The roots of popular music stem from musical genres that ironically don’t necessarily generate the economic largess of their lucrative offspring. Thusly, forebearers like Robert “King of the Delta Blues” Johnson and gospel-rocker Sister Rosetta (the “Godmother of Rock and Roll’) Tharpe ended their lives in unmarked graves in spite of the international impact of their music. By the middle to late 20th century, interest in these forgotten talents and their music had been rekindled by aficionados (who’ve sprung for tombstones on their long neglected graves).
The portraits that follow are included to underscore the importance of both performers and people behind the scenes in keeping genres like gospel vital into the new millennium.
“She helped open the doors for Black gospel artists to gain a wider audience and national acclaim.”
—Pioneering singer and gospel entertainment executive Annette May Thomas.
She’s been dubbed “The Shot Caller’” by Ebony Magazine, while others simply call her the most powerful woman in gospel. Regardless of the label, Vicki Mack-Lataillade is an entrepreneurial powerhouse. She catapulted artists like Kurt Carr, Kirk Franklin and Trin-i-tee 5:7 into the stratosphere, transforming the genre of gospel music and exposing it to a wider audience. A San Mateo, Calif. native, Lataillade moved south to the cultural hot bed of L.A., and became immersed in the sway of the Lula Washington’s dance company and people like actor Lincoln Kilpatrick while attending UCLA. Securing her first “real job” as a script girl on the motion picture “Adios Amigo” (1976), she transitioned into the recording industry.
“I started before there was a Black Music Division-there was none of that!” she remembers.
This meant segueing across genres, with such eclectic talents as folk icon John Denver, R&B rockers Hall & Oats, and classical piano virtuoso Vladimir Horowitz.
Specific incidents and performers from this period singer include Vickie Sue Robinson (“Turn the Beat Around”). Because of her mixed race ancestry, music executives initially didn’t know what to do with her, marketing wise. At an informal gathering of predominately Country Music insiders a pianist named D.J. Rodgers brought down the house with a ballad, “Say You Love Me,” which topped the charts in 1976.
The sacred sounds that ignited her childhood interest in music were rekindled through an association with the Christian record label Sparrow Records. By 1992, Lataillade and her husband, Claude, were ready to take the next step by launching GospoCentric Records.
By this time, a mini revolution was taking place within the genre, as groups like The Winans were changing the sound of gospel. The Lataillades contributed to this by attracting the youth market to make their label solvent and. This overture to contemporary tastes did not sit well with purists, however.
A shrill protest resonated from throughout the community repeating the rebuttal:
“That’s not Gospel!”
None-the-less, their business model reaped success, along with jealousy, and the Lataillades were forced to employ bodyguards. At the same time, industry big-wigs made overtures to partake of this lucrative upstart. They eventually sold GospoCentric Records to Sony Music Entertainment, a move Lataillade wishes she’d made earlier.
“You’re gonna have to sell if you have something successful,” she states, alluding to the realities of business in general, entertainment or otherwise.
For years residents of the celebrity enclave of Calabasas, the Lataillades are eagerly planning a move to Inglewood (the location of GospoCentric) to particulate in the cultural and economic revival that’s about to take place there.
Heralding His word
Henry L. Jackson continues the musical heritage of expatriates from Louisiana and Texas. Upon settling in San Francisco, the Shreveport, LA, native was groomed with training in classical piano, which shows up in the elegant chord structure of his compositions today.
Continuing his education at San Francisco’s Music and Arts Institute, he briefly visited Los Angeles in 1968 before permanently settling here.
His resume contains a formidable chronicle of most of the big names of sacred and secular music of the last 50 years. These include Natalie Cole, Andre Crouch, Aretha Franklin, Cassietta George, Country mega-star Faith Hill, Lou Rawls, and countless others, with awards and citations to match.
His musical ministry has had its rocky moments.
“Gospel doesn’t make same the monetary returns as secular music,” he said. This results in a lack of respect and ill treatment. A discussion about rights to his music with an unnamed executive ended when the man resorted to talked to him like he was “…a boy back on the plantation.”
The ever fickle trends of music-regardless of genre-prompts a democratic response from Jackson.
“I’m not in tune with some of the contemporary sound,” he noted, while allowing that there’s a place for both in the market.
This “changing of the guard” is nothing new, Jackson cautions, referring to the music’s history. A veteran of James Cleveland’s Gospel Music Workshop, he remembers when Cleveland took Gladys Knight’s “You’re the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me,” and repurposed it into “Jesus Is the Best Thing That Ever Happened to Me.” He also incorporated popular arrangements into presentations suitable for mass choirs.
Going further back, the “Father of Gospel,” Thomas A. Dorsey, adapted the blues and jazz rhythms honed in the after-hours-parties and barrel houses of his youth into sacred praise music. Like any musician-regardless of genre, Jackson spent a chunk of his youth on the road, a pastime he doesn’t miss. “People think its all glamour and glitz-but it’s not!”
These days he will only venture out for a weekend at most, content in his role as Minister of Music at South LA’s Second African Methodist Episcopal Church. Accomplishing everything except the elusive “big hit,” Henry L. Jackson lives a life of contentment and commitment to his faith and his music.
“I want to convey to the world in my music,” he says.
“God is love and his love is for everyone.”
Never an instrumentalist or vocalist, Angela Jollivette was preordained for a life in music. From her earliest memories as a pre-schooler in Compton, she dictated her classmates’ tastes by ensuring that Stevie Wonder’s “Hotter than July” held a prominent place on their classroom’s Fisher Price record player. The Hub City native’s passion was nurtured by virtue of her father’s extensive record collection, and she built upon this tradition by “posting up” at the back of the bus on field trips, her “boom box” or “walkman” belting out the soundtrack of her youth.
Her “Holy Trinity” of Marvin Gaye, Sade and, of course, Stevie Wonder shaped her personal tastes (hip-hop, soul, and R &B), and helped her remain “…true to the essence of what I heard growing up.”
Teenaged Jollivette pressured her to allow her to work part time at Tower Records. This job allowed her to feast on an audio smorgasbord of foreign imports like (Icelandic avant-garde singer) Björk, Portishead, and mix tapes.
Her affinity for music not-with-standing, she pragmatically entered UC Irvine as an Anthropology/pre-dentistry major.
“It wasn’t a straight and narrow road to entertainment,” she acknowledges.
Degree in hand, she secured a job as a sales rep in business to business selling for PacBell, before wrangling a job with newly retired NBA icon turned entrepreneur Magic Johnson. Distinguishing herself from other receptionists by reading music business text books made her get noticed by executives like Ken Lombard, and eventually garnered a spot Dee Jaying on “Hot 92” in Studio City as “D J Moonbaby.” From there, Jollivette became an in-demand D J, and established her own identifiable “brand” by performing at private industry venues.
Over time, Jollivette began to see the music she was immersed in as something more than mere entertainment.
“The mixing of jazz and rap is a natural, organic, evolution,” she believes, referring to the synergy between the two art forms. Jollivette cites Renaissance man Terrace Martin for this resurgence of jazz, along with Grammy-winner producer Robert Gasper (“He’s one of our next geniuses”), and saxophone colossus Kamasi Washington.
After years of the party circuit, she yearned to expand her horizons. Networking again helped her gain entry into the Recording Academy, aka the Grammys, in the only category open in 2007: gospel. Jollivette believes providence played a role in securing this position, which she initially took with the notion that it would be a steppingstone on the way up. She would remain with the Grammys in its gospel division for a decade, rising to oversee its visual media as senior project manager.
This was a launching point for her next vertical progression, as music supervisor for season two of Oprah Winfrey’s mega church based gospel drama, “Greenleaf.”
Tangible manifestations of Jollivette’s success are an NAACP and a Stellar award.
Angela Jollivette is currently culturally revitalizing the Crenshaw District by showcasing emerging artists on her show, “UnRestricted w/ DJ Moonbaby,” on the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw’s new digital platform https://www.ourcrenshawtv.com/. Visit her at her company website, moonbabymedia.com, and follow her on allsocial@djmoonbaby.