Over the past several weeks, several of my friends have sent out "Best of 2004" mix CDs. (Embarrasingly enough, even though I work in a music store, I haven't put one together myself.) In addition to the songs I've happily added to iTunes, I garnered an insight. While most of the songs I would have included are on one or more of the discs I've received, there are two fairly substantial omissions: "Take Your Mama" by the Scissor Sisters, and "Musicology" by Prince. The first is really just a hyper-catchy ditty, but the second comes with an observation.
The world was a better place when white people listened to Prince. Hell, even Motown was a grand and glorious thing, a brief, shining moment of deeply integrated audiences.
Now there's a whole field of scholarly articles to be written (and being written, I'm sure) on the tension and exchange between black and white popular music. (Elvis back in the day, Justin Timberlake and rap-metal more recently.) I am continually amazed however, at how segregated the listeners are. The Detroit/Windsor "New Rock" station, 88.9FM, consistently plays the new Eminem and Beastie Boys tracks, but no other rap. Ice T's band Body Count and Rage Against the Machine may have blazed the way, but who had even heard the term "rap-metal" until Korn and Limp Bizkit came along?
There, of course, is still a fair amount of crossover. Usher sells wherever he goes. White kids buy "Chappelle's Show" DVDs in droves. But I think we white folk would all be a bit better off if we didn't wait for some kid breaking out from his boy band to drag us into the Neptunes. Matt from Snarkmarket speaks highly of John Legend. (Scroll down to January 17.) Go pick up some Prince. Hell, go buy a Temptations "best of" disc. Or, better yet, "Keep It Simple" by Keb' Mo' is fabulous.
Alright, I didn't quite get where I was going, but the point of all this was supposed to be how I was almost in tears at the end of Claudia Roth Pierpont's New Yorker article on George Gershwin. From the glissando that gets "Rhapsody in Blue" rolling to the gorgeous lullaby "Summertime" from "Porgy & Bess" (Leontyne Price's version is beautiful, but I have a soft spot for Peter Gabriel's as well), Gershwin is an important crossing point for black and white music, if for no other reason than that he started to infuse jazz into classical music. (If you don't know about jazz, I'm not the person to bring you up to speed, except that it's one of the few places in U.S. history where "black" and "white" have meant so little.)
So, Gershwin's the man, and go buy some Prince.