Editor’s Note: The following is an op-ed piece from 1950s rock ‘n’ roll / R&B pioneer Lloyd Price (“Lawdy Miss Clawdy,” “Personality,” “Stagger Lee”).
Ever since I was a child, I’ve been looking over my shoulder, fearful of the police, worried something bad would happen to me. The reason is I am Black.
Now I’m an octogenarian but I’m still on the alert. Even though I’m a celebrity and in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, that doesn’t protect me from worry.
I delight that Black Lives Matter has become a movement. It’s time. It’s all about respect and dignity and this country has a lot to answer for. When you think about over 300 years of slavery — human beings taken from their homes and treated as animals or chattel — it’s mind-boggling, as bad as any massive crime ever. Yes, we’ve been freed, but not really as one adds up all the economic, social, cultural and business injustices that have occurred to this day. There is a long way to go.
I’ve always had a smile on my face as I’ve gone through life. I’ve loved being an entertainer, having “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” be recognized as the first smash rock and roll record. It made me famous. Then there were “Stagger Lee” and “Personality,” both chart-busters. I’ve made thousands of personal appearances; I’ve always done my best to please. But underneath my affable exterior is a man who is seething. I’m angry and I’m allowed to be. I’ve been slighted, called the n-word, discriminated against my whole life. I couldn’t stay in certain hotels, had to perform by going through the back entrance of establishments, couldn’t eat in certain restaurants. You know the story, and it’s what happened to all of us.
It’s so stupid, this business about color making any sort of difference. I’m just like you — I love, I cry, I live life to the fullest, doing my best, trying to make people happy. All I’ve ever wanted was an even shake, but it hasn’t been easy along the way.
I had a very successful nightclub, The Turntable, in midtown Manhattan in the 1960s. Big stars would perform. Then my partner, Harold Logan, and I began to get threatening calls with the message, “We don’t want your people here.” We continued notwithstanding, planning to open other clubs across the US. That was until my partner was shot in the back of his head, a crime never solved. The business folded.
Life went on. I’ve had a good life and made a good living, but it would have been so much better without the racism that permeates society. When Mr. Obama was elected, attitudes changed. People of all colors realized they could make it in society. There was hope. We need that spirit, that vibe again.
Black Lives Matter is about people being mad as hell who are not going to take it anymore. It looks like good change is on the way. I have hope.
But I’ll always remember how I was treated in my little town outside of New Orleans when I was a child scraping for nickels, how I was treated by cops who stopped me because I drove a Cadillac, how some in the Army where I served viewed me with scorn.
Times are better. They need to get a lot better. Do your part.
I’ll be looking over my shoulder.