|image courtesy of Google.|
“When you say ‘black music,’ understand that you are talking about rock, jazz, R&B, reggae, funk, doo-wop, hip-hop and Motown. Black people created it all. Being Puerto Rican, even salsa music stems back to the Motherland [Africa]. So, in my world, black music means everything. It’s what gives America its swag." Bruno Mars
Though it’s still spring, it feels like summer. I hear the voice of Randall’s father on This is Us telling Randall to roll the windows down, and turn the music up. I’m riding in my car with the windows down listening to the soulful sounds of my satellite radio. I flip back and forth between the Groove and Soul Town singing along to the sound track of my life. Music—especially good music puts you in a wonderful space. There’s a story behind every song; there’s history. So, I nod and sing along as the songs take me back to a simpler place in time.
June is Black Music Month and I am going back down memory lane as Gladys, Aretha and Patti, Michael, Marvin, and Stevie—no last names needed speak to me like ghosts from the past. Music is intricately woven into the fabric of my life. And it feels wonderful to wrap myself into something so comforting and familiar. There is no place in my life where music is not.
Mashed Potatoes is a song before my time, but it is a song deeply embedded in my memory. I heard it growing up. It was one of my mother’s favorites.With a little begging and pleading we could get her to dance the mashed potatoes for us. Before there was steppin’ there was boppin’, and I used to love watching my sister, Linda and my brother, Ray bop in the front room (Living room wasn’t in my lexicon yet). I step, but I never learned to bop.
Our house was/is a dancing house. If my sister and brother weren’t cuttin’ a rug, we were going down the infamous Soul Train line. Ain’t Gone Bump No Mo with No Big Fat Woman was another house favorite as my nephew Steve bumped with his TT Julie. At any family gathering you can find us dancing to the oldies, wobbling, shuffling, cabbage patching it or perculating. Maybe the family that dances together stays together.
The theme song from Shaft comes on and a smile creeps across my face. When I was young, my sister, Debra choreographed a dance for me and my niece Rhonda and our friends Aviva and Vontella (who we called Bonnie). So many memories flood my mind as I ride along. James Brown, Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud and my first afro. Basement parties at Mendel Catholic Prep when I was in high school. Heart pounding, body sweating as the music goes from fast to slow and the boy I like from around my cousin’s house asks to me to dance to the Commodore’s Zoom.
So, this month I’m enjoying listening to music that is my life. I’m reminiscing on the contributions that so many artists have made not only to my life, but to the world. President Jimmy Carter initiated June as Black Music Month on June 7, 1979. In 2009, former President Obama renamed it African-American Music Month. In his 2016 proclamation, Obama said that Black music and musicians have been instrumental in helping America “to dance, to express our faith through song, to march against injustice, and to defend our country’s enduring promise of freedom and opportunity for all.” Whatever name you call it Black music is simply American music. It is our story.
Join me in celebrating the contributions of Black music. Music really is is a healing force in the world.
What’s playing on the soundtrack of your life? I’d love to hear about the songs and artists that you love. Leave me a comment and let me know.