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

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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).

18 Comments
  1. Sweet piece ruminating about sweet memories about musical icons …thanks for the trip down memory lane — “I Found My Thrill …”

  2. It is hard to believe that someone would write an article of this caliber and subject and not even mention RAY CHARLES !!!

  3. Diana Ross and the Supremes were around before the Jackson 5 and Michael, right? I mean, I seem to recall everyone (across color barriers) enjoying their tunes, too. Yes? No? What do I know, I was just a kid who enjoyed all kinds of music. Pearl Bailey — music and jokes, too. We can spend the day adding to this list. Great article.

  4. Robert Lamb

    A righteous piece, Dallas. Add Nat “King” Cole, Billie Holiday, Pearl Bailey, Lena Horne, Lizzie Miles, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Oscar Peterson, etc., etc.

  5. Terri Evans

    Speaking of global impact and breaking through musical color barriers, let us not forget the magnificent, stunning and courageous Josephine Baker.
    I am compelled to offer some insight from a generation (uh hum, not mine) that grew up with M.J.: “Was it like this when John Lennon died?” My answer: “No, this is more like when Elvis died, because of the tragic, self- and- societal infliction of excess, drugs, alcohol, fame, etc. It was sad because we felt it did not have to be that way. With Lennon, of course there was sadness, but there was also anger and outrage because he was murdered.”
    Yes, Sharpton was hyperbolic in his description of M.J’s impact, but I’d like to remind all of us “youngsters” that this is very sad for those who admired his talent (if not his reputation) and weep for the corruption of his youth.

  6. Cliff Green

    Great memories, Dallas. I won’t add to the list, but to all those who think MJ was the first artist to get whites and blacks listening to the same music never heard WLAC out of Nashville late at night in the 1950s.

  7. …on the other hand, maybe Jackson DID break the color barrier on MTV and Al Sharpton simply (intentionally or not) broadened the statement?

  8. Just to add to Cliff’s comments I went to the Royal Peacock just off Peachtree in downtown Atlanta in the early 60s. Most of the black entertainers in the lists above performed there just as at Harlem”s Apollo. Yes most of their patrons were black but if a person went there to enjoy the music and not to cause trouble no matter what color you happened be the music made everyone forget outside troubles especially in those days.

  9. The folks at CBS suggested on “Sunday Morning” that we should add Quincy Jones and Miles Davis to that marvelous list……….

  10. Chris Wohlwend

    Ray Charles — first concert I saw, when I was about 14. The audience (the hall was full) was about 75 percent white. As to Ray’s global reach, I once was awakened in a Paris hotel at 3 a.m. by a group of drunken Parisians singing Hit the Road Jack on the street outside.

  11. Jack Wilkinson

    Dallas: as the father of two now-grown children, well, i’ll pass on Michael, all that talent and all. now, as someone who loves San Antonio, well, who knew you were a preacher’s son from San Antone? not me. a terrific town, second in Texas only to Austin for my money. do you recall a place just off the Riverwalk called Schilo’s? i’m looking at a now- empty jar of Schilo’s Hot Mustard (Since 1917). Made with San Antonio Pride! it’s my favorite souvenir from the 2004 Final Four and Georgia Tech’s run to the NCAA Championship Game. i seem to recall a few frosty Pearls, too, to offset the spciy Schilo’s.
    speaking of putting on white socks, i’ve gotta go get mine, my running shoes and take the dog for a walk. locally speaking, i was rocked reading your reminiscenses. many thanks. more, please.

  12. Thanks, everybody. I, too, cannot believe I left out Ray Charles, Nat King Cole, et al. Jack, I don’t know Schilo’s … but would like to. In the 1950s, the S.A. River was a dangerous, undeveloped place. Only a handful of restaurants in safe locales. Riverwalk came later.

  13. I imagine that Rev. Al’s old boss James Brown might argue he too had something of a global following. When they were small I realized that my kids, who are in their early 20’s only knew MJ from when he replaced Pee Wee Herman as the punch line for socially deviant, psychotic performer jokes. I remember how surprised they were when I showed them pre-and-up-to “Thriller” photos of him. “That’s Michael Jackson?” Indeed.

  14. In the 1950s almost every white boy in Macon, Georgia, at the age of thirteen, turned his radio dial over to WIBB, the black radio station, because that’s where the best music was. It was a kind of male initiation ritual. It was a city-wide habit which produced, among other things, Phil Walden, Capricorn records, and the Allman Brothers. From then through the Sixties, white and black southerners of our age were listening to the same music, from The Clovers (“Don’t You Know I Love You,” 1950) through Ray Charles and Macon’s own Little Richard, James Brown, and Otis Redding to “It’s Your Thing” (The Isley Brothers, 1969).

    Note: James Brown was raised in Augusta but was working in Macon when he was discovered. “Please, Please, Please” was recorded at a Macon radio station on 1 September 1955 and within a few months was # 5 on the R&B charts. That was the beginning of Brown’s extraordinary career, which changed popular music in several ways.

  15. Dallas —
    Enjoyed your article. No one could have said it better. I came upon it late while doing a Google search for a music promoter from Macon who — back in the mid-60s — booked our teen-age band. We were a result of the influence those early black performing greats had on a group of “white boys” from a small central GA town who had put together a “horn band” to play Southern Soul, Beach and Motown simply because it was the music that moved our souls. Cliff Green mentioned WLAC out of Nashville, and that was certainly the premiere source for the music we learned to love and continue to play into OUR 60s. All the names mentioned are dead center on target, but a few that I think MUST be included are — Sam Cooke, Marvin Gaye, Wilson Pickett, Joe Tex and even artists who may be less globally familiar, but were well known to us at the time like Percy Sledge, Arthur Alexander, Solomon Burke, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Rufus Thomas, and Al Green. Don’t forget the ladies — Carla Thomas, Martha Reeves, Fontella Bass, Tina Turner and so many more! One could go on and on and on, but enough. I’ll finish by saying — give MJ his due, but really — he was just from a more recent time when he didn’t have to overcome NEAR as much to be heard and admired. Except for those who had gone so admirably before, he could have never enjoyed such success. I’m glad I ran across the website. I’ll visit again.

  16. No one mentioned the “The Inkspots” and the Mills Brothers. Sweet music of the 4os and 50s. To say nothing of Eartha Kitt, Lena Horne and Marian Anderson. Our Silver Sneakers group at the YMCA regularly cools down to Sammy Davis Jr. singing “Mr. Bojangles”.

  17. Hello Dallas, I am taking a chance, hoping that you are the author of The Cotton Patch Evidence, which I loved and read from cover to cover uninterrupted. Have you considered writing about other men and women of social change, contemporaru or historic. The book combined scholarship and good storytelling. There are many dynamic individuals who would be great. Hey,Ghandhi , for example. Start at the top. Or the American men and women who have compelling personal lives and have had real spiritual, political, philosophical impact on our lives. Hope you are the right guy.
    Sincerely, Dan Kramer

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