Legends Speak

Legends Speak

In part 1 of a two-part series, iconic producers Teddy Riley, Larry Dunn and Narada Michael Warren discuss influence, impact and the state of Black music

Chris Williams

by Chris Williams, June 19, 2012

Legends Speak

Narada Michael Walden, Teddy Riley and Larry Dunn

is now all music. There was a time where White kids couldn’t dance to the beat on American Bandstand. It was just hilarious, but now how big Michael Jackson, Prince, Madonna, and other stars became it just blew it out of the water. Everyone had to be able to get down in time. Now in this generation it’s more commonplace. Black music has infiltrated the mainstream so much that it’s now become the sound of all music. Everybody who is White wants to have the ingredients that made Black music. Maybe not the ghetto fabulous vibe, but in the suburbs White kids want to hear this type of music. The really Black music that we knew once before isn’t the same anymore. White people couldn’t do Black music back in the day because they weren’t funky or bad enough. They weren’t from the ghettoes, but hip-hop and R&B changed all of that because White kids want to be down with it. They wanted to learn it so they studied the culture. It’s kind of a cool thing because we shouldn’t be so separate.

Music should be for everybody. Of the top ten records right now almost every one of those White artists has Black elements in any one of those songs. So like I said the cat is out of the bag. White people have adopted Black music and Black artist have adopted a Pop mindset to understand Pop radio so now we’re all playing with these things like tools. The only music that hasn’t resurfaced is jazz music. Jazz has taken a big back seat. Blues has also taken a back seat. Blues artists like B.B King can still make a lot of money and even the White Blues artists such as Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton make good money. Blues is Black music, but the Black people who invented Blues don’t want anything to do with it. I notice that trend with us often. We invent these things, but we grow tired of it and we go on to the next thing. Black Americans have been the great inventors. We invented Blues, Jazz, R&B as we knew it, and hip-hop. What we used to know as Black music isn’t considered Black music anymore.

LD: Pray. You can show the record company that you want change by the power of your wallet. The record companies will recognize that this is the type of music the public wants to hear. In most instances, the parents control the wallet and not the kids. Obviously, you can’t be a tyrant, but you can educate your kids on what good music is. People always say there’s a generation gap but that didn’t happen in my family. We all knew what good music was back then. We liked James Brown, Frank Sinatra and artists like that.

EBONY: What does the celebration of Black Music Month mean to you?

NMW: We, as Black people are a proud people. We have so much to be proud of.  We were brought here from Africa and survived that terrible trip. We’ve survived slavery, survived racism, survived being called a nigger, survived not being able to eat in restaurants, survived being told you can sing in my hotel, but not stay in it. There’s a story of Nat King Cole singing at a hotel and being told he couldn’t stay there. If he put his toe in the pool, they would drain the whole pool. We’ve come so far because of our mothers and fathers who came before us. They paved the way for all of us. Quincy Jones can tell you all about what happened to him. We must celebrate the people who came before us who made it possible for us to have number one pop records and to play concerts where we can make lots of money and be welcomed all over the world. We must celebrate the hurdles we’ve overcome and not to say there aren’t more hurdles to jump over, but who would’ve thought we would have a Black President right now. I never thought it was possible in my lifetime.

We’ve all made some progress, which I’m proud of, but there’s still more work to do. We must celebrate each other and thank those who passed the torch down to us and worked so hard that we even have a torch to begin with. I remember Stevie Wonder telling me stories of when he was Little Stevie Wonder playing gigs down South as a blind boy. He was a big star back then too. They pulled into a gas station and asked if he could use the bathroom and they told him he couldn’t use the bathroom. His manager was a White man and he begged the owner of the gas station to let a blind boy use

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