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Alfred Soto

Alfred Soto is an instructor of journalism, a media advisor at Florida International
University, and freelance editor for SPIN. He was features editor of Stylus Magazine. His work has appeared in Billboard, The Village Voice, The Miami Herald, Rolling Stone, Slate, MTV, Pitchfork, and The Pitchfork Review. He lives in Miami.

"When I’m Bad, I’m Better: Angela Winbush’s Secular Salvation in Gospel and The Politics of the R&B Crossover"
In a business that takes women for granted, especially R&B women, Angela Winbush stands apart as a model for a self-contained artist. A producer, writer, and an instrumental threat, Winbush is one of the few female auteurs in any genre and for a while enjoyed considerable commercial success in the black community. “People are always surprised that a black woman can do so many things in the studio,” Winbush said in a 1988 interview. “If you can sell records, they don't care if you have stripes and come from another planet.”

My paper will argue that Winbush, trained as a gospel pianist and singer, showed what success without white pop accommodations looked like in the Reagan era and beyond. I’ll address the politics of the era’s R&B crossovers. As René & Angela she and partner René Moore scored two R&B #1 hits in the 1980s yet never got higher than #47 on the Billboard Hot 100. Like Maze and Frankie Beverly, René & Angela were considered too “black” for white audiences; neither were they interested in a crossover smash like Ashford and Simpson’s “Solid” or Aretha Franklin’s “Freeway of Love.” No Bryan Adams or George Michael duets greased Winbush’s entry onto pop playlists.

Finally, I’ll look at the span of Winbush’s projects, particularly the way in which she fused gospel and mechanized R&B for clients Sheena Easton, a young Janet Jackson, and, most spectacularly, Stephanie Mills, whose own career went from gospel and Broadway back to R&B (and by the end no white crossover). I’ll examine how Winbush feminized collaborations with erstwhile husband Ronald Isley. With one foot on the sacred ground of religious music, Winbush never forsook R&B—and still shipped gold. Hers was a career that interrogated the depth of her audience’s roots in the music of Sunday morning.