Category Archives: Cultural Heritage

Rivers of Rhythm 

For more than 400 years, music has powered African American resilience, resistance and joy. From the rhythmic beat of the African drum that was banned by enslavers to “Rhythm Nation,” music is how we got over.

To kick off Black History Month, the National Museum of African American Music presents Rivers of Rhythm. Made possible by Renasant Bank, the six-part docuseries traces the history of African American music from its roots in Africa to The Roots and hip-hop.

Rivers of Rhythm premiered on February 1.

New episodes of Rivers of Rhythm will be released weekly on Tuesday on American Songwriter’s YouTube channel.

The Sound of Jazz

“The Sound of Jazz” aired on CBS on December 8, 1957.

The Sound of Jazz - Feature

Recorded live from CBS Studio 58 in New York City, the one-hour program was hosted by New York Herald-Tribune media critic John Crosby. “The Sound of Jazz” was the first major program featuring jazz to air on network television. A who’s who of blues and jazz greats performed, including Count Basie, Billie Holiday, Jimmy Rushing, Thelonious Monk, Henry Red Allen, Coleman Hawkins, Lester Young, Jo Jo Jones, Gerry Mulligan and Roy Eldridge.

Gospel Roots of Rock and Roll

Muddy Waters famously said, “The blues had a baby and they named the baby rock and roll.”

The architect of rock and roll, Little Richard, credits gospel legend Marion Williams for making him a star. During the 1993 Kennedy Center Honors, he said, “If it weren’t for you, I never would have been a star. I got that whoop from you.”

A new documentary traces the gospel roots of rock and roll.

“How They Got Over” is now playing in theaters and virtual cinemas. For ticket info, go here.

2021 DownBeat Readers’ Poll

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

Black Music Month 2021

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.

Buddy Guy: The Blues Chase The Blues Away premieres on July 27, 2021 at 9 p.m. ET. The documentary will be available on PBS and PBS Video App.

National Poetry Month

April is National Poetry Month. It is also Jazz Appreciation Month.

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’s Philadelphia Walking Tour

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, Billie Holiday Walk of Fame plaque, and sites of the Fantasy Lounge and South Broad Street USO.

We 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.

Tickets are available for the walking tour scheduled for Saturday, April 9, 2022 and Saturday, April 30, 2022 (International Jazz Day).