The OFFICIALunOFFICIAL English Bulldog Mascot

One Of These Things Just Doesn’t Belong

In Children's Literacy, History, K-12 Education, Songs On Saturday, Television on April 2, 2011 at 9:59 AM

Hellooooo… Everybully!

once again to this week’s edition of Songs on Saturday!

This week… The Grrrrreat Debate!

One of these things just doesn’t belong…

Seems there’s yet another great Rap versus R&B debate raging. Does rap music affect the community more than R&B? Is R & B better than rap? Hmmm…

This recurring debate always makes Her think of Her Grandma. Her grandmother who was born in 1908. Her Grandma annually, deliberately and methodically relived the pain of the “disappearance” of not one but two of her sons, both of whom (in separate instances, six years apart) rose early in the morning to go to work at the steel mill in Charleston, South Carolina. They never made it back home and both men were neither seen nor heard from again.

She herself recalls the sneering, disdainful voices of men, (who knew if they were really police officers or not) as they reduced Her proud, educated  but physically small father into a puddle of mutter of “Yes sir” and “No sir” as She and Her family made their annual interstate journey by car from Bronx, NY to Charleston, SC to summer with the grandparents  and meet up with all the cousins there.

Her Grandma owned and operated a funeral parlor. Her Grandma’s venerated pastor, the Reverend Preleau, owned his church and  the corner grocery store. Grandma’s youngest son owned and operated the neighborhood juke joint. There was a church and a candy store on every corner.

There was a launderer, several obligatory beauty parlors; the obligatory numbers’ runners. Only time whites came into that little slice was to collect on the penny insurance policies everyone in the neighborhood seemed to have.

The teachers at the elementary school She attended, Mary Ford Elementary School, were surrogate parents. As were any and all neighbors sitting in pews or out on front porches, listening to Hers and her siblings and myriad cousins’ speech, and observing their behaviors. No one paid for child care.

Her Grandma’s neighborhood community was full of hustle and bustle and pretty much self-sustaining. Integration was not viewed as especially necessary– Opportunity was. Integration was not the topic de jour around Her grandma’s dinner table.

There was much more conversation whenever “colored” appeared on TV. People literally shouted from their windows to announce “Colored on TV! Colored on TV!” People stopped what they were doing and gathered to watch, mostly at Her Grandma’s house because back then owning a TV set was a luxury.

Her Mother and Grandma especially liked Moms Mabley, Nipsey Russell, Louis Armstrong, Judy Pace, Brock Peters, Flip Wilson, Nat King Cole, Bill Cosby, Diahann Carroll, Sammy Davis, Jr., Ivan Dixon, Georg Sanford Brown, Cicely Tyson, Harry Belafonte, Joe Tex, Jackie Wilson, Scatman Crothers— Mahalia Jackson.

They listened intently to Tony Brown, Julian Bond, Jesse Jackson, Dr.King, Malcolm X, John Lewis, and Thurgood Marshall.

But the music–  the music was ubiquitous.  It was always, always, always on. Ever present. Everywhere. Accessible to everybody! She says She can’t remember ever awakening to a day without music. The music galvanized the community.  It was restorative and painful; inciting and exciting. Calm and impatient. It was fun and upbeat. Sober and melancholy. Silly and serious but most of all it was wholly and completely and uniquely ours.

Dr. Martin Luther Jr. opened the Berlin Jazz Festival in 1964 with this address:

“Jazz speaks for life. The blues tell the story of life’s difficulties — and, if you think for a moment, you realize that they take the hardest realities of life and put them into music, only to come out with some new hope or sense of triumph. This is triumphant music!

No one but a Black woman could sound like Aretha Franklin or Tammi Terrell or Gladys Knight or Chaka Khan. No one but a Black man could sound like David Ruffin, Ray Charles, Smokey Robinson or Donny Hathaway.  R&B integrated and synthesized the best of jazz, blues, swing and gospel.  Anybody who wasn’t Black at the time could only try to imitate it and failing that, try to squelch it.

R&B will FOREVER be associated with the Civil Rights Revolution.  Indeed, R&B is its soundtrack. This is triumphant music, from “Patches” by Clarence Carter, to “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye and all the myriad voices before, during, after and in between.

To this day She can vividly remember where She was and what She was doing when She first heard “Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud),” “Thank You For Lettin’ Me Be Myself,” “Hot Fun In The Summertime” “Respect,” “Ball Of Confusion,” “Respect Yourself,” “A Change Is Gonna Come,” “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler),” “Living For The City,” “Summertime” (Billy Stewart version)…  So, so, so many grrreat songs.

The power, the TRUTH, the authenticity of virgin instruments and real, passion filled voices influenced the consciousness of an entire nation and the world, and brought together an entire community who were largely collectively informed and encouraged by a uniquely shared experience– Like one big “Sunday go to meetin’.”

Rap music has its place. It speaks for a generation and an experience that is truth and authentic for many.  But it’s not spiritually or politically transformative. It’s not changing hearts and minds. It is not influencing the moral direction of an entire nation. It is not changing the world! All it does is shine a dim light on something. It does nothing to affect change. It looks after its own self interests. Rap’s focus is individual and narcissistic rather than universal and transcendent.

It invites others to merely listen to a chorus of complaints rather than empathize with them or it glorifies  goals, a lifestyle and gross consumerism unattainable fur the average Person. There is no narrative around growth and change. It’s all technique, technology and auto tune without the heart. Rap is the National Enquirier of “music” (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Rap says ‘If you buy this, I get money,’ while R&B says ‘If you feel like I do, we will all be free.”

R&B is voice. It is a soul.  It is a living soul– with voice.  It is connected to a history that traversed continents and centuries, took lives and liberties,  and required legislation and the law (gradually, in fits and starts), to change.

One thing is not necessarily better than the other, but to use a line from Sesame Street “one of these things is not like the other.” Oil is not like water however both may successfully fulfill a specific purpose.

The question is not which is better, R & B or rap, but rather which is more effective. And the Jeopardy answer is: What is– the one that performs best when the need is most great.

Goodwill Energies I project
On each and every one of you
Each and every day!

“And there came to be evening and there came to be morning…”

That’s life today!


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