The night soul came to At­lanta

The Covington News - - EDUCATION -

Traf­fic was mov­ing at a snail’s pace near Lake­wood Fairgrounds in At­lanta on this par­tic­u­lar late af­ter­noon in Oc­to­ber 1958. Mu­sic from car ra­dios echoed through the air. Shout­ing teenagers, with arms dan­gling from the car win­dows, rocked with the rhythm.

Sud­denly, above the noise of the crowd rush­ing to the en­trance, an alarmed voice rang out.

“Hey, man, looks like an in­va­sion.” Sev­eral U. S. Army trucks, packed with sol­diers, had just screeched to a stop near the gates.

A Mil­i­tary ma­neu­ver? A pa­rade? Those who ran to­ward the sta­dium were sure some­thing big was about to hap­pen. They were right, but sur­prised. It was an in­va­sion of a dif­fer­ent kind.

At­lanta in 1958 was a city of gleam­ing glass and tem­pered steel, a fast-paced me­trop­o­lis poised to lead the re­gion’s busi­ness boom — the sym­bolic cap­i­tal of Henry Grady’s New South.

About the time when the gui­tar was the num­ber one mu­si­cal in­stru­ment, there came from Broad­way a TV pro­gram called ”The Dick Clark Satur­day Night Show.”

Kids were go­ing wild lis­ten­ing to the mu­sic.

Sum­mer came; the show hit the road, spon­sored by Beech­nut Spearmint Gum. Mi­ami, Los An­ge­les, Birm­ing­ham and other ma­jor cities had an en­ter­tain­ment ex­plo­sion. At­lanta, Ge­or­gia was next.

A con­cert was held at Lake­wood Park Fairgrounds, as a part of the 44th An­nual South­east­ern Fair.

Six of Dick Clark’s best per­form­ers came. One of them was Sam Cooke, a black singer from Chicago.

Sam Cook, whose name was changed later with the ad­di­tion of the “e,” was born in Mis­sis­sippi and grew up in Chicago, the son of a preacher. Be­fore he was 10 years old, Sam was a singing star on the gospel cir­cuit; at 13 he was a pro­fes­sional; at 20, he was in­vited to be the lead singer in the Soul Stir­rers, a black gospel quar­tet.

And sing he did. Very soon his voice be­came the key fac­tor in the greater num­bers of young peo­ple at­tend­ing the group’s con­certs. With his smooth, res­onate voice, he would croon and then sud­denly burst forth a Caruso.

In 1956, Sam left the Soul Stir­rers to sing pop and the emerg­ing rock ‘n’ roll. His multi-note, one syl­la­ble voice tech­nique was unique. Record sales soared. Ev­ery­one agreed his mu­sic was “some­thing else,” but no one could de­scribe it.

Some­one came up with one word bor­rowed from Sam’s gospel ca­reer — soul.

Soul mu­sic got its name. Billed as “the best singer who ever lived,” Sam was fa­vored with suc­cess. He soon owned a pub­lish­ing house and was pro­duc­ing his and other artist’s songs, guid­ing Smoky Robin­son to launch a ca­reer, spurring Otis Red­ding to be the cham­pion of soul and, by ex­am­ple, in­spir­ing Aretha Franklin to find fame in sec­u­lar mu­sic.

What is soul? You have to think about Amer­i­can jazz, a kind of folk mu­sic some­times called “spir­i­tu­als” and prim­i­tive im­pro­vi­sa­tions, with African rhythm.

Th­ese melodies kept throb­bing un­til they reached New Or­leans, St. Louis and other cities. They were “com­posed on the spot.” No piece of mu­sic was ever re­peated ex­actly. It was al­ways dif­fer­ent. That was jazz.

In the 1920s through the 1940s syn­co­pa­tion was added, and har­monies with sixth tones gave a new sound, which mod­u­lated jazz into the id­iom called the blues. Singers were all black. Blues was a ve­hi­cle with a wide variety of moods and with feel­ings its dom­i­nant ex­pres­sion. It fi­nally be­came known as rhythm-and-blues.

Then came rock “n” roll in the 1950s. Rhythm and blues with its pop­u­lar love themes be­came the dom­i­nant form of rock and roll. White singers were do­ing the blues, and black singers were ap­peal­ing to new boarder au­di­ences, which in­cluded the white teenagers of Amer­ica.

Then came soul: that form which has many ex­pres­sions, in­clud­ing folk, black gospel, rock, jazz, rhythm-and-blues, and ro­man­tic pop, all blended with a spe­cial touch of in­ti­macy.

Let’s re­visit Lake­wood In his book, “Rock, Roll and Re­mem­ber,” Dick Clark said, “Ten­sion was high, as he tele­vised Sam Cooke’s ap­pear­ance; the Na­tional Guard and the Ku Klux Klan mem­bers at­tended a rock ‘n’ roll show to­gether; De­spite threats of vi­o­lence, we didn’t can­cel the show.”

Sam, who had run into trou­ble check­ing into a mo­tel and had re­ceived nu­mer­ous threats, said: “I’m go­ing on; I gotta go on. That’s all there is to it.”

Sam be­lieved in magic; the magic of soul, and it worked.

There was no trace of trou­ble. Black and white fans min­gled in peace.

Was it true, that the spirit of love in mu­sic had over­come hate? Had 200 years of seg­re­ga­tion sud­denly ended un­der the spell of a singer’s charm?

For one night, the an­swer was yes.

Could it have been the charm of soul through the voice of Sam Cooke that be­came the cat­a­lyst for the his­tory-mak­ing event?

No one can be sure. But I do know that when Sam Cooke brought soul to At­lanta, he be­came the first rock star to in­te­grate a con­cert in At­lanta or any other city in Amer­ica.

In the end, Dick Clark could re­turn to New York richer and prouder, more re­laxed, than when he came, he was glad to be the pro­moter of some­thing re­ally big that hap­pened first in At­lanta.

Clifford Brew­ton


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