This holiday season is sentimental for me. This writing is strictly personal. I lost a dear friend last May suddenly. I met Reginald Torian at church some years ago. He asked me out, saying that after he got back off the road, we would go to dinner. I wondered what he did that took him on the road. One beautiful Sunday afternoon, he suggested we have brunch after church, I told him I had tickets to the Alvin Ailey Ballet. He said, so let’s make a day of it. I love the ballet, he told me.
We had brunch, the ballet, and cocktails afterwards. We talked and talked and talked. We were in discovery mode. He told me about his life, I told him about mine. A romance was brewing. We became close and while neither one of was looking, we fell in love. Neither of us if truth be told was looking for romance, but now that we are here, let’s roll.Reginald Torian was the lead singer with the R&B group, The Impressions. He began singing at the age of 5 years old at a school assembly when he performed as Elvis Presley. He heard the roar of the crowd, particularly the girls. He loved it and a star was in the making.
One evening with close friends, I prepared dinner. While sipping champagne, after dinner, Wendell O’Neil and Reggie started doing the comedic routine of Pig Meat Markham and then Richard Pryor. Between them they knew the entire routines. We were laughing hysterically, both being as silly as can be. Reggie knew the routines because he had toured with both and said he watched their shows. Wendell remembered the shows too. I was so amused. My observation was saying Reggie could act. He was the life of the party, talking, singing and joking and kissing.
The Curtis Mayfield Story
Reggie’s voice replicated Curtis Mayfield. If you closed your eyes, he sounded exactly like Curtis with no doubt. He loved Curtis and knew everything about him. I had a brainstorm. I called my friend, Jackie Taylor, and asked, have you ever done the Curtis Mayfield Story. She knew Curtis from the Cabrini Green Housing, where they both grew up. She said no, but that she wanted to. I told her I had someone I wanted her to meet, who could play the Curtis part. I arranged for the three of us to meet. We met Jackie for lunch and Reggie shared stories about Curtis and sang and talked and laughed. I was conducting an interview between them and urging the play. Jackie was observant and began to laugh.
The next day we talked and she and I were thinking somewhat alike. I was encouraging the Curtis Mayfield Story. She started writing. I encourage a meeting with she and Reggie as she was writing, telling her that Reggie could provide insight on Curtis’s life. She and Reggie met alone. A play developed, “It’s All Right: The Curtis Mayfield Story” resulted. Reggie played Curtis from a wheel chair and on his back, reflecting Mayfield’s last years, He was absolutely phenomenal. An actor was born. I could see a movie career for him. I talked to him about surrender. Surrender yourself to Jackie and she will teach you how to act. This was important, because Reggie knew everything about everything most of the times.
He loved singing, performing and entertaining, as evident by his 40 years with The Impressions. I went to shows in Atlanta and whenever they performed here in Chicago. I teamed the group with Aretha Franklin in a show, I produced, “ Legends of Soul” for the NDIGO GALA at McCormick Place. It was a smashing success to hear old school music so well performed and it was a lovely evening on the lake front the after party where we danced and danced the night away.
The Soul Train TributeSome years later, Cheryl Boone, the city’s cultural director, wanted to pay tribute to Soul Train and developed a program at Millennium Park to honor Don Cornelius. A street was being named after him that weekend. The show was done quick and in a hurry. She asked me to help promote it. I wrote about it and one magnificent Sunday afternoon there was a Soul Train renaissance at Millennium Park. People came from everywhere dressed in Soul Train style, Michigan Avenue and the Bean became Soul Train property. I didn’t realize it would be historic. Jerry Butler sang with The Impressions for the last time. Backstage was Don Cornelius, Marshall Thompson of the Chi-Lites and Herb Kent. What conversations and history behind the scenes. It was a real old school show afternoon, just like they had at the Regal Theater. It was the last time we saw Don Cornelius. He had a show that was a special musical tribute to Curtis Mayfield – “All Things Mayfield.” that he developed. It played at the newly opened Promontory on an extremely cold January night with the production of Lynn Orman and featured the band of Sid Brown. It played to a sold out audience Reggie was at his happiest. I was proud of him. He got to do a show his very own way.
The Impressions were upset that Reggie was exercising his very own voice. They fired him in what seemed to me a jealousy. He was so very hurt because he loved Fred Cash and Sam Golden, the original Impressions. No one could out harmonize them. He took much pride in being one of The Impressions.
Holiday Day SeasonReggie and I shared many candle night dinners, galas, birthday surprises, parties and holiday dinners. His birthday was late November and for us, it was the start of the holiday season. When he did the show at The Black Ensemble Theater, there was constant preparation for the play and then there was the play and we never got a chance to celebrate like I really wanted. Reggie was a perfectionist and sometimes carried it a bit too far. But it was his essence.
I had a somewhat surprise birthday party for him. His job was to invite eight people to dinner and that’s all he knew. He invited Jackie Taylor and her guest Mr. and Mrs. Ed Sherman, and his dear friend Mr. and Mrs. Eddie Thomas. Eddie was responsible for Reggie joining the Impressions and he wanted him to know he was special. It was a sit down catered dinner, with all the bells and whistles and a very special birthday cake. I prepared the party just like I had my gala evenings attending to every detail. It was precious and little did I know how very special it really was. It was Reggie’s only birthday party ever, he told me the next day. He said it was a night he would remember forever. And all had a good time. Mrs. Curtis Mayfield sent us special wine for dinner and it was her way of being present.
We always celebrated our birthdays with specialness with a lot of attention to details. We never took anything or each other for granted. Reggie said that was new to him, but he never failed. We had lots of dreams. We enjoyed each other’s company. We shared our creativity. He read my writings sometimes on Sunday and to my absolute surprise, he was an excellent proofreader. We would discuss words and songs.
A New Beginning
After his departure from the group there was lots of opportunity before him as a solo voice. But he was really more comfortable singing with a group. The Independents had come together to formulate a new group. They invited Reggie to be their lead singer. He accepted and was excited. In our last conversation, he said, “I think we will be the new singing group. We are working hard. I need to know that you are with me. Let’s start all over. I think life is starting all over and it is good.” I said, “ Okay, I’m with you.”
They were rehearsing for what would have been a debut show to be performed on Mother’s Day. I wanted to come to rehearsal to get a feel for the new group and to start considering marketing. Reggie said No. I want to be perfect when you see us. Tell me what you really think about this change. I pointed out it will be easier for you because you have experience and the ideas you have will live without argument. You are where you want to be, but the group changed. But you are still very much you in full expression. He kept saying are you sure you are with me. Yes. We argued somewhat about his career direction previously and I walked a couple of times, rather than argue. After all it was his career.
And then one evening after just home from work, I got a call from my girl friend Melody. She asked had I talked to Reggie today. She said call him right now. She had received a call from the hospital. Reggie had just finished rehearsal and fell out on the stage. He slumped in a chair. Some thought he was playing. He died. He died before the show. He died before his dream became full. Too sudden, too soon. He was ill, I think, with a heart disease. He didn’t tell anybody. He died happy. He died singing, on stage.
I miss him terribly and he will always hold a special place in my heart and life. I learned much from him. It’s about the little things, he would often say. One day we were leaving my house to go to a party. The flowers on the porch were dropping. He asked why haven’t these flowers been watered. I don’t know. He said, lets water them, now. Okay. So, we watered the flowers. He said, why would you have something of beauty and not take care of it?
That’s sort of how I remember him. In our own unique ways, we took care of each other. If you love somebody don’t be remiss in letting him or her know. I guess that’s the moral of the story at this holiday time.
Make sure you water what is beautiful to you, because you never really know how special those special moments really are until they are gone.