Billie Holiday was born in West Philly 100 years ago. This morning, her star will be reborn as Lady Day is inducted into the Philadelphia Walk of Fame.
I am proud to have played a role in bringing this about.
For me, it was personal. After a failed romance when I was in law school, I started my day by playing “Good Morning Heartache.”
My best friend would ask me, “Why are you always listening to that junkie?” I ignored him. We now know Lady Day was an early victim of racial profiling.
Billie helped me get through a rough patch. It will be my pleasure to help keep her bronze plaque clean.
UPDATE: Billie Holiday’s Walk of Fame plaque unveiled. It’s located in front of the Kimmel Center.
On June 7, 1979, President Jimmy Carter recognized June as Black Music Month. A resolution recognizing the importance of African American music was introduced by Congressman Chaka Fattah in 2000. Passed unanimously by the House of Representatives, House Resolution 509 proclaimed:
Whereas African-American genres of music such as gospel, blues, jazz, rhythm and blues, rap, and hip-hop have their roots in the African-American experience.
Incredibly, some question whether jazz is black music. That was the subject of a panel discussion at Lincoln Center a few years ago. Jazz critic Nat Hentoff wrote:
We wouldn’t have been at Lincoln Center for that discussion had it not been for black field hollers, ring games, call and response church music and the blues. So it’s indisputable that jazz began as black music.
That 2008 discussion wasn’t the first time the roots of jazz were questioned. A 1959 documentary, Cry of Jazz sparked controversy when one of the characters asserted that “jazz is merely the Negro’s cry of joy and suffering.” The character, Alex, explained that “the Negro was the only one with the necessary musical and human history to create jazz.”
In 2010, Cry of Jazz was added to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress. The films selected are considered “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant, to be preserved for all time. These films are not selected as the ‘best’ American films of all time, but rather as works of enduring significance to American culture.”
Black culture matters.
I spent Day 3 of Black Music Month at Opera Philadelphia’s social media final dress rehearsal for Charlie Parker’s YARDBIRD, a bebopera about the legendary saxophonist.
I was among a select group of bloggers who were invited to live-tweet the event.
Check out the Opera Philadelphia’s storified post.
Philadelphia Jazz Appreciation Month is in full swing.
In a recent interview, I noted that jazz musicians performed in nightclubs where they couldn’t sit and hotels where they could not stay. The jazz legends whose music paved the way for the Civil Rights movement were subjected to racial discrimination as they traveled while black.
In 1936, Victor H. Green, a postal worker and civil rights activist, published the first edition of The Negro Motorist Green Book, a travel guide to navigate Jim Crow laws in the South and de facto segregation in the North.
“The Green Book,” as it was called, lists tourist homes, restaurants, nightclubs, beauty parlors, barber shops and other services. Philadelphia hotels in the 1949 edition include the Attucks, Chesterfield and Douglass.
The list of taverns includes Emerson’s, the setting for the Tony Award-winning play, “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill.
The Café Society and Watts’ Zanzibar are listed.
After passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, “The Green Book” was no longer published. As All That Philly Jazz breathes life into the city’s jazz heritage, my appreciation of jazz is increasing exponentially.