The Ones Who Came Before


I’m sure by now all of you are as sick and tired of hearing about the death of Michael Jackson, the autopsy results, the pending financial battle and who will get the parental rights to his kids. However, as weird and out of control the man was in the past two and a half decades, there is no denying Jackson was definitely a music pioneer and deserved much of the acclaim he received based on his musical talent alone. 

I did not personally enjoy the extent of Jackson’s other music. However, I grew up on it because of my mother’s infatuation with his musical talents (especially the song “PYT (Pretty Young Thing).” 

In fact, the day he died, my mother received more than 10 phone calls in an hour and it was only fitting that for the past two years her ringtone has been none other than Michael Jackson. 

But while people are either lusting over the so-called King of Pop’s place on the musical Mount Rushmore or ignoring his pre-1984 career to focus on his downfalls and straight up bizarre behavior, commentators and music fanatics around the nation are declaring that Michael Jackson was in fact a civil rights leader with the way he blended blacks into popular music and culture in the ’70s and ’80s. 

Though the man did have talent for hitting the high notes (and unusually grabbing his crotch), I have to disagree. Michael Jackson did help move race relations closer together during his tenure at the top of the pop music charts, but there were many before him that helped pave the way and break ground into the carnival that is popular music. 

Elvis was the king of rock and roll and will forever be carved into music’s Mount Rushmore for the ground he broke and the invention that people will forever be enamored with. 

However, while white people danced to poppy, sock hop music through the ’50s and the first part of the ’60s, black musicians paved the way for what would become the rock guitar, rhythm and blues, funk and hip hop. 

While many influential black musicians from the ’50s and ’60s paved the way, guitarist Chuck Berry helped cement the road for rock legends, such as Jimi Hendrix (just to name one) and even gave AC/DC guitarist Angus Young the inspiration for his trademark duck walk, which Berry perfected in the ’50s. 

But Berry was not the only one who comes to mind who has greatly influenced popular music across all racial borders. Little Richard led the way for pop, rock and fast rhythm and blues pianists everywhere when he burst onto the scene in the ’50s with “Tutti Frutti” and “Good Golly Miss Molly.” Even women back in the day had an enormous influence on popular music, such as Diana Ross, Tina Turner and Aretha Frankilin. 

While there were many others, musicians and non-musicians — MLK and Malcolm X — who led a movement during the flower era, one funk legend who has graced the cover of multiple national magazines and the top of the charts for decades who influenced modern pop music as much or even more than all mention, the Godfather himself, James Brown. 

During the 1960s, Brown hit the airwaves and the nation with such hits as “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” and “I Got You (I Feel Good).” Even though his musical and vocal talent has lived on for decades (and in an unforgettable performance during Rock IV), Brown’s influence on artists throughout the previous two generations has proven to be a Godsend. 

Jackson was quoted as saying Brown was his main influence and even requested to see Brown’s body after he passed away two years ago in a private, night viewing (yea, the man could not have been creepier). 

Brown led to Jackson, who led to Boys 2 Men, who led to the boy band craze, which led to Justin Timberlake, which led to Chris Brown. The list could go on and on and even to previous decades, but the facts are there. 

While Michael Jackson will forever live on, cemented in music history, he was not the only one who paved the way for black musicians — and Barack Obama, as some have been saying. No, those influences started a long time ago with names today’s youth might not even recognize. So before you go out and buy the entire Michael Jackson collection (pre-psycho and psycho era), give the men and women who influenced the “king of pop” credit.

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