UNSUNG REVIEW: Billy Preston… One Very Sad Show

by Kevin Ross - Posted: July 18, 2011 at 11:16 pm, Category: Of Interest, URBAN

 width=Without question, TV One has a HUGE hit with UNSUNG. I got a raw unedited copy of Billy Preston yesterday and I HOPE they don’t change the final edit because this has to the best UNSUNG I have seen… thus far.

It is silently and collectively engrained in our (black) culture that if we ignore certain things it will enable us to maintain our OWN level of sanity… even when it has to do with someone harming our children… but what about the child’s sanity?

Billy Preston’s mother refused to accept what Billy had confessed to her as a child, he told her that he was being molested by a man. His mother’s refusal to accept the news categorically (and ironically) weighed heavier than the molestation itself by destroying Billy’s self worth well into the realm of his adulthood and massive success. He hid a great amount of pain and self hatred behind a huge gapped-tooth smile by being completely disconnected from himself, his success and the world for his entire 50 year career. Every manager and booking ripped him and paid him pennies where he should have been making thousands but he didn’t have the business savvy (and/or gumption) to fight. He finally turned to hardcore drug use in an attempt to merge all the parallels in his life, of course to no avail.   The drugs only exacerbated the situation.

There was not one person in this show that did not end up in tears while talking about Billy and his concerted and feigned efforts to conceal an extremely sad, complicated and difficult life.

Billy’s career began in the church and by the time he was 10-years-old he was playing the organ as a guest on the short-lived Nat King Cole show (the show was cancelled because white sponsors refused to advertise on the highly rated show by the black singer).   Billy and Nat were very close but Ray Charles was Billy’s true mentor. He took Billy on the road with him and Billy also toured and performed with major rock acts that few if any black acts got to tour with including members of The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.

Billy branched out and formed a group with three men in the late 60s/early 70s and I was shocked to hear (and the fact TV One did not edit it out) one of the men openly admit that when he first met Billy, Billy had asked him if he could give him some head. He said he was shocked because Billy was so masculine that Billy made HIM feel like HE acted like a girl. He had no idea Billy was gay. Preston admitted he would never openly come out because the black church and the music industry (and black people) would have turned against him. He was not the first black singer to be in this position (and he won’t be the last).

Billy’s tenure on Motown where he sang the massive hit with the late Syretta Wright (an ex wife or girlfriend of Stevie Wonder who was once considered to replace Diana Ross in the Supremes) was MISERABLE. He HATED being on the label and the massive extremely somber love song, “With You I’m Born Again” was a single that had been sitting on the shelf at Motown for quite some time and was a far cry from Billy’s (then) modern day Little Richard gospel/rock persona. Billy desperately wanted to leave Motown and go back to A&M records.

Billy would have lived but his massive addiction to drugs which finally ended up with a foray into the cheap street drug crack, ultimately took his life when he was still using it in huge amounts even AFTER receiving a successful kidney transplant. There are some people who commit suicide immediately and others who do it over a period of years, but it’s ultimately the same thing. I will let you get the rest of the story from the show. It is a must-see. The Show airs July 25 on TV One. Check local times for listing.

Kev Ross

  • Sheila

    I watched the show and everything you’ve said is true. It was a very powerful enlightenment that makes me respect who Billy was to a much greater degree.

  • sassyinoakland

    It is incredible to me what church people think can be prayed away. Joyce Meyers ministry has been the only one that i have seen that teaches how to concor through the emotional pain of sexual abuse. It is so common in the church. If someone addressed it and told him that it was not his fault, maybe his self esteem would have been higher to love himself and ultimately love life in a different way. My views on homosexuality has changed over the years. People are suffering in a big way and the chuurch looks the other way. WHAT ARE THEY LOOKING AT! God bless the little children. Who survive childhood, and spend their adulthood trying to kill the pain and then ultimately killing themselves, slowly.
    Peace