Crossover to What? (Part I)
In reflecting on the tragic and sudden death of Michael Jackson and the narrative that has emerged, I am compelled to make some observations to sweeten the pot of opinions that feed this democratic dialogue. I spoke to Mr. Jackson once in the 1980's by telephone in the offices of Sony Records. He asked if I would like to open on his family tour.
I declined, feeling that his audience would not appreciate the type of music we were playing at that time. I was struck by his manners and quiet wisp of a voice. He had an 'old school' southern politeness and easy humility. I have not given any thought to that brief encounter down through these 20 some years, but I did watch his career with interest because any skinny, pre-pubescent, medium-brown skinned boy with a big afro and button nose between 1969 and 1974 was said to look like Michael.
He was THE black kid star of that time and all the little 'Michaels' were grateful to him for exciting the girls in our direction and resentful of having to fight for recognition of our own uniqueness.
Motown Records was the lifeline of music in the American Negro community at that time. Berry Gordon, founder and head of Motown, started in the jazz records business and left that passion to make a fortune and put his stamp on American culture. Motown was populated by church singers who left the Lord's music to sing about love and sex (not a judgment, a fact).
Mr. Gordy, James Brown and Marvin Gaye have all written insightful books on the subject. Many of the Motown sessions employed jazz musicians who played with the promise of having the opportunity to record some jazz. That opportunity never came. And Afro-American music went the way of interminable, feel good vamps never to return. But there was a type of golden period that often happens in the short run of a long-term, bad decision. Smokey Robinson's music was pure late-night, moonlit room.
Marvin Gaye was sophistication and smoldering sex, while Stevie Wonder was 'all-music' with virtuosic vocals and community uplift. James Brown was the universe. Michael Jackson was the young James Brown. He would assume the throne. He could dance, sing, was soulful (as much as that can be attributed to a kid), and possessed that indefinable magic- a charisma that only the elect possess.
Yes, that music which achieved its success on the back a church tradition that began with the Negro spirituals (Marvin Gaye breaks it down in Divided Soul) was in the great and capable hands of a young genius with impeccable credentials.
Crossover to What? (Part II)