The Sharecropper's Son

Libretto by John Agard and Grace Nichols in collaboration with Michael Stimpson

Prelude (piano solo)

 

Home


Bar 
Thirty years of sharecropping and what he got to show,


Sop/Bar
Nothing but the mule he riding and now the mule moves kinda slow.


Sop
Sharecropping was all his papa knew


Bar/sop
And for better or worse, his earthly possessions were few.


Bar
He worked this cursed land but he can’t make it pay,


Bar/Sop
O Lord, O Lord, he can’t make it pay.


Bar
Ain’t no way to make a crust, surviving day to day,


Bar/Sop
O Lord, help us, they can’t make it pay.


Bar/Sop
He worked hard for us kids, slaving I would say  
O Lord, help us, they can’t make it pay.

 

Bar
Can’t put no food on our plates, wish we could run away,


Sop/Bar
Wish we could run away.

 

Sop
Can’t seem to find no peace


Bar/Sop
As we struggle on our way,


Bar
I’ll ask my Maker why


Bar/Sop
On Judgement Day.

 

 

Jesse Meets Minnie

 

Bar
Hey Ruth, Minnie, what’s up?


Sop
You talkin’ to me Jesse Owens?


Bar
Mind if I call you Minnie?


Sop
Don’t mind if I do.


Bar
You can call me Jesse.

 

Sop 
You sound like you from down south, let me guess, Alabama? That Southern drawl can’t hide. Wanna guess where I’m from?


Bar
From where I’m standing I’d say Cleveland Ohio, but you never know, you could just be from heaven.


Sop 
I just might be, but since you ask, I’m a Southern girl.

 

Bar
Like I’m a Southern boy. Home-grown.

 

Bar/Sop
That’s one thing we sure got in common,

 

Sop
But my folks from Griffinville, Georgia.


Bar
Must be a mighty fine place to produce a mighty fine girl like you. You anybody’s girl?

 

Sop
I ain’t nobody’s girl, Jesse Owens, if you can run half as good as you can sweet-talk, then there’s no stopping those feet of yours.

 

Bar
Now look whose sweet-talking, wanna come and see me practice, sometime, am’ on my way to meet my coach?


Sop
I just might.

 

Bar
Will you be my girl?

 

Sop
I just might.

 

 

Minnie’s Song


Sop 
Don’t know if it’s his walk
Or the sweetness of his talk.
Don’t know if it’s his jokes
That make me laugh until ‘am weak.
But there’s something ‘bout Jesse Owens
That makes my heart leap.
Wanna tell the world,
Wanna tell the world,
That Jesse’s asked me to be his girl.

Don’t know if it’s his smile
Or dem dark brown eyes,
Just might be dem running feet.
Yes, there’s something ‘bout Jesse Owens
That makes my heart leap.
Wanna tell the world,
Wanna tell the world,
That Jesse’s asked me to be his girl.
Jesse, Jesse, my heart is racing with you,
Whenever you run, my heart is racing too.

 

 

Jim Crowe

 

Bar
Let’s stop, we’ve been driving all night. I’m hungry coach, I can’t run on air. Does
this hole have anywhere that I’m allowed to eat?

 

Sop (Coach)    
I’ll pick something up, better you stay in the car

 

Bar
Yeah, I know my place

 

Sop      
Better safe than sorry

 

Bar
I could outrun them

 

Sop      
Even you can’t outrun a bullet

 

Bar
OK, let’s eat and get out, I’ve a hard meet tomorrow and my back is killing me.

 

Bar 

Them poplar trees can’t tell black from white from brown,
But what them poplars witness will linger at the roots of minds to come.
Tonight it is another of Africa’s sons,

 

Bar/sop 
But the Lord shall bear his spirit home.
Coulda been a native Indian, 
Coulda been a Jew or Latino,

Coulda be someone who simply said ‘No’
To the deeds of Jim Crowe.

Them poplar trees can’t tell black from white from brown,
But what them poplars witness will linger at the roots of minds to come.
Tonight it is another of Africa’s sons,
Swing low, sweet chariot, bear his spirit home.
Swing low, sweet chariot, bear his spirit home.

 

 

Four World Records

 

Sop      
Mama, Mama. Get yourself here quick Emma Owens, it’s our Jesse. He’s in no kinda trouble. Four world records! It’s all over the papers. It says so right here. He’s won and won and won and won! Four world records in forty minutes. He’s a star, a celebrity.

 

Sop (Coach) 
So you made it Jesse.

 

Bar
We made it coach, you and me.

 

Sop
Get you some rest, ‘cause the Olympics’ next. Set your sights on Berlin. That’s where you wanna be. You’ve done it Jesse, only you can stop you now.

 

Bar      
I can aim to jump as high as the stars,
I can aim to run as fast as the wind,
But it all counts for nothing 
If the battle over myself ain’t the battle I win,
That’s the bottom line, the true test.
It all counts for nothing,
It all counts for nothing.

 

Bar/Sop
It all counts for nothing.

 

 

Berlin

 

Bar (Brundage)
Well here we are boys, covered in glory

 

Sop (Glickman)           
Covered in hypocrisy more like,
Shame we’re not all here.

 

Bar (Jesse) 
What did you say, the noise, I can’t hear

 

Bar/Sop
Ain’t it amazing.

 

Sop (Glickman)
Chills my Jewish bones, Jesse

 

Sop (Nazi)        
See all the blacks in the American team,

 

Bar, Sop (Nazis)
Some of them are pretty fast, we hear.

 

Bar 
Of course they are, people like that are more primitive, see how they move, their physiques are stronger, it’s not really fair.

 

Sop      
it’s not really fair to let them compete, might be their last chance once the Games come to Berlin for good.

 

Bar (Jesse)
Well what d’you say now, I knew it was worth it.

 

Sop (Glickman)           
Worth it for their businesses some would say. Shame they’re not all here

 

Bar
What did you say, the crowd.

 

Bar/Sop
Look at Hitler, he’s not so big.

 

Sop (Crowd)
Jesse Ov-ens, Jesse Ov-ens

 

Bar      
How could they include black in the Fuhrer’s fold

 

Bar/Sop           
Jesse Ov-ens, Jesse, 
When the Nordic nude is perfection’s gold.

 

Bar      
Beauty. Power. Strength. All Nazi ideals. What help were those ideals to the Jews and Gypsies?

 

Bar/Sop           
Jesse Ov-ens, Jesse Ov-ens, Jesse.

 

Bar      
Two golds in the running but here Luz got me beat. I keep messing up. I won’t even make the final.

 

Sop (Luz) 
You’ll qualify just fine, I’m sure.

 

Bar
I hope so, I know I can beat you.

 

Sop      
You don’t need to push to make the distance..Jesse, I’ll lay my towel down, a few inches from the board. Use it as a marker if you like. I don’t want to win too easily....My God, man, where did that jump come from?

 

Bar      
I don’t know, I don’t know.

 

Sop      
You were flying, I didn’t think you’d come back down. That Olympic record will surely stand for years.

 

Bar      
I don’t think I have, Luz, I don’t think I will. You jumped well too, you jumped well.

 

Sop 
But not like you, well done my friend, well done.

 

Bar
Thank you friend for everything.
But does my victory out you at risk?

 

Sop
We’ll see, we’ll see, we’ll see.

 

Bar/Sop
You can melt down my medals, 
You can melt down my cups,
There’s no trophy worth as much
As the gold of the human touch.

Awards in the end will corrode,
But true friendship never rusts.
For that Olympian road  
Leads to the best within us.
Friendship is twenty four carat,
Friendship is twenty four carat,
Friendship is twenty four carat.

 

 

Homecoming

 

Sop
Oh Jesse, oh Jesse, it’s good to have you back. I’m so excited, I can’t believe you’re  home. You’re the star of the Games.

 

Bar      
All over the papers.

 

Sop      
The news, the radio, the phone hasn’t stopped, I’m so proud.

 

Bar      
We’re rich, Ruth, we’re rich, Ruth,
I can’t believe what people are saying, wanting, giving, someone even threw money in my car.

 

Sop      
Praise the Lord, come here Jesse, did you see Hitler?

 

Bar      
And the crowds, the streets were lined, everyone wants Jesse Owens, JC Owens, Mister JC Owens I should say, I’m my own man now.

 

Sop      
Now you know that’s not true, things haven’t changed, I heard about the Astoria, I heard you weren’t allowed in the elevator.

 

Bar      
That’s not important. I’m my own man now. Listen, Ruth, listen, you’ll never want for anything.

 

Sop
My Jesse, my love, my gullible man.

 

Bar      
But the main man now, especially after Berlin.

 

Sop      
We so wanted to call, did you meet Hitler?

 

Bar      
No, he would not shake my hand, some say he waved. Listen, Ruth, sit down.

 

Sop      
Jesse, Oh Jesse, what went on. I know my Jesse, something ain’t right. Tell me Jesse.

 

Bar      
Mama, Papa, I’ve got something important to tell you. After I won it was crazy. Crazy. I don’t know where to start. In truth it was a nightmare. We left before the Games had ended.

 

Sop (Brundage)
Get your spikes, boy, we’re touring Europe.

 

Bar 
I was put on a plane, I ran.

 

Sop 
Move son, ten minutes then we go.

 

Bar      
I was put on a train, I jumped. I was put on a plane, I was exhausted, I was hungry, I even begged a glass of milk on the way to London, I couldn’t take it anymore. I took a little money, they were making loads out of me, showing me off.

 

Sop (Ruth)
You’re home now, praise the Lord.

 

Bar      
I guess now I’ll need the Lord on my side, ‘cause I told ‘em to stuff their schedule, I’ve been banned, I’ve been banned.

 

 

Money Lies

 

Bar      
Ruth, just had a phone call from some guy in the baseball league, offered money.

 

Sop      
You don’t play baseball, what are you thinking?

 

Bar      
In the interval they’ll have me race, it’s where the money lies.

 

Sop      
You gotta be kidding, you’re in a league of your own, which man gonna keep up with you?

 

Bar      
Well, it ain’t no man, ‘less he’s got four legs, they want me to race horses, horses, Minnie.

 

Sop      
Oh my Lord, I sure hope you told them where they can shove their horses, Jesse Owens, you did, didn’t you?

 

Bar      
We need the money,

 

Sop      
Not like that we don’t, what are you thinking, you ain’t no circus freak.

 

Bar      
We need the money, we need the money.

 

Bar      
Do you hear the phone ringing? How can I have dignity if I can’t feed my family? They said I’d be rich, they said I’d be respected, they said they’d call me. All them offers disappeared. Ruth, I can’t lose you, but I gotta pay the rent. Would you rather be out on the street, or back in Alabama in a one-room shack? I ain’t goin’ back. I won them races but you can’t eat medals, how did it come to this?

 

Sop      
Jesse, Jesse.

 

Bar      
Four golds to my name.
Four golds to my name.

 

Sop      
They say it takes some beating, an Olympic champion. Looks like Jesse’s limelight gone.

 

Bar      
Yes, for me it’s all about surviving
And there’s no work, no advertising,
At least not for my kind of pigment.
And the pie from heaven is still not sent.

 

 

A Raised Black Fist

 

Sop      
What’s the matter, tell me your troubles.

 

Bar      
Oh Mama, I’m so sorry. I’ve been so stupid, Ruth isn’t talking to me, she knew, she could see. My cleaning firm is bankrupt, they used my name to raise credit and now it looks like jail. I’ve helped the kids, the army, the Government. What’s the result? My fellows call me Uncle Tom.

A raised black fist is just false pride
If it ain’t got no cash inside.

I guess I was wrong to put it like that but it hurts to be called an Uncle Tom. Deep down I knew that black salute was pointing to a harsher truth, my civil rights denied. And what good was gold when doors were closed to faces like mine. Yes, I knew my place in this divided race, but deep, deep down where the world don’t see, this sharecropper’s son saluted the best in me.

 

Sop      
It’s time to take stick, Jesse, everyone wants a piece of you.

 

Bar      
But how Ruth? Where is my salvation? I always ask the Lord but I’m not sure He hears me much.

 

Sop      
Then think of the horses, no, not the ones you raced, the ones when you trained, where did they take you Jesse? Where did you achieve your goal? Go there again, Jesse, you’ll be surprised.

 

 

Letter from Berlin

 

Bar      
Luz? Luz? I thought you were killed in the war.

 

Sop (Luz)         
I was, my friend, can’t you tell?

 

Bar      
I wrote to you Luz,

 

Sop      
I know you did.

 

Bar      
I wrote, I wrote again, kept on for a year.

 

Sop      
Too late, my friend, I’d already made my final leap.

I was taught the Nazi salute,
Bigotry my first truth,
And there I stood tall and proud
But Luz Long was only a youth.
Now fighting here in Sicily,
With Allied bombers closing in
Something tells me this will be 
The last letter of my life.
And this is for you, my friend Jesse.
Do me this favour Jesse Owens,
Go find my son in Germany.       
Tell him of the good between men.
Like you said, my friend,
Awards corrode,
That much we learnt from the Olympian road.
Friendship, that’s where it’s at.
Friendship is twenty four carat.
Ever your friend, Luz Long.

 

 

Close

 

Bar      
I went to Berlin, I found his son.

 

Sop      
And so one day you find your name enthroned in a hall of fame.

 

Bar      
Tears filled my eyes, so many memories.
Was it me, was that black statue            
The old man you see before you?

 

Sop      
Frozen in time.

 

Bar/Sop           
Stand in the empty stadium and
You’ll hear the crowd.
Stand in the empty stadium and
I’ll be there
In the breeze, in the rain.
Listen for me
In the winds of Alabama.
Listen for me
In the winds of Berlin.
I’ll be there, I’ll be there
In the triumph of heart and will.

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© 2018 Michael Stimpson