Monday, September 17, 2007

Was he ever called a man?

I just heard one of the most powerful recorded statements against racism.
"When I was born into this world, this is what happened to me," sang BIG BILL BROONZY. "I was never called a man, and now I'm 53."
Broonzy's "When Will I Get to be Called a Man" is one of the songs on "Trouble in Mind," a collection of the blues artist's Folkways recordings from the late 1950s. I am listening to it as I drive around today.
In this song, Broonzy wonders when whites will treat him as an equal, rather than continuing to refer to him by the dismissive label "boy."
"Black man's a boy, don't care what he do," he sang.
Broonzy details the racism he encountered throughout his life, even while serving in the military.
"When Uncle Sam called me, I knowed I'd be called a real McCoy," Broonzy sang. "But I got none of this, they just called me soldier boy."
Broonzy was one of the first blues singers to migrate north to Chicago and record. However, while younger contemporaries plugged in electric guitars and found success in the late 1940s and early 50s, Broonzy stuck with the acoustic blues of his Arkansas and Mississippi roots. His style fell out of favor, and Broonzy took menial labor jobs to support himself. He even worked for a period of time as a janitor at Iowa State University!
Eventually, Broonzy's songs became popular among the lovers of folk songs in the late 1950s.
He should have enjoyed additional popularity during the "Blues Revival" of the 1960s, but throat cancer cut short Broonzy's life and he passed away in 1958.
I sure hope people had quit calling him "boy" by then, but I doubt it.


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