The other day, driving to work, The White Stripes were keeping my bass speakers in check and I tapped along on the steering wheel to "Cannon". I was living my best life when...it hit me...The White Stripes were covering a Blues song made popular by Black artists...was this, well, wrong?
Full Discretion, I am a white woman writing this. My spouse is also white, but we try our best to be conscious of others, and I even took many classes in college on topics of race. Again, I am not an expert, but one of the reasons I thought to write this is I wondered since many Alternative bands are white if I wasn't the only one wondering if we were well, being assholes.
I called my husband, who loves the Blues and has studied them extensively, to ask if The White Stripes were riding off the coattails of the hard-working Black artists before him. There was a pause, and then, he said, "I don't believe so for a few reasons."
So, loyal readers, here is what we came up with, but ultimately, it is up to you and your conscience to really decide what YOU think is appropriate.
1. The White Stripes (and many bands like them) cover Blues staples. Meaning, no artist, in particular, came up with this song. It is just a well-known song that many, many people have covered. One such example is "Death Letter". While Son House was given the first credit to this song, each artist that has covered it has given credit to Son House, and since Son House is not a contemporary artist, it allows the song more life.
In other words, these artists are not covering this song while Son House was.
2. As long as the white band does not cover any songs that discuss the Black Experience, it is okay. Meaning, if a white artist tried to cover Gary Clark Jr.'s "This Land", that would be highly inappropriate. We cannot know what it is truly like to live the Black experience unless we are Black, so we must be respectful of what material we can cover.
3. Make sure the original artist (if you can find them) gets the credit. I mean, this one is just typical bro code. Don't borrow something without giving credit where it is due.
I think there could be more to go here, but I always try to go simple. But one last note, just like race is something to be aware of so is sex or class. If from privilege, it is inappropriate to sing a Blues song focusing on hard times financially. We are very complex, and because of this, just try to pick lyrics that are true to who you are. You'll sound more authentic and appealing to audiences anyhow.
Until next time.