America’s musical history is full of African American pioneers. Courtesy photo.


NPR’S “HEAT CHECK” — It’s not enough to simply state our solidarity, we need to make it an ongoing practice to be actively anti-racist. That means speaking up, donating, and having difficult conversations, but it also means expanding our horizons of consumption. It is in all our best interest to make it a habit to consume, support, and uplift black voices. There are countless books, documentaries, podcasts and music to assist in this. Sidney Madden’s “Heat Check” is a great place to start: a regularly updated playlist that features fresh, under the radar music released by black artists. I have always believed that if there was ever a genre I initially didn’t like, it just means I haven’t listened to enough of it. And as a personal shout out, I recommend checking out Charlotte Dos Santos; everything her voice touches turns to gold. Link to “Heat Check” article, with links to stream:


Several, actually. But here’s what I was reminded of.

How often do we music fanatics, and lovers of all kinds of culture, stop to remember just how much of it comes from black America? Oodles, gobs, truckloads, is how much, somewhere in the 90th percentile, of the best. Hard to measure but, you know. We take it for granted, don’t we?

Black Americans are aware, I can tell you that, and I’m sure it is a source of both pride and pique, even resentment at times. I’m surprised they don’t throw it in “our” faces with some frequency. “Where would you be without James Brown? Jimi? Ray Charles? Louis? Aretha? Prince? Tina? Howlin’ Wolf? Al Green? Stevie? Duke? Robert Johnson? Usher? King Curtis? The other Fats? Billie? Ella? Nina? Trane? Miles? Mingus? Monk? Marvin? Mahalia? Mavis? Muddy Waters? Willie Dixon? Beyonce? B.B.? Elmore? Kendrick Lamar? Jimmy Reed? John Lee Hooker? John Legend? Otis? Sister Rosetta? Alicia? — I’d keep going but I’d have to stop for meals and sleep.”

(I fudged and refreshed my memory with several lists, this was the best one, I felt:

and this is a good short list too, with some background —


Understands. The Stones are still rolling nearly 60 years later because they were part of that savvy set of British youth in the early ’60s who knew the treasure the American kids had no clue about, the blues belters, the soul men, the R&B magicians. Eric Burdon alone was a revelation; he absorbed it to his soul, he joyfully shouted it out.

We notice more these days when there is blatant cultural appropriation (Miley? Iggy Azalea? Katy Perry? see Pat Boone, below), but dang, music-wise, practically the whole jukebox comes from the small percentage of the descendants of the slaves we bought and brought here, who managed to survive.

I recently rewatched Ken Burns’ fantastic “Country Music” documentary, and as I took in his well-documented history unfolding I was struck that most of us at the time considered Charlie Pride such an anomaly, a black country singer? But Burns showed that black American music was a cornerstone of country music. Country swing is a kissin’ cousin of jazz, and how much blues do you hear in early country? The hollers and whoops, came from where? Country music just outright kept the “gospel” moniker for its version of it.


It’s of course much more obvious in rock and roll. Fats Domino was a progenitor in the late ‘40s (“The Fat Man” sold a million copies!), Little Richard was the oh! my soul architect, Chuck Berry the duck walkin’ godhead and Bo Diddley the chunk-a-chunk, if you know what I mean. Where would Elvis have been without them? (And Big Mama Thornton‘s “Hound Dog.”) But the same period of time saw white vocalists like The Crew-Cuts and Pat Boone cover hits by black artists and top the charts because white radio played only their versions. (Just one more reason to vilify Pat Boone, the self-proclaimed Christian singer who tried to go heavy metal once, what a bad joke, how do I forget the visual of him in leather, chains and “tattoos,” on stage next to Alice Cooper?)

Straight up, there is no jazz, no blues, no soul, no R&B without black American artists. And therefore, no rock and roll. Just kill me, please.

So thank you, black community and the inspiring, essential artists you have given us for more than a century. Of course this whole uprising we are experiencing now is about equality and justice, two nice ideas we’ve so far given only lip service to in this great nation. (No, I say, for all our shortcomings and grievous faults, we are still a great nation. No question.) All Americans must be passionately committed to that.

But since this is a music column, how about if we all ponder for a moment where what we all love came from, for the largest part, and say — thank you. Thank you, thank you, thank you. We can never repay you all, all you towering creators and fallen souls. But it seems like the least we can do is grant your brethren the equality we promised in our sacred documents more than 200 years ago. That’s a long wait.

No more waiting.


I’ve been wanting to mention the important musicians we’ve lost lately, too many of them to the coronavirus. I won’t go on, now, about how so many of the more than 105,000 souls we’ve lost to this pandemic did not have to die but for the gross mishandling of it by one Donald J. Trump, but I will say this: I will always hold him personally responsible for our loss of the irreplaceable John Prine, who still had lots of great songs left in him, I’m sure. I’m just as sure that Donald J. Trump has no idea who John Prine was, let alone any appreciation of him. Because that would take some degree of soul. One of the most influential and revered folk and country songwriters of the last 50 years, Prine died on April 6 at the age of 73 after being infected with the COVID-19 virus.

Grammy-winning country music singer Joe Diffie died March 29 due to complications. He announced his diagnosis just two days prior.

American rock musician Alan Merrill, best known for co-writing and recording the original version of “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll,” died March 29 of complications. He was 69.

Adam Schlesinger, Fountains of Wayne singer and “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” contributor, died at the age of 52 from coronavirus complications on April 1.

Ellis Marsalis Jr., New Orleans jazz legend and father of Wynton and Branford Marsalis, died at 85 from COVID-19 complications, Branford said. “Ellis Marsalis was a legend. He was the prototype of what we mean when we talk about New Orleans jazz… He was a teacher, a father, and an icon — and words aren’t sufficient to describe the art, the joy and the wonder he showed the world.”

Henry Grimes, celebrated jazz bassist, died on April 15 at age 84, according to WGBO. He worked with such legends as Thelonius Monk, Charles Mingus and Sonny Rollins.

Charles Andrews has listened to a lot of music of all kinds, including more than 2,000 live shows. He has lived in Santa Monica for 34 years and wouldn’t live anywhere else in the world. Really. Send love and/or rebuke to him at

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