The Original

Sidney Poitier died Thursday at the age of 94.

Those of you who don’t recognize the name, look him up. He was a Big Deal.

He was a magnificent actor, who brought dignity to every role he played, from the schoolteacher in “To Sir, With Love”, to a police detective in “In the Heat of the Night”, to a handyman who builds a church for a group of nuns in “Lilies of the Field” a role for which he won a Best Actor Academy Award in 1964.

The Big Deal? He was the first Black actor to ever receive that award.

Courtesy Associated Press

The Big Deal? He was pretty much the only Black actor working in Hollywood at the time. As he once recalled, “I made films when the only other Black on the lot was the shoeshine boy. I was kind of the lone guy in town.”

In 1967, theater owners named him the Number One movie star, the first time a Black actor was so honored.

Sidney was the trailblazer, the one who paved the way for those who followed, like Danny Glover, James Earl Jones, Louis Gossett, Jr., Denzel Washington, Will Smith, Halle Berry and so many more.

He had a message for all those followers in 1992, in his acceptance speech for the American Film Institute Lifetime Achievement Award:

“Welcome, young Blacks. Those of us who go before you glance back with satisfaction and leave you with a simple trust: Be true to yourselves and be useful to the journey.”

Enjoy some Sidney Poitier movies this weekend; read about his early struggles that shaped him into the actor, and the man, he became.

He truly was a Big Deal.

Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown!

Wow, I’m getting old.

I can’t believe it was, as another blogger reminded me this morning, 56 years ago today that the Christmas TV special, A Charlie Brown Christmas, premiered on CBS.

I was six years old, already a diehard fan of the Peanuts comic strip, brainchild of cartoonist Charles Schulz. Good ol’ Charlie Brown, Linus and Lucy, Schroeder, Snoopy, Pig-Pen and all the rest made me laugh a lot.

So, when it was time for an animated Peanuts TV special, I was all in.

And 56 years later, I still am. There have been several more TV specials, movies and musical productions through the years, but A Charlie Brown Christmas remains the gold standard for me.

I think one big reason for that is the music. Whoever decided the Vince Guaraldi Trio was the appropriate background music for this show was absolutely brilliant. From the sentimental Christmas Time Is Here which opens the show, to the sprightly Linus and Lucy that gets everyone in the Christmas play on the dance floor, these are still some of my all-time favorite Christmas songs.

Another reason is the director, Bill Melendez, who also supplied Snoopy’s voice. In his hands, this became a wonderful cartoon; often hilarious, sometimes poignant, remarkably relevant, and utterly heartwarming.

It had so many familiar comedy routines from the comic strip: Snoopy running off with Linus’ security blanket (with Linus hanging on for dear life!), Lucy’s psychiatry stand (Five cents, please), Schroeder practicing his Beethoven on a toy piano despite Lucy earnestly trying to win his affection, Pig-Pen raising a cloud of dust in the snow, Sally’s tender, unrequited love for Linus, Snoopy joyfully dancing or playfully imitating Lucy…

…and Charlie Brown, sorrowfully lamenting his station in life. “I know nobody likes me; why do we have to have a holiday to emphasize it?”

Only, this holiday, Charlie Brown has more on his mind.

He feels an emptiness this Christmas, a nagging voice telling him there’s something more to it, beyond all the commercialism everyone else (including his dog!) seems to have succumbed to.

Finally, after trying in vain to find the meaning, he wails, “Isn’t there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?”

And Linus, being the good friend he is, sets Charlie straight, reciting the story from the Gospel of Luke regarding the birth of Jesus.

Well, for those precious few of you out there who have actually missed seeing this show all this time, I won’t spoil the ending for you. But, judging by all these faces, it’s a happy one:

It never gets old. If it’s been awhile since you’ve seen A Charlie Brown Christmas, treat yourself this year, and remember how good it felt the first time you saw it.

And if you’re one of those few who’ve never seen it before, and you get the chance, I invite you to take 30 minutes out of your day, sit down with a cup of hot chocolate and maybe someone you love, and enjoy Charlie Brown and the gang in this timeless, beautiful story.

When Is Someday?

Someday at Christmas, men won’t be boys
Playing with bombs like kids play with toys
One warm December our hearts will see
A world where men are free

Someday at Christmas, there’ll be no wars
When we have learned what Christmas is for
When we have found what life’s really worth
There’ll be peace on earth

Someday all our dreams will come to be
Someday in a world where men are free
Maybe not in time for you and me
But someday at Christmas time

Someday at Christmas, we’ll see a land
With no hungry children, no empty hand
One happy morning people will share
A world where people care

Someday at Christmas, there’ll be no tears
When all men are equal and none have fears
One shining moment, one prayer away
From our world today

Someday all our dreams will come to be
Someday in a world where people are free
Maybe not in time for you and me
But someday at Christmas time

Someday at Christmas, man will not fail
Hate will be gone and love will prevail
Someday a new world that we can start
With hope in every heart

Someday all our dreams will come to be
Someday in a world where people are free
Maybe not in time for you and me
But someday at Christmas time
Someday at Christmas time

Songwriters: Bryan Wells / Ronald Miller

Someday At Christmas lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC

I love Stevie Wonder. Have for years. He’s one of the most gifted musicians and songwriters of our time, and a lifelong avatar of peace and love.

He didn’t write “Someday at Christmas”, but he sang it. Initially released as a single in 1966, it was eventually included on his album of the same name, a year later.

And this morning, I have not been able to get it out of my head.

It’s a beautiful song, one with a timeless message of peace and equality.

And the further away we get from 1966, the more we need to hear it.

As bad as times were in 1960’s America, a nation embroiled in civil unrest and a war in Vietnam, it sure seems worse now. Americans are turning against each other – race versus race, class versus class, gender versus gender, religion versus religion – with no resolution in sight.

And little or no regard for the rest of the world. Not our problem, ya know.

Someday still feels a long way off.

Aren’t you tired of waiting? I know I am.

Folks, those of us who’ve been sitting around wishing for Someday need to arrive at the realization that it ain’t ever gonna get here without our help.

Your help. My help.

Now, what you and I do to help is for each of us to determine, but let’s at least make the commitment here and now to do it.

Once I decide what it is I will do, I’ll let y’all know. And please share what you will do, as well, and let’s spur each other to action!

And if that makes me sound like a Pollyannaish dreamer, so be it. I know it’ll be tough. The opposition will be loud and violent. Those who want Someday to never happen will resist with all they have. They will definitely not go quietly.

But I believe, with our help, they will go. And love, justice and truth will prevail.

I’ll bet Stevie would rather not ever sing this song again, because Someday is finally here.

Let’s make that happen for him. And for us.

More Requests for Your Carolers

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I posted some more of my favorite Christmas songs in December 2018. Here’s that post again. 

So, about this time a year ago, I shared a list of some of my favorite renditions of Christmas tunes; some familiar, others, less so.

Well, here’s a few more of my favorites for you to check out. Enjoy:

Don’t Save It All for Christmas Day, Christmas Eve, Céline Dion. The first one, a reminder to keep the Christmas spirit alive year round; the second, an uptempo love song about spending a special night with your special someone.

I’m also including The Prayer, by Céline Dion and Andrea Bocelli. Even though it’s technically not a Christmas song, it’s included on Céline’s holiday CD, These Are Special Times. But, everybody deserves to hear these two sing together. Andrea is, for my money, the greatest vocalist in the world, and the note he holds at the end of this piece is absolutely breathtaking.

Run Rudolph Run (live), Bryan Adams. Bryan does this Chuck Berry classic justice.

Jingle Bell Rock, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. Everybody knows the Bobby Helms rendition, but this instrumental take is a lot more fun.

‘Zat You, Santa Claus?, Louis Armstrong and the Commanders. Louis gets an unexpected visitor one night. Who might it be? Hmmm…

Someday at Christmas, Stevie Wonder. This song was originally released in 1966, but its message is as timely as ever, which means, unfortunately, Someday hasn’t arrived yet.

Louisiana Christmas Day, Aaron Neville. A little zydeco music for Christmas. It’ll get your feet movin’.

The Twelve Days of Christmas (live), The Christmas Can-Can, Straight No Chaser. Two hilarious tunes by this men’s à capella group.

Christmas is Just Around the Corner, Barry Manillow. Barry knows how to deliver a happy tune, and this one about anticipation of the Big Day is yet another example.

Silver Bells, Kenny G. Jazzy instrumental version, with Kenny G.’s smooth sax out front.

Please Come Home for Christmas, Eagles. Fellow Texan Don Henley gives this one the proper blues treatment.

All I Want for Christmas Is You, Vince Vance and the Valiants. Country Christmas ballad featuring terrific lead vocals by Lisa Layne.

All I Want for Christmas Is You, Mariah Carey. Yeah, this is the one we all know. Mariah rocks it.

Little Saint Nick, The Beach Boys. Because, after all, it just ain’t Christmas without The Beach Boys, am I right?

O Holy Night, anybody. Best sacred Christmas number of them all.

There you are. Enjoy the music you love with the people you love this holiday season. Season’s Eatings, um, Greetings. Peace and love to you all.