It’s before dawn in Honolulu and the neighborhood of birds is noisily singing and talking away, even more than usual. Fuscate (Redbird) has been in the habit lately of singing about four in the morning. It’s spring and he’s knocking himself out because he’s in love. There’s nothing like falling-in-love energy. It has written songs, poetry, built houses and inspired one of the most beautiful monuments in the world, the Taj Mahal. Love has started and ended wars. Guess we might try falling in love a little everyday, with the sunrise, with our tired selves, with a happy redbird giving up a little morning song to start the day. Might make things a little brighter.
I haven’t been out here on the island much these days. I’ve been traveling about the country, to Los Angeles, Albuquerque, and most recently to northwest Alabama to the University of Northern Alabama in Florence with my guitar player Larry Mitchell, to perform music and speak. Every time I return to Alabama I get a little more of the story of our people.
We were graciously taken care of by Pam Kingsbury, a professor at the university. She and the music wise man Terry Pace toured us around the area. We walked the first evening at dusk along the banks of the Tennessee River. The legend in the area goes that the original peoples would gather by the water to sing, and the water would sing back. There were many Old Ones still present along that path of immense trees and those wide, rolling, singing waters.
The next few days we were taken on a tour of the Muscle Shoals studios that included the FAME Studio opened in 1959. Those who recorded there are a who’s who in the music industry: Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Duane Allman, The Osmonds, Bobbie Gentry, and my favorite singer of all time: Aretha Franklin. The studio is still recording hits. The 3614 Jackson Highway Recording Studio is the original site of the Muscle Shoals Sound Studios. This was another place that still vibrates with the energy of musical achievement. The Rolling Stones recorded “Wild Horses” there, and many other hits by many other artists like Paul Simon and Pete Segar. At the Alabama Music Hall of Fame we walked through the Lynard Skynard “Sweet Home Alabama” tour bus and saw the many exhibits celebrating Alabama artists like Nat King Cole, the Father of the Blues W. C. Handy, who as a boy visualized birdcalls as notes on a scale, and Sam Phillips who created the Elvis legend. The blues, rock and roll, country, gospel and jazz museum features Alabamians who changed the course of music history.
What struck me as walked along the river, and through those places of musical power was the absence of native musicians and singers. What is known as American music was birthed in our traditional homelands and we contributed to that genesis. The African and European contributions are always mentioned in the story of American music, but our tribal peoples are left out of the equation. It’s time to change that story.