On Sunday, May 14, 2017, the renowned dancer/choreographer Chuck Davis passed away at his home in Durham, North Carolina. Here, Self-Help’s Anthony Scott reflects on his personal appreciation for Baba Chuck Davis.
This past Saturday I attended the funeral service of Baba Chuck Davis in Durham, North Carolina. In the African tradition, “Baba” means father. In Durham, I think it’s safe to say that “Baba” means Chuck Davis!
Before I even reached Union Baptist Church it was clear that I was approaching the right place. The air was carrying the unmistakably deep, tight beat of African drummers and the song of an unrestrained praise choir at full voice. That audible greeting (a musical “Ah-go,” so to speak) filled my ears as I entered the church. Inside it looked to be standing room only. On stage, the spectacular sight equaled the sound. Nearly everyone on stage, men and women, black and white, all dressed for the occasion in brightly-colored African and African-inspired gowns, tunics and headdresses. It was a rainbow-colored crescent of souls, a pulsing and swaying living stained-glass scene that was a magnificent sight to see. And, it did not stop at the pulpit. Mixed in with regal white outfits and traditional black suits, the pews, too, were awash with much of the same bright and festive color.
The night before, across town at Hayti Heritage Center, an accounting of sorts was held. As if standing at the gates, person after person took to the stage to bear witness to Baba Chuck’s impact on the world, and on each of us. We all shared in spontaneous responses to familiar calls that Chuck made a blessed part of our lives and our collective memory. It was at this celebration that I felt most connected to the human race.
That collective spirit was on display, again, at Baba’s funeral service. It was there that I was overwhelmed to tears as U.S. Representative G.K. Butterfield brought a packed house to its feet with the announcement that Chuck Davis’ accomplishments will be forever memorialized and placed on exhibit at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC. Our prolonged exaltation of shouts and applause had spontaneously interrupted the Congressman before he could complete the sentence. We eventually caught our collective breath, and Butterfield started again with, “Wow, I wasn’t expecting that.” He continued with his statement by re-reading the announcement, and again, all stood in unified joy to applaud. There was deep meaning in that announcement that was not lost on a single one of us.
To say that I knew Baba Chuck would be a bit of a stretch. Over the years, though, and without any formal introduction that I can recall, Chuck and I came to a place where we would warmly greet each other with waves, handshakes and hugs, and occasionally we’d take time to talk. To have had that level of familiarity with him is something that I will always cherish.
I’m still growing in my knowledge and appreciation of Baba Chuck, and I’m still finding spontaneous connections to him. Case in point, the photo of Chuck used in this piece was graciously provided by the photographer Alec Himwich. Alec did not hesitate to grant me that permission, and along with his blessing wrote the following, “As you probably know he had a relentlessly positive and generous spirit. At the time we were reviewing those photos, I told him how much I admired this attitude in him. He shrugged his shoulders and said, ‘What else can you do?’”
Indeed! Peace, love and respect for everyone. Thank you, Baba.
This is part of an occasional series on local leaders who have inspired us at Self-Help.