Classic Soul Moment: Diana Ross and Ethel Waters on “The Hollywood Palace” (March 8, 1969)
These are the moments that I’m thankful for the internet. Also thankful for the fact that we have such rich history at our fingertips. There’s a heavy bittersweet beauty of watching “Sweet Mama String Bean” and “Miss Ross” radiate such pride for their art onstage. They jointly bring such the rich swirl of African American Culture to such a mainstream forum. This is such an act of quiet, beautiful resistance during the last year of a rather tumultuous decade.
The Act starts out with such beauty, such genuine love and respect for each other. There’s a hint of the interesting intersections of body image and the expectations of how you’ll be perceived will change over time. The care that Ethel Waters has (to my eyes and ears completely unscripted) for Diana Ross transitions into a duet of “Bread ‘n’ Gravy.” Meeting at the table, for all forms of nourishment; the wonderful actual litany of food Ethel offers Diana, the intimate time of bonding.
It makes the solo performance by Ethel Waters that comes next absolutely heartwrenching. An oft overlooked early Civil Rights Anthem, Ethel performs “Suppertime.” It’s a slightly lesser known anti-lynching anthem, but more devastating in the fact that a head of a household is dealing with the swirl of emotions when a love one has been lynched. Do you carry on with normal routines? How do you maintain a normal life in the face of such tragedy? How do you explain the sudden change of unjust murder to your family?
It’s such a raw juxtaposition to the joy and exuberance that burbles through “Bread ‘n’ Gravy.” It’s all the more real for that contrast. The ritual of sitting down to an evening meal with the home you’ve built, the chosen house you love is such a beautiful one to establish. To have that violently ripped away from you is possibly one of the most devastating realities one must face. Waters, having lived through years of discrimination, and years of performing the song paints a portrait on-stage that still echoes through daily life in the here and now 45 years on. We’re at the end of a violent summer rather reflective of the levels of violence that were brought to the public consciousness throughout the 1960’s.
In a complex world, I hope we’re always making time to reach out and love and cherish each other, because who knows what the next moment will bring. Fill your hearts with love, so you have plenty to keep you afloat in heart break.