African-American History Month - Collaboration

Football may be done for the year and some folks are worn out by hype and the promise of destiny, but African-American History Month is really just getting started and music is something we all can celebrate. Dubbed “The Godfather of R&B,” Johnny Otis sang, wrote, hosted a TV show, and discovered talent. The son of Greek storeowners once “decided that if our society dictated that one had to be black or white, I would be black.” Among the talents he scouted and developed were a group called The Robins, Johnny Ace, and Big Mama Thornton, and... The Robins would soon breakup but two would head east - west coast to east coast. Before they did, they helped pioneer the “doo-wop” sound with a catalogue produced and written by Otis. Esther Mae Jones was in California with her Mother when she won a talent singing contest (of course she learned to sing in church) at a club owned by Johnny Otis. She was fourteen. The maestro was so impressed he recorded her and took her on tour. These two acts got together on an Otis-written and produced song in 1950. It was “Little” Esther’s - who took the stage name Phillips - first hit.

On this day we celebrate the collaboration of African-Americans with the Greek who did not want to identify as white - a chasm-leaping concept in the ‘40’s - on the day “Double Crossing Blues” first made an appearance on Billboard’s R&B chart. One month later it topped that chart, making “Little” Esther Phillips the youngest female to ever have a song hit the top. It was not her last, but personal problems took her for a roller coaster ride. She died in 1984 at only 49 years old. Those coast-hopping Robins? Well, two of them (Carl Gardner and Bobby Nunn) helped form the group that advised us to “don’t talk back” and sang about the boy “Who calls the English teacher 'Daddy-o'?" They were known as The Coasters.

"Double Crossing Blues"

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In my journeys over the last three years, both physical and personal/internal, I have discovered Memphis and a drive to create. This site will display my goals to informally promote and tell stories about Memphis and the surrounding areas - music, culture, history - through my observations, photography, and telling the stories of people I meet along the way.

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© 2016 by Wil Little Pitcher