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Ask a Negro Leaguer Column 

Week of February 16, 2006

Hey Joe: Do you consider the Rolling Stones' approximation of African-American Delta blues to be a) a cheap knockoff of the real thing, b) a flattering homage to roots music's forefathers or c) a little of both?

Johnny Lang, Blytheville, Arkansas

Quite frankly, finding a beginning to this subject was the toughest part, so I decided to narrow it down to the Super Bowl, which included the game and its halftime activities. However, I was perfectly satisfied with both. In reference to the Rolling Stones, the only sensitive thing that grasped my attention was when they were introduced by the MC as the "greatest rock group ever." But once Mick Jagger began prancing from one end of the stage to the other, I began holding my breath in hopes that he wouldn't stumble and fall while mimicking Tina Turner.

It was at this point of the MC's assessment of the group as the "greatest ever" that I decided it would take either James Brown or Little Richard to answer the question. My confusion became evident when I tried to determine whether the group was the greatest ever in record sales or natural talent. If the former, I would concede to that because of the greater audience. Talent-wise, I leave the answer to Little Richard. For many years, he has announced to the nation that Elvis Presley was never the King of Rock & Roll, neither were the Beatles nor the Rolling Stones. In short, James Brown sums it up with his record to the MC entitled "You're Talking Loud but You Ain't Saying Nothing."

Black groups have been performing long before the early '60s — during the time the Beatles first arrived in America — but mostly to black audiences. Though, when they arrived the stock of black groups gradually moved upward. Sometimes I wonder: Had it not been for Elvis, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, along with other white groups, what would have been the end result of blacks' musical lifestyle?

All in all, it took white groups to advertise the genius of black music. Aaron Neville and Aretha Franklin demonstrated a bit of this improvisation by acting as a duet to sing the national anthem at the Super Bowl. It is always honorable when one's style is emulated, especially when years back it wasn't even considered. Today, Motown is only a memory. Yesteryear, it was a treasure.

Prince Joe Henry, one of professional baseball's original "clowns," was an all-star infielder for Negro League baseball teams in Memphis, Indianapolis and Detroit throughout the 1950s. But up until the late 1940s, Prince Joe didn?t know anything about the Negro Leagues. His knowledge of organized baseball was limited to the Cardinals and Browns games he attended during his preteen years at Sportsman?s Park, accompanied by lifelong buddy Eugene "Gene" Crittendon, who could pass for white.

Perhaps Henry?s most vivid memory of those games: Upon entry, white ushers would politely escort the boys to a small section of the left-field stands reserved for "Colored." After climbing past several tiers of bleachers, they?d arrive at their stop, rows and rows behind their white counterparts.

Even at a young age, the boys were conscious of the double standard -- and determined to vent their disdain. The opportunity would arise with the urge to urinate. Rather than head for the latrine, the boys would edge their way to the front of the section and let fly. As the liquid foamed its way down the concrete steps toward the white kids, Henry and his pal would ease back and relax, politely rooting for the visiting team to beat the hell out of the Browns or the Cards.

After all, Henry and Crittendon hailed from Brooklyn, Illinois, a small, predominantly black township just east of the Mississippi River. So hospitable were the residents of Brooklyn that they were known to take in a rank stranger, treat him to breakfast, lunch, supper and a night out on the town -- and afterward, if he messed up, treat him to a good ass-whippin'.

Direct questions on any and all topics to If we don't like yours, we'll hit Joe with our own.

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