Sep 10, 2011

Soul Music & Respect

Music moves me. It sways my body, sings in my soul, and sinks deep in my bones. Thanks to my parents' wide variety of musical interests, I grew up listening to everything: the folk singers of the 60's and 70's, the jazz stylings of Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughn, the symphonies of Beethoven and Brahms--not much was left un-listened in our house. My parents allowed me to develop my own taste in music and at age 7 I was allowed to buy my first 45 rpm vinyl record. One of my first purchases was Donna Summer's "I Feel Love." I loved Donna Summer.
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Donna became the first in a long line of women whose voices set my skin tingling, literally moving me and swaying me with their songs.

As I grew older,  I continued to listen to and appreciate a wide variety of music; but I've always had a special relationship with the music of women whose voices seem to come from some other spiritual place. They put the soul in "soul music," if you know what I mean. 

In 2000, I first had the mind-blowing pleasure of hearing Miss Jill Scott sing "A Long Walk." Her voice is the epitome of ear candy;  her lyrics are mellifluous poetry. She became my favorite female artist of all time. I can listen to Jill Scott any time, any day. She can send my spirit soaring, make me misty-eyed with mourning, lure me into laughter at memories of family gatherings.

When my children began noticing that their skin color was different than mine and my husband's, we all talked and decided that they were not brown, black, or white but Golden...and wouldn't you know it--Jill Scott had a song for that, too.

I hope that you get where I'm coming from: I feel huge amounts of respect, and admiration for Jill Scott. More than that...I feel a cosmic connection to this woman because of her music.

And that's why I was totally devastated when I read her piece in Essence about the pain she feels when she sees a black man married to a white woman. Written in March of 2010, it is on my mind these days because Jill has two new releases out. As I read the reviews of her cover of Bill Withers' "A Lovely Day," I was reminded of that wince she feels when she looks at people like my my children. And when I think of her wincing, it kind of steals the joy I get from listening to her music. I begin to wonder how she would feel about me--a white woman married to a black man--listening to her music. Would it pain her? I almost want to apologize on behalf of humankind for the history that causes her so much pain. When I told my husband about my overwhelming urge to apologize, he said I was ridiculous because I am not the perpetrator of her pain. I am not that white woman she describes in Essence. He reminded me that my mother's family came to this country as immigrants almost 90 years after the Civil War ended. I heard him saying all of that, and yet when I read Miss Scott's commentary I still felt guilty. It is irrational, but there it is. I feel it.

At the same time, I also feel some anger and frustration.  My husband and I fell in love in 1993. He didn't hate himself or his heritage then, and he doesn't hate himself or his heritage now. Yet there are many people who say he must because he married a white woman (including another of my favorite artists, Common, who in 2005-- when I'd been with my husband for about 12 years--said that black men who are in relationships with white women show a "lack of self-love.") Our interracial relationship is not about a lack of self-love. It is about loving someone else so much that your love transcends all societal constraints, make-believe systems of racial classification, and social boundaries. According to her piece in Essence, Jill Scott sees my marriage as a betrayal. I find that extremely difficult to swallow.

I have given Miss Jill Scott my admiration, my time, my respect and my hard-earned money. I feel a bond to her because of her music, and I appreciate her beautiful voice, words, and music. But that bond is seriously shaken by the knowledge that Miss Scott views my marriage as something painful. My love, my family, my reason for being makes her wince. Knowing that, it is hard for me to feel her when she sings "Lovely Day."

On one hand, I feel she has given me so much through her music that I want to give something back, to somehow be the ointment that finally soothes the burn of the past. But on the other hand, I am deeply disappointed that someone I admire so much holds such a negative view of a love, a marriage, that I know to be so beautiful. I'm hoping with all my heart that the future brings Jill Scott a truly lovely day, where she can see that love heals wounds rather than causing them.


  1. I had no idea Jill Scott felt that way.  I've listened to her occasionally and enjoy her music as well.  I completely understand how you could end up feeling the way you do when someone you admire so much says something or does something you would never have expected.

    Hopefully like countless others, her views/feelings will change over time.  Keep enjoying her music.  Who knows all the reasons why she feels the way she does.  Who knows if she feels the same way now.  Who knows if she'd take those statements back if she could.

    I love Donna Summer too!  (she works hard for tha money! so hard for it hunny!)  =)  Oh, and Al Green!  Can't forget about him.

    Enjoyed your post! 

  2. Beautiful music Jill Scott has. I saw Tracy Chapman (who I love), I hurried to my car, got her CD out, and hurried back and asked if she could sign it - she looked at the CD, looked back at the clothes on the rack - and said "no". Now every time I hear her music I think of that. This also reminds me of the Mexican guy at the Kat Williams show who paid to see Kat Williams - then was insulted by him. 

  3. That story about Tracy Chapman really hurts, Glenn. I saw her perform quite a few times and I never would've expected her to turn a fan away like that. From her songs, you'd think that she has one of the most compassionate, open, and accepting personalities ever. How disappointing.  And it is like that Katt Williams thing. I wonder if that Mexican man wants his money back?  I've been thinking a lot about the idea of "dollar votes" when it comes to Miss Jill Scott. My local library got one of her new cd's, so instead of buying it I just checked it out for free.  But I just can't seem to get myself to listen to it, yet. It's like your Tracy Chapman flashback--just doesn't feel good.

  4. Thanks, Tara. I hope her views/feelings will change, too. She has a son now and sometimes children have a way of making people see things differently. I'll hope for that!

    So cool that you are a Donna fan! My husband's fave music is DISCO! It's so crazy :-) It's the music he listens to when doing chores around the house, when driving on long trips, just about any time! I think I hear more disco now than I did when it was on the radio in the late 70's/early 80's ;-) [That's another Donna Summer song: On the Radio (whoa oh oh oh, on the radio)] 

  5. I didn't get a vibe of any harshness toward white women in her post.  I know that some have been upset, but I don't think of it as an attack on white women and black men, I think it's more a recognition of all that black women are still doing without.  It hurts to know that black men can do for white women, what they won't do for black women.  This isn't necessary a fact, of course, but there is a trend of fatherless children of color and single moms of color.  I've seen this in the Latino community as well.  When Jill describes that bit, it makes me think of's a reasonable comparison.  The biggest hurt for most divided couples is the fact that your ex-husband becomes a better man now that he's with someone else.  It's a double-edged sword...1. Why doesn't this man love me enough to treat me like he treats this woman, 2. Why don't I deserve to be treated as well?  Black women are made to feel undesirable by society and the fact that black men "choose" white women, solidifies that assumption.

    After Jill wrote this, I was more impressed with her, 1. Because she speaks on an extremely hurtful topic without embodying hate, and 2. Because so many people forget the past, the history and how it connects to our feelings and cultural assumptions today.  In her post she clearly outlined the causes for her feelings and why the sight of a successful black/white couple hurt, but she didn't attack their relationship, she just stated her disappointment.  I really respect that.  <3

  6. Chantilly, thanks for your comment. I didn't feel attacked at all reading Jill's piece...just disappointed and sad. Specifically, when she says: "When our people were enslaved, "Massa" placed his Caucasian woman on a pedestal. She was spoiled, revered and angelic, while the Black slave woman was overworked, beaten, raped and farmed out like cattle to be mated." I feel saddened that  she still feels the pain of slavery. It disappoints me that she feels that pain more when she views a white woman married to a black man. My marriage causes her to wince in pain. 

    I never intended for my love life to cause anyone pain. I think it is a beautiful life. It hurts to have someone who's music and work I respect so highly feel that way. I am not angry, just sad... And I remember that sadness now when I listen to her music--even though it might be a happy song about a lovely day. In the back of my mind, I'm always thinking about how the beautiful Miss Jill still suffers from the pain of something that happened to her ancestors more than a century ago--and her seeing marriages like mine just adds to her pain.

  7. Jen, you are a beautiful soul and you possess one of the most compassionate hearts of anybody I know. Of course this singer's viewpoint hurt you. Especially when you've idolized her for so many years. It pains me that our world is one filled with resentment. I shrink from it. Anger begets anger and so the cycle continues. Where are kindness, compassion, love and understanding? I'm definitely not saying we should forget about the past, lest we repeat it. But shouldn't we be able to move forward and embrace, as the author Richard Rodriguez says in his book BROWN, that we're "melting into each other?" As far as I'm concerned, that's a beautiful thing. 

    Sorry I'm just now commenting! I had to unplug for a little bit. Thanks for getting me thinking. As for music, my first album was Michael Jackson's OFF THE WALL and my childhood days were spent rollerskating to Pop Muzik, On the Radio and Shining Star. Dang, I love music. : )

    A hug to you, my friend.

  8. Oh, thank you Ezzy, for sharing Richard Rodriguez's point of view. I love that notion of "melting into each other." What an image it creates! (one that perfectly explains where my children get their everything, color, abilities: Bobby and I "melted into each other".)  Melting is beautiful to me, too; but so many worry about losing heritage that way. They don't want to lose their identity, or like you said--forget the past. I agree that we shouldn't forget the past; but we really shouldn't live in it, either. Embracing the future, always trying to make the world a better place--those are positive, productive outlooks that spread light and love. Living in the past often leads to regret, guilt and fear. No one can function well with that kind of emotional baggage--not a person or a society.

    And you bring back some fabulous memories of rollerskating! Bic combs in back pockets, trying to get my hair to feather perfectly like Farrah's, and the music...the MUSIC! What fun :-)

    Hugs to you, too Ezzy! Thanks so much for your comment.

  9. My girlfriends and I had a LOOOOONG discussion about this and an even longer email exchange about this.  On one hand she's expressing these deeply personal feelings,on the otherhand she's kind of indirectly putting you down with her personal truth. I agree with Glenn, it's that feeling of knowing too much abt an artist that can suck all the joy out of appreciating their work.  I still don't have the same connection to her music as I did before I read her Essence piece. 

    BTW-I love Donna Summer too!  I just read her autobiography "Ordinary Girl" last Fall!  

  10. I like the way you explain it Michelle: knowing too much sucks all the joy out of appreciating their work. That's exactly how I feel. I still like her music, but I used to totally connect. Now I'm just listening. 

    I am going to have to look for "Ordinary Girl" at my library! Donna is awesome! And she has lasting power. One of my most fun memories is of winning a Disco contest in college, dancing to "I Feel Love" with a friend of mine. It was LONG after the Disco era, but Donna still moved us :-)

  11. Jen, thanks so much for sharing on a very difficult topic. I especially love your conclusion that says, "Our interracial relationship ... is about loving someone else so much that your love
    transcends all societal constraints, make-believe systems of racial
    classification, and social boundaries."

    Hear hear. My hope and prayer is that one day, we won't have any more cause to fret over which person is marrying out of which race because it'll be more like, "My husband comes from [this country] and I'm from [this country]." Just like how we can say today, "My husband comes from Indiana and I'm from Ohio." :)

  12. Thank you so much for your comment! I like your idea of race being a non-issue in the future. I hope some day your hope becomes a reality :)


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