*These days, if there is one thing that singer, writer, producer, and recording artist Will Downing loves talking about more than his new album, “Chocolate Drops” and the current national “Chocolate Drops Tour,” it’s his father, who recently passed. He was 89.
(Scroll down to hear cuts from Will’s new CD.)
While Downing, as expected, is sadden by his father’s death, the song master has a lot of great memories of the incredible and captivating stories that his father used to tell.
“He was hilarious; a real character,” recalled Downing to EURweb’s Lee Bailey. “He had some amazing stories that he would tell his family and other people, such as stories about being the world’s poorest person when he was growing up.”
According to Downing, his father, Bedellmus Downing, yes, you read right. His name was “Bedellmus.,” but he was also known as Duke and was born in the little town of Roper, North Carolina. From this small locale, the elder Downing crafted tall and riveting stories and tales about his life.
“He would tell us legendary stories about when he was growing up, he was so poor that he often went to school wearing his sister’s shoes, or he had to wear one shoe and one boot to school,” Will Downing recalled. “The kids called him ‘shoe-boot.”
As a kid growing up in New York, Will Downing remembers how people on the block used to gather around the stoop at their house in Brooklyn and listen to his father tell tall tales, such as the ones about a man named Squire. According to Bedellmus Downing, as told to Will Downing, siblings and others, Squire could climb a tree backwards, and was so strong that when a mule was stuck on the train tracks one day and the train was coming, Squire lifted the mule off the tracks by himself on his back. Additionally, Squire was so strong that he could chop down trees with one hand.
By profession, Bedellmus Downing was a skycap, but he was an entertainer at heart, Will Downing said.
“He would tell us these amazing and funny stories about how he walked five miles to school, uphill, both ways,” Downing said. “He was maybe 5’ 3”, but told us captivated stories of how he was the center on the basketball team, and how later in life, when he and a friend first moved to Harlem, they were so poor that they only had one shirt. My father said that he would wear the shirt to work during the day and would come home and give the shirt to his friend so he could go to work at night.”
The singer admits that some of his father’s stories were difficult to believe, but were told with a straight face.
“He would tell stories about how he once saw a man bury himself for a nickel,” said Downing. “My mother, who was born about eight miles from Roper, and my aunts and uncles, at times, would co-sign his stories, and other times they would just shake their heads and say, ‘C’mon Duke, C’mon Bedellmus, you know that didn’t happen.’ ” “My father would just look back at them and say that each story really did happen. If you would have looked into his eyes when he was telling these Paul Bunyan stories, he always had the sincere look of Jesus on his face.”
Musically speaking, Will Downing said that his father’s favorite singer was David Ruffin and his favorite song was Ruffin’s “Statue of a Fool.’”
“I’m not sure what it was about that song that he loved so much,” Downing said. “Although he didn’t say it, my father felt that if I could sing like David Ruffin, and sing that particular song like David Ruffin, than he would respect me as a singer. When I later recorded ‘Statue of a Fool’, he loved it; he absolutely loved it. I’m sure, however, the original song by David Ruffin had a special place in his heart, as well.”
Downing said his father smoked two packs of cigarettes a day until he died. He was also diabetic, according to Downing, but ate cookies, cakes and everything else that he wasn’t supposed to have. And he didn’t drink water, because he said, “water rusts your pipes.”
“According to medical science today, he did everything wrong,” said Downing, with a laugh. “He didn’t exercise, didn’t drink water, but lived to be 89. He died in his sleep. He wasn’t in pain, wasn’t sick, and didn’t suffer.”
At his father’s recent funeral in New York, Downing said he was compelled to tell a few of his father’s famous stories.
“I had people in stitches; they were falling out laughing,” said Downing, the youngest of four children. “Then other people started to tell their favorite Bedellmus stories, as well. He had so many. His stories would make an incredible play. I’m going to miss him, but I still have a million of his incredible stories that will live on and on.”