN Network’s “Greenleaf,” and hosts his own radio show on the Sirius XM on Sunday Mornings. He released seven solo albums featuring appearances from artists like Stevie Wonder on the single “Jesus Children of America.” He recorded “Ain’t No Need to Worry” with Anita Baker and “Coming Back Home” featuring Joe and Brian McKnight.
Priscilla, “CeCe” Winans is one of the best selling and most awarded female gospel artist of all time. Winans has been awarded 12 GRAMMYs, 22 Dove Awards, 7 Stellar Awards, and multiple NAACP Image Awards, Soul Train Awards and more over the course of her career. She has topped the Gospel charts repeatedly along with her crossover hits with hits like “Count on Me” her duet with Whitney Houston from the multi-platinum Waiting to Exhale soundtrack.
She also has an acting resume with appearances on shows like “7th Heaven” and “Doc.” She also serves as a National Museum of African American Music National Chair.
The duo first began crossing lines as the “adopted children” of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker on the PTL Club television show. While working on the show, the siblings recorded their first album, Lord Lift Us Up for PTL Records that was released in 1984 that featured songs like “Up Where We Belong”.
In 1987, the Winans left PTL and released their first album on Sparrow/Capitol Records, BeBe & CeCe Winans giving them their first crossover hit, “I.O.U. Me.”
Their first tour, on which Whitney Houston proclaimed herself their “sister” and sang background for the siblings, set the foundation for their long-standing career.
They went on to record hits like “Addictive Love,” “Lost Without You,” and “Feels Like Heaven (With You).”
The duo ventured out to pursue solo careers in the mid-90s. CeCe continued the use of contemporary styles on her albums, including a hip hop influenced project that featured production by Lauryn Hill.
Later efforts were modern, inspirational, meditative praise and worship songs. After a break from recording, Winans started Nashville Life Church with her husband. In 2017, she released her album, Let Them Fall in Love.
The siblings are the first brother and sister to have a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
The impact of BeBe and CeCe Winans’ contributions to the American soundtrack continues to transcend multiple genres with their brand of popular inspirational music.
With gruff raspy vocals, Howlin’ Wolf embodied the Blues genre putting his trademark growl onto America’s soundtrack. Howlin’ Wolf was born as Chester Arthur Burnett in June 1910 in West Point, Mississippi. He picked up the moniker Howlin’ Wolf as a child. He was exposed to the blues from an early age from studying blues legend Charley Patton.
Wolf developed his trademark sound, the howl, from the “blue yodel” of country singer Jimmie Rodgers. He was a one man show with his guitar and harmonica, but in 1948 he moved to Memphis, Tennessee and formed the band, the House Rockers. He promoted his appearances with a radio spot, and was scouted by Ike Turner, who was an A&R person for RPM Records and would play in Wolf’s band.
Producer Sam Phillips recorded Howlin’ Wolf at what would later become Sun Records after hearing him perform. Some of the material was leased to Chess Records and in the early 1950s, Howlin’ Wolf signed with the label and moved to Chicago.
Standing over 6 feet tall and about 300 pounds, with his commanding stage presence and textured vocals, Wolf fought his way to the top of the cutthroat Chicago blues scene during the 1950s alongside his rival, Muddy Waters. According to NPR, Mark Hoffman, co-author of Moanin’ at Midnight: The Life and Times of Howlin’ Wolf, described his animated stage performance. “Wolf would crawl around on his hands and knees, and he’d howl like a wolf. He’d pound on the stage. And people would watch him; they couldn’t take their eyes off him.”
Some of his hits include “How Many More Years,” “Smokestack Lightnin’,” “Moanin’ at Midnight,” and “Sitting on Top of the World,” “Spoonful,” “Little Red Rooster,” and “I Ain’t Superstitious.”
Wolf’s work was covered by multiple popular British and U.S. rock acts including the Doors, and the Rolling Stones. The Rolling Stones had a big hit with their remake of “Red Rooster,” and appeared with Wolf on the television show Shindig.
Howlin’ Wolf gave his last performance in Chicago in November 1975 with fellow blues legend B.B. King.
After suffering from heart issues and kidney disease, Wolf died on January 10, 1976 in Illinois at the age of 65. Howlin’ Wolf was posthumously inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame in 1980 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1991. On September 17, 1994, the U.S. Postal Service issued a commemorative postage stamp depicting Howlin’ Wolf.
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  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.
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.
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.
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