Shameika Rhymes is a journalist of all trades. She can usually be found producing television news and has written for outlets like ET Online, ESSENCE, EBONY Magazine, JETMag.com, Shondaland.com, SoulTrain.com, WEtv.com and her own website, www.themofochronicles.com. Follow her on Twitter @Mofochronicles @WriterShameika
Hailed as the gateway into jazz for younger audiences, America’s jazz soundtrack wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the musical stylings of GRAMMY Award winner Robert Glasper.
Glasper’s music has helped to propel the genre forward by taking hip hop and fusing it with R&B such as his collaborations with artists like Erykah Badu, The Roots, and Kendrick Lamar. In an interview with NPR last year, Glasper said that there’s a reason why jazz audiences tend to be older and whiter.
“I think a long time ago, white people made jazz into like something you sit down and you appreciate, like golf….,” Glasper explained. “They took the dance floor away put chairs in it, you know what I mean? And then for a long time we weren’t allowed to go to jazz clubs. Black people weren’t allowed to go to jazz clubs. Even the people who were performing, the artists you went to see wasn’t even allowed to come in through the front. You know they had to go to the back to the kitchen and you know we were treated like s***, but we were the main act. So, it’s not something that we’re used to doing, going to jazz shows is not something that’s normal. So, I think it has something to do with that. I think black people just love new stuff,” said Glasper.
Born in Houston, Texas, the jazz pianist was inspired by his mother, a gospel pianist and vocalist. He was inspired by his mother, but one of his early music influences was Roy Hargrove gave him the idea to be who he was musically. “I was a senior in high school and Roy Hargrove came to my high school and he had on overalls and Timberlands. I couldn’t believe it. First of all, I’d never seen an all-black band. So, this is my first time seeing an all-black band and its jazz. It shouldn’t be like that that’s what it was. Never seen that before. And they all were dressed like me and they looked like me. That inspired me to be who I am,” Glasper told NPR.
He went on to study music at the New School University in Manhattan where he found performance work and worked on his craft with artists like bassist Christian McBride and saxophonist Kenny Garrett. After graduation, Glasper went on to work with a multitude of artists including his musical influence Roy Hargrove, as well as Carly Simon, and Mos Def.
In 2004, he released his debut album Mood. Canvas, and In My Element followed in 2005 and 2007.
In 2009, Glasper released Double Booked, which featured Herbie-Hancock inspired songs with two separate bands. The first of these was his trio with drummer Chris Dave and bassist Vicente Archer. They recorded several songs including a cover of Thelonious Monk’s “Think of One.”
His electric band, dubbed the Robert Glasper Experiment, featuring Dave, electric bassist Derrick Hodge, and Casey Benjamin on saxophone and vocoder.
In 2012, the Robert Glasper Experiment released their first stand alone album, Black Radio which blurred the lines between jazz, hip-hop, R&B, and Rock & Roll landing it on the Billboard jazz charts at number one. The same year, Glasper released Black Radio Recovered: The Remix EP. In 2013, the Robert Glasper Experiment returned with new addition drummer Mark Colenburg, for their sophomore album Black Radio 2. The album won a GRAMMY for “Best Traditional R&B Performance” for a cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Jesus Children of America.” The song features Lalah Hathaway and Malcolm Jamal Warner.
Glasper returned to his piano trio format in 2015 with Covered live at Capitol Studios in front of an invited audience.
Glasper also played on Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly,” and Maxwell’s “blackSUMMERSnight,” and for Don Cheadle’s 2016 Miles Davis biopic, Miles Ahead, he curated the soundtrack and wrote original music for the film.
He also recorded Everything’s Beautiful” a tribute album to mark Miles Davis’s 90th birthday. The album features the single “Ghetto Walkin” with Bilal.
The Robert Glasper Experiment then returned to the studio in 2016 and for the first time wrote and arranged songs resulting in ArtScience with singles “Day to Day,” and “Thinkin’ About You.”
Glasper then assembled a new supergroup, Reflect+Respond=Now, featuring Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah on trumpet, Derrick Hodge on bass, Taylor McFerrin on synthesizer, Justin Tyson on drums, and Terrace Martin on synth and vocoder. Their debut album, Collagically Speaking, released in 2018, mixes R&B, 1970s jazz-funk fusion, cosmic soul, and instrumental hip-hop.
Coming Up Next
Several cities, including Nashville, have had the chance this year to experience the Robert Glasper City Winery Tour. The intimate tour wraps up in Oakland, California on April 18. Glasper let Rolling Out Magazine in on his future plans. “I’m doing a lot more film scoring this year. I did the score for an HBO documentary about the Apollo Theater coming out in the fall. I’m also working on a new pilot, a comedy on ABC staring Leslie Odom Jr., and I’m doing another Black Radio [album], and that’s slated to come out in 2020,” he revealed.
Glasper continues to inspire and open the portal to new jazz enthusiasts.
To keep up with Robert Glasper, check out his website.
All Aboard! “Soul Train…Soul Train.” You can’t help but start singing, MFSB’s “TSOP (The Sound of Philadelphia),” one of the most memorable Soul Train theme songs and finishing with a resounding, “Let’s get it on, it’s time to get down.”
Part of America’s soundtrack wouldn’t have had traction without the power of the ‘Hippest Trip in America’ propelling it forward. “Soul Train” is the brain child of the late legendary Don Cornelius that ruled the airwaves from 1971 until 2006. Soul Train still holds the title as one of the longest running syndicated programs in American history.
Growing up in the 70s, 80s, and 90s, many spent their Saturday mornings or afternoons depending on your time zone, in front of the television waiting with baited breath to find out if you would catch a glimpse of artists like James Brown, Al Green, Aretha Franklin, the Jackson 5, Prince, Mary J. Blige, or even EMPD, or Lil Wayne.
Many couldn’t wait to see if they would catch a glimpse of their favorite dancer pop locking down the Soul Train line or trying to solve the weekly Scramble Board. Others were watching to see the latest fashions dancers wore, or to learn a new move to try at the school dance.
During the show’s run on the musical tracks, the show featured performances from a variety of genres including R&B, soul, disco, funk, gospel, and hip-hop artists. Once the show pulled into the station, the digital footprint of SoulTrain.com expanded and kept us up on our favorite entertainers and included entertainment such as books, film, and television. With Cornelius’ brand of cool as the conductor at the helm, taking his radio training to television, the show served as a national showcase for music and black culture and launching the careers of legends like Jody Watley, Rosie Perez, and even Fred “Rerun” Berry.
The show’s energy was so infectious that even Mr. ‘Cool’ Cornelius had to let his hair down one time to go down the Soul Train line.
The show also provided a sense of black pride and joy, the spirit of music, and put it on display so viewers could enjoy it from their living room. It also introduced something that hadn’t really been seen, black commercials for black products from sponsors like Afro Sheen.
In a 2013 book titled “Soul Train: The Music, Dance, and Style of a Generation,” Questlove hails the show as “not only a transformative cultural moment” but “a sibling, a parent, a babysitter, a friend, a textbook, a newscast, a business school, and a church”—“the master of teaching you lessons that you didn’t know you were being taught.”
The Soul Train brand veered off into a new direction, in 2016, when Viacom BET Networks acquired the Soul Train brand. Under BET Networks thumbprint, the train has chugged into another realm, as a docuseries series titled, “American Soul,” executive produced by the son of Cornelius.
“Soul Train” had been on the air in Chicago on WCIU for a year in 1971 when creator and host Don Cornelius decided to relocate to the west coast and relaunch the show in Los Angeles with his eye on national syndication. That’s where “American Soul” picks up the story after Cornelius, played by Sinqua Walls, takes to the stage one last time in Chicago to welcome the city’s own The Chi-Lites.
The 10-episode drama is introducing “Soul Train” to another generation that is only familiar with BET’s annual “Soul Train Awards” telecast that doesn’t even come close to what the iconic dance show embodied. “American Soul” focuses on Cornelius and other characters, including dancers, about black life in 1970s. In an interview with 11 Alive, executive producer, and Don’s son, Tony Cornelius says the series has all the elements that people look for. “I think the millennials and younger people can learn from it. There’s a lot of teaching moments in “American Soul” as well and I made sure those teachable moments were visible because my father taught me everything I know.”
In an interview with Chicago Tribune, he also talked about how the story of “Soul Train” ended up on BET. “We sold the ‘Soul Train’ brand to a private equity (firm), and they sold the brand to Viacom (which owns BET) and fortunately BET had some success with the Bobby Brown bio-series, as well as the New Edition bio-series. So, it was kind of a match made in heaven. We put a team together and here we are with ‘American Soul.’” His son continues that it was important to tell his father’s story; the good, bad, and ugly as he’s trying to launch a national brand while maintaining family life. Don Cornelius took his own life on February 1, 2012, a tragic end that American Soul doesn’t shy away from. The first few moments of the show portray the tragedy before flashing back to 1971 and traveling on the tracks through Soul Train’s history.
“American Soul” is helping to put back some of the nostalgia from yesteryear that seems to have gotten lost in the social media digital age shuffle. With “Soul Train” back at the forefront of everyone’s minds, “you can bet your last money, it’s all going to be a stone gas, honey! We wish you love, peace and soul!”
As the leading lady of the Supremes and her own solo career, living legend Diana Ross has contributed to many layers of America’s soundtrack. The Queen of Motown is turning 75 on March 26 and celebrating it in a big way by kicking off a “Diamond Diana” tour in Los Angeles that lets her fans celebrate with her. What better way to honor ‘The Boss?’
Diana Ross was born on March 26, 1944 in Detroit, Michigan. As a teenager, she began singing in the group the Primettes with friends Mary Wilson, Florence Ballard, and Barbara Martin. Martin eventually left the group, but the remaining members went on to become the legendary successful trio known as the Supremes.
In 1961, the group signed to Motown Records, and three years later landed their first number one hit with “Where Did Our Love Go?”
The group went on to break music records with a streak of four more singles topping the charts from 1964 to 1965, including “Baby Love,” “Come See About Me,” “Stop! In the Name of Love,” and “Back in My Arms Again.”
The Supremes became the first U.S. group to have five songs in a row reach number one. In all, the group had 12 number one hits through 1969 including “You Can’t Hurry Love,” “Love Child,” and “Someday We’ll Be Together.”
The Solo Years
In 1969, Ross left the Supremes to pursue her solo career. She was able to maintain her magic for making hits with the Top 20 “Reach Out and Touch Somebody’s Hand” and the number one “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough.”
Other hit songs for Ross from the 1970s included “Touch Me in the Morning,” “Theme from Mahogany (Do You Know Where You’re Going To)” and the dance classic “Love Hangover,” with all three tracks reaching number one on the pop charts.
In 1972, Ross began flexing her acting chops and starred in the Billie Holiday biopic, Lady Sings the Blues, garnering her an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress. She went on to star in classic films like Mahogany and The Wiz.
In the 1980s, Ross teamed up with Nile Rodgers for the platinum selling album Diana, featuring the number one hit “Upside Down,” and the Top 5 track, “I’m Coming Out.”
She landed on the Top 10 charts with “It’s My Turn” and then reached number one again, this time with Lionel Richie on the 1981 duet “Endless Love,” from the film of the same name.
On her new label, RCA, Ross released the albums, Why Do Fools Fall in Love (1981), which offered two more Top 10 hits, and Silk Electric, which had the Top 10 single “Muscles,” written by Michael Jackson.
She returned to Motown Records near the end of the 1980s and released the albums Workin’ Overtime and The Force Behind the Power. In the 2000s, Ross continued putting out albums including Blue and I Love You.
Ross has had a career that spans more than five decades and shows no signs of slowing down. She has won major awards including a Golden Globe, a Tony Award, and several American Music Awards. She was also inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988 with the Supremes. In 2007, Ross received Black Entertainment Television’s Lifetime Achievement Award. That same year she was honored by the Kennedy Center for her contributions to the arts. In 2012, Ross received a GRAMMY Lifetime Achievement Award, but despite being nominated 12 times, has never received an actual GRAMMY Award. In 2016, Ross received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama, and in 2017 she was presented with a Lifetime Achievement honor at the American Music Awards.
Diana Ross is truly the boss, because her legacy has not only impacted music, but fashion and culture across many generations and genres.
You can’t mention R&B music without mentioning the likes of living legend Patti LaBelle. Hailed as the ‘Godmother of Soul,’ the 74-year-old continues gracing stages and giving 100% for 90 minutes singing to her full potential in heels while interacting with adoring fans. She has spent more than 50 years in the game recording R&B songs that have laid down the soundtrack to many of our lives.
She began her career as part of the Ordettes in 1959, who became The Bluebelles in 1961. The BlueBelles earned national fame at The Apollo Theater in Harlem. Thy remade songs such as “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
Their ballad, “Down the Aisle (The Wedding Song)” became a top 40 hit. In the early 70s the group revamped their image and changed their name to the edgy LaBelle and pushed fashion limits with thick soled shoes and glam rock inspired outfits. In 1974, they released the album Nightbirds and the first single off the album “Lady Marmalade” became the group’s first number one hit in over a decade.
LaBelle not only contributed to America’s soundtrack, the group broke barriers by becoming the first group to play at the Metropolitan Opera House, and becoming the first black vocal group to land the cover of Rolling Stone magazine. However, despite the increasing amount of success, tensions in the group led to a split in 1977.
Patti LaBelle Goes Solo
Later that year, Patti LaBelle released her solo debut album Patti LaBelle, followed by Tasty in 1978, and Released in 1980. LaBelle recorded the ballad “The Best is Yet to Come” in 1982 with Grover Washington which reached number 14 on the R&B chart and garnered her first solo GRAMMY Award nomination.
In 1983, LaBelle released her breakthrough album, I’m in Love Again, which included her first top ten R&B singles, “Love, Need and Want You,” and “If Only You Knew.”
She racked up some hit duets with Bobby Womack on the song “Love Has Finally Come at Last,” and a number one hit with “On My Own,” with Michael MacDonald.
Through the 80s, LaBelle would continue churning out hits including, “New Attitude,” “Stir it Up,” and “If You Asked Me To.”
In 1991, LaBelle received her first GRAMMY Award for Best Female R&B Vocal Performance for the album Burnin. The album had three Billboard top 5 R&B hits including “Feels Like Another One,” “Somebody Loves You Baby (You Know Who It Is)” and “When You’ve Been Blessed (Feels Like Heaven).”
In 1993, she received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The singer also continued releasing popular albums throughout the 90s, including Gems (1994), Flame (1997), and Live! One Night Only (1998)—which won LaBelle her a second Grammy.
Back to the Foundation
In 2008, LaBelle reunited with her former LaBelle members Nona Hendryx and Sarah Dash to release the album Back to Now, their first as a group in over 30 years.
For her 19th solo album, the songstress opted to try a different genre, jazz. In 2017, she released Bel Hommage. The thirteen-track album pays tribute to some of the legends of Jazz. “It’s a beautiful tribute to artists like Nina Simone, Frank Sinatra, Shirley Horn and many others. I’m paying homage to them,” LaBelle revealed in an interview with Essence.
The musical icon was honored by the National Museum of African American Music during its fourth annual My Music Matters: A Celebration of Legends Luncheon in Nashville, Tennessee in 2017. She was honored alongside Kirk Franklin, Teddy Riley, and David Porter for their contributions to the music industry.
In addition to her more than 50-year successful career as a singer, LaBelle has written several books and starred in numerous stage and screen productions.
In 2019, LaBelle is still a commanding stage presence as her voice soars and she takes audiences through her vast discography during her shows. Seeing her on stage at the Blumenthal Performing Arts in Charlotte, North Carolina, proves that Ms. LaBelle still has it as she belts out the same songs she’s been doing for years, yet somehow, they sound even better as time goes on. “My voice is stronger now than when I was 30,” Labelle told the Fort Meyers News Press. She added, “I don’t smoke. I don’t drink crazy, I don’t do drugs. I’m pretty boring, really to be honest. I’m not going to mess up my instrument, you know, by doing anything cuckoo.” It’s evident as the entire theater gives the Godmother of Soul a standing ovation after she belts out every single song.
She has sold more than 50 million records over the span of her career and Labelle shows no signs of slowing down as she continues contributing to America’s soundtrack and inspiring singers from every generation.
Jazz music is another layer of the foundation of America’s soundtrack. Charles “Buddy” Bolden is said to be the first musician to ever play jazz music, but whether he is or not, it’s clear that his contributions to the genre helped form the jazz movement. Many jazz musicians, including Jelly Roll Morton and the trumpeter Louis Armstrong, proclaimed him to be one of the most powerful musicians ever to play jazz. The birth of jazz begat the birth of American popular culture from Armstrong to Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, The Fugees, and Dr. Dre. Bolden is credited as the one that laid down that foundation.
Bolden’s Impact on Jazz
Bolden was born September 6, 1877 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Bolden began playing the coronet, which is an instrument similar to the trumpet, when he was a teenager. He joined a small New Orleans band where he honed his musician skills. He later went on to create his own band, that is considered to be the first group to play what would later be called jazz music. The group played a variety of genres including, blues, waltzes, ragtime, and other popular songs of the time period. Bolden cemented his reputation in the industry by using the power of his horn to put listeners into a trance or get them to dance into a frenzy. He made the songs his own by playing blues songs at medium tempos, sprinkled with racy lyrics. He took the blues and mixed it with gospel inflections for a more rhythmic feel, and the result was a new sound that spread throughout New Orleans.
The Buddy Bolden Band consisted of cornet, guitar, trombone, bass, two clarinets, and drums. From 1900 to 1906, the Buddy Bolden Band had top billing in New Orleans. Bolden became known as the moniker “King” Bolden. According to NewOrleans.com, songs first associated with his band include “Careless Love,” “My Bucket’s Got a Hole in It,” “Get Out of Here and Go Home,” and “Funk Butt.”
Things started to spiral out of control for Bolden in 1906. He suffered from depression and his alcohol usage brought on bouts of paranoia, including a fear of his own coronet, and severe headaches. His last public appearance was in 1907 with the Eagle Band at the New Orleans Labor Day Parade. During the parade he began screaming and suffered what seemingly looked like a nervous breakdown. NewOrleans.com says he was diagnosed with schizophrenia and admitted to the Louisiana State Insane Asylum at the age of 30. He remained there until his death nearly 25 years later on November 4, 1931.
On May 3, 2019, the first ever film inspired by the jazz legend, BOLDEN, will be released in theaters nationwide. The film stars Gary Carr, Yaya DaCosta, Reno Wilson, Erik LaRay Harvey, and Ian McShane with music written, arranged, and performed by acclaimed jazz musician Wynton Marsalis and directed by Dan Pritzker.
The film’s stars recreated the only photo left of Buddy Bolden and his band.
While his musical life was cut short, and there’s not much left of his actual recordings today, Bolden was and still is lauded as a musical genius of his time that inspired the likes of jazz artists that followed in his footsteps.
After decades of contributing to America’s soundtrack and taking a long hiatus, the Queen of Funk, Chaka Khan is making her musical comeback with her first studio album in 12 years. Khan made the announcement about her new project Hello Happiness on her website earlier this month. It’s the follow up to Khan’s 2007 studio LP Funk This.
“Hello Happiness is an album which sets Chaka Khan’s soulful vocals to an empowering collection of songs with cutting-edge production,” according to the statement on her website. “With an eye on the future and a respect for the past, Chaka Khan has delivered an album with the contemporary edge to entice newcomers to her world class talent and the quality to excite long-term fans.”
The forthcoming album will be released on Diary Records / Island Records, a new label created by Major Lazer founder/producer Switch and artist/songwriter Sarah Ruba.
Last June, the singer released “Like Sugar” as the first single from the upcoming album.
The second single and title track, “Hello Happiness” is a dance-oriented track that takes listeners on a funky journey.
Khan began her professional career in 1973 as the lead singer of the funk band Rufus and their hit song “Tell Me Something Good.” The group scored a GRAMMY for best R&B Vocal Performance by a Duo, Group or Chorus for the song.
Rufus, which was later renamed Rufus featuring Chaka Khan and then Rufus & Chaka Khan, continued their successful streak of hits with “Once You Get Started,” “Sweet Thing,” “Do You Love What You Feel,” and “Ain’t Nobody.”
Five years later, she embarked on her solo career. Her self-titled debut album won a GRAMMY for Best Female Vocal Performance. The album featured the number one R&B hit and empowerment anthem, “I’m Every Woman.”
During the 80s and early 90s, Khan was a mainstay on the R&B charts with top 20 hits like “What Cha’ Gonna Do for Me,” “Got to Be There,” “It’s My Party,” “Love You All my Lifetime,” and “You Can Make the Story Right.”
She has sold 70 million records during the course of her nearly five-decade career, won 10 GRAMMY Awards, ad has released 22 albums with 10 U.S. number one singles. Some of her collaborators over the years include Prince, Quincy Jones, Miles Davis, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, and Mary J. Blige.
Hello Happiness will be released Feb. 15 and can be pre-ordered here.
Playing a role in the Civil Rights Movement is a thread weaved into the blanket of America’s soundtrack. The legendary Stevie Wonder played an integral part in bringing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day into fruition with its own soundtrack.
Wonder recalled the first time he had heard of Dr. King. “I was 5 when I first heard of MLK.” As he listened to the coverage of the Montgomery bus boycott on the radio, “I asked, ‘Why don’t they like colored people? What’s the difference? I still can’t see the difference. Want to know why? Because there is no difference,” Wonder said. That moment fueled him to lead the crusade to help create Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
In 1968, just days after Dr. King’s assassination, Michigan congressman John Conyers introduced legislation to make a federal holiday in King’s honor according to History.com.
Congress didn’t move the bill forward and over the years, some states enacted holidays in honor of King on their own. In 1979, Dr. King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, testified before Congress but it didn’t work. Things started to change in the early 80s. Stevie Wonder penned the hit song, “Happy Birthday” on his 1980 album Hotter than July. The record pays respect to Dr. King with his portrait on the right and a collage of images from the Civil Rights Movement on the left.
Under Dr. King’s image, Wonder wrote: “Martin Luther King was a man who had that strength. He showed us, non-violently, a better way of life, a way of mutual respect, helping us to avoid much bitter confrontation and inevitable bloodshed. We still have a long road to travel until we reach the world that was his dream. We in the United States must not forget either his supreme sacrifice or that dream.”
The song celebrates King’s legacy but also takes aim at those who oppose the holiday with the lyrics:
“You know it doesn’t make much sense/ There ought to be a law against/Anyone who takes offense/ At a day in your celebration/ Cause we all know in our minds/ That there ought to be a time/ That we can set aside/ To show just how much we love you.”
After “Happy Birthday’s” release, Wonder and Mrs. King continued the fight to get Dr. King’s legacy honored. In 1982, she and Stevie Wonder presented a petition with more than six million signatures in support of the holiday to the then speaker of the house.
In November 1983 President Ronald Reagan signed a bill establishing the third Monday of January as the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Holiday. The first Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was celebrated January 20, 1986, nearly 18 years after his assassination.
To this day, Wonder’s “Happy Birthday” song is a familiar one embraced by the Black community when celebrating a friend or family member as an alternative to the traditional birthday song. The chorus is a joyful call to kinship.
Stevie Wonder still performs “Happy Birthday” to spread the message of Dr. King.
The Prince of Sophisticated Soul, Will Downing, is back adding another layer to his contributions to America’s soundtrack with an inspiring message on his 21st album, The Promise.
In 2007, Will Downing faced the unthinkable; a sudden onset of the auto-immune disease polymyositis that left him nearly paralyzed. During this trial, Downing says he didn’t curse God, but instead offered a prayer, “Lord you see me through this and I promise I will give you all the honor, and the praise wherever I go.” Over a decade later, Downing is making good on his promise with a 10 song thank you letter on his first ever gospel album, The Promise. With his distinctive rich baritone, Downing infuses his inspirational message with R&B and Jazz overtones, making it a departure from traditional gospel sounds.
Will Downing spoke with the National Museum of African American Music about crafting a praise worthy album that fulfilled his vow and how the illness changed his perspective and has influenced his music moving forward.
What inspired you to do this first gospel album and talk about the title, The Promise. What took you so long to do a gospel album?
Will Downing: The Promise is a promise that I made to my mom years ago that I would do a gospel album. So that’s one inspiration, and the other was obviously when I was sick and you know, you’re making that negotiation with God, like ‘hey, you get me out of this one, I’m going to do this.’ I’m one of the few people that actually make good on their promise. I’m making good on my promise because I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve said ‘Lord, please get me up out of this bed, I got you, trust me, I got you.’
So, I’m making good on my word there and the reason that it’s taken so long for me to do it and because this is actually one of the first few times that I’ve had kind of musical autonomy to do what I wanted to do musically. Not that they [record labels] tell me what to do, but when I was at Universal, I was contracted to do an R&B album or contemporary jazz album. I always had to fulfill the contractual agreement. Now that I’m kind of doing the independent thing and able to kind of do a one offs with a label like Shanachie Entertainment. If they’re interested in buying it then that’s what you get. You automatically know what you get. There’s no contract with me saying I have to do an R&B album, I have to do a jazz, or whatever. This is something that I have done, self-financed, and then sold it to them to distribute.
In an interview with JET Magazine, you mentioned that you used live instrumentation on your Black Pearls album. Did you do that for The Promise as well?
Will Downing: Oh yes. There’s a lot of live instrumentation on there. I’d probably say like 70 percent. It kind of really brings the spirit of the music alive to me. You know, there are certain things you can program, but then there are other things you just can’t get that feel. This is supposed to be a feel- good record. It’s supposed to be an inspirational record. It’s supposed to be informative and heartfelt, so you need a lot of musicians to kind of bring stuff like that to life.
How would you describe your gospel sound for fans that are expecting to hear that traditional gospel sound?
Will Downing: I stayed in my lane. I know who I am, I know what I do, and I know what I do best. I’ve made enough records to know what will attract people to the music. You have to be yourself and that’s the type of record that I made. I made it so that musically, it didn’t really deviate from what I’ve always done. What I did was put a message on top of that and that is the inspiration. How was the process of putting this gospel album together different from your previous albums?
Will Downing: Well, with albums like this, I mean you really have to be vulnerable and you have to open up and you know look at yourself for real. It’s really no holds barred. You have to let it all out. I think that I’ve been able to do that in the past with songs. I think with this album, you really take a good look at yourself and, and you can’t be ashamed because you may find yourself crying and letting it all out that way. It’s very therapeutic, to let it out and you know that there’s other people out there in the world that feel the same way and maybe they’ve never heard someone say it and say ‘it’s okay.’
Was there a moment while you were recording that you literally had to step away and break down?
Will Downing: Well, it’s interesting because when I listen to the album as a collection, sometimes I find myself breaking down now. I mean because it really puts you in touch with yourself. You know, all the things that I’ve gone through throughout my life, I mean, it’s not just really just 2007, but it’s everything going forward. It’s your whole existence, you know, you are putting it out on whatever this digital format is now. So, you’re really saying what’s on your heart, going through the whole process of how you’ve been your entire life and how grateful you have been throughout the ups and the downs. Hopefully people can identify with the album and it makes them feel good about themselves as well. Let’s discuss some of the songs on The Promise. Talk about the song “Look at Yourself in the Mirror.”
Will Downing: Well, it’s one of those songs that’ll make you think twice about doing something because you have to look at yourself and know there’s someone, a greater or higher being, looking at you as well. When you look at yourself in the mirror, you should be pleased. It just makes you rethink everything before you do it.
How about the song “I Hear Your Voice?”
Will Downing: That is one of the only ones I didn’t write. I hear it and lyrically, I hear a voice ringing in my ears, and wonder ‘is that you Lord?’ Don’t you always question yourself or when something’s going and wonder if you are supposed to be doing this? Am I supposed to be here? Is it God guiding me? I don’t know about anyone else, but I find myself questioning a lot of the things that go on in my life, karma, and all that stuff. If I do something wrong, or if something wrong happens to me, I think, ‘Lord is that you giving me a little light tap saying like, don’t do it again?’ When things go right, it’s the same sort of thing. I would assume there’s a lot of people that feel the same way.
What about “You Blessed My Life?”
Will Downing: It’s an acknowledgement of all the things that have gone right in my life. The worst things that have happened to me ended up with a blessing attached to it, you know. So, the song is just being grateful for the good and sometimes the not so good, but even just the lessons. I’m still here to talk about it where there’s a lot of the people that haven’t had that opportunity to wake up this morning. I’m grateful for the life that I have and for what I do, because to me, this isn’t work. I’m blessed to be able to do this for a living and support myself and my family. The song “God is So Amazing” is really a full circle moment for you.
Will Downing: Most artists will never rarely say that they have a favorite song on a record. This one to me is my favorite because I recorded that song originally back in 2007 when I was really, really, really sick. That is when the doctors had pretty much written me off and it was like the last song that I recorded off of the After Tonight album because I didn’t think that I was going to make it, to be honest with you. And if you listened to the original recording, you can hear the strain in my voice. You can hear the weakness. I mean, it was just something I just did the best that I could with what I had and to be able to come back 11 years later, and re-do the song while upright as opposed to sitting in a wheelchair or laying in a hospital bed like I was when I did the original recording is a before and after picture, to show you that God is truly amazing because look at where I was then and where I am now.
Looking back over the years, with your experiences with your health, and finally coming full circle with this album; has your approach to music changed?
Will Downing: I mean it affects everything you know, because like most young people you think that you’re invincible, because you never think anything is going to happen to you and then when it happens, that’s the wake-up call. So, you start realizing that that your time is limited and what you say and what you do is impactful and important and how you spend your time and what you say is also very important. So, you just can’t throw anything out into the universe the older that you get. It makes me think about everything that I’m doing. As opposed to in the early days, the ulterior motive might have been to just do this or that and get a check, like I’m going to sing this song and get this money. So, as you get older, you start thinking that maybe that wasn’t as important as you thought it was and you start trying to get yourself together and making changes. You become more about society- based things and people, and how you live your life. The less time you have, the more meaning.
Social media has been blowing up with young R&B singer Jacquees making the declaration that he is the King of R&B of this generation. What are your thoughts on this?
Will Downing: The King of R&B? Please (laughs). There are so many artists that are really starting to come into their own and they have had several records out. I often ask myself who is the future? You look at Raheem DeVaughn who has been around for a minute, then you look at someone like myself, then it’s like you’re still just starting to me. So, it’s like a bunch of artists who could stake claim to it and they are really good, but this Jacquees, I’ve never even heard of him. He’s got more work to do.
Who do you think is the King of R&B?
Will Downing: I don’t consider what these artists do today as real traditional R&B. There’s a new face to R&B that I don’t even recognize to be honest. I mean R&B is more than just a beat and a baseline, it’s a way of life, and a mindset. The traditional sense that I know R&B to be, these kids haven’t even touched that and it hasn’t been touched in a while. From a lyrical standpoint, these guys aren’t finding a slick way to say I want to get with you, they just get straight to it without putting some polish on it. Even with the female artists, it’s the same sort of thing. Every song these days is explicit. As R&B artists, we are supposed to be the slickest talking, smoothest, educated, and putting the high gloss on what we’ve laid down, so why are you making the music raw like this? I don’t know what to call this but it’s not the R&B I remember.
Someone puts out a record and it lasts a month or two months maybe, and then they’re gone. It’s just a new day and it’s hard for like old artists like myself to identify with it. I mean I have a real problem with it. A real problem. Obviously, there are some extremely talented people out there that aren’t getting their due, and then these new folks come out and sort of brand themselves. So, you became big because someone pressed “like” on your page. (laughs). If you go back in history, people put in work and I don’t see a lot of work being put in today. Don’t get me wrong, they are cute, look good, but you have to say something. There’s a lot of people out there that put it down and put in a lot of work.
My music matters because (fill in the blank).
Will Downing: My music matters because I was here. It’s changed people’s lives. I’ve had and am still having an impact on the world.
For more information, check out Will Downing’s website.
The holiday season isn’t complete without the sounds of one of the most classic R&B Christmas albums ever recorded; The TemptationsGive Love at Christmas. The Temptations roster for this soulful album included Otis Williams, Dennis Edwards, Glenn Leonard, Richard Street, and Melvin Franklin. The group crafted the household staple released in 1980 that is a part of America’s soundtrack. While this isn’t the Temptations first holiday themed album, it has been deemed as one of the most memorable. Ask anyone what their favorite Temptations Christmas song is and they will surely mention “Silent Night,” with Melvin Frank’s bass filled voice opens the track with “T’was the night before Christmas,” and sign’s off with infamous line “Merry Christmas from the Temptations!”
In an interview with NMAAM earlier this year, founding member of the group Otis Williams expressed that he is used to hearing that people consider the Give Love at Christmas album a classic. “People love our version of ‘Silent Night.’ I think we did a great rendition of such a fantastic song to begin with. All we did was put our imprint on it and it’s been a hugely successful record. We did that album in the 1980s and it’s still a very popular one when Christmas rolls around now,” explained Williams. The song was recorded in the 1970s on their first holiday album; The Temptations Christmas Card, but the updated six-minute version is the one most refer to as the ultimate classic as the Temptations tap into their gospel roots to conjure up the true spirit of the holidays.
The Give Love at Christmas album is filled with the Motown sound as the tempting Temptations showcase their smooth harmonies that are evident on the hits during their hey day when they ruled the charts. The album features songs such as the introduction, “Give Love on Christmas Day,” that highlights Glenn Leonard’s falsetto on lead.
“Everything for Christmas” has harmonizing background vocals with Richard Street taking the lead, making listeners want to hang the mistletoe and the stockings with care.
“The Christmas Song” features various members on lead vocals.
Dennis Edwards turns “This Christmas” into his own soulful version that shines and makes you want to two-step.
The group tackles another standard that has been recorded multiple times over the years, “The Little Drummer Boy.” The harmonies march to the beat of the drum throughout the song.
Each song on the album is a reminder of why the Temptations have reigned as one of the greatest groups of all time by putting their signature stamp of soul on every single song.
So, when you are looking to fill your stereo with ‘yuletide carols, old and new,’ The Temptations Give Love at Christmas album is the perfect soundtrack as you trim the tree and spend time with loved ones this holiday season. Happy Holidays!
Gospel singer Koryn Hawthorne is breaking down doors and cementing her place on America’s soundtrack. At 2o years old, the singer has already had the longest reign on Billboard’s Hot Gospel Songs chart by a woman for “Won’t He Do It” with 35 weeks in the number one spot. The track breaks Tamala Mann’s “Take Me to the King” record which crowned the chart for 25 weeks in 2012-2013.
Koryn grew up singing in her family’s church in Louisiana, but her first public appearance was in a talent showcase in Las Vegas where she won top honors in her category. Influenced by the likes of musical giants Tina Turner, Etta James, Mary J. Blige, Michael Jackson, and gospel greats like Fred Hammond, Mary Mary, and Kirk Franklin, helped hone her musical resume. By age 11, she was auditioning for singing competitions such as America’s Got Talent, X Factor, and American Idol. During her time on American Idol, she was sent home early for sticking with the gospel genre that was in her heart. That experience eventually gave her the push she needed to try out for The Voice for its Season 8 competition. As fate would have it, Hawthorne made it to the finals of The Voice as part of super producer Pharrell Williams team. On her website, she explains, “The first thing Pharrell said to me is, ‘We’ve GOT to do gospel,’ which was incredible! So, the first chance we got, I did ‘How Great Thou Art.’” She adds that doing the show helped to shape her vision of her artistry. “For me, The Voice wasn’t about choosing the best songs, or picking songs to best demonstrate my vocal range, but about choosing songs with the best message,” she says. “I thought, ‘God gave me this platform and I need to inspire people, even if I’m not here to win.’”
After the singing competition, Hawthorne found her way to RCA Inspiration where she found her musical match. In 2017, she collaborated with a lineup of hit-making producers and songwriters including Warryn Campbell and Bernie Herms to release her debut EP, Koryn Hawthorne. That debut garnered her two Stellar Award nominations earlier this year.
She released her full length album Unstoppable in July 2018, which reached number one on the Top Gospel Albums chart, and in an interview with CBN News, she said the title of the album goes hand in hand with the story of her life and career. “I felt like it would be the perfect name,” she toldCBN News. “Throughout the course of my life, God has always orchestrated my steps. The purpose that God has over my life is unstoppable and nobody can stop that. With this album, I want to encourage other people with that. Everybody has a purpose and at this time, it’s necessary to find out what your purpose is and be unstoppable in it.”
The title track “Unstoppable” expresses the relentless pursuit of God’s plan. On the album, Koryn’s versatility is on full display from up-tempo songs to raising her fist in victory in the song “Warriors.” It’s obvious that Hawthorne immerses herself into every song she sings to minister to her audience.
The singer appeared on the 2018 Black Music Honors to pay tribute to former Temptations front man Dennis Edwards. Hawthorne also won her first Dove Award this year in the Contemporary Gospel/Urban Recorded Song of the Year category for her hit, “Won’t He Do It.” The single was originally written and conceived for television drama, Greenleaf’s soundtrack. Hawthorne explained on her website that it was important for the song to resonate with fans. “But the most important thing was for the song to sound like I wrote it myself. So, I thought about things in my life, what God has done for me. I don’t ever want to sing something that doesn’t feel like me. My number one rule is that if you don’t feel it, other people won’t.”
The singer also is getting into the Christmas spirit. In November, she released Christmas songs, “First Noel” and “This Christmas” as her first holiday recordings.
With her distinctive vocal prowess and artistry, Koryn Hawthorne continues making her mark as one of the most exciting new voices infusing gospel into her generation.
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