Ruth Dickerson: God Bless The Queen

…”That’s Esther McIsacc and the Gospel Girls singing ‘Showers Of Blessings’. And you are listening to the ‘Showers Of Blessings’ program. I’m your host, Ruth Dickerson and we are going to continue on with the music because when the praises go up, the blessings come down.”

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The smooth, comforting voice that spoke those words has opened thousands of night-time radio broadcasts in Los Angeles. For over 50 years, the great Ruth Dickerson has presided over gospel music; speaking in mellow, measured tones and ministering to all insomniacs. She was more than a ‘radio personality’.  She was a gospel music historian, playing everything from the obscure to the popular; she played the hits and some of the misses. When people talk about ‘free form radio’ and it’s influence during the 60’s and 70’s, it was Ruth Dickerson who was among the first in broadcasting to go beyond a playlist and play music that was neither heavily promoted nor performed by ‘stars’. It was simply great music and she would put it on the air, no matter who wrote it!

My first night in the KALI 900 AM studios with her was both exciting–and harrowing. Having already been coached by my sister Rosalind (“Don’t screw up! Don’t try to talk on the air! Sit quiet and LEARN something!”), I didn’t want to make any mistakes–or turn out to BE one. She came into the studio that night carrying two huge cloth shopping bags full of CD’s and cassettes. She had a box of Vinyl LP’s in her car. She had everything from Sister Rosetta Tharpe to the O’Neal Twins to James Cleveland to Mahalia Jackson to the Dallas/Ft. Worth Mass Choir (featuring a young musician by the name of Kirk Franklin). Her music collection was a combination of star power mixed in with ‘who was that’. She looked over her glasses at me sitting there grinning at her. Before I knew it, she was introducing me on the air! In the 3 seconds that it took her to say “Brother Herb Merriweather” and turn on the mic in front of me, my tongue swelled, my eyes popped, and a lump the size of East St. Louis rose in my throat. I remember mumbling something about being blessed to be there and thanks for the opportunity. Sister Ruth KNEW she had surprised and stunned me. She smiled and started showing me how to keep the music logs.  As time passed she allowed me even more on-air opportunities, even referring to me as her ‘co-host’

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She was a wonderfully stern teacher who loved God and His music. She didn’t suffer fools nor foolishness as was evident in the way she chided preachers and laymen alike about doing things the right way.  She was set in her ways and that was a good thing because more often that not, her way was the right one. She instructed me on matters of radio etiquette and advertising principles. She worked with me and gave me substantial airtime to read announcement and commercials. But it wasn’t all work and seriousness. I had built a rapport with the late night/early morning listeners and we started ‘The Coffee Club’–with listeners calling in with their freshly brewed beverages in one hand while making requests over the phone.

I was especially saddened and hurt to hear of her passing last week. She was like a grandmother to me–guiding  and instructing me fearlessly and challenging me to rise above the ‘mess’ that she used to dislike so much.

She has gone on to be with the Lord her King–and on to her new job as program director and night-time personality on HEVN Radio…

Shirley Temple Black: An Appreciation (from a somewhat different perspective)

  Growing up in St. Louis in the 60’s was–ummm–different, to say the least. Beyond baseball, old TV favorites and comic books, there wasn’t a whole lot of entertainment to be had!  Being a voracious reader helped me a lot, but entertainment choices were severely limited according to today’s standards. One of my Mom’s favorite things were Shirley Temple films. There they were; being aired on a semi-regular basis by the independent TV stations in all their black-and-white splendor! 

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“Look at how that little girl can sing and dance!”, Mom would bellow. “Why can’t you do something like that instead of clowning in school all the time!?” Somewhere during the course of the movie I would get my comeuppance. Shirley or the ‘little Colonel’ or the ‘little darling’ or the little whatever-she-was-in-this-one would surely (!) be held forth as a shining example of everything I WASN”T doing. OK, OK–she could sing and dance but that was during the 30’s! I wouldn’t have even had the opportunity. Besides, I was trying to be cool, funky, groovy, hip and far-freakin’out. And what was up with them curls, huh? Good luck gettin’ on the good ship Lollipop with a ‘Fro!

I began to find ways to duck out of the screenings–volunteering for store runs; household chores; smoke jumping; ANYthing that would keep me from having to hear about the wonder, talent, beauty and generally great spirit (all true, of course) that Shirley Temple exuded.

Well–as always happens–the passage of time changes things, sometimes from the inside out. When faced with the news of her passing, I of course remembered that she was my Mom’s favorite (right up there with ‘Wrestling At The Chase’). But then I also realized the reason my mother was able to be such a fan.

When Hollywood stopped calling, Shirley didn’t meltdown or implode. Something in her let her know that she could indeed have a life beyond the celluloid. She found her calling in serving others. By being an ambassador, she represented her country with excellence. By making herself available to be something else, she outlived the moppet and showed us all how to mature with purpose and poise. And when the entertainment industry DID seek her out on occasion, she appeared with professionalism, not petulance. She was complete and comfortable, not callous or conniving.

All in all, not a bad role model! Looks like Mom was right (again!) after all…