What can you tell me about Jeff Bates and his song The Rainbow Man?
—Betsy T., Illinois
Bates grew up as the adopted son of a Columbia, Miss., (pop. 6,603) sharecropper and his wife, and always thought he was “different.” As he says in his song, some people think he looks Mexican, while he always suspected American Indian and African-American lineage. At 30, he tracked down his biological mother and learned that she was Apache, Cherokee and Irish. “I was so torn, scared to death,” he remembers of the meeting. “We talked for hours, and when I would ask her what happened, she would cry and tell me about leaving me with her parents. I suspect it was because she was young and wasn’t mature enough to take care of a child. She totally regretted giving me up and was genuinely glad to see me.” Still, he didn’t continue the relationship because, “I didn’t need a mama. I just wanted to know my background.” Bates has been surprised at how much people have identified with the song. He’s gratified, too. “The point I was trying to make was that we’ve all got a heck of lot of differences, but if we focus on our similarities, we’ll all be a lot happier.”