Ernie McCray blogs

Ernie McCray: Rest In Heavenly Peace, Natalie

Ernie McCray

Ernie McCray


EDITOR’S NOTE: Former Tucson High School and University of Arizona basketball standout Ernie McCray is a legendary figure to Tucsonans and Wildcat fans. McCray, who holds the Wildcats’ scoring record with 46 points on Feb. 6, 1960, against Cal State-Los Angeles, is the first African-American basketball player to graduate from Arizona. McCray, who now resides in San Diego, earned degrees in physical education and elementary education at Arizona. He is a longtime educator, actor and activist in community affairs in the San Diego-area. He wrote a blog for TucsonCitizen.com before the site ceased current-events operations last year. He agreed to continue offering his opinion and insight with AllSportsTucson.com. McCray also writes blogs for SanDiegoFreePress.org.


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I woke up on the first day of 2016 with a smile on my face and then the smile was replaced with laughter as Apricot (our grand-dog, Maria and I call her) jumped onto the bed and tongued my face with kisses dished out like machine gun fire.

I got up and, per my routine, checked my e-mail and Facebook and such, and no sooner than I did, I saw that Natalie Cole had passed away on New Year’s Eve. That was not what I wanted to see in 2016.

Oh, what a voice. That beautiful woman played a role in how I celebrated turning 60.

I was the principal at Cabrillo Elementary and some of the children had been kidding me about growing old because I had been making jokes about it myself when we shot baskets or played a little four-square or engaged in a little “book talk” for the intellectual section of our “principal-student-relationship” resume.

At that year’s Talent Show, put on by some of the most beautiful and supportive parents I know, I got up on stage and said: “For all y’all who’ve been calling me old, try this when you’re 60 years old.”

Then Ms. Cole’s “Sophisticated Lady” filled the auditorium and I bust some moves with a funky groove and blew the place away. Just having fun on a beautiful day.

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I can still hear the words:

“She’s the kind of person that you’d like to meet.
Because she’s always smiling and she’s always neat.”

That evening is among some of my sweetest memories.

I will miss that woman. Her passing ends a wide-ranging era in my history as Nat King Cole, her dad, came into my life when I was a child in the 40’s.

Seventy New Years ago, in 1946, he, with the Nat King Cole Trio, had me and my mother, walking around the house humming and singing “I Love You for Sentimental Reasons.” I saw women swoon to such a tune.

Nat King Cole, in my house, was a household name, right up there with Joe Louis and Sugar Ray Robinson and Satchel Paige and George Washington Carver and Mary Mcleod Bethune and Paul Robeson, Bojangles, Marian Anderson, Langston Hughes

Some of the first lyrics I ever learned were:

“Straighten up and fly right.
Straighten up and stay right.
Straighten up and fly right.
Cool down, papa, don’t you blow your top.”

I grew up on songs like “Its Only a Purple Moon,” “Sweet Lorraine,” Shy Guy.” I got my kicks to the trio’s “Route 66.”

Nat’s guitarist, Oscar Moore, and his guitar playing brother, Johnny Moore, have sat in my living room, both having played at some time with my dad, a not too shabby musician himself.

Natalie grew out of all that. Watching her rise in the music world was a beautiful sight for me as I’ve always felt a connection with her.

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Ernie McCray during his Arizona playing days. His 46 points in a 1960 game remains a school record (University of Arizona photo)

Ernie McCray during his Arizona playing days. His 46 points in a 1960 game remains a school record (University of Arizona photo)


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I suffered vicariously with her family when she went through a drug addiction that nearly did her in.

I felt the pride they must have felt when she overcame this personal tragedy and gave us such wonderful songs. Songs with incredible range. Standards like Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life,” George Gershwin’s “Our Love is Here to Stay” and Victor Young’s “When I Fall in Love.”

Songs with funk like the one I danced to along with “Mr. Melody” and “Pink Cadillac.”

Her duet with her dad, “Unforgettable,” absolutely soothes my soul.

Ahh, I find myself smiling again just thinking of the beauty of her voice. She will forever remain unforgettable to me. May she rest in peace. On second thought, with her extraordinary divine voice, make that heavenly peace.

Love you, Natalie.

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