So I want you take a look at the long, varied, and mixed responses to Tori Kelly’s beautiful tribute to Prince at the BET Awards that occurred this past Sunday. Maybe you were a tweeter, a commentator, or a person who was scratching your head wondering who Tori Kelly is and why is she doing the tribute. This is understandable since she is an artist still on the rise in the industry and only has had a handful of hit singles you may have heard on the radio. However, this isn’t a debate on how relevant she is as a musician or what accolades she’s acquired to sing in a Prince tribute.
The ongoing problem I have had with people’s responses to Tori Kelly is that they immediately label her White because she appears to be White with blonde hair, or claim to give her a pass because she has a soulful voice. She’s been lumped with artist like Robin Thicke (White) and Justin Timberlake (White) who additionally have vocal range, deep, beautiful voices and are given a societal passes to perform traditionally black artist hits or tributes. What’s the problem with this you may ask? Tori Kelly is multiracial and does not fall into the same cultural category as either of these artists.
Now I’m not going to make any statement or argument on whether being White, Black, Asian, etc. should you prevent you from performing any tribute or any specific network cause I don’t think race should ever be a factor. I love music, and if you can sing then please do so, my ears appreciate it. My issue is that the running commentary on Tori Kelly, which had her become a trending hashtag for the night, was centered on debates regarding her cultural heritage and how that did or did not deem her worthy of this tribute. I even read some commentary focused on her multi-ethnic heritage and how that counted, but not really.
This discussion has been a running one for a long time with multiracial people and where we belong. Tori Kelly is a prominent musical artist with what some could deem the “whole package,” and her voice is what allows her to sing on multiple musical networks-not her race. She is Jamaican, Puerto Rican, Irish, and German, yet visually some audiences see white skin, blonde hair and write her off as another Britney. If she cannot perform an authentic Prince tribute on diverse networks like BET because she’s not fully black, does that mean we are chaining her to sing on the MTV wagon wheel forever? Kelly admits to speaking Spanish, but not well so guess we can’t put her on Univision either? And technically she’s not white- so she couldn’t grace the CMT stage either, right?
I’ll not list her numerous accomplishments she’s garnered ranging from music award nominations with MTV, People’s Choice, Teen Choice, and being Grammy nominated for 2016 Best New Artist. Tori Kelly does not need your pass or permission to sing on any network or any performance and shouldn’t be picked apart because of what she represents culturally. Appreciate her voice and revel like many of us do in her talent, but don’t write her off because she appears white or say that it’s okay she sings on BET because she has “some black in her.” Multiracial people don’t need your validation or permission to represent our authentic selves and this is important to keep in mind next time you want to give someone a pass for anything you deem specific to only one culture.