Since the recent death of Whitney Houston, I’ve heard many say that this is the worst Black History Month ever. With the loss of Etta James, Don Cornelius and now Whitney Houston, some may see it as such. However I choose to see it as something completely different.
Etta James shared with us all the feeling of love, in all of its aspects in her songs: love lost, love found, hope and happiness. And the fact that her songs have endured over the years just goes to prove how she influenced so many, whether, young or old, singer or just someone who aspires to be. Though she has had many hits, the most popular and well know is of course At Last. Heard in many commercials and movie soundtracks, it gained its most notoriety by being sung at President Obama’s inaugural ball by pop and r&b singer Beyoncé. It was a point of pride, at least for me to have the first African-American president, dance to and be serenaded by such a beautiful song .
And who can forget the most iconic show of my lifetime, Soul Train. It bought the music of a
generation straight into our living rooms. Artists such as Al Green, The O’Jays, Gladys Knight & The Pips, The Jackson Five, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and so, many others were able to show case their various talents at a time where there were not that many opportunities to do so. Soul Train has been touted as the “black” American Bandstand. I beg to differ. Soul Train was and still is a show unique in its own right. It not only introduced our music to the rest of the country, but our fashion, dance, culture and even our businesses. What other entertainment show would have a quiz where you had to unscramble the letters on a board and decipher the name of a Black person or persons of note? Soul Train also was the first to open its advertising air space to Black businesses such as Johnson Products, the makers of Ultra Sheen. Before Soul Train, I never saw any African-American products advertised on
TV let alone African-American faces touting hair products and cosmetics. Moreover, we owe Don Cornelius for helping to unite us. Go to any event, wedding, birthday party, or any function given by an African-American and there will a Soul Train line, guaranteed! Hard to stay angry or have ill feelings toward anyone once you have danced down the Soul Train line with them.
And of course who can forget the gifts that Whitney Houston has given us. Her iconic songs will forever be a part of our tapestry. Like many talented people of her industry, she had her trials and tribulations. And perhaps because of them, we lost her too soon. But that does not take away the talent that she had nor the wonderful music she left us. Because of Whitney Houston I wanted to make sure I knew all of the words of our national anthem all due the way she sang it during the 1991 Super Bowel. What other version of our anthem ever got such notoriety, so much so that it was released as a cd? Acting in films such as Waiting To Exhale, The Preacher’s Wife and The Bodyguard, along with the added bonus of lending her voice to the great soundtrack that accompanied them, just added to her list of accomplishments.
Remembering what these three iconic people has contributed to us and to our culture lessens their loss, at least for me. They made their stamp in the world and gave us the hope, inspiration and legacy to carry on through generations to come. I think that is what Black History month is all about. Not about what we lost, but what we have gained and what we must strive to accomplish.
So to Etta, Don and Whitney, we will always love you and most of all, we wish you love, peace and soul. At last.