It hurts my ears to hear that in the past five months five powerhouses of pop/soul artists who laid the foundation for the past 50 years of American music have died, and what they built seems to be eroding.
Even thought their influence peeks out here and there from seasoned disc jockeys and independent artists, when you look back, carefully think about it, legends always start off in their own land of obscurity.
Prince, Natalie Cole, Maurice White, Phife Dawg and Billy Paul have left us now and it’s almost like the soul of American music has truly been ripped from its body, because music will never be produced, performed or heard the same.
The genius of performance and musicianship by Prince’s bands The Revolution, New Power Generation and Third Eye Girl. And the epitome of using his band Earth, Wind & Fire as a force of uplift and hope, Maurice White was a prophet.
The hard-core relationship tales of Natalie Cole and Billy Paul were the bedrock of love, passion and real pain between black people, and the true blueprint of what R&B is and will always be.
We can’t forget those early days of hip-hop as A Tribe Called Quest’s two-fold vision of consciousness and reality for teens and young adults of the 1990s. Their storytelling skills gave vivid pictures of what it was to never forget who you were culturally while loving yourself and your people. But the realities of what was going on in society called for a little mischief and fun to escape, as Phife told so well.
Now, anyone who tries to re-create the feelings these sounds evoked will only be far-reaching into the past to bathe themselves in the spirit of predecessors like these.
The following is just a small reminder of what they contributed to the lasting sounds they left for us as a reminder to ourselves on how not only to hear but feel the music.
Born: February 6, 1950
Died: December 31, 2015
The daughter of jazz and pop legend Nat King Cole, Natalie Cole forged a successful career in three phases. She began in the ‘70s as a soul-rooted artist, had success in the ‘80s with pop-oriented R&B material, and then followed in the footsteps of her father with traditional pop as her foundation from the ‘90s through the early 2010s. From 1976 through 2009, she won nine Grammy Awards, including Best R&B Vocal Performance, Female (“This Will Be,” 1976), Album of the Year (Unforgettable: With Love, 1992), and Best Traditional Vocal Pop Album (Still Unforgettable, 2009).
Born: December 19, 1941
Died: February 3, 2016
Singer/drummer/songwriter/producer Maurice White founded the ‘70s supergroup Earth, Wind & Fire. White, a former session drummer for legendary Chicago-based labels OKeh Records and Chess Records (Etta James, Fontella Bass, Billy Stewart, Ramsey Lewis, Sonny Stitt’s 1966 LP Soul in the Night, the Radiants, among others), aspired to form a band like no other pop music had ever known. It certainly was successful, as EWF combined high-caliber musicianship, a wide-ranging musical genre eclecticism, and ‘70s multicultural spiritualism that included Biblical references.
Malik 'Phife Dawg' Taylor
Born: November 20, 1970
Died: March 22, 2016
As part of the pioneering rap group A Tribe Called Quest and their extended Native Tongues family, Phife Dawg helped usher in a whole new style of intelligent hip-hop. Born Malik Taylor, Phife grew up in Queens, New York, where he spent his childhood writing poetry and eventually rapping at school and in his neighborhood whenever the opportunity was available. Along with high-school classmates Q-Tip (Jonathan Davis) and Ali Shaheed Muhammad, Phife founded ATCQ, whose legendary decade-long career ended in 1998 with The Love Movement.
Born: December 1, 1934
Died: April 24, 2016
Billy Paul had a good run in the ‘70s as an R&B vocalist, though he’d been recording since the ‘50s, when he debuted on Jubilee. Paul was featured on radio broadcasts in Philadelphia at age 11 and had an extensive jazz background. He worked with Dinah Washington, Miles Davis, and Roberta Flack, as well as Charlie Parker, before forming a trio and recording for Jubilee. His original 1959 recording of “Ebony Woman” for New Dawn was later re-recorded for Neptune as the title of his 1970 LP. He signed the next year with Philadelphia International and scored his biggest hit with “Me & Mrs. Jones” in 1972, topping both the R&B and pop charts. Paul had one other Top Ten R&B single, “Thanks for Saving My Life,” in 1974. He remained on Philadelphia International until the mid-’80s. But he’d later done club dates, both in America and overseas.
— Biographies from allmusic.com