Singer notes Black history content in songs of the 1960s and ’70s

Rich Pearson learns more and more about the music he performs, especially this time of year.

When he recently sang Paul McCartney’s lyrics, “Blackbird singing in the dead of night, take these sunken eyes and learn to see; all your life, you were only waiting for this moment to be free,” he realized the song wasn’t about birds at all.

“(McCartney) was thinking about the civil rights movement at that time he wrote it; he wrote it in 1968,” Pearson said.

Pearson loves songs from the 1960s. So, as part of a Black History Month event during the East York Historical Society meeting on Jan. 31, he performed several songs from the ’60s and ’70s.

“Black history and music history are so tied together, and I am thankful of it because the music I love to play and the (rhythm and blues) influences like James Brown and Marvin Gaye,” Pearson said.

Pearson explained that all of the songs he performed have meaning for the contemporary social environment.

For example, he also performed the song “Abraham, Martin and John” by Dion. He explained the lyrics are about Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King, Jr., John F. Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy – all leaders for social change and civil rights. Pearson said the song captures the tragedy of losing those people.

Pearson also sang Marvin Gaye’s “What’s going on?” a response to the race riots of the 1970s.

“Mother, mother. There’s too many of you crying. Brother, brother, brother. There’s far too many of you dying,” Pearson sang; and later explained, “Both in the race riots that went on in Detroit and in the south at the hands of the Klan, and in Vietnam, it wasn’t just the black brothers (dying), but it was all the brothers. … I just let it address issues that were contemporary and sadly still are.”

Pearson offered other examples illustrating the relationship between Black music and Black history.

“Tap dancing wouldn’t exist if there hadn’t been slavery,” he said. “Now that doesn’t celebrate slavery; it celebrates the culture that they accidently brought with them when they brought these slaves; they didn’t realize they were bringing in a rich, sophisticated culture, the spirituality, athleticism, all of the riches of a human being is. …

“They were bringing something that is considered to be a powerful force in North America,” Pearson said.