When I first saw Jerry McLilly approach the San Francisco StoryBooth, I felt that I recognized him from someplace in the past. As he began to tell his story, it finally hit me: He was that remarkable and unforgettable crooner in the dapper suit that I had heard so many times over the years in downtown San Francisco, singing his signature numbers, “When You’re Smiling” and “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.”
Also known as Mr. Smiley, Jerry sang for most of two decades in front of the old Emporium store, before and after it closed (the facade still stands as the entrance to Bloomingdales). We were fortunate that this day in August he brought some songs, his engaging smile and his story to share with us.
While at high school in Detroit, Jerry met Jackie Wilson, who later went on to become a major rhythm and blues star with “Lonely Teardrops” and “Reet Petite.” Jerry was hired for $175 a week as Wilson’s valet and chauffeur when they began a tour of the “Chitlin Circuit” – D.C, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, The Fillmore in San Francisco, and the Apollo in Harlem. Jerry rehearsed with his mentor and role model and began his professional singing career. After some years on the road with Wilson, he performed with a later version of The Ink Spots vocal group in venues around the world.
A bilingual, bicultural home could present challenges for both parents and their children. What will be the dominant language? How do you balance the two heritages?
In July, Olga Galvez brought her mother, Chris Ettlin Galvez, to our San Francisco booth to tell the story of their family for an Historias recording. Chris grew up in a white middle class family in East Oakland. During the 1960′s Chris was hitchhiking in Central California with a friend and they were given a ride by a family of Latino farmworkers. Chris’ friend, fluent in Spanish, was able to converse easily with the family. That day turned out to be a transformative one for Chris. She was introduced to an entirely new language and culture. She went on to became a Spanish major at San Francisco State College where she also earned a teaching credential.
Having been active in the civil rights movement during this period, and with her newly developed language skills, Chris found a place in the United Farm Workers organization. Soon, Chris met her future husband, a Salvadoran immigrant. After a whirlwind courtship, they got married and began a family in San Francisco. In Chris’ words, having her children was “the best thing that ever happened to me.” Chris felt that it was important for her daughters to be fluent in Spanish and it became the dominant language spoken in the home. English could easily be picked up from Chris’s side of the family and in the larger culture.