Friday, October 5, 2007


While growing up as a child and teenager in Detroit in the 70s and 80s, there were two constant musical influences in my life: church/gospel music and THE SCENE. I grew up COGIC, Church of God in Christ. More commonly known as 'sanctified' or 'holiness' churches, COGIC churches are the ones where people speak in tongues, shout, dance and accept healing through touch. COGIC churches are famous for their singing style and for their style of dress. I commonly went to church 2 or 3 times per week - prayer service, choir rehearsal, youth group, Sunday school, Sunday service, etc. This was my first introduction to fashion, showmanship and glamour.

Beaded suits, hats that could cause an eclipse, big hair, lace-trimmed hankies, fierce pumps and beat faces with tons of lashes are de rigueur for the ladies while the gents prefer alligator shoes ('gators'), brightly colored suits, sharp hats, top coats, canes, pristine grooming and Cadillacs. This is not about being a wallflower, this is about conspicuous consumption as a testimony of God's blessings.

As far as music goes, NO ONE sings like COGIC singers. The power, emotion, grit, range and the patented 'vocal runs' ( melisma - a way of extending, changing and intensifying notes for maximum impact - think Patti Labelle) are unparalleled. This type of singing truly speaks to my soul and has influenced my musical tastes thus far (Patti, Aretha, Chaka, etc.). No one epitomizes the Detroit gospel style of singing and dressing more than my favorite gospel singer, Detroit native, Karen Clark Sheard. She is the youngest sister from the world famous group, The Clark Sisters. This is why I love her:

THE SCENE was a local dance TV show. It was Detroit's answer to Soul Train and American Bandstand. It featured teen and young adult Detroiters wearing the latest fashions and dancing to cutting edge soul, house, rap and techno music. My friends and I raced home everyday to catch THE SCENE at 6pm. The featured dancers became local celebrities in their own right. They influenced dance styles (many nationally famous dances started on this show), fashion, hairstyles and popular sayings. THE SCENE was a bit of a guilty pleasure that many did not like to admit to watching, but EVERYONE did! Funny enough, my Pastor's son was a dancer on the show until he became an ordained minister himself. The ties that bind us.

I love that these 2 influences are so specific to Detroit. It is so amazing to think how such seemingly disparate things can influence one person so much. The participants of each venue probably thought that they were in worlds apart, but if you look closely, there were too many similarities to count.

No comments: