Thursday, July 15, 2010

July 15

The first thing I can say about Millie Jackson is she's NSFW. Hearing Millie do what Millie does best requires that warning, because she 'tells it like it is...'
She's got a fine singing voice, sounding more than a little like Gladys Knight. And she's certainly not the first to sing the kind of soul music that's a long way from Sunday morning. But what really makes her stand out is what she does between the lyrics: maybe it's the breakdown, maybe it's the intro, but there's a moment in her song, on the way to the song, where she starts talking to the audience, shining a light on the hundreds of stories finding shelter within that song... These moments have become her forte.
One of her signature songs, "If Loving You is Wrong", got her two Grammy nominations. "If..." was more successful on the charts for soul singer Luther Ingram, and it was also more successful for country artist Barbara Mandrell. But while she only made it to #42 on the pop charts, her version is the definitive one because she steps aside of the song and redefines it:

Performances like this particularly resonate with a live audience, when the singer strolls up to the song and points to the strings that tie the singer and the people in the crowd to a musical moment, a lyric that speaks a common truth in their lives. Singers like to do this, to get some call-and-response from the audience and sometimes to cover for a quick tech repair or bathroom emergency for one of the other band members. But Millie Jackson really made it an art unto itself.
On the net, she's more legendary for her tasteless album covers. They've become something of a meme for reminiscing about the golden age of vinyl.

As for Ms Jackson, she managed almost 40 R&B singles in the 70's and 80's, 6 in the top 10. She also had a duet with Elton John that was a hit in England, but didn't cross the pond:

She was a drive-time DJ in the Houston area for the following decade. Also in the 90's, she wrote and produced the play "Young Man, Older Woman", which was a hit on the urban theater circuit. Her daughter's also in the music business, singing with Eryka Badu.

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