Happy Father’s Day. If we are completely honest with each other and keep no secrets between us, our relationship as father and son wasn’t an easy one. We had unfinished emotional wounds that still needed healing when you died. Not having an opportunity to heal before you passed on, for me it took letting go and letting God help me on my journey. After much soul searching, I realized that the truth is I loved you. And loving you and being thankful you were my Dad, allowed me to love myself and be proud of who I am and where I came from. Although our relationship as father and son was never easy, I know you did your very best and I thank you for that. I know your life’s journey was not an easy one. You learned the hard way, that when you make bad decisions early on in life, it can take the wind out of your sails, but you didn’t give up which is a testament to your strength and courage. You turned your life around when you made a life with my beautiful Mother, and that is something you can be proud of. Times were never easy, you worked at different jobs to help keep a roof over our heads. I remember you picking cotton, shaking peanuts, and priming tobacco. You worked as a logger in the Great Dismal Swamp, an auto mechanic, and any odd job that came your way to help feed your family. But what you most liked to do was preach about how finding God changed your life forever, and sadly the money you made preaching would barely pay for the gas to get to and from a church. But you loved it, and that’s what mattered. Although it was a rare day to see you smiling, I always loved and appreciated those moments, and I’d like to share a few of those moments with you now.
Do you remember when I was 9 years old, you used to drive me to the radio station early Sunday mornings in Boykins, VA, so that I could play my guitar live on the radio? Remember how the radio DJ used to shout out with fever pitched excitement in his voice telling his listeners, “I wish you could see “Baby Calvin” playing that guitar, aahhh man, that little boy can really play that guitar”? He used to make me laugh inside when he said that, I thought he was funny, I could see you smiling too, as our eyes met as you watched me play. Funny how those radio segments brought me so much attention and even brought Mahalia Jackson and other famous groups to our church, including James Brown sending a representative in Roduco, NC to meet me. That was really cool.
One of the things I loved about going to those radio performances was the time we spent together when we were driving to and from the radio station. We’d climb into your two-toned green and white Ford Edsel with those ‘maypop’ tires you used to buy and we’d drive to the station. I would have my guitar in hand playing along while you sang and drove us down the road, just the two of us. You seemed so happy in those moments, and I liked those moments too. I suppose every boy longs for those moments of happiness with their Dad, I’m so grateful to have had such wonderful moments with you.
I know you and Mom had your hearts set on me becoming a minister, but Dad it just wasn’t my calling. It was nothing against you, but for me becoming a minister just wasn’t right for me. I knew I wanted to play music and I loved to play all kinds of music, and I knew you didn’t approve of that. I also liked to play sports, and in high school although I didn’t tell you, because you told me I couldn’t play sports because that’s not what a minister would do, I went against your wishes, I tried out anyway for high school track and field. My coach gave me a spot on the team after tryouts. He had me race in the 440. I actually loved that race. In 1967 at regional’s I ran the 440 in 46.9 seconds. My coach was so proud of me. I won several trophies, but it was always a bittersweet moment for me when I would win, because I couldn’t share it with my parents. When I left home to enter the military in 1972, I started playing music outside of church. I formed a rhythm and blues band I named the “Elements Of Peace”. We played at events, officer clubs on the Fort Ord Military base where I was stationed and we even got some radio play in San Francisco, California.
Today, I am a storyteller, musician, and documentary filmmaker. I am doing the work I love to do. I created a one-man show on the history of the spirituals, so I still get to sing the spirituals we loved singing together Dad. My work has given me the opportunity to travel and meet some wonderful folks along the way. I got to meet and talk about the spirituals with Barack Obama, who would become our first black President. He co-sponsored legislation I put forth to the US Congress in Twin Resolutions to honor our slave ancestors contributions to our nation, and recognize the African American Spirituals as a National Treasure. In June of 2008 President George W. Bush gave me a Presidential Proclamation honoring my work as a musician “celebrating the extraordinary talents and creativity of African-American singers, musicians and composers whose achievements have enriched our culture and enhanced our lives.” The tradition for honoring African American artists was started on June 7, 1979 by then President Jimmy Carter who formally designated the month of June as a time to honor the musical contributions of African Americans, and to annually designate the month of June as Black Music Month. And as luck would have it, I even got to meet and perform for President Jimmy Carter, several times at his historical site and private events in Plains, GA. I’ve even gone to church a couple of times with the President and Rosalynn Carter.
One day Dad, I’ll have to tell you the story about the bear…….
With gratitude and love,