Friday, October 19, 2007

Dick Gregory, before and after

With all the stuff I threw at y’all yesterday, I hope you didn’t miss the Lenny Bruce uploads. I continue my little standup-comedy history tour with Dick Gregory, a pioneering “crossover” star among hip nightclub comics.

Hugh Hefner first exposed Mr. Gregory to white audiences by booking him at Chicago’s Playboy Club in 1961. (Gregory’s first LP, “In Living Black and White,” was recorded there.)

Dick Gregory spoke openly about America’s racial problems... but with a laid-back, ironical approach that went down well with Caucasian sophisticates.

With his fast success, Gregory devoted himself to civil-rights activism. And within three years of becoming famous, he started to lose bookings because of his politics.

After a five-year pause in his recording career, Gregory started making albums again in 1969. Albums that were much harsher, much bleaker, than his early ones. But by now Gregory’s outspokenness – against the Vietnam war, against the U.S. government, against the “white racist system” – made him a counterculture hero.

Let’s give a listen to Dick Gregory, before and after:

Click here to hear a few minutes of his 1962 LP, “Dick Gregory Talks Turkey,” recorded before a black audience.

Now, click here and see the difference a few years can make. This is a 9-minute chunk from the double-album “Dick Gregory’s Frankenstein,” released in 1970.


Anonymous said...

GREAT post. I love Dick Gregory

Steven said...

I grew up in the SF Bay Area, half-an-hour from Oakland, in the 1960s. So people have a hard time believing me when I say I grew up in a segregated town. Which isn't quite true, because until 1970, there were no black people living in Antioch, California. The segregation was that black folks lived in next-door Pittsburg.

I can thank my parents for at least some of my sensitivity to this situation. My father was a realtor at the time, and he bucked his fellows by fighting against those who would refuse to sell houses to minorities. My parents also had black friends ... I even had a black babysitter for awhile, which was a bit embarrassing later in my life when she and I worked together in a factory and my work buddies said "hey man, she's seen your dick!" (Jeez, I wasn't a toddler when she was my sitter.)

But I also learned a lot from my grandmother. I had a Spanish grandmother who gave me the half of my heritage that loves Andalucia, but my mom's mom ... she was from good Kentucky stock, they might have "been somebody" back in the day, and there were always stories that Mary Todd was a distant relative.

My Spanish grandmother believed Kennedy was the greatest, because he was the Catholic president. But my other grandmother believed in FDR, and she raised me to share her beliefs. As an old New Dealer, she retained a desire for social justice (although as she got too old, the more radical elements of the Left scared her).

Long story, I know, but there's a reason I bring it up. She loved Dick Gregory. And she bought books of his ... she was a great reader ... one of them was called From the Back of the Bus, I think, and was a series of photos of Gregory with funny captions. But the main book she loved was Gregory's autobiography of the time, Nigger. Now, I was raised that this was the worst of all words ... to this day, it bothers me even to type it here. But I remember the dedication to that book ... I'm paraphrasing here ... something like "This is to my mom. Mom, next time you hear the word nigger, don't worry, they're just talking about my book."

I musta read that book half a dozen times. And only now, when I see a post like this one on UBM, do I realize just how lucky I was, growing up amongst closet racists, to have had a Southern grandmother who knew better.

James Seay said...

Dick Gregory's book Nigger is one of my all-time favorite books. What a difference eight years can make for him indeed!

Rottin' in Denmark said...

I was in a used bookstore in Istanbul last year, and the only books in English they had were Nigger and a book about gay life in New York City in the early 1900s. I bought them both.

To be honest, I had never heard of Dick Gregory before I read Nigger, and I kept waiting for the part of the book where he got famous, so I would know whether he was a musician, actor, comedian or politician. It turned out he was a little bit of everything, and I've made a handful of my Danish friends read the first chapter of the book to get a fuller understanding of the effect that segregation has had on my nation and its people.

Now if only I could get them to read the one about turn-of-the-century gays...

Undercover Black Man said...

Steven: Thanks so much for that comment.

Undercover Black Man said...

James Seay, welcome here and thanks for commenting.

phx said...

I'm so sorry getting in a little late here - but the blog, and Steven's comments - bring up deep stuff.
I was 12 years old in the summer of 1968 and my dad wanted to give me a gift. I was crazy about Bill Cosby at the time and memorized all his routines. My dad bought me "From the Back of the Bus" by Dick Gregory, confusing him with Bill Cosby (what do white folk know from Bill Cosby?). What a wake up THAT was in my world!! Within a few months I bought the bio "Nigger" which was even more astounding. I read that book over and over - I may read it again this year.
Funny I just reread Lenny Bruce's "How to Talk Dirty" bio after years, and without a doubt the Gregory book holds up much better.
Also, in 1968 a Dick Gregory speech was broadcast on PBS. In it he read aloud from the Declaration of Independence, very powerfully, "...And when these rights are denied, over long periods of is your destroy or abolish that government." I can still hear his voice in my head almost 40 years later. If anyone knows more about that speech feel free to contact me at
Thanks for allowing me my two cents on a man who I deeply love and respect for helping mold me.

George said...

great call with dick gregory. perhaps we should trade links?