After five days of reflecting on the suicides of Michael Jackson, Don Cornelius and Whitney Houston, the email message below prompted me to write down my feelings. Please read this message, then see my response at the bottom.
ON WHITNEY HOUSTON
If we know anything about the entertainment industry, especially music business, it’s a very ruthless, cut throat, bordering on criminal environment, in spite of the number of success stories associated with it.
Most entertainers that navigate the entertainment business are probably tough enough to abide the criminals and the inhuman demands. But some entertainers are not tough enough and should be protected from the ravishes of that business.
And then there are those entertainers who are just plain tender and who, though they may project bravado in the public arena, are really collapsing in their personal arena. Whitney Houston was tender. Michael Jackson was tender. Marvin Gaye was tender. Jimi Hendrix was tender. Billy Holiday was tender. And their tenderness is understood or misunderstood buy the outside world only when their tenderness is exposed. And nothing exposes the tenderness of these artists like the results of being unable to handle the use of drugs and stimulants.
For decades I’ve understood and raged about how well-connected, usually Jewish, white male producers, with a huge pool of talent to choose from, will “discover” a nonwhite talent and make millions, and in recent times, make hundreds of millions of dollars by controlling their “product”.
Yes, business is business, and like all markets, the music business has its particular rules and practices, but the participation of nonwhite artists in that business, business controlled by white criminals, is of deeper significance.
First of all, the bottom line is that the music industry in America, since the era of minstrel shows, has essentially commercialized our pain. It is the pain of our existence that produces the pain expressed in our music. Even gospel music, which was born of the same chords and strains as the blues, is music of pain, if for no other reason than the nonwhite church for centuries has served as a massive reservoir for the pain of our people. This was the legacy infused in every note of Whitney Houston’s melodies.
So when white producers, along with the entertainment industry, banks and all, in the name of “good” business, commercializes the pain of nonwhite people, they essentially are saying: “We will have your art, in fact, we will take your art, but you can keep the conditions and the history that produces your art.”
In the end, the entertainment industry, by its business practice, slyly sidesteps any obligation to do something about the injustice that they uncover in the process of ferreting out nonwhite talent. In fact, music moguls thus have a disincentive to address the injustice that they see when addressing it might alter the conditions that produced their “product” in the first place.
Meanwhile, music moguls, with their array of award shows, become filthy rich in the process, diversifying their portfolios in unrelated markets. For example, I would not be alarmed to learn that much of Israel’s financial support is derived from the commercialization of our music.
Anyway, there is probably some good to come out of this. When I hear Asian performers rendering Whitney Houston or John Coltrane or Jimi Hendrix (they can’t quite get James Brown or Aretha Franklin yet) I am made aware of the greater purpose of nonwhite people of African descent in America. Fittingly, for the sake of the point I am making here, music, like all art, is truly a universal language; it is understood and is capable of transmitting information much more readily than tongues.
That being the case, the globalization of our music, though done so via commercial enterprise, is an indication of the role we have played and continue to play in the unfolding circumstances of human development.
For thousands of years, human intelligence has known of the cyclical convergence of consciousness that takes place in human existence. Such a cyclical change is upon us as I write. So much that it becomes clear that the thrust of our people to freedom and justice in America is indeed the spearhead of a larger thrust for freedom and justice by the entire human family, and our music is a deeply connecting element in the course of human evolution.
R.I.P. Whitney. You did your part.
First, I commend France Jackson for taking the time and energy to think about this subject, write about it and distribute it to those of us in cyberspace who received it. That being said, I’m prone to disagree that some entertainers are “tough”, while others are “tender”. I believe we all have toughness and tenderness. Not one of us, even the most vile criminal is tough all the time. Toughness comes from being tender and learning to fend off insane actions committed by others.
All of the entertainers France mentioned – Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, John Coltrane, Jimi Hendrix, Marvin Gaye and Billie Holiday – fought their own demons, created by drug addiction. They lost the fight, all before the age of 50.
Consider this: Each of these performers, except Don Cornelius, agreed to reincarnate to bring their musical talents to humanity on one condition – that they would be dead by 50. Cornelius was 72.
I contend that most human beings have the wrong idea about death. I think it’s like graduation from high school or college. Once you get the lesson, you are free to move on up to the next level. However, one psychologist disagrees with me. She feels that suicide is not a healthy action and that people prone to killing themselves can be helped. I don’t think so. If that were true, surely one of these stars’ mother, father, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, cousin, husband, wife, girlfriend, boyfriend, child, god child, best friend, manager, producer or someone in their circle could have save them.
I think, like Jesus Christ, Joan of Arc and Martin Luther King, we each have a destiny, a time to be born and a time to die and nothing nor any one can alter that occasion. Every soldier that picked up a weapon and charged toward the enemy is suicidal. People who smoke and drink are suicidal. People who overeat are suicidal. People like Evel Knievel born Robert Craig Knievel, an American daredevil and entertainer was suicidal, just like every race car driver, skydiver, fire fighter, police officer, coal miner, window washer of skyscrapers – every person that takes a risk to get anything accomplished, which, by the way, includes drug dealers and pimps, who know that what they are doing is downright dangerous. Let’s not forget that every woman who gives birth to another human being puts her life in jeopardy for nine months and the moment of child birth is a very sensitive one.
On the issue of “white producers, along with the entertainment industry, banks and all, in the name of ‘good’ business, commercializing the pain of nonwhite people,” I published a book entitled, A HISTORY OF AFRICAN AMERICAN JAZZ AND BLUES that spells out the reasons why this music makes millions for Europeans and Euro-Americans, while African Americans reap paultry profits from their cultural production. The problem is that most people, particularly African Americans, are not interested in hearing what I have to say.
My final analysis leads me to believe that I AM the lucky ONE! A veteran of the stage, since the age of four, I reached my 64th birthday unscathed. I had violent and abusive marriages and relationships. I encountered drugs and alcohol but managed to stave off addiction. My heart was broken by lovers, children, grandchildren, friends and enemies. I was overlooked as a singer and musician, while those with far less talent rose to the top, only to fall flat on their face or die senselessly. And I’ve survived. Only last night, I sang at a black-owned restaurant in Miami and taught an entire group of young people about Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday.
No, I don’t own a mansion in New Jersey or L.A.
No, I don’t get tons of royalties from the 60+ songs I’ve composed, performed and recorded.
No, I don’t have millions of dollars in the bank (not saying that I won’t in months to come)!
But I am still alive. I’m still in the game. I’m still in the running for fame and fortune that we all seem to think we deserve.
I survived being punched in the face by a man who was in this country illegally, using me and my kids as his cover.
I survived near-death car accidents.
I survived a tumor in my uterus.
I survived friends like Freddie Hubbard who recorded my song “Sweet Return” and lots of people who said I didn’t have any talent but their enterprise went south, while mine prevails.
I AM THE LUCKY ONE! None of my children are drug addicts, dealers, pimps, thieves, murderers or con artists.
I lived long enough to see a black couple in the White House.
I survived every airplane flight I’ve ever taken.
I survived a Carnival Caribbean cruise, not long before the sinking of the Costa Concordia cruise ship in Italy.
I AM THE LUCKY ONE! And I’m happy to report that I appreciate living as long as I have and, if I’m even luckier, I’ll live as long as my father who will be 93 on May 7, 2012, and has a wife more than half his age!
For me, the key to life is recognizing that you are blessed and appreciating what you have, who you are and the people around you.
Yes, it’s true that Michael, Whitney, Marvin and Billie had scoundrels around them but I truly believe making their transition at such an early age was a choice they made BEFORE they ever stepped foot upon this Earth! They are all angels, now!
What do you think?
This is a remark sent by Javier Bailey
I want all of my FB Family to know that the death and demise of Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, and many others is no coincidence. I am not saying that there was any conspiracy. However I want all of you to know that the music industry and the gangsters that run the industry, reach down into our churches, neighborhoods, and schools, and extract our best and brightest; then they introduce them to money and drugs, and a lifestyle that is totally destructive. They provide no protections for them and will dump them as soon as the money stops flowing.
Pro athletes started unions in order to give themselves some protections, but artists in music and film are sheep for the slaughter. The death of these icons is evidence of what happens when the money no longer flows from their works. The industry allows them to kill themselves so that they don’t have to continue paying out their contracts. Prince, Public Enemy, Sly Stone and others have revolted and refused to work for the major labels. Just take a look at what I am telling you and you will find that when an artist stops producing a cash-flow for the big labels, somehow that artists ends up getting prescription drugs from some industry supported doctors , and eventually the artist find death around the corner.