*I would best describe Billy Paul as the Socially Aware Balladeer. When you hear the name, you immediately think of Me and Mrs. Jones (his sultry Grammy Award-winning song) but he was also a man fully aware of the power music could play in raising social consciousness.
Billy had a diverse vocal style ranging from smooth, mellow and soulful to low and raspy. As a teenage Jazz singer, he performed with Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker. He later combined Jazz, R&B and Soul to create his unique sound. He sang like a saxophonist and emulated female Jazz vocalists, especially Billie Holiday.
The other side of Paul’s music was socially conscious (Am I Black Enough for You, Let ‘Em In); inspirational (Ebony Woman, Bring the Family Back); and spiritually deep (War of the Gods).
His other work didn’t attain the commercial success of Me and Mrs. Jones, but should be revisited and deconstructed in today’s more open-minded worldview since his lyrics have since proven true. Paul was a man way ahead of his time. Am I Black Enough for You was considered controversial and was a brave artistic decision. War of the Gods raised issues about diversity in religious thought. Let ‘Em In paid homage to social activists, including Malcolm X, MLK, Medgar Evers, and John & Robert Kennedy.
Paul’s body of work was groundbreaking, thought provoking, and uplifting. Rather than just another R&B singer, he was more akin to the unapologetic style of Nina Simone. We can appreciate and see that now in retrospect. I’m proud to have played a role in his career.
(Billy Paul r.i.p. 1934-2016)
*What can I say about Luther Vandross? He was a master of Song Interpretation. Not only did Luther have one of the most uniquely sophisticated voices of all times, he was also a master of song re-interpretation. He used his extraordinary artistry and witty vocal stylings to re-define vintage classics.
His lush velvety voice, effortless vocal control, eloquence, and creative phrasing produced intimate emotional connections with the listener, producing hits with songs that were already classics, most notably A House is Not a Home. His impact on delivery was so compelling that he made a cover tune sound as if you were hearing it for the first time.
Other re-interpretations like Always & Forever (Heatwave), Bad Boy/Having a Party (Sam Cooke), Creepin’ (Stevie Wonder), If Only for One Night (Brenda Russell), Since I Lost My Baby (Temptations), I Who Have Nothing (Ben E. King), and Going Out of My Mind (Little Anthony & the Imperials) were also completely transformed by Luther.
He made each song his own, as if he was the originator. His voice was fine-tuned and embellished with delicate vocal gymnastics and clever nuances that became his trademark, giving him a different kind of edge unlike any other. Luther was one of the most beloved singers of his time. His legacy includes 14 platinum albums, 9 American Music Awards, 6 Grammys, 5 Soul Train Awards, 4 NAACP Image Awards, and a BET Award.
(Luther Vandross r.i.p. 1951-2005)
Dr. Logan H. Westbrooks and Ascent Publishing salutes past, present and future superstars of the music industry in honor of Black Music Month (also named African American Music Appreciation Month). Dr. Westbrooks and over thirty music artists & execs share their insights for singers, producers, marketers, promoters, educators and more in The Anatomy of the Music Industry, available at Amazon.com.
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