Heart with Soul: How Black Musicians Took Ownership of their Musical Roots, and Spread its Appeal to a Worldwide Audience: Part 2: Motown, Marvin, and the Jackson 5


Marvin Gaye, popularly known as the “Prince of Soul”, was raised in a housing project in Washington, DC. While in high school, he formed a singing group with some friends by the name of The Moonglows.

By the time Gaye had signed with Motown in 1960, the Moonglows had broken up. However it was not until 1971 with the release of the song, What’s Going On, did he gain prominence. It was inspired by an act of police brutality at an anti-Vietnam War rally in Berkeley, California. Living up to his reputation as the Prince of Soul, he demonstrated his ability to take this song and sing it in a way that came across in an emotionally powerful way to both black and white listeners. One line of the lyrics was “war is not the answer.” This song had sold 100,000 records in one day. What’s Going On made it to number two on the pop music charts, and number one on the rhythm and blues charts.

Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology) was another single released on the same album. Its theme was a concern for the environment, such as the disappearance of blue skies, overcrowded land, and the poisoning of the air. It was Gaye’s second million seller. He received two Grammy Award nominations and several NAACP Image Awards, and Rolling Stone’s magazine’s album of the year.

The Jackson 5, five brothers including Michael Jackson, was formed in 1964. They were discovered in 1967, after performances at noted music theatres in Chicago and New York. Gladys Knight of the famed Gladys Knight and the Pips saw the Jackson 5 performance in New York, and sent a tape of it to Motown Records. Motown signed the group in 1969.

Their first four single songs, I Want you Back, ABC, The Love you Save, and I’ll be There, reached number one on the top 100 charts. As a result, the Jackson 5’s appeal toward youth became Motown’s main marketing focus. Many products such as the J5 heart logo, a Saturday morning TV cartoon series, and a teenager publication Right On, began in 1971 and focused on each of the brothers.

Motown launched Michael Jackson’s solo career in 1971 in order to increase sales. Got it be There and Ben were two of his first songs that reached the Top 40.

The rise of the Jackson 5 in the 1960’s and 1970’s coincided with the rise of another group of brothers who were white, The Osmonds. According to the father of the Jackson 5, The Osmonds were considered to be a musical inspiration, and instructed his sons to study them carefully.

Below you’ll find a YouTube video of Marvin Gaye’s performance of What’s Going On, and a video of an early Jackson 5 song I Want you Back. Michael Jackson appears in his early innocence.



My Post-Childhood Journey Into Music: Part 4: Listening to You, I Get Your Music (Earthshine)


An earlier post, dated February 11, 2012, has a similar title. Its subject is about how music is contained inside each individual’s soul. The title of that post is Listening to You, I Get the Music, and it does happen to be a song on the Tommy album. Parts 1 through 3 have been about my journey through music. This part is about others’ journeys, artists who express themselves through music.

The first artist is Neil Peart, songwriter and drummer for the rock band, Rush. His song, Earthshine, comes from a book he wrote, entitled, Ghost Rider: Travels on the Healing Road. Peart had unexpectedly lost his daughter and wife within a short period of time. He had escaped from these tragedies by first taking a four-month journey on his motorcycle from Canada, where he lives, all the way south to Mexico. Throughout the next two years, until he returned to record a new album with the band, Neil Peart had ceased to identify himself not only as a celebrity in a major rock band, but as someone who became unable to feel, or relate to any form of music.

Ghost Rider is his journal that is emotionally riveting. He keeps referring to his “baby soul”, and how it needed constant comforting and nurturing throughout this challenging time. Fortunately his story has a happy ending, as he meets his new wife, and she bears him a new daughter. Earthshine, the song I mentioned in the beginning, is about the joy he experienced after discovering a new wife, whereupon he rediscovered how blessed he had become.

Some of the lyrics of the song are:


A beacon in the night

I can raise my eyes to



A jewel out of reach

For a dream to rise to


You can access the video below to listen to the entire song:




My Post-Childhood Journey into Music: Part 3: I’m Free


The pivotal song in the rock opera, I’m Free, is also pivotal in my own life. Tommy’s mother throws him into the mirror out of exasperation for all the years he never responded to her efforts to communicate with him. The rough equivalent of this for me was when after only two months of knowing my future stepmother and stepsiblings, my father, on Mothers Day, told me that the five of us will become a family. Given the fact that only two months meant that they were still strangers to me, in addition to the inability to gain closure over the loss of my biological mother ten years earlier, it felt as if I were thrown into a mirror, just as Tommy had been.

However as the four months between the day I was told of the marriage, and the day of the wedding had passed, I began to accept the new reality. While my fifteen-year old brother-to-be and I had a lot of tension between us, I adored my five-year old sister-to-be.

The key to my successful transition and integration into a new family was the result of acceptance of the new family by relatives from my biological mother’s family. So instead of feeling like an orphan living in a family of two, my Dad and myself, I was integrated into more than one family. First, my new immediate family of my father, stepmother and stepsiblings. Second, my stepmother’s extended family. Third, my biological mother’s extended family.

However beyond attainment of a normal life and finding peace within myself, I evolved from someone self-absorbed with my own problems, to a person finding empathy with others experiencing problems or challenges in their own lives.




My Post-Childhood Journey into Music: Part 2: Christmas, Cousin Kevin, There’s a Doctor


The Christmas scene in Tommy shows him sitting in a circle, but despite being surrounded by friends, is silent and completely withdrawn. This holiday is regarded as being a time of joy and celebration. The same held true for me during my fifth or sixth birthday party. I have a vague memory of crying loudly  after everyone sang Happy Birthday to me. To refer back to Part I, I perceived the inability of adults to help me grieve over the loss of my mother, and find what therapists today call closure, as a continuing cover-up. Since I could not yet comprehend and verbalize how I was feeling, I, like Tommy, became silent and withdrawn. In other words, I could not enjoy the celebration of my birthday without the physical presence of my deceased mother.

During one part of this holiday celebration, we can hear Tommy internally crying, See Me, Feel Me, Touch Me, Heal Me. Something similar was happening to me, with the Heal Me being a question of how my mother will continue to live on in other ways.

The Cousin Kevin scene is about Tommy being bullied by a member of his own family. I was bullied in school by fellow classmates. In addition to being insecure, I was also short in height, both of which made me easy prey with other boys.

The emotional trauma I was experiencing, in addition to bullying in school, resulted in testing that revealed I had a learning disability. This is where the There’s a Doctor scene enters. The doctor in the Tommy movie was one who conducted physical tests on the boy. I have a vivid memory of being physically dragged out of the car by my father when we visited a local psychologist. I recall that I was asked to participate in a few exercises, of its purpose I do not know. I do recall that throughout elementary school, I would be taken out of a class in order to participate in various activities by some sort of special education instructor. I remember feeling that something was wrong with me, such as being “dumb” or “stupid” in some way. It was only the fact that I never had to repeat a grade that gave me assurance I had normal intelligence.









My Post-Childhood Journey into Music: Part I: What About the Boy, Amazing Journey


The first scene in Tommy that has a similarity with my own life is entitled, What About the Boy. While Tommy watched his father being killed, my mother died unexpectedly of a heart attack. The chant from Tommy’s mother and her lover to the boy was “you didn’t see it, you didn’t hear it.” My father and other adults were perceived myself, at the age of three, as evasive whenever I asked about my Mom’s death. So to me, her death felt like a cover-up.

The next act, Amazing Journey, is when Tommy shuts down and internalized all his anger. While I internalized much of my own, I was told that I also externalized denial. Pretending that my deceased mother was playing hide-and-seek with me, I would walk around the house, telling her to come out from where she was hiding.

Pete Townshend, the band member who created Tommy, said that when the boy emotionally shut down, he experienced everything as musical vibrations. My own outlet also came from music, by hearing sad love songs on the radio. The one song which I related to more than any other was Carole King’s tune, So Far Away. The lyrics are:

So Far Away

Doesn’t Anybody Stay in One Place Anymore

It Would be so Nice to See Your Face at my Door

But it Doesn’t Help to Know

That You’re So Far Away







My Post-Childhood Journey into Music: Introduction


The following is a six-part post. The first three are the most personal I have written for this blog. The last three relate to personal stories and challenges of three current musicians.

A previous post entitled, Listening to You, I Get the Music https://dwor2345.wordpress.com/2012/02/ , is about the rock opera that brought The Who to its superstar status. However the main character in this opera, Tommy, and the title of it, has many similarities with my own life.

My biological mother had died when I was three years old. I was an only child at the time. Although the death of any family member is hard for anyone at any age, no adult was able to help me get through what therapists today call a normal grieving period. As a result, I became emotionally traumatized by my mother’s passing. It had impacted my social and educational development.

In short, I was not living what people working in the field of child development would regard as a normal life. It was not until the age of 14, after my father had remarried, and I gained a stepmother, stepbrother and stepsister, did I finally discover what a normal life is supposed to be like.

The story of Tommy is one in which he, too, is an only child who experiences the death of a parent at an early age, becomes emotionally traumatized, but is able to free himself much later in life. However, in addition to attaining a normal life, Tommy tries to help others who are less fortunate. I try to do the same with family members, friends, etc., who are going through tough times in their lives.

For those readers who may be unfamiliar with each act and sequence of Tommy, access the link to the Tommy movie, below. Watching the movie for our purposes is better than listening to the original soundtrack, since the movie conveys needed visual images.


Heart with Soul: How Black Musicians Took Ownership of their Musical Roots, and Spread its Appeal to a Worldwide Audience: Part I: Motown, Smokey, and the Supremes


Heart and Soul was the title of a song by Huey Lewis and the News that was released in 1981. Soul music itself, according to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, is “music that arose out of the black experience in America through the transmutation of gospel and rhythm and blues into a form of funky, secular testifying.”

Three notable record companies that have promoted black musicians singing soul music are Motown, Stax, and Atlantic. Since Motown’s mission is the closest to the title of the following three posts, I will discuss it first.

The Motown Record Corporation was formed in Detroit, Michigan in 1959 by Berry Gordy, a Black American songwriter.Motown’s mission was to promote African American artists performing their own music. Prior to Motown, white artists such as Pat Boone and Elvis Presley were performing rhythm and blues songs that were written by Black musicians.

The Motown Sound was taking Black artists performing Black music in a manner that had crossover appeal with White audiences. It used tambourines to accent the back beat, melodic electric bass guitar lines, and call and response singing style that originated in gospel music.

Another strategy for crossover appeal was their artist development program. Musicians were taught that they needed to think, act, walk and talk like royalty. Since a number of them were raised in housing projects, they needed to develop social and dress skills. The Motown Revue were package concert tours that gave musicians who were considered as second-tier acts an opportunity to improve their performance skills. Some of the artists who fell into this category include Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, and the Jackson 5.

Smokey Robinson and the Miracles was the first successful recording act for Motown. The song Shop Around, released in 1960, became the label’s first million selling hit record during the 1960 Grammy Hall of Fame. Robinson himself later became the vice-president of Motown.

Diana Ross and the Supremes were the first female group from Motown. Growing up in a Detroit housing project, Ross and fellow band members Florence Ballard and Mary Wilson had been recruited while they were still in high school. Berry Gordy signed them in 1961. Their first number one hit, Where Did our Love Go, came in 1964. Gordy, whose goal was to generate an appeal to black and white audiences, made sure that not only had a polished look, but also a sophisticated stage presence in the way they dressed.

Below you will find videos of a documentary history of Motown, original recordings of Smokey Robinson’s Shop Around, and an early performance of Diana Ross and the Supremes’ Where did our Love go.

Culture Wars and Civil Rights: How Another King Left the South and the Nation Feeling All Shook Up: Part 2


Sam Phillips, the man who discovered a truck driver from Memphis, Tennessee named Elvis Presley, began the independent Sun Records in 1950. Phillips allowed black and white amateur musicians to perform. One of the notable African American musicians included B.B. King, the electric Blues guitarist who recently passed away at the age of 89.

Presley first auditioned for Phillips in 1954. But it was not until he sang a song, That’s Alright, Mama, when Phillips became impressed enough to consider this truck driver as one with musical potential. The song itself was written by a black musician named Arthur “Big Boy” Curdup. However when Elvis’ rendition of it was heard on the radio, listeners could not tell if the singer was black or white.

Presley himself grew up in a poor family in Mississippi. The neighborhood his family was living in was  largely African American. Elvis’ first instance of an interest in music came at the age of 18, in 1953, after a successful singing performance in a talent show. He then joined a gospel singing group, where many of these white gospel groups that performed reflected the influence of black spiritual music. Presley listened to regional radio stations that played what was then called rhythm and blues music. B.B. King, mentioned earlier in this post, knew Presley at this time, since they both frequented the venues in Memphis where blues music was played. Elvis would always credit the long tradition of blues in the African American music community had on him.

Rock and Roll music itself is a blend of several genres. It is most directly made up of blues, a musical genre first sung by African slaves, and later developed by Black American musicians as rhythm and blues. Another piece of rock and roll is Gospel, another African American genre that came out of the religious experience of life in the United States.

The white contributed genres to Rock and Roll include Country and Western, and Folk. Country and Western originated in the southern United States. Folk is considered to have been originated in Europe, as well as the United States. Elvis himself was labeled in the Rockabilly category, which was a blend of country music and rhythm and blues.

However it was the rhythm and blues piece of Elvis’ style that created a backlash against him by older generations of southern whites. As Michael Bertrand put it in his book, Race, Rock and Elvis, “much of the southern opposition to rock and roll that would emerge during the mid-1950’s targeted the music as a threat to white southern civilization. Citizens’ Council (a white supremacist organization) spokesman Asa Carter accused the NAACP of infiltrating southern white teenagers with rock and roll music.” A pastor for one congregation in Memphis, after learning that Elvis’ singing style was learned in a white church that drew heavily from it’s black counterpart responded, “the inference that the white Assembly of God congregations borrowed heavily from the negro sects is not only a slur, but it is too stupid for words.”

However this did not stop large numbers of teenage fans from attending his concerts held in southern cities. During one of these shows in Lubblock, Texas, a teenage gang firebombed Elvis’ car. As a result, at the two concerts he performed at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair Dairy Show in 1956, one hundred National Guard troops were on hand to prevent crowd trouble.

Two songs that Elvis sang later during the 1960’s demonstrate how he and his generation of white southerners were starting to change the face of the traditionally segregated South. One of them, entitled, If I Can Dream, included the following lyrics, If I can dream of a better land, where all my brothers and sisters walk hand in hand, tell me why, oh why, oh why, can’t my dream come true. The other song, In the Ghetto, included in a video at the end of this post, is about empathy for the largely black inner-city poor.

As Michael Bertrand, an author cited earlier put it, “struggling with transition, the postwar South represented a place in time where novel possibilities for cultural exchange were unfolding. Transplanted to urban surroundings in larger numbers than ever before, a generation of young southerners found itself disconnected from a rural past and its traditions. Set apart from their parents and elders by the experience of a modern and urban existence, they sought new role models and entertainment vehicles”

Beyond Elvis Presley and his southern agents of change, popular music nationwide created its own change. Widespread acceptance of integration occurred when black and white teenagers started dancing together on the TV show, American Bandstand. Civil Rights leaders cited the role of music in their struggle for equality. According to Julian Bond, “the history of the music is also the history of cultures joining together.” In a 2004 article in Rolling Stone magazine, Bono, the singer for the band U2, described a meeting he had with Civil Rights leaders Coretta Scott King and John Lewis about Elvis’s impact on the nation. As he wrote, “I think the hill they climbed would have been much steeper were it not for the racial inroads black music was making on white pop culture. Elvis was already doing what the civil rights movement was demanding, breaking down barriers.”

The videos below include the uproar and influence Elvis had on white southerners and African American musicians, as well his song In the Ghetto, followed by another rendition by a Black rap musician.

Cultural Wars and Civil Rights: How Another King Left the South and the Nation Feeling All Shook Up: Part I


Besides Martin Luther King, Elvis Presley, popularly referred to as the King of Rock and Roll music, also had a big impact on the state of the nation after World War II. Presley and his generation of white southern teenagers discovered a common passion for rhythm and blues music with their black counterparts. This produced a huge backlash among older generations of white southerners who perceived it as a threat to their traditional, segregated social structure.

The culture war between the generations of old Dixie and new marked the beginning of a long-term trend that changed the state of race relations south of the Mason-Dixon line. The Civil Rights movement as we know it today had not yet begun.

Elvis and Rock and Roll need to be understood within the context of American culture in the 1950’s. These years following World War II were a time when the new Cold War and threat of communism produced social norms of conformity. Economic growth at the time created a new affluent middle class, a majority of which was white. The music that was listened to on most radio stations was that of white performers.

However there was another America that was either invisible, or deviated from the above-mentioned norms. A black middle class did not yet exist. Poverty rates among black americans were twice those of their white counterparts.

One author who deviated from the norm of 1950’s America was Jack Kerouac. Kerouac wrote a book entitled, On the Road. Published in 1957, it was based on the travels of the author and his friends across the nation. They visited many places that were part of that other America, areas frequented by black americans affected by poverty and drug use. This focus on that other America was that of the Beat Generation, a group of authors of which Kerouac was a member. Their philosophy included a rejection of materialism, exploration of cultures in the Eastern part of the world, experimented with psychedelic drugs, and sexual liberation. The Beatnicks were the predecessors of the Hippies of the 1960’s.

The trend that directly impacted Rock and Roll music was the role of radio. Portable radios began to replace the larger ones  that were in family living rooms. So individuals could now listen to radio stations any time they desired. At the same time, since national broadcasting companies had abandoned radio for larger profits available in television, regional radio stations took advantage of the void to localize their playlists. Since there was a migration of blacks from rural areas to cities after World War II, radio stations had more black listeners, making black programming desirable. As Michael Bertrand, described in his book, Race, Rock and Elvis, “after World War II, radio changed under pressure from television to low budget music and news programs. The pop record business eagerly took over the AM air waves. City and country blues and hillbilly music was available on the air alongside the Broadway show tunes and popular ballads. For the first time young people had a truly free choice to what they wanted to listen to on the air.”

Lastly, alongside regional radio stations was the rise of independent recording companies that sought to meet the demands of a fast growing urban black population that wanted to hear and purchase more of its own music. In Part II, we will be introduced to the founder of one of these independents, who was also the person who introduced Elvis Presley to the nation.

Below you will find two video links that will supplement the content here. The first is a PBS TV special about the History of Rock and Roll. The other is about Alan Freed, the disc jockey who coined the term rock and roll in the 1950’s, and was instrumental in disseminating the sound to the nation. 


Culture Wars and Civil Rights: How Another King Left the South and the Nation Feeling All Shook Up: Introduction


When it comes to culture, particularly popular culture, there is more than meets the eye. Most of us tend to think of politicians as the movers and shakers of change. These next two posts will demonstrate that the role of pop culture, specifically music in the 1950’s, preceded what the leaders of political and social change would later advocate.

The 1950’s culture in America was dominated by tastes advocated primarily by the white middle class. In the post World War II age of conformity, deviations from this norm were looked upon in a condescending manner.

Even beyond the 1950’s, historians have tended to dismiss the role of pop culture as an agent of change. As one historian, Michael Bertrand, assistant professor of history at Tennessee State University puts it, “without doubt, an intellectual community negatively predisposed to popular culture denied legitimacy to music that was southern and working-class derived. By attacking it in terms couched in the language of taste, cultural guardians sought to discredit any larger significance the music may have had. By characterizing it with disapproval (passing fad, musical noise, etc.), the cultural elite fostered the impression that rock and roll’s popularity epitomized a temporary suspension of taste.”

In Part I, we will get an overview of the cultural and social background that gave birth to rock and roll music. In Part II, we will get into the substance and detail of the central figure in this form of cultural dissent.