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Fourth of July 2016

4 Jul

In 1852, abolitionist Frederick Douglass asked, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July”:

What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? and am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?

Would to God, both for your sakes and ours, that an affirmative answer could be truthfully returned to these questions! Then would my task be light, and my burden easy and delightful…

…But, such is not the state of the case. I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day?

For me, July 4, 2016 means that in a little over two months, I will join thousands of African Americans for the opening of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.

NMAAHC - I too am America

The museum has been 101 years in the making. At last, everyone will now know that when we celebrate black history and culture, we, too, sing America.

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Black Wall Street and the Blues

1 Jun

June is Black Music Month. This June marks the 95th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921. For two days (May 31-June1), white vigilantes massacred black residents, looted and burned to the ground the most prosperous black community in the United States.

Tulsa Race Riot

The riot took place in the Greenwood District, known as the Black Wall Street, the heart of which was bounded by Greenwood Avenue, and Archer and Pine streets. Tulsa natives, brothers Charlie, Ronnie and Robert Wilson’s band name pays tribute to one of the worst race riots in U.S. history.

Black Wall Street, a hotbed for jazz and blues, was a stop on the famed Chitlin’ Circuit. Bandleader Walter Barnes was one of the most colorful characters on “the stroll.”

Walter Barnes and his Creolians

In his book, The Chitlin’ Circuit: and the Road to Rock ‘n’ Roll, Preston Lauterbach writes:

The tour [Walter Barnes and his Royal Creolians] kicked off in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the week before Thanksgiving, where Barnes found “Black Wall Street” bustling. “Greenwood is the name of the colored district of Tulsa, and one can get anything here from a shoe shine up.” Barnes highlighted the stroll’s musicians, dance promoters, dance halls, and its dentists, barbers, pharmacies, cafes, cab companies, and lodgings, always stressing the up-to-date. “I stopped with my entire orchestra at the modern and exclusive Small Hotel” in Tulsa, “one of the best equipped in the country, having newest electrical fixtures, telephone in each room, bath in every room, and modernistic furniture.” The Kings of Swing played the Crystal Palace Ballroom, “the last word in beauty,” and hung around the Goodie Goodie Club, Cotton Club, and Del Rio. “There’s plenty niteries here.”

In 1940, Barnes was killed in a fire while performing at the Rhythm Club in Natchez, Mississippi. The tragedy was memorialized in tribute songs by blues musicians, including Howlin’ Wolf and John Lee Hooker.

Philly Celebrates Jazz 2016

29 Mar

April is Jazz Appreciation Month. The City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection got the party started early with the Philly Celebrates Jazz kickoff on March 28th.

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Mayor Jim Kenney proclaimed April as Philadelphia Jazz Appreciation Month. He also honored Philly native and Grammy Award-winning bassist and composer Christian McBride who was given an inscribed Liberty Bell, the equivalent of the key to the city.

Mayor Kenney - Christian McBride

Kenney said:

Christian McBride is an ambassador of Philadelphia to the world, not only through his music, but also through his work as an educator and advocate for music education. “Christian’s story and accomplishments demonstrates the power of arts education, in our schools and communities, and the impact it can have on a person’s life and how we can encourage and build the next generation of musicians, artists, and creative thinkers.

The Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz and Performing Arts was also recognized on its 50th anniversary. The Clef Club was the social arm of Union Local 274, the black musicians union.

David Oh - Derek Green - Don Gardner - Lovett Hines - Proclamation

Philly Celebrates Jazz includes live performances, film screenings and art exhibitions. Now on view at City Hall are two photography exhibitions, Live Philly Jazz – Through the Photographic Lens and The Clef Club at 50, a retrospective curated by Don Gardner, Managing Director of the Philadelphia Clef Club, and Artistic Director Lovett Hines.

Art Exhibition

For a full calendar of Philly Celebrates Jazz events, visit http://bit.ly/PhillyJazzMonth.

Jammin’ the Blues

4 Jan

Got the post-holiday blues? Well, you can ease into the new year with Jammin’ the Blues, a 1944 short film in which several prominent jazz musicians got together for a rare filmed jam session.

In 1995, Jammin’ the Blues was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.”

Happy New Year!

1 Jan

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