Category Archives: Cultural Heritage Preservation

Women in Jazz Month 2018

March is Women in Jazz Month, a time to celebrate the contributions of women to jazz. Few – male or female – have contributed more to the jazz canon than Billie Holiday. In the decades since her death, Lady Day has been celebrated in film, song, books, fashion and art.


ClickitTicket, a resale marketplace, has created a timeline of Billie Holiday’s life, beginning with her birth in Philadelphia in 1915 and ending with her death in a New York City hospital in 1959.


An excerpt:

Billie Holiday’s voice was a little thin and somewhat limited. She had no technical training; she couldn’t even read sheet music.

Yet, Holiday is one of the greatest vocalists of all-time.

What she lacked in power and tone, she made up for it with the ability to tell a story and emote. Every song she sang she made her own.

Holiday was a true artist who had a profound impact on both jazz and pop music.

She made a huge impact on countless artists including Frank Sinatra.

“Lady Day is unquestionably the most important influence on American popular singing in the last twenty years,” explained Ol’ Blue Eyes to Ebony magazine in 1958.

Despite personal demons, abusive romantic relationships, and the specter of racism, Holiday achieved commercial and artistic success during her lifetime.

Since her death in the late 1950s, generations of musicians have turned to her recordings for inspiration and enlightenment.


We Knew What We Had: The Greatest Story Never Told

Like Philadelphia, Pittsburgh once had a robust jazz scene with legendary venues, including the Granada Theater and the Crawford Grill.

Crawford Vintage

Crawford Grill - Pittsburgh - Historical Marker - 2001

Pittsburgh produced jazz greats such as Art Blakey, Billy Strayhorn, Mary Lou Williams, George Benson, Ahmad Jamal, Stanley Turrentine, Billy Eckstine and Kenny Clarke.

We Knew What We Had2

Thanks to a new documentary, “We Knew What We Had: The Greatest Story Never Told,” the world will know what Pittsburgh had.

The one-hour documentary includes live performance clips of the Jazz Masters, interviews and archival photographs. As important, the filmmakers contextualize Pittsburgh’s jazz culture by exploring social conditions and historical events.

“We Knew What We Had: The Greatest Story Never Told” will air in February. For more information and air dates, visit their website.

Lena Horne Forever

On Tuesday, the U.S. Postal Service will issue the Lena Horne Forever stamp. The 41st issuance in the Black Heritage series honors the legacy of Lena Horne:

Horne began her career as a dancer at Harlem’s Cotton Club and later became a featured vocalist with touring orchestras. The rampant racial discrimination she encountered from audiences, hotel and venue managers and others was so disconcerting that she stopped touring, and in 1941, she made her move to Hollywood. A year later, she signed a contract with MGM — one of the first long-term contracts with a major Hollywood studio — with the stipulation that she would never be asked to take stereotypical roles then available to black actors. Her most famous movie roles were in “Cabin in the Sky” and “Stormy Weather,” both released in 1943.

During World War II, Horne entertained at camps for black servicemen, and after the war worked on behalf of Japanese Americans who were facing discriminatory housing policies. She worked with Eleanor Roosevelt in pressing for anti-lynching legislation. In the 1960s, Horne continued her high-profile work for civil rights, performing at rallies in the South, supporting the work of the National Council for Negro Women, and participating in the 1963 March on Washington.

On Horne’s passing in 2010, President Barack Obama said:

Over the years, she warmed the hearts of countless Americans with her beautiful voice and dramatic performances on screen. From the time her grandmother signed her up for an NAACP membership as a child, she worked tirelessly to further the cause of justice and equality. In 1940, she became the first African American performer to tour with an all white band. And while entertaining soldiers during World War II, she refused to perform for segregated audiences – a principled struggle she continued well after the troops returned home.

From sultry Selina Rogers in “Stormy Weather” …

… to sweet Georgia Brown in “Cabin in the Sky” …

… and Glinda, the Good Witch in “The Wiz,” the legendary performer entertained millions.

Horne’s activism and willingness to speak truth to power inspired millions, including the writer.

Lena Horne Collage2

The trailblazer and civil rights activist will be in the public’s memory forever.

Lena Horne Forever

The First Day of Issue Stamp Dedication Ceremony will be was held at Symphony Space in New York City. The Lena Horne Forever stamp is on sale nationwide at post offices and online at The Postal Store.

Jazz Congress 2018

The inaugural Jazz Congress will be in session January 11-12 in New York City. Co-produced by Jazz at Lincoln Center and Jazz Times, the conference will “bring together artists, media and industry leaders in the global jazz community to exchange ideas in order to nurture and grow the jazz community and the underlying business and organizations that promote, produce, present, market and support the music.”

Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, Managing and Artistic Director at JALC, said:

Jazz at Lincoln Center is excited to host this much needed community initiative. We will stimulate an inclusive environment, explore new ways to expand audiences for our music, and learn from one another. With so much discordant non-communication around the world and in our country, now is the perfect time for us to come together for serious discourse around and about our cultural, business and aesthetic objectives.

Marsalis added:

Jazz has what our modern world needs. Let us all take pride in our collective advocacy of this great music by identifying, declaring and demonstrating our common ground.

The program includes panels focusing on race and gender, and audience development. Hall of Fame basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabber, a jazz enthusiast whose father was a trombonist, will deliver the keynote address. Abdul-Jabbar will talk about the role jazz can play in today’s society.

I am particularly interested in the panel discussion on jazz, politics and activism. One of my objectives with All That Philly Jazz is to contextualize jazz within the framework of movements for social change. Indeed, the jazz culture was about intersectionality before the term was coined.

Checker Cafe

Some of the sessions will be livestreamed. You can join the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #JazzCongress. For more information, visit

Merry Christmas

The Christmas season is hard on folks who are too broke to pay attention. But if you are a literary giant like Langston Hughes, your DIY Christmas cards end up on display at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University.

Michael Morand, the Beinecke Library’s communications director, told Hyperallergic:

Langston Hughes’s extensive archives provide numerous insights into his long life and career. His 1950 typewritten Christmas postcards illuminate a period when his finances were limited though his friendships remained abundant. He wittily addressed his wide circle of friends that year with verse that tell how times were tough and still convey resilience and joy. Likewise, the 17 boxes in the archives of Christmas cards he received and kept over many decades demonstrate the breadth and depth of his personal and professional relationships with other cultural and civic leaders.

Langston Hughes - Broke and Busted2

Harlem on My Mind

Gentrification is displacing longtime residents in historically African American neighborhoods from Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn to Baldwin Hills in Los Angeles.

Gentrification - Historically Black Neighborhoods

I grew up in Bed-Stuy and went to college in Harlem where an iconic mural, the “Spirit of Harlem,” was covered up by Footaction, a sneaker and apparel company.

Spirit of Harlem Mural2

Langston Hughes famously asked, “What happens to a dream deferred?”

We know what happens if we don’t fight the collateral damage of gentrification. African American cultural heritage and presence will be erased from public memory. So Harlem activists are organizing to give the boot to Footaction.

Give the Boot to Fooaction

For me, it’s déjà vu all over again. In 2015, Pennrose Properties demolished the “Tribute to John Coltrane” mural in the Strawberry Mansion neighborhood in North Philadelphia.

Tribute to John Coltrane Mural2

But rather than simply lament its destruction, I made some noise in my capacity as director of All That Philly Jazz. Fast forward two years, Pennrose Chairman and CEO Richard K. Barnhart thanked me for my activism. Barnhart told me that in raising awareness of the importance of cultural heritage preservation I “made him a better person.”

On September 24, 2017, the “Why We Love Coltrane” mural was dedicated.

Why We Love Coltrane-3

The mural was funded by Pennrose Properties and the City of Philadelphia, in partnership with All That Philly Jazz, Strawberry Mansion Neighborhood Action Committee and Fairmount Park Conservancy.

Why We Love Coltrane Acknowledgements

Footaction is owned by retail giant Foot Locker. Together, we can make Footaction a better corporate citizen. Let’s make some noise.

UPDATE: After making some noise on Twitter, I received a DM from Footaction.

Footaction - Direct Message - 12.12.17

True to its word, restoration of the “Spirit of Harlem” mural is in progress.

Footaction - Restoration in Progress

Advocacy works!