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Ballads In B&w

August 16, 1987

The reason that pop ballads are more successfully performed by black artists, in general, as opposed to white artists is that there simply isn't enough good and fresh material being written these days ("Pop Ballads: What's Race Got to Do With It?," Connie Johnson, Aug. 2).

Pop ballads, in particular, seem to rely on the same old chord progression formulas, accompanying a melody that all too often sounds recycled as well. Additionally, the production values and the arrangement on a pop ballad have to be restrained enough so as not to totally upstage the singer. Thus, the performance becomes more critical, demanding much more from the raw vocal.

R&B artists, therefore, sell more pop ballad records because there's much more room (and more of a need) to show off vocally. A Whitney Houston or a Luther Vandross, for example, don't just sing the song's melody verbatim from the songwriter's original lead sheet, but usually offer a more dynamic interpretation technically, often embellishing that melody quite a bit more than do most of their white counterparts.

To put it more bluntly, black artists have got more soul, which comes in quite handy when one has to dress up an otherwise typical mediocre pop ballad.

The real question that Connie Johnson should have asked is: "Why is it that pop ballad material has become so weak and generic that only rhythm & blues artists can do enough with it vocally to sell it successfully?

ANDY CHUKERMAN

Los Angeles

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