Sunday, February 12, 2006

In Memorium: Coretta Scott King, "Grandpa" Al Lewis, Ray Barretto, Richard Pryor, Shelley Winters

Due to the fact that I haven't been able to post with any degree of regularity in 2006 I was not able to honor several outstanding individuals who we have lost in January and February this year. I would like to take advantage of this opportunity to pay homage to them: 1) Coretta Scott King (1927-2006) The wife of the slain civil rights leader continued to pursue the dream of her husband by being at the forefront of numerous worthy causes ranging from environmental rascism to health care. Ms. King never remarried and managed to raise four highly successful children. Mrs. King was proof that behind every great man there is a great woman. She often reminded us of her husband's words "The racism found at home and the militarism abroad are two sides of the same coin." 2) "Grandpa" Al Lewis(1928-2006) Al Lewis is known world-wide as "Grandpa" on the popular 60's tv show "The Munsters" and as Schnauzer on the series "Car 54, Where are you?" but long after the end of those programs Al Lewis remained in the spotlight as a radio commentator on New York's WBAI and a firebrand social activist. Lewis was nicknamed "The Old Curmudgeon" mainly because of his extraordinary focus and determination in fighting an injustice. He had a wonderful relationship with two very diverse groups....prisoners and policemen. Lewis was at the forefront of the battle to end the repressive Rockefeller drug laws. It was Lewis along with comedian/activist Randy Credico who opened the eyes of New Yorkers to the Tulia, Texas attempt to imprison the entire African-American population of that tiny town on bogus drug charges. Lewis ran as the Green Party candidate for Governor of New York against George Pataki. Lewis received over 52,000 votes. This is a man who will be missed, but the passion he had for his convictions will continue to live on in the hearts of the people he touched in his lifetime. Coretta Scott King and "Grandpa" Al Lewis died on the same day. 3) Richard Pryor (1940-2005)- Comedian/Actor Richard Pryor was undoubtedly one of the funniest people to walk the face of the earth. Through his recordings and public appearances his career skyrocketed in the early 70s and was only stopped by a debilitating disease. Pryor will always be remembered for those hilarious collaborations with Gene Wilder. Pryor also had a flair for dramatic roles too. Who can forget his stellar portrayal of "Piano Man" in "Lady Sings The Blues" or as the oft maligned under appreciated G.I. in "Some Kind Of Hero" but Pryor's forte was comedy, films like "Silver Streak", "Which Way Is Up?" and "Bustin' Loose" are comedic masterpieces. Pryor often would take an unpleasant experience in his private life, expose it to the public and even laugh at it. The best example of this was when he described his life threatening experience with drugs which left his face seriously burned. Pryor was at his funniest when he included this in his act. Richard Pryor grew up in a brothel in Peoria, Illinois, but what most people don't realize is that those who reared him had high ideals and aspirations for a young Richard, who was able to avoid many of the pitfalls of ghetto life simply because of his acid-tongued humor. This one of a kind comedian actor is certainly among the best ever in this field. 4) Ray Barretto (1929-2006). Ray Barretto, or "Manos Duras(Hard Hands)" as he was affectionately known during the 60s played a vital role in bringing salsa music outside of the Hispanic community. The legendary salsa movement of that era included the immortal Tito Puente, Mongo Santamaria, Johnny Colon, Joe Quijano, Eddie and Charlie Palmieri, The Joe Cuba Sextet(which featured the velvet voiced Jaime Sabater for ballads). It was a very exciting time when you could hear Cuba's Bang Bang on mainstream pop radio (WABC). But it was Ray Barretto, a grammy award winning conga player who accomplished what was believed at the time to be the impossible. Barretto's recording of "El Watusi" hit the national top twenty, peaking at No. 17 in 1961. Many people may not realize that it was Ray Barretto along with Joe Wohletz doing the percussion on Eddie Harris' standout '68 jazz hit "Listen Here" which recently was recorded by Eddie Palmieri. Ray Barretto was a mainstay on the popular Fania label which released his hit "Soul Drummers" as well as The Fania All-Stars "Ella Fue" other artists of the Fania label gaining recognition were Ralphi Pagan and Joe Bataan. Through the efforts of Barretto and these artists the Fania label was able to get national distribution through Columbia Records(now Sony) for a brief period. Ray Barretto will be missed. 5. Shelley Winters (1920-2006) Shelley Winters was a two time Academy Award winning actress. She won a best-supporting actress Academy Award for "A Patch Of Blue" in the role of Rose Ann D'arcy, an irresponsible aging alcoholic mother of a blind adolescent teenager. The film starred Sidney Poitier and Elizabeth Hartman. I will never forget her role in "The Poseidon Adventure" where she was an older woman who was an outstanding athlete in her youth who now must rekindle that athletic prowess to save the lives of others and her own life as well. Winters died of natural causes at the age of 85.

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