Saturday, April 21, 2007

Respect Yourself

A high-pressure taproot of the Blues was the Dockery Plantation in the Mississippi Delta. As plantations go, it started late, in 1895, long after they said slavery was over. But they still needed someone to cut sugar cane down in the swamps.

Charlie Patton, Son House, and Wille Brown all lived at the same time on Dockery Farm at its peak, when 2,000 black men and women labored there. And there was more than blues growing, there was gospel and rhythm, too. Roebuck 'Pops' Staple was born on the farm in 1914, and he went on to move up to Chicago and have a big family, just dying in 2000. His family, they could all sing and play like an angel's jailbreak in churches or anyplace else, and before they got famous the Staple Singers attracted the attentions of Martin Luther King, Jr. Shortly before he got killed, he heard them in an Alabama church and liked their sound and message so much he asked them to tour with him.

The YouTube clip above is from a Black Pride concert, probably in 1971 in Oakland Stadium. The Staple Singers had scored a #1 hit a year later with their old stand-by. "I'll Take You There," ("ain't no smilin' faces, lyin' to the nations") which Dr. King had heard and loved in that church choir 5 years before. By 1972, it was not a particularly happy time for the Black Pride movement, the country as a whole was limping, Vietnam was winding down, Watergate was winding up like an wife-beater's haymaker and the Watts riots were looming. But Pops Staple and his family put on a show in Oakland, you can see the dignity and hope in the crowd, and I feel privileged to have found the footage. Here are a few lyrics from the hope and righteous dignity they sang:

If you disrespect everybody that you're runnin to
How you gonna think everybody's gonna respect you?
If you don't give a heck about the man with the Bible in his hand
Just get out the way and let the gentleman do his thing.
You the kinda gentleman who want everthing your way?
Take the sheet off your face, boy, it's a brand new day!
Respect yourself. Respect yourself. Respect yourself.
If you don't respect yourself ain't nobody gonna give a good cahoot.
Respect yourself. Respect yourself. You oughta respect yourself.

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