I was twenty-three and had been working at WDIA for one year, as long as the station had been on the air. Unexpectedly, Bert asked me to move a little closer to him on the seat. I edged over and waited but he didn’t speak. After a long moment he whispered, just loud enough for me to hear, “What do you think of programming for Negro people?”
In 1950, Lee Hays sent his siblings the first proof of his existence they’d had in more than a decade: baby-brother Lee, all three hundred pounds of him, harmonizing his deep, dark bass voice on a recording of “Goodnight, Irene,” the No. 1 hit in the nation. Lee was thirty-six, but his voice sounded old and smooth, and at the same time hard, exposed: an oak shivered open.
The crumbling Centennial Baptist Church in Helena, Arkansas, has deep roots in the African-American community. But poverty and other concerns in this Delta town have made raising restoration funds difficult—and the effort to keep the church in black hands has sparked tensions with local preservationists.
Tara’s confession to Charlie Rich, a major country star that year, was among forty-two others I discovered in the home of a woman who produced Rich in the 1960s. Unread for nearly forty years, mixed in with yellowing newspaper clips and old drink coasters from a Las Vegas revue, they were the last known remnants of the Charlie Rich Fan Club. Variously handwritten, typed up, set on stationery and notebook paper, the stash contained the intimate pleas and declarations of fans who sought communion with the star known as “The Silver Fox.”