February 2, 2009


That old black magic
contributed by Thomas Brennan

That Old Black Magic is a song originally written by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer in 1942. Over the years, it’s been recorded again by a number of performing artists, but the best know version was done by Louis Prima and Keely Smith in 1958.

Apart from the fact that it’s a fun song to listen to, it also provides a tie into Black History Month, and the February birth and passing dates of two very well known black performers.

The origin of many forms of popular music in America can be traced back to music that originally came from the black community. In a sense, you could say that the music was the “black magic” that changed America.

The songs that were sung on the plantation during the days of slavery became the Negro spirituals that are still used today by virtually all of the “mainstream” religions in the country.

Grouped together as a musical genre, the songs would be categorized as “that old time religion”:

The Emancipation Proclamation and the end of the Civil War didn’t magically improve the lot of black Americans. For more than 100 years after the end of the Civil War, the struggles that the community went through led to the development of “blues” and “rhythm and blues”.

Otis Rush is just one of the many musicians who popularized the music style, and one of the many prominent blues musicians who came from Mississippi.

Mr. Rush himself was born in Philadelphia, Mississippi, the site of the 1964 slayings of three civil rights workers, which inspired the 1988 movie,
“Mississippi Burning”.

Over time, the evolution of rhythm and blues inspired other musical styles, the most prominent of which was “rock ‘n roll”, first popularized by Cleveland disc jockey Alan Freed in 1951.

On occasion, blues music and rock and roll came together, as evidenced by Eric Clapton’s “groaning the blues”:

Eventually, Eric Clapton and Otis Rush performed together:

The black community also developed “rap” and “hip hop”.

Although I’m not a fan of either, the fact that the President of the United States likes the music means that it would have to be considered “mainstream”.

Nathaniel Adams Coles was born on St. Patrick’s Day in 1919, and passed away on February 15, 1965. His death at the age of 45 was due to lung cancer, caused by his three pack a day cigarette habit.

He performed professionally as Nat King Cole, and he was the first black American to host a television variety show. His music is still popular around the world, more than 40 years after his death.

Cole’s first marriage, which ended in divorce in 1948, produced no children, but his second marriage, on Easter Sunday of 1948, produced five (two by adoption). His daughter Natalie, born on February 6, 1950, was the first child born to the couple.

When I watched Tim McGraw sing “My Little Girl” in the clip from the movie Flicka, it evoked a “damn, that’s pretty” response.

Although there are a number of other songs that have had the affect on me, the song that REALLY tugs at my heart strings is this one:

Black History month has actually been celebrated since 1926, but has been largely ignored by a large part of the population until recently.

With the election of a black President, Black History Month this year will definitely be...



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