Oral history interview with Linda Franklin for the Living History Project. Linda shares childhood memories of growing up with her family on Fisher Street on the South Side of Madison. She shares stories about attending school at Franklin Elementary, Lincoln Junior High, and Memorial High School; playing at Penn Park; and her career as a performer and singer with the Original Hyperion Oriental Foxtrot Orchestra, the State Street Singers, and the Wisconsin Singers.
Living History Interview
September 11, 2018
Narrator: Linda Franklin
Interviewer: Laura Damon-Moore
Location: Central Library
Note: edits to this transcript have been made by the narrator, for clarity. Transcript may not reflect the exact audio.
[START OF RECORDING]
Interviewer: Hello, I’m Laura Damon-Moore, I’m here today with Linda Franklin, I’ll also have her introduce herself in a moment. It is Tuesday September 11th, we’re here at Central Library in the afternoon. And I’ll have our narrator today introduce herself…
LF: I’m Linda Franklin.
Interviewer: Okay, and I’m going to start--Linda thank you so much for being here, first of all I’d just love for you to tell us a little bit about your, and your family’s history here in Madison, and where you lived during your childhood.
LF: Okay, very good. Both of my parents were from Alabama. They came to Madison in about 1950. My brother Jerome and I were not born yet. But I’m the youngest of eight children. And my six other siblings were born in Birmingham Alabama. How my parents got here was through my grandmother, Callie Jackson, and my step-grandfather, Eddie Jackson. He had come to Madison to work for a construction company, from Birmingham, and he really liked it here. And shortly thereafter, I’m not really sure when he came to Madison, but it must have been in the late forties, and then my grandmother came to Madison, and my father, James Franklin, was a steelworker in Birmingham for Sloss Steel, that was the big industry in Birmingham back in the day. But then the steel mills went bankrupt and so this was around that time, my grandmother and grandfather said, why don’t you all move up here, we think this would be a good place for the children to grow up, and we just really like it here.
And so they did. They moved to Madison, and I guess my family actually used to live in the Greenbush area on West Main Street off of Regent Street, but I don’t remember that. We were in that house, I was told, until I was about three or four years old, and then the home that I remember was at 1905 Fisher Street. I grew up on Fisher Street. And back then, there were gravel roads. There was no blacktop, only gravel roads...I don’t think there were any sewage ducts, it was almost like being in the country, you know? [LAUGHS] Living there...there were no buses, no city buses.
I went to school at Franklin [Elementary], and we had to walk to school. Some days if Mom couldn’t get all those lunches together, we’d have to walk home. We’d walk to school in the morning, walk back home for lunch, and walk back to school, and then walk back home at the end of the day. And that could be any season of the year, because my mom worked--both of my parents worked, and she had all those kids and it must have been kind of difficult to make all those lunches and do everything else that she was doing. But we loved it, it wasn’t any problem, we didn’t have to worry about anybody harming us or anything like that back then, because it was a much simpler time, you know, there just wasn’t a lot of stuff like you have to watch out for today.
There was a police officer, his name was Norm Wright. And we used to walk on the railroad tracks, sometimes there, to get to Franklin. We’d go down Fisher Street, to the bottom of the hill, we’d cross over Wingra Creek, and right behind there there’s railroad tracks. And we used to walk on the railroad tracks to go to school, and the boys would chase after us...there were a lot of garter snakes then, and they’d grab the garter snakes and they’d throw them down our backs...yeah, have you ever seen a garter snake? They’re pretty little, but still, it’s a snake!
Interviewer: Oh my god…
LF: Yeah, but at any rate we’d walk on the railroad tracks and all of a sudden we would see Norm’s patrol car, up ahead, pull out...and we’d [surprised noise] jump out and run to the sidewalk, it’d be on Gilson, yeah on Gilson Street. And we’d get up to where he was on Gilson and he’d say, “You know you guys aren’t supposed to be on the tracks…” He was protecting us. He really was. So that was a very positive enforcement officer experience. Because he was protecting us, because he knew that kids were going to react when you say “No you can’t do that” but as long as you can get away with it, you will. We [walked along the railroad tracks] a lot.
Not only that, we actually walked in the streets, and we’d get a little rhythm going, we’d be singing some kind of little song or whatever, or play tag, we were playing, going to school, all the time. And so it really wasn’t difficult to do the walking and stuff, we didn’t think about it because that’s what all the kids within about a--I don’t know, about a five to ten block radius in South Madison, that’s what we all did. Because we didn’t have any form of transportation. Our parents had to work, and they worked at different times, so, we walked to school.
We also walked to...Franklin only went until sixth grade, when I was there. And so after sixth grade, what happened was that they built Lincoln. And Lincoln, now is an elementary school, but it was a junior high school, grades seven to nine. The same school, it’s an elementary school today, we used to have to walk there. But that was more in the community, it was in the Burr Oaks neighborhood which was just right across South Park Street from where we lived. It was great going there.
But at any rate, we walked from elementary school, to junior high school, and then for high school we were bussed. Because of where we lived, we had a choice of schools. We could go to any of the high schools we wanted to. And I wanted to go to Memorial. So that’s where I ended up going, to Memorial High School.
My parents and my grandparents lived at 1905 Fisher Street. We all lived in the same house. You interviewed Richard Harris, Dr. Harris, lived adjacent to our house. Our house was here [INDICATING] on Fisher Street, and their house was just kind of back here, down a long driveway, sort of behind our house.
And so we got to know the Harrises pretty early on. When I was about fourteen, I wanted to play flute in the band at Lincoln, because there was only one flute player but there was also only one flute, and so the band teacher--I think it was Mr. Clark--Mr. Clark said, well we can’t just have one flute--can somebody else play flute? And I didn’t know how I was going to get a flute but I said okay, I’ll play the flute.
So I remember coming home from school that day and saying to my dad, “I want to play the flute!”
But my older siblings had messed it up for me. [My father] bought a trumpet for my brother. He only played it for like one year and then another sibling, she wanted to play the cello, and [my parents] didn’t buy the cello, but they had to rent the cello, and this and that, so when I came home saying “I want to play the flute,” [my dad said] “You want to play the flute? You get your own flute!” And I was like, “What?!” You know.
And I had my first job, and that job was through Richard Harris. Because he was working at MATC and he was providing job opportunities for a lot of people. And somehow he got, maybe my mother told him, I don’t know, he heard that I was looking for a job and I got my first job at the South Madison branch library [LAUGHS] in the Villager Mall. And I remember, the librarian was Mr. Zermuehlen and that a friend of mine, Jackie Gennrich, we were pages at the library--checking in books, checking out books, shelving books, doing some of everything. And so I got enough money together and I bought my flute!
There’s so much...my family, let me get back to my family for a minute. I was the youngest, and we were a very athletic family. We just had those gravel roads but we didn’t care. We’d get out there on our little bicycles or whatever, running, racing one another outside...also too back then, there were multitudes of monarch butterflies. They used to come every summer, I mean gobs of them, and so we would get our little glass jars together and put little holes in the tops of the tin cover, and put a stick or something in there, and then catch a butterfly and put it in there, and watch the butterfly, and sometimes we’d just catch the butterflies and observe them, you know. That was something that we did.
And we had the South Madison Neighborhood Center. Now that’s also where the Harrises come in, because Richard Harris’s mother was the one who purchased that navy barracks, because that’s what it was, a navy barracks--or, it was an army barracks--and it had a kitchen in there, and a small stage, and it had other rooms and it was really neat, because we had different people that would come and volunteer there and who would do different activities with the kids. We also would have parties with other neighborhood centers, in Madison, and in Beloit, and in Milwaukee, and the parents would chaperone. Al Studesville [sp], he wasn’t the director, I believe, but he was on staff, and he was so cute, we had a crush on him! [LAUGHTER] We had a crush on him, he was really good looking! And we would play there, just til we couldn’t play anymore. It was a wonderful place to go. And then, I can’t remember what year, then Rennebohm’s contributed money to build a gym, and so at first it was a separate building and then later on they expanded on--they built a whole new center on Taft Street, and Rennebohm’s once again, I think that they also contributed to the gym that was put in there, along with McCann’s. So the Neighborhood Center was a very lively place.
One of the people who worked with us that I’ll never forget was Patti Graham. If you get a chance to contact her, that’d be great. And Patti was just wonderful. In the summertime, she’d take us camping. Her parents had a place on Silver Lake, I think it was in Pardeeville, and we’d spend a weekend, whatever it was, a few days there, in the summertime. And we would have a time. We’d have horror stories around the campfire, and the thing with the flashlights and everything in the dark, all kinds of crazy stuff. She’d take us there and we’d have so much fun. She’d take us places just here in Madison, and just spend time with us, cooking stuff, you know, at the neighborhood center, doing all kinds of things.
We’d also lip-sync, it wasn’t called lip-synching then, but we would lip-sync to the Supremes, the Temptations, all the music that was in at that time. We’d get up there and do our little choreography, you know, lip-sync to the music and everything. And [the South Madison Neighborhood Center] was a wonderful place.
Also, another key area in the neighborhood was Penn Park. Especially in the summertime. Because they actually had a program going on in the park, there would be youth supervisors who would be there, there was a shed that had all kinds of fun stuff in it--yeah. So arts and crafty stuff, as well as games, like croquet, tetherball, basketball, washers, all kinds of things like that.
Penn Park now, if you look, it’s got hills--it didn’t have any hills, it was flat. And there was lots of green grass, just running space. It had a small hill that went up, and there was a great big tree that was there. And that’s where we used to play washers, the openings for the washers were under the tree. So that was nice in the summertime because you’d be in the shade. And there was always a baseball diamond there, but then there was all this--now, where the Southside Raiders practice and have games now, that used to be all open area. And we’d be running back there and chasing one another, and then the tetherball post was, mm, probably was about a hundred feet away from the baseball diamond.
And then we had swings--huge swings. And we would--we’d be very daring. They were so big that you could stand up, a person’d be sitting on the seat, and then you could put your feet up, on either side of the swing, and then you would pump the swing, and then we’d go as high as we could, in the swings, and sometimes just by ourselves in the swings. We would swing, swing, pump really high, and then we’d jump, fly through the air, tumble down in the grass. I mean, we didn’t ever get hurt--we had fun.
So they had the [youth] park supervisors. And I remember this one couple. And they went to Memorial High School. And they were just wonderful, they really impressed me. And so when it came time to decide on which high school I wanted to go to, I said “I want to go to Memorial!” So at any rate, we had the shed, with all the stuff in it, and they would just plan out our day, whatever it was. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of gimp. Do you know what gimp was?
INTERVIEWER: I do! Actually, Merle Sweet talks about gimp in his interview and I didn’t know what it was, and then I found out what it was because of that conversation.
LF: It was very popular. And we would make pieces of jewelry, like bracelets, and necklaces, and everything out of the gimp. And other artsy and crafty stuff. And then there was the Stage Coach.
INTERVIEWER: Oh, what was that?
LF: Yes. The Stage Coach were performers. It was a portable stage that would come to the park, and there’d be a clown on there, or they’d put a little play on. And after a while, in the center, like I said we used to do the lip-synching. But after a while, when the Stage Coach came, they let us actually perform on the stage...so we’d dress up and everything, and lip-synch, and perform. And the Stage Coach was just wonderful. They’d have the balloon blowers, you know, who’d come out with the clown and give us the balloons, all kinds of stuff. The Stage Coach was just a wonderful thing.
INTERVIEWER: That’s so funny. Was it staffed by high schoolers...was it high schoolers that mostly did it, or was it adults?
LF: I think it was adults. I think it was adults. And over at Vilas Park, sometimes we’d have talent shows. So kids from all the Madison parks, any Madison park could come and you could be in a talent show, and the Stage Coach would be there, that’s the stage that we used. And another park-wide thing they had were athletic decathlons. So all the various parks, we’d come together at Breese Stevens Field, on East Washington Avenue. And you’d compete in your age group, and everything would be in there, you know, track, broadjump. And you’d get little certificates that you could take home.
INTERVIEWER: So cool. Did you have an event that you always did, or a sport that you always competed in?
LF: You know, I had something. [LAUGHS] I don’t remember what. I ran…
INTERVIEWER: You were good at something.
LF: That was the thing [running]. Even now, as we’re talking, I can see myself as a little girl, running, and running so hard and run until I was out of breath and I’d fall down on the grass and I’d just laugh. I’d just run and run until I couldn’t run anymore, and I’d fall down on the grass...it’d be such a rush, you know. I didn’t call it that, but that’s what it was--it was just a rush to be able to run like that.
LF: And sometimes too I’d run from my parents if they were going to spank me, you know? [LAUGHS] I’d be running...I remember this one time, my mother, she actually got a little switch, a little switch from the tree, we had these beautiful lilac trees, and she’d go there and grab one of those branches from the tree and rip off the flowers and whatever on there, and she had a little switch and she’d come running at you. And I remember one time, she came and I must have run around that house about three or four times. And she could not catch me until I was just laughing so hard and I fell down, and she came up and [mimes using the switch] laughing at me. I mean, there were no welts on me or anything.
INTERVIEWER: Right, right.
LF: But I’ll never forget that. And then my family, too--my father worked at a company called Gisholt Machine Company. It was a steel company, right there on East Washington Avenue, the ShopBop is in there now. Mm-hm. That was Gilsholt. And I think now there’s a Gisholt Drive, just off of Baldwin Street. There’s a Gisholt Drive. My dad was a molder, a steel molder. And they used to have their annual picnics, for the families, and there were two places that I remember for these picnics.
One of them was Olin Park. And Olin Park, back in the day, I think the pavilion seemed like it was bigger, but maybe it just seemed like that because I was smaller. It looks really little now. But that’s where they had the food and everything, inside the pavilion. And you’d go outside the pavilion and the pavilion’s on a hill, and you’d go down the hill, and across that little street there, is a playground. And one of the things that was a real big attraction was their slide. It was so high, it was a really high slide, that you’d have to walk up a ladder, a long ways, almost like going up to a diving board. It was high, and it was a real long slide. And we used to love going down that slide.
LF: It was almost like one of those water park slides, except it didn’t go around, it just went up really high and then went down. And so they used to have a really huge slide there, when we got to go there.
And then the other place that they had the picnics at, that I remember the most, is in Deerfield, at Deerfield Park. And I remember Deerfield a lot [LAUGHS] because they started to have relay races that the kids could be in [to win prizes]. And like I said, our family was very athletic, I have two brothers who are in the Wisconsin sports hall of fame here, and we’re all athletic, but they were stars. But the kids...would see us coming. You could see all the other kids, and we were usually the only African American family who would come, there were other African Americans who worked there, but usually it would just be us. And the kids would see us coming. And they would run to their parents, [putting on a sad voice] “the Franklins are coming!” And it was because we won every age group, every age group, every category, everything.
And so they’d just dread seeing us coming, because they just knew we were going to clean up. And we just loved it. [LAUGHS] Because we knew we were going to do that.
Another thing we used to do, as a family, we used to go to the A&W root beer stand, which used to be where Famous Dave’s is. That used to be an A&W, a classic root beer stand, where you pull up in your car and you got your little receiver there, and the menu, and you’d order. And we’d order whatever we wanted there, whether it was a root beer float or whether it was just a root beer, or whatever. And then we’d usually take about a gallon or two gallons of root beer home with us. And that’s something we did on a regular basis, like once a week. You know, because that root beer only lasted about a day or two, when you got, you know--
INTERVIEWER: Eight kids.
LF: Yeah. [LAUGHS] And that was something we did as a family, and my father every once in a while also took us to a Dairy Queen. And it seemed like it was a long drive away, now there’s one on Fish Hatchery Road, but it seemed like it used to be someplace farther than that, and I don’t know exactly where it was. But he’d take us to the DQ, and we’d have ice cream cones, not Blizzards and all that stuff. But it was pretty much the ice cream cones, the soft serve ice cream cone, dipped in the chocolate.
So those were some of the family things that stood out for me. At the park, we’d usually be playing in the park when the Tastee Freez ice cream truck would come by. And that was soft serve ice cream, yeah, Tastee Freez. Oh, we’d have a fit, we’d have a fit.
I live on Mifflin Street now, and the other day I had my window open and I could hear the ice cream truck coming, playing the music, all of a sudden the kids went, “Oh! Here comes the ice cream truck!” I went right back to when I was a kid. That was really special, just listening to them, because they were just like us, we’d be running and screaming and calling “Mommy! Daddy! I want some ice cream!” [LAUGHS] I mean, those were some really happy times.
I had so much fun growing up in Madison. My parents worked really hard. And my grandparents too. And we always had food on the table, we always had clean clothes, we always looked decent. I mean, we were well taken care of. On the holidays, my mom would dress us all. She would go to the trouble to go to the store and buy--my dad would just sit in the car, my dad didn’t like shopping, so he just sat in the car and waited til we came out. But my mom, you know, I’ve got some pictures of us dressed up on Easter and different. It’s just amazing. I would tell my mom, “Mom, it’s just amazing that you did that.” All of us were dressed, and all the girls had little ruffled socks, and our little black patent leather shoes, and our little purses, and our little gloves and hats...I mean, she really coordinated everything, with the boys, their suits, I mean it was really something.
Both of my parents were only children. We never felt like we were lacking anything when we growing up. And it was really different, for my mom, you know, in particular, because she said, sometimes, she would talk about my great-grandmother, Emma Lou Harris. And she would take so long to cook something. And [my mother]’d say, “We’d be sitting there, so long, waiting for something, just starving, and sometimes it would just be some bread and some beans, and that’s what took her so long to cook and that’s all we had to eat.” But it wasn’t like that for us. We grew up with plenty of food, both my mother and my grandmother were excellent cooks. Excellent cooks. My mom, Clara Franklin, worked at Saint Mary’s Hospital, in the food service division, and she went from delivering meals to patients to becoming a supervisor in the cafeteria.
INTERVIEWER: What sort of things would she cook? What was a Sunday meal like?
LF: Oh my gosh.
INTERVIEWER: Or Easter, Easter dinner.
LF: Easter would usually be ham. And some kind of greens, either collared greens or green beans. Cornbread, sweet potatoes, potato salad, and then there’d be some kind of cake. Or sweet potato pie.
As a matter of fact, when the Villager Mall opened, it’s called the Village now, right there on South Park Street. My mom got her picture taken right there, it was in the paper. She made two sweet potato pies. She was holding one in this hand, and one in the other hand, and they took a picture of her in front of the sign that said “The Villager Mall”, holding these sweet potato pies. I think I’ve got a copy of at home, I don’t know where it is...they probably have a clipping here, I would imagine here in the library. Clara Franklin.
The Villager was a special place because that’s where I had my first job, there at the South Madison branch library, but then I also worked at Ben Franklin Store, used to be there, and I worked there. And next to Ben Franklin was Rennebohm’s Drug Store. They had a counter where you could eat, and they had a fountain where you could get all sorts of drinks. Cherry phosphate, and all kinds of other stuff. Fountain drinks. And next to that was the Burr Oaks Bowling Alley. Yeah. And the Burr Oaks Bowling Alley is still there, it’s occupied by...maybe it’s Access [Community Health] or, I’m not sure who’s in there now. It’s got the A-frame…
INTERVIEWER: It was a really big bowling alley, right?
LF: It was, it was big. It was huge, I forget how many lanes--had to’ve been at least twelve or fourteen lanes. And it had a bar in there, and all the places for the shoes, and all of that. It had a game room. Pinball machines mainly. It was a very happenin’ place too. On the corner, where Walgreen’s is, that was where Marc’s Big Boy Restaurant was, I think they originated in Milwaukee, maybe I’m wrong, but I think it was a Marcus Something, but Marc’s Big Boy Restaurant...and right across the street from that, where 7-Eleven is now, that’s where McDonald’s was. And where the Park Village Apartments are, that’s where Vitense Mini Golf was.
Let’s see, what else. Just thinking about that area, because that was our immediate area where we lived...we could be out at Penn Park, it’d be dark, after eight o’clock in the summertime, and we’d be there, somebody’d be playing 45s, we’d be out there singing and dancing. I mean, there just wasn’t any fear of anything, because it was a much safer place then. And my brothers and sisters were always having to look after me, because I’m the baby of the family. And so they were always telling me, “Well, we couldn’t go anywhere without you. We’d always have to take you.” But I was always striving to be like them, whatever they did, that’s what I wanted to do. And of course a lot of times I wasn’t big enough to do it. But I did to the best of my ability, to be grown so. When I was able to go to school, that was really important to me. I liked going to school. I’m not one of those kids who went to school and cried all day. There were other kids who did that. I had fun at school.
INTERVIEWER: Did your brothers and sisters go to Memorial too?
LF: No, just one brother and myself, my youngest brother Jerry and myself, we went to Memorial. My oldest siblings, let’s see, one two three four five, five of them went to Central. And then two of them went to West, after Central closed. And my youngest brother and I went to Memorial. My mother’s very eldest child died unnecessarily, the umbilical cord got around the baby’s neck, and choked the baby. That was her first child. His name was Robert. But then she had seven kids after him. And an only child herself.
LF: So, yeah, I went to Memorial. And Memorial was out in, you know, out in corn fields. The only other thing that was out there when we went to Memorial was West Towne Mall. And that had been built recently when we went out there. Otherwise there were cornfields on either side of Memorial High School, there weren’t any other buildings.
INTERVIEWER: Were there other kids from your neighborhood that went there?
LF: Yes. There were about thirty of us. Thirty of us who went to Memorial. That first day was really neat, because that was the first time that we rode on a school bus. So we got picked up on the school bus, and they took us to the parking lot there. And the doors used to open up right up to the cafeteria. And so [in that group of students] I think there might have been twenty five African Americans, and five non-African Americans. But when we got there that day, we came to those doors and we whipped those doors open, and there were kids already there in the cafeteria, and when they saw all of us walking in their mouths just fell open, they were like [mimes amazement]. Because Memorial had never had that many African American students there before. So it freaked some of those kids out. Because they’d had very little contact with any person of color before or at all. But we felt really strong. That was pretty powerful, whipping those doors open and walking in, and everybody’s just like [mimes amazement]. [LAUGHS] With their mouths gaped open. I really enjoyed Memorial. Not everybody enjoyed Memorial, but I did. I got involved, like I always did.
I need to step back for a minute, because in junior high school, I was in the band, but then I was also in the choir. And there was a director there, her name was Pamela Hornig. She was six feet tall, blond haired and blue eyed. And she really brought out the singing in me. I didn’t even know I had a singing voice, until she directed us. And she just brought it out, she was really very demanding in a positive way. She used to spend time with me, after school, talking with me. My brother Joe Franklin, he’s one of the people in the Wisconsin [Sports] Hall of Fame, he was a big star at the UW-Madison, he was a basketball player. And she took me to at least a couple of his games; she was a friend to me. She gave me so many certificates, I’ve got them all at home, you know, choir member this and that.
And Miss Hornig, all of a sudden she got sick. She had to have an operation on her throat. We weren’t given any details at the time, but she had to have an operation on her throat. She was gone for awhile, month, month and half, and when she came back, she had a microphone in her throat. She’d have to push on the microphone to talk to us. And shortly thereafter we came to choir practice one day, and a teacher came in and told us she had died. We found out after that that she had had cancer. She had been a smoker, I never even knew she smoked. Never smelled it on her. And that was a real blow, when Miss Hornig died. Because she was a real friend to me. Years later we had a concert for her. She was from Wisconsin Rapids, and we invited her parents, and her parents came to Madison. We did all of these different songs she had taught us.
INTERVIEWER: What were some of the songs?
LF: Um, “Let There Be Peace On Earth”. There’s a song called “He”. Those are two that come to mind right now. I directed a couple of songs at the concert. And then years later I was somewhere in Madison and I ran into her brother. And he was just, “Oh, she was just so pleased with you, Linda. You know, she was crazy about you.” And I said, “I know.”
She was a really big friend of mine, and when she died, it hurt, because I just didn’t understand.
And I was a cheerleader [at Lincoln Junior High], and I played on the girls’ basketball team, and I ran track. I thought I had to choose between either being an athlete or the music part. I thought I had to choose. Nobody ever said to me, you know you can do both. Nobody ever mentioned it and I never thought of it. I ended up focusing on the music part.
So I came to the UW here, and I auditioned for the School of Music. And I got in. I played flute, in Concert band. At Memorial I was also in a marching band, I forgot to mention that. And that’s when I first got my acting experience. I was in a show called Little Mary Sunshine, that was the name of the [musical] and I played Mme Ernestine von Liebedich.
INTERVIEWER: Was this in high school?
LF: Yes, in high school, at Memorial. I even remember that song part. At any rate, that was fun. That was the first time that I ever actually got into a play, auditioned for something and I got into this musical. I was also in the swing choir. I was in concert choir, but I was also in the [jazz ensemble]. And then when I went to the UW, I was in concert choir, I was in choral union, which is also, anybody from the community can be in that choir, you didn’t have to be a student at the School of Music to be in it. It was like a three hundred voice choir. And then I was in the Wisconsin Singers. My voice teacher didn’t like that too much [LAUGHS].
INTERVIEWER: Why not?
LF: Because she felt that it was poor singing, because when you learn how to sing classically, there’s a method, each teacher has their own method, how they want you to sound and how they want you to breathe, how they want you to do everything. But when I would sing in the Wisconsin Singers I just belted it out.
INTERVIEWER: What kind of music were you singing? Tell us a little about the Wisconsin Singers.
LF: Oh, so you were singing musicals, so like from Hair or whatever the big musicals were then, you were singing pop music, you were singing standards like “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” things like that. But you were dancing too, so there was choreography and singing, you’d be doing both of them at the same time. Or sometimes you’d just be standing and performing. But there was always movement. So you had to learn choreography. And choreography back in those days was a lot of arm movements, almost like cheerleaders and stuff. [DEMONSTRATES]
And some difficult choreography but nothing too taxing, because our outfits [LAUGHS], our outfits were these up to the knee-length patent leather boots, that had heels like that, then we had these, not Daisy Dukes, but they were really short, shorts, like that red velvety, cheap velvety shorts. Wore these polyester blouses that had a v-neck and a big collar and long sleeves, long kind of puffy sleeves, and then a red vest that came to about here [INDICATES]. And those were our outfits.
INTERVIEWER: Sounds fabulous.
LF: And we’d travel all over the state of Wisconsin, going to different schools and different venues and performing. I had a buddy from high school, his name was Dave Gochberg. Dave used to pull me along--he was a drummer. And he was actually the one that got me into the Wisconsin Singers. And then I was also into a professional singing group that was called the State Street Review, mm-hm, it was people who were from the Wisconsin Singers who started this group, the State Street Review. It was a professional group; they traveled in the Midwest and Canada.
And so Dave [Gochberg] got involved with that, and so he got me involved with that, during my sophomore year in college, okay, so I left UW and I went on the road. Yeah, Dave was pretty instrumental. I remember in high school he was crazy about the Carpenters, and he was really into Buddy Rich, the famous drummer Buddy Rich, he used to be on the Johnny Carson Show all the time. [Dave] would take me home at lunch time and he’d say, “Oh, listen to this”, and he had his little pad you know, drummers have these little pads that they practice on. They used to have them, I don’t know what they have now.
So he’d be sitting there and we’d be watching the tape of whatever, Johnny Carson Show watching Buddy Rich and he’d be pounding out his little rhythms on his pad, then he played the Carpenters for me, “Oh, you gotta sing this one and you gotta do this…”
And then when we got into the Wisconsin Singers he’d say “Oh, I want you to do Tina Turner,” so I did “Proud Mary”. I had this dress--it was a long dress, but I cut it all the way up to here--[INDICATES]. It was a halter, and it was like this silver lamé or something, I can’t remember but it was all shiny and everything and I got a big fall, a fall that went all the way down my back. Had these platform shoes on, the heel was about that big.
That was my audition for the Wisconsin Singers. And I got in.
INTERVIEWER: Right, it worked.
LF: Of course that was another swing choir thing, like from high school. So in high school I was in swing choir and then I got into the Wisconsin Singers in college. And then I got into the State Street Review.
And then I actually went back to college, and that’s when I started my vocal performance degree. I worked at the University Bookstore before that, and I also sang with a jazz group that was called the Original Hyperion Oriental Foxtrot Orchestra. And that was led by a man named Rick Mackie, who has been the Executive Director for the Madison Symphony Orchestra for many years now. And he’s originally from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and his father was a musician. And he had all of these original, early New Orleans jazz music charts, uh-huh. Because he actually had a group before he came to Madison here, and he was on Saturday Night Live, back in the day. I think it was called the Lithuanian...something. They had a different name. And they were on Saturday Night Live.
And then he came to Madison and while he was getting his arts administration degree, he started up the Original Hyperion Oriental Foxtrot Orchestra. There was a lot of music faculty in that group, so you had Karlos Moser, who was the emcee of the group, he was the opera professor, of the opera department. He played keyboards and he was also the emcee.
Karlos was a phenomenal musician. I can remember walking in on a rehearsal, he used to do “opera chunks.” So little excerpts from different operas. And I walked into a rehearsal one day, I hadn’t seen him in years, I had moved out of the city and I was back in town and I went in there, to Music Hall. I walked in and he was at the piano, and it was something like Così fan tutte, Mozart I think.
He was standing at the upright piano, he was looking at the singers and performers on stage, giving them directions and this and that, and he’s playing Mozart. He’s not looking at his fingers [SOUND OF FINGERS ON TABLETOP] and he’s just playing, “Oh no no, enter stage left,” and I’m like, [DISBELIEVING]. I mean, just phenomenal.
I said to him, “How in the world can you do that?” And he said, “Truthfully? Muscle memory.” He said he had played those operas so many times that his fingers just go. He doesn’t even have to think about it. The other thing is, that he’s thinking on all these other levels. He’s giving these directions, doing this and that, reminding people “Oh, no, that’s F-G-F-F.”
INTERVIEWER: That’s amazing.
LF: You know, because they would not sing the notes properly during the recitative, he’d say “Oh no it’s ….” I’m like, wow.
INTERVIEWER: Yeah, not just playing but instructing too.
LF: Mm-hm. So he was the emcee and the keyboardist, along with his future wife, Melinda, she would play at the piano with him, sometimes they’d play at the same time. In the Original Hyperion Oriental Foxtrot Orchestra. And I sang a lot of--because it was a twenties group, it was only twenties and thirties music, some thirties movie music--but I would sing a lot of Bessie Smith. I didn’t even really know who Bessie Smith was, until Rick played some Bessie Smith for me.
That was a very special meeting, meeting Rick, because we had come back--I was with the State Street Review, we had been on the road, and one of the former members of the State Street Review, she was going to be performing. She had gone back to school when she left the group and she was going to be performing in opera chunks at Music Hall. And so we happened to be in town, we said, “Oh let’s go see--” She had a nickname. Her name was Kathy Sullivan, though. She actually ended up singing on the Lawrence Welk Show. Lawrence Welk came to Madison and she got hired. She moved to California and she sang on Lawrence Welk for ten years or more.
So we went to go see Kathy sing that night. And as we came into the entryway of Music Hall, there was a table where they were selling tickets, you had to buy your tickets. Turned out there was one of my fellow choir members, when I was at the university. And of course when I got in the band I just left, you know, so he recognized me. [Acting the part] “Linda Franklin, where have you been?” Well there was this guy standing next to the table, he had a suit on, dark hair, nice looking guy. He was standing next to the table, and when this [former classmate] spoke to me, who was selling the tickets, he called out my name after I bought my ticket and everything, the guy who was standing there said, “You’re Linda Franklin?” I’m like, “Yeah...and you are?”
LF: “I’m Rick Mackie. And I’ve got this group...and maybe we can talk during intermission.” And he said “Can you meet me back out here during intermission?” I’m like, well, okay. So I met him at intermission. He said, “I’ve got this jazz group. And you know, can I be really honest with you?” And I’m like, well, okay. [LAUGHS]
This is truthfully what he said to me, and it’s really important. He says to me, “You know, I’ve been having these white girls singing and they’re just not cutting it.” Now he’s white, okay. “I’ve been having these white girls singing and they’re just not cutting it. Now we’re about to do a special on WHA, on TV.”
And I said, “I’m sorry, I’ve got a gig. I’ve got to be in Fargo, North Dakota and then be there for a week, and I’m not going to be able to do it.”
And he said, “Well, can you get somebody to take your place?”
And I said, “Well, I don’t know. We’re here tonight because of Kathy Sullivan.”
“Oh, you know Kathy Sullivan?”
I said, “Well yeah, she used to be in the band I’m in.”
And he said “Well why don’t you ask her?”
I said “Well I can’t afford to--”
He said, “We’ll pay for everything. We’ll pay for you to come here, we’ll pay for her to go there, for her to take your place.”
LF: I’m like, really?
I had, I think, two rehearsals with the band. I met with Rick a few times, and he’d play the songs for me and have me sing to the songs, and he’d kind of play a little bit on the keyboard. But I only had two rehearsals actually with the orchestra.
And then he did what he said he was going to do; I came back to Madison, so right over there in the theater there, in the drama department, that’s where we taped it, on the stage [at Vilas Hall]. He took me--there was a vintage clothing place on Frances Street, he took me down there and he bought this vintage twenties dress that I wore. And we did it. Had a packed audience! It was pretty neat.
And I sang with the Hyperion, I’d say over a twenty year period; I sang with the Hyperion off and on for a long time until it disbanded.
And then Karlos Moser would do weddings and things like that, and it would be the twenties music. So I would do that too. But that helped put me through school.
And then I was in the Army National Guard. One of the faculty [in the School of Music], a trumpet--no, trombone player--Bill Richardson, he was the band director for the 132nd Army National Guard Band. It was 132 then, I don’t know what number it is now. But it was the 132nd Army National Guard Band.
He said, “I got a proposition for you. Would you be interested in joining the military?”
And I’m like, “Why would I want to do that?”
He said, “Well, I’m the band director.”
And I was like, “Oh you are?”
He said, “Yeah,” he said, “I heard you play the flute.”
I’m like, “Well, yes and no,” you know.
And he says “Well, don’t worry about it--I really want you in there to sing. I want you to sing, and I want to do some arrangements of the songs we do with the Hyperion, and you’ll have to take tests, you’ll have to go to basic training,” you know, this and that, and I’m like, “Oh my gosh.”
And he said, “Well, you know, you get paid, you get paid and everything.”
And I said yes. And I did it--I was in the military, in the Army National Guard for three years, singing and playing in the band.
INTERVIEWER: It’s amazing that you had to do basic training [to sing]. It makes sense, but--
LF: Well yeah, you’re really joining the army, you’re really in the army.
INTERVIEWER: Right, right.
LF: The band is pretty much at the whim of the different commissioned officers and things. I have a wonderful picture of myself singing the National Anthem at the Capitol when Lee Dreyfuss, at his inauguration, as governor. Lee Dreyfus. So here I am, standing next to Lee Dreyfuss, he had this thing about red vests, Lee Dreyfus always wore a red vest. And then behind the two of us there’s like four previous governors. Like Lucey, and I don’t know who, all of them back there. And my mouth wide open, because they caught me singing the national anthem. In my uniform and everything. So that’s a pretty neat picture, and I got a letter from Lee Dreyfus thanking me for doing that.
Let’s see here, for the opening of the Overture Center, I put a one-woman show together. And that was Mahalia Jackson and Pearl Bailey. I was going to do Bessie Smith, but I couldn’t get her together. So I did [Mahalia Jackson] and Pearl Bailey. And Rick Mackie inspired me to do Pearl Bailey. So I started out with Pearl, and then I added Mahalia. And I did my research on it, and there were just so many connections between the two of them. Both of them had fathers who were ministers, I mean, there’s just a lot of things that were in common, between them.
And so, you had to present a proposal, because there were artists all over the state of Wisconsin who were applying so that they could perform during the two weeks of celebrations for the opening of the Overture Center. I got selected, and I performed in the Promenade Hall in the Overture Center for those opening celebrations. I did my one-woman show.
And I’ve also done commercials, on camera as well as voice-overs. Print. Anything to do with acting. I’ve worked with different talents agencies here in Madison, worked with Children’s Theater a lot, directing and performing. And at my church, I used to go to Mount Zion and I used to do all of the plays, so Easter and Christmas.
INTERVIEWER: And you hosted a radio show, is that right?
LF: Ah yes, I did, at WORT [89.9]. That came through Jonathan Overby. Jonathan Overby is at Wisconsin Public Radio now, he has a wonderful show that comes on on Saturdays. He was at WORT doing a gospel program for I think it was like twenty-some years. And he got on the Wisconsin Arts Board. And when he got on the Arts Board, because of a conflict of interest or whatever, he had to give up his position at WORT. Especially when he got hired by Wisconsin Public Radio, he was no longer able to be at WORT.
So he asked me, and another person, Lucille Badger, he asked us to host the Best of Gospel, that came on on Sunday nights from seven to nine p.m. So I hosted that for nine years. And WORT is volunteer. But I took it very seriously. Mona Adams Winston, her sister, Pamela Adams Soward, was a host with me on there, for a little while. Yeah. I was at WORT. I enjoyed doing it. It was difficult sometimes, with the fundraising. But it got to be--it’s all digital now. But when I was doing it, it was the CDs. So I had like a work cart, that I stored all the CDs in. I had to lug all of those around in my trunk. So in the wintertime it was really a bummer.
So after about nine years I said, this is it. It’s time to move on to something else. Or just take a little break. I enjoyed doing that. It was a tradition that had been going on at WORT for a long time and it’s still going on--Pastor David Smith hosts the gospel program now at WORT.
INTERVIEWER: Thank you. Is there anything else--you know, [LAUGHTER] another story, another person, place, anything else we should know today?
LF: Oh, let’s see what I wrote down here. I talked about all that...I didn’t talk about Mount Zion. Yeah. When I was growing up, it was Reverend Joe Dawson who was the pastor there. I also remember Reverend Joseph Washington. But when we went to church, on Sundays, church would be all day. We’d come to Sunday School in the morning, we’d have worship service, and then we’d visit other churches. We’d have potluck, we’d go to other churches, other denominations, we wouldn’t necessarily be the same denomination as ours, but we’d go to other churches.
We went to Beloit, we went to Oregon, we went to possibly Sun Prairie, we went to other places. And then churches in Madison, and we’d have potluck, you know. We’d bring different things. My mom would prepare mac and cheese, this and that, and we’d be out at a park, and we’d be fellowshipping out there and eating and everything, and then sometimes we’d come back for evening worship! All day and into the evening. There used to be specific classes, too. We’d go to learn about the Bible and different things like that. And all these things would be going on, all day Sunday. Not just for an hour of worship or two hours of worship, but all day. And they were events where we were fellowshipping with other churches. And that was really--I really enjoyed that. I really enjoyed that.
I sang in the choir there, that’s when I was fourteen and going to Lincoln. And none of the other kids that I grew up with in the neighborhood were going to church then, none of them. So I was like the youngest person in the senior choir. So I sang in the choir, and my mom also sang in the choir, and I had a really good time there. I had a lot of support from people, in the church, there were a lot of people who were very supportive of me, being a young girl. Just learning a lot of things.
And I was very active in the church and in Sunday School. You’d have to have a secretary, for each one of the classes, so I would be the secretary and you’d have to put your little report together when you came back to assembly, after Sunday School. You’d have to give a report--how many people were in the class, and if there were any birthdays, and if you took up a collection and how much was in the collection. And of course they stopped doing that after a couple of years because then there would be people who’d want to try to steal the money, so you had to stop making those reports! But yeah, so I got involved with that, and with the choir. We’d sing at other places, and at funerals, they had funerals quite a bit.
So that was the nucleus for me in the community--Mount Zion Church, Penn Park, and the South Madison Neighborhood Center. That was the glue that held the community together. And then, everybody knew everybody. It was more of a small town thing. And we’ve always been a diverse kind of community, because there were a number of Italian families that moved from the ‘Bush, over into South Madison.
There was the Saint Martin House, which is now the Catholic Multicultural Center, used to be Saint Martin’s House. So there were always Hispanic and Latino people who lived in the community, and who would come to Saint Martin’s House. They would have worship services there, and they would also provide meals and things like that, some of which they still do today.
And there were a number of white families in our community. But it was predominantly African-American when I was growing up. That was really good, but I think it was sort of a red-lining thing that was happening, through the banks. They red-lined that area. I loved growing up in Madison. And I have a lot of really fond memories. And I just want to take a look here, see if there’s anything else I wanted to say...no, I think that’s it.
INTERVIEWER: Sounds good, well thank you so much for sharing those stories.
LF: It was so much fun. There’s so many fond memories. And people, I think there’s a lot fewer people who were born and raised here in Madison who are here now, of African-American descent, and so a lot of people who are here don’t know the history of the community. I think it was really advantageous that we grew up here in Madison.
I used to get a little flack sometimes, from other African-Americans, you know, “Oh, you grew up here?” And people would say, “We didn’t even know there were black people in Madison.” And, “Poor you.” And I say, no no no, I think it was very advantageous growing up here. I’ve had other people say to me sometimes, you know they talk to me over the phone and then they’d see me and say, “You sound white!” And I’d say, “Well, I’m not trying to sound white, you know, I’m just a product of my environment.” This is where I was born and this is where I grew up, and that. I didn’t grow up in the South.
My grandmother, Mary Lou Williams, my mother’s mother, lived in Birmingham, all her life. And when I would visit her in the summertime, that’s what the kids would say-- “You talk funny. You talk funny.” And somebody’d say, “That’s because she’s a Yankee.” You, just coming from the North.
But it’s been very advantageous, because I’ve learned how to conduct myself in different situations. I know it could be a culture shock either way, for people who come into environments where all of a sudden you’re the minority, and you’re used to being in an environment where you’re the majority. And then you come into an environment where you don’t really know how to conduct yourself, you know, it can be very uncomfortable. You can get angry, you can get uncomfortable, you can get depressed. I didn’t have to go into that, because I was just growing up with my family, my community that was predominantly African-American, and then going to the schools, and definitely to the university where sometimes I’d be the only African-American in the class. And it’s the same thing today. But if you know how to maneuver, know how to conduct yourself in such a manner, then that isn’t an obstacle, it’s actually a very positive thing. Because then you’re in control. And whatever you want to put across to people, that’s what they’re going to receive.
So I think it was a really good idea, just like my grandparents said, for my parents to move here and raise us here in Madison, Wisconsin. Because I think it would have been a totally different life growing up in Birmingham, Alabama. We would have gone through Jim Crow stuff and all kinds of mess. We would have been very different people.
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