After that jarring start yesterday, let’s take a more restful approach for today’s conversation. It is difficult to tell what is real and what is Performing, particularly as you consider another’s or your own stance on faith. Paradoxes of what is said versus what is done can be a conversation that goes in directions that are not renewing for anyone. For me, it has helped to realize it is more a dance, and sometimes the steps are not clear or easy, and balance is hard to hold…
Eddie Cantor had given Sammy a mezuzah – a reminder of God’s constant presence with you, normally reserved for the doorway of your home, which Sammy put around his neck as a constant reminder. As he was recovering at 29 from his near-death experience, as with Yusuf/Cat Stevens, those questions of life’s purpose and renewal started to Perform their work inside. He would convert to Judaism in 1961 just before marrying May Britt – a marriage that had him banned from JFK’s inauguration celebration. It makes you question the snide comments about both being a publicity stunt…
I skipped over an important player in Sammy’s Performances – George Rhodes. You hear him talk to Sammy in many recordings after they met in 1955. He was constantly at Sammy’s side – eventually becoming his full-time musical director. They both would break many barriers, including George becoming the first Black musical director of a Las Vegas showroom, the Tropicana… after Sammy became the first Black director of a Casino. Having each other you can tell was renewing to both, with a playful rhythm that got them through times that we can only imagine. Sadly George died in 1985 with Sammy describing him as “… my brother on and off the stage, and no one can replace him in either area of my life”.
As we wrap up Black History Month, it is fitting we followed Sammy, whose career would last for most of his life – from minstrel shows through to a touching Lifetime Achievement presentation of stars just a few months before his death from throat cancer in 1989. This sequence is the one that you often see – Gregory Hines starts with a tribute, and before long, Sammy is presented with his tap shoes – and while very near death, he steps onto the stage, his home for 60+ years and Greg asks “what do you want to do?”. In classic Sammy speak, “Make it easy on yourself Greg”. I don’t think you need to be a dancer to see how special this was to them both.
When I taught Sunday School to 5th and 6th-grade boys, we would award prizes for bringing their Bible so many weeks in a row. One was a poster with a quote from St. Francis that I have taken ever since as a simple summary of my own faith stance. Like a time-step, it helps me focus on how Performing can be renewing when you have the right rhythm. “Preach the Gospel, Use words only when necessary”. I have no idea where Sammy’s faith steps took him, but I like to think that like him, as this masterpiece Performance of guitar and singing renews us today, I’m Always Chasing Rainbows.
I’m always chasing rainbows
Watching clouds drifting by
My dreams are just like all my schemes
Ending by a sight
Some fellows look and find rainbows
I always look and find the rain
Some fellows make a winning sometimes
I never even make a gain, believe me
I’m always chasing rainbows
Hoping to find a little bluebird someday