This is Lee Habib and this is Our American Stories, a show where America is the star and the American people.
To search for the Our American Stories podcast, go to the iHeart radio app, Apple Podcasts, or wherever you get your podcasts. Up next, a story about our fight for independence, our original sin, and a man who escaped it. His name was David George and his lasting legacy can still be found all across our country today. Here to tell his story is Professor Woody Holton of the University of South Carolina.
Take it away, Woody. One of the lesser known but more interesting facts about the American Revolution is that one in five Americans at the time were enslaved African Americans and many of them in this battle among whites found opportunity for themselves to become free. Nearly 10,000 fought on the American side. Rhode Island had a whole regiment of black soldiers fighting for the freedom of the country but also for their own freedom because that was the deal. But in the South where 90% of African Americans lived, the patriots did not offer freedom to enslaved people so the chance for them to get free in the South was by fighting for the British side. David George was from Virginia, born sometime around 1742 and had a terrible master, ironically the master's last name was Chapel as in church, but he brutally whipped not only David George but his brothers and sisters and worst of all for David George was watching his mother be whipped. And as he wrote in his narrative, Master's rough and cruel usage was the reason of my running away. So he did run, we don't know the exact year, but he escaped from Virginia headed south. You know you think of slaves escaping following the drinking gourd, that is the north star to freedom up north or freedom in Canada, but for him freedom lay to the south and so he crossed the Roanoke River into North Carolina, spent some time working in South Carolina but then was advised by his employers to head further south so he crossed the Savannah River into Georgia and spent a couple years there but then he heard his owner was still coming after him so this was clearly a relentless owner, Mr. Chapel, trying to track him down. So this time David George decided the place that he had the best chance of remaining free was in the west so he headed into what was then now part of Georgia but was then Muscogee country or that is the Indians that the English called the Creeks. And they kind of enslaved him too but certainly relative to what he'd experienced back in Virginia they were pretty decent slave owners but once again this relentless master reminds me of Javert in Les Miserables, tracked him down, he escaped and eventually persuaded his Native American captors to sell him to a white man named Goffin who was very tight with the Native Americans of that area because he was a deerskin trader. He would buy thousands of deerskins from Native Americans and in return supply them with guns and ammunition and alcohol and other things they needed.
And as he wrote, I was with him about four years I think before I married. Here I lived a bad life and had no serious thoughts about my soul but after my wife was delivered of our first child a man of my own color named Cyrus who came from Charleston South Carolina to Silver Bluff told me one day in the woods that if I lived so I should never see the face of God in glory. That apparently is what made the difference this man Cyrus but he says this was the first thing that disturbed me and gave me much concern I thought then that I must be saved by prayer. Okay so David George was owned by and working for George Goffin and his base was at Silver Bluff on the South Carolina side of the Savannah River where having become converted to Christ himself he helped another man named George Lyle form a black Baptist church at Silver Bluff South Carolina on the South Carolina bank of the Savannah River and that was the first black Baptist church formed anywhere in the world and the black Baptist church is one of the vibrant most vibrant churches in America today it all began with David George and George Lyle still both of them enslaved. Well in 1778 the British captured Savannah Georgia from the Patriots Savannah was then the capital of Georgia and it looked like the British were going to be able to capture that whole area and so George Goffin ran away. He was a patriot and so he was worried that the British would imprison him and so he took off and that made David George free by default. And you're listening to professor Woody Holton of the University of South Carolina tell one heck of a story the story of David George the founder of the first black Baptist church in America and the world more of David George's story part of America's story when our American stories continues.
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Should we continue with our American stories and with David George's story when we last left off professor Woody Holton of the University of South Carolina was telling us about how David George escaped from bondage in Virginia only to be enslaved again in South Carolina where George would have a spiritual awakening in the woods due to the efforts of another African-American he would go on to found the black Baptist church and soon the British invasion of South Carolina would create new possibilities for enslaved people let's get back to the story. His owner had run away and so he was free he eventually moved in to Savannah by that time he'd gotten married he got by in various ways he ran a butcher's stall yet another reminder of all of the things that enslaved people did besides work out in the field a lot of them were merchants now he's now free but a lot of enslaved people worked as merchants for their owners you know giving most of the profits to their owners and he and his family moved up to Charleston South Carolina and were there in 1782 when the British agreed to evacuate Charleston at the end of the war and so his family evacuated with many other people who had been loyal to the British crown both black and white and where they evacuated to was Halifax Nova Scotia so that was a place for him and thousands of other loyalists to the crown both black and white to take refuge after the war. On the one hand we have to praise the British for issuing what amounted to emancipation proclamations that resulted in the freedom of thousands of African-Americans on the other hand we don't want to put the British on a pedestal because they were not great allies so for instance at one point when David George was in Savannah Georgia and he really wanted to get up to Charleston South Carolina and he made the money he needed to pay for the ship passage for his whole family to go up to Charleston but then a bunch of British cavalrymen came and stole all his money so we certainly don't want to imagine that they were all great heroes who were sympathetic to African-Americans and it's not like they're ready for freeing their own slaves they just tended to make these offers only to people like David George who were owned by patriots and in his case he didn't have to escape Galphin because Galphin kind of ran away from him his owner ran away from him but Nova Scotia remained loyal to the crown and so that was a place for him and thousands of other loyalists to the crown both black and white to take refuge after the war and one of the sad parts of David George's story is that even though blacks and whites had taken refuge there together the whites were terrible to the blacks you know they were used to a lot of them had come from places where all 13 of the original colonies that rebelled had slavery and so many of them were former slave owners themselves they were not used to seeing blacks as equals and they refused to treat them as equals and David George had an additional liability and that was by this time as I mentioned he had become a Baptist preacher and the Baptists as evangelicals were really on the outs with the rest of English-speaking people and that is people in the British Empire because the official church of England which today in America we call the Episcopal Church they still call the Anglican Church in England you know they had an official government church as did most of the English colonies in America the church was the state and the state was the church and they were they really oppressed evangelicals including Baptists and so for instance a crowd of veteran retired British soldiers pulled down David George's house to punish him for all the preaching that he did he once baptized a couple named William and Deborah Holmes a white couple and another reminder that there was tremendous cooperation between blacks and whites and the evangelical churches were really one of the real locations of that that is people took seriously the passage in the Bible about in Christ there is no east nor west that were all one and so there was a tremendous amount of interracial cooperation so he had this white couple that wanted to be baptized and you know they went down to the river and as he wrote their relations that is their relatives who lived in the town were very angry they raised a mob and endeavored to hinder them being baptized Mrs. Holmes's sister especially laid a hold of her hair to keep her from going down into the water to be baptized. The persecution as he said only increased and in fact some African Americans I'm sad to say joined in the persecution again because it was a religious battle rather than an ethnic or racial battle because of all that persecution they really grasped an opportunity the British left them. The British had just established a new colony on the west coast of Africa called Sierra Leone the capital was called Freetown which which is a pretty good omen and so twelve hundred of these African Americans who had first taken refuge in Nova Scotia after the war they now were offered this new opportunity in 1791 of becoming refugees again and going to Sierra Leone in Africa and David George caught at that opportunity. The first day they landed he preached obviously they had no building already so that he preached under a sail continued to until they got the church built but they did make a go of it in this settlement called Sierra Leone their descendants are still there today but those first few decades were really rough one of the ways that the British oppressed these African colonists African American colonists I should call them one of the things the British did to them was levy really heavy taxes and some of them actually rebelled against these taxes and one of the leaders of that rebellion was a man named Harry Washington and Harry Washington years earlier had been owned by George Washington and had escaped from George Washington and joined in the same exodus and what did Harry Washington do there he did just what his owner George Washington had done which was he took a lead in a rebellion against taxation without representation. One last thing to say about David George is that as a leading Baptist minister he was very interested to go meet the Baptist in England and they agreed to finance his trip and so that's why we have an account of his amazing journey is that while there they asked him to write up his pilgrimage as he called it for one of their magazines and so we don't know much about his life after that but we do have this account that he wrote up you know and I'll be honest I'm not a super religious person myself but I'm so grateful for these guys faith because and again different faiths have different attitudes about this but many faiths are really into having people write down their religious pilgrimage and it's been a real boon for historians David George was the guy who founded the first who founded the black church in America would be another way of looking at it. And a terrific job on the production and storytelling by Faith Buchanan and Monty Montgomery and a special thanks to Professor Woody Holton of the University of South Carolina and my goodness without God the story is not possible of course the founder of the first black church in America a man of my own color told me if I lived so and he was not living well I would never get to see the face of God or his glory I must be saved by prayer.
Thus started the spiritual journey of David George and thus started this remarkable transformation his life's journey his story David George's story the founder of the first black church in America here on Our American Stories. And we return to Our American Stories and up next a story from the late Virginia Mancini the wife of Henry Mancini one of America's greatest film composers if you don't know his name you certainly know his compositions which include the Pink Panther theme and Moon River from Breakfast at Tiffany's here's our own Monty Montgomery they get us started with the story. American composer Henry Mancini was born in Cleveland Ohio on April 16, 1924 but that's not where he grew up here's his wife Virginia or Ginny with the rest of the story. Henry grew up in West Aliquippa Pennsylvania outside of Pittsburgh in a steel town and his father worked at the Jones and Laughlin steel mill and Henry had a very modest childhood West Aliquippa you have to understand is on the wrong side of the tracks and many Europeans settled there especially Italians they were a very poor Italian family and they were very close and it was a very small town so his life was fairly simple and once his father realized that he didn't want his son to go to work in the steel mill he turned him on to the flute because his father played the flute and when his father came down with the mumps in his frustration he handed Henry the flute and taught him to play and they both played in the Sons of Italy band in West Aliquippa so that was Henry's introduction to music and he loved it and there's a part in his history that talks about his father taking him into Pittsburgh to see the movie and the stage show at the I forget the name of the theater but one of the most popular theaters in Pittsburgh the drama captured Henry in ways that he never realized because he thought the music was being played live behind the screen and when he found out that it was recorded he was fascinated with the whole way movies are put together and the music is there to create the emotional reaction that you're looking for and that fascinated him to the point where his instincts told him to just do what he felt like doing and eventually you know he followed his intuition and it paid off because once he graduated from high school he had a chance to go to Juilliard and the music business Mancini would also serve during World War II where he'd make strong connections with fellow musicians.
After the war and when the Glenn Miller band reformed sans Glenn Miller he'd become their piano player but how did Ginny meet Henry? It starts with American musician Mela Torme. I worked with Mel Torme for three and a half years some of the most fun times of my young life and when Mel was advised to go out on his own as a solo performer I didn't know where my next meal was going to come from so I got a call one day from a friend who said that Tex Benecke was out here with the Glenn Miller Orchestra and was going to be at the Hollywood Palladium and the vocal group that had been with the band decided to leave in Hollywood and they needed a new girl singer. So I had nothing better to do and I went down to the Million Dollar Theater in downtown LA and walked into Tex's dressing room where the auditions were being held and there was a tall young Italian at the piano named Henry Mancini who was playing for the auditions. All the rest of the orchestra was out on the golf course so he was a little bit peeved that he had to stay back to play for the auditions. I don't remember what I sang for my audition but I did get hired and never having been out of California before I left on a train with 36 strange musicians for a tour for two months for a tour across the country starting with a week at the Golden Gate Theater in San Francisco. On the way to San Francisco, the young Italian piano player sat down on the train beside me and said, you know, I do some arranging for the band. Is there anything in particular you would like to sing? And it was October of 1946 and Nat King Cole had just recorded the Christmas song. The one that is such a standard today, Chestnuts Roasting on the Open Fire, that one.
It was about to be released and it was timely so I suggested that. Meanwhile we're in San Francisco and now we're on a tour for two months across the country. When we arrived in New York mid-December, I was rather stupid about weather, arrived in a cloth coat mid-December in freezing New York City. At any rate, it was there that I heard what Henry wrote on score paper that got my attention. I knew I never wanted to be married to a traveling musician because I saw how hard it was on the orchestra wives. It was only when I realized that he had potential that I really sought his attention. And I on one side of the stage, he at the piano on the other side of the stage, the certainly knew that I had eyes for the young Italian piano player. We began to go out to dinner after the job and on our week off at Christmas time, I wasn't making enough money to fly home to California. So he said, I'm going to my home in Aliquippa and you're welcome to come with me.
So I agreed to go. Knowing that would give me an opportunity to see what his relationship was with his mother. My measure of a good husband was a loving relationship with his mother. And I had the opportunity to witness Henry's loving kindness with his mother.
And I was impressed with that. Maybe you've been listening to Virginia Mancini tell the story of Henry Mancini, the world famous composer. And when she met him, he was a keyboardist, a piano player for a large traveling band, the old Glenn Miller band. And in the end, they struck up a romance and she got to take not only the musical measure of the man, but the character of the man as well. As she said, I had eyes for the young Italian piano player, but by invitation to his home, she was able to, as she said, quote, take my measure of a good husband, which as she said was his relationship with his mother. When we come back, more of the life story of Henry Mancini and in a way the story of his bride, Virginia Mancini and the story of a time in America, a distinct time in America, post-war America, here on Our American Stories. And we're back with Our American Stories and the story of Henry Mancini, the composer of such classics as Moon River and the Pink Panther theme, among other compositions. And it's being told by his bride, Virginia Mancini. We were commenting during the break about the fact that Henry Mancini came up and grew up in a steel town, and what a thing about this country that you can grow up in a working class town like that and imagine yourself to become, well, almost anything. When we last left off, Virginia Mancini, his widow, was telling us about Henry's early life in Pennsylvania and how they met after World War II. Let's continue with the story. When we got married, I was making $36 a year on a 15-minute radio show. Henry was making $52 unemployment insurance, and we didn't have a care in the world.
We managed to pay our bills, pay our rent. I was still singing backup for people. One of them was Betty Hutton, major, major star at Paramount Studios. And she asked me if I would accompany her to London, where she was playing a month at the London Palladium. And she was opening on my first wedding anniversary. And she was offering me some good money. So I went home and I said, Henry, I would never do this except without your permission, but Betty Hutton has asked me to go with her to the London Palladium for a month. How do you feel about that? And he said, well, why don't you do that? He said, it's okay with me.
So on our opening night, my first wedding anniversary, a big bouquet of flowers came into my big tub of a dressing room, you know, washing tub. While I'm at the London Palladium, he has a gig at the Hollywood Palladium playing the glockenspiel on I'm Looking Over a Four-Leaf Clover. And he hated singing it. He didn't mind playing the glockenspiel, but the whole band had to sing, I'm looking over a four-leaf clover, and he would not sing.
He would play the glockenspiel, but not sing. And one night the band leaders saw him not singing, fired him off the bandstand right then and there. So when I came home from the London Palladium, he picked me up at the airport and I said, Henry, how did you go with the Hollywood Palladium? He said, I got fired because I wouldn't sing, I'm looking over a four-leaf clover.
Anyway, that was that chapter in our lives. And in 1952, Mancini would join the Universal Music Department, where he'd go on to have a hand in working with the scores of over 100 different films. His time at Universal was like going to Harvard.
Great training experience for him to be on salary, and we knew we could always depend on a check at the end of the week, and that's where he got his training. He was working constantly on every film you could think of. And it was there that he'd meet Blake Edwards, an American actor, director, producer, and screenwriter.
If you don't know him, he directed Breakfast at Tiffany's. Just by accident, Blake Edwards and Henry were on the Universal lot at the same time. Henry was there to get a haircut, and they were about to have lunch, and they met in the commissary. Blake happened to mention to Henry that he was about to do a television series called Peter Gunn. Would he be interested in doing the music? Henry of course, thinking it was a Western, said, sure, why not, I'd love to. He said, no, no, no, no. This is not a Western.
This is about a private detective named Peter Gunn. Well, that was a turning point in our lives because it became such a worldwide hit. And still today, that album cover is treasured worldwide. We had always tried to plan to go to Europe at some point in our lives, and we would say, one day we're going to go to Europe. One day we're going to go to Europe. And I said, Henry, I don't care when, but let's book it.
Let's book it now. So we booked a trip from New York to Southampton on the SS France, first class all the way for six weeks. We had saved $6,000, so when we sailed on the SS France, it so happened that Blake Edwards and Maurice Richlin were writing a script on a story called The Pink Panther. So they would be in their state rooms writing all day long, and at dinnertime we would all converge at the dinner table for drinks and laughs and the rest of the evening. We were on a six-week tour of every wonderful country, Spain, France, the Netherlands, Finland, Sweden. We did it all in six weeks on $6,000.
Can you imagine? So while we were there, it's when Peter Gunn hit, and we knew that when we came home, we didn't have to worry. The first royalty check from ASCAP for Peter Gunn was $32,000.
We couldn't imagine having that much money in the bank. When Henry had an assignment, I used to hear him composing away upstairs in his music room, and it always sounded so beautiful to me just to hear the notes come out. Anyway, when he was finished with a segment, he would call me on the phone and he said, you want to come up and hear something?
And I was always the first one to react to what he had written, and it was mostly always, always positive. I love the experience of hearing what he wrote for the first time of anybody on the planet. And one song that Henry composed and Ginny managed to hear pretty early on was Moon River from Breakfast at Tiffany's.
It's a song that's since been covered by Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Chevy Chase, Frank Ocean, and Morrissey of all people. But the song almost didn't make it onto the big screen. You know, when Breakfast at Tiffany's was finished, Paramount decided to take it to San Francisco to preview it.
And when it was over, we all met in Blake Edwards suite in San Francisco to discuss, you know, what worked, what didn't work. And it was obvious that things had, that was a little long and there needed to be cuts made here and there. One of the suggestions by the head of the studio was that they cut the song Moon River.
There was such silence in the room that even Audrey took exception to that suggestion after having worked so hard to do it and learn it. And anyway, it definitely stayed in the picture, as you know, and thank God it did. He had a sense of melody that very few good musicians have. And Moon River, I do believe, will live longer, longer, longer than any of us. People will know that song forever.
It has a lasting quality about it that expresses everybody's feelings. Henry Mancini would pass away on June 14, 1994 at the age of 70, and Ginny adored every second of their time together. My life with Henry was such a joy because his temperament was so even.
He would never get angry. He would always, he used to say Ginny, when I used to fly off the handle he used to say Ginny let four bars go by, meaning four bars of music before you say anything, before you react. Anyway, he taught me a lot. He taught me a lot. My time with Henry was over much too early.
This year we would have celebrated 69 years of marital bliss. Unfortunately I was not able to keep him that long. So I keep him alive through listening to his music all the time. He's always there.
He's always there. And a great job on the production by Monty Montgomery. And a special thanks to Philip Graham for helping us gather the audio for this story. And a special thanks to Virginia Mancini for telling her story and the story of her husband composer Henry Mancini. And it turns out that Universal Music Department gig was life changing. The story of Henry Mancini here on Our American Story.
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