Jason King

Over the last decade, ghosts have become an increasingly present part of live music, with holographic recreations of Tupac, Michael Jackson and opera great Maria Callas all appearing in concert. Whitney Houston's estate is taking the trend to the next level; starting Feb. 25, the late pop superstar will embark on a hologram tour of Europe.

Legendary R&B singers often have their own iconic signatures — those nifty vocal tricks and embellishments that help distinguish them from the pack. Think of James Brown's high-pitched scream, Ron Isley's tempered "well, well, well," or Luther Vandross' fluttering riff, ascending the musical scale.

The late, great Aretha Franklin delivered world-class soul ballads like "Ain't No Way" that plumbed the depths of romantic experience and made it feel as if your heart had been squeezed dry like a defeated sponge. Her brazen self-determination anthems, including "Think" and "Respect," were electrically-charged lightning bolts of funk that emblematized the movement politics of the turbulent 1960s and '70s. The Queen of Soul was a goosebumps-generating singer capable of making weighty music about loss and love and the vicissitudes of life.

She could also be a bit of a hoot.

All that is solid melts in the presence of funk. Maurice White — the prolific songwriter, singer, producer, arranger, bandleader, organizer and conceptualist at the helm of multi-platinum act Earth, Wind & Fire who transitioned on Thursday at 74 after a 25-year struggle with Parkinson's Disease — gifted us with years of optimistic, exuberant music that could instantly evaporate your frown into thin air.

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The singer Natalie Cole, the daughter of Nat King Cole, has died. Her family said in a statement today, our beloved mother and sister will be greatly missed and remain unforgettable in our hearts forever.


Might as well get right to it. Yes, T-Pain can sing. He always could sing. He is, in my opinion, a very good singer. I would even encourage you to consider T-Pain an excellent singer. Your reasons for thinking he might not be an excellent singer, however, would not necessarily be unreasonable.

All rhythm & blues is protest music — at least, that's one way of looking at it. The blues was the haunting soundtrack of newly-freed post-civil-war African-Americans trekking into big cities for work, while putrid Jim Crow laws served as a slap-in-the-face reminder that America was far from the land of the free. And the hammer-like rhythms of R&B were, by the mid-1940s, an erotic, underground revolt against the stifling sterility and monochromatic conformism of overground post WWII life.

The inimitable Rick James' birthday was Feb. 1. To ride out his month we brought back our temporary takeover of "I'll Take You There," the 24/7 R&B and soul channel from NPR Music. Curated and hosted by Jason King of the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at New York University, the playlist runs the gamut from the genre's origins in the 1940s to today's slow jam stunners — except when we're wall to wall Rick James.