I’d seen footage from again then, a number of instances.
4 good-looking Black males in flashy fits crooning a tune with showbiz aptitude and pleasure of their eyes.
However these shiny prints that held on the partitions and lived in our picture albums hadn’t ready me for what it might be prefer to see and listen to them in motion.
A number of years in the past, my household acquired a videotape copy of an unaired episode of the Sixties music present “Shindig!” Once I was informed what was on it, I popped it into my mother or father’s final remaining VCR and hit quick ahead. I used to be looking for the second when L.A. radio persona Jimmy O’Neill launched the subsequent act performing a brand new dance known as “Jamaica Ska” and a tune with the identical title.
“And now, right here to indicate you methods to do it are the nice Hollywood All Stars and the Shindig! Dancers!”
I watched the foursome take the stage, and my eyes instantly locked on this one cool cat singing and dancing his coronary heart out. That man, middle proper, was my dad, Robert Meeks Jr. He was 24 years previous.
Right here he was on this complete different world we’d heard about solely via his tales. Right here was this different Robert Meeks, circa 1964 — lengthy earlier than I used to be born — surging to life in grainy black and white.
I rewound the tape and performed it many times whereas my dad sat on the couch, beaming the whole time.
The Hollywood All Stars, from left: Reginald Cornell Atkins, Bruce Meeks, Robert Meeks Jr. and Louis Meeks.
This pilot episode, shot months earlier than the collection would launch its 16-month run in September 1964, featured the Righteous Brothers and a efficiency by the unparalleled Little Richard, somebody my father stated he knew again within the days when our household in Nashville would host Black entertainers.
For years, I’d been informed by my dad, relatively matter-of-factly, that his singing group had carried out on a TV present that by no means aired. However watching his wonderful efficiency actually acquired my consideration — and raised all types of questions.
I needed to doc what it should have been like for my father to be a Black entertainer within the ’50s and ’60s, striving to create and carry out throughout a time when America was being known as upon to reckon with civil rights.
At the beginning of 2020, after we began to see a gentle rise in COVID-19 circumstances within the U.S., my father was scheduled to have surgical procedure to restore a nerve that severely restricted his mobility. For an 80-year-old man, the timing of going into the hospital and having an prolonged keep in one other facility to recuperate raised issues for our household.
I used to be rattled once I considered how I’d taken our common Sunday dinners collectively as a right, that there was nonetheless a lot I didn’t find out about him. I couldn’t cease excited about the issues we not often talked about and the questions I hadn’t requested.
Luckily, his surgical procedure went effectively. I took any afternoon or night I had free to go to throughout his restoration. I began to push him for particulars about his days earlier than I used to be born. And I got here to know that preserving these tales was an crucial I couldn’t ignore.
Our visits often began like this:
“How’re you doing?”
“Doing higher, Son.”
“That’s nice! So hey, can I ask you once more about once you did reveals within the ‘50s and ‘60s?”
The group that may grow to be the Hollywood All Stars was identified by a number of different names in its early days in Nashville. For some time, “The Classics” gained traction because the 4 males carried out at a handful of neighboring Black venues within the Nineteen Fifties.
The group consisted of my uncles Bruce and Louis Meeks; my dad’s greatest buddy, Mr. Reginald Cornell Atkins; and my father, whom they known as Sonny however nicknamed “Lead.” (Dad was the lead singer along with his brother Bruce, and he was additionally the oldest of the three boys.) He additionally had different nicknames like “Brick” as a result of his, at instances, hardheaded uncompromising nature.
As a number of of my father’s associates from Nashville would attest over time, the quartet was a draw again then. And that reputation led to reveals in locations the place the audiences had been primarily white, together with spots in Nashville’s Printers Alley the place the group sang covers of songs recorded by big-time musicians corresponding to Fat Domino.
For a time, the Classics continued to play reveals on each side of the tracks, till white followers adopted them to the Black golf equipment. The crossover drew the ire of some locals, and phrase acquired again to my grandparents.
“My daddy informed us, ‘Don’t you recognize they’ll burn my rattling home down?’ ” Dad stated. “And I believe it was about six weeks after that I made a decision we had been transferring out.”
Fueled by goals and a necessity for self-preservation, my father, his brothers and his greatest buddy made their technique to California to tackle the music business.
The group settled in L.A. round 1960 and rebranded themselves because the Hollywood All Stars. Between reserving native gigs, my uncles shined sneakers on Central Avenue whereas Dad collected lease for the proprietor of a boardinghouse that catered to fellow performers. He celebrated his twenty first birthday in Los Angeles.
Then in 1964, the Hollywood All Stars had been offered with a serious alternative to spice up their publicity.
British music producer Jack Good, an ardent fan of rock ‘n’ roll, had been given the go-ahead by ABC to create a brand new tackle the music present. He’d deliberate a prime-time revue with reside performances earlier than an viewers — a format with out the interspersed interviews featured on “American Bandstand” or “The Ed Sullivan Present.”
“Shindig!” would function a number of acts nonstop for the whole half-hour.
Just lately, throughout certainly one of our household gatherings at my dad and mom’ home, we watched the Hollywood All Stars’ “Shindig!” efficiency once more.
“That’s Robert proper there,” my mom stated.
“I can’t think about you transferring like this!” stated my sister, Nalena, marveling on the efficiency on-screen. “Take a look at Mr. Atkins and Louis and Bruce!”
Dad laughed and stated, “We introduced soul!”
Their efficiency of Byron Lee and the Dragonaires’ “Jamaica Ska” went down simply the way in which they’d rehearsed it, full with some dance path from my Uncle Louis. The Hollywood All Stars and the “Shindig!” dancers gave it their all — transferring their shoulders, swinging their arms and bobbing their heads.
“Ska, Ska, Ska. Jamaica Ska! Now everyone can do the Ska. It’s the brand new dance you’ll be able to’t resist!”
From left: Reginald Cornell Atkins, Bruce Meeks, Robert Meeks Jr. and Louis Meeks carry out “Jamaica Ska” on the 1964 pilot episode of “Shindig!”
Nearly every part I’ve examine “Shindig!” emphasised the reside performances. Singer and present common Bobby Sherman as soon as informed my colleague David Wharton that “Shindig!” was the forerunner of MTV, a guide of kinds on methods to do rock ‘n’ roll on display screen.
I sped forward to see the Righteous Brothers in motion. Dad had all the time talked about that the Hollywood All Stars would open reveals for them. “We carried out collectively lots of instances,” he stated. Then it was time to look at the particular visitor act, Little Richard.
After O’Neill introduced, “Women and gentleman, probably the most electrifying entertainer on the planet…,” the digital camera minimize to the star, who was already standing and enjoying piano for an abbreviated model of his newest single, “Bama Lama Bama Lavatory.” The viewers roared within the background as Richard kicked his leg onto the piano — a fan favourite transfer.
“Properly all proper! Properly all proper!” Richard known as to the gang and it promptly yelled again.
When he launched into “Entire Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” it was as if the viewers and the background dancers stepped on a reside wire. (The identical might be stated for my relations who screamed “Wooo!” as they watched the legendary singer unleash his signature howl.)
U.Ok.-based author Peter Checksfield, who has seen each episode of “Shindig!” and wrote a e book concerning the present, stated it might have been Richard’s first U.S. tv look, including, “It was unbelievable.”
He performed furiously, his face filling the TV display screen, and other people within the viewers danced within the aisles. Little Richard had seized the room.
Then it was time for the credit to roll. “Right here we come!” Dad introduced from the sofa, as we watched the dancers, and the opposite performers, together with the Hollywood All Stars, filling the stage.
In the end, ABC elected to launch the collection with one other episode, one headlined by the Everly Brothers and Sam Cooke. Checksfield wrote that tv executives needed one thing “extra appropriate for household viewing.”
“You didn’t don’t have anything like this on no TV,” Dad stated. “I’m telling you they weren’t prepared for that but. They weren’t prepared for that scene.”
“How did you are feeling as a Black entertainer with this complete ‘Shindig!’ factor? ” my sister requested.
“I really feel like we had been breaking via for Blacks,” he stated. “That’s the way in which we felt.”
Some weeks after our household seen the episode for the second time, I requested my father whether or not he had any ideas about what the present would have meant for the Hollywood All Stars and their careers.
He answered with out hesitation.
“We had been doing an act,” Dad stated. “Jack Good stated that is what he was after for the present, and we did the job.”
Again then, Dad stated, life for entertainers moved quick. The following gig was the subsequent gig, whether or not it was a collection of school fraternity performances or quite a few appearances on the Black music circuit at spots just like the California Membership and Maverick’s Flat. “Shindig!,” because it turned out, was simply one other gig — but it surely was a gig that continues to resonate, as my dad made clear.
“That made my day, Son, bringing again a number of the previous recollections.”
“I all the time thought it was when he had probably the most enjoyable,” my sister stated about Dad’s years as a singer. “And when he might be his most genuine self.”
The Righteous Brothers had been digital regulars on “Shindig!” showing in additional than 20 episodes. The present featured many different massive names corresponding to Tina Turner, James Brown, Ray Charles and the Beatles earlier than it resulted in 1966, a sufferer of declining rankings amid competitors from reveals corresponding to “Hullabaloo,” “The place the Motion Is” and “Hollywood a Go-Go.”
A showcase for compelling storytelling from the Los Angeles Instances.
The Meeks brothers and Mr. Atkins wound down their music careers — for probably the most half — within the Nineteen Seventies, beginning households and launching companies. My Uncle Louis handed away in 1985. My Uncle Bruce, all the time stuffed with swagger however affected person when he was attempting to show me methods to tune my guitar, would proceed to carry out till his passing in 1999. Mr. Atkins, who spent lots of late nights at my dad’s dwelling bar, laughing and reminiscing, handed away in 2018.
My father, the final Hollywood All Star, continues to work on his golf swing to remain lively — and to satisfy his weekly food plan of trash speaking, promising to kick my ass on the course. These conversations make him smile — simply as he does when he’s speaking about his performing days.
I’ve discovered to understand how fortunate I’m to have these smiles and people tales.
I’ve discovered to remind myself to take no matter I’ve — pen, paper, iPhone, sound recorder — once I speak to my people about their lives and never simply hear however pay attention.
I’ve nonetheless acquired lots of work to do, and I can’t wait.