Music has been a huge part of my life since before I can even remember. I was singing for church with my family when I was little more than 2yrs old, and I really don’t even remember that. But I’m sure that I loved it, because I always have, and still do. I was raised fairly conservatively Christian, though it’s all relative. Mostly my parents policed the media that my sister and I consumed, but of course this was all before we had any hint of awareness about it.
So my favorite songs when I was 5 yrs old were from The Sound of Music, or by Michael Jackson, Neil Diamond, Barbra Streisand, and Helen Reddy. You and Me Against the World got played a LOT in our house. Most of the music we listened to though was Christian – and it was great, too. Lots of Sandi Patty, Larnelle Harris, and Steve Green, with some Heritage Singers and The Brothers of Washington, DC (a little known group of guys that my dad went to school with) thrown in.
Both of my parents loved classical music as well, so we had records of Peter and the Wolf (the Disney version), and The Nutcracker and Swan Lake, plus a couple Chopin records. When I was little, Peter and the Wolf was one of my favorites, and I would pull out my Tinker Toys and pretend that I was Peter, making some kind of weapon to fight the wolf. When I was a little older (about 9), my sister and I would jump around – lightly of course, to keep the record from jumping – and pretend we were ballerinas when listening to Tchaikovsky. So we were big music appreciators.
My dad was the one who brought new music into the house when I was a kid. That’s how We are the World, That’s What Friends are For, and Whitney Houston’s debut album all made it into the house. (My sis and I had also worked out a routine for How Will I Know by the end of 1987). Every once in a while I learned a song from a friend at school – Always by Atlantic Starr, for example, or the theme from Beverly Hills Cop [which I saw years later].
Since that was the way that we heard new music, my musical world was still pretty small then. My parents weren’t all that thrilled with MTV and it took us a while to wear them down enough for that to be approved programming. I finally got a radio in my room when I was 9. It was old [it was a radio, record player, and an 8-track player all together]. So I tuned it to our local college station that broadcasted NPR and that was what I listened to to go to sleep for the next 2 years.
I was homeschooled in 5th grade, so, basically out of the loop, in terms of pop culture.
In 6th grade, I went to private school again, and we didn’t do a whole lot of talking about music. I was one of two black people in our class, and the nerdier one by far. So when I was talking to one of the boys in my class and he said “word up”, I just said, “huh?” Another guy was right there and was super surprised that I didn’t know what he was talking about – “you don’t know what ‘word up’ is?”, “you know, like the song?” And honestly, could you have expected a kid to know what it was without having heard the song or some other slang referral to it? I didn’t know what they were talking about, and told them that I only listened to classical music.
I was a dork. But I’m ok with that.
I was still keeping up with Whitney’s music, and by 7th grade I had seen a few more Robert Palmer videos. So I was behind. And nerdy by any standards. But getting better.
Eighth grade brought a complete immersion in Casey’s Top 40, and total abandon in terms of pop music. It also brought the beginning of the 90s, the musical era in which I was fully aware. Kicked off with a bang by Mariah and Boyz II Men, the 90s were my time to fully explore whatever I wanted to hear. I wasn’t all that adventurous really, but I devoured just about every piece of R&B created within that decade, as well as going back and discovering much of what I’d missed in the 80s. I knew Madonna and Cyndi Lauper, but totally missed Prince. I knew MJ and Lionel Richie, missed Van Halen – except for that last song Jump.
I’d always had a soundtrack to my life, music that defined and spotlighted moments, but now I was finally current. I began to shed a bit of my dorkitude. Never lost it all, though.
And of course, I kinda like Cameo. W-O-R-D UP.