A conversation with Clarence McDonald & Don Peake
November 2012 On a glorious autumn day in Los Angeles I had the pleasure of spending the afternoon with Clarence McDonald and his long-time friend and fellow recording artist Don Peake. They first met in the 1960’s while touring with the late great Ray Charles. The stories about their real-life music adventures always entertain me. The “Julio Schwartz Story” has always been one of my favorites! I asked Clarence and Don to recount the day that Julio Schwartz came to life. Enjoy! Susan Julio Schwartz (Circa 1964)
It was a dangerous yet fun time. We were on the road with Ray Charles and scheduled to perform in Montgomery, Alabama in the midst of the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement. Alabama’s Governor George Wallace desperately wanted to preserve segregation. One of Wallace’s campaign slogans was: “Segregation now! Segregation tomorrow! Segregation forever!” The state’s political leaders came up with the bright idea that since they could no longer keep blacks from coming into the show that they would not allow any whites to enter.
Immediately after we arrived in the parking lot by the auditorium, the state troopers boarded our bus with flashlights and weapons. Ray asked what they wanted and Jeff Brown his Road Manager said, “the white boy”! Ray whispered, “ Tell them he’s Spanish.” The state troopers looked at Don. They wanted to take him off the bus and stop him from performing. Jeff told the troopers Don was Spanish and didn’t speak English. Don responded to the troopers’ questions in broken Spanish (thanks to his high school Spanish class) and they bought it and left! From that day forward Don became known as Julio Schwartz.
The show went on with a few changes that night. Don recalls Fritz Baskett and Marilyn McCoo (Vocals) rushing him into the dressing room and applying make-up to his face and hands in hopes he would blend in better. When it came time for Ray to feature Don on guitar as he did every night, Ray would usually say…Now Don Peake is going to play the blues. But this particular night Don decided not to stand up and played his solo intently looking down at his guitar. Don recalls, “I didn’t want to get shot! The auditorium was lined with State Troopers holding loaded firearms! At the end of the show we were out of there. The only place we left quicker than Montgomery was Dallas.”
The music adventures continue….
 In September 1963, Wallace attempted to stop four black students from enrolling in four separate elementary schools in Huntsville. After intervention by a federal court in Birmingham, the four children were allowed to enter on September 9, becoming the first to integrate a primary or secondary school in Alabama.
Wallace desperately wanted to preserve segregation. In his own words: “The President (John F. Kennedy) wants us to surrender this state to Martin Luther King and his group of pro-communists who have instituted these demonstrations.”