What else but music can as easily shake awake a party as it can those butterflies that fluttered for your first love? Then there are those songs that transcend the individual experience to reverberate within the whole of black culture.
It’s that song. You know the one. The song that makes you stop everything you’re doing and listen to the entire recording anytime you hear the opening chord. It may remind you of love lost, love sustained or love regained. It might evoke a beloved memory from your childhood or prompt you to sing out lustily when you’re – hopefully – all by yourself. It’s in the soundtrack at every summer cookout. It’s that one tune that never fails to brighten your day.
In honor of Black Music Month, we asked a cross section of Detroit personalities, some of whom you may recognize, to name that song and tell us why it holds that lofty distinction in their lives. As you might expect, narrowing their favorite songs down to just one wasn’t easy for most of them.
“I use music to either validate a mood, elevate a mood or to escape a mood,” says Karen Dumas, former communications professional for the city of Detroit, media personality and owner of the public relations firm Images & Ideas. “So, sometimes you seek out a song for one of those particular needs.” Undaunted, Dumas and several other Detroiters scanned their mental playlists to share their No. 1 hits with BLAC. And while you review their choices, ask yourself: what’s that one true love for you?
“Victory Lap” by Nipsey Hussle. “This is one song I’m listening to on repeat right now.” – Karen Dumas
“Everybody’s Darling” by Average White Band.“I have so many favorite songs, it’s more like a catalog! But this one is a longtime favorite.” – Karen Dumas
“A House is Not a Home” by Luther Vandross. “If you asked my children who my favorite artist is, they would tell you without hesitation (that) it’s Luther Vandross. Nobody sang that like Luther did. I don’t care if you hear it 10 years from now. He had a way of ‘Lutherizing’ a song, and there’s been no one like him since.” – Carmen Harlan, Grande dame of TV news turned fashion designer
“The Payback” by James Brown.“Come on, you can’t go wrong with that infectious beat and those ridiculous lyrics: ‘Get ready you mother, for the big payback.’ I learned to madly dance my way through successful revenge with this song. ‘I don’t know karate, but I know ka-razor.'” – Chuck Bennett, Detroit’s undisputed fashion and style guru, writer, radio host and creator of thesocialmetro.com
“The Way You Do The Things You Do” by the Temptations.“This is the song I sing almost every day. I love a good, happy love song, and that one says it better than most.” – Rochelle Riley, Director of arts and culture for the city of Detroit, award-winning former Free Press columnist and author
“Feeling Good” by Nina Simone.“It reminds me that every day of waking up to a new day is a blessing. I feel so fortunate to still be able to sing, perform and give back to the community. I love singing ‘Feeling Good’ because I really do.” – Kimmie Horne, International jazz vocalist, model, actress and descendent of Lena Horne
“Ribbon In The Sky” by Stevie Wonder.“That was the song that was playing when (my wife Priscilla and I) realized we were in love. We had been dating for a while, but we were not committed. We would have these long late-night discussions about politics, society, education, you name it. We were in the midst of one such discussion one night when all of a sudden it was quiet in the car and that song came on the radio. We held hands, and I think we both knew, without saying a word, that we would be together forever.” – Huel Perkins , Longest serving TV news anchor at FOX 2 Detroit
“I Blame You” by Ledisi.“I love the groove and the subject matter of it, because I can relate.” – Thornetta Davis, Detroit’s undisputed “Queen of Blues”
The Hunter Gets Captured by the Game” by The Marvelettes.“The record was actually released several months before I was born, so it’s not necessarily a song I grew up with, but I’ve gained an appreciation for it over the years. The musicianship of the Funk Brothers is masterful. The songwriting of Smokey Robinson is clever, but not over the top. It’s not so cerebral that you have to sit down and ponder what the words mean. And I think there was a sort of earthiness about (Wanda Young’s) voice. I’ve always kind of dug it.” Ken Coleman, Detroit’s modern-day historian, author and reporter for Michigan Advance
“Bring It On Home” by Ronnie Dyson. “It was first love, it was last love, and when you’re young, it’s what you hope love is supposed to be. He is one of my favorites of all time, an incredible voice taken from us way too soon.” – Robin Hardin, Former Detroit morning radio host, media commentator and public relations executive, now with WDIV
“What A Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong.“There’s just something so beautiful about that: the melody, the music changes, the way he delivers it. It just grabs me all over.” – Lawrence Payton Jr., Second-longest tenured member of the Four Tops
“Love’s Holiday” by Earth, Wind & Fire.“I have a radio DJ friend here in LA who has a segment called ‘The Ultimate Love Song.’ Whenever I hear him on the radio, I tweet him and ask him to play this. It’s to the point now that when I tweet him, he will reply, ‘Are there ANY OTHER songs, Shaun?’ And I’m like, ‘Nope!'” – Shaun Robinson, Emmy-winning journalist, actor, author and former Access Hollywood host
“What Becomes of the Brokenhearted” by Jimmy Ruffin.“It came out in the summer of 1966 at the same time my older brother got drafted. My mother’s heart was broken as well as mine, so every time we heard that song we would think about him.” – Greg Russell, Film critic and celebrity interviewer for Live in the D on WDIV
“Close The Door” by Teddy Pendergrass.“That was the slow song they always used to play at the bar at closing time. Usually the only door that got closed was the car door after she got out.” – Greg Russell
“If This World Were Mine” by Luther Vandross and Cheryl Lynn.“I think they just nailed the duet, and the lyrics in the song speak for themselves.” – Rod Allen, Detroit Tigers commentator, former player and host of the podcast Gettin’ Bizzy with Rod Allen
“Politicians In My Eyes” by Death (’70s Detroit Protopunk Band formed by the African-American Hackney Brothers).“Every moment is stuffed to the gills with pure, gritty, raw Detroit soul. If you’re not in love when the bass line drops, just hold on ’til the breakdown.” – Deekah Wyatt, Lead singer of Roxolydian, program director of Girls Rock Detroit and founder of the Cosmic Slop Festival
Listen to our Black Music Month Playlist below or at Spotify.com.