• Dennis Howard

Blue Eyed Soul: Black Performance in White



Whatever label you give it soul or r&b one thing is certain is that it's black music that emerged out of the black experience. Is this statement an accurate all the time? Well what about the the singers who are not black but deliver vocals that sound black.


Since the 1960s groups like the Heavenly Brothers, have stunned the music world with a sound that is usually associated with black performers. Blue eyed soul was the label used to describe music that sound black but was performed by non black artists.


The statement has caused substantial discussion among some white critics and artists. They oppose the term because "blue eyed soul" implies that "soul" music is racially defined at its core and that a distinction was necessary to ensure that audiences identified who these singers were. They contend that the phrase should not be used.


It's ironic that some take this stance when the whole system in the United states have been based on categorizing music along racial terms . MTV didi display videos from black artist until Michael Jackson released "Thriller."


The Billboard Top 100 Pop Chart was a device to keep black artists out of the mainstream. Terms like "race records", rhythm and blues and world music were used to straightjacket black performers. Billboard magazine consistently moved the goalpost to ensure rock was seen as the most popular music In America, even when it was clear rap was more popular. Well here are a few blue eyed soul performance that most person are still surprised that the performer is white.


I Just Want to Stop Gino Vannelli


When Canadian/Italian singer Gino Vannelli release this ballad, dance floors in black communities worldwide were packed, slow dancing to this hit. Most music fans were unaware that it he not a black performer. Vannelli was one of the first Caucasians to appear on the television dance show Soul Train (Dennis Coffey was the first in January 1972). He was invited to tour with Stevie Wonder in 1974.




Baby Come Back - Player

With its tight funk groove coupled with a great vocal performance both lead and harmonies this track surprised even a few white audience that the Player were a white band. In certain quarters, this song has come to represent blue-eyed soul. It was a staple for Jamaican disco sets (sound systems) who specialised in soul and r&b music. "Baby Come Back" is also categorised as  a soft rock radio classic and  embodies what would eventually be described as "Yacht Rock" calm, intelligent (and frequently ridiculed) music.




Deja Vu Tina Marie

Taken from her debut album "Wild and Peaceful" the amazing vocals of Tina Marie, (armed with melisma, call and response and other black performance style) was unleashed on world. The music world shook when it was discovered she was white. This took some time for fans to realised because her image was not used on the album cover.


Her popularity in r&b and soul music, as well as her dedication to these genres, earned her the moniker "Ivory Queen of Soul." She was a rhythm guitarist who also played keyboards and congas. Teena Marie was nominated for three Grammy Awards.




What You Won't Do For Love - Bobby Caldwell

This song one of the most memorable and shocking example of blue eyed soul that still surprise even today. The 1978 hit has been a standard hit in black music circles; but very few fans realised that the singer Bobby Caldwell was white. The album cover had a silhouette of the singer so everyone assumed he was black.

Caldwell's face was left off the record cover because label executives wanted to hide the fact that he was white. The majority of the crowd was black when he toured with Natalie Cole to promote the record, and many were astonished to learn that Caldwell was white.


Caldwell's mother was a real estate agent, and one of her customers was Bob Marley, the reggae icon; the two became friends. Caldwell was exposed to a wide range of music while growing up in Miami, including Haitian, Latin, reggae, and R&B.




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