Every Friday night at 10 PM in Portland, Or, I situate myself behind my desk. I tune the radio into KMHD and prepare for my weekly instruction from a man whom I know by the sound of his voice only. I could not pick him out of a crowd of one. However, I feel I know him quite well. His name is Steve Cushing and, for thirty years, he has been a stalwart of the blues on the air waves of America with his weekly radio program Blues Before Sunrise.
As host, Steve’s passion for the blues takes center stage. A He draws the listener in with his rye Midwestern story telling and sense of humor. His knowledge of the music and its players even, after thirty years, remains sharp and voluminous. It is Cushing’s choice of playlist that may gather some attention. Giants of the genre, such as B.B King and John Lee Hooker, do play a part of his programming but they have to share the stage with the likes of Nat King Cole, Cab Calloway, the Mills Brothers, Dinah Washington and Jazz great Duke Ellington. It may sound like a wide range of music ground to cover but Cushing’s show takes five hours to do so. Each hour contains a different theme that doles out morsels liberally. And after the five hours is up, you’re left wanting more.
When taken into the context with the rest of today’s society, men like Steve Cushing provides an important service that our government has increasingly pulled away from, prioritizing weapons of war rather than tools of knowledge. Steve spends his their own hard earned money preserving the work and stories of our past, of not only the men and women of color, who have become icons of history and inspired the icons of yesterday and today,(Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Jack White; the list goes on and on) he also is preserving the glorious tapestry and legacy of this country in its original form. These songs and stories, of the murder of Robert Johnson, Memphis Minnie’s biting critique of Mississippi Fred McDowell’s rather rudimentary guitar playing, Bessie Smith’s gruesome and tragic death (She had her arm ripped off in a car accident and bled to death). They are human story of this country, in all its beauty and equally its ugliness. A people, be the poorest of poor or the richest of the rich have no future if they have no respect or reverence for their past.
The job that Steve Cushing does every week is beyond just cheap entertainment, beyond filling out air time for public radio, it is one of the highest forms of Patriotism. Steve shines a bright light on us, all of us. The poetry, the debauchery, the beauty of this complex and complicated little corner of this universe we proudly call the United States. From his studio and his pile of records and CDS, once in the great metropolis of Chicago, now from the heart of the heart of America in the distinguished state of Michigan, Steve’s program brings the listeners the story of America.
He shows us the beauty that we are.