Red Candy Memories - HIV, AIDS & The Beat

By Jay Ray | @jayrayisthename

Today, May 11, 2015 is the first day of the trial of Michael Johnson in St. Charles, Missouri. Mr. Johnson is alleged to have been knowingly living with HIV and having condomless sex with partners who were unaware of his HIV status either willfully or through omission.  The case has sparked an intense debate about punitive HIV criminalization laws in the US, and how these laws contribute to the continuing stigma surrounding HIV.

September 25, 2015 also marks 25 years since the release of “Red Hot + Blue” - one of the most significant compilation albums of new music from pop stars of the era specifically to raise awareness and money for HIV/AIDS education and prevention for the Red Hot Organization.

In honor of that release let’s revisit three songs about HIV.

“That’s What Friends Are For” – Dionne Warwick & Friends (1985)

This song wasn’t written with HIV or AIDS in mind, but this most famous version, was released as a charity single for the American Foundation on AIDS Research. This feel-good slow tempo tune included Dionne Warwick, Gladys Knight, Stevie Wonder and Elton John. With that level of star power it’s no wonder it didn’t spend more weeks at #1.

“I’ve Got You Under My Skin” – Neneh Cherry (1990)

Long before Staticc was conceived Neneh Cherry served as one of our muses. This 1990 gem was the first single released from “Red Hot + Blue,” and it tackled head on the stigma surrounding persons living with HIV/AIDS at the time. The stunning video was directed by Jean-Baptiste Mondino. The original song was written by Cole Porter and was one of Frank Sinatra’s top tunes. Cherry’s version incorporated her early rap/sing style, punctuated by poignant lyricism.

“No knowledge of the facts, kept in the dark / Scolds my soul and it hurts my heart / The young and elderly just running blind / Hurts so bad they deny their own kind…”

“Jesus To A Child” – George Michael (1995)

Hauntingly beautiful and heartfelt, “Jesus To A Child” was Michael’s tribute to his partner, Anselmo Feleppa, who died of HIV related causes. At the time of its release the backstory of the song wasn’t news only rumor. Michael’s sexual identity wasn’t yet public knowledge. The song eventually hit #1 in the UK, and still shuffles up regularly on my playlist.

One decade.

Ten years.

The songs above only cover one decade.

Of course songs about HIV & AIDS didn’t stop completely after 1995, but they did appear far less than in the decade covered above. Despite that, HIV & AIDS have been mainstays in the world health community for 34 years. In fact, alarmingly so for black and brown communities.

Where are today’s songs about HIV/AIDS?

Does music care anymore?

Where are the red ribbons at awards shows?

If Michael Johnson going to trial proves anything, it’s that discussing HIV is just as important in 2015 as it was in 1985; maybe more so.