(Chris James, bottom left)
– By Terry Howard
Odds are that you won’t find his book, “Music Saved My Life – My Life as A 70s R&B/Soul Singer,” on the New York Times’ Bestseller’s List or an Oprah Winfrey Book Club selection. And on top of that, the “Proper English” crowd and nitpicky professional grammarians probably wouldn’t recommend such an “unpolished” book.
You see, musician and author Ollan Christopher Bell (aka) Chris Bell, Douglasville resident and founding member of the R&B group The Natural Four, had 30 mesmerized members and guests of “26 Tiny Paintbrushes,” the Douglas County Writers’ Guild on the edge of their seats doing a riveting 90 minute Q&A on October 14th at The Vine Café & Market in downtown Douglasville.
Born and reared during the tumultuous Sixties in Oakland, California, Bell recounted in striking detail his life journey beginning with his difficult formative school years, a life changing stint in the Army while stationed in Germany, and live performances as a member of the Natural Four on Soul Train and on concert stages before screaming audiences across the globe.
Now a balding at age 78, Bell answered questions – some borderline sensitive, others cringe inducing – as deftly as he used to pirouette across the stage during the group’s 1973 hit song, “Can This Be Real” and others. He was unapologetically candid about his first ever encounters with racism in the South while in the Army, a lifetime of being bullied, an acrimonious relationship with his late mother and, despite genuine efforts, the pain of never having seen the child he fathered while stationed in Germany.
Wrote one meeting participant afterwards:
“What I witnessed Monday evening was a writer who had a personal story to tell. We may read stories individuals write about their life experiences, but as a reader, we rarely witness the passion and the compulsion that moved the person to write his, her, or their story. That’s what we were privy to Monday evening when Chris James shared the story behind his book. WOW! Thank you, Mr. James, for sharing with us. I felt privileged to be present. “
– Mona W. Matthews, Ph.D.
In what seemed like the fastest 90 minutes one could possibly imagine, attendees snapped up copies of his book while whispering among themselves and processing what they’d just experienced.
In the end, yet another addition to the rich cultural tapestry of downtown Douglasville, Georgia.
© Terry Howard is an award-winning writer and storyteller. He is also a contributing writer with the Chattanooga News Chronicle, The American Diversity Report, The Atlanta Business Journal, The Shenandoah Valley Hit, BlackMarket.com, The Echo World, founder of the “26 Tiny Paint Brushes” writers’ guild, and recipient of the 2019 Dr. Martin Luther King Leadership Award. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org