Looking at me with sparkling emerald eyes was none other than Lynda Carter, television’s WONDER WOMAN! We had a pleasant chat and she couldn’t have been nicer. Take that second banana Ed!
Time to get back to playing and at this point no one was in the room.
A few tunes later I felt a presence behind me. I couldn’t see who it was but there was a definite shift of energy in the room. A few moments later I heard someone say, “Hey Champ!” In fact a few people were now throwing the word “Champ” around. A moment later I viewed, out of the corner of my left eye, a guy sitting down on the end of the sofa closest to the piano. He smiles at the people trying to engage him in conversation but turns his focus to me and my piano playing. The room empties and when I finally finish whatever medley I was playing,
Muhammad Ali says to me: “Do you know the Theme from EXODUS?”
Muhammad Ali, “The Greatest” is talking to me. Unbelievable!
I reply,”Yes, I do.” I start playing it and when I finished he said (and I swear this is true), “You are the greatest piano player I have ever heard. Where did you learn to play piano like that?”
I said, “Michigan.”
He says,”Michigan? They have piano players like you in Michigan?” We laugh.
He then comes over to the piano and says,”Now I want to play something for you.” I slid to the right end of the piano bench and he sat on the left and started playing a very simple boogie woogie pattern in F# Major. As he’s playing, he turns to me, smiles and says, “That’s all I know how to play.”
We laugh again.
He radiated kindness.
A simple exchange between two people.
An exchange I’ll never forget.
His wife had entered the room by this point, sat down at the chess table and asked me, “Can you play the love theme from ROMEO AND JULIET?” I replied, “Certainly” and launched into “A Time For Us.” After that they left together for the tent.
The party was winding down and it was getting close to the “Run for the Roses” (Kentucky Derby). I had a quick plate of food before heading back to Harrodsburg. I listened to the Derby on my car radio. The winner? Genuine Risk.
Hearing that I laughed because the name was appropriate to what just happened. Mrs. Jones took a genuine risk when we went to the Governors Office unannounced. Chief of Staff Liz Dahl took a genuine risk when she agreed to hear me play. First Lady Phyllis George Brown took a genuine risk that I could play an afternoon’s worth of music and create the atmosphere needed for her first Derby Party.
I was in the Winner’s Circle.
Or so I thought.
Until the phone rang again.
To be continued…