In order to give voice and perspective to a male-dominated theory that says only men (particularly white men) are the pitmasters, I want to introduce you to nine dynamic black women who have earned the title pitmaster, and helped create, in our culture, what we know now as the “barbeque experience”.
Barbeque and classic 70’s and 80’s soul music is one hell of a combo; ain’t nothing like it in the world. Come with me to the
“Pit” (a black-owned barbeque joint). It's 1973, in Oakland, California, America is in a recession, and it’s ludicrous to think of starting a business, but those rules don’t apply to these goal-driven, hard-working, take-no-mess, no-holds-barred women who were born and raised for this. Walk through their doors and all of your senses go into overload; the smell and taste is unsurpassed or subservient to non-other. In fact, it is superlatively superior to all its competitors near and far. Bow down bitches this is Fantabulous!. It is soul food-food of the soul.
This Labor Day I want to honor the BBQ goddesses who chopped up BBQ in the early 70’s and 80’s; the ones who took your money, and were the expert pitmasters. I'm talking about the eight Everett sisters and their mama from Everett and Jones Barbeque; nine fierce black, female pitmasters- Dorothy, Virginia, Annie, Dorothy Jr, Shirley, Mary, Helen, Yolanda and Sarah, (enough to field a baseball team), BBQ icons; forever in a class of their own and could stand toe to toe with any man claiming to be better. If the soul music coming from the jukebox didn’t get you, the “Brickhouses” behind the counter working sure did. With their SmokyFros (afros and smoke), short skirts and pantyhose; they made the place hot! If you hear any noise, it ain’t the boys getting down; it’s the sisters running thangs! These nine beautiful, classy, sassy, sexy, big-legged (they got it from their mama) queens made history and have come to take their rightful place on the throne.
Don’t get it twisted; the damn sexiness of these sisters didn’t limit their abilities to be some bad- ass cooks; these sisters could burn the roof off the sucker. They put fire in your soul and pep in your steps and not just with the hot sauce. The jukebox spinning 45’s from the corner of the restaurant hold the soundtrack and stories of the black experience; golden oldies and current monster jams. I dare you not to sway to the tunes. The food and music are connected-two natural forces working in perfect harmony doing a slow grind that should only be done at a basement party with a red light on. The music is the secret sauce and it made the BBQ taste better.
On Friday and Saturday nights, the Pit was packed like a house party. You were either on your way to the club or coming back and stopping to get some ‘que was part of the rotation. The jukebox was like a righteous deejay that kept the party going. Married men took off their wedding rings when entering the restaurant. They dedicated songs to the sisters . . . the way you walk and talk really sets me off to a 4 alarm, child, yes, it does, the way you squeeze and tease, knocks to me my knees ‘cause I'm smoking', baby. The way you swerve and curve, really wrecks my nerves and I'm so excited, child (yeah), woo, woo. Before Fire by the Ohio Players (1974) was the theme song for Gordon Ramsay’ Hell’s Kitchen it belonged to the Everett & Jones girls.
All night long men fed the jukebox, dropping quarters, stuffing the tip jar, dedicating songs to the sisters, in hopes for extra meat or at least a telephone number. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t depending on how strong their game was. Disco Lady by Johnnie Taylor (1977) got the cutie pie cutter groovin’ and choppin’ ribs to the beat . . . shake it up shake it down, move it in move it around, disco lady . . . sexy lady girl you drive me crazy . . . shake it baby shake it, baby shake your thang. The way these fine big-legged sisters are handling the meat cleaver is frightening; wouldn’t want to make her mad, but only made you want her more. The sisters could chop up a whole slab of ribs in 10 seconds flat, I ain't lying, into 25 to 30 pieces with precision and not leave any of her fingers on your plate. Perfection!
The fine, amazon, pit boss in her short skirt is built! She's stacked with all the curves that men like. You can tell the sister knows her BBQing shit; busting all stereotypes and doubts that women can’t barbeque-can’t compete, and can’t master the art of slow smoking meat over wood in brick smokers. You obviously didn’t know these women. “She’s a Bad Mama Jama” – Carl Carlton (1975) . . . look at her, she’s a bad Mama Jama, she’s just as fine as she can be . . . she’s poetry in motion a beautiful sight to see. As she goes about her work she has you hypnotize, mesmerized by her skills and when she stoops over to throw more oak wood on the fire, lawd have mercy, you have died and gone to BBQ heaven.
The doors of the brick pit are open now and smoke billows into the room; men try to steal a peek over the master’s shoulders looking for tips on how to up their “que” game. The pit (also the name for the brick smoker) is full. Beautiful beef briskets with dark bark can be seen along the back wall, golden brown pork ribs neatly lined in rows across the front. Homemade beef links hang like ropes across the top, while the chickens are stored in individual chard brown paper bags to catch its dripping. The smokin’ process is intricate and carefully done with perfection in the indoor brick pit. There were no burn barrels or other smokehouses out back that separated the customers from the full smoking process. It was all done in front of you subliminally making you buy more BBQ then intended.
Donna Summer is yelling from the jukebox that she needs some Hot Stuff (1979) tonight as you wait for your ticket number to be called. 2-way combos of either ribs and links or ribs and brisket with potato salad are flying out the door. Someone is asking for BBQ sauce on their potato salad and for extra white bread to sop up the sauce and then, Got to Give it Up by Marvin Gaye (1977) comes on the jukebox “Heyyy!!!”….and with the first beats everybody in the joint start rocking . . . I use to go out to parties and stand around ‘cause I was too nervous to really get down. You don’t mind the wait for your ‘que because you’re groovin’ in sync with everybody else. The maestro Barry White’s - Ecstasy (1977) is up next with his orchestra . . . with your body dancing in my mind, followed by the calm laid back Thankful for what you Got by William Devaughn (1974), . . . Though you may not drive a great big Cadillac gangsta whitewalls TV antennas in the back, you may not have a car at all, but remember brothers and sisters you can still stand tall. Just be thankful for what you've got. Though you may not drive a great big Cadillac, diamond in the back, sunroof top diggin' the scene with a gangsta lean wooh-ooh-ooh. Everybody in the joint knew the words.
The loud rapid chopping coming from the cutting board, which sits on top of a butcher block table, combined with the hum of voices talking, laughing and singing along with the music sound like back-up singers to the songs; That combined with the iron metal doors on the brick pit banging shut every time the cutter enters to get more beef or ribs, made it seem like you’d stepped into a choreographed stage production and were part of the show. There was a whole lot of rhythm going around. It was performance art at its finest!
Now on the jukebox, the Mothership has landed and the whole place is funkdafied. You are Not Just Knee Deep in a triple dose of some p-funk uncut by Parliament . . . you got ants in your pants and need to dance. Next up Aqua Boogie (1978) got you believing you can . . . dance underwater and not get wet; and finally One Nation Under a Groove – Parliament (1978) has everyone promising to . . . funk, the whole funk and nothin’ but the funk.
The classic authentic barbeque experience at black-owned BBQ joints never goes out of style: it’s in the DNA (Da Noisy Atmosphere). Mama Dorothy taught her girls that if you wanted the job done right, then move and let a woman do it. Nine Black Queens who have slayed every day to build their reputation for over 45 years of hard work. They did the same work as men; were twice as good, but got half the credit. They knew what they were up against and did not back down. Before social media, you had to work hard and consistently put out a great product to earn the title of pitmaster, now all you have to do is buy a commercial smoker, post photos, retweet and call yourself a pitmaster; Boy Bye! The family knew that odds were stacked against them, and some hoped they would fail, but they did it anyway. Just as classics will never go out of style neither will BBQ and music. Long live the 70’s and 80’s R&B, funk, disco and the history and legacy of black owned BBQ joints! #TheBBQEXPERIENCE . #BlackGirlMagic
By Shirley Everett-Dicko and Yvette Jones-Hawkins
(C) 2016 Everett and Jones
All Rights Reserved