a Melodic Memory

On June 11, 2023 by creativewavemovement

How interesting, and indelibly so, to cast memory to my childhood: it’s an idyllic, sun-kissed afternoon; early enough for a myriad of possibilities to take flight; mature enough within the hour, for sweet aromas from the kitchen, to slowly and generously linger and rest within the family room. To smile for us, we had a wall of windows – the H-frame of our family room – where the afternoon sun, in its harmonic crescendo, poured into our abode, leaving no surface, no object untouched, unloved. These were the Saturdays that I remember, growing up in my childhood home of Stone Mountain, GA.


Soul Train, circa 1970s.

The infamous, Soul Train, in full swing, in full action. (circa 1970s)


And what’s even more a pronouncement of the dream – this memory that I cascade through, and gingerly walk through – we had our vintage record player, equipped with any manner of ballads, rhythm & blues tunes and melodic monologues, providing soundtrack and melody to our daily happenings and life. This effervescent, musical anthology of my early childhood, accompanied every milestone and moment: within social and familial constructs; that, perhaps, my developing mind could not fully comprehend or see at the time. These songs, these letters, from Black artists were, in tandem, a reflection of the triumphant quaking and shaking at the seams, of a people, who – whether behind the vocal booth, front-lines of war or any stretch of profession – were seeking to undo the cultural untruths told of them; their Grandparents, their children, many generations prior.


This bridge of melodies, in and of itself, became a cultural drumbeat for us: a sort of trumpet call of what levels of life and love; triumphant and creative expression, we were capable of. Amdist the attempt of this people, this Black people, to manifest and move through the miraculous, (the miraculous, simply being: to counter the root and fruits of a generational lie), the music still played; the music was still made. A collective celebration – a tenor and tone of anguish, beneath the jubilation – stood as a clarion call and cry of what we, as a Black family, had to endure – whether subconsciously or consciously – journeying through society and life; hoping to fulfill the promise our Grandparents, and those before them, could not attain or fathom.


James Brown, turning soul music into complete funk. (Courtesy Photo Archives)

James Brown, who would eventually turn soul music into complete funk. (Courtesy Photo Archives)


These songs – this poetry, through bass and ballad – were far more than a mere hit or great record: it was both a defiant mark and defining moment of who we are as a people, and who we are not. Simply put, the music was our picket-line and boycott; an undercurrent message to cast vision to both our current experience and to what was possible; very similar to and reason for songs sung amongst those within the unforgiving sun of plantation fields. The music we listened to, was far more than the product of mere navigation for an artist or songwriter; it was the continued expression of Black people countering the lie through song; the lie that said Black people are absolutely less than; a lie that attempted to frame Black people in a space, unworthy of excellence, brilliance; the promotion, the offer. Through song, we asserted and aligned with the truth: ‘We are brilliant: the lie told of us, centuries ago, is still and will always be, that which what it is, a lie.’ 


And why yes, of course, I have encountered many varied, iterations and interpretations of that lie – similar stories of my Grandparents – and quickly found myself connecting to and calling kin, the strength and courage artists of old had to muster, in order to stand where they were. I looked up and listened, recognizing the same strength, the same courage, the same fight; the same desire to love, even still.


(Soul Music, taking the musical landscape by necessary and celebratory storm)

Soul Music, taking the musical landscape by necessary and celebratory storm.

There’s a wonderful podcast I have recently discovered; where by which, the conversation meticulously weaves bits of information gathered, into a much deeper narrative; speaking to an even bigger picture. It moves thought way beyond pop-hits and the metamorphosis of Black music; it is undergirding the story and presence of a people; those that were spat upon – literally and figuratively – and somehow, by the Grace of God and an unearthly discipline to match, masterfully and divinely impacted the way in which we all celebrate and think; court, ponder; learn, fight and ultimately overcome.


What we sort of have before us, (which I love), is the story of a people.


I listened to a few episodes from this year. My favorite – if I must confess – is with Mr. Smokey Robinson. There were whispers and moments, where I can hear within Mr. Robinson’s voice, he is rather blessed to both interact with and ponder the questions given him.  There is something rather remarkable to trace a people’s attempt to manifest the miraculous through song: where it took shape within life, we could hear it within the booth. My family’s library of melodies is a chronicling of such, reflecting our own Heaven-declared miracles, walking on water moments. What a wonder this is, for even my great-Grandparents to imagine. What a wonder that is, to even ponder and think.





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