On The Awl, an engrossing musical history of "Try a Little Tenderness," which started life in 1932 as a schmaltzy, vacuous love-song recorded by Ray Noble and his Orchestra. Gradually, over the decades, new singers reinterpreted it, gradually giving it soul in dribs and drabs, leading up to the classic Otis Redding recording (and the regrettable Jay-Z reinterpretation).
As nice a story as it'd make, Otis Redding didn't transform "Try A Little Tenderness" from campy relic to anthem in a single stroke. The process was more gradual, maybe more compromised. Bing Crosby took a go at "Tenderness" in 1933, and in the process injected some humanity into it. No less paternalistic, his interpretation stressed the duties of manhood, the weakness of women, and how love was about being strong by pretending to be vulnerable. Maybe that's a little too much psychodrama to pull from a performance that, for all Crosby's sly phrasing and attempts at straight talk, is still relatively light fare. But it was enough for "Tenderness" to catch on as a minor standard, an especially useful one to have in the songbook for black entertainers looking to cross over in the '50s and early '60s and perform at “classy joints." Selling records to white kids was one thing; eons before anyone thought to let youth guide the industry, appealing to white adults was the real meal ticket.How 'Try A Little Tenderness' Got Its Soul (And Lost It)
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