June 18, 2009
Every February, we recognize and appreciate black history, but every day a part of our culture is steady slipping away and we appear to just let it happen. I am speaking of soul music. The tradition of soul or rhythm and blues music as we know it could die out completely on radio stations that employ programmers who do not know the importance of black music, or just don't care in this hip-hop oriented society.
While most radio stations directed to the African American market consider themselves servicing the best R&B and hip-hop, the artists reflects music directed to teens and young adults only. The top rated songs on the Billboard R&B/Soul and blues chart features Keri Hilson and Kanye West. They are certainly not what the average black music fan would consider R&B. Not even Shirley Brown with a hit on the southern blues charts made in it into the top 50 on Billboard while Jamie Foxx has three entries. How do the programmers now define R&B? Are Shirley Brown, Renee Smith, Barbara Carr, Otis Clay, Uvee Hayes, Willie Clayton and Latimore too black for black stations?
Soon, this music and these performers will be just a memory to the black community and become a stepchild of the genre such as the blues has become. You are witnessing the death of soul music. The recording industry is increasingly turning to young artists, ranging from Beyonce to Lil Kim to Jenifer Hudson and ignoring the true, dedicated soul artists that paved the way. Denise LaSalle, Lee Shot Williams, Mel Waiters, Marvin Sease and other soul artists must fight for the few spots offered by the southern blues and soul stations in small to medium markets to hope for any recognition, personal appearances or CD sales.
Some of our major urban cities including Atlanta, Memphis and Chicago are abandoning the artists that made their stations so powerful. St. Louis does not have a soul station after the format change at WESL. Except for KDHX you probably won’t be hearing much T. Bone Walker, Guitar Slim, Chuck Strong, Floyd Taylor, Sonny Boy Williamson, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Howlin' Wolf, Elmore James or Otis Spann.
From 1915 to 1929, great waves of blacks migrated from the south to the north. Memphis, St. Louis and Chicago greeted them with jobs in factories, stockyards and mailrooms and they depended on the black newspapers for information and the church or Juke joints for religious or social activities. In the '40s and '50s the personality black disc jockeys appeared and the focus of black life turned to the radio and black people were enlightened and entertained and informed by their social groups and equals.
The June 2000 edition of Ebony magazine stated 'for four centuries, from the arrival of the first Blacks in English America in 1619 to the hip-hops of the Millennium, African-Americans have dominated American music and dance. Black music, in fact, is America's only original music, and the Spirituals-Blues-Jazz-Gospel-Charleston-Twist-Hip Hop gift is the foundation not only of rhythm and blues but also of Broadway, the Grammys and Elvis et al.'
Now, we have virtually nothing, and that what we do have we don't own. There is no commitment and perhaps no future for the African American soul artist. Some believe that images and concepts portrayed in Hip Hop and Rap music are eroding values in the Black community. The music industry is dying because were are losing or abandoning the oral tradition of folk sermon, spirituals, blues, ballad, while succumbing to rap and hip hop. Johnnie Taylor, "Little" Johnnie Taylor, KoKo Taylor, Little Milton, Oliver Sain, Ike Turner, Minnie Ripperton, Tyrone Davis, Luther Ingram, Otis Reading, Rufus Thomas and others made these radio stations the powers they have become, and their place on American music must not be underestimated.
These African-American men and women dedicated their lives to making this art. We must at least attempt to keep the music alive.
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