This Black Music Sunday, we’re cookin’ soul food while stuffing ourselves with the sounds of soul

I have always loved the tune “Home Cookin’” from my favorite jazz vocalese group, Lambert, Hendricks & Ross. The lyrics to the song, composed by Horace Silver, were written by group member Jon Hendricks.

Here’s Silver’s original instrumental.

This is not music; it’s a hilarious comedy sketch from Key and Peele, where two colleagues attempt to one-up each other in a soul food gourmand authenticity contest.

I’ll leave the attempt to outdo each other to Keegan Michael Key and Jordan Peele. Instead, I’ll stick to some of the basics of soul food cuisine … and the music that lauds it.

Louis Jordan recorded this salute to “Beans and Cornbread” with his Tympany Five jazz dance band in 1949.


Beans and Cornbread had a fight
Beans knocked Cornbread out of sight
Cornbread said, “Now that’s alright
Meet me on the corner tomorrow night

“I’ll be ready, I’ll be ready tomorrow night. (2x)
I’ll be ready, I’ll be ready to have a fight.”
That’s what Beans said to Cornbread
“I’ll be ready tomorrow night.”

Beans told Cornbread, “You ain’t straight
You better wake up or I’ll gash your gate
Been in this pot since half past two
Swelling and puffing and almost due.”

“I’ll be ready, I’ll be ready tomorrow night.”
That’s what Beans told Cornbread
“Always getting mad at me

I ain’t mad at you
I’ll be ready tomorrow night
I’ll be ready, mmmmm.”

Beans grabbed Cornbread by the toe
“Beans,” said Cornbread, “let me go.”
Cornbread said, “I’ll lay you low
I’m gonna fight you, you so-and-so.”

Jordan was one of the most popular Black musicians of his era. In 1982, Cliff White wrote a detailed bio of Jordan and his impact on Black music (accessed via Teach Rock).

[P]ractically all of the black American rhythm and blues, rock’n’roll and early soul stars who upset the Fifties have cited Jordan as the main man of their youth and several of the white rock’n’rollers have acknowledged his influence or recorded his songs. Certain elements of rock’n’roll were developing even before Jordan appeared on the scene and others cropped up after his heyday. But most were completely and successfully defined by Jordan.


Born in Brinkley, Arkansas, on 8 July 1908, Louis Thomas Jordan was the son of an itinerant musician who encouraged his boy’s interest in music by coaching him on clarinet and saxophone and introducing him to the world of the then-popular traveling minstrel shows. During the school vacations of his early teens, Louis was already performing as musicians and dancer in southern minstrel shows, notably with the famous Rabbit Foot Minstrels and reputedly with the equally renowned Gertrude ‘Ma’ Rainey, commonly remembered as ‘The Mother of the Blues’. Coming out of down-home roots with a vaudeville swagger, the minstrel shows were a rich source of both music and showmanship. These elements were encapsulated by Jordan and then greatly exaggerated by rock’n’roll.

As Arnold Shaw noted in his authoratitive survey of the pre- rock’n’roll era, Honkers and Shouters (Collier Books, 1978):

“For almost a decade after 1942, Jordan’s records were seldom off the Harlem Hit Parade, as black charts were then typed in Billboard. Not infrequently he monopolized a majority of the slots with three or four discs, placing no fewer than 11 recordings in the best-selling category in 1946. That he was able to sell over a million copies of ‘Choo Choo Ch’Boogie’ and close to that of ‘Saturday Night Fish Fry’ suggests the breadth of his appeal. You could not sell that many discs in the years from 1946 to 1950 to black buyers alone. Even when he was not selling a million, his 1944 discs of ‘GI Jive’ and ‘Is You Is Or You Ain’t My Baby’ were pop jukebox as well as ‘race’ hits. And ‘Is You Is’ was heard in no fewer than four Hollywood films.”

Here’s Jordan doing “Saturday Night Fish Fry” live on The !!!! Beat in 1966.

When thinking about fried soul food, I immediately jump to Willie Bobo’s “Fried Neckbones and Some Home Fries,” also recorded and released in 1966. 

Nuyorican (a Puerto Rican from New York) Latin-jazz percussionist Bobo, whose real name was William Correa, really knew how to serve up some soul plus salsa. Bobo, who passed away very young of brain cancer, left a large musical legacy, which Néstor David Pastor discussed for El Centro.

Before his untimely death at the age of 49 in 1983, legendary Nuyorican jazz percussionist Willie “Bobo” Correa left behind an impressive and eclectic discography that includes fourteen records as bandleader, with styles ranging from Afro-Cuban to Soul, Funk to Brazilian influences, and so on. He was also accomplished as a sideman, with over 50 appearances performing alongside some of the greatest jazz musicians of the 20th century.

The celebrated timbalero is perhaps best known for releasing the original version of “Evil Ways”, written by his band’s guitarist and later made famous by Santana in 1969. Bobo’s influence can also be heard on hip-hop records, including a sample of his timbales on “Shake Your Rump” by the Beastie Boys.

As Jared Boyd wrote for Al.com in 2016:

Blacks in the Southern United States and blacks in Latin America are imperially linked by their shared history of slavery. As a byproduct of this diasporic connection, both food and music act as major cultural identifiers, establishing a thread through time which binds blacks in the Americas to blacks in West Africa.

Grooves such as this one, performed by percussionist Willie Bobo and made even more famous by guitarist Carlos Santana, are intrinsic proof of this link. Whether you’re eating with Big Mama or eating with Abuelita, fried neckbones bring a family’s bond into perspective.

Furthermore, the intimacy of mealtime is as soulful as the intimacy of sharing a dance. And we all know, in the kitchen, regardless of identity or creed, grandmas are the conductors of the ingredients at her disposal. She brings disparate meats, vegetables and spices to work together like a well-tuned brass, woodwind and well-timed percussion.

Here’s those musical neckbones (and home fries).

We can see also the food linkages that grow out of a history of enslavement in Brazil, where African religious systems still thrive alongside of food preparation.

Afro-Brazilian chanteuse Gal Costa is seen here in Bahia, the heart of Black Brazil, in a 1976 video for Dorival Caymmi’s “Vatapá.” Vatapá is an Afro-Brazilian shrimp stew made with bread, cornmeal, shrimp, coconut milk, ground peanuts or cashew nuts, and palm oil.

Lyrics (translation by my friend, Brazilian Candomble  priest Paulo Bispo):

Whoever wants vatapá, oh

what try to do

First cornmeal, then palm oil

Look for a girl from Bahia, oh

Who knows how to move (note the double meaning: stir the pot or move her hips)

who knows how to move, who knows how to move

Look for a girl from Bahia, oh

Who knows how to move

who knows how to move, who knows how to move

Put Cashew nut, a little more

Chili pepper, a little more

Put Cashew nut, a little more

Chili pepper, a little more

Peanuts, shrimp, grate a coconut

At the time to smash it

Salt with ginger and onion, oh iaiá

time to season

Don’t stop stirring it, oh

So it doesn’t get lumps

Pot on fire, don’t let it burn

With a few coins and a Black woman from Bahia, oh

If you make a vatapá, if you make a vatapá

And what a good vatapá

With any ten thousand réis and one nega, oh

If you make a vatapá, if you make a vatapá

And what a good vatapá

Cashew nut put a little more

Chili pepper, a little more

Cashew put a little more

Chili pepper, a little more

Continuing in the Latin-soul vein, Joe Cuba’s 1966 release “Bang Bang” was played at every dance club I went to back in the day. We all knew the refrain: “cornbread, hog maws and chitterlings.”

I will not be cooking chitterlings/chitlin’s for Thanksgiving dinner. To be honest, I don’t like them, can’t stand the smell while they cook, and they are a pain to clean. 

I will, however, be baking cornbread, and in my family tradition, we both stuff the bird and make dressing on the side with cornbread and smoked oysters. Also on my menu is a Virginia ham, black-eyed peas and white rice, candied sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce, collard greens made with smoked ham hocks, macaroni and cheese casserole, potato salad, deviled eggs, and a big bowl of ambrosia for dessert—along with sweet potato pie.

As a real fan of sweet potato, this lesser-known 1966 tune from Booker T and the MGs is an oldie and a goodie for me.

“My Sweet Potato” is a great tune to get you dancing around your kitchen.

I’ve already started prepping for Thursday, and it won’t be long till I head back to the kitchen. Before I do, I’m curious to hear about your Thanksgiving food traditions. Join me in the comments for more soul food-related tunes, and let’s get cookin’ together.

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