Musicology – the study of music,” encompassing all aspects of music in all cultures and all historical periods.
Alison Vania, my middle fiddle, didn’t want to play piano. She was kinda sorta being forced by her dad as a matter of Black tradition. Black Middle-class families, no matter how financially stretched, once believed that our daughters ought to be able to read music and play piano.
Doing your best for your child is every parent’s charge and vocation, whether you fully embrace it or not. And so, believe it or not, I have always tried. But with three girls, it can get a little damn bit expensive.
Found the best teacher I could. Pricewise she was high as hell, but so were my expectations, so I went. Carolyn Campbell, a 60-ish graying white woman, came to the door. She lived in Oak Cliff, near my house. That was good because, at $130 a month, I was gonna be short on gas money.
Ms. Campbell struggled to the door, three cats in tow, and invited me in. I hate pets. But cats are tops on my list of endangered species if I get to load the Ark next time instead of Noah. My heart fell, and it instantly clouded my first impression.
The cat cartel was no minor let down, but I proceeded with optimism. After all, those five Asian kids squeezing back into a sedan headed for Richardson had to be a sign of just how good she was. Asian parents are known for immersing their children in the sciences…any science, and music is one of them.
I followed Ms. Campbell and the cats back to this room. She wanted to show off one of her star pupils to sell me on that high price tag and the idea of coexisting with these damn cats. Whoever this so-called prodigy is, he better be good.
I looked over at the piano to a kid whose looks were not nearly as significant to me as the range of his talent. Ms. Campbell said that Harold Shaun Martin was one of her best; he was 14 and already playing for and directing a church choir. Of course, by now, Shaun realized he was on stage and put on a classical musical exposition that sold me on her and him too.
This is Black Music Month, but I take issue with how we deal with musicians today. We don’t fawn over and celebrate good musicians; we celebrate celebrities. Shaun
Martin is a local artist who has 10 Grammy’s to his name. He plays for first-tier artists and travels the world extensively.
Today the multiple Grammy Award winner is well known for his work with Kirk Franklin and Snarky Puppy. But his creative licks are legendary in the works of other artists like Chaka Khan, Erykah Badu, Fred Hammond, Tamela Mann, Kim Burrell, God’s Property, and more.
After decades as a bandleader, and a studio magician, Shaun launched his first project, 7Summers, in 2015. It is a menagerie of jazz, rhythm, blues, and party music to the casual ear. However, it was an eclectic learning session for those who delve into music theory.
He has released two other projects since then. In 7Summers, Shaun did for an international audience what he did for me that day at Ms. Campbell’s home. Shaun showed the world that his grasp of musicology was second to none. He started in New Orleans; landed in Johannesburg, South Africa; returned to Oak Cliff with a tribute to Ms. Campbell; and, ended downtown Dallas at Fuel City Tacos.
Although he has a loving mother and father, and a doting sister, he has always allowed me to lie publicly. So, I tell everybody he’s my nephew, Godson, play brother, or any other fib that grants me tangential heritage with him. But I’m not special; that’s just who Shaun is.
The days when musicians like James Brown carried huge bands are over. Musicians today are profit driven. But Shaun would rather lose money taking a 22-piece crew than say no to those who look up to him. Shaun put Oak Cliff on the national music map and has sacrificed himself and his name to encourage others at every level.
June is Black Music Month, and Shaun Martin is a local musicologist whose work is global and worthy of recognition.
(Please pray for Shaun, wife Monica and son, Harlem. Shaun is in the fight of his life, and we believe that God will continue to invest verses and melodies in him for years to come!)
Vincent L. Hall is an author, activist, and an award-winning columnist.