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Why are black singers expected to be able to sing?

Tom Jackson • Feb 10, 2014 at 11:46 AM

Last night, I watched the Grammy Awards tribute to the Beatles, and as Alicia Keys and John Legend performed "Let It Be," I admired their lovely voices. But it also reminded me of something I've wondered about for a long time. Why is it that black people have to actually be able to sing before they can enjoy a career as a performer?

The world of rock music is filled with white people who can't actually sing but who have somehow been able to make a good living as vocalists. I heard Bruce Springsteen's album of Pete Seeger covers, "We Shall Overcome," played in the office a couple of times. It made my ears hurt. I know it's not the received opinion, but I couldn't get past the fact that Pete Seeger could sing and Springsteen can't. 

As for black performers, I'm not talking about rappers, I'm talking about singers, people who are expected to get behind a microphone and carry a tune. I've been listening to music for decades, and I can't think of a famous black singer who become a superstar in spite of the fact he couldn't sing a lick. 

Who is the black Bruce Springsteen, the black Bob Dylan, the black Joe Strummer, the black Tom Waits? When a black person can become a wealthy and successful singer, without actually being able to sing a note, we'll know that equality has finally arrived and that black people have equal opportunity in show business.  

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