Join NMAAM on Wednesday, April 7th at 6 p.m. for a screening of the Grammy-winning documentary “Quincy” and discussion on Quincy Jones’ impact on the entertainment industry as a musician, producer, and visionary. The documentary features industry thought-leaders, and a filmed introduction from Quincy Jones.
With a distinct acapella style they call “vocal play, Naturally 7 is a New York based vocal septet that has contributed to America’s soundtrack with their unique style. Featuring Roger Thomas, Warren Thomas, Rod Eldridge, Lee Ricardo, Dwight Stewart, Garfield Buckley, and Kelvin “Kelz” Mitchell, Naturally 7 has made their mark by using their voices to replicate music instruments to accompany their choral harmonies.
The group recently released their seventh album, Both Sides Now, which features classics spanning over a century from Roberta Flack’s “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face,” to Paul McCartney’s “Pipes of Peace.”
Roger Thomas, co-founder, of the group Naturally 7 spoke with the National Museum of African American Music about the group’s new album, Both Sides Now, their repertoire of music, and career highlights.
What have been some of your career highlights?
Roger Thomas: I suppose one career highlight has been going on three world tours with Michael Bublé. We did that three world tours that pushed us out in front of about 4 million people. That’s nothing to sneeze at. We did Quincy Jones’ 75th birthday and we became friends with him. We were the only group that was on the stage that night that he didn’t know who we were. They had the greats there like James Ingram, Patti Austin, Herbie Hancock. He was just so overjoyed by what we did. That was really cool for us. Also, we did the  BET Honors did a tribute for Herbie Hancock and showed the world what we were doing. We’ve had so many highlights. All of it has been a blessing.
For those discovering Naturally 7 for the first time, can you describe the group’s sound and explain what vocal play is?
Roger Thomas: We are acapella and most people know it means singing without instruments. Vocal play is when you become the instruments, meaning actually mimicking the instruments. Often times when you sing acapella, you just sing the ooh’s and aah’s, but it isn’t taking the place of modern instruments. So that’s exactly what we do is when you hear the sound, you hear the instruments and literally believe that you’re hearing the regular instruments that you would hear when you are listening to other genres like R&B, hip hop, pop, funk, gospel, it doesn’t make any difference, we’re going to sell that world of sound just with our voices. We’re not really chained to any particular genre, but coming out of the church, gospel and R&B and coming out of New York; in our set people are going to hear anything from classical music to rock.
Let’s talk about the album, Both Sides Now. What would you say is the difference between this album and your previous albums?
Roger Thomas: First of all, if you were listening to the album before this one, Hidden in Plain Sight, they are both extremes. We actually don’t have a lot of vocal play on this album. This was a specialty project where we concentrated on the choral aspect, the harmonies, and almost going back to our roots where we originally came from. The theme of the album was classical and classics, so that’s what we kind of did. If you listened to the album before this it was urban, hip hop, R&B, and just completely different.
How do you pick the songs that you are going to put on the album? Because looking at your discography, there are a lot of Simon and Garfunkel songs and then you do a Roberta Flack song; there’s a wide range. So how do you narrow your songs down?
Roger Thomas: (laughs) I’m going to be honest with you. From the time we got together in 1999, we found that more people were more surprised that we would even know that song, so the effect of that was overwhelming. So, you can imagine seeing seven black guys on stage, people would think we were about to do some Donny Hathaway, Earth Wind & Fire, but we like to do stuff that people don’t expect. We can take a song like “In the Air Tonight,” and then make a hip hop version out of it, and we have our own lyrics and our verses, and the chorus is hip hop. We like kind of doing things where people end up shocked. At Carnegie Hall earlier this year, they did a 1960s movement, and we did “Summer in the City” and we mixed it with Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five’s “The Message.” They didn’t expect us to mix those together. That’s our goal, and that’s what we like to do. In a set, Roberta Flack’s song “First Time I Ever Saw Your Face,” they may have not heard a male sing that song. It’s not even a black white thing, it can be gender.
Do you ever get feedback from the artists whose songs you put the Naturally 7 spin on?
Roger Thomas: Yes, we have to clear songs. One of the songs, “Everything She Wants,” by George Michael, we had to clear. This was before he passed and he was like “oh my goodness I love what you guys did with it. I give you permission, I hope you have a lot of success with it.” I’d love to hear from Paul Simon, we haven’t had that. We’ve heard from James Taylor’s people, some how they got wind of it, and asked us to put it on their Facebook page and they loved it. We did a song for Quincy Jones called “Wall of Sound,” and in the middle of it, we did “Off the Wall.” Quincy produced “Off the Wall,” so you can imagine his face when we hit that. We love when we get a chance for the original artist to hear it.
Since your voices are your instruments, how do you care for them? Do you get a lot of sore throats? (laughs)
Roger Thomas: (laughs) We actually police each other. We have to remind each other “bring your voice down.” So even talking actually, loud talking, hurts us more than singing every day. We police that and sleep. None of us smoke, we are very careful with our instruments since it’s inside of us, we have to take care of ourselves. If someone gets a cold or something, then that affects the show and what people are going to hear. I’m not saying that we never lose our voices, because we do, but the show goes on.
Why is it important to have the National Museum of African American Music?
Roger Thomas: One of my pet peeves that people just forget too quick. It could be something that happened five years ago and it’s already forgotten. People forget how we got here from something that just happened 10 years ago, 15 years ago, or even 100 years ago. So, people are visual people so to actually see something that will help. In a museum situation, if we are teaching people this is what has taken place, these are the steps that have been taken to get to the steps that you are on now, and that way you can even know there are other steps. People have to know how they got to where they are and know the people that paved the way and the events that happened along the way. If you don’t know that then you’re doomed to repeat history. I truly believe we have to lift up our heroes and the people that have made it possible for us to be where we are.
Keep up with Naturally 7 by checking out their website.
The Hippest Trip in America is a musical journey that many grew up on that quickly became the soundtrack for many of our lives. Soul Train is the brain child of the late legendary Don Cornelius that ruled the airwaves from 1971 until 2006. We can all relate to tuning in to see our favorite performers, dancers, and of course the infamous Soul Train line. During its run on the musical tracks, the show featured performances from a variety of genres including R&B, soul, disco, gospel, and hip hop.
While this year marks 46 years since Soul Train made its national television appearance, the brand is still being kept alive thanks to the Viacom BET Networks acquisition of the Soul Train brand. BET Presents: 2017 Soul Train Awards marks 30 years since the awards show first aired in 1987.
BET will air this year’s show on November 26 and the National Museum of African American Music will live tweet the event. First, let’s take a look at some memorable performances from the Soul Train Awards over the years:
1987 the first Soul Train Awards show had Whitney Houston on a stage delivering nothing but good vocals with her Kashif produced single “You Give Good Love.”
What do you get when you put four legends together on one stage? In 1987, a soul stirring performance from Stevie Wonder, Whitney Houston, Luther Vandross, and Dionne Warwick singing a riff filled version of “That’s What Friends Are For.”
In 1990, one of the most seductive songs was performed on the Soul Train Awards stage. It was the Quincy Jones single, “Secret Garden” featuring Al B. Sure!, James Ingram, El Debarge, and Barry White. As the quartet crooned, the fans screamed out in pleasure for the entire performance.
1991 had fans begging “Please Hammer Don’t Hurt Em” as rapper MC Hammer and his team of dancers wore the Soul Train Awards stage out with a medley of hits from “Let’s Get It Started” to “Turn this Mutha Out.” The crew had the crowd hype with 7 ½ minutes of non-stop dancing. Hammer also picked up a couple of awards as well that night.
A severely sprained ankle couldn’t keep Michael Jackson from making folks “Remember the Time” during his seated performance at the 1993 Soul Train Awards. Unfortunately, the audio was taken off of all the performances on YouTube, but that doesn’t stop this electrifying performance from the King of Pop and neither did that chair! MJ even took home three awards that night including best R&B male album, R&B male single and a special humanitarian citation.
That same year the ladies of En Vogue performed a medley that paid tribute to some of the greats that came before them. The songs included “Best of My Love,” “Heard it Through the Grapevine,” “Respect,” and “Lady Marmalade.”
While it’s not a performance, one highlight from the past is Prince’s acceptance speech when he received the Artist of the Decade for Extraordinary Artistic Achievements at the 2000 awards. Prince dropped knowledge that night!
2011 had us all doing the bird dance as Morris Day and The Time hit the stage as the Original 7ven!
2014 saw one of the most anticipated reunions right on the Soul Train Awards stage with the bad boys of R&B also known as Jodeci. From “Stay” to “Forever My Lady” the guys did a melody of their biggest hits taking the fans down memory lane!
The Soul Train Awards annually salutes the best in R&B, soul and hip-hop. Solange heads the 2017 class with seven nominations while Bruno Mars follows close behind with six nominations. Additional nominees include Rihanna, DJ Khaled, Bryson Tiller, Khalid, and SZA. Multi-platinum and seven-time Grammy award-winning singer-songwriter, artist, actress and producer Toni Braxton is set to receive the coveted Don Cornelius Legend Award. The third annual Lady of Soul Award will be presented to Grammy Award-Nominated, multi-platinum, female R&B trio SWV.
Join us on Twitter for a live tweet on November 26 at 8pm. Follow @theNMAAM.
This week we remember Michael Jackson on August 29, on what would have been the pop star’s 59th birthday.
Let’s rewind the clock to three decades earlier. On August 31, 1987, Michael Jackson took on what seemed impossible; to outdo his classic 1982 album Thriller. 30 years later, the Bad album is still just as immortal as Jackson’s musical legacy.
The album sold an estimated 45 million copies worldwide, and scored not one, but five Billboard Hot 100 number one singles. Bad landed him six Grammy nominations, two Grammy Awards, the first ever Video Vanguard Award at the MTV VMAs, and is cited as one of the best-selling albums of all time. Earlier this year, the album was certified Diamond by the Recording Industry Association of America.
We all know that Michael Jackson’s Thriller album shattered records and is still reigning supreme. It’s the album that pushed Jackson into the music stratosphere by becoming the all time biggest selling album; (the receipts: an estimated 65 million copies worldwide, 30 million in the U.S.). However, the follow up to Thriller showed MJ in a different light; a light that shined bright on his inner ultra-blackness and his uncanny ability to let you know he definitely isn’t the one to be messed with, and love can conquer all. In his 1988 autobiography Moonwalk, Jackson talked about the difficulty of topping Thriller because of the public’s expectations. “You can always say, ‘Aw forget Thriller,’ but no one ever will.” While we may not have forgotten Thriller, one can’t help but think that Jackson’s follow up effort hinted at foreshadowing of what was to come. The Bad album is still one that speaks volumes as it addresses themes of racial profiling, media bias, paranoia, romance, self- improvement, invoking change, and world peace. With the very same things that are in the spotlight with today’s racial tensions mounting across the country, perhaps Jackson knew this album would be one that we could still reference in times of turmoil.
While the album didn’t surpass Jackson’s expectations or break Thriller’s records; instead it put Jackson on display in a way that fans welcomed and appreciated. It exposed Jackson as a talented genius who grew as a songwriter, producer, and vocalist. Out of the 11 song track list, Jackson penned 9 of the songs. Michael served as co-producer for the album along with Quincy Jones. The album yielded some amazing movie quality music videos that he referred to as short films.
Let’s stroll down memory lane and celebrate the greatness on what some call one of his most underrated albums.
In Moonwalk, Michael Jackson describes the song “Bad” as a song about the street. “It’s about this kid from a bad neighborhood who gets to go away to a private school. He comes back to the old neighborhood when he’s on a break from school and the kids from the neighborhood start giving him trouble. He sings, ‘I’m bad, you’re bad, who’s bad, who’s the best?’ He’s saying when you’re strong and good, then you’re bad.”
“The Way You Make Me Feel” just has a groove that you can’t help but start putting a little bounce in your step when it comes on.
“‘The Way You Make Me Feel’ and ‘Smooth Criminal’ are simply the grooves I was in at the time” explains Michael in Moonwalk. You can’t listen to “Smooth Criminal” without trying his iconic lean move.
“Man in the Mirror” delivers a powerful message that is still very important today. In Moonwalk, Jackson says the song means “if you want to make the world a better place, you have to work on yourself and change first.”
“Liberian Girl” is one of the most slept on jams from this album. It’s a sexy song of appreciation for a loved one.
“Dirty Diana” is a song about a persistent groupie that showcased Jackson’s rock side.
Just like the majority of Michael Jackson’s albums, 30 years later, Bad continues to sell and introduce Jackson to a younger generation as one that helped shape and influence the soundtrack of American music. One thing is for sure, Michael Jackson left behind a legacy of timeless music that is still just as hip and cool as it was when he stepped into the studio to record them. This is why he will always be the King of Pop.
British composer and musician Rod Temperton, passed away last month at age 66 in London. He was the first songwriter I knew by name that wasn’t also an artist during my childhood. This is because I was absolutely obsessed with liner notes as a kid. I spent countless Saturday afternoons, pouring over Michael Jackson and George Benson records recognizing his name on my most favorite songs. Now of course I knew Stevie Wonder, Paul McCartney and Ashford and Simpson. But this Rod Temperton guy? I couldn’t put a face or a voice with this name and I’m willing to bet you couldn’t either. His ability to keep his personal life out of the limelight is what made Rod Temperton known as “The Invisible Man” throughout the music world.
Rod Temperton had one of the most understated personas for someone with such a vast and important body of work. His catalog boasts some of the greatest songs of our time ranging from the funkiest of jams like The Brothers Johnson’s “Stomp” to sensuous love ballads like Patti Austin and James Ingram’s “Baby Come to Me”. He began his career as a songwriter and keyboardist in Heatwave and wrote their biggest hits including “Groove Line”, “Boogie Nights” and the romantic classic “Always and Forever”.
It was while playing in Heatwave that he caught the attention of Quincy Jones who enlisted him to work on his album The Dude and Michael Jackson’s Off the Wall. After churning out hits like “Rock With You” and “Off the Wall” for Jackson, Jones also had him contribute to what is arguably the best pop album of all time, Thriller. Temperton wrote the title hit song “Thriller” along with “Baby Be Mine” (my personal favorite) and the album’s closing song “Lady In My Life”.
Although he is best known for his work with Michael Jackson, Temperton also worked with greats like Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock and Rufus featuring Chaka Khan. His extensive discography even includes movie soundtracks like Michael McDonald’s “Sweet Freedom” for the movie Running Scared and “Miss Celie’s Blues” for The Color Purple movie soundtrack.
I never knew as a child that one day my love for music history would one day bring me opportunities to interview some of the greatest composers of our time. Unfortunately, I will never get the chance to thank Rod Temperton for his contributions and talk to him about his love of music. I’m saddened that we weren’t able to honor him in the way that he deserved but I definitely respect him for living his life the way he chose: As The Invisible Man who let his music speak for itself; and it will, always and forever.
Check out my favorite Rod Temperton jams on my Spotify playlist .
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