Those of you old enough to remember when AM Radio was the ONLY radio – undoubtedly remember the daytime stations. In many areas, R&B stations were limited to broadcasting during daylight hours. At night, the AM station signals would “bounce” – resulting in an ability to intermittently pick up stations hundreds of miles away.
The DC Market had two black stations, WUST AM 1120, and WEBB AM 1390, which were joined by WOL in the mid 60’s. The formats were strictly R&B. Tthe two biggest jocks in town for years were “The Moon Man” and Barry Richards, seen in this video in the 70’s –
And yeah, Barry was a white guy, who dominated black radio for years. I worked with Barry a couple of times in the early 70’s – and the guy’s voice was incredible. R&B music was euphemistically called “race music” at the time, and the airwaves were about as segregated as America.
Move forward into the first decade of the 21st century, and you find that music is still largely segregated. Sure, there are black and white artists who get airplay on different station formats – but the venues still tend to follow the vestiges of that “race music” radio.
Breaking that mold are a whole new group of black artists, who are making waves in country – and many of the variations of rock.
Lisa Kekaula, lead singer of the rock, soul and punk quartet The Bellrays, is channeling Tina Turner. On one hand, it could be the muscular legs that are planted wide and shaking as she sings. But it’s probably the voice: She has this gutbucket growl that’s only getting more intense because she’s becoming increasingly frustrated at the ineptitude of the sound man here at this basement venue, Prague. Mics aren’t working and the mix in the house is way off. Despite this, The Bellrays are delivering the goods. The packed crowd, mostly white and largely male, is enthusiastically behind them. And the handful of black faces in the room are right there, too, thrilled to see this black woman rocker represent.
Here in Austin, Texas at the this year’s South By Southwest (SXSW) Music Festival, it’s being underscored again and again: It’s a great time to be a black musician who’s providing alternatives to what’s assaulting listeners multiple times an hour on most radio stations. Call it black rock, black alternative, Afro-Punk, whatever. The fact is that across the country, black artists are making music that doesn’t fit neatly into the either/or boxes of hip hop and R&B. Audiences are noticing, they’re open and they want more. Read the rest of this entry »