Clay Cane is a New York City-based writer who is recognized for his contributions in journalism. Clay is a regular contributor for various print and online publications such as The Advocate and BET.com. He is the author of the highly anticipated novel Ball-Shaped World, which is a fictionalized account of the black and Latino ballroom scene. Also, he is the Entertainment Editor at BET.com and a member of New York Film Critics Online. He can be reached at claycane@gmail.com.


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    Thursday, February 22, 2007

    Ever since Christina Aguilera’s outstanding tribute performance to James Brown on the 49th Annual Grammy Awards it seems many people have had a case of the “can’t takes” for the blond bombshell. The following day WBLS, an urban radio station in New York City, played the live version of Christina’s performance on heavy rotation, which I have never heard of a radio station doing. They weren’t playing the lackluster Beyonce performance, not Mary’s emotional but tragically off-key performance, but this blond hair blue-eyed chick who paid unprecedented homage to the Godfather of Soul.

    Throughout the week many people were calling in whining that the Grammys should’ve had a BLACK person perform the song simply because James Brown is black. People were deeply offended that porcelain-white Aguilera sang for Brown. While the race card is always ironed, shiny and prepared to slam out on the table at any cotton-pickin’ moment -- I thought this was a ridiculous statement from some of my hyper-sensitive music gurus.

    First, I am not a Beyonce fan, but I have never said she couldn’t sing, I always said she is just a pop singer. Nonetheless, could anyone imagine Beyonce performing “It’s a Man’s World”? I’m feeling a wave of fatigue just thinking about it! It would’ve been as exhausting as an Anna Nicole Smith paternity test. Do people honestly think Beyonce could’ve pulled off a rough and vocally unpretty song like “It’s a Man’s World” just because she is black? Come on, people—if Beyonce isn't popping her snatch for Jesus her performances are usually a yawn-fest.

    Then we have Mary J. Blige, I love Mary, Lawd knows I do, but why do people promote bad behavior by letting her sing embarrassingly off-key then give her a standing ovation? Have black folks lost all aspects of musicality? I remember the days when rock artists would sing wildly off-key (Axel Rose, Kurt Cobain, etc.) and they would get a standing ovation because they were “feeling it." Black folks would be on the sidelines saying, “White folks can’t sing!”

    Now, so much of our music has abandoned instruments and artists have made a career out of singing over beats versus melodies. We seem to have lost melody in voice—especially with the “Mahalia Jackson of our generation” according to the 2006 Vibe Awards, Mary J. Blige. Many will whine, “Well, she is feeling it!” BAB-BAY, I listen to Janis Joplin (the second song she did "Stay With Me" was popularized by Janis Joplin in the late '60's), Nina Simone, early Tina Turner and roaring off-key is not the equivalent to “feeling it.” Mary J. singing “It’s a Man’s World” would’ve turned into the “It’s Kendu’s World” remix with her sounding a billy-goat-gruff-sizzling mess. Vocally, Mary J. Blige is the Courtney Love of R&B music!

    I have never been a fan of Aguilera until recently. I thought her first album was a lily-white, spoiled-pop, toxic waste dump. Her second album—blah! I appreciated she loved the gays but stomping around in leather chaps when she had the body of 12 year-old with oversized ostrich eggs rammed in her chest that she claimed was due to “puberty” was deeply disturbing. Sure, she could sing, but honestly—so can Jessica Simpson.

    My biggest problem with Aguilera was this delusional claim that she was “Latin.” Okay, Aguilera’s father is “half” Ecuadorian—I don’t think that equates being a Latin woman. Aguilera only stressed this “suddenly Latin” trait in 2000 when she began working on her Latin album. Before that she was a ultra-white girl from Pennsylvania —there is nothing worse than a celebrity changing their race, i.e., Mariah Carey and Terrence Howard. Christina Aguilera is about as Latin as black folks who say, “I got Indian in my family!”

    All that being said, I thought she was a good singer, but it wasn’t till I saw her pay tribute to Whitney Houston at the first annual BET Awards that I truly noticed her vocals. Christina brought it home with “Run To You” and even a sweaty, cracked out, maniac Whitney managed to ramble, “That is the best version of that song I’ve heard—next to me!” Then I saw her tear the good-God shreds out of Leon Russell’s a “Song For You” with Herbie Hancock. That is simply the best remake I’ve heard of that song next to Donny Hathaway and Gladys Knight—flawless.

    Later that summer she released
    Back to Basics, which in my opinion is a 100% R&B album. After a few listens I realized that Aguilera truly understands R&B and soul music. In her song “Back in the Day” she sang,Donny Hathaway, Lena Horne Miss Aretha, [The Real Thing], James Brown, Billie Holiday, Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight, Louis Armstrong, Minnie Riperton, Otis Redding, Etta James—back in the day, they used to say, play that song, get it going, and the band played, “ and “We say now, so break out the Marvin Gaye, your Etta James, your Lady Day, and Coltrane, turn up your 45's, bring back to life.” Therefore, when I heard Aguilera emote and shiver in “It’s a Man’s World” it made perfect sense.

    Hearing black folks complain that a black person, Mary J. Blige or Beyonce, should’ve paid homage to Brown is illogical. I don’t care if it’s an African woman from the Republic of Congo who survived civil war—if she cannot sing the song with power or her voice has an on-key repellent, I don’t want them to sing. Being black is not enough!

    Above all I think Brown would’ve been proud (and lusting) after such a sincere and genuine tribute. Yes, she was flat on the high note and flat on the last note, however, Aguilera still spilt the stage in three—a James Brown song doesn’t require perfect voice. Some say she riffs and runs too much trying to “sound black” and prove she can sing (that's Joss Stone!). No, I just think that is her style, just like Mary J. screams like a wild hyenea running for her life from a famished lioness in the jungle, trying to prove she can sing or is that just her style...? I suggest we all get up off Aguileria and know that vocally she can hang with Beyonce and Mary J. Blige any day. Jennifer Hudson would give her a hot battle and Fantasia would blow her out the water, but Aguilera in my opinion is without a doubt—a soul singer.

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    Posted by Clay :: 12:22 AM :: 36 comments

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