Noah Berlatsky talks about the tension between many music artists and their “faith”, particularly in the black community:

Changing your musical style wasn’t just an unfortunate marketing decision; it was an exercise in betrayal, sin, and damnation one that black audiences and artists took very seriously. In the early 50s, the gospel star Sister Rosetta Tharpe lost much of her fan base when she started performing in secular clubs even though she was still singing Christian music. Then there’s Sam Cooke, who started his career as the gospel superstar lead singer for the Soul Stirrers. In the late 50s, he moved to secular music and never looked back — though “A Change Is Gonna Come” had gospel tinges, Cooke’s pop music rarely, if ever, touched on his faith.

Contemporary R&B follows in his footsteps. Virtually every R&B artist shouts out to God first thing in his or her liner notes, but that spirituality is kept tightly under wraps on the actual songs. Even performers who do express their faith more explicitly do so with a certain care. At the conclusion of her 2005 album My Story, for example, Na’sha thanks her God while defensively dismissing those who told her it would be bad for her career to do so. Similarly, on their breakthrough The Writings on the Wall, Destiny’s Child sings “Amazing Grace” — but only at the very end of the album. Faith is fine, apparently, as long as you save it for the last track.

The nervous tension between private faith and public salaciousness can have unfortunate repercussions. Several African-American stars have been so torn by the perceived conflict between their faith and their music that they abandoned the latter. At the height of his popularity in 1957, for example, Little Richard turned to God and renounced rock and roll, tragically scuppering his career. In less extreme cases, the intensity of the sacred/secular binary can result in a painfully intense refusal to notice what one is doing — a kind of aphasic hypocrisy. Item A here is Destiny’s Child single “Nasty Girl” in which the super-group famous for its plunging necklines, ascending hemlines, and borderline-hooker-wear upbraided their peers for dressing like sluts. “Nasty put some clothes on,” they harmonized, “You make it hard…for girls like myself who respect themselves/And have dignity….” Translation: I’m out here in my underwear, but it’s classier underwear than yours.

Read the whole article here.

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