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The "60 Minute" Man

 

By Bob Davis

Back in the 1980s I was living in Houston Texas; a 23 year old "Mr. Know It All" from New York City with a big Afro and a "disco groove", who still had quite a bit to learn about life.

 

You see I was a transplanted northerner who was about to be taken to school with respect to the culture and lifestyle of the American South. You see I had started hanging out with some older Black folks and they introduced me to Blues music, and I fell in love with it.

At around the same time in Washington DC, another "Older Black man" was about to make history. Ed Bradley was appointed as Chief White House Correspondent at CBS News in 1981.

 

Now by the time we get to 1981, there had already been many "Black firsts", but this one was a little different. During the 1970s we had seen Ed Bradley covering events like the Vietnam War, political conventions, etc, so he was already a familiar face.

 

But Ed Bradley was different from other "Black firsts". We knew that he was from the ghetto in Philly and that he didn't start off wanting to be on television. We knew that he had started his professional life as a school teacher in the Philadelphia School District.

 

You could look at Ed Bradley and tell that he was a "real brotha". He was tough, he was articulate, articulate and could handle himself in any situation and now he was going to be highly visible right where the real power of the government was - the White House. As the years passed by and we observed Ed Bradley we could see that he was quite comfortable in these situations and he himself began to acquire the "aura of power" around him.

In Houston, I became immersed in Blues music by attending as many live concerts and club performances as I could. I began to do so after being introduced to it by older Black men, the same age or older than my own father: These were the type of men who rode around in pick-up trucks, with pint bottles of Jack Daniels or Jim Beam under the front seat of the vehicle. They always had extra paper cups in the truck in case they ran into a friend to offer a drink.

 

                

           Ed Bradley interviewed Michael Jackson

 

They told me stories of what it was like to live in the segregated south in both East Texas and Houston during the 1940s and 1950s. Some of these stories were sad, but most were about the good times that they had just trying to survive.

These men taught me everything about Blues music - John Lee Hooker, Jimmy Reed, Muddy Waters and more. I was fascinated by it all. The music itself had much in common with the "hardcore funk music" that I had been a fan of in the early 70s, so I liked that. But more importantly the Blues had a history and a culture (hoodoo) associated with it that was over 100 years old.

 

I felt that gaining an understanding of the Blues, its culture and its history would put me closer to understanding a history of Black folks that had been constructed by people completely outside of the mainstream. It was yet another way to view Black history, perhaps in a way that was much closer to the "truth" than could be found in any textbook.

However, as I began to venture out to concerts, festivals, clubs, etc. I discovered that the "truth" about Blues music that I had been taught by these older Black men, was quite a bit different from the reality of actually attending a Blues concert, festival or club.

 

What I found was that most of the time the attendees of these events were not only uninterested in this "parallel history of the united states", but that most of them were white.

 

This was an environment that was far removed from the "juke joints" and "rib shacks" that the older Black men had told me about. This was a totally different scene and it was a scene in which I often found myself as the "only Black person there, besides the performers".

Somewhere along the way during the 1980s I read in a magazine article that Ed Bradley was a Blues fan. I thought to myself that he's just like me, probably the only brotha in the joint, if it's not a problem for Ed Bradley, then it shouldn't be a problem for me.

Fast forward into the 1990s. I'm now in Philadelphia and of course I am still attending Blues festivals and there are still very few Black people in attendance. At this particular festival, The Neville Brothers are scheduled to perform and they turn in their usual brilliant set mixing a New Orleans gumbo of Funk, Blues and Rock.

 

They are about to play the last song of the set, announced as "60 Minute Man", a song which had been a hit way back in 1950 for Billy Ward and his Dominoes.

      click for larger image     

Soul Man: Ed Bradley on stage with Blues queen, Marva Wright (Picture: Marva Wright).

 

As the song starts, I notice a tall slender Black man on the stage joining Aaron Neville at the microphone. He looks familiar, but at first I can't place him. And then I recognize him. I turn to my wife and say.....

"YO, THERE'S ED BRADLEY UP THERE SINGING 60 MINUTE MAN WITH THE NEVILLE BROTHERS".

It made me smile. There he was" Mr. 60 Minutes" On stage singing "60 Minute Man" along with the Neville Brothers, at a lily white Blues concert, right in the middle of the city of Philadelphia.

As Don King would say: "Only In America".

 

Over the years, I would actually see Ed Bradley quite often at many different kinds of music events. I've seen him at concerts, at the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame Inductions, the R&B Foundation Awards, etc. I've even been introduced to him several times. Not that we ever had a conversation of substance with him. But he did give me "that look". It's a look that is a part of the "secret negro (booyah) language". It means that....

"I know that you are here and you know that I am here. We both know that we are surrounded by white people. We both know that if something goes off here, that we have each others back. However nothing is going to go off here, so lets just relax and enjoy ourselves..."

I believe that history is really just the sum total of the biographies of individual people. The intersection of their lives are what we call "events". We tend to remember the events more than we do the people, because we usually have much more knowledge about the "event" than we do
about the people.

 

Ed Bradley was a man who was the walking-talking example of a "black first" and most importantly a "black first" who wasn't ever perceived as being an "uncle Tom".

 

It's a hard and narrow line to walk, because the navigation is not always clear. That accomplishment is an event that will be duly noted in history. However my feeling about Ed Bradley will always be that it was his interest in being a "student of the Blues" and his understanding of how those cultural, musical and historical dots were all connected, somehow helped him to navigate what surely must have been a difficult path.

I'm sure that tonight there are "older Black men" sitting in their pick up trucks, drinking Jack Daniels from paper cups hoisting a few in the name of Ed Bradley.

 

I'm sure that they are talking about the fact that Ed Bradley was a fan of Blues music, they are smiling and they are proud, because they know that it's part of what made Ed Bradley a "60 Minute Man". Because he was a "60 Minute Man", he could "go the distance".

 

And if Ed Bradley, a kid from the Philadelphia ghetto could "go the distance", then the rest of us don't really have any excuses. That is what a role model is!

R.I.P. Ed Bradley

 

Bob Davis is co-owner/creator (with his brother Mike) of the award winning Soul-Patrol.com website. He is also the web master/moderator/editor/radio program director of Soul-Patrol.

 

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