For some, racial inequality seems like a battle that was fought and won with the civil rights movement. Younger generations merely see the movement as a topic from their history textbooks that they learn about during Black History Month. But Ron Paris, a renowned R&B musician and Santa Barbara resident, wants to change this with his musical lecture “Sweet Soul Music,” which he will perform at the Maritime Museum on February 14 at 1 p.m., as part of the 2nd Annual African American Cultural Arts Festival.
“Sweet Soul Music” is a song by Arthur Conley, and although the song is not used in Paris’s lecture, the title seems to exemplify his appreciation for music and its ability to entertain and inform. The performance lecture runs for 45 minutes and “narrates some of the early history of R&B,” said UCSB professor Julie Carlson. Ron Paris “focuses on the early pioneers and [shows] how soul music literally and figuratively broke down the rope that used to divide white from black audiences” she explained. “The rope” is seen in a segment of Paris’s lecture that shows a Temptations concert with white and black audience members divided by a rope. To younger audiences, this might seem completely foreign. Ron Paris wants to change that by “trying to get ‘Sweet Soul Music’ in grade schools,” Paris said. So far, he’s had no luck doing so.
Perhaps it is Paris’s unabashed honesty that has kept this lecture from younger audiences. In “Sweet Soul Music,” Paris informs his audience about the 1955 murder of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old African-American teen. Till was severely beaten and brutalized, and his mother gave him an open-casket, public funeral in order to show “what hate can do,” Paris explained. Paris makes reference to this “grisly murder” in the lecture, allowing these horrifying images to show how ignorance and hatred can cause people to commit heinous acts.
Paris himself was a victim and inflictor of hate. As a child in Chicago, he was traumatized by a bully until Paris “lost it” and bricked him. The bully, along with racial tension, created a “hatred toward myself,” admits Paris. “You didn’t want to be black in the ‘50s.” He hopes to change the images of people of African descent that he was shown growing up. “All I saw were pictures of Africans with bones in their noses,” said Paris. Through this performance lecture, Paris shows a different image of African Americans by using music by legendary African-American musicians such as Sam Cooke.
He uses Sam Cooke’s song “A Change Is Gonna Come” when he speaks about the four girls who were killed in the 16th Street Baptist Church when a bomb went off. Paris employs his musical skills acquired over decades of experience as an R&B musician. He was part of Buck Ram’s The Platters and opened for The Jacksons before they were The Jackson Five. He even had his own show in Las Vegas, which he left to live here in Santa Barbara after his mother passed. “Music has been my salvation,” explained Paris.
Paris hopes to spread his love of music and to inform the public, especially younger generations, about the pain that can be caused by ignorance and racism. “If I can just see a special light in a little youngster that’s 10 who says, ‘I can dig it’,” then for Paris, this experience will be a success.
Ron Paris will perform on February 14 at 1 p.m. as part of the 2nd Annual African American Cultural Arts Festival at the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum.