by Michael P Coleman
I still remember hearing Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” for the first time. I was six years old, it was a version by Diana Ross & the Supremes, and I thought the song was racist.
Don’t judge. I was a late bloomer.
I was a few years older — eight or nine, maybe — when I realized that the classic described a dream of a different kind of “white Christmas” than I’d imagined. That revelation was a shock — kinda like the one I had twenty years later when I realized that, yes Virginia, the soulful Bobby Caldwell, who had just released an ironically scorching version of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” with Vanessa Williams, was (and still is) a self-described “cracker.”
“Do I sound terribly white?” Caldwell laughed by phone, after I told him that his speaking voice differed more than slightly from his Peabo Bryson-eque singing voice. “My influences are broad. We’re talking Motown to Philly to Muscle Shoals to the Beatles to Steely Dan…all kinds of stuff. As a child, I was a huge Sinatra fan, and then around the age of nine or 10 I started to get into Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell, The Spinners, The Dells, Earth Wind & Fire, all of that stuff.”
Caldwell, 65 burst onto the national scene in the late 1970s as the voice behind the massive R & B and pop hit “Won’t You Won’t Do For Love.” He’s stayed true to his soulful craft over the years, releasing an impressive collection of R & B – steeped songs including impressive covers of Etta James’ “At Last” and The Emotions’ “Don’t Ask My Neighbor” while earning a solid base of devoted, and largely African American, fans.
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