Merle Haggard, Chyna, and Prince, all engrained memories in the minds of their fans and foes. Regardless of any flaw painted in history by the news media about either of their lives, each of them accomplished more in life than most of us ever will before the lights are dimmed and we exit the stage, with far less glory than the contestants did on American Idol who left without the prize.
AN INSPIRING EX-CON: Country Legend, Merle Ronald Haggard [April 6, 1937-April 6, 2016], knew the “Working Man’s Blues.” He began his life as a troubled youth. His “Mama Tried” to steer him right, but he still “turned twenty-one in prison [not] doing life without parole.”
In 1958 his troubles lead to him serving time at the historic San Quentin prison in California, after his convictions for burglary and an attempted escape from the county jail. He was twenty-years-young when he walked into San Quentin, a prison known for its danger and violence.
While there, he played in a prison band, and then in 1959, sat in the audience as the legendary Johnny Cash performed his legendary performance inside San Quentin. After Merle Haggard’s release and climb into the music industry, he appeared on the Johnny Cash Show and confessed his tainted past to the world. People continued to love him and his music; especially, songs like the controversial “Okie from Muskogee.” Some of my favorites were “Mama Tried” (and mine did), “Working Man Blues”; “I’m a Lonesome Fugitive”; “Branded Man,” and many others.
In 1960, two and a half-years after he began his prison sentence, he strolled through the prison gates and began working toward an amazing future. He signed his first music contract in 1962 and never slowed down enough to look back.
He blazed the trails over the next few decades, all the way to the annals of history, by becoming a truly great entertainer and songwriter. He produced thirty-eight number one hits, and performed almost 600-songs, including 250 that he wrote.
By 1977 he was elected to the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame. In 1994 he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame.
In 1972, former President of the United States and Governor of California, Ronald Reagan, granted Merle Haggard a pardon.
For a person who goes to prison, becoming a success after release is an incredible feat: the things he accomplished were an incredible feat for anyone. Merle Haggard inspired musicians and others all around the world and became the idol of many lost souls who dreamed of following his lead.
Merle Haggard set a positive example for people in many ways; especially, those who go to prison and get released. The stigma attached to a prison record that trails an ex-con was much worse when he got out of prison, than it is today, and yet, he proved a person can get out of prison and go on to become a success story.
Each person who gets out and does not return is a success story, regardless of fame and fortune.* The success of Merle Haggard was phenomenal and he deserved a lot more praise than he received.
His last appearance was on April 6, 2016, on his seventy-ninth birthday. His music may fade away as the younger country musicians roll out the hits, but the songs he wrote will forever be preserved in digital heaven.
AN IDOL DIED: On April the Seventh, the day of my birth, the show that birthed numerous talented musicians, aired its last show. American Idol gave birth to such talented entertainers as Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkston, Jennifer Hudson, Fantasia, Chris Daughtery, Jordin Sparks, Kelly Pickler, and many others.
American Idol was one of the few television shows I watched with any consistency, and now it has moved on into the vaults of digital files. For years to come, millions of loyal fans will not forget the pleasure of watching the show: the experience deeply engrained in the memories of those who enjoyed watching the birth of stars and entertainers.
On the day American Idol died, an extraordinary entertainer, musical genius and legend, performed his last show in Atlanta, Georgia, the place of my birth.
AN AMERICAN PRINCE: Prince Roger Nelson [June 7, 1958-April 21, 2016], played his final chord and flew away on the lyrics of his last song, two weeks after his last live performance (April 7, 2016, Atlanta, Georgia).
The flamboyant Price dazzled his fans and audiences with spectacular performances that included his mastery of musical instruments and the lyrics he wrote.
He wrote his first song at the age of seven and went on to become a magnificent entertainer, multi-instrumentalist, singer-songwriter, record producer, actor, film director, and an all around influential person who inspired countless others.
He wrote a lot of songs for other artists. To avoid conflicts with the oppressive Warner Brothers, who did not allow him to use his own name, he changed his name several times and wrote “Slave” on his face. I believe he stated on television that he did that because of him not owning rights to his own songs. He rushed to fulfill his contractual obligations to produce a specified number of albums. I heard him say on CNN that when he told children he couldn’t use his own name that his Mother had given him, that they couldn’t believe it. At least, he said something along those lines. He also used various other names for the same reason.
Prince sold over 100-million records worldwide, making him one of the best-selling artist of all time, and it is not over yet. His unreleased music lives on with the released hits fans have rushed to buy since his death, taking him to the top once again. Even after his death, innumerable hits will escape their resting place from inside a secret vault, hidden behind a steel door, deep inside his Paisley Park recording studio and home in Chanhassen, Minnesota.
I did not know Prince stood at five-foot-two and wore six-inch heals to make himself taller. His physical stature may have been under average, but he was an above average individual, who inspired and helped numerous others reach the stars.
Prince kept an entourage of lovely women around who often performed in his band. Three of the absolutely captivating Beauties known to be with him, were Vanity, Sheila E, and Carmen Electra. It was he who came up with the stage name for the doll who became “Carmen Electra.”
I fought tears on April 22nd as I watched an interview of CNN with Stevie Wonder, as he struggled to tell about their relationship and the influence Prince had had on his life and the lives of others. The music of Stevie Wonder and Prince, both penetrated racial boundaries and had the power to change lives.
Prince was scheduled to play at the Half-time Show for Superbowl 2007. When the rain began to fall, I believe it was a radio host who called and asked if he knew it was raining because he was wondering if he’d still perform.
“Yes, it is raining,” Prince said. “Can you make it rain harder?”
Most entertainers would have probably cancelled. Prince thrived in Purple Rain.
On April 24, 2016, Renee Montgomery of the Minnesota Linx, shared her story about Prince inviting her and the rest of her team to a party at his mansion after their win. He gave her and numerous others an experience never to be forgotten. He will never be forgotten.
He performed from 1976 until two weeks before his death. The legend of the American Prince will forever live on in the hearts of his millions fans.
Prince was born in the year Merle Haggard went to prison, both musical legends passed on to the next phase of existence within weeks of each other. Several other entertainers gave praise to both men for being an inspiration or helping them become better musicians and entertainers. Both men deserved lots of praise for accomplishing what they did during their lives. Their legacy lives on in the songs they wrote, preserved forever in history on reels of a tape, discs, or some form of electronic media.
WRESTLER, TEACHER, ENTERTAINER, ACTRESS: Joan Marie Laurer, best known as the female wrestling star, Chyna, who once held the title as the Women’s Champion of the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), fought her final round in the battle of addiction and tapped out on April 20, 2016. She was forty-five.
Originally from Rochester, New York, she moved to Florida and continued her educational pursuits. In her later years, she moved to Japan and taught English.
After her move to Florida, she graduated from the University of Tampa before she entered the World of Wrestling and became a famous person, who accomplished many things in her life.
With a muscular physique and exceptional strength, she was a force to contend with in the ring and never hesitated to challenge a competitor.
Chyna declared herself to be the “9th Wonder of the World.” Her predecessor, Andre the Giant, had already claimed to be the “8th Wonder of the World,” so she respectfully took the next spot, rather than to challenge his claim to greatness.
Chyna left the WWE in 2001 and posed for Playboy, appeared in adult and mainstream films, and reality TV shows like “The Surreal Life,” and “Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew.”
Read more about this amazing woman’s life in her autobiography, “If They Only Knew,” which made it to the New York Times best-sellers list in 2001.
Chyna was a special woman and too young to leave life to chase whatever title waits upon the other side. She no longer has to fight the demons of her addiction. I hope she left the demons behind and now rests peacefully in a safe place.
* Read my next blog about recidivism and re-entry initiatives to reduce the absurd recidivism rate in the American Criminal Justice system. Fairshake Reentry Resource Center is one program created to help ease the transition back into society for those released from prison. Visit their website at www.fairshake.net. For those incarcerated, contact them and request their well-written Reentry Package. Fairshake Reentry Resource Center, P.O. Box 63, Westby, WI 54667. For those with Corrlinks, send them an email to request the reentry information: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wayne T. Dowdy writes straight from the pen. Purchase his books and essays at StraightFromthePen.com or from your favorite online and offline booksellers. Look for UNKNOWN INNOCENCE in May 2016 ($14.95); over 400-pages of intense scenes, suspense, drama, and excitement. Warning: for Mature Audiences only, contains sex and violence. Available in paperback and eBook formats.
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