A Musical Prayer for Peace and Racial Harmony

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What does it take for mankind to learn to coexist and live in a peaceful world?

9-victims-of-charleston-church-massacreCollectively, our nation’s heart was broken on June 17, 2015 when nine people were killed by a gunman at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, simply because of the color of their skin. I’ve always abhorred violence, believing that those who hate have no right to exist in a civilized society.

EvangETRAs a child, about 5 years old, I remember attending services at an inner-city black church in Harrisburg with my grandparents (who, as a result of adopting me, were also my parents). My grandfather was a Hell, Fire & Brimstone Pentecostal Evangelist who loved to preach in and attend services in black churches. He appreciated the passion and emotion exhibited by those who truly had the spirit. It was  different from the Lutheran Church I later attended as an adult.

WFECMy earliest taste in music was formed while listening to WFEC, an AM radio station in Harrisburg every night when I went to bed. I was about 7 years old when my passion for soul music was ignited with the Motown sound of The Temptations, Diana Ross & The Supremes, The Four Tops and so many other great “soul” groups. This was the main inspiration for me getting into radio as a DJ years later.

The very first 45rpm record I purchased was by Archie Bell and the Drells.

Archie Bell DrellsIt was a song, that I still love today called (There’s gonna be a) Showdown. Don’t let the title fool you, it wasn’t about a violent confrontation, but rather a dance competition.

The 60’s were such a pivotal time in the history of the United States. The Viet Nam war lingered on, the Civil Rights Act was passed, and racial tension throughout much of the country was at a boiling point, including riots in York and Harrisburg.

ImpressionsOne of the songs that resonated strongly with me was “Choice of Colors” by The Impressions. The song only reached #21 on the Pop chart, but it went all the way to #1 on the R&B chart in the summer of 1969.

In the mid to late 60’s I lived in uptown Harrisburg. I remember a business right across the alley from our house. The front of the building was on North 6th street and the back of the building faced our backyard. When the business closed and a brand new record label moved in, my soul-music dreams came true.

Soulville RecordAs I was turning 10 years old in September 1967, Soulville Records opened for business. Original founders of the label were Bobby Fulton, Toby Young, Jimmy Walker and Hulie Diggs. The idea behind Soulville was to fill a void for a gospel/soul record label in the Harrisburg and Central Pennsylvania area.

I vividly remember racing up to the large windows on the front of the building and admiring the 8”x10” black and while promotional photos of the musicians. Wow, real soul stars making music right there in my neighborhood! Somehow, I wanted to be a part of their history-making future.

Here is one of my favorite songs from Soulville, “The Way I Love You” by The Continental Four.

Soulville CD
Several years ago a CD with 25 tracks from the archives of Soulville was released.

A few other songs related to peace and harmony among the human race include Sly and the Family Stone’s “Everyday People” which hit the top spot on both the Pop and R&B charts in 1969, George Harrison with Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth) in 1973, and Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes classic “Wake up Everybody” from 1975. This was the band’s last Top 40 hit with drummer/lead singer Teddy Pendergrass.

WonderA song that may sound like a typical Top 40 hit if you only listen to the single edition is “Living for the City” by Stevie Wonder in 1973. However, if you listen to the full album version of the song, Stevie includes a very realistic-sounding interlude at 4:10 into the song which projects the audio image of a young man arriving in New York City for the first time in his life. As soon as he gets off the bus, he gets busted for a crime he was set up for, and railroaded through the court system. The audio is so graphic and realistic, if you listen carefully you’ll hear the cop calling him the “N” word as he slams the jail cell door. This is a pretty profound way for a musician to call attention to the racial bias and attitudes still remaining in American society nearly 10 years after passage of the Civil Rights act.

SpinnersAnother song I would like to share is a beautiful tune by The Spinners. It never made the Top 40 but the message and lyrics about the difference a mother can make in the life of a child is priceless. The song is called “Sadie”. Maybe I’m biased about the song because my Great Grandmother’s name was Sadie Rudy. She was the person who gave birth to and raised my Grandfather, Rev. Edward T. Rudy, who together with my Grandmother Ida, gave me a life, love and opportunities that I otherwise would have never had.

John MellencampOne of my favorite artists of all time is John Mellencamp. I remember attending one of his concerts in Hershey and noticed something on the front of his guitar. I read that he carved the words “F*** fascism” into his guitar on the eve of his taping MTV’s Unplugged episode.

Let’s end the musical part of this blog as we began, with the ideology of Mellencamp’s song “Peaceful World”.

A Path AppearsI’m reading an inspirational book by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn called “A Path Appears (Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity)” and there is an excellent quote that is attributed to a friend of Microsoft executive John Wood.
Wood considers this the secret of life…

“Think early on what you want your legacy to be, what you would like to be able to say on your deathbed. Then work backward from there.”

It’s a great way to think about the impact we hope to have in our lives.

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