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African-American Music Appreciation Month

4 Jun

In 1979, President Jimmy Carter decreed that June would be Black Music Month. Each president since then has signed a proclamation recognizing the contributions of African American musicians and music. In 2009, President Barack Obama rebranded the annual celebration as “African-American Music Appreciation Month”

The legacy of African-American composers, singers, songwriters, and musicians is an indelible piece of our Nation’s culture. Generations of African Americans have carried forward the musical traditions of their forebears, blending old styles with innovative rhythms and sounds. They have enriched American music and captured the diversity of our Nation. During African-American Music Appreciation Month, we honor this rich heritage.

There’s no better place to get the celebration started than at the mecca of African American culture, the world famous Apollo Theater.

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Merry Christmas

24 Dec

The Christmas season is hard on folks who are too broke to pay attention. But if you are a literary giant like Langston Hughes, your DIY Christmas cards end up on display at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University.

Michael Morand, the Beinecke Library’s communications director, told Hyperallergic:

Langston Hughes’s extensive archives provide numerous insights into his long life and career. His 1950 typewritten Christmas postcards illuminate a period when his finances were limited though his friendships remained abundant. He wittily addressed his wide circle of friends that year with verse that tell how times were tough and still convey resilience and joy. Likewise, the 17 boxes in the archives of Christmas cards he received and kept over many decades demonstrate the breadth and depth of his personal and professional relationships with other cultural and civic leaders.

Langston Hughes - Broke and Busted2

Leonard Bernstein@100

4 Dec

This year marks the centennial birthday of several jazz luminaries, including Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Lena Horne and Thelonious Monk. Philharmonic Laureate Conductor Leonard Bernstein was born on August 25, 1918 but the celebrations are already underway. The worldwide festivities will continue until August 25, 2019.

Leonard Bernstein

Bernstein had a longstanding appreciation of jazz, blues and spirituals. His 1939 Harvard University bachelor’s thesis was entitled, “The Absorption of Race Elements into American Music.”

From LeonardBernstein.com:

From his earliest years, jazz was an integral part of Bernstein’s life, and it made a crucial impact on his own music.

As a teenager in the 1930s, he put together a jazz band, was famous for his jazz piano playing at parties, and directed a swing band at summer camp. Some of the jazz-inflected music he composed in the mid-1930s at Harvard, and later at Curtis [Institute], provided source material for future works. Perhaps most significantly, his undergraduate thesis was no less than an assertion that jazz is the universal basis of American composition. In New York soon after college, he got to know jazz intimately, by day transcribing for publication the improvisations of legendary players like Coleman Hawkins, and playing piano in jazz clubs at night.

About 15 years ago, I first saw this video of Bernstein conducting Louis Armstrong performing “St. Louis Blues” with the composer, W.C. Handy, in the audience. The images are forever etched in my mind.


Last Saturday, I attended the Louis Bernstein Marathon at the CUNY Graduate Center, an eight-hour concert that featured performances of Bernstein’s most popular work. For me, the event was a mash-up of two of my passions: good music and historic preservation. The CUNY Graduate Center is located in the repurposed B. Altman & Co.

B. Altman

For Louis Bernstein at 100 calendar of events, go here.

Gone Fishing!

28 Aug

We’ll be back after Labor Day.

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