Editor’s note: The following article is an editorial, and the opinions expressed are those of the author. Learn more opinions on the Grio.
What started as an offhand comment made by one of my closest friends about someone she was seeing turned into an hour-long debate that has since spanned group chats, household and maybe even made its way into an NAACP field office or two. I’m not saying it’s the most important question of this generation, but it’s in the top 10.
Are you ready, Biv? I’m ready, Slick, aren’t I? (The question is neither.)
Is “Melodies From Heaven” by Kirk Franklin & the Family a song that all black people know?
(It’s this one.)
The easy answer is, of course not. However, there are people who are surprised that black people don’t know this. This list of people includes Joe Budden, which is how this conversation (in my house, group chats and potentially the NAACP) started. On episode 584 of “The Joe Budden Podcast”, Joe found out (and was surprised to find out) that co-hosts Ice and Ish didn’t know the song. Apparently my friend (while discussing the episode of the Joe Budden podcast) was also surprised to hear that Ice and Ish weren’t familiar only to find out that the person she was seeing ALSO didn’t know him. She, like Joe Budden, thinks it’s the kind of song all black people know. “They play it in the clubs!” (More on that later.) Now, when I hear people talking about songs, we should all know that means I’m staring at someone who DON’T KNOW the song.
I protested that although I know this song – I grew up in the church and sang in the choir and Kirk Franklin’s songs have been used extensively for church choirs everywhere – unless Unless you grew up in the church, it’s entirely possible you’ve never heard like any number of gospel or praise and worship songs. There are ENTIRE artists and works that you simply won’t know about unless you grew up in a house that played them. I grew up in a home where gospel was played and went to churches that had choirs that sang all the songs common to the black church-going experience. Even though I don’t know the words, I know the melody (no pun intended) and I can hum and pretend into a crowd of people singing to Any Black Function.
I remember hearing “Melodies From Heaven” as a kid, but I was also 16 when the song came out, and thanks to “Silver and Gold” I remember listening to Kirk Franklin albums . And then in 1997, when “God’s Property” came out, well, EVERYONE knew the song “Stomp” because there was a video that sounded like a party, and it was an interesting compromise song between secular and gospel. It was blocked, but it was about Jesus so you and your parents could listen to it in the car. Essentially, “Stomp” crossed over. “Melodies From Heaven”, not so much.
To that end, I’d be more surprised if anyone, regardless of background, didn’t know “Stomp” since that song was all over the radio in 1997. For context, “Melodies From Heaven” came out in 1996 on Kirk Franklin & the Family’s Grammy-winning album, “Whatcha Lookin’ 4.”
Back to the debate. My wife and the mate didn’t agree with me at all. They both felt, quite emphatically, that all black people have heard ‘Melodies From Heaven’, because it’s not just a popular gospel record, but ‘THEY PLAY IT IN CLUBS’, which happened. . Personally, I’ve never heard it in a club before, but I saw a clip on social media of the song being played in a club somewhere. I think their belief that this is a frequent club banger is a bit of a stretch; I worked and managed a club for years, and honestly I don’t remember him playing. Again, that’s not to say that some DJs in some places don’t use it for their sets, I just don’t think I’ve ever gone to a club expecting to hear “Melodies From Heaven” like I expect to hear it. Maze with “Before I Let Go” by Frankie Beverly.
But let’s talk about how we hear the songs. Unless you’re a fan of gospel music as an adult or just a fan of music in general, I guess most of us got our gospel education in our youth. My grandma was the type that wouldn’t let us play cards on Sundays because, well, I think the devil played cards on Sundays. We couldn’t wash clothes or anything. Sunday was for Jesus. So, as you can imagine, riding with Grandma meant listening to the music of the Lord.
My parents weren’t very strict about secular music, but we went to church religiously (pun intended), and we listened to gospel music. I love the gospel (and all of its iterations like praise and worship, etc.) because it makes me happy. It’s not the education of all black people… at all. So it’s entirely possible to reach adulthood without ever hearing Andre Crouch or the Clark Sisters, etc. For some of us, that seems impossible, but the truth is, not all black people are in church like that. Going to HBCUs and hearing a bunch of your homies sing songs you’ve never heard loudly like they’re singing “Billie Jean” might get you looking for some stuff. I have a friend from college who introduced me to a whole bunch of jazz artists that I had never heard of who really changed my life. It happens.
So for me to hear that a black person doesn’t know “Melodies From Heaven” is not surprising; I just guess they didn’t grow up in church. You didn’t need a church to hear “Stomp,” which is why I could distract any black person, in any walk of black life, who didn’t know about it. You just need ears. And even then, this song came out in 1997. My daughter is 14, and we listened to the gospel station in Washington, DC, every day, and she might not have known about “Stomp”; it is not played often at this stage. Now it’s my job to make sure my kids know those songs so that when they get to college, they’re not the ones trying to figure out why other people know songs they don’t.
So, is “Melodies From Heaven” a song that all black people know? No.
Now, if you don’t know Stevie Wonder’s version of “Happy Birthday,” I don’t know if we can be people because we’re not the same.
Panama Jackson is a columnist at the Grio. He writes very dark things and drinks very dark liquors, and is rather classy for a lightweight guy. His greatest accomplishment to date coincides with his darkest accomplishment to date in that he got a phone call from Oprah Winfrey after reading one of her articles (the most important), but he didn’t. didn’t answer the phone because the caller ID said: “Unknown”. (The blackest).
Be sure to check out the Dear Culture podcast every Thursday on Grio’s Black Podcast Network, where I’ll host some of the most black conversations known to mankind. You might not leave the conversation with an Afro, but you’ll definitely be looking for your Afro Sheen! Listen to Dear Culture on TheGrio app; Download them here.