Personal Essay: Black History Month

Personal Essay: Black History Month

Will Stallings

James Brown via Chicago Tribune

For WUSC, Black History Month is an important time to reflect on the importance of black artists in the music industry. From Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder to James Brown and Martin Gaye, from Jimi Hendrix, Slash and Prince to Drake, Kendrick Lamar and Nicki Minaj, there is no shortage to the importance and the weight that their contributions have had to the music industry. They come from all parts of the music industry, and we are looking to recognize their talents. We also look not only to their impact on the music industry as a whole but also to their importance to us personally.

For me, I have gotten really into indie music in general for the past three and a half years. It happened by accident, really, when I got bored with Steve FM in the area and was flipping the dial while on a drive to school. I happened upon a station that filled my car for a year and a half before it was shut down. It had a myriad of songs that I absolutely adored with all my heart. It was called 92.1 The Palm, and many Columbia natives would remember that station fondly. It was owned by Hometown Radio, which itself was partially owned by Mike Bryan of Hootie and the Blowfish fame.

Leon Bridges Via BBC

The station is important, but that’s not why we are here. We’re here to talk about one of the songs that first got me into Indie. On one of the first rides I ever had the Palm going, a very retro-style, bluesy filled song filled my stereo with the classy saxophone and velvety vocals coming through. It was a song called “Smooth Sailin’ by Leon Bridges. It was one of the first songs that ever turned me on to searching for music; its catchy style and retro soul, reminiscent of a smoky cabaret venue, made me begin to see the world in black and white and in an optimistic view, even for just a moment. His voice takes a dive through the waters of one’s mind and puts you there, the harmonization of the male and female voices playing with the tune of brass reinforcing the beat. The nautical metaphors and old-school charm, down to the “Sweet Honey, darling” as the song began to wind to its completion, created a whimsical, carefree measure. No choppy waters are here; he wants a smooth ride and to not let her down.

Leon Bridges via WWD

His style and uniqueness to me at that moment made me hunger for more. When I look back to it now, it feels like I am thanking him, the Palm and so many other artists for their importance in the development from my musical understanding. I want something I like to be someone else’s “Smooth Sailin’”, their Ithaca, the thing that drives them to search for more and to search for their own musical revelations. This song led me to Dawes, one of my favorite bands, and the dedication to the Palm that songs like his gave me led me, in a twisted way, to WUSC itself.

That’s why I always remember “Smooth Sailin’”. It started me to search for my Ithaca, but there were no choppy waters there. I haven’t yet found my destination, but I was always a passenger, never cargo. I have never faced the Cyclops or Poseidon in my journey from then to now, and I pray that the journey of music that I continue to travel down will continue to give me splendor, and so that I, too, may find what my Ithacas mean.

And, to that, I wish on all of you: May All Your Favorite Bands Stay Together, and may you have smooth sailing forever more.

-Fluffy Cat