Where I Was Headed, Part 1
February 12, 2017
In the previous segment, we reached the point of this blog where I mentioned the start of my own journey into music, bearing a head full of diverse songs and dreams of becoming a recording artist.
Despite this post’s title, Where I Was Headed, there are a few more details from my past I need to share. Just a few, I promise, because they are crucial to understanding how I got my start down this artistic road.
My father and mother met attending Arts High School in Newark during the mid to late 60s. She was a visual artist, a fine one. He was a musician, a trumpet player. A couple years after graduation, they were married. My father had some gigs with his own band during the early 70s, when Soul music always had a live horns section.
Then came 1972. October. The music paused.
The implicit highlight of my dad’s short career was his band opening a show for The Temptations. Good times.
I won’t go into what could’ve been had my father stayed the course, that of a traveling trumpet player and back-up singer. That’s not my story to tell.
Needless to say, I was born and raised in a musical home. Dad’s record collection was extensive and varied. It featured a broad range of genres, from Jim Croce and Cheech & Chong to Deep Purple and Queen… and everything else in between. The Hodges household was submerged in The Spinners, The Four Tops, Gladys Knight & The Pips…with a live, living room jam section from a man and his trumpet.
By the time I was three, there was a different kind of music. The sounds of a brand new baby.
Ultimately, I would become the oldest of seven children. But it was somewhere after the birth of the fourth child, dissonance struck too many chords in our home. The stereo blasting Dad’s favorite LPs behind a closed door was not an invitation to watch him play along to Baby Huey’s rendition of Change is Gonna Come. Despite how accurate that song title was.
My mother no longer had time to draw or paint. She had kids who needed her. She had a home that needed maintenance. And she had a husband who was beating her.
In 1984, I was twelve years old. Locked away in my bedroom to flee the turmoil going on. Radio turned high to drown out those wretched sounds, I escaped with music. I longed to hear Pat Benatar’s Love is a Battlefield. I would watch the video on MTV every time it aired. I cried and sang along to Time After Time by Cyndi Lauper. And I would dance in my bedroom like a maniac to anything Madonna.
But it wasn’t until I’d seen one amazing artist on MTV that I truly felt refuge. He knew me, my life, what I was going through.He understood, because he’d been where I was. He was like me, which meant I could be like him.
All I had to do was wait for the purple dawn, that purple sky promised to me. This is the song he wrote for me:
Do you know how difficult it is to locate the official video on YouTube? Or anywhere legal? If you don’t, then you didn’t know Prince. LOL!
Okay, so Prince didn’t specifically have me in mind when he wrote When Doves Cry. But I was twelve for Pete’s sake. That’s how I felt. No, truth was he gave it to me, along with a million others.
After whatever fresh hell was unleashed upon Mom on Friday nights, she got me ready Saturday mornings for my violin lessons at the Newark School of Arts.
From singing in the elementary school chorus, and playing the flute recorder, I was now excelling at playing the violin. Professionally speaking, I had a late start in classical music. Philosophically speaking…I was right on time.
Nearing the end of eighth grade, I was notified by the school admin that an application to Arts High School was submitted on my behalf. I had the grades. I had the musical talent. But I would have to choose whether to audition for vocal or instrumental music.
Unbeknownst to anyone, the stress of home life had already become too much. I’d had a nervous breakdown one evening, when a violin string snapped as I was practicing. I’d ditched my violin lessons and had returned the instrument to the Newark Board of Education. And I certainly couldn’t have auditioned with a recorder.
All I ever truly had in this world was my voice. No one could hurt it. It was safe. It was mine. And I was going to learn how to use it.
So, here was the real problem. I never really tried, but I was sure I couldn’t sing like Ms. Knight. I most certainly didn’t look like Madonna. And I seriously doubted I’d impress the judge with “Ho-tel, mo-tel, Holiday Inn”.
I had never performed solo before, and had no idea what to expect nor what was expected of me. But I knew I wanted to sing. I had to. All I had was my voice.
The day of the audition came. My mother and I walked into this large room with wooden floors that seemed to carry our footsteps out in front of us. The judge smiled and greeted us pleasantly, making me feel so at ease despite the insistent need to wipe sweat from my forehead. A beautiful black piano welcomed us at the end of the cavernous space brightened with more windows I’d ever seen in a single room. And the acoustics of our chatting voices was amazing.
I knew at that point. I would fill that room with the sound of every hope and dream I ever had of letting Prince know I heard him. I could do it too.
The judge, who was the actual chorus director at the school, stood behind the piano. He played my pitch notes and we warmed up on scales. He was pleased with what he heard. I was too. I peeked back at Mom seated on a chair, nervously smiling, that twinkle in her eye.
I faced the kind judge again as he sat and placed his fingers on the keys. He looked up at me—then asked for my audition song.
My mind blanked in a purple haze.
—End of Part Three.
I hope you enjoyed reading this article, and above all, were left inspired…possibly troubled enough to forgive those who may have hurt you in the past…but reminiscent of your own purple dawn nonetheless.
Until the next segment,