Guess Who is Victimizing America’s Black Pop Stars?Lawrence Edwards
There’s a seemingly benign channel on cable TV that merely displays pretty scenery and gives the time and temperature. There are also informative little blurbs appearing intermittently at the bottom of the screen, generally related to pop culture. I turned it on to check the temperature outside only to be assailed by an angry missive about so-and-so soon to be starring in a movie with the loaded title, The United States vs. Billie Holiday.
I just wanted to know if I needed to wear a sweater.
I don’t know what it’s about and I doubt I’ll be giving that fun-sounding picture show a look-see anytime soon, but I do know that jazz singer Billie Holiday was also famously a heroin addict. Could this be where she and the evil empire ran afoul? If heroin’s illegality had dissuaded Billie Holiday from using it, which is the idea, we might be seeing a very different motion picture from these same filmmakers today: How the United States Prevented Billie Holiday’s Tragic Death at Age 44.
There’s an interesting statement as to its premise: “In the 1940s, Billie Holiday is targeted by the government in an effort to racialize the war on drugs, ultimately aiming to stop her from singing her controversial song ‘Strange Fruit’.”
“Racialize?” Welcome to today.
“Strange Fruit,” a song about lynching, is apparently the song most associated with her, but I don’t think it was on the jukebox at the local Veterans of Foreign Wars or wherever federal agents gather. I’ll also venture that you’re not going to see any hard evidence in this picture of the United States deciding, “Let’s ‘racialize’ the war on drugs.” I could be wrong about that. They might show her being assaulted by Ike Turner for all we know — but we do know that this movie’s sole reason for being is to racialize the war on drugs.
Billie Holiday was born to unwed teenage parents and, in a far from uncommon tale, the father bailed almost immediately. She was thus betrayed out of the gate by the person who should most want to protect you in life from being betrayed: your father. Her mom wasn’t Parent of the Year, either, sometimes working as a prostitute, and Billie was passed around to different people, having no stable home life whatsoever.
According to Wikipedia, at “nearly twelve, she found a job running errands at a brothel.” She experienced an attempted rape at age 11 and, “not yet 14, became a victim of sexual trafficking.” For its part, the United States would rather she or any other child had not had such a disgraceful excuse for a childhood. That’s just one of many reasons why life-destroying and community-destroying drugs are illegal, regardless of race, creed, or color, as are the worst of the worst crimes against humanity: crimes against children.
Holiday is still being victimized in death, a sacrificial lamb to a false narrative — the false narrative — and a recurring theme: Willfully break the law, then bemoan the consequences you invited. You’re just a hapless, helpless victim of circumstance, entitled to the perpetual chip on your shoulder. And unless Holiday owned her own music, which is most unlikely, her estate probably sees little from this Saturday matinee blaxploitation feature film.
While we’re racializing, without John Hammond of Columbia Records — who was white — to discover, promote, and produce so many of the biggest names in twentieth-century American music, including Billie Holiday, there would be no Billie Holiday legend to exploit, politicize, agendafy, and racialize for fun and profit. No cinematic wallowing in victimhood and demonology to a lachrymose show tune or two while romanticizing drug addiction for the black youth of America.
Without Jerry Wexler of Atlantic Records, who was Jewish, Aretha Franklin would likely have remained unknown outside of black churches. Ditto Whitney Houston, signed by Clive Davis, who was also Jewish, to Arista Records. They were the biggest “crossover” acts — i.e., selling to both blacks and whites — this side of The Supremes.
It’s not all they share. Supreme Florence Ballard was raped at knifepoint at 15 and died young and troubled at age 32. Billie Holiday died at 44. Houston at 48.
Maybe little can be done when someone is intent on killing themselves via their poison of choice, but at the same time, some onus has to be placed on the circles they traveled in, especially when we’re constantly being told how bad ours is every time we turn around. Who introduced Billie Holiday to heroin in the first place? What kind of “friend?” It wasn’t uptight, law-abiding squares who preferred Bing Crosby and Kate Smith, and it wasn’t the bogeyman “government.” Holiday’s world was one of enablers, fellow users, tacit approvers, and probably no end of hepcat suck-ups once she attained fame and, best of all, “controversy.”
Carrion for the likes of a Spike Lee.
It wasn’t just jazzbos and the criminal fringe in Holiday’s case, but upper-echelon sniffing and finger-wagging Hollywood pious prisspots such as Orson Welles and others among the self-appointed hall monitors of race. What did they do for her?
Whitney Houston had become a train wreck long before her own death. Her daughter would follow suit a couple years later at just 22 — shocking, appalling, and soon forgotten. No race angle to play up. What was going on in her “camp”?
Aretha Franklin was the designated “Queen of Soul.” Could she enjoy that? Her father was murdered. He was The Reverend C. L. Franklin, famous in his own right for trying to uplift his people and his community, which only made him a mark in his community — someone worth shooting to take his stuff.
Aretha Franklin, Michael Jordan, Sean Combs, Eddie Murphy, Lisa Lopes of TLC, Teddy Pendergrass, Rickey Smiley. That’s just a small sampling of big names. All of their fathers were murdered. Marvin Gaye was murdered by his own father. Shannon, Lloyd, Lyfe Jennings: fathers murdered. And look at what befell the family of a singer and actress named Jennifer Hudson.
For her part, Oprah Winfrey, frequent referee on these one-sided “dialogues about race” and producer of movies about slavery — and who is worth 2.6 billion racist American dollars — was sexually molested as a child by family members, the worst of crimes committed by the worst possible offenders. Patti LaBelle was likewise molested as a child by a family friend and later sexually assaulted by Jackie Wilson. Wilson himself was shot by a girlfriend.
There are not enough hours in the day to catalog all of this. Billie Holiday, Oprah Winfrey, Patti LaBelle, Florence Ballard, Melba Moore, Tammi Terrell, Pam Grier, Ike Turner, R. Kelly: All of them sexually abused as young children, three of them as young as 6. Does Aretha Franklin qualify, having had her first child at age 12 and her second at 14? Yes.
Tupac Shakur, Christopher Wallace, Jam Master Jay, King Curtis, Roger Troutman, Tony Hester, Dyke of Dyke and The Blazers, a guy who looked after Boys II Men, a lady who worked for Teddy Pendergrass, a Womack Brother, one of the Lost Boyz, Robert Johnson, Lorenzen Wright, Marvin Gaye, Malcolm X, Reverend Franklin: all murdered, and not by cops or white supremacists.
This is just the CliffsNotes version. We only know that these things happened because these people are famous. What of the unknown and unsung? Sam Cooke was shot and killed in self-defense — by a black woman motel clerk. Little Willie John killed a guy himself.
And forget about the NFL or the NBA. O. J. Suge Knight. That R. Kelly. Rappers in general? 49 of the latter had been shot to death at last count. At least 15 were convicted killers as of 2019. Everyone in the Aaron Hernandez saga except for Hernandez himself was black, both his victims and accomplices. Hi-Five was a black boy band consisting of five gifted, black, and blessed young men. One of them shot and killed another kid, while another stabbed his own wife to death. Tower of Power is a white horn band that always featured a black singer. Guess which one of them killed three people? (Rick Stevens.)
That old Coasters record refrain — “Why is everybody always pickin’ on me?” — is hard to apply to a situation where someone’s own backyard is a dangerous war zone and burgeoning graveyard of their own device. And this list is still far from complete.
One of the Lost Boyz was shot and killed while leaving a party in a case of mistaken identity. No cities were razed in protest against a “shoot first and ask questions later” culture where children getting hit by stray bullets is commonplace.
Shot, but not killed: Bob Marley, as well as his wife and his manager, Fifty Cent, Suge Knight, Garrett Morris, Jackie Wilson, and Rickey Smiley. The Marleys were attacked in their own home while their children were present.
A black actor named Michael Jace, who starred in horrible, moralizing showbiz crap like C.S.I. and Forrest Gump, shot and killed his own wife in front of their two young sons, aged 5 and 8. Fifty Cent was shot nine times, allegedly by Mike Tyson’s friend and bodyguard — who was himself shot to death a few weeks later. Al Green, for his part, had scalding-hot Cream of Wheat thrown on him while naked. He was badly burned, and the woman who did it then blew her brains out.
Rickey Smiley is now making his second appearance in this catalog, yet by all accounts, he’s a very decent guy with no gang-banging past or history of holding a gun to any pregnant women’s stomachs. Then why has so much misfortune been visited upon this one man and his family by dint of birthright, getting shot for no reason and losing his father to murder as a young boy being just some of it?
New Orleans rapper Mystikal’s sister was stabbed to death. Charged with, but later acquitted, of her murder was her boyfriend, who was a member of the famous Neville family of The Neville Brothers fame. Mystikal has blamed the revered Neville name for affecting the outcome of the subsequent trial. Mystikal is not without his own criminal history. Of the four Lost Boyz, one was killed because he went to a party, while another is serving 37 years for a series of ten bank robberies that he carried out with three accomplices. These were relatively rare (and relatively stupid) “takeover” bank robberies where the poor, innocent bystanders have to be unnecessarily menaced. That amounts to terrorizing mild-mannered, and usually female, clerical workers.
The best friend of a popular Atlanta club DJ went into his home while he was out and murdered his wife for him, shooting her as she lay sleeping a few feet from his 7-year-old daughter and 2-year-old son. The 2-year-old had to be pulled from his mother’s body when paramedics arrived.
Singer Jennifer Hudson’s 7-year-old nephew had to watch his grandmother and uncle being murdered by his mother’s ex. The boy was then himself kidnapped and taken away in his uncle’s vehicle, and was later found shot to death in the back seat where it had been parked outside the ex’s new girlfriend’s place — since it was Valentine’s Day, you see.
Miles Davis was shot at from close range, but the bullet miraculously missed. Davis found reason to complain about the police who were dispatched to aid him and investigate the shooting, while he had no disparaging words for the black guys who had pulled up next to him as he was sitting in his car and opened fire at near-point blank range.
The first cop on the scene to help the bullet-riddled Tupac Shakur in Las Vegas was told by the gangsta rapper, “Fuck you.” The cop in question hadn’t shot anyone, black or white, that night. He also hadn’t joined in a group stomping of another black man that night, as Shakur himself had done. Although he has been spun as a race martyr, Tupac Shakur was also severely injured in another shooting only months before the one that ended his life — for his gold chain, or just for being from the wrong coast.
The guy who murdered Michael Jordan’s father for his nice car, and then threw his body in a nearby creek, rapped about the deed on social media, proudly flaunting the father’s Bulls ring. A movement to get him released from prison has succeeded in getting him paroled in 2023.
Which black lives matter and which don’t? Billie Holiday’s short life was longer than those so many others in her circles. The woman who wrote and sang “God Bless the Child” came to a sad and premature end — but her beginning was so much sadder.
That, and everything mentioned above, happened without the “United States” having had a chance to get its systemically racializing mitts on anyone.
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