Vinyl records are on the comeback after being essentially laid to rest in the early 2000s. This resurgence is happening despite the popularity of many streaming services like Pandora and Spotify. According to Nielsen, sales of vinyl have seen a 260 percent growth since 2009 with continued growth predicted. LP records will come out of hiding, freed from waxed walls of bondage. The image of 45s can regain status as more than Trump’s presidential number, his tweets per minute or what many believe to be our president’s IQ. The biggest news of all, however, may be the need to introduce vinyl records to a new generation. This process will include teachings about the history of vinyl records and how to listen to them. The only thing many of today’s youth know about vinyl is from its use as the material they’ve seen on the surface of Uber car seats.
In the not-so-distant past, listening to vinyl records was a revered and ritualistic experience in many Black households. I can still remember my father’s record collection. He had so many albums that had he tried to place them inside our city’s Bean, the elliptic-shaped landmark located in downtown Chicago; it would have burst from the sheer weight. Willis Tower would have failed the altitude test once matched against Daddy’s archives. Lake Michigan would have become dry as dust after being swallowed into the orifices of Otis Redding, Donny Hathaway, Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye, Jackie Taylor, and Teddy Pendergrass as each man stood strong, chin up, mouth agape, ready to belt out the next note from atop his respective vinyl album cover.
True balladeers can serenade a sister until she starts speaking in Tongues. James Ingram was a masterful melody maker who fell into this ilk. When he joined Patti Austin with the sensuous suggestion, “Baby Come to Me,” folks tripped over themselves trying to heed the call. “The Secret Garden” that he created with Quincy Jones and a bouquet of other artists was floral ear candy. Ingram’s conviction in “Somewhere Out There” gave hope to the lovelorn. When I learned the legendary balladeer had passed away last week, I had a flashback. I remembered the excitement I felt as a young girl whenever I saw my parents grooving in front of the record player in our family den. Their musical selection wasn’t accidental. Rather, it had been carefully curated to fit whatever mood governed the day. Pick me up spells welcomed Sly and The Family Stone. Nostalgic moments needed Earth, Wind, and Fire or Al Green. Happy days called for James Brown or The Temptations. But whenever our Man of the House stood next to the wooden record player with a James Ingram record in hand, I knew it was a “Make-Up-Before-We-Break-Up” moment between him and my mother.
Before Daddy began his musical mission—to turn our home into a concert hall, a feat he accomplished from dusk to dawn every Sunday, there was something he needed to do first. Like clockwork, my father walked toward the square-shaped box as he held a 12-inch oval disc in his hand. His long arms extended forward, holding the vinyl-covered vision in-between them; his upper body shaped like an inverted letter “V.” He then placed the chosen LP on top of the thick needle that stood at attention in the middle of the record player. Daddy’s final move was pure precision. He waited for the spinning circle to reach the correct speed. At just the right moment and without missing a beat, he put the needle on the record.
If a James Ingram song was the selection of choice, the singer’s throaty voice filled our home with notes from the experiences he had as a child growing up in Akron, OH. It told the tale of a once-promising athlete who had turned down a track scholarship to pursue his passion for music–a trajectory that led him to join a band at 18 with a group that served as an opening act for The Ohio Players. The crew received some recognition, including an invitation to record a track for the “blaxploitation” film, Dolemite in Los Angeles. But when the group returned to Ohio, Ingram opted to stay in LA. The decision paid off. Legendary singer Ray Charles hired him to sing backup vocals. The Coasters followed suit. But the life-changing moment came when the musical godfather Quincy Jones heard Ingram’s demo recording of the Barry Mann/Cynthia Weil song “Just Once.” Jones picked Ingram to be a vocalist on the elder’s nickname-inspired album, “The Dude” (1991). Jones re-recorded “Just Once” with Ingram for that project. And the rest, as they say, is harmonious history. After a long, illustrious music career, God put the final needle on James Ingram’s earthly record on January 29, 2019.
I am hopeful that the late singer will continue to serenade lovebirds from heaven’s celestial choir. Perhaps we can “do him a solid” too. Let’s “Find 100 Ways” to love our loved ones this Valentine’s Day, as he so soulfully coached us to do.
Shanita Baraka Akintonde is an award-winning author, podcaster, professional speaker, professor, wife, and mother propelled by love. Her second book, Leading from the Heart, was released in September 2018 and her third book, Hear Me ROARR is set for release in Spring 2019. Add yourself to her event calendar and book signing distribution list. Email her at email@example.com. You can also reach her on Linked In at Professor Shanita Akintonde, www.linkedin.com/in/shanitaakintonde/.