Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Boss Hoss with the Hot Sauce

That photo of Pittsburgh's legendary DJ, Porky Chedwick was brazenly stolen from this fan page.

In today's paper an item, Crowd cheers Porky's 90th birthday at 'Roots of Rock and Roll', caught my attention. I suppose it didn't surprise me much that Porky Chedwick is 90, but noted that he's been on the radio in the Pittsburgh market for sixty years. He still does a show!

I don't know how frequent bloggers do it? There is so much great writing on blogs, and the output some bloggers manage simply astounds me. Recently I started reading Daisy's Dead Air. Daisy is a great writer, fierce and funny. And something lovely for me is she writes from Greenville, South Carolina, where some of my formative years were spent. We moved there in the early 1960's. That was a time of moving from legal racial apartheid to something else--what we've got here now in the USA isn't exactly clear to me. Oh yeah, Daisy is about my age and digs music.

Back in the day--when I was a little boy--radio was a big deal. In Greenville my mother would drive us to school, I went to a private school right downtown and we lived out in the outskirts. The radio we listened to in the car was a mix of R&B, soul and some pop music, a sort of watered-down version of what is known as Carolina Beach Music. It does seem odd that in a time of racial segregation, the music that many southern white kids listened to was music made by African Americans.

American popular culture is a mongrel culture. For all that is wrong with the good USA, our mongrel mix-up may be our saving grace.

Pittsburgh is a hilly place. There are three rivers right downtown--here's a picture by Sohail Khwaja at Flickr that shows the Monongahela and Allegheny Rivers confluence making the Ohio River. One of the consequences of all the hills and hollows around here is that neighborhoods are rather distinct geographically. The steel barons had a "divide and conquer" approach to local government, finding it easier to control small governments. So Pittsburgh is a patchwork of small towns and neighborhoods. Porky Cheswick grew up in Homestead. Homestead has a storied history in the American labor movement with the 1892 Homestead Strike. The author of the Wikipedia article on Porky notes:
His was a close-knit, culturally and racially diverse neighborhood, which he often compared to "a secluded island," where things such as one's skin color simply didn't matter. As Porky told this writer, "We a1l had one thing in common--poverty."
The topography of this place makes for many "secluded islands."

An AM radio station in Homestead, Pennsylvania playing African American music sent out ripples of social change that traveled far beyond the geography of its radio waves.

Porky Chedwick is old now, and there's a dignity and respect awed just for making it. But Porky Chedwick is much loved because he's a good guy. The stories of his giving his last change for bus fare for someone hard up on the street and walking home ring true to his character. Remember Pittsburgh's a hilly place, so walking home isn't easy. Porky is loved for his decency.

Porky began his radio work at WHOD in Homestead in 1956. He was the only white presenter and many probably presumed he was black from his patter and song selections. March is women's history month, and with the mention of WHOD which became WAMO, I thought of Mary Dee, a pioneering African American woman broadcaster at WHOD. I found hardly anything about her online. There's much more about her brother Mal Goode who became the first black TV network correspondent in 1962.

Mal Goode was News Director at WHOD in the fifties. His story is one of decency an community service too. In trying to track down Mary Dee's story, I found some great pages from Philadelphia radio station WDAS. About midway down on that page is a picture of Mary Dee, her brother and others with the caption:
First, apropos the discussion of 'television firsts':
the man on the left is Mal Goode, the first-ever Black reporter on network TV- ABC News to be exact-1962, covering the United Nations. Then, WDAS listeners heard him regularly in the 1970s and '80s as the U-N correspondent for NBN network news. He is also the brother of the lady standing next to him. Mary Dee, a Pittsburgh-to-Philadelphia [WHAT-AM] gospel radio personality who is the mother of Bonnie Dee, [not shown] who worked gospel and traffic at WDAS and Buddy Dee, known to music aficionados as record promotions man par excellence with Universal Distributors and Atlantic Records. And the lady in the hat is WDAS's Bernice Thompson who was a friend of Mary Dee.
[and we hope you got all those connections because there will be a quiz...]
If you've got a little time check out the WDAS pages for some great photos, including photos of the young Ed Bradley.

Radio made a real difference in the quality of life for all Americans. It provided a means for people to express themselves beyond their secluded islands. I think it mattered quite a lot that many of the people involved in Rock and Roll were very decent people concerned about their communities and issues of fairness and justice. As a white kid growing up in South Carolina it made a difference that the music I loved the most was made by African Americans.

One of my friends moved away from the area. She's my favorite dance partner, and everyone's favorite who knows her, sent me a YouTube video, Boogie Shag. Along with the comment, "Now that's dancing." Those in Carolina say that the Carolina Shag predates Swing. In any case there's a fairly straight line from "shagging" at the beach to the radio in Greenville, South Carolina of my youth playing African American music.

The piano player in the video is Silvan Zingg who's Swiss. When I was a kid boogie woogie was what I wanted to play on the piano. I never learned, but the music still makes me dance.

As a kid visiting my very staid grandparents in New England we'd gather in the parlor--off limits most of the time--to enjoy my grandmother play Honky Tonk piano accompanied by by Grandfather on drums. It makes me smile to think my grandfather considered himself a Jazz man. Of course he meant Jazz in the W. C. Handy school. Still, for two rather proper white Yankees, one of their great pleasures in life was music of the African Diaspora.

Zap Mama's album Ancestry in Progress was made in Philadelphia. Marie Daulne is interested in the music of the African Diaspora and I think it cool she went to Philadelphia and not Chicago to make the record. Talking about it she remarks:
You see, as Marie says, the Ancestry this album addresses is not specific to any one people or any one culture. "I'm talking about all the humans who made this world better, their philosophy and their fight. I want my work to show respect for those people. Because I know that tomorrow we're going to be ancestors, and that is the kind of ancestor I want to represent."
I hope Porky Chedwick lives to be 105. If he were to die tomorrow, we'll remember him as the kind of ancestor we want to be.

Now playing: Frank Zappa - Trouble Every Day
via FoxyTunes want to be.


The 27th Comrade said...

Obviously, if an article is this much fun and its last sentence ends in mid-breath, we want to wonder what was cut out ...

Could you maybe put it back?

Daisy said...

You are very kind, and thank you for your sweet compliments.

My mother lived in Pittsburgh during her junior high school years (as they were then known), so we have a karmic connection!

I doubt you'd recognize Greenville now.