You Keep Me Hanging On: Is R&B Dead?

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Her record sales would indicate a yearning for music made with emotion and yes, soul, music made with instruments and songwriting that includes lyrics about more than just sex…. as long as the artists making it aren’t black. Not that this is a first – the Rolling Stones and Elvis Presley became legends recording more palatable forms of the black music that influenced them. But there was a time when a singer like, say Fantasia, would have ruled both the black and the pop charts like her obvious musical godmother, Aretha Franklin, did. And no, Fantasia doesn’t yet have the song catalogue that Aretha had although she has a portion of the chops. But the fact that Jennifer Hudson, with her more “accessible” talent, look and demeanor is the mainstream’s darling tells you a lot about the kind of subtle race positioning that still dominates the music scene.

There is still an audience for R&B. New Edition toured the country twice last year and Charlie Wilson and Mary J. Blige are on the road, as is McKnight, this year. Frankie Beverly and Maze tour regularly still, despite the lack of a radio or digital hit in the last few decades. Now in his 50’s, Prince, although a pop superstar whose music reflects the influence of several genres, has become America’s most beloved musician. (Quite a turn of events from the days when he was reviled for painting “Slave” on his face and changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol.) Prince has pretty much become the Johnny Depp of the music industry – an artist who people respect regardless of age, gender, race or sexual orientation because he’s succeeded mostly on his own terms. He and artists like him are a sign that there remains an audience for music that is visceral and real. Maybe, just maybe, R&B is not dead yet.

(Photo: Brian McKnight official website)

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