Rashod Ollison Has Died

Virginia journalist, critic and author remembered by friend he inspired

Rashod Ollison.

I signed my first-ever book deal right around the time I friended Rashod Ollison on FB. While I was buying a fresh stash of C-90s for interviews, his own book, SOUL SERENADE: Rhythm, Blues & Coming of Age Through Vinyl, was a year away from hitting the stands. Just before that book hit the streets, Rashod was promoting the hell out of that thing, making sure it left an impact on anyone who ever cracked it open.

In that way, he was an inspiration for what I’m trying to do with this black rock book, which should be done in a few weeks. There was substance beneath the hype – SOUL SERENADE was a nonfictional account of one kid’s Arkansas youth, and how his life was saved by soul music. Aretha Franklin, Bobby Womack, and Al Green weren’t just cultural touchstones. For a young black man struggling with his sexuality in rural Arkansas, they were lifesavers. And then there were others who came to the rescue. Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, Nikki Giovanni. These authors, accompanied by the great sounds sparking off the turntable, allowed a young man to picture a different life for himself.

I forget how Rashod first came to my attention – it may have been his profiles of older soul artists in the Pilot. Between the book and his often hilarious, on-the-nose Facebook posts, I became a fan. When he did his book tour—and you need to buy that book, right away—unfortunately it didn’t come to Chicago. A longtime friend of mine hosts a regular book-reading series at a local bookstore with selected authors; I was sure to plug Ollison for any future dates she had in mind.

Unfortunately, this will never happen. Mr. Ollison passed away yesterday after battling non-Hodgkins lymphoma.

Earlier this year, I got into a heated text-message argument with a “frenemy” who accused me of wanting to be the first to break bad news, adding that he left Facebook because he considered it a “parking lot for losers.” As far as the “bad news” accusation goes, I don’t report tragedies with a smile on my face; sometimes I just need to talk about this shit. Also, being a writer, Facebook is a way to connect with other writers whose work I had grown up reading, as well as contemporaries and newer faces who also know the power of the page.

I never met Rashod Ollison. But I’m happy to say that I was able to eavesdrop on his world for a minute. Rest easy, brother.

James Porter

James Porter is a Chicago-based writer/DJ/musician. He hosts a monthly radio show on WLUW-FM called Hoodoo Party, which specializes in early rock & roll and rhythm & blues. Next year, Northwestern University Press will published his book, Wild In The Streets: Tales From Rock & Roll's Negro Leagues, about underrated African-American rock musicians.

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