Wednesday, September 26, 2018

A Little Sad

I was surprised that I felt a little sad when Bill Cosby was carted off to jail. When he took off his jacket, before they cuffed him, he was thin. His suspenders weren’t a fashion statement, they were holding up too-big pants. He could afford a tailor. He was playing us—always the performer, creating an image that might evoke sympathy. Not only was he guilty but remorseless. Yet there was an empathetic moment when they cuffed this feeble, old man.
I discussed this with a friend. We both knew that he was guilty but still had this moment when we saw him handcuffed and taken off to jail. What saddened us was his fall.
I was a teen when Cosby became the first Black actor to co-star in a leading dramatic role on network television, I Spy. He got an Emmy Award for playing Robert Culp’s eunich sidekick. As Culp romanced everyone, Cosby, fine as he was, didn’t get to kiss a girl until the last season. 
During the blaxploitation era, Cosby paired with Harry Belefonte who, frustrated with how Hollywood portrayed black men in film and television, spearheaded three Black comedies—Uptown Saturday Night(1974), Let's Do It Again (1975)and A Piece of the Action (1977). These low-budget movies were box offices successes and depicted Blacks in a more dignified manner. They showed Black characters taking charge of their own lives and reflected the self-empowerment theme of the Black Power Movement.
Then in ’84 Bill gave us The Cosby Showthat radically changed white America’s perception of us Blacks. These were not Norman Lear’s Black folk—the lower-income, project dwellers, trying to make the best of things, in Goodtimes, or the nouveau riche, loud-mouthed, opinionated George Jefferson. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed both of these shows but cheered the first time I saw The Cosby Show, an upper-middle class African-American family like people I’d grown up among in my hometown, Atlanta, Georgia. Cliff (Cosby) and Clair (Felicia Rashad) Huxtable were professionals, a doctor and lawyer respectively, raising their five children in their Brooklyn brownstone that housed Cliff’s office on the ground floor. Everyone loved the Huxtables. Cliff became one of the most popular dads in television history. The Cosby show rocked the ratings and ran for eight seasons. When it went into syndication, Bill donated twenty million dollars to my mother’s alma mater, Spelman College
I could continue listing Cosby’s numerous accomplishments—his book on parenting, Fatherhood, sold millions of copies and became a best seller. He was also drugging and sexually assaulting women. He deserved everything he got. But this dichotomy dispays me.
And where was Camille?

Monday, September 3, 2018


A few days before Aretha died, a friend who grew up in Detroit told me she probably wouldn’t make the week. I tried to pooh-pooh it but my friend said, “Cyn, Aretha’s down to ninety-two pounds.” So, I was expecting it, but still wasn’t prepared.
I pulled up all of Aretha’s cuts on my playlist and made her the background of my day. I searched the Internet for her discography. “What was the first Aretha song I heard?” Damn, I hadn’t remembered that it was Mama, not me, who first brought Aretha into our house—yesterday I sang a love song, today I sing the blues. Aretha wasn’t singing my kind of music during her Columbia days. I was in high school then. My musical pallet didn’t expand to include the jazzy blues she recorded at Columbia until I was in my late twenties. 
Aretha became my girl when she moved to Atlantic Records. “Respect” rocked my freshman year at New York University. And “Natural Woman” was how my first love was making me feel sophomore year. 
I remembered Aretha with Don Cornelius on Soul Train. Seeing her close out the 25thAnnual Jazz and Heritage Festival in New Orleans. Aretha taking the stage, time and time again, in her fur coat that she let fall to the ground when she was getting ready to cut loose. Teena Marie giving the knock out performance at BET’s tribute concert to Aretha fifteen years ago.
People who’d known Aretha were interviewed all day August sixteenth, the day we lost her. The one I felt most was Smokey’s on CBS This Morning. He spoke of hearing Aretha for the first time when she was five. Smokey said she was still planning to record when he visited her five weeks before her death.
Before I could post this blog Randy Weston died, a master pianist who synthesized African elements with jazz. Composer and vibraphonist Cecilia Smith posted this on Facebook. “They both possessed a unique gift of music that reached levels that does not come through practice! Both brought a transcendental power into the room when they performed, that was beyond the definition of amazing.”
So many musical holes. Whose gonna fill them?