In a recent e-mail, Portsmouth High School graduate, member of the '50s singing group the I.V. Leaguers and eventual motion picture award-winning music coordinator Bob Destocki referred to his high school years, including driving to a spot where he and his friends could listen to what was called “race music.”
This generation, and even the two generations before it, don't know that black soul music could not be played on white radio stations. I remember driving to a certain spot, which shall remain anonymous, parking my car and listening to black music on my car radio.
Every night you could hear, “This is John R. at WLAC Nashville, Tenn., the 50,000-watt voice of the Life and Casualty Insurance Company of America.”
Sponsored by Royal Crown Pomade, John R. (Richbourg) would play the songs you couldn't hear anywhere else - Bobby “Blues” Bland, the Flamingos, the Moonglows and more.
Randy's Record Shop was another segment of the programming, in which you could hear great, black soul music you couldn't hear anywhere else.
“Unchained Melody” was the most recorded song of the 20th century, but no one could hold a candle to Roy Hamilton when it came to giving the song meaning.
Race music got its name from parents and civic leaders who just couldn't understand why their white children wanted to buy records from labels they had never heard of by artists they couldn't identify with. But this is where I have some insight. Soul music evolved from the blues, which evolved from oppression. It didn't matter where the artist was from, the thread that ran through soul music was frustration, born out of being forced to live as second rate when you knew in your heart you were just as intelligent and promising as everyone else.
White artists did what is called “cover versions” of those songs. Sit down someday and listen to “Tutti Frutti,” by Little Richard, then listen to “Tutti Frutti,” by Pat Boone. You will see why we drove to “the hill” to listen to Little Richard, or Chuck Berry, whom I still believe was the first real rock 'n' roll artist.
So that brings us to today, and why this music doesn't exist anymore. Oppression makes you strong or destroys you, and that is why those who survived sang like they did.
If you can listen to “(Sittin' on) the Dock of the Bay,” by Otis Redding, or “A Change is Gonna Come,” by Sam Cooke, and not weep, you don't understand the genre.
Well, I think I have pretty well described “race music,” so I'll go. I need a Clyde McFatter fix bad.