Being Shelly Golde’s daughter has been one of the greatest gifts of my life.
My Dad was always so loving and supportive of me and I still feel that unconditional love and support today and every day. He gave me the consistent message that I could do anything and be anything I wanted and he never made me feel that my gender would be a hindrance to achieving my dreams and aspirations.
My Dad was so many things: shy, reserved, sweet, caring, humble, strong, honorable, fair, a caregiver, respectful, responsible, resilient, driven, successful, savvy, tender, generous, beautiful, resourceful, compassionate and charming. He was a wonderful painter, writer and poet. And in spite of his shyness, he was charming, debonair and heroic, he was and is my hero, my witness, my teacher, my cheerleader, my confidant, my confidence booster, my parent, my friend, my example.
He taught me that when you fall down, you get up, fall down, fall down and get up again. When I was a little girl, sometimes he was the only one who gave me hope and kept me going. And when things were the toughest he always made sure I was taken care of, had a place to go, people to look after me and always made me feel loved.
He helped me to see that it was my destiny to be an artist, and with me it took on the form of musician, writer, songwriter and salesman, which in its own way is an art form. If there were an award for best salesman, my Dad would surely have won the Oscar!
It all started with the little red suitcase, a record player that he brought home for me when I was only three years old. He told me, “Franne, this will keep you company till I get home to tuck you in. He dropped the needle and music began to play. I grabbed him around the neck and gave him the tightest hug and then I began to cry. I wasn’t sure why, but I loved the way the music made me feel and wanted to play it over and over and over again. That first night, I listened to “How High The Moon” till I fell asleep; that would become the first in what became a great collection that he added too regularly.
Occasionally when Dad needed a babysitter for a couple of hours, he’d drop me off with his friend, the bartender at Mr. Kelly’s, a nightclub on Rush Street in Chicago, where besides eating pimento olives, maraschino cherries and orange slices, I got to see the greats, like Carmen McCrae, Sarah Vaughn, Della Reese, Ella Fitzgerald and Billy Holiday. I was only five or six and it’s impossible to exaggerate the impression those immortal singers made on me.
When I was ten Dad took me to see James Brown. I was forever transformed.
Sometimes he’d pick me up to go to school and instead we’d play hooky. These were not only fun days, but I also learned more than I ever would have in school. We’d have long, deep talks, but first we’d sing, Dad’s repertoire included everything from, “I’ve Been Workin’ On The Railroad” “The Yellow Rose Of Texas” and “Oh What A Beautiful Morning,” to “This Land Is Your Land” and “We Shall Overcome.”
We’d also visit some of Dad’s customers and one of my favorites was Jay’s Potato Chips. The plant manager, would show me how the chips were made and then let me taste test, hot off the conveyer belt. Dad would reach out to shake his hand, always respectfully and the manager would pull out a rag to clean his hands. Dad would say, “A little grease never hurt anyone.” He made him feel comfortable. I loved that about my dad.
Then I’d watch him pitch some new products to Mr. Jasper, who ran the place. Sometimes he’d even do a live demo of a product. At the same time, he’d ask Mr. Jasper about his wife and if his son had won his division and how his daughter was doing in school. He knew every secretary — their names, their families — and would stop to say hello to each and every one of them.
When we stopped at The Chicago Housing Authority he always made a point of visiting Cabrini Green and Robert Taylor Homes to check in with the janitors. He stayed connected with them and made them feel as important as any of the executives at the CHA.
Many considered these neighborhoods dangerous, but that never bothered my dad. He had lots of friends in the black community and was very involved in the civil rights movement.
As we drove around we talked about discrimination and racial tension. He told me, “People can feel it when you’re afraid. They’re afraid too. They’re just human beings, like you and me, except their skin is a different color. People don’t start out that way Franne, they’re taught to be frightened and to hate.” Dad was always teaching me such invaluable lessons. He walked it like he talked it.
Here’s a small fraction of what he taught me:
Remember people’s names and details about their families. Ask how they are. Always listen to your gut, it will never steer you wrong. Take notes, be kind, honest and authentic and do what you love. These were things that we talked about on our rides in the car. Always say I love you to those you love and treat them with kindness and respect. Not everyone will reciprocate, but everyone needs it and they’ll never forget you.
If it was a Friday we’d stop at The Palmer House, a grand hotel on State Street in downtown Chicago. First lunch, then a haircut and manicure for Dad and a manicure for me. Everyone would come out to greet him as we walked the long corridor. Dad, with his three-piece suit, flawlessly draped over his lean body, his shined leather shoes, crisp shirt, cufflinks, silk tie and pocket watch, could have passed for a member of the Rat Pack. But it was his boyish smile along with those powder blue eyes against his tan skin that made him nearly irresistible.
He was that well-dressed, handsome man, with a million-dollar smile, that everyone was attracted to, but once they saw beyond his appearance, they saw his real beauty, his goodness and his soul.
My Dad realized early on that college was not in my future. So one day we took a drive in his beloved black Cadillac Coupe De Ville and he said, “Sweetheart — he called everyone sweetheart — “I’m not sure what you want to do next, but one of my customers, a great guy named Ralph Bass, really knows the music business. And he has a room you could work in.”
A room? Little did I know that room and Ralph would be my gateway to magic. You see, that room was part of Chess Records, home to the most legendary blues and soul singers on the planet. For the next year my Dad rented that room for me. It became my office, my classroom, my writing retreat and rehearsal space.
I worked, watched and learned from the best – The Chi-Lites, Howlin’ Wolf, Minnie Riperton, The Rotary Connection, Corky Siegel, Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, Etta James, and many more. And then there were the arrangers, background singers and studio musicians. Dad would come and check on me periodically and Ralph would assure him I had a bright future. Tears would well in his eyes. He was giving me something that I really wanted, something I needed — and that made him so happy.
Dad made a difference in the lives of so many, not only his own family, but countless people he didn’t even know. His tireless community service work, arranging for busloads of grade school students to get to senior housing after school, where they were tutored in reading and got help with their homework. Getting high school students to paint the stairwells and halls of the Chicago housing projects, giving inspirational talks to students, making a case for not dropping out or dealing drugs. He created a jobs program for people in public housing to learn a trade and get jobs and organized for high school students in low income neighborhoods to graduate at the University Of Chicago in caps and gowns! And he did so much more…..
Dad was someone who cast stones and made ripples that continue to this day and beyond. He left the world a better place. He made everyone he met feel better about themselves and happy to be in his presence.
I will always tell his stories, give back and try to spread love and grace the way he did. I will keep his spirit alive.
Dad never hung up the phone without saying, “I love you and I’m so proud of you.”
His blessings and his belief in me meant everything. I can’t imagine a greater gift than to know you made your parent proud and that you are loved and accepted no matter what.
I would tell him all the time, it’s because of you. You empowered me, you set the example, you are the best Dad I could ever ask for. He would say, “No you did it all on your own.” But no one does it all on their own, we all need help, someone to believe. And I will forever feel grateful and blessed that Shelly Golde was my Dad.