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The O’Jays Last Tour Lets Us Know Black Music Matters

The O’Jays Last Tour Lets Us Know Black Music Matters

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Black music is the soundtrack of America. Negro Spirituals during slavery and Jim Crow. Jazz during the Harlem renaissance. And now, in the age of gun violence, drill music is a portrait of the streets. 

But, there was a golden era of Black music. An era where our music expressed every feeling, gave voice to every dream, and made us feel like anything was possible. The O’Jays were one of the groups that made that era sing, and their music gave us reason to hope. 

That’s why, when the group announced that they were doing their final tour after 60 years in the business, I couldn’t help remembering the sounds of my childhood. I couldn’t help remembering the joy. 

I remember the bass guitar riff that starts “For The Love of Money,” echoing across the radio. Then the drums join in to set the pace. Then the horns accent the rhythm, all before lead singer Eddie Levert even makes a sound. The brilliance of Philly’s own Gamble and Huff make the music a hit. But while it was the instruments that made me listen as a child, it’s the words that strike me now. 

For the love of money
People will steal from their mother
For the love of money
People will rob their own brother

For the love of money
People can’t even walk the street
Because they never know who in the world they’re gonna beat
For that lean, lean mean, mean green

Oh, sure, there were other hits. Songs of longing like “Used Ta Be My Girl.” Songs of betrayal like “Backstabbers.” Songs of joy like “Sing a Happy Song.”But, the O’Jays song I love the most is For the Love of Money. First for the bass line that takes me back to my childhood. And then for the lyrics that still ring true today.   

Photo: The O’Jays By. Kent Kanouse

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