Should all Black folks know Kirk Franklin & the Family’s ‘Melodies From Heaven’? An examination.
OPINION: Kirk Franklin’s 1996 song — and a convo on Joe Budden’s podcast — spurred a multi-household debate about whether or not all Black folks should know certain records. Spoiler alert: No.
Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.
What started out as an off-handed comment made by one of my closest friends about a person she was seeing turned into an hours-long debate that has since spanned group chats, households and maybe even made its way into an NAACP field office or two. I’m not saying this is the most important question of this generation, but it’s in the top 10.
You ready, Biv? I’m ready, Slick, are you? (Neither of those is the question.)
Is Kirk Franklin’s & the Family’s “Melodies From Heaven” a song all Black people know?
(That’s the one.)
The easy answer is, of course not. However, there are people out there who are surprised when Black folks don’t know it. That list of people includes Joe Budden, which is how this very conversation (in my home, group chats and potentially the NAACP) started. On episode 584 of “The Joe Budden Podcast,” Joe discovered (and was surprised to find out) that co-hosts Ice and Ish weren’t familiar with the song. Apparently, my friend (while discussing the Joe Budden podcast episode) was also surprised to hear Ice and Ish were unfamiliar only to discover that the person she was seeing ALSO wasn’t familiar with it. She, like Joe Budden, thinks it’s the kind of song that all Black folks know. “They play it in clubs!” (More on this later.) Now, when I hear folks talking about songs we should all know that means that I’m looking at a person sideways who DOESN’T know the song.
I protested that while I know this song — I grew up in the church and sang in the choir and Kirk Franklin songs were used in plentiful fashion for church choirs all over — unless you grew up in the church it is entirely possible to never have heard it, like any number of gospel or praise & worship songs. There are ENTIRE artists and bodies of work that you just won’t know unless you grew up in a home that played them. I grew up in a household where gospel was played and went to churches that had choirs that sang all the songs that are common to the church-going Black experience. Even if I don’t know the words, I know the melody (no pun intended) and can hum along and fake it in a crowd of people singing along at Any Black Function.
I remember hearing “Melodies From Heaven” as a kid, but I was also 16 years old when the song came out, and on the strength of “Silver and Gold,” I remember listening to Kirk Franklin albums. And then in 1997 when “God’s Property” dropped, well, EVERYBODY knew the song “Stomp” because it had a video that looked like a party, and it was an interesting compromise song between secular and gospel. It jammed, but it was about Jesus so you and your parents could listen to it in the car. Essentially, “Stomp” crossed over. “Melodies From Heaven,” not so much.
To that end, I’d be more surprised if a person, regardless of upbringing, didn’t know “Stomp” since that song was all over the radio in 1997. For context, “Melodies From Heaven” was released in 1996 on Kirk Franklin & the Family’s Grammy-winning album, “Whatcha Lookin’ 4.”
Back to the debate. My wife and the homie disagreed with me thoroughly. They both felt, quite adamantly, that all Black folks have heard “Melodies From Heaven” as it’s not only a popular gospel record but “THEY PLAY IT IN CLUBS,” which has happened. I’ve personally never heard it in a club before, but I did see a clip on social media of the song playing in a club somewhere. I do think their belief of it being a frequent club banger is a bit overblown; I’ve worked in and managed a club for years, and I honestly don’t ever remember it playing. Again, that isn’t to say that some DJs in some places don’t use it for their sets, I just don’t think I’ve ever gone into a club expecting to hear “Melodies From Heaven” like I expect to hear Maze featuring Frankie Beverly’s “Before I Let Go.”
But let’s discuss how we hear songs. Unless you’re a gospel music person as an adult or just a music enthusiast in general, I’m guessing that most of us got our gospel education as youth. My grandmother was the kind who did not let us play cards on Sunday because, well, I think the devil played cards on Sunday. We couldn’t wash clothes or anything. Sunday was for Jesus. So as you can imagine, ridin’ ’round with grandma meant listening to the Lord’s music.
My parents weren’t very strict about secular music, but we did go to church religiously (pun intended), and we listened to gospel music. I like gospel (and all of its iterations like praise & worship, etc.) because it makes me feel happy. That isn’t every Black person’s upbringing … at all. So it is quite possible to make it to adulthood without ever hearing Andre Crouch or the Clark Sisters, etc. For some of us, it sounds impossible but the truth is, every Black person ain’t in the church like that. Going to HBCUs and hearing a bunch of your homies sing songs you’ve never heard at the top of their lungs like they’re singing “Billie Jean” might make you go look up stuff. I have a friend from college who introduced me to a whole slew of jazz artists I’d never heard of and that genuinely changed my life. It happens.
So for me, to hear that a Black person doesn’t know “Melodies From Heaven” isn’t surprising; I just assume they didn’t grow up in church. You didn’t need church to hear “Stomp,” which is why I might side-eye any Black person, from any walk of Black life, who didn’t know it. You just need ears. And even then, that song came out in 1997. My daughter is 14 years old, and we listened to the gospel station in Washington, D.C., every day, and she might not be aware of “Stomp”; it doesn’t get played often at this point. Now, it’s my job to make sure my kids know these songs so that when they get to college, they aren’t the kids trying to understand why other people know songs they don’t know.
So, is “Melodies From Heaven” a song that all Black people know? Nope.
Now, if you don’t know Stevie Wonder’s version of “Happy Birthday,” I don’t know if we can be people because we are not the same.
Panama Jackson is a columnist at theGrio. He writes very Black things and drinks very brown liquors, and is pretty fly for a light guy. His biggest accomplishment to date coincides with his Blackest accomplishment to date in that he received a phone call from Oprah Winfrey after she read one of his pieces (biggest), but he didn’t answer the phone because the caller ID said: “Unknown” (Blackest).
Make sure you check out the Dear Culture podcast every Thursday on theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, where I’ll be hosting some of the Blackest conversations known to humankind. You might not leave the convo with an afro, but you’ll definitely be looking for your Afro Sheen! Listen to Dear Culture on TheGrio’s app; download it here.