Unfailing Faith in the Future

Billy Eckstine - Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Broadcast during the 1950s
Billy Eckstine
Photo courtesy of Library of Congress

Jazz and pop singer Billy Eckstine traveled widely during his music career, and he tried to live by the words "I never met a man I didn't like." His faith in friendships that grow out of compromise and understanding was a cornerstone of his core beliefs.

Themes: race
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Ever since I can remember, the most important things in life to me have been my friends. I’ve been lucky to have traveled widely and meet many people in all walks of life. Their help and their influence has meant everything to me. A great American by the name of Will Rogers once said he never met a man he didn’t like. I try my best to live by that philosophy.

I believe we receive in direct proportion to what we give, more in friendship than in anything else. If we would honestly try to understand the other fellow’s point of view, we would have no arguments. Friendships grow out of compromise and understanding. Recently I made my first tour of the Deep South in many years. As a Negro entertainer I had some misgivings about the tour. But instead of supporting the wholesale segregation and bigotry of the past, I found people were genuinely interested in bettering their attitudes. They recognized the errors of the past and were anxious to correct them.

A policeman in Alabama stopped me on the street one day and asked, “How they treatin’ ya down here?” When I told him I had no complaints, he replied, “That’s good, we’re trying hard.” That was a warm and encouraging gesture of friendship from a man I didn’t even know. It proved to me once again that there is a basic goodness in all people. Warmth and decency don’t belong to any one race. I’m proud to have close friends in every race, color, and creed. Show business, more than any other, seems to evaluate people the way they should be judged, on an individual basis, without regard for their physical characteristics.

Through friendships, I’ve gotten the deepest satisfaction of my life. In the days when I was struggling hardest to carve a career for myself, my friends stood by me and helped me to attain whatever modest success I’m now enjoying. Their unselfishness helped me to keep sight of the real purpose of life: to live and work, hand-in-hand with my fellow man, to build a better world for all of us.

I don’t kid myself that it’s easy to accept everyone as a friend. My faith in people has been shaken at times by the cruelty and thoughtlessness of some individuals. There have been hate movements of every description, attempting to sway people into bigoted and uncivilized actions. But human dignity has never failed to win whenever it came to a showdown. That’s why I have unfailing faith in the future.

I hope the day of universal brotherhood among men is not far off. I believe that it is the divine plan. My concept of heaven is a place where men live in everlasting friendship and tolerance, working for the good of one another instead of merely for themselves. “It’s better to give than to receive,” may be a commonplace saying, but I think it is the foundation of true friendship and the key to happy living.

As I look back I find that I owe almost everything I have to the patience and wisdom of my friends. I’m sure there’s a day of reckoning when they will be rewarded for placing their values in love and friendship, above the competition for wealth and fame.

I believe, as someone once said, that the great use of life is to spend it for something that outlasts it. I want to spend my life for my friends, because they are the greatest gifts God can give. If I spend it for them in all humility, then I believe I might someday attain the peace of mind and soul, which is the ultimate goal of all of us.

Billy Eckstine was an American jazz and pop singer and a bandleader of the swing era. He was noted for his rich, smooth baritone voice, singing a number of romantic hits of the 1940s and 50s. He also appeared in several musicals for MGM. Eckstine's recording of "I Apologize" was awarded the Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 1999. Eckstine died in 1993.