The Black Snob

Politics. Pop Culture. Pretentiousness.

Politics Break: White People Who Sing Like Black People

with 39 comments

For all you relatively new Snob readers my blog has not typically been all politics all the time. Things were a bit more balanced with the racial issues, the pop culture, the who is “sexy” definitions, occasional blog post series and rant. But I tend to write about what I’m excited over, so naturally that would be Sarah Palin striking out on softballs like “what’s your favorite newspaper” and “name a Supreme Court decision you hated other than Roe v. Wade.”

Seriously. I can name a few off the top of my head that I hated (Dred Scott, Plessy v. Ferguson, the Hazelwood Central High School case that determined that high school students didn’t have the right to free speech and a later case involving a kid with a joke sign — blunts for Jesus — that backed that decision up, etc., etc. Maybe John McCain should have picked me!)

But that’s besides the point. I want to talk (write) about something I’ve been thinking about for the past three days and that is the phenomenon of white people who sing like black people.

Now there have always been white people who have tried (successfully and unsuccessful) to mime the sounds of rural Southern blues guys and gals or the upbeat tenors of the Northern soul stars of Stax and Motown. And who can blame them? Along with American Folk and country music, the blues’ twangy, pickin’ and grinnin’ cousin, black music (spirituals/gospel, blues, jazz, soul, funk, R&B and hip hop) is American music. When four guys in Liverpool, England wondered what America sounded like they weren’t thinking of Woody Guthrie and John Phillip Sousa.

Early rock n’ roller and chronic music theft victim Little Richard will gladly tell you that they, Disney and everyone else ripped him off.

I realize that some of the popularity of black music had to do with the fact that originally it was frowned upon to even admit to listening to it outside of, say, Paul Robeson singing “Ol’ Man River” from Show Boat and the occasional Nat King Cole medley. But a lot of it had to do with the impassioned moaning, ululating style of singing that typically comes from the diaphragm rather than the throat (like in opera), the use of percussion and our love for pushing the boundaries of what is acceptable to sing about. From secret instructions in songs about the Bible on how to get away on the Underground Railroad to ordering you to “Pitch a wang dang doodle all night long” while dancing in a sexually suggestive manner.

Black music brings people together so it’s only natural that a lot of white people, especially those who either grew up influenced by black rock n’ roll of the 1950s or grew up watching MTV, would want to sing like the artists they admire the most. The TV show American Idol is living proof of that. I’ve heard numerous critics lament that the only style of singing the show tends to respect or reward is the screeching, belting, warbling, overwrought power ballads that thread the Aretha Franklin-Whitney Houston-Donna Summer-Celine Dion-Mariah Carey singing continuum.

I’m sorry, fellow music snobs. Trying to emulate Aretha or Etta James or Big Momma Thorton or Betty Wright became mainstream amongst female singers somewhere around 1968. The popularity of Mary J. Blige and Beyonce only reaffirm that the masses like their pop with a lot of black diva in it.

But there was a time when the “white sings black” paradigm was more of a novelty and often didn’t involve someone who actually “sounded” black.

Like I’d never mistake Paul McCartney for Jackie Wilson, Mick Jagger for James Brown or Rod Stewart for Sam Cooke. (Not that I’m knocking any of these fellas for trying as I like The Beatles and love both The Rolling Stones and Stewart.) Elvis Presley got closer. If you can get over the fact that he basically took what every successful black bluesman in Memphis was doing and did it when those same black bluesmen could not get on national television and suggestively pump their pelvises for money, you can really enjoy the irony of Elvis crooning “In the Ghetto.”

I swear, first time I heard this song when I was twenty it was the biggest “WTF” of my life, I kid you not.

But of this particular era Janis Joplin probably came the closest, raising the level of incredible with “Piece of My Heart,” followed by a cadre of 1970s acts including Alicia Bridges, Average White Band, KC and the Sunshine Band, the Bee Gees, a pre-“Say No Go” Hall & Oates and a disco Rod Stewart on a near career respectability wrecking “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy.”

Then along came two who, by far, are the black people’s most beloved blue-eyed soul singers — former Doobie Brother Michael McDonald and Tina Marie.

Marie was the first white singer signed by Motown and performed tracks with Rick James. McDonald (who’s unusual singing style almost anyone can do a serviceable parody of) has put out excellent soul and R&B and even had the balls to take on Patti LaBelle in one of the greatest love duets of the 1980s, “On My Own.”

Marie and the former Dobbie are immensely talented, yet despite their skills the number of white people singing like black people diminished greatly after the 1970s, leaving Marie and McDonald among the few, the proud, the only white R&B singers.

Then something very strange started in the mid-1990s.

At first it was just a few wanderers with mixed results. Like the soulful cool of Lisa Stansfield and the one-hit-wonder that was Jon B. The vanilla flavored alternative to New EditionNew Kids on the Block.

Celine Dion showed up fresh from Canada with her huge pipes giving Mariah Carey a run for her time on the charts. Then after a plethora of pop boy bands and pop tartlets burst onto the scene, an explosion of white people singing soul and R&B seized the stage.

Christina Aguilera begat P!nk. P!nk begat Justin Timberlake. Timberlake begat Robin Thicke. And then came Jojo, Joss Stone, Anastasia, Amy Winehouse, Sia, Adele, Duffy, James Morrison, etc. A lot of these individuals, no surprise, are British carrying on and perfecting a musical tradition.

These weren’t just white people who liked to sing with black people (see George Michael, Elton John, Madonna, Boy George or Annie Lennox). These are white people who sounded almost indistinguishable from their Negro contemporaries. Obviously growing up with a love for old soul and the new, they committed themselves to mastering the attitude and style with mixed cool points from African Americans.

A lot of the Brits get a general pass. Mostly because they’re somewhat divorced from our little racial drama here in the US and their music is often not marketed to an urban audience because they’re singing classic soul/R&B. As for the Americans, there’s a constant debate going on. Black people like Christina Aguilera generally and P!nk has moved away some from her original R&B debut, going rock.

But, you can’t bring up Timberlake or Thicke without a fight breaking out. Timberlake is sometimes seen as “the great pretender,” the slippery, arrogant individual who cool hyped his way into black music, hiring the best black producers to make up for his shortfalls as a falsetto singer. Others just enjoy Timbaland’s production and Timberlake’s interpretation.

Thicke is often lumped in with Timberlake, but his falsetto is far superior with more clarity and control. He sometimes gets points for his pure workmanship (and some give him a pass for having a black wife).

But when you’re a white American trying to make it in the R&B world with a black audience, not just white people, you’re going to catch some additional scrutinty. We’re the arbitrars of the cool and we take ownership of it. You sing, we decide if you’re in it for the love or the exploitation. Because that’s what it comes down to. Black people are forever concerned about being ripped off. Just as Little Richard still cries out for his lost earnings, so many black people are protective of their art, not wanting to see it coopted by individuals who show no love.

The fact is, the market doesn’t care.

Americans love black music no matter who is singing it. Therefore Justin Timberlake doesn’t have to meet “black” standards. By black standards he’d be fighting it out with Ne-Yo, Trey Songz, Mario and Omarion to get some airplay after Usher Raymond and R. Kelly. (If he would get signed to a label at all.) His sin was that he didn’t meet the “standard.” He wasn’t as good or better than any black performer warbling. He was passable, but assisted by his own fame as the most talented singer in his former boy band. This is different from P!nk and Aguilera (especially P!nk) who both stuck to a more pure pop/R&B format, with P!nk directly going for a black audience when she first debuted.

In the end, things are much different now from how they were when Elvis coopted black style and made himself “The King.” Hip hop is so authentically black that white rappers are actually at a terrible disadvantage when trying to get signed and promoted. And black performers now dominate The Grammys and the American Music Awards.

Aguilera has some incredible pipes, but she has to exist at the same time as Beyonce, Alicia Keys and Mary J. Blige. Even relative newcomer Keysha Cole could give Aguilera a run for her money. And black people shouldn’t worry as much about whether or not Robin Thicke is a poser. Imitation is the greatest form of flattery and our people created one of the most imitated art forms in the world.

Let the white people sing.

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Written by blacksnob

October 2, 2008 at 6:51 pm

39 Responses

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  1. this commentary reminds me of Mos Def’s song “Rock N’ Roll”…”Elvis Presley ain’t go no soul…Bo Diddley is ROCK AND ROLL!”

    Anonymous

    October 2, 2008 at 7:33 pm

  2. wait wut?? Timberlake has a black wife?? pictures please!

    sidenote: type-o: “Even relative newcomer Keysha Cole could good Aguilera a run for her money.” …i think u meant “could give” but not sure…

    Kala_P

    October 2, 2008 at 7:39 pm

  3. kala_p: That says that Thicke has a black wife. He’s married to actress Paula Patton.

    And that’s a typo. I’ll fix it. Thanks!

    The Black Snob

    October 2, 2008 at 7:40 pm

  4. You only first heard “In the Ghetto” 10 years old? Hmmm. I like you, kid. You got moxy. As I said many times before, you’re a terrific writer. Peace always

    Draven7

    October 2, 2008 at 7:41 pm

  5. I used to think Aguilera was a better singer than B, and then I heard B sing live, and the overall tonal quality of her voice was so much better. Aguilera has greater range, though.

    Now, I’m a little miffed you didn’t mention the original British sounds-black-but-ain’t singer: Lulu! Duffy is this crazy combo of Lulu and Dusty Springfield.

    And quite frankly, I’ll take Duffy, Amy, and Sia over pretty much any black American pop diva these days (save B, simply because she’s deliciously ridiculous), because they sing true soul music, not the over-sexed, breathy, whiny garbage.

    shani-o

    October 2, 2008 at 7:42 pm

  6. Okay, but I still don’t like Joss Stone and you can’t make me.

    glory

    October 2, 2008 at 7:46 pm

  7. draven7: I was 20 when I heard “In the Ghetto,” and I was soooo confused when I heard it it. I was like, “This is a joke, right? Quit playing!”

    shani-o: I actually prefer a lot of the British invasion too because of the fact they sing more old school soul with no hip hop remixes featuring Lil Wayne or vocorders.

    Me and modern R&B have some issues right now. But I like Keysha Cole's voice (not always her songs, but the voice is good) and Beyonce is insane, but a quality mix of classic diva and vocal bravada.

    glory: I don’t get Joss Stone either, but she doesn’t sing like a white girl, so she got on the list.

    The Black Snob

    October 2, 2008 at 7:47 pm

  8. Talent is talent. Music is universal. I agree with you snob. Imitation is the best form of flattery.

    As long as there are talented black men and women, we will be imitated by other people!!!!!

    Many in the mainstream would love to imitate more than black folk singers. Tiger Woods, Venus and Serena and Barack and Michelle Obama have raised the bar. Who wouldn’t want to be like them?

    Anonymous

    October 2, 2008 at 8:05 pm

  9. I don't care what race the singer is as long as they make good music. Another blue-eyed soul singer to add to the list is Leigh Jones; she released one of the best albums this year;you should check her out. Jon B is not a one hit wonder!! he's coming out with is 6th album this year; Pretty Girl, Someone to love, They don't know, Are you still down, I do whatcha say boo, Don't talk were all R&B hits.

    Anonymous

    October 2, 2008 at 8:19 pm

  10. I was with you until yo wrote this:
    Even relative newcomer Keysha Cole could give Aguilera a run for her money

    Only a screetching cat can compete with Keyshia Cole. Cole has no control, no pitch just nothing.

    I find Jon B (who actually has more than one good song) and Teena Marie to be the most authentic blue eye soul folks.

    Anonymous

    October 2, 2008 at 8:52 pm

  11. Also, Led Zeppelin basically imitated black American music from the 50s.
    And I despise Elvis

    Oli

    October 2, 2008 at 9:09 pm

  12. Snob I love this post.

    But I have to add that I think its a C-O-N-SPIRACY that all of a sudden white artists are propped up into our faces as the new standard of R&B. To me…it's about control and money. Let's the niggas have hip-hop and be uninspired.

    We used to have more diversity and range within the R&B spectrum and now it's all about Beyonce? I'm a fan but she's omnipresent! You can't get away from her even if you tried! So now if I wanna hear the likes of Jilly from Philly, Erykah, Maxwell, D'Angelo, Eric Roberson, Georgia Ann Muldrow I have to dig dig dig in the crates…when their shit has the right to be on the heavy rotation of commercial radio just as often as Beyonce's.

    It's just so fucked up.

    It's what it's always been; not only imitation but appropriation. Cause the truth of the matter is that white folks are the ones who buy the bulk of the music and they much rather prefer to see themselves in the egoic limelight. As far as hip-hop is concerned they don't need white rappers; cause us blacks are entertaining them enough with the audio safari of precarious black life.

    Tsk. Tsk. All of these so called Blue-Eyed Soul Singers may be able to hit a high note; but they ain't got no funk.

    Point in case: Jill Scott.

    BTW. I hate hate hate Justin Timberfake.

    Anonymous

    October 2, 2008 at 10:23 pm

  13. Ok. Ok. I just have to put this out there: KENNY LOGGINS! I appreciate good music in whatever package it comes. My problem is that music is so mass produced these days that we don't hear the talented ones and the ones we DO hear all sound the same (the topics, the "vocal stylings," the chords…).

    I have some SOULFUL white folks on my play list and my favorites are Hall & Oats, Michael McDonald and KENNY LOGGINS (sometimes singing WITH Michael McDonald). I mean, that's GOOD stuff. The chord changes just make me FEEL good! Whew! Imma go play some Kenny Loggins and finish smotherin' my chicken *smile*

    (I like Lisa Stansfield too, btw)

    Jaddadalos

    October 2, 2008 at 10:29 pm

  14. I'm typing this b4 I read the comments. First of all I think Teena Marie is the only white person in the past 20 years who'd be eligible for a Black pass. She did pure R&B and was demonized by her label for it. She played several instruments and wrote her own songs and unabashedly loved Black people. Besides I will always love her for the Fire & Desire duet which NOBODY WILL EVER BE ABLE TO COVER PROPERLY (and will 4ever hate Chris Rock for his poorly executed blatant rip off in his movie) AND for name checking Maya Angelou in Square Biz.

    Now having said that, I love Michael McDonald. He just has a naturally soulful voice. And actually John Oates has the better voice between him and Darryl Hall.

    Keyshia Cole cannot out-sing Xtina. Sorry. Keysha presses too much around her throat which produces the glottal stop and if she's not careful she's going to damage her vocal folds in fact. Actually a lot of these singers are wrecking their voices because they don't breathe properly and are not placing correctly. I can literally feel the tension and it really grates on my ears. I am a singer if you haven't guessed.

    And can I just state for the record that I hate Timberfake. Hate, hate hate!!!!!! But these Black producers/choreographers/writers make money faster and gain notoriety when they work white artists. Justin may have worked hard no doubt but he is marginally talented and he will always be in my F-U list over the Janet debacle.

    And it is a problem in the UK. Just ask Estelle. I've seen Amy Crackhouse get more press here than Terri Walker, Hil St. Soul, Joy Denalane, Lemar, Omar and a couple of other Black Britons combined.

    On the other hand Black radio ignored Lenny Kravitz, Tracey Chapman, Joan Armatrading and a lot of other really cool artists of color because they weren't recording R&B.

    And now it's not really R&B it's some lame rap hybrid of some ignorant fools and pretty young things with no substance.

    Now having said that I like Rhianna because she uses her skill set to her best abilities and literally propelled her career forward by flipping genres when by all accounts her career would've been over.

    Faith

    October 2, 2008 at 10:43 pm

  15. i loves me some teena marie…i am saddened by the state of r&b these days…just last night i was messing around in youtube and here is some of what i found: maxwell, tone, tony, toni, eu (taste of your love) mint condition, full force, bernard wright, cameo, ready for the world,klymaxx ect…yes, i'm dating myself, but what happened to the days when the band could sing, dance, write their own songs and play their own instruments? i don't even know how we got to this point of lip syncing and computer generated songs…i don't listen to alot of new music, so many of the new people on this list i have never heard of…i am a huge music fan though and i especially have a thing for bands with funky beats so i say with no shred of shame that i love wild cherry's "play that funky music" and the ides of march's "vehicle", both are white bands (from the 70's)…i'll stop now since i'm going to the wayback machine….lol

    starrie

    October 2, 2008 at 11:07 pm

  16. Snob for veep!
    Snob for veep!

    Modern R&B is OK, the radio stations that play it ruin it for me, though. I don't like being yelled at, and I take issue with the way they use older songs as bait to sell new releases. I am capable of forming my own skinny white opinions, thank you very much. I have been a musician for 32 years. Also the Doobie Brothers were a rock band before Tom Johnston had to take a break from fronting them. In my humble white opinion Tom sounds blacker than Michael McDonald ever did. He sang rock, though, not R&B, so they did not cross over with him at the helm. They were a hard rock outfit with a black bass player (Tiran Porter) though. That was something back in the day.

    -Doug in Oakland

    dinthebeast

    October 2, 2008 at 11:34 pm

  17. i’m so excited that someone mentioned joy denalane, who despite her good english is german and south african, not british! i found her while living in paris in the summer of 2001 when she released ‘mamani’.

    joy’s work in english has been completely drained of all the african and jazz elements that made her earlier work so special.

    i suspect this was required of her by some a and r suit talkin’ bout, ‘you can’t sing in pedi! can’t do nina simone remakes!! that will never air on BET!! here, how about a raekwon remix?

    in my opinion, joy ‘reinvented’ herself as an american and sacrificed both crossover success and originality.

    ieishah

    October 3, 2008 at 12:19 am

  18. I had NO IDEA that a white guy sang that song with Patti. That’s amazing. (I’m a young’n, folks.)

    Just another note I wanted to touch on really quick: I think Timberlake has a black sound musically (thanks Timbo!) — you were exactly right with that –, but nowhere near a black voice He’s been singing the same way since his N*SYNC days, honestly.

    I think that it’s sickening that music is partially categorized as race–music is colorblind. Everyone should be able to make the music they want to make. The whole “Black Pass” — especially in music — issue is utterly ridiculous; as long as we keep separating ourselves in various ways, we will keep creating racial issues for ourselves and the rest of American society. The coveted “Black Pass” and “Ghetto Pass” makes us look very arrogant–dare I say elitist?

    But like Ms. Snob said: let the white people sing. If were making country, bluegrass, and hardcore rock we would ask the same.

    astroblack

    October 3, 2008 at 12:41 am

  19. I'm surprised you didn't mention Natasha Bedingfield and Fergie. I had a hard time convincing my husband that NB is a blonde haired blue eyed white girl while listening to her music. He was just, "No way! That's a black woman!"

    Rock and roll is black music. All the early white R&R artists were copying black artists like Chuck Berry. Somehow the past has been forgotten and it's become white music.

    Donna

    October 3, 2008 at 12:51 am

  20. Interesting post, Snob.

    I have a musical knowledge that borders on geekiness, so this post struck a chord.

    Where's Bobby Caldwell?! Mr. "What You Won't Do For Love"? The man who J. Dilla sampled on Common's "The Light"? Where's he at? Man, I had no idea that man was white until I saw a picture of him years after being a longtime fan of his. I intially thought the man was an albino! LOL.

    Jay Kay, frontman of Jamiroquai, also deserves props.

    So, does another Brit crooner: the brilliant Lewis Taylor. You should check out his first three albums, very inventive and soulful.

    A few things about your post:

    Jon B's a one hit wonder? He actually had numerous R&B hits. (Check for a young Sanaa Lathan in his "Don't Say" video).

    Beyonce Knowles is authentically soulful? Really? The woman who penned ditties like "Bootylicious" and "Upgrade U" is up there with the hall-of-famers?

    Alicia Keys, too?

    Says who? LOL. Keyshia, I can see. But Knowles and Keys? Hmm …

    And Justin Timberake is a loser. He's extremely whitebread. No one would mistake him for a brother after hearing any of his crap on the radio, Timbaland beat or no Timbaland beat.

    mynameismyname

    October 3, 2008 at 2:38 am

  21. snob…this one was a classic.

    I also want to give props to Jay Kay. Love that group.

    R&B in the States is in a sorry state. Sorry B. is pop. She is not r&b or soul. I find Adele more soulful.

    I don't care about the race. I care about the music. I would love to see more from Jill Scott, Maxwell, Lauren Hill etc.

    nyc/caribbean ragazza

    October 3, 2008 at 5:50 am

  22. love the post & i know this has nothing to do with main subject, but as a Spartan alumna, I must say that the school from the free speech decision was Hazelwood EAST not Central. i'm 22 years old and the rivalry is still that deep that i'm foolishly making these kinds of corrections at 1am. 🙂

    tgreene

    October 3, 2008 at 5:51 am

  23. Keyshia Cole giving Chistina a run for her money?…meh. not hardly, in fact i think maybe my only qualm with Christina is (like Beyonce) the OVERsinging, they get a little overzealous with the runs, riffs, adlibbing, etc. In my opinion they posess powerful voices with no control of it.

    NaturallyAlise

    October 3, 2008 at 6:30 am

  24. I can't even read all the comments without first saying: I HATE TEENA MARIE (except Square Biz). She sucks and she's like the old school Fergie – I SAID IT. I will never be ashamed for loving Timberlake's first album, even if mostly because the neptunes stuff was damn good. I can ignore all of his fakery for good music. I kinda miss r&b Pink but the pop/rock thing works but Snob really… Keyshia Cole better than Aguilera? NEGATIVE. Ne-Yo better than Thicke (not Robin Thicke) and Britney Break-Up Justin? Come on! OMARION?! Please tell me you're joking. I mean I get the gist of what you're saying, Robin Thicke is no John Legend and lawd knows I hate Winehouse but you can't lump! Adele sings circles around every current black female singer I can think of right now – especially that damn JaZmine Sullivan. …But what do I know, I've been bumping Solange lately. I'm tired of all these beezies – r&b is dead and Beyonce killed it with her co-conspiritors Mary J. Blige and the pied piper himself. Now Chris Brown and Rihanna dance on it's grave. Eff this, I'm going listen to some Patsy Cline.

    Lisa Marie Turtle (2008 Model)

    October 3, 2008 at 7:25 am

  25. I don’t know who said it about Bobby Caldwell but they are SO RIGHT. I just told my mom a few months ago about how shocked I was to find out he’s a Ginger and she was all, HE’S WHITE???!

    Lisa Marie Turtle (2008 Model)

    October 3, 2008 at 7:34 am

  26. I think that I draw the line with white soul singers based on whether there is a true respect for the music and the culture they're trying to emulate or whether it's a gimmick to get attention and street cred.

    Using that, I'd say that Teena Marie clearly loved the music and lived the culture. Michael McDonald loves the music and respects the original creators. Pink, on the other hand, was pushed into the R&B sound by Babyface and has written songs about how she hated it. TimberFake (Thank you, Faith. I thought it was just me that hated him.) used black magazines and black producers to give himself street cred in order to sell himself as "down with the brothas" for white folks. He doesn't care about the music or the people and if country becomes the dominant music in the mainstream, he'll jump ship on the black sound without looking back.

    khia213

    October 3, 2008 at 12:19 pm

  27. Justin Timberlake is a douche and a hack; can sing, yes, but he doesn’t feel as ‘genuine’ to me with the music as does Robin Thicke, whom I love alongside Jon B. and Remy Shand.

    And where in the heck IS Remy Shand? His debut album is awesome.

    Must give props to to you for recognizing Lisa Stansfield; she is definitely soulful, even as her earlier work reflected pop beginnings with techno beats…to me it was British 90s soul. LOL. New Kids on the Block never sounded ‘black’ to me; I just thought they were cute and recognized the blatant performance moves stolen from the Black man (i.e. groups like New Edition and of course the older soul duets, quartets, etc. of the 60s/70s).

    I don’t think J.Timberfake begat Robin Thicke… Robin’s first records was a plethora of soundage of influences and more varied than anything Timberfake’s done with N’Sync or as a solo artist. But if you mean ‘timeline’ wise, then I’d have to agree with you.

    Joss Stone gets much flack and I can sort of see how people would call her a hack. There's a significant difference in sound and maturity in voice between her debut "Soul Sessions" and the follow-up, "Mind, Body, & Soul". I haven't listened to her latest record. I enjoy the second LP but like her better overall when she's covering (or trying to) old soul classics. LOL.

    I've missed the boat on Amy Winehouse, but I’m enjoying Adele, Anastasia with her powerhouse voice is reminiscent of Taylor Dayne to me. And Taylor’s voice is LOUD and powerful. LOL. Duffy grates my nerves…just can’t get into her and James Morrison I like.

    And while I’m at it, let me suggest another UK voice that is full of soul: Paolo Nutini. Nevermind the poppish “New Shoes” song, check the rest of his album. The dude’s voice is incredibly so beyond his young years. The first time I heard him, I thought it was an old Black man singing. Boy was I surprised!

    But you’re right; the Brits just ‘do’ real soul…soul that comes in all flavors of packages. Here, we’re not as diverse. It’s almost as if some of our more international ‘soulful’ singers are aspiring elsewhere to great “White”-pop heights. I wonder why you placed the pic of Beyonce next to Joss under the title: White People Who Sing Like Black People. LOL. It’s almost the reverse. I never fully considered Beyonce soulful…she’s pop and with each record aspires to further embrace the ‘pop’ genre with inflections of soul and hip hop here and there. But Joss is the non-Black singing soul. LOL.

    Pink’s history is proof-positive of going for the Black audience and while her first record (I think) was successful, I find myself listening to her later LPs those that are heavily pop and rock and not R&B. Funny also that her second LP is what really catapulted her into superstardom.

    All in all I'm in agreement; let them sang. This was a good post; thank you for this.

    madame z

    October 3, 2008 at 1:38 pm

  28. Yes sounding Black is a big phenomenon nowadays and personally I don't mind at all. Sorry to say it…but I think that White people add a little bit of something and force us to raise the bar a little bit. Of course, we'll always be one step ahead (because we are an innovative people) but we've been slipping. Getting lazy and comfortable. Pumping out bull-dookie like, "I wanna make love in da club." I wanna MAKE LOVE IN DA MOTHERFREAKING CLUB!!!

    With that said, I never could quite get Teena Marie. She has a nice voice and put out some great music…but she's always sounded like she should be laying on someone's piano singing lounge songs in Atlantic City. Sorry!

    Um Chrissy Aguilera is a great singer and I think that the only thing that gives Keisha Cole an edge over Chrissy with Black people is her extreme case of ghetto-itis. Because it damn sure ain't her voice. I feel like when I support Keisha Cole, I'm helping to get one Black person out of the hood. But seriously, you can tell that when Keisha sings, it's from a place in her soul and although Chrissy's voice is waaaaaay better, the soul thing can penetrate through a rough voice any day. Just look at MJB. I luuuv me some M.J.B. but she's had more than her fair share of cringeworthy live stage performances.

    Mainstream Soul/R&B music (if you want to call it that) is missing a lot of the joy, pain, passion, love, creativity, intelligence and natural coolness that differentiated it from other genres. Instead we're becoming very superficial. So if the White people are trying to claim soul, bring it on…we need something to snap us out of this Lil Wayne induced haze.

    Also, I think that a lot of our R&B songsters/songstresses should take a page out of Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, Eric Roberson, Robin Thicke's page and tone down the sex and let their voices do the work. Because I don't care how soul-full you sound, if you are writhing around on a stage half nekkid…people are going to discredit you. And I think Beyonce and Mariah Carey are prime examples of this despite the fact that they are two of the best singers of our time…yes I said it!!!

    And yeah Timberfake's falsetto is aight, but nothing, NOTHING like Robin Thicke. Who's wife I thought was Hispanic, not Black.

    Jon B's had a few hits back in the day…I can't wait for him to come back. (I agree with you Madame Z) Remy Shand can come back too.

    And yeah, what's up with British people sounding Black? I've come to EXPECT a British accent now, whenever I see a White person singing with a heavy, raspy, soulful voice.

    Phew! I'm done.

    Great post Snob!

    oneveryattractivenerd

    October 3, 2008 at 7:47 pm

  29. Love Robin Thicke’s music, but not sure how authentic he is. Seems a little “prepackaged” to me. Plus, he speaks out of turn. Needs to stick to singin and stop trying to make socio-political commentary.

    http://www.blackamericaweb.com/site.aspx/sayitloud/kane918

    Keyshia Cole better than Aguilera, sorry, have to disagree with you on that one. No matter how much we want to hold on to “our music”, Christina can blow better than most.

    cuttingedge03

    October 3, 2008 at 8:27 pm

  30. Okay, I have to cosign all over Remy Shand but do any of you know about Marc Broussard?

    Lisa Marie Turtle (2008 Model)

    October 3, 2008 at 8:38 pm

  31. Snob, if you’re going to talk about white singers getting on the black train, how can you forget The Righteous Brothers (“You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling”), Tom Jones (soul pass for life), or Phil Collins? They earned their cred, so give them their due.

    Bourgietopia
    Because “elitist” is the new “uppity”

    Anonymous

    October 4, 2008 at 1:11 am

  32. Tom Jones? Phil Collins? I think there's some confusion with having soul and sounding authentically black. I don't think either could pass vocally. I think Bobby Caldwell, Lisa Marie and Lisa Stansefield do easily. There's a British tradition with sudying and respecting black music (rock, blues, jazz, r&b) that you don't have here because Americans generally don't value their culture as much and because they don't have anything like it. A case in point, when I was covering American music for the British mag Mojo, Hootie and The Blowfish was huge and they thought the lead singer was a carefully instructed white guy. They were shocked when I told him he was black. He sounds clearly black to me, despite Hootie's watered down rock sound. But their British ears were so used to white people who have captured that black sound that it didn't even occur to them.

    Fly Girl

    October 5, 2008 at 2:41 am

  33. For anyone who cares to get an education on rock and roll no I meant R&B I suggest you read the Myth of Rock and Roll by Robert Bell publish Robell publishing. It is a mind opener.

    As to the singers I find the english far better. they have a geniuine interest coming in. A shout out to an english soul sister Gabriellle.

    Robert M

    October 5, 2008 at 2:17 pm

  34. I am going to weigh in on this one. I don’t care who sings what as long as they take the genre seriously. The UK has very similar racial problems to the ones found in the US so I don’t think that white British artists’ work or privileged position in the limelight should go unscrutinized because they are not white Americans. These women are Timberlakes in their own right. More talent but same dynamic.

    An example: Amy Winehouse gets a lot of shit for addictions but the woman is talented so I am not saying she’s only popular because she’s white, I’m just saying a young black British woman who flat out refused to conform to a whole host of societal norms at the same time she was running with HUGE addictions (a la Winehouse) would not be getting the amount of work and attention. Love her music, but need to be honest.

    Duffy and all these more recent white British women artists are of a lesser caliber and I am so sick of the half-hearted attempt at sassiness. It’s safe sassiness and it’s an insult to black women everywhere to cute up our attitudes like that. British women like Lady Sovereign and Amy Winehouse don’t cute it up but Duffy and the others – jeez. I don’t think they mean it as an affront to black women. I don’t think they’ve even think about black women or what they are doing. It’s just a trend they want to cash in on and I’m sure it’s fun for them – more power to them.

    Maybe, like so many other things, it comes down to the music industry basically being lame no matter what country you live in and no matter you skin color. It’s just if you are white, you get more opportunity. Lady Sovereign, Lily Allen and Amy Winehouse sell well so the record companies are going to push these manufactured lame combos of these three until the style these three started from a sincere interest in the music, fades out and the next trend begins.

    I disagree with others here who say black musicians that do rock, punk, blue grass and whatever else are accepted by whites without scrutiny. First off these genres couldn’t have developed without black culture but we all know that. However, black artists in these genres don’t even get enough attention to get scrutiny. I think Lenny Kravitz is one of the few who got enough attention to be scrutinized and he was accused of just ripping Hendrix. He didn’t get seen as inspired by one of the greats like Winehouse is inspired by Etta James. Now that’s one hell of a double standard.

    Anonymous

    October 5, 2008 at 2:23 pm

  35. Well I had to come back to this discussion it was so interesting. We all forgot about SIMPLY RED. Now Mick Hucknall has a very soulful voice and I’m sure if we hadn’t seen the video we would’ve thought he was Black.

    And yes I know Joy Denalane is German – so is Terri Walker but they’re record deals and careers are based in the UK so I just lumped them all together. They’d be hard-pressed to have an international career singing in German unless they were classical singers doing Brahms and such. And have you listened to Soweto 76-06? Very Afrobeat.

    Faith

    October 5, 2008 at 8:47 pm

  36. I think Rick Astley deserves a mention here. Listening to his voice back in the day, most people did not know he was white until they saw his video. I like Mick Hucknall also – The Gingers got it! Lisa Stansfield is underrated and needs to come back! She’s not 100% white, but Leona Lewis deserves a mention too. I wish I caught this post earlier – I’d like some feedback…

    Anonymous

    October 11, 2008 at 1:31 am

  37. All I can say is wow. This whole article is full of racial stereotypes. It seems to me that you have named many good white singers and you seem to think they sing “black”. From what I can interpret, you think just because someone sings good means they sing black. I do not think so. Many singers out there have great soulful voices. SOUL was there before black people and before white people. Soul singing is not for one race it is universal and nobody should claim ownership over it. Black people did not create soul, and white people did not either. Soul is not ours to own…God is the only one who can say it is his; he created it for everyone to enjoy. Not for one race to sing it.

    Anonymous

    October 22, 2008 at 7:16 pm

  38. All I can say is wow. This whole article is full of racial stereotypes. It seems to me that you have named many good white singers and you seem to think they sing “black”. From what I can interpret, you think just because someone sings good means they sing black. I do not think so. Many singers out there have great soulful voices. SOUL was there before black people and before white people. Soul singing is not for one race it is universal and nobody should claim ownership over it. Black people did not create soul, and white people did not either. Soul is not ours to own…God is the only one who can say it is his; he created it for everyone to enjoy. Not for one race to sing it.

    Anonymous

    October 22, 2008 at 7:17 pm

  39. Great commentary and interesting analysis…. I enjoyed the read…. many thanks!!

    Now I must get back to writing that soul-funk-blues song with my white-ass

    haha 😉

    pz and love

    – Silva

    Anonymous

    November 2, 2008 at 3:04 am


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