Parting Glances: Remembering Mr. George

As a teenager in the mid-1950s, I listened faithfully to Country & Western music radio, and later 'Senator' Bristo Bryant's Rhythm & Blues after-high school class broadcasts. (A favorite group was Billy Ward & His Dominoes.)
At age 19, my first partner, ballet dancer and pianist Ernie Gilbert, 23, introduced me to classical music. He was writing for the Wayne University Collegian as entertainment by-liner, and took me with him — a gay Mutt & Jeff pairing, if ever — for his reviews of ballet companies, symphony orchestras, soloists, operas and Sol Hurok musical galas at Detroit's Masonic Temple.
Basically a street kid before I met Ernie, my introduction and our partnership, stretching over three years, changed my life dramatically. He was the best catalyst that happened to my young, formative gay life.
In 1960, Ernie got me a sales job at Discount Records, in the Sheraton Cadillac, Washington Blvd. It was there that my 20-year friendship with Detroit Free Press music critic Collins George began.
Mr. George was the first black journalist to be hired at the Freep.
He was a regular customer at Discount Records.
Collins, prior to his music critic tenure (1953 to 1980), had been a managing editor for the Pittsburg Courier, then and now one of the nation's major African-American newspapers; and, as a Howard University graduate with a French Language minor, he taught French at Howard briefly.
"I was so nervous during my first class, I had to sit on my hands to keep them from shaking," he once commented to friends gathered for drinks at his Lafayette Park condo.
When our friendship started, Collins was also hosting a weekly classical music program for WQRS-FM, playing selections from his extensive collection of hundreds of LPs. He had a small east-side upstairs flat at the time; for him, a real plus — his meals were lovingly prepared by someone whom I never saw or met, his "feeding lady."
As I got to know Collins I introduced him to two close gay friends, Dan Stevens and Cecil Miller. Soon Collins began referring to us as "my daughters." Of course we enjoyed his celebrity company, but we were also content to drink his ample supply of available scotch, recount our adventures of previous seductions, before hitting the bars — cost free — on weekends.
Collins was a gifted story teller. We learned of his tenure as a World War II news correspondent in Italy, and of a year spent as a conscientious objector in a CO camp with two close detainees, British author Christopher Isherwood and Denham Fouts, a handsome escort of much notoriety and final drug OD demise.
(Collins is the model for a character in Isherwood's novel, "Down There On A Visit". Collins shared a loving letter with me that Isherwood had written him sometime after the war.)
When I met Collins, there were two other major newspaper critics who were gay. The Times critic, Frank Gill, was married to the publisher's daughter. He was also the advisor for the Wayne University Collegian. (He said he had once partied with Lord Alfred Douglas, Oscar Wilde's companion.)
The News critic, Joe Mossman, something of a pompous twit, delighted to be the last to walk into a DSO concert, to be seen by everyone, then sit behind Collins and whisper comments to get Collins, who had survived two minor strokes, to uncontrollably guffaw out loud. Mossman was fired for drinking on the job.
Dan, Cecil and I took Collins with us to Chicago one St. Patrick's Day weekend. The river was dyed green, and a Living Rosary was in the traditional parade. Quipped Dan, "I like the Second 'Our Father' on the right." Added Collins, "You'll do bead work for that, my dear!"
Cecil was 25 when he died. He was scheduled to have minor surgery. He died on the operating table of an unanticipated aneurism. Dan, Collins and I went to his apartment to remove gay related items — there were dozens — before Cecil's parents came to town. Collins kept a memento picture of himself and Cecil on his writing table.
Dan died in 1981 at the onset of the AIDS epidemic. He was among Michigan's first.
Collins died in 1980 during a dinner at a favorite downtown Detroit restaurant, Sweitzer's. He had a heart attack triggered by a tracheal throat lodging of a steak sliver. DSO Assistant Concertmaster Gordon Peterson, attending with him, performed a Heimlich Maneuver to no avail.
The following year I faced up to my alcoholism. What's past is prologue. One day at a time, followed by the remembered music of the night.


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