April 30, 2019, Nonexistent was my first blog post, about a terrible, fast rising mental health disease with no known cure. Many things have happened since, Alzheimer’s continues to increase, Corvid 19 has claimed many lives and continues it’s highs and lows, elections truths and denials make headlines, I’ve blog good and bad news, mass shootings, voting, immigration, injustices, racism, lies over shadow normal day happenings.
Sometimes you like to write, read , view, hear a lighter side than the daily troubles , so I’m going back, way back for me and sharing a Washington Post article from my past title – Soul, Hip-Hop … and 2 Generations of Joy.
One night in the summer of 1988, my 16 year old eldest son, Lawrence jr. excitedly called me upstairs to the recording studio he was creating in our attic. He wanted me to see a great entertainer. As I climbed the stairs, I thought back to the time when I had felt a similar excitement, I heard in my son’s voice about my own famous entertainer, Mr. James Brown – – but more about him later.
I reached the top of the stairs, turned and entered the dim room where my sons, Corey, 4, Damion, 10, and Lawrence stood around in his up – and- coming studio. “You got to see this, Dad, said Damion” as Lawrence hurried with the tape. “I taped it last night,” Lawrence bubbled. “ Dad you ain’t seen nothing like this before, this cat really moves. He’s going to blow up.”
Then as if I didn’t understand him, he added, “ He’s going to be a big star.” Later I would learn he was right about that and more.
Little Lawrence, as we called him, had been into music since before he was born. Music was around constantly, even in his mom’s womb. Doing the mid – ‘70s, my wife, Marie and I would take our son to house parties, especially New Year’s Eve parties. He would be in the next room or sometimes in our arms as we danced to the hits of our times. Later he began taping a lot of go- go, hip hop and rap. He always had his tape machine running at the block parties where live bands would perform during the summer, in the 1800 block of Fifth St. between Florida Ave. and T Street NW.
The smells of hotdogs, hamburgers and the sounds of music, laughter and fun filled the atmosphere as the bands played to the neighborhood crowds, young and old. Our son could always find a spot close to the stage to listen and record the music.
Finally, Lawrence got the tape to work, and the boys stepped back from the small 17- inch screen, looking at me quickly to see my reaction and then back at the screen.
I heard loud music with heavy beats and quick lyrics coming from the television set and saw a young man dancing across the screen. He was making quick, jerking moves and twists and turns. His baggy pants were ballooning out as if a tornado was blowing around inside. “ Dad , I told you, you ain’t seen nothing like this,” said Damion.
I watched for a while, finally, I asked, “ who’s this?” Lawrence and Damion excitedly at the same time, “ That’s M. C. Hammer!” “He can dance as good as Michael Jackson,” shouted Damion. Corey sat on the floor, eyeing the screen in amazement. “ Oh yeah?” I said as I picked up Corey, “ This music and his dancing won’t be around for another three years.” I don’t know, Dad,” said Lawrence, “his record is around number five now, and he’s moving up fast.”
I pretended not to notice that the guy was making some good moves and turned and began to walk down the stairs.
“Can he move like that guy you use to like, a long time ago?” Damion asked, and then my thoughts again went back to my own music time, the ‘60s and 70’s.
My childhood and current friend James (Big Nickey) and I lived in apartments on Fifth Street NW in LeDroit Park. At that time, Florida Avenue was a busy section of the city, with barber shops, beauty parlors, Chinese hand laundry shops, restaurants, mom and pop stores, clubs, beer gardens and Liquors stores, including LeDoroit Liquors, later, 501 Liquors, where I would work.
Pig and Pits sat on the corner of Sixth Street and Florida Avenue. There was a law office at Florida and Fifth, a Mile Long sandwich shop at Florida and Seventh Street, man we loved those subs; they really piled it on.
A drugstore sat across the street from Miles Long, where a Popeye’s Chicken and Biscuit was later located. At that time , the whole section of Seventh Street and Georgia Avenue was a busy stretch of small businesses, from Chinatown to north of Missouri Avenue.
The Howard Theater, a big attraction, had a sand-beige-colored front with big display windows near the front entrance. It was not a very large building, compared to some of today’s concert halls, but it seated close to 1,300, just right for the time. We had no idea then, but Howard Theater was already a slowly dying showcase about to fade from the scene.
There were small carry outs, pool halls and even a few good sit- down restaurants around the theater. At the Howard, James and I saw what we thought were and still do consider to be some of the great acts and entertainers of our times.
I have vivid memories of seeing and hearing Redd Fox and Pigment Markham. Some of my favorite acts were the tall, tan, talented, Temptations, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, Ike and Tina Turner, Otis Redding, and BB King.
There were a lot of lesser-known entertainers who were good, too, like Don Covey, a showman; Sir Walter Jackson, a favorite of mine, the Manhattans, a good group; and the Marvelettes, I got one of their autographs at the drugstore that used to be at Seventh and Florida.
I enjoyed seeing the bright lights around the Howard Theater: the banners, the huge posters, the traffic, the line of people dressed in their fine rags that stretch around the block to get in.
And this was not even the Howard’s heyday. Years before, the Howard Theater had even more glitter of big bands and stars, I’ve been told. But this was my time, to see my main man perform – yes, my man , James Brown.
I still recall the introduction. “ Ladies and gentlemen, are you ready?” Then a bit louder, I said , are you ready!” The crowd was yelling for him. “ Ladies and gentlemen! The hardest working man in show business, Mr. Please, Please, Please, himself. Mr. Try Me. “ The band would hit a loud boom after each credit. “Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. James ‘’ – as the band reaches its peak – James Brown. The crowd would stand and applaud and James Brown would break into his famous dance steps.
I remember stopping midway down from my son Lawrence’s recording studio- in- progress. I turned and without a second thought, said, “ He can’t touch my man, James Brown, the hardest working man in show business!” My sons laughed “ watch it, dad, hip- hop music is going to be around for a long time.”
“Oh, yeah? We will see, “ I said. Then I smiled, not for how I had felt for my entertainer, but for how they were feeling for theirs.