Category Archives: Cultural Heritage

Gospel Music Heritage Month 2022

September was designated Gospel Music Heritage Month by Congress in 2008. Rooted in the African American oral tradition, gospel music helped us get over.

On Thursday, September 22, 2022, at 2:00 pm, the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection at Temple University will hold a panel discussion focusing on gospel pioneer and 2018 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee Sister Rosetta Tharpe.

The panel discussion will be moderated by Dyana Williams, National Museum of African American Music board member. Panelists include Louis Massiah, documentary filmmaker and founder of the Scribe Video Center; Grammy-nominated producer, songwriter and arranger Dana Sorey; and Rev. Joseph Williams Jr., an original member of the Sons of the Birds.

The program includes a performance by singer and songwriter Treena Ferebee. The event which will be held at Bright Hope Baptist Church in Yorktown is free and open to the public. Registration is encouraged. To register, go here.

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 Tailors & Clothiers 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.