michael-jackson-concert-2009Wait a minute. I want Michael Jackson to have his due. My wife and I and one of our children saw him perform at Atlanta stadium in the early 1980s. Phenomenal.

But what are we to think when Al Sharpton goes before the cameras to say Michael was the first African-American with a global impact? On “Hardball,” Chris Matthews gracefully reminded him about Martin Luther King and Muhammad Ali.

Or what about every street celebrant declaring that Michael’s greatest accomplishment was getting whites and blacks listening to the same music? That’s a good chuckle up in heaven’s music halls for Louis Armstrong, Muddy Waters and a host of other angels.

Note to The Reverend Al and all the street celebrants: When we say our prayers tonight, let’s get down on our knees and ask forgiveness of – and express our thanks for – MLK, Ali, Satchmo, Pearly Brown, Ma Rainey, Chuck Berry, Nina Simone, B.B. King, Little Richard … and later on, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, The Drifters, Percy Sledge, et al. God only knows how the list will grow under the influence of you readers. Imagine all the blues, jazz and R&B musicians who quite literally made Elvis, Jerry Lee, the Beatles, Eric Clapton, etc., etc., ad infinitum (including the Jackson Five) possible.

fats_domino_blueberry_hill_20_greatest_hits_aPersonal note: As the whitest preacher’s boy in San Antonio, Texas, in the 1950s, I cruised the streets for a couple of years in a 1948 Studebaker with a pretty good radio. One, two, three o’clock, four o’clock rock …. When it wasn’t the minor league San Antonio Missions, it was what music came on that had everything to do with how I felt about myself. I was especially fond of Fats Domino. I found my thrill ….

But that was kid stuff. I grew up (in my mind) on a summer job one day. I was a delivery boy for a wholesale grocer operated by a famed Dixieland clarinetist, Jim Cullum Sr., who fell victim to alcohol and devolved to groceries to make a living. It was about 11 a.m. on a week day the first time I NS_NP_1967_BW_SM_U-1hunked into the front door of a nearly empty corner tavern on the West Side with a large bag of sugar on one shoulder and flour on the other. The lights were low, the air conditioning was cool and Nina Simone was on the jukebox melting her way through What a Difference a Day Makes.

I lingered to move within myself in that forbidden rhythm and light. In those moments, my bony 16-year-old body taught me a thing or to about myself that evermore comes in handy. To this very day when I put on white socks I feel the tremors of that delicious moment, the mix of heat and moist cool air. Globally speaking, I was rocked.

By the way, Nina – Dr. Simone to many fans – got her first job in an Irish bar in New Jersey. God rest her angry soul.

Nina Simone biography: http://www.ninasimone.com/nina.html

Fats Domino sings “Blueberry Hill”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Dl5hknXqXps


Dallas Lee

Dallas Lee, former writer and editor for The Associated Press and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, retired as a speechwriter from Bank of America. He is author of The Cotton Patch Evidence: The Story of Clarence Jordan and the Koinonia Farm Experiment (Harper & Row 1971).