Posts Tagged ‘Motown’

Wonder to Michael Jackson’s Ear

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If you are not aware of the sincere adoration and brotherhood that existed between Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder, you have missed out on one of the most fascinating bonds in modern music history.  Jackson often spoke about Wonder, specifically how watching his fellow Motown label mate inspired him to produce and write his own music.

As a member of the Jackson 5 Michael covered Wonder’s hits, and as a solo artist he collaborated with him.  Their friendship helped to empower Jackson as he propelled into the biggest star the world has ever seen.

Radio and TV personality Donnie Simpson, who was a friend of Jackson’s, told me that what made Jackson great was his natural talent; but what made him extraordinary was that he was a natural talent who intensely practiced and studied his craft as if he had no gift.  It was this strive for perfection that led him to study the musicianship of Stevie Wonder.

Witnessing Wonder take the lead of his musical direction while at Motown showed Michael that he could do it too.  Jackson had known Wonder for some time and was introduced to him shortly after being signed to Motown.  Their  kinship would grow into a kind of exclusive fraternity of musical genius.

The impact of Jackson’s death on Wonder was clearly seen when he performed just a few months after Michael’s memorial at the 25th Anniversary of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  During a tribute to Jackson, Wonder broke down while singing The Way You Make Me Feel. He was barely able to regain his composure and continue singing the song.

It was a moment so emotional that it almost seemed as if the band should have stopped playing and given Wonder a moment to collect himself.  Surely to some in the audience it must have been a little off putting to see this man cry in the midst of a celebration.  To me, it was clear… I believe that as he sang those words, Wonder reflected on how Michael made him feel, from the moment he first entered Stevie’s recording session as a curious child until his death.  Wonder watched and helped Jackson develop from a lead singer in a teen group to the King of Pop.

These two icons found one another and understood each other in a real way.  There are some things that are rare in life, musical child proteges is one of them so it is understandable that these two legends leaned one another.  Both performed their entire lives and lived under extreme public scrutiny.  Both were labeled geniuses at an early age.  But what Michael achieved was greater than anything before him and for Wonder to know that he played a major part in inspiring this megastar must have made him feel a kind of pride and humility that only a very few of us will ever have the chance to experience.  How many of us have participated in the creation of genius?

That explains why Wonder sang I Never Dreamed You’d Leave in Summer at Jackson’s memorial service; these pictures tell the story. It seems the sun was always shining on these two men when they were side by side.

Their bond is the inspiration behind my first documix, Wonder to Michael Jackson’s Ear. It’s a quote taken from Jackson as he described why music should be without boundaries and labels. He said, “It’s music, it’s wonder to the ear and that’s what counts.”

When I began working on this piece several months ago I had 6 hours of music and about an hour of interviews from both Jackson and Wonder; somehow I got it down to less than an hour and 20 minutes.  This piece features Michael Jackson covering some Wonder hits and also the song Buttercup, written by Wonder for the Jackson 5; it was released after Michael’s death.  You will also hear Wonder’s heartbreaking dedication to MJ sang at his memorial service.

This documix takes you on a journey that begins with two young artists who love to sing and entertain and ends with two men who found a deep love and respect for one another.

I would like to thank one of my sister-girl’s, Lula, for requesting a Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson mix.  What had begun as a simple mixtape for a friend became a fantastic musical journey for me that I hope you too will enjoy.  May it be wonder to your ear.  Love!

Download the 192 kbps version (98.4 MB) here!

Warm and Peaceful Lady T

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I was probably around 12 years old when I began a real love affair with R&B.  Suddenly, what used to be just background music spoke to me and I got it. In that moment there were two artists who really mattered to me, Luther Vandross and Teena Marie.

On December 26th 2010 we lost Teena and I felt like I lost a friend even though I never met her.  The closest I’d ever been to her was seeing her perform in 1994 at the Ritz Nightclub in D.C.  I was smack in the middle of a tightly packed standing-room only crowd.  But when she sat down behind that piano and played “Casanova Brown” I felt like I was the only one in the room.  She had the ability to be so intimate with her audience.

I tried it myself senior year of college; I performed “Casanova Brown” in a lip-sync contest with my sorority sisters acting out the words of the song behind me.  We won first place.

I also strongly considered adapting the DJ name “Warm and Peaceful Lady T” for my college radio show, a tribute to Teena’s rap in “Square Biz,” but some of my friends said it was too much.

Then there was that time I had one too many in New Orleans and thought singing “I Need Your Lovin” during karaoke night at the Black Cat would be a good idea, the video tape is proof that it wasn’t.

I’m sharing all this to say I loved Teena Marie’s music and never considered saying goodbye.  I loved the way her voice made me feel.  I loved how her lyrics made me think about love.  To really get Teena, I think one has to have loved hard… I mean really experienced passion.  As Teena sang in “Out on a Limb,”  “My lips begin to burn and my heart beats faster than the normal pace,” whooh!

She wrote about loving, caring and wanting deeply.  Her lyrics are poetry and a good lesson for any woman struggling with how to open herself to her man.

When Rick James first toured with Teena Marie back in the early 80s,  they both appeared at the Capitol Center in Landover, MD.  I was just a little girl, but I’ve heard many stories about that night from people who were there.  This was before music videos, so for many this would be their first time putting Teena’s face with the booming voice they heard sing “Fire and Desire” on the radio.  Of course Rick opens the song, so he was on stage first.  Then Teena sang, “I used to love them and leave them” from backstage, holding that amazing note as she walked to center stage.  Someone who was there that night told me a hush fell over the crowd as people watched in shock; this powerful, soulful voice was coming from this tiny, redhead white girl.  One person went on to tell me a woman sitting next to him said, “So Rick couldn’t find a “sista” to sing this song?”  It’s such a funny story to me… because wasn’t she?  Wasn’t she a “soul-sista” who felt, loved and sang with more passion than most?

Years ago I was discussing music with a white college professor.  We were talking about Motown when I mentioned Teena Marie.  He was in his early 60s and had never heard of her before.  Of course I went on to say she was one my favorite singers of all time and talked about how significant her contributions were.  He asked a very interesting question.  He said, “Why wasn’t she ever a major crossover success?  I mean isn’t it most unusual for white artists doing black music not to have great pop success…especially if they’re signed to a label like Motown?”

I’d never thought about it before, not like that.  Teena had been a part of our community for so long I think most of us forgot she was white.  My answer was this; she wasn’t Elvis, she wasn’t stealing R&B, she was R&B, there is a difference.  I think it’s an insult to call what Teena created “blue eyed soul,” as if she was some sort of imitator.  Teena Marie was soul and she was an original.

I think Teena was right when she said in the song “Deja Vu,” “I’ve been here before;”  and maybe it was that experience that made her music so powerful and her voice so timeless.  But if that’s true, it must also be true that she’s “not coming back no more,” meaning there will never be another Teena Marie.  I’m so happy I was here to experience her last visit.

I mixed this compilation the night of Teena’s death to help comfort me; I hope this celebration of her iconic slow-tempo songs does the same for you.

Download the 192 kbps version (107 MB) here!