You got time to breathe? You got time for music 

Most times, I sing to others. Sometimes, I get sung to. 

Today was one of those days that fall into the latter category. 

I’ve been singing through bronchitis for the past two weeks. This week has caught up with me, but with the Christmas season upon us, music doesn’t stop. The bronchitis has since left my chest. But the ill effects of lethargy are still with me.

So today, I’m singing at Graceland when a gentleman points to me as he’s walking. 

I smile and nod and he walks away.

Another couple comes up to me and begins talking. They’re from Montreal and have been to Graceland numerous times, stopping off as they came through Memphis.

I ask them if I can sing a song for them and once I begin the previous gentleman comes from and center and starts singing, “I Can’t Help Falling in Love With You.” He has a big voice. An Elvis-big voice.

We finish the song and then I shake his hand. His name is Lucia. He’s from Italy and he’s an Elvis Tribute Artist—that’s ETA for y’all folks in the know.

Well, Lucia wants to sing another song. 

He requests “It’s Now or Never.” Well, it sorta is, Now or Never. When presented with the opportunity such as this, I take it. But before he can sing, he must take a picture with me. So, we go and take our picture by Elvis pink Jeep and he comes back.

I begin “It’s Now or Never” and he belts it out in an Italian accent. As the song ends, my spirits have picked up and I have now forgotten that I was so tired.

In a way, Lucia has brought me joy today, just as I do on a regular basis for others.

Today, I wasn’t feeling it. But as I began to sing, the opportunity for blessings came.

I’m reminded of what Briscoe Darling from the Andy Griffith Show used to said, “You got time to breathe? You got time for music.”

For bringing music to me today, Lucia from Itlay is my hero.

 

 

Your song comes back to you 

Skim a pebble across the water and you’ll see the ripples return to you. 

Sing or listen to a song and the same thing happens. 

The other day I’m singing a song when a big smile comes across a man’s face. He stops and talks for a little bit and we discuss the particular song I’m singing. 

“Charlie Rich,” he says. “The Silver Fox,” I respond. “Lonely Weekends.” 

We discuss his great artistry, and he tells me he’ll be back—that he wants his wife to hear me sing. 

Well, two hours pass. All the while, I’m singing. And lo and behold, the gentleman I’ve sang to earlier in the day comes back with his wife, and another couple they’re traveling with. 

We smile. They’re from Seattle. He’s a retired barber. He and his wife have splurged to buy probably one of the only things they’re splurged on in their lives and purchased an RV. Now, they’re traveling across the country. Graceland is on their bucket list. Today, you can picture me toting a pail of water and delivering to them a memory. 

I do the standard Elvis fare when at play at Elvis Presley’s Memphis, but include a wide range of artists of the day and people who were influenced by the king. 

“Can you do another Charlie Rich song—The Most Beautiful Girl in the World?” he asks. 

Well, I’ve never done that song in my life, but I’ll try it. From memory—I happen to love Charlie Rich—I sing The Most Beautiful Girl in the World. 

When I finish, he comes up with his wife and begins telling me the reason I’ve sang a couple of Charlie Rich tunes today. 

“My little daughter lay in a hospital bed in the same room as a little boy who lost his battle,” he began. “My daughter and this little boy became close. So, when he passed away, we were all shaken to the core and in mourning. The parents had bought the little boy a radio and wanted my daughter to have it. 

“They brought it up to her room and gave it to her,” the father continued. “Now, my little daughter absolutely loved Charlie Rich and in particular the song that you just sang.” 

“I plugged in the radio and what do you think came on the radio?” 

If you answered, The Most Beautiful Girl in the World,” you’d be correct, this gentleman said. 

“You can’t tell me that’s coincidence,” he said, as his eyes moistened. 

“Thank you for singing that song for me today.” 

For believing in the power of music, this man is my hero. And Charlie Rich. And this man’s little girl, who now is a mother. 

Keep on throwing pebbles in the raging ocean of life. They’re coming back.

Stand and wave the flag 

 

Songs often present themselves to be sung. Sometimes, songs get out of line and say, “It’s my turn” and break out singing. 

By and large, you can’t explain the behavior of songs in a set list. You can have a set list and then it happens. 

You glance down at the title of a song and out of the blue, you start singing. 

That was the case the other day at Graceland when I started singing “America, the Beautiful.” 

Right away, two beautiful ladies reacted. One pulled out her phone and started videoing the song while the other smiled and clutched her heart. 

Such a strong reaction to a song often gets your mind to rambling in between the lines. “What’s the story going to be after I complete the song?” 

I extended the song for a couple more obscure verses and then ended with the chorus: 

“O, Beautiful, for spacious skies 

For amber waves of grain 

For purple mountains majesty 

Above the fruited plain 

America, America  

God shed his grace on thee 

And crown thy good 

with brotherhood 

from sea to shing sea.” 

After I finished the song, the lady who was videoing came up to me and smiled, thanked me for singing about this great country. 

What she said next both surprised and delighted me when I asked where she was from. 

“I’m from France,” she said in the accent that you’d expect. 

In the midst of all the real and perceived ills and wrongs regarding the United States of America and its revered symbols, two ladies from France, ooo lala, remind me that this is a greatest country in the world. 

For this reminder—and, of course, for the accent, these two ladies are my heroes. Stand and wave the flag.

 

Giving far beyond generosity 

It’s almost everyday that I meet someone remarkable. I often wake up wondering just who it will be this day and what their story will be. 

Today, it’s a fellow from New England who has a beard as white as Santa’s. 

Actually, he introduced himself to me as the Santa for the New England Patriots. 

“You know them?” he winked as he asked. 

Indeed, I do. But for now, let me tell you about the generosity of this man’s heart and maybe it will encourage you today. 

His stature wasn’t what made him standout. A short man with suspenders, he could have been easily overlooked but for an encountered that started with his reaction to a song that I played at Graceland. 

As we talked between songs, rain drops started falling from my eyes. He explained that he goes all over New England in his quest to bring joy. But it’s what he does with the money he earns in spreading this joy that is unique. 

You see, he’s in such demand that he makes about $14,000 each year in fees for his work as Santa. He has other gigs, but his heart is in this engagement. 

Each year he donates every penny of his performance fee to charity. That’s $14,000 a year. 

He tells me that he’s partial to the issues of poverty in New Hampshire and Vermont. By the time we had finished our conversation and took a picture, I had found another hero to tell you about. 

I’m guessing he receives pay far beyond the fee that he donates in the form of a job well done at the end of the day. 

His work goes far beyond generosity. For that, this Santa is my hero.

Copyright 2017, Cecil Yancy

 

Ask and you shall receive 

The little guy hung out in the corner of my eye as I sang a song at Graceland. 

When I turned to see him, I noticed that he was also singing the song, “Teddy Bear.” 

When I finished with the song, we looked at each other and smiled. 

“Do you take requests,” he asked, shyly smiling? 

“Why, yes, I do,” I said. “What song would you like and I’ll try to sing it.” 

He told me that he wanted to do “Blue Suede Shoes” and asked if he could sing it. 

“Yes, you sure can. I’ll play it and then you can sing with me.” 

I got the words for him and struck the first chord to Carl Perkins’ “Blue Suede Shoes.” 

He began tentatively and then warmed up. By the time we got to the part where we’re singing “Blue, Blue, Blue Suede Shoes, Baby, Blue, Blue, Blue Suede Shoes, Baby,” he was treating the word “baby” with gusto and playfulness. I moved the microphone closer to him and blended with him as his confidence built. When he did, the audience responded with spontaneous applause. I extended that part of the song for another round and his confidence grew even more. 

He received another round of applause at the end. 

It’s amazing how he transformed when he stood up in front of the audience and started singing. It was great to watch his hesitation transform into confidence right before my eyes. I’ve seen it many times during the last six months: Young kids who approach me about either singing with me or me singing with them. I've seen it in other areas of life. It's always inspiring.

For the courage to approach me with a request, unprompted by anyone, and then stand there figuratively naked in front of a crowd, little John from Australia is my hero. 

May we all be so bold when the opportunity strikes.

Copyright 2017, Cecil Yancy

 

Prioritizing the important things in life 

There are times when priorities tell the measure of a person. 

In relationships, priorities tend to indicate just how well it’s going in spite of the circumstances. 

It was the case the other day at Graceland when I shared a story at a break with a friend visiting Memphis after moving away. 

I shared with him the decision I made while taking care of my late wife. It came down to, “Do I stay by my wife’s side in the hospital or go pursue making a living?” It’s one of those decisions that is easy to answer, but oftentimes difficult to execute—either out of fear of losing something, a job, or a way making a living, versus what is the greater good. 

“Of course, you’ve got to stay by your wife’s side,” I’ve heard it said. 

It’s an obvious choice that isn’t so obvious. The correctness of the decision continues to bear fruit in my life on a daily basis. 

Which brings me to my friend’s wonderful contribution to the conversation. 

His wife’s due date was fast approaching. Being a contractor, he didn’t have medical insurance, so he and his wife had planned the birth at home with the help of a midwife. 

“I knew my wife would need a little help after the birth, so I notified my foreman that, ‘I’ll be taking a week ot two off when the baby comes.” 

He said, “Hopefull, the schedule will allow that.” 

“I told him, “I’m not asking, I’m giving you notice. I don’t have a family to support my job. I have a job to support my family.” 

“My priorities are clear,” he said. 

I’m certain my friend has the right priorites.  

For the boldness to assert authority and knowing what really matters, I salute my friend. 

He’s my hero.

Find the Santa Within You 

Jesse is a big man. With a white beard and full head of white hair. He looks like Santa Claus. 

In fact, that’s his name: Santa Jesse. 

It wasn’t always like that, however. 

There once was a time when he was just Jesse. 

That’s saying a lot, becuase after meeting him you’d never think of him as ‘Just Jesse.” 

He’s a big guy with an even-bigger heart. You can tell it by the way he engages people. 

I met him earlier this year while he visited Graceland. We made eye contact and we began to share stories. He has his heart in his work, going the extra mile to make an educational experience that is beyond the mundane for his students. 

He’ll tell you that his story starts with the reluctance to take on the mantel of who he is and who he would become. 

He teaches special education kids and at various times during his career would don the red and white suit to his offer his kids an extra special incentive to get excited. 

He remembers someone suggesting that he do this year round. He bucked at the idea for a while.  He even thought about cutting off his beard. (Man, that would have been a shame.)Then, he remembered, the joy that it brought to people. 

“I finally gave into to what everybody seemed to know but me—that I was indeed Santa Claus. Jesse Claus. 

To be Jesse Claus requires plenty of work. He has a cadre of four photographers and slew of hairdressers who keep every hair on his head and the whiskers on his cheek and chin the right shade of white. 

The pay off comes in tangible and intangible ways. He’s in demand for corporate gigs and the everyday encounters of spreading the joy in the same way the original Saint Nicholas. 

He’s my hero for recognizing that within the framework of Jesse there resides Santa Claus.

Copyright 2017 Cecil Yancy

 

Follow Uncle Junior's lead and aim for the best 

 

This is a love story. One of opportunities, chance meetings and the choice between the good, better and best. 

It was told to me as I sang to the crowds at Graceland. 

My music often wafts through the air like a familar melody, lighting on hearts filled with harmony, the purest form of love. 

Today, it’s swirling all around and in particular touches the heart of a dear, little lady of Puerto Rican descent. 

I asked her where she was from and she began with a compliment about my music and then we started discussing her uncle, who was also a musician. 

“My uncle Junior, that’s what we called him, was a musician,” she said. “He served in the Army in Germany with Elvis. Uncle Junior was called that because he was the youngest member of the family and he was our youngest uncle.” 

As she pulled up the 1950s photo of Uncle Junior and Elvis on her iPhone, she told me the story. “Oh my, that’s great,” I literally exclaimed., remarking about the picture. 

“Being a drummer, Uncle Junior and Elvis would jam together when they were off duty and hang out together,” she engaged in the story. 

“He told me Elvis was always the kindest person and always interested in what was going in with my family. If you didn’t know that Elvis was Elvis, then you couldn’t have guessed that he was as big as he was by the way he treated everybody nice. 

“My uncle was a very good musician,” she continued. Elvis raved about the Latin beats being laid down by Uncle Junior. ‘Man, when we get out, I want you to come drum with me. I’m going to be on tour and I want you to play drums for me.’” 

It didn’t take long for Uncle Junior to come up with an answer for the King of Rock ’n’ Roll. “Elvis, I’d love to, but I’m going to go back home and marry my best girl.” 

“OK, man,” Elvis said to Uncle Junior, as he looked at the picture of his beautiful sweetheart. “I understand.” 

Uncle Junior returned to New York, married his sweetheart and had a wonderfully large family and a life filled with love. 

He didn’t neglect his music, either. 

With the foundation for his life in place, Uncle Junior, however, pursued the passion that likely attracted him to make a choice between a good life and a best life in the first. He went on to play with Latin greats such as Tito Puente. 

His neice also showed me a picture of Uncle Junior with Tito’s band. She also showed me the picture of Uncle Junior beautiful wife and family.

“We often wonder about what his life would have been like had he went on to play with Elvis,” she pondered. 

There are times in one’s life when the choices affect the future for the good or for the best. Rest assured, Elvis and Uncle Junior are probably playing together in heaven nowadays.

The succession of adjectives tells the story. There’s good; there’s better; and then there’s best. 

Follow Uncle Junior and aim for the best. 

(C)Cecil Yancy. 2017

Elvis may have left the building, but never our hearts 

 

This is technically my first Elvis Week. I’ve lived in Memphis for 10 years, but have never been over to Graceland—until this year, when Elvis, Gladys and my beloved late wife got me this gig. (True story—well, sorta. I’ll tell you one of these days). 

Forty years after his passing, Elvis Presley remains a cultural icon, impacting lives from beyond the grave. Many books and much social commentary have been written about Elvis. To experience it at Graceland, however, is to experience personal stories.

"What's the importance of the candlelight vigil?" is the question I'm asking today. And, "Where were you when Elvis passed away?"

The answer to the first usually gets the answer, "To pay my respects to Elvis," followed by what event in life was impact by Elvis himself or a story or a song.


As I play at Graceland on this week in August, I’m thinking back on the last few months since I started performing at the Home of Elvis Presley and the people who have impact my life. 

At the top of my mind is a gentleman from Australia. Oddly enough, I played an Elvis love song and dedicated it to him and his country. As the set wore on, he finished his meal and then walked away. 

I was coming back to the stage when our conversation ensued. 

“I was hoping you’d make it back from your break before I had to go” he said, handing me a hand-written note and a commemorative stamp from his native Australia. “Thank you for doing the song for me and dedicating it to Australia, mate.” 

We began talking and the conversation turned to Elvis. “Where were you when you heard the news about Elvis’ passing,” I asked? 

His answer, from a world away and Down Under, was testament to the impact Elvis had and continues to have on people.  

“I was at a small agricultural fair in Australia, when the announcement came on the loud speaker,” he explained. “The entire agriculutral fair came to a standstill as we reflected on the sad news that day in 1977.” 

After hearing the news, my new Aussie friend went out and bought a set of gold pens. As we spoke, he opened the case and showed me the pens. On the inside of the box, he wrote, “Elvis Presley passed away today.” 

“It’s been 40 years that I’ve planned this trip to Graceland,” he said. “Forty years and now I’m here. It feels great.” 

Often when important events that involve losses, we tend to push those memories out of our mind because of the pain. 

“Move on,” people will tell you. “You just need to forget about it.” 

Granted, it is hard and very difficult to “just move on,” but part of the moving on is remembering and recalling the great times and the impact important people in our lives had on us—whether the impact Elvis had on a teenage boy in Australia who went on to become a professor. 

It’s equally as important to do the same in your family, friends and circle of influence. 

Keep the flame of memory burning. 

Elvis left the building 40 years ago. He never left our hearts. 

I’m thankful for a new hero I met at Graceland, a man who hails from Australia and commemorates his memories with a pilgrimage.

How do you keep your memories alive?

 

Sing like you don't need the money 

Today, I’m singing “I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You,” by Elvis Presley when I hear a loud booming voice getting closer to me. 

The acoustics are very good where Elvis keeps his motorcycles and recreational vehicles, so as he’s walking toward me, a large, looming figure appears in front of me singing in a voice that any of the Norse gods or Kings would be proud to call a descendant. 

I lingered on the chorus a little longer to give this big guy plenty of time for the finale. 

When we finished, I put down my guitar and extended my hand. 

“Thank you for singing with me,” I said. 

“My pleasure,” he said. 

He told me his name was Tommy and that he was from Sweden. The next exchange caught me by suprise but delighted me. 

“Do you do any Elvis gospel?” he asked. 

“Why, yes. Why, yes, I do.” 

He then launches into an explanation of the song that he’s wanting me to sing. 

“Do you know No. 11 in the hymnal in Sweden?” he asked to a puzzled look on my face. If my face could have responded, it would have said, “I used to know it, but it’s been like forever.”

Of course, the choices became narrower when he began to explain that the hymn he was talking about was “written by a Swedish priest.” 

Right off, I knew that he was talking about “How Great Thou Art.” Every song has a wonderful backstory.

He asked if I knew it and I offered to play it and sing with him. 

So, without any rehearsal, I pitched the key of G and this gentleman and I started singing “How Great Thou Art"-- he the lead, I the harmony. 

A crowd soon gathered and we finished the lyrics “How Great Thou Art, How Great Thou Art” in rousing fashion. Thuderous applause ensued and I turned to Tommy and gave him a big hug and a hand shake. 

We talked for a little bit. I met his wife and his traveling companions who had come for the Elvis experience. 

As he’s walking away, people continue to congratulate him on the impromptu performance. 

I’m thinking how fortunate the crowd is to have just experienced something that we all should give a chance: Spontaneous happiness expressed in art form. 

As he bids me goodbye, I’m thinking how fortunate the world is to have a guy like Tommy from Sweden in it. He also happens to be a great Elvis impersonator. Who would have known?

We need more people who sing, as the country artist Kathy Mattea said, “like you don’t need the money; love like you’ll never get hurt.” And by all means, “dance, like nobody’s watching.” 

Thank you, Tommy. You're my hero.