Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Chuck Barris, The Legend, The Myth, and a Few Versions of the Truth According to Chuck

When the news came that the iconic entertainment jack-of-all-trades Chuck Barris had died on Tuesday, March 21, the first thing I thought of was not “The Gong Show,” but instead the Freddie Cannon hit, “Palisades Park.” It’s less well known that the Prince of Silly TV (my name for him) actually wrote the 1962 hit. It was “just one of those things” that showed Barris had real talent, even if he constantly played a buffoon as the host of “The Gong Show” for several seasons.

Palisades Park, the amusement park is famous outside its home state, mostly due to WABC DJ, Bruce Morrow’s “Star Spectaculars,” featuring entertainers like Frankie Avalon, Tony Orlando, The Sentimentals, and of course Freddy “Boom Boom” Cannon performing there in 1960s weekends. Morrow is better known as “Cousin Brucie,” as he still plays his role today on SiriusXM 60s on 6, and hosts live broadcasts from time to time at Palisades Park in New Jersey. Back in the day, admission there was only $.30; time has changed that!

Chuck Barris Productions began as a series of launching (at the time) slightly racy game shows in 1965, the first being “The Dating Game” featuring favorite host, Jim Lange.” Everyone remembers the horn-heavy popular tv theme:

And then Lange would introduce the three bachelors or bachelorettes hidden away from the contestant, whose job was to quiz them to select a potential date. Many popular celebrities of the day appeared as contestants but they weren’t under any obligation to actually keep the dates that were made. A Barris special caveat, no doubt.

That show was so popular that Barris then launched “The Newlywed Show,” with the ever-smiling host Bob Eubanks.

Newly married couples were quizzed on how well they knew each other, and when they didn’t get the answers right….that’s when the fun began.

Ultimately, though, it would be “The Gong Show” that brought Chuck to the forefront of audiences’ attention. He was constantly laughing on camera; he’d laugh at his own jokes, and the show was essentially a farce created by Canadian producer Chris Bearde, who was also known as the co-producer of “The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour” with Allen Blye. The only reason to mention that is that “The Unknown Comic” of “The Gong Show” was Murray Langston, who was also a popular regular on “The Sonny & Cher Comedy Hour.” Every time he came on, Murray put a brown paper bag over his head, came out to do a few bad jokes, and he never missed the chance to insult Chuck. To Chuck's delight, Murray reprised the role many times over the life of the show.

On “The Gong Show,” America also fell in love with people who would have otherwise been considered “forgotten talents,” including Jaye P. Morgan, Jamie Farr, Arte Johnson, and Rip Taylor among those who could judge the talent (limited as the contestants typically were) and put the audience out of their collective misery by hitting the gong. People loved the parody aspect, they loved to watch Chuck (or “Chucky Baby” as he was nicknamed) crack up at his own creations week after week. They loved Gene Patton, aka "Gene, Gene the Dancing Machine," as he took every opportunity to dance whenever he heard "his" theme song, "Jumpin' at the Woodside." And, he had everyone dancing with him, including Chuck. In real life, Patton was a stagehand at NBC, but when he danced, everyone thought that dancing was his full-time job.

Here are some snippets of their 400th episode, where Chuck said, “And they said it wouldn’t last!” It did.

In rewatching “The Gong Show,” all the favorite things he’d say came back, “We’ll be right back after a lot of 'stuff'” and various other signature catch phrases. But the more I watched him laugh, crinkle his eyes, and throw his head back and smile, it seems almost exactly like Matt Czuchry used to as he portrayed Logan Huntzberger on “Gilmore Girls.” That could be Gilmore overload talking, though.

Chuck Barris lied to get his first job at NBC, a page, if memory serves correctly. He schmoozed his way through a lot of his career, ultimately working as an assistant to Dick Clark, but he was crazy like a fox as he managed to rise in an industry that surely would never have welcomed him in the first place. Truth was not always a necessity in Chuck’s world…in his biography he claimed he’d once worked for the CIA, as an assassin, per his biography “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,” and the Biography channel collective. The CIA disavows all knowledge of that being correct of course, and then again, accuracy is in the eye of the beholder.

“Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,” both Barris’ autobiography and the 2002 movie based on the book may or may not contain the truth, but it was always “Barris’ version of the truth” that audiences saw and enjoyed on TV. That, and probably George Clooney’s directing the movie starring Sam Rockwell (as Barris), Drew Barrymore, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Cera (as a young Chuck Barris), and even Jaye P. Morgan and Dick Clark played themselves.

Here’s an interview from 2007 where he answered a few questions about the shows he created:

Chuck created an image far larger than life, and yet his personal life contained sufficient tragedy. Ultimately, he wrote a book, “Della: A Memoir of My Daughter,” in remembrance of the daughter he lost far too soon, a victim ultimately of drugs and alcohol, fueled by a trust fund she received from Chuck when she turned 16. She defiantly had decided to move out, but Chuck agreed and then provided her means to live on. Ultimately, it ended tragically.

Chuck was actually a prolific writer, given his 1974 book "You and Me, Babe," "1984's "Confessions of a Dangerous Mind," "Bad Grass Never Dies" (2003), "The Big Question" (2007, "Who Killed Art Deco" (2009), and "Della, A Memoir of My Daughter" (2010).

Music gave him a start, television fueled his success, and writing gave him an outlet for his overly creative expression. And who knows, maybe he was a CIA assassin. Or not. It doesn't matter.

Looking back over the body of work Chuck created in his career, we have much to be grateful for and much to laugh about.

Thanks for the hours of entertainment, Chucky Baby, and most of all, thanks for “Palisades Park.”

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Gardner Osborn -- Deep Spirit, Abiding Faith

Rediscovered Treasure...Found some of my favorite "Blast from the Past" profile stories, this one from Bubba Moore's TV Facts Magazine, the week of April 25 - May 1, 2004. Bubba was fighting health challenges and he graciously allowed me to write his columns on whatever I wanted to write about, and Mike Newton served as Editor and designed all the layout. Their only instruction to me was to write about anything that was good news locally. Remember Bubba's motto: "It's good news!" The original images are shared here, but I retyped the story for legibility. Hope you enjoy. DLW

[Ed. Note: Cover Photo Legend: This week our story focuses on the founder of the Prenatal Clinic and the men and women who have helped make it the vital resource for women and children that it is today. Read and be amazed at the misconceptions you probably have about this most necessary medical service, beginning on page 3. Photos by Dawn Lee Wakefield. (Right) Gardner Osborn: Mother of the Prenatal Clinic (photo by Beth Price).]

Gardner Osborn -- Deep Spirit, Abiding Faith

What is it that keeps Gardner Osborn going? That's a pretty fair question to ask, given her recent bout with critical illness. Just seven short weeks ago, Gardner was on prayer lists around town and frankly, few expected her to live.

Those who hoped for her recovery were cautious: they never expected her to bounce back. Thanks to prayers and good medical care, however, she is the vital, dynamic do-gooder sailing into April, 20014, a renewed vision of her exuberant self. Not only did she come back, she's so youthful and vital that it's understandable why some of her fellow parishioners at downtown's St. Andrew's Episcopal Church named her "Lazarita."

She's back and she's busy, preparing to attend a luncheon next Saturday that wouldn't even be occurring, were it not for Gardner and the help of some great colleagues. What's the story behind this dynamo? How does one person grasp a problem and envision a solution, and then rally key leaders to support the cause?

The first thing Gardner will tell you is that "one person never does anything by himself." She means this spiritually and otherwise. Beneath her direct, straight-shooting executive nature, you explore to discover the soft heart of this warrior for women.Then you find her deep religious commitment and hence her motivation and approach to life. It all started as a young age.

Daddy's Little Girl

When young Gardner Golston was growing up in Tyler, she studied carefully how her daddy problem-solved obstacles in his path. Spotting a shortage of party ice to be had on vacation in rural Alamosa, Colorado, her dad simply decided to start a water purification plant, so they could have ice, and a booming business ensued. Saw the need, fixed the problem.

Next, Dad has his favorite brands of groceries, but no stores there carried them, so he built a large supermarket in Colorado and stocked them. That business venture did well! Saw it. Fixed it. Then, he loved lettuce, but you couldn't get fresh lettuce in Arizona, where they spent the winter. You guessed it.

He was the first man to build a commercial vacuum packer for lettuce, and he hauled it on an 19-wheeler all the way to Arizona and had his salads in winter. Getting the picture? Young Gardner grew up never knowing a problem; rather she learned how to troubleshoot towards solutions. That, and never to take "no" for an answer.

The Beginning of The Prenatal Clinic

And so it was in 1985 when Gardner Osborn went to a rather nondescript meeting of the Episcopal Church Women's (ECW) group, and they were there discussing some potential project or other than bored her. Her mind wandered,and she wrestled with what is it in this town where the ECW could "really" make a difference?

At that annual ECW meeting, her subconscious dwelled on one factoid causing her great distress: Brazos County led the nation in perinatal deaths. The perinatal period covers five months before a child is born, and the first month after birth. Most women are familiar with this term. Most men aren't. Truth is, almost two decades ago, we in the Brazos Valley were leaders in poverty. In 1985 you had 30-40 mothers per month going into delivery who'd never had any prenatal care.

You've Got to Have Friends

Gardner then felt moved to action, and she started calling her friends. One of the first people she called was Anne Hazen, a nurse who shared the vision to establish a clinic where low-income pregnant women could come in, early in their pregnancy, and begin a program of prenatal care. Then, there was the call to the ebullient Topaz Hughes, someone she knew as a "mover and shaker." She got on board quickly.

Friend Margaret Ann Zipp publicized the first meeting calling for "anyone who was interested" and 15 people showed up. Gardner and Anne went all over Waco, Temple, Georgetown, and Houston's 5th Ward, exploring what was there as a pattern for what could be. The idea was taking shape.

Next, Gardner called Sr. Gretchen Kunz of St. Joseph Regional Health Center (as it was known then), and she readily donated a room at the hospital's property for $1/year on Osler Blvd. to serve as the first prenatal clinic site. There were two exam rooms, one tiny closetlike office, a small waiting room, and one community bathroom stall. They brought lawn chairs from home to place in the clinic's waiting room.

The local county health department really wasn't in tune with the idea yet. Undaunted, Gardner found a new path, as her daddy would have. She was determined to rub out that infant death statistic. She found a way. Although they didn't know it then, as a pretty good golfer. Gardner found a way to manage her tee times to coincide with those of a few key county officials...and they just thought it was by accident that they ran into her. Eventually, finally, the county offered a small stipend of support. Victory!

Every time state legislator Lan Bentsen needed a ride to the airport, guess who drove him, and then gave him an earful about how we needed help here? Bentsen really carried the flag for prenatal health funding here. Gardner drove the golf balls and the state legislative see the need as her spirit saw the need. And as she was being relentless, for unborn infants and their mothers, who in their right mind could say no? Few did! Or if they said "no," they learned to change their answers.

A few local men were also key to securing excellent funding. Steve Ogden helped tremendously--state health care block grants and funding came our way with his help. Sr. Gretchen and St. Joseph were solid supporters. And Dr. Jesse Parr, Dr. David Doss, and board member Mark Bates, Gardner notes, were dynamic young doctors who saw the need and shared the vision and made the clinic a medical reality.

Who Goes There?

Chances are good you have never met a client of The Prenatal Clinic. But last year, over 700 women were patients of the clinic, and what a difference. It's hard to imagine that children from the clinic's first patients are about to graduate from high school. They very well might not be here if it were not for caring community volunteers like Gardner Osborn and her friends. It's so easy to not think about it, to take it for granted that every pregnant woman we know and care about has access to a good doctor, sonograms, medicines, and knowledge of what to eat and what not to eat or drink while pregnant. But, truth is, the need is stronger than ever. People are now coming here from outside our local area, because they need the services this clinic provides for prenatal care.

Today, the clinic has an outstanding executive director, Steve Koran, and he oversees as the community sponsors and support grows each year. Located next to the Brazos Transit bus terminal, the clinic's clients are able to get referrals to receive help with health, education, and financial assistance programs for which they qualify. There's also a "Baby Closet" for clothing and other items, WIC coupons, and various church women's groups hold Bible studies, and they throw baby showers instead of birthday parties for one another, and the gifts, then, are for the clinic's clients. How refreshing!

Gardner says, "The best news is that 85% of the women return after giving birth to go shopping in the Baby Closet. It's a family atmosphere where they can receive a great start, and excellent care from a nurse practitioner."

She also notes that it's easy to confuse the Prenatal Clinic with other groups with the word "clinic" in their name. She specifies that "all our mothers are low-income women, and very few of the women are in their teens," so that should clear up a few of the misconceptions and confusion. Mothers and babies, it's about the mothers and the babies.

The Gospel According to Matthew (and Gardner)

Matthew 25:33 -- "For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me something to eat. I was a stranger and you invited me in. I needed clothes and you clothed me. I was sick and you looked after me. I was in prison and you came to visit me." And 25:40: "Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me."

This dynamic Episcopalian disciple of the gospel according to Matthew has lived this for many years, and she's a modest, humble servant of the scripture, which she serves as best she knows how--head-on and full speed ahead.

Gardner Osborn, a mother whose own five children had grown and left the next, searched her heart and listened to an inner voice for inspiration at a church meeting. Today, we drive down Texas Avenue and see a place where newborn lives are saved, where mothers will cherish the reality of holding their healthy infant sons and daughters in their arms. All this because one woman searched her heart, remembered the teachings of the Book of matthew, and recalled the lessons she learned at her daddy's knee. She made a difference.

Outstanding Women Honored at Annual Fundraiser

This year's "You're the Tops" Luncheon is the 10th annual celebration of women in our community whose volunteering and devotion to civic progress spans organizations that benefit education, children, arts, music, churches, and synagogues. Ten women are to be feted at the luncheon at the College Station Hilton, Saturday, April 24th, with proceeds going to the Prenatal Clinic.

The honorees include Jean Benavides, Mary Broussard, Winnie Garner, Linda Gilbert, Rhonda Kogut, Mary Boone Oxley, Ruth Samson, Brenda Sims, Netta Jackson Simek, Doris Watson, Wanda Watson, and Penny Zent. Each of these ladies is worth of distinction, yet each would tell you that the spotlight should be on the Prenatal Clinic, an organization that makes it possible to provide health care to more than 700 low-income women each year from the Brazos Valley, and now, outside the valley.

It is because of Gardner Osborn, as Steve Koran says, the "Mother of the Prenatal Clinic," and her dear friends that we have a clinic, that we have the privilege of knowing the mothers of 25% of the babies born right here in Brazos County receive care through the Prenatal Clinic. Their statistics are solid. "In the past two years, only 15 mothers delivered without prenatal care, compared to 75 mothers in 1987." Men and women together saving lives, because of the vision and determination of women making a difference.

One more photo from that issue: Caption: "Dynamic Ruth Clearfield, pictured with husband, Dr. Abraham Clearfield, and good friends at her table, is one of the shining stars of the silver screen of Hospice. From the beginning of the Hospice Fundraisers, you'll always find Ruth and Abe's names listed among the top donors. This year they were Golden Globe level supporters!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Writer Thomas Bähler and Fabulist Aesop Prove "Anything Is Possible" a Powerful Philosophy for Joy

The path to discovering the best book I’ve read in a decade has its own story, but the bottom line is: “Anything Is Possible: A Tale of Aesop” by Thomas Bähler (Æsop Production Company, 2013) is one that belongs in your library if you seek to shake up status quo and change your life. This book can help you change your perspective, using a brilliant teaching method that was taught to Bähler as a child by his father and his grandmother before him. More on how well that turned out later.

“I wish I could”…”I was going to be”….”I never had the chance to”….”Other people get all the breaks”… “I’ll never be able to...” Are any of these phrases part of what you’ve said to yourself as part of either wistful thinking or negative self-talk to reinforce why you are stuck in a rut, wallowing in mediocrity or are a shell-shocked survivor of shattered dreams?

Do you want to make a change? There’s only one thing you have to do. Believe that anything is possible and reframe your thinking to expect that there are no limits to what you can do in life. The book serves one purpose: to inspire and encourage you that there are no limits to your imagination.

Thomas Bähler proves a faithful guide to showing you the way, but he doesn’t do it for you, You must take his hand he offers, walk the path of Aesop, understand and participate in the Socratic method of asking and answering questions, and the outcome is you’ve made your own analyses, decisions, and created your own future by believing one tenet: “Anything is Possible.”

Young children about the age we meet Aesop are already active dreamers and creators and designers. What some children see when they look at the world is what “can be.” Adults may view a child’s drawing at face value, but ask them to explain what they “see” in what they’ve drawn.

If you listen to an adult who says, “You can’t do that. You’re too young. You don’t know. Instead, it’s an ingenious combination of taking a beloved children’s character, Aesop the Fabulist, and following a path the author created to chronicle his life, beginning with the premise “I wonder what kind of life Aesop had growing up as a slave and ending up as the most respected critical thinker in the world in his time.”

Young Thomas Bähler was gifted with an inquisitive nature to begin with—not unlike our book’s protagonist, Aesop. His first exposure to Aesop’s fables was when his father brought home a record of “The Tortoise and the Hare” for young Thomas. That was a start. In terms of Aesop, it was likely far more on a subconscious level that the Greek fabulist made his impression in the concept of critical thinking through puzzles and riddles.

And yet, it would not be until adulthood that the fullness of education provided by considering the path of Aesop would overtake Thomas Bähler’s life. Now at this point, Thomas was a very successful musician, singer, songwriter, producer, and overall creative who had been in demand throughout Los Angeles studio music circles for many years. Anything he tried came out well. That’s another book “What You Want Wants You,” but its genesis began with “Anything is Possible.”

Aesop was born a slave about 620 BC. He was raised by his mother, also a slave, and her attitude, while she lived, was almost identical to Lillian Bähler’s. When an authority figure takes an interest in you, inspires you by overcoming all obstacles to succeed, undergirded by faith in “anything is possible,” the opportunities that others might never see take on lives of their own and present themselves in such a way that you are presented with challenges and you must develop the solutions.

Taking that premise a step further, Thomas Bähler traces the rise of young Aesop from slave to adulthood by asking himself one question…”What if?” and it’s brother “I wonder what it was like for Aesop growing up.” The result is this fantastic book “Anything is Possible.” What you will find inside is truly…up to you entirely. You can read the words, know how to pronounce the names, search for quick answers and spend a few hours entertained and that’s a win.

Or, you can read the words, see the characters brought to life as Thomas’ writing makes entirely possible, and travel the roads with Aesop and Thomas as they journey through life. You will know 21st-century real-life people to match every characteristic of those in the book: Dione, Croesus, Danae, Helena, Hyksos, Theseus and others.

You’ll find yourself identifying with those characters so closely that you begin to see their faces as the faces of the people you know. You’ll visit and re-visit how you encountered these people in your own life, and study why it is that you reacted the way you did, and more importantly, how you can handle these situations better in the future. The journey is the answer. Aesop’s journey is the answer. Thomas Bähler is your guide and most amiable narrator, and new friend.

How you use what you see, among the questions and answers in the book -- through the eyes of optimistic possibility or through the shouts and yells of naysayers -- will determine how you can reach the highest potential of your life, or whether you remember stable and comfortable in the land of status quo. The book is not a how-to manual nor does it provide specific steps to success. However, what it does do, if you will follow the story provided and stay with the journey until the very end, is to imbue you with the clarity to see your dreams as real, as possible. Once you do, you will be entirely surprised with what happens next.

Get the book. Get the book. Get the book. But only if you want to achieve your dreams—if you dream it, you can do it. “Anything is Possible” is honest, insightful, and perfectly splendid. It truly is a pathway to joy.

Do yourself a favor: get your own copy. Click here to order. This review, written originally for, is also found at Bähler's Symphony of Words Inspires Brainstorming, Visioning, and Creative Dreaming

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Ruthie Foster and Her Phenomenal Musical Talent

If you didn’t know where to look, you might have missed out on native Texan Ruthie Foster giving what was unequivocally the best show in Texas on Friday, March 3, 2017. Nestled in a warm and welcoming listening space that doubles as a church on Sundays, Main Street Crossing, in Tomball, Texas, the audience saw the roof raised and doors blown off by the electric-acoustic-dynamic rhythm as Foster and percussionist Samantha Banks held forth for 105 minutes that flew by far too soon. Theme for the evening was sharing love, faith, affirmations and the promise of good things to come.

For those who are newer to Ruthie’s music, the woman you see on stage—a phenomenal woman by the book of, and with the affirmation of, Dr. Maya Angelou herself—is today ever as humble, joyful, and talented as she was in 1998, when she was playing locally in Bryan-College Station at night while she ran camera and produced the early morning show at local CBS affiliate, KBTX-TV3.

When she started performing locally, everyone knew Ruthie had major talent and belonged in front of national audiences, but circumstances held her back for many years. Ruthie’s priorities of family and loyalties to friends have always come before fame or fortune all her life.

As a child Ruthie’s heart centered around the small town of Gause, Texas, which is located 11 miles from Hearne and 30 miles from Bryan-College Station. Many songs she sings on stage today were written in honor and in memory of her grandmother (Big Mama), a woman of great faith who was one of the “sisters who arrived thirty minutes before church started so they wouldn’t be late.” Friday night, as always, Ruthie’s song setups are simply conversations as though she were sitting across from the kitchen table with you, reminiscing, laughing, and wistfully looking into the distance at times, as you knew she could see the faces and hear the voices of loved ones in days gone by.

Ruthie’s powerful voice is natural, not forced, and she recalls the words of her mother, who always told her to “Sing, open your mouth and sing!” but her control of her instrument is what’s the most impressive factor to her singing. As a young woman, she took a break from studying audio engineering and music in college to join the U.S. Navy. Naturally, her musical talent was discovered and she toured with the U.S. Navy band, “Pride.” That was one way to “see the world,” for certain, even if it was on a tour bus. That would foreshadow her future in a way she could never imagine back then.

The talented young woman quickly secured a recording contract with a major label in New York City. And, she was on her way to achieving her dreams….when her mother became ill in 1993. Ruthie never gave it a second thought. She abandoned the dream and put life on hold temporarily where she and a great friend would provide tender love and care for her mother in her final days. Ruthie got a job with local KBTX-TV as camera operator and production assistant. Those early morning show hours were grueling but she had a lot of time to be with her mother, who died in 1996.

Then she had new life choices to make. Where to turn? Ruthie speaks of faith often but rarely her personal journey as it’s a personal thing to her. Much of her faith comes through in her songs, and the wisdom of her mother as well. “The secret of life is knowing when to compromise,” Ruthie’s mother often told her. There’s a song in that, she thought. She was right.

Her 2002 album “Runaway Soul” is a collaborative with the highly regarded Grammy-winner, Lloyd Maines as producer. Before she sang the title track, Ruthie modestly related what a privilege it had been to work with him early in her career. He had a great track record for excellence and he’d had tremendous success with the work of Terri Hendrix, his ongoing longtime music collaborator. Hendrix’s song, “Hole in My Pocket” is one made famous by both Terri and by Ruthie, and Foster often performs it in concert, at least when she’s in Texas.

Ruthie said, “When I got the master of “Runaway Soul” from Lloyd, I listened to it and I was astounded. I called him and asked, “When did you hire all those musicians to play the other instruments?” She knew they didn’t have a budget for that. His response was, “Oh, I just played them all myself.”

Ruthie laughed as she said, “That’s the kind of man he is; he knew we needed them and he just…recorded them all himself.” Her regard for those who knew her early in life, and in work, never wavers…that’s part of the beauty of Ruthie’s career path. She built a following that has staying power.

"Small Town Blues" is another song from Foster's 2007 album, "Full Circle" that she plays to help everyone remember "their early Ruthie" concert years.

In fact, you’ll find wherever Ruthie has found inspiration to write her songs, to record her songs, and to release her new CDs, a crowd appears. It may not be the same people each time, but anytime you are fortunate enough to see her in concert, she’s the same person you saw when you saw her the first time.

One example of her ability to recreate her original songs without change is in “Another Rain Song,” which she sang Friday night. Here’s a snippet of the song. Whether 1997 or 2017, it does not matter how long, Ruthie’s songs stand true today as yesterday as autobiographical of the passage of time.

Her voice remains unaffected by the legends she joins in concert. She has her own internal compass and knows how to navigate the waters, and she’s been honored and awarded so many times that stranger would be overwhelmed to know just how special she’s considered to be by the power players. She doesn’t say it in concert, but she’s a multiple Grammy Award Nominee (Best Blues Album)—first time was in 2010 for “The Truth According to Ruthie Foster” and in 2012 for “Let it Burn,” and in 2014 for “Promise of a Brand New Day,” but she fails to bring that up in conversation. Ruthie has also been awarded the Koko Taylor Award for Traditional Blues Female Artist of the year in 2016 as she had in 2013, 2012, and 2011, but she didn’t bring it up that night either.

Instead, she talked ever so briefly about playing the Bugle Boy in LaGrange on Saturday night and then on Sunday she would be going to New York. There was a concert she was asked to participate in, she said—an Aretha Franklin Tribute Concert. Humbly, she described her delight on being invited to participate.

Ruthie laughed and said, “Monday night, I’m going to be taking as many selfies as I can before they come and pull me away for taking too many selfies. It’s going to be on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, wherever.” That’s where her heart is—not for a minute is she considering herself one of the crowd chosen to honor Miss Franklin.

Instead of focusing on her awards, she mentioned she’d come to performing by an unusual path. With frankness and courage, Ruthie explained how speech was sometimes difficult for her. Recognizing her little one was very shy, Big Mama, her hero, stepped in to help.

“Every Saturday, for hours during the day, and then in the afternoon Big Mama would give me a poem to practice to say the next day in church. And we’d work on it all afternoon. Then on Sunday, I’d get up and say what I was supposed to say in front of the entire church. And that….is how I came to be at home in front of large crowds. She took her time with me.” Shyness, overcome; courage, infused.

The Main Street Crossing is in fact a church, a nonprofit that doubles as a church on Sunday and as an inviting music venue for all genres of music. Future artists include Michael Martin Murphy, Larry Gatlin, Mike Zito, Mark Chestnutt, (Aggie) Roger Creager and that’s just part of what’s happening in March. Marcia Ball, a conversation with Roy Clark, the Hit Men, Suzy Bogguss, in April; The Bellamy Brothers and Bonnie Bishop, Gary Morris and Johnny Rodriguez are due in May. June is Gary Lewis and the Playboys and two nights of Mickey Gilley. Tribute bands are a popular weekend booking as well.

Before Friday night’s concert, the family-style seating at tables (150 seats were filled Friday night) invited conversation and Texas hospitality demanded it. At our table, two people said they’d seen Ruthie several times in the past few years—just loved her. My music-loving friend and fellow writer, Rhonda Brinkmann (“There’s music? Let’s go!”) and I just smiled. The lady across from us said she this was going to be her first Ruthie concert. We smiled again.

The man across from us, the newbie’s date, smiled knowingly and said he’d listened to her latest CD all the way over in the car from his drive. Mm-hmm. Yes, you did. If there was a competition, and there seemed to be one brewing, for who’d been a fan of Ruthie’s the longest, it wasn’t going to be any of them (or me) who won it.

What I knew, that they didn’t, was that Rhonda and her friends used to work at a company in town that, in the 1980s, was also where Ruthie’s brother worked. Naturally, he got folks from work to come out and hear his sister play guitar—she was “really good” her brother said. That’s how long Rhonda had been a Ruthie listener. Two tables over from us were the real winners of the evening’s “how long have you known Ruthie” contest: Renn and Connie Carson.

Renn Carson is a major guitar talent and plays in any band he wants to, whenever he wants to; Connie’s a (recently retired) teacher—their entire family has always been second family to Ruthie from the very earliest and remains so today. But you’d never hear it from them. They are just as proud of and happy for Ruthie as everyone else in the room. When Ruthie was working on her early CD in the Brazos Valley, you’d find Renn and several other local legends on her albums.

During the concert, my mind flashed back to 1998, in the new Christian Life Center of First United Methodist Church in Bryan, where my best friend in volunteering and I had the chance to invite Ruthie to be the headliner for our opening celebration of the new building. We were thrilled she’d be in town for our Sept. 11, 1999 dedication.

She’d already been a frequent performer in Austin and Houston and people just couldn’t take it for granted even then that she’d be in town because her visibility had grown prolifically. The celebration weekend was called our “Full Circle Celebration” as it marked the creation of a magnificent new all-purpose building for what was a flourishing congregation in downtown Bryan.

Very soon after that celebration, she’d relocate and make Austin her home base, where an even larger group of people would support, encourage, and cheer like crazy whenever she sang. Back then transportation was an elderly red SUV that God and a great local mechanic kept rolling down Texas highways. Those days are long in her rearview mirror but her talent and her humility have remained unchanged throughout the years.

People look at today’s famous musicians and think that one day they just woke up and had a national tour and international acclaim. Doesn’t happen that way. Few people see the hours of practice it takes to stay your course, literally and figuratively. Ruthie and her faithful team of musicians and supporters made those late-night drives on Texas highways, crashing for brief rest and food and on to the next gig. Talk about paying your dues, Ruthie’s have long been paid in full. You never have as many friends as when you are doing well.

Here, Ruthie sings “People Grinnin’ in Your Face,” from her 2007 album, “The Phenomenal Ruthie Foster.” She smiled after she performed this one, slightly shaking her head. It’s still true today.

Before the song, she recalled the sisters of the church in the “Amen corner” of the church, who’d arrived early to make sure they were not late. Among them were a very young Ruthie and her “Big Mama” who would be part of that. She recalled it was hot on Sunday mornings, and everyone would have the cardboard fans to keep them cool. There would be “praying hands on one side of the fan and on the other would be greetings from the local funeral home.” Said Foster, “You’d have thought they’d have put some lyrics from the hymnal on there, too, so we could keep up.”

Continuing the visual memory, “They’d raise the stained glass windows and pray for a breeze. You’d hear cars coming past, going down the road. The sisters would hum in unison and one by one, two by two, folks were coming in. Pretty soon you’d hear the unison of the ladies in the church singing…”Well, don’t you mind people grinning in your face.” And with that, Samantha Banks used her tambourine to keep up with Ruthie’s a cappella “Don’t You Mind People Grinnin’ in Your Face.” She invited the audience to sing in later on and it was a good thing, too, because much of the audience was already holding forth with “A good friend is hard to find, because it’s hard with people grinnin’ in your face.” The soaring high notes, though, were all Ruthie’s to proffer, as no one in the audience could match them.

It was a cappella and you thought there was a choir of 14 people up there on stage. Delivery. Presence. Authenticity. Ruthie is true to her gospel roots. She mentions Mavis Staples in reverent tones before delivering a resounding version of one of Ms. Staples’ classics, “The Ghetto.”

Ruthie also sang Patty Griffin’s “When It Don’t Come Easy,” and reflected that “Music is a healer; it brought me through a lot of things and it brought me to a lot of wonderful things.”

Ruthie’s song “People Grinnin’ in Your Face” is from her album “The Phenomenal Ruthie Foster.” If you knew Ruthie, you’d know that it’s a title she earned, one given her by those who have supported and encouraged her music over the years. She would have never chosen it for herself.

In the same breath that she spoke of her unending admiration for Maya Angelou. She shared, “On my 50th birthday I got a signed copy of one of her books; she had personalized a message for me in the book. I still prize that. She found out that I’d recorded this song, based on one of her poems, “Phenomenal Woman” (you know the one). And I happened to be performing in the area where she was living in North Carolina and I went to my dressing room after sound check, and found a beautiful bouquet of flowers from her there.” Now, her voice trailed off as she reflected on the sheer meaning of those acts in her behalf.” Quietly she said, “Ah, talk about affirmation…”

Affirmation…a litany of CDs written, recorded and released, national awards, international travels and the growing fame associated with her name didn’t mean as much to her as the affirmation of a brave woman who had survived tragedy and misfortune in her youth to rise to be a beacon of hope for all women.

Samantha Banks was Ruthie’s only band member joining her for this evening in Tomball, but she was absolutely all that Ruthie needed for her acoustic/electric evening. Banks, a multitalented percussionist, played a partial drum kit, and a tambourine, some finger shucks, wind chimes, and spoons. Samantha rocked those spoons and made it all look effortless, as she provided perfect accompaniment on every song. She’s toured with Ruthie for years and is always an audience favorite as she sings as well.

Ruthie’s newest CD, “Joy Comes Back” (on her longtime label, Blue Corn Music), is available on March 24. Nearby, there’s a CD release party set in Austin on April 1 at 8 p.m. There, she’ll be joined by Carolyn Wonderland, David Grissom, Warren Hood, and the Peterson Brothers. Tickets range from $20-$44.50 and are available here. Word to the wise: Connie Carson (being family has its perks) said the Ruthie’s new album is fantastic!

One thing Ruthie accomplished in the Bryan-College Station area in the 1990s came about while she was actively touring on the folk circuit up and down the interstate. She made many friends along the way, and she brought them to town. Longtime local music enthusiasts remember the old Double Dave’s Pizza in the two-story building in Northgate. Double Dave’s would deliver your order (upstairs) and Ruthie invited her friends to perform on their Monday nights off between tours.

Attendance was solid every week they hosted them, the musicians made enough in freewill donations and CD sales to pay for their time, and locals had the chance to see musicians like Chicago natives “Small Potatoes” (Jacquie Manning and Rich Preszioso), “The Desberardos” before they became “Chris Beraro & The Desberardos,” and guitarist, Freebo, among others. The traveling troubadours also had a solid meal before hitting the road again. It’s a hard life, living on the road, whether you stay in four-star hotels or crash at a fellow musician’s pad. But when the applause begins, the hardship fades away to an artist who is validated with every new fan who says, “Your music really moves me.”

There’s not one singular episode, record, award, or milestone that Ruthie needs to validate her work as a singer as she searches for the “next” level. The next level simply means that many new people will discover the talent that Ruthie has had all along. She’s not “new here.” Ruthie Foster has always been phenomenal because she remains true to the songs inside her, and will never let the bright lights of the big cities change her.

On Friday night, Main Street Crossing shone brightly as a jewel in Texas music, and as small town blues and runaway soul took their place in the offering, Ruthie Foster took the entire crowd to their feet this weekend, with her always professional delivery, bright spirit, and wise words.

The Brazos River called her back close to home for a visit this week, and we were all the better for it. To keep up with her, visit her web site, and check out her social media links there.

Keep singing, Ruthie, just keep singing and be yourself, and thanks for the concert that took us all back to church one more time. Nineteen years later, it really did all come around again, full circle. We always knew what Maya Angelou would ultimately come to affirm before she passed: Ruthie Foster is a phenomenal woman and musical talent.