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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
The tribute for Mona Scott-Young included a video message from Missy Elliott, a performance from Tweet, and a moving speech from Lil Mo.
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.”
The DJ played hit after hit that Nile Rodgers contributed to America’s soundtrack followed by Kathy Sledge performing her tribute to the legend.
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.
“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.
“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.
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’ releasedTajMo, 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.
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.
For nearly six decades, The Temptations have crafted the foundation for America’s soundtrack, as well as provided the blueprint for groups that followed in their footsteps. From their choreography, to their harmonies, and stylish suits, the group has personified excellence in performance and style for years.
While the tempting Temptations haven’t stopped doing sold out shows around the world, they are releasing their first new album in eight years, All the Time on the Universal Music Enterprises label on May 4. The album features their renditions of songs like Sam Smith’s “Stay with Me,” to Maxwell’s “Pretty Wings,” and has three original songs by The Temptations. The current line up of the group consists of original founding member Otis Williams, longtime members Ron Tyson and Terry Weeks, and recent additions Larry Braggs, and Willie Greene.
“I’m 76 now,” says Otis Williams, “Looking back, I never could have imagined where my life has taken me. I’m so proud of what The Temptations have achieved, and I’m grateful for every opportunity we’ve been so fortunate to receive. The music carries me. Together, we lift our voices with love and wonder. We had a great time recording All The Time and we hope everyone enjoys it.”
The Temptations released their first Motown album, 1964’s Meet The Temptations. For nearly 60 years, the group has reigned as one of music’s most successful groups of all time. The Temptations rose to the top of the charts with 16 Number One R&B albums and 43 Top Ten R&B hit songs across four decades, including 14 Number One singles. Their hits “My Girl,” “Ain’t Too Proud To Beg,” and “Get Ready” are classics, while the group’s later discography dives into funk music including “Cloud Nine” and “Papa Was a Rollin’ Stone.”
The Temptations have a long list of accolades. The group was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1989, into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 1999, and into the Rhythm & Blues Music Hall of Fame in 2013, the same year they were honored with the Recording Academy’s Lifetime Achievement GRAMMY Award. They have won four GRAMMY Awards, receiving their first one in 1969 for “Cloud Nine.”
Living legend Otis Williams chatted with the National Museum of African American Music about the group’s new music, their next venture, and his memories of former lead singer Dennis Edwards.
Can you give a brief overview of how you came to form the original lineup of The Temptations and how it transformed into the current lineup?
Otis Williams: Growing up in Detroit, singing on the street corners, and we went through a metamorphosis of different members to get to the current Temptations lineup. We signed with a label in 1960 and that’s when we were Otis Williams and the Distants. We had a single that was out at the time. Berry Gordy was starting his own label during that time and said he loved our record and he asked us to come to his label, so we did. We left the label that we were on and signed with Berry in 1961. We went through more changes in the lineup. In 1964, David Ruffin joined us and the lineup was myself, Melvin Franklin, Paul Williams, and Eddie Kendricks.
Our first hit was “The Way You Do the Things You Do.” That started off a wonderful string of hits with “My Girl,” and others. In 1968, we had to let David Ruffin go and we brought in Dennis Edwards and that’s how the Temptations evolved and we have gone through several more personnel changes since then. We are still enjoying this wonderful ride today.
What do you think when people tell you that it’s not the holiday season until you play the Give Love at Christmas album?
Otis Williams: I hear that a lot. People love our version of “Silent Night.” I think we did a great rendition of such a fantastic song to begin with. All we did was put our imprint on it and it’s been a hugely successful record. We did that album in the 1980s and it’s still a very popular one when Christmas rolls around now.
Let’s talk about your current album, All the Time, what’s the meaning behind the title?
Otis Williams: Well you know I asked a young man, Jeff Moskow, who was our coordinator for this album that question. They [the record label] took the line from one of the songs on the album. There’s a line that says “I’ve got all the time in the world, because I’m waiting on you,” so somebody at Universal said, “All the Time, The Temptations all the time.” So, when they told me, I liked it so that’s how they came up with it. I had a title in mind for it, but that one was very appropriate and on time for what they decided to name it and that’s how it came about. I like it.
This is the first album that the group has released in eight years. What took so long?
Otis Williams: We’ve been busy on the road, but we’ve also been in between labels. After we left Motown and it became a boutique business with Capitol Records, we decided to just work. We put a few things out over the years, and I wasn’t knocked out about them, so I was just resolved that we can just work because I know that we can work forever. So, it just so happens that I went to Universal and I took my grandson’s tape up there to talk to them about him; he’s a rapper.
They said they would pass it along and then while meeting with me, they asked what The Temptations were doing and I said we’re just doing shows, and they asked if we wanted to do an LP and I said absolutely. They told me the concept they had in mind and I wasn’t too knocked out about it because we’ve done cover songs before and I didn’t want to kick off coming back with those songs. I told my manager that I wasn’t thrilled about it, and Jeff Moskow said we could do three original songs on the album so that’s how it came about. I love the songs that we picked. “Waiting on You,” “Move Them Britches,” and “Be My Wife,” are the originals on the album. It turned out to be a pretty good album.
You guys brought The Temptations heat to the songs by adding a lot of soul to them.
Otis Williams: From the reviews that I’ve been reading, they say we have added The Temptations spin to it.
How did you pick some of the songs on the album? For example, I couldn’t figure out how you would be able to take Michael Jackson’s “Remember the Time” and make it your own, but you did.
Otis Williams: I love the song. Michael invited me to [the set] when they were shooting the video for “Remember the Time.” We had known each other for a while, both of us were on Motown and we did Motown 25, so we had history. I spent time in his trailer talking about old times while they were setting up the lights and things. So, when I got the list of the songs that we could pick from for the album, I saw “Remember the Time” and I said we must do this one. It’s just a great song period.
Now, Mr. Williams, please explain how you guys picked The Weeknd’s “Earned It” since that song is from the 50 Shades of Grey movie soundtrack?
Otis Williams: At first, I was trying to see who in the hell is The Weeknd? Is that a group or whatever (laughs)? The song itself was one of those haunting kinds of songs with the melody. I said we must do that, so that’s how it came about. Naturally we tried to add The Temptations spin on it and Terry Weeks is singing lead on it and did a great job.
Talk about the current original single, “Waitin’ on You.”
Otis Williams: Well that one was a collaboration. I started off with singing “I want to be wherever you are,” and it just started from there. Once Universal heard it they said it had to go on the album. It’s just one of the many Temptations songs that we have come up with over the years.
How about the song “Move Them Britches (Heathen’s Remix)?”
Otis Williams: Larry Braggs and some young man that he knows came up with that (laughs). It’s got one of those drives to it that makes you want to get up and party when you hear it. It’s a great element to that. Ron Tyson came up with “Be My Wife,” and most women love when a guy sings that kind of message so that added another kind of freshness to the originals and the cover jobs that we were doing.
The album is a good one and it’s exciting that it will be available on vinyl!
Otis Williams: I love that too. Vinyl became so obscure so it was great to see it coming back. So now I have to go buy me a record player so I can listen to music the old-fashioned way.
It’s been over five decades since The Temptations released their debut album on Motown; looking back did you ever even imagine the impact you would have on music or that you would still be putting out new music in 2018?
Otis Williams: No, honestly, we were hoping that would be around a long time, but we’ve been around 58 years. So, we had no idea that we’d still be here. Of course, there have been trials and tribulations along the way; but it’s wonderful to do something that you really enjoy and it brings happiness and pleasure to our many fans all over the world. I’m a blessed person. God has blessed me to continue doing this, because you know show business is so damn fickle. You can be high today on the charts, then the next day and or couple of weeks later, people are asking where you are. So, it’s just wonderful to still be able to perform after all these many years all over the world.
Since you have that longevity, you have had the chance to see music’s evolution over the years. With you being a founding member and the last living original member of the group, how do you ensure the group’s legacy stays intact, while making sure you are still keeping up with the times?
Otis Williams: The one thing in life that’s constant is change. We have to work at it, we can’t take anything for granted, it’s a labor of love. There’s going to be trials and tribulations. We’ve been around for so many years, but when you love something and you’re blessed to be able to do it, like the saying goes, “I’ll ride the hair off the horse so when I get off the horse it’ll be bald.” It’s a lot of things to maintain and keep it moving. Being able to adapt to the many different personnel changes that I’ve gone through, it’s just a labor of love. I’m just happy that I’m able to be apart of something that touches so many people’s lives and brings them joy and happiness.
What is your proudest moment in your career?
Otis Williams: For me, I can’t single out one because I’ve had so many wonderful experiences. I could run down a litany of experiences. We hold records at the Apollo Theater, records at the Copacabana, we were on The Ed Sullivan Show many different times, we have a star on the Hollywood [Walk of Fame], we have multiple Grammy Awards, and have been acknowledged by many different presidents. When I walk around my house I have about 40 different Gold records, it’s just a plethora of different things. I’m thankful for them all and I never could have imagined any of it when we started out in Detroit in the 1960s.
Is there anything that you haven’t accomplished yet that you are hoping to?
Otis Williams: The next thing that we hope will do well for us is The Temptations life story. The mini-series has been widely accepted since the ’90s and here it is 2018 and they are still showing it on television. We are about to debut the musical at the Kennedy Center in June, and after that we go to Los Angeles and hopefully onto Broadway. The name of the play is “Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of The Temptations.” This is the next thing I hope is equally if not more successful than what we’ve already accomplished.
With the recent passing of former Temptations lead singer Dennis Edwards earlier this year, do you have any memories of him that you would like to share?
Otis Williams: The first Grammy that The Temptations received was with Dennis and it was for “Cloud Nine” is one I will always remember. That was the initiating thing of him being in the Tempts. A lot of people look at him as if he were one of the original members of The Temptations because he was on so many hits, and I think he was on more hits with us than David Ruffin. When he sang the line “It was the 3rd of September,” that was the day his real father died, so that caused a brouhaha in the studio when we got ready to record it. We have so many memories when it comes to Dennis Edwards, but I’m just sad that my friend is gone.
Why do you think it is important to have the National Museum of African American Music?
Otis Williams: It’s very important because people need to know about the history of the artists that have brought so much enjoyment to people. It’s important to introduce the new generations to history. It’s important to have it so you can historically characterize everything so people can even say they remember those girls and guys. It’s important to document it.
My music matters because (fill in the blank):
Otis Williams: My music matters because it touches the spirit, the soul, and has moved people to tears. It has even moved me to tears. A lady told me a few years ago that she loved The Temptations and as she was leaving this earth, she said she asked God not to take her until she talked to Otis Williams. I sat there and cried, I never would have thought that what I have been doing and enjoying would touch people to that extent. My music matters because it touches the spirit because people want to take our music with them to their final resting place. I never would have imagined that I would have that profoundness laid upon me by that wonderful lady. That’s it, that’s my story.
Music during the ’90s made an impressive mark on America’s soundtrack. So much of an impression, that fans of the era are craving the sounds that got them through their teenage and young adult years. Some may even now refer to 1990s R&B as ‘old school’ music. A celebration of what some refer to as true R&B is the driving force behind G Squared Event’s ’90s Block Party concert series. The show is selling out all over the country especially as the music industry has seen the return of a host of artists from the ’90s to 2000s. Chart toppers of the genre such as Ginuwine’s “Pony,” 112’s “Peaches and Cream,” Next’s “Wifey,” and Guy’s “Groove Me,” are just examples of the songs that transport music lovers to memories of the past. Those artists, along with Tank made up the bill for the ‘90s Block Party at Spectrum Center in Charlotte, North Carolina over the weekend.
For a couple of hours, music lovers were transported back into a time when R&B ruled the airwaves and kept us tuned in wanting more. One misconception is that when the old school acts take the stage, they won’t sound the same as they did over 20 years ago. That myth is absolutely wrong and the lineup proved that these acts are like a fine wine, they have gotten better with time.
I had the chance to chat with Ginuwine and 112’s Daron Jones about the tour, why music fans are yearning for the music from over 20 years ago, and their future plans.
With the resurgence of ’90s music, why do you think music lovers have been craving it so much?
Daron Jones: The ’90s era was just one of those eras in music that was just so unique and special and we can see that because of how the people are yearning for it, and at the same time the music industry is what it is, so when they get through with you, they are done with you. Basically, people are saying that they want ’90s music to be mainstream again. In our era, for us, we have the internet. Everybody can see the memes “If the love ain’t like ’90s R&B, I don’t want it” and so on. It’s clear, people want ’90s music to be back at the forefront.
Ginuwine: I think people are craving the music because they simply miss it. You know a lot of radio stations and people in general give credence to the young people and what they are doing, and I’m like why? That’s their generation, let them do what they do, our generation is still here, so why are we gravitating towards that? Why not continue to grow with the music that you came up on? Let the young ones have their time like our parents let us have our time. I think it’s kind of corny for older folks to even be listening to that kind of stuff. My generation is still here, everybody is still in their late 30’s and 40’s so they miss that kind of music, and I think radio is so fixated on what’s going on in the young word and that’s not cool. Continue to play the music that is supporting you. That’s why I like Steve Harvey and Michael Baisden because that’s my generation and that’s what I listen to. I don’t even listen to the hip hop stations.
Remember back in the day there was only one Michael Jackson, one Prince, one Patti LaBelle, one Whitney Houston, one Jackie Wilson. Now today you have 50 of everybody, it’s just not what it used to be. I came up during a time where a star was a superstar and if you were a star you were a star for a reason. Not for being a copycat or acting a fool and becoming a star, no you had to really have skill. No one to me in my opinion is different. As soon as someone does something, they color their hair like them, dress like them, that’s not being a leader to me, that’s being a follower. Even if I have taken something from somebody, and I have like from Michael Jackson, Prince or whatever, I put a little bit of my twist to it, and it’s not like that anymore. Our generation was different. I do miss it and I think that’s why a lot of people are coming to our shows, and selling them out, arenas, all that kind of stuff. I’ve been out for 21 years and still selling out arenas, that’s telling you something.
So, what can fans expect during the 90s Block Party?
Daron Jones: For 112, we study the greats. We look at the Temptations, the Four Tops, Blue Magic, New Edition, Jackson 5, and we just take it back to the basics, good old singing and dancing. We get in the studio, honing our craft and making sure that we are on stage doing our thing and not looking tired, but giving you your money’s worth. (laughs) So really from us, we are just going to give you the quality singing and dancing. Definitely going to give you them vocals and take it to church, and at the same time we’re going to give you showmanship that we’re known for just by studying the legends that came before us.
Ginuwine: This particular tour, I signed on because of who all was on it. It’s just so amazing when you come and watch the show, a lot of the songs that our generation came up, you remember exactly where you were when you first heard it. It speaks volumes. When you hear the first few chords and then (sings) “You can have a piece of my love”—from Guy, you know exactly where you were when you heard that, or when you heard “Pony,” and [songs from] all the groups that are on the tour. We rotate a little bit, but I’m on most of the shows. That’s what’s so magical about the tour, it’s all love, everyone gets along, there’s no fighting, everyone supports each other, if it’s someone’s birthday, we show love, if someone is doing an after party, we all show up, it’s just love. That’s what ’90s should be about and was about and we just try to keep that time frame going.
Speaking of that time frame, the album 100% Ginuwine is 19 years old; looking back is there anything on that album that you would have changed?
Ginuwine: I’d leave it like it is. That’s history, that’s what it’s about. It was a time where the situation was what it was. That’s how you grow and learn from the things that you learn and grow from the things you already put out. So, I wouldn’t change anything.
Ginuwine, are you working on any new music?
Ginuwine: I’m starting to work on some music with my little brother Tank. We’re probably going to drop something this summer. I was like I love what he is doing in music, I brought him in the business, he’s one of my background singers along with J Holiday, Raheem DeVaughn, all of them were my background singers, so I take pride in their success. I brought them into the game, I introduced them to the game, and I gave them their first shot.
Daron, everyone was so excited about 112 reuniting and releasing new music. What was the reaction when that album came out? What kind of feedback did you get?
Daron Jones: I think the feedback was just that folks were glad 112 was back, it wasn’t necessarily the music as it relates to us. I think people were just really happy to see us as a group and singing together again. Even before the album, we had reunited and had kind of been touring and singing, just being around each other, doing what we do, it was only a matter of time before we got back in the studio again. People call us veterans and legends, but we are still young at heart so if we hang around each other long enough, we are going to get that studio bug and get back in there. It’s definitely an exciting time and we are happy to be a part of the resurgence.
What else is 112 working on?
Daron Jones: Right now, we have the current album Q, Mike, Slim, Daron and we’re promoting that. We have a new single “Both of Us” with 112 and Jagged Edge, which is being received very well. We’re testing out this thing we call “The Experience.” It’s 112 and Jagged Edge on the same stage at the same time. So, some of the ’90s Block Party Tour dates, we’ve just been putting it out there and letting the people see it. That’s the biggest thing we are working on right now. It’s going to be big, be on the look-out.
My music matters because (fill in the blank):
Daron Jones: My music matters because it’s my purpose in life.
Ginuwine: My music matters because it came at a time when music changed and it’s a historical moment when it comes to “Pony,” Aaliyah, and Missy [Elliot] because music changed once we entered the industry.
For more information and to see if the show is coming to your city, check out G Squared Events.
The infectious catchy dance song “The Loco-Motion” is a part of America’s musical soundtrack. The story of Little Eva and her hit song is one of being in the right places at the right time.
Eva Narcissus Boyd was born in Belhaven, North Carolina in 1945. Named after her aunt, Little Eva first started singing in the church. She moved to New York in 1960 hoping to break into the music industry, and she soon landed a gig singing with The Cookies, and found some work doing backup vocals during studio sessions. However, Little Eva’s big break didn’t come from working in the industry; it came from a babysitting job.
The husband and wife songwriting team of Gerry Goffin and Carole King hired 17-year-old Little Eva as a babysitter. After they wrote the song “The Loco-Motion,” that may or may not have been inspired by Chubby Checker’s “The Twist,” Goffin and King asked Little Eva to sing the demo so it could be pitched to Dee Dee Sharp on Cameo Parkway. It turned out so well, it was eventually released as a single.
The song reached number one on the pop and R&B charts in 1962 cementing Little Eva’s spot in music history. She appeared on popular dance shows like Shindig and American Bandstand and traveled around the world performing the song.
Her follow up single, “Keep Your Hands off My Baby” reached number twelve on the pop chart and number six on the R&B chart.
Her third single, “Let’s Turkey Trot” was a top 20 single on both charts.
In 1971, Little Eva retired from the music business to focus on her three children, but it didn’t stop the loco-motion from chugging along. In 1974, Grand Funk Railroad remade the song into another number one hit, and in 1988 Kylie Minogue had a top five hit with her remake of “The Loco-Motion.” The renewed interest in the song, led to Little Eva getting gigs on the cabaret and oldies circuit. She recorded “Back on Track” in 1989 and toured with a show that featured acts such as Little Richard.
In 2001, Little Eva was diagnosed with cervical cancer. She died on April 10, 2003 at the age of 50. In 2009, Little Eva was inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame.
It’s been a long time coming and as an interpreter of song, Bettye LaVette has started a new chapter of her career with her tenth album, Things Have Changed.
It’s the first album for the soul singer on a major label in nearly thirty years. On the album, she takes on the songs of Bob Dylan with a mixture of grit, soul, and blues to spin it into an interpretive masterpiece of her own. To pull off the transformation of the original songs, LaVette worked with producer Steve Jordan, and musicians such as Dylan’s long-time guitarist Larry Campbell, bass virtuoso Pino Palladino, and keyboardist Leon Pendarvis. Keith Richards and Trombone Shorty were added to the mix to create a recipe of rock ‘n’ soul. The album will be released on Verve Records on March 30.
Bettye LaVette has had a highlight worthy career that spans nearly six decades; from bringing down the house with her rendition of “Love Reign O’er Me” during the 2009 Kennedy Center Honors to President Obama’s 2009 Inauguration concert when she joined the stage with Jon Bon Jovi to sing “A Change is Gonna Come,” a song fitting for a woman whose change has finally come with recognition.
NMAAM caught up with Bettye LaVette to discuss her new album.
This is completely different for you to devote an entire album to one songwriter. What made you do that for your new album, Things Have Changed, and why Bob Dylan?
Bettye LaVette: I don’t know that I went in thinking I just wanted to do one songwriter. I certainly would not have decided this on my own. A friend of mine, and photographer Carol Friedman, who has done most of the photographs of me recently, especially the ones that make me look like I have long legs (laughs). She is a good friend and a life -long Bob Dylan fan and it’s always been her dream to hear me do Bob Dylan songs. I’m sure she knew unless that unless something big happened, it would not be forthcoming. Here again, as an artist, I would never hone in on one artist at this point. But when the biggest record company in the world says they think it’s a great idea, I said, ‘so do I!’ (laughs) So, that’s how it came about. The man just won a Nobel Peace Prize for lyrics. I recorded a few of his songs previously. One was called “Most of the Time” and it appealed to me and the way I felt at the time, then another one called “Everything is Broken,” and one called “Unbelievable” on the Worthy album. I did those because they were funny to me. They actually tickled me, because the lyrics were funny to me. I enjoyed those. I never would have chosen twelve of his songs, but with that task before me, I’m not a cover artist and I wasn’t trying to cover him and I wasn’t going to do a tribute to him.
That took a long time, longer than I have ever taken on any one piece of music. These, I had to rewrite some of them, like the verses and lines and put them in my mouth. He’s a very weird writer because he writes vignettes, not songs and they have chapters. Then it took weeks to learn however many of these songs. But I took verses out and lines out and freshened up some lines and some things that only 80 percent of the country knows who Belle Star and Clark Gable are, so I had to change those to Bruno Mars and Otis Redding. I had to find something that captured me emotionally. The song “Emotionally Yours” was one of those. I liked the words. I knew that I wasn’t going to cover them or tribute them, and that was one of the things I expressed to my producer Steve Jordan. He is now known as the ‘Bettye Whisperer,’ because I can’t play anything so I had to act out and sing out everything that I wanted. This is the first time I’ve had a Black producer in many years. It was interesting.
Once you got that part down, it only took you a few days to knock out the album in the studio.
Bettye LaVette: It only took 3 days. I don’t go in the studio with questions. I’ve already thought of what we are going to do. I have the attention span of a child, so doing things over and over I just can’t do it (laughs). Steve Jordan was on a very tight schedule so we were very fortunate to have him, and many of the others as well. Larry Campbell had been with Bob Dylan for many years. These guys work 24/7. It was going to be tight anyway, but I don’t think they knew how tight I can hang. I was like I’m from Detroit (laughs).
Why did you name the album Things Have Changed?
Bettye LaVette: So many things have changed. I have a new manager, a new booking agency, this new brilliant record company, this new producer, and I’m going to be blonde most of the time. I don’t want to call it a last- ditch effort, but I want this to work.
I had to find songs that could be turned around that could naturally fit. I chose those because Bob Dylan will occasionally lean [toward] gospel every once in a while, and those lent themselves to that. I wanted to do something that hadn’t been heard on Black radio and we could completely turn it around. That’s why I wanted to do “The Times They Are A-Changin’.” I wanted to go completely different and Steve understood that. I sung with my keyboard player and made a tape with him, and I had to show them how to make rhythm with the way that I was singing it. The keyboard player just played the changes to the song and I put the rhythm in my voice so that gave Steve the indication on where to put things. He is such an intelligent musician and producer.
The way that you sang those Bob Dylan songs on your new album, Things Have Changed, are so soulful.
Bettye LaVette: Thank you very much. I’m very interested to know what Bob Dylan fans think. His fans are like worshippers and Blacks don’t know anything about him at all. I’m interested to know what Blacks think about the album and Bob Dylan worshippers.
The lyrics of the songs really stand out because you made them your own.
Bettye LaVette: A lot of Bob Dylan fans say they absolutely love him, but they never knew what he was saying (laughs).
Let’s discuss a few of the songs on the album. Talk about “What Was It You Wanted.”
Bettye LaVette: For that one and everyone looked at me like I was crazy, but I said let’s put trombones on it. I wanted a New Orleans feel and they went right to Trombone Shorty, and I said ‘I didn’t mean New Orleans itself!’ (laughs) But, it was exactly what I wanted. Bob Dylan will lead you to the ledge, but he won’t push you, see I will. I had to push to get this sound.
How about “Don’t Fall Apart on Me Tonight?”
Bettye LaVette: Yes! That one and “Emotionally Yours” made me say ‘wow he will cry!’ (laughs) When I drank a bottle of champagne and sang both of those, and I said listen at this song. I found out a tremendous amount about Bob Dylan and these songs. The only way I could put them in my mouth, I had to get all the way into them. I had to sing them not because I liked them, but because I wanted to say it. It had to be something I wanted to say.
What about the song “It Ain’t Me Babe?”
Bettye LaVette: I wanted it to be so different from what he did on the song, I wanted it to be more blues. I wanted it to be more like a drunk Jimmy Reed song. Singing it like they did is like trying copy someone’s art, but how do you feel about it? How mad are you? (laughs)
In your book A Woman Like Me, you mentioned having “buzzard’s luck,” looking back at that and your journey to now, what kind of advice would you give to someone to not give up and keep going?
Bettye LaVette: I would say people have to use logic, it’s the most important thing. If you are following some stuff that you know you can’t do, try to get some logical opinions and try to weigh it good. If people hadn’t been pouring their money into my career, I would have long since quit and not just kept going because I want to sing. People kept calling me, maybe it was the wrong people, maybe the deals fell apart, but they kept calling. If I had joined the church and they didn’t call or if I ran off with some man that beat me every day and they didn’t call, then I probably chose the wrong thing, but they kept calling. When they called, they said, “I have your last record, and wanted to know if you want to do another one.”
I have an album that was recorded in 1972 that was not released, and I talk about it in the book. I got under the dining room table and wanted to stay there. That was the most heartbreaking thing that ever happened to me, and someone else called and I came out from under that table.
It’s like if you have some kind of logical indication that the road you are on is correct, stay on that joker and don’t do nothing that will impair it. Don’t stay up all night and do all that cocaine if you want to sing, don’t go out with some dude that’s going to hit you and mess up your face if you want to be a model. Make logical conclusions. When I left Detroit and left Atlantic and got released from my contract, there was no logical reason for me to do that, and I’ve thought about that for over 50 years. No logical reason for me to do that and it cost me 20 years. All you ask for on your deathbed is more time. Don’t give your time away. That would be my only regret. Once I embraced logic, it has helped me. Plain old logic.
Why do you think having a place like the NMAAM is so important?
Bettye LaVette: It’s strange that there hasn’t been something like this already. They can use it to show the connection from this to that, from the field to this and that. I’d love to see it.