Yesteryear, black music was awesome. Times were much difficult for black people, but the struggle brought out such creative music from the soul, in the secular world and even in the church. Nowadays, black artists does not know what it is to be innovative and create their own music and if they do, they do not have any soul, you can’t hardly feel anything. The last 90′s into the 21st century is the worst time in the world of music. New generations start producing their music, then it negatively effects the black community, because they do not know what it means to be creative. However, you can pick out good artists, just like picking out a few good ripe apples out of a rotten batch: Jaheim, Prince, Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, Boyz II Men, Patti Labelle, Aretha Franklin, Alicia Keyes, Fantasia, umm, it’s really hard, let’s see…Jennifer Hudson, of course. It makes you wonder if becoming diverse and universal did no good for preserving the soul in black music. Black music could be at the point of no return. Furthermore, every last one of these artists who are now deceased was an original and never imitated any other music artists to gain fame. These days, you have a lot of imitators and this is one of the main reasons why we have no more black artist with any real soul heard when they sing, beside the fact the new generation knows what soul music means or even how to just be an original artist.
The queen of Soul (photo above, r.) is still around to share her gift to the world, like the others mentioned above, but we only have memories of great moments in the history of black music as unfortunately, the soul ceases black America, more diversity has robbed dynamic creativity.
This gifted legend, Sylvester James was born on September 6, 1947. It was a good time in the 70s and early eighties, when the drag queen Sylvester touched many lives with his high pitched Soprano voice. This Los Angeles born maestro did not only excite the gay, lesbian and transgender community with his gift, people who claimed they were straight loved Sylvester’s music, because he was such a uniquely gifted artist. He was raised in the Pentecostal/Holiness church, Palm Lane Church of God in Christ. In the world of disco and soul, Sylvester had many fans from all over the world. Before he went solo, he was known as one of the members of the groups, “The Cockettes”. The average woman could not reach a high Soprano note, the way Slyvester did, quite often. It is assumed that this caused Sylvester to be the most talented star, he proceeded to be, until the day he died of AIDS, in December 16, 1988, at the young age of 41.
The King of gospel was a dominate force in gospel music to be reckoned with. As a boy the late Rev. James Cleveland was raised by his grandmother and often sang in the church choir, directed by the late Thomas Dorsey. At the tender age of only 8 years old, he learned piano keys on the windowsill of his bedroom. Rev. Cleveland inspired the daughter of the late C. L. Franklin and Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin who was featured on his gospel album, featuring his church choir, The Southern California Community Choir, “Amazing Grace”. Rev. James Cleveland’s music was much different than today’s music within the black church. Rev. James Cleveland had such powerful dominion as the King of Gospel, the black church knew the difference between gospel and secular music and and respected as such during Cleveland’s lifetime. In earlier years, gospel artists made a distinction from worldly artists during their performances and even in their attire. Average black ministers of today still envy his talent while gossiping about past unnecessary claims, regarding the King of Gospel personal life. One popular minister of Atlanta made mockery of one of his members in front of his congregation, honoring the King of Gospel on her website. He admitted when he was asked to do the music for the movie, “Roots”, he did not really want to do it, but hesitantly did the project anyway. Rev. James Cleveland was not compared to the late jazz legend, Louis Armstrong until after his death and while alive, he refused to change his music satisfy white music producers for fame and fortune, but instead he decided to just to do his music for God and he died a millionaire. Rev. James Cleveland was the founder and director of GMWA (Gospel Music of Workshop of America Mass Choir). Rev. Cleveland can be remembered for redoing Elvis Presley’s song, “In the Ghetto” and various gospel hits, “I Don’t Feel Noways Tired”, “Everything Will Be Alright”, “God Has Smiled On Me”, “Jesus Is The Best Thing”(a remake he did of Gladys Knight’ Song and converted into gospel), “God’s Way Is The Best Way” and many other hits. The King of gospel music, Rev. James Cleveland died of AIDS on February 9, 1991.
A gifted star was born on July 6, 1946 in the heart of Philidelphia, Pennslyvania and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennslyvania. Like the average African American music artists, the 6-foot superstar, Phyllis Hyman was a multi-talented artist who acted on the movie, Lenny (1974), and appeared on the hit movie produced by Spike Lee, School Daze, The Kill Reflex. This born diva was a jazz, R&B, disco and soul singer. She sang the theme song for the 1983 James Bond Movie, “Never Say Never.” She was a self-employed highly respected business woman. Phyllis Hyman later moved to New York to work on her career and met some very important people like Fred Frank of Epic Records who discovered her. On Arista Records, Barry Manilow produced her first hit record, “Somewhere In My Lifetime.” She worked with many great music artists, The Whispers, The Fourtops, Grover Washington, Jr., Norman Connors and many others. Here on this video, Phyllis Hyman can been seen sharing her talent of whistling, as part of her song, “Living All Alone.” The lovely music artist was always very unique and dressed with much class and sophistication similar of a fashion model and should have been a professional model. Her soft-spoken voice was feminine and so was her character. All in one month, Ms. Hyman lost her grandmother, mother and a close friend. She was found dead in her upscale New York City apartment. Phyllis Hyman left a suicide note that stated: I’m Tired. I’m Tired. God bless you. But Phyllis should be remembered for much more than her death. This talented star ceased the earth by suicide on June 30, 1995 at only 45 years old.
The news had spread nationwide and all over the world, the superstar was shot and killed by his father who was an envious Baptist minister, Marvin Gay, Sr. This jewel of soul music was born in 1939 through the womb of a school teacher, Alberta Cooper. Marvin Gaye, a soul who touched many lives with his soothing voice that produce great hits, “I Heard It Through The Grapevine”, “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough”, “How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You”, “What’s Going On”, “Ain’t Nothing Like The Real Thing”, “Sexual Healing”, “Mercy, Mercy Me” and many others. Born Marvin Pentz Gay, he started his career as a drummer with the group, Moonglows in the late 50’s and went solo in the 1960’s. This dynamic vibrant entertainer could reach a 3-octave note. He was known for sometimes performing with Tammy Terrell in the height of his career. Marvin Gaye was such a good-looking pretty soul, very masculine and had an irresistable body any man could wish for. We have even heard an artist or two doing a very good job, imitating Gaye, but of course, no one could ever be him. Marvin Gaye worked with many talented artists, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, At only age 44, Marvin Gaye life was taken by his own father, a hypocritical baptist preacher who accused Marvin Gaye of singing the “devil’s music”. Marvin Gaye left us good memories when he died in April 1, 1984.
When we lost Barry White, reality began to realty began to set in, “the King of Love Ballads” was gone, we have already lost too many. This romantic, bass tone performer was born on September 12, 1944 in Galveston, Texas as Barrence Eugene Carter. Barry White did not have to do much movement with any dance moves on stage, it was his seductive deep voice than won tons of fans, especially women. The maestro had no form of music education, but manage to learn musical notes on his own was often seen directing his orchestra during enumerable performances. In Barry White’s autobiography: Love Unlimited: Insights on Life and Love by Barry White and Marc Eliot, he mentioned how hard it was growing up in South Central, Los Angeles. At the age of 17, Barry White was incarcerated for stealing $30,000 worth of tires, which revealed anyone can become a success, regardless of their past failures. Barry White was very honest about poverty, not always having anything to eat. He struggled for many years before he became the great maestro of love ballads made his dream as a music entertainer come true. Barry White produced many great songs in the 1960′s and 1970′s. His music was very hot in the era of disco and he music hit the top charts for R&B. He formed his own girl group, Love Unlimited. At 58 years old, Barry left us with such romantic melodies: “Satin Soul”, “Love’s Theme”, “Never, Never Gonna Give You Up”, “You’re the First, The Last, My Everything”, “Your Sweetness Is My Weakness”, “Satin Soul”, “Let The Music Play”, “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love Baby” , “Practice What You Preach” was a big hit in 1994 and White produced many other hits. He died of kidney failure.
The next few years revealed black music would never be the same without another maestro of love ballads, Luther Ronzoni Vandross. This born R&B superstar was born on April 20, 1951 in the heart of Manhattan, New York. At a very young age of 3, Luther Vandross learn to play piano. He admired his sister, Patricia who sang with the popular group, The Crests who produced the hit, “Sixteen Candles”, in 1958. At the age of 8, Luther’s father died of diabetes. Luther Vandross worked with many people before becoming very famous in his solo career, Roberta Flack, Patti Labelle, Chic, Carly Simon, Bette Midler, Chaka Khan, Barbara Streisand and David Bowie. Then he became part of the group, Shades of Jade. Then during his solo career, he teamed up with Gregory Hines on, “Anyone Who Had a Heart”. Luther Vandross was such an inspiration to many lovers and married couples that were possibly conceiving babies or either on the brink of divorce. His soothing voice was very unique, so much that he produced a copycat in the black church, but he could never sound exactly like Luther Vandross, because no one can be an original except for the one who was the original producer of “So Amazing”, “Never Too Much”, “Secret Love”, “Here and Now”, “Power of Love”, “Dance With My Father”, and when he did the famous song back in the 80’s, “Always Forever”, Luther Vandross had attracted many more devoted fans than the millions who were hypnotized by his lyrics and alluring voice. Luther Vandross wrote and produced many more hit songs and his last album, “Dance with My Father” before he died of a stroke, after suffering a long time with diabetes, the same disease that killed his father. After Luther Vandross died, many of us fans had an empty feeling and could not cry, although on the inside their were so many tears. We were tired and realized black music no longer would be the same.
This gifted diva was born on the southside of Chicago, Ill. on November 8, 1947. Minnie Riperton was famous for her unique soprano 5-octave voice. The youngest out of 8 children, Minnie was inspired by her parents Daniel and Thelma Riperton who encouraged her to advance her career and take voice and music lessons. As a child, she studied music, drama and dance while attending Chicago’s Lincoln Center. Minnie Riperton’s life is a success story, because she rose from poverty to become a household name. Riperton began her music careeer singing back up for and an all girl group, The Gems and worked with famous artists such as: Ramsey Lewis, Chuck Berry, Etta James, Muddy Waters, Bo Diddly and many others legends. In the late 60′s and 70′s, Minnie was the lead singer for an experimental rock/soul group called the Rotary Connection. In 1975, Minnie Riperton became popular for her hit song, “Lovin’ You” on her last album released in 1974, Perfect Angel. Minnie Riperton had the most beautiful voices and woman could die for. Minnie Riperton left a mark in the world of music, not just black music, because her talent was rare and very distinct from all other female artists of that particular era and even now. One year before her death, she was presented with Society’s Courage Award from President Jimmy Carter at the White House. Minnie Riperton died of breast cancer in 1979 at only 31 years old and her gift lives on through her recorded songs.
This last summer, we lost the King of Pop who was born on August 29, 1958 in Gary, Indiana. Michael Joseph Jackson was one of the greatest artists who ever lived. Michael Jackson was known for enumerable hits and selling millions of records to devoted fans. In 1964, Michael Jackson made his first performance as the youngest member and lead singer of The Jackson Five. Michael Jackson produced many great hits: “I Just Can’t Stop Loving You”, “Will You Be There”, Gone Too Soon” (which was a song in tribute of his friend, Ryan White who died of AIDS), “Man In The Mirror”, “Baby Be Mine”, “Off The Wall”, “Thriller”, “Dirty Diana”, “P.Y.T” (Pretty Young Thing), “Scream”, “Earth Song”, “Smooth Criminal”, “Jam”, “Invincible”,”You Are Not Alone”, “Butterflies”, “Remember The Time”, “Heal The World, we can go and on, the King of Pop made a lot of fans happy during his lifetime. Although, the King of Pop encouraged diversity in his songs and was very diversified in his life, he never allowed the sound of soul to cease his style of music and when he danced he had a lot of soul and rhythm. You often heard soulful music as he sang and saw it in his dance moves, each and every last one of his songs, possibly because he was born with it. Many music artists are not born to be superstars, although they luckily became famous, but when you are great like the late King of Pop, you are born to be different from, everyone else and not be afraid to influence soul music with pop or even rock music. Michael Jackson’s physician, Dr. Conrad Murray is now facing charges for illegally injecting Michael with Propofol. Michael Jackson was addicted to the drug and even released a song about it. The King of Pop had the biggest funeral in the world as millions of fans viewed his home going on national television as thousands more attended his live memorial at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.
After we lost the King of Pop, we do not know if we can expect anymore original soulful talent to be great as he was, ever again. There have been many more creative artists who passed on, but of course it would take a lot of time to include them and a lot more tears to shed, if we were to proceed with this article.