Thursday, June 05, 2008

They write the songs ...

... that make us sing, smile, frown, laugh, cry, scream, holler, shout, testify, high-five your girl, and feel every other emotion on the spectrum.
There's something about a well-written song that arouses feelings of admiration and envy. I admire the writer for composing a wonderful work of art that will more than likely live on forever. I get a little green because a lot of times, I long for the talent to produce beautiful words like them.
Because there's nothing like hearing a wonderfully, well-written gospel song, let's start with some of my favorite gospel song writers.

Let's begin with one of the greatest writers in gospel music, the incomparable Psalmist Richard Smallwood. Smallwood, a graduate of Howard University, is responsible for some of the most beautiful gospel songs I have ever heard.
Smallwood has penned songs that have been performed by Karen Clark Sheard, Whitney Houston and his own groups Vision and the Smallwood Singers. While I love his music, my absolute favorite song by him has to be "Total Praise."
There's something about the "Amens" that make me want to cry. The B.B. Thompson Young People's Choir that I've been singing on since I was 'yay high' has been performing this song every year since it came out. And I don't mean to toot our horns, but uh, beep beep. We put stank on this song every time we sing it.
Take a listen:

Also pictured here, clockwise from the left is: Twinkie Clark, J. Moss, Kirk Franklin and Donald Lawrence.
You can't talk about gospel music without mentioning the Mattie Moss Clark Dynasty. First off, she was the first choir director to break the choir up into three parts - soprano, alto and tenor.
Before she came along, everybody was singing in unison. Now that she's gone, her daughter Twinkie and her great nephew James have been carrying on the family name by writing some of the greatest songs in rotation at any gospel station. Some of the songs they've written that you're probably most familiar with are Twinkie's "You Brought the Sunshine" performed by her and her sisters and James' "We Must Praise".
Franklin and Lawrence are beyond explanation. I guarantee you can not turn on any gospel station or show and go longer than an hour without hearing a song they've written or performed. I'll be the first to admit that neither or them sing well but you can't tell me that they haven't written a song that speaks to you.
My personal faves of theirs includes Franklin's "Imagine Me" and Lawrence's "Encourage Yourself"
I'm warning you, click with caution. These songs have been known to cause shouting, speaking in tongues and deliverance.
Now, even though I love a good ole' gospel song, I love some good rhythm and blues. Thanks to my mom, I grew up listening to some great music. Like most everyone in the world, my mom had us listening to all things Motown and just about anything else that was hot while they were growing up.
I'm sure my parents spent a lot of time "cutting up rugs" in the hole in the wall night clubs and jook joints they frequented in their youth. They managed to pass on their love for music to my siblings and I.

Clockwise from the left: Stevie Wonder, Roberta Flack, Smokey Robinson, Prince, Ashford & Simpson and Babyface. I could focus on just one and glaze over the others but I won't do any of them justice if I do.
First off, Stevie Wonder is, well, wonderful. He could have very easily let his vision impairment hold him back, but he didn't. He could have limited his musical genius to just the harmonica and his voice, but he didn't. He could have kept all that wonderful talent to himself, but I thank God he didn't.
That man is responsible for several of my favorite songs including, "I Just Called to Say I Love You," "Sir Duke," "Higher Ground" and my absolute most favorite song by him, "Overjoyed". That is the most beautiful break up song of all time. It can't and won't ever be touched.
Roberta Flack is perhaps known for her work with the late, great Donny Hathaway, who I couldn't find a picture of. What she ought to be known for is her song "Killing Me Softly With His Song" that The Fugees remade. I'm soooooo not a fan of remakes but Lauryn Hill put her foot in that one, but then again, the song was great before she touched it.
Smokey Robinson has the most famous song of all the song writers pictured here. In case you didn't know, Robinson is responsible for The Temptations' ginormous hit "My Girl".
To give you an indication of how that song has impacted every generation since it was first released, my 9-year-old niece and two of her cousins, 10 and seven, put on a concert for my sister, my cousin and I and the first song they sang and danced to was "My Girl." For that, every person mentioned in this post should want to study at the feet of one, Smokey Robinson.
And Prince, he doesn't need any explanation. Dare I say "Purple Rain," "Diamonds & Pearls," what about "1999?" I love just about all his music but the one thing I love him for the most is writing "I Feel For You" and giving it to Chaka Khan to perform. Tell me you don't immediately get thrown back to the movie "Breakin'" when you watch the video? It's got Shabba Doo and Bugaloo Shrimp for crying out loud!!!
Nick Ashford & Valerie Simpson are just freakin' awesome. They've written and performed some of my favorite songs, but this power couple along with Smokey Robinson have written probably half of Motown's hits.
Their song book includes everything they perform like "Solid" and "Is It Still Good to Ya?" They're also responsible for just about all the songs recorded by Marvin Gaye & Tammy Terrell including my absolute most favorite song in the world.

Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds is like Smokey Robinson Jr. This is the guy responsible for the "Waiting to Exhale" Soundtrack that stayed in heavy rotation in my CD changer for at least 10 years - seriously. How many of us wasn't singing "Not Gon' Cry" or "Sittin' Up In My Room" or "Exhale (Shoop, Shoop)" all the time?
My favorite song that he's written thus far though is on his brother Kevon's "24/7" CD. It's called "A Girl Like You". I swear, if the dude I marry can sing, he'd better be singing this to me at our wedding!

Now, this brings us up to the new kids on the block. Clockwise from the left, they are Johnta Austin, Kandi Burruss, Missy Elliot, and Ne-yo.
They may look familiar to you because they have all tried their hand at a recording career. The most notable recording careers are of course Elliot, Ne-yo and Burruss, she was a member of the 90s group XSCAPE.
These guys are responsible for a lot of the songs that you're hearing on the radio right now. Check the CD jackets of your latest R&B CDs, meaning, within the last five to 10 years. Ne-yo and Burruss are competing for the most recognizable song in this round. He penned Beyonce's "Irreplaceable" while she penned TLC's "No Scrubs", with the exception of Lefteye's rap, Destiny's Child's "Bills, Bills, Bills" and "Bug-a-Boo."
Elliot, along with producer Timbaland, is responsible for the majority of Aaliyah's music right before she passed away. My favorite is "I Care 4 You" from the "Aaliyah" CD.

Austin has been around for a hot minute but has started getting some face recognition after releasing his single, "The One That Got Away." Don't get me wrong, brotha can sing, but I prefer hearing the songs he's written, particularly, Mary J. Blige's "Be Without You".
Who has written some of your favorite songs?


TravelDiva said...


On the gospel side--Total Praise is one of my favorites. It is the Amens! Other Smallwood favs - Center of my joy, Angels watching over me, I love the Lord and Thank you!

Kirk is brilliant. He had a rough patch after Stomp, but he came back. Franklin favs - He's able, Why we sing, Melodies from Heaven, Conquerors, Up above my head, Brighter day, etc.

The clark family is ridiculous. and I do mean ridiculous--from Karen, Twinkie, Dorinda, little Kierra and J. Moss--I mean really. Talk about a dynasty!

On the secular side, Stevie Wonder and Prince have to be two of the all time greats! There is something about a stevie wonder song that kind of feels you with so much emotion--the content is so rich and the melody is perfect.

Okay--this was a long tail comment. LOL.

Smarty Jones said...

Glad you liked it. I wasn't sure if it read like a research paper or if it was too long.
I know I put a lot of work into it and I'm glad you were feelin' it!
Stay tuned. I got some stew brewing and if I get enough down time this weekend, ya'll might get two posts.

TravelDiva said...

Some long posts I kind of skip, but this was a good one!