Today is a day with multiple meanings and associated celebrations. It’s Summer Solstice, Father’s Day, and in my family (and perhaps in yours), it is a time for an annual family reunion and soul food cookout, which quite a few folks may actually get to do this year with their vaccinated relatives and friends.

So for today’s #BlackMusicSunday, I’ve got a mixed bag of musical offerings to usher in summertime, honor dads, and whet your appetite for BBQ and all the fixings. 

Rather than open with Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong’s classic duet “Summertime,” which I featured in a past story, this R&B hit from Billy Stewart should bring back memories for some of you.

For those of you not familiar with his story, a new documentary film on Stewart’s life and music premiered this year.

John Kelly, writing for The Washington Post:

Stewart was discovered by Bo Diddley. From about 1958 to 1966, the guitarist lived in Washington, touring the East Coast, scouting talent for Chess Records and recording acts in the basement of his home on Rhode Island Avenue NE.

“People who were very serious about wanting to be in the music business would meet over at Bo Diddley’s house,” said Lindsay-Johnson.

Stewart played piano in Bo Diddley’s band, then struck out on his own. He looked impressive — his “Fat Boy” nickname was not ironic — and sounded impressive, with a distinctive vocal style he based on his love of Caribbean music.

“That’s what he told Dick Clark,” Lindsay-Johnson said.

You hear it best on his version of the Gershwin song “Summertime,” in which Stewart trills and scats to a horn-driven background. Quentin Tarantino included the song on the soundtrack to “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood.”

Here’s the trailer for Fat Boy: The Billy Stewart Story, which premiered on PBS this year.

Stewart died tragically in a 1970 car accident. He was just 32 years old.

Another song that I hear in my head as soon as summer is mentioned is Sly and the Family Stone’s “Hot Fun in the Summertime,” which they released as a single in 1969, after gaining national attention at Woodstock.

Speaking of Sly and the Family Stone—before Woodstock, they were one of the mind-bending acts at Harlem’s Cultural Festival. Questlove’s award-winning documentary Summer of Soul premieres on July 2. Fun fact: Yours truly—yes, me!—is one of the narrators.

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Here’s the trailer.

More on the documentary, from distributor Searchlight Pictures:

In his acclaimed debut as a filmmaker, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson presents a powerful and transporting documentary—part music film, part historical record created around an epic event that celebrated Black history, culture and fashion. Over the course of six weeks in the summer of 1969, just one hundred miles south of Woodstock, The Harlem Cultural Festival was filmed in Mount Morris Park (now Marcus Garvey Park).  The footage was never seen and largely forgotten–until now. SUMMER OF SOUL shines a light on the importance of history to our spiritual well-being and stands as a testament to the healing power of music during times of unrest, both past and present. The feature includes never-before-seen concert performances by Stevie Wonder, Nina Simone, Sly & the Family Stone, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Mahalia Jackson, B.B. King, The 5th Dimension and more.

One of my personal favorite sunny songs is “Everybody Loves the Sunshine,” from vibraphone player, jazz, and funk composer Roy Ayers.

Roy Edward Ayers, Jr. was born in Los Angeles, CA on September, 10 1940.  He comes by his affinity with music naturally, as his mother Ruby Ayers was a schoolteacher and local piano instructor and his father Roy Sr., a sometimes-parking attendant and trombonist. As it often happens in a household filled with the love and the appreciation which for music, Roy began to demonstrate his musical aptitude by the tender age of five, by which time he was playing boogie woogie tunes on the piano. He turned to the steel guitar by the age of nice, had stints during his teens playing flute, trumpet and drums before embracing the vibes as his instrument of choice.

Perhaps Roy’s karmic destiny as a vibraphonist was by his parents’ decision to allow him attend a concert featuring the great Lionel Hampton’s Big Band. During “Hamps” customary stroll down the aisle to thank you his audience for attending, he noticed an ecstatic five-year-old boy. So impressed was “Hamp” by the child’s ebullience he walked over and presented young Roy Ayers Jr. with the gift of a lifetime- a pair of vibe mallets. During Roy’s adolescence, although his parents required that his schoolwork remain his primary focus, his mother managed to fit in piano lessons, which served to enhance  his public school education. In addition to Roy’s involvement with various instruments, he also sang in the church choir. Then, at seventeen years of age his parents presented him with a set of vibes and the rest, as they say, is history.

As the lyrics express, “folks get down in the sunshine.”

Now while we are talkin’ about sunshine, we all hope and pray that we have sunny weather for the days when we’ve planned our cookouts and family reunions. Did I just say family reunions? There is no way I can mention them without going directly to the distinctly Philly sound of The O’Jays.

Steve Huey at All Music summarizes both the O’Jays’ biography and discography:

The O’Jays were formed in 1958 in Canton, Ohio, where all five original members — Eddie LeVert, Walter Williams, William Powell, Bill Isles, and Bobby Massey — attended McKinley High School. Inspired to start a singing group after seeing a performance by Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers, they first called themselves the Triumphs, then switched to the Mascots in 1960. The Mascots made their recording debut in 1961 with the single “Miracles,” issued on the Cincinnati-based King label. It earned them a fan in the influential Cleveland DJ Eddie O’Jay, who gave them some airplay and career advice; in turn, the group renamed itself the O’Jays in 1963, after having recorded for Apollo Records with producer Don Davis. Under their new name, the O’Jays signed with Imperial and hooked up with producer H.B. Barnum, who helmed their first charting single, 1963’s “Lonely Drifter,” plus several more singles that followed. Isles left the group in 1965 and was not replaced, leaving them a quartet; late in the year, they released their first-ever album, Comin’ Through. In 1967, the O’Jays left Imperial for Bell, where they landed their first Top Ten single on the R&B charts, “I’ll Be Sweeter Tomorrow (Than I Was Today).” Discouraged by the difficulty of following that success, the group members considered throwing in the towel until they met Gamble & Huff — then working as a production team for their fledgling Neptune label — in 1968. Gamble & Huff took an interest in the group, and they recorded several successful R&B singles together; however, Neptune folded in 1971, leaving the O’Jays in limbo, and Massey decided to exit the group.

Fortunately, Gamble & Huff formed another label, Philadelphia International, and made the O’Jays — now a trio — one of their first signings. The O’Jays’ label debut, Back Stabbers, released in 1972, became a classic landmark of Philly soul, and finally made them stars. The paranoid title track hit the pop Top Five, and the utopian “Love Train” went all the way to number one (both singles topped the R&B chart). It was the beginning of a remarkable run that produced nearly 30 chart singles and three Grammy nominations over the course of the ’70s, plus a series of best-selling albums and a bevy of number one hits on the R&B chart. The O’Jays followed up their breakthrough with another classic LP, Ship Ahoy, in 1973; it featured the number one R&B hit “For the Love of Money,” a funky protest number that still ranks as one of their signature songs, as well as the ten-minute title track, an ambitious suite recounting the ocean journeys of African slaves. Released in 1975, Survival was another hit, spinning off the hits “Let Me Make Love to You” and the R&B number one “Give the People What They Want.” Family Reunion found the O’Jays making concessions to the emerging disco sound, which earned them their third Top Five pop hit in “I Love Music, Pt. 1

When we head to a family reunion, the gathering is as much about the food as it is about seeing relatives. And don’t get me started on the mac and cheese or potato salad wars I’ve seen over the years. 

Be sure to watch the Aunties confer in the video tweet below.

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The Fifth Dimension brought a soulful head to the BBQ, with Laura Nyro’s tune “Stone Soul Picnic” in 1968.

That segues nicely into Lambert, Hendricks & Ross’ “Home Cookin,’” where they sing about soul food … which is making me hungry. “Candied yams, hot biscuits, and big fat juicy hams …”

The trio were famous for their vocalese stylings. “Home Cookin’” was composed by Horace Silver.

Here’s Silver’s version:

Pianist, composer, and arranger Horace Silver is well known for his classic “Song For My Father,” which is a perfect fit for Father’s Day.  

His background influenced the sound of his music.

From his 2014 Los Angeles Times obituary

Through classic compositions such as “Song for My Father,” “Nica’s Dream” and “Señor Blues,” Silver influenced generations of musicians with a style that encompassed all his musical loves: gospel, blues, Latin rhythm. It was music that, in Silver’s words, “cooked” and “burned.” […]

Silver was born Sept. 2, 1928, in Norwalk, Conn. His father, John Tavares Silver, was an immigrant from Cape Verde, an island group off the west coast of Africa. Growing up Silver heard the folk music of his father’s homeland and black gospel music of his mother’s church. But it was listening to the Jimmie Lunceford band at a local amusement park when he was 11 years old that placed Silver squarely onto the path of music.

“When I heard that band play, I said to myself, ‘That’s for me. I want to be a musician,’ “ Silver wrote in his autobiography.

Jazz and blues vocalist Leon Thomas also recorded a vocal version, with Silver’s lyrics.  

Lyrics:

If there was ever a man
Who was generous, gracious and good
That was my dad
The man
A human being so true
He could live like a king
‘Cause he knew
The real pleasure in life
To be devoted to
And always stand by me
So I’d be unafraid and free
If there was ever a man
Who was generous, gracious and good
That was my dad
The man
A human being so true
He could live like a king
‘Cause he knew
The real pleasure in life
To be devoted to
And always stand by me
So I’d be unafraid and free
If there was ever a man
Who was generous, gracious and good
That was my dad
The man, The man

In closing, my final Father’s Day tribute is a song written about a stepfather: The Winstons “Color Him Father”  was released in 1969, and tells the story of a man who marries a widow who has seven children.

From the lyrics by Richard Davis Spencer:

Our real old man he got killed in the war
And she knows she and seven kids couldn’t of gotten very far
She said she thought that she could never love again
And then there he stood with that big wide grin
He married my mother and he took us in
And now we belong to the man with that big wide grin
I’ve got to color this man father
I’m gonna color him love
I’ve got to color him father
I believe I’ll color this man love

Enjoy the poignant visuals accompanying the song below, edited by YouTuber Rudolph M.

One of the interesting things about the band, formed in Washington, D.C., was that they were integrated—which was not the R&B norm in 1969.

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Whatever you are celebrating today, whether it’s Father’s Day, the start of summer, a family gathering, or fun in the sun, surely there’s music that accompanies it. I look forward to hearing your selections in the comments section, and thank you for spending part of this day with me.

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