Happy Birthday Teena Marie

 Image courtesy of the That Grape Juice site.

Music is meant to inspire/To elevate you and to take you higher/Like the prophets spoke words to my soul/Letters of love like silver and gold/…Sign myself to you forever. ~ Teena Marie, “Luv Letter,” Beautiful (2013) 

I spent countless days spinning Teena Marie LPs as a child.  Funny how not much has changed even as an adult.  Her performances on songs like “Cassanova Brown,” “Shadow Boxing,” “Portuguese Love,” “Deja Vu (I’ve Been Here Before)” and “If I Were A Bell” held me captive.  Her sophisticated funk on “Square Biz,” “Lovergirl,” “Playboy,” “Midnight Magnet,” “It Must Be Magic,” and “Behind The Groove” rocked me deeply.  There was something about her that was so special and unique, that it emanated from every note she wrote, played, and sang.  You could feel her soul in each musical thread from 1979’s “Wild and Peaceful” to 2013’s “Beautiful” (her final studio album).  These threads wove a beautiful tapestry that will live on beyond her years.

Her artistry is/was amazing.  Known as the “Ivory Queen Of Soul,” her music, with its poetic lyricism, encompassed so many genres—R&B/Soul, Funk, Hip-Hop, Latin, Jazz.  It transcended categorization and race.  If her mission was to bring people together with her gifts, she accomplished it quite well.

Inspired by Smokey Robinson, Al Green, Aretha Franklin,  “Sarah Vaughan, Johann Sebastian Bach, Shakespeare, Maya Angelou, and Nikki Giovanni just to name a few,” Lady Tee’s music was as diverse as her inspirations.  If you listen to her catalog, you’ll hear that she placed no limits on herself or her music.  She went where the spirit moved her.  In a career that spanned over 30 years, the progression was astounding.

While Motown was not initially on board with giving Teena Marie complete creative control, they changed their tune after two successful albums produced by Rick James, Wild and Peaceful (1979), and Richard Rudolph, Lady T (1980).  Marie wrote, produced, and arranged her third and fourth studio albums, Irons In The Fire (1980) and It Must Be Magic (1981).  These albums are regarded as some of her best work, and featured the hit singles “I Need Your Lovin'” (her first top 40 hit), “Young Love,” “Square Biz” (one of the first songs to bring hip-hop to the forefront by melding it with contemporary R&B/Soul music), “It Must Be Magic,” and “Portuguese Love.”  Legal disputes with Motown would later hinder Marie from releasing music.  A lawsuit ensued, resulting in the creation of “The Brockert Initiative,” which made it illegal for record labels to withhold releasing music from their artists while still under contract.

Marie would later leave Motown for Epic Records, where she would go on to release five studio albums—Robbery (1983), Starchild (1984), Emerald City (1986), Naked to the World (1988), and Ivory (1990).  It was with Epic that Marie would achieve her greatest commercial and crossover success, with her platinum-selling Starchild album and its lead single “Lovergirl” (#9 R&B/#4 Pop/#6 Dance).  Naked to the World featured her biggest R&B single “Ooh La La La” (#1), a song that would later be sampled on The Fugees’ 1996 hit single “Fu-Gee-La” (from The Score).  Her final Epic release Ivory, featured the R&B hits “If I Were A Bell” (#8) and “Here’s Looking At You” (#11).  

 Image courtesy of Last.fm

In 1994, Marie independently released the fan-favorite Passion Play on her Sarai Records label.  Though she continued to perform, she devoted most of her time to raising her daughter Alia Rose, a singer and songwriter in her own right known as Rose La Beau (featured on Marie’s Sapphire, Congo Square, and Beautiful albums).  It would be 10 years before releasing her next studio album.

Marie later signed with the Cash Money Classics label, and released two stellar albums, 2004’s La Dona and 2006’s Sapphire.  The gold-selling La Dona was her highest charting album on the Billboard 200 (#6), and featured the Grammy-nominated single “Still In Love” (#23 R&B/#70 Pop) and the sultry, Quiet Storm jam “A Rose By Any Other Name,” featuring the late great Gerald Levert (#53 R&B).  Sapphire featured “You Blow Me Away,” a tribute to Rick James, two duets with Smokey Robinson “God Has Created” and “Cruise Control,” a tribute to Hurricane Katrina victims “Resilient (Sapphire),” and the funky, mellow-smooth lead single, “Ooh Wee” (#32 R&B).

Image courtesy of the Soulbounce site.

Marie’s final studio albums 2009’s Congo Square and 2013’s Beautiful (released posthumously) are arguably two of the finest and most accomplished efforts of her career.  Congo Square featured collaborations with George Duke, Howard Hewett, Shirley Murdock, MC Lyte, Faith Evans, and Rose La Beau (to name a few).  When discussing Congo Square in an interview with Blues & Soul magazine, Marie said,

I wanted to do songs that reflected the things that I loved when I was growing up. Every single song on the record is dedicated to someone, or some musical giant that I loved. ‘The Pressure’ is dedicated to Rick James; ‘Can’t Last a Day’ is dedicated to the Gamble & Huff sound – the Philly International sound. Then ‘Baby I Love You’ and ‘Ear Candy’ are dedicated to Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield – with memories of riding down Crenshaw in LA in jeeps and bumping to music on the 808. While ‘Miss Coretta’ is, of course, dedicated to Mrs. Coretta Scott King, the late wife of Martin Luther King. ‘Solder’ is for the soldiers. ‘Congo Square’ is for Congo Square – it’s for the slaves and the great musical geniuses and giants that have come out of new Orleans, and the great Jazz era. And Louis Armstrong…

Beautiful, the album Marie was working on prior to her passing, is everything the its title implies.  It’s practically a perfect artistic depiction of who she was—an amazing woman and mother, and a versatile, passionate, soulful, ever-changing, multi-talented singer, songwriter, musician, arranger, and producer.  She was a musical genius.

Though she didn’t always get the kudos she deserved from the mainstream, Lady Tee will always be regarded by fans, musicians, and contemporary R&B/soul critics alike as one of the best to ever do it.  Here’s to you Teena Marie! The Tee lives on!

   

Related Post:
“Beautiful,” Teena Marie’s Final Album To Be Released 1/15/2013

80’s Albums That Changed My Life (Part 1)

There’s something about the music of my childhood that continues to influence, shape, and inspire me.  As a child who grew up during the 80s and 90s, I have to admit that the music touched me in ways much deeper than a lot today’s music.  Artists seemed to be more motivated by making music that moved them and that meant something.  They weren’t so much moved by formulas and record sales.  The motivation was their love of music and using their art in innovative ways to share their universal experiences with the world.

For the next few months, I’d like to share some of the albums that changed my life.  The first series of posts will focus on albums from the 80s.  Maybe some of these albums will be favorites of yours too.

Cherrelle – High Priority (1985)

Cherrelle teamed up again with the legendary producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis on High Priority, the follow-up to her successful debut album Fragile (1984).  Their undeniable chemistry, just like with the SOS Band, Janet Jackson, New Edition, Mariah Carey, and Yolanda Adams (to name a few), would generate another bona fide smash in High Priority.  Cherrelle gets down on funky tunes like “You Look Good To Me” (#26 R&B) and “Oh No It’s U Again” (#5 Dance), the sexy mid-tempo groove “Will You Satisfy?,” and the infectious, pulsating “Artificial Heart” (#18 R&B/#5 Dance).  Other notable tunes include the old-school ballad “Where Do I Run To?” (which Cherrelle co-wrote) and the mega-hit, classic duet with Alexander O’Neal “Saturday Love” (#2 R&B/#26 Pop/#13 Dance).  High Priority is memorable not only for its catchy tunes, top-notch production, and Minneapolis-inspired sound, but also because of Cherrelle’s spirited, distinctive performance.  Her sassy yet sweet musical persona is one that fans simply couldn’t resist.  High Priority is easily one of the best R&B albums of the 80s.

Vesta Williams – Vesta 4 U (1988)

If you didn’t know it when you heard her debut album Vesta (1986), then you knew with Vesta 4 U that Vesta could SANG! Vesta 4 U showcased a powerhouse singer-songwriter who could tackle anything, bluesy numbers like “Best I Ever Had,” funky uptempo tracks like “Here Say” and “How You Feel,” sensual slow jams like “Hunger,” and power ballads like “Running Into Memories” and “Make It With You.” She had the type of voice that made you feel everything she was singing.  That’s one of many reasons why she resonated so well with fans, especially on her classic, signature ballads like “Congratulations” and “Sweet Sweet Love.”  With its endearing vignettes and interludes, Vesta 4 U also highlighted Vesta’s commendable dramatic and comedic acting chops.  She was an all-around entertainer.  Vesta 4 U would prove to be one of her most successful albums, with 4 R&B hits “Sweet Sweet Love” (#4 R&B), “Congratulations” (#5 R&B/#55 Pop), “4U” (#9 R&B), and “How You Feel” (#70 R&B).  Vesta 4 U is arguably one of the best R&B albums of the 80s and one the best albums of Vesta’s career.

Janet Jackson – Control (1986)

Singer, songwriter, dancer, actress, and producer Janet Jackson stepped completely out of her family’s shadow and became one of the most influential (and successful) entertainers in music history with her third studio album Control.  A breakthrough personally, musically, and artistically, Control served as a testament of Ms. Jackson’s independence, perseverance amidst personal struggles, pride, and self-actualization. With its ingenious mix of R&B/Soul, funk, hip-hop, pop, and dance music and its innovative use of digital instrumentation, Jackson, Jimmy Jam, and Terry Lewis ushered in “the sound” of contemporary R&B music in the 80s and laid the groundwork for what would become New Jack Swing (and later Hip Hop Soul).  A major crossover success, Control went on to sell over five million copies in the States and over 14 million copies worldwide.  The album produced several enduring hits, “What Have You Done For Me Lately” (#1 R&B/#4 Pop/#2 Dance), “Nasty” (#1 R&B/#3 Pop/#2 Dance), “When I Think Of You” (#3 R&B/#1 Pop/#1 Dance), “Control” (#1 R&B/#5 Pop/#1 Dance),  “Let’s Wait Awhile” (#1 R&B/#2 Pop) and “The Pleasure Principle” (#1 R&B/#14 Pop), and made Jackson the first female artist to chart six top 40 hits from one album on the Billboard 100.  Control has been regarded as one of the best albums of all-time. 

Michael Jackson – Bad (1987)

Fans and critics alike were waiting anxiously to see how Michael Jackson would follow-up such a monster, game-changing, mega-selling album like Thriller (1982). Well, Jackson didn’t disappoint with Bad, his seventh studio album.  Coming with a harder edge in sound, style, and image, Bad was another artistic triumph.  Teaming again with the iconic Quincy Jones, Jackson delivered an innovative set of tunes which, like Thriller, effortlessly blended R&B/Soul, rock, funk, and pop.  Jackson took even more creative control over the direction of his music, writing nine of the album’s 11 tunes and serving as the album’s co-producer.  Sonically and visually, Jackson solidified himself as one of the most extraordinary, creative, and visionary forces in the entertainment industry.  Bad produced several hit singles, “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You” w/ Siedah Garrett (#1 R&B/#1 Pop) “Bad”(#1 R&B/ #1 Pop/#1 Dance), “The Way You Make Me Feel” (#1 R&B/#1 Pop/#1 Dance), “Dirty Diana” (#8 R&B/#1 Pop), “Man In The Mirror” (#1 Pop), “Another Part Of Me” (#1 R&B/#11 Pop), and “Smooth Criminal” (#2 R&B/#7 Pop/#10 Dance).  Jackson became the first artist to garner five No. 1 singles from one album on the Billboard 100.  Going on to sell over eight million copies in the States and over 30 millions copies worldwide, Bad has been cast on numerous lists as one of the best albums ever released.  

Phyllis Hyman – Living All Alone (1986)

It would be three years between the release of Goddess of Love (1983), Phyllis Hyman’s sixth studio album (and final album for Arista Records), and her seventh studio album Living All Alone (her first release on Philadelphia International Records–PIR).  Hyman joined forces with legendary Philly Soul producers Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff for what many consider one of her finest albums.  Full of soulful contemporary R&B and jazz-oriented torch songs, Hyman provides a passionate soundtrack to love, loss, hope, faith, and resilience.  While somewhat melancholy and somber in tone, Living All Alone–like much of her music–paints a realistic, relatable picture of life, love, and relationships.  You couldn’t turn on urban adult contemporary radio between 1986-1987 without hearing “You Just Don’t Know,” “Ain’t You Had Enough Love” (#29 R&B), and her signature tunes “Old Friend” (#14 R&B), and “Living All Alone” (#12 R&B).  Hyman’s vocal performances are stellar and serve as further proof of her status as one of the most revered vocalists and performers of all-time.  After 27 years, Living All Alone remains a contemporary R&B/soul mainstay.

Whitney Houston – Whitney Houston (1985)

Whitney Houston’s self-titled debut album was a monumental, global crossover success.  It was a success I’m sure, even in 1985-1986, that was uncommon for a black female artist–especially in the early stages of her career.  Houston broke barriers and paved the way for many singers, like Mariah Carey, Mary J. Blige, Toni Braxton, Deborah Cox, Brandy, Monica, and Melanie Fiona.  Whitney Houston was the world’s introduction to “The Voice.” Houston’s voice was rich, sensual, angelic, soulful, melismatic, and powerful.  An instrument of such effortless control, wonder, and emotive, interpretive skills, her voice put her in a class all her own.  She delighted on uptempo dance tracks like “How Will I Know (#1 R&B/#1 Pop/#3 Dance)” and “Thinking About You” (#10 R&B) sexy, soulful grooves like “You Give Good Love” (#1 R&B/#3 Pop), inspirational tunes like “Greatest Love Of All” (#2 R&B/#1 Pop) and spine-tingling ballads like “All At Once,” and “Saving All My Love For You” (#1 R&B/#1 Pop).  Whitney Houston went on to become one of the most successful debut albums by a female artist in history.  Spending 14 weeks at No. 1 (Billboard 200) and spawning three consecutive No. 1 singles (Billboard Hot 100) — “Saving All My Love For You,” “How Will I Know,” and “Greatest Love Of All,” Whitney Houston was the first debut album and first album by a female artist to accomplish such a feat.  Selling over 13 million copies in the States and over 25 million copies worldwide, Whitney Houston is regarded as one of the best albums of all-time.

Jody Watley – Larger Than Life (1989)

Jody Watley has always been a trendsetter, whether it be in fashion, dance, music, or videos.  Never one to rest on her laurels, Watley continuously challenges herself and strives to take her artistic vision and expression to new heights.  Larger Than Life, the follow-up to her solo debut album Jody Watley (1987), proved to be no exception.  Reuniting with producer Andre Cymone, Watley co-wrote and produced 11 of the album’s 12 tunes.  Larger Than Life incorporates a hypnotic blend of R&B/Soul, dance, funk, Latin, pop, and hip-hop music.  Watley serves up her A-game with sassy, funky, aggressive  (almost industrial-sounding) tracks like “Once You Leave,” “What ‘Cha Gonna Do For Me,” “L.O.V.E.R.” and “Real Love” (#1 R&B/#2 Pop/#1 Dance), New Jack Swing tracks like “Friends” Featuring Eric B. & Rakim (#3 R&B/#9 Pop/#7 Dance), and passionate, sparse ballads like “Everything” (#3 R&B/#4 Pop/#11 AC), “Only You,” and the beautiful, Latin-tinged “Precious Love” (#51 R&B/#87 Pop).  Watley’s influential single “Friends” is most notable for being the “first multi-format crossover hit to introduce and pair the custom and specialized 16 bar verse with a rapper and singer in Pop music in 1989” (Jody Watley’s Bio)And Watley’s video for “Real Love,” directed by David Fincher, received seven MTV Music Video Award nominations, making it then one of the most nominated videos in history.  Larger Than Life went gold in the States and sold over four million copies worldwide.  Larger Than Life is one of Watley’s top albums and is one of the best albums from the late 80s.

Related Posts:
Running Into Memories: A Tribute to Vesta Williams (1957-2011)
Vesta Williams’ Final Album, Seven, Set for March 2013 Release
All 4 Janet.
Day 91: Happy Birthday Michael Joseph Jackson
The P/H Factor – Phyllis Hyman: Tribute to a Sophisticated Lady
Day 66 – Happy Birthday Phyllis Hyman!
Day 71: Nothin’ But Love For Whitney Houston
Jody Watley is Still a Thrill

Influences: Billie Holiday “Lady Day”

I had to be about 11 or 12 when I discovered the the Original Decca Masters Billie Holiday compilation album. My mother and I were at my grandmother’s house for the weekend. I was on the search for some good music. For this, I could always depend on my grandmother’s collection of cassette tapes, LPs and CDs.  She had music from the 1930s up to present day. Around this time I was really digging jazz. Much to my delight, I came across this Billie Holiday album. I remember my mouth was agape upon seeing the album cover. I was floored by Billie Holiday’s beauty. She had to be one of the most stunning women I’d ever seen. Couldn’t say I’d heard (or remembered hearing) much of her music at the time. So you know I was dying to put the CD in for a spin. I don’t think anything could’ve prepared me for the experience.

Image courtesy of MTV’s website.

The Original Decca Masters album changed my life. After one listening, my whole perspective about music had changed. My appreciation and love for music grew exponentially. As a music fanatic, singer, and lyricist (even then), it widened my interests and expanded my knowledge. After hearing Billie Holiday’s voice I knew why she was considered one of the best vocalists ever. The timbre of her voice, the way she’d bend notes and sing behind the beat, her sense of rhythm, swing, timing and phrasing–she had it all (and then some). In her voice I could hear the influences of her favorite singers, Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong and Bessie Smith. Yet her style was extraordinarily distinct. From her (and a few other vocalists), I learned how to truly get inside of a song and make it believable. With Billie Holiday, there was no doubt that she knew what she was singing about. She felt it. And you, as a listener, couldn’t help but feel it too.

Image courtesy of the More Than Just Wine blog.

In remembering Billie Holiday and her voice, singer Annie Ross said, “There’s a whole life in that voice.” Listen to songs like “Solitude,” “You’re My Thrill,” “Good Bless The Child,” “Keeps On Rainin’,” “Ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do,” “Lover Man (Where Can He Be),” and “Good Morning Heartache” and that life unveils itself. In fact, you’ll be able to glean something new and different each time you listen to her music. This is why Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan (amongst others) remain the blueprint for song (of any genre), period.

Image courtesy of A Liberal’s Libretto site.

After hearing the Original Decca Masters album, I devoured as much as I could about Billie Holiday. Books, documentaries, videos, music, you name it. She was one of the best and I committed myself to learning as much about her as I could. I thought it sad her passing so early. But the richness of the legacy she left behind is eternal. Her influence is limitless, boundless. Billie Holiday will forever be one of my favorite vocalists.

Jody Watley is Still a Thrill

Image courtesy of the Lucy Who site.
I have always been reinventing myself…I like to challenge myself and keep it interesting. I like evolution. It is part of my journey as an artist. ~ Jody Watley, 2012, More Magazine
I cannot recall when I first heard Jody Watley’s music. But I know that I’ve been a fan nearly all my life. There’s something about Watley that’s always moved and fascinated me. She’s a multi-talented, intelligent, knockout beauty who’s always been at the top of her game. Whether it was dancing on Soul Train, being an original member of Shalamar, or being a solo artist, Watley has always stood out from the rest as a trailblazing, trendsetting phenom in music, video, style, fashion, and dance.
Watley was never one to follow the pack. She charted a path that has consistently set her apart from her peers and the musical trends of the day. You can play each of Watley’s albums in succession and be astounded by the freshness, uniqueness, passion, and most importantly, the artistic growth. She gets better with each project. Easily fusing and moving between the lines of pop, r&b/soul, funk, jazz, dance, and electronica, she continues to defy categorization.
Image courtesy of Jody Watley’s Tumblr.
Watley’s art has been fueled by substance, innovation, and evolution, not by record sales. She’s also been involved in every aspect of her career. I remember being even more inspired by Watley after discovering her fifth studio album Affection (and subsequent albums Saturday Night Experience, Midnight Lounge, and The Makeover) was released on her own label Avitone Recordings (in 1995). Leaving the major record label system behind, Watley had even greater control over the direction of her career. Ever the pioneer, Watley was one of the first artists to (successfully) cross-market music and fashion (via celebrity campaign ads and appearances in several high-profile fashion magazines), the first African American woman (and musician) to release a million-selling video (1990’s Dance To Fitness), and the first African American to play Rizzo in the musical Grease on Broadway (in 1995).
The cover of Jody Watley’s 1987 self-titled debut solo album.

I’m not a trained dancer, singer nor writer – I do them all from my soul with my own distinct feel and style much like an improvisational jazz musician. There is a joy in dancing no matter the style. I’ve always loved it and always will – watching and doing. ~ Jody Watley, 2012, JodyWatley.net

There’s no denying how dynamic Watley is as a performer. All of the elements—music, style, fashion, and dance—come together in a way that is extraordinarily effortless. Even from her days on Soul Train—from her fashion sense to her dancing—she just had it. Speaking of her dancing, I have a running joke with friend and author Trent Jackson that Watley’s been voguing since 1978 (see Watley doing a waacking freestyle dance). This joke grew out of my frustration that she (and other artists) didn’t (always) seem to get credit for pushing the creative boundaries of music, video, dance, and fashion (as the praise always seemed to go to other artists of the day). Judging from recent accolades, appearances, and media features, the praise is coming back around.

Image courtesy of the Living Legends Music site.

With her recent collaboration on French Horn Rebellion’s single “Cold Enough,” the forthcoming release of “Nightlife” (featuring Gerald Brown, formerly lead singer of Shalamar), the first single from her tenth studio album Paradise, and appearances on the Soul Train Cruise and the Essence Music Festival, 2013 is destined to be a major year for Jody Watley. And it should be. So here’s to Jody Watley…still a thrill after all these years!

Jody Watley Albums: Jody Watley (1987), Larger Than Life (1989), Affairs Of The Heart (1991), Intimacy (1993), Affection (1995), Flower (1998), Saturday Night Experience, Vol. 1 (1999), Midnight Lounge (2001), and The Makeover (2006).

Miguel, A Maestro Adored

Miguel Live at The Howard Theatre (DC). Photo by Victoria Ford/Sneakshot via The Couch Sessions site.
Miguel is an artist, visionary, and innovator.  He’s one of the most promising talents to come along in quite some time.  With two albums and several mixtapes, he’s started what could be called a movement…A movement that brings the focus back to talent, style with substance, and entertainment the old fashioned way.  Back in the day, you had to be able to put on a great showwhether you had a hit song or album out or not.  You had to know how to keep your audience entertained.  That’s how you kept working.  After seeing Miguel live at The Howard Theatre (in DC) at the end of September (as part of his Kaleidoscope Dream Tour), it’s without question that he more than knows how to keep his audience entertained.  
While being pegged as an R&B artist, there’s more to Miguel music than that.  If anything, his music is a fusion of many different styles and genres of music.  It’s contemporary, futuristic, psychedelic, and old-school.  It’s R&B/Soul, Hip Hop, Rock, Pop, Funk, and Electronic.  Hence, his aptly titled second album Kaleidoscope Dream.  Miguel’s well-crafted, authentic, soulful music always seems to get at you.  His latest No. 1 R&B single “Adorn” is solid proof of that.  The heartfelt emotion in the lyrics and his vocal performance are what make it so affecting and so effective.  It’s simply one of the best R&B songshell, it’s one of the best written songs in contemporary music today (PERIOD).
With the stage presence as potent as the greats before him (Prince, Michael Jackson, David Bowie, Freddie Mercury, Sam Cooke), Miguel captures your attention instantly.  He doesn’t have to utter a word…A simple gesture and the crowd goes wild.  Now that’s what you call impact, power, and love.  With awe-inspiring creativity, endless style, hypnotic showmanship, and an emotive, supple voice, Miguel is a beast.  After seeing, experiencing really, Miguel live know that I am without a doubt a fan for life.  
One can only wonder how he’ll continue to push the boundaries of contemporary music and performance forward.  The sonic masterpiece that is Kaleidoscope Dream is sign enough that there’s much more in store from this maestro.

Vesta Williams’ Final Album, Seven, Set for March 2013 Release

Image courtesy of the Urban Bridgez site.
Good news for all Vesta Williams:  Her final album, Seven, will be released in March 2013! According to SoulTracks, Urban Bridgez, and Radio Facts, the official release date for Seven is March 26, 2013 via Stimuli Music/Bronx Bridge Entertainment.  Seven, executive produced by Edwin Nicholas, Devon V. Collins and Kahlil I. Pedizisai, features her new single “Better Days.”  The single was officially released October 21, 2012 and is available on iTunes and Amazon.  
Vesta Williams was a multi-talented singer, songwriter, actress, and comedienne whose solo career spanned over 25 years.  Prior to her passing on September 22, 2011, Vesta released six albums.  Some of her most popular tunes include “Once Bitten Twice Shy,” “Don’t Blow A Good Thing,” “Sweet Sweet Love,” “Congratulations,” and “Special.”
Troubles on my heart/Things falling apart/The fight in me was slowly dying/But never did I give up trying/To find my moment to shine. ~ Vesta Williams, “Better Days” (2012) 
Vesta’s latest single is an inspirational, mid-tempo track that lives comfortably between R&B/Soul and Contemporary Jazz.  Vesta’s voice is warm, endearing, passionate, and angelic.  She (re)assures us that no matter what we’re going through, everything will get better.  Considering the struggles many of us are facing today, these are words we need to hear.
Even though Vesta has passed on, “Better Days” (and the forthcoming album I’m sure) is proof that her legacy will encourage, inspire, and move us forever.  (Check “Better Days” out on YouTube.)
Be sure to purchase a copy of Vesta’s “Better Days” today and request it from your local Urban, Urban AC, and Contemporary Jazz radio stations.  And don’t forget to pre-order/purchase your copy of Seven as soon as it’s available.
Related Post:

Brandy’s "Two Eleven" is a Smash

It’s official… Brandy’s sixth studio album, Two Eleven, is a smash!  Her latest effort debuted at No. 3 on Billboard’s Top 200 Albums chart and No. 1 on the R&B/Hip-Hop Albums chart, selling nearly 65,000 copies in it’s first week.  Two Eleven is Brandy’s fourth album to debut in the top ten on the Billboard Top 200 Albums chart.  And Brandy’s first single “Put It Down” (featuring Chris Brown) became her first Top Five song on Billboard’s R&B/Hip-Hop Singles chart since “What About Us?” in 2002.  This is confirmation that Brandy has comeback in a major way.

As exemplified on Two Eleven, Brandy has come into her own as a woman and an artist.  She did what some would call a revolutionary act in modern musicshe made an unadulterated R&B album.  While several of today’s biggest writers and producers (Warryn Campbell, Mario Winans, Mike City, Rico Love, Bangladesh, Sean Garrett, Tha Bizness, Danja, Switch, Jim Jonsin, and Frank Ocean) are featured on the album, the sound and style is thankfully not representative of the electro-dance-pop oriented music that is so prevalent with many of Brandy’s R&B contemporaries.  Instead, Two Eleven harks back to the feelgood R&B music of the 90s yet is resoundingly fresh (as heard on songs like “Wildest Dreams,” “Wish Your Love Away,” “No Such Thing As Too Late,” and “Do You Know What You Have”).

Image courtesy of Brandy’s site.

It’s hard not to get caught up into Brandy’s rich, soulful voice while listening to Two Eleven.  Clearly, Brandy is happy and in loveher voice embodies it.  Esthero, another one of today’s best singer-songwriters, said, “If god could sing – she’d sound like Brandy.”  This is a testament to the beautiful instrument Brandy continues to bless us with.  The growth and maturity of her expansive voice is astounding (just listen to “Hardly Breathing,” “Without You,” and “Paint This House”).  Without any doubt, she is one of the best of singers in the gamePERIOD. 

Brandy’s recent success may comes as a surprise to those who may have written her off after 2004’s Afrodisiac and 2008’s Human.  However, it’s only a reminder of Brandy’s resilience and her influence.  After nearly 20 years in the industry, she’s still making music that moves people and she’s doing it her way.  As one of her longtime Starz, I have high hopes for the Two Eleven era and happily anticipate what Brandy does in the future.

If you haven’t already, pick up a copy of one of 2012’s best releases:  Brandy – Two Eleven  (Standard | Deluxe).

101 Days Project: Music Tributes & Reviews

As those who read my blog know, music has always played an immense role in my life.  I feel irregular when I don’t hear it, feel it, sing along to it, or speak about it.  The 101 Days Project has given me the opportunity to write about music on a more consistent basis.  I’ve written a series of tributes/homages and reviews of artists I feel are/were representations of artistry at its best… Artists whose contributions to music come from a place that’s so much deeper than what you hear and see on the surface… Artists who touch your heart and soul and can move you with a single line, a simple movement or gesture, or the slightest bend or shade of a note.  I truly believe music is the universal language of life (and love is the nourishment our lifeforce needs to survive).  I plan to share more about my love of music and those who I feel are using it not only to make us groove but to bring us together and tell our stories. 

Check out the following music tributes and reviews featured in the 101 Days Project:

  1. (Day 78) Donna Summer – Tribute to a Bad Girl
  2. (Day 71) Nothin’ But Love for Whitney Houston
  3. (Day 74) For Amy (My Tribute to Amy Winehouse)
  4. (Day 67) Remembering Luther Vandross
  5. (Day 93) RIP Chris Lighty
  6. (Day 100) Aaliyah – Tribute to a Princess
  7. (Day 66) Happy Birthday Phyllis Hyman!
  8. (Day 91) Happy Birthday Michael Joseph Jackson
  9. (Day 73) Happy Belated Birthday Millie Jackson
  10. (Day 69) Angela Bofill
  11. (Day 77) Lisa Stansfield – The Real Thing
  12. (Day 76) Chanté Moore Live – Love’s Taken Over (Again)
  13. (Day 101) Teedra Moses, The Lioness Live in DC
  14. (Day 40) Just Jill: Words & Sounds Live

Other 101 Days Project music posts:

  1. (Day 90) Kindred The Family Soul – Sticking With You
  2. (Day 88) Alicia Keys, A Girl On Fire
  3. (Day 38) Adriana Evans – Walking With The Night
  4. (Day 16) Round Midnight: A Tribute to My Great-Grandpa
  5. (Day 9) Rihanna – Rated R
  6. (Day 8) Melanie Fiona – The Bridge
  7. (Day 7) Sade – Soldier Of Love
  8. (Day 6) Chrisette Michele – One of This Generation’s Best Vocalists
  9. (Day 3) Lady GaGa’s Latest – Bad Romance
  10. (Day 2) Autumn Leaves – Everything Must Change
  11. (Day 1) MJ’s This Is It

101 Days Project: Black Music Month

Image courtesy of Cafe Mocha Radio.

 On June 7, 1979, President Jimmy Carter officially designated June as Black Music Month.  Black Music Month is a time to acknowledge the vast contributions and achievements of black singers, songwriters, producers, musicians, and executives in the music industry.  Music would have a completely different feel if it were not for the ingenious artistry, undeniable talent, fiery passion, and stone cold soul of many of the most influential and inspirational black figures to ever grace the airwaves, TV, silver screen, or stage.

For the first time on BuddahDesmond’s Place, I celebrated Black Music Month by honoring artists ranging from newcomers to legends.  Some of the artists featured, like Adriana Evans, Conya Doss, Teedra Moses, and Eric Roberson, are stellar underground acts with devoted, growing followings that make music that often rivals those of their mainstream counterparts.  At the end of the day, it’s about good, real music.  Music that you can feel.  Music that brightens your day.  Music that inspires you.  Music that makes you dance.  Music that motivates, uplifts, and means something.  That’s what it’s been throughout the history of Black Music.  Let the legacy continue on!

Check out the following artists featured in my Black Music Month series:

  1. (Day 63) BuddahDesmond
  2. (Day 62) Syleena Johnson
  3. (Day 60) Adriana Evans (Redux)
  4. (Day 59) Cassandra Wilson
  5. (Day 58) In Remembrance – MJJ (Repost)
  6. (Day 57) Robert Glasper
  7. (Day 56) Phyllis Hyman
  8. (Day 55) Mint Condition
  9. (Day 54) Conya Doss
  10. (Day 53) Vikter Duplaix
  11. (Day 52) Eric Roberson
  12. (Day 51) Teedra Moses
  13. (Day 50) Meshell Ndegeocello
  14. (Day 49) Lenny Kravitz
  15. (Day 48) Janet Jackson
  16. (Day 47) Chaka Khan

Running Into Memories: A Tribute to Vesta Williams (1957-2011)

Image courtesy of the Karen Vaughan site.
The first time I heard Vesta Williams’ voice I had to be around 4 or 5 years old.  It was most likely on the radio one morning while my mother and I were getting ready for work and school.  WKYS (93.9) and WHUR (96.3) were the stations of choice then.  They played some of the best in classic and contemporary R&B/Soul music.  It was during this time, between 1986 and 1989, that I fell in love with Vesta’s music, along with Phyllis Hyman, Miki Howard, Meli’sa Morgan, Regina Belle, Stephanie Mills, and Anita Baker.  During this period of R&B/Soul music, real vocalists still reigned supreme.  Though, we could see the glimmer of the industry’s future with the rise of videoswhere image began to be everything and talent became an after thought.  As we know, Vesta (along with the aforementioned powerhouse vocalists) had ample talent.  She could sing like nobody’s business.  She said you have to be an actress to properly tell the story and convey the emotions of a song.  And what an actress Vesta Williams was.

At the age of 4 or 5, I probably couldn’t verbalize or understand it completely but there was something about Vesta’s voice that left me enraptured.  It spoke to me.  It captivated me…touched me.  It was similar to the feeling I get when listening to Chaka Khan (who was one of many artists Vesta sang backup for in her early years).  In terms of vocal characteristics, Vesta and Chaka Khan’s voices were similar in terms of timbre, color, phrasing, and agility.  Not to mention the fiery, playful, seductive qualities of their voices. 

Like the vocal greats before her, Vesta was a song stylist and interpreter.  When listening to her music, disbelief was suspended instantaneously.  There’s no doubt that she knew and felt what she was singing about.  You weren’t alive if you couldn’t feel a Vesta tune, especially the ballads.  You felt Vesta’s heartbreak and thought the guy that did her wrong was a creep after hearing “Once Bitten Twice Shy.”  Because Vesta seemed like the type of woman who gave everything her all, you’d wonder why any guy would screw up after listening to the funky “Don’t Blow A Good Thing.”  You felt the longing and hope in Vesta’s search for love on “Somebody For Me.”  When Vesta gets to the chorus of “Congratulations,” your heart sinks just thinking about the notion of the one you truly love getting married to someone else, and the growth it takes to be able to let them go.  And if real, true love was embodied in the form of songs, the tender “Sweet Sweet Love” and “Special” would be at the top of the list.

Image courtesy of the Billboard Music site.

If you had the chance to see her perform live (in-person or videotaped), you could understand why other singers would be pissed or scared to perform after her.  She owned the stage, giving high-energy yet moving performances.  She could dance her ass off too.  Her video for the single “Do Ya” is proof of that.  Vesta was also a natural comedienne, which added to her charm and magnetic, addictive personality.  I have wonderful memories of watching her on The Arsenio Hall Show and BET’s Video Soul (as she was a frequent guest on both), and losing it because she was so funny.  Her impersonations of Tina Turner and Chaka Khan (amongst others) were spot-on.  She’d also had memorable performances in the Mario Van Peebles film Posse (1993) and a recurring role on the TV sitcom Sister, Sister during the 1998-1999 season.  I’d always hoped to see her doing more on TV and in film.  Could you imagine if she’d had her own show?  It would’ve been sidesplitting.  For a time, Vesta was a radio personality and co-hosted a morning radio on KRNB, a Dallas/Fort Worth station.  Oh what joy it must’ve been hearing Vesta cut up on the radio in the morning!

Vesta lent her horn-like, four-octave voice to TV theme songs for the ABC miniseries The Women Of Brewster Place and the UPN sitcom Malcolm and Eddie.  She also did jingles for a variety of brands such as Nike, Revlon, Diet Coke, and Exxon.  One of her infamous spots was a commercial for McDonald’s where she sang with another vocal legend, Al Jarreau.  Trading rhythmic vocal lines, scats, back and forthit was an event.  They sang their faces off!  The performance was so divine it made you want to go against your constitution and have a Big Mac (or two, or three, or four).

No matter what happened in her career, Vesta never strayed too far away from the music.  Between albums or periods when she wasn’t signed to a label, she toured and went back to session singing–guesting on a number artists albums like George Duke, Phil Perry, Howard Hewitt and Najee.  Most notably, she appeared on the remix to Norman Brown’s remake of SWV’s “Rain.”  The oft-requested tune was an instant favorite amongst fans.  The first time I heard the song was while I was on break from college.  I remember being pissed because the version of Norman Brown’s album that we had, Celebration (2002), didn’t have the remix with Vesta on it.  I rejoiced years later when I found this version of the song for sale on iTunes.

Image courtesy of the TVOne site.

Vesta was fighter.  Even when faced with challenges, she never gave up.  She dealt with record executives who didn’t know what to do with her (A&M Records) and said they couldn’t promote her because she was too fat.  This was typical at a time when executives were putting image over everything (as discussed previously).  The label eventually dropped her, but she continued performing and making music.  Vesta battled with an addiction to cocaine that she successfully conquered  in the 1990s.  Not too long after the release of her Everything-N-More album, Vesta lost 100 pounds (which she kept off).  She attributed her weight loss to changing her lifestyle (eating healthier and exercising more).  Her weight loss also inspired her to become an advocate for juvenile diabetes and childhood obesity.

TVOne gave a fitting tribute to Vesta in January 2012 with an episode of its Unsung series.  It was one of the last projects she worked on before her passing.  I can’t believe that as of September 22, 2012, it’s been a year since her death.  I, like many others, miss her presence dearly.  Though she’s no longer with us, there’s joy in knowing her beautiful spirit and musical legacy will continue to enrich our lives and the lives of those who come after us.  Vesta’s final album, Seven, was scheduled to be released in May 2012 via Bronx Bridge Entertainment.  Though there’s been no updated information, there’s still hope that Seven will see the light of day in late 2012/early 2013.  I’ll be one of the many fans looking forward to its release.  I’m sure it will be another soulful chapter in Vesta’s storied career.

Vesta was a multi-talented, multifaceted woman.  She exuded confidence and a belief in her herself and her talent that was inspiring.  There will never another like her.

Vestathe dynamic diva who gave her allmay your soul rest in peace.

Vesta releases: Vesta (1986), Vesta 4 U (1988), Special (1991), Everything-N-More (1993), Relationships (1998), and Distant Lover (2007).