Monday, February 24, 2014

When Clay Beat Liston...and Became Ali

Tomorrow marks one of the most momentous night's in 1960s history.  No, not a Beatles performance on Ed Sullivan but young Cassius Clay (already one of my boyhood heroes) beating Sonny Liston to take the heavyweight crown in a huge upset--paving the way for his decades at the forefront of American sports and culture and politics.

Yes, the Beatles visited him in his training camp in Miami Beach for a much-publicized photo op.  But the most amazing meeting was this coming together, in a modest hotel in a black neighborhood in Miami after the fight--starring (get ready) Clay...Malcolm X...Jim Brown...and Sam Cooke.   And a certain undercover FBI agent.  Ali was about to announce his membership in the "black Muslims" and get a name change.  Malcolm was about to get kicked out of that faith and travel to Mecca.  Brown was getting more and more outspoken on race.  And Sam Cooke was about to write "A Change Gonna Come."

That's all for now--I'll be writing a longer piece for The Nation tomorrow.  But here's a clip from the opening of the Hollywood film Ali, with Will Smith and a Sam Cooke character singing in a Miami nightclub that week--which happened and was immortalized on one of the great live albums ever, Live at the Harlem Club.

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