How David Bowie Inspired—and Was Inspired by—Black Artists
The iconic singer, who died of cancer Sunday, embraced the work of black artists and was an advocate for diversity in the entertainment industry.
BY: MIKOL L. CLARKE AND ADRIAN LOVING
Posted: Jan. 12 2016 3:55 PM
David Bowie was an iconic figure whose genius, vision and artistic versatility inspired—and was inspired by—generations of black musicians and artists.
Bowie was an outspoken champion for diversity in the entertainment industry, and he was widely known to embrace black artists and their work. In his recent retrospective touring exhibition, David Bowie Is, he recalled wanting to be a white Little Richard at age 8 after being exposed to his music. “I wanted to be a musician because it seemed rebellious, it seemed subversive.” In the ’70s, Bowie—already a bona fide glam-rock star—turned to R&B, soul and funk to create music he dubbed “plastic soul.” In the ’80s and beyond, his irreverent style was a source of inspiration for artists across many genres, including hip-hop.
Here’s a list of some of Bowie’s more popular intersections with black musicians and performers:
Bowie cited Little Richard as a major influence and said he heard the voice of God when listening to Richard’s “Tutti Frutti.”
Guitarist Carlos Alomar, who previously worked with Luther Vandross in 1974, invited him to attend a Bowie recording session at Sigma Sound Studios in Philadelphia. Vandross’ amazing voice became a fixture on Bowie’s R&B-inspired 1975 album, Young Americans, as a background singer. Vandross also co-wrote the single “Fascination” with Bowie. Vandross would later tour with Bowie as both backup singer and opening act.
Nile Rodgers met Bowie, who was sitting alone at a club one night in New York City, and the two struck up a conversation about music, particularly jazz. They also talked about working on a song together, and the result of their collaboration was the 1983 chart-topping single “Let’s Dance.” Rodgers said the collaboration helped changed the course of his career, following the rise of the “disco sucks” era. Ten years later, Rodgers and Bowie would work together again, along with R&B crooner Al B. Sure, on “Black Tie White Noise,” a song inspired by the Los Angeles riots.
David Bowie: Invisible New Yorker
By STEVEN KURUTZ
JAN. 16, 2016
About 10 years ago, the playwright John Guare got a call asking if he wanted to meet David Bowie to discuss a theater project.
As Mr. Guare remembered it, Mr. Bowie was “in a very dark place” (it was shortly after he had had a heart attack onstage in Berlin), and a mutual friend, the English producer Robert Fox, was trying to coax him back to a creative life. Mr. Guare immediately said yes.
He and Mr. Bowie met at each other’s homes in New York to throw around ideas, and sometimes they went out. “We would take walks around the East Village,” Mr. Guare said. “And I was always praying somebody would run into us so I could say, ‘Do you know my friend David Bowie?’”
It never happened.
Mr. Guare was at first puzzled and then amazed at how Mr. Bowie — the stage creature, the persona, the guy he saw command an audience at Radio City Music Hall in 1973 with his spiky orange hair and snow-white tan — could walk the city streets unrecognized.
“He traveled with this cloak of invisibility — nobody saw him,” Mr. Guare said. “He just eradicated himself.”
People often forgot, but up until his death, on Sunday at age 69, Mr. Bowie was a New Yorker. He said so himself, emphatically. “I’m a New Yorker!” he declared to SOMA magazine in 2003, after he’d been here a decade.
He and his Somali-born wife, Iman, who is a model fluent in five languages, spent almost their entire marriage, more than 20 years, as residents of the city. Anyone will tell you they were one of New York’s most glamorous, graceful couples, made all the more so by the dignified and private way they lived.