Category: Music

GBN Celebrates African American Music Appreciation Month 2020 (LISTEN)

(Image via library.citytech.cuny.edu)

Even as our nation is in the grips of a necessary battle against injustice and institutionalized racism, we will not temper the celebration of our culture and our contributions to it.

June is African-American Music Appreciation Month and typically there are scores of live concerts and performances to honor the beauty, art, respite, truth, wisdom, information, strength, joy and freedom in the music Black people have created in this country – no matter the circumstances – and still create to this day.

But since live gatherings are not possible in the foreseeable future, Good Black News wants to provide another way to honor our past and present musical greats during this time. All month, we will be offering playlists from myriad genres, artists and themes save one: they will all be in tribute to African American music.

To kick us off first is GBN contributor Marlon West‘s expansive offering. In Marlon’s words:

“It’s June and that brings African-American Music Appreciation Month! While President Jimmy Carter initiated as “Black Music Month” back in 1979, I’ll admit, that I was sleeping on it until it was rebranded as African-American Music Appreciation Month by President Barack Obama.

In his 2016 proclamation, he noted that African-American music and musicians have helped this nation “to dance, to express our faith through song, to march against injustice, and to defend our country’s enduring promise of freedom and opportunity for all.”

Here’s my freewheeling, daylong, genre-jumping offering celebrating AAMAM. In the weeks to come, I’ll do deep dives on specific styles and/or artists. So get ready to immerse yourself in the music of your favorite Black artists and genres.

Whether it’s Jazz or Neo-Soul or classic Rhythm & Blues or hip-hop, let the music speak to you. Share old favorites and the newly discovered on social media using #AfricanAmericanMusicAppreciationMonth and #AAMAM.

And always stay safe, sane, and kind you all. Damned if that ain’t getting harder to do the days.”

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(FB: marlon.west1 Twitter: @marlonw IG: stlmarlonwest Spotify: marlonwest)

Marlon West (photo courtesy Marlon West)

GBN’s Month of Stevie: Stevie Wonder’s Protest Music (LISTEN)

Stevie Wonder takes a knee at Global Citizens Festival 2018 (photo: YouTube)

by Lori Lakin Hutcherson (@lakinhutcherson)

Good Black News has been honoring Stevie Wonder‘s 70th birthday with posts and playlists all month long (links below). On this last day of May and in light of this past week’s events, GBN  finds it only fitting to close out our celebration with some of the most powerful, enduring, soul-stirring music Stevie’s ever created and offered to this world – his protest music.

From “Living For The City” to “Big Brother” to “Black Man” to “Love’s In Need of Love Today” to “Happy Birthday” to “Pastime Paradise” – even his early covers of “Blowin’ in The Wind” and “A Place In The Sun” – Stevie Wonder has always used his artistry to protest racism and injustice while striving for healing, equity, love and “Higher Ground.”

Thank you, Stevie Wonder for using your heart, mind and genius to speak for the voiceless and fight on behalf of the oppressed. May your music continue to help fortify us for the long journey ahead:

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GBN’S MERRY MONTH OF STEVIE: Jazz Visions of “Innervisions” (LISTEN)

by Jeff Meier (FB: Jeff.Meier.90)

In earlier Stevie Wonder playlists this month, GBN has featured playlists devoted to cover versions of the songs from “Songs in the Key of Life” and from “Talking Book.”  Today’s playlist, in our month devoted to the music of Stevie Wonder in honor of his 70th birthday, features the music of “Innervisions.”

By 1973, Stevie was already on an impressive streak. Now having complete creative control over his work, both “Music of My Mind” and “Talking Book” from the previous year were tremendously successful both commercially and creatively. “Innervisions” took things to the next level.

Beautiful ballads of love like “Golden Lady” and “All In Love Is Fair” are intertwined with the political commentary of “Living for the City” and “He’s Misstra Know-It-All.”

It was a new kind of soul album and it all worked – kicking off an unprecedented streak of winning Grammy Album of the Year awards for three of his releases in a row.

This covers playlist differs from the other two albums. This time, instead of switching up genres from song to song, we’ve delved deeper into jazz versions of songs from “Innervisions.”

Stevie has been an immensely influential musical force among the jazz community. Jazz musicians are constantly covering Stevie – and many have done tribute albums devoted solely to his compositions (Nnena Freelon, Stanley Turrentine, and Najee to name a few).

Nevertheless, though we’ve confined the playlist to jazz, we’ve tried to mix up jazz styles and instruments, including everything from avant garde vocalists to smooth jazz saxophone.  We hope our Innervisions playlist is a great vehicle to explore jazz styles, from the comfort of already knowing all the twists and turns of the original songs by heart.

Enjoy!

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MUSIC MONDAY: Desert Island Stevie Wonder – What 20 Songs Would You Bring? (LISTEN)

As Good Black News enters the last week in our month-long celebration of Stevie Wonder‘s 70th birthday via posts and playlists, we thought we’d kick it off with something a little different.

In the past few weeks we’ve offered playlists of Wonder’s greatest hits, covers, his phenomenal harmonica work, soundtrack cuts, deep cuts, duets, and even other artists covering his classic 1970s albums “Songs in The Key of Life” and “Talking Book.”

While we still have several more great Stevie-themed playlists to share in the final days of May, today GBN is asking you to join in the fun!

If you were stranded on a desert island and could only bring 20 Stevie Wonder songs with you, what would they be? And why? Please share your own Spotify list or written list in the comments!

GBN contributor Marlon West gamely took up this challenge to pave the playlist path. In Marlon’s words:

“Here’s my last offering/delightful assignment of this monthlong celebration of Stevie Wonder’s 70th Birthday. Twenty Stevie Wonder songs you’d take to a Desert Island. Here’s mine. It is not an “essential” list or a “best of.” This is a collection of 20 songs that have enduring appeal to me personally.

You may notice my list leans heavy on 1980’s “Hotter than July.” It was the record that came out when I was rolling around in my parents’ car as a freshly-minted driver. I wore that cassette tape out. So that record looms large for me.

What’s your list look/sound like? Please share yours in the comments.

June is African American Music Appreciation Month! See ya next week with the first of my four offerings for that month-long tribute.

As usual, stay safe, sane, and kind.”

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(FB: marlon.west1 Twitter: @marlonw IG: stlmarlonwest Spotify: marlonwest)

Marlon West (photo courtesy Marlon West)

GBN’s MERRY MONTH OF STEVIE: Stevie Wonder’s “Talking Book” Speaks Again Through Its Covers (LISTEN)

by Jeff Meier (FB: Jeff.Meier.90)

On a previous post, GBN presented a playlist featuring all cover versions (remakes) from Stevie Wonder‘s legendary album “Songs in the Key of Life.”

With today’s playlist, from our month of playlists devoted to Stevie Wonder in honor of his 70th birthday, we take the same approach to Stevie’s 1972 watershed album, “Talking Book.” “Talking Book” is at the front end of Stevie’s period of immense creativity in the 1970s.

Still in his early 20s, and having won creative freedom over his work in his newest Motown contract, he created a multi-textured album filled with funk rhythms, smooth soul, and swinging pop – all merged together into one genius record that still sounds great today. (To hear NPR’s “Story of Stevie Wonder’s Talking Book” segment, click here.)

The album kicks off with the elegant “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” – which has become Stevie’s most-covered song, with over 250 versions recorded by other artists through the years according to SecondHandSongs.com (a website devoted to cover songs).

Many of those versions are similar. As evidence of Stevie’s complete crossover popularity by that point in his career, ‘Sunshine’ actually became an easy listening staple, performed by everyone from Frank Sinatra to Johnny Mathis to Liza Minnelli – and also by Jim Nabors, Vicki Lawrence, Brigitte Bardot and Englebert Humperdinck.

Opening with alternative rocker Jack White‘s version of that standard, our goal is to give you a playlist that feels both familiar to your memories of the original album, but also stretches musically to a few new places.

We’ve mixed in rock, easy listening, funk, dance, a cappella, jazz, Brazilian by artists as diverse as Macy Gray, Rufus, Michael Bublé and Sergio Mendes. We’ve placed the songs in their original album order, and have limited each song to one version – and each covering artist to only one track.

The list concludes with one of the newest Stevie Wonder covers – actress Da’Vine Joy Randolph beautifully covers “I Believe (When I Fall In Love It Will Be Forever)” for the soundtrack to “High Fidelity,” the new Hulu series in which she co-stars. Set around the vinyl-obsessed employees of a small independent record store, the choice to cover Stevie circa 2020 demonstrates that the music faithful still remain true believers in the sounds of Mr. Wonder.

Enjoy!

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MUSIC MONDAY: That’s What Friends Are For: Stevie Wonder Duets (LISTEN)

As Good Black News continues its month-long tribute to Stevie Wonder in his 70th year on planet Earth, Marlon West has compiled a new Spotify playlist celebrating the times Wonder has graciously and successfully shared the spotlight with other artists.

Although Wonder’s collaborative skills are most famously remembered from the 1986 Grammy-winning chart topper “That’s What Friends Are For” with Dionne Warwick, Elton John and Gladys Knight that raised over $3 million dollars for AIDS research and prevention, he’s been at it for decades with a wide variety of artists and in the name of so many worthy causes and ideas.

Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney (photo via libraryofcongress.gov)

This playlist ranges from Stevie’s work with the Queen of the Beyhive (Beyoncé) on a heartfelt Luther Vandross tribute, to his duet with a former Beatle (Paul McCartney) to confront racism, a reworking one of his best-loved love songs with a Canadian diva (Celine Dion), to a loving back-and-forth with his first-born daughter (Aisha Morris, who famously made her debut on 1976’s “Isn’t She Lovely” when still a baby).

In Marlon’s words:

Hello and Happy Monday, you all! Stevie Wonder is one if the most distinctive and prolific voices in popular music. He is a singer, composer, and multi-instrumentalist.

The brotha is one of greatest solo artists and bandleaders of our times. That said, Stevie Wonder has made many collaborations with other artists. He’s done duets, been a guest artist, and even a session musician one dozens of records. This playlist is devoted to Stevie Wonder’s duets. Do enjoy!

And as always, stay safe, sane, and kind!

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(FB: marlon.west1 Twitter: @marlonw IG: stlmarlonwest Spotify: marlonwest)

Marlon West (photo courtesy Marlon West)

GBN’s MERRY MONTH OF STEVIE: Cover Songs In The Key Of Life (LISTEN)

by Jeff Meier (FB: Jeff.Meier.90)

Ever since this writer was elementary school age and first becoming aware of music, I’ve been obsessed with the artistic connections created by “cover” versions (“remakes,” in layman’s terms).

My father and I would routinely spend a Saturday night pairing together interesting playlists for each other comprised of original versions and their remakes, usually trying to find versions as far apart musically from the originals as possible.

Several decades ago, this was very labor intensive – we had to go ‘digging in the crates’ through our own vinyl, and we had to actually know and remember that the cover version had been done. Piecing it all together was half the fun.

Today, with Spotify and the internet, it’s much much easier to uncover covers. Just type in the song name and often you’ll find hundreds of options to pick from, especially when we’re talking about Stevie Wonder, who has literally had thousands of remakes done of his songs.

So many versions, in fact, that it’s impossible to weed through them all. (According to SecondHandSongs.com, a website devoted to ‘cover’ songs, Stevie is the most covered R&B artist of all time.)

So with today’s Stevie Wonder playlist from GBN, I’ve limited myself to covers of songs from his landmark 1976 double album “Songs in the Key of Life.” “Songs in the Key of Life” capped a prolific mid-1970s golden era for Stevie Wonder, winning him a remarkable third Grammy for Album of the Year – all three of his wins coming in just four years!  Many lists feature “Songs” as one of the best albums of all-time.

You may ask – why should I listen to cover versions when the originals are so perfect? I certainly won’t argue with the originals’ perfection. And I don’t think that any of the artists here would argue either that their version supersedes Stevie’s own.

What I would say is that cover versions can do several things.  First, they evoke the true songwriting abilities underlying the original song – a great ‘song’ should be able to stand up to multiple interpretations.

Second, when the cover version is in a different genre (and these are the most interesting ones, usually) – they can bring the listener to new places musically that they may not have ventured before. Third, after hearing an iconic album so many times that it becomes almost second nature, it can be refreshing to hear it again in a new way.

In this playlist, we’ve got the entire ‘Songs in the Key of Life’ song list, in the same order as the original – with the four ‘bonus tracks’ from the extra single included in the original release added to the end.

Each song has only one extra version – and each covering artist is limited to just one track. The mix spans jazz, folk, rock, Latin, soul, dance music and many more, including Luther Vandross, Thelma Houston, Najee, Mary J. Blige and James Taylor‘s brother Livingston Taylor. There’s even a Spice Girl in there if you look for her!

We hope you enjoy it.

Happy 70th Birthday To Ya, Stevie Wonder! (LISTEN)

by Lori Lakin Hutcherson (@lakinhutcherson)

It’s no secret how much the Good Black News team loves and reveres Stevie Wonder, as we have been celebrating him throughout May with various tributes, posts and playlists  on the main page and across our social media.

(In case you missed Jeff Meier‘s The Wonders of Stevie’s Harmonica or Marlon West‘s Stevie Soundtrack Songs and Stevie Cover Songs posts and playlists, treat yourself and click through!)

But today, on May 13, Stevie Wonder’s actual birthday, we want to offer you links to all things Stevie, like his official website, Instagram (which is playing Stevie music live all day!) and Twitter, the biography written about him, as well as the Wikipedia and Biography entries that encapsulate the his life and career in words and video.

But really, to know Stevie all you have to do is listen to his music, especially the songs that comprise the majority of his offerings to this world – album tracks never released as singles – aka Stevie Wonder’s Deep Cuts.

Our newest playlist is comprised solely of these songs, and arguably they are as moving and meaningful as his tunes that topped the charts.

In fact, many of these songs (“You and I,” “Too High,” “Bird of Beauty,” “Love’s In Need of Love Today,” “Rocket Love”) are more popular with Stevie stans than many of his global hits.

They are sequenced in chronological order (like our companion playlist of chart releases and hits “The Age of Wonder”) so the listener can hear the evolution of Stevie Wonder’s writing, production and sound. Enjoy – and Happy Birthday, Stevie! We love you!

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MUSIC MONDAY: Stevie Wonder At The Movies (LISTEN)

So many generations have grown up listening to Stevie Wonder that people often refer to his music as “the soundtrack” to their lives.

Though his songs have appeared in countless movies over the decades, Stevie has also done literal soundtrack work during his career, contributing tracks and sometimes full albums worth of original music to over half a dozen movies.

Wonder even won an Original Song Academy Award for “I Just Called To Say I Love You,” his chart-topping hit from the 1984 movie “The Woman in Red.”

As Good Black News continues its month-long tribute to Stevie Wonder as he turns 70, Marlon West has compiled a new Spotify playlist celebrating Wonder’s unique contributions to cinema.

In Marlon’s words:

STEVIE AT THE MOVIES is another playlist devoted to the talent and impact of Stevie Wonder his birthday month of May.

My love of moviemaking and Stevie Wonder’s music resulted in the playlist of his work for films. He’s written and contributed to songs for many movies including “The Outsiders,” “The Last Dragon,” “The Adventures Of Pinocchio” and “Rent.”

He has written and produced motion picture soundtracks for “The Secret Life of Plants,” (the full album title is “Stevie Wonder’s Journey Through The Secret Life of Plants”) “The Woman in Red” and “Jungle Fever.”

I have included a few Stevie Wonder “needle drops” from films like “Glory Road,” “Poetic Justice,” “The Thing,” “Dead Presidents,” “Almost Famous,” “High Fidelity,” and others.

I couldn’t resist including “Gangsta’s Paradise” from the Michelle Pfeiffer-starring film “Dangerous Minds,” which of course contains a sample of “Pastime Paradise” from 1976’s “Songs In The Key Of Life.”

As always, stay, sane, safe, and kind. Take care.”

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(FB: marlon.west1 Twitter: @marlonw IG: stlmarlonwest Spotify: marlonwest)

Marlon West (photo courtesy Marlon West)

R.I.P. Rock and R&B Music Legend Little Richard, 87

Little Richard (photo via commons.wikipedia.org)

Known by many as “The Architect of Rock and Roll,” Richard Wayne Penniman aka Little Richard, was a pioneer of the popular music that came to dominate in the 1950s and beyond.

With a fusion of blues, boogie woogie and gospel stylings, Little Richard helped create the sound that swept the United States and ultimately the world.

Songs like “Rip It Up,” “Long Tall Sally,” “Good Golly Miss Molly,” ‘Ready Teddy,” “Tutti Frutti” combined with his energetic, rousing performances helped Little Richard set the stage and the bar for any and all rock and R&B superstars that came after him. To quote a recent New York Times article, Little Richard offered “An Ecstasy You Couldn’t Refuse.”

In honor of his life’s work GBN Contributor Marlon West put together a Spotify playlist celebrating Little Richard.

In Marlon’s words:

Vernon Reid Twittered this tribute to the late great, Little Richard:

“No Jimi, No Beatles No Bowie, No Bolan. NO GLAM, No Freddie, No Prince, No Elton, No Preston No Sly, No Stevie, WITHOUT Little Richard! They DON’T HAPPEN Without HIM BLAZING A TRAIL IN THE DARK.”

Little Richard’s talent and audaciousness was the springboard to so many. Here’s a collection of his music, and of a wide range of artists who he influenced greatly.

Little Richard was a standard-bearer for being whoever the eff you want.”

Enjoy!

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