The King of the Blues B.B. King famously told us why he sang the blues.
Legendary blues singer and guitarist John Lee Hooker contemplated an Origin of the Blues flow chart.
The Queen of the Blues Dinah Washington said “the blues ain’t nothin’ but a woman cryin’ for her man.”
Whatever the origin, all I want to hear is some down home blues.
All That Philly Jazz is a place-based public history project at the intersection of art, public policy, and cultural heritage preservation.
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The 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified on February 3, 1870.
Section 1 of the Reconstruction Amendment reads:
The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
Election Day is Tuesday, November 8. Be careful how you vote.
The Ubangi Klub orchestra was led by Black musicians Union Local 274 organizer Frank Thurman “Frankie” Fairfax.
The first president of Union Local 274, George “Doc” Hyder, also performed here.
For years I could not get pass the optics of Louis Armstrong, mainly the broad grin and ever-present handkerchief. Fast forward to today, I share Ossie Davis’ love and respect for Pops.
At the dawn of the modern Civil Rights Movement, Armstrong cancelled a U.S. State Department-sponsored tour of the Soviet Union in support of the Little Rock Nine. Pops blasted Arkansas Gov. Orval Faubus, a staunch segregationist, and President Eisenhower.
As a preservationist, I am in awe of Pops and Lucille Armstrong’s dedication to preserving his legacy in public memory. The Louis Armstrong House Museum, a National Historic Landmark, and the new Louis Armstrong Center provide a blueprint for preservation of the built environment, as well as cultural heritage preservation.
Pops once said, “I don’t get involved in politics. I just blow my horn.” Behind closed tours, he had a lot to say about politics and racism. Decades after his death, the public will hear the full story of Louis Armstrong in the documentary, “Louis Armstrong’s Black & Blues.”
The legendary trumpeter got his flowers while he was alive. Pops is now getting overdue props for his resilience and resistance to white supremacy. “Louis Armstrong’s Black & Blues” premieres October 28 on Apple TV.
In their latest court filing to gain possession of the Strawberry Mansion rowhouse that John Coltrane purchased in 1952, Ravi and Oran Coltrane claim their father’s beloved cousin, “Mary Lyerly Alexander, put in place a plan to unlawfully claim the Coltrane House for herself and her progeny instead of the remaining grandchildren of Alice Gertrude Coltrane, as required by the Will.” Ravi and Oran speciously claim that a typo is evidence that conveyance of the Philadelphia property was “fraudulent.” In the deed conveying the property to Norman Gadson in 2004, Coltrane is misspelled “Cultrate.”
Cousin Mary had a plan to preserve the John Coltrane House. After decades of indifference, do Ravi and Oran Coltrane now have a plan to rehabilitate the National Historic Landmark?
To catch up on the ongoing John Coltrane House family feud, go here.
The PBS documentary HARRIET TUBMAN: VISIONS OF FREEDOM premiered on October 4, 2022.
From Frederick Douglass to the CIA, Harriet Tubman’s singular contribution to American history is recognized. In Philadelphia, the city where Tubman first experienced freedom, the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy (OACCE) is scrounging around for random African American historical figures to celebrate. Without explanation, OACCE is seeking public input “for a permanent statue that celebrates Harriet Tubman’s story or another African American’s contributions to our nation’s history.”
The survey asks five questions, all of which beg the question: Why is OACCE searching for a “Magical Negro?” In an earlier survey, the public said they want a permanent statue of Harriet Tubman.
OACCE is heading down the same opaque and incoherent path that led to the reversal of their plan to award a no-bid commission to a white artist. Without a change in direction, OACCE Director Kelly Lee and Public Art Director Marguerite Anglin are cruising for another bruising.
The Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy’s announcement that there will be an open Call for Artists for Philadelphia’s permanent Harriet Tubman statue struck the wrong chord. Public Art Director Marguerite Anglin said:
Yes, the open Call for Artists for this public art project will welcome proposals for a permanent statue that celebrates Harriet Tubman’s story or another African American’s contribution to our nation’s history. This will be a true open Call for Artists, where the City will be looking for a wide variety of original and unique ideas from many artists.
First, Harriet is sui generis. She cannot be replaced by a random African American historical figure. Second, the Managing Director’s public art policy directive establishes criteria for artwork placed on public property. The artwork must commemorate individuals who “made significant contributions to Philadelphia, have had significant impact on Philadelphia and beyond, and represent broadly shared community values.” In my op-ed published in the Philadelphia Inquirer, I wrote:
Representation matters, but when it comes to artwork on city property, who is represented matters. Anglin said that the city “will be looking for a wide variety of original and unique ideas from many artists.” But the city’s public art policy does not allow for that.
The short list of African American historical figures who meet the city’s public art policy includes Malcolm X. Like Harriet, Malcolm was prepared to use a firearm and any means necessary in his pursuit of freedom and racial justice.
Malcolm X, aka El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, was a world-renowned human rights activist, racial justice advocate and cultural icon whose charismatic leadership laid the foundation for the growth of Sunni Islam among African Americans. Today, an estimated 200,000 Muslims live in Philadelphia, the majority of whom are Black.
Malcolm has been memorialized in books, movies, music, visual art, and a U.S. Postal Service Black Heritage Stamp.
In addition to Malcolm X Park and murals, Malcolm’s time in Philadelphia is commemorated with a state historical marker that notes his leadership of Nation of Islam Temple No. 12 in the 1950s. Will the City’s Request for Proposals include Malcolm X, “Our Black Shining Prince?” If not, why not?
Opened in 1961, the Lee Cultural Center is a Philadelphia Parks and Recreation facility located in West Philly. Under the leadership of Shuna Ali Miah Jr. in the 1960s and early ‘70s, the Lee was a creative hub for musicians, sculptors, visual and performing artists, writers, photographers, Arthur Hall Afro-American Dance Ensemble, and theatrical productions.
In 1971, the Lee held an art exhibit, “Young, Gifted and Black,” which showcased emerging artists, including Barkley L. Hendricks whose “Michael BPP Black Panther Party” was second prize winner.
The Lee provided rehearsal space for musicians and presented jazz concerts.
Though no longer the “Cultural Mecca of Philadelphia,” the Lee Recreation Center is still a community hub.