Rhythm and Blues artist Barry White. White rose to prominence in the 1970s with a string of hits that sold to broad audiences., a photo by Pan-African News Wire File Photos on Flickr.
Happy Birthday Barry White!
By Norman (Otis) Richmond aka Jalali
"How You Gonna Get Respect (When You Haven't Cut Your Process Yet)?" asked Hank Ballard in his 1969 song. Barry White, who passed on July 4th, 2003 of kidney failure from years of high blood pressure wore a process but still believed in the Black Radical Tradition.
Born to a single mother on September 12, 1944, in Galveston, Texas, he and his younger brother Darryl, spent most of their childhood in South Central Los Angeles. He had said he had a lifelong love for music.
During his early teenage years, he began singing in a Baptist church choir and was quickly promoted to director. In 1990, White told Ebony magazine that his voice changed overnight from the squeaky tones of preadolescence to the rumbling bass that made him famous.
White was outspoken and held strong views on black leadership, religion and apartheid South Africa. He also was a great businessperson who controlled his own musical destiny.
White talked about his admiration for both Dr. Martin Luther King and El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X) in his autobiography, Love Unlimited. He reminisced about seeing and hearing Dr. King at Wrigley Field in Chicago. Says White, "He was so dynamic, it was an inspiring moment in my life I'll never forget."
The Maestro spoke even fonder of Malcolm X. He pointed out in his book that he was almost killed trying to meet Malcolm X.
He talked about not knowing how protective the Nation of Islam's security arm, the Fruit of Islam (FOI) were of the men in their leadership. He recalls rushing to shake Malcolm X's hand and the FOI almost moving on him. Once the FOI realized that White was just a wild-eyed youth, they let him meet Minister Malcolm X.
"You look like a very smart young brother," White remembers Malcolm X saying to him. "What do you do?"
"I told him I was going to school and then added, "'Mr. X it is really a pleasure meeting you.'" That was as close as I ever got to him, but it was enough for me to realize how humble he was, how real, and how inspirational. I'd seen him on television , and now I had touched him. To me, it was like touching greatness. I was, at that moment, inspired to reach for a new level of personal respect and fulfillment in my life. Today a magnificent painting of Malcolm X hangs in my living room of my house."
While White admired both Dr. King and Malcolm X, he did not consider himself religious. He told Reuters in a 1999 interview, " I don't like stories, things I can't prove." In his autobiography he says, "Up front, I should make it clear that am not a conventionally religious man. For that matter, I believe in very few conventions--of the heart, mind, or soul. Rather, I have been guided by a Voice that has been inside my head all my life."
Along with artists like Roberta Flack, Phyllis Hyman and others, White opposed the racist apartheid state of South Africa. White turned down four and a half million U.S. dollars to perform in that racist nation state. He was scheduled to speak at the United Nations on apartheid on December 5, 1983. He was the first artist invited by the African National Congress to speak to the UN on the cultural boycott of South Africa. On the day he was to leave he received the news that his younger brother Darryl had been shot to death.
White's brother had issues with the law. He and White were members of the street organization (aka gang), the Businessmen, in South Central Los Angeles. White had also run into problems with the law but got his life back on track. Darryl never got it together. Says White, "After hearing the news, I knew I couldn't go through with my speech. I reluctantly bowed out and later sent a letter of apology."
On the business side, like many hip-hop artists of the day as well as legends like Sam Cooke, Curtis Mayfield and Jerry Butler, White was in charge of his own affairs.
He owned as much of himself as he could. He once told the writer, Steve Ivory, after being asked what he thought the future holds for black music, "(It will be) Nothing but the pros. Imitators and one hit wonders will always come and go, but the real pros of the music business will always be around because they have a special, rare talent, and you can't keep the cream from rising to the top."
And like cream, Mr.White rose to the very top.