Cultural appropriation is the gift that keeps on giving. Thursday marked what would have been the 80th birthday of Elvis Presley, whose relationship with Black music was complex, to say the least. Madonna created a social media backlash when she posted altered photos of Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King to promote her new album. And… Iggy Azalea.
But what about good old fashioned theft?
Some of the most successful songs performed by white singers are songs written and/ or performed by Black singers. Here is a mere sample of some of the countless examples (that we know of).
1. Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon vs. Led Zeppelin
This is “Whole Lotta Love,” the Led Zeppelin hit of 1969:
And this is “You Need Love,” written by Willie Dixon and performed by Muddy Waters in 1962:
Dixon became aware of the Led Zeppelin song thanks to his daughter Shirley. When she was 13, Shirley heard a song she thought sounded familiar at her friend’s house. She asked her friend if she could borrow the album, and then played the song for her dad, who realized it had borrowed heavily from the lyrics and music of his song. In In 1987, Dixon won an out-of-court settlement over the song. Dixon is now officially credited, along with all four members of Led Zeppelin, and he used the money from the settlement to help support his Blues Heaven Foundation, which helps musicians preserve their royalties and music rights. Dixon died in 1992 but his daughter Shirley maintains the foundation.
2. The Chiffons and Ronald Mack vs. George Harrison
This is George Harrison’s first solo recording and number 1 hit “My Sweet Lord” (of 1970):
And this is “He’s so Fine,” which was written by Ronald Mack and recorded by the Chiffons in 1963: