*For most people, Christmas is the perfect excuse or reason to spend time with family. But what if you’re someone who goes most of your life without knowing your father and family? Then of course Christmas time can be somewhat incomplete.
That was the situation for EUR/RadioScope’s LaRita Shelby. Yes, we said it WAS the situation ’cause it’s a new day for Ms. Shelby. You see, after searching for her father for all of her life, she finally found him. That means this Christmas is going to one unlike any other for her.
LaRita – who also renowned as an actress and jazz singer/writer – with her recently recorded CD, “Date With A Song,” is here to share her happy Christmas tale with one and all. Enjoy and Merry Christmas from EUR!
My “Date With A Song” has turned out to be a date with destiny! Following my passion in music has led me on a path to many miracles and now to Mississippi for the 1st time to see the father and the family that I never knew.
I was born in Nashville and my mother and I lived across the street from Tennessee State University. As a toddler, I remember visits from a nice gentleman that my mother said was my father, Calvin Shelby. By the 1970’s mother Florence Hawkins moved to Detroit and I moved to Washington, D.C. to live with Aunt Mary and Uncle Bill.
My life has been filled with great men and women who have loved and mentored me from my god-parents (The Greens of Nashville), to my mother’s family (The Hawkins) and many more. There was never a lack of love or a sense of belonging, but I never forgot my daddy. Whenever I asked, nothing was said. In 1993, when my mother died suddenly, I knew that I had to take up the search on my own. No new information had ever surfaced during my High School years in Memphis, or in my college years in Los Angeles. I married briefly in 1997 but up until then, I was an only child with no children. I now have a thirteen year old son named Justin.
In 1994, my search (assisted by a devoted friend) led me to another Calvin Shelby who lived in Jolliet, Illinois. DNA proved that he was not my father but the first miracle is that he, his wife and children decided to be a surrogate family to me anyway. An instant sisterly bond was formed by me and his daughter Eartha Shelby. I had never really known any Shelby’s like this before. Both Calvin and Eartha Shelby passed away in January and February of 2010.
On Sunday, February 22nd 2009 at about 11:00 pm, I heard the voice within say; “Put your daddy’s name in the Google search, there was no Google when you searched before.” That search revealed an article by Steve Penn in the Kansas City Star on Calvin and Benny Shelby, owners of the Kansas City Blues and Jazz Juke House in Kansas City, Kansas. I had found a connection to jazz and to my father! I sent a note and a copy of my jazz CD. I only communicated that I thought I might be related. Between 2009 and November 2010, only 2 conversations took place. Kansas City Calvin never responded but I did speak to his brother Benny. He was reluctant to engage the possibility of any relation, but given more details about Nashville, he now had a hunch that my dad might be his cousin Calvin Shelby, who had worked at Tennessee State University and was now living back home in Mississippi.
On Monday, December 8th 2010, my letter arrived from Benny Shelby stating that he had spoken with his cousin Calvin’s sisters and that he thought that he had found my father. He gave me the number to Dr. Ariedell Shelby-Stewart in Huntsville, Alabama. This was my Aunt Ariedell who received my call with such excitement! Then, she informed me that they had all known about me since I was baby but never knew where to find me. Each day I get calls from across the country from aunts, uncles and cousins that I never knew I had. My dad has two brothers and three sisters remaining of the original eight. Every day family photos are shared on Facebook and introductions occur from any of her 32 FIRST COUSINS!
Though I was mentally and spiritually prepared for any outcome, I did not know that my father spoke of me often, though he never knew if he’d see me again. Calvin is living in a nursing home in Canton, Mississippi but he will visit with his brother Joe and family for the holidays in Greenwood, Mississippi.
This will be my first time seeing him in 40 years! The Shelby family as assured me that they are waiting with open arms, they too have found their missing link. Ironically, all of my elders on my mother’s side are deceased, except one, aunt Ritta. My extended family is great but in recent years, there have been more than a few times when I felt all alone in the world and desired the nesting that family can provide. I have found a greater example of faith, hope and love. The abiding love of Christ flows through this family and it supersedes the untold story of what happened between my father and mother. I have no bad memories of my brief time with the two of them and am blessed by people who only speak about the best of both of them. They are not held hostage to my ideals of perfect parenthood, they are endeared to me because their biology is what brought forth the physical manifestation of my human experience. They have now both given me two amazing families. The Hawkins family and my extended family have brought me this far, and now I am blessed to finally have The Shelby family to share the rest of my journey from this point onward. I have worn the Shelby name with pride, now I know why.
See family photos and updates on www.Facebook.com/LaRitaShelby