|A Magical Birthday with Patti LaBelle: July 8th, 2004 - Perugia, Italy
|| PRINTABLE VERSION
| Eighty percent of success is showing up. - Woody Allen
The Annual Umbria Jazz Festival is a heralded event in Perugia (Italy), where I am presently studying for one month. In 2003, Eric Clapton and Van Morrison performed, and this year, Alicia Keys, B.B. King, James Brown, George Clinton and the Parliament, and Angie Stone will be joining this two-week event.
But on July 8th, Patti LaBelle was scheduled to give an exclusive invitation only performance to some of Italy's wealthy, powerful, and prestigious. Especially since July 8th is my birthday, I was considerably determined to attend.
Patti LaBelle had recently performed at my school, Medgar Evers College for a scholarship fund raiser to benefit single fathers attending Medgar Evers College. I thought about contacting the manager for that event to connect me with someone who works with Labelle's shows, but something told me not to take that route and to trust an even higher power to making this dream come true. After a rough first week in Italy, my birthday arrived at a time when my personal health and diet was beginning to balance itself out. Feeling great, the native Perugians observed me singing "Ain't to Proud to Beg" to a shampoo bottle while the music poured from the waiting aisle speaker. Most smiled, while others were shocked in amazement, perhaps because they never witnessed someone doing so. I then shouted to them, "Americano" and they all laughed and understood.
Upon arrival to the Teatro Molarchi, I quickly noticed the elegant fashions and decor of Italy's elite, and felt very under-dressed with my simple slacks and collar shirt. I approached the ticket retrievers and explained to them that I am an American, a student of a school that Patti performed for, and it was my birthday. They immediately escorted me out, and I waited along the side watching the VIPs enter in. You would think that us saving them from Mussolini would give us credit for something. But the thought of giving up didn't even enter into my mind. Remembering the diligence of Tom Hank's character in Steven Spielberg's "The Terminal", I simply waited and trusted on that higher power, and the patience that forms good character.
Sure enough, an American looking gentleman walks buy, and I ask if he is American. He confirms my suspicions and I go on to tell him what I explained earlier. The kind man approached the manager of the theater house, and with a smile, the manager approached the ticket masters and a ticket was printed out, and I so happily provided it to the very ones who escorted me out.
I was shown to the topmost box seat and took pictures of Patti LaBelle entering the stage. She mispronounced Perugia, but is a fair trade since they misspelled her name on the invitations, posters, and promotions. The entire theater was hot with a room temperature of about 90 degrees Fahrenheit. There are few air conditioners in 2,000 year old Perugia, and generally aren't used. The only comfort poor Patti had were two spinning fans placed on stage, which she frequently sang to while wiping her brow.
I shouted "we love you" and hooting sounds to liven up the dead expressions of the audiences. Patti sang her old and new songs, and her voice prevailed greatly in spite of the horrendous heat. I then noticed that I wasn't alone in my support of Patti, when I spotted an American, perhaps a relative of hers near the stage. I left my seat, and found my way next to her, and now could see Patti face to face giving her my support. It was a huge gamble, but one that I wouldn't regret. Why?
While performing "Lady Marmalade", Patti asked if there were those in the audience who would like to join her. I wanted to jump and shout "yes", but wanted to be polite amongst the attended aristocracy. When two Italian women joined the stage, and a third, I couldn't hold it any longer and commenced my jumping and shouting, and then it happened, Patti chose me.
My height certainly stood out amongst the other stage guests, and Patti asked the girls first to sing their own tune and then dance to the tune of Lady Marmalade. When it came to my turn, Patti smiled and said to me, "Alright now Mr. Man, where are you from?" With a smile, I replied, "Medgar Evers College, Brooklyn, New York". Her eyes lite up and she responded, "Oh no wonder you look like you know what you're doing. OK, Brooklyn, can you sing?" "I can try" I answered, and she smiled while the tune to Lady Marmalade faded to the background. She passed me the mic, which anyone who knows me knows that that is the last thing you do.
In under a fraction of a second, I thought about every song I could think of that I knew the words to, and suddenly it came out, "I know you want to leave me...but I refuse to let you go." Patti laughed, the band smiled and accompanied my brief solo. "If I have to beg, plead for you sympathy, I don't mind because you mean that much to me..." and Patti continued with "Ain't to proud to beg...sweet darling" and I danced while she sang. The audience loved it, and I felt like the happiest man on earth. Of course, it didn't hit me yet.
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