Talking about the Future
by Mark Ruffin
Just days before five-time Grammy-award winning singer Al Jarreau was scheduled to begin his world tour, he had to have emergency back surgery. The interruption of his musical activities was widely reported, if not somewhat sensationalized, in the national media, but the medical procedure performed is actually quite common, and most of his dates have been reschedule and listed on his website, aljarreau.com..
On September 12th, the 62 year-old singer went under the knife at the USC Medical Center in Los Angeles to have compression relieved on his spinal cord. Less than a week later, Jarreau was doing telephone interviews and tour planning from his hospital bed promoting his new album All I Got.
“I had to do that,” Jarreau said, with a laugh, three weeks later in rehab. “There are kids hearing me on the radio who only know me from their mothers and fathers.
“I have to work even harder to stay current with this new culture of singers like D’Angelo, Boys II Men, Brian McKnight.” he continued. “This is a very important period of time when you have a new record out and it’s not a good time for me to be off my feet.”
Jarreau’s illness not only temporarily halted his tour in support of his new eleven-song disc, but the singer also had another message to deliver on the road. He is the official spokesman for the national literary campaign sponsored by the telecommunication giant, Verizon.
So, in addition to singing lyrics from his album on tour, he’ll also be out creating public awareness of the need to increase funding for organizations dedicated to improving the literacy level in America.
“I’ve always been a great proponent of schools and education and working on scholarship projects. So, when Verizon let it be known that they were looking for somebody to help them to get people reading, writing and communicating with each other in a more literate kind of fashion, I was like a little boy, ‘hey, here, pick me, choose me.’
“I am about that,” he declared.
“There are too many people in America who aren’t reading,” he went on, warming to the subject. “It’s creeping up to 50%.of people who can’t follow directions on a prescription bottle and they hide it, who can’t get beyond the headlines of a newspaper. It’s scary and destructive to the very fiber of this country.
“I spent two weeks in the hospital and 90% of the staff was foreign born,” he ranted. “It’s getting funky and ugly like that because American college graduates are reading at high school levels.”
The singer sighed in despair as he related that a big part of the problem is rooted in what he called “Center City.” He couldn’t cite specific numbers, but he claimed that the rate of black literacy in urban America is costing more than just the billions of dollars the government spends in public programs, but lack people’s standing in the economic, political and social structure of our country.
“It will effect the fiber of what we’re going to become,” the former social worker predicted. “I need to stand up as a guy from Center City who share a lot of stuff from Center City, including the color of my skin, and say, ‘come on y’all, let’s stop dancing.'”
Jarreau, who has a masters degree in psychology from the University of Iowa, admitted to not having as much time to read as he used to, preferring educational videos when he’s touring. He lists his favorite books as The Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens and The Old Man And The Sea by Ernest Hemingway.
“My role is to encourage everyone to get involved,” Jarreau said. “Whether people become a tutor, read to a child, donate a book or encourage someone to seek help, they can make a difference in other people lives.
“Verizon just want me to just promote this theme of ‘hey, let’s start reading.'”
In exchange for his promotional support, the sponsoring corporation is strengthening its public charity, Verizon Reads, which will distribute funds to existing national and local community based literacy programs. They’re also asking customers to donate a dollar a month by checking a box on their phone bills.
Jarreau’s record company, GRP Records, is also donating some proceeds from the sales of All I Got to the effort.
“Yeah, they’re giving a big part of it away,” he said laughing, “and it’s not my share, it’s all theirs.”