Back in 2011, I did a slideshow called “10 Singers We Once Thought Were Black,” which was inspired by Bobby Caldwell, and boy…did that make a wave. Since then, those who read that slideshow (and are still reading it according to its weekly views all these years later) have recommended names for another list. Plus, a whole new crop of blue-eyed soul singers have popped up in the years that have passed. So here I am again, writing the part two to that slideshow.
Again, this slideshow is not intended to offend, but to point out what I think most of us (black, white–whatever your background) have heard or said when enjoying the music of these performers: “What!? Wow! I thought she/he was black!”
For those who are less easily offended and know what I’m talking about, enjoy!
So…nobody was going to tell me and my boyfriend that a white woman sang “Love Will Lead You Back”? That’s my jam! Either way, Ms. Dayne sang that song. Wonder where she is now…
I actually thought that Daley was a black WOMAN of all things after hearing his song “Alone Together” with Marsha Ambrosius. I literally just found out today that ‘she’ is actually a he, and a white one at that. Once I got over that surprise, I went ahead and put the song on repeat. Daley can sing like nobody’s business!
I personally didn’t know what Sam Smith looked like until the Video Music Awards this past summer. I’d heard his voice and song “Stay With Me” in commercials and loved it, but I had no idea he was a young white guy from London. Now I can see why people call him the male version of Adele.
Depending on who you ask, Iggy Azalea’s voice is either the result of years of living in the south, or it’s manufactured to sound like that. Whatever the case, way before “Fancy,” an up-and-coming Iggy Igg was fooling folks with her trap-tastic gritty rap voice.
There’s no doubt that Mayer Hawthorne, with his fierce falsetto at times, is doing the alternative R&B soul thing and doing it well, because he’s been described by publications as a “Little White Boy Who Makes Big Black Man Music.” When I first heard Hawthorne’s song “Crime,” I was hooked, and thought he was black–but I could appreciate his sound nonetheless.
When P!nk first came out with her pink pixie cut and the catchy songs from her first album (some of which were produced by Kandi Burruss), I definitely thought she was black (I sort of thought she looked black too–sue me). But by the time she put out Missundaztood, her second album, she was much less R&B and let go of the pink coif for blond hair and a punk rock look and sound.
With her mohawk AND cornrows, Jane Child didn’t necessarily look that soulful (she was doing quite a lot with her look), but she definitely sounded that way when she blew up big with “Don’t Wanna Fall In Love” back in ’89. The Canadian singer’s jam was a major hit, and don’t even get me started on how dope the Teddy Riley New Jack Swing remix was…
The Canadian reggae movement is real (a ton of Caribbean people live in Canada), and back in the day Snow was out here gaining international success with his song “Informer.” The stage name Snow probably should have been a giveaway for a lot of people, but alas, he had still people, to this day, saying (and I quote this from YouTube): “Thought this guy was black lol.”
As Morgan Neville, the director of 20 Feet From Stardom put it, “English artists like the Rolling Stones and Joe Cocker began recording in the States, and at that point they realized, ‘We can get real African-American voices on our records; we don’t have to pretend any more.'”
But I wouldn’t necessarily say that Cocker was pretending. He had a strong, gravely voice that could make anyone feel and believe in what he was saying. His version of “With A Little Help From My Friends” is a cover, but everyone thinks that it’s his own.
I know “Never Gonna Give You Up” mostly as that one song from my sister’s keyboard that you could play as a demo and pretend you were actually playing it. But according to Urban Dictionary (seriously), many people thought this jam was from a black man: “A lot of people thought he sounded black, but he really was a red headed guy.”
Did you think Astley was a black man back in the day?
I heard this young woman’s voice in a commercial (the “No place I’d rather be” part caught me) and had to find out who the singer of this song was. While the video for “Rather Be” features an Asian woman, Jess Glynne is like many other people on this list–a white soul-singer from London. To say I was delightfully bamboozled by her voice would probably be the proper way to put it.
One of the first comments that stood out to me on the video for the epic single “Chandeliers” is this one:
“when i heard this song on the radio i thought it was rihanna’s new song.”
Interesting, because when I heard it on the radio I had a similar thought. But when I found out who the singer was, what she really looked like and how many really famous singers she had written for in the past (she IS behind Rihanna’s “Diamonds,” and Beyoncé’s “Pretty Hurts”), I was quite surprised. Great songwriting skills, even greater voice.
Stone’s cover of “Sex and Candy” gives me quite a bit of life, and when he opened his mouth to sing it I was quite blown away by the black soul singer’s voice coming out of his throat (joking!). His voice is amazing, and as he puts it, Stone is a “hippie with soul.”
When Phoebe Snow passed in 2011 at the age of 60, NPR had this to say (and a lot more) about her life:
It was refreshing and unusual to see someone embraced on the strength of her voice and songwriting alone, and not her looks. She was not the prefab concoction we’ve come to know as a pop princess, yet Snow soon graced the cover of Rolling Stone.
On the cover, she was baby-faced and big, with a crop of curls. Some people couldn’t tell if she was black or white. Her parents were Jewish music lovers who made sure she could play piano and guitar. But Snow’s four-octave voice could handle anything. She recorded 16 albums.
Snow, whose voice could be heard singing the theme to the first season of “A Different World,” was reportedly born to white Jewish parents, but her voice and her look had many of us thinking she was black. Either way, her voice, and her music (“Poetry Man” is everything) were loved by many–of all backgrounds.
Considering that someone commented on the very YouTube clip above with “I thought this was a black girls [sic]! Lmao I swear I was like wtf?” I would say that JoJo is a good addition to this list. She’s always had a pretty amazing voice, but as it has matured and as she has had to fight to get it heard (what with all the drama she had with her label for YEARS), it sounds even more soulful. You better sang, JoJo!