I’ve participated in the joy of The Soul Show for over 16 years, as a co-host then host. If one spends that much time in the presence or vicinity of the music scene, trajectories of artists are witnessed. I remember a few.
Scouring through emails and CDs back in 2012, some great cover artwork caught my eye, and then the album name caught my brain. Over the next few days, I got to know the album in bits and pieces while commuting from the city to Cranberry, Pa. I remember the time and place when I finished Robert Glasper’s Black Radio and thought “Grammy”: I-79 northbound, after hearing covers of Bowie’s “Hermione” and Nirvana’s “Teen Spirit.” It won Best R&B Album that year. Black Radio III just did it again.
In 2014, Lizzobangers introduced me to Lizzo’s speedmouth and attitude. At the time, I told my station’s music director, who, like Lizzo, also hailed from Minneapolis, that she was one to watch. I might have even said she was the next Queen Latifah. And now, Lizzo is on top of the world.
Scroll back to 2012: saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin and her Soul Squad put out a fun R&B/funk album called Retox. One of my favorite tracks to play on the air was “Human Being,” a dreamy psych-soul number featuring vocalist Mavis Swan Poole. A Pittsburgh Cultural Trust vice president texted me asking who the artist was, and then Poole came to perform in Pittsburgh twice that year.
When word began to spread of Benjamin’s 2020 tribute to the Coltranes, it felt like her time was coming. Pursuance: The Coltranes was a smash. Along with the album, Benjamin donned a new look that captured a regal, mythical vibe. The total package was amazing. Sure enough, a Pittsburgh date was set, but then the pandemic prevented the show.
When Benjamin was announced for 2021 visits to both Cleveland’s Tri-C Jazz Festival and the Pittsburgh International Jazz Festival, I went to Tri-C. When we finally met after her command performance, there was a COVID almost-hug and a “We did it!”
A day or two later, and several days before the Jazz Festival, Benjamin was involved in a serious car accident, but persevered and made it to the Highmark Stadium gig. In a Jan. 23 New York Times article, she says her recovery inspired her latest release, Phoenix, an album rife with feminism and other social consciousness.
Observing Benjamin’s recent Sharp Radway and Jyoti (Georgia Anne Muldrow’s one-woman band) projects, it was clear that she was ready to convey messages with music. She has assembled an all-star cast on both fronts. Activists/scholars Sonia Sanchez and Angela Davis narrate on several tracks. Teri Lyne Carrington produces, Dianne Reeves sings, Wayne Shorter blows sax, Muldrow sings and contributes synths, and Patrice Rushen plays the keys.
“Mercy,” featuring Reeves, echoes the expansiveness of West Coast Get Down-er, Kamasi Washington. “Blast,” with Sanchez reciting poetry, is strident and urgent. As soon as the title track began, I heard the edgy contributions of Muldrow. It’s one of my favorite songs on the album.
Black History Month
The Soul Show on WZUM-FM (Saturdays from 2 p.m.-5 p.m.) is presenting its annual series of BHM themes (the first two segments this February covered Blaxploitation Film Soundtracks and Multigenerational Music Families). On Sat., Feb. 18, tune in for a retrospective on The Soul Train television series.
Mike Canton is the longtime host and producer of The Soul Show, airing on local radio stations WZUM and WIUP. The program is currently syndicated in seven markets in the U.S. and Caribbean. Canton is also a Pittsburgh-area voice artist.