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Bring the church singers back to R&B.

Where are the real vocalists who grew up shoutin for Jesus?

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I joke about this all the time, that we don’t have superstar R&B girls really doing any heavy lifting in the vocal department these days because nobody goes to church anymore, so there aren’t any real singers out here who grew up hollering for Jesus in a pew.

(For anybody thinking this will be a Christian propaganda piece — I’m an atheist. I just appreciate a strong vocalist and I love gospel music rooted in the Black church.)

Anyway…today, I really got to thinking about church singers because I was randomly wondering how old Gladys Knight is and that made me wonder how old Patti Labelle is.

I cannot tell you why either of those things popped into my head, but they did, and since we all have a computer in our pocket, I looked it up. Turns out, Patti Labelle is exactly 4 days older than Gladys Knight, so the last week of May in 1944 deserves some kind of federal recognition for its service to R&B music in general.

Knowing what I know about soul music from back in the day, it struck me once again how young those singers were and how it doesn’t feel like we have any vocal equivalents in the music industry really making any waves. There are no 20somethings putting out hits who could stand next to a 20 year old Patti or Gladys, so I wanted to dig up some clips of early performances by some of the greats over the years.

Tina Turner, 21 years old

In 1960, Ike & Tina Turner got their first big hit with “Fool in Love” and the band made the rounds performing on the popular television shows of the day. The sound quality isn’t the best so some of her vocals are drowned out by the backing instrumentation, but the power and stage presence are evident.

 

Aretha Franklin, 21 years old

Aretha was the daughter of a pastor, so to say she grew up singing in the church is an understatement. When she turned 18, she left gospel music to try her luck in the secular arena, and it was a few years before she really hit her stride. Here she is in 1963 singing “Skylark,” an old jazz standard from the 40s. It’s not the soul music she would become famous for, but the vocal talent is undeniable.

 

Patti LaBelle, 22 years old

This video of Patti LaBelle and the Bluebelles is from 1966, which means Patti has been singing “Over the Rainbow” for over 50 years. She grew this song into one of her signature iconic tunes, and all the building blocks were already there at 22.

 

Gladys Knight, 23 years old

I’ve seen this clip of Gladys Knight & The Pips singing “I Heard It Through The Grapevine” many, many times, but I always assumed she was younger because she looks so fresh and bubbly. (No really, she looks like a cheerleader on the way to a sock hop and I’m obsessed.) She was 23 in this clip, but the timbre of her voice is very much giving that of a woman twice her age.

 

Evelyn “Champagne” King, 17 years old

Speaking of timbre….close your eyes and listen to “Shame.” Evelyn was a high school student when she was overheard singing one night by a producer at Philadelphia International Records where her mother cleaned the offices. She was signed and then recorded this disco classic when she was 16 years old.

 

Whitney Houston, 20 years old

Clive Davis signed Whitney Houston in 1983, but it was a couple of years before an album came out. He recognized her talent and didn’t want to let Whitney slip through his fingers, but he took his time collecting the right material for her after she signed on the dotted line. This clip from the Merv Griffin Show was her introduction to the world, singing “Home” from The Wiz, but it was just a small glimpse at the greatness to come.

 

Mariah Carey, 21 years old

Mariah Carey’s technique isn’t quite as rooted in the gospel music of the Black church as Patti or Whitney, but that’s who she takes her cues from. These are the singers she looked up to, and it’s reflected in her delivery and ad libs. Once she freed herself from Tommy, she was able to more firmly cement herself into R&B music, but she was already a singer for real vocalists from the jump.

 

Deborah Cox, 21 years old

By the time Deborah hit it big with “Nobody’s Supposed to Be Here,” she was already 24, which is past the cut off in my mind for an ingenue with a big voice. However, her first album was released when she was 21 years old and she was already a big balladeer in the tradition of Whitney (who she would go on to portray on Broadway as well as provide the vocals for in the Lifetime biopic). I can’t find a great live clip of “Where Do We Go From Here?” but the album version is worth a listen if you’ve never heard it.

 

Tamia, 20 years old

Tamia Marilyn Washington Hill (I love her so much, y’all don’t even know!) was just 19 years old when she recorded one of my favorite ballads of all time, and she had three Grammy nominations by 21, before she even released her first album. “You Put A Move On My Heart” was originally recorded by Mica Paris (who did a bang up job), but it will forever be a Tamia classic to me.

 

KeKe Wyatt, 19 years old

There aren’t a whole lot of clips of KeKe singing live from the beginning of her career………..because she stabbed her husband and was indicted for assault right after her first album came out. It was a self-defense case and she didn’t go to jail, but she earned an unfair reputation due to the coverage. Still, she’s one of the most impressive R&B singers of our generation, because not everybody can tackle a Patti LaBelle cover. I put the album track first and then a clip of a performance from a few years ago because I feel like everybody needs to witness the breath support and control she still has after twenty years in the game (and ten kids).

 

Monica, 15 years old

Monica came on the scene at 14 with a voice that was 44. Today, she sounds exactly the way she did in 10th grade, because she always sounded like an old church lady.

 

Beyonce, 22 years old

Beyonce wasn’t my favorite singer in the first half of her career. I feel like she hit her stride vocally once she started utilizing more of the bottom half of her range. Still, she names The Clark Sisters as major influences in her singing technique, and she’s one of the last superstar holdouts from this vocal style.

 

So why aren’t the big vocalists still making waves in the industry? The ones who have this kind of talent (eg. Jazmine Sullivan) don’t hit the commercial highs of previous generations, and the talented vocalists at the top of the charts (eg. Ariana Grande) don’t have the power and delivery of the church singers we grew up with. Not to make it too simple, but I do blame modern technology and autotune.

If you were listening to a new record in 1961 and somebody sang the stuffing out of it, you know they were in the studio hitting it out of the park. It might have required a few takes, but that vocal on the record is the vocal that came out of their mouths. You looked forward to hearing that vocalist live. If you’re listening to a new record in 2021, maybe that’s how the vocalist sounds and maybe not. Maybe the final product was spliced and diced from a lot of different takes.

And maybe it’s autotune.

It’s not as important to be a good vocalist, so the music is less focused on the singer and more focused on the production (and the image). We also have a generation of listeners accustomed to hearing autotune in their music, so potentially great vocalists have gotten lazy. They don’t do it until it’s right — they do it until it’s good enough, and if the autotune is noticeable, who cares?

K. Michelle can sing her ass off. I love so much of her music including “V.S.O.P.” but I hate that you can hear the autotune. Listen to this song, which really is an example of modern soul excellence, tainted by so much autotune really from 2:40 on out.

 

 

The latest unnecessary offender comes from an unlikely source, but it’s the one currently on my mind: Candiace from the Real Housewives of Potomac. She’s released a surprisingly solid R&B single to capitalize on her reality TV popularity, but unlike other Housewives, she’s going the Serious Artist route as opposed to being a cash-grab gimmick. This song has production, the video has budget, and the singer has talent. But it also has autotune for no reason at all, because Candiace could absolutely perfect this vocal without studio help if she wanted to.

 

 

We’ve come so far past autotune being used as a necessary tool to correct bad singers that even good singers use it stylistically, which further cheapens the art of delivering a good vocal. The listeners don’t care as much about whether you can sing as long as the final product is good. So, nobody needs to grow up singing in the church anymore. Jesus had the girls hitting every note, but now they just hit some of them and pray to autotune instead.

 

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Music

Brittney Spencer is your country artist to watch in 2022.

Shoutout to Black women in country music trying to shake it up.

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One thing that will immediately make me cool on someone: When we’re talking about music and they say they listen to everything but country. They almost never have any sort of reason they can actually support. It’s just…the thing you say when you have a small minded view of an incredibly varied and popular genre of music.

If you do not know country music — that’s totally fine. I don’t really know jazz — but I enjoy it casually and I’m down for the ride with an experienced listener. But to just fullstop assert “Oh I don’t like country music.” What does that even mean?

You don’t like the song structure?
The only difference between a country ballad and an R&B ballad is some instrumentation and phrasing.

You don’t like the topics because it’s tractors and she shot my dog and drinking beer?
Well…that says more about your stereotypes about Southerners than it does about country music.

You don’t support racists and Republicans?
Well you don’t have to! Pop, hip-hop, and R&B is full of misogyny, yet you either ignore it or decide not to listen to those artists who you know to be terrible. You enjoy people’s art until you have a reason not to.

Plus! Quiet as its kept, as far as popular musicians making money, country is more consistently putting out good singers (who will sell out a concert) than any other genre. They don’t whisper and mumble and autotune. You get what you get. They can stand on a stage with just a guitar and give a show.

Country has roots in Black America just as much as any other genre. You could throw Rosetta Tharpe in the middle of any country artist’s set and it wouldn’t sound out of place.

Today we have Millennials like Kane Brown, Maren Morris, and Chris Lane who came of age during the R&B/hip-hop takeover of the 90s and you can hear that influence in the covers they choose…

…and the ballads they write.

Still, it’s hard for Black artists in country music. It’s easier for a white rapper like Eminem to find major success in rap music partly because white people buy rap albums. If every Black person in America ignored Eminem because they thought rap should belong to us, he still would’ve been a success through record sales to white people. Black country artists don’t have their skinfolk to fall back on, but we are going to support Brittney Spencer, do you hear me?!

I have already decided that we must, so tell your friends.

Brittney has three strikes against her: she’s Black, she’s not a size 2, and she’s from Baltimore. Taylor Swift is from Pennsylvania, so clearly the first two strikes are the bigger hurdle. When I was tweeting about country music I’m into currently, someone dropped her name into my mentions, and I was hooked from the first listen.

Brittney gives me so much of what I enjoy from a singer-songwriter. Authenticity, simplicity, and clarity. It’s just her and a guitar singing lyrics she wrote. So, I investigated further. She only has a handful of songs (no record deal, no album out) but if “Sober & Skinny” is any indication, this should be her breakout year. Listen to these lyrics and rejoice with me real quick.

She said “you want me to shrink, I think we should go to one” and I hollered. That is a country storyteller right there I don’t care where she came from.

Anyway, I haven’t been all that excited by a new artist in awhile. I enjoy them, but I am very much getting old and find myself looking around at some of the hype after hearing a new album like” this is what all the fuss was about?” But I am fully stanning Brittney Spencer and I wanted to share the good word.

Stan Black women in country music, period.

 

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The ANOINTED(!!!!) Britney Jean Spears

Let us rise for an extra-special performance from the Queen of Music.

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Y’all. Britney Spears is free and we are still thankful!!!! Let the church say Amen.

And let Britney Spears herself sing those praises to our Lord & Savior Jesus Herbert Christ.

Whitney Houston biopic when?! 

Tasha Cobbs Leonard is shaking you guys. Yolanda Adams has quit gospel because she cannot compete! Britney has been dabbed with the oil! How else can you explain a third Mary so seamlessly and flawlessly blending in with the definitive pop-gospel crossover of our generation.

Don’t you just wanna praise Him?! Hallujah! Ishouldaboughtahonda! Just in time for Jesus’s birthday too. A moment from a true vocalist is exactly what I needed on today.

The ANOINTED Britney Jean Pace.
The SANCTIFIED Britney Clark Sheard.
The MOST HOLY Britney Spears-Winans.

Amen.

(PS. Listen to Femme Fatale for good credit, improved muscle tone, a balanced diet, and a secondary ketamine high this season.)

 

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Christmas Music Playlists!

I’m here to get you right this season!

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It’s time!

Some of y’all (the ones with taste and home training) turn on the Christmas Music during Thanksgiving, because honestly, Thanksgiving is a bum holiday that don’t even have cute sweaters or any songs that slap. It’s just greens and football and colonialism.

Anyway!

I have not yet updated my Christmas Playlists for this year, but you can go ahead and save them and I’ll update as I listen to the new holiday releases. You should have already saved these last year but I’m feeling peaceful and generous, so I will share them again.

A Diva’s Christmas

This is for the folks who need a voice to carry the Christmas spirit. Real singers only.

As an avowed atheist, if you want me to care about some lady’s side-baby doused in frankincense, give me the message from somebody who knows what they’re doing behind the mic.

Fireplace Christmas

This is for the grown & sexy Christmas with warm mulled wine and a blanket.

It’s only about an hour and a half currently, so I need to really dig in Santa’s bag and come up with some more mood moments. Might put that on my todo list this weekend.

Ultimate Christmas Party

This is for the holiday function or the office cocktail party. Bops only!

I love all genres of music, so we’re covering the gamut from gospel to rock, country to R&B. What I don’t always love is a Christmas party where everybody is drinking and having a good time and the mood DIES because yet another maudlin version of “Silent Night” comes on. No ballads for my party, please.

Ultimate Christmas Party (Deluxe)

This is for the holiday party that needs some secular variety.

It’s the same playlist as Ultimate Christmas Party, but for every holiday song, there’s also a non-holiday hit by the same artist. I actually put this playlist on all year.

Christmas Favorites

This is my catchall Christmas playlist.

The holiday songs from all my other playlists plus other songs and instrumentals that haven’t found a theme to fit into.

So! Let me know what has come out recently that I should be listening to. I’m about to put on JoJo’s Christmas album and see what my good lightskinned cousin is bringing to the table.

 

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