Saturday, October 18, 2003

Struck gold... !

Ran across this among old papers, and it speaks of an event that rushes back in the reading of it. There was a comic side that I'll tell you about, too. It's a press release:

April 6, 1971
Public Information Office
Sacramento City College
3835 Freeport Boulevard
Sacramento, California 94822
Phone: 449-7442, Distr. A,B,C,O
Lawrence Benke

Betty Reid, singer and poet, will make her second appearance at Sacramento City College this school year. The dialogue concert is scheduled for April 17, 1971, at 8:00 p.m. in the College Center.

Miss Reid recently recorded the soundtrack for a film by Charles Peterson entitled, "The Farallon Light."* The songs used are original compositions by Miss Reid. The film is a documentary on the environment.

Peterson is a former TV producer who worked with Lee Mendelsohn, producer of the Charlie Brown specials.

Betty also write lyrics and music for the theme song for a new recruiting film produced by Blacksides, Inc.,* for the United States department of Health, Education and Welfare. The film called "Code Blue" will be used to recruit young blacks and Chicanos into careers in medicine.

Mother of four, she resides in Walnut Creek, has appeared in concert in San Francisco with Pete Seeger and Malvina Reynolds. Her last appearance in Sacramento was at City College in December of 1970, and was hailed a complete success by college officials.

I cudda binna contendah!

Remember that night well, but not for obvious reasons.

At the time I was having a struggle with whether or not to seek a career in music. Had attracted a lot of attention for my work at that time, and there were many offers out there tempting me. But, remember, I had three kids and a shaky marriage at home -- one of whom had reached those troubled teens and my youngest who was mentally disabled. These occasional opportunities to share my work served to keep me whole, and to provide enough ego satisfaction to keep me writing. Performing never was as fulfilling as the creative process, itself. That was more like ashes than embers.

On that first appearance in December of the year before, I'd appeared with Ric Masten and another friend (forgive me for losing her name), but this time I had been asked to return as a soloist. Frightening thought, that. But a trick I'd learned was to take along some costume to wrap myself in, comb my hair and apply make up in a kind of "getting into the character who could DO this" mode. It meant that I could leave "Betty" in the dressing room, and emerge as "singer."

I recall now that when I'd done my set in December, I'd asked the audience to please let me sing through all of my pieces without interruption, "no applause, please, because it serves as a constant reminder that they were there. I do best when I can imagine that I'm singing to myself and letting you listen. The spotlights make that possible." They'd been wonderful.

Now, during the intervening months (and the good reviews) before this solo concert, I'd become far more confident. You need to be aware of that. Felt far more deserving of the accolades, I suppose.

You can imagine how I crashed at the end of the first few numbers when everyone sat firmly on their hands -- in total silence ... Figured that I'd totally bombed!

When (at the end of the first set) I stopped to ask why no one was responding to me I learned that -- while I was in the dressing room preparing to go on -- the emcee announced to the crowd that this was a sensitive artist who would much prefer not to be interrupted ...".

What was not taken into consideration was that the important thing here was not that I needed silence, but that what I did need was to set my own conditions for performing. The important thing was the interaction, not the outcome. That first audience and I had an agreement, and it was what I needed at that time. The emcee had taken away my ability to make my contract with these listeners, and it was a disaster.

Then the magic happened. I took the time to explain what was happening and we all had a good laugh that resulted in a new contract that allowed me to quite openly accept their appreciation. The applause was tremendous, and I learned an important lesson. Maybe we all did.

*1. Farallon Light was a filmed documentary created for the occasion of the scheduled removal of the last beacon light from the island sanctuary. The had been maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard over many decades, but was being replaced by the Audubon Society sentry. The year it was released it won the Toronto Film Festival, took second at Atlanta, and placed at San Francisco's. It won first placed for Charles Peterson, as his masters thesis at the University 9of San Francisco. But that's another story.
*2. Blacksides, Inc., is the production company that later created the Eyes on the Prize and many other fine series for PBS. It was headed by my friend, Henry Hampton, of Boston.