Why are you listening to THAT kind of music?

National Public Radio aired a very interesting story last month that hit me where I live.

“Music writer Laina Dawes is a die-hard Judas Priest fan. She’s all about the band’s loud and fast guitars, the piercing vocals — and she loves to see the group perform live.

“Now, a fact that shouldn’t matter: Dawes is a black woman. This, she says, can make things uncomfortable on the metal scene. She says she’s been verbally harassed and told she’s not welcome…

“Dawes writes about the issue in her new book, What Are You Doing Here?: A Black Woman’s Life and Liberation in Heavy Metal.”

I so relate to this.

Though I’m not particularly a heavy metal fan – though I do have a country version of AC/DC songs – I have been chastised for my eclectic taste in music, particularly when I was growing up. Usually, the critic was black.

One overbearing example was my sister’s boyfriend at the time, who I will call George, since that was his name. I listened to Motown, but I had the audacity to also listen to music by white artists, such as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Cream, each of whom were indebted to black music, not so incidentally. To me, the strands of country, gospel, pop and rhythm and blues were all, more or less, the same.

But, I was told, there was music I was “supposed” to be listening to, to the exclusion of other music. Blues, jazz, black gospel were OK. Conversely, as Dawes puts it: “So when black people listen to quote/unquote ‘white-centric’ music – which is rock ‘n’ roll, or country, or heavy metal, punk, hardcore – it’s seen that they are somehow not proud of who they are, they would prefer to be somebody else outside of being black. And it’s seen as a slap in the face.” I got THAT a LOT, and it rather ticked me off.

George might, begrudgingly, suggest that SOME songs by white artists were OK – Bridge over Troubled Water by Simon & Garfunkel and One by Three Dog Night made the cut.

He seemed to think, though, that most white music was the same, for he gave me a live, double album by Grand Funk Railroad, a group I previously had no interest in, for my birthday. (Still have it, BTW.)

There was legitimate concern over white artists covering black artists. But I suppose it depended on how it was done. My father hated Elvis Presley, for instance, in part for him “stealing”, among other songs, Big Mama Thornton’s Hound Dog, but I thought Elvis infused his own style into the song. Whereas I disliked the Pat Boone covers songs such as Little Richard’s Tutti Fruiti as washed-out mush.

This same narrow mindset had folks criticizing such disparate artists such as Dionne Warwick (pop), Jimi Hendrix (rock) and Charley Pride (country) for performing music that wasn’t “black enough,” whatever that meant.

Most of my music is organized alphabetically, by artist. No categories No “is that jazz or funk? Is that country or blues?” Music is music, if the feeling’s right.
The poster is from someone’s Facebook page. Had to be from 1963 or later, since a ZIP Code is cited.

8 thoughts on “Why are you listening to THAT kind of music?”

  1. It’s a shame that someone would be told that they should listen to something more becoming of their race/gender. I never experienced that when listening to jazz in the past, especially attending concerts. Good for Ms. Dawes for listening to what she wants to listen to, and not giving in. And good for you too, Roger. Very interesting post!


  2. “[W]ho I will call George, since that was his name.” Serious LOL.

    I dunno. I do have to admit, I feel awkward when listening to rap I like. There’s a mix of “that’s too black for you” and “that’s too young for you.” I don’t know anyone who would say it to my face, but I think the media certainly makes it clear.


  3. I’ve seen a Memphis version of that poster, so apparently it was fairly widely distributed.

    Two dentists ago, I was seeing a hygienist who looked like a nerdier version of Dionne; she was a major Elton John fan.

    I’m betting you’re familiar with Aretha’s version of “Bridge Over Troubled Water”; it conveys the gospel feeling that Art Garfunkel’s Anglican-schoolboy voice only suggests.


    1. Of course, Charles – in fact, I’ve always been fascinated by soul versions of all sorts of white artists, especially the Beatles. Aretha’s Eleanor Rigby works so well because it’s in the first person, e.g.


  4. Try being a 5’4″ white girl from the suburbs singing blues and Billie Holiday in clubs. But I pressed on because I don’t believe in those barriers. To me, we owe Africans, Cajuns, and others from the New Orleans area so much credit for inventing jazz. Same for blues in the Memphis and Chicago traditions. Also NYC, Harlem, with everthing from big bands to small clubs.

    That being said, if you don’t like how I sing, LEAVE. But don’t get snotty about it. I believe the next generation (except for the white supremacists) have the music scene right: Michael Franti (hip-hop, socially conscious leader of Spearhead) is every bit as relevant to Anglo kids as Brown/Black kids. So much division… a pity. Hooray for printing that stupid poster! Those who forget history… Amy


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