Al Green, ‘tired of being alone,’ sings vaccine’s virtue

By , Daily Memphian Updated: April 12, 2021 9:14 AM CT | Published: April 02, 2021 4:00 AM CT

Rev. Al Green rolled up a starched white cuff for his second vaccine Thursday, April 1, an image Saint Francis Hospital-Memphis leaders hope will turn the tide as it ricochets around the world, starting in Memphis.

He joked with reporters, laughed that sonorous laugh and then with the seriousness of a preacher, talked about why he agreed to the cameras and microphones.

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“I think it’s going to be helpful for us to join together with the scientists and the doctors to get a better result of this pandemic,” he said, stealing a few glances at the nurse preparing his syringe.

“Everybody, come and get one,” said Green, 74, one of several lines that seemed, with even the smallest effort, could flow out of him in song.

“I think the people in our neighborhood, they’ve been a little held back by past events in reference to doctors and scientists and this and that. But I think we’re in a different place now. And I think this pandemic has taken out a lot of people. I have a lot of people ill, and you don’t just get over it and go … go shopping,” he said.

“There are long-term effects too, you see,” he said with a kind of reverence. “So, I think we need to get in line and take this. It’s good if it’s happening to everybody.

“If I can’t affect you, and you can’t affect me because we’re both immunized, well, that’s the best way to do it.”

And then, with a little encouragement, he was purely Al Green, the 11-time Grammy winner.

“If you have your shot and I had mine,” he sang out in his unmistakable style.

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Green joins the more than 1 million people who as of Thursday are fully vaccinated in Tennessee.

More than half of the state’s population 60 and over have received the first dose, and nearly two-thirds of those 70 and over have checked the box, according to state Health Department data.

Green finds himself speaking for the most vulnerable group. Of the 1,570 COVID fatalities in Shelby County, 51% were male, 58% were African American, and 391 — the largest group — were ages 65-74.

With the prodding of parishioner, Yolanda Ingram, he got an appointment for his first dose of Moderna last month, also at Saint Francis.

“She called and told me to get my behind in here and get my shot,” Green said. “I listen real good.”

Stephanie Cowan, director of ICU nursing, administered this shot and the last one. Thursday she said she concentrated on him, trying to shut out the microphones and clicking cameras.

“I know how nervous we were the last time. I wanted to make sure we didn’t stay on that page,” she told a reporter.

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Green, she agreed, didn’t seem at all nervous.

“I have a calming effect.”

In the background, hospital security guard Barry Luellen was listening, smiling and thinking of his sister.

“She was in love with him. She was born in ’54, so, she’s 66, going on 67.

“Everything he came out with, she had. But, I didn’t know he had a comedy side,” Luellen said.

Green came to Memphis in the early 1970s at the invitation of musician and studio executive Willie Mitchell, who ended up shaping Green’s career at Hi Records.

“It’s amazing. We came down and liked it and ta-da,” he said, “we’re still here.”

In 1976, Green bought the Full Gospel Tabernacle Church, 787 Hale Road, and has been its famous pastor ever since, leading a flock of 546 members plus a horde of tourists that filled the place before the pandemic.

The church has not met in more than a year, Green said.

“I’m a weirdo. I haven’t been virtual, and I haven’t been there. I call my people on the phone, I say, ‘Hey, how you doing, babe?’ and she says, ‘Pastor, we got to get back in there.’ ”

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Green’s church superiors have advised him to wait out the uptick, which they say is the result of spring break travel.

By summer, he plans to be back in the touring limelight, performing in London’s Wembley Stadium with “five or six other guests.”

“It’s the first time I’ll have been on a plane in a year,” he said.

Saint Francis is giving the vaccine to the public two days a week. To make an appointment, go here.

Initially, there were no plans to make his second shot anything more than a few social media shots until Green started talking, said Chief Operating Officer Manoucheka Thermitus.

“When we were getting him prepared, he just shared how he wished more of the community would get the vaccine so that we can get back to some normalcy,” she said.

“He was so passionate about, you know, just wanting to get his church back open and getting the parishioners to take the vaccine.”

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Al Green Saint Francis Hospital-Memphis Stephanie Cowan Yolanda Ingram Barry Luellen Manoucheka Thermitus
Jane Roberts

Jane Roberts

Longtime journalist Jane Roberts is a Minnesotan by birth and a Memphian by choice. She's lived and reported in the city more than two decades. She covers healthcare and higher education for The Daily Memphian.


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