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).

Day 100: Aaliyah—Tribute to a Princess

Image courtesy of the African Limelight site.

Missing you so…
Haven’t been right since The Creator called you home.
The fact that your presence will never grace us again is still so unreal.

The exalted one—yes, you were.
One in a million—yes, you were.
Your spirit and the legacy you left behind—yes, it will go on and on.

You came on the scene at the age of 15 and immediately captured everyone’s hearts.
Something about your soul, your style, and your sound that struck a cord.
It also set you apart and made you seem so much older than what you actually were.
You went on to become one of the most sought after entertainers of the day.

You created musical magic with R. Kelly and again with Timbaland and Missy Elliott.  
You didn’t need to follow the trends—you set them.
You left us spellbound with your beautiful, angelic voice, intricate dance moves, and extraordinary, inspired music videos.
You had us in a trance while watching you on the big screen in your first major film role.
Undeniably, it was your talent and your magnetism that made you one of the brightest  
     stars and had industry insiders saying you were the one to watch.

And just as you were getting ready for what was being called the next big phase of
     your career, you were called home.
We were grief-stricken, in denial.
We couldn’t believe you were gone.

We thank God for you.
We thank God you were blessed to wake up each day to do what you loved.
And we were happy and blessed just the same.

How could we forget an entertainer who was so influential in such a short period of time,
And one who will forever be regarded as one of the best of her generation?

The exalted one—yes, Aaliyah was.
One in a million—yes, Aaliyah was.
Everything Aaliyah gave—yes, forever, it will go on and on.

Day 91: Happy Birthday Michael Joseph Jackson

Image courtesy of the Eurweb site.

Today would’ve been icon Michael Joseph Jackson’s 54th birthday.  It’s been over 3 years since his untimely passing.  His presence and influence are just as strong now as they were before.  Jackson was a supremely talented being that blazed trails and inspired generations of fans and stars alike.  With each release, he delved deeper and deeper into himself.  He bared his soul, opened his heart, and provided us with what many would consider the soundtrack of our lives.  His albums went beyond music and entertainment.  They were events—monumental, genre-bending, shape-shifting events.  I don’t know how many fits I had in the record store as a child because I wanted latest Michael Jackson album.  

Aside from Janet Jackson, Whitney Houston, Prince, and Jody Watley, his music shaped much of my childhood and young adulthood and love of the arts.  Jackson’s (along with the aforementioned artists) videos changed the game, revolutionizing the visual presentation of musical artists (with everything from fashion, style, choreography, overall stage presence, special effects, and cinematography to name a few).  I, like many I’m sure, would break my neck to see Jackson’s music videos.  Glued to the screen, I was totally in awe of the sheer talent, artistry, and ingeniousness of it all.  Still to this day, I can’t help but be pulled in completely whenever one of his videos comes on TV or one of his songs is played on the radio.  The feeling, the soul, the spirit just goes right through you.  

Jackson gave so much of himself to us through his art and philanthropic efforts.  It’s unfortunate that he had to go out the way he did.  But he was called home.  He fulfilled his destiny.  But the legacy he left behind will be cherished for decades to come. 

So today, let’s celebrate the icon that Michael Joseph Jackson was/is.  The King lives on!!!

Also check out, Day 1: MJ’s This Is It and Day 58: In Remembrance – MJJ (Repost).

Day 90: Kindred The Family Soul – Sticking With You

For the last 10 years, Kindred The Family Soul has been making heartfelt, soulful music.  Their music touches the core, speaking frankly, openly, and honestly about life, love, and relationships. Often compared to Ashford & Simpson, Kindred The Family Soul write songs that get down to the heart of the matter in an accessible way.  Their most recent album, Love Has No Recession, continues in this vein.  But aside from their signature love songs, Love Has No Recession, has some poignant tunes about the social and political ills of the day.  Overall, it’s a solid album which conceptually, musically, lyrically, and vocally makes it timeless.  Check out one of the singles from the album, “Sticking With You,” which is a sweet confession of true love and devotion.

Day 78: Donna Summer – Tribute To A Bad Girl

Image courtesy of last.fm site.

In May of 2012, the world lost one of its most gifted, innovative, and influential queens of music—Donna Summer.  Summer was a singer, songwriter, producer, artist, and actress who became the Queen of Disco, but made music that transcended genres and categorization.  She, along with her longtime producers Giorgio Moroder and Pete Bellotte, crafted a sound that highlighted some of Disco’s best musical moments—along with incorporating technology and musical instrumentation that fueled innovations within Pop, Rock, New Wave, R& B/Soul, Dance, House, Techno, and Electronica.  You’ll not only hear this on songs like “I Feel Love,” “Our Love,” “Sunset People,” “My Baby Understands,” and “Can’t Get To Sleep Tonight,” but you’ll also hear the influences on Madonna, Kylie, and Beyoncé to name a few.  Had it not been for the strides and achievements made by Summer, music wouldn’t be the same and many of today’s biggest divas might be irrelevant.

Summer was a Boston native, one of seven children, who grew up singing in the church.  She knew, after giving a performance in church one day, that she was blessed with an amazing gift and that it would bring lots of notoriety.  As the world would come to know, Summer’s voice was a force of nature.  She could growl with fervor, sensually coo, and wail like a first class diva.  Her colorful multi-octave voice was a soulful instrument that could make you feel any and every emotion.  Summer could move within the various registers of her voice with great ease and control.  She knew how to sell a song.  She knew when to exercise vocal restraint and just when to let loose.  And to top it off, Summer could sing any genre of music.  

By the time Summer was in her early twenties, she had several successful runs in a series of musicals in Europe such as Hair, Show Boat, and God Spell.  Summer released her first two singles, a German version of “Aquarius” from Hair and a cover of The Jaynetts’ “Sally Goes ‘Round the Roses” in 1968 and 1971 respectively.  Her debut album, Lady of the Night, was released on the Groovy Records label in 1974.  The title track and “The Hostage” were released as singles to great success in several European countries.  This was just the beginning for Summer though.  Summer would set the music industry, dance floor, and world ablaze with the first single from her sophomore effort.  This song was her seductive 17-minute opus “Love to Love You Baby” (1975).  Using her acting chops, she imagined herself as a character (à la Marilyn Monroe) in a state of ecstasy.  Summer’s orgasmic performance cemented her stardom.  “Love to Love You Baby,” was a No. 2 hit and would mark the beginning of a very successful period for Summer.  She would score a total 20 top 40 pop hits, of these 14 were top 10 hitswith four going to No. 1.  

Summer’s albums were often thematic.  On her Four Seasons of Love (1976) album, Summer sang of a love affair using the seasons of the year as her metaphors.  Her album I Remember Yesterday (1977) was an ode to music of yesteryear.  The album featured jazz from the late 30s/early 40s, R&B/Soul and Doo Wop of the 50s, Motown of the 60s, and Funk of the 70s, and Pop/Dance of the day and beyond (with the early electronica leanings of “I Feel Love”).  And her Once Upon A Time (1977) album, lauded as being one of her best (double) albums, is a fairytale–a Cinderella love story set to Disco and early electronica.

We tend to frown upon double albums today.  This sentiment is mostly because very few artists have been able to maintain the audience’s interest beyond the close of the first of the two albums.  Summer wasn’t one of those artists.  In fact, several of Summer’s crowning achievements have been double albums.  Aside from Once Upon a Time, other double albums included 1978’s Live & More and 1979’s Bad Girls.  With Bad Girls, Summer, Moroder, and Bellotte looked beyond the confines of Disco.  They incorporated electronic instrumentation and elements of rock, soul, country, and pop to push the musical envelope.  Bad Girls(then) proved to be her most versatile effort to date.  The album went on to sell over four millions copies worldwide, and spawning two Billboard No. 1 pop hits (“Bad Girls” and “Hot Stuff”), one No. 2 hit (“Dim All The Lights”) and one top 40 hit (“Walk Away”) in the US.  Her record label decided to release a greatest hits compilation the same year, On The Radio: Greatest Hits Vol. I & II (another double album).  On The Radio was another smash, going double platinum in the US and spawning the No. 1 hit duet with Barbra Streisand “No More Tears (Enough Is Enough)” and the No. 5 hit “On The Radio.”  

As Donna Summer went into the 80s, she distanced herself from Disco and began exploring different musical territory with solid success.  1980’s The Wanderer had more of a New Wave/Rock appeal, while 1982’s Donna Summer(produced by Quincy Jones) showcased even more of Summer’s versatility with its Rock, R&B/Soul, Gospel, and Jazz leanings.  1983 saw Summer return to her pop/dance roots with She Works Hard For The Money.  The empowering title track went on to be one of Summer’s biggest hits, peaking at No. 3 on the pop charts. Summer would release three more albums before she had another top 10 hit single, “This Time I Know It’s For Real,” from Another Place And Time (1989).  The 90s saw the release of two studio albums1991’s Mistaken Identity and 1996’s I’m A Rainbow (an album she recorded in 1981 that Geffen shelved), one holiday album1994’s Christmas Spirit, and one live albumLive & More Encore (1999).  17 years after the release of her last official studio album Mistaken Identity, Summer released the triumphant Crayons (2008). Crayons spawned three No. 1 singles on Billboard’s Hot Dance Club Play chart.  

Over the course of her 40+ year career, Summer earned a total of 22 No. 1 singles on the Disco and Dance Club Play Charts.  She was the first solo artist to score three consecutive No. 1 (platinum) double albums and the first female artist to have four consecutive No. 1 singles in the span of one year.  Summer was also the first female artist to have a single and album reach No. 1 simultaneously and the first female artist two have two singles in the Billboard Top 3 at the same time (both were feats she accomplished twice).  She received a total of five Grammy Awards, six American Music Awards, and was the first black artist to be nominated for an MTV Music Video award.  Though she’s been nominated several times, she has yet to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  This is a bit disappointing considering the many contributions she’s made to music (especially when you see the list of artists who were inducted before her).  Jon Landau, chairman of the nominating committee for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, said it was regrettable that she was never inducted (New York Times). UPDATE 12/14/12: Donna Summer will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2013 (2013 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductees).

As influential as Donna Summer was, it still doesn’t seem like she’s received her just due (even after death).  The coverage she received in Black press has been paltry at best.  This is yet another disappointment because Donna Summer was one of our Queens of music and entertainment.  Being one of the few Black artists to crossover without major support from the Black community, it shouldn’t be a question about identity.  For some, it may be a matter of their ability or inability to identify with Summer.  She was not your typical Black diva and did not limit herself to only singing R&B music.  However, she could sing R&B and any other genre of music soulfully and masterfully.  Summer knew who and what she was and never forgot where she came from. 

Summer faced many obstacles (depression, addiction, and the trials and tribulations of the music industry machine to name a few), but she overcame them.  She counted on her faith, stayed true to herself, and never took her gifts for granted.  Summer brought so many people together with her music—people of different backgrounds, cultures, races, religions, class, and sexual orientation.  She left an indelible mark on history, the music industry, and so many of her fans lives.  And this is why Summer should be celebrated.  She was an iconic, legendary entertainer.  And let’s not forget—she was also the original Bad Girl!




Day 77: Lisa Stansfield – The Real Thing

Image courtesy of the Singers Room site.

Never mind the stars in the sky/Never mind the when and the why/Got a feeling higher than high/This is the real thing ~ “The Real Thing” from Lisa Stansfield (1997)

Soul comes in all colors.  You don’t have to sing R&B, Jazz, or the Blues to have soul.  And you don’t have to be a person of color either.  Soul transcends culture, race, gender, and genre.  Lisa Stansfield is an example of that.  Inspired by the sounds of Motown and her musical idol Barry White, Stansfield has a sound that’s steeped in the old school R&B/Soul music of the 60s and 70s, but has a feel good, contemporary flair.  After 20+ years and over 20 million in album sales, Stansfield has amassed a loyal legion of fans with her sexy, rich, velvety, passionate voice.
Stansfield’s breakthrough single “All Around The World” from her debut album Affection (1990) was an otherworldly, massive hit that became an instant classic.  The song is an infectious, pleading confession and listeners, some of which I’m sure could relate, fell instantly in love with it and with Stansfield.  From her debut solo album to 2004’s The Moment, Stansfield’s music has remained a consistent vehicle for her voice.  While she experimented with elements of Pop, Hip-Hop, Dance/House, 2-Step/Garage over the years, her music never strayed too far from the soulful, jazzy lush style she’s most loved for.  

Regardless of the style or genre, there’s a heartfelt sincerity in her music.  Her songwriting showcases a knack for storytelling and an innate ability to get inside the lyrics and emote experiences that are endearing and relatable to the audience.  Songs indicative of this are “Suzanne,” “Change,” “Easier,” “Didn’t I,” “Real Love,” and her classic anthem “All Woman.”  With her commendable remakes of Phyllis Hyman’s “You Know How To Love Me” and Barry White’s “Never Never Gonna Give You Up,” Stansfield respectfully paid homage to two of her obvious musical influences while still putting her own stylistic stamp on them. 

Aside from being a singer and songwriter, Stansfield is also an actress.  She’s appeared in 5 films, Swing (1999), Goldplated(2006), Marple: Ordeal By Innocence (2007), Röllin Sydän (2007), and The Edge of Love (2008).  Rumor has it she’s ready to begin work on a new studio album.  It’s been 8 years since the release of her last album (The Moment).  According to an article on the Singers Room site, she turned downed a number of offers to star in reality TV shows to instead focus energies on her return to the music scene.  Whenever that day comes, it will be a welcomed return from this stylish, striking beauty with the captivating voice.    

Lisa Stansfield releases:  Affection(1990), Real Love (1991), So Natural (1993), Lisa Stansfield (1997), The #1 Remixes EP (1998), Swing (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) [1999], Face Up (2001), Biography: The Greatest Hits (2003), The Complete Collection(2003), and The Moment (2004). 
 

Day 76: Chanté Moore Live – Love’s Taken Over (Again)

Image courtesy of last.fm.
In late July, my partner and I had the pleasure of seeing Chanté Moore live at The Howard Theatre (in DC).  She’s an artist we’ve both loved since the very beginning.  I remember seeing and hearing her for the first time in El DeBarge’s video for “You Know What I Like” (1991).  I wondered, “Who is this beautiful chanteuse and when will a full-length album be available for purchase?”  The following year, we were blessed with the release of her classic debut album Precious.  I think I can speak for all her fans by saying we haven’t been the same since! 
Moore’s live show, like her albums, showcased her versatility and flexibility as a singer, songwriter, and entertainer.  Moore’s music has always been an aurally satisfying mix of R&B/Soul, Jazz, Gospel, Latin, Hip-Hop, Dance, and Pop.  If you weren’t blown away by her ease in this regard on record, then you certainly would be after this live performance.  Moore’s show was a nice mix of her hits, fan favorites, and remakes.  It effectively showcased her soulful, sultry, multi-octave vocal range (which has remained in superb shape over the last 20+ years).  She began the show with a rousing rendition of Beyoncé’s “End of Time” from 4(2011).  Her performance made a statement of not only her love for all types of music (past or present), but her dynamism as a performer and her willingness to takes risks.  (Her selection of this song also shows that even she knew how hit-worthy “End of Time” was…Too bad Beyoncé’s label did not release it as a single.)  From “End of Time,” Moore went right into the hits and fan favorites starting with “This Time,” “Love’s Taken Over,” and “I Wanna Love (Like That Again).” 
Moore changed the mood of the show by doing a sexy medley of slow jams including “Do For You” (from her 2008 album Love The Woman), “Precious,” and “Finding My Way Back To You.”  During this segment of the show, Moore sang to and danced seductively around and with a lucky gentleman whom she selected from the audience to sit on stage.  Moore also took requests from the audience and sang them acapella, further proof of her talent and artistry.  Some of these songs included “Listen To My Song,” “I’m What You Need,” and “Candlelight & You.”  Moore paid homage to R&B/Soul legends Cheryl Lynn, Anita Baker, and the Gap Band with a stellar medley of “Got To Be Real,” “Sweet Love,” and “Yearning For Your Love.”       
Other highlights of the show included a spine-tingling reading of “As If We Never Met,” “Bitter,” and her opus “It’s Alright,” which brought the house to its feet.  Moore took us to higher ground during the latter half of “It’s Alright,” by singing in her angelic, stratospheric, Riperton-esque upper (whistle) register.  The rhythm and phrasing of her singing became chant-like.  She dug deeper and deeper into her soul—taking us along on a spiritual journey.  It seemed with a single performance she had transcended time and space with her voice.  There were very few dry eyes in the house (even Moore had to take a moment, as she was so enraptured by emotion from catching the spirit).  She closed the show with a moving gospel tune and her anthem (and biggest hit to date) “Chante’s Got A Man.”  She received a well-deserved standing ovation at the end of the show.  Moore performed a one-song encore as an appreciation to her fans with a spirited version of Tina Turner’s “Simply The Best.”
Moore had excellent rapport with the audience.  She took the time to talk to the audience (and I mean really talk to the audience).  She spoke about the inspiration for her music, love and relationships, lessons she’s learned, and the reception of her music in later years.  She was in great spirits and it was clear that she was having a good time (and wasn’t taking herself too seriously).  Much to our delight, Moore announced that she was working on a new album and that it would be released very soon.  It’s been four years since the release of her last album.  While it was one of her most consistent efforts, it received little fanfare.  Hopefully that won’t be the case with the next album.  With performances like the one she gave at The Howard Theatre, she should be adorned with an onslaught of much-deserved, long overdue acclaim. 

Day 74: For Amy (My Tribute to Amy Winehouse)

Image courtesy of The Vigilant Citizen site.

Divided soul,
An artist that many didn’t know or understand completely well.
Timeless voice,
A style and sound that was every bit throwback as it was contemporary.
Her music spoke with a raw, brutal honesty seldom seen in mainstream (as of late).
The draw, the connection was instant.
The impact indelible
Soul and emotion lacking pretense,
And an aura that was intriguing and intense.
Didn’t think they made singers like this anymore

      But they still do.

But you’re gone now.
Another talented soul gone before the world knew or appreciated just how talented you      

     were.
Family, friends, and fans watched the meteoric rise,
And the seemingly meteoric descent.
We watched as the media reported
And blasted your issues every chance they got

Dragging you down further and further into the muck.
Yours was an experience many did not and may never comprehend.
You were taken for granted,
      disrespected.
While the coverage may come with the territory because of the industry,
      The lack of compassion was inexcusable.
We took you for granted,
And in your untimely demise the coverage has changed.
You’re being celebrated for your artistry,
For ushering in the retro-soul era,
For using music as a canvas you painted openly and frankly with your life.
You didn’t allow your art to be subjected to the machine or the man.
You did it authentically.

It’s sad that you’ve gone on.
It’s a shame the world won’t get the opportunity to see just how truly gifted you were
To lay to rest the rhetoric that the magic was gone.
      It never left.
And you knew that.
Your true supporters knew that.
And we were holding our breath

Just to see how you’d blow our minds the next time.
But the Creator had different plans.

In your passing, there’s a void that will never be filled.
But your light will always shine
In the hearts, minds, and souls of those who loved, appreciated, respected, and were 

     inspired by you.
We are thankful we had you for the time we did.

Let us rejoice in the extraordinary iconoclast that was/is AmyWinehouse!

~ BuddahDesmond

Day 73: Happy Belated Birthday Millie Jackson

Image courtesy of the Millie Jackson’s Weird Wreckuds site

Soul sensation Millie Jackson recently celebrated her 68thbirthday on July 15th.  Over the last 12 years, she’s become one of my favorite singers.  I knew about Millie Jackson at an early age.  I remember a lot of female rappers (and singers) who’d always given Jackson credit for changing the game musically and showing that women could be talented, intelligent, and sexually liberated.  When looking through people’s record collections as a child, I also remember that they’d keep their Millie Jackson records towards the back of their record collection.  I always wondered why.  After hearing an interview she did with NPR in 2006, while I was away at college, I began to understand.  The interview led to me rediscovering her music.  I fell in love with her soulful delivery, the production of her music, and the down-to-earth, brash, realness of her lyrics.  I said, “Hmph, I now know why she created such a firestorm and why some may have been a little uncomfortable with the subject matter of her music.”   

For those that couldn’t get into Jackson’s music or were too prudish to get down, I thought it was their loss.  There was no one in the industry at that time that talked about love, relationships, sexuality, and everyday real shit like Millie Jackson.  That immediately set her apart from her peers.  With just a few listens of her music, it’s also easy to see why she’s also referred to as the Queen of Hip-Hop.   

With albums like It Hurts So Good, Caught Up, Still Caught Up, Feelin’ Bitchy, Get It Out’cha System, and Live & Uncensored, she showcased her effortless storytelling ability and passionate vocal delivery.  If you listen to her interpretive skills on songs like “If You’re Not Back In Love By Monday,” “If Loving You Is Wrong (I Don’t Want To Be Right),” and “Letter Full Of Tears,” you can’t help but to say she’s easily one the greatest soul singers ever.  The song that turned me out was her remake of Latimore’s “All The Way Lover.”  If you want to hear a song she flipped on its ear and made it all her own, “All The Way Lover” is the song.  It’s a 10-plus minute gem of Millie Jackson sangin’ her face off and telling-it-like-it-is. 

No one, past or present, can bring the soul and the realness like Millie Jackson.  In terms of style, persona, and presentation, Jackson is a true original.  She’s a spirited, no holds barred, charismatic performer who’s inspired generations of artists.  She doesn’t always get the credit she’s due, but that doesn’t stop Jackson from doing what she does best.  Fortunately, Millie Jackson was recently featured in a commendable episode of TVOne’s “Unsung” series.  Go check it out.  I highly recommend it. 

Millie Jackson, thank you for your many contributions.  Hope you had a beautiful birthday!

Day 71: Nothin’ But Love for Whitney Houston

Image courtesy of the Vibe Vixen site.
There isn’t a day that goes by when Whitney Houston does not pop into my mind.  Her music plays in my head daily.  The impact of her passing hit me greater than I ever would’ve expected.  But how could it not?  No, we weren’t related.  She wasn’t a close friend or even an acquaintance of mine.  However, there was a familiarity about her spirit and relatability to her music that made me connect with her instantly. I grew up listening to and loving Whitney Houston.  Since the age of 4, I was hooked.  A singer and music lover even then, she influenced me in ways I wouldn’t come to understand, respect, and truly appreciate until much later.  
Houston was a goddess.  Her captivating, larger-than-life voice—pitch perfect, smooth, pure, passionate, and powerful—was the voice of a generation.  I, probably like others, couldn’t get enough.  While studio versions of her songs were pristine, the live versions tended to be paramount.  Practically overnight, she became an awe-inspiring, unstoppable force within the industry.  She broke down barriers and broke records.  She gave hope to so many that they too could achieve their dreams—not only within the entertainment industry but within any industry.  When Houston died, it became all too clear that an era had ended.  While her music and spirit remain with all of us, physically we will never be graced with her presence again.
I’ll never forget the day the news hit.  My spouse and I had just gotten back in the house from hanging out with some friends.  We were planning to go out with another friend later that evening for dinner.  Just before we left the house, we started receiving text messages and phone calls that Whitney Houston has passed.  I didn’t believe it.  I refused to believe it.  So I turned on CNN.  Within moments the news was confirmed.  I broke down.  Almost couldn’t contain myself.  I’m glad my spouse was there to console me.  It truly felt like a portion of my childhood and young adulthood had died with her.  After Etta James’ and Don Cornelius’ passing just weeks prior, Houston’s death seemed to hit home in a very extreme way. 
While some could say that Houston’s death was inevitable given her history of drug use, I don’t think anyone can say that they expected her to go so soon.  I have no intentions of pontificating on her drug use, as I believe the focus on this, her marriage to Bobby Brown, and the latter years of her life have been used to paint a very negative picture of her.  She was human.  She made mistakes, had issues, and went through trials and tribulations just like all of us.  Unless we lived within her, it will be difficult for us to truly know, understand, or be empathetic to what she went through, what she had to sacrifice, and why she did the things she did.  But it’s clear—she did what divine power set out for her to do, and she did it well.  She believed in herself and her talent.  She gave everything her all (and then some).  She relied on her faith in god and the love of her family and friends throughout her life.   And she never forgot where she came from. 
When remembering Whitney, it’s important that we do not let the negative portrayals of her life cloud the beauty of what she gave to the world.  Her legacy is what should be the focal point.  She inspired an entire generation of singers/entertainers and will inspire several generations more to come.  Had it not been for Houston’s many accomplishments, it’s quite possible that the careers of many of today’s beloved stars would be in a completely different place.  She brought joy and light into so many people’s lives.  Let’s celebrate her for that.  I’ve got nothing but love for Whitney Houston.  And I’m sure many of you do, too.