June is African American Music Appreciation Month so before I run out of days, let’s get busy celebrating the “good stuff.” I’m suspecting that folks of a certain age—not old and not young, remember when we watched Soul Train, Ed Sullivan, and American Bandstand, and listened to the radio to hear all our favorite music. We knew the words, sang and danced along, and enjoyed every beat.
I grew up listening to mostly gospel, Rev. C. L. Franklin sermons, rhythm and blues and a bunch of songs that weren’t all that good but were part of the midnight special on WLAC Radio’s mail order business. I just realized that when they advertised Randy’s Record Mart, Gallatin, and Ernie’s in Nashville, they were probably innovators. For $2.98 or a little more you’d get six *45s delivered right to your door. You’d order them C.O.D. (order today then have your okra picking and cotton chopping money ready by the time the four good songs and two duds arrived in the mail a week or so later).
I wanted to be like Aretha and Mahalia Jackson but they were in a league of their own. Back when I had rhythm and could dance, I was convinced that the Temptations, the Four Tops, the Temprees, the Soul Children, Al Green, Carla and Rufus Thomas, James Brown, Marvin Gaye, Joe Tex, Bill Withers, The Staple Singers, Otis Redding, and Jerry Butler were depending on me for their livelihood so I helped as often as I could.
Four years ago when I was cleaning out my childhood home I found remnants of my beloved record collection. It had fallen on hard times but my albums, in their pristine covers, were still in mint condition. That discovery reminded me how much I loved and longed for that music, the soundtrack of our lives, as it has often been called.
Thankfully many of the new artists and songs are inspired and gifted and their music, like that of every other era, is powerful, magical, moving and the good stuff just seems to get better. I love hearing my favorites in restaurants, movies, commercials and remixes. The music is why I watch Roadhouse and Dirty Dancing every time they show up on TV.
In an interview I did years ago with the late Ben Cauley, the only member of the Bar-Kays band who survived the plane crash that took the life of singer Otis Redding, he talked about how music heals, how it bonded their band across racial and class lines, how it made the interracial group not just friends but brothers. And so it does all that as it soothes, consoles, inspires, and gently reminds us to live each day, to love your do right woman, be a do right man, and don’t waste time on backstabbers, cheaters, and liars.
I bet most of us have an identical top 10 favorites list. On mine is My Girl, The Temptations; Natural Woman, Aretha Franklin; Everyday People, Sly and the Family Stone; Lean on Me, Bill Withers; I Don’t Want Nobody to Give Me Nothing, James Brown; Jesus is Love, The Commodores; Kiss and Say Goodbye, The Manhattans, I Believe in You, Johnnie Taylor, The Greatest Love of All, Whitney Houston, I Can’t Even Walk, The Sensational Nightengales.
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