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White artists realize great success with ‘Black’ music

Bridging the color and cultural divide

Merdies Hayes Editor | 6/13/2019, midnight

The British acts were largely fascinated with American-American pop music. Singer Dusty

Springfield tended to model herself after the famous female African-American singers, complete with a bouffant hairstyle and long ball gown. Tom Jones, from Wales, was another popular act that transcended color and sold millions of records based on his soulful sound, particularly on his biggest hit of the time “It’s Not Unusual.”

British blues artists were plentiful during the 1960s, including John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, Eric Clapton, Fleetwood Mac, Led Zeppelin, and Cream.

“All of us listened to American music during our youth, but I was particularly drawn to the blues,” Clapton years ago. “It took great effort on my part to capture the sound and meaning of these great artists. I kept working and working and one day I found that I had learned to play it. It was like ‘oh, that’s how you do that.’”

Perhaps no other British pop act realized more worldwide success than the Bee Gees. Siblings Barry, Robin and Maurice Gibb began their stay on the Top 40 charts with their 1968 hit “Gotta Get A Message To You.” Just prior to that release, they wrote “To Love Somebody” for Otis Redding a few months before his fatal plane crash.

“Otis loved our music, and he met with Barry in New York to see if we could write something for him,” said Robin Gibb in a 1975 interview with Rolling Stone Magazine. “When we began, we were naturally attracted to Motown, Stax Records. Those artists had a unique sound that transcended any color or culture. Our music is better defined as progressive R&B and it has carried us well.”

By the time of the Disco era of the mid-1970s, the Bee Gees were regularly played on Black radio stations nationwide. Some of their most popular songs of this period included “Nights On Broadway,” “Fanny (Be Tender With My Love),” “You Should Be Dancing,” “Stayin’ Alive,” and “Too Much Heaven.”

Teena Marie was another popular White artist who was fully embraced by the Black audience. Her early work with singer Rick James introduced the multi-instrumentalist to a broad range of fans who remained loyal to her unique sound until her untimely death in 2010 at age 54.

Phoebe Snow also garnered a large following among African Americans. A renowned interpreter of blues, soul and rock classics, many early fans initially believed Snow was a fair-skinned Black woman because of her Afro hairstyle and command of early blues standards. Snow died in 2011 at age 60.