19 June 2020-
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has been appearing in the news quite a lot lately, for mostly somber reasons: police shootings, violent protests, racial bias in schools... Her overall platform, however, is very much based on positive objectives, aimed at helping minorities as well as promoting her town. A welcome new voice in American politics, she also has unexpectedly deep ties with the music community...
In a recent radio interview, Mayor Bottoms made a passing reference to the fact that she had been a judge prior to getting elected to run the city of Atlanta, all despite the fact that her father suffered from substance abuse problems in her youth and actually got convicted, serving several years in prison for cocaine possession. Although it made her growing up with a single mother all the more difficult, it also got her to appreciate from a young age the dangers of drugs — and the importance of knowing about the American justice system, which can be both a force for good and a troubling source of discrimination.
What she failed to mention, at the very least in this interview, was that her father was no ordinary father either: his (given) name was Major Lance and he travelled the country (as well as parts of the globe) as a Soul singer. He gained some notoriety in the process, with a career spanning several decades which produced a few sizeable hits, including “Monkey Time” and “Um, Um, Um, Um, Um, Um” (both written by Soul legend Curtis Mayfield). After first signing with specialty label Okeh records in the early 1960’s, he even graduated to (briefly) being part of the Soul roaster, a subsidiary of Motown Records, in the late 1970’s.
Perhaps the most interesting part of Major Lance’s career, however, has to do with the Northern Soul movement. Appearing in the Northern parts of England in the late 1960’s, in cities like Manchester and Blackpool, Northern Soul was a rather organic sub-genre that resolutely ignored the more famous Soul singers of the era — many of whom happened to be Motown artists — and instead recognized more niche musicians whose uptempo music differed from the mainstream sounds of the times. And Major Lance happened to be one of the sub-genre’s biggest names, even relocating for a time in the UK in the early 1970’s to further his career over there.
In many ways, Northern Soul mirrors the famous story of the American Folk Blues Festival that took over England in the early 1960’s, a series of shows featuring some of the greatest American Blues artists alive (Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker…) and whose influence on British (and therefore worldwide) rock music was immense: members of the Rolling Stones and the Animals as well as Eric Clapton (to name but a few) were in attendance… The specificity of the Northern Soul, however, was that it was meant to be countercultural from the beginning, thus effectively anticipating the rise of punk and other subsequent, more widespread musical trends.
From the local to the global, from America to England, from Soul to Northern Soul, the story of Major Lance sure would make for an incredible biopic…