By: Lauren Whiteman | @itsmewhiteman
My childhood looks like matching red keds, and walks around White Rock Lake on the weekends. Feeding ducks spare pieces of bread that didn’t get used for toast with bacon for breakfasts in the mornings and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches at lunch. It tastes like drinking too much of my mother’s chocolate shakes from Good Luck, until she got fed up and began ordering two so she could have hers in peace.
But what stands out the most is what my childhood sounded like—books on tape during her sorority meetings, the Tom Joyner Morning Show on the way to school, and a cassette tape collection that, looking back, just don't make no sense.
Those tapes stayed in constant rotation, and my mother, bless her, would rewind and fast forward those tapes because I just had to hear certain songs at certain moments, and wouldn’t just wait for them to queue up naturally. Some days I wanted to hear K-Ci & Jojo’s “All My Life”, which, luckily, was the second-to-last song on their Love Always album, so it was an easy find. But when I wanted to hear “Before You Walk out of My Life” from Monica’s album Miss Thang, which was almost halfway through side b of the tape . . .
Considering the fact that she was also a “We got food at the house” mother, I’m a little surprised that she did it so often. I guess she was picking her battles.
Those memories of riding around Dallas listening to her music have always sat in the back of my mind, until a few bars of something familiar sparked decades-old memories. It wasn’t until earlier this year, when I picked back up the habit of making playlists, that I realized the impact they had on me. I was working on putting a new one together, playing my Apple Music library on shuffle like I normally do, when I heard Babyface’s “Everytime I close my eyes”, followed by Larenz Tate reciting “Brother to the Night (A Blues For Nina)” from the Love Jones soundtrack, followed by Donnell Jones’ “U Know What’s Up” featuring an iconic verse from Lisa "Left Eye" Lopes. All favorites of hers, the first two from our usual rotation of that old collection of cassettes.
I deleted the list I was making and used these songs to shape what would become The TJones Tapes, a list of songs inspired by the music my mother listens to, the movies she watches, and the cassette tape collection that never failed us. Even with those memories in the forefront of my mind, I didn’t realize the extent to which I latched on to those songs, or that time, until I was preparing to share the list with a group of music lovers I know. Thinking through the list brought up memories surrounding trips to the nail shop, visits to my great-grandparents’ house in east Texas, the commute to dance practices, and watching movies and New York Undercover around the house.
Because of the way these songs have influenced my musical tastes, I felt it was fitting to share this list, and highlight a few of my favorites, as we bring our celebration of Black Music Month to a close.
Sumthin’ Sumthin’: Mellosmoothe Cut
My mother has always been a Maxwell fan. As a child I wasn’t quite feeling him but now? I get it. His contribution to the Love Jones soundtrack is immaculate (Author’s Note: How is Larenz Tate even more fine now than he was while shooting Love Jones?).
Listen, if you haven’t heard the Mellosmoothe cut of “Sumthin’ Sumthin’” in recent years, or ever, go claim your blessings. This man Maxwell made a great song, did a cover of it, and produced a better song. He did this to his own shit, beloved.
His own shit.
This song is fairly recent and definitely missed the cassette tape wave (then again, Anthony Hamilton got the spirit of the last slave in his voice box, so maybe not), but my momma loves Anthony Hamilton. This selection wasn’t so much about her, but about me realizing that loving a parent is less about loving someone we have idealized in our heads, and more about learning to love them as a real person with all of the things that come with the reality of being human. Loving mothers is, for many of us, our introduction to learning how to love other people well, and as I have learned how to love her better, I’m finding that my ability to love other people better has grown as well.
Everytime I Close My Eyes feat. Mariah Carey and Kenny G
This tape was special because it was a single—vocals on one side, instrumental on the other. I preferred the side with the vocals, but the B-side reminded me we didn’t need them. I might have been a small 6-year-old girl singing tenor, but I was doing all the Mariah Carey runs in my head.
Yes. I said 6-years-old and tenor. It’s the life I’ve always lived. Ask about me.
I heard “Push It” often as a child, and knew all the words even though I had no clue what they were talking about at the time. To this day, my mother and I can go word for word with this in the car. A few years ago, she told me that her and her line sisters probated to this song, and all I could think was how much of a better choice it was compared to the one my line sisters and I made. Considering how conservative our sorority tends to be, it’s funny to think about how risqué it was too. Greek Life was a different world back then.
With both of my parents being musically-inclined, I’ve been blessed with a constant stream of music throughout my life. So much so, that I almost always have some playing, across genres and across time periods. This playlist is just a small section of the songs that remind me of my mother. I could probably make three or four lists and still only scratch the surface, but for now, I’m just grateful that I’ve reached a level of maturity to understand not only her tastes, but more about her.
Lauren Whiteman is from Dallas, she eats Rudy’s, it’s been a while since she’s been to Big T though. She has a couple of degrees from the University of Oklahoma and is now an educator in the Dallas area. Lauren’s work focuses on advocacy, student development, and the miseducation of Black and African American students in higher education. She’s a TEDx presenter and hopes future generations never forget what to do for the 99 and the 2000. For her twitter shenanigans, visit @itsmewhiteman.