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What the World Needs Now… Respect

“We need to reject any politics that targets people because of race or religion. This isn’t a matter of political correctness. It’s a matter of understanding what makes us strong. The world respects us not just for our arsenal; it respects us for our diversity and our openness and the way we respect every faith.”

~ Barack Obama

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“We need to reject any politics that targets people because of race or religion. This isn’t a matter of political correctness. It’s a matter of understanding what makes us strong. The world respects us not just for our arsenal; it respects us for our diversity and our openness and the way we respect every faith.”

~ Barack Obama

In my last post in this series, “Let Us Change the World!”, I reflected upon the role of education in bringing about positive change in the world through a quote by Nelson Mandela. His words were spoken in the context of a speech he made to students in Boston in 1990 to encourage them to remain in school and help transform the world into a better place.

Young person working on a laptop computer.
Lifelong learning can be achieved online, through books, and by listening to others. (Image courtesy of Pixabay)

As a retired secondary school educator, I am a firm believer in lifelong learning, and it need not take place in a formal classroom. In Mandela’s day, the Internet was in its infancy, and now it allows anyone who is curious to discover information and analysis about any topic they can imagine. It is in the context of the lifelong learner that I wish to reflect on President Barack Obama’s words quoted above from his final State of the Union Address on January 12, 2016.

As a student of history, I realize that human progress does not occur in a linear pattern and that often we regress on the way to positive growth. In some very tangible ways, we are experiencing a regression in our behavior towards others today. News headlines from around the globe give testament that division and polarization around extreme ideas and attitudes are fuelling discord and conflict between us.

Image that gives examples of human conflict and division

At the root of this discord is a startling lack of respect for others. What do I mean when I speak about respect? The teacher in me goes directly to the dictionary and in my case, several dictionaries. I was dismayed to find the term defined as having a high or special regard for someone. This definition is far too narrow. What about the man who lives down the street from me? I don’t know his name or anything about his talents, skills, accomplishments, attitudes or beliefs. So what am I to hold in high regard? What about all the people in the world with whom I’ve never been in contact? Do I respect them because their country is powerful or wealthy? Perhaps, but how do I approach a stranger with respect?

Image of a handshake with words that express positive interrelations

I began to understand the essential concept of respect when I came across the phrase, “to consider worthy…” The lights came on, and I knew I had found my elusive key. Every human being must be considered worthy of the same freedoms that I desire, worthy of consideration, assistance when needed, and of fair treatment. We are all worthy of being free from prejudgment based on physical traits, age, culture, and beliefs; of having the opportunity to live in a healthy environment and to be successful. Most importantly, respect means being considered worthy of equal treatment.

Images of the elephant and donkey icons representing the Republican and Democratic Parties with the U.S. flag as the backdrop

The polarization I spoke about earlier has driven many of us to demonize anyone who disagrees with us. We see this unfolding each day in the United States as Republicans and Democrats have no kind words for each other. Fear brought on by years of terrorist attacks cause us to regard Middle Eastern people with suspicion and distrust. They are the enemy! Protect the country by closing our borders! These things are happening in many places around the globe, not just in America. Yet America, a nation that has held itself up to the world as a beacon of hope for over two hundred years is now projecting rancor, disrespect, and bullying. Fair or not, if something happens in the U.S.A. the whole world knows about it quickly. My country, Canada, is guilty of many of the same things, but the world rarely hears about it because we’re just… Canada – no big deal.

Two Muslim women holding pictures of Muslim women dressed in the American flag

I also understand that societal or global change begins within an individual and spreads from there. Upon introspection, I’m not pleased with what I see in my heart, my words, and attitudes. Before I can respect other persons, I must accept their humanity and see them as worthy beings. I don’t do that when I demonize and dehumanize people who anger or upset me. I don’t have to agree with them to be respectful, but if I accept another person as a worthy human being, I must find better ways to express my disapproval, disagreement, or dismay with another’s choices or beliefs. As a writer and blogger, I have not done well in this regard. In my own way, I have participated in the politics of division that Obama warns us against.

President Barack Obama’s speech contains wisdom and truth. I need to step back and consider his words carefully. We have clear evidence around us that divisiveness and polarization exist between people today, people in our own countries and between people around the globe. This makes us weak and ineffective. We have lost sight of the main reason why humans created civilizations back in antiquity – to work together in peace to survive, build robust economies, and express our humanity, our very soul, through the arts. Our diversity is our strength! Ethnocentrism is the belief that holds one culture or ethnic group superior to all others. That is intellectual arrogance at its worst! I may espouse liberal ideas and policies, but I need to consider the conservative positions of others. When we do battle over these things, we all lose!

If we fail to accept others as worthy beings, then we have failed to respect them and ourselves. If I demonize you for something you said or did, I have disrespected myself. Without respect, there is no building for tomorrow. There will be no working together for the common good. I need to learn to respectfully disagree and criticize, and then put forward my ideas with humility. None of us has a monopoly on wisdom because we have different perspectives – and those perspectives can help us arrive at the best solutions.

I need to do better.

Black History Month In Canada… Portia May White

Portia May White, born in Nova Scotia in 1911, became Canada’s first internationally acclaimed Black concert singer.

Portia May White – Concert Singer and Teacher

Portia May White, contralto, teacher (born 24 June 1911 in Truro, NS; died 13 February 1968 in Toronto, ON). Portia White broke through the color barrier to become the first Black Canadian concert singer to win international acclaim. Considered one of the best classical singers of the 20th century, her voice was described by one critic as “a gift from heaven,” and she was often compared to the celebrated African American contralto Marian Anderson. White was named a “person of national historic significance” by the Government of Canada in 1995.

Portia White was the third of 13 children born to William A. White, whose parents had been slaves in Virginia, and Izie Dora White, who was descended from black Loyalists in Nova Scotia. The second black Canadian admitted to Acadia University, William White graduated in 1903 with a degree in Theology and later became the first black Canadian to receive a Doctorate of Divinity from Acadia University. Following his service as the only black chaplain in the British army during the First World War, he moved the family to Halifax, where he became pastor of the Cornwallis Street Baptist Church.

Portia began singing in the church choir under her mother’s direction at age six. By the age of eight, she was singing the soprano parts from the opera Lucia di Lammermoor and was so determined to become a professional singer that she walked 10 miles a week for music lessons. She started her teacher training at Dalhousie University in 1929 and after graduating became a schoolteacher in black Nova Scotian communities, such as Africville and Lucasville.

In the 1930s, White took voice lessons as a mezzo-soprano with Bertha Cruikshanks at the Halifax Conservatory of Music and sang on devotional radio broadcasts hosted by her father. She competed in the Halifax Music Festival, where her extraordinary voice won the Helen Kennedy Silver Cup in 1935, 1937 and 1938. The Halifax Ladies’ Musical Club provided a scholarship for White to study with Ernesto Vinci at the Halifax Conservatory of Music in 1939. Under Vinci, she began to sing as a contralto.

After giving a handful of recitals at Acadia University and Mount Allison University in 1940, White made her formal debut at age 30 at Toronto’s Eaton Auditorium on 7 November 1941. Reviewing her performance in the Globe and Mail, Hector Charlesworth stated that she sings “with pungent expression and beauty of utterance.” Writing in the Evening Telegram, Edward Wodson said White had a “coloured and beautifully shaded contralto… It is a natural voice, a gift from heaven.”

White resigned her teaching position in 1941 and continued to give concerts in Canada. After many difficulties obtaining bookings because of her race, she reached the high point of her career with a widely acclaimed recital at New York’s Town Hall on 13 March 1944. She was the first Canadian to perform there. The Nova Scotia Talent Trust was established in 1944 specifically to enable White to concentrate on her professional career. Two more Town Hall concerts followed in 1944 and 1945, and that year White signed with Columbia Concerts Incorporated, the largest artist agency in North America.

White toured North America with Columbia Concerts, but following a tour of Central and South America in 1946, she began experiencing vocal difficulties as well as problems with her management. In 1948, she toured the Maritimes, and sang in Switzerland and France, but soon after retired from public performance. In 1952, she moved to Toronto to undertake further studies with Gina Cigna and Irene Jessner at the Royal Conservatory of Music.

White herself began teaching voice in Toronto, both privately and at Branksome Hall, a school for girls. Her private students over the years included Dinah Christie, Anne Marie Moss, Lorne Greene, Don Francks and Robert Goulet. By the mid-1950s she resumed her singing career, although sporadically, singing only a few concerts in the 1950s and 1960s, one of which was before Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip at Charlottetown’s Confederation Centre of the Arts on 6 October 1964. White’s final public performance took place in July 1967 at the World Baptist Federation in Ottawa.

White did not make any studio recordings, but her voice can be heard in several concert recordings, including a song recital titled Think on Me (1968). Library and Archives Canada acquired from the White family audio recordings of her performances in New York and in Moncton, NB, in 1944 and 1945. From these, Analekta released two songs on Great Voices of Canada, Volume 5 (1994), and White’s nephew, award-winning folk musician Chris White, released the CD First You Dream (1999). A documentary by Sylvia Hamilton, Portia White: Think on Me, was broadcast on CBC TV in 2001.

In 1995, White was named a “person of national historic significance” by the Government of Canada. A millennial stamp bearing her image was issued in 1999, and a life-sized sculpture of her was carved from a tree in front of Truro’s Zion Baptist Church in 2004. The Portia White Prize is awarded each year by the Nova Scotia Arts Council to an outstanding Nova Scotian in the arts. The inaugural recipient of the award in 1998 was her great-nephew, the writer George Elliott Clarke. The Nova Scotia Talent Trust presents the Portia White Scholarship Award to exceptional vocalists, and also named its annual gala concert in her honor. At the East Coast Music Awards in 2007, White was posthumously awarded the Dr. Helen Creighton Lifetime Achievement Award.

In addition to Clarke and Chris White, Portia White had several other notable family members. Her brother, Bill White, was a composer and social activist who became the first black Canadian to run for federal office, representing the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (CCF) in the Toronto constituency of Spadina in 1949. He was made an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1970. Portia’s brother, Jack White, was a noted labor union leader and one of the first black Canadians to run for provincial office in Ontario; and her niece, Sheila White, is a noted political consultant and commentator.

Canadian postage stamps: Portia White Digital Art - Illustrated Stamps Portia White And Maude Abbott by Monica Margarida
Portia White Digital Art – Illustrated Stamps Portia White And Maude Abbott by Monica Margarida (Fine Art America)

Today’s Sources:

* CBC News Canada                                                               http://www.cbc.ca/news2/interactives/black-history-month/

* The Canadian Encyclopedia                                            http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/portia-white-emc/

John’s Believe It Or Not… February 19th

* 1996 – Birth of the Toonie – Royal Canadian Mint puts $2 bimetallic Polar Bear into circulation. * 1473 Copernicus born * 1942 Roosevelt signs Executive Order 9066 * 1952 Amy Tan’s birthday * 1851 Angry San Francisco vigilantes take the law into their own hands

It’s Monday! Did You Know…

* 1996 – Birth of the Toonie – Royal Canadian Mint puts $2 bimetallic Polar Bear into circulation.

On today’s date in 1996, the Royal Canadian Mint (RCM) officially launched its new $2 coin — the “toonie” — into circulation at Bens De Luxe Delicatessen and Restaurant in Montréal. Continue reading “John’s Believe It Or Not… February 19th”

Black History Month In Canada… Donald H. Oliver

Senator Donald Oliver, born in Nova Scotia in 1938, enjoyed a very successful life as a lawyer, businessman, Senator, and community activist.

Donald H. Oliver – Lawyer, Businessman, and Senator

Donald H. Oliver, lawyer, businessman, senator (b at Wolfville, NS 16 Nov 1938). In 1990, Donald Oliver became Canada’s first African-Canadian senator when he was appointed to the Senate by Prime Minister Brian Mulroney on 7 Sept 1990. Growing up in a devout Baptist family of five children, Oliver was instilled with a strong sense of community and a desire to assist those around him. He attended Acadia University, majoring in philosophy, and later Dalhousie University, where he earned a degree in law.

Called to the Bar in 1965, he began practicing law in Nova Scotia and became active in the professional community, serving on the boards of several legal committees, in a career that spanned 36 years. Oliver maintained distinguished tenures both as a civil litigator and as an educator, teaching law at the Technical University of Nova Scotia, Saint Mary’s University, and Dalhousie University Law School. He has served also on the executive of several private companies and has lectured on human rights, the Canadian constitution, and election law.

Oliver’s community involvement led to a career in politics, and he was particularly interested in promoting equality for Blacks, First Nations and other minorities in Canadian society. Inspired by former Nova Scotia premier Robert Stanfield, Oliver began working with the Progressive Conservative Party in 1972 and remained involved with the party over the next 30 years. During that time he served as the director of legal affairs in six general elections between 1972 and 1988. After his appointment to the Senate, he served as a member of standing Senate committees on banking, trade, and commerce; agriculture and forestry; and was the chairman of the standing committee on transport and communications, as well as other Senate-House of Commons committees. Oliver has worked on several Private Member’s Bills, including one to amend the section of the criminal code regarding stalking, and another to address the increasing problem of computer SPAM.

Oliver continued to be active in community service throughout his career, serving in positions that have included President and Chairman of the Halifax Children’s Aid Society; Chairman, President and Director of the Neptune Theatre Foundation; Director of the Halifax-Dartmouth Welfare Council; Founding Director of the Black United Front; and Founding President and First Chairman of the Society for the Protection and Preservation of Black Culture in Nova Scotia. In 2003, Dalhousie University awarded him with an honorary doctorate in recognition of his lifetime of achievement, both in the public and private sectors.

Senator Donald Oliver writes that overseas volunteers are 'among the most motivated citizens in the country
Senator Donald Oliver writes that overseas volunteers are ‘among the most motivated citizens in the country (The Hill Times)

Today’s Sources:

* CBC News Canada                                                                   http://www.cbc.ca/news2/interactives/black-history-month/

* The Canadian Encyclopedia                                                          http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/donald-h-oliver/

John’s Believe It Or Not… February 18th

* 1815 – Treaty of Ghent Proclaimed in Washington – ending the War of 1812. * 1856 Know-Nothings convene in Philadelphia * 1930 Pluto discovered * 1948 De Valera resigns * 1959 Ray Charles records “What’d I Say” at Atlantic Records

It’s Sunday! Did You Know…

* 1815 – Treaty of Ghent Proclaimed in Washington – ending the War of 1812.

The Treaty of Ghent was the peace treaty that ended the War of 1812 between the United States of America and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Both sides signed it on December 24, 1814, in the city of Ghent, Belgium. The treaty restored relations between the two nations to status quo ante bellum, restoring the borders of the two countries to the lines before the war started in June 1812. The Treaty was approved by the UK parliament and signed into law by the Prince Regent (the future King George IV) on December 30, 1814. It took a month for news of the peace treaty to reach the United States, and in the meantime, American forces under Andrew Jackson won the Battle of New Orleans on January 8, 1815. The Treaty of Ghent was not fully in effect until it was ratified by the U.S. Senate unanimously on February 17, 1815. It began two centuries of peaceful relations between the U.S. and Britain, although there were a few tense moments such as the Trent Affair.

At last in August 1814, peace discussions began in the neutral city of Ghent. As the peace talks opened American diplomats decided not to present President Madison’s demands for the end of impressment and suggestion that Britain turns Canada over to the U.S. They were quiet and instead the British opened with their demands, chief of which was the creation of an Indian barrier state in the American Northwest Territory (the area from Ohio to Wisconsin). It was understood the British would sponsor this Indian state. The British strategy for decades had been to create a buffer state to block American expansion. The Americans refused to consider a buffer state and the proposal was dropped. Article IX of the treaty included provisions to restore to Natives “…all possessions, rights, and privileges which they may have enjoyed, or been entitled to in 1811″—but the provisions were unenforceable, and in any case, Britain stopped supporting or encouraging tribes in American territory.

The British, assuming their planned invasion of New York state would go well, also demanded that Americans not have any naval forces on the Great Lakes and that the British get certain transit rights to the Mississippi River in exchange for continuation of American fishing rights off Newfoundland. The U.S. rejected the demands and there was an impasse. American public opinion was so outraged when Madison published the demands that even the Federalists were willing to fight on.

During the negotiations, the British had four invasions underway. One force carried out a burning of Washington, but the main mission failed in its goal of capturing Baltimore. The British fleet sailed away when the army commander was killed. A small force invaded the District of Maine from New Brunswick, capturing parts of northeastern Maine and several smuggling towns on the seacoast. Much more important were two major invasions. In northern New York State, 10,000 British troops marched south to cut off New England until a decisive defeat at the Battle of Plattsburgh forced them back to Canada. The defeat was a humiliation that called for a court-martial of the commander. Nothing was known at the time of the fate of the other major invasion force that had been sent to capture New Orleans and control the Mississippi River.

After months of negotiations, against the background of changing military victories, defeats, and losses, the parties finally realized that their nations wanted peace and there was no real reason to continue the war. Each side was tired of the war. Export trade was all but paralyzed, and after the fall of Napoleon in 1814, France was no longer an enemy of Britain, so the Royal Navy no longer needed to stop American shipments to France and no longer needed more seamen. The British were preoccupied in rebuilding Europe after the apparent final defeat of Napoleon. Lord Liverpool told British negotiators to offer a status quo, which the British government had desired since the beginning of the war. British diplomats immediately offered this to the US negotiators, who dropped demands for an end to British maritime practices and Canadian territory (ignoring their war aims) and agreed. The sides would exchange prisoners, and Britain would return or pay for slaves captured from the United States.

The Battle of New Orleans with General Andrew Jackson
The Battle of New Orleans with General Andrew Jackson (www.history.com)

* 1856 Know-Nothings convene in Philadelphia

The American Party, also known as the “Known-Nothing Party,” convenes in Philadelphia to nominate its first presidential candidate.

The Know-Nothing movement began in the 1840s when an increasing rate of immigration led to the formation of a number of so-called nativist societies to combat “foreign” influences in American society. Roman Catholic immigrants from Ireland and Italy, who were embraced by the Democratic Party in eastern cities, were especially targeted. In the early 1850s, several secret nativist societies were formed, of which the “Order of the Star-Spangled Banner” and the “Order of United Americans” were the most significant. When members of these organizations were questioned by the press about their political platform, they would often reply they knew nothing, hence the popular name for the Know-Nothing movement.

In 1854, the Know-Nothings allied themselves with a faction of Whigs and ran for office in several states, calling for legislation to prevent immigrants from holding public office. By 1855, support for the Know-Nothings had expanded considerably, and the American Party was officially formed. In the same year, however, Southerners in the party sought to adopt a resolution calling for the protection of slavery, and some anti-slavery Know-Nothings defected to the newly formed Republican Party.

On February 18, 1856, the American Party met to nominate its first presidential candidate and to formally abolish the secret character of the organization. Former president Millard Fillmore of New York was chosen, with Andrew Donelson of Tennessee to serve as his running mate. In the subsequent election, Fillmore succeeded in capturing only the state of Maryland, and the Know-Nothing movement effectively ceased to exist.

No-Nothing flag banner "Native Americans Beware of Foreign Influences
The Know-Nothing movement began in the 1840s when an increasing rate of immigration led to the formation of a number of so-called nativist societies (smore.com)

* 1930 Pluto discovered

Pluto, once believed to be the ninth planet, is discovered at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, by astronomer Clyde W. Tombaugh.

The existence of an unknown ninth planet was first proposed by Percival Lowell, who theorized that wobbles in the orbits of Uranus and Neptune were caused by the gravitational pull of an unknown planetary body. Lowell calculated the approximate location of the hypothesized ninth planet and searched for more than a decade without success. However, in 1929, using the calculations of Powell and W.H. Pickering as a guide, the search for Pluto was resumed at the Lowell Observatory in Arizona. On February 18, 1930, Tombaugh discovered the tiny, distant planet by use of a new astronomic technique of photographic plates combined with a blink microscope. His finding was confirmed by several other astronomers, and on March 13, 1930–the anniversary of Lowell’s birth and of William Hershel’s discovery of Uranus–the discovery of Pluto was publicly announced.

With a surface temperature estimated at approximately -360 Fahrenheit, Pluto was appropriately given the Roman name for the god of the underworld in Greek mythology. Pluto’s average distance from the sun is nearly four billion miles, and it takes approximately 248 years to complete one orbit. It also has the most elliptical and tilted orbit of any planet, and at its closest point to the sun it passes inside the orbit of Neptune, the eighth planet.

After its discovery, some astronomers questioned whether Pluto had sufficient mass to affect the orbits of Uranus and Neptune. In 1978, James Christy and Robert Harrington discovered Pluto’s only known moon, Charon, which was determined to have a diameter of 737 miles to Pluto’s 1,428 miles. Together, it was thought that Pluto and Charon formed a double-planet system, which was of ample enough mass to cause wobbles in Uranus’ and Neptune’s orbits. In August 2006, however, the International Astronomical Union announced that Pluto would no longer be considered a planet, due to new rules that said planets must “clear the neighborhood around its orbit.” Since Pluto’s oblong orbit overlaps that of Neptune, it was disqualified.

Clyde Tombaugh discovered dwarf planet Pluto in 1930. Image Credit: NASA
Clyde Tombaugh discovered dwarf planet Pluto in 1930. Image Credit: NASA

* 1948 De Valera resigns

After 16 years as head of independent Ireland, Eamon de Valera steps down as the Taoiseach, or Irish prime minister, after his Fianna Fail Party fails to win a majority in the Dail Eireann (the Irish assembly). As a result of the general election, the Fianna Fail won 68 of the 147 seats in the Dail, and de Valera resigned rather than lead a coalition government. In his place, John A. Costello, leader of the Fine Gael Party, joins with several smaller groups to achieve a majority and becomes Irish prime minister.

Eamon de Valera, the most dominant Irish political figure of the 20th century, was born in New York City in 1882, the son of a Spanish father and Irish mother. When his father died two years later, he was sent to live with his mother’s family in County Limerick, Ireland. He attended the Royal University in Dublin and became an important figure in the Irish-language revival movement.

In 1913, he joined the Irish Volunteers, a militant group that advocated Ireland’s independence from Britain, and in 1916 participated in the Easter Rising against the British in Dublin. He was the last Irish rebel leader to surrender and was saved from execution because of his American birth. Imprisoned, he was released in 1917 under a general amnesty and became president of the nationalist Sinn Fein Party. In May 1918, he was deported to England and imprisoned again, and in December Sinn Fein won an Irish national election, making him the unofficial leader of Ireland.

In February 1919, he escaped from jail and fled to the United States, where he raised funds for the Irish Republican movement. When he returned to Ireland in 1920, Sinn Fein and the Irish Republican Army (IRA) were engaged in a widespread and effective guerrilla campaign against British forces.

In 1921, a truce was declared, and in 1922 Arthur Griffith and other former Sinn Fein leaders broke with de Valera and signed a treaty with Britain, which called for the partition of Ireland, with the south becoming autonomous and the six northern counties of the island remaining part of the United Kingdom. In the period of civil war that followed, de Valera supported the Republicans against the Irish Free State (the new government of the autonomous south) and was imprisoned by William Cosgrave’s Irish Free State ministry.

In 1924, he was released and two years later left Sinn Fein, which had become the unofficial political wing of the underground movement for northern independence. He formed Fianna Fail, and in 1932 the party gained control of the Dail Eireann and de Valera became Irish prime minister.

For the next 16 years, de Valera pursued a policy of political separation from Great Britain, including the introduction of a new constitution in 1937 that declared Ireland the fully sovereign state of Eire. During World War II, he maintained a policy of neutrality but repressed anti-British intrigues within the IRA.

In 1948, he narrowly lost re-election due to a negative public reaction against his party’s long monopoly of power. Out of office, he toured the world advocating the unification and independence of Ireland. His successor as Taoiseach, John Costello, officially made Ireland an independent republic in 1949 but nonetheless lost the prime minister’s office to de Valera in the 1951 election. The relative Irish economic prosperity of the 1940s declined in the 1950s, and Costello began a second ministry in 1954, only to be replaced again by de Valera in 1957.

In 1959, de Valera resigned as prime minister and was elected Irish president–a largely ceremonial post. On June 24, 1973, de Valera, then the world’s oldest head of state, retired from Irish politics at the age of 90. He passed away two years later.

Eamon de Valera (L) standing with Mrs. John F. Kennedy
Eamon de Valera (L) standing with Mrs. John F. Kennedy

* 1959 Ray Charles records “What’d I Say” at Atlantic Records

The phone call that Ray Charles placed to Atlantic Records in early 1959 went something like this: “I’m playing a song out here on the road, and I don’t know what it is—it’s just a song I made up, but the people are just going wild every time we play it, and I think we ought to record it.” The song Ray Charles was referring to was “What’d I Say,” which went on to become one of the greatest rhythm-and-blues records ever made. Composed spontaneously out of sheer showbiz necessity, “What’d I Say” was laid down on tape on this day in 1959, at the Atlantic Records studios in New York City.

The necessity that drove Ray Charles to invent “What’d I Say” was simple: the need to fill time. Ten or 12 minutes before the end of a contractually required four-hour performance at a dance in Pittsburgh one night, Charles and his band ran completely out of songs to play. “So I began noodling—just a little riff that floated into my head,” Charles explained many years later. “One thing led to another and I found myself singing and wanting the girls to repeat after me….Then I could feel the whole room bouncing and shaking and carrying on something fierce.”

What was it about “What’d I Say” that so captivated the audience at the Pittsburgh dance that night and the rest of humanity ever since then? Charles always thought it was the sound of his Wurlitzer electric piano, a very unfamiliar instrument at the time. Others would say it was the call-and-response in the song’s bridge—all unnnhs and ooohs and other sounds not typically found on the average pop record of 1959. Whatever it was, it worked well enough to become Charles’ closing number from that night in Pittsburgh until his final show.

“You start ‘em off, you get ‘em just first tapping their feet. Next thing they got their hands goin’, and next thing they got their mouth open and they’re yelling, and they’re singin’ and they’re screamin’. It’s a great feeling when you got your audience involved with you.”

“What’d I Say” was a sure-fire hit with live audiences and with record-buyers. It was a #1 R&B hit for Ray Charles in 1959 and a #6 pop hit as well—his first bona fide crossover hit, but certainly not his last.

Ray Charles ~ What'd I Say - Original 45rpm 1961 London/Atlantic
Ray Charles ~ What’d I Say – Original 45rpm 1961 London/Atlantic (YouTube)

Today’s Sources: 

* Canadian History Timeline – Canada’s Historical Chronology  http://canadachannel.ca/todayincanadianhistory/index.php

* This Day In History – What Happened Today                        http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/

* Wikipedia                                                                            https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treaty_of_Ghent                              

Black History Month In Canada… James Mink

James Mink was the son of a slave who was brought to Canada by a United Empire Loyalist after the American Revolution. He went on to be a millionaire businessman in Toronto, Ontario.

James Mink – Millionaire Businessman

James Mink was a black man who became a respected millionaire businessman in Toronto, Ontario, Canada in the 1840s when slavery was rampant in the United States.

Mink was the eldest of 11 children of a slave known only as “Mink.” His father and mother were owned by United Empire Loyalist, Johan Herkimer. Not much is known about his earlier years. Continue reading “Black History Month In Canada… James Mink”

John’s Believe It Or Not… February 17th

* 1834 – Papineau and Morin Draft Ninety-Two Resolutions Demanding Responsible Government * 1904 Madame Butterfly premieres * 2000 Dave Eggers’ Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius debuts * 1966 Brian Wilson rolls tape on “Good Vibrations,” take one * 1801 Deadlock over presidential election ends

It’s Saturday! Did You Know…

* 1834 – Papineau and Morin Draft Ninety-Two Resolutions Demanding Responsible Government

Drafted in January 1834 by Louis-Joseph Papineau, leader of the Parti patriote, and Augustin-Norbert Morin, the 92 Resolutions were a list of grievances and demands made by the Parti patriote with regards to the state of the colonial political system. They were drafted following a long political struggle against the governor general and Château Clique and the Patriotes’ inability to produce any significant reforms. The document critiqued the division of authority in the colony and demanded a government that was responsible to the Legislative Assembly. The imperial government responded with the Russell Resolutions, which rejected their demands, preparing the way for the Canadian Rebellion. Continue reading “John’s Believe It Or Not… February 17th”

Black History Month In Canada… Sam Langford

Sam Langford, born in Nova Scotia is claimed by some to be the greatest fighter to step into the ring.

Sam Langford – Professional Boxer

Sam Langford, boxer (born 4 March 1886 in Weymouth Falls, Nova Scotia; died 12 January 1956 in Cambridge, Massachusetts). Langford was a professional boxer who competed across multiple weight classes during his 24-year career. A well-rounded boxer with fierce punching power, Langford often found success against much larger opponents and garnered praise as a fearless competitor. Despite an impressive winning record and praise from icons of the sport, Langford faced racial barriers that prevented him from competing for a title during an era when White champion boxers didn’t want to be seen losing to Black opponents. Though he was crowned heavyweight champion of England, Australia, Canada and Mexico, Langford is considered one of the best fighters never to win a title in the United States. Langford lost his vision during a fight later in his career, which ultimately forced his retirement. He was inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1955, one year before his death. Langford’s professional record varies depending on the source — with the most comprehensive listing 214-46-44 with 138 knockouts. Some historians contend that Langford may have fought in over 600 matches. Continue reading “Black History Month In Canada… Sam Langford”