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Piano Man Daryl Davis: 'Black Rock 'n Roll Lives!'

R&B and Blues piano player Daryl Davis, in an incredible interview with the Tempo and the Times podcast, tells the story of his career, which has included gigs with Chuck Berry and other famed jazz and blues musicians, while confronting blatant racism and even "infiltrating the Ku Klux Klan.

During his long career as a musician since graduating from Howard University with a degree in jazz, Davis went from tires being slashed outside a venue in Maryland because of his race to influencing a top leader in the KKK to leave the organization -- and give him his robe.

But that part of the story will wait to next Friday, when Part II of the Daryl Davis story is presented on Tempo and the Times.

In this week's episode, now streaming on major podcast platforms, Davis explains how at age 17, while still in high school, he was able to bring famed blues piano player Pinetop Perkins to his home for dinner, much to the surprise of his parents, and the influence that Perkins and others had on his own music.

Here's some of what Wikipedia explains about Davis:

Daryl Davis (born March 26, 1958) is an American R&B and blues musician, activist, author, actor and bandleader.[1] He is most well known for his work concerning the Ku Klux Klan. His efforts to fight racism, in which as an African-American he engaged with members of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), convinced Klansmen to leave and denounce the KKK. Known for his energetic style of boogie-woogie piano,[1] Davis has played with such musicians as Chuck Berry,[1][2] Jerry Lee Lewis, B. B. King,[2] and Bruce Hornsby.[3][4]

He is the subject of the 2016 documentary Accidental Courtesy: Daryl Davis, Race & America.[5][6]

In this episode of Tempo and the Times, Davis explains that he was the son of a Department of State Foreign Service officer and moved around the world with his parents during most of his early childhood.

Living in various foreign countries, including African nations, Davis attended schools in which children of many nations, races and cultures learned together. And so, when he returned home to the U.S. at age 10, he had no understanding of, or experience with, the scourge of racism.

It was then that he joined an all-white Cub Scout pack in Belmont, MA. One day he was carrying the flag and marching with his troop in a local parade when he was struck with rocks and bottles thrown from the crowd, prompting pack leaders to form a protective ring around him.

When he went home, his parents asked how he suffered his cuts and bruises. It was then that his father explained racism and what it means in America. That incident led to a curiosity about the origins and basis for such attitudes, which would later shape much of Davis' future activity -- including direct involvement with leading members of the KKK.

Davis was mentored by legendary pianists Pinetop Perkins and Johnnie Johnson who both claimed him as their godson and praised his ability to master a piano style that was popular long before he was born, according to his Kennedy Center profile.

He frequently played backup for Chuck Berry and Jerry Lee Lewis, was a friend of Muddy Waters and played piano in The Legendary Muddy Waters Blues Band. Davis has also performed with blues icon B. B. King and with artists such as Elvis Presley's Jordanaires, The Platters, The Drifters, The Coasters, Bo Diddley, Percy Sledge, and Sam Moore (of Sam & Dave).

Davis was awarded "Best Traditional Blues/R&B Instrumentalist" at the 2009 Washington Area Music Awards. For several years, Davis served as Artistic Director of the Centrum (arts organization) Acoustic Blues Festival.

"Davis’ piano work impresses with his winning combination of technique and abandon, and his vocals are strong and assured," wrote a reviewer in Living Blues Magazine. "Black rock’n’roll lives!"

So take a listen to this Tempo and the Times interview with Daryl Davis, hosted by Scott Ramminger and myself. It's a fascinating tale, and sets the stage for next week's episode when Davis reveals how he befriended the Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan and convinced him to leave the violently racist organization.

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