Movin' Up In The World
Libretto by Jerre Dye
On April 4th, 1968 Memphis was a hot bed of political emotions. Dr. King was in town. The sanitation workers were on strike. And here is where we find "Mr. John" working in the Sears-Roebuck Crosstown Arts Building as an elevator operator. As he says, "Goodbye" to the last of the customers he thinks on his childhood. Watching his father work hard in the fields helped form his work ethic so that now he is working in one of the most prestigious stores in the South. But he is acutely aware of his role as a young African American man in 1968 Memphis. Spend some time with "Mr. John" and feel some "gratitude" for being true to yourself and kind to others.
Note from Jerre -
I lived in Memphis for many years and have had the pleasure of meeting Lafayette on several occasions. He is quite a fellow, that Mr. Draper- charming, kind, generous, commanding, and absolutely warm to the marrow. And he is quite a legend in Memphis. He has seen it all and done it all...twice. I daresay, his phone number is on speed dial for many of the Mid-South's most influential politicians, and entrepreneurs. Solid advice and pearls of wisdom fall from his mouth on the regular. He is "the real deal" as we say.
Lafayette, his personae, his way of communicating, his gift for yarn spinning, and his very presence were all key to the creation of the character.
In particular, while I watched his interview I was touched by the deep affection he expressed for his Father- certainly a kind of North Star throughout Lafayette's life. At one point during the interview, his affection and respect seemed to render him rather speechless. Even when he is asked other questions, Lafayette keeps choosing to lean into memories of his Father. Such powerful stuff. As we all grow older, the ghosts of those long gone sometimes seem so close, don't they? They speak to us. They remind us of who we are, who we were, and perhaps even what we still hope to become. Memory is a compelling subject for me- fraught with a complicated and beautiful sadness- with hope, fear, regret, and joy. As an artist, I sometimes feel it is the ONLY subject. Layfayette's recollections led me to recall my deep connection to my own Grandfather- a dear man of great strength from rural Mississippi who passed many, many years ago. His name was Jack. He was a proud, and fair, and kind...a soft-spoken fellow who held space in such a beautiful and uncomplicated way. He carried with him a profound and admirable silence that haunts me. He spoke only when it was necessary, but with such clarity. This is all to say this piece is a kind of blending of narratives- that of Lafayette and my own. Lafayette's "sure did", "sure do", "sure was" certainly found it's way into the piece. For me, this piece was the intersection of all these ideas and most importantly a touchstone to a moment in American history that still compels us all to become better people- to create for ourselves and our loved ones a better world.
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