Thursday, March 15, 2012

White girl singers who sound black

There is a long tradition of these things. You can, if you are so inclined (I'm not) get upset about this on the grounds of racial injustice. If you do, however, blame the audience not the singers. That these artists got to sound the way they did was a labour of love.

Here are some examples beginning in the 1950s and moving forward to the present day.

The British Isles crank out a fair number of these women. Here is Ottillee Patterson from Ireland back in the 1950s:

Dusty Sprinfield from the 1960s, also Irish: her real name was Mary Isobel Catherine Bernadette O'Brien.

Here is Lisa Stansfield from the 1990s

And here, of course, is the badly over-exposed Adele

And one more not from Britain, here is Madeleine Peyroux from Athens, Georgia

I think there are two things to note here.

The first has often been noted and that is that there is a particular set of role models here. None of these women started out wanting to sound "black" but rather were heavily influenced by particular singers who were black. Ottillee Patterson obviously listened to a lot of Bessie Smith, Dusty Springfield, Amy Winehouse and Adele learned from the Stax-Memphis soul singers and Madeleine Peyroux has listened to a whole lot of  Billie Holiday.

UPDATE June 5, 2012: A lot of people came to this post today. I wonder why? Anyway, rereading it I realized that I'd forgotten to talk about Lisa Stansfield. She obviously grew up singing 1970s disco but  what makes her really interesting is that her primary model is a black male singer, Barry White, and not a woman.

Compare that with Celine Dion who was obviously heavily influenced by Whitney Houston but doesn't sound at all black.

The second point flows from the first and it is that the "black" sound isn't actually black. It's entirely a matter technique, a performance style. It's something anyone of any race can learn to do provided they have talent. Its origins are from a particular set of black subcultures but these things can now belong to anybody who wants them.

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