By Geoffrey Rowlands
One critic described Khalid Robinson’s mellifluous voice as “like applying honey to your eardrums.”
This acclaim for the 19-year-old singer is almost universal. Critical appreciation has been matched by US music fans of all ages whose purchases of his debut album, American Teen, have seen it hit number nine on the Billboard 200. College students are equally impressed. Their votes via the MTVu television channel saw Khalid recently receive the Woodie to Watch award.
“It’s been an amazing few months,” Khalid smiled. “It was incredible that I was even nominated in the Woodie to Watch category. When you consider I was up against brilliant artists such as Dua Lipa, Rag ‘n’ Bone Man and D.R.A.M., who’d all had some really big hits, it was unbelievable that I won.”
Among all those thanked in his acceptance speech, Khalid singled out his mother in particular. He said he would not be in music if it wasn’t for her.
“I can’t put into words how much my mom means to me. She was in the army working as a supply technician but she also had a wonderful voice. The opportunity was there to try singing as a career but she stayed in the army to give me a stable upbringing.
“We moved around various army bases. I was born in Fort Stewart, Georgia, but I’ve also lived at bases in Kentucky, New York and El Paso, Texas. Mom was assigned to a base in Heidelberg, Germany, and we lived there for six years. This was really where I discovered my gift for music. I was about ten. I really enjoyed music and theatre.
“Mom gave me total encouragement. I guess she realised I’d inherited some of her musical talent. She sacrificed her own possible recording career for me but she made sure I had every opportunity to forge a career in the music business if this was what I wanted.”
Despite his undoubted ability, it wasn’t until Khalid moved to El Paso that he began to seriously consider music as a career.
“Mom always emphasised the benefits of education. She encouraged my musical dreams but actively pursuing a music career was for after high school. I still created songs and put them on SoundCloud but this was something I did in my spare time.”
His SoundCloud songs got noticed. Not least by Khalid’s fellow high school students. Almost all were positive but there was one particularly influential dissenting voice.
“It was the most popular kid in school. I’d put my song, Saved, on SoundCloud. He said it was terrible. There were even Snapchat postings of him saying this. Everyone is entitled to their opinion but he was saying I was no good, not just my song. From then on, I was determined to prove him wrong.”
His online audience played a major role in Khalid’s rise towards stardom. His track, Location, proved hugely popular. One fan was the fashion designer, model and reality television personality Kylie Jenner. She is among the top ten most followed celebrities on Instagram so a posting of Kylie dancing to Location sparked a massive surge of interest in Khalid’s music.
It also attracted the attention of major labels. A deal was signed with RCA Records.
“I’ll say a big thank you to Kylie Jenner if I ever meet her. I’d like to think I’d be making my way in the music business even if Kylie hadn’t made that Instagram post but I definitely don’t think I’d be where I am today.”
Location has now entered the top 40 on Billboard’s Hot 100 and looks set to climb considerably higher. With American Teen debuting in the top ten of the Billboard 200, a sold-out US concert tour just behind him and prestigious television appearances lined up, stardom certainly seems to be beckoning.
“I’d love to think so but I’m not taking anything for granted. I have musical influences from different genres and my own songs don’t really fall into one category. This could be a drawback but I hope it means everyone would like at least a few tracks on my albums. I co-write all of my songs so I’ll only have myself to blame if things do go wrong.”
For an artist universally recognised as a rock and roll legend, Chuck Berry had remarkably little chart success. The singer, guitarist and songwriter, who died recently at the age of 90, was acknowledged as a musical pioneer who developed rhythm and blues into rock and roll during the mid to late 1950s
It was these early years which saw Chuck enjoy regular entries in the US charts. He had three number ones on the R&B chart and five mainstream top ten hits. But after the ‘50s turned into the 1960s, Chuck’s name was only rarely found in any chart listing.
There was one notable exception. In 1972, Chuck had his only US and UK mainstream chart-topper with My Ding-a-Ling, a novelty song originally written and recorded 20 years earlier by Dave Bartholomew.
Chuck had recorded a modified version of the song as My Tambourine in 1968. But on February 3, 1972, while performing at the Lanchester Arts Festival in Coventry, England, he played the original version of My Ding-a-Ling to an appreciative audience who willingly joined in the chorus.
The entire festival had been filmed and recorded. Chuck’s performance was discovered by Jim Connors, a DJ on Boston radio station WMEX, who played My Ding-a-Ling on his own show and promoted it among his peers. Listener response was so positive that Chess Records released an edited version as a single and Chuck found himself at number one.
The lyrics referred to a gift of silver bells hanging on a string given to the singer by his grandmother. But they could easily be regarded in a different manner. It was this innuendo and double entendre which accounted for much of the song’s popularity and why numerous radio stations refused to play My Ding-a-Ling.
Chuck’s complete unedited performance, during which he leaves no doubt as to how the lyrics should be interpreted, can be seen at www.youtube.com/watch?v=hMddte6yD2w
Chuck Berry’s death overshadowed the passing, at just 60, of singer, songwriter and producer Joni Sledge.
Best known as a founding member of the American family vocal group Sister Sledge, Joni and her siblings, Kathy, Debbie and Kim, recorded numerous hit singles and albums from the late 1970s to mid-’80s. They are probably most fondly remembered for the smash hit single, We Are Family. This song provided the musical soundtrack to the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball team’s World Series triumph in 1979.
The track was enormously popular among the Pittsburgh players and blasted out over the sound system after Pirates victories. They became so closely associated with the song that the team name painted on the dug-out roof was replaced by The Family.
Although the hits have long since dried up, Sister Sledge continue to perform a solid concert schedule. They will still do so despite Joni’s death believing this to be the best way to celebrate her life.
The official video for We Are Family is posted at www.youtube.com/watch?v=oMVe_HcyP9Y
It depicts Sister Sledge as a trio rather than a quartet. Debbie was absent on maternity leave.
Evanescence singer/songwriter Amy Lee has just released her latest solo single, Speak to Me. It is an edited version of the song she composed for the soundtrack of the forthcoming feature film, Voice from the Stone.
“The director, Eric Howell, actually sought me out to write the song,” explained 36-year-old Amy. “The movie is about a boy who hasn’t spoken since the sudden death of his mother and the people who are trying to help him to recover.
“The movie is truly amazing. I saw the original cut at my house in New York but wrote the song at the Skywalker Ranch in California. This was the first time I’d been away from my son, Jack, since he was born. The emotion I felt about this actually helped me to create the song.”
Scenes from the film accompany Amy’s original recording which can be found at www.youtube.com/watch?v=nvpPaa_oDPU
An audio post of the single is at www.youtube.com/watch?v=6Bqe6iPYIYQ
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