Roosevelt Grier's classic single, Pizza Pie Man, is a slice of darkly humourous social commentary on relationships. It was released on D-Town Records in 1966.
The man behind the song has one of the most remarkable lifestories of any soul singer. He was a celebrated american football star in the late 50s and early 60s, playing as a fair-minded tackler for the New York Giants and the LA Rams as part of the Fearsome Foursome. Even while he was playing, he had ventured into music, starting in 1959 with 'Sincerley', He was moderately successful, but came to the attention of Bobby Darin, who produced and co-wrote songs for an album titled Soul City in 1964. Darin had first heard him sing on a jingle for Falstaff Beer. Darin said, "I knew right away that I wanted to record him, the only question was -how? However, Darin started to sense a deeper, more political side to Roosevelt that he had not at first suspected: "... The only time his eyes lit up with all-out enthusiasm was on 'message' songs ... vital, citified expressions of longing and need."
Rosey also embarked on an acting career in 1964 that saw him feature in over 80 television shows, including Daniel Boone, and Roots: The Next Generation.
But most significantly, it was in 1968 that he offered his services as a bodyguard to his friend, Senator Robert Kennedy. At the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, on June 5th 1968, the assassin Sirhan Sirhan shot Kennedy. It was Roosevelt Grier and Rafer Johnson, Olympic gold medal-winner, who tackled Sirhan to the ground. Alas, it was too late to save the Senator some believed would have taken a more radical stance on issues of race in the USA. This sense of hope lost should be tempered by the Kennedy's decidedly lukewarm approach towards civil rights legislation and towards the movement generally under Jack's presidency, and their hesitancy to use the muscle of the federal government towards such aims.
What is undeniable is that it was the personal, selfless heroism of Roosevelt Grier which almost gave America the chance to find out.
Pizza Pie Man is available on the Soul Sampler Vol 1 CD at http://www.goldsoul.co.uk/shop/north-soul/cd/gscds.html. Buy it and you won't regret it!
Today, Grier is a practising Christian minister, has been a patron of the Special Olympics and works with an LA faith-based charity called World Impact. He has also been associated with the American Neighborhood Enterprises scheme, which works with inner-city communities to offer help with housing and vocational training schemes. It is his recent activism that has brough Grier in for some criticism from those who see his projects as ostensibly following the 'self-help' doctrines of Booker T Washington, and thus implicitly accepting the racial stereotyping of African-Americans as 'lazy' and 'feckless'. Read Deborah Toler's article for PublicEye.com titled 'Black Conservatives', which expands on this opinion, and cites other more controversial black American figures as perhaps justifiable targets. However, for local, grassroots activists of long-standing such as Grier, it does seem a little harsh to portray him as some kind of deluded tar-baby, betraying black identity. It feels like an attack on your father because you wish he was the myth you grew up believing in, and its easier than fighting the real enemies, who are just too powerful and in a sense have already won...
POSTSCRIPT 19.4.07: Browsing other things, I came across an article by Avery Tooley at Stereo Describes My Scenario, where he descusses the conflicting responses he feels towards the message of Black Conservative politicians. Click here to read it.
(much of this information comes from articles by Sandra Brennan and Andrew Hamilton, both accessible at http://www.answers.com/topic/rosey-grier , and the Bobby Darin fansite at http://www.bobbydarin.net/soulcity.html)