The second of three programs this month that focus on the original Black Power and Black Pride movements, with commentary by special guest host Ronald E. Smith, and by request. #blackpower #blackpride #blacklivesmatter
NOTE: Some tracks contain language and subject matter that may not suitable for all audiences.
Due to numerous requests, the biographical and historical notes that accompany each of these tracks for Part 1 and Part 2 are listed below the credits. Part three will have notes for that program on that page.
- Amerikkka/Dem Niggers Ain’t Playin’, 1971, Watts Prophets
- Cloud Nine, 1968, The Temptations
- Talkin’ Loud And Sayin’ Nothing, 1972, James Brown
- Smiling Faces Sometimes, 1971, The Undisputed Truth
- Woman Of The Ghetto, 1969, Marlena Shaw
- You Haven’t Done Nothin’, 1974, Stevie Wonder featuring The Jackson 5
- Something’s Happening, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr.
- Compared To What, 1969, Les McCann and Eddie Harris
- The 10 Point Program, 1966, Huey Newton
- People Make The World Go Round, recorded 1971/released 1972, The Stylistics
- Lift Every Voice and Sing, 1970, Merry Clayton
- Fight The Power (Part 1 & 2), 1975, The Isley Brothers
Love to you all.
Ben “Daddy Ben Bear” Brown Jr.
Host, Producer, Webmaster, Audio Engineer, Researcher and Writer
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Program 1 Biographical and Historical Notes
(For God’s Sake) Give More Power To The People, The Chi-Lites, 1973.
Named after their home of Chi-Town, that’s Chicago to the uninitiated, this group, which at the time was led by singer, songwriter and producer Eugene Record, scored a series of now classic R&B love ballads, including the stone cold classics “Have You Seen Her” and “Oh Girl”. This was the title track to their third LP, which was their first gold LP.
Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler), Marvin Gaye, 1971
Initially, Motown, Gaye’s label, did not want to release this album, which was filled with a consecutive series of tracks that spoke to the despair of what Black people were facing then, and now, including drug use, poverty, war, racism and even pollution. Label head Berry Gordy believed that Gaye would alienate his core audience of Black women. It became a huge commercial and critical success, sometimes even being called the “Black Sgt. Pepper” due to its forever changing the game for what an R&B album could accomplish.
Give A Damn, The Staples Singers, 1970
Starting off as a gospel group, the Staple Singers were an early influence on a young Bob Dylan, who cites their single “Uncloudy Day” as one of his early favorites. Prior to their series of now classic message songs, however, they also became the first artist to record protest songs by the aforementioned man from Hibbing, MN.
Niggers Vs. The Police, Richard Pryor, 1974
This track, taken from the album That Nigger’s Crazy, not only was the Pryor’s breakthrough and started a string of classic and million-selling LP’s, it was also the first one which won him a Grammy Award. It was also Pryor’s first album to top the R&B record chart, a rarity for a comedy record.
Free Bobby Now, The Lumpen, 1970
The Lumpen were an R&B band that took their name from an anti-imperialist text called “The Wretched of the Earth”. They were made up of members William Calhoun, Clark Bailey, Mark Torrance and Saturu Ned; they formed to help spread the message of The Black Panthers. This track is specifically directed toward releasing Black Panther co-founder Bobby Seale, who was in prison at the time for his involvement in the The Chicago Eight. The charge was conspiracy to incite a riot at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago.
Stop The War Now, Edwin Starr, 1970
Originally born in Tennessee, Starr, born Charles Hatcher, was signed to a Detroit label called Ric-Tic, which was bought by Motown. He was backed by a Black rock and Roll band called the Black Merda. After his introduction to Motown staff producer Norman Whitfield, Starr recorded a series of psychedelic soul singles, including the explosive “War” single in 1971. This was his follow-up single, and yes, they do sound similar.
We’re A Winner, The Impressions, 1967
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees The Impressions originally started their chart success as a very different group with the classic For Your Precious Love. Shortly after this success, lead singer Jerry Butler left for a successful solo career. Undaunted, Curtis Mayfield took the group in a new direction, resulting in a series of more classics, including this song about Black Empowerment, which was one of the first pop hits to address racial politics at the time. It was the number one R&B single about a month before the assassination of Dr. King.
Am I Black Enough For You?, Billy Paul, 1972
Billy Paul had an interesting career prior to this minor charted hit. He was inducted into the Army along with Elvis Presley, and toured Europe in a military band that also included Soul Jazz pioneer Eddie Harris, a genre Paul also mined before his “360 Degrees of Billy Paul” LP, his fourth. That album included this track “Me and Mrs. Jones”, a #1 R&B and pop single. He was 37 years of age, a rarity for a new artist on the singles chart. This song, the follow-up to “Jones”, was considered too radical for the airwaves in 1973, signaling the slow decline of message tracks on the charts.
Black Power, Dick Gregory, 1968
Dick Gregory, a military veteran and performing stand up comedy in Black clubs at night, was a postal service worker to pay the bills. His big break as a professional comic came when Hugh Hefner of Playboy magazine hired him to play a fill-in gig at one of his clubs and ended up keeping him for an extended engagement. His social activism, which he became very well-known for in his later years, was derived from his socially conscious routines. He even ran for President in 1968 as a candidate. Gonzo journalist and frequent Rolling Stone magazine contributor Hunter S. Thompson actually voted for him.
Our next four songs are thematically linked:
The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, Gil Scott-Heron, 1971
Scott-Heron, along with frequent collaborator and keyboardist Brian Jackson, crafted some of the most intense and well-received Black message tracks of the early 1970’s, including the album “Winter In America”. This track, taken from Scott-Heron’s second album, “Pieces of a Man”, was originally a spoken word piece on his debut, “Small Talk at 125th and Lenox”. The lyrics detail media messages from broadcast television, which at the time consisted of only three networks and controlled by whites.
Home Is Where The Hatred Is, Esther Phillips, 1972
Esther Phillips staged a major comeback with this track and the album it was taken from, “From A Whisper to A Scream”. She had started her professional recording career at the age of 14 with the Johnnie Otis show, but soon became addicted to drugs. She recorded several albums for Atlantic prior to this release, her debut on Kudu records, one of the imprints founded by former Impulse label executive Creed Taylor. It is a song written by Gil Scott-Heron about the sad and lonely life of a junkie, which is given even more despair by the change in gender and Phillips’ personal history.
Young, Gifted And Black, Aretha Franklin, 1972
By 1972, there was no denying that Aretha was the Queen of Soul, and simply without peer on either the R&B or Pop charts, due to her string of classic singles and albums for the Atlantic label. This is the title track to her ’72 studio album, which also happened to be nominated for the Best R&B Vocal Female Grammy in the same year, along with “Home Is Where The Hatred Is” by Esther Phillips. Phillips lost to Franklin. Then Franklin did something no other artist had done prior or since: she gave her award to Phillips, declaring it to be superior to her work that year. This song was co-written by Nina Simone, who also lost out on a Grammy award to Franklin the year prior in the same category.
Mississippi Goddam, Nina Simone, 1964
Simone, born Eunice Waymon, originally wanted to be a classical concert pianist, but racial discrimination not only kept her out of this profession, she was also denied entry to a prestigious college for the same reason. Undaunted, she started performing in Jazz Clubs, even scoring a major hit with a song from Porgy and Bess. This track, one of many that Simone recorded that reflected her ever-growing involvement with the civil rights movement, was composed by her; unfortunately, stopped her chart success for several years, with radio refusing to play it and even returning the single broken into pieces.
Slippin’ Into Darkness, WAR, 1971
Our last act technically isn’t an all-black band: their white harmonica player was from Denmark. However, the part of Los Angeles they were from, the harbor area, was also racially mixed and the band was popular in clubs in the area. Jerry Goldsmith, the producer for new music by Eric Burdon, the original lead singer for the Animals, happened to discover the band and recorded some material. They produced the international smash hit “Spill the Wine”, but the band was left high and dry in Europe during a tour when Burdon left. Undaunted, the band finished the tour to rave reviews, and recorded a series of hit albums and singles throughout the remainder of the decade.
Program 2 Biographical and Historical Notes
Amerikkka/Dem Niggers Ain’t Playin’, 1971, Watts Prophets
Originally started by poets and authors at the Watts Writer’s Workshop in Los Angeles, this group, comprised of Richard Dedeaux, Father Amde Hamilton and Otis O’Solomon-Smith, released two albums which, looking back, were part of the musical fabric that helped launch Hip Hop music. They were formed in 1967, and Wikipedians, take note: even their page on the site does not mention the contributions of the female voice you hear, Dee Dee McNeil, a Detroit-born poet and Jazz artist.
Cloud Nine, 1968, The Temptations
Following the departure of the lead singer that brought the group fame, David Ruffin, his close friend Dennis Edwards took over lead. With the new psychedelic soul direction their producer Norman Whitfield was taking, label head Berry Gordy thought the group might flounder. This track, the first with the new line-up, was a million selling single, and the first to ever win the group a Grammy Award. The group, Whitfield and co-writer Barrett Strong all state that this isn’t a song about drugs, despite popular opinion.
Talkin’ Loud And Sayin’ Nothing, 1972, James Brown
We could do a whole series of programs about the importance of James Brown during the original Black Pride/Black Power movements. Legend has it that Brown was in fact pressured by several groups to record more socially conscious tracks. He would often alternate these types of songs with his typically amazing dance and sex themed songs. How important was Brown? According to the Rolling Stone Record Guide, Brown was one of the most influential artists in 20th Century music, even more important than Bob Dylan or The Beatles.
Smiling Faces Sometimes, 1971, The Undisputed Truth
For my money, this is the greatest group name in history. Started off as a project for Motown producer Norman Whitfield, the original line-up consisted of Billie Rae Calvin, Brenda Joyce Evans and Joe “Pep” Harris, the latter being the sole original member still with the group, which continues to perform to this day. Their stage act was truly unusual for the time: they wore flash clothing, large silver/white wigs with white face paint. This song, and many of their other hits, were originally recorded by The Temptations.
Woman Of The Ghetto, 1969, Marlena Shaw
Shaw, who still performs live to this day, started her career as a Jazz and R&B vocalist for the Cadet label. This song was the lead track from her last album for Cadet, “The Spice of Life”, which also includes her version of “California Soul” Her music has been featured in many films and television programs, and she has experienced a career resurgence in the U.K. Rare Groove scene, along with being sampled numerous times on Hip Hop recordings. Shaw was a co-writer of this track.
You Haven’t Done Nothin’, 1974, Stevie Wonder featuring The Jackson 5
The man from Saginaw, Michigan, with enough Grammy’s to host his own awards program, was told at an early age that the best job he might be able to get was that of basket weaver. This #1 Pop and R&B single, was a stinging indictment of President Richard Nixon and The Republican Party, with lyrics that would not sound out of place today. The album this derives from, “Fulfillingness’ First Finale”, was Wonder’s first #1 Pop LP in 11 years, was part of a string of albums he recorded in the 1970’s that made him a legend.
Something’s Happening, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr.
Nobel Prize winner Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave this passage during a visit to Memphis, TN, during a period where he was asked to represent and help negotiate a strike by city sanitation workers, who were primarily Black. Even though he has gained icon status now, by this period, there were whole segments of the population who believed that Dr. King’s vision had failed, as things were not getting better for people of color. He would be assassinated by James Earl Ray the day after he gave this speech on April 4th, 1968.
Compared To What, 1969, Les McCann and Eddie Harris
Both of these men were Soul Jazz pioneers, with each scoring hits individually during the 1960’s. This pairing, recorded live at the Montreux Jazz Festival, yielded this single in an edited version, which became a surprise hit, catapulting the album it derived from, “Swiss Movement”, into the upper reaches of several Billboard charts. Its success also gave the nascent festival a huge boost in popularity and importance. This song, incidentally, was the first ever charted single in the U.S. to ever utter the word abortion, and possibly, the only one.
Huey Newton, 1966, The 10 Point Program
Newton, a Socialist and one of the founders of the Black Panther party, help to draft the 10 Point Program, which was in stark contrast to the Bill of Rights in the U.S. Constitution, the latter document ratified by 55 white men, 25 of which were slave owners. Of the numerous programs he helped to create during his lifetime, even after the Black Panthers had dissolved, the most recognizable was the Free School Breakfast program, which still helped feed thousands of indigent children in the U.S. during the 1970’s, including your host.
People Make The World Go Round, recorded 1971/released 1972, The Stylistics
The Stylistics, a Philadelphia-based group, scored a string of stone cold classics in a very short period of time, with their best known songs coming from just three LP’s of material in about a 2 1/2 year period. They would help come to define a brand new type of R&B and Soul music called Quiet Storm, a precursor to 1980’s Urban Contemporary. The group was primarily produced by Jamaican Thom Bell, with songwriting assistance from Linda Creed, a Jewish woman.
Lift Every Voice and Sing, 1970, Merry Clayton
Clayton, who is featured prominently in the Oscar-winning film 20 Feet From Stardom, is primarily known as a back-up singer, but actually recorded a series of albums for the A&M label as a lead artist. Being a Black female Rock singer meant that even during this period in music history, she would receive little airplay. This song, which she recorded for the Robert Altman film Brewster McCloud, is better known as the Black National Anthem, written by brothers John and James Johnson, and is considered a standard Christian hymnal.
Fight The Power (Part 1 & 2), 1975, The Isley Brothers
This is one of the last of the still performing and recording original Rock and Roll/R&B outfits from the 1950’s, and a group who still charted top singles and LP’s into the new millennium. This track, which came from their 13th album and their first to top Billboard Top 200 LP chart, “The Heat Is On”, has been sampled numerous times, including on the Public Enemy classic with the same title. This would be one of the last songs the Isley’s would ever record featuring lyrics that spoke to the problems of Blacks, as times were changing and public interest in the second half of the 1970’s in message songs almost evaporated overnight.