This is Guy Davis' first Mother's Day without Ruby Dee. In June the award-winning actor, author, poet, activist and half of a beloved Hollywood power couple joined her husband, Ossie Davis, who died in 2005. "The world knows them as Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee," Davis told me. "I knew them as Mom and Dad and that's how they raised me."
I met Guy Davis, a multi-instrumentalist-blues artist, when he performed at the Dakota as part of the "American Roots Revue" produced by Larry Long, the Twin Cities-based singer, songwriter and activist. Davis' next Minnesota appearance is scheduled for June 6 at Grand Marais' Arrowhead Center for the Arts.
We shot my startribune.com/video interview in Minneapolis on March 7, the 50th anniversary of "Bloody Sunday." Davis and Dee were not in Alabama for this tragic chapter in American history, but they internalized the lessons of those times, educated and shielded their children for better days.
Davis said he felt a sense of isolation as his parents were determined to give him the best of everything, including "a white man's education." He recalls how his mother provided a firm hand that his smart mouth sorely needed. Dee may have done the same in a famous scene in "American Gangster" with a certain Oscar-winning heartthrob.
As the father of a twenty-something musician, Davis has become even more astounded by what his mother and father tolerated. He now knows that karma is as real as his mother's love.
Q: What have been the burdens you've had as a result of who your parents were?
A: I had to be a little quieter, sit a little straighter, act a little more civilized and I didn't want to; I wanted to play in the dirt and the mud, stuff like that, like all the other kids. Understand that having noted parents and having what they called "a white man's education" in the middle of a black community, though it is for the ultimate good, it can be isolating.
Q: Did you have a rebellious phase?
A: I thought I invented the word. Rebellious phase when I was a teenager and beyond … I got so smart at the mouth. When you're a young man full of testosterone, talking a certain way in front of your mother is not the time or the place. Mom had hands faster than Bruce Lee. And she didn't take nothing off no smart-mouth teenage boy. She'd come upside my head so fast that my knees were buckling by the time I realized I'd been hit. I don't think any of those hits came without me deserving it. Rebellious phase, it's got to be had. I mean, young men have to find a way to do that, and young women, too.
Q: So when your mother went upside Denzel Washington's head in "American Gangster," she'd had a little practice?
A: Aw, man he got NOTHING! I was the one who got practiced on. Denzel, aw man, that was a little actor slap, a love tap. But I'll bet Denzel didn't see that slap coming either in the film. I could see his face like, "Where'd that come from?"
Q: How did you choose music or did it choose you?
A: Ooooo, you sneaked up on me there. Music I felt was already inside of me in some kind of way. The music in its own way did choose me. It's like breath, it opens you. My talent, and hopefully skill now, allow me to share that and to expand it outward to others, filled with the knowledge that though I have given birth to a song, in a way it's not mine.
Q: Is your son a musician, too?
A: He is a musician, young man is going to film school so there is art in him. He does a great deal of writing, he reminds me of his grandfather, my father. I would come home and see my father at 5 o'clock in the morning — he'd be at the dining room table. He'd have two yellow legal pads on the table, an oatmeal canister with pencils in it, erasers. He let me know that talent is a mighty fine thing, and you are blessed if you have it. But craft, when you take that talent and turn it into something, means working at it whether you feel like it or not. You've got to work like the devil, no freebies.
A longer version of this interview is online with video. To contact C.J. try email@example.com and to see her watch Fox 9's "Buzz."