Bella’s 3-year old Preschool Graduation

Posted by Zach Cooley on Wednesday, May 9, 2018

St. John’s preschool has been responsible for some pretty significant milestones in the life my four-year-old daughter and me, most recently her graduation from the three-year-old class to the four-year-old class. I didn’t even know they had graduation ceremonies until she had completed both levels at the preschool, but this was a lovely and emotional program for Emily and me.

I’ve always wanted to observe what a full day of preschool was like for my Bella and this program offered me a glimpse. They sang the entirety of all their songs including their excellent morning song and the religious jingles that go along with their snack time blessing and weekly chapel services, Bella’s favorite part of her preschool week. To hear her recite the children’s creed along with her classmates proclaiming her belief in God brought tears to my eyes. She has already wowed us with her near-perfect recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance. Both of her grandfathers are veterans, so this was especially pleasing for them to hear.

A series of holiday songs including Bella’s personal favorite “Stirring Our Brew,” aptly designed for Halloween. During sessions called crazy music taught by Karen Melton, Bella and her classmates learn fun songs like “Gooney Bird” and “Bear Hunt,” which shows the children about movement and rhythm while also helping to keep them in good physical shape. I have made a whole scrapbook of her first year in preschool and if they’re really treasured all of the things she has made and brought home. All year long, she has teased us with little pieces of songs that she’s learned in school, but when we asked her to sing more, she would always clam up with a shy smile. This program gave us a chance to hear all this week to use of which we had only known snippets beforehand.

Their recitations of the days of the week and months of the year were equally as precious. Among all the cute little things that happened to the small children during the entrance and of the auditorium to the Peanuts theme song, Bella lost her shoe on her way to her seat on stage. Lucky for me, this was right in the center of the stage, so I had a perfect view of her for the entire program. She is usually her Momma’s girl all the way, but it pleases me to see her running off the stage into my arms and wanting to ride my chair over to the refreshment table to eat cookies with her friends. As a dad who loves his little girl better than anything, it doesn’t get any better than that. I couldn’t be prouder of my beautiful and smart little girl, and I’m grateful to God to call her mind and that she has such an excellent school and community in which to participate.

Bella Goes to the Zoo

On May 1st, Emily and I were very honored to accompany our daughter on her very first school field trip. We went to the Fort Chiswell Animal Park with her classmates at St. John’s Preschool.  It was a great trip for Bella because she loves animals. She had been to a zoo last fall when we were vacationing in the Myrtle Beach area where my parents live. While the buses of our local zoo were not handicapped accessible, thus preventing me from taking the entire tour, I was able to go with Bella to view the petting zoo part of the excursion.

Because I was aware of the lack of accessibility, I had not planned on joining my wife and daughter for this trip. But Bella wanted me to go, which made my coming along of the utmost importance to me. Her principal, Jennifer Quigg, was kind enough to wave my admission fee as well as that of my daughter. The kind and friendly staff were more than accommodating and even told me to come back on another day when I can take a handicapped-accessible bus to tour the rest of the property.

The more than 200 animals from six continents on display at our local with County attraction was a most impressive sight. My favorite animal to see in a zoo is a camel, and I had the good fortune of watching my wife feed puffs, the friendly camel, through the best window. I also spend a lot of good quality time with their brand new giraffe, Cheeto who seemed to be a very handsome and friendly fellow.

Bella’s favorite part of the trip came when she was able to pet the goats. Daisy Mae, one of the more friendly creatures on the property, was a black goat that liked Bella so much that she followed her around the park. This made her day. I was also very pleased and humbled that she seemed to be happy to have her daddy along on this trip. She was the only student in the pre-school group that got to ride on her Daddy’s lap. I guess being the only kid who has a parent on wheels can have a perk from time to time. I thank God for these unique and meaningful moments.

It’s also really fantastic to see Bella interact with children her age. Her best friend Brynn Fisher accompanied her to pet the goats, and the whole class jumped up on the stone rhino for a group picture. That made the trip worth the effort for me.

A staff member named Vicky was kind enough to tell me all about what I might see if I had been able to take the entire bus trip. I certainly think anyone who can swing the $10 admission fee for their child should do it. We are lucky to have such a special attraction in our area. My family and I will certainly be coming back. Again, I think they’re wonderful staff and the great people at St. John’s Preschool who enabled us to have a wonderful family memory in which we will never forget and always treasure.

Emily Sings the Blues

Emily Krug Cooley singing on the porch! Listen to that beautiful voice!

Posted by Big Walker Lookout on Saturday, May 5, 2018

With the spring of 2018 finally in full swing weatherwise, I’m most happy and pleased that my wife is back on the local music scene, this time with material all her own. Making her debut on May 5th at Big Walker Lookout, she stirred the few souls that heard her perform despite the rain. The foul weather did nothing to diminish her powerful voice, which belted out 90 minutes worth of songs that covered a variety of female pioneer music in the genres of jazz, soul, and blues. Leading off with the Bryan Adams composition, “Back Where You Started,” which earned a Grammy for Tina Turner in 1986, she paid homage to early blues heroes such as Billie Holiday and Bessie Smith with songs that have already come to be familiar to people who’ve enjoyed hearing my wife sing on a regular basis.

There were plenty of other great tunes from such blues queens as Bonnie Raitt, rock and roll pioneer Ruth Brown, and the queen of soul Aretha Franklin. She also wowed audiences with numbers originated by the English soul of Dusty Springfield and the Beatles as well as country crossover legends such as Patsy Cline.
This new group of songs will constitute the makeup of her second CD release, Miss Emily Sings the Blues, which should be completed soon. When she makes her first appearance at the Bolling Wilson Hotel, which was the location for her first CD, on May 19th, more definite plans will be noted.
Our dear friend, Ron Kime, who hasn’t been in the greatest of health in the last few months, was seeing looking sharp and smiling with pride as he watched Emily sing. The Kime family has been very dear and kind to us for many years, and we were so pleased and blessed to be able to promote our own careers at this beautiful establishment. While Emily sang, I promoted my only novel, Face Value. My wife and I will make two more joint appearances together at Big Walker Lookout selling our respective products on Saturday, July 28th and Saturday, August 4th. Emily will also be appearing at the Bolling Wilson Hotel for a second time on Saturday, June 9th. We would like to thank my good friend Tyler Hash, the hotel’s new talent coordinator, for getting Emily back on stage at this treasured local attraction.
We hope this is just the beginning of many appearances from a voice that is too talented not to be heard throughout this community. I think anyone else who hears her sing can say that I’m not partial when I speak of my wife’s fantastic voice. I invite you to come and listen to her whenever you can and can guarantee that you will be moved in a way that cannot be described with words. You can also hear Emily on Memorial Day at the Wytheville celebration in Withers Park on May 27th, the 4th birthday of our daughter Bella.

Remembering Dr. King with Georgia Crockett

One of the most powerful interviews I have ever done in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Martin Luther King, Jr. assassination.  It affected the African Americans in our community with a sting that still resonates today, as my friend, Georgia Crockett, administrative assistant to the Wythe County Sheriff, so eloquently explains.

Happy birthday, Phil Collins!

In honor of Phil Collins’s 67th birthday, I’m sharing my thoughts on his incredible autobiography, Not Dead Yet.  I hope you find my words half as enjoyable as I know you will his.  Happy birthday and many more to my idol!

When Phil Collins released his long-awaited memoir Not Dead Yet last October, it was something I had looked forward to for years. The Grammy and Oscar winning singer-songwriter who has served as the drumming front man for rock group Genesis for the past 40 years, has been the only celebrity I have ever truly idolized. The eloquent and humorous style in which he tells is wildly fascinating story makes me admire him even more.

He joined Genesis as drummer in 1970, pulled double duty as lead singer beginning in 1976 and then skyrocketed to pop superstardom as a solo artist beginning with the 1981 release of Face Value.  He has sold nearly a quarter billion records, the third most successful recording artist in the world.  The rest is music history.

His father was a stern insurance broker and his mother worked at the famed Barbara Speake Stage School in London, where Phil got his start in show business, performing as The Artful Dodger in Oliver. He even got a spot as an extra in the film Hard Day’s Night starring his musical idols, The Beatles. After becoming a professional drummer in the late sixties, he recalls playing until his hands bled on the George Harrison album All Things Must Pass, only to have his hard work end up on the cutting floor of the recording studio.

Despite the wonderful memories I have a finally seeing Phil Collins live at the Roseland Ballroom in New York City on June 24, 2010, less than 24 hours after proposing to my wife, Collins has different sentiments regarding these shows period.  While I thought the shows were terrific, among the best I’d ever seen perhaps, the singer writes of his less than enthused view.               “The shows should be wonderful, but my head isn’t where it should be,” Collins says. “To make matters worse, once I’m on stage, I inexplicably have trouble remembering the words to these songs I grew up with. My life on stage has petered out with the underwhelming Going Back shows.”

Phil Collins has always been my favorite male singer; Tina Turner has always been my favorite female vocalist. The collaboration between the two of them on the song great spirits from the Brother Bear soundtrack is, in my opinion, the greatest musical collaboration in history. Collins writes about working with Turner in Switzerland where they both lived and recorded the tune. Turner had apparently learned the song from the original demo tape Collins had sent her and had recorded it within a couple of takes. He got her own board through their mutual friend Eric Clapton, who introduced him to Turner in 1986. He calls her “a supremely professional and a true artist.”               “Tina oozes musicality and class,” he wrote, bragging justifiably about sharing the stage with her at the Brother Bear world premiere in October 2003 at the New Amsterdam Theatre on Broadway. “It’s quite amazing how Tina turns it on. We’ll walk through the sound check and she’ll ‘pretend’ she’s retired, and then she’ll kill the song and give a solid-gold performance.”

     I would have gladly given my right arm and even my left to have been in the audience that night when Tina sang and Phil performed on drums.  

     At the 1985 Grammy Awards, in which Collins pulls a major upset by taking home the Album of the Year trophy for No Jacket Required, emerging victorious over the expected shoe-in, We Are the World by USA for Africa. The charity super-group featured Michael Jackson, who was seated next to Collins at the Grammy Awards. After performing “Sussudio,” he hears Michael Jackson inquire to him from his seat about the horn arrangement for the song. They will properly meet later when he goes to Jackson’s Neverland Ranch in 1992 to film an award presentation. Jackson apologizes to Collins for the use of makeup, which she says is necessary for a rare skin condition. He also invites his two younger children, Simon and Lily, to see his enormous playroom, the prospect at which Collins doesn’t give a second thought. “He’s very sweet and friendly,” he recalls of the late King of Pop. “I’m left with the feeling that Michael Jackson, though clearly not the same as us mortals, is not the weirdo we’ve been led to expect. But, even though I have no direct knowledge of the murkier side of Michael’s life, I have to say there’s probably no smoke without some kind of fire.”              

             As pure as Phil Collins’s voice was in its prime, I would have never known that he took steroid injections for his vocal cords beginning in 1986. He would seek this remedy for years until his retirement from touring.”So you’re given a shot of prednisone, injected into your bum,” he explained. “The steroid will get you through the show, but once you’re on it, you’re on it for 10 days.”

              In addition to severe side effects such as psychotic mood swings, moon face and water retention, the legend says the medication could also be partly responsible for the weakening of his bones that resulted in his current health problems, coupled with 60 years of playing drums, and vertebrae issues.

               I also was very interested to learn that Collins had originally pitched an idea to famed director Robert Zemeckis for an animated film starring himself, the late Bob Hoskins and Danny DeVito as the Three Bears. The idea went over well in Hollywood and Kim Basinger even expressed interest in being Goldilocks. I was dismayed that the film never materialized. The idea came to the singer after the three of them were repeatedly mistaken for one another.

               These are just a few gems you will receive from reading the best memoir written to date.  While my partiality is dually noted, from a writer’s standpoint alone, this book can be immensely enjoyed by even the casual music fan and, judging by the sound of his voice on the European tour named after his book, Phil Collins is most assuredly not dead yet.