Even when times were bad, songs seasoned our days and nights

Songs made us whole. They flowed through West and South Side blocks, like rivers of milk and honey, amid the cool white spray of fire hydrants on blazing summer days. Made us feel rich, even when we had no money.

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Earth, Wind & Fire

Sun-Times Library

Time stood still.

Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Reasons” hung on a summer breeze as we bellowed the words from our souls and dreamed of life, love and making sweet memories. Having emerged from Jim Crow — still fresh from the Great Migration and still reeling from Dr. King’s assassination but standing in the dawning light of new possibilities, even amid our pain and poverty — we sang.

And we danced. And romanced. Black love. Black family. Back in a time before insanity and so much profanity. So 70s ...

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Back then, the libretto of the days of our lives was sung in Philip Bailey’s falsetto, which rose higher and sweeter than a morning bird, fluttering above a rippling blue lake against a golden sunrise. The music made us live, love, laugh, cry.

Even when times were bad, songs seasoned our days and nights, like Grandmother’s cornbread and collard greens. They composed the soundtrack of our times, chronicled life and death, struggle and breath, and the yearning souls of Black folk. Nothing compared to the songs that Earth, Wind & Fire and the Isley Brothers wrote.

And time stood still.

I can still see my uncle’s candy apple red Delta 88. See us dance and skate. Smell my Aunt Scopie’s garlic fried chicken. See adults and children alike shimmy and shake.

Back then, songs spoke to our spirits in smooth and funk-filled grooves and harmonies, in honey-laden melodies with timeless lyrics that worked like good medicine to soothe our sometimes-wearied souls as they spilled from AM radios.

Songs made us whole. They flowed through West and South Side blocks, like rivers of milk and honey, amid the cool white spray of fire hydrants on blazing summer days. Made us feel rich, even when we had no money.

For the sun shone as brightly on the Cold Coast as it did on the Gold Coast. And the scent of barbecue at a block club party in the hood — white smoke billowing from grills saturated with ribs and tips and hotdogs, burgers and corn on the cob—made ghetto life all good.

And time stood still …

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We sang: “Hearts of fire creates loves desire, Take you high and higher to the world you belong…”

We sang: “Through devotion, Blessed are the children, Praise the teacher, That brings true love to many...”

And time stood still…

No drive-bys. No crack. No carjacking. No COVID-19.

And yet, they were no-less imperfect times filled with red tape and white lies. But the music helped us just get by.

We sang: “Drifting on a memory, Ain’t no place I’d rather be, Than with you, loving you…” The Isley Brothers’ silky soulful sounds melted away our troubles—wet our palates like the White Port and Kool-Aid mix the alley winos called shake-n-bake. And Ernie Isley’s guitar serenades transported our hearts and imaginations all the way to heaven.

We sang, “I keep hearin’ footsteps, baby, In the dark, in the dark…”

We sang, “Smiles in the makin’, You gotta fight the powers that be…”

We sang, “Sometimes you can’t be with the one you love, honey, love the one you’re with.”

At their best, they were among the songs that uplifted us. That time-stamped upon our hearts and souls memories of first loves, first times, and seasons now passed. Of family no longer here. Of bid whist and ice-cold beer, of moonlit nights without trepidation or fear. Songs that filled our ghetto atmosphere with serenity and serendipity that chased away our troubled days like Earth, Wind & Fire’s “September.”

It was a Verzuz battle last Sunday between Earth, Wind & Fire and the Isley Brothers that helped me to remember. And time stood still.

Email: Author@johnwfountain.com

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.

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