Representation matters in life and one of the reasons behind Black History Month and months dedicated to specific groups is to ensure that contributions to history, art, culture, politics, etc are added to our greater understanding of human history. It is a fantastic opportunity to broaden your horizons and discover wonderful new facts, books, and films or in the case of this post: music.
Soul music is a genre where most people think of Aretha, Gladys Knight, Chaka Khan or Patti Labelle. Oh and you should because they are absolutely fierce along with so many others.
I am one of those people that love a musical exploration. Say what you will about streaming sites but they have led me to some of my favourite singers and bands of all time. I though go the step further and seek out the vinyl albums of those artists. Soul in particular has a depth on vinyl you won’t find digitally.
This Black History Month post is dedicated to two singers that I found along the way. They may not be as well known to you (or they might).
Marlena Shaw has been singing since the 1960’s and is one of those singers whose songs have been sampled by many hip hop artists, used in commercials and famously sampled in Blue Boy’s 1997 “Remember Me.” One of her biggest hits to date was “California Soul” written by Ashford & Simpson. It appeared on her 1969 The Spice of Life album. If you want an introduction to Marlena, look no further than this album. Shaw co-wrote the first track “Woman of the Ghetto” which is the first track and the sound of her voice mixed the power of the lyrics makes this song one that could be released today and its message is still relevant. Possibly even more so given the Black Lives Matter Movement. This album also contains songs written by Carole King, Barry Mann, Bobby Miller, Cynthia Weil and others which Shaw performs with power more than vulnerability. “I Wish I Knew (How It Would Feel to be Free)” will have you spinning and singing along to her call.
I can’t recommend her enough. To start you off listen to “Woman of the Ghetto.”
Ann Sexton (not to be confused with the writer) has also been performing since the 1960’s. Whereas Marlena came from New York, Ann’s roots are in Southern gospel. Her 1977 album The Beginning is how I fell in love with her voice. It’s not just that her voice can fill a room and that she can convey her emotions so that you feel them. It’s that her style very much feels like that friend of yours at 1am who is helping you get through a rough time, or needs you to listen to her going through a rough time. She don’t want answers, no, she wants an ear. Too often we forget that most of us just need someone to listen to us rather than solve our problems for us. The opening track “I Had A Fight With Love” will have you moving and feeling her groove. Where her vocal mastery shines is on the tracks “I’m His Wife (You’re Just A Friend)” and the sultry longing in “I Want to Be Loved.” That last track was made for 3am, when the world is quiet and you can feel all the power of the Witching Hour.
Have a listen to “I Want to Be Loved” and tell me what you think.
Till next post...
John Lugo-Trebble considers this more of a space to engage personal reflections and memories with connections to music and film.