Thursday, May 12, 2005

Black or white? Green eggs and ham?

This is an interesting topic to explore but it's bound to offend some people. So throw the punch at me if you will.

Bottomline: America is a musically segregated society. Does it have to be this way? My brother was talking to this girl from Nigeria before going to see Alicia Keys. She told him that in Nigeria they listen to a lot of white music, even Hall & Oates. Then, of course, we walked into Alicia Keys concert and it was 80% black. By 80%, I'm giving it a very lenient estimate. The only white people there are either middle-aged white couples or white college girls who go there with their black boyfriends. And when Alicia was empowering the females in the audience, the black females were the most responsive. You'd think Alicia would draw many different kinds since she won so many Grammies. Interesting observation!

Of course, I went to other concerts as well: Eric Clapton, Phish, Gov't Mule. All white audience. I'd expect some black folks to be there since their music incorporate a lot of blues. But then again, you will find few black people at blues concerts these days. They've all switched to hip-hop or really bad reggae. I went to a Buddy Guy concert and 75% of the audience was white. And everybody at Rod Piazza's concert was white. According to Dave Jackson, there was only one black performer at the entire DC Blues Society Contest last year. At the Baltimore counterpart, all the judges were white. White people make up the majority of the Blues Foundation these days. Perhaps that's why only one black guitarist (Kirk Fletcher) was nominated in the "Best Guitarist" category this year.

The only evenly distributed black and white ratio concert I went to was Prince. It was 50/50. I have a lot of respect for the guy since he appeals to both races. It's a charm that not many artists have.

When I listen to music, I don't try to categorize it by skin color. It's unfortunate that many people do in America. They divide it into black music and white music. For instance, Galactic is a funk band in New Orleans. It's lead singer is black. However, there are few black people at a Galactic show because it's considered white music, so is Medeski, Martin & Wood, even though the group plays some mean funk. But since when is Buddy Guy considered white music? My man Mark D'Alessio says, "since he started hanging out with Clapton."

I was talking to this black guy at Cafe Toulouse and to my surprise, his favorite group is Steely Dan. That's what music should be: color-blind. I think there should be an affirmative action program for music in addition to college admission.

I'm reading the autobiography of Miles Davis. Miles has a unique view about white folks. He resents the archetypical white male in America who rips off black people. Yet, he's great friends with Bill Evans, Gil Evans, Lee Konitz, etc. who are white musicians. He even hired Konitz and Gerry Mulligan to be on his Birth of the Cool record which pissed off a lot of blacks at the time. But then, he also says, even though some of these white cats were voted No. 1 in the Downbeat polls, they know that they're not the best playing this music and they sure know they didn't start this music. Miles's damn right. But Miles' color-blind too, for he says, "I'll hire whoever who can play my songs. I don't care if they're white or black or green or brown."

It's funny. Big Joe Maher said one time at 219 when a bunch of white people were sitting near the bandstand and just couldn't stop talking in the middle of his drum solo, "I hate white people sometimes." At my show last Saturday at Cafe Toulouse, this black guy just grabbed the microphone and started singing some made-up blues off key. What pissed me off the most was when some black folks came up to the late great Pam Bricker during her break at Westminister Church and said, "White girl, you've done your homework." Not only has Pam done her homework, she kicked butt at the subject matter. She sang better than a lot of so-called black vocalists in DC.

My all-time favorite story of racism is that I was playing the harmonica in the subway, a black kid (about 17 years of age) came up to me and said, "You're playing a black instrument." I countered, "Really? All I see is that it says it's made in Germany."

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