With racial division out in our urban streets, I reached out to one of my all-time black American idols to share a bit of appreciation. Click on the image above to see André De Shields perform a Fats Waller favorite.
Dear Mr De Shields,
Back in 1979, after finding a $100 on the floor of the restaurant where I worked as a busboy, I knew exactly what to do with that money.
The summer before, while visiting my grandparents in Brooklyn, I saw the TV commercials for Ain’t Misbehavin’.
Though I never saw the show in New York, when I found that $100 bill, I went right to the Aquarius Theater in Hollywood to buy as many tickets as I could afford.
The woman in the box office saw how excited I was and wound up selling me tickets to four shows – all in front row center!
I was so excited! I could hardly contain my joy!
The first three times I saw the show, I watched how you fooled someone in the front row beside me during “The Viper” song.
Each time, I watched you encourage them to step up and take a hit off that sweet-smelling reefer — only to yank it back right as the fool reached for it.
I’m sure, by the fourth time I was in attendance, you had recognized me – the same old bushy-haired kid in the front row, completely enthralled.
That fourth time, as you sang “The Viper,” you looked me square in the eye and held out the reefer for me to take.
Of course, I knew the trick, and I wasn’t about to be fooled in front of a full house.
Each time you held it out to me, each time you stepped closer, I kept waving you off, smiling, not to be fooled.
Finally, you gave me a wink, a little nod, as if to say “I know you, kid. I’ve seen you here four times. I ain’t gonna trick you.”
So, just as I stepped up to take the reefer – you snatched it away, like always!
Everyone laughed, including me, pleased in the end to have played the fool.
It’s now more than 40 years later, and I’ve been watching the show on YouTube with my 15-year-old son.
Before it’s too late, I just want to take a moment to tell you how much I appreciated you, how much I enjoyed your performance, and how much joy I still recall and carry with me four decades later.
So here’s wishing you all the best, including great health that may keep you kicking for another forty years.
Almost immediately, I received this reply:
One never knows, do one? Nuff said!
The Viper (André De Shields)