Tag Archives: February Music et al

Bobby Charles Swamp Pop

Bobby Charles Swamp Pop

Bobby Charles Swamp Pop

February 21, 1938 – January 14, 2010

Bobby Charles….Big Boys Cry. 

The intro is Bob Dylan from his Theme Time Radio Hour (Season 1, Episode 39—Tears)

When I watched Martin Scorsece’s The Last Waltz, I couldn’t believe how many amazing musicians had come to the party.  I’d heard of nearly all the performers (surprised about Neil Diamond), but Bobby Charles was unknown to me.

He shouldn’t have been.

“See You Later Alligator”? Bobby Charles wrote it.

One of my favorite singles was Fats Domino’s “Walking to New Orleans.” Bobby Charles, again.

He’s barely a part of the released movie, barely seen in the group performance of “I Shall Be Released.”

Bobby Charles Swamp Pop

The song he did do (“Down South In New Orleans“) was on the released soundtrack, but not featured in the movie itself. A video-taped outtake of his “Down South In New Orleans” exists. Unfortunately for Charles, it’s Levon Helm’s voice that mainly heard. Perhaps a reason for the song’s exclusion? Or perhaps the brighter starlight of Louisiana compatriot Dr John who had preceded Charles in the show (“Such A Night”) and stuck around for Down South.

Bobby Charles Swamp Pop

Abbeville, Louisiana

Bobby Charles Swamp Pop

Robert Charles Guidry was born in Abbeville, Louisiana and thus it is no surprise that he grew up listening to Cajun music.

When he was 15, he heard Fat Domino’s “Goin’ Home” on the radio.  It was a revelation. According to the Poderosa Stomp site, “…Charles remembers the epiphany this way: “That was it, it changed my life forever. It hit me hard. Something hits you that hard you don’t forget it.”

Bobby Charles Swamp Pop

White?

He had written “See You Later” for his idol Fats Domino, but Fats didn’t do alligator songs.  Charles ended up singing the song over the phone to Leonard Chess, of Chess Records in Chicago.

Heard, but unseen, Chess sent a airplane ticket to Charles.

In 2012 Terry Gross, of NPR’s Fresh Air show, did a piece on Charles. Ed Ward spoke on the report: “…when Charles showed up at his office, Chess said something I can’t say on the air. The sentence ended with the word “white” and a question mark, though. ”  (The report has plenty of great song snippets by Charles.)

Bobby Charles Swamp Pop

Homebody

Though a successful songwriter, a jealous wife and a dislike of touring kept him off the road.  When a divorce eased that issue a bit, a pot bust in 1971 put him on the run rather than be jailed.

Where did he end up? A place called Woodstock, NY.  A place he’d never heard of, not even the festival.

Bobby Charles Swamp Pop

Albert Grossman

I suppose it’s hard to be a musician in Woodstock and not run into others in the business. Fortunately for Charles, he ran into Albert Grossman, the manager of, among others, Bob Dylan and Janis Joplin.

Along with his neighbors (I guess you’ve already figured out that they were the guys with the last names Helm, Hudson, Robertson, Manuel, and Danko), he recorded an album. One that people who know it and have it will enthusiastically tell someone who doesn’t, “Oh yea, you should get it!”

Bobby Charles Swamp Pop

Light In the Attic

Bobby Charles Swamp Pop

Here’s the track list. Click on a title for a sample.

  1.  The radio DJ and historian Charlie Gillett summed up…[the] song’s appeal: “It was precisely the uneventful nature of the music that made it so alluring. Alongside the Band’s rhythm section, Dr John slipped in behind the organ to play an instantly addictive melody that is still in my blood.”

Unfortunately, but not surprisingly given Charles’s track record, the album did not sell. He eventually left Woodstock and returned to Louisiana.

And I guess we all can figure out now his Last Waltz invitation in 1976.

He didn’t stop writing. In 1976, Joe Cocker covered Charles’s The Jealous Kind.  So did Ray Charles and Etta James.

He did release more albums  with equal outstanding quality and equal non-commercial success.

In 2004  the double CD Last Train to Memphis was a retrospective of his compositions, with guest appearances by Neil Young, Willie Nelson and Fats Domino.

Bobby Charles Swamp Pop

Louisiana Music Hall of Fame

Bobby Charles Swamp Pop

On September 24, 2005, Charles lost his home to Hurricane Rita when it struck southwest Louisiana.

In October 2007, he was inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame in 2007. The site has a great summary of his life and music.

Among that summary, is the amazing fact that Charles neither played an instrument nor read or wrote music.

Keith Spera said in a NOLA article, “Songs popped into his head, fully formed. To capture them, he’d sing into the nearest answering machine; sometimes he’d call home from a convenience store pay phone.”

By the early 2000s he was in poor health with diabetes and was in remission from kidney cancer. He died on January 14, 2010. He was 71.

Bobby Charles Swamp Pop
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Brothers Lift Every Voice

Brothers Lift Every Voice

Brothers Lift Every Voice

An American Boomer growing up during the mid-20th century learned many patriotic songs. The National Anthem. God Bless American. America the Beautiful.

Each song praised the United States’ goodness and godliness. Boomers were proud of their country, but like any country’s story, books often left out the discomforting  pieces.

Text certainly included slavery and that Lincoln ended it, but often,  that was that.  Curricula rarely mentioned the continued vicious mistreatment and terrorism that followed emancipation at the end of the Civil War.

In 1900, James Weldon Johnson, born in the 19th century, wrote a poem. Here is some of its history that I didn’t learn until the 21st century.

Brothers Lift Every Voice
James Weldon and John Rosamond Jonnson
“Lift Every Voice and Sing” poem

February 12, 1900: as part of a celebration of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, 500 school children at the segregated Stanton School in Jacksonville, Florida recited “Lift Every Voice and Sing” written by their school principal, James Weldon Johnson.  He wrote the words as an introduction to that day’s honored guest: Booker T. Washington. 

Lift every voice and sing, till earth and heaven ring.

Ring with the harmonies of liberty.

Let our rejoicing rise high as the listening skies.

Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.

Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us.

Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us.

Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,

Let us march on till victory is won.

Stony the road we trod, bitter the chastening rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat, have not our weary feet,
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered;
Out from the gloomy past, till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.
God of our weary years, God of our silent tears,
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who hast by Thy might, led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
Lest our hearts, drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee.
Shadowed beneath Thy hand, may we forever stand,
True to our God, true to our native land
Brothers Lift Every Voice

Lift Every Voice and Sing


In 1905, James’s brother John Rosamond put music to the poem.

In 1919, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) dubbed it “The Negro National Anthem” for its power in voicing the cry for liberation and affirmation for African-American people. 

Brothers Lift Every Voice

James W Johnson dies

Brothers Lift Every Voice

June 26, 1938: James Weldon Johnson died while vacationing in Wiscasset, Maine. The car his wife, Grace, was driving was hit by a train. She survived.

Johnson’s funeral in Harlem was attended by more than 2000 people. His ashes are interred at Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.

Brothers Lift Every Voice

“Lift Every Voice and Sing” sculpture

Brothers Lift Every Voice

In 1939 the New York World’s Fair commissioned Augusta Savage to create a sculpture. She made a 16-foot plaster sculpture called Lift Every Voice and Sing. The piece was was destroyed at the close of the Fair. (see Savage for her expanded story) 

Brothers Lift Every Voice

John Rosamond Johnson dies

Brothers Lift Every Voice
photo credit: Carl Van Vechten

November 11, 1954: John Rosamond Johnson died.  A Black Past article stated that, “He was a renowned performer and made his acting debut in the first African American show on Broadway, John W. Isham’s Oriental America (1897). He eventually secured leading roles in Porgy and Bess (1935), Mamba’s Daughters (1939), and Cabin in the Sky (1940).

“One of Johnson’s major accomplishments was the 1918 founding of his school in Harlem called the New York Music School Settlement for Colored People. Atlanta University awarded him an honorary master’s degree in 1917 and he was made a subchief of the Iroquois in honor of his stage musical Red Moon (1908) and its respectful portrayal of Native Americans. He was a member of the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers for most of his career.

Brothers Lift Every Voice

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Brothers Lift Every Voice

In 1969: Maya Angelou’s published her autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. In it, she relates the story of her 8th grade graduation when class and audience sang the “Lift Every Voice and Sing” anthem  after a white school official spoke in a derogatory manner about the educational aspirations of her class. 

Brothers Lift Every Voice

Star Spangled Banner/Lift Every Voice

In 2008,  Rene Marie performed the national anthem at a civic event in Denver, Colorado, where she caused a controversy by substituting the words of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” into the melody.

Brothers Lift Every Voice

Barak Obama’s inauguration

January 20, 2009, the Rev. Joseph Lowery, who was formerly president of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, used a near-verbatim recitation of the song’s third stanza to begin his benediction at the inauguration ceremony for President Barack Obama.

Brothers Lift Every Voice

 National Museum of African American History and Culture

September 24, 2016, this song was sung by mezzo-soprano Denyce Graves and chorus at the conclusion of the opening ceremonies of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, at which Obama delivered the keynote address.

Brothers Lift Every Voice

White nationalist Richard Spencer

October 19, 2017, when white nationalist leader Richard Spencer spoke at the University of Florida, the university’s carillon played “Lift Every Voice and Sing” to convey a message of unity.

Brothers Lift Every Voice
Winston-Salem State University Choir, Alumni Choir and Friends
First Baptist Church, Winston-Salem, NC 3/26/17
  • Dr. Roland M. Carter, conductor
  • Maestra D’Walla Simmons-Burke, conductor
  • Dr. Myron Brown, accompanist 

Brothers Lift Every Voice
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Activist Buffy Sainte Marie

Activist Buffy Sainte Marie

Happy birthday

Buffy Sainte-Marie was born on February 20, 1941 on the Piapot Cree First Nation reserve in the Qu’Appelle Valley, Saskatchewan. 

If you are familiar with her, then you are certainly familiar with her most famous song, Universal Soldier which Vanguard Records  originally released on Sainte-Marie’s debut album It’s My Way! in 1964.

Neither the album nor the song were successful until Donovan covered Universal Soldier on a UK EP.  That success led to a US single release of his cover which had enough success that Sainte-Marie finally got a bit of the spotlight.

Activist Buffy Sainte Marie

Early musician

Although born in Canada, after the untimely deaths of both parents, relatives Albert and Winifred Sainte-Marie, who lived in Massachusetts adopted her. They nicknamed her Buffy.

In a 2015 Vogue interview, Sainte-Marie said that, “As a little kid when I was three, I discovered a piano and I found out it made noise and I was fascinated and taught myself how to do what I wanted to do on it. I could play fake Beethoven, and do other things with strange chords that other people didn’t use but that I liked. I banged on pots and pans, I’d play with rubber bands, I’d blow on grass, I played the mouth bow.”

Activist Buffy Sainte Marie

Education

Sainte-Marie attended the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. In a 2009 Democracy Now interview, she told Amy Goodman that while there, “…I started playing songs for the girls in my dorm and my housemother Theresa de Kerpely, who was from Europe. She really encouraged me, and she encouraged me to listen to people like Edith Piaf, Carmen Amaya, the flamenco dancer-singer, people from other countries. So, from the start of playing for other people, I was absorbing and reflecting, I think, a very wide world culture. International students at the university were a big influence on me.”

Activist Buffy Sainte Marie

Greenwich Village

Like so many other thoughtful singers of that time, Sainte-Marie went to Greenwich Village, but because of its New York location, “…she [would] go up to Akwesasne, the Mohawk reservation…. And it kind of became the paradigm of my life. I wasn’t intentionally trying to become a bridge for anything, but I did see that people in the cities, they wanted to know. “

Activist Beverly Buffy Sainte Marie

In 1965 Vanguard released Many a Mile, her second album. Her song “Until It’s Time for Your To Go.”  It became her most commercially successful single because so many have covered it including Elvis,  Cher, Bobby Darrin, Andy Williams, Glen Cam;bell, Jim Nabors, Nancy Sinatra, Petula Clark, Shirley Bassey, Willie Nelson, Barbara Streisand, and a “few” others including Neil Diamond. 

Activist Buffy Sainte Marie

Not mainstream

Despite that commercial success, Buffy Sainte-Marie was no pop star. Her aim was and continues to be more than 50 years later: raise awareness of necessary social changes, particularly the area of Native Americans.

In 1966 her third album,  Little Wheel Spin and Spin,  featured her
“My Country ‘Tis of Thy People You’re Dying.”

Now that your big eyes have finally opened,

Now that you’re wondering how must they feel,

Meaning them that you’ve chased across America’s movie screens.

Now that you’re wondering how can it be real

That the ones you’ve called colorful, noble and proud

In your school propaganda

They starve in their splendor?

You’ve asked for my comment I simply will render:

My country ’tis of thy people you’re dying.

Activist Buffy Sainte Marie

Actor

According to the director Leo Penn, before she agreed to be a part of an episode of the popular TV show The Virginian she insisted “the studio cast Native actors for all the Indian parts (‘No Indians, no Buffy’). She also advocated that the writers bring complexity to her own role. She told them, ‘[I’m] not interested in playing Pocahontas.'”

Activist Buffy Sainte Marie

Nihewan Foundation

In 1969 She founded the Nihewan Foundation which “is a small private non-profit foundation dedicated improving the education of and about Native American people and cultures. 

Activist Buffy Sainte Marie

Sesame Street

In 1976 she became a part of Sesame Street and in a TV first was shown explaining breastfeeding to Big Bird while nursing her son Cody.

Activist Buffy Sainte Marie

Oscar

She left Sesame Street in 1981 and in 1982 co-wrote  “Up Where We Belong,” the theme song to the film An Officer and a Gentleman, with Will Jennings. The song won an Best Song Oscar. 

Sainte-Marie donated the Oscar to the Smithsonian as it was the first time that a Native American had won one.

Activist Buffy Sainte Marie

20th into the 21st Century

Buffy Sainte-Marie has never stood still and has always expanded her artistic panorama far beyond that of music. A 2016 Canadian Broadcasting Corporation article listed 75 Things You Need To Know…about her.

And her own site lists the dozens of awards and honorary degrees others have given to her recognizing her lifetime of peace, love, and activism.

On November 10, 2017 she released her latest album, Medicine Songs. She described the album as, “…a collection of front line songs about unity and resistance — some brand new and some classics — and I want to put them to work. These are songs I’ve been writing for over fifty years, and what troubles people today are still the same damn issues from 30-40-50 years ago: war, oppression, inequity, violence, rankism of all kinds, the pecking order, bullying, racketeering and systemic greed. Some of these songs come from the other side of that: positivity, common sense, romance, equity and enthusiasm for life.”

Many happy returns Buffy

Activist Buffy Sainte Marie
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