By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J., Chicago Crusader
Jerome Anthony Gourdine, known as Little Anthony, is 75 years old and enjoying life to the fullest. He reflects on his decades-long career in a new book called “Little Anthony: My Journey, My Destiny,” as he and The Imperials prepare for a concert at Arcada Theatre in neighboring St. Charles, IL, on October 23. Recently, he granted me what turned out to be a delightful interview, which began with Anthony (as we decided I would call him, instead of my choice Mr. Little Anthony), again stating as he had in his book that he had been touched by the power of the Holy Spirit twice in his life, the first time nearly 40 years ago. Lest his old-time fans think he is now preaching sermons and singing Gospel music, he still sings his signature songs made famous with The Imperials, such as Tears on My Pillow, Two People in the World, Shimmy Shimmy Ko-ko Bop and I’m on the Outside Looking In.
But after so many trials and tribulations in his life, Anthony is happy to be able to peacefully fish in Florida and enjoy his wife, children, many grandchildren and great-grandchildren. “What happened to me doesn’t happen to many people. I physically was touched by the power of the Holy Spirit,” Anthony said. “The first time was in Redondo Beach, California, and speaking about it now brings it back as fresh as if it were yesterday.”
Anthony’s life has been filled with great experiences and sadness, as well, when he had to bury his son Casey. But other good experiences he says have helped shape him, as he invites even more. “I lived from one adventure to another, and they could have killed me,” he said, while recalling a life of performing, as well as drug use and womanizing. However, he cautions today’s performers against unhealthy living. “Then, I didn’t think that way, and all I wanted to do is hang out and get high and find the ladies. I couldn’t see as a young man where I am now. I have come a long way.”
He recalls hanging out with James Brown, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry, Marvin Gaye and other singers of the time. But his life on the road and as a superstar beginning in the late 50’s wasn’t all peaches and cream, Anthony admitted. “I should have been bitter and emotional and angry,” he said, as he recounted discrimination on the road, as he and The Imperials travelled in the Southern states with other groups. “Music is universal, but during our days, there was segregation. In 1961, I was in Birmingham, Alabama, with a big show featuring 14 acts including Frankie Lymon. The white kids jumped on the music with such a fury, but the promoters had separated the Black kids from the white kids. I said that I couldn’t sing going back and forth like that, so I just sang facing the wall, with my back turned toward the crowd, and a riot almost ensued.”
However, to overshadow this painful event, Anthony says that one of his best musical experiences was in 1969, in New York at a fundraiser at the Lincoln Center, when he perform- ed with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. “I was about 29 years old, and here we have a 40-piece orchestra behind us, and it was fabulous.”
After singing for more than 60 years, he agrees that much progress has been made, but he says we need to get back to that idea of “cultural richness” that was present while he was growing up. “I had a mom and dad who were married for more than 50 years. I had a cultural richness in the way I was raised. However, many people in the neighborhoods are without fathers, and so many Blacks are in jail. We shouldn’t be like that, and we can’t keep blaming society. We need to start with our neighborhoods and get our moral compass back.”
To learn more about the rich history of Little Anthony, background on his more than 22 million hit singles, his acting career and many tributes and accolades, grab a copy of his book, “Little Anthony: My Journey, My Destiny,” published by Mascot Books, with Reviver Records executive producing, in association with the Gourdine family.
To see him in person, visit http://www.arcadalive.com/ev-ents/littleanthony/.