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Thursday
Feb142013

What's up with R&B History

 

 

 

I hope your 2013 is going well. It’s Black History month or also known as African Ancestry month. That time when we reflect on what’s gone on before us and what we can do in the future to better it. I never would have thought back in the 70’s as a kid that not only would I be into R&B as I am but I would be doing a radio show like this one. Thanks to all of you who have tuned in! And thanks to the Are 24 radio staff!

Now that we’re in the 21st century we have to take a real look at Rhythm & Blues music. You can’t have it any better than we have now with all of the recordings that are out and interviews that have been done. Even some new books to shed light on certain R&B topics like Motown or on artists. Even great music shows like WFDU’s Christine Vitale’s Group Harmony Alley, WBGO’s Portraits in Blue or even before that The Great Ronnie I’s many shows. Of course how can I forget The Man of Action’s many shows too. These programs spotlight(ed) many artists, periods and genres in rhythm & blues. But there still seems to be a problem in telling of the correct history of rhythm and blues. The two biggest offenders are books and shows.

You may have already heard me mention it on the Rent Party. It’s a problem that needs to be dealt with.

The biggest problem or blessing with the history of R&B is that it’s so huge that no matter what the period is, that the music was regional and each region produced it’s own stars and sounds. And many of these starts never got national attention. Many of these histories on the subject leave this out. To research it is a very big task especially since some of the recordings no longer exist. But some ‘authors’ don’t even get close to the truth (and don’t care) and in my opinion embarrass themselves.

Sure the author wants to get their name out there and have a payday but in many cases they are outsiders writing my musical history and don’t care about what they write as long as they get a check and credit for something.

There are several reasons why the books are damaging to the history of R&B in what they write. The most important reason is they distort the history as to what may have been really going on. I can recite many inaccuracies found in the books but here are some of the big reasons why they are inaccurate:

  • Improper Research: How many times has an author researched a subject but it only turns out they had more homework to do. Example- Soul music started in 1956. Obviously they never listened to the music of the period (which has been available for years) and took the word of someone else because soul music starts in 1953 with The 5 Royales leading the way (Group of the year 1953). That’s a full three years and many records before James Brown recorded ‘Please, Please, Please’ (the song that’s usually cited for soul music’s beginning is actually a 5 Royales imitation). All the author has to do is listen to some records and read some books on the hits of the period (believe me they exist). Doesn’t sound too hard to me.
  • Racism: Oh yes the BIG One! It’s a fact that there are not many African American music history writers. The reason as too why has been covered in many areas of media. And since whites are writing about African music history they see it from a Euro centric point of view and with a Euro centric aesthetic. When this happens (and it has) a couple of things also happen either by omission or commission-
    1. De-Africanization of the subject: Where the author leaves out specific information about the subject to favor information that might appease white readers. Example- Group harmony singing is based on barbershop quartet singing. Really…many things happen in Black barber shops and singing isn’t one of them. Truth be told there was singing in Black colleges and let us not forget in African based churches. Most authors forget about the singing in the fields during slavery. And that was based on West African singing and not on slave interpretations of Wagner. These authors don’t do any research on African music. Because there lies the key to the puzzle. The African was stolen away from Africa but yet Africa is still in the African. Certain practices were still kept alive and singing was one of them. Jimmy Ricks wasn’t hit in the head by a cotton bale and decided he would sing with The Ravens, there were musical traditions passed down from Africa that survive here.
    2. Anglicization of the subject: Where the writers see things from a euro centric point of view which does not have any bearing on the truth. Example-Look in some of Joel Whitburn’s and Norm N. Nite’s books. Now look at the R&B acts listed; the only achievements they will lists are their pop chart hits. I’ll use the 5 Royales again as an example. They might list their pop chart hits and say nothing about their R&B achievements or how they were R&B superstars and innovators that influenced music for decades. They like many others has shortchanged the reader in essential information.
    1. Anglicization II: When the authors speak on an African musical form and add white artists as if they had something to do with the musical form. How many times has it been discussed among African American writers about how white music critics infringe upon black musical history by including others that had nothing to do with it’s advancement. Benny Goodman listened to jazz and tried to play Big Band jazz. Made his money on the sweat of African American arrangers, musicians and composers who made him famous. Yet he has nothing to do with the advancement of Big Band Jazz. Like Dion and the Belmonts, The Beatles and Elvis Presley had nothing to do with rhythm and blues history other than they might have liked it and may have listened to it.

 

This may sound heavy to some people but I say “Tough”. This society still has not recognized the achievements and contributions of brown skinned people in it. So it must start to learn now with the truth. And part of that truth is it does appear that the authors have misrepresented rhythm and blues history, as I said before either by omission or commission but it has been done. And I haven’t seen them try to clean it up.

It’s like they could really care less, that they are sending the message loud and clear that “It’s just Black history and doesn’t really matter. They don’t really matter because we do not see them as human. Just as long as they keep singing and playing that’s fine for us.”

It’s not like this message hasn’t been sent out before. Check your history because it has been said before in one way or another.

Here in the New York City area the local oldies station WCBS-FM had that attitude and approach. Ronnie I had mentioned it on his shows many times. That station has a disregard for telling the truth about African American music and it showed in the programming. But if you don’t really know what the histories are then you would never know the difference. And many of these so-called writers should be ashamed of themselves for damaging something they claim they love and enjoy.

And that leads me to the radio programs. Now I’m not talking about the programmed ones on your local radio station. I could go on about those forever but I’m talking about the “specialty” shows you know the “Doo Wop Shop” or the “Golden Oldies Time” shows that are on the radio and internet radio.

Here in many cases you have hosts who lead you to believe that they know about the music but in fact they really don’t (like the programmed show hosts). They might have read one of the ‘history’ books (most really don’t because the liner notes are enough) or the truth is in most cases repeat stories they have heard as if they were gospel. No research is involved and listeners are short changed in the process. And you can have entertainment and education at the same time.

Many of these shows are knock offs of shows they have heard and liked before (and if that show was bad guess what you get?) with the same music and same stories. Why don’t the hosts take the time to learn a little something about the music they’re playing?

They’ll continue to tell you that The Marvelettes gave the Supremes “Where Did our Love go” because they felt sorry for them, that no African American artist had their picture on an album cover before 1965, Detroit had no musical artists before Motown and they’ll lead you to believe that Bo Diddley sang two or three songs because that’s all they play.

It’s bad enough to have a mediocre show but to constantly give out bad information is even worse when they could have done a little reading on their own.

Another peeve is they only play one kind of music as a representation of African American music. That’s because they have distorted the definition of the music to the point of it not making sense. And that plays into the racism involved in the music.

Take a look at the doo-wop or group harmony communities. Ask them the big question… What is doo-wop or group harmony singing? Then when they give you the beginning of a distorted answer about how it’s the music of 50’s and early 60’s and they tell you about the artists like The Orioles, The Harptones& The Cadillacs. Then ask them why not The Midnighters (Hank Ballard & crew), The Du Droppers, The Miracles or Impressions? They’ll tell you it’s different. Different??? They’re all groups who harmonize from the same time period from the same cultural communities but somehow they became different. What is different is that the groups they choose to recognize groups that are palatable to their Euro centric tastes and leave out the groups who have a “rough or raw sound”. You know the code words for “They sound Black.”

How foolish do you sound when you realize that they have the same musical cultural practices, discriminated against for the color of their skin together and their communities gave their musical tradition a name, now an outsider comes in, and tries to change the genre because it doesn’t meet up to their so called superior aesthetic. Then after that they attempt to Anglicize the movement in the process. Again some research and self-honesty is needed here.

And don’t let me get started on the White radio hosts who try to co-opt Black music. I’ll save that for another time.

The R&B history situation appears to be in the same shape Egyptology is in. That field had lied for so long about Kemet (the original name of Egypt) and whom the Kemetians are that they now have to go back and change what they had written for over one hundred years or so. From the fact that the people of Kemet were actually Black or Sub Saharan Africans (another silly term that is not factual) to the real impact that kingdom had on everything from philosophy, math, science, religion and language in the Western world. This originally came about due to racism in the field.

Looks like the same thing is happening here in R&B but it can be changed because unlike the Kemetian situation most of the texts are at our disposal and we have the recordings to listen to and most important there are people who were there who can tell us (we just need to ask the right questions).

These are some of the issues with R&B’s history but the most important ones. Racism, lack of research and ignorance of subject is hindering the truth from getting out.

The fakers should put the pen down and/or step away from the microphone.

I bet after reading this most of you didn’t know the history of R&B was in trouble? Or what the truth about the whole movement may be, but we can gather from the records involved and knowledge we have of some the artists that; R&B didn’t just happen in six major cites only (you’d be shocked to find out what Cincinnati has to do with it), it wasn’t done for a 20 year period and only one type of music was created.

 There was a lot going on with a lot of people involved in it. The movement spans from Africa to the Caribbean to the United States (the Trans Atlantic Slave Trade) over a 400-year period. And even if you wanted to just keep the time period to the 20th century the trail is still the same.

You have many fun roads to travel on this journey of information but I wish many more would travel on them instead of taking the road to Ignorance. Because if you’re going to be stupid, keep it to yourself.

 

References (4)

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    What's up with R&B History - ...Rent Party - Area 24 Radio : Handmade. Freeform. Worldwide
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    What's up with R&B History - ...Rent Party - Area 24 Radio : Handmade. Freeform. Worldwide
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    Response: zub66.ru
    What's up with R&B History - ...Rent Party - Area 24 Radio : Handmade. Freeform. Worldwide
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    Response: New Balance
    What's up with R&B History - ...Rent Party - Area 24 Radio : Handmade. Freeform. Worldwide

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