I didn’t know why my brother text me Ronald Bell’s obituary. But as soon as I clicked on the link, I understood. Bell was one of the co-founders of Kool and the Gang and the songwriter of “Celebration.” Instantly, my brother and I thought of our mom, who died of cancer last year. “Celebration” was our mom’s all time favorite party song. And she was a woman who loved to dance.
As a minister’s wife, our mom’s only opportunities to dance were at weddings. As my dad’s congregation aged, there were fewer weddings, fewer times to dance. So when I married into a big Jewish family, my mom got a lot more opportunities to dance.
The Adler family is warm and inclusive. My mom was an only child, so she was thrilled to be included in the Adler’s family gatherings. She especially adored my husband’s brother, Steve. She didn’t experience his rebellious past, and only knew him as a loving father, a successful businessman and a regular guy with a great sense of humor. He chatted her up at holiday dinners. She was like a bonus mom to him. When Steve’s oldest son was to become a bar mitzvah, my parents were invited to the event. My mom was ecstatic. She’d never attended a bar mitzvah, but she’d heard the parties were a blast. Her dancing shoes were ready.
When the DJ invited everyone on the dance floor, my mom was out there first. I was embarrassed. I thought she was drawing too much attention to herself in her salmon pink skirt suit, when most of the women wore black. I wanted her to blend in to the crowd, but that was something my mom never did. As soon as she heard the opening beats of “Celebration,” she was on the dance floor. I shouldn’t have been embarrassed. Her smile and willingness to join the party scored her invitations to many Adler events.
As I read Bell’s obituary, it got me thinking not only of his music and my mom, but of the legacy created by writing. “Celebration” isn’t a perfect song. I wonder if Ronald Bell thought that after he wrote it. Was he embarrassed to share it with his bandmates? Or was he confident it would be a worldwide hit? I’ll never know. But I’m so glad he put it out there. He shared his lyrics and his music back in 1980 and forever my brother and I have his song as a beautiful reminder of our mom.
Other people’s writing, music and art are such powerful influences on my life. There are so many songs that have helped me through hard times. “Let it Be” by the Beatles. Bob Marley’s “No Woman No Cry.” The Indigo Girls’ “Hammer and a Nail.”
During a week of wildfires, pandemic news, and politics, listening to “Celebration” brought back happy memories. Not only did the song evoke joyful memories of my mom, it reminded me that the words we write, the art we make, can have an impact long after we’re gone.
I hope that Ronald Bell knew his impact before he died. I wish he knew that his music helped bring a Presbyterian minister’s wife into a Jewish family. His “Celebration” helped create an interfaith family. I think I’ll play the song before Rosh Hashanah begins tonight.