One of the fascinations of the Verzuz Challenges, is going back into the past. There is something about those R&B classics, which resonates with our Soul, and our very artistry. There is something about the sound, the Vibe, and how it made us feel. . .oh so good! Its that chill, laid back kind of vibe, where we understood just how beautiful and eclectic our music and traditions were. Whatever we were going through, whatever pains came our way, there was a certain classic, by Gladys Knight, Patti LaBelle, (and even Dionne Warwick), which made our mothers, and grandmothers, feel good, during some of the most difficult times. In fact, it was necessary, if they were going to get through those difficult times. For Black American people, and especially during those difficult times, music was a therapy. It was more than entertainment. It was more than keeping up to date with the latest new artist, and comparing who was the better singer. For the older generations of our people, music was (and still is), medicine!
There is a certain layer, and a certain eloquence to certain R&B singers, of that particular time span. For some reason, they have the power and ability to make some of your most trying times, feel like silk. They transform the difficult times, and make them feel like a smooth texture. Its intrinsic. In fact, its magic!When you hear certain legendary R&B singers, you are hearing that Nana wisdom. Its the wisdom of the elder women, within our communities, who were able to bring forth a certain elegance of style, class, eloquence, and sophistication in their old age. They truly embodied the fine wine, with time. Through their own good times, and the bad, there were higher levels of peace, in which they were able to cultivate. In fact, it took on, a whole other level and dimension, into how our music was meant to soothe us, in difficult times. Just imagine those painful, challenging, and overbearing times of the past. Just imagine being without any justice system, seeing the murders, lynchings, and assault against your children. Other than exerting the anguish, frustration, rage, highlighting it in Church, and praying heavily for justice, how were you able to maintain your peace of mind? Of course, there were actions of resistance. Of course, there were defenses put in place by fathers, husbands, sons, uncles, wives, and others of Black America’s community. However, how were you able to maintain your level of peace, during these difficult times? Church was one. Music was the other.
So, an iconic VERZUZ battle took place. This time the old school vibe was in tact. In fact, “old school,” doesn’t suffice as a proper term for this recent legendary battle. We can call it more of a “Classic School.” And, oh, what classical elegance there was! For Pattie LaBelle and Gladys Knight, this challenge (September 13, 2020) was more of that calming factor, than a battle. Both of these legendary singers were not only supportive of each other, but how they complemented each other’s styles was legendary. There was a level of gentility, love, and resilience within the performances between these two women. Different styles. Different tones. Unique timbers within each of their voices. And then, there was a unique aura, within their exchange and how they were able to regulate the time and flow of the session. Dressed beautifully, through complementary colors, there was something about their way and style, which made us feel they were mirrors of each other. Gladys Knight wore purple. Patti LaBelle wore blue. Something about these colors, which have always come up in Black American poetry, literature, and vocal oratory. In fact, they have been repeated over and over. Something about them which is intrinsic to our wellness, and overall Being.
The Classical jams and legendary rhythms that we know were presented for us all to hear and listen. There was a brownish, Earthly-velvet texture for the entire atmosphere. This VERZUZ challenge started with the conversation. The acknowledgement and shared love between these two legends was real. Forget about competition. Forget about any challenge. The conversation was fit with memories and their past journeys together in the music industry. Make-up. Cooking “on the road.” Touring together. The memorable performances and projects they have worked on. It was beautiful. Everything about that beginning conversation felt so real. Furthermore, it highlighted the artistry of Soul Food, and how it has been intertwined with Black American music. Soul Food for Soulful music. That’s how it has it supposed to be. Opening up the VERZUZ with cooking, you felt like you were back with your grandmothers-your Nanas. There are those special memories of sitting home and talking about cooking. Being in the kitchen and speaking about cooking. You feel like its two grandmothers sitting together and talking about their lineage, and their future seedlings. What we heard in that conversation were the lessons of community. There were the lessons of kindness. They were the lessons of change.
During that initial conversation, they spoke about the Heroes and Sheroes of Black America. In turn, they spoke about the solutions for our community and the power of those solutions. The very first song, and opener for this VERZUZ challenge, came from LaBelle, herself. There was that church-based Gospel vibe was intrinsic. It was another additive, and living proof, that Black American music and culture has its roots in that Deep South, Church-based culture. Gladys Knight followed with “Best Thing That Ever Happened To Me.” Further reflections for how we desire to be remembered. For the current generation of our community, it is based on how we are able to move through these current times-these rather difficult times. Moving back and forth with each other, and bringing those teaching moments, after each song, the moments were synonymous with what it meant to sang. During those times, and in the mainstream, writing songs was made with a level of depth and richness. The auras in the air were highlighted, and should you close your eyes, you can feel that you are intertwined with another level of breathing-another level of seeing the world. Something about that energy and aura of those songs by Patti LaBelle and Gladys Knight, where you can tastes Earth’s soils and the mixture of delectable perfumes in the music. LaBelle articulates the following: “When people meet me and they say we love you so much, and we love Gladys Knight the same.” This very statement, alone, makes it very clear the energy of music twins between these two women. They truly are musical complements of each other. What one lacks, the other has. Put them together, and perfection is voiced. And after that realization, the VERZUZ challenge goes into Patti LaBelle’s, “If You Asked Me To.”
Shortly after this moment, there is another conversation about love and loss. “If You Ask Me To” is about Patti LaBelle’s loss of her sister, Jackie. From that loss, and “when the casket had closed,” LaBelle mentions how she knew that her sister wanted her to do the video (the same day of Jackie’s funeral), within that particular spacing. Gladys and Patti go back and forth about how they were there for each other, during the deaths of friends and family members. Again, that Nana knowledge. That Nana talk. It was that elder wisdom of life, and how you just “gotta’ keep on goin,'” in spite of the pain and challenges. These two legendary icons articulated how their loved ones would “not want us to stop. They wouldn’t want us to stop.. . .That’s what we do.” Singing through the rain, and the pain, until it doesn’t take a toll on you, anymore. “Gladys, we been through it.” That’s one of the most difficult challenges to get through. Yet, if you can get one friend beside you, during the rain, you’re all right. Glasses raised. Drinks up, Ladies. We’ll toast to that.
Throughout the conversation and the exchange, we understand that Nana wisdom in what the current generation of Black American youth are experiencing. If we are to repeat those very same words, we can apply it to the now. “They wouldn’t want us to stop. That’s what we do.” Can you hear the echoes of the great ones in our ears? Can you hear their whispers into our Spirits, telling us not to get weary? We are a people of song, and song is our her/history. So, we sing on. “That’s what we do.” Moving forward into another page, viewers are met with auras of happiness, tranquility, and taking control of things that we can control. The song by Gladys Knight, “Make Yours A Happy Home,” is suitable for these current times. No matter how chaotic the outside world may be, at least make our interior a space of love and light. At least make our homes the beginning, and initial starter, for peace and tranquility in the world. At the very least. . .
Again, we get to “Stir It Up,” with Patti LaBelle, for this VERZUZ challenge. Adding more hype to the festivities of the occasion, audience members get to have a little fun, for now. And that’s another important point. What was so cool about this particular VERZUZ challenge is that it showcased intergenerational understanding. Our Nanas could vibe with the young crowd. They could connect with the new music and the new fad for the younger generations. That’s what made this VERZUZ challenge so relatable. You could imagine yourself being in the kitchen with your grandmother and grandfather. They are listening to their 50’s and 60’s iconic classics. The next song comes on, and you realize that Nana and Grandpa can jam and get down to Beyonce or DMX. This particular challenge was the epitome of generational love and wellness. Its those moments of healing, which have kept Black American families and communities alive, even in the midst of slavery, Jim Crow, and the push for Civil Rights. Just reflect on that for a moment. Reflect upon what these two living legends have been through. Meditate on where their vocal talents took them-the history they witness. They grew up during those times of segregation. They observed what it felt like to be called “boy” and “gal.” Nevertheless, they had carried those memories into the present time. They are observing certain repetitions of the past, in the current present. Here they were living gifts, who could use their music as advice for the younger generations; using their voices of medicinal healing to ease and calm the frustrations and angers of those who don’t know where to turn to. Nana knowledge, at best!
What made this VERZUZ challenge so intimate, was the special surprise of another legend, who also participated-the one and only DIONNE WARWICK! Another legend, who came to add honey to our tea, and sugar to our wine. She was that middle point for the two of them. Who could ever forget that level of elegance and age, for these three women? Who could ever forget? Its what you call that classic and graceful way of aging. And yes! They can still sang! Entering into the VERZUZ challenge, there is the exchanging of loving embraces. “That’s What Friends Are For” was the perfect element, and highlight of this triplet of song. There was a story, unfolding. They really were Sisters, who had come to re-unite with each other. This image was the perfect image for our younger generation of women, and young girls. This is what it was all about. “Sisters in the name of love.” Yes, my Dears. Love was truly surrounding them. What made the vocal performance of the three of them, even more serene, was their homage to the 1988 Classic, by Karyn White, “I’m Not Your Superwoman.” Can you imagine that? Three icons, of Black American soiling, came together to honor the classic of a younger maiden, who could relate to the every day struggles of so many women. They were three different timbers, and textures, of vocal performance. Yet, they were able to add different styles and colors to the song, while still keeping it united. Now, that’s legendary! That’s iconic. Its the very definition of a, classic performance!
Regardless of these current times, you will never forget this VERZUZ performance. Quite honestly, it was more of a performance than anything else. The only apparent battle was the coming together of these legendary performances, in the moving of movement for our very Souls. That’s it. They came to nourish our Spirits, during these difficult times. And, oh, what healing it was! What joy we felt! Hope is always arises, when the Nanas, sing. Hope always continues when our Nanas pray. Its one of the most miraculous, Heavenly, and Divine experiences, for the human psyche. After every song, after every prayer, the Nanas always leave us with those words of wisdom. That deep, everlasting phase of richness. We can’t ever live without it.
Gladys Knight: “In someties, life, we sing about it. We talk about it. Now, we need to live it. We have to understand and appreciate, and be so grateful, for this thing called, love. We can settle anything when we get to that. Gotta’ have empathy in your heart though for the other person.”
Now, that is the living grace, the living wisdom of. . .Nana’s song. There is a sacred calming within this VERZUZ challenge. What made this challenge so sacred is that it involved the older generation of musical genius. We, as Black American youth and children, were given a living palette to acknowledge the wisdom of our elders. It was medicinal and Soulful, in one of the most powerful ways we could imagine. They didn’t focus on the problems. Instead, channeling love’s energy was the solution. Reminding of those teachings that we learned from our grandmothers as children, is one of the most powerful elements of this VERZUZperformance. We were learning Nana lessons. We were given Nana lessons. Their vocal performances took us back to our days as little children. There were those times when we gathered around their feet, and listened to their stories. Sometimes we didn’t even have to ask the questions. Nanas were just wise enough to know the answers. All we had to do was show up, and listen!
To Stay Up-to-Date On the Latest From Patti LaBelle, Dionne Warwick, and Gladys Knight, you may check out the following links: https://www.pattilabelle.com/, https://gladysknight.com/, http://www.dionnewarwick.us/
Twitter: @MsPattiPatti, @_DionneWarwick, @MsGladysKnight
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