Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Levi Stubbs, ‘Soul Men,’ and The Colin Powell Effect…

October 21, 2008 by  
Filed under Music, News

(Akiit.com) LEVI’S LEGACY

*The Four Tops signature tune “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch)” is my favorite song of all time. I was three years-old when that legendary Motown jam soared to the top of the charts and to this day I get happy whenever I hear it. My two daughters (ages 10 and, very shortly, 12) realize this and they’ve been known to crank the volume when “Sugar Pie Honey Bunch” comes on so we can dance around the living room together.

So, when Four Tops lead singer Levi Stubbs passed away this weekend at the age of 72, I took it kind of hard. But more than a sense of grief, Mr. Stubbs’ death reminded me of how important it is for us to celebrate and preserve the rich, eclectic and incredibly creative history of black American music.

Every time one of our musical greats of yesteryear goes on to glory, we lose a corporeal link to our artistic past. Fortunately, their recordings live on and the music that touched us back in the day is just waiting to groove present and future generations. Great music remains great – relevant, exciting, provocative and fun — no matter how many decades or trends come and go. I defy anyone, of any age, to listen to Levi Stubbs’ soaring voice on Four Tops classics like “Just Ask the Lonely,” “Baby I Need Your Loving” or “Reach Out (I’ll Be There)” and not feel a charge down in your soul.

So, if you aren’t doing so already, pull out your old records, tapes and CDs and play them around the house and in the car for your kids. Make sure their iPods have plenty of music from Motown, Stax, Atlantic, Chess, Philly International, Solar, Blue Note and the other legendary labels. You’ll be educating the youngsters and keeping the legacy alive. And don’t be surprised if you find yourselves dancing around the living room!


Black music history will get a big screen celebration with two highly-anticipated movies coming out in the next month and a half. “Cadillac Records” (due December 5) recreates the 1950s heyday of the seminal blues, R&B and rock ‘n roll label Chess Records. “Cadillac’s” all-star cast includes Beyonce as Etta James, Jeffrey Wright as Muddy Waters, Cedric the Entertainer as Willie Dixon and Mos Def as Chuck Berry. Can’t wait to see this one and to give you my two cents! Meanwhile, I can’t rave enough about the flick due on November 7; “Soul Men” stars Samuel L. Jackson and the late, great Bernie Mac (in the last and best performance of his stellar but too-brief Hollywood career) as old school back-up singers who reunite after not speaking for 30 years. It’s fall-outta-your-seat hilarious, warm-hearted, grown up (the R rating is well-deserved) and full of poppin’ music from the 1960s and ‘70s golden age of soul music, particularly the sounds that came out of Memphis-based Stax Records.

“Stax is kind of where I was because I was in Tennessee and Atlanta and I knew guys that were a part of that record label,” Jackson remembers. “I was a huge fan of Carla and Rufus Thomas, Otis Redding and James and Bobby Purify. That particular label was the label of the Southern youth, more so than Motown.”

Jackson and Mac did their own singing and dancing for “Soul Men” and when you see them doing their thing – whether it’s jamming a Rufus Thomas number at a country western bar, or going through steps while changing a tire on the side of a desert highway – you can tell these men loved the music and (even though they fuss and fight throughout the movie) love each other. I’ll have more to say about “Soul Men” in the next few weeks.

A quick observation about the election before I sign off.


John McCain is trying to act like Colin Powell’s endorsement of Barack Obama is no big deal. But underneath his nonchalance, McCain knows better. Having the enormously popular Republican ex-Secretary of State and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff cross party lines to support his opponent was a major blow to McCain’s struggling campaign. But the Arizona senator tried to downplay it by pointing out that several former Secretaries of State – Henry Kissinger, Lawrence Eagleburger, James Baker – are on his side, as are some 200 retired generals and admirals. But, as impressive as that roster of allies seems, it is no match for the unique stature that Colin Powell holds with the public. Powell is revered and listened to by Americans of every political, racial, ethnic and socio-economic group so he could easily influence undecided voters. Ask everyday Americans (including Joe the Plumber and Joe Six Pack) if they care what Lawrence Eagleburger thinks and they’ll probably say, “Who?” Ask them if they care what Colin Powell thinks and you’ll get a chorus of “Yeses.”

But even with Powell in his corner and the polls in his favor Obama does not have this election sewn up. He’ll need massive voter turn out on November 4 – with black voters participating at record levels — to seal his historic victory. With two weeks to go until election day, we would all be wise to remember the grammatically-challenged yet truthful wisdom of Yogi Berra: “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over!”

Thanks for listening. I’m Cameron Turner and that’s my two cents.


Written By Cameron Turner

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