Category Archives: Advocacy

Traveling While Black

The 1964 Civil Rights Act banned discrimination in public accommodations. It was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on July 2, 1964.

LBJ handing pen to MLK - July 2, 1964

Before 1964, African Americans used travel guides, including The Negro Motorist Green Book, to navigate Jim Crow laws in the South and racial segregation in the North. As this Emmy-nominated virtual reality film shows, African Americans are still traveling while black.

Music and Social Justice

From Washington, DC to Seattle, Washington, the streets are filled with thousands of protesters demanding justice for Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and all victims of police brutality.

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Music has long fueled movements for social justice. In 1936, Lead Belly denounced racial segregation.

Civil rights activists vowed they weren’t going to let nobody turn them around.

In 1964, Sam Cooke said “a change is gonna come.”

James Brown implored everybody to get involved.

In 1975, Harold Melvin & the Blue Notes told us to wake up; no more sleeping in bed.

In the wake of the lynching of George Floyd, “the world has changed so very much from what it used to be.” Spotify’s Black Lives Matter playlist has nearly 850,000 likes.

Frank Rizzo (1999-2020)

Former mayor and police commissioner Frank Rizzo was sued by the Justice Department for a pattern of police brutality that shocks the conscience. Rizzo died on July 16, 1991. He was born again eight years later in the form of a 10-foot monument commissioned by Rizzo family and friends.

#FrankRizzo - Still Larger Than Life - Philadelphia Inquirer - December 1998

The Frank L. Rizzo Memorial Committee decided to place the statue in front of the Municipal Services Building. They also decided it would be unveiled on New Year’s Day 1999 after the Mummers Parade, an event best known for clowns prancing around in blackface.

#FrankRizzo - NYT Blackface Clowns

Demonstrators protest ban of blackface in Mummers parade, December 19, 1963

Almost from the moment the hunk-of-junk was unveiled, African Americans and allies peacefully protested for its removal from the gateway to municipal services. Fast forward to 2017, Mayor Jim Kenney said it would be removed by May 2018. Then he said by 2021. Then Kenney said the statue would not be moved before 2022. On May 30, 2020, demonstrators tried to topple it.

#FrankRizzo on Fire

Realizing the jig is up, Kenney said the statue would be removed:

The way its engineered, it’s bolted into the stairs and under the stairs is the concourse where people get their permits and pay their taxes. We didn’t want to tear that up until we did the entire place. We’re going to move it, hopefully in about another month or so. We’re going to accelerate the removal.

The protests accelerated the removal. Rizzo was hauled away three days later. As for the concourse under the stairs, who are we to believe – Kenney or our lying eyes?

Frank Rizzo Down - Concourse - June 3, 2020

Kenney’s lie was compounded by his spokesperson Michael Dunn:

The statue is bolted into the infrastructure of the plaza, which is also the roof of the underground concourse. Removing it while ensuring the integrity of that infrastructure will be a complicated task.

It was such a complicated task the statue was removed under the cover of darkness.

#FrankRizzo - Cover of Darkness

For more on the take down of Frank Rizzo, check out my essay, “The Rizzo reign is finally over. Thank Black Philadelphia.”

In my op-ed, “3 Black Philadelphians whose statues should replace Frank Rizzo” published in The Philadelphia Inquirer, I suggested a memorial to Philly native Billie Holiday, who was harassed by then-Police Captain Rizzo, would be poetic justice. In 1939, Lady Day told the world black lives matter.

WHYY House Concert Series

With the coronavirus lockdown in its third month, WHYY recently launched a digital program to bring mini-concerts into your living room.

WHYY House Concert Series

Musicians and songwriters in the Philadelphia region are invited to submit a song video for consideration on air in the virtual concert series and content in their weekly program, “You Oughta Know.”

Complete the submission form for a chance to be featured in the WHYY House Concert Series.

National Jazz Museum in Harlem Virtual Concert

The National Jazz Museum in Harlem is presenting a virtual concert to showcase the Museum’s broad community of artists. Curated by Artistic Directors Jon Batiste and Christian McBride, a native Philadelphian, the concert will feature performances by pianist Batiste, bassist McBride, vocalist Catherine Russell, among other artists.

National Jazz Museum CRIB Collective Virtual Concert

The concert will be held on Wednesday, May 20, 2020, 7:00 pm ET on Facebook Live. To reserve a spot, go here.

To support the CRIB Collective Concert Series and other programming at the National Jazz Museum in Harlem, text “Jazz” to 41444 or donate here.

Jazz Foundation Musicians’ Emergency Fund Concert

With stay-at-home orders in place, gig workers are among the hardest hit. With few exceptions, musicians are part of the gig economy. With the live music industry on lockdown, musicians can’t work. And if they can’t work, they don’t get paid.

On Thursday, May 14, 8pm to 10pm ET, the Jazz Foundation of America will present #TheNewGig Live!, a digital fundraiser benefiting jazz, blues and roots musicians who have lost gigs due to the coronavirus.

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JFA has established a COVID-19 Musicians’ Emergency Fund to help musicians and their families survive the Coronavirus Lockdown. To make a donation, visit jazzfoundation.org/covid19.

Virtual Preservation Month 2020

May is Preservation Month, a time to celebrate places that matter to you. Since 2013, I have led walking tours of African American historic sites in Philadelphia. Amid the coronavirus lockdown, the National Trust for Historic Preservation is making a virtue of necessity:

Even though many historic places are physically closed right now, we at the National Trust for Historic Preservation are opening a window to a world of adventure online with Virtual Preservation Month.

Throughout the month of May, the National Trust is bringing you the very best in preservation from coast to coast, offering 31 days of rich digital experiences at historic places to inspire, delight, and entertain you. Whether coming from our National Trust Historic Sites, Historic Artists’ Homes and Studios, or National Treasures, each day will unlock a new experience and help you step out while you stay in. You’ll wander the rooms of iconic houses, roam wide-open spaces, and peek behind the scenes at some of your favorite historic sites—all at your own pace.

The National Trust spearheads the campaign to restore Nina Simone’s childhood home in Tryon, North Carolina. In August 2019, the National Trust and Come Hear North Carolina organized a concert at the three-room house featuring Vanessa Ferguson, a finalist in season 12 of NBC’s The Voice.

To receive daily email or text reminder of the National Trust’s virtual experience, go here.

International Jazz Day 2020

In November 2011, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated April 30 as International Jazz Day “in order to highlight jazz and its diplomatic role of uniting people in all corners of the globe”:

International Jazz Day brings together communities, schools, artists, historians, academics and jazz enthusiasts all over the world to celebrate and learn about jazz and its roots, future and impact; raise awareness of the need for intercultural dialogue and mutual understanding; and reinforce international cooperation and communication. Every year on April 30, this international art form is recognized for fostering gender equality and for promoting individual expression, peace, dialogue among cultures, diversity, respect for human dignity, and the eradication of discrimination.

Amid the coronavirus outbreak, International Jazz Day 2020 celebrations in South Africa have been canceled. Instead, the show will go online. Herbie Hancock, UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador for Intercultural Dialogue and Co-Chair of International Jazz Day, said:

These are unprecedented times for world citizens and we are most grateful for the support, understanding and partnership of our Jazz Day community. Armed with optimism, patience and grace, we’ll work through these challenges as families, communities, countries and as a stronger united world. Now more than ever before, let’s band together and spread the ethics of Jazz Day’s global movement around the planet and use this as a golden opportunity for humankind to reconnect, especially in the midst of all this isolation and uncertainty.

The Global Concert will feature performances by artists from across the globe including Joey DeFrancesco, Marcus Miller, Lang Lang, Charlie Puth, Cécile McLorin Salvant, John McLaughlin, Dianne Reeves, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Sibongile Khumalo, Alune Wade, John Beasley, Ben Williams, Lizz Wright, John Scofield, Igor Butman, Evgeny Pobozhiy, Youn Sun Nah, A Bu and Jane Monheit.

International Jazz Day 2020 - Lineup

The concert will be streamed live on jazzday.com, beginning at 3:00 pm ET.

Blackfishing Marian Anderson

Easter Sunday marked the 81st anniversary of Marian Anderson’s performance at the Lincoln Memorial before an audience of 75,000. She sang outdoors because the Daughters of the American Revolution, an organization of white descendants of Revolutionary War veterans, banned African Americans from performing at Constitution Hall which DAR owns.

Marian Anderson - Lincoln Memorial

Five days earlier, the National Endowment for the Humanities announced $22.2 million in new grants including $650,000 for a documentary about Marian Anderson. Michael Kantor, executive producer of American Masters, is the project director.

I was thrilled the civil rights icon was finally getting the American Masters treatment. The thrill was gone when I found out the Marian Anderson Museum & Historical Society is not included in the grant.

NEH - No Funding

Jillian Patricia Pirtle, CEO and President of the Marian Anderson Museum & Historical Society, was interviewed by Robert Rapley, a producer and writer for The American Experience. It is ironic the producer of The Abolitionists thinks it’s cool to pick a black woman’s brain for free.

NEH - Robert Rapley

This is Kantor’s second helping of taxpayers’ money for the same project. In 2018, NEH awarded him $75,000 for the “development of a script and trailer for a sixty-minute documentary film on the popular singer Marian Anderson.” This video is the grant product.

Marian Anderson was born and nurtured in Philadelphia. She first performed at Union Baptist Church. When her family couldn’t afford private lessons, members of the congregation pitched in and raised money for a voice teacher. I spoke up in support of preservationist Oscar Beisert’s effort to save the church. In 2015, the historic church was demolished to make way for luxury condos for gentrifiers.

Marian Anderson Church - 7.11.16

I spoke up when residents of Graduate Hospital, the most gentrified neighborhood in Philadelphia, floated the idea of renaming their community “Marian Anderson Village.” African Americans have been displaced but gentrifiers want the cultural cachet of the internationally renowned contralto without the people who look like her.

Graduate Hospital - Marian Anderson Village

Cultural appropriation or blackfishing has no bounds. Karen Attiah, global opinions editor for The Washington Post, observed, “It’s America’s obsession with blackness, and black culture – without black people.”

Blackfishing - Karen Attiah

Michael Kantor is awarded $725,000 for a documentary. Meanwhile, the cultural institution that preserved Marian Anderson’s South Philly rowhouse and keeps her story in public memory is starving for resources.

NEH - No Funding2

Legendary conductor Arturo Toscanini once said, “Hers is a voice heard once in a hundred years.” Sadly, blackfishing Marian Anderson is an all too common occurrence.

 

The Roots of Jazz and Blues

Is American jazz black music? Is the Pope Catholic?

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 1979, jazz pianist and composer Mary Lou Williams drew a picture of the history of jazz for the slow learners.

Mary Lou Williams HistoryTree

The roots of the blues were planted in 1619 when Africans were brought to Jamestown, Virginia on a slave ship. Jazz poet Gil Scott-Heron observed:

America provided the atmosphere for the blues and the blues was born
The blues was born on the American wilderness
The blues was born on the beaches where the slave ships docked
Born on the slave man’s auction block

If your ancestors didn’t pick cotton from “cain’t see in the morning till cain’t see at night,” Benny Turner wants you to know who sang the blues first.