Birney Imes: dancing the knights

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Birney Imes

DDuring his more than 20 years as a teacher, Ezra Baker led a double life.

By day, he was a high school teacher — not “soft” because he was, as he puts it, an “old school” disciplinarian; at night he was a cool dude in a shiny suit or black turtleneck and beret wielding an alto sax.

Baker’s lasting love affair with music began when he joined his school band in sixth or seventh grade. His band manager noticed Baker and a trumpeter friend riffing on “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and took him under his wing.

By the time Baker graduated from Louisville Colored High School in 1962, he was playing both in the school band and for post-football game dances with the Blue Velveteers, a swing band organized by the group director.

While studying history and social studies at Jackson State, Baker, like all 18-year-olds at the time, signed up for the draft. The war in Vietnam was escalating and Baker had no interest in visiting Southeast Asia. He asked his Selective Service Officer what his options were.

You could teach school in a poor area, she told him.

And so it was that in the fall of 1967, Baker took a job about 40 miles from his hometown, at Hunt High School in Columbus. He taught science, history, Mississippi history, and civics.

Baker soon found a musical outlet with the Blue Notes, a band organized by Hunt band manager WB Jones.

Baker soon left the Blue Notes to form a band with guys his own age. They were called the Black Knights. They played the popular soul and rhythm and blues of the time.

The band’s repertoire included Wilson Pickett’s “Knock on Wood”, James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s World”, the Isley Brothers, “It’s Your Thing” and songs from the Impressions, Tyrone Davis and the Temptations.

The group consisted of Baker; James Samuel and sometimes Charlie Burgin, lead singers; Booker T. Cole, drummer; Charlie Cox, lead and rhythm guitar; Willie Pippin then RL Shammlee, bass; Joseph Munson, trumpet; IC Cousins ​​Jr., keyboard. Andrew Glenn was the band’s manager.

Singer Samuel led the band from the late 60s until he joined the Air Force in 1975. He remembers traveling all over the state, sometimes playing several nights a week.

Samuel said his time with the band not only provided extra income that sometimes rivaled that of his day job, having to work cooperatively with a group of older guys was valuable experience.

“(Working with) the Black Knights took me out of my teens and into adulthood. These guys forced me to grow up. I needed this.”

The band members dressed similarly, sometimes in suits with ties, other times in bell bottoms and “Super Fly” shirts.

When asked if they danced throughout their performance, Baker scoffed.

“You had to move, man,” he said.

The group had standard routines, including one called Temptations Walk, named after the legendary Motown quintet.

“You are going to put on a show. You want to show off,” Baker said.

Baker said the band usually got 60% of the gate. For out-of-town gigs, the band would receive $500 or $600.

Baker’s band weren’t the only soul band in town.

If the black knights were the temptations; the precisions were the four vertices.

The groups fostered friendly rivalry and sometimes staged a group battle. The Continental J’s were another soul, R&B band of that era. Samuel remembers Mack Brown and the Crusaders out of the Delta as the Knights’ main rival.

The Knights have played at the Flamingo Lounge, TP Harris Elks Club, Silver Spur, Racquet Club, Go Go Beach, the ACBA’s NCO and Officer Clubs, and the Green Valley Club, a juke joint near from the southern entrance to the base.

At a time when race relations could be sensitive, Baker said the Knights never had a problem.

Samuel remembers differently.

“You had to be careful in some of these places,” Samuel said. “Someone might have a razor or a gun.”

Samuel recalls a fight that broke out one night at the Elks Club in Louisville.

“We had to hide behind our gear,” he said.

“All it takes is one fool in the room,” he said.

The band rocked in the 80s. Baker attributes the band’s demise to the rise of disco music.

While his days in music may be over, Baker still performs at his church, the Missionary Union Baptist Church.

About those nights spent making music in dimly lit nightclubs and juke joints on dirt roads, both Baker and Samuel cherish those memories. And apparently some of those who have danced to their music are doing the same.

“Once in a while I meet friends who call me Mr. Black Knight,” Samuel said.

Birney Imes ([email protected]) is the former publisher of The Dispatch.

Birney Imes III is the former immediate editor of The Dispatch.

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