Writer/producer/cultural critic Nelson George is an expert on Black Music given his long career as a critic covering the Black music scene. He is the former black music editor at Billboard magazine, a job that propelled him onto the front lines of a new genre that we all now know as hip-hop. He talked to the Tom Joyner Morning Show about Black Music Month, it’s origins, it’s future and more.
Tom Joyner: I think I first met you when you were writing for “Billboard” at the White House when we started Black Music Month during the Carter Administration.
Nelson George: I wasn’t there at that event. That was back in June 1979. That was an event that Kenny Gamble and Dyana Williams and the Black Music Association were able to make happen. That year, President Jimmu Carter made June Black Music Month, and it’s very, very important because there was already a Country Music Month which was October, and black music, which has given so much to America and the world wasn’t being honored in the same way.
Tom Joyner: I did not know that.
Nelson George: You know Clarence Avant, the great lawyer and all-around smart man in black music, he really helped make that happen. He’s always been plugged in close to the music world and the political world and he was able to make that event happen along with Kenny and the folks.
Tom: You look forward to Black Music Month like I do, every June.
Nelson: We always have to continue educating the young about the legacy. As time goes on and we get into the 21st century some of those names – the Chuck Berrys and the Sarah Vaughns and so forth get further and further away from what’s going on now. We need to remind people that all of this was built on a very amazing foundation.
Tom: I’ve got some questions for you. There was a white group that Gamble and Huff produced in the 60’s before Philadelphia International Records. Who were they and what song did they sing?
Nelson: The song was called “Expressway to My Heart” and I think the group was called The Soul Survivors. They were some Italian kids from South Philly that Kenny and Leon knew. I think that was their first charted record.
Tom: What group was the cornerstone of the Philly sound?
Nelson: Of course that would be the O’Jays though you could make the argument for Harold Melvin as well. “Love Train,” “For the Love of Money” “Darlin’ Darlin’ Baby,” ” the hits go on and on.
Tom: What popular Philly group of the 70’s repertoire included soul, R&B, doo-wop and disco?
Nelson: There are a lot of Philly groups who do all those things but the most famous would probably be Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. They had the great doo-wop harmonies, they had Teddy Pendergrass with the great lead vocals, they had so many amazing tracks that they expanded the entire spectrum of what was going on in Black music at the time.
Tom: Who was the greatest artist of all time?
Nelson: If you’re talking about jazz, it would have to be Miles Davis, if you’re talking about R&B, Stevie Wonder, and if you’re talking about rock and roll, Jimi Hendrix. Those would have to be my top 3.
Tom: My #1 is James Brown.
Nelson: He may be the most influential. When you look at what goes on in dance music, his ideas about the 1, his ideas about syncopation, those things are still relevant. He’s still sampled to this day.
Tom: Every generation from his generation up until now knows James Brown’s music.
Nelson: I’m doing a documentary for VH1 called “Finding the Funk” which will be on in the fall. Obviously, James Brown will be a big part of it. The foundation of funk is James Brown.
Sybil: You wrote the book “The Death of Rhythm and Blues.” Is it dead or is there still life there?
Nelson: It’s around. It ain’t super healthy. If you have an insurance policy, you’re due to collect.