Of all the pitiless opinions set down about family, it’s hard to beat this snarl by August Strindberg, a sentence which appears early in the first volume of his novelized memoir, The Son of a Servant, one of the bitterest condemnations of family ever written: “Family! thou art the home of all social evil, a charitable institution for comfortable women, an anchorage for house-fathers, and a hell for children.”
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.