Category Archives: Cultural Heritage

Must–See TV: Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am

Toni Morrison was a writer, book editor, college professor, activist and visionary. Morrison’s much-loved novel, Beloved, won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. In 1993, she became the first black woman of any nationality to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

toni-morrison-nobel prize-in-literature

Morrison received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civil honor, from President Barack Obama during a White House ceremony in 2012. President Obama said:

Toni Morrison’s prose brings us that kind of moral and emotional intensity that few writers ever attempt. From Song of Solomon to Beloved, Toni reaches us deeply, using a tone that is lyrical, precise, distinct, and inclusive. She believes that language “arcs toward the place where meaning might lie.” The rest of us are lucky to be following along for the ride.

toni-morrison-presidential medal of freedom

American Masters presents the U.S. broadcast premiere of the documentary Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am on Tuesday, June 23, 2020 at 8:00pm ET on PBS.

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.

breonnataylor-ahmaudarbery-georgefloyd

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.

Must-See TV: ‘The Sit-In’

For one week in February 1968, Harry Belafonte hosted “The Tonight Show,” then the highest-rated late night television show. Belafonte’s guests included Robert F. Kennedy, Bill Cosby, Lena Horne, Nipsey Russell, Paul Newman, Wilt Chamberlain, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Dionne Warwick, Aretha Franklin, Sidney Poitier and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

A documentary about that magical week of interviews and performances, “The Sit-In: Harry Belafonte Hosts the Tonight Show,” was scheduled to be screened at the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival. But along came the coronavirus. Variety reports:

It was 1968, war was raging and racial tensions in America were at a boiling point, dividing the nation. In February, Harry Belafonte stepped in for Johnny Carson to host “The Tonight Show.” It was a monumental moment in which an African American would be the frontman of the most dominant program in late night — and perhaps all of TV — for an entire week. Guests included Lena Horne, Paul Newman, Aretha Franklin, Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy.

The doc was scheduled to screen in April at the Tribeca Film Festival, not far from where “The Tonight Show” was filmed in the ’60s, with an after-film discussion that was to have included Belafonte’s daughter, Gina. “We were so excited,” says Richen. “It’s a New York story, and I’m a New Yorker.”

But as with many eagerly anticipated independent films this year, the movie’s launchpad disappeared when the festival was canceled due to the coronavirus, making it a work about the events of yesterday informing today — trumped by the health crisis of the moment.

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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.

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.

Jazz Appreciation Month 2020

April is Jazz Appreciation Month.

Jazz Appreciation Month 2020

This year, the Smithsonian highlights women in jazz:

Jazz Appreciation Month (fondly known as “JAM”) was created right here at the museum in 2001 to recognize and celebrate the extraordinary heritage and history of jazz for the entire month of April.

JAM is intended to stimulate and encourage people of all ages to participate in jazz – to study the music, attend concerts, listen to jazz on radio and recordings, read books about jazz, and more.

This year, JAM celebrates the dynamic impact of the often-overlooked contributions that women have made to jazz, both on and off the stage. As performers and conductors, educators, and producers and directors of jazz festivals, women have made their mark but have continued to struggle for recognition on par with their male counterparts.

Jazz Appreciation Month 2020 - Women of Jazz Mural

In the days of social distancing, gig workers, including women and men in jazz, are struggling. NPR reports:

As panic over the coronavirus sweeps the globe, much of the focus is on the broader economic effects on businesses or venues that have to cancel events. But the coronavirus’ toll on working musicians is immediate and sometimes debilitating.

When people speak of the gig economy, they’re often thinking of Uber drivers or Instacart shoppers. But for freelance musicians, their patchwork of gigs pays the bills. And in the face of shuttered concert halls and a self-quarantining public, that patchwork is falling apart.

NPR Music is curating a list of livestreamed concerts, including the virtual jazz festival, Live From Our Living Rooms which runs from April 1 through April 7.

The Berks Arts Council is presenting Boscov’s Berks Jazz Fest Encore Online concert series on Facebook Live, Thursday, April 2 through Monday, April 6.

Also, WBGO created the “Livestream Hub” to help musicians and audiences connect virtually.

For information on resources for musicians in the Philadelphia metro area, visit Jazz Philadelphia.

Mapping Philadelphia’s Jazz History

All That Philly Jazz was launched in March 2015. A place-based public history project, we are mapping Philadelphia’s lost jazz shrines from A to Z, from the Aqua Lounge to Zanzibar Blue.

All That Philly Jazz Wordle

I was recently interviewed on National Public Radio’s newsmagazine, “Here & Now.” The interview touched on the legacy of McCoy Tyner, Philadelphia’s jazz ecosystem that nurtured young musicians and exposed them to jazz musicians (here and here), and the campaign to save the John Coltrane House, a National Historic Landmark.

Faye Anderson - NPR's Here & Now - March 9, 2020

The podcast is available here.

Jimmy Heath (1926-2020)

Jimmy Heath joined the ancestors on January 19, 2020. Short in stature, Heath walked with giants including his brothers, Tootie and Percy, Dizzy Gillespie, Clifford Brown, Benny Golson, John Coltrane and Miles Davis.

My brother and I met the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master in 2016 at a tribute concert for Benny Carter. During the break, I showed Heath a photo of his former South Philly home on my phone. He reminisced about the jam sessions held in his parents’ basement.

Steve Anderson - Jimmy Heath - Faye Anderson

The life and work of the legendary saxophonist, composer and bandleader will be celebrated on Thursday, March 12, 2020, 7:00pm in the Rose Theater of Jazz at Lincoln Center. The celebration is open to the public on a first-come, first-served basis in the Fall. The Memorial has been postponed amid coronavirus concerns.