Almost Famous

I TURN 60 THIS YEAR. As does one of my school friends, who still plays out and was once called “The best rhythm guitarist in Cincinnati.” Both of us have been in the music business since our teens. But, At least, he gets his face in front of audiences weekly. Me, I’m better known – albeit worldwide — in the production office than onstage (I suppose “pretty well” is better than “not at all”). And the closest I’ve come to playing guitar is shaking Justin Hayward’s hand in 2009. But I’m guessing Pete would probably agree at least part way in my assessment that, at least on the basis of popular music, American culture — the part of our national life that is seen and heard worldwide — is by and large a Black culture. I argue it’s undeniable, when you consider how much of the American self-identity is rooted in Jazz and Rock and Roll, and how pervasive and influential the black influence has been in both. In the beginning Rock and Roll was black music. And, post-Elvis, rock music worldwide owes an unescapable debt to the blues and gospel, a point well-made in the Oscar-winning documentary, 20 Feet From Stardom.

It occurs to me, listening to this cut by Tears for Fears, (hearing the number as recorded at Knebworth sometime in the early ’90s, I fell in love with Oleta Adams), that one reason why the black female voice is so well-loved, both by audiences and leading artists who hire the support of “colored girl” background artists, is that most of these singers shape their voices more fully and with greater power than a lot of white girl singers, with their little-girl voices (e.g.: Britney Spears) and, as a result, they sound more grown-up, with a greater ability to move the listener and to stand up to a male voice. Consider Lisa Fisher versus Mick Jagger on “Gimme Shelter.”

Considerations I had, among others, while watching 20 Feet From Stardom over the weekend (Thank you, Netflix.)

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