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Op-Ed

To Be Equal: B.B. King — Why I Sing the Blues

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Marc Morial

By Marc H. Morial
NNPA Columnist

 

“The blues has lost its king, and America has lost a legend…B.B. may be gone, but that thrill will be with us forever.” – President Barack Obama on the Passing of B.B. King.

As a young boy in 1920s Mississippi, Riley B. King – who would one day come to be known as legendary blues icon B.B. King – was introduced to the electric guitar at Rev. Archie Fair’s church. The introduction soon turned into infatuation, with King deciding he would learn to play a guitar. As soon as King got old enough, he ordered a guitar playbook from a Sears, Roebuck and Co. mail catalog. The first tune he learned to play was “You Are My Sunshine.” Fortunately for us, it would not be the last tune he would coax from his yielding guitar strings.

King was born in 1925 on a cotton plantation in the Mississippi Delta. The future King of the Blues, the son of sharecroppers and the great-grandson of a slave, worked the fields, first as a picker at the age of 7 and then a mule driver. He aspired to be a gospel singer like his mentor, Rev. Archie, but fate had other plans. In a 1993 interview, King admitted to leaving Mississippi in the early 1940s because of the racial violence, lynchings and hangings that were becoming all too commonplace.

King moved to Memphis, playing small gigs and working as a disc jockey at WDIA, the local blues station. The station manager dubbed King the “Beale Street Blues Boy,” which was shortened to “Blues Boy,” and then to B.B.—and it stuck. It was at this time that King made another momentous introduction, this time to T-Bone Walker singing “Stormy Monday.” King said it was the first time he had ever heard blues on an electric guitar and he was determined to get one. He got that electric guitar in 1946.

What followed was an enduring, influential career that defined and redefined the blues—a quintessentially American art form with roots in African-American slave songs, field hollers and spirituals—King carried its moans and mourning to the four corners of the earth. The blues, set loose on the guitar strings and growl of one of America’s greatest musicians, spoke of our universal experience of pain and perseverance, tribulations and triumphs. King once remarked that, “Blues music actually did start because of pain.” A pain he experienced at an early age, and like so many influential and groundbreaking figures that had come before him, King used his talent to rise out of the dirt of his humble beginnings to live a life as industrious as it was incredible.

A 15-time Grammy Award winner—the most Grammys ever received by a blues singer—King was also awarded the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1987. In 1998, his most acclaimed song “The Thrill Is Gone” was awarded the Grammy Hall of Fame Award. King also received a National Medal of the Arts award, a Presidential Medal of Freedom and has been inducted in both the Rock and Roll and Blues Hall of Fame. King seemed to always be performing somewhere, playing an average of more than 200 concert dates a year well into his 70s. In 1956, King and his band played an astonishing 342 concerts.  He never stopped doing what he loved most: playing the music, which he said “was bleeding the same blood as me.”

King passed away peacefully in his sleep at his Las Vegas home, and yet, the thrill is far from gone. His notes and innovative sound gave birth to countless blues and rock players, including Eric Clapton, Carlos Santana and Keith Richards, to name a few. His contribution to the blues can be heard, and will continue to be heard, in jazz and rock. King’s outsized influence on blues—on American music—cannot be overstated. B.B. King is to blues what Louis Armstrong is to jazz, Elvis is to rock, James Brown is to funk and Michael Jackson is to pop. Like King, you cannot mention these musical genres without prominently mentioning their names and substantial contributions.

Today, I join the chorus of those celebrating King and his iconic career. He sang his way out of Mississippi’s cotton fields to touch each of us—Black or White, American or not—with his talent and insight into our shared human experience. And it is, perhaps, from his brand of soul music that we can learn what found him in that recording studio or night-club almost every day of his life: “Everybody wants to know why I sing the blues. Yes, I say everybody wanna know why I sing the blues. Well, I’ve been around a long time. I really have paid my dues.”

I couldn’t agree more. Rest in peace, B.B.

 

Marc H. Morial, former mayor of New Orleans, is president and CEO of the National Urban League.

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Commentary

Biden, Vax Americana, and What the Recall Could Mean in COVID-19 Wars

Masking works. You can see it working. Vaccines work too, but we’re on the honor system for that. And people lie or show a fake vax cards. 

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COVID/Photo Courtesy of Stacy M. Brown NNPA Newswire 

At Oakland’s Stagebridge, I taught a class this year. One of my students couldn’t make the final. The student had COVID.

I don’t know if the student was vaccinated or whether this was a breakthrough case. But the fact remains, the COVID war must be our No. 1 priority—no matter how many people you see on TV at football games and sporting events unmasked. 

Masking works. You can see it working. Vaccines work too, but we’re on the honor system for that. And people lie or show a fake vax cards. 

This is why President Joe Biden’s speech last week, what I call his “Vax Americana” speech was so much more important than people want to admit.

It was his first get tough moment. And it reminded me of the phrase, “Pax Americana,” from post-World War II in 1945 to describe how the U.S. used its dominance to bring peace and prosperity to the world. 

After months of “nice,” Biden was a little less nice ordering federal workers to get vaxed, and OSHA to lean on employers with 100 workers to mandate vaccinations.

But all you need to remember from the speech was the last line, when Biden in a hushed, aggressive whisper said, “Get vaccinated.” 

What are you waiting for—a death bed conversion? 

It’s time to get serious about public health, about caring for our country and each other. 

We can end the war on COVID if we all do our part, masked and vaxed. 

I wonder if Biden knows about a non-profit in Stockton called Little Manila Rising

“Someone Pulled a Gun” 

You know what guns do to a situation. In the COVID wars, the anti-vaxers are insane. 

One of the handful of Filipino American canvassers for Little Manila Rising going door to door to provide the public with good information, got a rude greeting from an anti-vaxer.

“A gun!” said Amy Portello-Nelson, the head of the Get-Out-The-Vaccine drive in Stockton. The canvassers are armed only with information. No one was hurt, but you see how dangerous fighting COVID can be when you’re armed only with facts. 

Here’s what Little Manila Rising’s done in two months on the job. It has knocked on more than 32,000 doors and had 20,000 conversations. The area they’ve worked has gone from a vaccination rate of 32% to more than 50%. 

Talking to people and telling them to get vax works. It’s how we’re going to get back to normal. It’s going to take a “Vax Americana” effort.

The Recall

Of course, whatever happens with this gubernatorial recall will determine how quickly the state gets to the 70%-80% rate that gives us an effective herd immunity. 

My deadline is before any official recall results. And even then, mail-in ballots with a September 16 postmark will take time to be counted. 

The talk of voter fraud is greatly exaggerated. There’s more rhetorical fraud than anything else. 

With more than 8 million ballots in already, unless there’s a strange crossover vote, the Democrats should continue in power. 

But let’s say the recall succeeds and a person with the most votes among 46 also-rans becomes the new governor, it would not bode well for the state.

The Black conservative Larry Elder was leading among those who want to replace Governor Gavin Newsom.

Elder is an anti-vaxxer and has espoused views indicating that – under his leadership– California would look a lot more like Alabama, Texas, Louisiana and Florida on the COVID map. 

That would be the real monumental tragedy for California and for Vax Americana. 

Let’s face it, the political virus unleashed by the Republicans on our democracy is worse than COVID. 

The recall effort needs to die a natural death this week.

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Op-Ed

Opinion: Governor Newsom Has More Than Proven He’s Worthy of Office

When Newsom became lieutenant governor (2011-2019), that tenure allowed him to acquire on-the-job-training, which, in today’s electoral climate seems to be a forgotten asset. 

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Gov. Gavin Newsom. Photo by Scott Varley/MediaNews Group/Daily Breeze via Getty Images.

It seems more than 1 million Californians are upset.  They are mad at Gov. Gavin Newsom, and – in their minds- that is justification for this very expensive recall election.

I, too, was upset with Newsom long before he became the Golden State’s top leader.  It was circa 2010, the period when Newsom initially sought the gubernatorial post.  I so wanted to participate in that campaign, but my excitement was short-lived.  In deference to Jerry Brown’s candidacy Newsom withdrew, and his decision upset me.  Why, you ask? I had longed to support a gubernatorial candidate that displayed capacity, commitment, compassion, competence and, might as well say it, a degree of coolness.

When Newsom became lieutenant governor (2011-2019), that tenure allowed him to acquire on-the-job-training, which, in today’s electoral climate seems to be a forgotten asset.

The lessons I gleaned from observing the lieutenant governor would alleviate any ire.  Even prior to holding that position, as mayor of San Francisco from 2004-2011, Newsom weathered controversies, again on-the-job-training. However, all told, nothing like the ones contrived by today’s dissenting voices that have amassed this recall election with some 40-plus contenders.  I’ve stopped trying to make sense of it; I just voted my reconstituted anger, “NO” on the recall.

My mind won’t let go of questions I would love to get answers on from the contenders:

  • Describe your experience balancing budgets of, let’s say, more than $200 billion?
  • What accomplishments did you achieve while serving in elected office?
  • Where were you and how did you show up during the raging firestorms of the past and present?
  • What are your commitments and plans to mitigate homelessness in California?
  • What allocations did you facilitate for small businesses to help them during this COVID-19 pandemic?
  • Are you vaccinated against COVID-19? Have you encouraged others to get vaccinated?

Of course, there are many more questions I’d love to get answers to but, I am busy organizing and planning because, when the smoke clears and the drought ends, I want a clear conscious and an experienced leader.

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Commentary

No Further Delays on Launching MACRO!

City Administration must implement Civilian Crisis Responders Program and keep planned community advisory board 

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Oakland Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan

COMMENTARY 

At this week’s Public Safety Committee, councilmembers received an update on the status of launching Oakland’s emergency civilian responder program, Mobile Assistance Community Responders of Oakland (MACRO).

I, along with my Council colleagues, call on the City Administration for the speedy implementation of this important public safety service as an in-house program and to include meaningful community input and involvement, as was previously directed by the Council to include a community oversight board.

The implementation of this program is highly awaited and urgently needed, as the goal is to provide services to those experiencing non-violent crises. A Community Intervention Specialist, Emergency Medical Technician, and a Case Manager would respond to non-violent crisis calls, rather than a police officer.

This would simultaneously free police to respond to violent crimes.

In 2019, the idea of this program was presented as part of my budget proposal, with strong grassroots community backing and an informational memo brought by Councilmember Noel Gallo. 

That same year, I successfully allocated the funding for the feasibility study of creating this civilian mobile response program in my budget amendments.

The City Council then approved $1.85 million in the FY 2020-21 Mid-Cycle Budget Amendments (88174 CMS) to implement the proposed program. On Dec. 15, 2020, my resolution to pursue the option for in-house hiring process for MACRO was adopted (88433 CMS).

In 2020, the City Council, along with strong community support, pushed to fund the launching of the pilot. With the goal of improving coordination, response, and creating job opportunities for the communities in which MACRO will be launched, Council, along with community grass-roots organizations,  called on the program to be launched as an internal city program.

Earlier this year, Noel Gallo and President Pro Tem Sheng Thao advocated to have the program in-house within the Oakland Fire Department (OFD). Bas and Councilmember Dan Kalb introduced the resolution that was unanimously adopted by Council directing the establishment of MACRO within OFD and creating an Advisory Board, which would consist of crisis health service experts, individuals impacted by the criminal legal system, unsheltered individuals, domestic violence survivors, youth, and/or survivors of state violence, to serve as advisory partners to the Oakland Fire Department in further developing MACRO.  

The state has shown support of MACRO by responding to my advocacy letter, asking for funding; Senator Skinner included $10 million for the launch of MACRO in the state budget. 

Meanwhile, other cities have successfully launched similar programs including Olympia, Wash., Portland, Ore., and Albuquerque, N.M. 

Thanks to strong grassroots advocacy working together with Council members, we were able to pass the proposal to launch civilian responders for Oakland, and to win funding in both the city budget and state budget to support this vital public need.

We know that this type of program can save dollars and save lives.  We call on the administration to launch it timely and effectively, and include vital community input, to ensure success.

“It’s urgent that the Administration implement MACRO, Oakland’s mobile crisis response program in the Fire Department. Oaklanders agree that we need medical professionals and crisis responders to address mental health and other non-violent issues, allowing police to focus on violent crime,” said Bas.

Gallo said, “I am thankful for my colleagues on the council who supported launching MACRO in-house in the fire department. Working together we can provide effective civilian responders to provide community needs and handle low-level calls that do not require a police officer.”

Added Thao, “The City Council committed to its goals to reimagine public safety with the funding of the MACRO program, and I join my colleagues and the community in urging the City Administration to implement this important emergency response program. Oakland cannot wait for this common sense and holistic approach to public safety any longer.”

 

Watch the September 14  Public Safety Committee Zoom Meeting at: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/87171430933

“The Oakland Post’s coverage of local news in Alameda County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.”

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