Monday, April 27, 2015

O Bessie!

The entertainer legally known as Dana Owens, as I reported back in January, is playing blues singer Bessie Smith in an HBO movie. But that's not the half of it. It turns out the 45-year-old Ms. O. - who, as I recall, goes by an Arabic name and monarchical title - told CBS, in a profile to be broadcast on "Sunday Morning" on May 3, that when she got the script for this biopic, she had no idea who Bessie Smith was.
Perhaps I should have expected this. As Ms. O. is a rapper best known for lame movies, a ribald Fox sitcom, and two daytime talk shows that couldn't hold on to their audiences, I shouldn't have been so surprised that a performer who got her start vocalizing beat-box noises in a rap group and became a prominent figure in rap - a musical form not known for being musical or having any form - to know anything about musical tradition. Mainly because the hip-hop crowd is so bent on destroying traditionalism in popular music and so can't be bothered to know anything about American musical tradition. How else could a rap star not have heard of Bessie Smith, the greatest female blues singer of all time and the woman who inspired female blues and rock singers to come, Janis Joplin being among them? 
This only serves to reinforce my hatred for rap and almost everything connected with it. Although I do respect a couple of hip-hop figures like Chuck D, whom I particularly respect for his knowledge of musical history, I am convinced that most rappers don't care if their non-musical, repetitive, exclusionary, tawdry sound makes a mockery of America's musical heritage. The idea that a hip-hop figure never heard of Bessie Smith really takes the cake.
Hip-hop, I am led to understand, is the bedrock of popular music in America today. Now, more than ever, I want no part of American popular music . . . or its practitioners.

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