May 9, 2015 at 6:08 pm Leave a comment

Recently, Ben E. King died at the age of 76. I’m writing this piece in recognition of his life, and one of his classic songs, Stand By Me. But more importantly, in my frame of mind, is to recognize one of the untold singers who added to the music for they shall remain nameless and yet make a lasting contribution to music. Their voices live on in recordings, but their names and lives fad into the past, unknown.

The song, Stand By Me, has long haunted my thoughts for two reasons. First, it became the title of a film adapted from a Stephen King short story, probably one of the best adaptations of one of his works. I won’t go into the details of the story, but if you haven’t seen it, you should give it a try, especially if you are a teenaged boy. There is a special bond portrayed exquisitely described by King.

Secondly, on a more personal note, the song reminds me of a coworker I was fortunate to meet while working at SmithKline Beecham, now GlaxoSmithKline. For a period of a year or so our pharmacology group produced a monthly newsletter. I somehow got involved and was assigned the task of interviewing members of the group to record their biographies. For the most part, they were interesting individuals with a rich life removed from the company. One individual, Mildred, agreed to give me an interview and I remember it to this day, and is the inspiration for this piece.

Mildred was a black woman and I interviewed her somewhere around 1990. With only a high school education, she managed to obtain a job as a lab tech; today that would be impossible. Education is now the starting point long before an interview is obtained. As I recall, she came from a large family and there was not enough money to send her to college, although I thinks some of her siblings did pursue higher education.  When I interviewed Mildred, she must have been in her fifties and gained employment in cardiovascular pharmacology with skilled hands and a sharp brain. I had seen her around the labs, but never got to know her until the interview.

She granted me an interview and I am forever grateful for the opportunity to get to know this woman, I am sure, as few of her coworkers knew her. She was an individual associated with stardom, but forever remaining unknown, never reaping the rewards of their contribution.

Mildred while pursuing her science career in Philadelphia, was also a backup singer for recordings during the early years of rock n’ roll. As you all know, Philadelphia was a mecca for music and here before me sat a woman who was part of it. Here was a woman, sitting before me wearing a white lab coat who was an unspoken part of music history. As I sat talking to this woman, I could only imagine the records to which she had contributed. This is the reason that whenever I hear, Stand By Me, I focus on the backup singers and think of Mildred.

Entry filed under: OBSERVATIONS & OPINIONS. Tags: , , , , , , .


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May 2015

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