For whatever issues they have (and there are many: colonialism, imperialism, Brexit, etc.) one thing that I will always love about the Brits is their love, esteem and admiration for black—specifically African-American—music.
From the Rolling Stones paying homage to the blues men of Chess Records (and going to Chicago to sit at the feet of the Master, Howlin Wolf) to blue-eyed British soulsters like George Michael, David Byrne (Scottish), Boy George, David Bowie, and so many others, it is clear that the British know that the blues birthed rock and roll, and recognize that the blues were born in place, circumstance and sentiment from the enslaved and their descendants; their sojourn here from the cotton fields of Mississippi to the alleys of Memphis and Chicago.
Of the few times I’ve visited London specifically, black music seemed to pour from its very pores, from the tunes in the airport to the clubs, to the most unlikely of places. Once, I was in a very chi-chi London lounge in a very trendy hotel, and the DJ, who looked like he was in a rock band – skinny pants, long hair, maybe a bit of eyeliner — threw on “Ring My Bell,” and I was floored. FLOORED. His set blew me away in its nuanced specificity, that is, how could he know? Man, I’m telling you, he was a better DJ than cousin Clarence at the family cookout, and he’s been putting in work for years. The point is, that the love, the study, the R-E-S-P-E-C-T is there.
So I was not surprised when the stoic Changing of the Guard at Buckingham Palace today gave our Queen of Soul her propers.
No, those Brits are far from perfect, but they know soaring, imaginative, soulful beauty. And that’s alright with me.