Sweet Old Song

PBS Premiere: July 30, 2002Check the broadcast schedule »

The Artists

Autobiographical Series

"Art is a wonderful thing, but you don't just snap your fingers and do it. Your hand is not a camera. It takes time. You need shadows, perspective, proportion."

"We didn't have water in our house, you know. A pump flowed from Spring Hill and ended right here. That's where black people did their laundry. It was cold as ice, that water was. Just clear as crystal. When we were kids, we all had chores. When my turn came, I had a four-legged dish washer -- an old hound dog. It worked real good until Mama found out."

"That was under the house where I lived. The cat thinks I'm disturbing his domain. There wasn't a cat in the neighborhood that liked me. I'd pull the hair out of a cat's tail to make a paint brush. I'd tie it to a goose quill with thread."

"Old Blind Roland Martin, the one leading the band, would say, 'I've got to have so much to play that song.' So he'd pass the hat around. And he could count that money better than you could. He couldn't see, but he'd reach in that derby hat and fumble with it. He'd say, 'Oh, I've got to have more.' And he wouldn't play another lick until he got it. It wouldn't take him long to get it either. I'd go home and have my pockets jingling. It was lots of fun."

"The four of us brothers had a string band. At that time my dad was waiting tables at the hotel in Jellico, Tennessee. That's where he met the great Metropolitan Opera singer, Grace Moore. We went up there and played at the hotel. Miss Moore thought F.L., the youngest, was about the cutest little thing she ever saw. He was about 6 years old. We wore suspenders and they'd pull them and drop all the tips down there. He had so much silver in his pant leg he could hardly walk. And I dumped him upside down. Quarters, nickels, dimes and paper money went everywhere. Back then people could rent a house for eight dollars a month. So he had a small fortune in his pants."

"In Detroit I worked on the assembly line at Chrysler. I did spot welding mostly. I enjoyed it. I worked for them until I retired. If I worked on the day shift, I was done until the next day and I could play gigs at night. When you're retired you can play day or night."

"This is Carl (Martin) with all the little kids gathered around. I think this was Colombia or Brazil. We were on tour with the State Department. We played nearly every country in South America. We would go to one country and stay two, maybe three days."