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15 August 2010

Ray Charles In Line-Up Of Everybody Can Be Somebody (1972)

Jet Magazine of October 1972 announced a seemingly overly ambitious event, titled Everybody Can Be Somebody, to take place on 11 October in the Waldorf Astoria Hotel - but according to this snippet, it really happened.
Rev. Leon H. Sullivan, founder and chairman of the board of the Opportunities Industrialization Centers of America Inc. (OIC), described it as a closed-circuit benefit telecast, to be featured in more than 100 cities in the U.S. The goal was to raise $1 million.
The line-up was amazing: Ray Charles, Sammy Davis, Jr., Duke Ellington, Bob Hope, Rita Moreno, James Brown, Nancy Wilson, Aretha Franklin, Leslie Uggams, B.B. King, Carroll O'Connor, Arthur Prysock, O.C. Smith, Los Bleus, and others. The show was directed by Ossie Davis, Coca Cola sponsored the costs of setting up the telecast.

The Atlanta Daily World (whose writers through the years had a direct line with Joe Adams for the latest Ray Charles stories) of October 6 and November 2, 1972 described the show as a "Production masterpiece from the Waldorf Astoria and Hollywood Palladium" - in other words a 'simulcast'. "Success for this coast-to-coast, 40 city hook-up must be credited to the highest professional competence. Joe Adams, Executive Producer and production master mind for the evening, went after the best show business knowledgeable around."
The article also mentioned Ossie Davis as the script writer, and Dick Gregory, Aaron and Freddie, Buffy St. Marie, and The Dance Theatre of Harlem as performers. President Nixon, former president Johnson and Edward Kennedy sent in special tapes. The telecast was "also geared for use as a filmed record in schools to motivate young people". In Atlanta the show could be seen at the Fox Theatre.

Hazel Garland of the Tri-State Defender of 21 October 1972 published a slightly more critical assessment of the event:
"The idea was great... the talent couldn't have been topped. But the technical quality of the film was very poor. I am speaking of the closed circuit production of 'Everybody Can Be Somebody'. Pittsburgh was one of 41 cities where the show was telecast on OIC Day, Oct. 11.
The telecast was sponsored for the benefit of the Opportunities Industrialization Centers (OIC) of America. I only wish I could have been among those gathered at the Hollywood Palladium and New York's Waldorf-Astoria. Seeing such super stars as Sammy Davis Jr, Nancy Wilson and Leslie Uggams to name just a few performing, had to be 'out of sight.'
Maybe it would have been different if the show had been presented in a small auditorium, but in a spacious place like Heinz Hall, the small screen just wasn't adequate. Now it may have been better in other cities, but here in Pittsburgh, I could hardly see or hear what was going on. The show included just about every big name star of note, as well as Billy Graham, former Vice President Hubert Humphrey, Past President Lyndon B. Johnson and the current White House occupant, Richard Nixon.
Dick Gregory drew the biggest applause. He was in rare form and got off several real 'goodies'. The restless crowd which kept moving around and talking, laughed loudly at Leslie Uggams' attempt to 'groove' while singing. One of the best bits was the singing of Ray Charles in the background while an excellent group of photographs were projected on the screen.
At the opening of the telecast, Joe Adams asked the audience to be tolerant of the production's quality and asked that any blame be placed on his shoulders. That is just where I am placing it. There was no way of knowing all of the stars that appeared. Some just came on, made a few remarks and there was no way of identifying them.
Now of course everyone, or almost everyone knows Lionel Hampton who I could hear but not the musicians backing him. The first song that Nancy Wilson sang was lost on the audience. Buffy St. Marie, Joe Frazier, Laurindo Almeida, Ann Blythe, Aaron and Freddie came over very well. The first song of Arthur Prysock was a little weak, but the second was stronger. The color gave almost everyone a green tinge and it was impossible to make out the colors in the costumes. Sid Feller conducted a 39-piece orchestra in Hollywood while Billy Taylor headed the band in New York. Gee, I hated to hear all of that good music going to waste."
I assume that nothing of the production has survived. 

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