Mother’s Day Tribute

In celebration of Mother’s Day, we highlight the reflections of past guests about their relationships with their moms.

According to, Mother’s Day was conceived as a way of honoring the sacrifices mothers made for their children and a day of personal celebration between mothers and families.

Many of our guests have talked about their moms in our conversations, including President Jimmy Carter, Jay Leno, Alicia Keys, Hilary Swank, Carly Simon, Sidney Poitier and Maya Angelou. Some reflections were humorous; some were poignant; but all were interesting.

The day has also been used to launch various causes. On Mother's Day 1968, Coretta Scott King, widow of slain civil rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., led thousands of women in the first wave of demonstrators in the Poor People's Campaign focusing America's attention on economic inequality and poverty. And, in 1969, The National Organization for Women launched "Freedom for Women Week" calling for "Rights, Not Roses." [To learn more, click on links below.]

Happy Mother's Day!!!


Tavis: And speaking of Mother’s Day, so many others who’ve been guests on this program have talked about their mothers in recognition of Mother’s Day. We’ve put together some of, I think, some special memories of guests talking about their mommas. So take a look.

Jay Leno: You know, my mother was one of these people that was just very – like the reason it said, “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” – originally it was “The Tonight Show Starring Jay Leno.” When I told my mom this, she went, “Oh, starring. Oh, Mr. Big Shot. You’re starring. Oh, you have to be starring in the show.” I go, “All right, mom. I’ll just make it With Jay Leno.” My mother always kind of kept the whole thing in perspective.

Jimmy Carter: When I had been playing tennis, I walked in the house and, unfortunately, I put my feet up on the table there and she said – I can’t tell you exactly what she said. “Get your damn feet off my table,” is what she said [laugh]. Then she said, “What do you want?” And I said, “Well, I’m gonna run for president.” She said, “President of what?” Well, that was the way we started. Then later she told a news reporter, “I’m really glad Jimmy’s running for president. Maybe now we’ll get a good restaurant in Plains.”

Condoleezza Rice: My mother would name the girl and she looked first at Andantino. She wanted an Italian musical name. Andantino meant “walking slowly.” She decided she didn’t like the implications of that. Even worse was when she decided to like Allegro, but that meant fast. And you know, Tavis, that in 1960, nobody wanted their daughter to be called fast.

Hilary Swank: And just talking about my past and everything, it just reminds me of my mom with this roll of quarters. You know, we lived out of our car for a little while. She took this roll of quarters and she’d cold-call agents saying, “You gotta meet my daughter. She’s an actress and just really pretty.” You know, just her belief in me and what an enormous gift that is. She’s my number one fan.

Alicia Keys: Somehow we caught up in this place where, you know, things that don’t really matter start to matter and it starts to get confusing as to like what you hold true to yourself. So for me, I think, a lot of that comes from being raised by a really incredible woman.

I was raised by my mother and she is no-nonsense and she’s phenomenal. She’s incredible and she’s always kept me in line and I think part of that has been really good for me. You know what I mean? So I have a really strong grounded sense just from the beginning.

Sidney Poitier: When I was born, it became obvious to everyone present, including the midwife, that there was something unusual. I was just a child that didn’t appear to be – that would survive. And that was the general opinion of everyone, including my dad. And my mother took exception to that.

She got up the following morning and she dressed herself the next morning and she left that house where we were and she went out into the environs of Florida within the Black community looking for as much support as she could find because she did not want me to die.

Carly Simon: My mother read a little blurb in the Stanford Advocate that Jackie Robinson was trying to move to Stanford, Connecticut with his wife Rachel and his three kids and was apparently turned down from the piece of property on Cascade Avenue.

And she got in touch with Rachel Robinson and she said, “Let’s just meet on the Merritt Parkway.” My mother took her around to various real estate agents and they kind of said, “Well…uh…uh” and said, “We’d like to see that piece of property on Cascade Avenue.”

So with whatever misgivings or embarrassments the real estate agents, they took them over to see the property. So little by little, it was worn down and they bought the piece of property. You know, this spirit that my mother had to have all these civil rights meetings and protests on our lawn.

Rita Moreno: My mother did something extremely courageous for someone at that time in Puerto Rico, a little Catholic island. She divorced my father when she was, I guess, just about 20 which is unheard of and she did something truly remarkable and took a ship to New York City, the United States of America, to see if she could find some kind of other life.

And when she had made enough money and had learned just about enough English, she took that ship back to Puerto Rico and I remember it was Christmas time because she had to go back for Christmas. Her idea was to bring me back to the United States for that better life that she was after.

Magic Johnson: My mom blessed me with a smile. My dad blessed me with the work ethic. And I combined the two and here I am today.

Stevie Wonder: My mother was the one that really came up with the title, “Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours.”

Tavis: That’s your momma?

Wonder: That was my momma’s thing.

Tavis: What?

Wonder: I was singing the thing like…


Wonder: And I guess she thought I was saying, “I’m yours” and she said, “Wait a minute. Can you say here I am, signed, sealed, delivered, I’m yours?” I said, “Really, Ma? Yeah.”

Glenn Frey: So my mother always loved Big Band music. I have two N’s in my name ’cause she loved Glenn Miller. She loved Ella Fitzgerald and Dinah Washington.

Tavis: Your mom had good taste.

Frey: Yeah, my mom had very good taste.

Maya Angelou: Sometimes parents have a mistake. They make a mistake and think that they own the children. The children don’t belong to the parents. The parent is a vehicle. The children belong to God, so sometimes parents make the mistake of intruding into a place that is not for them to intrude. There’s a place in everybody which must remain pristine, clear, clean because that may be the place where the person goes to meet God at that last moment.

Tavis: So everybody thinks their mom is the best and the greatest and I ain’t mad at them, but my mom really is the best and she really is the greatest. So to Joyce Marie Smiley who watches this program every night in Kokomo, Indiana, Happy Mother’s Day.

And wherever and whoever you’re with tonight, Happy Mother’s Day to all of you. Have a great weekend. That’s our show for tonight. Until next time, goodnight from L.A., thanks for watching and, as always, keep the faith.

Announcer: For more information on today’s show, visit Tavis Smiley at

Wade Hunt: There’s a saying that Dr. King had that he said there’s always the right time to do the right thing. I just try to live my life every day by doing the right thing. We know that we’re only about halfway to completely eliminate hunger and we have a lot of work to do. Walmart committed $2 billion to fighting hunger in the U.S. As we work together, we could stamp hunger out.

Announcer: And by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you. Thank you.

Last modified: May 13, 2013 at 12:21 pm