Once upon a time … an imaginary lion named Sam leapt into the lives of Jerre and Barbara Haskew. The friendly feline arrived in the form of a children’s song Jerre wrote in 1963 – “A Lion named Sam.” Now 37 years later, Barbara and Jerre are celebrating Sam’s return.
Once upon a time … an imaginary lion named Sam leapt into the lives of Jerre and Barbara Haskew.
The friendly feline arrived in the form of a children’s song Jerre wrote in 1963 – “A Lion named Sam.”
Now 37 years later, Barbara and Jerre are celebrating Sam’s return.
As provost and vice president of academic affairs at MTSU, Barbara recently revived her husband’s song as a storybook so she could provide their children – now 36 and 29 – and their grandchildren with a piece of Jerre’s past.
“They’ve seen his guitar and they’ve seen him play, but they really have no memory of Jerre doing this,” says Barbara about her husband’s folk singing days. “It would be terrible if this part of Jerre was lost.”
It’s the part of Jerre that Barbara first met and later married while attending UT-Knoxville.
Jerre was a student at the university, too. He was interested in folk singing on the side and belonged to The Cumberland Trio – a folk singing group that frequently played gigs in the Knoxville region.
The group received national attention when they performed during half time shows at televised regional basketball games (including the well watched Tennessee vs. Kentucky game) and also on three segments of ABC’s “Hootenanny Show,” which capitalized on the popularity of folk music in the early ’60s, Jerre says.
In between all this singing, Jerre decided to write a light-hearted children’s song about a boy and his imaginary friend – a lion who sleeps under the stairs.
That’s how Sam was started.
“So many kids have imaginary playmates. I know I had one,” Jerre admits. “This song says maybe they can be real.”
Named after Jerre’s father Samuel, the lovable lion in the song whisks his boyish companion away at night, and the two spend dusk till dawn “roaming the whole world wide.”
The whimsical song explores the power of imagination in us all, Jerre says. And it hits a chord with audiences of all ages.
“Kids love this,” he says. “They listen to the song and dance around. But everyone who hears it seems to fall in love with it. I guess it has that kind of charisma.”
In fact, the manager of “Puff the Magic Dragon” singers Peter, Paul and Mary tried to buy the song from The Cumberland Trio, but Jerre wouldn’t sell, he says.
Instead, the Trio traveled to Nashville and teamed with famous guitarist and record producer Chet Atkins to record a 15-song session, which included “A Lion named Sam.”
After the session, the group had a chance to sign a record deal with RCA, but instead, Jerre and the others went with a record company in New York.
Unfortunately, that decision didn’t pan out as promised and the album was never released, Jerre explains.
While the lion named Sam didn’t get a chance to soar back then, he’s certainly getting his chance now.
Barbara spent nearly a year turning her husband’s tune of old into a nice, new storybook for children.
First, she found an illustrator in New York – Patricia Mayes – who designed pictures to accompany the words of the song. Then she contacted The Southern Co., a publishing house in Nashville, which put the book together.
She presented the final proofs of the book to Jerre on their 37th wedding anniversary in April.
“I kept it a secret from him the whole time. I kept saying, ‘Boy, have I got a surprise for you for our anniversary,'” she recalls. “He had no idea what it could be. Then when I presented him with these proofs, he was almost in shock.”
“When she showed me that, I was dumbstruck. I was blown away,” he agrees. “It was all her idea and it was a brilliant idea.”
But Barbara wasn’t done with her idea yet.
She wanted Jerre to update the audio version of the song he’d recorded in 1964.
“I was trying to get him to have a CD made,” she says. “Finally after he saw the proofs …”
“… I jumped all over it,” he finishes.
Jerre had his song digitally remastered on compact disc, and both the CD and its case feature illustrations of Sam from the storybook.
Now that the project is complete, Barbara and Jerre are sharing Sam storybooks and CDs with their family.
And the grandchildren love it, Barbara says.
“It gives them a different view of their grandfather. It shows them the creative things, the fun things he’s done,” she says.
“This is a way for us to hand down a family tradition,” Jerre adds.
The storybook and CD began as a way to preserve a piece of Jerre’s past, but the final project turned out to be more than a memento.
“When we finally looked at the whole project, we felt so good about it we wanted to share it with all the friends we’ve made along the way,” Barbara says.
That includes friends from Murfreesboro and MTSU, friends from the community where they live in Chattanooga, friends from the past and even newfound friends – anyone who has kids or knows kids, Barbara says.
The couple also shares their “project of love” with local organizations such as The Rotary Club, The Boys & Girls Club of Rutherford Co. and several schools.
“Some of the teachers have requested that I come and sing the song to the classrooms, which is something I’ll do,” Jerre says with an eager smile.
In fact, the couple will do almost anything to share the joy and excitement they’ve received from a lion named Sam.
“When I give these books away, people say, ‘You’re giving us this for free?’ And I say, ‘Yeah, we just want you to have it,'” Barbara says.
“In our lives we do things for love and we do things for money. This is something we’re doing for love.”
-Becky Dulaney, Daily News Journal, June 16, 2000