Why are black singers expected to be able to sing?

Tom Jackson
Feb 10, 2014

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.  



As with all musicians and singers I expect anyone i pay 100 dollars for a concert ticket to be able to sing and put on a show. Not racial in the least, Just if I buy a ticket to see you or purchase your album i expect a song or two, Not the sounds of someone trying to skin a porcupine while naked.
Seen Sam Moore a few years ago at the Moondog ball, Awesome and well worth the money. I have also saw Rammstein which ironically some of their songs sounded exactly like what i would expect if someone was trying to skin a porcupine while nude. But it was still worth the money.

Pterocarya frax...

Shame on you Tom Jackson, for saying Tom Waits cain't sing.


Re: "Tom Waits,"

"Small Change got wasted with his own .38."

Ralph J.

Nate King Cole, Dinah Washington http://rateyourmusic.com/list/dd... and all of those black doo-wop singers from decades past.


One of the BEST concerts I ever attended - twice (in consecutive yrs.)

Mitch Rider and the Detroit Wheels.

The guy and his band played their *sses off for the $5.00 price of admission to a Catholic Church festival, to a largely empty audience, outdoors on a hot and muggy Aug. night.


The Big Dog's back

You have Entertainers and you have Singers.


. . . and sometimes you have both. :)

The Big Dog's back

Dan Fogelberg was a good singer. Brian McKnight too.


I have no clue what this all has to do with Blacks or any other ethnic group being able to carry a tune, but per the attached URL, Rock is still very much alive and paying well, though watching some of the older acts perform I don't know I'd say they're all physically "well". :)

But also per the URL, the name of the game appears to be COUNTRY! Can I get a loud Yee-hah!!


Truth or Dare

It's called stereotyping. Someone mentioned Mow Town. Grew up listening to it as a child. Yep, those old 45's. It instilled in me the love of music and dance All forms. Brown, Beige, Yellow or Red, recording in a studio can make the worst singer sound good. The true test, a live performance. Been to some concerts in my days, one of the best, the Moody Blues and right here at the State Theatre!

Here in the U.S., that "it factor", "star quality" seems to be more about physical appearance and age, less about true God-given talent. She isn't "black", but Susan Boyle knocked that theory out of the park.

Truth or Dare

Sorry about that, that would be Motown.

Nam Vet

I'm 69 years old and the best singer in my opinion is and always will be Roy Orbison. Rest his soul. Elvis said it too. End of story.


As a professional musician, I always wondered why the bar is held so high for instrumentalists (unless they play 100% of their notes in tune, with a good tone/sound, they stay unemployed), but so low for vocalists. Pop singers often sing with a stunning lack of fundamentals, often have really poor tone and awful intonation. It's so prevalent that software has been developed to correct poor pitch/intonation by vocalists in real time during performances.

Having seen hundreds of choir performances and HS musicals, I'd say that every HS in America probably has several kids in their choir who are better singers than some of the biggest names in the recording industry today.

The Hero Zone's picture
The Hero Zone

^^^ 100% this! ^^^

Dr. Information

Country music is about as real as it gets.

Kottage Kat

Marvin Gaye
Saw Stepping Fetchet (sp) in New Orleans. That man could sing, as well as dance.
Jazz and Blues, inspired so many.
Johnny Mathes, Motown rocked.
Reggae is good.
Love music very eclectic

Kottage Kat



Barry White, you're my first my last, my everything.

Kottage Kat

Neil Diamond
Bebe winans
Ray Charles
Lou Christie
Gene Pitney
5th Dimension
Del Shannon
Isaly Brothers
Mills Brothers
Jackson 5
Billie Holiday
Lennon Sisters
Crazy Googhanheim
All good, all colours


During Motown's heyday, African-American media entrepeneurs had not yet been eclipsed by the six white billionaires who control mass media today: Murdoch, Rothschild, Rockefeller, Bronfman, Newhouse and Redstone. The 'expectation to sing' you noted is a billionaire-constructed expectation. Check out alternative markets for music such as contemporary YouTube singers to note the social dynamics minus the six billionaires.