Free To Be – Part 7: Rosey Grier

From 1955 to 1966 Rosey Grier was a 300-pound professional football player, first for The New York Giants and then for The Los Angeles Rams. It was the late lyricist Bruce Hart who had the brainstorm that Rosie would be the ideal choice to sing Carol Hall’s pretty, gentle song, “It’s Alright To Cry.” We sent him a recording of the song and Bruce, his wife Carole and I flew to Atlanta to meet with him in a recording studio.

When I played the song, he said “Can’t you put a beat to it?” He began stomping his foot in tempo. I took the percussive sound and sat down at the piano and improvised an arrangement based on that rhythm. He smiled broadly and said “Yeah, that’s it.” I incorporated that feeling into the final arrangement for the record. On first hearing, Carol Hall was not too pleased with what I’d made out of her simple song, but when she saw what Rosie did with it and how well it fit his musical sensibilities, she changed her mind. Two years later I kept most of that arrangement for the television version of Free To Be (although I added some instruments). And the director chose for his first shot, a close-up of Rosie stomping his foot, just as he had in the Atlanta studio.

In November, 2012, I was a guest on John Schaefer’s program Soundcheck on National Public Radio. I was in the studio with John, and Carol Hall and Rosey spoke by phone. Rosie spoke excitedly about the children and adults who to this day tell him what his performance of “It’s Alright To Cry” meant to them. Carol Hall had never met him and took the opportunity to thank him for bringing his warm personality to the song. She said “I thing I’m going to cry – I’m crying,” and John Schaefer, not losing a beat, said “It’s alright to cry.”

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