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Miami’s ‘Soul Man’ singer made it to Bush’s funeral. Their bond began at the inaugural

Soul music legend Sam Moore is the last person to brag about his achievements.

“I don’t brag about ‘Sam Moore.’ I don’t brag about “Sam and Dave’ or anything like that. I let others do that,” said the man born 83 years ago in Miami’s Overtown neighborhood. You probably know Moore from the hits he recorded with his late musical partner Dave Prater in the 1960s such as “Soul Man,” “Hold On, I’m Comin’” and “When Something Is Wrong With My Baby.”

But we can’t resist a little hometown pride.

Sam, the only man from Miami in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and his wife of 37 years, Joyce Moore, were invited guests for Wednesday’s state funeral for President George H.W. Bush at the Washington National Cathedral.

Their friend, the 41st U.S. president who died at age 94 on Nov. 30, just seven months after their other friend, former Fist Lady Barbara Bush died at age 92.

The Moores traveled to the nation’s Capitol earlier this week from their home in Coral Gables to pay their respects to the man they have known well since Sam performed at an inaugural event co-produced by Joyce in January 1989.

An honor? Of course.

“That’s an understatement,” says Joyce. “A guy from Overtown to honor a president of the United States.”

For Sam, the occasion was a moment’s respite from some family drama with his grandkids, he said. And a blessing.

“I’m going to get a chance to sit at the last calling for this great, great, great man. Can you believe it? You don’t know how that makes me feel.”

Sam might not have even gone.

“Sam doesn’t do funerals well,” Joyce said. “He doesn’t do mourning well since he lost his mother and grandmother in the 1960s. He just doesn’t handle this. But this was such an honor and so significant and he adored H.W. and adores the Bush family. So for him, it wasn’t a matter of ‘should we do this’ but ‘how many of the things should we do?’ The only thing he didn’t feel he could do was go to the Rotunda to see the casket lying state.”

But the funeral meant a lot to the South Florida couple.

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Joyce and Sam Moore’s copy of the funeral program for President George H.W. Bush at the Washington National Cathedral on Dec. 5, 2018. Courtesy Joyce Moore

Sam Moore’s career began, like many others — including the late comedian Flip Wilson — from inside the long gone, but once thriving, The King of Hearts, a black nightclub in Liberty City on 20th Avenue in the 1950s and 1960s.

But unlike the New Jersey-born Wilson, or others who found themselves performing on that Kings of Hearts stage in the earliest stages of their careers like Memphis-born Aretha Franklin and Georgia-born Prater, Sam Moore was homegrown.

And Wednesday, alongside President Donald Trump and the four surviving presidents Barack Obama, George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, assorted dignitaries and politicians, Sam and Joyce Moore helped represent the 305, because they were wanted there.

“What comes to mind is that I look at it as coming from a humble beginning,” Sam said. “To have met, and been around, and shared a frontal position with presidents, queens, princesses, prince, special people, that we didn’t walk the same streets together, it tells me, I guess, my voice said a lot.

“It has said a lot for them to be interested in me not politically and not statewide but as a human being that had a gift from God to share with these people,” Sam added. “It’s humbling and gracious and I do not take that lightly. I do not take it as a stepping stone to be bigger than you would like to be or wanted to be or you think you are to be in the same company of these worldly people. I gotta tell you I am humble to the point of saying, “Wow.’

As Joyce sat in the cathedral among 3,000 or so invited guests she could see sports figures like Super Bowl champ Peyton Manning and golf legend Jack Nicklaus, Arizona Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords and Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio. Joyce felt the whole range of emotions.

“It was solemn. Joyous. Sorrowful. Not sorrowful. A little bit of all of it,” she said.

When the 43rd president, George W. Bush’s voice broke in emotion while he delivered his eulogy, everyone followed his lead, Joyce said.

“We knew W. wasn’t going to make it without going. He was so stoic. At the very end, we all cried with him and everyone was looking for tissues. James Baker [Bush’s secretary of state] was wrenching. And there were so many light moments. [Former Canadian Prime Minister] Brian Mulroney was terrific, and W. was terrific talking about inheriting the ‘don’t-like-vegetables’ gene and some of the other quips were terrific.”

Bush was buried Thursday on the presidential library grounds at Texas A&M University in College Station. The president’s final resting place is alongside his wife Barbara and Robin Bush, the daughter they lost to leukemia at age 3.

The Moores have a long association with the first President Bush. Joyce co-produced a show at the Washington Convention Center for Bush’s 1989 inaugural that featured her husband on stage with the president and former Republican National Committee Chairman Lee Atwater.

George W. Bush had been a Sam and Dave fan when he attended Yale. The R&B duo had done plenty of college tours in the 1960s.

“George W. broke Secret Service making a beeline for Sam when he was doing an interview with CBS Morning News,” Joyce said, laughing at the memory of that inauguration event break-in-protocol by the man who would become only the second man to follow his father into the presidency. (John Adams and John Quincy Adams were the other pair.)

For 30 years, George and Barbara Bush had sent the Moores personal letters and shared many invitations. “Beautiful and priceless,” Joyce said.

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Joyce Moore, Barbara Bush, President George H.W. Bush and Sam Moore at the Kennedy Center’s Points of Light Concert and Fundraiser tribute to the former president in March 2011. Courtesy of Joyce Moore

In addition to 1989 inauguration event, Sam Moore performed for the Bushes’ 50th wedding anniversary celebration in 1995 and played the One America Appeal hurricane relief concert at Texas A&M University in October 2017 at an event that was a combined effort of the then-five former U.S. living presidents Carter, George H.W., Clinton, George W. and Obama to help with relief efforts in the wake of hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria.

He sang for all of those presidents, too.

“Here’s a guy from Overtown who played command performances for the Queen of England to six presidents from Jimmy Carter at the White House to Donald Trump,” Joyce said. “Here’s the guy from Overtown who is doing a gospel album now with producer Rudy Pérez, a Cuban refugee, in Miami Beach and Miami.

On Dec. 19, The Recording Academy, the group that hands out the Grammy awards, announced that Sam & Dave is one of its Lifetime Achievement Award honorees, alongside Julio Iglesias, Black Sabbath, Dionne Warwick, George Clinton & Parliament-Funkadelic and the late Billy Eckstine and Donny Hathaway. An award presentation ceremony and concert celebrating the honorees will be held on May 11 in Los Angeles.

“Sam’s nickname was Bubba,” Joyce added “Isaac Hayes re-nicknamed him the Blessed One because of his vocal gift. Isaac was saying, ‘You’re not Bubba. You’re the Blessed One.”

Miami Herald Real Time/Breaking News reporter Howard Cohen, a 2017 Media Excellence Awards winner, has covered pop music, theater, health and fitness, obituaries, municipal government and general assignment. He started his career in the Features department at the Miami Herald in 1991.
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