June is Black Music Month it is a month that celebrates and recognizes the contributions of Black Music to the world scene. Black music brings to mind images of Jazz and Blues from New Orleans and Memphis. It brings to mind the Harlem Renaissance with names like Count Basie and Duke Ellington, creating songs and sounds of a people in love with their "Satin Dolls" and "Sophisticated Ladies," and their beauty in colors of "Black Brown and Beige". There are the images of Nat King Cole asking the question, "Gee Baby, Ain't I Good to you" and "Marrying Sweet Lorraine." If that is Old School, count me in for a second helping.
There are the images of Gospel music that sustained Black folks from slavery days where the music was used by slaves as songs of a people longing to be free with songs like "Steal Away" as a message of those seeking freedom, and patience like, 'I shall not be moved, like a tree planted by the water."
Then there are musicians whose first names alone are enough to bring music to our ears. Names like Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, Satchmo, Nat King Cole, Lady Day, and Aretha. Of course there are names like James Cleveland, Andre Crouch, and Thomas Dorsey whose Gospel sustained us with their heavenly messages of hope and redemption.
Other songs like Lady Day's "Strange Fruit ", James Brown's "I'm Black and I'm Proud" and Aretha's "Respect" tells of Black progress, from slavery to freedom and pride like, "Lift Every Voice" and love songs like, "Solid As a Rock."
In his book, The Spirituals and the Blues, Professor James Cone summarizes the Black experience as a history of servitude, resistance and survival in a land of death. Cone says that spirituals have always been a part of that survival, and the resistance has always been used to define the difficulties of the servitude.
In a booklet that I have written called Sidetracked, I talk about "How Black Music has influenced Black Progress." I raise the question, "has Hip Hop's Gangster Rap Music sidetracked Black America from the route set by the Underground Railroad?" Unfortunately, the answer is yes. With choices of music that moved Black America forward like Curtis Mayfield's "Keep On Pushing" and "We're a Winner" and Love songs like Ray Charles "I Can't stop Loving You", Aretha's "You make me Feel like a Natural Woman" and the Godfather of Soul, James Brown, begging his woman, "Please, Please, Please Don't Go."
He made his millions and led Black America down the wrong path, leaving us a world wide legacy and mind set that slowed and stalled Black progress forward. He lost his wife and his reputation in the process. Think about it Black music went from "Gee Baby Ain't I Good to You", to "She's a Bitch." The music went from calling each other "Brother, Brother" to calling each other Nigga. Nat King Cole wanted to marry Sweet Lorraine, but who wants to marry a Bitch?
Personally as for me, the purveyors of the gangster rap culture may be my color but they are not my kind, and the sooner we get back on track, the sooner the destination of the Underground can be achieved. Let's celebrate Black Music Month by revisiting the Old School.