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wonder who is Performing?

by | Feb 26, 2021 | Perform (Executive Presence), Sammy Davis Jr, wonder

In my world, we talk a lot about Authenticity.  Ironic as we also talk about Performing… and Presence… and lots of other catchphrases that are offered up as insights to help people become “better”.  It is a wonder that we make any progress, with over 15,000 books published – each year, and the countless “self-help” blogs, video blogs, and writers like me giving you their pearls of wisdom to make it sound simple.  I can offer this insight – it is not easy… but the trick I have found is don’t lose the ability to wonder what it is that makes you Perform at your best.  There is always someone to help you in ways you can’t even imagine… 

Only in America can a black Jew from Harlem make a redneck from Texas rich and famous… and give me a chance to weave these stories into a tease for you to wonder where it is going.  Ronald Crosby was born in Oneonta New York, eventually graduating and joining the National Guard (it was the ‘60’s) before going AWOL and running around the south, eventually getting busted in New Orleans.  While in jail, another man had been swept up in a clearing of “vagrants” and “homeless”, and as they were talking, the story turned dark as he told about his dog dying 20 years before.  The other men suggested a better topic, and the man offered he could tap dance…

His name was not Mr. Bojangles – a name he gave to throw off the police, and to add even more wonder, he was white.  Ronald wrote down the story, added some chords, and soon would be known by another name – Jerry Jeff Walker.  A Yankee, he mostly hung around Greenwich village with other songwriters, and put out an album in 1968 which would have probably been the end of that story.  But there was something about the song that attracted many others to record it, and I can’t really tell who brought it to Sammy… 

… but he was soon to not only own the song, but to use it to transform his life.  Sammy was running in the circles of the white world – as he had wanted.  He didn’t want to be the best African American entertainer – he wanted to be THE best entertainer, and was there, but burning bridges on all sides, along with the candle at all ends.  When he heard Mr. Bojangles, he thought it was about the ACTUAL Mr. Bojangles – Bill Robinson, who he had performed with at some point.  He had seen this amazing presence fade into bankruptcy and ruin from alcoholism… which Sammy was firmly in the grip of in the early ‘70s. 

The wonder of Performing is that it changes everyone… the Performer, the audience, the musicians, and in this case, it gave him a reason to shake off some of the demons that were always circling him.  Sammy was one of the performers who once they picked up a song, it was completely his – even Jerry Jeff’s version is not nearly as powerful.  The alignment of the story we are hearing from the Performer, as with yesterday, and tomorrow’s video, is so complete, you forget it is actually not about anything you are seeing.  Here he is in 1985 – just 5 years before leaving us.  His style and grace come raging through the screen right at you, and you can’t help but realize he is not Performing…he is that man. 

I am approaching nearly 365 of these Performances each day, and the wonder is that I still have something to say, maybe too much for many of you 😉  And I have heard from many along the journey that a perspective, artist, insight, reflection, or simply a song has carried them back to a time and place that was fun to recall and remember.  It has sustained me through a very odd year…

… And that is the wonder of music – the magic carpet that carries us back to our most authentic memories – the ones that are deep in our brain, literally, and some of the last to leave us.  As you conclude your week, wonder what your Performance this week was, how it helped others find themselves, and maybe even find a clue for your emerging story.  The wonderful gift … from a white vagrant to Jerry Jeff to Sammy that changed all their lives… recorded in 1972 as he was sobering up… Mr. Bojangles.

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