Singer-songwriter and activist Ron Paris offered students more than his “Sweet Soul Music” last night, delivering a message of social justice and progress.
Paris began his intimate performance in the MultiCultural Center by crooning rhythmic soul music to an audience of around 30 listeners and then by reciting a Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speech advocating equality and righteousness. Former singer of rhythm and blues group The Platters and headliner of his own self-titled Las Vegas show, Paris has entertained audiences for over 20 years by combining melody and lecture to convey a parallel between music and social justice.
Julie Carlson, his wife and an English professor at UCSB, said she is deeply involved with Paris’ music career as well as his interactive performances, which involves displays of soulful recordings, lyrical composition and visual depictions of those who helped advance social relations in the U.S. in the 1960s.
“The lecture-performance combines word, slide images and a cappella singing in order to recreate some of the early history of R&B and how that music helped achieve better racial relations in the U.S.,” Carlson said.
A fellowship from the John E. Profant Foundation for the Arts has permitted Paris to travel to college campuses across the country speaking to students about the history of rhythm and blues and how it contributes to social integrity.
During his performance, Paris described his experiences growing up as a minister’s son in 1940s Chicago, a period during which Paris said he suffered extreme insecurity and animosity due to his race.
“There was once a time in my life when I hated white people,” Paris said. “There was also a time when I hated myself. I am pleased to say all that has changed.”
Paris also traced the gradual changes in soul music, which he said paralleled the endeavors and advancements in social equality, focusing especially on the Civil Rights era in the American South.
His words were reinforced by a film clip of the Temptations performing for an enthusiastic student audience, segregated by security guards, a barrier which Paris said was torn down by the unifying forces of music.
“This music brought down the rope that separated blacks from whites,” Paris said.
According to Carlson, Paris is an incredibly charismatic and enthusiastic orator, capable of connecting with the current generation.
“He is now eager to bring the message of music and … healing to young people who do not know that much about early R&B or about the pre-Civil Rights era,” Carlson said.
Paris concluded with a song and thanked the audience for support, departing with a message of serenity.
“Get out there and vote today,” Paris said. “Smile at a stranger, show the love and keep the peace.”