Soul Train @ Forest Park

Soul Train comes to Forest Park HS. This is part 2 of Forest Park's All Class Reunion Dance. This annual event is hosted by Forest Park alumni and reconnects students across decades. These graduates may be older but they still know how to throwdown - Soul Train style.

 

Big Jim Parker: From Macon, Georgia to Liberty Heights

Debating who is the better athlete at any position is sure to be an all day conversation. However, Jim Parker, the former Baltimore Colt and Hall of Famer, is certainly considered one of the best. Ironically, many who grew up in the 70’s – 90’s in northwest Baltimore know of Jim Parker more for selling beverages than playing football.

parkercollage.jpg

Before the late Parker opened Jim Parker’s Pub(aka Jim Parker’s Liquors) at the corner of Liberty Heights and Garrison(closed in 1999), he was at Ohio State laying the foundation for a legendary football career.

Playing for the demanding and well respected Woody Hayes, Parker was a two time All-American and an Outland Trophy Winner. Named for All-American John H. Outland, the award recognized college’s best interior lineman. Woody Hayes was quoted as saying, “Jim Parker was the greatest offensive lineman I’ve ever coached”.

Reputation in hand, Parker came to Baltimore in 1956 after being drafted in the first round. Like a game of chess his job was simple; protect the king. The king was Baltimore Colt’s quarterback and fellow hall of famer Johnny Unitas(d 2002).

Parker excelled in his role becoming a perennial all-star and all-pro performer and helping the Colts win two NFL Championships. In 1973, Parker was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame.

He also was one of the most popular athletes which would later help him make the transition from player to retiree.

In 1964, Parker opened Jim Parker’s Pub – “At The Crossroads”. These were the days when pro athletes still had to have ‘real’ jobs. In the off season most athletes would work other jobs to supplement their income, and they lived amongst their fans. As such, before Parker opened his own store, he was head of sales promotion for a liquor distributor and ironically Art Donavan, his teammate, was his boss.

1964 was the same year Parker would began to consider retirement but it would be three years later before he would actually retire. Parker grew up on a farm in Georgia, and city life did not always quell the simplicity of farm life. That coupled with injuries and a growing family had him pondering retirement.

Like NFLers today Parker would awake in the wee hours of the morning in pain. In December 1967, while undefeated, Parker unselfishly announced his retirement and did it early enough to allow the Colts to get a replacement to prep for their playoff run. Coming into the final game of the season, the Colts were 11-0-2 but had to play their final game against the Los Angeles Rams who were 10-1-2. The Rams won and knocked the Colts out of the playoffs. Although the Colts lost, Parker’s unselfish act and commitment to his team was evident.

The 6-3 athlete from Macon, Georgia would show just as much commitment to running a successful enterprise as he did on the gridiron. Jim Parker 'liquors' operated for more than 30 years, with its well known owner working long hours and never being considered an absentee owner. Parker was also once a member of the ULBA, United Liquor Beverage Association. The ULBA launched in the 1960’s and comprised of Black owned/operated alcoholic beverage establishments committed to offering excellent service, clean establishments and assisting with neighborhood events and concerns.

Neighborhood Changes

After more than 30 years at the helm, neighborhood descension, and failing health, it was time for Parker to write a closing sentence to another great career. In 1999, Jim Parker’s closed its doors. Today, the building that housed this long standing business has since been raised and its space is part of Walgreens parking lot.

In a 1994 Sports Illustrated article, Parker noted how he enjoyed playing the game. "Guard was fun, seeing those defensive backs out there not being able to get out of the way. It was a train hitting a Volkswagen. You'd mow them down.”

In that interview Parker also elaborated on the difficulties of balancing a football career and family life. “It broke up my marriage. Instead of spending time with my family, I was putting time in down in the basement, looking at films of defensive ends."

After a lengthy bout with diabetes, “jovial Jim” died on July 18, 2005 of congestive heart failure. He was 71 years old. The life of a gentle giant, son, father, companion, philanthropist, and athlete, had run its last yard.

Although the building is no longer standing, driving pass Liberty Heights and Garrison, it’s difficult not to think of Jim Parker’s.

copyright C.Green/School 18 Project

Billy Griffin: The Miracle of Forest Park

WHEN MOTOWN'S MIRACLES NEEDED A REPLACEMENT FOR SMOKEY ROBINSON, THEY FOUND HIM IN BALTIMORE!

billygriffin collage.jpg

It is rare that one gets the opportunity to replace an icon and idol. But Billy Griffin, the Baltimore crooner and Forest Park High School graduate(68), did just that.

Griffin grew up admiring and idolizing the legendary Smokey Robinson.  After years of honing his skills in local groups including The Last Dynasty, Griffin was ready for a career defining moment. In 1972, Smokey Robinson left the Miracles and Motown’s legendary president, Berry Gordy, had the huge task of finding a replacement.  Fresh off a major win in a talent contest, Griffin headed to Detroit to audition for the Miracles. As fate and faith would have it, Griffin beat out all competitors and became a Miracle.

In 1972, The Miracles launched a Smokey Robinson farewell tour that also introduced Billy Griffin as the new lead singer. In contrast to the support from Smokey Robinson and his band mates, there were many doubting that the Billy Griffin led Miracles could continue the success they had achieved with Smokey at the lead.  One of the factors in selecting Griffin as Smokey’s replacement was not only his voice but his writing ability. The Miracles first posthumous release was 1973’s Renaissance.  The album was a critic’s favorite and included production from Willie Hutch, Marvin Gaye and Freddie Perren.

The platinum selling single “Do It Baby” proved to the doubters that the Miracles were still viable and Billy Griffin was a huge reason for it. The sexually charged “Do It Baby” would be the jab that would ultimately set up the groups knockout blow.

One listen to the album and it was evident that Griffin was more than a Smokey Robinson replacement; vocally he was just as good. But the album wasn’t as much a success commercially as it was critically. Enter 1974 and the game would change. After some missteps with singles to promote Renaissance, the Miracles released the album “Do It Baby” and the single with the same name.  The platinum selling single “Do It Baby” proved to the doubters that the Miracles were still viable and Billy Griffin was a huge reason for it. The sexually charged “Do It Baby” would be the jab that would ultimately set up the groups knockout blow.

In 1975, the Miracles released the album City of Angels. This was a concept album that told the story of a man who follows his girlfriend to Los Angeles where she has hopes of becoming a star.  City of Angels also contained the group’s biggest hit, “Love Machine”. The multi-platinum “Love Machine” moved more than 4 million units worldwide and more than solidified the presence of Billy Griffin as lead singer. The album was written by Billy Griffin and fellow Miracle Pete Moore. The Baltimore bred Griffin was at the zenith of his career.

Some controversy soon followed with the song “Ain’t Nobody Straight in LA”, a song that highlighted the growing gay lifestyle in Los Angeles. It left many listeners puzzled as to how to receive it. Another interesting song was ,“My Name is Michael” originally written for Michael Jackson’s first solo album.

A couple of years of chart success would not be enough for the Miracles to stay with Motown. In 1976 they headed to Columbia records. Their stint at Columbia would not even remotely rival their success at Motown. After a couple of albums at Columbia it was time for a new direction for Griffin.

In the 80’s the Forest Park High School grad released three solo albums with classic singles that included “Hold Me Tighter in the Rain” and “Serious”.  The 80’s also saw Griffin sign with Motorcity Records.  Motorcity Records was a Motown reunion project that not only showcased Griffin fronting a reunion with the Miracles but also writing for other artists.

Today, Griffin is still writing and performing. His most recent solo effort, Like Water, can be best described as ‘grown folk’ music.

Based on his successes in the UK, Griffin may be more appreciated there than in America, and certainly in Baltimore. Billy Griffin’s musical gifts have taken him across the globe and given him success that any number of artists would envy. Griffin grew up idolizing the man he would replace in a legendary group on a legendary label; Co-wrote and performed on multi-platinum songs; tutored by Marvin Gaye and Smokey Robinson; performed, wrote, produced for one of the greatest record men, Berry Gordy.

But a detailed look into his musical landscape as a singer, musician, songwriter, producer and it is easy to see that Griffin has been one of the most underrated talents.  As part of the Miracles, he is star blazed on the sidewalks of Hollywood, but was not included when the Miracles were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. This gifted artist whose talents were honed right here in Baltimore has never received the recognition he deserves. How fitting it would be for a wax statue at Blacks in Wax Museum or some tribute at Forest Park High School.

We salute you Billy Griffin!

{copyright 2013) Clinton Green/School 18 Project

The Forest Park Files: Forest Park HS

The historic Forest Park High School opened at its current location in 1981. While the class of 82 was the first to graduate, class of 84 was the first to complete a full term. There are many notables who have attended this cherished institution including film director Barry Levinson, singer Billy Griffin and former Maryland Governor and US Vice President, Spiro T. Agnew. Even the legendary Oprah Winfrey has made her presence felt at Forest Park. In its inaugural school year(1981-82), Oprah - who was just a local celebrity at the time - addressed an auditorium full of students. As she tapped on the microphone she noted how we had a new school but the microphones didn’t work. Most of the students were just happy to be out of class, not realizing how the person standing before them would later impact the world. Today, Forest Park is planning for major renovations. Although not officially confirmed, the plan is to move students at some point to the now defunct Garrison Middle while renovations are made at the high school. The duration is expected to be one year.

C. Green | RockRose Pictures

C. Green | RockRose Pictures