Tuesday, September 6, 2011

On the Loss of a Great Man

The NFL, the University of South Florida, and the entire Tampa community lost a great man this weekend with the passing of Lee Roy Selmon. Having been the first draft pick of the first year, he was the original Buc. And being the only player in the NFL Hall of Fame who spent more than one year as a Buc, he is arguably the BEST Buccaneer. Ever.

Two memories of Mr. Selmon stand out in my mind. My family’s business, which I headed in the 90s and early 2000s, was nominated for “Most Family Friendly Business.” We didn’t win, but as they say, it’s an honor to be nominated. Lee Roy Selmon spoke at the event. He began by saying that if anyone was late because of traffic on the Crosstown, please don’t blame him. He referred to the expressway that was named in his honor.

But what impressed me most was the way he spoke of family – his own and families in general. It wasn’t the words he said that were memorable, it was the light in his eyes and the emotion in the timbre of his voice when he spoke of his mother and his brothers, his wife and his children that made me know this man believed in the sanctity of family. I had no doubt his family was first in his life.

One Saturday afternoon, I was in Buccaneer Heaven picking out a new shirt to wear to the next day’s game. It was early in the season, and the store was crowded. We’d won the SuperBowl the year before. We were optimistic. The energy in the store was electric and fun. Suddenly the cheerful noise ceased, little by little, replaced by whispers. “Lee Roy.”

Through the front door came our Hall of Famer, pushing a handcart loaded with cases of his Barbecue sauce. Here was a man who made his own deliveries to each little mom-and-pop location that sold his sauce. Like when Moses approached the Red Sea, the crowd parted to let him through. If this was Buccaneer Heaven, then surely Jesus had just walked into the room.

The crowd of shoppers stood in silent awe as he shook hands with the manager, picked up his paperwork and emptied his cart. A few brave souls said hello to him as he passed back out the front door. He nodded and smiled, and went on about his quiet business. But we all knew we had just been in the presence of greatness.

Football is just a game. Certainly other things in life are far more important. Like Family. This weekend we lost a man who loved both. And we deeply feel that loss.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Who's Yours?

We were listening to Siriusly Sinatra this weekend when the announcer said Sinatra was the “greatest singer of the Twentieth Century.” Now, I truly love ol’ blue eyes. That’s why I was listening to the station in the first place. But the greatest singer? Of the entire century? Which led me to wonder, if not Frank, then who?

One could make a case for these:

Elvis – remember the term was “greatest singer,” not “greatest voice.” If you don’t think Elvis can sing, I direct you to “Love Me Tender.” Case closed.

Luciano Pavarotti – Lives the person who can listen to “Nessun Dorma” without a shiver running down the spine? Or perhaps tears in the eyes? Absolute beauty.

Ray Charles – Just the other day, I happened upon his version of “Georgia on My Mind.” Memo to everyone else in the singing industry: Don’t record this song. Mr. Charles owns it.

Tony Bennett – This one I’ve had the great joy of seeing in person. “Fly Me to the Moon” was a life-changing experience. His voice was warm brandy. Unbelievable.

Renee Fleming – It’s not just having a great voice. It’s also knowing how to control it, how to wrench every ounce of emotion out of the music. Plus, she’s so elegant!

Barbra Streisand – the lovely lady for whom the term “superstar” was coined. Stunningly beautiful voice. And a great comic actress as well. I recently saw her on Oprah. She sang the theme from “The Way We Were.” Still beautiful.

Ella Fitzgerald – I tried to come up with the quintessential Ella song to talk about, but there are so many. “Someone to Watch over Me,” “The Man I Love,” “’Round Midnight.” They’re all good. It just seems so effortless when she sings it, whether she’s doing a slow and soulful version or a quick jumpin’ scat version of the same song. Pure Ella.

Billie Holiday – And of course, Billie Holiday. I wish the recordings we have of her were better. There are some that sound great, but many of them are showing their age. Still her unmistakable smoky voice is astounding.

Linda Ronstadt – I’m adding this one just for me. This attraction began for me with the Stone Ponys. “Different Drum” was always a favorite. But her later stuff with Nelson Riddle showcases the purity of her voice. And for personal reasons, her version of “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes” brings tears to my eyes no matter how many times I hear it.

Now Frank. The Chairman of the Board. Francis Albert Sinatra. It’s not just that he has a great voice, it’s the WAY he sings. He can make you feel like he’s singing right to you. And that at any moment, he’s going to walk off the stage and sweep you off your feet. The mournful sound of “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning” makes me cry every time I hear it. The playfulness of “Lady Is a Tramp” makes me fall in love with him. I get too hungry for dinner at eight, Frank. Pick me!

So that’s ten choices. Without meaning to I picked five men and five women. And now I realize I’ve left off Mel Torme. They don’t call him the Velvet Fog for nothin’. How many great singers were there in the Twentieth Century?

Who’s your choice?