Today would have been Heavy D’s 45th birthday, and while it’s still so hard to believe that he’s gone, we should be celebrating his legacy, right? So as I tip my hat in his honor and prepare to blast Nuttin’ But Love a few — okay, 10! — times, my mind also wanders to the many beloved musicians and visionaries we’ve lost since Hev’s passing last November. It’s been a rough couple of months, so I want to keep it light...
Although I try not to question the natural order of things, I’ve often wondered what it would have been like to be a carefree 21-year-old during the spring of 1977. That was a decade and a half after Etta James released her seminal album, At Last, and also when Studio 54 opened its doors and became the center of the universe. In my wildest dreams, I’m 5’10” and “Cleopatra Jones” fly, with an afro out to there and hoop earrings the size of disco balls. I’m rocking a black, to-the-floor halter dress with a pair of glittery, platform sandals and dancing the night fantastic to Donna Summer’s Love to Love You Baby (the 17-minute version, honey) and grooving out to Robin Gibb and the Bee Gees’ You Should Be Dancing — yeah!
But that’s all just a fantasy. In reality, it would seem like forever before I’d get my chance to spin on the dance floor. So, I waited my turn and spent many a Saturday afternoon watching Don Cornelius, with his killer ‘fro, create magic on Soul Train. I also tuned in to watch the ball drop in Times Square for so many years that I eventually lost count. When I was finally old enough to hit the streets on New Year’s Eve, I remember feeling a little guilty about abandoning Dick Clark. By that time, Chuck Brown’s grip on the go-go scene was tightly wound up. It was all Chuck, all the time, and would be for years to come. And when legendary radio man Hal Jackson wasn’t playing Sunday Classics on WBLS-FM, he made sure to extend a helping hand to our talented youth.
Speaking of the radio: When I heard her voice coming from the car speakers the first time, I remember thinking, Whitney Houston is going to rule the world. And she did, for as long as she was able. The same year that she made her big screen debut in the Bodyguard and hit those sky-high notes in I Will Always Love You, there was a soul singer by the name of Belita Woods who was about to embark on her two-decades-long run with Parliament-Funkadelic. Ms. Belita sang her face off and she sure was funky.
Having to say goodbye to so many folks has been difficult, especially considering that each of their transitions marked the end of an era. Though life continues to march on, we have our memories and of course, we’ll always have their music to cherish. To quote Heavy D, my wish is that they’re all enjoying a very “peaceful journey.”
Regina R. Robertson is West Coast Editor of ESSENCE. Follow her on Twitter @reginarobertson.