What’s Going On: Black Conversations and Football Dreams

Marvin_AlbumcoverIn 1967, Tammi Terrell, Marvin Gaye’s long time duet partner, collapsed into Gaye’s arms while on stage.  Terrell was diagnosed with brain cancer.  She battled this retched diseased for the next three years losing her battle in March 1970. Gaye was devastated and went into a stupor.  He became a recluse and confined himself to his Detroit home.  Future NFL Hall of Famers Lem Barney and Mel Farr whom befriended Gaye two years prior–Barney was said to have boldly knocked on

Tammi Terrell with Gaye

Tammi Terrell with Gaye

Gaye’s front door to introduce himself to the singer wherein which the singer invited him into his home and they became friends along with Mel Farr, later.  Gaye, Barney, and Farr hung out together, partied together and played sports together.  When Gaye became withdrawn with grief and sorrow as a result of Tammi Terrell’s death, friends Barney and Farr went to pay their dear friend a visit in an effort to cheer him up.  They succeeded in getting Gaye to get out and become more active and exercise.  They played basketball, golf, jogged, and lifted weights.  One day according to Barney, the singer invited he and Farr to the famed Hitsville studio, which wasn’t unusual, to watch him record tracks for an upcoming album.  However, this day was different! Gaye handed out lyric sheets to Barney and Farr.  Gaye wanted the two brawny football players on his record.  Lem_Barneydetroit-lions-mel-farr-52-topps-1970-orange-back-nfl-american-football-card-43888-p_1_He needed their voices to re-create a sonic atmosphere of what it sounded like when brothers-particularly Black men, came together to hang out, talk, and get caught up with each other.  As a result, Barney and Farr stepped up to the microphone to be heard signifying on arguably one of the most recognizable song intros ever recorded.  That song was “What’s Going On?”

“What’s Going On?” was Marvin Gaye’s passionate protest of the Vietnam War.  Gaye’s new album of the same name was an epoch departure from the singer’s smoking love and slow groove ballads prior.  Needless to say, Berry Gordy, founder of Motown and composer of the “Motown Sound”–a music crafted to be non abrasive (to white sensibilities and radio) and catered to a pop oriented cross-over audience, found Gaye’s new album ridiculous in the Motown idiom.  Consequently, Gaye’s album was not released for six months.

During the six-month struggle with Motown, Marvin Gaye refused to record any new music or take on any performance gigs, which Biographer Ben Edmonds suggests lost him a half million dollars.  Rather what Gaye did in fact was to train to play in the NFL! Yes, the National Football League! He wanted to leave music behind.  Gaye believed he could play the game because he had several dreams of catching a pass and running it back for a touch down during the Super Bowl. He enlisted his football buddies Barney and Farr to help him train so that he would be able to get a try-out with the Detroit Lions.  They agreed.  As a youth, Gaye never play a down of football citing that his father would have beat him if he played sports because preacher’s kids didn’t play sports. However, at this point in his life he was serious about his new endeavor.  He worked out, ran daily and implemented a rigorous weight lifting regime. Gaye even practiced with the Eastern Michigan University football team to work on his fundamentals and catching technique.  Gaye’s biographer David Ritz suggests he worked him-self into great shape and gained 25 to 30lbs of muscle.

Jesse Jackson and Gaye Play a little B-Ball shortly After his Football workouts

Jesse Jackson and Gaye Play a little B-Ball shortly After his Football workouts

Other writers describe Gaye as fitting the bill of a football player as he was 6’1”, strong and had become fast from his workouts.

In the end, Gaye’s dream of catching a pass in the NFL and running it back for touchdown never materialized.  Barney and Farr arranged a meeting between Gaye and the head coach of the Detroit Lions, Joe Schmidt.  Coach Schmidt, through many conversations with Gaye, denied Gaye a tryout for fear of a lawsuit if the singer was injured.  Gaye, of course, was disappointed and hurt.  He felt he wasted his time, effort as well as lost money (cancelled concert bookings) while training to play football all to be shut down before even setting foot on a field.

In January 1971, “What’s Going On” single was released (without Gordy’s knowledge) and became one of Gaye’s largest hits.  The single quickly reached gold status and both Lem Barney and Mel Farr, as record personnel, received their RIAA gold records–making them the only NFL Hall of Famers to have a gold record. That’s What’s Going On!

Happy Black Music Month!

Gaye speaks with his dad about those football dreams!

Brown Quiets The Night in Boston!

Photo by Thomas E. Landers/Globe Boston, afternoon April 5, 1968

Photo by Thomas E. Landers/Globe
Boston, afternoon April 5, 1968

As you know it is Black Music Month! And if you are like me you are knee deep in the melodies of some good Black music (just like last month and the month before that and the month . . .)

Anyway here is little something for you to chew on for Black Music Month!

Did you know James Brown and his music saved Boston from being destroyed on April 5, 1968? It’s true. As Brown would say, “Here’s how the whole thang went down, man!”

On April 4, 1968 Dr. Martin L. King, Jr. was assassinated while supporting the striking Black public sanitation workers in Memphis, Tennessee. As soon as his assassination made the news, Black folks became enraged at the untimely loss of their beloved champion of equality. Feeling hopeless, frustrated, and angry with their lingering social status as well as becoming increasingly impatient with the pace of King’s campaign of non-violence, the youth (who drove the movement of civil equality) responded with aggressive violent resistance toward the oppressive power structure. A swell of rioting broke out in Black urban centers across America the evening of April 4th 1968 . . . including Boston!

Months before Dr. King’s assassination, James Brown was scheduled to perform at the Boston Garden. However, given the social unrest in Boston by the Black youth, city officials including Boston Mayor Kevin White thought it would be best to cancel the concert in an attempt to restore order amid the growing civil unrest in and around Boston.  However, Boston’s only African American City Councilman, Tom Atkins thought otherwise. He was convinced that allowing the concert to continue would be best for the city in terms of diminishing the-sure-to-come destructive riot.  He was quickly able to convince Mayor White that allowing the concert to go on would allow a space for the youth to release their frustrations in a non-destructive way.  Atkins also suggested the concert be televised on local TV station WGBH to reach the homes of those youth who could not attend the concert.

Photo by Bob Deen Atkins, White, and Brown workin' it out!

Photo by Bob Deen
Atkins, White, and Brown workin’ it out!

His thinking Brown, one of the hottest acts in the country, would be able to persuade the city’s youth to stay in and forego a violent protest in the city.  Mayor White took a gamble and agreed with Atkins.  Atkins, White, and Brown met to work out the money details of a live broadcast.

So, the evening of April 5, 1968, while several urban centers across America experience a second night of rioting in the wake of Dr. King’s assassination, James Brown and his band put on a captivating high energy show, which redirected the youth’s feelings of angst and sorrow to one of a celebration of life and peace. Brown’s presence and music did in fact quiet the hostile youth in the city of Boston and the surrounding urban areas that evening. In the end, Boston experienced no more disruption than a typical Friday night for that city. Boston was saved by James Brown.

What’s more is that the Boston Garden concert was recorded and preserved for us to watch today.  We now have the opportunity to witness the amazing James Brown in action roughly 24hrs after King’s assassination. We can watch his music captivate and stop the youth, city-wide, from violent resistance.  We get to witness the moment Brown’s music emerged as the undisputed musical beacon of Black empowerment following the Boston concert in 1968.

Photo by Bob Deen Brown Live on stage in Boston Garden

Photo by Bob Deen
Brown Live on stage in Boston Garden

From the great words spoken by Atkins, White, and Brown at the beginning of the concert to the driving tempos to Maceo’s Parker’s solo to the pace of the Go Go dancer’s hips to the concert’s ending with Brown’s interjections of Black pride to thwart a sure riot on the Garden stage are not to be missed.  Take a look and listen below and be mindful of how quiet things are in the streets during the time of the concert. James Brown saved Boston!

Enjoy Black Music Month!

For more info on that night check this out!:


See entire concert here:

Your Sunday iPod add: Zo!’s ManMade . . . it’s not too late!

zo albumWelcome to your Sunday iPod add.

For a few weeks now I have shared some of my favorite neo soul and jazz artist in an effort to reveal what I call good music–part of my endeavor to listen to good music this year. So far I’ve only shared female artists who embody the elements of what I call good music.  Exposed in my search for good music, I’ve found female soul artists are simply more abundant and fill every nook and cranny of the soul genre.  But the Men are not lost in this crowd.

With that being said we switch gender.  Below is the first of many men to follow who are deeply committed to creating various styles of good music from soul to R&B to jazz.

Lorenzo Ferguson, better known as Zo! to his fans, latest album ManMade was released a year ago and is a shining example of well thought out fun and conscious soul.  Zo!, who hails from the Foreign Exchange (+FE) camp of talented singers, songwriters, and musicians, has orchestrated, as usual, a great collaborative effort.  Zo! recorded this album with familiar, amazing and capable voices like underground neo-soul artist-soon-to-be-legend Gwen Bunn on bouncy cut “Count To Five”; Erro Soul himself: Eric Roberson on the retro 80s jam “We Are On The Move; and duets by Choklate with Phonte (“Making Time”) and Anthony David with Carmen Rogers (“Show Me The Way”) bang out some awesomeness that you must to hear.

zo!!Overall the album is couched in the modernity of astutely assembled soul.  It fills the genre of “synth soul.” Zo!’s release is polished yet grooves in a raw organic way.  The music and lyrics are straightforward and positive. They have substance! Also Zo! has a talent for crafting strong and catchy choruses, which make the album highly listenable from beginning to end.

Enough said! If you are craving some good modern soul to make your head bop and you weren’t sure where to look for it, here it is! Take a listen and enjoy it’s not too late!

Add Zo!’s ManMade to your iPod.  You will thank me later!