Category Archives: Cultural Heritage

The Blue Note Show

Sadly, all good things must come to an end. So I will close out Black Music Month with “The Blue Note Show” which aired on PBS’ Soul! television series on January 26, 1972.

The episode featured Blue Note Records artists Horace Silver, Bobbi Humphrey, Cecil Bridgewater, Bob Crenshaw, Billy Harper, Harold Mabern, and Andy and Salome Bey. Philadelphia natives Jymie Merritt and Lee Morgan, and long-time resident Mickey Roker were in the house. At 33:58 Silver tells host Ellis Haizlip that he formed his quintet after “the fellow that owned the Showboat in Philadelphia called me and said he wanted me to get a group together and come in for a week.”

Lee Morgan’s appearance on Soul! was one of his last performances. He was shot and killed less than a month later. But his legacy lives on. We have nominated the legendary trumpeter for a Pennsylvania historical marker. We are hopeful the nomination will be approved when the committee meets in September.

The Untold History of Memorial Day

Originally called Decoration Day, Memorial Day was first observed on May 1, 1865 in Charleston, South Carolina. Thousands of African Americans, including the formerly enslaved, the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, and the 34th and 104th United States Colored Troops, were led by children as they gathered to honor 257 Union soldiers who were buried in a mass grave behind the grandstand of the city’s Washington Race Course.

The ancestors paid tribute to those who gave their lives by decorating their graves, hence Declaration Day.

Parisian Tailors’ Colored Kiddies of the Air

Sam and Harry Kessler opened Parisian Tailoring Company on South Street, the-then heart of the Black community, in 1923. Better known as Parisian Tailors, the company made uniforms – sports jackets and slacks – for Black orchestras. Chief cutter Eddie Lieberman promoted musical acts on the side. Business was booming so as a way to give back to the Black community, Lieberman proposed a children’s radio show to compete with predominantly white The Horn and Hardart Children’s Hour.

The weekly radio show, Parisian Tailors’ Colored Kiddies of the Air, was broadcast from the stage of the Lincoln Theater. Colored Kiddies of the Air debuted on Sunday, March 27, 1932 on WPEN. The live broadcasts featured young Black musicians backed by all-star big bands.

Regular child performers included future jazz legends and National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Percy Heath Jr. (bassist) and Joe Wilder (trumpeter). Wilder went on to become the first African American to play a principal chair in a Broadway pit orchestra. He also integrated broadcast radio and television network orchestras.

In Softly, With Feeling: Joe Wilder and the Breaking of Barriers in American Music, biographer Edgar Berger wrote:

The Colored Kiddies radio show emanated from the stage of the Lincoln Theatre, on Broad and Lombard Streets, Philadelphia’s main venue for leading black performers. Duke Ellington, Jimmie Lunceford, Louis Armstrong, Fletcher Henderson, and Fats Waller were just some of regular headliners at the Lincoln in the mid-1930s. What was most extraordinary about the radio show is that the children were backed by members of these legendary orchestras. Because of Pennsylvania’s blue laws, there could be no regular performances in clubs or theaters on Sunday. As Joe put it, “We could go out and shoot each other on Sunday, but we weren’t allowed to play jazz!” So as part of their contracts with the theater, the visiting bands were obligated to play behind the youngsters during the one-hour broadcasts on Sunday mornings. “We had the joy of having every name band—Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Fletcher Henderson, Earl Hines, Count Basie, the Mills Blue Rhythm Band— play for us on their day off,” Joe said. “They would improvise backgrounds for whatever we played, and they encouraged us. It was unbelievable!” Although the bandleaders themselves didn’t usually play, they did come to the rehearsals to make sure that their musicians fulfilled the terms of their contracts.

2022 National Recording Registry

The Library of Congress has announced the 2022 National Recording Registry, an annual list of audio recordings that are “culturally, historically, or aesthetically important.” Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden said:

The National Recording Registry reflects the diverse music and voices that have shaped our nation’s history and culture through recorded sound. The national library is proud to help preserve these recordings, and we welcome the public’s input. We received about 1,000 public nominations this year for recordings to add to the registry.

The list includes “We Insist!  Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite,” the legendary drummer’s still resonant 1960 social protest album.

Duke Ellington’s 1956 album “Ellington at Newport” is on the list.

Soul music and R&B recordings include The Four Tops’ “Reach Out, I’ll Be There” and Alicia Keys’ debut album “Songs in A Minor.”

For the complete list of recordings, go here.

Jazz Appreciation Month

April is Jazz Appreciation Month. America’s classical music is appreciated around the world but in New Orleans, the city where jazz was born, there was a 100-year-old ban on jazz in the public schools. While the ban was honored in the breach, it was only officially lifted last month. The prohibition was white supremacists’ tacit acknowledgement that jazz is Black music.

In an interview with the Associated Press, four-time Grammy winner Robert Glasper said that African Americans are reclaiming jazz:

Absolutely, because it’s African-American music… our ancestors are the ones who birthed this music. Blood, sweat and tears. And we, as a people, have gotten away from it and other people have taken it and been able to capitalize off of it.

We’re just living our truth, and that’s what it is. And we are jazz (musicians) — because some people say, “What they’re doing is not jazz.” Yes, it is — it literally is. It’s just jazz with a heartbeat. It’s still alive. What you like is dead. What we’re doing is alive. And that’s the difference.

To borrow a phrase from Grammy-winning producer Swizz Beatz: Long live jazz!

Women In Jazz Month: Ella Fitzgerald

For Women In Jazz Month 2022, I want to celebrate Ella Fitzgerald.

In a 2017 essay, “The Casual Excellence of Ella Fitzgerald,” Prof. Emily J. Lordi wrote:

One hundred and one years after her birth and two decades after her death, Ella Fitzgerald’s voice still sounds like your best day, your most clever retort, your most glamorous party. By age twenty she had turned that voice into an instrument of outstanding facility and inventiveness; brassy, husky, and pearly by turns, there was nowhere it couldn’t go, nothing it couldn’t do. In that way, her sound itself defied the restrictions of the Jim Crow era into which she was born, and the personal and social blocks that dogged her thereafter. In the end, the “First Lady of Jazz” seems to have outwitted them all — stylishly and profoundly expanding the parameters of Black women’s art.

Ella was the “First Lady of Jazz” but there was nothing ladylike when she told her man: “If you don’t like my peaches, why do you shake my tree? Stay out of my orchard and let my peach tree be.”