his first crossover hit “Bennie and the Jets” (a song later covered by Biz Markie and sampled by both Frank Ocean and Mary J. Blige), landed on the American R&B charts, Elton became the second White artist ever invited to appear on Soul Train.
While I, too, was a fan of Elton John’s “electric music and walls of sound,” I had mixed feelings when he appeared Soul Train playing “Bennie and the Jets”—feeling like he didn’t belong on the program because of his whiteness. Obviously Don Cornelius didn’t agree. In the decades since, other White artists appeared on the show, including David Bowie, Duran Duran, the Pet Shop Boys, A-ha and Hall & Oates.
With a singer like Robin Thicke, whose music was influenced by a wide range of mature Black artists like Sam Cooke and Marvin Gaye, the catch-22 of his so-called blue-eyed soul stance has been that his music sometimes sounds “more soulful” than the real Black artists currently on the charts beside him do.
“I’d rather listen to Robin Thicke’s music than Chris Brown’s,” says former record exec Gary Harris. Currently working on his music industry memoir Inside Player, Harris signed both D’Angelo and Color Me Badd. “Contrary to what his critics might think, what Robin Thicke does is not easy. While his detractors might think he is a poseur, it is obvious that he believes in the music. What he does with soul music is genuine. Forget about being blue-eyed. To me, Robin Thicke is a real soul singer.”
Cultural critic Michael A. Gonzales has written cover stories for Vibe, Uptown, Essence, XXL, Wax Poetics and elsewhere. He’s also written for New York and The Village Voice. Read him at Blackadelic Pop and follow him on Twitter @gonzomike.