I am an advocate for the arts. I believe in the power of art to transform lives and ignite social change. Last summer, the Arthur Ross Gallery invited citizens to select an artwork from the University of Pennsylvania Art Collection to be included in a crowdsourced installation, Citizen Salon.
I was among 600+ people who responded. The citizen curators included art historians, Penn faculty, artists, scientists and ordinary citizens. I selected a portrait of Marian Anderson, the first African American soloist to perform with the New York Metropolitan Opera. The top 50 picks are now on view, including Robert Savon Pious’ portrait of the world-renowned contralto.
I was asked to provide commentary for the label and audio tour which you can listen to here.
Citizen Salon will be on view at the Arthur Ross Gallery through March 24, 2019.
UPDATE: I’m the featured citizen curator on the Arthur Ross Gallery blog.
December 2 marks 159 years since freedom fighter John Brown’s last moments on Earth.
The fiery abolitionist is near and dear to my heart. Many years ago I visited John Brown’s Fort in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I touched base with my hero at the National Portrait Gallery.
I also regularly visit John Brown at the Metropolitan Museum and share with him what’s going on.
So you can imagine my reaction when I learned a development project, the Villages at Whitemarsh, would encroach on the studio where Thomas Hovenden painted “The Last Moments of John Brown.”
Abolition Hall, an Underground Railroad station where runaway slaves found shelter in the purpose-built structure and surrounding fields, was converted into a studio after the Civil War. The developer, K. Hovnanian Homes, wants to build 67 generic townhouses a stone’s throw from the historic landmark.
John Brown’s “body lies a-mouldering in the grave. But his soul goes marching on.” Indeed, I believe to my soul that Abolition Hall deserves better.
To add your voice to those who oppose the desecration of this historic landmark and hallowed ground, please contact us.
The Sahara Club was located in the Sahara Hotel, which was on the same street as the Showboat.
I was singing in a jazz club called the Sahara. He had a record shop right round the corner and I was singing with a trio at the Sahara club on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. He came over and said, “I am starting a record company and I would like to sign you.” Low and behold I took all the material I sung every weekend and I did an album in three and a half hours — a whole album. I had this album, and I produced it — me and my wife.
And we gave him this album called “Feelin’ Good at the Cadillac Club” to help start the record company and that was the album that helped start it up. I was singing totally jazz then, but when I heard The Beatles and heard the gospel influence and everything I just said I can make jazz with R&B.
Gamble later wrote and produced “Me and Mrs. Jones,” which was Philadelphia International Records’ first #1 hit.
In 1919, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11 as Armistice Day:
To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations.
November 11 commemorates the armistice agreement Allied powers signed with Germany bringing hostilities to an end on the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918.
In June 1954, Congress passed legislation changing the name from Armistice Day to Veterans Day, a day to honor veterans of all wars. On October 8, 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued the first Veterans Day Proclamation.
Just six years earlier, President Harry S. Truman signed Executive Order No. 9981 establishing the President’s Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity in the Armed Services. The EO signaled the government’s commitment to integrate the military.
United Service Organizations (USO) policy expressly banned racial discrimination. However, there were separate facilities for African American servicemen in the Jim Crow South and segregated North. In Philadelphia, USO sites for African Americans included Parker Hall and South Broad Street USO. Billie Holiday entertained the soldiers at both locations.
Parker Hall was on the top floor of the Parker Building.
The Parker Building is now home to the ACES Museum whose mission is to preserve the history of World War II veterans and restore Parker Hall as a functioning USO for black veterans and their families. The ACES Museum is headquarters of the Philadelphia Chapter of the National Association of Black Veterans.
For more information, visit www.acesmuseum.online.