On a rainy September morning in 1950, jazz pianist Hazel Scott stood in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee hoping to clear her name.
The publication “Red Channels” had accused Scott — along with 150 other cultural figures — of communist sympathies. Failure to respond would be seen as an admission of guilt. But her appearance at HUAC had a greater purpose than personal exoneration. She believed she had a responsibility to stem the tide of paranoia that gained momentum by the day.
She told the committee’s members, “Mudslinging and unverified charges are just the wrong ways to handle this problem.” With the same poise she brought to the stage as a musician, she testified that “what happens to me happens to others and it is part of a pattern which could spread and really damage our national morale and security.”
Chin up, shoulders back, she warned against “profiteers in patriotism who seek easy money and notoriety at the expense of the nation’s security and peace of mind,” and that continuing down this road would transform America’s artists from a “loyal troupe of patriotic, energetic citizens ready to give their all for America” into a “wronged group whose creative value has been destroyed.”
Speaking with a voice that simultaneously conveyed clarity and nuance, strength and warmth, she knew what she was doing. She had been rehearsing for this moment her entire life.
Born in Trinidad, Scott was raised on music. As Karen Chilton recounts in her biography, Hazel Scott: The Pioneering Journey of a Jazz Pianist, from Cafe Society to Hollywood to HUAC, Scott’s whole family played and her mother, Alma, an aspiring concert pianist, taught music to help make ends meet. Unbeknownst to her family, Hazel Scott absorbed everything she heard until one day she woke her grandmother from a nap by playing a familiar hymn on the piano, two-handed and with perfect pitch. Her grandmother woke thinking, not wrongly, that she was witnessing a miracle.
Scott’s arc was fixed in the stars from that moment on. At three years old, Chilton writes, Scott played parties, churches, and gatherings. But economic opportunity was hard to come by, and when her parents’ marriage fell apart in 1923, her mother decided she and Scott would emigrate to New York City.
Scott grocery shopped, prepared meals, and handled the household’s money. When word got around that, in her house, a child paid the bills, a gang of white teenagers broke in and demanded money. Scott refused to give them any. They beat her black and blue, and Scott still refused to turn over the cash. Finally, as police sirens grew nearer, the boys ran off with her blood on their hands.
Another time, Scott was playing near the trench being dug for the subway line that would become the A train. A white girl from the neighborhood who she had been playing with told her to “Turn around so that I can brush you off and send you to school,” as Scott recounted in her journal, which is featured in Chilton’s book. When she did, the girl pushed her into the trench.
The workmen who rescued Scott had the unmistakable look of “fear and guilt” in their eyes. “They, too, were white,” Scott wrote in her journal “They had witnessed the horrible act. They were involved and they resented it and me.”
Scott resolved never to be so naïve again — nor did she allow the incident to dictate her life.
She kept playing piano, kept stunning audiences, and impressed one person in particular. The story sounds more like legend than fact, but several sources, including Scott’s journal and the accounts of the parties involved, confirm it.
German-born, wearing a meticulous goatee and a pocket watch, and steeped in the traditions of European classical music, Juilliard founder Frank Damrosch was the very model of high culture in New York City. As such, his blood began to boil when he heard someone in the audition room improvising over Rachmaninoff’s “Prelude in C Sharp Major.” Marching down the hall to confront the blasphemer brash enough to attempt such a thing, he heard the ninths being substituted with the sixths. It was sacrilege, he thought, until he saw who was playing.
Since eight-year-old Scott’s hands couldn’t reach the piece’s intervals, she played the sixths to make it sound the way she intuitively knew it should. No one taught her how to do this. In the journal that Chilton quotes, Scott wrote: “I was only reaching for the closest thing that sounded like it, not even knowing what a sixth was at that age.”
When she finished, the auditions director whispered, “I am in the presence of a genius.” Damrosch agreed and Scott was admitted to Juilliard. But her real education wasn’t in the classroom. It was in her living room.
In New York, as Chilton writes, Alma quickly became a successful jazz musician and befriended some of the Harlem Renaissance’s brightest stars in the process. In turn, they shone on young Hazel. She sat beside ragtime legend Fats Waller — whom she called “Uncle” — at the piano, while his hands strode syncopated rhythms across the keys. Piano legend Art Tatum became a close family friend and mentor to Hazel, advising her to dive deep into the blues.
Meanwhile Hazel’s mother, Alma, bought a brownstone on West 118th Street, opened a Chinese restaurant on the ground floor, and taught herself to play tenor sax. Her circle widened. Lester Young and Billie Holiday came over after hours. Young and Alma traded turns playing sax in the living room when she and Holiday weren’t gossiping in the kitchen. Holiday became like a big sister to Hazel, taking her under her wing as Hazel ventured out into the life of a working musician. In an article she wrote for Ebony, Hazel Scott recalled how, once, when “wondering where I was going and what I was doing, I began to cry.” Holiday then “stopped, gripped my arm and dragged me to a back room.” She told Scott, “Never let them see you cry” — a piece of advice Scott followed forever.
While still a child, Hazel Scott played piano for dance classes and churches. At 13 she joined her mother’s jazz band, Alma Long Scott’s American Creolians. When she outgrew the gig, her mother secured her a spot playing piano after the Count Basie Orchestra at the posh Roseland Ballroom. Scott recounted in her journal that while watching Basie bring the house down, she turned to Alma and said, “You expect me to follow this?” Stage fright or no, she played what would become her signature boogie-woogie style. The crowd adored her. From there, she took flight.
At the time, the majority of jazz clubs were segregated. Even the famed Cotton Club in Harlem, where Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway headlined, had a “colored” section. Blacks and whites almost never shared the stage. But in 1938, a shoe clerk from Trenton, New Jersey, opened a different kind of club.
Cafe Society was “the wrong place for the Right people” according to founder Barney Josephson. As Josephson recounted in his autobiography, Café Society: The Right Place for The Wrong People, “I wanted a club where blacks and whites worked together behind the footlights and sat together out front.” It was there that Holiday performed “Strange Fruit” for the first time and became a legend, and it was there that Holiday got Scott her first steady engagement.
When Holiday canceled a standing engagement three weeks early, she insisted Scott take her place. By the end of the run, Scott was Cafe Society’s new headliner. Only 19 years old, she inherited the bench previously occupied by piano greats like Meade Lux Lewis, Albert Ammons, and Pete Johnson. But as The New York Amsterdam News reported, “Hazel more than holds her own, and demonstrates a style all her own.”
As it turned out, not only was Scott a brilliant pianist, she also had a hell of a voice: deep and sonorous, comforting yet provocative — the sort of singing style that makes you want to embrace the sublime melancholy that is love and life and whiskey on a midwinter’s night.
And, she was beautiful. She wore floor-length ball gowns on stage and gazed out into the audience with almond-shaped eyes that seemed to communicate a deep knowledge of everyone they fixed upon. Like watching a painter paint or a sculptor sculpt, when Scott sang, you saw the song traveling through her, taking shape before emerging from her lips. And when she played her boogie-woogie, she grinned ear to ear, looking like self-possessed joy manifested. She was, in a word, irresistible.
Audiences flocked to see her. Fan mail flooded in. As the Chicago Defender reported, Josephson decided to open a second Cafe Society location, uptown for a swankier audience, with Scott as the marquee performer. New York’s finest showed up in droves, including First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, who dropped in one evening for “some entertainment and relaxation,” as one reporter wrote in the Pittsburgh Courier. After the show, Mrs. Roosevelt asked Scott to join her for a late supper. Because she had already changed from her evening wear to streetwear, Scott begged off the invitation.
“I’m inviting you,” said Mrs. Roosevelt, “not your clothes.”
How could Scott refuse?
She was the reigning queen of jazz, a friend to some of the most famous names in the country, and all at just 22 years old.
Hazel Scott had conquered New York. Hollywood was next. But in a motion picture industry where people of color were usually restricted to playing maids, cannibals, or buffoons, was there room for Hazel Scott?
Nine black soldiers march down a hill to the sound of piano and drum. They are upright, dignified, ready to fight and die. Their sweethearts line the road, waving handkerchiefs and bidding their fellows goodbye. It’s 1943, and the question on the backlot is, “What should these women wear?”
The scene is from “The Heat’s On,” a patriotic 1943 musical. Scott is performing a rah-rah number called “The Caissons Go Rolling Along.” In conceptualizing the scene, the director intended to dress the women in what Hollywood assumed all black women would wear: dirty aprons.
Scott wasn’t having it, as she recounted in her journal. Her contract always included final script and wardrobe approval, ensuring she’d never play or look the fool. She told the choreographer she wanted that protection extended to the extras who shared her stage.
“What do you care?” said the choreographer. “You’re beautifully dressed.”
“The next thing I knew,” wrote Scott in her journal, “we were screaming at each other and all work had stopped. … I insisted that no scene in which I was involved would display Black women wearing dirty aprons to send their men to die for their country.”
Neither side relented, so Scott went on strike. For three days, the studio begged and pleaded for her to return to set. But Scott would not be moved. The more the clock ticked, the more money it cost, a fact of which Scott was well aware. Finally, the studio caved to Scott’s demands, and the women appear in the film wearing particularly fetching floral dresses.
Though she won the battle, Columbia Pictures was far from conceding the war. In the minds of producers who were used to dictating to African-Americans — particularly to African-American women — Scott’s public victory was more than they could stand. In the next two years, she was given small parts in two more second-rate movies. After that, she was finished with motion pictures.
“I had antagonized the head of Columbia Pictures,” wrote Scott in her journal. “In short, committed suicide!”
She packed her bags and headed back east — where love was about to sweep her off her feet.
Scott was once again wowing crowds at Cafe Society, when she caught the eye of a young politician. Josephson wrote in his autobiography that Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., soon to become New York’s first African-American congressman, pulled Josephson aside, and asked for an introduction.
“Are you really interested in Hazel,” said Josephson, who considered Scott a daughter, “or are you just screwing around?”
Powell assured him of his sincerity, Josephson made the introduction, and their romance caught fire — despite the fact that Powell had been married to nightclub singer Isabel Washington since 1933. For the next year, Scott and Powell pursued their love with reckless abandon, damned be the consequences. In 1945, he married Scott 11 short days after his divorce was finalized.
Her career in Hollywood dead, Scott started touring, winning rave reviews at concerts across the country and fighting discrimination throughout. In November 1948, the Washington Post reported that she refused to play a sold-out show at the University of Texas because the audience was segregated, despite the anti-Jim Crow clause in her contract, which allowed her to cancel the booking without forfeiting her pay. And in February 1949, she sued a restaurant in the tiny town of Pasco, Washington, after she and a companion were refused service because, as the proprietor put it, “We don’t serve coloreds.” Scott won $250 in the suit, and donated the proceeds to the NAACP.
Scott was making around $75,000 a year during this time, according to Life magazine — making her one of the most successful musicians in the country, black or white. After five years’ continued success, Hollywood could ignore her no longer. In 1950, she came to break the color barrier on the small screen.
Scott sits at the keys of a grand piano in an elegant white gown. With a backdrop of Manhattan behind her, she looks like the urban empress she had become.
“Hello,” she coos, “I’m Hazel Scott.”
Broadcast on the DuMont Network, The Hazel Scott Show was the first television program to have an African-American woman as its solo host. Three nights a week, Scott played her signature mix of boogie-woogie, classics, and jazz standards in living rooms across America. It was a landmark moment. As a passionate civil and women’s rights activist, the show symbolized a triumphant accomplishment. As a career musician, her program took her to professional heights known by few, assuring her place in the pantheon of America’s greatest performers. To be sure, Scott had arrived at the success she had sought since playing that first simple tune in Trinidad as a three-year-old.
And then, just like that, it all came tumbling down. “Red Channels.” HUAC. Another star tainted by a whiff of Communism.
When she stood in front of HUAC, it only made sense to speak truth to power, to stand up for what she believed in. She believed herself the embodiment of the American dream, and she spoke in its defense. In an unwavering voice she told the committee, “the entertainment profession has done its part for America, in war and peace, and it must not be dragged through the mud of hysterical name-calling at a moment when we need to enrich and project the American way of life to the world. There is no better, more effective, more easily understood medium for telling and selling the American way of life than our entertainers, creative artists, and performers, for they are the real voice of America.”
But they did not hear her, did not believe her. And she in turn underestimated the power of fear, never having bent to it herself.
One week after her testimony, DuMont canceled The Hazel Scott Show. Concert appearances became few and far between. Even nightclub gigs were hard to come by.
Exhausted and unraveled, Scott went to Paris on what was to be a three-week vacation. Her sojourn extended to three years. To her, Paris became “the magic of looking up the Champs-Élysées from the Place de la Concorde and being warmed by the merry madness of the lights,” she wrote in Ebony. It was also “a much needed rest, not from work, but from racial tension.”
She played across Europe and in North Africa and the Middle East. Crowds still loved her, still swooned over her swinging classics. But it was not the same. Her spotlight had dimmed, and would never again shine on her the way it had in her halcyon days.
Eventually, Scott returned to America and slipped further into obscurity. In 1981 she passed away at 61 from cancer. Her albums are hard to come by now and her name never appears where it should, beside Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, and others who we think of when we think of jazz. But for a while, she led them all, until a country twisted by fear pushed her past the point from which even she, the force of nature that she was, could return.
Author, curator and nomad Lorissa Rinehart is currently wandering the streets of Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in Narratively, Hyperallergic, and Lacuna Magazine. She has organized art exhibitions at institutions including the Silent Barn and the Queens Museum, and throughout her life she’s gotten hopelessly and happily lost everywhere from Ramallah to Rosarito.
As noted within the piece, sources for this story include the books Hazel Scott: The Pioneering Journey of a Jazz Pianist, from Cafe Society to Hollywood to HUAC, by Karen Chilton and Café Society: The Right Place for The Wrong People, by Barney Josephson.
Remembering Wayman Tisdale
Ten years ago, music’s most famous Power Forward, Bassist Wayman Tisdale passed way on May 15, 2009, losing his battle to bone cancer. For those of you who are not familiar with this super talent, read this bio provided by John Bush.
Most athletes who moved into the recording business during the ’90s found rap to be their forte, but Wayman Tisdale shifted the field to contemporary jazz with his 1995 debut album, Power Forward, recorded for the Motown subsidiary MoJazz.
A 1984 Olympic gold medalist in basketball, All-American at the University of Oklahoma, and member of the Phoenix Suns, Tisdale plays bass in his Fifth Quarter Band. He signed with MoJazz in 1995, releasing Power Forward later that year.
By 1996, his second album, In the Zone, had appeared; Decisions followed two years later; Face to Face was issued in early 2001. In 2003, the gospel album Presents 21 Days was released, while the next year saw Hang Time.
In 2006 Tisdale’s seventh record, Way Up!, featuring guest artists Bob James, Dave Koz, and George Duke, among others, came out.
In 2007, Tisdale was diagnosed with bone cancer, but he recovered sufficiently to release his eighth album, Rebound, in 2008, featuring a version of Barry White’s “Never, Never Gonna Give Ya Up” with country star Toby Keith on vocals.
Who Are Your Top Live Musical Performers?
How you sound as a result of a carefully engineered studio recording and an edited music video is one thing. How you sound and look during a live musical performance is a very different thing. There is a clear distinction.
James Brown was the greatest live performer I’ve ever seen, closely followed by Prince. My next three are Earth, Wind & Fire, Michael Jackson and The Jacksons and Brian Culbertson — in that order. Period, paragraph, end of sentence.”
Honorable Mention – Larry Graham & Graham Central Station. (Be sure to watch the Larry Graham/Graham Central Station concert performance further down on this page). Aretha Franklin should be on any top list of singers.
Special Merit Award – Lenny Williams for his classic performance of “Cause I Love You” and to Maysa Leak for her heart-felt performances and consistency.
Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff (A Little History)
The Godfather of Soul
Prince featuring The Time and Sheila E.
Earth, Wind & Fire
Michael Jackson reunites with his brothers, The Jacksons (Live In Concert)
Honorable Mention – Larry Graham & Graham Central Station (Live in Concert)
With this song, Lenny Williams gives one of the most soulful performances ever.
Maysa Leak (Maysa)
Click here to watch other classic performances by Charlie Wilson, Chanté Moore, Larry Graham, Marcus Miller, etc.
September 16, 2016
Mighty Sam McClain passed away June 15, 2015. When he was alive, I said and believed that he was the greatest living soul singer that no one knew about. Mighty Sam was one of the nicest men I’d ever interviewed. In fact, he was the first Blues artist interviewed on this website. Sam invited me and the team to join him on tour and enjoy the blues. Sam would call me and talk about his music and life on tour.
I was sitting alone in my office this evening reviewing my mail and I opened a small package with Mighty Sam’s last recording. Mighty Sam was working on a CD before he passed away. The name of the CD is “Time and Change Last Recordings.” Inside the package was a note signed by Mighty Sam’s wife, Sandra McClain. The note reflected that this CD was recorded over the past two years. Sandra also shared that this would not be Mighty Sam’s last CD release.
Mighty Sam and Norwegian guitarist, harmonica player, pianist, singer and producer Knut Reiersrud have teamed up on what was sadly to become Mighty Sam’s final recording before he passed away after a battle with cancer, a few weeks before its release.
Norwegian Knut Reiersrud and his superb band teamed up with Sam, for their second album together, the follow up to the acclaimed 2011 project, “One Drop Is Plenty.” Knut is a formidable guitarist and a world class blues harp player. The European band provides the perfect foundations for the pair to shine. But this is an equal partnership in ability and class. Knut and his band add as much value as Sam does to the project. In his youth, Knut jammed with the iconic likes of Buddy Guy and Otis Rush at Chess Studios in Chicago. Dr John and Doc Pomus wrote songs for him, and the Blind Boys of Alabama and several World Music stars were guests on his records.
Scroll down and read a re-post of my exclusive interview with the late great, Mighty Sam McLain conducted in 2004.
Mighty Sam McClain: God Is His Reason For Living (And Singing Too!)
Black Men In America.com routinely receives a lot of books and CD’s. A couple of months ago while going through the mail I ran across a CD by an artist named Mighty Sam McClain. I decided to listen to the CD. Mighty Sam McClain is a bluesman. Mighty Sam’s voice was strong and his band was kicking it. In fact, his band reminded me of the legendary Memphis STAX band from the 60’s. After listening to the entire CD, I decided to find Mighty Sam McClain and make him the first blues artist interviewed on Black Men In America.com.
After a few minutes of listening to Mighty Sam, two things stood out to me:
1. Mighty Sam McClain is a God fearing man
2. He is virtually unknown in the black music community
While studying for this interview I didn’t meet one black person who heard of him or knew of him. I found Sam McClain to be a gracious and humble man. I also found Mighty Sam to be a masterful storyteller. There were times when I was mesmerized listening to this man talk about his experiences. His life has been a rollercoaster ride. Raised as one of 13 children, McClain first began singing gospel music in his mother’s church on the northern edge of the “Bible Belt” in Monroe, Louisiana in the early 1940’s. He left home at the age of 13 before starting work as a cotton picker to escape an abusive stepfather. He later found employment with local R & B guitarist, “Little Melvin” Underwood and followed him through the “Chitlin Circuit,” first as his valet and then as a lead vocalist.
McClain subsequently built his reputation as a vocalist recording for Malaco and Atlantic Records. He also appeared three times at the Apollo Theatre. Afterwards, however, his career went into freefall, and through much of the 70s and 80s he subsisted on the streets of Penascola, Florida. It was only in 1983 that he made a comeback, when producer Carlo Ditta invited him to return to the studio and record Pray. With interest in his lost career reborn, the Japanese label Dead Ball followed that release with a live recording of one of his shows in Tokyo. McClain also made a series of guest appearances on an album recorded by Hubert Sumlin for Black Top Records in 1987, before spending the next five years working on a failed real estate venture with his third wife in Houston.
Sam McClain had dropped off the face of the earth it seemed until he re-emerged on AudioQuest Records in 1993 with a stunning new album, Give It Up to Love with McClain originals alongside two cover versions of Al Green and Carlene Carter. This new recording attracted rave reviews in the soul and R&B music press, and was followed up two years later by Keep On Moving, as McClain at last began to enjoy the fruits of his labors and talent. Over the next three years, as the momentum continued to build, McClain released four albums, including Soul Survivor, which included the track New Man In Town, featured on the FOX TV show “Ally McBeal.” The song was used in 11 episodes of the popular television show and put some nice “change” in McClain’s pocket.
Grammy nominated Mighty Sam McClain has been nominated for numerous W.C. Handy awards in the Soul/Blues vocalist category. Real Blues magazine awarded McClain as the Soul/Blues Entertainer of the Year for three years in a row. Rolling Stone magazine has called him “The Great Torchbearer of Soul” and Pulse magazine has referred to him as “America’s best purveyor of red-clay soul/blues.
Black Men In America.com has dubbed Mighty Sam McClain as a living legend of soul music, gospel and blues. That’s right, soul music. Sam McClain is so diverse that he reminds me of Little Milton, Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, Z.Z. Hill and Bobby Blue Bland. If you want to hear good soul music with a gospel and blues edge click here and order Mighty Sam’s music.
I hope this interview introduces Mighty Sam McClain and his music to a new audience of fans who will support him by purchasing his music and attending his shows.
The Mighty Sam McClain Interview
Mighty Sam McClain: Gary, Sam McClain here man. Listen, thank you my brother, so much for your heart-felt attitude towards Sam McClain and this music. I am so grateful my friend. Eternally grateful. Always.
BMIA.com: Mighty Sam, it is a pleasure to finally connect with you. My late mother-in-law introduced me to the blues 20 years ago. So when I had the opportunity to interview a real blues man, you know I had to jump on it. I just want to ask you some questions.
Sam McClain: I’m going to try and answer your questions. I might get to talking too fast (laughing). You know, I tend to run on, like I’m doing right now. You know what I mean? (Laughing) But, listen man, I thank you so much my brother. This is great; I just heard some good news about my wife yesterday. We took her in for an operation and the doctor went in just before he got ready to operate on her. He had put her to sleep, but just before they got ready to do the surgery they went in to look again and it wasn’t there. Good Lord had removed it man. God is so good. God is so good. That’s why I’m here. That’s why I’m here. (Laughter) I know you always ask people like me, what advice would you give someone who wants to make it in the music business. That’s the first thing I’d tell them – put God first. Put God first. Put everything in its right perspective and you got success right there. But, anyway, I’m going on and on here. So, my wife is back home and we took her in yesterday at about 4:30 and we brought her back home around noon. It was a blessing. It was an absolute blessing. God is so good. Whatever that doctor saw; it’s gone. Good Lord moved it.
BMIA.com: I’m very glad to hear the good news about your wife.
Sam McClain: All right, now back to the business of the Mighty Sam McClain interview.
BMIA.com: OK. How long have you been in the music business?”
Sam McClain: Well I’ve been in the music business for a long time, man, I started singing when I was five years old, as you know a little bit about my background. I started making money – the first time I made money was in elementary school. I was in the 7th grade – my Physical Ed teacher put together a little local band there for us and we made a little money, then. And so I guess I considered myself in the music business at that time, you know. (There’s a little noise going off in the background. Forgive that. It’s just my other phone going on.) But, that’s when I first made any money – so I guess that’s what being in the music business is about to a lot of people – being able to make a living at it as well as being in your craft and something that you truly love. So, I guess I’ve really been doing it now on – from that point I started working with Little Melvin – a little while later on — Little Melvin Underwood. I worked with him as his valet, and I worked from valet up to background singer and then I worked from background up to lead singer. And, so, you know, putting the years together, I’m that kind of figuring as I’m talking here. I guess I been in the business for fifty years. Yes, forty-five years. That‘s question number one. It took me a long time – I hope I have enough tape.
BMIA.com: “How did you get into the business?”
Sam McClain: Well, I think I just answered that, pretty much. Really getting on the road, I was on the road with Little Melvin, and, as his valet – toting his guitar and his amplifier and stuff like that and just kept on doing whatever little chores that need to be done. I was the gofer man. You know. And from that I started getting more and more into the business. You know, as time went on I started learning about the business. You know, as time went on I started taking over my own career and in the late years, like now, my label, etc. As time went on I started learning more about the business and the music and whole trip.
BMIA.com: “Did you think you would last this long?”
Sam McClain: There was time when I definite thought, I was about to give up on myself and give up on God and everything else. And I know a lot of people that didn’t think I would last this long. Well, didn’t think I would last, period — (laughter) Much less this long. My stepfather used to tell me – even before I left home – you know, I left home when I was thirteen years old – and my stepfather used to tell me that I would never amount to shit. This is even before I left home, you know. I was a child. I mean this guy, he was what he was. I loved him, I really wanted him to be my father, but that‘s the way it was. So, there was time when I thought I wasn’t going to last and there was time when other people didn’t think I was gonna last. (Laughter) But, praise be to God, here I am. And we’re trucking on. God gave me this voice, that’s why I’m still here. I’ve always had this to hang on to. When everybody leave – when there was nobody else around the voice has always been here. The music has always been here. So, that’s where we are with number three – Did you think you would last this long. Alright.
BMIA.com: “Who are some the artist that inspired you? And, who influenced you the most?”
Sam McClain: Early on, there was, all of the older cats, you know, from Little Willie John, Ruth Brown, Clyde McFadden, Big Joe Turner, Ivan Joe Hunter – all of those people back in those days – and B.B. King, cause we used to listen to a lot of radio out of Nashville Tennessee. Enjoying Rich Byrd and all those guys. That’s the kind of music we played, you know. But my biggest influence became, Bobby Blue Bland.
BMIA.com: What was it about Bobby Blue Bland that made him you’re biggest influence?
Sam McClain: When I first heard Bobby Blue Bland – it’s like, man, it’s like heaven opened up. “There it is, there it is – right there.” That’s what I want to be. And right now Bobby and I are considered to be – I consider us friends – we can run across each other quite a bit. And, I lived to see that dream come true – I used to say, “One of these days I’m going to have me a tour bus. I’m gonna drive right up side Bobby’s bus and get off my bus and get on his bus.” Well God has let me live long enough to see that happen. Man, I tell you. You know, this little cotton picker from Montgomery Louisiana. The very first time I saw Bobby, I couldn’t even get in the event because I was too young and didn’t have the money either. You know, and God has let me live long enough to where I followed this man all my life and now he calls me up on stage just like – every time he see me he won’t wait till I get up on the stage with him. You know – that’s a dream, I mean that’s a dream. So, I would have to say Bobby’s been one of my biggest influences – still is. Today, I love that man so much, he is a sweet and kind man — very kind to me, very very gracious. I feel very blessed to have got chance to meet him and be in his company and consider him my friend. So, he’s one of my biggest influences. Now moving down the line, I love Al Green. I think Al Green is one of the soulful cats out there.
BMIA.com: Do you get a chance to hang out with Bobby?
Sam McClain: As a matter of fact I’m going to see Bobby this Thursday. They’re playing at a club in Boston called “Scullers.” And, Joe Harden just called me a little while back. Joe Harden is Bobby Blue Bland’s trumpet player – who married my first cousin, Gladys. And the first song on “One More Bridge To Cross” was the one you said you liked – Joe wrote that first song – he wrote it to my cousin – “Why Do We Have To Say Goodbye?” Oh Gladys wanted a divorce and Joe didn’t want any divorce. You know what I mean? So, that’s where that song came from. It was given to Bobby. But, Bobby and them, they couldn’t hear it. So Joe passed it on to me and I could hear it. I could hear the (inaudible). So I went on did it for him. But, yea man, I see Bobby and Joe all the time – I mean, cause like Joe is my first – he married my first cousin, so he’s family and he’s been with Bobby Bland for thirty years or more and he’s the bandleader/trumpet player. So, you know, yes, I’m very close to the family. I feel very blessed to have lived to see this.
BMIA.com: I really like you’re latest CD –“ “One More Bridge to Cross” – it really tells a story. It has a classic down home blues feeling. The horn section is tight and the guitar is strong. And, of course your voice is classic. My favorite song on the CD is cut number 4 – “If It Wasn’t For The Blues.” I notice that you wrote most of the songs and produced the CD. How has the CD been received?”
Sam McClain: Well the CD has been received very well. Where it has reached, it’s just so hard to get this music anywhere – into the right hands, man, its tough, and even to my black people – that’s another reason I am honored, so honored that you are calling and asking me to be a part of what you and your people have going. Because it seems like God just snatched me up and put me on this side of the track, ‘cause this one the only place I could survive because my black people just wasn’t accepting nothing I had to say and if this side of the track didn’t exist I don’t know what in the hell I’d be right now. So, like the song, “If It Wasn’t For The Blues”, so if it wasn’t for this side of the track I don’t know where I’d be, man. You know. But the CD has been received very well from people of which they have heard it. Or had a chance to hear it. But that’s the hard part – getting it played, you know, and having the promotion. I did it all myself – my wife and I – and we spent quite a bit of money.
BMIA.com: Has it been difficult to generate publicity and promote your music?
Sam McClain: Man, we bought a full-page ad in magazines, Living Blues and Blues Review, and every time you buy a full-page ad in Blues Review, I mean that’s $1700, you know. So we bought a half a year in that magazine. That’s just one magazine. Same thing with Living Blues – full-page ad, you know. So, we did the best we could on promoting. But that still was nothing – that was nothing.
BMIA.com: What do you mean that was nothing?
Sam McClain: Just what I said, that was nothing. The CDs don’t get, don’t get no airplay, we don’t have radio stations playing – not no big radio stations, I mean – you know – it’s just, it’s tough. But under the circumstances, it was very well received. You know and certainly one of my most proudest projects. Because it’s the first time I had to take on the whole ball of wax myself.
BMIA.com: What do you mean by that?
Sam McClain: I wrote the music, produced the music, and etc., etc. I mixed the music, edited the music and that was a first for me. And I was the first one at the studio and the last one to leave. And before that, it was just the opposite. I’d usually be the last one to the studio and the first one to leave. (Laughing) You know – the responsibility got bigger, you know. When you say, “I’m going to do it myself.” Well, okay, well you got to be responsible as well. So, it’s been received very well.
BMIA.com: “Where do you find your inspiration to write songs?”
Sam McClain: From life – just life in general man. Life in general. And since I’ve gotten to know God, or since I’m getting to know God, from that place as well, from a very deep spiritual well. Everything comes from there. Everything springs from there – my spiritual life. And, the life that I see as I live here on this earth with my brothers and sisters here. And the work that I have to do now – that’s why I have this voice. God gave me this voice – no formal training, no education, no anything like that, you know. Just open my mouth and this voice came out and it still comes out. And God has taken care of it through all the years when I drank and smoked and did all that stuff. I mean, God has taken care of me. You know, I mean I slept outdoors, went hungry, I mean, you know the story. And my voice is still here – stronger and better than ever. You know. It’s amazing what God can do, you know. So that’s what my inspiration comes from.
BMIA.com: You really do come across as some who believes that he is truly blessed.
Sam McClain: Man – (laughing) – every time I look around I realize what a miracle I am, you know – I know I am a walking miracle. And then my wife just had another one [miracle] just Monday, as I told you about. And it’s amazing – everybody in my band is very well educated pretty much. Some of them got degrees hanging on their walls and stuff. That’s amazing. And, they all white, (laughing) and this little black boy from Louisiana, from the cotton field, writes the check. That’s what the good Lord can do man. It just never ceased to amaze me. (Laughing) It just makes me smile. It’s good. It’s good, man. But that’s where the inspiration comes from – life and my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
BMIA.com: Mighty Sam, how many albums and CDs have you recorded during your career?
Sam McClain: Oh, it is quite a number. Quite a number. Off the top of my head I would say, (pause) twelve, maybe, ten or twelve, twelve. But there’s been more than that released – there were some bootlegs out and there were some singles – there was about twenty-two singles that got released – well eleven singles/twenty-two sides. It’s somewhere in that number.
BMIA.com: Tell us about the people who come to see you? My sense is that you seem to be more popular among white audiences and virtually unknown among black folks.
Sam McClain: That is so true. That is so true. You see it very well. And why? Like I just told you. I didn’t have no choice. I was forced to leave home. It was like all my life I been having to run just for survival. But, in the same sense, that’s what God wanted me to do. Cause God was bringing me in through the back door. I don’t know why, man. And it is painful too. I mean, cause I don’t even get a chance to go back home much. And I think about home. I love that country, Louisiana. I just love the smell of it. I can smell it as I talk it about right now to you. But, I can’t find what I need and look for there on the physical side or the spiritual side. So, I was forced to leave. And, but it’s been a blessing as well. But, yes, most of my audience is white and I go out right now. We’re starting to go all over the world. I just got back from Europe the 15th of this month. We’ve been over there three weeks. And I go to Europe often. I been going to Europe now for the past eight years, quite often, some times three or four times a year. And we spreading – going further and further out as we go. I am scheduled to go to Russia and Turkey this year, October 26th, we leave here to go do a tour in Russia and Turkey. We’re be over there from October 26th through December 16th. So, that’s what, a good seven weeks over there. It’s a great thing. I’m very thankful that God let me live it see this. And, why am I going on this tour? Because of this voice. God gave me this voice. This voice is taking me to Russia. Its amazing. This little black boy from M —- Louisiana out of the cotton fields. (Laughing) You know. But any way. That’s virtually, that’s pretty much my audience – pretty much white. But we’re starting to reach a few black people. We starting to come around. You know there’s this program – Soul Patrol – you probably know about Bob Davis – he’s on Internet Soul Patrol – if not, check him out. He’s got a great connection into the black scene. And we been connected with Bob for some years and he tries to bring us together as much as he possibly can. Tries to get us to support one another etc., etc. Bob’s got a thing coming up the last of this month – the 30th and the 31st and in Pittsburgh or right outside of Philadelphia somewhere right there in the area. So you go to his sight and check it out. Soul Patrol – Bob Davis – lot of information there man. He’s grown, he gets about 2 or 3 million hits a month. And I guess he’s been established now for about 4 or 5 years. He did well, he’s coming on strong. Anyway, he’s part of the connection that kind of keeps a little bit tied to the blacks. But we’re starving for black people over here man. But, we got a few. And the few we have we’re thankful. And they’re great. (Laughter) But any way – that’s what I think about the case. I just don’t know exactly why the black people don’t come. Sometimes black people don’t get out there – they don’t want to be social – they don’t want to go on the other side of the track – and sometime its because of all kinds of reasons – they don’t want to financially – one thing or another. I don’t have all the answers man. I just like to see it get fixed. I got this song I just wrote called, “Just Want To Be” and I don’t want to wrong, don’t want to be right – I just don’t to be what ever it takes — (Laughing) to make this shit work, you know. I just want to be whatever you need, Darling. Ain’t no more fighting, ain’t no more right or wrong, I just want to be whatever it takes to make it work. You know. Any way.
BMIA.com: When you think about some of the artists of today’s generation, who do you listen to and like the most?”
Sam McClain: Well, there’s a few artists I like, man. I like Johnny Lane, he’s a fiery young artist, guitar singer. He’s got a great voice. His voice sounds like he’s about ninety years old – deep soul. I like Bernard Allison, Susan, Shameeka Copeland, Shameeka Copeland, she’s ah, she’s deep. She’s got a strong voice. She sings a lot of blues, but I hear here sing a lot of other stuff and all that voice she’s got. But, I like her, she’s a great person. And I know her father too, you know. But, I get to see her every now and then. But, that’s a few artists you know (pause), I like Eric Bibbs. There’s a few, there’s a few.
BMIA.com: How did I get the name Mighty Sam?
Sam McClain: Wow, boy. That came from a mistake. I was leaving in Pensacola Florida, I just went to Pensacola and I was with the group, The Dophine Sextets and at that time I was going by the name of “Good Rocking Sam,” (laughter). Can you believe it? Don’t tell nobody I told you this shit – (laughter) – Good Rocking Sam. (Laughter) And one day the club owner made a mistake and put up “Mighty Sam” and the band started teasing me about that shit, man. They rode me, they rode me, Gary, they rode my ass. (Laughter) Hey, Mighty, Mighty, Mighty. And it stuck, man, they wouldn’t let it go, man. And most of my friends, right today, most of my real friends, they call me “Mighty.” “Hey there Mighty, what’s up Mighty?” (Laughing) So that’s how that came by. It was given to me. It was just – it stuck. Yep. Alright.
BMIA.com: Sam, the music and entertainment business is a tough business. A lot of folks don’t last long or make it at all. I’m sure you’ve experienced your fair share of rejection and hardship. How have you managed to survive and strive?”
Sam McClain: Well, just what I told you a while back. It’s all about God man. God will be the first thing you ever hear come out of my mouth. When you ask me about any of these kinds of questions that’s far beyond my explanation and the complexity of it. I have turn it to God. ‘Cause all this stuff is bigger than me. And I realize that. I realize that there’s a Creator. You know, somebody created this and I thank God that I got sense enough to see that. And, that’s where everything comes from. That’s why I’ve hung on because I believe in the Lord with all my heart and I pray and I try to be a good person – the best I can be. I fall short everyday – I get up everyday and want to kick my own but and I thank God that he has a sense of forgiveness and sense of humor. And because it would be tough. But that’s how I survive, man. It’s the Lord. I trust in the Lord with all my heart and he takes care of me. He always has – he gave me this voice and he’s leading me through here, in spite of my self – because I’ve did some foolish, crazy things and God has taken care. And that’s why I am still here, man. It’s the good Lord.
BMIA.com: You hung around a lot of folks that fell short to victims of drugs, alcohol. How did you manage to survive?
Sam McClain: Same thing. Same thing. Cause I got involved with drugs, and alcohol myself. I mean, I drank like a fish. I started smoking cigarettes before I left home. I used to light my mother’s cigarettes and I smoked cigarettes up until about fifteen years ago. About thirteen years, I guess. And I drank up until about nine, nine years ago. And, you know, so how did I survive that man? It’s all by the grace of God. You know. And, of course, I’m sure I helped because I wanted to. When I got ready to stop drinking I told my wife, I said, “Honey, I’m not drinking this crap anymore.” And she smiled. Because I kept a house full of booze all the time. I’d go to the store and I’d get a basket or cart just like we got a grocery cart. I’d buy a couple cases of beer, a couple gallons of cognac, or whatever the stuff we was drinking. I moved up to cognac in my late days. You know, I started making a couple of dollars (laughter) – I went from wine to cognac. And it’s all with the same drunk. (Laughing) Didn’t make any difference. (Laughing) I found out its all the same old drunk. You know. (Laughing) Oh well. But anyway, God, man. God is the one that help me through all that crap. That’s it.
BMIA.com: Just like that?
Sam McClain: Just like that.
BMIA.com: Tell me something interesting about you that most people don’t know.
Sam McClain: Probably how great a sense of humor I have about life. (Laughing) I’m learning to laugh. I didn’t know how great a sense of humor I had myself until I stopped drinking and started get the cob webs and shit cleaned up and I started realizing how much fun – I have more fun – I laugh more now than I ever laughed in my life.
BMIA.com: I can see that. You’ve been laughing quite a bit during this interview. So that’s it? People don’t know that you have a sense of humor?
Sam McClain: I don’t know what’s too interesting about me that most people don’t know, man. I don’t know what that could be. Most people that know about me, they got an idea that I believe and love the Lord with all my heart. And that’s my top priority. And everything follows that for me. But, I don’t know man. I got a great sense of humor. (Laughing) I love to laugh. I love laughter. Let’s move on to the next question.
BMIA.com: OK, how about this one. What’s the best part of being Mighty Sam McClain?
Sam McClain: (Whew) Knowing that I’m a child of the living God – the living Creator of this universe. That’s the best part about anything. And all of the joy and all of the hopes and all the aspirations and all of everything follows that – in its right perspective. So, I guess the best part about being anything – if I wasn’t Mighty Sam and know what I know now; I’d give you the same answer. I could be Mighty Joe, Who Diddy, don’t make no difference. People ask me about success – that’s when I became successful. When God looked down and smiled upon me and manifested himself to me. So that’s the best part of being Mighty Sam, man. Just being aware of the living Holy Father. ‘Cause it makes me a better person, makes me try to be a better person. I want to help make this world a better place than when I found it. And I think I do that in some way with my music and hopefully with way I live.
BMIA.com: Why do you do what you do?
Sam McClain: Because it’s my destiny. I love it, but it’s also my destiny. I tell people all the time, its like a blessing and curse sometime. I have to sing – if I don’t sing, I die spiritually. I die. So, this is my chosen profession. God gave me this voice and he wants me to sing. He wants me to use it ‘cause I draw people to God through my voice. And I know that because they tell me. They come up to my concerts, they stand up in lines, they wait for hours to tell me. They write from all over the world. I just got a letter two days ago from a lady from Macedonia – we just left this poor country over there. This lady wrote me the sweetest little letter thanking me for coming to her country and that the country needed me and this music and it helped lead her back to God. You know, that’s what makes it all worthwhile, man. You know, but I had to get to a place where God could show me that – he owned everything, he owned me, he owned my voice so I should be singing and being a positive light for people to see. You know. So that’s what God has done. He’s bringing me back from the dust of hell so people can see what he can do with something that most people had counted out and left for dead. You know, and here we are walking round. (Laughing) Walking right on.
BMIA.com: Wow! Destiny. Singing is your destiny as determined by God.
Sam McClain: Alright Gary, its just my destiny man. – It’s what I’m supposed to do. I’m a singer. Like the song says, “I’m a singer, I’m a man with a song.” This is my way of letting people know that God is alive, cause I don’t hesitate to tell people all over the world. Everywhere I go I mention the Lord Jesus Christ. I don’t hesitate, that’s my duty. And that’s why God gave me this voice and he knew I had the balls to do it cause it tough. People don’t want to hear about that, but they meet and greet me then that’s what they gonna hear cause I don’t know any other way to talk. Because I live everyday and breathe – my faith in God. I wouldn’t be having this conversation right now if I didn’t believe that. It would be useless to me cause I see how fallible man is and how useless and helpless he can be. I’ve got to have something bigger than man to believe in, son. (Laughing) This ole boy do.
I didn’t finish Yale (laughing) but I ain’t no damned fool. God is my shield; he’s my rock, man. I love the Lord. And I’m glad he loves me. And God bless you too man. I really appreciate you Gary. And I hope you enjoy this thing man. I’m looking forward to a relationship. And I appreciate you helping me out and trying to support this music, this ministry.
BMIA.com: Sam, I’m very excited to help you promote your music, which leads me to my next question. How can people reading this article support Mighty Sam McClain?
Sam McClain: Go to the web site (www.mightysam.com), write me, call me, buy this music if you can. Come to the shows, tell people about it. There’s so many ways. So many ways. And not only support Mighty Sam McClain, but also support any good live music out there because that’s the only way it’s going to survive. People have to support it – not just with talk but by spending the money to buy the music from the artist. Because it’s such a rip off – it’s hard for the artist to get their money. So if you can buy it directly from the artist – that’s always best. But any way you can it’s a help to the artist. But I appreciate anything you do for Might Sam – I mean tell somebody about it. Go to the web site, check it out, listen to the music, go buy the music, write me, I’ll send you the music, everything is right there on the web site, my e-mail, my phone number, everything is right there. So, drop me a line – let me know what you think. I’ll certainly get back to you – that’s a promise.
BMIA.com: I’m getting ready to wrap up Mighty Sam, but I have to ask you the following question. What advice would you give to someone who wants to make it in the music business?
Sam McClain: Well, first of all I go back to believing in God, believing in yourself, be talented, and love it – love it man, you got to be sure this is what you want to do because it’s tough. You got to love it with all your heart. The Bible said, if you don’t love something enough to lay down your life for it, you don’t (laughing) really love it, and see that’s what I’ve had to do, literally, for music.
BMIA.com: What do you mean by that?
Sam McClain: I’ve had to sleep outdoors, eat out of garbage cans, I been married four or five times. I mean I’ve sacrificed everything for this music. You know. Because I love it. And it loves me back. (Laughing). So my advice would be to definitely make sure you love this stuff because it’s a tough tough business. And then, educate yourself. Educate yourself as much as you possibly can about this business because you will need it to know what’s going on about the business. Even when you have people working for you, you need to know what they’ve done and not supposed to be doing and should be doing about your business and your career. If you don’t know what they should or should not be doing; you don’t know whether they doing right or wrong. I learned late, but I am still learning. But, I thank God that I’ve come far enough to learn to where I’ve got as much control as God would allow me have now in my career, in my own publishing, my own label, my own production company, my own agency, my own band, my own tour bus (laughing).
BMIA.com: Like I told you earlier, you’re a blessed man.
Sam McClain: You know I’m very blessed. But I had to learn this over the years. And that’s what I would advice anybody to do – to love this business with all your heart; love the Lord with all your heart; love people with all your heart; treat people like you wish to be treated; and be true to yourself. Be true to yourself and to the music and love it and it will love you back. It will take you someplace. I love you. God bless you. And I sure thank you man for this opportunity to share this with you and your fans, your listeners, your viewers. And you saying it’s an honor, it’s an honor for me, Gary, it really is.
BMIA.com: Thank you Sam. I’ll call you on the road in a couple of weeks.
Sam McClain: You got the phone number here. If you want me to answer some more questions or clear something up just give me shout and I’ll see if I can straighten you out, son and get you on the right route. Thank you again. God bless you and I look forward to talking to you again. Thanks Gary.
BMIA.com: Thank you Sam.
Glennis Grace’s Tribute to Whitney Houston
Glennis Grace, is a Dutch singer from Amsterdam. I first learned of her when she was a contestant on the 13th season of America’s Got Talent where she sang Whitney Houston’s “Run To You.” She received rave reviews from the judges and earned a place in the quarterfinals, however, she did not make the Top 5.
Watch Glennis Grace’s tribute to Whitney Houston concert below and see why I call Glennis Grace my “future ex-wife.”
The Voice: Singer Alicia Olatuja
Chance are, you don’t know singer Alicia Olatuja by name. This talented young mezzo-soprano wowed everyone at the 2013 presidential inauguration of Barack Obama with her solo during the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir’s performance of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Alicia has sung with the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir since 2007 and has sung with a variety of other singers and musicians such as Christian McBride, Chaka Khan and Bebe Winans.
Intuition: Songs From The Minds Of Women
Now could not be a better time to deliver a project that celebrates and champions women and their work.
2018 has been the year of the women and Intuition: Songs From The Minds of Women, a great compilation focusing on the rich contributions of expressions by esteemed female composers like: Sade, Angela Bofill, Tracey Chapman, Joni Mitchell, Linda Creed, Brenda Russell, Kate Bush, (with a Maxwell twist) , is wrapped in diverse music styles including soul, jazz, classical and gospel, as presented in music by Alicia Olatuja. Appropriately titled and timed.
Alicia’s striking and widely seen 2013 solo performance before millions+, as the African-American lead female vocalist at America’s first-ever elected black President, Barack Obama’s second inauguration during her moment in history. Singing “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” in global television audience, was evident of her proven record as a lustrous classically trained vocalist.
“The young lady was breathtaking… fantastic… unreal.”
In recognition of Black History Month (2/2019) and National Women’s Month (3/2019), I am pitching to have Alicia as a featured artist who has achieved what most only dream of, to sing and introduce her concept album before your audience, as we embrace these important times in our own lives and our history.
“[a] singer with a strong, lustrous tone and an amiably regal presence onstage.”
-New York Times
The future is female being able to create and contribute, being heard and validated, feeling more empowered in a wave of expressions through film, television, the media and in song.
Inauguration Performance: “The Battle Hymn of the Republic””
For more information, contact:–
Juanita Stephens, JS Media Relations (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Review #1: Baby Boomer Perspective
Riddle me this? Name a 65-year old man who can sing and dance at a high-level non-stop for 90 minutes. This is not a trick question. (I’ll wait). Time is up.
ANSWER: Eleven-time Grammy nominee CHARLIE, (LAST NAME) WILSON!
Charlie Wilson performed last night at the MGM Theater at National Harbor, in Oxon Hill, Maryland. Mr. Wilson did not disappoint. If you get a chance to see “Uncle Charlie” that would be money well spent.
This Charlie Wilson show had songs for fans of all ages. From “Outstanding” to “Burn Rubber,” to “There Goes My Baby” and the instant classic “Charlie, Last Name Wilson,” everyone had several songs they could recognize and sing.
It’s no secret that Charlie Wilson knows how to put on a show. He’s flashy when he needs to be with a talented band, including a tight horn section, “eye candy” backup dancers and a Lead Guitarist who often reminded me of Ernie Isley of The Isley Brothers.
Connect with Charlie:
Official Website: http://www.charliewilsonmusic.com/ (Click here to see tour dates, videos and more)
Thank you Juanita Stephens of JS Media Relations for coordinating this event.
Gary A. Johnson is the Founder and Publisher of Black Men In America.com. The company manages a variety of Internet and digital media enterprises including a syndicated blog and Black Boating and Yachting.com, a site that highlights the adventures of boating enthusiasts.
Review #2: Millennial Perspective
By Christopher Johnson
There’s been a lot of talk lately about who the King of R&B is, sparked by young artist Jaquees. Debate on the Internet has been fierce with fans of artists like R. Kelly, Babyface, Usher, Keith Sweat and plenty of others defending their choice for the title of “King.”
My answer: Respect the OG (Original Gangster). I got a chance to sit in the VIP section at the Charlie Wilson show at the MGM Theater this weekend and I have to say don’t over look Uncle Charlie.
His voice is as crisp as ever and he brings the energy like an artist 20 years younger. His band was equally sharp and energetic bringing his vast catalogue of songs to life. Wilson has a unique connection to a vast demographic of fans between his work as lead singer of The Gap Band to working with younger artists like Pharrell and Snoop Dogg. It may be easy to overlook “Uncle Charlie” because of his age but he is showing no signs of slowing down and needs to be in the conversation for “King of R&B.”
Christopher Johnson also known as “C. J.” is the youngest columnist on this website. He started interviewing celebrities when he was 10-years old. Chris comments on sports, politics, current events and he writes movie reviews. In his spare time he is the Lead Guitarist for a band called The Courtland Experiment. Click here to visit his Archives Page to see more videos with Harold Bell and to read his commentaries and movie reviews. You can also follow him on Twitter and Instagram.
By Gary A. Johnson – Founder & Publisher, Black Men In America.com
“Let’s Stay Together,” by Pete Escovedo featuring Sy Smith
This is a classic song, with a classic arrangement with a great band and a classy singer in Sy Smith.
Performance Review: Maysa – At The Birchmere (July 7, 2018)
I was so worn out from the Maysa show that when I got home I went straight to bed. A lot of folks are unfamiliar with Maysa. She has been the lead singer for the group “Incognito” for decades and a solo artist since 1995. Maysa has a streak of 30 “sold out” shows, including her show last night at the Birchmere. Here’s what I love about this woman–her shows consistently start on time. She does not use pre-recorded music tracks or vocals. Maysa stepped on stage at 7:30 pm and ended the show at 11:00 pm. There was no break, no intermission, just 3.5 hours of music that covered a variety of genres including jazz, smooth jazz, blues, R&B and Funk. She brought back the spirit of Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, Dinah Washington, Nancy Wilson and Sarah Vaughn and more.
She took requests from the audience and sang “a capella” when her new band didn’t know the song. Her team went to every person in the club and personally handed you a bag of candy and chocolates that they assembled in her kitchen on Thursday.
Her “old school” medley included songs by Prince, Anita Ward, The Commodores, Gil Scott-Heron, Atlantic Starr, Rose Royce, Teena Marie, Natalie Cole, Tevin Campbell and Parliament-Funkadelic. And these are the songs that I can remember.
Here’s The Bottom Line: If you have a chance to see Maysa perform, get in the car NOW. Get on your bicycle or put your “house shoes” on and start walking to the show. Her show is everything that a live performance should be. She will be back in DC at the Birchmere in October. The food at the Birchmere is great. I had the best blackened catfish, with collard greens and macaroni and cheese in decades. I thought my grandmother was back in that kitchen. For some of you, you have no more excuses. You can’t say, “Nobody told me about Maysa and the Birchmere.”
Enjoy Maysa singing her signature song “Deep Water.”
Gary Johnson is the Founder and Publisher of Black Men In America.com, an online news and magazine, Black Boating and Yachting.com and several other online sites. Gary is also the author of the book “25 Things That Really Matter In Life,”: A Quick and Comprehensive Guide To Making Your Life Better—Today!
Stephanie Mills sings her signature song “Home.” No other artist can come close to outdoing her on this song.
Some days you just get into a musical groove that encompasses different genres spanning several decades. Today is one of those days for us. Our team assembled some of the best musical performances by some of the greatest artists of our time.
Cynthia Erivo is a British actress, singer, and songwriter. She is probably best known for her performance as Celie in the 2015 Broadway revival of The Color Purple, for which she won the 2016 Tony Award for Best Actress in a Musical as well as the 2017 Grammy Award for Best Musical Theater Album.
Watch and enjoy Cynthia showcasing her powerful voice on two classic Broadway songs.
Cécile McLorin Salvant: “You get a singer like this once in a generation — or two.” — Wynton Marsalis
This is one of those moments that you cannot predict, manufacture, hype, fabricate or even imagine.
It’s a moment you can only hope to recognize and appreciate … the moment when you introduce your audience to an artist for the ages. You know: those surpassing artists that drew us to this profession in the first place. The ones we will look back upon, proudly remembering our role in establishing their legacies. These artists are part of our legacy … as cultural curators, as music professionals, as stewards of the black aesthetic.
Cécile McLorin Salvant is an artist for the ages.
She is Florida-born, French and Haitian, a former child prodigy who was smart enough to master law, but wiser enough to master jazz. She’s a poet, a visual artist, a stylist. She’s quirky, funny and profound. Last year she won the Grammy for Best Jazz Vocal Album. She also won the hearts of critics from the New York Times, Downbeat, Los Angeles Times, Vanity Fair, Jazziz, Wall Street Journal and the New Yorker. She loves history — especially music history — and is intentionally weaving herself into the fabric of our time. She. Is. An. Artist.
In due time she will enter the pantheon, not only as a great jazz voice, but also as a great cultural heroine born to speak for her generation — the Millennial generation — through her music, personal style, and her singular social commentary on everything from modern sexuality, to the evolution of women in society, to the state of black people in America and the world.
Her new album, Dreams and Daggers coming in September, will add 23 fresh melodies and haunting performances to her glorious body of work. We invite you to write your chapter in this story and to delight your audience by introducing them to this artistic treasure.
I strongly urge you to place yourself on the correct side of history. But don’t listen to me. I’m not even asking you to listen to Wynton Marsalis. I’m asking you to listen to her album, listen to her voice, and you will hear … history.
You will be inspired to tell a story for the ages.
Juanita Stephens, JS Media Relations
For One to Love – Grammy Award for Best Vocal Album of 2016
The New Yorker
New York Times Magazine
Singer Sammy Davis, Jr. Plays Drums and Piano
An Evening with Nat King Cole
James Brown In A Legendary Performance (No One Outperformed Mr. Dynamite)
By Gary A. Johnson – Founder & Publisher, Black Men In America.com
The year was 1964. The place was the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, the T.A.M.I. show (the Teenage Awards Music International) was held. The lineup included a bunch of white acts and the headliner was The Rolling Stones. There were some black acts, most notably, Chuck Berry, Marvin Gaye, the Supremes, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, and James Brown and the Famous Flames.
Brown, who had played the Chitlin Circuit for years, was pissed that the producers of the event would not let him close the show. They scheduled what he believed to be acts of lesser quality to perform after him. As he wrote in his memoir, “James Brown: The Godfather of Soul,” “We did a bunch of songs, nonstop, like always. . . . I don’t think I ever danced so hard in my life, and I don’t think they’d ever seen a man move that fast.” Brown performed a four-song set: “Out of Sight”; “Prisoner of Love,” “Please, Please, Please”; and the closer, “Night Train.”
RJ Smith wrote a book on Brown titled “The One.” Smith quotes Brown as saying that the T.A.M.I. performance was the “highest energy” moment of his career: “I danced so hard my manager cried. But I really had to. What I was up against was pop artists—I was R. & B. I had to show ’em the difference, and believe me, it was hard.”
This show was reportedly the first time that Brown, pulled out his “cape act,” in which, he drops to his knees, seemingly unable to go on any longer, at the point of collapse, or worse. The act continued with his backup singers, the Flames, move near, Danny Ray, a valet comes onstage a drapes a cape over Brown’s shoulders. Over and over again, Brown recovers, throws off the cape, defies his near-death collapse, goes back into the song, back into the dance, this absolute abandonment to passion.
“It’s a Holiness feeling—like a Baptist thing,” Brown said of the act. “It’s a spiritual-background thing. You’re involved and you don’t want to quit. That’s the definition of soul, you know. Being involved and they try to stop you and you just don’t want to stop. The idea of changing capes came later, ’cause it’s good for show business.”
Years later, Keith Richards, the lead guitarist of the Rolling Stones reportedly said that the very idea of following James Brown was the biggest mistake of the Stones’ careers. “Just go out there and do your best,” Marvin Gaye had told Jagger. And he did. Jagger was never anything but admiring and respectful of James Brown. Years later Jagger was one of the producers of bio pic on Brown “Get On Up.”
Watch the 17 minute video above of the hardest working man in show business and you will see why no one ever out performed the Godfather of Soul, Mr. James Brown.
To learn more about James Brown watch the 2012 Biography Channel documentary “James Brown, The Godfather of Soul”
The Legend of Sam Cooke
Sam Cooke was a trailblazing recording artist who sang with the gospel group the Soul Stirrers before he had pop and R&B hits like “You Send Me,” “Chain Gang” and “Twistin’ the Night Away.” Forging a link between soul and pop, Cooke attracted both black and white audiences, and started his own record label and publishing company.
Cooke had 30 U.S. top 40 hits between 1957 and 1964, plus three more posthumously. Cooke was also among the first modern black performers and composers to attend to the business side of his musical career. He founded both a record label and a publishing company as an extension of his careers as a singer and composer. He also took an active part in the Civil Rights Movement.
If you want to learn about this music legend watch these videos “Sam Cooke Crossing Over, “ and “The Sam Cooke Story.”
Larry Graham: Still Funky After All These Years
By Gary A. Johnson,
Publisher, Black Men In America.com
The last time I saw Larry Graham and Graham Central Station I was in High School. I saw him at the Capital Center in Landover, MD, just outside of Washington, D.C. I went to the show tonight expecting Mr. Graham to be FUNKY, but not this FUNKY. After all, he’s been around for over 40 years. I figured he may have lost a step, or developed a hitch in his “funk-get-along.”
Talk about being wrong. After last night’s show, 68-year old Larry Graham catapulted himself into my All Time Top 5 List of live performers. Before seeing Larry Graham last night my top 5 best live performers were:
- James Brown
- Earth, Wind & Fire
- The Jackson 5/Michael Jackson
- Brian Culbertson
After the Larry Graham experience last night, Brian Culbertson has been voted out of the Top 5 to the #6 slot with Larry Graham and Graham Central Station comfortably occupying the #5 slot.
Last night the show started with the band coming on stage from the right wing. The crowd was looking toward the stage chanting “Larry! Larry! Larry!” The crowd erupted in applause as Larry Graham came from the rear of the building walking through the audience playing his bass guitar as he made his way to the stage. Dressed in his signature all-white suit and a white hat topped off by a huge aqua blue feather, Graham also wore a floor length “Elvis-like” jacket. By now everyone was on their feet (including me and I hate standing at concerts). Graham walked by our table playing that bass guitar like the Pied Piper of Funk.
After about an hour into the show Graham told the crowd: “You better call the babysitter and tell them you will be home late.” Dude played for 3 hours! Graham had 5 encores! (I guess he forgot that some of us had things to do the next morning).
Everyone who came on stage had an opportunity to play their instrument of choice or sing and the band members stepped aside, gave up their instrument for you and let you jam with the band. I almost ran on stage to sing Sly’s “If You Want Me To Stay.” I would have turned The Birchmere out!
After the show, Graham, the band, and his wife Tina of 40 years, came out and signed autographs, took pictures and mingled with the crowd until well after midnight. If you have a chance to re-live your youth, go see Larry Graham. I was exhausted after the show. I think I pulled a hamstring bouncing up and down to “1999” during the Prince medley of the show. It was that song or James Brown’s “I Got The Feeling.”
To learn more about Larry Graham visit his official website Larry Graham.com. Check out this video of Larry Graham with his buddy Prince.
Question: Who are your Top 5 live musical performers?
Answer: “James Brown was the greatest live performer I’ve ever seen, closely followed by Prince. My next three are Earth, Wind & Fire, The Jackson 5 and Brian Culbertson–in that order. Period, paragraph, end of sentence.”
The One and Only Prince
Earth, Wind & Fire
Stan Alston: The Man and His Music
Posted March 27, 2017
I’ve been wanting to do a feature on Stan Alston for about two years now. Stan is an internationally known recording artist and author. By the age of three Stan was singing in the church choir. His first musical appearance was at the age of eight in a community musical. His first club appearance was at the age of thirteen (he opened for a group called the Manhattans).
When not working as a solo artist (The Alston Experience), Stan works with Cuba Gooding, Sr., as a member of The Main Ingredient. As an entertainer, Stan has traveled around the United States and Europe. Stan has shared the stage with such greats as Al Green, Phyllis Hyman, The Delfonics, The Stylistics and other well-known artists. Stan has performed off Broadway with actress Loretta Devine, in the life story of Thomas A. Dorsey the creator of gospel music.
Stan has a five octave range voice that is clear and angelic. His vocal range allows him to comfortable flow between a wide genre of music including R&B, Jazz, Rock and Gospel. Stan has written for AT&T, and it’s Reach Out America campaign. In addition, Stan has authored two books, “Faith, Love & Life,” and “Truth By Testimony.”
Stan has released more than a dozen CD’s and published more than 200 titles. He’s received awards for his writing and is a member of the International Society of Poets, along with affiliations with BMI, and ASCAP. Stan’s musical influences include Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Al Jarreau, Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, Phillip Bailey (Earth Wind & Fire), Al Green, and Billie Holiday.
Let’s learn more about the man himself through this exclusive interview with Black Men In America.com.
The Stan Alston Interview
BMIA.com: Hey Stan, thanks for taking the time to do this interview. I want to jump right into the interview. In preparing for this interview, I’ve discovered quite a few folks, who may not be familiar with you or your music. I want to help expose these folks to you, your music and your books.
Stan Alston: That sounds great. Let’s get started.
BMIA.com: How long have you been in the music business?
Stan Alston: I’ve been in the music industry since 1967. I starting getting paid at the age of 13.
BMIA.com: Tell us about your background. I read that you grew up in Baltimore.
Stan Alston: I grew up in Baltimore, Maryland, which is the city that gave us Billie Holiday, Cab Calloway, Thurgood Marshall, and Babe Ruth to name a few.
BMIA.com: How old were you when you first started singing?
Stan Alston: I was singing in church at the tender age of three year old.
BMIA.com: Who are some of the artists who you’ve worked with?
Stan Alston: I’ve worked with were Phyllis Hyman, Norman Connors, Al Green and The Manhattans.
BMIA.com: Who does Stan Alston listen to when he’s not performing?
Stan Alston: I like jazz and classical music – with vocals. I listen to the late great Al Jarreau, Adele and Russell Thompkins, Jr., of The Stylistics and the late Eddie Kendricks.
BMIA.com: Most folks don’t know that you’re an author. Tell us about your book.
Stan Alston: I have two books, my first book was “Faith, Love and Life” a collection of poetry and songs. My second book is “Truth By Testimony,” a collection of short stories, poems and songs.
BMIA.com: Stan, what do you want people to “get or learn” as a result of reading your book?
Stan Alston: I’d like people to realize that I’m the first author to write a book of poetry and songs and release them as musical products. My last CD, “Life” is the completion of the book and music trilogy titled “Faith, Love and Life.” I released five music CD’s under that book and have plenty more in the series. I’m currently working to release the book titled “The Reason I Live,” which is another collection of poems and songs.
BMIA.com: The other night I watching The New Edition Story. The show pointed out that after their first major tour, the group got a check for $1.87. How can artists protect themselves from being ripped off?
Stan Alston: Artists can protect themselves from getting ripped off, by using music organizations such as the American Guild of Authors and Composers, BMI, ASCAP, and other agencies to assist them with legal direction and understanding of the music business.
BMIA.com: Are music shows like “The Voice” good for the music business? Why or why not?
Stan Alston: Music shows like “The Voice” are excellent for people in that the show provides a “short cut” to the “ups and downs” of the music business if you are the winner. But the school to the real world is what to do if you don’t have these avenues and still have a great deal of talent. You have to learn how to market and to promote one’s self. I would advise any artist to never give up on their dream in becoming successful in this business journey.
BMIA.com: Let’s get back to your music. I love your CD “Life.” Tell us about it. Where can people buy your music and see you perform live?
Stan Alston: My CD “Life” is the completions of the titled series of the book “Faith, Love and Life.” It’s comprised of 16 original songs and 15 cover songs with a few of my favorite artists. I had some help with the original songs from Michael Westbrook, who used to work with the late great Whitney Houston. I also worked with Gary Augustus, who played with the group Lisa, Lisa and the Cult Jam. Last but not least, I worked with producer/writer Wayne Reddick, producer Mario Sprouse and Thomas Jones, Jr., the guitar player and producer formerly of the gospel super group The Mighty Clouds of Joy.
My music is available for purchase on Amazon, iTunes, Reverb Nation, CD Baby and Tidal.
BMIA.com: Is there anyone that you haven’t worked with that you would like to work with?
Stan Alston: I’d like to perform with Earth, Wind & Fire, the Rolling Stones, Stevie Wonder, Diana Ross, Adele, and Charlie Wilson.
BMIA.com: What are the biggest challenges facing black men in America?
Stan Alston: I believe that knowing who you are and where you come from is the greatest challenge for black men in America. Everyone has a beginning beyond the great flood and the pyramids. If that information were available to reveal, the greatness and wonderful contributions we’ve made to civilization for the better of mankind. Our quest to share and help each other would be more open without fear for working with each other openly–no fear.
BMIA.com: Any final words or comments?
Stan Alston: Thank you for providing me this opportunity to give your audience an understanding of Stan Alston, aka the Alston Experience. And to give credit to my Great-Grandmother on my mother’s side of the family and her three daughters that include my mother who nourished me on Sunday mornings with songs by Mahaila Jackson, and other great musical artist of that time. My Grandfather on my father’s side whom I never met ran away from home to be with the circus at 14 years of age, and all those Alston’s before me. One last thing, I just finished the song “One Arm Bandit” to go with the book. I’m so proud of this article and my Mother shall be also. Thank you for this feature.
The following video features Stan singing Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You”
Photo: Stan singing with The Main Ingredient
You can download and listen to Stan’s music at the following links:
Apple Music: https://itunes.apple.com/us/artist/stanley-alston/id895167577
CD Baby: https://www.cdbaby.com/Artist/StanleyAlstonAkatheAlstonExper
Gary A. Johnson is the Founder of Gary A. Johnson Company & Associates, LLC, a management training and consulting company. The company manages a variety of Internet and digital media enterprises including Black Men In America.com, one of the most popular web sites on the Internet, Black Men In America.com Dating and the Black Men In America.com Syndicated Blog. In addition, the company manages Homework Help Page.com, an educational resource site for children, college students and parents.
The Incomparable Lenny Williams
You know him as one of the most distinctive voices on one of the most gut-wrenching love songs ever written (“Cause I Love You”), and as the former lead singer for the legendary group Tower of Power. He is the legendary soul balladeer Lenny Williams. Over the past 3 decades Lenny has had such classic hits as, “So Very Hard to Go,” “Cause I Love You” and “Don’t Make Me Wait For Love,” his top Pop and R&B hit with Kenny G.
Unlike many other singers in his era, Lenny still has his voice and sounds great on his new CD “Still In The Game,” on Bridle Ridge Records.
For those of you who have lost touch with Lenny, he has continued singing on tour throughout the U.S., Europe and South Africa sharing the stage with Aretha Franklin, Alicia Keys, K-Jon, Anthony Hamilton, The Whispers, Rick James, Boney James, Bobby Womack, Ohio Players, Al Green, Usher, Frankie Beverly and Maze.
Lenny has a new single “Still.” You can watch the video below. You can also check out Lenny’s classic live performance of “Cause I Love You.” Stay up-to-date with Lenny Williams by visiting his official web site at http://www.lennywilliams.com.
With this song, Lenny Williams gives arguably one of the most soulful performances ever.
Marcus Miller and Larry Graham – “The Jam”
The One and Only Chanté Moore (Gary Johnson’s #1 Female Vocalist)
Sammy Davis, Jr. – The World’s Greatest Entertainer
Jaz Rok Pop by Don Grady
Don Grady is best remembered as Robbie Douglas, on the landmark 60’s and 70’s TV show “My Three Sons,” starring Fred McMurray. Don was also one of the original Disney Mouseketeers in the late 1950’s. I bet you didn’t know that Don Grady was also a multi-talented musician.
Over the next several decades Don made his living in the music industry as a composer, arranger, and conductor. He penned “Keep the Dream Alive” for Jazz to End Hunger, a musical project that drew artists such as Herbie Hancock, Della Reese, Dianne Schuur, and Bobby McFerrin, among other notables.
Don was the composer behind The Phil Donahue Show’s theme song and the Democratic National Convention’s opening song in 1996. He also contributed musically to features presented by HBO/Warner Bros., A&E Television Network, Universal Studios, and George Lucas Productions.
After his contract ended on “My Three Sons” Don started another career as a professional composer and arranged and scored music for film and television documentaries. Don also created original music and special material for DVD animation and live stage shows. Don was a musical prodigy who played drums, bass, piano, trumpet, and guitar.
Don’s last solo project was a CD called Boomer featuring an eclectic mix of music aimed at baby boomers. The CD features the single and video “JazRokPop.” You can download or buy Don’s CD from his web site www.dongrady.com.
R&B Singer, Musician, Producer and Songwriter Kashif Found Dead
By Gary A. Johnson, Publisher – Black Men In America.com
October 5, 2016
As an artist, Kashif had 17 Top 10 hits. As a producer/songwriter, he sold over 70 million records worldwide, earning him six Grammy nominations in multiple categories. Saxophonist Kenny G credits the multifaceted Kashif for launching his career. Kashif was found dead in his Los Angles home on Sunday, September 25th. Updated reports state that he was actually 59. A spokeswoman, Jalila Larsuel, confirmed the death but said the cause had not been determined. While little is known about the cause of death, the LA County coroner implied that he died of natural causes.
A product of eight foster homes, his later years were spent developing educational music programs for children and aspiring artists. He also taught at UCLA.
Orphaned at 4 months old, with an early life of uncertainty, Kashif became a six-time Grammy nominated super producer/songwriter, artist, author, filmmaker, educator and activist. His career spanned over four decades. He sold over 70 million records and was the author of arguably the most recommended book on the music business.
Last year, Kashif was recently featured on the groundbreaking music documentary series on TVOne “Unsung.” You can watch the full Unsung episode below.
Kashif wrote and produced award-winning albums for Whitney Houston, George Benson, Al Jarreau, Kenny G., Evelyn “Champagne” King, Melba Moore, Me’lisa Morgan, Barry White, Da Brat, Glenn Jones, Howard Johnson, Lil’ Kim, and Dionne Warwick.
With hit records like “I Just Got To Have You (Lover Turn Me On),” “Stone Love,” “Help Yourself To My Love” and the Grammy-nominated instrumental “The Mood,” Kashif began creating a solid reputation among record buyers for his distinctive musical sound.
Never knowing his real parents, Kashif grew up in eight foster homes. Learning to play a $3.00 song flute at the age of seven provided him with what turned out to be an important common denominator in his unstable environments. By age 15 when he joined B.T. Express whose credits included early funk/dance hits like “Here Comes The Express” and “Do It ‘Til You’re Satisfied,” Kashif was already an accomplished musician.
Kashif teamed up with then-newcomer Whitney Houston and contributed to her first smash hit “You Give Good Love,” which he also co-wrote, and “Thinking About You,” on Houston’s astounding 17-million selling debut-album. Kashif has also amassed gold and platinum albums for his work with Evelyn King, George Benson and Kenny G.
In the 90’s, with an invitation from the famed UCLA Extension program, Kashif created a course called “Contemporary Record Production With Kashif.” He wrote and released the now highly acclaimed book Everything You’d Better Know About The Record Industry, as well as The Urban Music Directory, A&R Source Guide, and Music Publisher’s Source Guide. Each of these books is designed to assist people that have an interest in the music industry.
Less than a year ago, I touched base with Kashif and updated our earlier interview with him that you can read below.
The Kashif Interview
BMIA.com: Hey Kashif, thanks for taking the time to do this interview. I want to jump right into the interview. In preparing for this interview, I’ve discovered quite a few folks, under 35 years old, who may not be familiar with you or your music. So hip these “new schoolers” to you. How long have you been in the music business?
Kashif: I have been in the music business for 32 years. My first professional gig was when I joined BT Express back in 1974.
BMIA.com: The name Kashif is very unique. What is the origin or significance of your name?
Kashif: It is Arabic. I first took on this name back in 1975. One of the members of BT Express, Jamal Rasool – The bass player was a Muslim. The group was on tour and I had seen a lot of musicians and people about that lived with low morals and little discipline. But I respected Jamal as he demonstrated personality traits that I aspired to. He was studious, respectful, a hard worker, and seemed to have a real plan as to where he was going. He became my role model. He had a great influence on my life. He offered me a book of Islamic names and I chose the name Kashif – Which means discoverer and inventor. Saleem, my last name means one who comes in peace.
BMIA.com: Tell us about your background. (Where you grew up, family background, level of education, etc).
Kashif: I grew up in Brooklyn New York. My early childhood was spent moving from foster home to foster home, eight, to be exact. I never know any real family but found a solid foundation with the Simpson family. I stayed with them until I was 14 when my foster mother died. The next year I graduated high school. I did not attend any college because I was on the road with BT Express. But that was not the end of my education. To this day I spend a lot of hours doing research and studying business, music, science, and other subjects.
BMIA.com: How old were you when you joined the group B. T. Express? What did you learn from that experience?
Kashif: I joined B.T. Express when I was 15 years old. Up until then I had done little traveling and was not exposed to things outside of Brooklyn very much. But when I toured with the Express all that changed. We visited Thailand, Japan, Hong Kong, Kwala Lumpur, and all over the America in the first year alone. I gained an appreciation for the variations in life, to respect and value the way other people lived.
BMIA.com: I’ve been playing your music (albums and CD’s) in the office. When I think back to the early 80’s, you had a very distinctive sound with such hits as like “I Just Got To Have You (Lover Turn Me On)”, “Stone Love”, “Help Yourself To My Love” and the Grammy-nominated instrumental “The Mood.” When I listen to music recorded in the 90’s and today, I can hear your influence in other artists. Who are some of the artists that you’ve influenced?
Kashif: I really don’t think about that at all. When I create I try to practice what I call free thinking. That means that I try not to adhere to any school of thought as far as making music is concerned. Of course there is a natural tendency to give into the gravity of past successes that I have experienced. But I really try to ignore what has worked in the past and try to give into what I feel is the best choice for that record and production at that time. As far as fine art goes whether we are play writes, dancers, painters, scientist etc., the things we admire influence us all.
BMIA.com: Approximately how many records have you sold and who are some of the people that you’ve written and produced for?
Kashif: My recordings have sold over 70 million units worldwide and counting. I have been so fortunate to have worked with some of the most talented artists during my career. They have been the vehicles for my songwriting and productions. Whitney Houston, Kenny G., George Benson, Evelyn “Champagne” King, Barry White, Will Downing, All Jarreau, B.T. Express, The Stylistics, Dionne Warwick, make up some of the people I have worked with.
BMIA.com: How many gold and platinum records have you earned?
Kashif: I have no idea! I don’t think about that.
BMIA.com: Who are some of the people who influenced you?
Kashif: My influences come from many different disciplines. Science, politics, music, art, technology, business, and humanitarian. Leonardo Di Vinci, Mahatma Gandhi, Steven Jobs, Steven Covey, Deepak Chopra, Bono, Bill Gates, Dr, Charles Drew, Quincy Jones, Bill Clinton, Kofi Annan. How much time do you have?
BMIA.com: We have all the time you need. One of the things that I noticed about you early on in your career was a determination to be diversified. Did you make a conscious effort to prepare for life after the music business?
Kashif: I will always be involved with the music business. Music is my first love. But my interest in science, medicine, art, technology and other disciplines also drive me. Music gives me the financial support to dabble and exercise my interest in the others areas. It’s really funny to me when I see other music artists with great big egos. After all it is only entertainment. But it is courage and the willingness to challenge the status quo that makes one great.
BMIA.com: Most folks don’t know that you’re a successful entrepreneur. What made you write the highly acclaimed book, Everything You’d Better Know About The Record Industry, and your software enterprises? How did this all start?
Kashif: When I am out touring I get questioned quite a bit about what it takes to be successful in the music business. In 1996 I decided to write a book that would help newcomers and veterans of the music industry. That book became a big seller for me. I really had no intentions of becoming a book publisher but 10 years later here I am.
The software that I developed is called the Music Business 411. It was developed to help anyone who is interested in the music industry connect with the right people. There are over 35,000 music industry contacts in the professional version of the program, including; record companies, talent scouts, publishers, attorneys, agents managers, producers, recording studio, radio stations and much more. With this we have solve the number one problem of getting into the music business… You now have thousands of contacts that you can reach out to who can help you find success.
BMIA.com: What do you want people to “get or learn” as a result of reading your books?
Kashif: I want to teach people how to think for themselves, to learn the basics of the music business so that they can make the proper decisions to have health and prosperous careers.
BMIA.com: The other night I watching a re-run of “VH-1’s Behind The Music,” featuring New Edition. The show pointed out that after their first major tour, the group got a check for $1.87. How can artists protect themselves from being ripped off?
Kashif: Again, the most important thing about the music business is that you realize that it is in-fact a business first. Take care of your business and your business will take care of you. It is as simple as that. Most people react on emotions and that tends to get them in trouble. When you act on facts and you are clear about that agreements that you make then you can make decisions that will work for you and not against you.
BMIA.com: Is the FOX TV show “American Idol” good for the music business? Why or why not?
Kashif: I think “American Idol” is good in a sense that it provides a real career opportunity for a very limited number of singers to showcase their talent. However, that is precisely why it is not that great for the business. American Idol looks for one type of singer. But there are all types of singers, folk, and gospel, R&B, Rock, etc. There are also People who do not sing but play an instrument instead. They too deserve a chance. American Idol is about stardom, not music. Imagine Janis Joplin, Jimmy Hendrix, John Denver, or any other superstar that did not have the all American belting voice that Idol looks for. They would be booted off right? You do the math. It is one-dimensional at best.
BMIA.com: Is there anyone that you haven’t worked with but would have liked to?
Kashif: Alicia Keys, Stevie Wonder and Seal. Seal is my favorite artist, and others.
BMIA.com: OK Kashif, this is the part of the interview where we “strap” you in the Black Men In America.com Hot Seat. This is our version of “Call and Response,” where we say something and you call out the first thing that comes to mind. Are you ready?
• Whitney Houston – Great Talent but had Challenges
• Kenny G – Playing below his real talent
• Clive Davis – Legend
• P Diddy – Ground breaker
• Jay Z – Industrious
• Sly Stone – Universal Sound
• Favorite female artist – Alicia Keys
• Favorite male artist – Seal
• Favorite charity or cause – Rainbow Push
• Favorite way to relax – Sailing
• Favorite song of all time – Too many to list
• Top 3 things you must do to make it in the music business – Work hard, be aware, network
• Most common mistake people make when starting out in the music business – Signing agreements without the advice of an expert music industry attorney.
BMIA.com: Kashif, you are officially out of the Black Men In America.com Hot Seat!
BMIA.com: What are the biggest challenges facing black men in America?
Kashif: America itself. The playing fields are still not even and fair. But as black men don’t have time to stop and complain to the referee. We must forge ahead dunk the ball celebrate for a moment get back down the court and do it all over again.
BMIA.com: How can people reading this article support you?
Kashif: Tell their friends that we have a web site devoted to helping musicians, singers and songwriter become successful in the music business.
BMIA.com: Tell us the name of the company again and give us the web site address?
Kashif: The company is Brooklyn Boy software and the web site is www.brooklynboy.com.
BMIA.com: Any final words?
Kashif: Live life to the fullest. Enjoy your health, family, and loved ones. Say hello to a stranger. Seek to understand your adversaries before you demand that they see things your way. Lead by example. Smile all the time. Eat healthy. Avoid stress. If you can’t avoid stress then make sure to do things that will help to offset it. Avoid toxic people and substances at all costs. Be proactive about your health. Spend less on cars and more on organic fruits and vegetables. Where light colors. Get plenty of sun. Call someone and tell then that you appreciate them. I could go on and on but I think I made my point. I wish you all health, wealth and happiness.
BMIA.com: Brother, you said a mouthful. Wow! These are certainly words to live by.
Kashif: Thank you.
Editor’s Note: Gary A. Johnson originally conducted this interview for Black Men In America.com in 2006. That interview was titled: “Kashif: “Brooklyn Boy” Does Good (Real Good)”