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OP-ED: Gladys Knight Has the Right to Be Wrong

WASHINGTON INFORMER — Gladys Knight is poised to board that “Midnight Train to Georgia,” returning to her hometown of Atlanta.

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By D. Kevin McNeir

Gladys Knight is poised to board that “Midnight Train to Georgia,” returning to her hometown of Atlanta where she’ll perform the national anthem prior to Super Bowl LIII on Feb. 3.

And despite the many Grammy and Soul Train Music Awards, the #1 or Top Ten hits, or decades of success first with the Pips and then as a solo artist that go back to the 1960s, many of her fans have expressed disappointment and anger because of the decision made by the “Empress of Soul” to participate at the event.

The NFL, more correctly its all-white “team” of owners, in response to the controversy over “kneeling players,” as represented by the since unemployed poster boy quarterback Colin Kaepernick, recently adopted a new policy, with the boisterous support of Donald Trump no less, which fines players who do not stand during America’s so-called song of freedom. Sure, players can remain in the locker room but kneeling silently on the sidelines, even if, as Kaepernick and others believed, it’s done as a means of expressing their right as American citizens to protest racial discrimination and police brutality, has no place in the multi-billion-dollar industry of professional football.

Maybe Colin should have cracked open his history books, looking back at 1968, when, just months after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., two African-American U.S. Olympic runners, Tommie Smith and John Carlos, raised their fists in a Black power salute during their medal ceremony – before being ostracized and repeatedly attacked with racist slurs upon their return home. [Incidentally, there was no such backlash during the 1936 Olympics in Berlin when white athletes gave the Nazi salute].

Forget the racist lyrics in the third verse of Francis Scott Key’s “The Star-Spangled Banner” which children never learn in elementary school, which performers never sing and which some interpreters of these lyrics contend that Key was taking pleasure in the deaths of freed black slaves who had fought with the British against the U.S. [Yes, Key owned slaves, was an anti-abolitionist and even referred to Blacks as “a distinct and inferior race of people.”]

Forget the complicated relationship Black athletes have expressed with the anthem and the flag for which the song is played, including baseball pioneer Jackie Robinson who said in his 1972 autobiography “I Never Had it Made:” “I cannot stand and sing the anthem, I cannot salute the flag, I know that I am a black man in a white world.’

Forget the potential upheaval that Black athletes could cause if every Black player (70.3 percent) in the NFL and every NCAA Division 1 Black college football player (46.9 percent) stood in solidarity with Kaepernick, along with hundreds of thousands of other Americans, Black and white, and boycotted the NFL, refusing to put on their uniforms and take to the field.

What if the millions of fans, just in the U.S. turned off their TVs on Sundays, withdrew their memberships from fantasy football betting pools, put their favorite team jerseys and caps in mothballs and cancelled plans to purchase season tickets?

There have been some unforgettable renderings of the national anthem during previous Super Bowls, from Whitney Houston, Neil Diamond, and Billy Joel, to Aretha Franklin, Jose Feliciano and Marvin Gaye – even Ray Charles whose recording of “America the Beautiful” has yet to be equaled by any singer of any race.

So why can’t Gladys get paid like everyone else?

How do folks feel justified in blasting her for performing at the Super Bowl while making side bets in the office, the barbershop or in Vegas hoping to choose correctly as to which team will win or lose in their efforts to secure a big pay day of their own?

Gladys Knight has said she’s been fighting for civil rights for the majority of her life. I have no doubt that she’s done her share for the cause. But that hasn’t stopped the Twitter feed from exploding with all kinds of accusations and criticism. Ah, the beauty of free speech!

Still, if you really don’t like Gladys singing this Sunday, then don’t watch the game. Don’t read the scores in the paper the next day. Don’t bother checking the highlights or conversations on social media. Just read a good book.

This article originally appeared in the Washington Informer.

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Black History

AI-Generated Rapper Controversy Spotlights the Need for More Blacks in Tech

While A.I. technology is making massive strides, it is still limited to processing massive amounts of data based on parameters set by the programmer, according to Josh Lovejoy at Google’s Privacy and Data Protection Office. Consequently, A.I. is not an independent entity but an extension of its creators and thus inherits their biases.

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Media watchers say FN Meka is modeled after rap artists like Lil Pump and Travis Scott and was voiced by real-life rap artist Kyle the Hooligan.
Media watchers say FN Meka is modeled after rap artists like Lil Pump and Travis Scott and was voiced by real-life rap artist Kyle the Hooligan.

Aldon Thomas Stiles | California Black Media

Almost as quickly as it began, the music industry may have seen the end of the infamous Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) rapper referred to as “FN Meka”, a computer-generated character being widely condemned for appropriating Black culture and saying the N-word.

The A.I. rapper was developed by Anthony Martini and Brandon Le, co-founders of Factory New, a Metaverse media company. Some critics claim that the creators who are not Black are trivializing Black art and the Black experience, tantamount to what some are calling “digital Blackface.”

“In many ways, digital Blackface is an example of … the ‘digital afterlife of slavery’ and Jim Crow, where you have real people and virtual characters engaging in a kind of machine-automated minstrelsy that disrespects and disregards the artistry and production value that goes into the creation of Black culture,” Dr. Faithe J. Day, Assistant Professor of Black Studies at the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB), told California Black Media.

Media watchers say FN Meka is modeled after rap artists like Lil Pump and Travis Scott and was voiced by real-life rap artist Kyle the Hooligan.

Kyle the Hooligan says that he will be suing the company responsible for the A.I. rapper. The Houston-based artist says he had not been paid for his work and he wasn’t aware that his voice had been sold to Capitol Music Group (CMG) until he saw it in the news.

CMG terminated its contract with Factory New less than two weeks after they signed it amid the controversy surrounding the A.I. artist’s lyrical content and depiction of rap culture.

One of the A.I. rapper’s questionable lyrics is in the song ‘Moonwalkin’. It says “boom, police on my back, hot pursuit (Skrr)/ Know that they mad that this A.I. gettin’ [inaudible],” along with several uses of the N-word.

The A.I. project attracted more criticism when Factory New posted on its Instagram account an animated video depicting the program’s avatar on the ground being assaulted by police.

The post’s caption read: “POLICE BRUTALITY?? What Should I Do ?!?! This Guard keeps beating me w/ his BATON because I won’t snitch. I ain’t no RAT. Life in Prison is so Depressing…. I wish I could get out so I could start making music again.”

CMG issued a formal apology for its involvement with Factory New saying, “CMG has severed ties with the FN Meka project, effective immediately. We offer our deepest apologies to the Black community for our insensitivity in signing this project without asking enough questions about equity and the creative process behind it.”

Martini suggested that critics of his A.I. rapper have taken a hypocritical stance.

“If you’re mad about the lyrical content because it supposedly was A.I., why not be mad about the lyrical content in general?” Martini was quoted saying to the New York Times.

Prof. Day found that comparison grossly oversimplifies what some people are concerned about.

“In the case of FN Meka, comparing what an A.I. [character] does to what an artist does is a false equivalency and misses the point of why so many people are upset about the representation of this A.I. rapper,” Day said. “The real issue is that FN Meka is an example of what Adam Clayton Powell called ‘high-tech Blackface’ and what more recently has been called ‘Digital Blackface’, a phenomenon that we have seen for decades in video games, chat rooms, and social media.”

Day said there is an extensive history in music and entertainment of appropriating Black culture without compensating the African American originators of various art forms.

“Due to the fact that within America and the Western world, there is a history of those in power freely benefitting from the cultural and material production of BIPOC individuals, it only makes sense that the same ethos would continue in the digital realm,” Day said.

“And, in this case, the popularity of FN Meka and other virtual artists might make it easier for creative industries to forgo actually increasing the diversity and inclusion of their artists’ roster and production teams in favor of creating their own caricatures of Blackness, or any other combination of identities,” Day continued.

Martini is no longer associated with the FN Meka project and Factory New. In his announcement, he sided with Kyle the Hooligan.

“In the past few days, I’ve learned of Kyle the Hooligan’s experience with Meka which is deeply at odds with my core values. I believe that artists must always be at the center of the creative process and must be compensated fairly,” Martini stated.

While A.I. technology is making massive strides, it is still limited to processing massive amounts of data based on parameters set by the programmer, according to Josh Lovejoy at Google’s Privacy and Data Protection Office. Consequently, A.I. is not an independent entity but an extension of its creators and thus inherits their biases.

“In addition, while it is important to stay aware of racist A.I., we also have to think about intersectionality and the fact that A.I. isn’t just racist, it can also be sexist, homophobic, transphobic, classist, and many other things that speak to the fact that oppression acts in a matrix,” Day said.

Day is still optimistic about the future of artificial intelligence as more Black and other minority-led projects become a reality, such as NeuroSpeculative AfroFeminism (NSAF) from Hyphen Labs, a global team of women of color doing pioneering work encompassing art, technology, and science.

“By drawing on both speculative and liberatory approaches to art and design, I believe that there are many artists that are poised to build a more diverse and justice-oriented future within, and outside of, the creative industries by using technology and artificial intelligence for social good,” Day emphasized.

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Bay Area

COMMENTARY: A Historical Look Back – – Sounds of the Bay Area – Secular and the Sacred

When Southern migrants came to California during the World War II era, they transported their music with them. Music served as a reminder of home; it was like medicine for the soul. The sounds of gospel music found a popular place in the Bay Area.

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Based on traditional choir and quartet singing in southern churches, a cappella gospel music enjoyed an upsurge in popularity as southern black migrants formed new singing groups that toured local communities.
Based on traditional choir and quartet singing in southern churches, a cappella gospel music enjoyed an upsurge in popularity as southern black migrants formed new singing groups that toured local communities.

By Rev. Dr. Martha C. Taylor

The late T-Bone Walker, blues singer, said, “The first time I ever heard a boogie-woogie piano was when I went to church, even the sermon was preached in a blues tone while the congregation yelled amen.” Charlie Yardbird Parker, famous jazz saxophonist frequented the Bay Area during the 40s. Parker once replied to a question about his religious affiliation that he was a devout musician. Even T-Bone Walker’s friends were convinced that he would become a preacher when he stopped singing because of the way he sang the blues. They said it sounded like a sermon. Blues singer Alberta Hunter testified “The blues are like spirituals, almost sacred.”

When Southern migrants came to California during the World War II era, they transported their music with them. Music served as a reminder of home; it was like medicine for the soul. The sounds of gospel music found a popular place in the Bay Area.

Based on traditional choir and quartet singing in southern churches, a cappella gospel music enjoyed an upsurge in popularity as southern black migrants formed new singing groups that toured local communities. Shipyard workers formed gospel groups like the Singing Shipbuilders Quarter (Richmond), Rising Stars Singers (Oakland), and the Paramount Singers (San Francisco).

These two groups, whose members came primarily from Texas and Louisiana, laid the groundwork for later Bay Area gospel groups like the Golden Stars, the Golden West Singers, the Swanee River Singers, the Spartonaires, the Oakland Silvertones, and many others. Church mass choirs began to cut records under the leadership of pastors like G. W. Killens and Carl Anderson.

Opal Nations said Bishop Louis Narcisse sounded like a saved and sanctified blues singer. Blues and gospel music both expressed the struggles of life. Charles Albert Tindley wrote, “I’ll Overcome Someday,” was popular during the Civil Rights era. Betty Reid and her husband Mel Reid opened the first black gospel and blues record store in West Oakland in 1945, Reid’s Records.

Two years later, Mel acquired time on Berkeley’s KRE radio station and broadcast a weekly thirty-minute gospel program called “Religious Gems.” It takes a seasoned saint to remember Reverend George Killens, pastor, Mount Calvary Baptist Church, Oakland, his two-part sermon, “The Cross,” and his congregation singing “Father I Stretch my Hands to Thee,” Mass Choir singing was birthed in the Bay Area.

Some may recall the J. L. Richards Specials and the Voices of Evergreen Baptist Church, a mass choir that broadcast for fifteen minutes on Sunday nights on radio station KWBR and Antioch Baptist Church (featuring the Reverend R. T. George, a master preacher and musician). Sunday night was the time when all ears were tuned into the radio to hear old-fashioned preaching and singing.

“Jumpin” George Oxford was one of the beloved D. J.’s of the 1950s. His focus was on race records, catering to Blacks as did Bouncin’ Bill Doubleday on KWBR and Don Barksdale, former-basketball-star-turned D. J. in the late 1950s. Barksdale was the owner of the Sportsman on Grove Street and the Showcase on Telegraph Avenue, both in Oakland.

Ray Dobard moved from New Orleans to Berkeley during World War II. Dobard established a music publishing business, providing a chance for locals to get their music on “wax” and to a larger audience. Many of Dobard’s fine gospel sides featured King Narcissee, the Golden West Singers, and others.

Jesse Jaxyson moved to West Oakland in the 1930s. A member of the First Church of Religious Science. There he met Clarissa Mayfield, a choir member at his church, and together they set up a radio repair shop at 1606 7th Street, Oakland. He had a room converted into a makeshift recording studio that he ran along with Bob Geddins. Bob Geddins, called the ‘Father of Oakland Blues,’ began pressing records at his West Oakland plant at 8th and Center Streets.”

As we fast forward, it was Edwin and Walter Hawkins, two brothers that completely changed the genre of religious music with the remake of an eighteenth-century song, “Oh Happy Day” featuring Dorothy Morrison and the Edwin Hawkins singers became the first cross over music creating a new contemporary gospel genre. The song created controversy within the church, because it sounded secular.

The Hawkins launched a new sound of gospel music fused with a secular sound paving the way for future artists such as Kirk Franklin, Byron Cage, Fred Hamond, Yolonda Adams and more.

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Bay Area

Bishop Bob Jackson Celebrates 38 Years at Acts Full

On May 5, Rev. W.R., “Smokie” Norful Jr. preached the sermon. Norful is an American gospel singer and pianist, best known for his 2002 album, “I Need You Now” and “Nothing Without You,” which won a Grammy at the 47th Annual Grammy Awards for Best Contemporary Soul Gospel Album in 2004.

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Bishop Bob Jackson, First Lady Barbara Jackson, Rev. Smokie Norful, Gospel recording artist, and Cathy D. Adams, president and CEO of the Oakland African American Chamber of Commerce.
Bishop Bob Jackson, First Lady Barbara Jackson, Rev. Smokie Norful, Gospel recording artist, and Cathy D. Adams, president and CEO of the Oakland African American Chamber of Commerce.

From May 4-6, 2022, hundreds of well-wishers came to celebrate with the senior pastor of Acts-Full Gospel Church of God in Christ, Bishop Robert (Bob) L. Jackson, as he marked 38 years of service. On May 5, Rev. W.R., “Smokie” Norful Jr. preached the sermon. Norful is an American gospel singer and pianist, best known for his 2002 album, “I Need You Now” and “Nothing Without You,” which won a Grammy at the 47th Annual Grammy Awards for Best Contemporary Soul Gospel Album in 2004. Norful received his second Grammy in 2015 at the 57th Annual Grammy awards for his song “No Greater Love,” 10 years after winning his first.

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