Correspondence with Jesse Cryor's Granddaughter
Jesse Cryor's talented voice can be heard in Song of the South's well-known tune "Everybody Has A Laughing Place." Recently, Jesse's granddaughter Kimberley contacted me with the following email. I was so moved by it I requested if I could reprint it in its entirety on this web site for others to read as well. Here it is:
From: Kimberley Myles
To: Christian Willis
Date: August 3, 2003
I am so happy to know that this web site is here and that there are people out there who remember and appreciate "Song of the South". As I was doing my first quick skim through before getting down to the nitty-gritty, I noticed that the name of the song, "Everybody Has a Laughing Place" is there but the name of the vocalist who sang it is not. I considered that it just might be possible that you do not know that person's name, as yet. The person who sang that song (for Br'er Rabbit) is my grandfather, Jesse Cryor. He is still alive and functioning fairly well at the ripe young age of 96 - 97 as of August 12, 2003.
I read the article in the Chicago Tribune regarding the whole controversy surrounding this wonderful movie. I have this to say: Many of the movies made during that time were full of racist stereotypes - both outright and implied - in their portrayal of Americans of African Decent (Blacks) and other ethnicities. This was very true before and since "Song" hit the theatres - especially with regard to people of color and Native American Indians (can you say "PO-CA-HON-TAS"?). Blacks have been portrayed as happy-go-lucky Uncle Tom's, Mammy's, pickaninnies(spelling?), barefoot, dishonest, robbers, murderers, theives, junkies, pushers, pregnant teens, abusive parents, uneducated, low status workers, low-class people, oversexed, deseased, dirty...I think you get the picture. (I won't get into "Gone With the Wind" "Charlie Chan", "Jack Benny" and other CLASSICS, OK) In fact, many of my Non-Black aquaintances during the 70's, 80's and even the early 90's (some became close friends) did not know much about Blacks other than what they were told by other Non-Blacks, read in school books or saw on TV and the Big Screen until they were able to meet and get to know real Black people. I think today's children of the Great Melting Pot (was America - is becoming the World) have a little more information to work with.
Anyhow, those movies which carried a message or involved an indearing relationship were treasured by many because of the message. Those movies which had good music and the like were loved because people love music. "Song" had both and it was a wonderful blend of animation and live action.
I'm so sorry that there may be many children who will not be graced with such a movie. And I'm so very sorry that my grandfather may never be able to go to the theatre or television and watch this movie with my children, neices and nephew and say to his great-grandchildren, "That's your Great-Granddaddy singing, baby". It may seem like nothing to many,I know. But, this movie was a highlight in his career as a vocalist. Yes, he does have many a story to tell (believe me!), has several very old newspaper review clippings and he has managed to get a couple of his songs on wax (78 speed). However, my grandfather, Jesse Cryor, never became famous, has had his music stolen, was not even fairly compensated, financiallyas was true for most of the Black artists of his dayfor his for all of his dedication, creativity, hard work and time away from his wife and children. He knows that in some ways those are the breaks of the business while in other ways he was outright cheated. He is still very alert and very aware of this fact. And he remembers. This, even now, hurts him deeply.
He reads the Chicago Tribune EVERY day and discusses current events with everyone he comes talks to. Despite great concern (on my part), I've decided to hand over the article to him. Jimmy Baskett and Johnny Lee (my mother's, Phyllis', Godfather) were his friends. I know that he will be looking for his name in the article and I will let him know that I have come to this web site to make whoever reads this email aware that one of the voices from "Song of the South" is still alive and kicking - writing songs in his head, singing them in bed and making me sit, "write it down" and give feedback.
Though it troubled his mother, writing and singing is what he was made to do.
I hope something great comes of this. Nowadays, character voiceover performers seem to be getting more and more recognition. What's more, I think the world would like to know what it meant and what it took for Black actors to get those roles in movies and TV programs. It was not easy for them. They were performers by trade. That was their job. They were criticized by many other Blacks for taking those stereotypical roles. Almost all of the roles portrayed some stereotype of Black people in American society and, to wit, NONE of the actors talked or acted anything like the characters they portrayed on-screen.
Even now, I'm sorry to say, the same is quite often true of movie roles. The big difference here is that the actors are paid and recognised more fairly for their hard work.