TALK TO THE DADDY

Hello. Come on in. The daddy writes about current events, literature, music and, once in a while, drops something on you from back in the day to make you pause and ponder, stop and stare, and begin to wonder. Who knows? You may start to pace the floor, shake your head from side to side, then fall down on bended knees in a praying position and cry, "Lawd, have mercy! What is this world coming to?" Check yourself! But this blog is NOT about the daddy. It's about you: your boos, your fam, your hood, your country...our hopes and dreams of a better tomorrow. So let's make a pact: the daddy will put it on the track if you'll chase it down and hit him back. Together, we can definitely take it to another level. Shall we?"

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Levi Stubbs Left Us, But What He Represents Remains

"It is not only a tremendous personal loss for me, but for the Motown family, and people all over the world who were touched by his rare voice and remarkable spirit. Levi was the greatest interpreter of songs I've ever heard."
--Barry Gordy, founder of Motown

Today, the daddy is still feeling the death of Levi Stubbs. Yes, he is feeling the sadness about his death. But he is feeling something else: what Levi Stubbs life says about us as parents, as African-Americans, as Americans.

Levi is gone. He died at the age of 72 from cancer and a host of illnesses. But in another way, he is still with us. Don't believe me? Tell you what: when you go to your parent's house this thanksgiving, check out their record collection. I bet you'll see an album or CD of the Four Tops.

Don't want to wait that long? Then check out the R&B section of the nearest record shop. You'll see a number of Four Top CDs displayed prominently.

Too lazy to get out of the house? Check You Tube. They're there. You'll no doubt see them perform hits like "Baby, I need your loving," "Sugar Pie Honey Bunch," or "Just ask the lonely," the daddy's favorite. But there's another way that Levi and the Four Tops are still with us.

Levi and The Four Tops represent a legacy of political and personal struggles of African Americans to beat the odds, to succeed as individuals and as a people in the face of American oppression. Levi didn't come from a privileged family like, say, Sen. John McCain. Levi and his three buddies came from inner-city black communities during the fifties and early sixties, a time when crime wasn't so bad, when kids hung out under street lights near the houses or in their front yards.

In their front yards, girls danced to Martha and the Vandellas and James Brown blaring out of a living-room window. Under street lights, boys sang doo wop, honing their harmonizing skills and practicing steps for the next singing contest. Levi and the Four Tops represent a time and a place in America when making music was not more or less a modeling contest of privileged whites or middle class black rappers seeking fame by bragging about violence and calling women names to get some kind of rep in a phony thug culture.


Making music, above all, was an expression or outcome of the values that were inculcated in black kids by their parents and their community: Hard work, cooperation, and excellence. Put another way, Levi and the Four Tops, as well as the singers, producers, choreographers and studio musicians at Motown, the label under which they sang, were as American as sweet potato pie.
And, despite the emotive utterances, teenage angst and phony hip hop that passes for talent on commercial radio these days, the true talent in R&B, hip hop, jazz, gospel and blues is still there in black communities; and it's still there, because black parents are still bearing and rearing Smokey Robinsons, Pervis Jacksons (leader of the group called The Spinners), Diana Ross's, Mary Wells, Marthas, Isa
Aac Hayes, James Browns, Otis Reddings and Levi Stubbs. More importantly, despite increasing violence and decreasing paychecks and dwindling home equity in some neighborhoods, those black parents are inculcating the same core values that their children will need to be successful: work hard, cooperate, believe in excellence and believe in yourself.

Because of crime and other factors, you don't see them under street lights or even in the front yard at night. Most likely, the boys are in a basement, their makeshift studio, the girls in their bedroom, their impromptu stage and dance floor.

Can you hear them singing? Can you hear them stepping in unisom? Can you see the next Diana Ross? The next Ella Fitzgerald? The next Smokey Robinson? The next Levi Stubbs?

Can you see the American in them-- and in you?

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

My favorites were "Standing in the shadow of love" and "It's the same old song." He was good looking too.

SagaciousHillbilly said...

Good post Daddy. I love the Four Tops. My kids grew up on a good diet of MoTown, especially The Four Tops and The Temptations.

rainywalker said...

I danced many a night with the young ladies to the Four Tops with my partner Odell. I never thought about it till you reminded me. Young people don't hangout on the corners like they did when I was a teen. That is very sad, we had wonderful times there, people singing or a small box.

MacDaddy said...

anon: No comment on his looks. But I share your appreciation of those two songs.
sagacious: I knew you loved the blues, but I never heard you say loved R&B. Cool.
rainywalker: Growing up Muslim, I didn't get to dance with the ladies like you. I was jealous of you guys.

SagaciousHillbilly said...

Daddy, did anyone who grew up in the 50s and 60s NOT love R&B? It was just part of the scene for me even in the white bread world I was raised. For me, the choreography and harmony was hard to comprehend. . . there weren't no white boys doing that stuff. When I got out on my own with a job and started buying albums, I'd get Temptations, Smokey, etc along with the Beatles, Pink Floyd and ELO.

Anonymous said...

Dear "Daddy Mac"

As usual, you put into words what I was feeling. Not only has Levi Stubbs left us, also Dee Dee Warwick (Dionne's sister), who had several hits in the 60's and early 70's, also the very funny and outrageous Dolemite, who starred on his own planet: even Red Foxx and Richard Pryor paled in comparison to his "blue humor". May they all rest in peace...

James