I am director of All That Philly Jazz, a place-based public history project that is documenting and contextualizing Philadelphia’s golden age of jazz. The project is at the intersection of art, public policy, and cultural heritage preservation.
All That Philly Jazz is a place-based public history project at the intersection of art, public policy, and cultural heritage preservation.
While our content is free, researching and documenting Philadelphia’s jazz history and untold stories takes time. And time is money. If you value and appreciate what we do, please make a donation today.
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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.
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.
In the Before Times, I celebrated John Coltrane’s birthday (September 23, 1926) by leading a walking tour. We would meet at Coltrane’s Walk of Fame plaque where I would give an overview of the legendary saxophonist’s time in Philadelphia and talk about the John Coltrane House.
In light of the drama unfolding in the Court of Common Pleas, I am not in a celebratory mood. Coltrane’s sons, Ravi and Oran, are suing Norman Gadson’s daughters, Aminta and Hathor, for possession of the Philadelphia rowhouse that their father purchased in 1952 and where he composed Giant Steps.
They claim Mary Lyerly Alexander, better known as Cousin Mary, “duped” Gadson into buying property that she had no right to sell. Gadson paid $100,000 for the National Historic Landmark in 2004. That same year, John and Alice Coltrane’s house in Dix Hills, NY was at imminent risk of demolition.
On August 31, 2022, the third anniversary of Alexander’s death, Defendants allege in court documents that Cousin Mary “extinguished” Ravi and Oran’s remainder interest in the property with their knowledge and acquiescence. Defendants further claim that if they lose possession of the property, they should be reimbursed more than $220,000 for costs incurred in maintaining, renovating and insuring the Coltrane House. They claim “Plaintiffs would have no remainder interest were it not for the activities of Gadson and his successors.”
While the claims and counterclaims fly back and forth, I think about that hot and humid Saturday morning when something – or someone – told me to go check on the Coltrane House. Later that day, I learned Cousin Mary had died.
I vowed at Cousin Mary’s homecoming celebration that I would do everything I could to save the National Historic Landmark.
Little did I know my successful nomination of the John Coltrane House for listing on 2020 Pennsylvania At Risk would set in motion this family feud.
Ravi and Oran have cast aspersions on Cousin Mary. The court will decide who owns the Strawberry Mansion rowhouse. But for nearly 40 years, Cousin Mary devoted her life to preserving John Coltrane’s legacy in public memory. On July 6, 2004, she agreed to sell the property to Norman Gadson, a friend and jazz enthusiast who shared her vision for a Coltrane Museum and Cultural Center. Three months earlier, random Coltrane aficionados, preservationists and local officials saved from demolition Ravi and Oran’s childhood home in Dix Hills, NY. The place where their father composed A Love Supreme.
September was designated Gospel Music Heritage Month by Congress in 2008. Rooted in the African American oral tradition, gospel music helped us get over.
On Thursday, September 22, 2022, at 2:00 pm, the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection at Temple University will hold a panel discussion focusing on gospel pioneer and 2018 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Sister Rosetta Tharpe.
The program includes a performance by singer and songwriter Treena Ferebee. The event which will be held at Bright Hope Baptist Church in Yorktown is free and open to the public. Registration is encouraged. To register, go here.