Happy Labor Day!
The first DownBeat readers’ poll was published in 1952. Past winners with Philadelphia roots include John Coltrane, Billie Holiday, Lee Morgan, Jaco Pastorius, Sun Ra, Bessie Smith and Jimmy Smith.
Voting is open to subscribers of DownBeat magazine or their free eNewsletter. The poll closes on September 10. To vote, go here.
June is Black Music Month. In his Proclamation on Black Music Appreciation Month, 2021, President Joseph R. Biden Jr. said:
Throughout our history, there has been no richer influence on the American songbook than Black music and culture. From early spirituals born out of the unconscionable hardships of slavery; to the creation of folk and gospel; to the evolution of rhythm and blues and jazz; to the ascendance of rock and roll, rap, and hip-hop — Black music has shaped our society, entertained and inspired us, and helped write and tell the story of our Nation.
During Black Music Appreciation Month, we honor the innovative artists whose musical expressions move us, brighten our daily lives, and bring us together. Across the generations, Black music has pioneered the way we listen to music while preserving Black cultural traditions and sharing the unique experiences of the Black community. Black artists have dramatically influenced what we all hear and feel through music — joy and sadness, love and loss, pride and purpose.
I embrace Duke Ellington’s dictum that there are two kinds of music, good music and the other kind. I love good music but I live for the blues.
I’m living proof of the power of music to transform lives.
At age 84, Buddy Guy is getting his flowers – and American Masters treatment.
It’s serendipitous the two art forms are recognized during the same month. The most celebrated jazz poet, Langston Hughes, collaborated with jazz musicians. In his 1926 essay, “The Negro Artist and the Racial Mountain,” Hughes wrote:
But jazz to me is one of the inherent expressions of Negro life in America; the eternal tom-tom beating in the Negro soul—the tom-tom of revolt against weariness in a white world, a world of subway trains, and work, work, work; the tom-tom of joy and laughter, and pain swallowed in a smile.
Hughes read his poem, “The Weary Blues,” on a Canadian TV program in 1958.
Hughes presented the history of jazz in a children’s book, The First Book of Jazz, published in 1955.
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) is celebrating Jazz Appreciation Month and National Poetry Month with online programs, including “The Power of Poetry Blog Series.” For information on African Americans’ contributions to today’s jazz and poetry landscape, visit NMAAHC.
Billie Holiday, née Eleanora Fagan, was born on April 7, 1915 at Philadelphia General Hospital. “Looking for Lady Day,” hosted and written by news anchor Tamala Edwards, is a fact-based portrait of the iconic singer who changed the game on and off stage.
All That Philly Jazz Director Faye Anderson leads a walking tour, “Billie Holiday’s Philadelphia.” The tour starts at the Bessie Smith Walk of Fame plaque. During an appearance on “Eddie Condon Floor Show Live” in 1949, Condon remarked, “You’re the best Bessie I’ve seen since Bessie.”
The walking tour ends at the Attucks Hotel (distance: 0.7 miles).
The stops include the Academy of Music, Club Ebony, Billie Holiday Walk of Fame plaque and South Broad Street U.S.O.
We will also stop at hotels where Lady Day stayed, including the hotel where she and her husband, Louis McKay, were arrested. The arrest is depicted in the biopic United States vs. Billie Holiday.
Our next-to-last stop is the Green Book site where Billie Holiday performed four months before her death. Emerson’s Tavern is the setting for the Broadway play, “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill.” Audra McDonald won the 2014 Tony Award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play.
To be added to the mailing list for tour dates, arrange a group tour or schedule a presentation, contact Faye Anderson at phillyjazzapp[@]gmail.com.
March is Women’s History Month. The Bible says a woman’s hair is her crown and glory. But for Black women, their natural hair is vilified. The current debate over natural hair has its roots in slavery. First enacted in 1786, Tignon laws forced free and enslaved Black women to cover their hair.
Fast forward to today, Black hair is still policed. Black people face discrimination and micro-aggressions because of the hair that grows naturally from their head and how they choose to style it.
One of the earliest challenges to modern Tignon customs happened in 1987. Cheryl Tatum was a cashier at Hyatt Regency Crystal City in Virginia. The personnel director, Betty McDermott, told Tatum to unbraid her hair because company policy banned “extreme and unusual hair styles.” McDermott said:
I can’t understand why you would want to wear your hair like that anyway. What would the guests think if we allowed you all to wear your hair like that?
Afros are protected under the Civil Rights Act. But if a Black woman wore a regal updo, she could face hair discrimination in all but eight states.
Viewed through the white gaze, natural hair is considered “unkempt” and “unprofessional.” But it’s not just Black women. Black men and Black children also face hair discrimination. A Black teenager was told to cut his dreadlocks or forfeit a wrestling match.
Beyoncé won 2021 Grammy for Best R&B Performance for “Black Parade.” A Black woman or girl could face hair discrimination for wearing the natural hair styles depicted in the music video.
Black voters delivered the White House and the Senate majority to Democrats. They should deliver for Black people and end hair discrimination by passing the CROWN Act, Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural Hair.
For more information, visit The Crown Act.
Opened circa 1944, the Coronet Club was located on South Broad and Cypress streets.
Ada Brown performed there on August 30, 1945. The blues singer appeared in “Stormy Weather” accompanied by Fats Waller.
On August 16, 1946, Ella Fitzgerald opened a two-week engagement opposite Tiny Bradshaw and his Orchestra.
From the cries of the enslaved to George Floyd’s anguished cry for his mother, Black people have sung “sorrow songs” of suffering and oppression.
For African Americans freedom is a constant struggle. From slave songs to freedom songs music is the glue that binds African Americans together in the struggles for emancipation, civil rights and racial justice. In an interview, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said:
A Negro song anthology would include sorrow songs, shouts for joy, battle hymns, anthems. Since slavery, the Negro has sung throughout his struggle in America. “Steal Away” and “Go Down, Moses” were the songs of faith and inspiration which were sung on the plantations. For the same reasons the slaves sang, Negroes today sing freedom songs, for we, too, are in bondage.
On Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2021, TV One will premiere UNSUNG PRESENTS: MUSIC & THE MOVEMENT, a two-part documentary of 400 years of “auditory dissent.” The film features interviews with artists, archival footage from memorable speeches, and live vocal performances.
Cathy Hughes, Chairwoman of Urban One Inc., said in a statement:
Music is the heart and soul of Black culture – giving life to our experiences, voice to our stories and growing power out of our pain. Every melody, lyric and rhythm artfully depicts the layers of Black diversity, scope of Black creativity, and depths of the complexity of our people. TV One’s Music & the Movement special pays homage to the music and music makers whose talents created a soundtrack of Black music during moments of political and social unrest throughout our history.
Robyn Greene Arrington, Vice President of Programming and Production, added:
Throughout history, Black music has been a clarion call to amplify the voice of our community and important social and political movements like the Civil Rights and Black Lives Matter movements. After an unprecedented year of social, economic, and political turmoil, we felt MLK Day was a great time to chronicle the ongoing struggles of Black Americans along with those who tirelessly lend their voices to protesting injustice and instigating positive changes for our community and social justice movements.
UNSUNG PRESENTS: MUSIC & THE MOVEMENT will air on TV One on Monday, January 18, 2021, at 8 p.m. ET.
In a 1969 interview, Nina Simone said, “An artist’s duty, as far as I’m concerned, is to reflect the times. I think that is true of painters, sculptors, poets, musicians.”
The upcoming PBS documentary How It Feels To Be Free tells the story of six Black artists who reflected the times – Abbey Lincoln, Nina Simone, Pam Grier, Diahann Carroll, Lena Horne and Cicely Tyson.
Michael Kantor, American Masters series executive producer, said:
These revolutionary Black women embody stories of courage, resilience and heroism. They fought for representation and economic, social and political equality through their artistry and activism. We are proud to share the stories of how each left an indelible mark on our culture and inspired a new generation.
Executive producer Alicia Keys added:
I am proud to be a part of such a meaningful, important project. Art is the most powerful medium on the planet, and I continue to be inspired by and learn from these powerful, brave and stereotype-shattering women who leveraged their success as artists to fearlessly stand up against racism, sexism, exclusion and harassment. I honor their courage by celebrating their stories and continuing the work they started.
How It Feels To Be Free premieres Monday, January 18, 2021 at 9 p.m. on PBS. Check your local listing here.
We finally said goodbye to 2020, an annus horribilis. But what lies ahead might also be frightening.
How it started.
How it’s going.