“Signed, Sealed, Delivered”
By Rev. Billy C. Wirtz
Each week Rev. Billy C. Wirtz tells us about artists, albums, and music that we need to know about.
He did it.
We did it.
Once again, I found myself wiping away tears at two a.m. on a November morning and wishing my parents had hung around long enough to witness the miracle. We have elected, and then re-elected, a black man to the office of President of The United States Of America.
In slightly less than fifty years we have actually begun to decisively heal some of the long-open wounds left by three hundred years of slavery and legal discrimination.
I closed my eyes and saw:
- Segregated water fountains in the drugstore back in my hometown of Aiken, South Carolina
- A motel sign along I-95 southbound in North Carolina that read:
“The Sepia Inn.”
And then in smaller letters: “Colored Only.”
- Another billboard, also in North Carolina, just south of Fayetteville, featuring a robed figure on horseback, informing travelers: “You’re In Klan Country, Brother.”
I opened my eyes and saw:
- A deliriously jubilant crowd of close to one hundred thousand people of every age, race, and lifestyle cheering for a black man they had just chosen to lead their country.
- For an hour or so, prior to his acceptance speech, I watched as his supporters participated in a mass Karaoke party, singing along with music piped in over the Judgment Day-sized P.A. speakers.
I didn’t hear every song, but what I did hear brought more than just a little smile of satisfaction to this aging Baby Boomer.
“R-E-S-P-E-C-T, find out what it means to me.” A song being sung by the daughter of Rev. C.L. Franklin, at one time the most powerful and influential black minister in the United States. Franklin owed much of his national fame to weekly Sunday night spots on radio station W.L.A.C. As anyone who reads this column will attest, I am of the opinion that ‘L.A.C. and it’s middle-aged white DJs playing soul, gospel, and R&B, opened up the minds and to an extent the hearts of an entire generation in the South. Along with Franklin and the gospel artists, W.L.A.C. was also the station directly responsible for launching the career of another young man from Macon, Georgia.
Following the sing-along version of “Respect,” I noticed the crowd got a bit quieter. The reason being that they were listening to the strains of a tune unfamiliar to many of them. The song was ‘Try a Little Tenderness” by Otis Redding.
Although there have been few moments on film anymore exciting than James Brown‘s T.A.M.I., performance, Otis Redding’s segment at The Monterrey Pop Festival runs a close second, in particular, his all-out, show-stopping rendition of “Try a Little Tenderness.”
Watch it, and then watch it again.
Notice the look in his eyes about halfway through.
In the midst of horns blaring and Booker T. And The M.G.’s pounding out the relentless beat behind him, Otis is smiling. After years of false starts, broken promises, and disappointments, it’s really happening, he has “broken through” to a mass audience. Unfortunately, he would die less than a year later in a plane crash, leaving a body of work that defined an era. Over forty years later, it still sounded great, even if the crowd didn’t know the words.
The rest of the night, I heard snippets of old Motown favorites, among them “You Can’t Hurry Love,” one of the first hits for The Supremes.
And then there’s that other song:
Beginning with “Fingertips Pt.1&2″ (“What key, what key?”), Stevie Wonder has turned out some of the greatest and most original songs in the history of pop music. Heavily influenced by, among many others, next week’s feature, Little Willie John, the visually-impaired child prodigy known as “Little” Stevie has had a string of hits that began in the early sixties and really hasn’t stopped since.
According to Wikipedia, “Signed, Sealed, Delivered,” released in June, 1970, (it’s that old?) was Wonder’s first self-produced project, recorded at the age of twenty when our president was only nine.
During his 2008 campaign, it became Obama’s de facto theme song, and as anyone who saw the Democratic convention, or last night’s victory speech will attest, it has now risen to anthem status.
Watching it all last night, it struck me that of all the different kinds of music that could have been played before, during, and after the victory speech, the clear choice was the music I know and love, and in many ways, the perfect soundtrack for the occasion; more than simply a collection of oldies that brought back good memories, the selections represented all that makes this country great.
Think about it:
The Motown songs came into being as the result of a black entrepreneur named Barry Gordy. Early on, Gordy had a vision.
Go back and look at your Supremes records, underneath the Motown logo, disregarding race, class and gender, it simply reads: “The Sound Of Young America.”
The songs by Aretha Franklin and Otis Redding were also produced during one of the most divisive and turbulent eras in our history.
Vietnam and racial strife were tearing this country apart, and yet in the midst of it all, down in Memphis and Alabama, young blacks and whites, reaching back to their respective roots, combined black gospel with white country music, and gave us soul.
The legacy that we Baby Boomers have passed on is indeed a checkered one, but one of our better gifts was soul music and songs like “Respect,” “Try a Little Tenderness,” and “Signed , Sealed, Delivered.” We’ve always known how great those songs were, but to hear them used a backdrop for history…
That’s pretty cool.
Rev. Billy C. Wirtz is a weekly columnist at BluesWax. Each week he finds artists, albums, and music that you should know about. He also plays piano. His radio show, Rev. Billy’s Rhythm Revival, is available in podcast. To hear the latest, go to Rev. Billy C. Wirtz’ page on Facebook and look for the link.
About the Author: