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Remembering The Greatest Blues Man Robert Johnson

th00At The Crossroads

It is a great joy to share the glorious past of the ghost of the greats whose shoulders. The history of black music is littered with tragic figures, and none are more tragic than Robert Johnson’s story that will live for eternity. Legend has it that he sold his soul to the devil at the crossroads for his story to live for all times.

Robert Leroy Johnson is among the most famous of all the Delta Blues musicians whose landmark recordings from 1936-37 display a remarkable combination of singing, guitar skills, and tremendous songwriting talent that have influenced generations of musicians. This amazing, ultimate star-crossed musical genius laid the early framework of rock and roll decades before that term was even imagined.

Not much is known about Johnson’s shadowy, poorly documented life and violent death at age 27, which is one of the reasons that have given rise to his legend. With that being true, the music and legacy he left behind is irrefutable and unparalleled.

He is considered by some to be the “Grandfather of Rock-and-Roll” for his vocal phrasing, original songs, and guitar style. His music has influenced a range of musicians, including Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, The Allman Brothers Band, The Rolling Stones, The White Stripes, The Black Keys, Peter Gabriel, Neil Young, and Warren Zevon. Eric Clapton called Johnson “the most important blues musician who ever lived.

Johnson was conceived in an extramarital affair and born in Hazelhurst, Miss. in 1911. Most of his biographical details have been lost to history, but what’s known is that he learned guitar in his teens, got married, and had a girl who died in childbirth. The death led Johnson to throw himself even deeper into his music. He fled to Robinsonville, Miss. where he was influenced by early blues legends Son House and Willie Brown.

By 1933, Johnson remarried and began playing the guitar professionally. He once related the tale of selling his soul to the devil at a crossroads in exchange for his talent. Johnson tells the story in his song “Crossroads Blues.” Playing for tips up and down the Delta, Johnson gained in popularity. But as he grew in fame and was known as a noted philanderer. He would also walk off in the middle of performances and not be seen or heard from for weeks at a time.

In 1936, he was put in contact with Columbia Records talent scout Ernie Oertle, who took him to San Antonio, Tex. where Johnson recorded classics including “Sweet Home Chicago,” “There’s A Hell Hound On My Trail,” and his signature “Terraplane Blues.”

Johnson began to tour nationally and became known for his unique voice and halting guitar riffs. But in 1938, as the legend goes, the devil caught up with him. While playing at a juke joint, he flirted with a woman whose husband became jealous. The man laced Johnson’s whiskey with strychnine that caused him to become violently ill playing until he collapsed. He died four days later at age 27, although conflicting stories say he survived the poisoning and died later of pneumonia.

There are at least two Mississippi gravesites that bear his name leaving questions about his passing and burial. “The reason, that it’s so powerful a story, is because it is the outline of the tragic side of the music that followed,” said music journalist Alan Light. “Some knew him as a musician, others by legend, but his shadow touches everyone who came out of that time and place.”

Black History is American History and I believe our story is the greatest story ever told. And that’s my Thought Provoking Perspective…

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Labor Day: Remember The Slaves Who Built America And Died

We are told to celebrate the 4th of July a day supposedly to honor and embrace freedom, which we have yet to receive. They also want us not to forget 911 and remember the Holocaust, but remarkably “they” don’t want to remember slavery or the sins of their fathers. So on this day, let’s remember the slaves who built America. And that’s my thought provoking perspective…

This Labor Day lets honor the American Slaves who died and suffered to build America

I am the creator and administrator of a FaceBook Group, BLACK EMPOWERED MEN, where all are welcome to join. Someone posted this in the group to which I found it to be an amazing piece of knowledge.

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A Repost: When We Were Negro

There was a time, not too long ago, before the early 1960s there were all kinds of terms to describe people of African descent; most were derogatory words. The most accepted and commonly use was Negro. However, they call these people today other terms like African American, Black, Afro-American and these are the polite ones. Frankly, those terms were unheard of in the consciousness of the people called Negro. I am one who thinks the Negro was hoodwinked by the shame they called integration because we were never integrated into the broader society. But then that is what white folk do!

I remember a distinct conversation with a friend where we discussed descriptive terms for ourselves before the mid-sixties. To be clear, all of the terms before and now were assigned by other people to define and demean people of color as a way to say; these people are less than and not true citizens. The mere fact that most black people carry the name of the family of their ancestor’s white slave owners proves this to be true.

The term “black” was just coming into vogue when I was a young man, and most people of color didn’t like it a bit. In fact, they were so happy being called Negro that being called black was an insult and fighting words. Now, the word “Negro” (publications used a lowercase “n”) has almost become pejorative and today most people of color feel insulted when they are referred to as such. It tells you how demeaning it was then and how times has changed.

“When we were Negroes,” there were several things that were distinctly different concerning black life. First, there was a higher level of respect for our humanness and one another because it was a necessity to need each other because of segregation. It was in a perverted way a sense of unity among us. In my view integration robbed us of that unity.

So it got me to thinking. When we were Negroes in the 1950s, “only 9 percent of black families with children were headed by a single parent,” according to “The Black Family: 40 Years of Lies” by Kay Hymowitz. “Black children had a 52 percent chance of living with both their biological parents until age 17. In 1959, “only 2 percent of black children were reared in households in which the mother never married.”

Now that we’re so called African Americans, according to Hymowitz, the odds of living with both parents has “dwindled to a mere 6 percent” by the mid-1980s and today the statistics are worse and much lower. For example, he says in Bibb County (GEORGIA); more than 70 percent of the births in the African American community are to single mothers.

When we were Negroes and still fighting in many parts of the country for the right to vote, we couldn’t wait for the polls to open. We knew our friends, family, and acquaintances died getting us the ballot. Can you remember Selma or when dogs and fire hoses were used to keep us away from the polls, but now that we’re African Americans, before President Obama, most didn’t bother to show up at the polls at all. Then as a result of over criminalizing the African American population, in many cases, the vote has been taken away completely.

During the era of being identified as Negro, black people had names like John, Joshua, Aaron, Paul, Esther, Melba, Cynthia, and Ida. Now that we are African Americans, our names are bastardized versions of alcohol from Chivas to Tequila to Chardonnay, and chances are the names of this era have more unusual spellings.

When we were Negroes, according to the Trust For America’s Health “F as in Fat,” report, “only four states had diabetes rates above 6 percent. … The hypertension rates in 37 states about 20 years ago were more than 20 percent.” Now that we’re African Americans that report shows, “every state has a hypertension rate of more than 20 percent, with nine more than 30 percent. Forty-three states have diabetes rates of more than 7 percent, and 32 have rates above 8 percent. Adult obesity rates for blacks topped 40 percent in 15 states, 35 percent in 35 states and 30 percent in 42 states and Washington, D.C. [These are the most recent I could find, which may be higher]

When we were Negroes, the one-room church was the community center that all black people used. Now that we’re African Americans, our churches have to be lavish, and in many cases all the preacher want is your money, compared to back-in-the-day churches, community centers usually sit empty because the last thing the new church wants to do is invite in the community. Further, if you attend such a place the first thing you will see, more often than not, is an ATM in the lobby. In the churches of today, there is a very good chance the leader of the flock, almost assured has a criminal record. It is also a good chance that this leader prays on the congregation sexually or partakes in some sort of financial exploitation.

Back when we were Negroes, we didn’t have to be convinced that education was the key that opened the lock of success, but now that we’re African Americans, more than 50 percent of our children fail to graduate high school. The dropout rate is higher than during the time when schools were segregated.

Back when we were Negroes, the last thing a young woman wanted to look like was a harlot and a young man a thug, but now that we’re African Americans, many of our young girls dress like hoochie mamas and our young boys imitate penitentiary customs wearing their pants below the butt line. The incarceration rate of African American people has skyrocketed in comparison to the days of segregation. It has been said that there are currently more black males in prisons than there were in slavery.

Police brutality has always existed in the African American community. However, today laws have been passed to turn the other community into vigilantes through laws such as “Stop and Frisk” and “Stand your Ground”. These laws essentially say SHOOT TO KILL black men and young boys. These Nazi like tactics routinely occur with the police. Today, drugs have become an epidemic used to destroy black people and gang warfare further that effort.

Pride and strength were the foundations of these people called Negro; fortitude and courage made the race strong. Black people must recapture the pride and greatness of those whose shoulders we stand and relearn that the fights of others are not our battles. If I could reverse all of the above by trading the term “African American” for “Negro”, today I might choose Negro. Although, personally I prefer Black! Here’s a thought – let’s make Black the New Black to make our communities great by being concerned about black issues and yes, Black Lives Matter! So act like it does!!! And that’s my Thought Provoking Perspective…

 


Patti LaBelle

1-As I thought about a woman to give great praise and highlight during this month dedicated to great women and their achievements. My choice was Patricia Edwards better known to the world as Patti LaBelle or to those who love her as “Miss Patti”. She is renowned as a Grammy Award winning recording artist, author, and actress with over 50 years in the music industry. Miss Patti spent 16 years as lead singer of Patti Labelle and the Bluebells a group that changed their name to “Labelle” in the early 1970s and released the iconic song “Lady Marmalade”.

She started a solo career shortly after the group disbanded in 1977 becoming an established crossover success with “On My Own”, “If You Asked Me To”, “Stir It Up”, and the hit “New Attitude”. She has also recorded huge R&B ballads; “You Are My Friend”, “If Only You Knew”, and “Love, Need and Want You”.

Miss Patti possesses the vocal range far greater than any soprano. Her musical legacy and influence, she has rewarded her with inductions into the Grammy Hall of Fame, the Hollywood Walk of Fame, the Apollo Hall of Fame, and the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame. The World Music Awards presented her with the prestigious Legend Award. She has sold over 50 million records worldwide.

She released her self-titled album in 1977 to critical success, with the highlights being the dance singles “Joy To Have Your Love” and “Dan Swit Me”, and the pop-R&B ballad “You are My Friend”, a song she and her husband co‑wrote. Her subsequent follow-ups, however, 1978s “Tasty”, 1979s “It’s Alright with Me”, and 1980s “released”, failed to be as successful. Though well-established in some circles, LaBelle never followed her live performance success with hit records, which was often the case with the Bluebelles. In 1981, she was switched to Philadelphia International Records.

Miss Patti found success outside of music, performing on Broadway, TV, and movies. Her first film role was “A Soldier’s Story” and later issued for the soundtrack of Beverly Hills Cop. She garnered headlines in 1985 for her show-stopping performances, first at Motown Returns to the Apollo where she opened the show with Joe Cocker singing “You Are So Beautiful” where she received high praise. In the same show, she engaged in the so-called “infamous mic toss” between her and Dianna Ross during the show’s finale “I Want to Know What Love Is”. In fact, most views thought she stole the show.

A longtime resident of Philadelphia married Armstead Edwards, who had one child and tow adopted boys who were the children of their next-door neighbor after their mother died of cancer. Following the death of her youngest sister Jackie Padgett, the couple raised Padgett’s teenage children. In 2000, the couple announced their separation. Their divorce was finalized in 2003.

As lead singer of the legendary group Labelle, Patti LaBelle has been called one of the pioneers of the disco movement due to singles such as “Lady Marmalade” and “Messin’ With My Mind”. In turn, “Lady Marmalade” has been also called one of the first mainstream disco hits. Rolling Stones Magazine includes LaBelle in its 100 Greatest Singers List, citing her as an influencing factor to “generations of soul singers” including Luther Vandross, Alicia Keys, Beyoncé, Mary J. Blige and Christina Aguilera.Other singers who have been inspired by Patti LaBelle are Ashford & Simpson, Celine Dion, Donna Summer, Jennifer Hudson, Jody Watley, Macy Gray, Mariah Carey, Martha Wash, Paula Abdul, Fantasia Barrino, Whitney Houston, and Ariana Grande as well as Oleta Adams, and Regina Belle.

I could go on for days praising this woman for her longevity and accomplishments but space does not allow it. But, if you have ever seen this show-stopping songstress, I am sure you will agree. As the old adage says, she is one in a million, rather I would say she is one who only appears once in a lifetime. And that’s my thought provoking perspective…


The Aftermath Of Integration

1I recently had a conversation with a group of young people, none of which lived during the age of government segregation. Each had strongly convoluted opinions about the era that were not based in fact. This made me think about how much the current world view has changed the reality of black life, as it relates to a historical perspective.

First, white folk never wanted it and chatted go back to Africa at the time. It was never intended to be fair or equal! I am not suggesting that integration should not have happened, but it did have a negative impact on black life and the future of African Americans in many ways. Two prominent ways were in the areas of family and black business.

One thing that happened, for sure was that the black community stopped supporting the businesses in their own communities. After segregation, African Americans flocked to support businesses owned by whites and other groups, causing black restaurants, theaters, insurance companies, banks, etc. to almost disappear. Today, black people spend 95 percent of their income at white-owned businesses. Even though the number of black firms has grown 60.5 percent between 2002 and 2007, they only make up 7 percent of all U.S firms and less than .005 percent of all U.S business receipts.

I took the opportunity to educate these young people that in 1865, just after Emancipation, 476,748 free blacks – 1.5 percent of U.S. population– owned .005 percent of the total wealth of the United States. Today, a full 135 years after the abolition of slavery, 44.5 million African Americans – 14.2 percent of the population — possess a meager 1 percent of the national wealth.

If we look at relationships from 1890 to 1950, black women married at higher rates than white women, despite a consistent shortage of black males due to their higher mortality rate. According to a report released by the Washington DC-based think tank the Urban Institute, the state of the African American family is worse today than it was in the 1960s, four years before President Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act.

In 1965, only 8 percent of childbirths in the black community occurred out of wedlock. In 2010, out-of-wedlock childbirths in the black community are at an astonishing 72 percent. Researchers Heather Ross and Isabel Sawhill argue that the marital stability is directly related to the husband’s relative socio-economic standing and the size of the earnings difference between men and women.

Instead of focusing on maintaining black male employment to allow them to provide for their families, Johnson passed the Civil Rights Act with full affirmative action for women. The act benefited mostly white women and created a welfare system that encouraged the removal of the black male from the home. Many black men were also dislodged from their families and pushed into the rapidly expanding prison industrial complex that developed in the wake of rising unemployment.

Since integration, the unemployment rate of black men has been spiraling out of control. In 1954, white men had a zero percent unemployment rate, while African-American men experienced a 4 percent rate. By 2010, it was at 16.7 percent for Black men compared to 7.7 percent for white men. The workforce in 1954 was 79 percent African American. By 2011, that number had decreased to 57 percent. The number of employed black women, however, has increased. In 1954, 43 percent of African American women had jobs. By 2011, 54 percent of black women are job holders.

The Civil Rights Movement pushed for laws that would create a colorblind society, where people would not be restricted from access to education, jobs, voting, travel, public accommodations, or housing because of race. However, the legislation did nothing to eradicate white privilege. Michael K. Brown, professor of politics at University of California Santa Cruz, and co-author of“Whitewashing Race: The Myth of a Color-Blind Society” says in the U.S., “The color of one’s skin still determines success or failure, poverty or affluence, illness or health, prison or college.”

Two percent of all working African Americans work for another African American’s within their own neighborhood. Because of this, professionally trained Black people provide very little economic benefit to the black community. Whereas, prior to integration that number was significantly higher because of segregation people in the black community supported each other to sustain their lives and families.

The Black median household income is about 64 percent that of whites, while the Black median wealth is about 16 percent that of whites. Millions of Black children are being miseducated by people who don’t care about them, and they are unable to compete academically with their peers. At the same time, the criminal justice system has declared war on young Black men with policies such as “stop and frisk” and “three strikes.”

Marcus Garvey warned about this saying:

“Lagging behind in the van of civilization will not prove our higher abilities. Being subservient to the will and caprice of progressive races will not prove anything superior in us. Being satisfied to drink of the dregs from the cup of human progress will not demonstrate our fitness as a people to exist alongside of others, but when of our own initiative we strike out to build industries, governments, and ultimately empires, then and only then will we as a race prove to our Creator and to man in general that we are fit to survive and capable of shaping our own destiny.”

Maybe this proves that once past truths are forgotten, and the myths that are lies are born with an unfounded reality detrimental to all, but those who seek to benefit. As I have often said, “I firmly believe education is the single most important ingredient necessary to neutralize those forces that breed poverty and despair. We can change the world but first, we must change ourselves.” And that’s my thought provoking perspective…

Twitter @JohnTWills

Source: Black Atlanta Star


The Birth Of Black History Month

007_1000I love Black History Month because we have so much to be proud of during the month-long celebration of the legacy of Black History. However, it should be celebrated all year long! Therefore, it is important and we should be celebrate black history 365 days a year. This is a time for the world to know the tremendous contributions people of color, i.e. black people have made and contributed to mankind and the world. During the month of February, I will be posting an article each day resurrecting the greatness of a history denied, untold, and will feature the ghost of the greats who paved a mighty path.

I am blessed to have lived long enough to witness what no one living or dead ever thought possible. It was and is the most significant historical event since the resurrection of our Lord – the election of the first African American President of these United States and the leader of the free world. In spite of the wretched history of slavery and oppression, this man was elected twice.

This, notwithstanding, all of the storied achievements made by so many, I am proud of the many contributions African Americans have made to this great country and dare I say to the world. I am equally as confident that there is an abundance of history yet to be made. However, most people do not know the origins of Black History Month so that I will share that information.

February is dedicated to this proud annual observance for the remembrance of those important people and events honoring the African America Diaspora. The idea of Black History Month was conceived in Chicago during the summer of 1915. Dr. Woodson, an alumnus of the University of Chicago with many friends in the city hosted a convention to give honor to the untold history of black people and their accomplishments. Dr. Carter G. Woodson, known to be the father of Black History Month, traveled from Washington DC to participate. It was a national celebration of the fiftieth anniversary of the so-called emancipation, sponsored by the State of Illinois.

Thousands of African Americans traveled from all across the country that summer to see exhibits highlighting the progress their people had made since the extermination of slavery. Awarded a doctorate at Harvard University three years earlier, Dr. Woodson joined other exhibitors with a black history display. He was so enamored with the idea that he began the process of making this exhibit an annual event. For this reason, we owe the celebration of Black History Month, including the study of black history, to Dr. Woodson.

In 1924, his group responded with the creation of Negro History and Literature Week, which they renamed Negro Achievement Week. Their outreach was significant, but Dr. Woodson desired a greater impact. He told students at the Hampton Institute, “We are going back to that beautiful history, and it is going to inspire us to greater achievements.” In 1925, he decided that the Association had to shoulder the responsibility. He felt going forward with this idea would both create and popularize knowledge about black history.

He sent out a press release announcing Negro History Week in February of 1926. Dr. Woodson chose the second week of February because it marked the birthdays of two Americans who greatly influenced the lives and social condition of African Americans: Abraham Lincoln and abolitionist and former slave, Frederick Douglass. For this reason, the myth, that the month of February was selected because it is the shortest month, is simply not true.

Dr. Woodson also founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, now the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. What you might not know is that black history had barely begun to be studied or even documented when the tradition originated. Further, it is important to remember that blacks had been in America since August of 1619 when a Dutch man-of-war ship rode the tide into Jamestown, Virginia, and the first slaves were dragged onto its shores. However, it was not until the 20th century that African American history gained a respectable presence in the history books.

From the beginning, Dr. Woodson was overwhelmed by the response to his call. Negro History Week appeared across the country in schools and in many public forums. The expanding black middle class became participants in and consumers of black literature and culture. Black history clubs sprang up, teachers demanded materials to instruct their pupils, and progressive whites supported their efforts. They set a theme for the annual celebration providing study materials such as pictures, lessons for teachers, plays for historical performances, and posters of important dates and people.

The 1960’s had a dramatic effect on the study and celebration of black history. Before the decade was over, Negro History Week would be well on its way to becoming Black History Month. The shift to a month-long celebration began even before Dr. Woodson’s death. As early as the 1940’s, blacks in West Virginia, a state where Dr. Woodson often spoke, began to celebrate February as Negro History Month. By the late 1960’s, as young blacks on college campuses became increasingly conscious of links with Africa, Black History Month replaced Negro History Week.

Within the Association, younger intellectuals, part of the awakening, prodded Woodson’s organization to change with the times. They succeeded and in 1976, fifty years after the first celebration, the Association used its influence to institutionalize the shifts from a week to a month and from Negro history to black history.

Since the mid-1970, every American president, Democrat, and Republican, has issued proclamations endorsing the Association’s annual theme because black history is American history. The profound legacy of our past should never be forgotten and always embraced for we are merely the sum of the whole. Thank you, Dr. Woodson! And that’s my Thought Provoking Perspective…


Remembering: The Legendary Sam Cooke

th (23)The music of Black America that we called soul music, born in the Church, has produced many great artists. There were groundbreakers who paved the way for other entertainers to follow. History reposts that none was better than the singer, songwriter and entrepreneur Sam Cooke, who was considered to be one of the pioneers and founders of soul music. Sam Cooke was commonly referred to as the King of Soul for his distinctive vocal abilities and influence on the modern world of music.

Cooke’s pioneering contributions to soul music led to the rise of greats such as Aretha Franklin, Bobby Womack, Al Green, Curtis Mayfield, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Otis Redding, and the Godfather of Soul James Brown. Cooke was also among the first modern black performers and composers to attend to the business side of his musical career. He founded both a record label and publishing company as an extension of his careers as a singer and composer. He also took an active part in the African-American Civil Rights Movement.

Sam should be recognized with great pride and as a pioneer, he was one of the first black artists to break away for from the traditional artist role of the music industry of the day. Where black artists were being robbed of their music, had no ownership rights or control of the masters, and use as slaves for the white labels. Sam started his own label, which was prospering and a threat to the major label and in my view was the reason he was killed.

On December 11, 1964, Cooke was fatally shot by the manager of the Hacienda Motel in Los Angeles, California at the age of 33. At the time, the courts ruled that Cooke was drunk and distressed, and the manager had killed Cooke in what was later ruled justifiable homicide. Since that time, the circumstances of his death have been widely questioned.

My question: Why has there not been a bio-pic of this man’s story? “A Change is Gonna Come,” which became an anthem for the civil rights movement. Sam Cooke is the man who invented Soul Music and most would agree he was often imitated but never duplicated. In other words, one of a kind! And that’s my Thought Provoking Perspective…

The legendary Sam Cooke
“It’s been a long time coming but a change going to come.” 

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