“Ever-Growing & Rooted in Soul”: An Essay by Whitney McClain

Whitney McClain
Whitney McClain
As Black music and culture intertwine with American music and culture, it shapes the journey of Whitney McClain — helping her to grow as an artist and African-American woman.
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Ever-Growing: Rooted in Soul

by Whitney McClain

letters from a broken heart - whitney mcclain

What is Black Music and what does the month represent to me? That’s a tough question. Growing up in the ’90s, like most people my age, that question is a bit loaded. Black Music seemed to penetrate every aspect of the culture. However, it wasn’t as bold as calling the music “Black Music,” per se. Black Music, as I see it, is meshed with popular music of the era, and really “American” Music of the time.

My view of Black music and Black Music Month reflects the impact it has had on the culture during much of my adolescence. Black Music Month represents music by a people – my people – that has penetrated all aspects of culture and art. It hasn’t set itself aside as a separate entity, but it has blended in to add flavor to every aspect of life in a very beautiful way.

For me, the purpose of Black Music Month speaks to recognizing Black Music, but more so, recognizing the story of African Americans like myself – in music. From the sorrow that resonates throughout Blues to the improvisation of Jazz, Black Music Month represents it. More importantly though, Black Music Month should recognize that Black Music has birthed many other genres and is a key foundation of American Music, and American Culture as a whole. Ever since I can remember, the music of my people has resonated with my soul. I don’t know a better way to say it – I like it. I love it.

From my earliest recollection, I can remember listening to Earth, Wind and Fire and The Temptations. My parents embedded the sound of 1960s Motown Soul into my heart, playing songs like The Four Tops, “I Can’t Help Myself (Sugar Pie Honey Bunch). I remember sitting in the car as a child and singing along with joy the whole ride as my mother drove. Growing up, when my grandma would bring me to Walmart to sift through the latest CDs, I would stumble upon albums by Destiny’s Child and Alicia Keys. One could question, “What does going to Walmart have to do with “Black Music?” I would answer that Black Music is, indeed, American Music and as much of American culture as Walmart.

Later, I would discover the music video “Survivor” by Destiny’s Child, and like most girls my age, I would feel strong, empowered and confident. These are feelings that stem from a music birthed from boldness that has fluttered its way into the core of our culture.

When I was 21, I decided to professionally delve into music after being influenced by so many great singers growing up. I’d cite my major influences as mostly everything other than heavy metal. However, all stem from roots in Soul, Jazz and Blues. Those three genres echo through my music. Early in my career when practicing my singing, I would push to emulate runs and styles from some of my influences, Amy Winehouse and Adele being two of the biggest. Not realizing it, my music would directly pull from some of the Jazz standards Winehouse embraced in her own music. Likewise, my songs would be shaped by the Soulful nodes of Etta James and Ella Fitzgerald found in Adele’s work.

My first project, Nothing To Lose, is a story of heartbreak. I worked on it after a tough break-up, battling with complex feelings of sorrow that come from abandonment from someone you love. These themes mirror those of the Blues, and once again, played a role in my music without me fully cognizant of knowing beforehand. Even now, the impact of Black Music, the music of my culture, influences even how I approach my career. Jazz music thrives off creativity, thinking on your feet.

My latest project, Letters From a Broken Heart, was a new experience for me. Digging more into the writing process, this was at first new and uncomfortable for me. However, I had to do it, to express myself. I had to think on my feet and improvise as “Jazz” — or the mindset of it — led me to push through with confidence. Growing as an artist, I used these influences as a melting pot, a place to cook ideas and sounds together and mix them with my own American experience. I take them and it feeds my soul, while all the while allowing me to still gain the opportunity to branch out and grow.

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Stream: “Letters From a Broken Heart” – Whitney McClain

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letters from a broken heart - whitney mcclain

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