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Old Man River, sung by Paul Robeson

For the final Song of the Day of my week here at NYFOS, let me introduce you to the reason I became a singer: Paul Robeson. If ever there was an human embodiment of the traits I most value in an artist and human – communication, fearlessness, skill, an open heart, a brilliant mind, hard work, and a deep sense of service – it was Robeson.

This song, “Old Man River,” is taken from the musical Show Boat, by Hammerstein and Kern. Though the role, Joe, was written with Robeson in mind, he was not available for the original Broadway production. When he did take it up, though, in London in 1928, in the 1932 Broadway revival, and, most notably, in the 1936 film, it made him a star. International concert tours, theater productions, and Hollywood films followed. By rights, modern Americans would remember him as one of our truly great artists, along with actors like Gary Cooper, Humphrey Bogart, Clark Gable, James Dean, and singers like Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, and Johnny Mercer. But it was not to be.

Fiercely political, Robeson viewed his work as inseparable from its political context, and advocated for pro-labor, anti-fascist, anti-racist, anti-colonialist policies and organizations. In 1937, Robeson went abroad during the Spanish Civil War to meet and sing for Republican troops, which made him a hero to those who opposed fascism. His association with left-wing politics throughout the 1930s and 40s, visits to the U.S.S.R., and outspoken critiques of American racism led to his fall from grace in the mainstream American consciousness. During the McCarthy era, he was blacklisted, his passport was revoked, and his previously meteoric career was cut short. When the House Un-American Activities Committee asked why he didn’t stay in the U.S.S.R., given his political affiliations, he gave a tremendously patriotic response: “Because my father was a slave and my people died to build the United States, I am going to stay here, and have a part of it just like you, and no fascist-minded people will drive me from it!”

For an example of the way his politics informed his work, look no further than the song that made him famous, “Old Man River.” In Show Boat, the character of Joe has been described as a one-man Greek chorus, framing the human drama of the musical’s plot with a re-occurring musical gesture invoking the ever-flowing Mississippi River, and subtly comparing the unchanging river with the perpetual hardship of the African-American working on her shores. In the original lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II, Joe comes across as impassive and resigned, with perhaps the subtlest touch of political discontent with his lot and that of his people. Beginning in 1938, whenever Robeson performed this song in concert, he changed the words, giving the song a very different feel:

•Instead of “Dere’s an ol’ man called de Mississippi, / Dat’s de ol’ man that I’d like to be,” Robeson sang “There’s an ol’ man called the Mississippi, / That’s the ol’ man I don’t like to be.”

•Instead of “Tote that barge! / Lift that bale! / Git a little drunk, / An’ you land in jail,” Robeson sang “Tote that barge and lift dat bale!/ You show a little grit / And you lands in jail.”

•Most strikingly, instead of “Ah gits weary / An’ sick of tryin’; / Ah’m tired of livin’ / An skeered of dyin’, / But Ol’ Man River, / He jes’ keeps rolling along!”, Robeson sang “But I keeps laughin’/ Instead of cryin’ / I must keep fightin’; / Until I’m dyin’, / And Ol’ Man River, / He’ll just keep rollin’ along!”

Gone is any sense of impassivity or complacency. Instead of drinking, it’s standing up for yourself, speaking your mind, and organizing for rights that provokes the response of the law. Resignation is replaced by an unquenchable spirit. Instead of feeling sympathy for Joe, the audience is moved by his resilience in the face of oppression, perhaps even moved to action.

I could write about this man for days on end. The son of an escaped slave, he attended Rutgers University on a football scholarship (the third Black student in their history), winning academic, oratorical, and athletic awards, including two first-team All American selections, and graduated valedictorian. He attended Columbia Law School, supporting his studies with off-Broadway performance and a side job playing the End and Tackle positions at an upstart organization called the National Football League. He starred in Emperor Jones, the first Hollywood film with a leading Black actor. He was the first Black actor to play the title role of Othello on Broadway with a white supporting cast, and the first to do so in London since the great Ira Aldridge. Though he isn’t remembered as he might have been, he has been cited as an influence in the work of artists James Baldwin, Sidney Poitier, and James Earl Jones (who performed an acclaimed one man show based on Robeson), and was a model for the artist-as-activist model that became so important to the Civil Rights Movement.

Robeson was a great artist by any measure, but that wasn’t the end of his story– it was the beginning. The troubles he went through, and the corresponding collapse of his legacy in America, say much more about us as a nation than they say about him as an artist.

While I always loved music, it wasn’t until I discovered Robeson in my teens that music began to seem a possible avenue for my life’s work. That an artistic life could be so fully realized, and at the same time so interwoven and relevant to public life (for nothing could speak more clearly as to what a society fears than repression of its outspoken public figures) was, and is, a revelation.I leave you with his epitaph, recorded in a message commemorating fallen Welsh fighters on the anti-fascist side of the Spanish Civil War: “The artist must take sides. He must elect to fight for freedom or slavery. I have made my choice. I had no alternative.”

Doug and Jack Wallin’: Pretty Saro

This song is an old one, even by the standards of classical art song. “Pretty Saro” is a folk ballad first notated in England the early 1700’s, though, as is the way with these things, no one knows how long it had been sung before that. After the 18th century it was lost for a time, only to be rediscovered in Appalachia in the early 20th century, with distinctly American changes to the lyrics. “Pretty Saro” is exactly the kind of gem that modern, digital culture knows about thanks to the dedication of folk song archivists like Cecil Sharp and Alan Lomax, who would go into the field (sometimes literally) to record folk songs. This is the original meaning of folk music: not the songs of songwriters in the folk style, like Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan, or even their forebear, the great Woody Guthrie, but songs with unknown writers, passed down within families and communities for tens or hundreds of generations. After its long, transatlantic history, “Pretty Saro” has emerged from obscurity and been recorded by the likes of Bob Dylan, Doc Watson, and Judy Collins, as well as a personal favorite artist and champion of folk song in the truest sense, Sam Amidon.

“Pretty Saro” tells the story of an immigrant who, having failed to win the hand of his beloved in part because of his economic prospects, has decided to leave the region and try his luck somewhere else. There are five verses. The first three concern themselves with telling the story– when our narrator arrived in the country, how things have gone for him since, his unrequited love, and his plans to move along. Rhetorically speaking, these are simple verses, just how one might expect an uneducated laborer to express himself, especially in a folk song.

In the final two verses, things change. The language takes a turn for the allegorical, transcending the exposition of the previous text and taking us somewhere we wouldn’t expect our narrator to lead:

“If I were a poet, and could write a fine hand / I would write my love a letter that she might understand / and send it over water / when the islands overflow / and dream of pretty Saro wherever I go.”

What has previously been indicative language switches to the subjunctive, as our narrator imagines a different life for himself, a different world. Considering that this song was collected in the mountains of Western North Carolina, the idea of sending a letter over water while islands are flooding has a surreal, almost biblical (perhaps prescient) quality to it. The final verse goes a step further:

“If I were a little dove / had wings and could fly / to my true lover’s window / this night I’d draw nigh / in her lily-white arms / all night I would lay / and look to the window for the dawning of the day.”

Now we have our narrator, almost certainly a man of little education, someone who owns no land and works that of others in order to survive, unschooled in poetry, perhaps a bit rough-and-tumble, talking about transforming himself into a little dove so that he might be held by his sleeping lover. This change in language would be a shocking twist in an art song, where it would be a calculated narrative device to elicit a response in the listener, most likely accompanied by changes in the tonal and rhythmic sound world. In a folk song, though, where the musical structure is unchanged from verse to verse, the change in tone is somehow more striking. No one decided to use this sophisticated change in language as an artifice to move the listener – rather, it must have been the only way for the narrator to honestly express himself and his loss. Even after listening many dozens of times, it continues to shock me.

Furthermore, I find it unthinkable that modern blue-collar men would express their heartbreak in such, unguarded, sensitive language as this. Can you imagine a migrant worker today, working by day in the oil fields of the Dakotas, singing at a bar, wishing aloud to his friends that he might be transformed into a little dove, with no qualifying statements about his accomplishments, his masculine qualities, no trace of bitterness? I simply can’t. In this way, a centuries-old folk song becomes an interesting document in the history of North American gender identity, telling us about who we were once and, by contrast, who we have become.

Lin-Manuel Miranda: You’ll Be Back / What Comes Next

Last week, my dear friend and colleague Miles Mykkanen wrote a beautiful post on this blog about Lin-Manuel Miranda’s smash-hit musical Hamilton. Miles wrote very well about the piece as a whole, and many other very smart people have done so also – I recommend these two articles in the New Yorker. For those who don’t yet know the musical, let me say only this: Hamilton transcends the genre, it has redefined crucial figures in American history in ways that will resonate for generations to come, it is deeply, radically progressive in its racial politics, and it’s an absolute joy to listen to. If you don’t know it yet, you have a wonderful experience ahead of you.

For those who do know Hamilton, I wanted to talk about one small part of the overall practical tactical brilliance of Miranda’s dramaturgy: the depiction of King George III. While Hamilton delves deeply into the subtleties of American post-revolutionary politics, and spends time exploring the stories of early American heroes who would otherwise be footnotes in most history books (Hercules Mulligan, you are my spirit animal), the massive power of the British Empire is depicted exclusively through one whiny, somehow charming man: the King himself.

The actor who plays King George, Jonathan Groff, is also famous for his role, Melchior Gabor, in the original cast of Spring Awakening on Broadway, and his performance as Patrick Murray, the star of HBO’s Looking. He is a charismatic, very handsome leading man, who has an irresistible charm, as well as two Tony nominations and a Grammy win. Almost any other Broadway producer would never consider casting him as the de facto villain… but somehow, in Groff’s hands, King George doesn’t feel like a villain. His music is too much fun, and he seems somehow aloof from the high dramatic stakes of the piece. Speaking with an adorably affected British accent, the language he uses to describe the American revolution is almost that of a teenage breakup – he proclaims, after learning that the colonies want to revolt, “I’m so blue,” and it’s difficult not to want to comfort him. At one point, during the chorus of “You’ll Be Back,” he invites the audience to sing along, and it’s easy to imagine the whole house roaring, singing along with the enemy of the American revolution. This is, to say the least, dramatically atypical.

There’s another fascinating element to Groff’s portrayal. Much has been made of the racial and ethnic diversity of the Hamilton cast, and rightly so: King George is the only white leading character. Instead of one character of color reduced to a supporting, usually comedic role on a stage otherwise inhabited only by white folks, we have the opposite: in Hamilton, the stage is full of actors of many colors and ethnicities, portraying complex characters capable of love, loss, vulnerability, and growth, with one token, comic white guy. There’s something immensely satisfying about seeing the racial tropes of contemporary media turned on their head. While this in itself would be deeply radical and progressive, Lin-Manuel and company go even further.

Where they might have opted for a less sympathetic white character actor for King George in the model of William Sanderson, Christopher Lloyd or Jonah Hill, they chose a leading actor instead, who would provide some measure of humanity and dignity in the role along with the comedy. In the white-supremacist model of entertainment, that breaks the mold: the comedic black (or white in blackface) actor is purposefully denied that kind of dignity. Think of the tradition of blackface Minstrel Shows, or the TV show “Amos ’n’ Andy,” or what Spike Lee has referred to as “coonery and buffoonery” in modern Hollywood. To truly invert this model, the single white character would have to be a partially-humanized stereotype as well. But in the world of Hamilton, no one is denied their humanity: whether it be the hero, Alexander Hamilton, the anti-hero, Aaron Burr, or the enemy of the cause, King George. This is progressive theater at its best, most intelligent, and most successful.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fdxLohjwhoQ

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pLaCCgqJ07Y

The Smiths: There is a light that never goes out

It’s a funny thing to love a song for many years… this tune, “There is a light that never goes out,” by the English rock group The Smiths, has been dear to me for about 15 years. When I was a teenager, this was an emo anthem to live by – Goethe’s Werther would have approved – but now, in my early thirties, the glorious emotional power that once overwhelmed my younger self at the sound of titular chorus has changed in color. To my (slightly) older perspective, it’s no longer sweet, but rather tragic. How things change.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n-cD4oLk_D0

To teenager Sam, this was one of the first songs that brought home the extent to which other folks, in this case queer folks, might feel alienated and unwelcome in the spaces that had always been so welcoming to white, straight, cis people like me. Though the song is rich in ambiguity, the story that always emerged in my mind was this: a queer teenager, after coming out to his parents, is kicked out into the street (“it’s not my home / it’s their home / I’m not welcome no more”). A friend comes to pick him up, a friend who our hero is secretly in love with, and the majesty of being rescued by the object of his affection washes over the narrator (“in the darkened underpass / I though, Oh G-d / my chance has come at last / but a strange fear gripped me / and I just couldn’t ask”). Suddenly deprived of home, and unable to confess his love, our hero is overcome by the impossible bittersweetness of the moment. Looking at the face of the young man he loves, a face he may well never touch or kiss, he sees a rich, fraught, potentially beautiful future for himself, and raises the simple chorus: “There is a light that never goes out.” The emotional complexity of the situation was compelling, irresistible, and in those days of Kurt Cobain and Elliott Smith, difficult feelings ruled supreme.

Even more than that emotional tidal wave, though, I was moved for the hero of “There is a light.” I began to dream of a world where gay kids didn’t have to face homelessness, violence, and persecution from within their own families and communities – this was back in the time of the ubiquity of the musical Rent, the years of the AIDS crisis, which now seems a cultural eternity ago. Though then, as now, queer and trans youth were being beaten and killed in their communities, it was a world where the idea of national legalization of gay marriage was not imaginable. I dreamed a different kind of future, one where, playing this song for my grandchildren, it would be necessary to explain that, generations before, queer kids faced danger because of who they were. It was sweet to imagine having to explain it, because, in that imaginary future world, it wouldn’t make any more sense to young people than the radical nature of President Kennedy appearing at his inauguration hatless makes sense to young people now. Our bigoted present would become a foreign, unthinkable past.

How the times change. My teen years are (mercifully) gone, and gone with them are both that emotionally overwrought perspective and the Zeitgeist of the 90’s. The dark, deep emotional waters that so enthralled me in my youth now smack of self-indulgence and egocentrism, something we were very wrong to worship – in hindsight, the fact that both Cobain and Smith, our heroes in those days, died violently by their own hands, seems especially poignant. Lines like “If a ten-ton truck / kills the both of us / to die by your side / well, the pleasure, the privilege is mine” no longer seem romantic in the least. This is tragedy. This kid doesn’t need to sing a song about his feelings, he needs the It Gets Better Project.

Similarly, our national conversation about LGBT youth has changed since the Bush and (Bill) Clinton years. While homelessness, violence, bullying, and persecution remain major issues, the conversation now includes community support, self-harm, and mental health services for queer/trans youth. Organizations like The Trevor Project, It Gets Better, and The Matthew Shepard Foundation have sprung up to support young queer and trans people, and older organizations like PFLAG have gained national prominence. The ugliness of the North Carolina bathroom law “debate” notwithstanding, the conversation is very different now than it was when this song came out in 1992. The culture is older, and I’m older, so that now, when I hear a young narrator talking about how lovely it would be to die, it doesn’t sound glamorous… it sounds like a cry for help. My wife heard me singing this song the other day, and found it disturbing. She ain’t wrong.

You, reader and listener, what do you think? What songs do you hear in different ways, what books, paintings, films, and any other part of life has meant different things to you in different parts of life? I wish that, writing this, I have another 30 years of life and listening behind me, to let you know how my relationship with this song changes next. Stay tuned for updates in 2031 and 2046, if blogs still exist and civilization hasn’t collapsed by then.

Washington Phillips: What Are They Doing in Heaven Today?

For Memorial Day, here’s a song about the missing and wondering we do when our loved ones pass away. “What Are They Doing in Heaven” was originally written as a hymn, by the Methodist preacher Charles Albert Tindley, in 1901. It has since become a mainstay of Gospel and Country artists, and has been recorded by some really tremendous artists: The Staples Singers, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, The Dixie Hummingbirds, Vince Gill, The Be Good Tanyas, and Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn, to name a few.

The song’s melody and text are achingly simple, and they describe grief in a disarmingly innocent, beautiful way. The narrator is just “thinking of friends that I used to know,” who have “gone up to Heaven.” As many of us who have lost people have done, he or she asks, “what are they doing right now?” There’s no talk about sadness, no mourning, just a sense of almost childlike wonder. For those grieving, I hope this song brings you some measure of the comfort it’s brought me.

This is the first known recording of “What Are They Doing in Heaven,” and the singer, Washington Phillips, saw very money or fame from what would become a very influential recording. Like many of the Black artists of the early and middle 20th century, his recordings didn’t gain him special renown or financial stability – it wasn’t until white audiences began to “discover” the Blues in the late 1950s and 60’s that artists like Mississippi John Hurt, Lightning Hopkins and Big Bill Broonzy found the steady revenue streams, artistic recognition, and cultural respect that artists in other genres enjoyed. Most Blues artists who didn’t live long enough for the change in tides to lift their prospects, such as Lead Belly, Blind Lemon Jefferson, and Robert Johnson, lived and died without knowing the influence their music would have on future generations. (Side note: there’s an interesting parallel here with the music of J.S. Bach. Today, Bach is revered as one of the true musical giants of history, but he was relatively unknown for the two centuries after his death, aside from a few famous pieces. It wasn’t until the 19th century, when Mendelssohn re-discovered and championed his works, that Bach began to gain cultural prominence.) All of this is to say, while this and the other few songs recorded by Phillips would turn out to be immensely influential on later artists, including some who would go on to found what we call Rock n Roll, the artist himself was a farm laborer, amateur preacher and musician who died in poverty. This is one of 18 songs he recorded in 1927-9, at sessions in Dallas; as far as is known, he recorded no others. His choice of instrument is an unusual one– in fact, no source seems to be really certain of what he’s playing. It was assumed for a long time that he was playing a “dulceola,” which might have been a corruption of dolceola, a very rare instrument similar to a zither. However, later interviews with the recording engineer revealed that Phillips required a 30-minute instrument assembly period before sessions could begin. Since the Dolceola requires no assembly, it seems more likely that Phillips made his own instruments from parts of broken or discarded ones and named them as he wished. He is buried outside of Teague, Texas, in an unmarked grave.

For those who are really moved by the song, there’s one other recording that I find especially compelling: this 2013 version by the husband and wife duo The Quiet American. Listen here, and enjoy.

It should be said that, while this is a beautiful song to help attend to loss, it is not expressly a song about fallen soldiers. There are many wonderful songs that specifically explore the experience of sending young men and women off to war – my friend and colleague, and fellow NYFOS collaborator John Brancy suggests “G-d Be With Our Boys Tonight,” by Wilfred Sanderson, and Charles Ives “Tom Sails Away” is another tremendous one (NYFOS’ own Steven Blier is playing the piano on that recording) – but I would argue that, at this moment in American life, there’s a lot of progress to be made in the way we honor our fallen soldiers, and especially in the way we honor their families, living comrades, and friends. The burden of war is borne not just by those who fight and die in it, or those who fight and live on, but also by those who lose sons, daughters, parents, siblings, and friends. For those who are missing, mourning, grieving, or just wondering, this song is for you.

Sam Cooke and the Soul Stirrers: Come, Let Us Go Back to God

Today’s entry is from NYFOS@Juilliard cast member Samuel Levine.

In art, as in life, there are moments that change everything – moments that, in hindsight, divide our histories into “before” or “after.” Whether it’s falling in love or the fall of the Berlin Wall, the moment happens once, and then nothing is the same. Usually, memory shapes our view of things so that they look differently in hindsight than they did in the moment, but once in a great while, a camera or a microphone is rolling, and the moment of transformation is captured.

Picture, if you will, in Los Angeles in 1951, a packed room with no natural light, filled with men on two sides of studio soundproof glass: the Jewish men in the booth on one side working the sound board, and the Black men on the other side, singing around a single microphone. The minor record label, Specialty Records, was holding largely unheralded recording session for an established Gospel group, The Soul Stirrers, to feature their new, 20-year-old lead singer. The lead-in starts, the back-up singers start harmonizing, all pianissimo, all “ooh,” and after fifty-five seconds, Sam Cooke steps up to the microphone and begins to sing. American music would never be the same.

———-

Sam Cooke had a voice and an artistry like no other. His tenor oozes a liquid, golden sweetness that caresses the inner ear, and his effortless style, smooth delivery, and endless, unfathomable elegance are downright sexy. There’s just something about his singing, about the instrument itself, some divine simplicity filled with longing, somehow simultaneously perfectly balanced and also reaching for something unattainable. As a tenor, and a student of the tenor voice and its history, I find Cooke’s voice to be the most beautiful tenor voice ever recorded.

But there’s more to him than that. Cooke composed; was an astute businessman; he founded a record label, as well as a publishing company, both of ground-breaking for a Black artist at that time; and was active in the struggle for civil rights. Both Black and white audiences loved his songs, something unheard of previously. Now, he is called the “inventor of soul music,” by which means: what we think of as Soul music, the Motown sound that inspired the Beatles and Stevie Wonder, which would eventually inspire the birth of Hip Hop and R & B, and influence every kind of modern popular music, would be
unimaginable without the work of Sam Cooke. His were the shoulders upon which Marvin Gaye, Nina Simone, James Brown, Beyonce, or Kanye West stood, and stand. In my opinion, Cooke gets plenty of credit for his performing and recording career, but not nearly enough for the developments he brought into American musical and cultural life.

Cooke did have quite the career, though. Some of his songs, like “(What a) Wonderful World” has become a Hollywood staple of young love, and the jaw-dropping “A Change is Gonna Come,” which Cooke wrote himself, has become an anthem of the American Civil Rights Movements, and remains a touchstone for social justice activism; other hits, like his breakout “You Send Me,” “Chain Gang,” “Bring It On Home to Me,” “Another Saturday Night,” and “Twistin’ the Night Away” survive as near-perfect distillations of soul music at its best: they astonish us aesthetically, while seemingly defying us to keep from moving our hips. His rapturous “Nothing Can Change This Love” was the first dance at my wedding. By the time of his death at age 33 in 1964, he had over thirty Top 40 Hits to his credit. His voice, his compositions, and his songs linger in the ear and in the American imagination.

Yet Cooke lived hard, and there’s no disputing that, at the time of his sudden death, some of the bloom and beauty of his voice had faded, the victim of late nights, bad habits, and a grueling schedule. And then that sudden death: he was shot dead by a hotel manager in Los Angeles, under what can mildly be described as dubious circumstances, once again robbing Americans of a Black icon of the 1960s through violent means.

———–

But let’s rewind. Before the shooting, before the hits and the fame, before all of the events and work that elevate him in popular and musical memory, Sam Cooke was the son of a preacher man (no, really, he was) from Mississippi. And he got his start just as you might expect: in the church. He was performing regularly by age six, and continued on throughout childhood and adolescence, always with Gospel groups. His big break would come before his twentieth birthday.

It was 1950, and the 19-year-old Samuel Cook (the “e” was added later) was hired to replace a prominent member of the gospel group The Soul Stirrers, R. H. Harris, after his retirement. Though confined to Gospel’s niche market, the group was a major force in American music– they’d performed at the White House, recorded Billboard hits, and performed all over the country, making soulful, technically sophisticated music, and developing as tremendous in Black Christian music. They were stars. As such, this job was a big, big break for the soon-to-be superstar, and the recordings from this time prove the point. In 1951, Specialty invited them to lay down some tracks.

And there we are again, in that dark room. Cooke steps up to the microphone. In hindsight it’s easy to see this, but with the entrance of that voice, an era of American music was over: segregation.

And not just Black/white segregation! At the time of this recording, there was a sharp, irreconcilable divide between sacred and secular music in the Black community… a musical artist either “had religion,” or did not, and audiences followed one or the other, according to their own religious leanings. Yet here was a Christian artist who could not confine himself to the Church: his goal was to reach as many people as possible, and he couldn’t do that while restricting himself to Black sacred listeners only. In a few years, he would strike out on his own, singing secular music, but bringing the musical sensibilities he knew from the Church. Here, not for the first time, he was a trail-blazer. The likes of Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles, the Reverend Al Green, and Marvin Gaye (who was born Marvin Gay, and added the extra partially in reverence to Cooke, his hero) would follow suit.

But Cooke would be among the first to disrupt musical segregation by color, too. He appealed to white listeners in a way that no Black artist had before, while retaining his massive appeal among Black audiences. Musical segregation would not be eliminated by 1956 (or by 2016, for that matter), but the practice of classifying music either for the “white” pop charts or the “Black” R&B is now knocked-out, and it was Cooke who landed that first, powerful punch. Furthermore, the racial diversity of their audiences helped spark some artists in the 1960’s to speak out against segregated performance venues: in this way, music and musicians became an essential part of the Civil Rights Movement.

Most of all, though, just listen to that voice. If you’re a fan of singing, and of the history of vocal-musical communication, as I am, listen to the way he spins the lines at his first vocal entrance. Imagine that this artist would create vocal sounds that were unheard of to all but Black sacred music listeners at the time.

Hearing that sound, know that suddenly the sound world of the Ink Spots, Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey, and Nat King Cole suddenly became the sound of the past: beautiful, extraordinary even, but no longer cutting-edge. Suddenly, the world of Motown, The Beatles, Marvin Gaye, the Jackson Five, James Brown, and Stevie Wonder became possible, became inevitable. Soul was coming into being. History and culture had turned, all of a sudden– more was possible, the world of sound would get richer, and all of us would have to change.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ilNtxpO1tlU&feature=youtu.be

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