♫ Kenny Rogers — Final Tribute ♫

Well, folks, it’s been a week of memories, hasn’t it?  I’m sad to see it end, and I realize I didn’t get to all the requests from everybody, but I have made note of them and … Kenny’s legacy, his music, remains with us to be played over and over, whenever we want.  I debated what to do for this final post.  Lady was requested by a couple of people, but since I had already played it twice, last May and in October 2018, I held off on that one.  For tonight’s grand finale, if you will, I selected a few songs and tributes from other artists.  Rather than take up space with trivia & lyrics, I shall let the videos speak for themselves.  First, of course, it had to be Dolly’s own tribute …

What would any tribute to Kenny be without his iconic The Gambler

Even morning talk/news show Good Morning America had to say ‘goodbye’ to Kenny in style …

And, as our friend Ellen suggested, there might be no better tribute than this song by Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton, You Can’t Make Old Friends …

I finish with a recording that Kenny, along with so many other wonderful artists, such as Lionel Richie, Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, Michael Jackson, James Ingram, and too many to even name, participated in to raise money for humanitarian aid.  The first recording session on January 21st, 1985 brought together some of the most well-known artists in the music industry at the time.

This one never fails to bring a lump to my throat and a tear to my eyes.  What a perfect way, I think, to close this tribute to a great artist …

I hope you’ve all enjoyed this week-long tribute to the late Kenny Rogers … I have certainly enjoyed doing it!  R.I,P. Kenny,  and thank you for all you have given us.

♫ Just The Way You Are ♫

Last night I was tired, and forgot to include any Kenny Rogers’ trivia in my post.  As we’re nearing the end of this tribute week, there are a few more things I wanted to include.  Kenny did duets with a number of other artists, but the ones he is most remembered for are the ones he did with Dolly Parton.  So, how did the two meet and connect?kenny-dolly-2The two first crossed paths in Nashville in the early days of their careers, and he helped her when she headlined a syndicated TV show in the 1970s.

“Kenny was a big star, and I couldn’t get any people on my show. Kenny said ‘I’ll do it,’ and I’ll never forget it. He’s always been there for me as a friend.”

Nearly a decade later, Rogers was in the recording studio with Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees, who had just co-written Islands in the Stream and decided to give it to Rogers. After a few days trying to record, Rogers didn’t like how it sounded and was ready to give up. According to Rogers, Gibb said, “You know what we need? We need Dolly Parton.”  By coincidence, Parton happened to be the same studio that day. Rogers’ manager went to go find her.  Recalls Kenny …

“She came marching into the room, and once she came in and started singing, the song was never the same. It took on a personality of its own.” 

Of all their duets, Islands in the Stream is my very favourite, but I find that I have already played it three times here, so … I’ll wait a while before playing it again.


Last night I played We’ve Got Tonight that Kenny sang with Sheena Easton, and I mentioned that while I loved Kenny Rogers, I preferred the Bob Seger version of that particular song.  Well, guess what?  Tonight’s song … same thing!  While I love Kenny Rogers in all things, for this particular one, I prefer Billy Joel’s version.  But, as I said last night, this is a week-long tribute to the late, great Kenny Rogers, not the alive-and-whole Billy Joel.

I actually just discovered that I played the Billy Joel and Barry White versions of this, as well as one where Joel visits Sesame Street with Marlee Matlin back in January, but as I had a special request for the version by Kenny Rogers and Dottie West, that is tonight’s fare!

Just The Way You Are
Kenny Rogers/Dottie West

Don’t go changing to try and please me
You never let me down before
Don’t imagine you’re too familiar
And I don’t see you anymore

I wouldn’t leave you in times of trouble
We never could have come this far
I took the good times; I’ll take the bad times
I’ll take you just the way you are

Don’t go trying some new fashion
Don’t change the color of your hair
You always have my unspoken passion
Although I might not seem to care

I don’t want clever conversation
I never want to work that hard
I just want someone that I can talk to
I want you just the way you are

I need to know that you will always be
The same old someone that I knew
What will it take till you believe in me
The way that I believe in you?

I said I love you and that’s forever
And this I promise from the heart
I could not love you any better
I love you just the way you are

Songwriters: Billy Joel
Just The Way You Are lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, Universal Music Publishing Group, Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd., BMG Rights Management

♫ What About Me? ♫

I was still debating, not quite sure if I was ready to do another week-long tribute or not.  It had been suggested by a couple of people, requests had rolled in, and before I fully finished pondering, our friend Ellen commented last night that she was looking forward to the week-long tribute.  So, I guess I have decided to do it!  I was all for it anyway, but I think I have a couple of readers who are not Kenny Rogers’ fans, but … you’ll just have to live with it, guys!  It’s only a week, eh?

This song was written by KennyRogers, noted producer David Foster, and singer-songwriter Richard Marx, who would later achieve superstar status as a musician with Right Here Waiting, and Now and Forever. It was the lead single from Rogers’s Platinum-plus 1984 album of the same name.

Rogers has described What About Me? as “like a three-way love song…Everybody involved said ‘Hey, what about me?’ I think it’s a beautiful record.” Originally the male and female parts not sung by Rogers were to be performed by Lionel Richie and Barbra Streisand, but after Richie backed out of the project, Streisand did as well. The second proposed trio of singers was Rogers, Olivia Newton-John, and Jeffrey Osborne, but Newton-John began working on a duet with Barry Gibb of the Bee Gees and decided not to do both projects simultaneously. Osborne had a conflicting schedule as well, so the line-up of Rogers, Kim Carnes, and James Ingram was ultimately the one that recorded the song.

What About Me?
Kenny Rogers, Kim Carnes, James Ingram

I see you here with me
I’ve waited all my life
For someone like you
Someone to give my heart and soul to

I look into your eyes
Your love for me
Was such a welcome surprise
I think at last I’ve found forever

Oh, what about me?
(I’ll always love you)
Oh, what about me?
(I’ll always need you)
You were my love before
But I need so much more of you

Time after time, I feel I’m losing my mind
Or maybe this is what lovers must go through
It never entered my mind, we could be wasting our time
What am I gonna do?
What about me? Oh, what about me?

No reason to pretend, true love affairs
Don’t have to come to an end
The moment we don’t
Have all the answers

I nearly go insane
(Oh, I go insane)
Each and every time
I hear you whisper my name
(I feel the same)
When I’m around you

But what about me?
(I’ll always love you)
Oh, what about me?
(I’ll always need you)
This is so hard for me
I wanted so much to be with you

Time after time, I feel I’m losing my mind
Or maybe this is what lovers must go through
It never entered my mind, we could be wasting our time
What am I gonna do?

Time after time, I’m losing my mind
It never entered my mind
We could be wasting our time
But what abut me

Source: Musixmatch
Songwriters: David Foster / Kenny Rogers / Richard Marks
What About Me lyrics © Chrysalis Music, Peermusic Iii Ltd, Chrysalis Music (digital Only), Peermusic Iii Ltd (df Account), Lionsmate Music, Co.

♫ Reuben James ♫

It has been suggested by a few that I make a week-long tribute to the late Kenny Rogers.  I hadn’t thought of it … well, I had thought of it, but a number of readers are not fans of Kenny, so I was about to discard the idea, but then I had so many people telling me their faves, and commenting on how Kenny and his music would be sorely missed (we still have his music, folks … it is his legacy to us), that I had to reconsider.

Our friend rawgod has now requested … or rather hinted at … this song twice now, and I feel badly that I hadn’t played it before.  I like the song, though it isn’t one of my favourites, but it highlights that gorgeous, sensual voice of Mr. Rogers (Kenny, not Fred), so for that, I love it.

Typically, I research and report the backstory and history of the song, but quite frankly I could find almost nothing about this song, and since what little I did find was conflicting, I have no history to report.  Rg … if you know of any, please enlighten us?  In lieu of a backstory, I share with you first, the tribute by Kenny’s long-time friend and sometimes musical partner, Dolly Parton, and some pictures of Kenny “through the years”.

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“Well, I couldn’t believe it this morning when I got up, turned on the TV checking to see what the coronavirus was doing, and they told me that my friend and singing partner Kenny Rogers had passed away. You never know how much you love somebody until they’re gone. I’ve had so many wonderful years and wonderful times with my friend Kenny, but above all the music and the success I loved him as a wonderful man and a true friend.

And I know that we all know Kenny is in a better place than we are today but I’m for sure he’s going to be talking to God sometime today, if ain’t already, and he’s going to be asking him to spread some light on this darkness going on here. But I loved Kenny with all my heart. My heart’s broken. A big ol’ chunk of it has gone with him today and I think that I can speak for all his family, his friends and fans, when I say that I will always love him.”

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Reuben James
Kenny Rogers

Reuben James
In my song you live again
And the phrases that I rhyme
Are just the footsteps out of time
From the time when I knew you, Reuben James

Reuben James
All the folks around Madison County cussed your name
You’re just a no-account, sharecropping colored man
Who would steal anything he can
And everybody laid the blame on Reuben James

Reuben James, for you still walk the furrowed field of my mind
Faded shirt, the weathered brow
The calloused hands upon the plow
I loved you then and I love you now, Reuben James

Flora Grey
The gossip of Madison County died with child
And although your skin was black
You were the one that didn’t turn your back
On the hungry white child with no name, Reuben James

Reuben James
With your mind on my soul and a Bible in your right hand
You said “turn the other cheek
A-there’s a better world a-waiting for the meek”
In my mind these words remain from Reuben James

Reuben James, you still walk the furrowed field of my mind
The faded shirt, the weathered brow
The calloused hands upon the plow
I loved you then and I love you now, Reuben James

Reuben Jame
One dark, cloudy day they brought you from the field
Until your lonely pinebox came
Just a preacher and me in the rain
Just to sing one last refrain for Reuben James

Reuben James, you still walk the furrowed field of my mind
The faded shirt, the weathered brow
The calloused hands upon the plow
I loved you then and I love you now, Reuben James

Reuben James, you still walk the furrowed field of my mind
The faded shirt, the weathered brow
The calloused hands upon the plow
I loved you then and I love you now, Reuben James

Source: LyricFind
Songwriters: Alex Harvey / Barry Etris
Reuben James lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, BMG Rights Management

♫ Through The Years ♫

I had another song already scheduled for this morning.  I was finishing up responding to comments, was on the last one, in fact, and planning to head upstairs to bed at just after 3:00 a.m., when a ‘Breaking News’ banner flashed on my screen:  “Country Music Legend Kenny Rogers Dies at 81”Noooooooooooooooooooo.  cryingI am not a country music fan, but for the most part, I didn’t think of Kenny’s music as hardcore country.  I loved his voice, loved his music, and he wasn’t too hard on the eyes either. 😉 So, tonight I shed a tear and play one two of my favourite Kenny Roger’s songs, Through the Years and Islands in the Stream.

Released in 1981, this song was written by Steve Dorff and Marty Panzer.  The song was produced by Lionel Richie, and it was Richie who decided Through The Years was a good fit for Rogers.  According to co-writer Steve Dorff …

“Kenny was actually the third or fourth person that was approached with that song. Barry Manilow and Mac Davis passed on it. Glen Campbell passed on it. Those were the notable ones. Lionel Richie had heard the song and loved it and played it for his people and that’s how it happened. I got a phone call from Gene Page, that great arranger, who called me and said, ‘Congratulations! We just cut your song with Kenny Rogers, and it sounds amazing.'”

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kenny-rogers-4

Through the Years
Kenny Rogers

I can’t remember when you weren’t there
When I didn’t care for anyone but you
I swear we’ve been through everything there is
Can’t imagine anything we’ve missed
Can’t imagine anything the two of us can’t do

Through the years
You’ve never let me down
You turned my life around
The sweetest days I’ve found
I’ve found with you
Through the years
I’ve never been afraid
I’ve loved the life we’ve made
And I’m so glad I’ve stayed
Right here with you
Through the years

I can’t remember what I used to do
Who I trusted whom, I listened to before
I swear you’ve taught me everything I know
Can’t imagine needing someone so
But through the years it seems to me
I need you more and more

Through the years
Through all the good and bad
I knew how much we had
I’ve always been so glad
To be with you
Through the years
It’s better everyday
You’ve kissed my tears away
As long as it’s okay
I’ll stay with you
Through the years

Through the years
When everything went wrong
Together we were strong
I know that I belonged
Right here with you
Through the years
I never had a doubt
We’d always work things out
I’ve learned what love’s about
By loving you
Through the years

Through the years
You’ve never let me down
You’ve turned my life around
The sweetest days I’ve found
I’ve found with you
Through the years
It’s better everyday
You’ve kissed my tears away
As long as it’s okay
I’ll stay with you
Through the years

Source: LyricFind
Songwriters: Martin Panzer / Stephen Hartley Dorff
Through the Years lyrics © Universal Music Publishing Group


Islands in the Stream
Dolly Parton, Kenny Rogers

Baby, when I met you there was peace unknown
I set out to get you with a fine tooth comb
I was soft inside
There was something going on

You do something to me that I can’t explain
Hold me closer and I feel no pain
Every beat of my heart
We got something going on

Tender love is blind
It requires a dedication
All this love we feel needs no conversation
We ride it together, ah ha
Making love with each other, ah ha

Islands in the stream
That is what we are
No one in between
How can we be wrong
Sail away with me
To another world
And we rely on each other, ah ha
From one lover to another, ah ha

I can’t live without you if the love was gone
Everything is nothing if you got no one
And you did walk in the night
Slowly losing sight of the real thing

But that won’t happen to us and we got no doubt
Too deep in love and we got no way out
And the message is clear
This could be the year for the real thing

No more will you cry
Baby, I will hurt you never
We start and end as one
In love forever
We can ride it together, ah ha
Making love with each other, ah ha

Islands in the stream
That is what we are
No one in between
How can we be wrong
Sail away with me
To another world
And we rely on each other, ah ha
From one lover to another, ah ha

Islands in the stream
That is what we are
No one in between
How can we be wrong
Sail away with me
To another world
And we rely on each other, ah ha
From one lover to another, ah ha

Islands in the stream
That is what we are
No one in between
How can we be wrong
Sail away with me
To another world
And we rely on each other, ah ha
From one lover to another, ah ha

Islands in the stream
That is what we are
No one in between

Source: LyricFind
Songwriters: Maurice Ernest Gibb / Robin Hugh Gibb / Barry Alan Gibb
Islands in the Stream lyrics © Warner Chappell Music, Inc, Universal Music Publishing Group

Black History Month — Katherine Johnson

Katherine Johnson died today at the age of 101.  When the ‘breaking news’ flashed across my screen, I was working on a different post, but I quickly switched gears.  Some of you may not recognize her name, so let me tell you just a bit about Ms. Johnson.

Katherine Johnson loved to count.

“I counted everything. I counted the steps to the road, the steps up to church, the number of dishes and silverware I washed … anything that could be counted, I did.”

And so it began for this young girl from West Virginia in the U.S. Born in 1918 in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., Johnson’s love for mathematics was inherent, an inclination she had from birth. At a young age, she was ready and anxious to go to school. She could vividly remember watching her older siblings go to school and wishing so much that she could go with them. The opportunity to attend school finally did come. Johnson so excelled that she began her studies in the second grade, then moved into advanced classes. By age 10, Johnson was in high school.

In school, one teacher stood out to Johnson. Miss Turner taught geometry, and Johnson couldn’t wait to take her class. The teacher was a great encourager to the students and a strong mentor to many of them. Johnson did so well in her classes that she graduated early from high school, and at age 15 she entered West Virginia State College. She had two years before having to declare a major, so Johnson wavered between English, French and mathematics. One of her professors at West Virginia State College helped Johnson with her choice. She told Johnson, “If you don’t show up for my class, I will come and find you.” And so it was, through part threat and part joke, Johnson steered her way into what was already her first love: mathematics.

At West Virginia State College, Johnson became immersed in academia and the mathematics program. She loved being surrounded by smart people, she said, and knew all of the professors and students on campus. One of her professors, the renowned Dr. William W. Schiefflin Claytor, recognized the bright and inquisitive mind that Johnson had. “You’d make a great research mathematician,” he told her. Then professor Claytor did something else. He told Johnson that he would help her become one. Johnson said…

“Many professors tell you that you’d be good at this or that, but they don’t always help you with that career path. Professor Claytor made sure I was prepared to be a research mathematician. Claytor was a young professor himself, and he would walk into the room, put his hand in his pocket, and take some chalk out, and continue yesterday’s lesson. But sometimes I could see that others in the class did not understand what he was teaching. So, I would ask questions to help them. He’d tell me that I should know the answer, and I finally had to tell him that I did know the answer, but the other students did not. I could tell.”

He saw that Johnson took all of the mathematics classes listed in the catalog that were needed to pursue her life’s passion, and even went so far as to create a class in analytic geometry of space just for her. At age 18, Johnson graduated summa cum laude with Bachelor of Science degrees in mathematics and French!

Johnson ended up teaching after college; at that time, teaching was the only option for her in her community. And then one day, at a family function in the 1950s, a relative mentioned to Johnson that the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, the predecessor to NASA, was hiring. They were specifically looking for African-American females to work as “computers” in what was then their Guidance and Navigation Department. In the 1950s, pools of women at NACA did calculations that the engineers needed worked or verified. Johnson immediately applied for the job, but the agency already had filled its quota for the year. By the time the next year rolled around, Johnson had applied again and found herself with two contracts on her table. One was a contract to teach, and one was to work for NACA. Remembering what professor Claytor had always told her about becoming a research mathematician, she took the job at NACA.

Johnson began working for NACA in 1953. She started as one of the women who worked on problems assigned from the engineers in what was then the Guidance and Control Branch. As Johnson worked on the problems, she would ask questions. She didn’t want to just do the work — she wanted to know the “hows” and the “whys” and then the “why nots.” None of the other women had ever asked questions before, but by asking questions, Johnson began to stand out. She was told that women didn’t participate in the briefings or attend meetings; she asked if there were a law against it. The answer, of course, was no, and so Johnson began to attend briefings. NACA was just beginning its work on space. Space itself may be perceived as a series of plane surfaces, and as Johnson became known for her training in geometry, she began to work with the team more and more. Eventually, she became known as a leader, and the men increasingly relied on her. She remembers quite clearly her experience at the time.

“The women did what they were told to do. They didn’t ask questions or take the task any further. I asked questions; I wanted to know why. They got used to me asking questions and being the only woman there.”

It was this inquisitive nature that made her a valuable resource to the team and the only woman at the time to ever be pulled from the computing pool to work on other programs.Katherine-Johnson-2In 1957, Katherine provided some of the math for the 1958 document Notes on Space Technology, a compendium of a series of 1958 lectures given by engineers in the Flight Research Division and the Pilotless Aircraft Research Division (PARD). Engineers from those groups formed the core of the Space Task Group, the NACA’s first official foray into space travel, and Katherine, who had worked with many of them since coming to Langley, “came along with the program” as the NACA became NASA later that year.

In 1960, she and engineer Ted Skopinski coauthored Determination of Azimuth Angle at Burnout for Placing a Satellite Over a Selected Earth Position, a report laying out the equations describing an orbital spaceflight in which the landing position of the spacecraft is specified. It was the first time a woman in the Flight Research Division had received credit as an author of a research report.

Then in 1962, President John F. Kennedy charged the country to send a man to the moon. Johnson became part of the team, and she began to work on calculating the trajectory for America’s first space trip with Alan Shepherd’s 1961 mission, an early step toward a moon landing. She went on to do the calculations for the first actual moon landing in 1969.Katherine-Johnson-5In 1962, when NASA used computers to calculate John Glenn’s orbit around Earth, Glenn had one request: He wanted Katherine Johnson to personally recheck the calculations made by the new electronic computers before his flight aboard Friendship 7 – the mission on which he became the first American to orbit the Earth.

Katherine-Johnson-4Johnson worked at the agency until 1986, when she retired after 33 years of service. During her tenure at NASA, Johnson received many prestigious awards, including an honorary Doctor of Law degree and an honorary Doctor of Science degree. In 2015, at age 97, Johnson added another extraordinary achievement to her long list: President Barack Obama awarded her the Presidential Medal of Freedom, America’s highest civilian honor.

Johnson’s pivotal role, along with others at NASA, was highlighted in the 2016 film Hidden Figures, based on the book by Margot Lee Shetterly.  The film was nominated for three Oscars, including best picture. Though it won none, the 98½-year-old Mrs. Johnson received a sustained standing ovation when she appeared onstage with the cast at the Academy Awards ceremony that February.

R.I.P. Ms. Johnson, and the nation thanks you for your great contributions.

 

 

Black History Month — Maya Angelou

Maya Angelou was born in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1928 … her given name was Marguerite, but her older brother nicknamed her “Maya”, derived from “Mya Sister”.  Her parents divorced when Maya was just three years old, and when she was eight, she was sexually abused and raped by her mother’s boyfriend.  She told her brother, her brother told the rest of the family, and the man, whose last name was Freeman, was arrested.  But, though Freeman was found guilty, he was freed after only one day in jail.  Incensed, an uncle or uncles, it is unclear whether it was one or more, beat and kicked Mr. Freeman to death.  Says Maya …

“I thought, my voice killed him; I killed that man, because I told his name. And then I thought I would never speak again, because my voice would kill anyone.”

And she spoke not a word for nearly the next five years.  Angelou credits a teacher and friend of her family, Mrs. Bertha Flowers, with helping her speak again. Flowers introduced her to authors such as Charles Dickens, William Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe, Douglas Johnson, and James Weldon Johnson, authors who would affect her life and career, as well as black female artists like Frances Harper, Anne Spencer, and Jessie Fauset.

maya-angelouDuring World War II, Angelou moved to San Francisco, California. There she won a scholarship to study dance and acting at the California Labor School. During this time, Angelou became the first black female cable car conductor in San Francisco.

During the 1960s, Maya and her son spent several years in Ghana, where she became an administrator at the University of Ghana, and was active in the African-American expatriate community. She was a feature editor for The African Review, a freelance writer for the Ghanaian Times, wrote and broadcast for Radio Ghana.  It was in Ghana that she met and became close friends with Malcolm X during his visit in the early 1960s.  Angelou returned to the U.S. in 1965 to help him build a new civil rights organization, the Organization of Afro-American Unity; he was assassinated shortly afterward.

Maya remained a civil rights activist, and in 1968 Martin Luther King asked Angelou to help organize a march.  She agreed, but before the plan could reach fruition, Martin Luther King was assassinated – on Maya’s 40th birthday, as it happened.  For many years thereafter, Maya refused to celebrate her birthday, but sent flowers to King’s widow, Coretta Scott King, on that day. maya-angelou-2Maya Angelou went on to become one of the greatest writers and poets of our time. Despite having almost no experience, she wrote, produced, and narrated Blacks, Blues, Black!, a ten-part series of documentaries about the connection between blues music and black Americans’ African heritage, and what Angelou called the “Africanisms still current in the U.S.” for National Educational Television, the precursor of PBS.  Also in 1968, she wrote her first of seven autobiographies, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, published in 1969. This brought her international recognition and acclaim.Maya-caged-birdIn 1993, Angelou recited her poem On the Pulse of Morning at the presidential inauguration of Bill Clinton, becoming the first poet to make an inaugural recitation since Robert Frost at John F. Kennedy’s inauguration in 1961.

I came across this quote by Maya regarding writing …

“I make writing as much a part of my life as I do eating or listening to music. I also wear a hat or a very tightly pulled head tie when I write. I suppose I hope by doing that I will keep my brains from seeping out of my scalp and running in great gray blobs down my neck, into my ears, and over my face.”

And now I know what I’ve been doing wrong all this time — I must wear a hat from now on when I write!!!maya-angelou-4There is so much more I could tell you about Maya Angelou, who died in 2014, but there are many, many great books both by and about her.  What I do want to share with you, though, is one of her most famous poems, Still I Rise.  Just as with Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech, I cannot listen to her recite this without a tear coming to my eyes. In this, she writes about racism and slavery,  about rising above hatred – something that is just as relevant today as it was when she first published it in 1978.

Still I Rise

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

Maya Angelou died in 2014, at the age of 86.  Among other, former President Bill Clinton and then-First Lady Michelle Obama both spoke at her funeral.

“And then she developed the greatest voice on the planet. God loaned her His voice. She had the voice of God, and He decided he wanted it back for awhile.” — President Bill Clinton

“For me that was the power of Maya Angelou’s words, words so powerful that they carried a little black girl from the South Side of Chicago all the way to the White House.” — First Lady Michelle Obama

During her lifetime, she won Grammy Awards for three spoken-word albums, was a civil rights activist, streetcar conductor, Calypso singer, dancer, movie director and playwright.  She left behind a legacy that will not soon be forgotten.maya-4

Black History Month –John Swett Rock

There are so many true heroes in black American history that it’s hard to choose just one or even a dozen.  This year for black history month, I wanted to highlight some people that are a bit less well-known than, say, Rosa Parks, Harriet Tubman, or Martin Luther King.  I began last week with Thomas Mundy Peterson, the first African-American to cast a vote.  Today, I would like to introduce you to John Swett Rock, the first black lawyer admitted to the Bar of the United States Supreme Court, a man who in his short 41-year life, was a school teacher and administrator, dentist, physician, lawyer, and human rights and abolitionist activist.  Quite a plateful, wouldn’t you say?

Mr. Rock was born in Salem County, New Jersey, on October 13, 1825. Living in a slave-free state but with modest means, his parents rejected the common but often necessary practice of putting black children to work instead of attending school. They continued to support their son’s diligent pursuit of education through the age of 18, and Rock returned the favor by demonstrating a deep love of learning and a brilliant intellect.

At age 19, proficient in Greek and Latin, Rock took a position as a teacher at a black public grammar school in the town of Salem. But he had greater things in mind: while teaching there during the years 1844–1848, he apprenticed himself to two white doctors, Quinton Gibbon and Jacob Sharpe, immersing himself in their libraries each day after his teaching duties. By 1848, Rock was exceptionally well versed in medicine, and sought but was refused entrance to medical school that year because of the colour of his skin. Demonstrating the resolve that would characterize his entire life, he began an intense study of dentistry, again on his own. Obtaining a dentistry certificate, he opened a private practice in Philadelphia in 1850. The practice was immediately successful, but Rock had not given up on becoming a physician. He gained admission to Philadelphia’s American Medical College and received his M.D. degree at the age of 26 in 1852.

Rock made his mark in Philadelphia as a medical man of brilliance, and as a strong, eloquent advocate for African Americans. He married Philadelphia native Catherine Bowers in 1852, and the following year, having decided the northern, liberal environment in Massachusetts would be better suited to them, the couple moved to Boston’s Beacon Hill. There, Rock opened another successful practice in dentistry and medicine, and became increasingly involved in black advocacy. He served first as a member of the Boston Vigilance Committee, giving free medical services to fugitive slaves, and then in 1855, as a delegate to the Colored National Convention in Philadelphia. In 1856, he was recorded as asking the Massachusetts legislature to delete the word “colored” from state documents.

During this period, Rock earned his lifelong reputation as a brilliant abolitionist orator. He argued in favor of black self-improvement and began speaking of the “inherent beauty” of African people and their culture. In 1858, the 33-year-old Rock delivered one of his most famous speeches in which he likely became the first person—and perhaps the last until the civil rights movement of the next century—to assert that “black is beautiful.” In these and all his speeches, Rock urged his listeners to take direct action. He demonstrated his own commitment by joining with other Blacks in organizing for the new, antislavery Republican Party (yes, they were once better than they are today).

For several years, a chronic illness, the precise nature of which is unknown, had seriously threatened Rock’s health. Using his knowledge of the latest medical developments, Rock made contact with a renowned group of physicians in Paris who agreed to take him on as a patient. Getting to France, however, proved an ordeal. The administration of President James Buchanan ruled that Rock could not be granted a passport because in the infamous Dred Scott case, the Supreme Court had ruled that Blacks could never be considered full citizens, free or not. Massachusetts, however, took the unprecedented step of issuing him a passport of its own, and Rock sailed for France in the summer of 1858.

After undergoing surgery, Rock toured France and studied the French language and literature, returning to Boston in February 1859. But his prognosis was poor, and he was advised to give up his medical and dental practices. It seems unlikely that Rock’s physicians intended him to replace medicine with a new, equally strenuous career as a lawyer, but this is what he did, and in 1861, he opened his own law practice. His offices soon became a favorite haunt of abolitionist activists and politicians. As a lawyer, Rock at first expressed impatience at the slow pace of newly elected President Lincoln’s actions on behalf of Blacks, but when Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, he changed his mind. When Congress authorized the creation of all-black regiments to help fight the south, Rock became one of the main recruiters for Massachusetts regiments.

john-swett-rock-2In 1865, Rock made his greatest mark in history when in a widely celebrated breakthrough, he was admitted to practice before the Supreme Court. Again, progress had not come easy. The previous year, Chief Justice Roger B. Taney, author of the Dred Scott decision, had blocked Rock’s admission. But Taney died in October 1864 and was replaced by Salmon P. Chase who assented to Rock’s presence. In a stark reminder of reality as he boarded a train for the trip back to Boston, Rock was briefly placed under arrest because he lacked the travel pass still required of Blacks in the nation’s capital.

Still in chronically poor health, Rock had caught cold during the Washington ceremonies and never recovered. His health continued to deteriorate, and in December 1866, he died in Boston. His short life was a trailblazing combination of intellectual brilliance, professional success, and political action.

I Have A Dream …

Tomorrow is Martin Luther King Day, a federal holiday in the United States.  I first wrote this tribute to Dr. King in 2017, and each year I reprise it, with slight changes or minor additions, for I find that it still says exactly what I wish to say.  I am posting it a day ahead this year, for a few reasons, the main one being that I don’t wish it to be overshadowed by the white supremacist/gun rally that will be taking place in Virginia tomorrow.  Dr. King’s memory deserves better than that.  So please, take just a minute to, if nothing else, listen once again to Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.  In these troubled times, it is good to be reminded of Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream.


“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: Only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: Only love can do that.” 

“That old law about ‘an eye for an eye’ leaves everybody blind. The time is always right to do the right thing.”

mlk-3Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was born on 15 January 1929.  He would have been 91 years old last Wednesday, had he lived. On this day, we celebrate not only his life, but also his legacy. Martin Luther King Day celebrates not only Dr. King, but the movement he inspired and all those who helped move forward the notion of equal rights for ALL races, all those who worked tirelessly during the civil rights era of the 1960s, as well as those who are continuing the good fight even in this, the year 2020.

Dr. King, along with President John F. Kennedy, was the most moving speaker I have ever heard.  To this day, I cannot listen to his ‘I Have A Dream’ speech without tears filling my eyes.  If you haven’t heard it for a while, take a few minutes to watch/listen … I promise it will be worth your time.

This post is both a commemoration and a plea for us to carry on the work that was only begun, not yet finished, more than five decades ago.  Today we should remember some of the great heroes of the civil rights movement, those who worked tirelessly, some who gave their lives, that we could all live in peace and harmony someday: Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Nelson Mandela, Nina Simone, Mary McLeod Bethune, Lena Horne, Marva Collins, Rosa Parks, W.E.B. Du Bois, Malcolm X, Roy Innes, Medgar Evers, Booker T. Washington, John Lewis, Percy Julian, Marcus Garvey, Desmond Tutu, E.D. Nixon, James Meredith, and so many more.  I am willing to bet there are some on this list of whom you’ve never heard, or perhaps recognize the name but not the accomplishments. If you’re interested, you can find brief biographies of each of these and more at Biography.com .

Yet, while we celebrate the achievements of Dr. King and the others, there is still much to be done. Just look around you, read the news each day. Think about these statistics:

  • More than one in five black families live in households that are food insecure, compared to one in ten white families
  • Almost four in ten black children live in a household in poverty, nearly twice the rate of other racial groups
  • Among prime-age adults (ages 25 to 54), about one in five black men are not in the labor force, nearly twice the rate of other racial groups
  • Although blacks and whites use marijuana at approximately the same rate, blacks are over 3 and a half times more likely to get arrested for marijuana possession
  • For every dollar earned by a white worker, a black worker only makes 74 cents
  • Black families are twice as likely as whites to live in substandard housing conditions
  • Black college graduates now have twice the amount of debt as white college graduates
  • The likelihood of a black woman born in 2001 being imprisoned over the course of her lifetime is one in 18, compared to 1 in 111 for a white woman
  • Similarly, the likelihood of a black man being imprisoned is 1 in 3, compared to 1 in 17 for a white man
  • Of black children born into the bottom 20 percent of the income distribution, about half of them will still be there as adults, compared to less than one-quarter of white children

Data courtesy of the Brookings Institute – for charts and supporting details of above date, please click on link. 

And of course the above data does not even touch upon the recent spate of hate crimes, racial profiling, and police shootings against African-Americans.  There is still much of Dr. King’s work to be accomplished. But who is left to do this work?  Most of the leaders of yore are long since gone. There are still noble and courageous people out there carrying on the programs and works of Dr. King and the others, but their voices are perhaps not as loud, and there are none so charismatic as the late Dr. King.

In the current environment of racial divisiveness, we need more than ever to carry on what Dr. King only started. Instead, the past three years have found our nation backtracking on civil and human rights in a number of areas, ranging from discriminatory travel bans against Muslims to turning a federal blind eye to intentionally racially discriminatory state voter-suppression schemes, to opposing protections for transgender people, to inhumanely separating children from families seeking to enter the country.  I think Dr. King would be appalled if he returned to visit today.

In a speech on April 12th, 1850, then-Senator and future President of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis said:

“This Government was not founded by negroes nor for negroes, but by white men for white men.” [1]

That was wrong then, it is wrong today, and it will always be wrong.  That is what Dr. Martin Luther King fought against, that is what I rail and sometimes rant against, that is why we need activists and groups dedicated to fighting for equality for all people … today, tomorrow, and forever.

Here is a bit of trivia you may not know about Dr. King …

  • King’s birth name was Michael, not Martin.
    The civil rights leader was born Michael King Jr. on January 15, 1929. In 1934, however, his father, a pastor at Atlanta’s Ebenezer Baptist Church, traveled to Germany and became inspired by the Protestant Reformation leader Martin Luther. As a result, King Sr. changed his own name as well as that of his 5-year-old son.

  • King entered college at the age of 15.
    King was such a gifted student that he skipped grades nine and 12 before enrolling in 1944 at Morehouse College, the alma mater of his father and maternal grandfather. Although he was the son, grandson and great-grandson of Baptist ministers, King did not intend to follow the family vocation until Morehouse president Benjamin E. Mays, a noted theologian, convinced him otherwise. King was ordained before graduating college with a degree in sociology.


  • King’s “I Have a Dream” speech was not his first at the Lincoln Memorial.
    Six years before his iconic oration at the March on Washington, King was among the civil rights leaders who spoke in the shadow of the Great Emancipator during the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom on May 17, 1957. Before a crowd estimated at between 15,000 and 30,000, King delivered his first national address on the topic of voting rights. His speech, in which he urged America to “give us the ballot,” drew strong reviews and positioned him at the forefront of the civil rights leadership.


  • King was imprisoned nearly 30 times.
    According to the King Center, the civil rights leader went to jail 29 times. He was arrested for acts of civil disobedience and on trumped-up charges, such as when he was jailed in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1956 for driving 30 miles per hour in a 25-mile-per-hour zone.


  • King narrowly escaped an assassination attempt a decade before his death.
    On September 20, 1958, King was in Harlem signing copies of his new book, “Stride Toward Freedom,” in Blumstein’s department store when he was approached by Izola Ware Curry. The woman asked if he was Martin Luther King Jr. After he said yes, Curry said, “I’ve been looking for you for five years,” and she plunged a seven-inch letter opener into his chest. The tip of the blade came to rest alongside his aorta, and King underwent hours of delicate emergency surgery. Surgeons later told King that just one sneeze could have punctured the aorta and killed him. From his hospital bed where he convalesced for weeks, King issued a statement affirming his nonviolent principles and saying he felt no ill will toward his mentally ill attacker.


  • King’s mother was also slain by a bullet.
    On June 30, 1974, as 69-year-old Alberta Williams King played the organ at a Sunday service inside Ebenezer Baptist Church, Marcus Wayne Chenault Jr. rose from the front pew, drew two pistols and began to fire shots. One of the bullets struck and killed King, who died steps from where her son had preached nonviolence. The deranged gunman said that Christians were his enemy and that although he had received divine instructions to kill King’s father, who was in the congregation, he killed King’s mother instead because she was closer. The shooting also left a church deacon dead. Chenault received a death penalty sentence that was later changed to life imprisonment, in part due to the King family’s opposition to capital punishment.

Dr. King fought and ultimately gave his life for the values I believe in, the values that should define this nation, though they often do not.  Dr. Martin Luther King was a hero of his time … thank you, Dr. King, for all you did, for the values you gave this nation, and for the hope you instilled in us all that your dream will someday come true.

[1] (Kendi, 2016)   stamped

Human Rights Day …

Today is Human Rights Day, marking the 71st anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948.  First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt played a key role as chairperson of the drafting committee of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and I initially considered using her speech before the United Nations as the basis for this post.  However, the speech is long … over 4,000 words … and I decided instead to listen to some of the voices from the past, including Eleanor Roosevelt, speaking of human rights.


11B-Mahatma-Ghandi

“When I despair, I remember that all through history the ways of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants, and murderers, and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end they always fall. Think of it—always.” – Mahatma Ghandi


Eleanor-Roosevelt

“Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With freedom comes responsibility. For the person who is unwilling to grow up, the person who does not want to carry his own weight, this is a frightening prospect.” – Eleanor Roosevelt


nelson-mandela

“I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if need be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” – Nelson Mandela


Martin-Luther-King

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” – Martin Luther King


desmond-tutu

“I am not interested in picking up crumbs of compassion thrown from the table of someone who considers himself my master. I want the full menu of rights.” – Desmond Tutu


cesar-chavez

“Once social change begins, it cannot be reversed. You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read. You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride. You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore. We have seen the future, and the future is ours.” – Cesar Chavez


These are but a few of the thousands of people who have worked tirelessly to bring about equality and fairness for everyone, not just for a select few.  Let us hope that today and into the future, there are many more like them.