Afrobella of the Week- Dr. Loretta Long

All this talk about the definition of natural hair got me thinking about my own hair journey. I thought way back to my childhood, before I got my hair straightened for the first time. That brought back memories of my very first hair idols. When I was six, I wanted to be Diana Ross as I remembered her from her Live From Central Park concert, or Chaka Khan in the video for I Feel For You. But even before that, I remember identifying with Dr. Loretta Long, who played Susan on Sesame Street. Susan was the matriarch of a strong, loving black family in a program that redefined color-blindness.

Back in the Seventies she had a gorgeous fro, and she rocked retro patterns and polyester flares. She was a foxy mama, and the third Gordon, played by Roscoe Orman, was a pimp in a Blaxploitation classic back in the day.

Like she says in this awesome PBS interview with Tavis Smiley (scroll 3/4 way down the page to find it), “In 1969, I looked more like Angela Davis than I looked like Joan Baez…I had big hair, short skirt, and show tunes.” In other words, Susan was fly!

It’s kind of strange to explain to my American friends how Sesame Street obsessed many Trinis of my generation are. Up to now I still remember old skits verbatim, like The Alligator King, Me and My M, and The Ladybug’s Picnic, and Billy Joe Jive, Super Crime-Fighting Ace (my partner Smart Susie Sunset and I are on the case)!

Put it this way. If I were to call my older brothers Dominic and Patrick and say I had to go to the store and buy a loaf of bread, a container of milk… they would be able to complete my sentence (a stick of butter). My husband finds the whole thing quite puzzling and amusing.

The main focus on Sesame Street was always on the muppets and the animation, with human characters taking less and less of a role as the show evolved.

Although the segments with humans were always slower (and less interesting to a kid’s mind) than the cartoons, I distinctly remember Susan always being there as a calming presence, a mother and nurse who was always there to help a confused muppet. One of my clearest memories of Susan is of her stepping up to the plate to explain to Big Bird that Mr. Hooper wasn’t coming back. (warning: if you’re a big softie like I am, that clip will make you cry like a six year old).

She played the voice of Roosevelt Franklin’s mother in some early sketches, but those were mostly before my time. A fantastic new DVD of classic episodes, Sesame Street Old School, Vol 1. (1969-1974) offers a view of Loretta in her early years. This DVD is totally worth the purchase for any die-hard fan, and it would make a great Christmas present for any parent who wants to enjoy really good educational television with their little ones.

In addition to being one of only two human cast members to be on Sesame Street since the first episode, Dr. Long has also written children’s books and she shares her wealth of educational experience in conferences and on the lecture circuit. Sesame Street seems to have cut back on the use of their human characters, but Susan’s still a part of the show.

Loretta Long doesn’t sport the fierce fro anymore, so in remembrance of hairdos past, I offer this 1969 clip. Susan helps an early version of Big Bird to read a very long word, Abcdef… you know what, just watch it and let the warm memories wash over you.

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Comments

  1. it feels like the years have just melted away after reading this post. yay PBS.

  2. Thanks alot for this little sister, alot of good memeories.

  3. You just brought back memories! Does anyone remember “Cereal Girl,” a Sesame Street parody of Madonna’s “Material Girl?” I still remember the first time this show came on, I was in the 3rd Grade, and we watched the first show in class. No one makes shows like this anymore…

  4. Wow!!!! You have spoken the truth. I’m 27yo and my friend and I call each other frequently when we remember certain skits or songs from Seseme Street. It brings back memories from Trini and boy oh boy were they good memories. Also, I had to laugh because my friend and I still to this day say, “A loaf of bread, a container of milk and a stick of butter.” Loves it.

  5. jerseybred says:

    Don’t you just love Sesame Street.
    Thanks for the flashback

  6. Wish I was a kid again….Thanks for reminding me :)

  7. I thought my cousin and I were strange.I am glad to hear that there are other grown folks who still quote from SS.I LOVED SS. I still sneak and watch it with my two year old cousin. Thanks Afrobella! ( I still love Big Bird!)

  8. Glamourgirl says:

    Girl! No you didn’t! “A loaf of bread, a container of milk….” I was like “I REMEMBER THAT!!!”, to an empty house, my dogs looking at me like I’m crazy. A couple of years ago, in fond remembrance of him, I purchased a small Grover doll and put him in the back seat of my car. He was always doing something crazy (Super Grover!!) Whatever happened to those old school characters? Now they have Elmo, who I CAN’T STAND!! Seriously when I was in high school I had friends who, just like me, still watched Sesame Street for the entertainment, cause it was cute, you know? Today’s “educational” programming seem to pale in comparison to Sesame Street. I mean, Teletubbies? COME ON!! Anyway, thanks for the memories.

  9. 70ssoulchild says:

    Thanks for bringing back wonderful memories! I’m going to ask for the old-school DVD for Christmas. I’m first generation Sesame Street and remember ALL the skits you talk about. I even remember when Oscar the Grouch was orange!!!

  10. sunny daze says:

    Grover is my favorite too! I am totally going to buy this DVD!!!

  11. you know you worked me….my mom said that i was reading at the age of 3 because of Sesame Street….that show was the bomb!!! you brought back mass memories….keep up the good work…we are all grown ups with children and husbands…jobs…and all kinds of stress going on…it feels really good to remember back when we were innocent with no worries…just remembering “a stick of butter”…..that was too cute…and her little afro was the bomb! BTW…did anyone see the episode with Erykah Badu singing with her head wrapped and all the little girl muppets had head wraps on too?…that was too cute!

  12. I learned so much from watching sesame street. It helped me grow. I remember going into first grade and my teacher Mrs. Warner telling everyone to make sure they watch sesame street because it helped us with our alphabets. I’m now 35 years old and when I had my son in 1994 I had him looking at sesame street also. They can never top this show no matter how many they bring out. This is the one that started it all.

  13. Christiana says:

    Hi..I know this is an old post..but I just had to leave a comment. I too am a Trini living in the US and grew up on Sesame Street. I used to watch it in the morning before “Community Dateline” and then in the afternoon. Such great memories. Thanks!!!!

Trackbacks

  1. [...] Susan’s bright colors, asymmetrical afro and plus size style made her a favorite of mine from early on — which is why I celebrated Dr. Loretta Long as one of my earliest Afrobellas of the Week! [...]

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