January 10th - Ghetto Reality

Ghetto Reality - Nancy Dupree, 1969

I think every elementary and middle school auditorium I've ever been in has had the same aged, half-tuned upright piano shoved catty-corner to the stage. The bright, almost-toy-like sound of an energetically-played upright is forever linked in my mind to countless school music classes, plays, recitals, presentations, etc., and it's extremely great to hear it on Ghetto Reality. Because this album is a school recital - it's literally a recording of Rochester school children, accompanied on the piano by their teacher.

This wouldn't be of interest to anyone other than the proud parents, however, if the kids were just singing a normal school repertoire. But every song on this album was actually written by the kids and their music teacher, Nancy Dupree, to reflect their lives as schoolchildren in Rochester, New York, in the late '60s. There are songs about James Brown, about the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., about black Jesus, about wishing for a home without rats for Christmas. Even their version of Jingle Bells has a line about getting hit by a snowball on the way to school.

Their voices are wavery and off-key and perfect in exactly the way that kid's voices are; they're also extremely cool. I am legitimately amazed that Call Baby Jesus has not become a hip Christmas cover, James Brown is fantastic and Docta King is a beautiful hymn. It's definitely a sight better than any school recital I was ever in.

Click here to read liner notes and purchase this album from Smithsonian Folkways