Bobby Womack passed away this evening at the age of 70.
Bobby can be considered the godfather to Hip Hop Awareness songs. Originally the theme song for a movie of the same name, ‘Across 110th Street’, tells the harrowing story of the heartbreak of poverty after the triumph of the civil rights movement.
The critically praised title song, written by Bobby Womack and J.J. Johnson, was a No. 19 hit on the Billboard Hot Black Singles chart in 1973, and was later featured in Quentin Tarantino’s 1997 blaxploitation homage Jackie Brown. It is also heard in Ridley Scott’s 2007 film American Gangster,and as a background song for the video game True Crime: New York City. All songs were written and performed by Bobby Womack; the score was composed and conducted by J.J. Johnson.
The song opens with the lyrics:
I was the third brother of five/ Doing whatever I had to do to survive/ I’m not saying what I did was alright/ Trying to break out of the ghetto was a day to day fight/ You don’t know what you’ll do until you’re put under pressure
Across 110th Street is a hell of a tester/Across 110th Street/Pimps trying to catch a woman that’s weak/Across 110th Street/Pushers won’t let the junkie go free
Bobby once told The Guardian,”This is still the song that touches my heart the most because I still remember Sam saying to me, “Bobby, we’ll never have a black president.” I said, why not? And he said, “Well, do you believe in Santa Claus? Cos when you grow up, you won’t believe in Santa Claus.” But I still do! ‘
Watch this hard hitting video where he discusses his struggles in music:
He never flinched from delivering the unvarnished truth of life.Starting off on the streets of segregated America, Womack launched himself into what became an epic adventure. In the 1950s as a youngster he was traveling the gospel highway with the Womack Brothers. By the 1960s, he was being mentored by Sam Cooke who schooled him in the ways of R&B, while James Brown also drilled him into shape. Soon, the Rolling Stones and Wilson Pickett were queuing up to record his song.
Bobby never flinched on knowing where his music places in history. He believed that telling these stories has always mattered to people becoming better and chasing real life.
He said of a life of songs like this taught him the following:
The Marvin Gayes, the Otis Reddings, the Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix — I worked with all these people, never knowing about fame. All they was doing was trying to pay their rent for the day, and enjoy what they did. Now all those people are gone… and ever since I feel like I represent them when I go on stage to say “This is what soul music is about.” Cuz everybody’s got it—don’t care what color you are—you know, you just gotta recognize what your soul, that’s like your style. What motivates you and makes you move and makes you wanna get out there and do what you do.
Womack opened up about his frequent drug use in his memoirs, I’m a Midnight Mover. Womack said he began using cocaine sometime in the late 1960s. His cocaine use turned into an addiction by the late 1970s. Womack partially blamed his habit for his son Truth’s death as an infant in 1976. At the end of the 1980s, Womack went into a rehab facility to get over his cocaine addiction, which he said he conquered. Womack developed diabetes in his later years. Last year he revealed he was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.
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Make sure to watch TV One’s Unsung feature on him below:
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