Tag: African American Music Appreciation Month

Black Music Month & Music Education

Part Two of our Conversation with Black Music Month Co-Founder and NMAAM National Advisory Board Member Dyana Williams

NMAAM has the honor of having one of the co-founders of Black Music Month, entertainment industry veteran Dyana Williams, as a member of its National Advisory Board.  Along with Philadelphia International Records label owner and renowned songwriter Kenny Gamble, she orchestrated the very first White House event to recognize Black Music Month in 1979 during President Carter’s administration.

In part one of our conversation with Dyana, the avid activist shared in this video how she later got a bill to the Senate floor in 2000 with the help of Congressman Chaka Fattah to make June officially nationally recognized as Black Music Month. Signed by President Clinton, this is now known as the African American Music Bill.

 

 

In part two of our conversation, Dyana reminisces about that very significant day in Black Music Month history in 1979, the importance of honoring black music’s creators, and NMAAM’s mission to provide music education programs that recognize black music year round.

BMM1979 Credit Dyana Williams-2

NMAAM: Dyana, this is a picture from your personal collection taken on the day President Jimmy Carter hosted the first Black Music Month observance at the White House back in 1979.  What do you think about when you see this picture now?

Dyana Williams: In the company of record mogul and Black Music Month co-founder, Kenny Gamble, it was my first time at the White House, and a most memorable and magical day. I feel a great sense of pride when I see some of the legendary people who attended this historic occasion for Black Music at the White House, hosted by President Carter and his wife. Legendary radio programmer, personality and my former boss, Frankie Crocker, Chuck Berry and many other notable figures in Black music and culture attended this first Black Music Month event.

NMAAM: What do you remember your hopes and aspirations being after getting President Carter’s approval of Black Music Month?

Dyana Williams: We were hoping to secure greater regard for Black music as a multi million dollar industry, as well as being one of America’s finest cultural and economic exports to the world.

NMAAM: Within the past year, black music has suffered a great loss of some of its most significant figures. Do you feel that this will affect Black Music Month this year and if so, how?

Dyana Williams: While we are still mourning the recent April transition of Prince’s life, his June 7th birth date will most certainly be recognized during Black Music Month in the United States and around Planet Earth. The impact and influence of recently deceased artists such as Natalie Cole, Maurice White, Nicholas Caldwell of The Whispers, and Marshall “Rock” Jones of the Ohio Players, among others in different aspects of Black music should never be forgotten and celebrated, during Black Music Month and beyond.

NMAAM: Should we have a particular perspective or focus for this year considering?

Dyana Williams: The perspective should always be on the recognition of the foundation artists, as well as this current aggregation of music creators and future generations of individuals who advance Black music.

Dyana Photograph #2-Credit Whitney Thomas

 

“Black music is American music!

We should never forget that fact.”

 

 

 

 

NMAAM: You are also the Philadelphia GRAMMY chapter president, so I am sure you are well familiar with the GRAMMY in the Schools programs as well as other efforts within the industry to keep music programs in the schools.  What would you like to see education wise regarding the history of the contribution of African Americans to American music?

Dyana Williams: I would like to see the contributions of those who have perpetuated Black music and culture, taught to all children starting in Pre K onwards. All genres including Gospel, the Blues, Rock, Jazz, Rhythm and Blues, Hip-Hop, EDM, Pop and any hybrid forms of these genres are significantly American. Black music is American music! We should never forget that fact.

NMAAM: As you well know, part of the vision for NMAAM is to provide music educational programming.  What would you say about its importance to the mission of the institution?

Dyana Williams: NMAAM’s focus on music education is one of the most important components of the Museum’s endeavors. With the establishment of NMAAM, we should support this important museum on every possible level.

 


 

NMAAM would like to thank Dyana Williams for being a true pioneer and advocate for African American music throughout the years.  As she mentioned, it is important to support the Museum in its many endeavors such as its educational programming. NMAAM is currently doing its part to inspire and educate the youth of the Nashville community, as well as other communities around the country, about the national treasure that is African American music through two of its music programs:

 

MET Summer Academy

 

Choral Arts Link and the National Museum of African American Music present The MET Summer Academy, which kicks off June 20th and runs through July 1st. It is a two-week choral retreat for public, private, charter, and home-schooled children, as well as students who participate in the MET Singers.  Singers encounter choral and vocal performance training, varieties of musical styles and tips from special guest artists from the National Museum of African American Music, Barbershop Harmony Society, the Nashville Symphony, Intersection CME and more! The registration deadline for this summer is June 20.  Click here for more information.

 

FN2S

From Nothing to Something (FN2S) is a series of one-hour programs consisting of one of six different musical presentations: Spoons, Harmonica, Cigar Box Guitars, Banjo, Innovation of Lyrics and Washtub Bass.  Programs on each instrument, led by artists, explore the musical history, techniques and other interesting stories/facts behind the instrument.

FN2S is designed to educate young people about how a group of people, from different cultures, created instruments from memories and limited resources.  Replicas of these instruments were literally made out of nothing (household items or natural materials), and were used to create something wonderful – music!

Participants will learn how these hand made instruments influenced the development of different musical genres like Blues, Jazz, Country, Rock & Roll, Hip-Hop and more, which created America’s music and culture.

FN2S is offered year round through summer camps as well as through classrooms and groups.  For more information, click here.

NMAAM Announces Digital Exhibition at Belmont University

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

NMAAM ANNOUNCES DIGITAL EXHIBITION FEATURING THE IMPACT AND INFLUENCE OF AFRICAN AMERICANS ON AMERICAN CULTURE AND MUSIC  DURING BLACK MUSIC MONTH AND SIGNIFICANT DONATION FROM BELMONT UNIVERSITY

Museum announces new web-based application and additional financial progress.

Nashville, Tenn. – (June 13, 2016) – The National Museum of African American Music (NMAAM) announced its first-ever Rivers of Rhythm® Digital Exhibition (RofR) and significant financial support from Belmont University today.  With June declared as Black Music Month (or African American Music Appreciation Month) by President Barack Obama, earlier this month, NMAAM was pleased to announce this key milestone during an important, month-long observance.

A first-of-its-kind digital exhibition, museum officials and award-winning Gospel artist, CeCe Winans (who was recently announced as one of NMAAM’s National Chairs) revealed the digital exhibition and a $250,000 donation from Belmont University.

“With over 50 genres identified as created or influenced by African Americans, RofR is an interactive tool that depicts the ebb and flow of music and genres using a web-based platform to tell the Museum’s story even before our doors open,” said H. Beecher Hicks, III, NMAAM’s president and CEO. “Music is more connected than we realize and the influence of genres and music is a true outline of the history and impact that American artists have around the world.”

Ms. Winans joined to help Belmont University’s president, Dr. Bob Fisher and H. Beecher Hicks, III, NMAAM’s president & CEO, unveil the digital exhibition and donation.  As a National Chair, Ms. Winans will focus her work with NMAAM specifically around the Gospel genre and serve as an active ambassador. She will provide support and access to her professional network for the organization.  She, along with Darius Rucker, Keb’ Mo’ and India.Arie were announced earlier this year and are actively engaged in the project. All are prominently featured in the Rivers of Rhythm® Digital Exhibition (RofR).

“This digital exhibition reflects another step in Belmont’s efforts to become increasingly more diverse and broadly reflective of our local and global communities,” said Dr. Fisher. “Having Henry and Cece Winans here to launch this new music resource is an honor and demonstrates our commitment to NMAAM’s success.  Belmont has an outstanding reputation for fostering and nurturing top musical talent so supporting this project is a perfect fit for our campus.”

Announcing its first-ever digital exhibition, during the National observance of Black Music Month (or African American Music Appreciation Month) strategically connects NMAAM to a national conversation that honors the roots of American music.

“This June and every June, we celebrate Black Music as a vital part of our Nation’s proud heritage. African-American music exemplifies the creative spirit at the heart of American identity and is among the most innovative and powerful art the world has ever known,” said President Obama in presenting this year’s federal proclamation.

 

About CeCe Winans:

CeCe Winans is a multi-talented singer, who has won numerous awards, including ten GRAMMY® Awards and seven Stellar Awards. She has sold twelve million records worldwide. CeCe is also the best-selling female gospel artist of all time. CeCe’s collection of Top Ten R&B radio hits include “Count On Me,” her duet with Whitney Houston, from the Waiting to Exhale soundtrack. The single was certified Gold in the US and reached No. 8 on the Billboard Hot 100, No. 4 on the Adult Contemporary chart and No. 8 on the Billboard R&B Singles charts.

About Belmont University

Ranked No. 5 in the Regional Universities South category and named as a “Most Innovative” university by U.S. News & World Report, Belmont University is celebrating its 125th anniversary in academic year 2015-16. Founded in 1890, the University consists of more than 7,400 students who come from every state and more than 25 countries. Committed to being a leader among teaching universities, Belmont brings together the best of liberal arts and professional education in a Christian community of learning and service. The University’s purpose is to help students explore their passions and develop their talents to meet the world’s needs. With more than 80 areas of undergraduate study, 22 master’s programs and five doctoral degrees, there is no limit to the ways Belmont University can expand an individual’s horizon.

About the National Museum of African American Music:

As the only museum dedicated to all dimensions of African American music, The National Museum of African American Music (NMAAM) will showcase over 50 music genres created or impacted by African Americans, honor the legacy and legends of this diverse music and detail the impact music has on musicians and consumers around the world. NMAAM will draw upon a range of music and history enthusiasts to explore and celebrate American music and will tell a story never before told, until now.  For more information, visit NMAAM.org or BlackMusicMonth.com, Facebook: TheNMAAM, Twitter/Instagram: @theNMAAM.

 

NMAAM ONLINE MEDIA PLATFORMS:
Websites – www.NMAAM.org or www.BlackMusicMonth.com
Digital Exhibition: www.RiversOfRhythm.com
Black Music Month – www.BlackMusicMonth.com
Facebook – www.facebook.com/theNMAAM
Twitter – www.twitter.com/theNMAAM
Instagram – www.instagram.com/theNMAAM
YouTube – www.youtube.com/theNMAAM
Hashtags – #BlackMusicMonth #BMM #MyMusicMatters

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What’s the 411? Mary J. Blige’s Classic Turns 20

As the 1990s began, New Jack Swing was dominating urban and pop airwaves. Uptown Records had become the hottest music label in the industry, as many of the era’s most prominent acts called their headquarters home. There was one young artist who was on her way to reach unknown levels of superstardom. Her name was Mary J. Blige. The release of her debut album, What’s the 411? would establish her as “the queen of hip-hop soul” and solidify her as a force to be reckoned with.

Her singing style was reminiscent of past R&B songstresses such as Stephanie Mills, Chaka Khan and Anita Baker, but she brought something new to the table with her rugged, street girl persona and descriptive lyrical content. Her vocal prowess reigned supreme over hip-hop infused tracks with sprinkles of classic R&B, jazz, hard drum beat patterns and synths. This week marks the 20th anniversary of the album’s release, which was hailed at the time as a success by many of the culture writers of the early 1990s for its pioneering blend of hip-hop and soul music. Twenty years later, it is highly regarded as one of the most important albums from the latter part of the 20th century.

EBONY recently sat down with two of the main producers of the album, Dave “Jam” Hall and Cory Rooney to gain insight on the creation of such an iconic album.

Hall and Rooney reveal how they were chosen to participate in the making of the album.

“At the time, I was just a young, up and coming producer that was kind of struggling,” says Hall. “I was signed to my manager, Eddie F. who was with Heavy D & The Boyz. We all knew Diddy because he was the A&R of the project. We were all from Mount Vernon, NY so we knew each other from high school. When Diddy was working on the project, he came to Eddie F. and I and said he was looking for this new type of sound for his artist. At that time, New Jack Swing was prominent and he told us that his artist wasn’t New Jack Swing and that her style was a little bit grittier and a little more urban.

Back then, I was experimenting with putting hip-hop beats together with R&B chord progressions. I wasn’t getting any traction with the sound because people didn’t quite understand it. One day, I was in Eddie F.’s car in the backseat and Diddy was in the front and I played my tracks. He said, ‘That’s exactly what I’m looking for! That’s the new sound we need. This is new direction I need for this artist named Mary J. Blige.’ This is how I became part of the project.”

“The funny thing is we actually did some work for Uptown Records,” says Rooney. “We did Father MC’s album. At that time, Uptown Records was the place to hang out at. We lived in Rosedale Queens back then and we used to wake up and say let’s go drive up to Uptown. Everyone would just be hanging out in there. All of a sudden, Kurt Woodley, who used to be the A&R guy at Uptown was introduced to Mary through a guy named Jeff Redd. He signed her to a deal. He came to us and told us that he needed our help. They sent Mary over to our house and we had already written some songs. One of those songs that we wrote two years prior to meeting her was ‘Real Love.’ This is how it really all started.”

Rooney recalls how Blige wasn’t on the label’s radar until the Strictly Business movie soundtrack was in production.

“She kind of sat around for a while and then Uptown did the movie soundtrack for the movie Strictly Business,” says Rooney. “Kurt Woodley pressed Andre [Harrell] about putting her on the soundtrack for the movie. They thought Mary was the next Stephanie Mills. This how they were pitching her to us. When the ​Strictly Business soundtrack came together, Kurt Woodley told Andre that he had to give Mary a shot. They came up with the record ‘You Remind Me,’ which was done by Dave Hall, who was out of Eddie F.’s Untouchables crew. The song really took off and it jump started the process for Mary’s album. It was the most popular record on the radio so Andre and everyone said it was time to put an album together right now for Mary. She went from being an artist on the shelf to Puffy literally having weeks to put an album together.

What he did was he split the album in half. He was in New Jersey with the Untouchables and then he would come back and play us some of their music to get us amped up. So it ended up beinga friendly rivalry. Puffy was right in the middle of it. It was kind of genius what he was doing though. He would use the records from one camp to amp up the other camp. I remember the day he played ‘Reminisce’ for us and we all said, ‘Damnit,’” he laughs. “We thought we had them and then he played us that record. He was dancing around the studio all hype. Then, we did the record, ‘Changes I’ve Been Going Through.’ So we were trying to fire back. It was all love though. It was a fun project to do. Puffy was really pushing us.”

Hall remembers how he wanted to produce Blige and the collaboration process that existed between him and his songwriting partner Kenny Greene.

“Creatively, I was trying to take her in the direction of a grittier sound that had some substance to it,” says Hall. “She was a real street individual. I knew her a little bit personally because we were from the same area. The sound I tried to craft was more moody. All the songs I did for the album had that moody type of feel to them. They had a more jazz, R&B and hip-hop feel. A lot of it was moody and had lyrics that related to women.

It was a collaborative effort between me and an artist named Kenny Greene who has since passed away. He was the lead singer from the group Intro. Of the four songs I wrote on the album, he wrote the lyrics and we collaborated on the melodies and I did the music. We would talk to Mary to see what she wanted to talk about and then craft her thoughts into the songs we wrote. We had to run the songs by Diddy also,” he laughs. “Kenny Greene was instrumental in crafting the lyrical content and song styling of each song from a harmony and melody perspective. We had a good working relationship.”

Hall and Rooney share a couple of stories about working with Blige during the course of this album.

“We were all in our early twenties back then,” says Hall. She had to be about 20 or 21 during the recording of this album. Mary was great to work with. We would write the songs and then give her the songs at her apartment. She would learn the songs and then she would tell Diddy and the label that she knew the song. After that, she would come into the studio and knock it out. She would get the songs done in a really quick manner. It never took her more than two vocal takes to get the song done because I wanted to keep the essence of who she was and the let pain and emotions come across in the songs. I didn’t do a lot of editing. That’s why when you heard the record, there may have been some flat notes in there, but the emotion was what I was looking for and it came across more naturally.

She would come in and cut her vocals and leave. It would usually take us three days to finish a record. When she would leave, we would track the record and put some more keyboard parts in it to follow her lead and the day after she would lay her vocals down. The next day, we would mix the record. So it took about three to four days to finish each song. Some nights would be long nights. The first single, ‘You Remind Me’ was hard because that was the first song we did that had that type of direction. Some of the executives didn’t understand the vibe of the record because it wasn’t New Jack Swing. I must say, Diddy definitely had the ear to hear that this was the new direction to take R&B music. This record was hard to do because we had to figure it out as we went along. We had to figure out how to integrate a hip hop beat with an R&B singer. This album set a tone for a whole genre of music.

Let me say this about Mary. Kenny Greene’s songs aren’t easy songs to sing. If you can sing his songs, you’re a great singer. It’s hard to copy someone who can sing very well. I give her credit because she would just knock these songs out.”

“Everyone started writing songs and we all caught on very fast that Mary was going to embrace the songs that really represented her life,” says Rooney. “I guess that’s where she got that title of being “the Queen of Hip-Hop Soul.” Basically, Mary J. Blige is the female that’s from the hood that sings the pain of all of the females from the hood. At that point in her life, she was being taken advantage of by a lot of the industry cats and a song like ‘Real Love’ described her situation.

One day, she said with tears in her eyes, ‘I just want a real love in my life for once.’ We wrote four or five songs before ‘Real Love’ came together for her. Those songs were more on a Stephanie Mills type of vibe, but no one was really feeling them. She was so emotional back then. Sometimes, we would be in the studio and she would have tears in her eyes. Right in the middle of a take, you wouldn’t hear anything in the dark vocal booth. We would wonder if she was still in there. She would be in there, but her emotions took over. All of these records started becoming real life records for her. This whole album’s design was directed by Puffy. It was his idea. He said it needed to be hip-hop with classic R&B on top of it.”

Hall recounts how the lead single “You Remind Me” had many layers within it.

“You Remind Me” was the first record we did together,” says Hall. “I was a big Biz Markie fan and I sampled his song, ‘Pickin’ Boogers.’ I sampled it and chopped it up and then I put a real pretty song on top of it. Kenny Greene didn’t write this song. A writer that I used to work with back then by the name of Eric Milteer wrote this song. We went to church together. We were just vibin’ to the music because it was bangin’. I put a nice chord progression on top of it as well and I gave it that church kind of feel.

I used some ideas from another artist that I loved by the name of Patrice Rushen. She had a song called; ‘You Remind Me’ and I liked the tone of her song. I took some of the influences from there and we tried to make a spin on it that was contemporary at the time. The song came out well, but the label didn’t really understand it though. I really don’t think they understood the whole project besides Diddy. He was a minor A&R at the label back then, but had the ear and vision for what he wanted to do.”

“You Remind Me” went on to peak at #29 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart, #1 on the Billboard R&B Singles Chart and #48 on the UK Singles Chart. It helped to generate steam for the sales of What’s the 411? after its international release. The second single to be released from the album would be the equally iconic, “Real Love,” which went on to peak at #7 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart, #1 on the Billboard R&B Singles Chart and #26 on the UK Singles Chart.

Rooney tells a fascinating story of how “Real Love” transpired.

“Real Love” was the first song we did because we actually recorded it two years before the album came out,” says Rooney. “We did it at our home studio. The other thing about ‘Real Love’ is that when it came time to use the song for the album, I told Puffy I wanted to go back in and reproduce it. I wanted to take the sample out and replay the drums. He said, ‘No, No, No!’ I told him I wasn’t going to give away my publishing to Milk and Gears when we can play our own drums. He said, ‘That’s what makes the record dope. That’s what makes it hip-hop. Are you crazy? Don’t change it.’ Of course, I was fighting the fight and he came to the studio physically prepared to fight all of our asses that day. My partner, Mark Morales ended up siding with him.

So, I walked out of the studio and told them don’t put my name on that bullshit. I’m thankful that they didn’t pay me any attention,” he laughs. “Mark Morales was a rapper who never wrote R&B lyrics. He was a member of the Fat Boys. Mark was sitting on the other side of the room with a pad of paper and a pen. He starts writing lyrics down and all of a sudden he approaches me saying that he wrote some lyrics down to the music I was working on. He said, ‘Don’t laugh.’ I told him I wasn’t going to laugh and he started singing the first four lines of ‘Real Love.’ It was almost like a rap and I told him it was hot. I put melodies behind it and a bridge. The bridge was borne out of the melodies. It came together really fast. The original recording of the song took place in my basement in Queens.”

The third single to be released from the album would be “Reminisce.” “Reminisce” went on to peak at #57 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart, #6 on the Billboard R&B Singles Chart and #31 on the UK Singles Chart.

Hall talks about the process of writing the song with Kenny Greene.

“When I wrote ‘Reminisce,’ I wrote the music when I was I trying to make a real dark, moody song with a lot of keyboard textures in it,” says Hall. “So if you listen to the song, you can hear a lot of keyboard instruments that are eerie and dreamy sounding. But I still wanted the song to have a hard beat to it so I dug into my crates and I found a nice loop that I wanted to use that still had the hard beat that would keep everybody happy. It wouldn’t be just a spacey, moody record. When I played the track for Kenny Greene at my house, he thought it was hot and he immediately started writing to the track. We would always get the hook first and then we took that concept and wrote the song ‘Reminisce.’

The fourth single to be released from the album would be the classic remake of Chaka Khan’s 1975 song “Sweet Thing.” “Sweet Thing” went on to peak at #28 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart and #11 on the Billboard R&B Singles Chart.

Rooney recollects how the song came to fruition from an idea he shared with Andre Harrell and Diddy.

“Songs like ‘Sweet Thing’ ended up on the record because she was going to do a convention called; Impact,” says Rooney. “Andre Harrell and Puffy hit me on the two way asking, ‘What would be a classic R&B song for a Black woman to sing? Like a Black anthem.’ So I suggested ‘Sweet Thing’ by Chaka Khan. Andre said, ‘That’s dope.’ He asked me if we could do a track that night for her to sing on because Impact was the next day and she was driving up to Jersey to perform there. We went to the Hit Factory in the city and we did just the track for ‘Sweet Thing.’ Mary came to the studio because she wanted to put background parts on it so when she would perform it, it would sound like a TV track.

We were still in the studio at 8 o’clock the next morning putting the finishing touches on it. She was literally about to jump in the car in the next couple of hours to drive up to Atlantic City. She asked me at the eleventh hour if she could put a scratch vocal over the track. I told her yes only because I wanted to listen to it in my car and it was one of my favorite songs. She went in the studio and knocked it out. The Impact show ended up going so well that Andre called us back and said that we should record the song. Mary played him the one take of what she recorded and he loved it. He told us to mix that version right there. This is how the song ended up on the album. It was the last song that was mixed and added to the album.”

The final song to be released from the album would be “Love No Limit,” which went on to peak at #44 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart and #5 on the Billboard R&B Singles Chart.

Hall tells his own story on how he pieced the track together.

“Love No Limit” was the last record we wrote for the album. I had a deadline to meet and Diddy was pressuring me to get it done,” he laughs. “He kept calling my house and I told him I had this song called; ‘Love No Limit’ that I wrote with Kenny Greene. He said, ‘Cool. Let me hear it.’ So I played it for him and he said, ‘I like it.’ But I don’t think he was 100% sold on it. We moved forward with it even though it was much different from the rest of the material on the album. It was really jazzy.

I was big into old school jazz like Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald. Kenny Greene was church trained so we did the song with a jazzy feel, but it still had a strong beat to it. He wrote a catchy hook to it and Mary loved it. She definitely loved that type of jazz music. This whole album defined her sound per se. We cut the record and I thought it turned out great, but we were still skeptical on how it would be received because it was so different than any of the other stuff on her album. I was amazed when it came out because there would be guys on the corner in the hood blasting the song.”

What’s the 411? peaked at #6 on the Billboard 200 Albums Chart and #1 on the Billboard R&B Albums Chart in the early autumn of 1992 and sold more than three million units. It also peaked at #53 on the UK Albums Chart within the same year. This album provided a new pulse to the heartbeat of contemporary R&B music. It literally changed the game and the musical influence of this record is still apparent almost 20 years later in mainstream R&B music. Its lasting effect on popular culture is undeniable. To this day, it’s regarded as the one of the greatest albums from the 1990s. This album earned a plethora of Soul Train Award and Grammy nominations and wins for Blige. What’s the 411? was the question then and the answer now is a classic album.

About the Author

NMAAM
NMAAM

The National Museum of African American Music is set to open its doors in 2019. It is to be the only museum dedicated to preserving the legacy and celebrating the accomplishments of the many music genres created, influenced, or inspired by African Americans. Being built in Nashville, the Museum will share the story of the American Soundtrack, integrating history and interactive technology to bring the musical heroes of the past into the present.

Nashville Jazz is…Here!

A form of music not easily defined, Jazz is abstract and spontaneous.

Any serious discussion of it must certainly address the elements of time, chord structure, improvisation and their convergence. Jazz, a unique genre mentioned as “an original American music,” might be defined as a hybrid, a melding of influences at its dawn; yet rooted and culled through the experience of a particular people. It could be said that spirituals, the blues and jazz (a descendant of the previous two), were all responses to the suffering and longing created by the surreal and oppressive existence of an imported culture. As a surreptitious attempt to self-sooth and as a means to say what dared not be stated otherwise.

Jazz is a gift, a skill, an uncanny grasp of being “present.” It is an art form and a history lesson.

Early in its evolution, jazz was snarled at and discouraged from public performance by “polite” society – which considered the music and performers of it raw and unseemly, raucous and base and was quite often exploited and abused. Where once it was found only in juke joints, shabby back rooms, dance halls and dinner clubs, it is now prominently found and respected all over the world in premier concert halls, clubs, restaurants, schools and even public parks…Yet, Nashville, with a solid jazz scene for at least thirty years, is still developing an appreciation for this genre.

Our history may not be as illustrious as that of other cities, but it absolutely is not due to a lack of quality or accessibility. Nashville, crowned “Music City,” (a title coined from a comment made by Queen Victoria who marveled at the sound of Fisk Jubilee Singers), has quite a lot of music to offer. We now boast a wide variety of styles which were once considered “outside” of typical Nashville offerings. With a legacy tied to historic Jefferson Street, Printer’s Alley and points in between; with a readily available roster of amazingly gifted artists and teachers; with a refreshingly diverse and enthusiastic audience; even with curriculum and degree programs available in a wide selection of public and private educational facilities, not the least of which is a dedicated jazz school, jazz is not often found on Nashville’s “hot list” of creative commerce and development focus….not yet at least, but we’re working on it…

About the Author

NMAAM
NMAAM

The National Museum of African American Music is set to open its doors in 2019. It is to be the only museum dedicated to preserving the legacy and celebrating the accomplishments of the many music genres created, influenced, or inspired by African Americans. Being built in Nashville, the Museum will share the story of the American Soundtrack, integrating history and interactive technology to bring the musical heroes of the past into the present.

‘The Man Was a Genius’: Tales From Making Marvin Gaye’s Final Album

By the end of the 1970s, Marvin Gaye had vaulted himself into the ranks of soul music’s elite. During the decade, his catalog included the epic opus What’s Going On (1971), as well as classics Let’s Get It On (1973), I Want You (1976) and Here, My Dear (1978). But the success was taking its toll. As the 1980s began, Gaye, beset by drug and financial problems, left the United States for refuge in Belgium. There, he recorded what would be his last studio album (and first without Motown Records), Midnight Love.

The record turned out to be the biggest seller of Gaye’s career, spawning the single “Sexual Healing” and receiving raves placing it on the same level as Gaye’s other classics. During the recording process, guitarist and producer Gordon Banks was at Gaye’s side. On the occasion of Midnight Love’s 30th anniversary today, I spoke with Banks about what it was like to record an icon’s final album.

How did you become involved with working for Marvin Gaye?

I lived a couple of blocks away from his drummer. When I met him, he showed me what he did and he took me to an audition. It just took off from there. This happened between 1977 and 1978. It was honestly a job to me. At first, I didn’t really talk to Marvin that much because I was a newcomer. After getting to know him, he was pretty down to earth. It turned out to be a great job, and I enjoyed working with him.

What was your collective mindset during the making of the Midnight Love with him?

It was basically him and I in the studio. Columbia Records gave him some new toys to play with. They gave him two drum machines, a synthesizer called a Roland TR-808 and a Jupiter 8. Marvin didn’t know too much about technology so it was my job to figure out how to get the stuff working. He kind of liked the sounds that came from it and he went from there. Marvin was a great pianist. After getting past the challenges with the Jupiter 8, it was like he had been playing it his whole life.

Can you talk about the creative relationship that you and Marvin had in the studio together?

It was a learning process for me, but I didn’t have a lot of time to learn. When Marvin wanted something to be done, he wanted it to be done. It was only the two of us in the studio. When it came time to do some splicing of the tape, the engineer didn’t want to do it because you didn’t want to mess up a take of anything that came from Marvin. Marvin would create during the day time and at night, but we would write music at home and then go to the studio to write more music then go home.

The man was so creative. He would hear his patterns and before he finished hearing his patterns he would already have words to go with them. The toys we had to work with were amazing. To see this genius working on these new state-of-the-art instruments at that time was amazing. His ego wouldn’t let him do anything wrong. He really knew what he was doing. I know that sounds kind of jumbled, but it’s an experience I will never forget. He would play and play and sing and sing then all of sudden he would be doing vocals and he would ask me, “How does that sound?” I told him, “Marvin, you know how it sounds.” He said, “Is it flat or sharp?” It hit me all of sudden that I’m telling this major superstar if I like his lines or not. To be trusted by him in this way, really threw me for a loop, honestly. He gave me a nickname during making this album. He would call me “Indicator.” He taught me that the first or second thing you hear musically, you usually go with it.

The man was a genius. He would lie down on the couch in the studio and fall asleep while I was working on track after track. Then he would wake up and do a whole track like he wasn’t even asleep. He would lay back down and wake up to do another track. It wasn’t something he did for a living; it was truly a part of him. I was amazed, but I couldn’t act like I was amazed. We didn’t have a concept of time because we stayed in that studio all of the time.

When we were done recording at the studio in Ostend, Belgium, he said I want you to listen to every single track, and we had 48 tracks. He told me to take out every single pop, glitch and unwanted sound. I said to him, “Are you crazy? Do you know how long it is going to take to listen to 8 tracks for 48 tracks each?” He said, “No. You need to do this because you need to know what’s on my tracks when it comes time to mix them.” It was how people like him did their music. There was a certain way he clapped his hands to get the sound right in the room. He just knew a lot of different tricks. He was a true teacher. He taught me how to produce vocals and mixing. I didn’t know how to do any of this stuff. The album turned out to be a classic because there was so much of him in it and so much of his influence in me.

In terms of coming up with the arrangements for the songs, was it all Marvin, or did you both handle those responsibilities?

There were side men doing sessions with us all of the time. No individual from Michael Jackson all the way down can tell a musician what to play note for note. So when musicians are warming up and playing on the tracks, the artist gets ideas from the musicians. This is why many artists hire the best musicians. In some cases, if you really listen to Michael or Marvin, you could hear them singing riffs from the musicians. Take a guitar line here and take a guitar line there or a keyboard line. They feed off of the musicians just like the musicians feed off of them. On “Sexual Healing,” I did 17 tracks, and from a lot of those tracks Marvin took some lines for songs and from his lines I created music as well. It was like, “This guy totally trusts me.” It was really deep, man. The following album we were doing, CBS Records hired Barry White to produce it. Marvin told the record company no. The morning that he died, I was finishing up music for that CD. Musicians take from each other and the sounds grow from there. I’m very blessed to have been trusted by Marvin in that way.

Marvin is one of the few geniuses we’ve had in the past 50 years of music. What was the experience like working with him so closely?

It was total trust. I had been with him for a while. My philosophy was to listen to him so much when we did tracks inside and outside of the studio. It takes a musician to know a musician. You can go to a club and hear one guy that doesn’t fit in the band. And you wonder why they keep him up there. The reason why they keep him up there is because it’s his thing. The total opposite happened with Marvin and I. I really fit with Marvin. I’m a humble person so I’m not trying to come from an egotistical point of view, but from What’s Going On to I Want You it was a more soulful thing. I grew up on Jimi Hendrix, Grand Funk Railroad and that type of stuff. I played funk music. The times I was with him his music was progressing. It was changing and it had to change because he didn’t want any more ties to Motown. He had to step out on something else. We had a lot of musicians on tour, including Odell Brown. Odell stayed for one song on the album, but we did the other seven basically alone with the help of Harvey Fuqua who puts horns on it.

The man was a genius. I’ve seen him listen to a song once or twice and sing an introduction verse, hook, a turn around, another verse and a bridge section. In order to hang with a genius, you had to listen to him. It’s funny, growing up I didn’t even listen to the cat, but I ended up working for him.

Can you delve into the process of making some of the songs from the album?

On “Midnight Lady,” it was almost like a throwaway type of song. We would like to have fun in the studio. We recorded songs like “Savage in the Sack” and some other songs. He had a lot of different titles to the song during the process of making it. He used to sing lyrics all of the time and he came up with what it ended up being. It was just a fun little pattern thing.

Songs like “‘Til Tomorrow” he always knew where he wanted to go with the sounds. He wanted to get a feel for that. It just grew from him playing the Jupiter 8 on some stuff. It developed into a song from there.

The last song on the album, which is the song I wrote, “My Love is Waiting,” I was amazed at it. The demo was like 93 percent to 94 percent done when I came to the studio with it. I wrote the song and Marvin sung it the same way it sounded on the demo. To this day, I still can’t believe it. It was like he could take a song and do whatever he wanted to it.

Some people say that “Joy” wasn’t about his dad, but I believe that it was. He came from this Pentecostal church upbringing and it came out on this particular song. He would always try to fit a church sound in his songs going back to “What’s Going On.”

“Rockin After Midnight” was … just a real funk groove. Marvin recorded something else in the same key, but the tuning of the Jupiter 8 got changed a bit. This is when Marvin told the engineer that he wanted to put the two songs together. The guy couldn’t do it. He wouldn’t because he was afraid to do it. If you really listen to the hook and the verse tightly, you can hear a slight change in the tonality. He just knew what he wanted. He would put one half together with the other half and made a song out of it. There is just so much amazing stuff like that.

On “Sexual Healing,” I don’t know where [co-writer] David Ritz got that whole idea from. David came around one day and he said he was into the sexual thing in the Red Light District in Amsterdam. David said to Marvin during a conversation, “It sounds like you need some sexual healing.” And that was it. David didn’t have anything to do with that, but anyway Marvin ended up doing “Sexual Healing” with Odell [Brown]. Then Odell left and he only did the chords. Marvin put all of the other stuff into the song. He put guitar track after guitar track and the song developed into “Sexual Healing.”

How do you feel about the impact that this album made on popular culture, given that it was his last studio album?

The Isley Brothers came out with their Between the Sheets album after Midnight Love came out. It was basically the same instrumentation. The album influenced a lot of people doing a mellow thing with a funk vibe in it. Ernie Isley is a heck of a guitar player, and that sound fit them like a glove. Marvin changed music in a lot of different ways, but this Midnight Love sound was totally new. He had never used a drum machine before. From my experience and what I heard, he liked the have a lot of musicians around him. His bands were big. [But] when I got there, his band started dropping off. Something just happened between him and I. It was like magic. It really was. His love for God and the way we talked all of the time something just really clicked between us. To this day, you have a lot of people trying to capitalize on his music. And out of respect for him I’ve really done nothing. I have a few tracks of things that people have never heard that we worked on. I haven’t released them because I have total respect for the guy.

About the Author

NMAAM
NMAAM

The National Museum of African American Music is set to open its doors in 2019. It is to be the only museum dedicated to preserving the legacy and celebrating the accomplishments of the many music genres created, influenced, or inspired by African Americans. Being built in Nashville, the Museum will share the story of the American Soundtrack, integrating history and interactive technology to bring the musical heroes of the past into the present.

‘We Gave R&B a New Lifeline’: How Teddy Riley Invented New Jack Swing

By the mid 1980s, R&B was at a generational crossroads and rap was on the rise. An amalgamation of the two genres was being made in the St. Nicholas Projects in Harlem, New York, where a prodigious music talent named Teddy Riley joined with an up-and-coming artist named Keith Sweat. The result brought a seismic shift in urban and pop music when Make It Last Forever was released on November 24, 1987. The New Jack Swing movement was born, and it proceeded to dominate much of pop for the remainder of the decade into the early 1990s.

Make It Last Forever went on to sell more than three-million copies and left an indelible mark worldwide. On the occasion of Make It Last Forever’s 25th anniversary, I spoke with Teddy Riley about crafting an album that served as a launch pad for a hugely successful genre.

How did you become involved with Keith Sweat and crafting his debut album?

My music career started with a band called Total Climax. We competed in a band competition in New York, New York. Keith Sweat was in another group called Jamilah. His group was one of the top bands out there that everyone loved because they had singers with different ranges. He was a falsetto singer and then he would come down to the Jeffrey Osborne-type of singing voice. I was like, “Wow” when I first saw him perform. I was the keyboardist for my band and when we performed in the Big Apple band contest, we actually beat Keith’s band. I was very excited about that when it happened. From that day on, I would always say, “What’s up?” to him and he would say, “What’s up, shorty?” He didn’t really know my name and I didn’t know his at that time. I just knew his band was amazing.

How Keith and I became music partners is when he came to my block looking for me. He wanted the sound I had. He liked the songs I did for Doug E. Fresh and Classical Two. When he saw me on the block, I was actually shooting dice with my friends. He said he wanted to get in on the game so we started gambling and he took everyone else’s money except mine. I was wondering why he came around our block because he never left his block. You couldn’t just come around our block unless you knew someone from our block. After we left the game and took everyone’s money, he said, “I’m here to see you because I want some of the music you’re doing. “I told him I don’t do R&B.’ He said, “You can take a shot at my music. Just give me the hip hop and learn some chords.” I told him, “All right, I know a few chords.” I knew some chords because I was doing some stuff for rap and not for R&B.

He said, “I want to come over, and let’s listen to some things and see what you got. Then we can make the stuff sound like R&B. I’ll write to it and do what I do to it. And, if it works, let’s put it on the album. I’m doing my album now because I just got a record deal.” I said, “Bet.” I told him to give me a few days and then he came back to the house. I already had the beats made for “I Want Her” and “Make It Last Forever.” I put all of the backgrounds down on “I Want Her.” It is actually me that you hear saying “I Want Her” on the backgrounds of that song. He didn’t change it because he wanted that sound. This is how we started doing music together and how I started doing R&B music.

Can you describe the process of working on music with Keith during the making of the album?

It was a really organic process. I had no formula. I had no plans to do R&B music. New Jack Swing would’ve been just rap if I didn’t get with Keith Sweat. While working on Keith Sweat’s album, I was in a studio in New Jersey and that’s where we worked with Patrick Adams. Patrick Adams helped us with “Don’t Stop the Love” along with Fred McFarland. Keith Sweat was the reason I got into R&B music and continuing with it after we finished his album. He is really responsible for me taking a chance on R&B music.

How did you and Keith come up with the melodies and arrangements for the songs?

We worked together on the melodies and arrangements. I was the one that made him take the chance of keeping his voice with that nasal sound. He didn’t want to do it. He walked out on me in the studio because he didn’t want to sing that way. He said, “I don’t sing that way, baby. That’s not how I sing.”I was like, “You should try it because it’s a new sound. People won’t say you sound like this person or that person. They will say that’s his voice and that’s his style.”

What was it like working in the studio together?

When I was there working with him, it was cool, but when I would leave, he would be in that recording room recording stuff over and over again. Keith is the one that will keep on singing and singing until he gets it the way he likes it. He is an over perfectionist. We would be in the studio all day long. We would work on five to six songs in one day. He was quick in getting the songs done, but when he heard certain things, he would go back in and just keep recording. We completed 16 or 17 tracks for the album. It took us about six months to finish the whole album.

How were some of the songs constructed during the making of the album?

When I did the track for “Something Just Ain’t Right,” everything just started to sync together. We were doing the song in my house and he started writing the words to the music. I think he was going through something during that time with his girlfriend. This is how he came up with the direction of it. He was basically talking about life with his girl.

For “Make It Last Forever” I had the track and we were at my house. He started humming and singing melodies on top of the tracks that I had. To tell you the truth, I really didn’t understand it when he was doing it. He did it a little different than how I was taught back then. I was taught that you would go to your side and write, and I’ll stay on my side and the music would be playing. And, you would sit there and write. But he would just go right there on the spot and come up with the lyrics from the top of his head. This is how Keith was in the studio.

On “I Want Her” I had the actual hook and music already done. He came in the studio and sung over top of the track. With the verses for “I Want Her,” I heard him the sing the verses the way they appeared on the album, but he would always think about what would the people think. So, when he had that nasal sound, he was just playing around, but I didn’t think he was playing around. I told him this is what we were going to do. He wasn’t for it at first, but then he came around to the idea.

“Right and a Wrong Way” came together in the same way. I worked on the music and most of the time when Keith would have another keyboard player there; I would come up with the foundation of the music. He would sing over top of it. We would have Fred McFarland come in and play different parts. We would have Rahiem LeBlanc from the group GQ come in and play some parts. A lot of people played on the album, but the most authentic we did on the album like the saxophone solo on the beginning of “Something Just Ain’t Right” came from me because we couldn’t get a saxophone player to play on it.

“How Deep Is Your Love” was basically me doing the production work and Keith singing over it. This song was unorthodox when it came to the melody matching the music. Keith was jammin’ over the track and just singing whatever came into his head. I did the vocoder part to create the hook. The vocoder became the bass line for the track. We did the whole album in the projects in New York and then we took it to the studio and made it bigger. A lot of the stuff we kept on the AKAI 12 track recorder and transferred it to the board so we could replay it because we weren’t getting the sound we wanted.

What specific instruments did you use in creating the sounds?

I used the B50, which is now called the B550 and it has the same exact sounds. I used the W30 made by Roland and the S30 that was made by Yamaha. I used the SV 350 vocoder, which is an old vocoder that had the actual equalizer switches and equalizer fades. The drum machine I used was an Alesis drum machine. I also used the Alesis sequencer.

How do you feel about the impact the album made on popular culture 25 years later?

Let me tell you something. When “I Want Her” came out, Frankie Crocker played it on a segment of his show called “Make It or Break It.” And when he put it on “Make It or Break It,” the people chose to break it. They thought it was wack. I was really sad when it happened. I didn’t really like Frankie Crocker because he would just diss people. So—this was the first time I liked Frankie Crocker. He told the audience on the radio, “You all may have chosen to break the record, but I’m going to play this record because this record is a smash. We need something new and I’m going to make this record.” That is what made people start loving the record. We didn’t have anything new because people were settling for the same thing just like now. Music is recyclable. People do the same thing and the next thing you know it’s going to change. It just takes someone to change it, and that’s what Keith did with R&B. We gave R&B a new lifeline. New Jack Swing was the first genre to have a singer on a rap track. You can still see the effect of it in today’s music from rap to R&B.

Chris Williams, Guest Blogger, Music

About the Author

NMAAM
NMAAM

The National Museum of African American Music is set to open its doors in 2019. It is to be the only museum dedicated to preserving the legacy and celebrating the accomplishments of the many music genres created, influenced, or inspired by African Americans. Being built in Nashville, the Museum will share the story of the American Soundtrack, integrating history and interactive technology to bring the musical heroes of the past into the present.

‘That Groove Was Undeniable’: Making Earth, Wind & Fire’s ‘All ‘N All’

By the middle of the 1970s, Earth, Wind & Fire had had already become one of the most influential forces in popular music. But after putting out the classic, platinum-selling albums That’s the Way of the World (1975), Gratitude (1975) and Spirit (1976), they still had more in them. The 11-song All ‘N All, released in 1977, would go on to be their most commercially successful record and equal anything else in their catalog for critical acceptance. Led by the masterful harmonies of group founder Maurice White and Philip Bailey and the unforgettable melodies and arrangements by musical director Larry Dunn, Verdine White, Al McKay, Fred White, Ralph Johnson, and the Phenix Horns, the album would win two Grammy awards and produce songs that live on now both on their own and as sampling material for today’s hitmakers.

On the occasion of All ‘N All’s 35th anniversary this week, I spoke with Larry Dunn about recording it.

How did you become the musical director for the group?

On Last Days and Time (1972), I did all of the keyboard work on that album. The next album, Head to the Sky (1973), I began writing with Maurice. I wrote “Clover.” I wrote the intro and bridge to “Keep Your Head to the Sky” and on different stuff as well. It was just a natural progression to become musical director for the group due to the fact I was the keyboard player. I really enjoyed it. I was the youngest member of the band during that time and I was able to create the interludes and make sure the music was correct. I tell people that Earth, Wind & Fire is one of the greatest bands of all time. We had extremely talented musicians, but at the same time we rehearsed and rehearsed and rehearsed. So—you put together brilliant musicians and cats who weren’t scared, but cats that enjoyed rehearsing. That’s how you end up with our sound and those shows that were just phenomenal.

By the mid-1970s, the group was essentially a juggernaut. Coming into the making of this album, what direction were you trying to go with the sound?

It wasn’t something that I really thought about. It was just the music that was coming through us. I think this was the second album after Charles Stepney passed. I was renting a little house out in Culver City. I made a little ghetto studio in the back with just eight tracks. I bought a drum set from a pawn shop. All of the guys would come over every day. Freddy would be on the drums, I would be on the keyboards, Verdine and Al would be there as well. Some of the stuff we wrote together, like the song “Magic Mind.” We just came up with the groove in that little room.

Other stuff, like “Be Ever Wonderful,” I came home one night from hanging out at some clubs and I wasn’t really sleepy. It got later and later and something was coming up. It was raining outside and I stayed up all night and went into the studio. By noon, I called Maurice and told him I had finished all the music for the song. I played it over the phone and he was like, “Yea!”

There wasn’t really a formula. We really had to pull together. It was a great loss, losing [Stepney], but I was around him a lot and I learned a lot from him. I remember asking him about arranging because I was also blessed at 21 to start my producing career with Caldera then Ramsey Lewis, Tequila Mockingbird, Stanley Turrentine, Lenny White, and stuff like that. When I asked him about arranging, he told me, “Hey, man. Sometimes when it comes to arranging, it’s not so much what to write, but what not to write.” Space is an important part of music just as important as the notes.

Could you talk about the creative dynamic that existed within the group?

I tell people often that I don’t live my life based around astrology. There are some basic little traits or whatever, but Maurice did a lot of astrological charts and stuff. The thing that was ironic is the fact we were exact opposites to the day. He was born on December 19th and I was born on Juneteenth, which is June 19th and a celebration of the emancipation of slaves. With us being born on the exact opposite day and him being a drummer and me being a keyboard player was cool. He played drums for the Ramsey Lewis Trio. I grew up playing all types of music from The Temptations, James Brown, The Stylistics, The Dells, Santana, Jimmy Smith, and on and on and on. I learned jazz music at a young age, so when Maurice and I would get into a room together, he had a sense of rhythm and I had the chords and notes. Maurice would always say, “When me and that cat get in a room together, something good is going to pop off.” And, luckily for us, that was the case. The Phenix Horns added an amazing spark to our group. Johnny Graham had a great sense for blues music and incorporated it within the group. Andrew Woolfolk grew up with Philip and I in Denver. Freddy White was Maurice’s half-brother and Verdine’s brother. He actually played with Donny Hathaway when he was 16. Ralph Johnson was great as well. It was just an amazing aggregation of musicians who were very serious about their music.

Can you describe the studio atmosphere when the group was constructing this album?

Sometimes I would bring a tune in and the music would already be there. So—we would go into the studio and we would cut what was called the basic track. The basic track would be the rhythm section. It would be either Maurice or Fred White or Ralph Johnson on drums. On bass would be Verdine, Al McKay, and Johnny and me on keyboards. And we would cut the basic track. It would take about six hours usually. We had to make sure that groove was undeniable and that everything was tight. Back then, they didn’t have hard disc recording. We were recording on two-inch tape. Once in a while, take No. 3 from the intro to the bridge was killin’ and then from the bridge on out it wasn’t as great. But on take No. 6 from the bridge on out would be great. The guy would take the razor blade and cut the tape and then splice it together. And, then we would have our masterpiece: the basic track.

After the basic track, we would start overdubbing. The basic track is like a cake and the overdubbing would be icing and sprinkles on the top. After we got that great groove from beginning to end, then we would start overdubbing additional keyboards, synths, horns, other guitar parts, and background and lead vocals. From that point on, we would mix it by making sure each part was at the right level and at the right panning in the speakers and the right compression. It was definitely a science.

How was each song developed by the group during the recording process?

I think Sonny Burke was one of the writers on “Serpentine Fire.” He was a great writer and he had the basic premise behind it. Maurice came up with the beat for it on the drums. Tom Tom was on the horns, Al McKay and I were on clavinet and Fender Rhodes. What can I say? From the minute we started doing this track, we knew the groove was locked. After I heard the track with Maurice and Philip’s great vocals on there, I knew it was great.

My first production was with this wonderful group called Caldera. It was a Latin fusion band. It had Eddie Del Barrio as one of the band members. Eddie Del Barrio and I were really close. I introduced him to Maurice, and they wrote the song, “Fantasy.” I remember being in the studio playing the Rhodes and he played the grand piano. I played the grand piano on the intro to the song. The same thing happened with Philip and them going in there and killing the vocals.

Stuff like “In the Marketplace (Interlude)” was music that we were doing between takes of songs. We would start jamming a little bit and before you knew it we had something that sounded great. Then we would go in and add some overdubs to it and mix it nicely.

We were at my house working on grooves and we started striking up one of those grooves. Maurice and I worked on the intro to “Jupiter.” Between Maurice and Verdine that bass line was deep, man. The rhythm on it made me say, “Who does that?” It had some serious funk on it.

When Maurice was writing the lyrics to “Magic Mind,” it actually started out with the title “Midget Mind.” It would’ve been great with that title as well because it was talking about how people do stupid stuff. It was a brilliant move on his part because he didn’t want to get caught up in that political incorrectness.

I had my little eight-track set up at home when I was working on “Runnin’.” I sat up one afternoon and I just started writing and I came up with this song. I got with Eddie [Del Barrio] and we worked together on it. We took it to Maurice and he loved it. We went into the studio and finish it up. Al put on his guitar part, which was killin’.

As you look back 35 years later, what makes this album more special than the others you’ve done as a group?

It is a great feeling to know that people love your music. To hear other musicians cover your songs is great as well. With Earth, Wind & Fire, we made sure there was no filler with our albums and shows. People work hard for their money so you have to give them their monies worth. To me, All ‘N All was definitely one of the main pinnacles for the group along with That’s the Way of the World. All ‘N All was the first album after we lost Stepney. It ended up being a great work of art.

Chris Williams, Guest Blogger, Music

About the Author

NMAAM
NMAAM

The National Museum of African American Music is set to open its doors in 2019. It is to be the only museum dedicated to preserving the legacy and celebrating the accomplishments of the many music genres created, influenced, or inspired by African Americans. Being built in Nashville, the Museum will share the story of the American Soundtrack, integrating history and interactive technology to bring the musical heroes of the past into the present.