WASHINGTON, D.C. (FinalCall.com) – “You’re nervous because you don’t know what I’m going to say. I’m nervous because I ain’t never spoke in front of this many White people,” said Petey Greene at the 1982 graduation of Walt Whitman High School in Bethesda, Md. at the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) Constitution Hall.
Few ever knew what the controversial, community activist, ex-offender was going to say when he took the stage, went on the radio or talked on his weekly television show. His life is what the new movie, Talk to Me, is all about.
“I’m honored to be on this stage. I, too, can remember some years ago what this same hall did to a Black woman, her name was Marian Anderson. They refused to let Marion Anderson sing here in 1939. I was a little dude then. Told her they didn’t have no open dates. That was the Daughters of the American Revolution.
“Marian Anderson, a Black woman, could really sing, she walked five blocks to 23rd and Constitution and sang on the Lincoln Memorial steps to 75,000 people,” said Mr. Greene. “Now that we’ve established the fact that I ain’t ignorant and know some history. Let’s get this show on the road.”
Ralph Waldo “Petey” Greene’s later life was a “show on the road.” In his early years, he lived a typical inner city life growing up Black, poor, hungry and with little formal education in D.C.’s Georgetown, which now is an affluent area of the city.
The formula of his early life, broke, Black and busted, took him to the D.C. jail and Lorton Reformatory on an armed robbery charge.
When he got out he decided to change his life. He went from ex offender to radio and then television host. Many consider him to be one of the first “shock jocks.” Not because of the raunchiness and filth that distinguishes today’s “shock jocks” like Howard Stern or Don Imus, but because of his shocking “tell it like it is” social commentary on poverty, race, politics, power and life as he knew it to be for Blacks in D.C. and the nation.
He met WOL radio producer Dewey Hughes and that friendship is truly what makes a good movie–Mr. Hughes took a chance and put Mr. Greene on the radio where he stayed for 10 years on the Rapping With Petey Greene show.
Next came television with the two time Emmy award winning, Petey Greene’s Washington, which aired locally and on Black Entertainment Television to 5.5 million homes in 53 cities.
He was invited to the White House for dinner with President Carter, he started an organization, Efforts to Ex-Convicts, to help people just like him transition back into society and find gainful employment. His voice was heard over the airwaves after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination as the city when up in flames.
“He was for the grassroots and the downtrodden,” said Claudette Marie Muhammad, a long time D.C. resident who knew Mr. Greene. “He was well loved by his community. He didn’t bite his tongue when he spoke.”
“We became close friends and I advised him on his show. When he got invited to the White House, he called me and said, ‘Guess where I am?’ That invitation made his day even though The Washington Post reported that he stole a spoon while he was there,” she shared.
The newly released movie is directed by Kasi Lemmons, who also directed Eve’s Bayou.
The movie stars Don Cheadle in the leading role. Mr. Cheadle told The Washington Post that it’s been unique filming a movie about a “very male, brotherly relationship” through the lens of a female director. Ms. Lemmons, he says, sometimes sees things that would never have occurred to him. She laughs at that.
“When I went in to pitch myself as a director, I said that as a Black woman, I know Black men better than they know themselves,” Ms. Lemmon told The Washington Post.
Many across the country who have never heard of this man wonder, why do a movie on Petey Greene’s life?
“I guess the major thing for me is that we’re in a time now where people are afraid to speak out. It’s all about conforming. This story shows there was a time when you could use your voice and be completely uncensored. It’s a beautiful thing. In some ways, I see this as an anti-censorship movie,” Ms. Lemmon said.
Mr. Greene was uncensored and told everyone who listened that fact when he signed off his weekly television show:
“I’ll tell it to the hot, I’ll tell it to the cold, I’ll tell it to the young, I’ll tell it to the old, I don’t want no laughin’, I don’t want no cryin’, and most of all, no signifyin’. Achtt! This is Petey Greene’s Washington.”