Originally published 10/10/10.

Certain songs you can mark the very minute that you heard them and the response you felt immediately. For me that is definitely the case with the Jodeci classic “Forever My Lady”.

In the late summer of 1991 I happened to have the television tuned into BET B.V.(Before Viacom) but I had stepped out of the room for a few minutes to do something and while I was making my way back I caught the last minute or so of the video (from Devante Swing’s keyboard solo out). Sonically struck I could only mutter to myself “What was that?” Whenever I stop and ponder in that manner I’m hooked because the inquisitive side of me is kicking into action.

So off to the record store I went to purchase the album… just like that. Not that I wasn’t familiar with Jodeci, I had heard them singing the hook on Father MC’s joint and made a mental note. Also I remember checking the first single “Gotta Love” where they were rockin the Bill Rogers skull caps, Gore-Tex and boots(not that I was paying any attention to the gear). It was the time in my life where I somewhat paid attention to the intersection of music and fashion how the two intertwined to really create social identifiers. That was a longtime ago for me.

But after purchasing the cassette (yeah I said) and listening to this track over and over again the initial curiosity never waned and almost 20 years later it is still there. What makes this music so special to me is that it defies the era and genre. Sure you could certainly identify “Forever My Lady” as part of the New Jack Swing Era and you would be historically and musically correct however, “Forever My Lady” has that something extra that makes it a classic not of New Jack but of music.

Something that you should notice immediately about “Forever My Lady” is that it translates well to the piano. What I mean by that is that you often have songs that were created in the New Jack Era and even other eras, and quite frankly very often today, that just don’t translate well. In other words the song is so married to the production and the particular sounds of the production that it often sounds silly when it is stripped down to its core elements. “Forever My Lady” is quite the opposite. For those of you who play or if you know someone who plays piano learn the tune (if you don’t already know it) and just listen to the progression(also make sure you are playing the exact changes, that’s a different blog altogether) the chord progression in the verse and chorus is a very familiar one but the way Devante addresses the chords is what makes the difference.

Jodeci may very well have been the first group to marry modern gospel and r&b and what I mean by that statement is that we all know that gospel and r&b have been married since the days of Ray Charles then onto Aretha and many others after Aretha. But the sound of Jodeci was post Clark Sisters and Commissioned and yes Aaron Hall did sing with Hezekiah so you did have that modern sound vocally but to my ears this was the first time that you had that contemporary sound both harmonically and melodically. I believe that’s what really caught my ear that day, Jodeci harmonically just did a way with all the mundane notes and went for the pretty ones. Jodeci also understood the contrast between a big unison sound and a divisi(harmony) sound and they use it to great effect on this tune.

Structurally “Forever My Lady” is divided into four different sections of 8 measures a piece. The verse, chorus, instrumental break and vamp out are all essentially the same progression with a few variations in the arrangement for each section. Typically the contrast between sections is achieved through the subtraction of parts(verse) or through the addition of a very distinctive part or line(chorus) over the same progression. What breaks the monotony is the wonderful middle 8 section which serves as a very effective build-up or lead-in to the chorus. This is one element that is missing from a lot of contemporary music. Too many individuals put together 4 bars or 8 bars of music and believe the work is done. Sometimes that works especially in the genre of funk, but in funk you often have so many different layers of interweaving lines that are complex that if you are laying on one chord for extended period of time you never notice.

“Forever My Lady” is certainly part and parcel a product of its era but as I alluded to earlier the song also transcends 1991. The early 90’s was an interesting time in music because some of what made the late 80’s somewhat lackluster was finally beginning to broken away from(of course not totally). Jodeci (the group, the concept)was certainly a departure both musically and style wise from the late 80’s era of vocal groups. Whereas BBD changed the paradigm of the style both in presentation and production, Jodeci was so far ahead musically that their influence is still being felt today.

In my humble opinion this is the song that started it all.

Ivan Orr is a multi-instrumentalist, composer, performer, and writer. A native of Charlottesville, Virginia Ivan was involved with the forming and nascent days of The Music Resource Center as its first Program Director. A graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Department of Music, Ivan currently resides in Richmond, VA where he maintains an active performance and production schedule while serving as the Music Editor for Grown Folks Music, a position he has held since 2010.