It’s a staple at his rallies.
“How many people have heard ‘The Snake?'” Donald Trump regularly asks his large crowds.
“Do you want to hear ‘The Snake?’ Do you want to hear it?”
The crowd roars with thundering applause.
“I mean, people love it and I love it because it says what’s going to happen to us if we’re not careful,” Trump says.
The song, a 1968 soul hit, tells the story of a woman who takes in a snake and nurses it back to health, only to be bitten by the snake once it’s recovered. Trump thinks it’s the perfect metaphor for why the US shouldn’t accept Syrian refugees and needs to get “tough” along the US-Mexico border.
But the family of the man who performed “The Snake,” Al Wilson, said the singer may not have seen eye-to-eye with Trump on his interpretation of the song.
Before speaking with Business Insider late last week, Alene Wilson-Harris, a daughter of Wilson, who died in 2008, said she conferred with her father’s brother and his best friend to help best come to a conclusion on how her father would’ve felt about Trump reading the song at his rallies.
“While I think that he would’ve had, at least some sort of appreciation for the fact that his music is appreciated by Trump to the affect that he would utilize the song, there are some things in my father’s life that may have been an interesting perspective for him to have to grapple with in light of how [the song] was used,” she said. “And, some of the things that are the platform of Trump.”
Born in 1939, Wilson, a black American, grew up in segregated Mississippi. He was from the same hometown as, and was good friends with, James Chaney, the Civil Rights worker who’s killing, along with two others, led to the infamous “Mississippi Burning” trial.
His family later moved to California with the hope of finding better living conditions.
“My father, well, he grew up in a very volatile time for a young black man,” she said. “And, he was, unfortunately, in a position to have to know what it was to actually leave a place because there were life-threatening circumstances and hardships and all of those type of things in order to try and make a life for yourself somewhere else where those factors didn’t exist.”
The perspective he had after living through that, she said, would put him on the opposite side of the refugee issue as Trump, who has peddled the song as the perfect refugee metaphor.
“I think that there would be some perspective issues and compassion that he would have in regard to anyone in that position,” she said. “And my father also has multiple conversations with people, including my father’s best friend and my father’s brother, just regarding different hardships he had seen around the world in traveling.”
“He was a very outward and loving people person,” she continued. “He was an embracing type of person to fans and friends and things like that.”
She told the story of a trip Wilson took to Curacao, the Caribbean Island, where native peoples of the island approached him as he was staying at a resort area and pleaded with him to come and see their living conditions.
After visiting with them in their homes, Wilson-Harris said he was later brought to tears by the “extremes” they were exposed to while recounting the story to his brother.
“And so things like that, are things that not everyone necessarily knows about my dad, but there’s a depth of perspective there when it comes to certain issues that are really hot points right now,” she said.
“And so, again, while my father was very embracing of all his fans, and very appreciative of all of his admirers of his gifts and talents and music, I’m not sure exactly how he would have responded to that,” she continued. “But I can only give perspective to kind of give a little insight to his position in life. And what his heart might have said.”
But, she added, some members of her family are “at least at this point … possible Trump supporters.”
Wilson-Harris also said her father was a regular call-in on Rush Limbaugh’s radio show, which she only recently found out while talking to other member’s of her family about Trump’s use of “The Snake.”
Watch Wilson perform “The Snake” below:
In using the song, which Trump has at many of his rallies, he sometimes credits it to Al Green, another famous soul singer of the same era. He’s also said the song, which he calls a poem, was written in the 1990s.
“So this is called the snake and this has to do with people coming into our country, and I’ll think you’ll enjoy it,” he said before reading the song’s lyrics at a Florida rally last week. “Let’s see. And more important than enjoy, I think it’ll make a point.”
During his rendition, the Republican nominee takes a couple of liberties with the lyrics, such as adding in a “like we’re doing,” after reading the line, “Oh well, she cried, I’ll take you in.” He also added “vicious” in front of “snake” during one of the songs final verses, seemingly to make an added point.
“It’s amazing, going to happen unless we get very very smart,” he said at one campaign stop, after finishing his reading of the lyrics.
“Oh, don’t worry about it – we’re going to build the wall,” Trump then reassured the crowd. “Don’t worry about it, we’re building the wall. Don’t worry about it. We’re going to build the wall and Mexico is going to pay for the wall and we’re going to make great trade deals and lots of great things are going to happen, don’t worry about it.”
Taking a more poignant stance against Trump’s use of the song was the family of Oscar Brown Jr., the man who wrote the song in the early 1960’s. He died in 2005.
“We don’t want him using these lyrics,” Brown’s daughter, Maggie Brown, told The Chicago Tribune in March. “If Dad were alive, he would’ve ripped (Trump) with a great poem in rebuttal. Not only a poem and a song, but an essay and everything else.”