This is a photo of the letterhead portion from one of the (typed and signed) letters that our eldest brother wrote to me when he was still living and based in New York City as a professional musician.
You can visit the link to his website above to learn more about his significant musical career, professional accomplishments, and biography.
He was a dozen years older than me so I was a baby most of the time during his childhood. We literally didn’t grow up together like I did with those among my siblings who are closer to me in age. We were both born in Olathe, Kansas.
However, I was ultimately able to develop a very great relationship with my oldest brother as an adult largely because we were both professional musicians and we had that in common beyond just having the same mother. We grew to be close.
He was a great mentor, friend and big brother to me who was also able to fill in lots of the natural gaps in my exact middle child understanding and factual knowledge of some important aspects of our family’s history along with sharing his vast music industry experience.
VIDEO: End Credits of Stardust Memories (1980) Woody Allen film
The man was a superstar among all of us in the family. And he was a kind person. He wasn’t a saint of course. He was a NCAA Division I college scholarship athlete in his youth, so it’s easy to imagine that he wasn’t a push over in any regard.
A true standard bearer. He was based in New York City and worked at the highest levels of the music industry for decades. The competitiveness of people in the entertainment business didn’t change him. I don’t recall ever hearing him utter a bad word about anyone regardless if he experienced any lack of integrity.
He recorded, toured, and performed with the A-list of professionals.
PHOTO: L/R – Me, Jesse Newman, Richie, Curtis McClinton and our 3 eldest grandchildren from our daughter.
He lived in a nice neighborhood in Manhattan on West 87th Street where I actually got to visit him once when he was the drum soloist on Broadway for “Sophisticated Ladies,” conducted by Duke Ellington’s son, Mercer. He got me into the show.
VIDEO: Sophisticated Ladies (1981) Broadway Musical cast at Tony Awards
All of this to say that although everyone has to make their own way in life and to be successful, you have to do the work to open the doors yourself, it’s so encouraging to have a pathfinder in your life.
Nobody can give musical career success to you but having a family member who legitimately achieved success at the highest levels is priceless. At least it has been so for me personally.
Well (1) I could ask him how the business works and he would tell me the truth;
(2) if I was dealing with someone or a situation in an industry-related matter or concern, I could bounce it off of him for his valid opinions with confidence;
and, (3) he taught me that in the final objective analysis of the music business at the world class level the importance of always being a master of your art and craft as a professional musician is the number one objective barometer.
VIDEO ALBUM: It was cool that I was ultimately able to help my brother publish “OLATHE” his own solo album
My brother showed me that the “American Dream” still exists for all of us if we look for it inside ourselves first then focus our honest efforts on using our talents positively.
The way he lived his life also proves that people can go through difficult personal challenges in life with kindness, grace, and dignity without hate.
He’s truly a history maker in the literal sense of the term and those who biologically follow in the continuum and/ or acknowledge a connection to our related family line should also know who he was and what he did to pave the way.
MUSINGS IN Cb
Christopher and Terri (Anderson) Burnett established their branch of The Burnett Family in March of 1979 in Copenhagen, Denmark. They are professional musicians, educators, and entrepreneurs based in the Kansas City Metropolitan Area.
AN HUMBLE ARTICLE OF PRAYER SUBMITTED FOR THANKSGIVING
I grew up in a sibling family of leaders. We Burnett siblings were all taught by both of our parents to be independent in almost all things from a young age. And that was tangibly reinforced as each of us saw among the others of us the various stages of each one growing toward being the independent people our parents were hopefully training back then. Again, Mom Burnett used to say “you never know what type of person you are raising, you just do your best and hope.”
I had four brothers and four sisters whom I got to know personally while growing up. Yes, there were nine of us children who had lived beyond birth. Our sibling birth years range from 1943 to 1964 a span of over 20 years. I am a late Baby Boomer, the exact middle in that birth order with two older brothers and two older sisters, and two younger sisters and two younger brothers.
That means our mother literally had school-age children from the age of 19 until she was 59 years old. Think about being nearly 60 and attending your youngest child’s high school graduation ceremony. Wow. Different times and societal eras.
And although there are literally two generations contained within my sibling family cohort, our parents must have done a great job raising us because I don’t recall any of my siblings ever being purposefully divisive, troublemakers, or liars against one another in order to gain favor or approval. Sibling rivalries, yes. Dustups and scraps, yes. But maliciousness, or vengeful intentions, no.
We each maintained a level of character and decency as we had been purposely taught by our parents and elders that was based on the “Golden Rule” and other standard biblical principles. That doesn’t mean any of us were or are perfect.
I heard my mother say on numerous occasions that if “something” ever happened to her, we’d be able to successfully fend for ourselves competently. She succeeded in that goal and all of us were equipped to live lives of quality. But it was and has always been up to us and our own choices. That’s key.
During this process parents inherently piss off their children. Most people have heard such parental lamentations like: “this hurts me more than it does you” and “you may not understand now but you will later.”
As leaders, we were inherently taught how to deal with “bullies” of all types. We learned that bullies could be friends and strangers of course, but also among the people in your family and inclusive of other dear loved ones.
We learned all of this BEFORE we left our sibling home to make our own paths as autonomous adults in the world at large. I don’t recall ever hearing of someone taking advantage of (or deceiving) any one of my siblings by catching them unaware of such nonsense no matter how things often look in the short or mid-terms of development. And we didn’t get into many physical altercations.
We were all taught to play the “long game” as you do in chess.
Some lessons eventually stuck with us as base character traits. We were taught “right from wrong” and we didn’t act like it was someone else’s fault whichever of those we chose to do in a given situation or circumstance. At least we didn’t try to do that within our sibling family or in the company of close family friends because we knew someone or everyone would call it out.
Terri’s Anderson sibling family lived parallel to the Burnett sibling family ethos described here. I also observed how both of her parents interacted with her as an adult. T was groomed to be a refined lady and musical artist.
When she and I became our own branch of the family in 1979, we intentionally raised our two children to hopefully be confident leaders. And ethical people. However, we have learned that what they actually become is largely on them.
All of this “tough love talk” actually does take into account that we all get to a place in life where we’re beset by serious challenges that can hurt us to the literal point of permanent damage or actually kill us prematurely.
These are among the “old people lessons” that my mother Violet and Terri’s mother Sintha used to try to give us forewarning of before we became parents of adult children. At some point, you have to let your children stand on their own. And sometimes they won’t like it. Sometimes they will get over it and sometimes they won’t, or at least it might take some living with their own adult children to come to terms with how their own parents have been previously judged. We have already learned that one.
Even though we are successful adults and successful parents with a family of our own by most of those common metrics, and Google searches didn’t exist back then, I was still actually mature enough to know that I was not my parents’ friend or peer – no matter how old I got. It doesn’t work like that in Black culture. I know that showing elders such respect actually doesn’t diminish me in reality, it shows that I can be counseled and taught.
Sometimes we parents can overprotect to the point of spoiling certain aspects of the development of our children. We all do it no matter how much we try not to make the mistakes with our own children that our parents did with us.
But I do know that I have yet to see anyone who practices evil deeds succeed in this life over the long term. Likewise, reciprocity is simply meted out to balance such extremely warped souls who think that they have all of the answers until they don’t. Sometimes we need such checks and balances to provide a path toward healing.
I have learned that familial love isn’t about keeping score. And it is a sad perversion when that type of mentality enters into family dynamics on any level. Weaponizing the Internet to “troll” or “bully” one’s family is comical to someone of my generation because people my age don’t actually need technology as a definitive part of our daily lives like that.
And in an age when you can literally search the Internet on your device until you find something (and you will) that validates or justifies your position, regardless of the topic, the possibility of miscommunication among loved ones is amplified.
This simply shows a lack of character, or a moral lapse in the least, and the hilariously incompetent use of a potentially marvelous communication tool. It’s like the unintentionally malicious use of email to send stupid chain letters that you didn’t compose to all of your friends without using the Bcc feature to hide their email addresses. Except on purpose.
Starting fights with me or “ghosting” me from behind computer or smartphone screens is like someone cursing me out in a language I don’t understand or speak. You really told me off, but did you? So, using a “meme” as the basis of the title of this article is sort of ironic.
I think the reason that I truly don’t buy into the hype of all that is because I learned enough lessons while growing up and know the difference between doing what is “right and wrong” at the core of my being. I know that hate never wins. I will not practice hate regardless of the situation. I will choose to leave you alone rather than hate you. Hopefully, peace will win.
Having lived long enough now to have been with some fine people at the ends of their lives and witnessing that to a person each one stated in their own vernacular and words essentially that life isn’t about winning argumentsor one’s own selfish pursuits.
We can usually overcome being imperfect humans and mend family relationships even if mental illness, alcoholism, or substance abuse are part of the dynamics that we need to mend. However, we are not to let ourselves be abused by such wounded spirits no matter if they are embedded within people we love deeply.
LIFE: You either quit or keep going. They both hurt. Read that again.
? “ON THIS DAY” (February 13, 2011) ten years ago, we took our late mother Violet to lunch at Fort Leavenworth. Mom would have been 97 years old on February 24, 2021.
Here are a couple of photos of us that came up on my photos feed today:
(1) our mom Violet,
and (2) me with our mom Violet.
She’s 87 years old in these photos and you can see lots of dark hair on her head.
I get my red/brown hair coloring and skin tone from her side of the family.
She never dyed her hair and neither do I.
I still have a full head of hair and not much gray.
SOME CANDID MOM PHOTOS OVER THE YEARS
Grandpa “Jack” (George Jackson)
My maternal grandfather was not bald, so current science says that’s likely why neither am I. Similar findings point to facts regarding specific genes contributing to my not having much gray hair now in the same manner as my parents did not when they were 65. Just the way it goes, I guess.
The signs of mortality are around us at every moment of each day. I’m not sure exactly when, but at some point in life we find peace with that fact and are not as afraid of death. Perhaps this is a counter to that human hyperarousal instinct and thus, inherently inoculates us against our primal fear of being mortal. Whatever the reason, it keeps most of us from staying in bed all day with the covers pulled up over our heads while waiting to die. Despite the challenges ahead for humanity and our nation, we move forward with optimism and confidence that another productive year is before us. We don’t chose to forget the past. We learn from it. We don’t forget our family members either – because they remain with us always in some context. So, the first post of 2021 is a “Roll Call” of our Burnett siblings and it’s dedicated to those family members of our generation who have gone ahead to that next dimension or plane of existence.
* Michelle Antoine did not live beyond a few days after being born premature and was buried in the US military cemetery near Toul-Rosières Air Base during our family’s military service tour in France. We never got to meet Michelle but love him. He would have made our sibling number 10 had he lived.
Nothing reminds us of our own mortality like losing a close relative or dear friend. Even the death of favorite celebrities can often be a sobering moment for most of us in this regard. Even when we do lose beloved family elders or when someone we have known personally for many years passes away after a long life and well-lived life, we are sad but generally able to find resolution at some point through our grief, if not total peace.
There seems to be another consideration for most of us and it’s after we have safely grown up into adulthood, established autonomous lives, and then begin losing our fellow adult siblings inevitably to death. For me personally, this consideration goes beyond a confrontation of one’s own mortality because that usually happens for people my age decades earlier. It seems to be more of a personally inescapable reckoning with one’s own life, in terms of what kind of person we have become, how many of our goals we’ve realized, and what type of legacy we will objectively leave behind. If we are still living we are still writing that history.
Of my nine siblings who lived through birth, grew up to be adults, and lived more life as autonomous people than children in their parents’ home, there are six of us still living at this writing in 2021. That’s pretty cool, especially since we are all over 60 years old now.
We lost our eldest brother Dean, who seriously dated several women but never married, or had children of his own, and by all accounts was a great person with a kind heart to many people in his life. A world class professional musician, he was a great mentor and friend to me after we got to know each other as adults.
We also lost our youngest brother Keith to suicide. Nothing prepares you for losing someone that way. It has taken most of these years since he killed himself for me to grieve and find peace personally – or as much as is possible. The fact is that many people die from suicide and like my youngest brother, most of those people suffer from the common and very treatable mental illness of depression.
However, the first sibling we lost was our dear sister Penny due to the effects of stage 4 lung cancer. Her death was clinically not unexpected. In this life she was a rascal and a very thoughtful person. It is an extremely sad experience to consider not being able to interact with her everyday. I still love and miss my little sister Penny dearly. Penny was the 6th of the 9 living children of Violet Lorraine Jackson Burnett and Clifford LeRoy Burnett.
6 OF 9
Penny and I were among the middle children in birth order and come from a relatively large sibling family. I am the exact middle of the 9 living children who grew up together in our parents home. Penny was the eldest of the last 4 of the 9. All of our siblings have been validated at this point as highly intelligent and talented individuals. Penny was always among the most brilliant persons within this group.
From my perspective, Penny was the quintessential little sister who idolized me as her immediate big brother – unless I was around, of course. And, our childhood together included the typical adventures a big brother and little sister share while growing up together. Terri and I saw this type of dynamic between our own son and daughter during their sibling years with us at home.
And, even when our parents divorced while we were both still high school students, Penny was back to back with me on the mission of keeping the family together while achieving that immediate goal of our younger siblings graduating. We became mini-parents by proxy, while still being just “kids” ourselves. We walked around as if nothing had changed in our family and took care of business. I helped out our single mother with two after school jobs to help buy food and Penny made sure that chores and homework were getting done.
Growing up together, we children were always taught to stand for something positive. Like many kids, we were vetted before we even left home. When I graduated and joined the Army two years later, our single parent home life was relatively stable. Penny and I stayed in touch during her senior year and beyond. I would send money home to help out the family and come home on leave whenever I could. Penny held it down, even after she went to Emporia State to school. Everyone graduated. We beat the odds. We had kicked ass indeed. We won.
Penny continued to be the “glue” that kept all of us together. She knew what everyone was doing and what was going on in their respective lives. Penny knew what kind of characters we had all grown up to become, she knew our strengths and she tolerated our weaknesses. I always thought that was cool. She could have gone on with her own singular life after high school graduation, like many siblings choose to do. We weren’t our siblings’ parents after all. However, I came to appreciate the fact that Penny made a deliberate choice to keep in close touch with me, no matter where in the world I was over the subsequent years. Penny also made a deliberate choice to get to know my wife, Terri, and our children, Micah and Lorri, from the very beginnings of our branch of the Burnett Family through and up to the day that she left to go ahead of us.
I was tempted to post a photograph of my sister with me. But, Penny gave of herself to me and so many people as well. So much so that we all felt the special love she had for each of us individually. So, I could not post a singular picture of she and I together alone and still accurately represent that enormous dynamic. However, I posted a picture of her house instead. It is a beautiful little carriage house to one of the historic mansions in Leavenworth. It was a mess when she and Bill first moved there. Penny worked on that house for the better part of the 10 years that she and her husband Bill were married. Inside and out. Hardwood floors to kitchen remodel. Lawn and landscape. She finally finished it and was ready to begin buying her furniture to fill the special lovely places that Penny’s imagination and dreams had created within that house. The only frustration or sign of complaint that I heard my sister utter was objective disgust at the facts that she had her house done and that she had become terminally ill. Not a negative comment, just matter of fact. Those who knew and loved Penny too, know that it would not have gone down any other way. The story of that house epitomizes the way Penny was in her relationships with most people. She could see the beauty and greatness in all of us, no matter what condition we were in at any given moment. Now, that is a big heart and is truly a great example of the essence of what love is about.
PHOTO that sister Mary Jane took of our late sister Penny with two of her nephews (Madison and Micah) at our mom’s apartment on West Ottawa Street in Paola.
“Often we can find all of the #motivation and #answers we really need from the #history within our own #family” …
John Henry Pratt was married to my great aunt Willa Beecham Pratt. Aunt Willa was the sister of my maternal grandmother Mary Jane Beecham Jackson. John and Willa Pratt were leading citizens and well respected among both the black and white communities of Olathe, Kansas.
John Henry worked for the railroad and Willa took in laundry along with cooking for various people and functions around town. By most standards they were considered “well off.” They had no biological children of their own. And I got to know them both pretty well during a good part of my childhood of the 1960s and 1970s after we came back to Kansas when my father’s active duty Air Force service was finished. I loved and respected them very much.
When our mother’s mother was killed in an automobile accident in 1930, our mother was only 6 years old and her sister (our aunt) was a toddler.
HISTORIC NOTE:The Oriole – 1922 Paola High School Year Book. I graduated from Paola High School in 1974 as the Panthers. Our maternal grandfather George Jackson is featured prominently throughout the pages of this publication. And, as you see the Paola, Kansas school district was integrated 32 YEARS BEFORE the 1954 landmark Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka school desegregation case.
ALL HER CHILDREN ROLL CALL
Our family folklore tells that it wasn’t proper for a widowed man to raise two young girls. Thus the reasoning Willa and John Pratt took our mother and her baby sister in to live with them. And our maternal grandfather George Jackson would subsequently die in a house fire several years later, truly leaving the Jackson sisters orphaned. Our mother, Violet, as a very young girl, would naturally remain inconsolable for many years but would ultimately overcome and have a great life in her own right. That’s another story …
HISTORIC PHOTOGRAPH: “Our NCAA Division 1 Athletes” – Richard (d)and Nathaniel at Kivisto Field, University of Kansas where Richard was a music education major, varsity football star, and remains an all-time letterman. He went on to greatness as a successful musician in New York City. Nathaniel was an education major, multi-event varsity track star, and walk-on varsity basketball player at Wichita State University. They were adopted by Willa and John Pratt after our mother divorced their father.
SIBLINGS ROLL CALL: Richard Dean (d); Nathaniel Anthony; Joyce Nadine; Bonnie Jean; Christopher LeRoy; Penny Lynn (d); Mary Jane; Donnie Ray; Michelle Antoine (d); Keith Duane (d).
JOHN HENRY PRATT FAMILY FOLKLORE
John Henry Pratt is a legend in our family and I want to make sure that our children and grandchildren know how significant he is to them too. I hope they tell their assigns about John Henry Pratt for generations to come.
Growing up, we called him “Dilloy” or “Deak.” I still don’t know why or what these nicknames even mean to this day and I’m in my sixties now. My lasting memory of John Henry will be his unpretentious modesty and humbleness. It was clear, even from my perspective as a boy, that the man had his priorities together.
They told me that John Henry was a World War I veteran and he fought in Europe and saw combat duty in Germany. So I asked him about it once and he told me that when his segregated unit encountered the Germans they would not fight the black soldiers. John Henry said a German soldier told him face-to-face that they didn’t have anything against the blacks who were actually politically oppressed peoples like most Germans were then. I was surprised by this but he insisted it was truth.
John Henry built his life around his family, rather than building a family around his life. I liked that. Every successful man I have been in contact with has had their own version of this ethos. At this point in my life, it’s objectively safe to say I have successfully modeled this in my own way. John Henry was a man you could look up to and admire.
They told me he adopted my two older brothers and I asked him why. John Henry told me that it was the right thing to do at the time so he did it. And that was the extent of what he had to say about that topic. John Henry was not at all mean or angry for my asking, but so matter-of-fact about it that my childish curiosity was satisfied and I left it alone.
I recall one terrible argument between my parents and the Pratts were visiting our home. My dad and John Henry used to talk outside by their vehicles. They’d talk about their cars and any other subjects of the day. My dad was frustrated with my mother and was talking lots about their issues to John Henry. John Henry listened and didn’t say anything or interject during my dad’s passionate oration.
When my dad finished, John Henry told him that all of those things were part of being a husband to a woman and a grown ass man. He told my dad that he understood his frustrations as best he could knowing the two of them and their relationship at a distance. John Henry also told my dad that my mom and us children would be taken care of if he were to leave us. That ended the conversation on that topic and they moved on amicably to discussing the football prospects of the Chiefs.
“PLAY IT WHERE IT LIES” Father’s Day golf with my youngest brother Keith Duane used to be an annual tradition. He was actually a more than pretty decent golfer. Me not so much. Average at best. Golf is one thing that I actually simply do for “fun.” We simply made a point to do it so we would spend time with each other. That’s cool. I’m almost certain he’d be happy knowing I had my clubs re-gripped and am golfing again.