Hands are known for so much
A newborn’s grasp
To cook a meal or bake treats
To be held by a loved one
And for work
Oh how one’s hands show honest beauty in work
All signs of a days work
All signs of hard work
All signs of a wonderful life’s work
All beautifully shown of a lifetime lived
by Shaylena Hess
This still life reflects the accomplishments of Anderson’s life. The items represent moments in his life when he was resilient. Mr. Anderson’s materialistic portrait showcases a venue with a stage and table with symbolizing objects of Anderson’s life. For example, the microphone serves as his career as a singer and the records that he recorded. Smaller objects reflecting Anderson’s life include the state initialed cards and wedding rings on the table. The cards show the places where Anderson Traveled as a musician and the rings indicate he got married in his lifetime.
Al has become a legend in his own community in and around Morgantown, WV. Born and raised in Osage, West Virginia in the constancy of the coal – the dust, the miners, the sounds and smells of a busy coalfield – Scotts Run. His first job was shining shoes. Al found his way by trusting his instincts and using his gifts. Little did he know that all those gifts would be called upon helping him to adapt and adapt again. Reinventing himself with each job, a new adventure. Still a junior in high school, he left the coalfields for the first time to work in a steel mill in Pittsburgh, then back to Scotts Run to finish high school; then, lying about his age he entered the U.S. Army. As part of the Signal Corps, he found himself stringing wire and climbing poles for communications in Germany. Later in his service he came back to the states and worked in New York, Pittsburg, Washington D.C. In the 1960’s he was singing with the Fabians, one of the emerging four-part harmony rock groups. His sonorous voice took him all the way to Hollywood to work with well-known band leader, Billy Ward. Al used his charm and people skills to earn the trust of his employers. Before long, in Washington D. C. Al found himself managing 12 shoe stores within the company’s franchises and became a trusted administrator in finance and technical operations. These skills were not usually recognized in any people of color during this time of Jim Crow, Black Codes, and segregation.
Al started working early as a shoe shine boy. “…now after school, you go from… 4:00 …until about seven o'clock when they closed. On Saturdays, you shine shoes all day long, 9:00 in the morning to 9:00 at night and almost never stop. But in those days, you got a nickel tip or a dime tip for each shoe that you shined. … your pay was like ten dollars for the week. And but our pockets would be so full [of change]… I’d make a mistake by calling my dad. I’d ask him what we were having for dinner and he would say, “Well, we got some (whatever kind of meat), maybe some mashed potatoes, maybe some green beans in there. And then he got in his order, see…. some whatever kind of drinking … And one of the ladies on the hill named Velma, she made all these beautiful pies, sweet potato pies, lemon pies, apple pies. And then he always got it in there and he said, “Velma made pies “… There was trouble now … The more he made was on a table …I can just see my pockets getting smaller….shrinking. …But, you know, that's just the way you shared… my dad worked in a mine... Dad said, “Before you go down to the party, son, you gonna leave some of that on the table.” And that was that was an every week thing for a long time. And then at 15 years old, went to the steel mill [to work] for a year.
Al had no music training, but he had a voice and that voice took him all over the country and the countryside, singing all kinds of music and in every key. Al Sang Bar Mitzvahs, funerals, weddings, old style rock and roll , country as well as gospel – and he’s still singing. In response to questions about segregation he said, “If the music was good, everything was good.
“You could travel all over the world and know how to deal with people when you come from little town just like this…And I think also growing up here at Osage, you know, with all the nationalities we dealt with, 19 different nationalities… We learned how to treat each other as people. You know, nobody, nobody, in those days, nobody was better than anybody else. And probably nobody had much more than anybody else… Some folks have a bit. Some have a little bit. Some have no bits at all…
Al Anderson’s resilience resides in his adaptability, faith and his creative spirit. Keeping a song in his heart and being able to share that with others has nourished both himself, his family and his community. His love of people and their wellbeing is also a large part of the foundations of his resilience.
Al Anderson Stories
Well, we you know, with all those nationalities, the one good thing in those days that nobody had any more than anybody else, you know, everybody went to the mines - some folks may have had two children, like just me and my brother. Our next-door neighbors had 16 in their family and nine, 10 in all different areas. And we went to two schools, went to the little black school, and we went into the white school, which is right down below. When the bell would ring, we'd all be down at that white school playing ball and things like that. And I said probably in that documentary, I was talking about how we never needed two schools here because we all got along so well and everybody looked out for each other, no matter. You know, I think I was even telling a story - if it was if it was a white person, who saw you doing something bad down here and told you to get up on that hill, you know, you would get a going. You’d start up the hill and then you would walk and walk. You get about three quarters of the way up. Now you say, “I can turn around now.” You turn around. There he's still looking, so you get up that hill boy, you know?
So, you thought you might be a little bit slick, you know, “I'll just go so far, and then I'll, ....” No. But that's how everybody was kind of treated, you know, and everybody lived in each other's homes. And it was probably one of the only places in this area that wasn't segregated. Osage was fully integrated. And so, they may be in some of the places, you know, where, more maybe blacks were like clubs, but we integrated, like, all the time. But there was no problem with how we all got along, because I think the main thing, everybody was looking for the same thing and make enough money to feed their families. And somebody killed a hog or something. Everybody almost that neighborhood could get some food. So that's how close people were.
Aaliyah asked what was the first song he remembered singing. Al had to think about that question.
[This happened after Al came back to Osage from military service.] It was Friday evening, and my dad said the sheriff had called. And I'm thinking to myself, you know what? What did I do that a sheriff would be calling? And so, I called the sheriff on Monday, and he said, … his son heard that I was a singer… It turns out that, [in the military] I did a little singing on the ship coming back from Germany. Lawrence Wales lived on the same hill I lived on [in Welch] … he was on that ship and years later told the sheriff’s son that I could sing. I took the job. I had no aspirations of singing in a band, I had no music training.
And you see, because they were testing me of how my voice was if it hit notes or anything like that. And "Good Golly, Miss Molly" was kind high, "Good Golly, Miss Molly", you know, that [melody] was up in there. And, when I first started singing with these guys, we played all over West Virginia, parts of Maryland, and we hardly ever played in Morgantown. That's why a lot of folks here don't know anything about me, because we never played around here, you know, so we were going in different places and the band, and everybody treated Al like he was a king in that place. And in those days, you had the Fonzie guys outside, you know…
They would they would always tell me, said, “Al, if anybody says anything to you…”, that's almost every place I would go… [Al implied that they were watching out for his safety]. But there was one thing for sure, when the music was good, everything was good…
But the band guys never knew what was on my mind. We all rode in the same car, never took two cars. We had a thing on the back [of the car] that we carried our equipment in and we all were in the same car. The other guys were thinking more about the girls and things like that, you know. And my thought was, I guess, was where we stop, am I going to be able to eat? And we go to some town. If I didn't see a black person in that town, I would say Al, you get no food tonight. But we would go up to up to like outside Union Town. We went to La Trop, PA. That's when we ran into all the millions of dollars groups that came into Pittsburgh in those days, like the Marvelettes, Isley Brothers, Jan and Dean. We even saw Conway Twitty there. We didn't back him, though. But the Vibrations, all those groups that came in there, we would back them. They would do a show with me, and then they'd do a show with the with whoever the singer, you know, the million-dollar singers were playing there.
Yeah, you know, when I went to the service in 1954 to 1956, they just mixed the service in about 1949. So, this was the early time of mixing, you know. So actually, you know, people still had those same stigmas back in those days. And I was telling folks how hard those sergeants were on the black guys. We were in the south also. And in one story, the young man was above my bed, my bunk and I was in below his and he was in the top. And he was from Alabama, white young man. And in all we knew about Alabama and Mississippi and... But now we were in South Carolina. So, we got off the train. It was a black group way in a back playing here. All of us got off - a lot of mostly white and black, you know. So here we go. We bust up in that club. And that was my reality of the service. We didn't get in five feet. They said, “No, no, you can't come in here!” That was reality of knowing what the South was. But now you're in that platoon for eight weeks. Now, by the time those eight weeks for me and that young man from Alabama, we were almost like best of friends. And so, we should not look at people in any particular way. We should always try to try. You know, my motto was, "you treat people like you want to be treated all the time."
We had a great time with Al. He was full of surprises, a welcoming and charming individual. Al was so proud of what he has accomplished in the community and was happy to share it with us. The gifts, awards, and accolades were there in his shoe shop. His shoe shop - is an original, a throwback original shoe shop. He played some of his music for us and we found ourselves snapping with the rhythm of it. Al got to dancing too. Moving his hips and stuff - about to break it down. .... in my head I said, "Man don't hurt yourself." It was nice.