Category Archives: Cultural Heritage Preservation

Public Memory and Place Matter

In a recent essay published by the Brookings Institution, the writers asked: Whose history gets recognized in our public spaces?

Ultimately, the fight over Barry Farm is about more than those last 32 buildings left standing. It signifies a larger struggle over representation in our physical spaces, one that has only intensified as cities become more divided, unaffordable, and unequal. This struggle has manifested itself in a myriad of ways, from efforts to remove racist memorials from public plazas to movements to protect Black culture on rapidly gentrifying blocks. Within all these actions is one critical, underlying message: Black history matters.

In Philadelphia, our story is being erased from public memory. From the demolition of the church where Marian Anderson first learned to sing to the Henry Minton House, one of the last places John Brown laid his head, developers don’t give a fig about black history.

Henry Minton House - Inquirer

Midwood Development & Investment CEO John Usdan plans to demolish the Henry Minton House. In a news article, Usdan said, “Because the city’s so rich in history and has all these great historic buildings and amazing places where you want to congregate, it’s exactly what the demographic moving to Philly wants.”

For this developer, black history is not American history. And black folks are not included in Usdan’s vision for a changing city since he is building for “the demographic moving to Philly.”

First they displace us. Then they erase us.

#DisappearingBlackness - Where's Our Story

The National Museum for African American History and Culture’s exhibition “Power of Place” underscores that place matters:

People make places even as places change people. Places are secured by individual and collective struggle and spirit. Place is about movement and migration and dis-placement. Place is where culture is made, where traditions and histories are kept and lost, and where identities are created, tested, and reshaped over time.

On October 22, PlanPhilly is holding a panel discussion, “Place, Preservation and Public Memory in Philadelphia.” All That Philly Jazz Director Faye Anderson is a panelist, along with Paul Farber, Ori Feibush and Karen Olivier. The event is free but you must register. To reserve your spot, go here.

An Opry Salute to Ray Charles

Ken Burns’ latest film, “Country Music,” makes clear that African American music is at the root of the genre. Long before Lil Nas X, there was DeFord Bailey, Rufus “Tee Top” Payne, Charley Pride – and Ray Charles. Brother Ray’s 1962 album, Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music, topped the charts in the U.S. and Britain. The album and its lead single, “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” were certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America.

Country Music Hall of Famer Willie Nelson observed:

When Ray did “I Can’t Stop Loving You,” that was probably the time when country music was heard by more people than ever before. He kicked country music forward 50 years. Before him, a lot of people had probably never heard of songs by Don Gibson or Hank Williams.

In his autobiography, Brother Ray: Ray Charles’ Own Story, the country music pioneer wrote:

I just wanted to try my hand at hillbilly music. After all, the Grand Ole Opry had been performing inside my head since I was a kid in the country.

The Grand Ole Opry “celebrates the songs of Ray Charles and the influence the revolutionary artist had on country music” in a television special, “An Opry Salute to Ray Charles.”

An Opry Salute to Ray Charles

Hosted by Opry member Darius Rucker, the star-studded salute features Boyz II Men, Cam, Brett Eldredge, Leela James, Jessie Key, Ronnie Milsap, Lukas Nelson, LeAnn Rimes, Allen Stone, Travis Tritt, Charlie Wilson, Trisha Yearwood and Chris Young. The program will air on PBS stations nationwide so check your local listings.

Happy Birthday to John Coltrane

John Coltrane’s eighth studio album, Africa/Brass, was released in 1961. The tracks include “Song of the Underground Railroad.”

To celebrate Coltrane’s birthday (September 23, 1926), All That Philly Jazz Director Faye Anderson will lead the Philadelphia Jazz Heritage Walking Tour: Green Book Edition. A travel guide, Green Book listings were effectively an Underground Railroad 2.0, a network of safe spaces where African Americans could avoid the indignities and humiliations of racial segregation.

Douglass Hotel Bus Depot

Green Book Philadelphia walking tour stops include:

  • National historic landmark where Coltrane first heard Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie;
  • Supper club that was a hangout for the producers and musicians who created “The Sound of Philadelphia”;
  • Hotel that welcomed jazz luminaries to its stage from the 1940s to the 1980s, and where Coltrane recorded a live album;
  • Pep’s Musical Bar where Coltrane and other jazz and blues greats performed;
  • Jazz club that paid homage to postal workers and U.S. Postal Service;
  • Dive bar that was the setting for the Broadway play “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill”; and
  • Fraternal lodge where Bessie Smith’s funeral was held and an after-hours club was located on the top floor.

All That Philly Jazz Walking Tour: Green Book Edition will be held on September 21 and 22. Join us as we talk and walk in the footsteps of a jazz giant.

#ThisPlaceMatters: Painted Bride Art Center

A year ago, the Philadelphia Historical Commission rejected the nomination of the Painted Bride Art Center’s building, 230 Vine Street, for listing on the local register of historic places. The designation would have saved the city’s oldest alternative art space and one of the few extant buildings associated with Philadelphia’s jazz heyday. Jazz on Vine, the longest, continuously running jazz series in Philadelphia, was started in 1975.

If 230 Vine Street had been designated a historic landmark, Isaiah Zagar’s “Skin of the Bride” mosaic that rings the exterior walls of the building, an artwork of recognized stature, would have been preserved.

Painted Bride - September 2019

Painted Bride - Sept. 2019

With the Commission’s controversial vote in hand, the Bride put the cultural landmark on the market. In a message, executive director Laurel Raczka wrote:

After much consideration, we have made the difficult decision to sell our building at 230 Vine. Let me be clear: The Painted Bride is NOT closing. With the proceeds of the building sale, we will secure a source of funds that will ensure the Bride can fulfill its central mission, which is to support artists who are committed to blazing paths of innovation that are transformative at the community level.

[…]

The Painted Bride is world-renowned as a vanguard institution for ground-breaking artists. We want to do everything possible to ensure that we perform that role for years to come.

Our current business model is unsustainable and hasn’t been sufficiently updated (emphasis added) to meet the needs of a transforming world and evolving audiences. We are committed to creating a new model that will allow the Bride to be increasingly responsive, flexible and agile in our rapidly changing times.

Founded in 1969, the Bride has received millions of dollars in charitable donations from local, state and federal taxpayers, foundations, corporations and individual donors. The current board of directors failed to sufficiently update its business model. Having brought this vanguard institution to the brink, the board now says it will ensure Painted Bride 2.0 is sustainable. Got it. Now tell it to the judge.

Orphans' Court Notice

The Bride is a nonprofit organization. The proposed sale of a “charitable asset” to a for-profit developer must be approved by the Orphans’ Court and Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro. If the Bride’s petition is approved, Groom Investment LLC will demolish the artist-centered performance space and gallery, and destroy Zagar’s iconic murals. In their place, the developer will construct 16 cookie-cutter condos for the one percent.

Painted Bride Architectural Rendering

A diverse group of arts and culture leaders opposes the petition (full disclosure: I’m included in the group). Laurel Raczka says the Bride is “more than brick and mortar.” But place matters. 230 Vine Street is where culture was made. It’s where stories are kept. The iconic building keeps the stories in public memory and imagination.

The Orphans’ Court hearing is open to the public. If you believe this place matters, join us on Tuesday, September 10, 2019, at 10:00 a.m. in Courtroom 416 City Hall, Philadelphia, PA.

It ain’t over.

On Vacation

In September, I will lead a walking tour of Green Book sites in Philadelphia. The stops include the Douglass Hotel which offered transportation to Atlantic City, or more accurately, to Chicken Bone Beach.

Douglass Hotel Bus Depot

After complaints from white bathers, African Americans were restricted to a stretch of the Atlantic City beach near Convention Hall. The segregated area became known as Chicken Bone Beach.

Chicken Bone Beach Plaque2

This two-part audio doc provides an overview of Chicken Bone Beach and the entertainment district that became a magnet for black vacationers, day-trippers and luminaries such as Martin Luther King Jr., Louis Armstrong, Nina Simone, Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Sammy Davis Jr.

For more info, visit Chicken Bone Beach.

2019 BlackStar Film Festival

The 8th Annual BlackStar Film Festival will be held August 1-4, 2019, in Philadelphia. The film festival “is an annual celebration of the visual and storytelling traditions of the African diaspora and of global communities of color, showcasing films by black, brown and indigenous people from around the world.”

Black Star Film Festival2

The four-day festival features 115 films, eight panels and conversations, workshops, pitch session, marketplace and opening night party. Highlights include BOSS: The Black Experience in Business, directed by Stanley Nelson, and the Philadelphia premiere of When I Get Home, directed and edited by Solange Knowles, and The Apollo, the story of the iconic cultural mecca.

apollo_1280

All That Philly Jazz is a screening partner for Shorts Program 4.

#BSFF19 - Shorts Program 4

I am particularly interested in the panel discussions and the sneak preview of Hip Hop: The Songs that Shook the World, co-executive produced by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter. The six-part AMC documentary series will explore the socioeconomic and cultural conditions that gave “voice to the voiceless and the have-nots.”

This year marks the 30th anniversary of Do The Right Thing. Filmmaker Spike Lee and Tarana Burke, founder of the #MeToo movement, will be in conversation about art, social justice and social change.

For the full schedule and ticket information, visit BlackStar Film Fest.

Philadelphia Jazz Heritage Walking Tour: Green Book Edition

What’s old is new again. The Negro Motorist Green Book published by Victor H. Green, a postal worker in Harlem, is all the rage. Access to the Green Book in the New York Public Library Digital Collections and the forgettable “Green Book” movie sparked interest in the crowdsourced travel guide that was published from 1936 to 1966.

#GreenBookPHL Collage

The Green Book empowered African Americans to “vacation without aggravation.” The guide helped travelers, including musicians, athletes and businesspeople, navigate Jim Crow laws in the South and racial segregation in the North. “Your Rights, Briefly Speaking!” is a precursor to the current mantra to “know your rights.”

Your Rights, Briefly Speaking (1963-1964)

A network of postal workers scouted out advertisers for the travel guide. Green Book listings included hotels, restaurants, nightclubs, theaters, barber shops and beauty parlors. Green envisioned a time when his publication would no longer be necessary:

There will be a day sometime in the near future when this guide will not have to be published. That is when we as a race will have equal opportunities and privileges in the United States. It will be a great day for us to suspend this publication for then we can go wherever we please, and without embarrassment. But until that time comes we shall continue to publish this information for your convenience each year.

That day did not come until July 2, 1964. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in public accommodations.

Over the course of 30 years, there were dozens of Philadelphia listings. Some businesses advertised every year; others for one or multiple years. Drawing on archival materials and oral histories, we contextualize the social history of jazz. Green Book sites were sites of sanctuary. They were also sites of resistance.

All That Philly Jazz Walking Tour: Green Book Edition visits safe spaces in Center City and South Philly.

Douglass Hotel Bus Depot

The tour begins at the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel (now The Bellevue Philadelphia) and ends at the repurposed Attucks Hotel.

#GreenBookPHL Begin-End - Feature

Stops include:

  • National Historic Landmark where John Coltrane and Benny Golson first heard Charlie Parker;
  • Supper club that was a hangout for the producers and musicians who created “The Sound of Philadelphia”;
  • Hotel that welcomed jazz luminaries to its stage from the 1940s to the 1980s, and where Sidney Bechet, Coltrane and Grover Washington Jr. recorded live albums;
  • Hotels where Billie Holiday stayed and was arrested;
  • Pep’s Musical Bar where jazz and blues greats performed on the inside and tap dancers improvised on the outside;
  • Jazz club that paid homage to postal workers and U.S. Postal Service; and
  • Dive bar that was the setting for the Broadway play “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill.”

All That Philly Jazz Walking Tour: Green Book Edition is led by Faye Anderson, a storyteller who is passionate about uncovering hidden places and untold stories.

#GreenBookPHL - Faye Anderson - Club 421

To schedule a group tour or presentation, contact Faye at greenbookphl@gmail.com.