Over the last decade here is what local Masonic Lodges should have been doing.
They should have increased their dues sufficiently to not only pay for the running of their Lodges but also have salted away some money in the bank account and investments. Instead of doing fund raisers they should have looked for additional income by renting out their Masonic Hall or any collateral property attached to the Hall owned by the Lodge.
They should have been seeking endowments from their members and instead of authorizing the Treasurer to take the extra income down to the bank and buying a CD, the Lodge should have hired a certified financial planner.
In urban and suburban situations Lodges in one area should have tried to operate all from one building. If you travel to England you can find as many as 20 Lodges meeting in one building, and Brothers paying $20 or more each meeting for a meal and the festive board. In our very mobile modern society where there was once a Lodge in every town, today it would be much more economical to have just one Hall per Masonic District.
These ideas have certainly been posted on this site before. So why repeat them now?
With Europe collapsing before our eyes; with the United States economy faltering, unemployment above 9% with no signs of abating, GDP growth in the neighborhood of an anemic 1%, the stock market tanking, one has to wonder about the financial stability of Masonic Lodges.
Those that have refused to run their Lodges like a business and have insisted on doing Masonry on the cheap may not be able to survive if the country’s economy continues to worsen. Especially vulnerable are rural Lodges and Lodges who cannot consolidate buildings. Those Lodges with a building all their own with no tenants, low dues and no money in the bank account or in investments probably will not survive.
We could be looking at the largest amount of Lodges disbanding and turning in their charters in the history of this nation. If we are it will be because many Lodges refused to take the necessary steps to put themselves on a sound financial footing when they had the opportunity. Any good businessman will tell you that you salt away some money in good times for a rainy day fund to tide you over in bad times. Lodges that failed to look ahead, failed to do any long term planning and operated by just squeaking by will suffer the consequences and pay the ultimate price.
I confess that I am a Born Again, Fundamentalist, Freemason.
Now before you have a cardiac arrest, or a stroke, let me explain what a Born Again, Fundamentalist, Freemason is. I used to be a very [for want of a better word] liberal Mason. I am now a very Conservative or Traditionalist, Freemason. Therefore, I am Born Again. By Fundamentalist, I mean that I believe that no one has a right to be a Freemason.
I believe those who want to be Freemasons must be good and true men, free born and of a mature and discreet age and sound judgment, no bondsmen, no women, no immoral or scandalous men, only men of good report.
I believe that a man who wants to be a Freemason must believe in the existence of God, and take his Obligation on Volume of The Sacred Law of his choice and that he owes a duty to that God and to his fellow man no matter what their creed, color, or religion.
I believe that a Freemason is obliged to obey the moral and civil law.
I believe that a man’s religion or mode of worship should not exclude him from the Order of Freemasonry, provided he also believes in the existence of a Supreme Being, and that Supreme Being will punish vice and reward virtue.
I believe that a Freemason is bound never to act against the dictates of his conscience.
I believe that Freemasonry is the center of union between honest men and the happy means of conciliating friendship amongst those who must otherwise have remained at a perpetual distance.
I believe a Freemason”s Lodge is the temple of peace, harmony, and brotherly love; nothing is allowed to enter this Lodge which has the remotest tendency to disturb the quietude of its pursuits.
I believe all preferment among Masons is grounded upon real worth and personal merit only, therefore no Brother should be passed chair to chair, whether it is in a Lodge or a Grand Lodge, just because he knows the right people or has held the previous office for one year, no Grand Master, Master or Warden is chosen by seniority, but only for his merit .
I believe that there is nothing wrong with Freemasonry, as laid down for our instruction in our Ancient Charges.
Born June 13, 1945 in Montreal, received his primary education in Perth Ontario, and graduated from Banting Institute, University of Toronto, 1967. Married to Ellen, and has two children, Christopher, and Victoria and two granddaughters. Nelson was appointed Assistant Editor in 1992 and Editor in August 1994 of The Philalethes Society Journal of Masonic Research and Letters, the first non-United States Citizen to hold these positions.
He is also only the second Mason to ever hold the position of President and Editor of The Philalethes at the same time. He retired as Editor in June 2009. Nelson is a well-known Masonic speaker, having spoken in the jurisdictions of Alberta, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Costa Rica, Cuba, The District of Columbia, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Jamaica [EC], Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Nova Scotia, Ohio, Oklahoma, Ontario, Pennsylvania, Quebec, Texas, Virginia, and Washington.
Nelson developed the highly successful Internet Masonic Leadership Course. His book “Confessions of a Born Again Fundamentalist Freemason” has become a Masonic Best Seller. VoicePrint®, The National Broadcast Reading Service Inc. an international broadcasting reading service for the visually impaired has recorded some of his historical articles.
Nelson was instrumental in the formation of the Masonic Relief for Cuba Committee. And he serves as the Executive Director of that program.
He is also one of the few Canadian Freemasons, listed in latest edition of the “Who is Who of Freemasonry.”
Br. King, you may remember, was a guest on Masonic Central in 2008 where he spoke with us about Masonic Scholarship, Cuban Freemasonry, International Freemasonry, and his work with the Philalathes Society. If you missed the original airing of the program, you can listen to the very informative podcast here.
Funeral Arrangements are today.
Friday August 19, 2011 – Visitation between 7:00 and 9:00 pm
Saturday August 20, 2011 – Masonic Service and Memorial Reception starting at 2:00 pm
Ogden Funeral Homes
4164 Sheppard Ave. E.
KING, Nelson – Peacefully at Scarborough Grace Hospital on Wednesday, August 17, 2011, at age 66. Beloved husband to Ellen and loving father to Vicki and her husband Greg Rout. Grandfather to Rebecca and Sarah. Nelson received his primary education in Perth, Ontario and graduated from Banting Institute, University of Toronto in 1967. He was appointed Assistant Editor (1992) and Editor (1994) of The Philalethes Society Journal of Masonic Research and Letters, the first non-US citizen to hold these positions. He is only the second Mason to ever hold the position of President and Editor of The Philalethes at the same time. He retired as Editor in June 2009. Nelson was a well known Masonic speaker throughout North and South America and the Caribbean. His book “Confessions of a Born Again Fundamentalist Freemason” has become a Masonic Best Seller. Nelson was a member of the Grand Lodge of Canada, in the Province of Ontario and Honorary Member of the Most Worshipful Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Connecticut and was a member of a number of other Prince Hall Lodges. He has received many honors and awards throughout his lifetime. Friends will be received at the Ogden Funeral Home, 4164 Sheppard Ave. East, Agincourt (east of Kennedy Rd.) on Friday evening from 7-9 p.m. A Masonic Service will be held at 2 o’clock on Saturday, August 20, followed by a memorial gathering. In lieu of flowers, please sign your organ donation card or go online to the Trillium Gift of Life Network Organ and Tissue donation www.giftoflife.on.ca
The daughters of Nelson King have released a statement that Nelson King PGM [H], FPS, BF, passed this morning August 17, 2011.
I am sure many stories and articles will follow but for the moment I would just like to pay homage to the man and for you to do the same.
So if you would place in the comments section something you would like to say about Brother King. Perhaps you knew him or corresponded with him or have an interesting story of your interaction with him.
Let us honor him with what we remember was great about him and what he did for us and for Freemasonry.
By the exercise of Brotherly Love we are taught to regard the whole human species as one family – the high and low, rich and poor; who, as created by one Almighty Parent and inhabitants of the same planet are to aid support and protect each other. On this principle Masonry unites men of every country, sect and opinion….
Thus Freemasonry has set itself up with a morality and code of ethics that teaches toleration, respect for the worth of each and every individual and the symbolism of the Level, that we as Freemasons are all on the same level. These are mighty fine attributes for an organization that could if it worked at it bring the peace and harmony of the Lodge room into civil society.
Unfortunately there are a number of Freemasons in the United States who believe that these lofty ideals only apply to White people, and others, including these racists, that believe Freemasonry should only be open to Christians. This is the American corruption of Freemasonry not found in other parts of the world.
For fifteen years I have been speaking out strongly against racism and exclusiveness in American Mainstream Freemasonry. Many of my fellow Brethren have told me that they don’t see any of the problems in Freemasonry that I see. If you are a Northern Freemason and have never traveled outside your jurisdiction than perhaps you are correct.
Others who see the problem tell me to cool my jets. That’s the older generation ways, they tell me. Just be patient, bide your time and all the bigots in Freemasonry will soon die off. They told me that fifteen years ago and I am still waiting, waiting for the day when Blacks and Whites have equal access to this great fraternal institution – not separate but equal which went out of vogue with Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – but a oneness without distinction.
My contention all along is that this problem will not just disappear on its own, it must be forced out of Freemasonry much as the federal government had to send federal troops to Little Rock and force Governor Faubus to open public schools to all races. For that I am labeled as some sort of rebel rouser, stirring up a hornets’ nest instead of just patiently waiting for the problem to disappear of its own accord.
But that won’t happen I said. And it hasn’t. Rednecks raise redneck children, KKK people raise little KKK people and racists and bigots raise racist and bigoted children.
Take a look at this video, a long hard look. Play it twice if needed. Notice the age of the perpetrators. These are not old timers soon to die off with their prejudices. These are some of the people in certain areas of American Freemasonry. Some are among our newest candidates.
Consider the Mainstream Grand Lodges of West Virginia and Arkansas. In West Virginia a junior Past Master is expelled without notice or a trial. One of his most prominent charges is meeting in a neutral zone with Prince Hall Masons to discuss the possibilities of recognition. If you can’t even talk to Prince Hall Masons how do you propose to negotiate with them? The point is you don’t.
In Arkansas the Grand Master declared a generic Masonic license plate produced by Prince Hall to be clandestine. That’s right the license plate was clandestine and the punishment for purchase by any Mainstream Mason was expulsion. The Grand Master had “Masonic officials” stake out the parking lots of stated meetings to find any Mason who had a clandestine plate affixed to his vehicle. Then when Masons across the state started communicating with each other, perhaps to initiate reforms, the Grand Master issued an edict that all Freemasons in the jurisdiction could no longer discuss Freemasonry electronically. The penalty for Masonic E-mail was instant expulsion.
What is retarding Masonic growth is the negative publicity all jurisdictions are experiencing because of the actions of a prejudiced minority. Yet Mainstream Masonry refuses to either police itself or even try to diplomatically whisper words of wisdom into the ears of these all but rogue Grand Lodge officials. West Virginia has pulled recognition of Ohio for allowing PGM Haas to join its ranks. But those Grand Lodges on the Mainstream side who are correctly practicing the virtues of Freemasonry refuse to pull recognition from Grand Lodges like Arkansas and West Virginia who are sullying the name of Freemasonry.
We are now eleven, years into the new millennium. How much longer do we have to wait before Institutionalized prejudice is removed from Mainstream Freemasonry?
The headline is just a grabber, but after seeing first hand how a church operates, it became very clear that the way a Masonic lodge is designed to operate is exactly how contemporary churches are operated – very likely the former emulating the latter.
Now this may not come as a surprise to those reading who are already active in their own church. By active I mean sitting on church committees, engaged in the church council, or actively making decisions in weekly/monthly/yearly operations. But for most pew sitters or side-liners a lot goes on behind the scenes.
Why is this relevant to Masonry you may be wondering? From my observations, the health and well being of the church is not measured by the clergy or the messages that they preach (though they do play a large contributory role). The vitality of the church comes in the activity of the membership and the committees that they participate in especially in their role of their evangelism which in turn contributes to the growth and vitality of the church.
In other words, the Sunday service is just one component of the function of the church, and the growth and prosperity comes in the 6 days of work before that worship service.
The thing to remember here is that the strength comes in the committees and the activities that they plan and implement. Before we look at the committees we need to take a look at smaller group lead by the individual committee heads that, together, steer the church through a church council, which goes by a variety of names across the denominations.
As issues arise the church council votes on behalf of their fellow members and when needed bring major issues to the church body to vote upon.
Just a few of the denominational emblems used to visually denote the different brands of protestant Christianity.
All of this happens under, generally speaking, a larger church body – a Bishop or governing council of churches. This larger body sets general policy and administers the landmarks of what makes that denomination unique. By and large, most Christian denominations are very similar with the differences being in their culture rather than their doctrine. So, from a church perspective, the differences come in their activity. It’s because of this head office type of leadership model that I would suggest so many churches take on a go-it-alone path and open up as their own organization or forming loose associations of churches which is an entirely different subject to look at.
Think of these parent organizations in the same capacity that the Roman Catholic Church operates under, except where the Pope is the final authority; these denominations have councils and conventions that steer the overall church policy.
Back down stream, the church while in line with the denomination, operates in its community taking on the flavor and tone of the community in which is exists. Most of its activity takes place in light of the people who comprise it. In fact, I think you would be hard pressed to find many members in a local church who could really tell you what the larger body is doing in any given month and even fewer who give the body much consideration. This is true of most Masonic lodges too and probably the way it should be. The congregation should be concerned with its own day to day operation because the parent body is seldom a factor other than when managing the underpinnings of the denominational church brand. Even when it comes to liturgical practice, most follow a pattern across most denominations of a liturgical year. For most, this is a transparent process but if you pay close attention you can follow over the course of a year.
Let’s look at how this works locally; churches hire clergy and staff to run their program, while the congregation goes about the activity of being Christians. Presumably, the hired and placed clergy is selected by the area Bishop to be a good fit with the local congregation and a pastoral placement can last from many, many years to just a few depending on the needs of the congregation. That clergy, while function as the religious and spiritual shepherd, are guided by the church council. In fact, their work is shaped by the congregation themselves based on their interactions and needs within the bounds of biblical principal and denomination methodology. So, reciprocally, the pastors lead in the direction the congregation wants to go within the framework of the denomination which is essentially the role of the lodge worshipful master during his term in the east.
At times, the church sermons vary, but by and large the cycle of worship follows a liturgical calendar teaching the message of the church. Sermons are developed based on the seasonal message, all of which takes place in the context of the biblical teachings.
In essence, you could say that the weekly service, while inspiring, serves to facilitate the tradition of the church which in turn inspires the congregation to grow with activity between services.
It really is an amazing process to watch when it happens.
Having come a long way barely touching on the idea of a lodge being like a church, but if you’ve been reading closely, you can already see the connections. What I’ve learned is that the vitality of the church isn’t so much about the leadership as they will simply do what the membership asks of them. Rather, the vitality comes from the activity of the members, the committee members who plan, produce, and grow the church.
One thing that really stood out to me in the Masonic parallel is that the monthly lodge meeting, while seen as the most important meeting in the life of the lodge, is really no more than a council meeting with reports from the various committees. In the church example, the meeting while open to all members of the church, is generally only attended by the heads of the various committees to, of course, get the business of running the church (insert lodge here) done.
This is not to say that the Church council debates the major issues such as paying the phone bill or the laundry costs of linen table cloths. To the contrary, like any responsible operation, the church hires a business manager from outside of the membership (when able of course) to manage the day to day business activity. Doing this, I can see, dissolves the intimacy of relationship that can develop between treasurer and secretary and divests the feeling of ownership of the lodge from a few long in office fiefdoms, to a single professional with oversight from a finance committee and the clergy leadership.
On the other side of the coin is the weekly service which, I see, takes on the aspect of the degree meeting.
In the lodge, it seems that from the body of the membership somewhere along the line the activity of the being a Mason has been eclipsed by the business of being a Mason, and the ceremony of making new masons, the weekly service if you will, has become more a foot note in attendance when compared to the monthly business meeting. After all, lodges publicize their monthly stated as the important meeting to attend, rather than the actual weekly service of making Masons.
This point could be debated for hours on the necessity of meeting more and the value (or waste of time) that such activity fosters. I’ll save that debate for the comments or another post, but as with any activity, value to worth can be measured in the balance of activity. Fred Milliken made the point in a post a few months back, At the Crossroads of the Many Paths of Freemasonry, that masonry is not all things to all people, especially when it comes to personal goals and aspirations. In his piece, he says explicitly to go out and find what you’re looking for outside of the lodge, which is good advice for both lodge and church. But, as the saying goes, you can be the change you seek to see a process that can be worked through the activity you seek in your congregation or lodge. Again, the topic for another discussion.
Even with their own special monthly meeting segment, reports of special committees, the committees should be the driving force behind the lodge (as with the church) outside of the weekly and monthly get ceremonial gatherings.
And, this is the case in many lodges, committees are already the beating heart of activity and only as restricted as the vision that they take on. When viewed in light of the evangelical aspect of the church, committees can develop programs that could appeal to like minded community members, and made open to friends and associates as a means of bolstering presence: movie nights, day trips, education seminars, art shows, and so on. Really, the list of activities that can be planned are only as limited as the vision of the committee behind them.
So, this is a long way to say what you probably already know – committees are the force behind the congregation and the lodge. What I’ll add is that prior to seeing it action in a church, with its members and activity, I didn’t see it in the lodge. The champions of the church are those members who have the vision of what the church should represent and not those concerned with preserving what it was. Does it ruffle feathers, absolutely! Does it introduce new community members to the congregation, absolutely. Not having an active group of committees means a stagnant church and hoping on people to walk in off the street to check out the congregation which works, bit not nearly enough to sustain growth. Will they stay if it’s a drab congregation with or little activity that appeals to them? Even if the service is dynamic and the facility beautiful, if an engaging program of activity is missing, people will not stay and look for other venues to engage themselves in. Greatest prosperity comes in more activity, activity where one to one interactions are possible and relationship can be made which works, but not nearly enough to sustain growth.
Harmon Weston over at the (now defunct) Blue Lite forum posted the following:
Modern Freemasonry was born in an environment where the laws of Church and State overlapped significantly (and still do if you scratch them with a soft cloth). A group of free-thinkers got together in a pub and closed the door, not because they were conspiring to take over the world but because they wanted to discuss things the “authorities” would prefer they didn’t and might well have prosecuted, persecuted or burned them at the stake if they were discovered. Ignorant, scared and (philosophically) illiterate people have always been the darlings of governments because they are easy to control, and over the centuries, many of our Brethren have been labelled “troublemakers” simply because they were publicly prepared to ask valid questions the “authorities” were not prepared or able to answer.”
Granted Masons are not supposed to be openly political when gathered as Brothers, but isn’t Liberty one of the defining requirements of Freemasonry?
Is not freedom of the individual a part of Masonic thought that permeates the Craft
Freemasonry was born out of the Enlightenment where church and state despotism was discarded by Masons for the New Age of freedom. Should Freemasons then not uphold the right of every individual in the world be a master of their own destiny? Are free-thinkers required to keep their mouths shut if they are Freemasons? Are Freemasons largely responsible for the rise of democratic government in the world? If so why must they avoid talking about politics (as distinguished from partisan politics)?
Doesn’t the quote help explain the secrecy in Freemasonry?
Recently I was adding up the number of Board of Directors I have served on over the years for nonprofit organizations. This includes computer societies, fraternal organizations, homeowner associations, even Little League. The number was close to 40 where I have served in some capacity or other, everything from president, to vice president, secretary, division director, finance chairman, publicity and public relations, newsletter editor, webmaster, even historian (not to mention the many Masonic positions I have held). In other words, I think I’ve learned a thing or two about nonprofit organizations over the years. One of the first things I learned early on is that unless you manage the nonprofit group, it will manage you.
Running a nonprofit group is not exactly rocket science and is actually pretty simple, but surprisingly few people grasp the basics and end up bungling the organization thereby creating upheaval for its constituents. If you are truly interested in properly managing a nonprofit group, consider these ten principles that have served me well over the years:
Know the rules
Get a copy of the governing docs, read them, and keep them with you. Do not try to hide them. In fact, make them available to your constituents either in paper form or as a download on the computer (such as a PDF file). Got a briefcase dedicated to your group? Keep a copy of the docs in it and, if an electronic version is available, place an icon on your desktop to quickly access it.
Get to know your constituents
How can you expect to adequately serve them if you do not know what their interests are or the group’s priorities as they perceive them? They won’t always be correct, but understand their perceptions and deal with them accordingly. You might want to circulate a survey to get their view on certain subjects, and to solicit their support.
Not only with the other members of the board, but with your constituency as well. Failure to do so only raises suspicions about what you are doing. Newsletters, e-mail blasts, and web pages are invaluable in this regard, particularly the latter where you can post news, governing docs, contact information, meeting minutes, audit reports, correspondence, etc. Simple communications will clear up a lot of the problems you will face as an officer on the board.
Keep good records, regardless if government regulations require it or not. Whether you are maintaining records with pencil and paper or by computer, it is important that accurate records be maintained, particularly about the group’s membership, logs of activities, attendance, finances, minutes, etc. It is not really that complicated to perform; you just need someone who pays attention to detail. Don’t have the manpower to do it yourself? Then hire someone, such as a management company, who can competently keep track of things.
People like to know where they are headed. If you are in charge of the group, articulate your objectives and prepare a plan to get you there. Also, do not try to micromanage everything. Nonprofit groups are primarily volunteer organizations and the last thing they want is Attila the Hun breathing down their necks. Instead, manage from the bottom-up. Delegate responsibility, empower people, and follow-up. Make sure your people know their responsibilities and are properly trained. Other than that, get out of their way and let them get on with their work.
Add value to your service
People like to think they are getting their money’s worth for paying their dues. In planning your organization’s activities, be creative and imaginative, not stale and repetitive. In other words, beware of falling into a rut. Your biggest obstacle will typically be apathy. If your group’s mission is to do nothing more than meet periodically, make it fun and interesting, make it so people want to come and participate. Try new subjects, new venues, new menus, etc. Even if you are on a tight budget, try to make things professional and first class. Change with the times and never be afraid of failure. You won’t always bat 1.000 but you will certainly hit a few out of the park and score a lot of runs.
Keep an eye on finances
As officers of the Board, you have a fiduciary responsibility to maintain the group’s finances and report on their status. I cannot stress enough the importance of having a well thought-out and itemized budget. Operating without one is simply irresponsible. And when you have a budget, manage according to it; if you don’t have the money allocated, don’t spend it. Obviously, you should also have routine finance reports produced (at least on a monthly basis) showing an opening balance, income, expenses, and a closing balance. Most PC based financial packages can easily do this for you. At the end of the year, perform a review of your finances by an independent party, either a compilation as performed by a CPA or a review by an internal committee. Post the results so the constituency can be assured their money has been properly handled.
Run an effective meeting
Nobody wants to attend an inconsequential meeting. Whether it is a weekly/monthly board meeting or an annual meeting, run it professionally. Print up an agenda in advance and stick to it. Start and end on time and maintain order. Got a gavel? Do not hesitate to use it judiciously. Maintain civility and decorum. Allow people to have their say but know when issues are getting out of hand or sidetracked. And do yourself a favor, get a copy of “Robert’s Rules” and study it.
Beware of politics
Like it or not, man is a political animal. Politics in a nonprofit group can get uglier than in the corporate world. Some people go on a power trip even in the most trivial of organizations. Try not to lose sight of the fact that this is a volunteer organization and what the mission of the group is. Keep an eye on rumors and confront backstabbers, there is no room for such shenanigans in a nonprofit group. If you are the president, try to maintain an “open door” policy to communicate with your constituents. It is when you close the door that trouble starts to brew. Also, ask yourself the following, “Who serves who?” Does the board serve its constituents, or do the constituents serve the board? If your answer is the latter, then dissent will naturally follow.
Maintain control over your vendors
Try to keep a good relationship with those companies and people who either work for or come in contact with your group, particularly lawyers. Always remember who works for whom. I have seen instances where attorneys have taken over nonprofit groups (at a substantial cost I might add). The role of the lawyer is to only offer advice; he or she doesn’t make the decision, you do (the client). One last note on vendors, make sure you maintain a file of all contracts and correspondence with them. Believe me, you’re going to need it when it comes time to sever relations with them. Keep a paper trail.
Bottom-line: run your nonprofit group like a business. Come to think of it, it is a business, at least in the eyes of the State who recognizes you as a legal entity (one that can be penalized and sued). There are those who will naively resist this notion, but like it or not, a nonprofit group is a business. Consider this, what happens when the money runs out?
I mentioned earlier that you might want to hire a management company to perform the administrative detail of your group. To me, this is an admission that the Board is either too lazy or incompetent to perform their duties (or they have more money than they know what to do with). Just remember, it’s not rocket science.
Keep the Faith!
Note: All trademarks both marked and unmarked belong to their respective companies.
Tim Bryce is a writer and the Managing Director of M. Bryce & Associates (MBA) of Palm Harbor, Florida and has over 30 years of experience in the management consulting field. He can be reached at
I first met Dr. Bro. Robert Uzzel three years ago at a Grand Session of the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Texas. Later I had a more in depth conversation with him at a Phylaxis Convention. Brother Uzzel came over to Prince Hall from the Grand Lodge of Texas in 1981. He has a Doctor of Philosophy Degree from Baylor University. He has taught religion and history at various Dallas area colleges and at one time was chairman of the religion department for Paul Quinn College. He has also spent some time as a Texas state social worker. And since 1975 he has been a minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. He served for awhile as Grand Historian for the Prince Hall Grand Lodge of Texas. Plus he is also an accomplished author.
Last year I reviewed Uzzel’s book, Prince Hall Freemasonry In The Lone Star State. This time around I am taking a look at his book, “Blind Lemon Jefferson.” It is not a Masonic book, rather a look at early 20th century Texas history and a mirror into the African American community of that time. It also heralds a great man and a trail blazer in the development of American Blues music. Without Uzzel’s comprehensive work on the life and legacy of Blind Lemon Jefferson, it is possible that this first successful blues recording artist would all but be forgotten outside the music community.
Blind Lemon’s peers, protégés, successors and performers in other musical strains all pay him due respect, however. Other great blues performers that followed him, T-Bone Walker, Josh White, Texas Alexander, Smokeyy Hogg, Lonnie Johnson, Sam ‘Lightnin’ Hopkins and even Bessie Smith bear his imprint. He is also said to have influenced Harry James, Benny Goodman, Bix Beiderbecke, Louis Armstrong and Tommy Dorsey. Bunk Johnson and Jelly Roll Morton paid him tribute in the development of their styles.
The 1960s saw resurgence in Blind Lemon’s music, with such artists as Buddy Holly, Janis Joplin, Johnny Winter, Steve Miller and Ray Orbison adopting some of his music and/or style. Especially enamorate of Blind Lemon was Bob Dylan who recorded Lemon’s See That My Grave Is Kept Clean.
Uzzel tell us:
“Dylan, future king of folk-rock and poet for the social activism of the 1960s, was also described as part of that same tradition begun so eloquently by Blind Lemon. And indeed, while listening to Lemon Jefferson’s 1920 recordings, it is difficult not to hear traces of a young Bob Dylan some forty years later. The distance from the bottomlands of Central Texas to the folk clubs of Greenwich Village and from the country blues to rock ‘n’ roll is a short one.”
Carl Perkins performed a rockabilly version of Lemon’s “Matchbook Blues,” the Beatles recorded an adaptation of the same song and Elvis did the “Teddy Bear Blues.” And the rock group Jefferson Airplane, aka Jefferson Starship, paid Blind Lemon the ultimate tribute by naming themselves after him.
Even the great BB King acknowledges that he got a lot of his “stuff” from Blind Lemon.
Lectric Chair Blues By Blind Lemon Jefferson
I want to shake hands with my partner
and ask him how come he’s here.
I want to shake hands with my partner
and ask him how come he’s here.
I had a mess with my family
they goin’ to send me to the electric chair.
I wonder why they electrocute a man after
the one o’clock hour of the night.
I wonder why they electrocute a man after
the one o’clock hour of the night.
Because the current is much stronger
when the folkses turn out all the lights.
I sat in my electrocutin’ room,
my arms folded up and crying.
I sat in the electorcutin’ room,
my arms folded up and crying.
But my baby had to question
whether they gonna electrocute that man of mine.
Well they put me in a coffin
to take me all the way from here.
Well they put me in a coffin
to take me all the way from here.
I’s rather be in some new world
than to be married in the ‘lectric chair.
I seen wrecks on the ocean
I seen wrecks on the blue sea
But my wreck that wrecked my heart
when they brought my electrocuted daddy to me.
There are many different kinds of blues. Blind Lemon’s was a country style. No piano or band accompaniment for him. His work is often called a “holler.” Uzzel tells us that Blind Lemon sang the Texas blues,
“rooted in the Central Texas soil, characterized as having a great deal of ‘moaning and droning’ but as less percussive and with lighter emphasis on individual notes than the Delta blues.”
“The music of Blind Lemon Jefferson was an expression of archaic or country blues. This style, which is regarded as the first phase of the blues as an established form, is characterized by non-standardized forms, unamplified guitar, and spoken introductions and endings. At times, country blues performers were known to use ostinato patterns in the guitar accompaniment, bottlenecks on the frets of the guitar, and rough, growling tones, with falsetto voice used for contrast or emotional emphasis. This style stands in contrast to the classic or city blues style, which developed during the 1920s and was characterized by standardized form with regular beginnings and endings and two or more instruments in the accompaniment.”
Uzzel comprised material for this book over many years – decades. That gave him the opportunity to interview hundreds of people who knew Blind Lemon or had talked to him at one time or were influenced by him, adding a reality to the book that would have been missing without them. You will find pictures of some of these interviewees included in this work. Uzzel chronicled the effort to provide a new headstone for Blind Lemon’s grave and the effort for other historical recognition of which he was often a part of. He attended the 2001 Blues Festival in Wortham, Texas, Blind Lemon’s birthplace. There is much merit to be said for 30 years of research.
Blind Lemon Jefferson by Robert Uzzel is a well written, well documented book by an author who has a keen insight into the African American community and who has the knowledge, training and expertise in the fields of religion and history. Rather than a personal adulation of a music fan, this book is a factual representation of reality – a glimpse into the early 1900s, especially of those who were struggling, and a tribute to an icon of the music world whose legacy will now live on. Thanks to Robert Uzzel, well done!
I stood on the corner and almost bust my head.
I stood on the corner and almost bust my head.
I couldn’t make enough money to buy me a loaf of bread.
My girl’s a house maid and she earns a dollar a week.
My girl’s a house maid and she earns a dollar a week.
I’m so hungry on pay day, I can’t hardly speak.
Now gather round one, people, let me tell you true facts.
Now gather round one, people, let me tell you true facts.
That tough luck has struck me and the rats is sleepin’ in my hat.