Sometimes when my colleague, Doug Fabrizio, is out of town, I get to fill in as guest host of RadioWest, an hour-long interview program on a local public radio station.
Doug is exceptionally good at what he does. And even though I always have the support of a great team of producers, his shoes are exceptionally hard to fill. So I often turn to my friends and family for questions, ideas and inspiration on the subject of the day.
Thursday's topic was the National Anthem, which celebrated its 197th birthday this week and was recently mangled in a public performance by pop star Cyndi Lauper. It could have been a rather dry subject, so I sent out an all points bulletin seeking some advice.
My father was among the first to reply: Without going into too much detail, he suggested I look for a recording of Jose Feliciano’s performance of the anthem in the 1968 World Series.
I did — and it proved great fodder for conversation that morning. Feliciano’s rendition was absolutely amazing. But his Latin jazz reinterpretation of the old English drinking melody upon which our anthem was based proved highly controversial. Some suggested that the young, blind musician had disgraced our nation’s song. Others said he should be deported (which would have been a difficult task since the singer was, by virtue of his birth in Puerto Rico, an American citizen).
I’d like to share two things with you today:
The first is Feliciano’s hauntingly beautiful adaptation of the Star-Spangled Banner, which reminds me, as I hope it will remind you, that our nation is full of good people who sometimes need a little help to appreciate our ever-changing world.
The other is this message, which I received from my father a few hours after the radio program:
I remember the Feliciano controversy like it was yesterday. I was a freshman in high school, and my English teacher had us writing essays each week on any topic we chose. It was maybe the fourth or fifth week of school, so maybe only the second or third time we wrote. I remember writing that if anyone was entitled to sing the anthem in "new" way, it was a blind man of color. Mr. Farrington gave me such positive feedback that I began thinking for first time that maybe I could write for a living.
My father went on to have a successful career as a writer. But he would be the first to tell you that he’s much prouder of his children’s accomplishments than his own.
And he has much to be proud of. Today, his daughter is the publisher of a magazine. His oldest son is a journalist and professor of journalism. His youngest son is an amazingly gifted songwriter.
From Francis Scott Key to Jose Feliciano…
From Jose Feliciano to Gerald Farrington…
From Gerald Farrington to Richard LaPlante…
None of those men could have predicted the effect that their lives would ultimately have on a few siblings from the last generation of the 20th Century…
Let alone a child from the first generation of the 21st.
What a legacy. What a country.