The Black power in music

By Michael Lashley

Louis Armstrong Ella Fitzgerald Lionel Hampton

I do not propose to encourage any stereotyping of Black people as mostly skilled in sports, the arts and especially in music.

My sole intention is to talk about a number of persons in the so-called racial and ethnic categories outlined below, who gladden my heart and nourish my soul with their contributions to the massive treasure-chest of music.

However, I do explicitly apologize to those persons who feel strongly about who is 100 per cent Black, half Black, quarter Black, non-white, half- white, coloured, East Indian, of mixed race, or a member of the  “diverse”, “racialized” and “visible” “minorities “ here in North America, in the Caribbean region, and elsewhere in the world.

I must also offer a series of apologies to the gurus and the purists in the field of music for my personal and subjective approach to the different genres of music.

To the devotees of Jazz music, I do not feel qualified to offer much more than apologies for my limited recognition of their icons. But I have humble regard for the likes of Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonius Monk, Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Wynton Marsalis,  Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughn and Sade.

I am most embarrassed by my total lack of knowledge about four of the top luminaries in the field of Blues cited by my friend Rick who, incidentally, is a Jazz fanatic. I can recognize the names B B King and Eric Clapton, but not such Blues royalty as Buddy Guy, John Lee Hooker, Bessie Smith and Muddy Waters.

Following that historic pattern, I come alive on hearing mention of the Queen of Gospel, the irrepressible Mahalia Jackson. I cannot make my own list of Gospel greats beyond Aretha Franklyn and Marian Anderson.

I count myself among those music lovers who have arranged a separate place in the Pantheon of Black Singers for the extraordinary singer, actor and civil rights activist Paul Robeson, whose unrivalled range of musical excellence is not limited to Gospel, Negro Spirituals and Classical European Music.

And I have been moved to High Heaven by Black singers and choirs’ renderings of The Holy City (which I call “Jerusalem”); The Battle Hymn of the Republic (believed to have been patterned on an African piece of music); Amazing Grace; Swing Low, Sweet Chariot; and You’ll Never Walk Alone.

A separate Commentary would do justice to my blatant bias in the field of Reggae music. I extol the artistic wizardry of Bob Marley and the Wailers, Jimmy Cliff (“Many Rivers to Cross”) and The Third World (“96 Degrees in the Shade”).

This is not the place for me to delve into my calypso and soca favourites. A book would be required for this purpose, as my colleague George Maharaj has shown in his three books.

However, a few clarifications are in order here and now.

The first issue to be addressed arises from the decades-old debate as to which of the two greats, the Mighty Sparrow or Lord Kitchener, is the true King of Calypso. This is a false and misleading debate: Sparrow is the best Stage Performer while Kitch is the most prolific and versatile singer/composer in the history of calypso.

Second, David Rudder is in a class of excellence by himself. His cross-over music from Calypso to Soca to Ballad is unique and, except mainly for “Trini to the Bone”, he deserves special respect in today’s world because he persists in composing his own music and lyrics.

The most underestimated genre in Calypso /Soca is the Humour category. Spoiler is indeed the Grandfather in this sub-division, while the talented and much-loved Lord Melody has passed the torch to Lord Nelson (“King Liar”), Lord Funny (“Farmer Brown”), Trinidad Rio (“The Poor Man’s Furniture Shop”) and Lord Relator (“Food Prices”).

Having dealt with at least five musical genres, I am now free to let loose in such broader categories as Pop and other less stringently defined categories of music.

It is no secret what Stevie Wonder can do. He is at the top of my rankings as a composer of music and lyrics as well as in his versatility with the piano and the harmonica.

I am also now claiming my “One Moment in Time” to pay tribute to the whole musical legacy of Whitney Houston.

My love for the grace and style of Dionne Warwick rose to new heights when she produced two brilliant examples of generosity and collaboration to prove her point in “That’s What Friends Are For”, aided and abetted by Stevie Wonder, Luther Vandross, Gladys Knight, Whitney Houston and Elton John.

I close with the vibrant spirit of Whoopi Goldberg and her young charges as they sing “Oh Happy Day”.

The human being is not to be valued according to his or her ability to produce goods and services that can be sold or traded in the marketplace.

The human being has other higher purposes in life, such as the ability to produce, share and enjoy the delicious and spiritual fruits of music.