What Oprah got right (and wrong) about house music

Another week continues, but some topics still seem to be in the news. Beyoncé Knowles making a house record has brought the genre to the attention of a lot of people – and now, even Oprah Winfrey is getting in on the act. An article appeared late last week on Oprah Daily entitled “What Is House Music?”.

Written by Brittany Gaston, it isn’t entirely clear who attributed the “house music expert” label to her – our research online concludes it doesn’t seem to be the lady herself. Nonetheless, Ears To The House took a look to see what the article gets right – and what, if anything, it gets wrong.

The article starts well, referencing the 1997 release “House Music” by Eddie Amador – before referencing the genre’s unmistakable black American origins. This is accurate, but downplays the fact house music received little attention in its homeland at first – things only began to really accelerate when Europe, and in particular Britain, fell in love with the genre.

A longer section of the article explains the role of Frankie Knuckles in the development of house music, along with information on how the average house song is typically created – talking about the drum structure and the importance of a good bassline. And whilst this article has clearly been simplified so that those less familiar with the genre can follow it, it’s been so far, so good.

Until the name Derrick May depressingly comes up. Gaston writes that May “traveled west frequently to witness Knuckles’ and [Ron] Hardy… May took what he saw in Chicago and brought it back to Detroit to share with friends Juan Atkins and Kevin Saunderson. Known as the Belleville Three, the trio went on to create Detroit techno”.

And there’s that myth of the Belleville Three being trodded out yet again. As regular readers of Ears To The House will already know, the cover story here is that three young black men just starting out on their adult lives came together in poor Detroit in the 1980s to create music which changed the world – a tale spun by journalist Neil Rushton for a compilation called The New Dance Sound of Detroit.

The truth is rather different – the three men came from relatively well-off families and paid for their equipment using money acquired through a credit card scam. This reality has been confirmed by a number of different sources over the past few years – along with another story about how Derrick May sold a Roland TR-909 drum machine to Frankie Knuckles for $1000, which he’d stolen from Juan Atkins

How do music journalists seriously not know this stuff? They have social media profiles – we know this because our editor has been contacted by a few in the past. They’re paid to know the latest trends and information in dance music – it’s their job. Yet none of them have ever divulged this information anywhere in the dance music press.

And each time this myth gets peddled, dance music journalists do themselves and the sector they report on no favours…

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