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.
Legendary composer, bandleader and pianist Duke Ellington was not an outspoken activist. His activism was expressed in benefit concerts, non-segregation clause in his contract and his music. In the 1960s, Ellington was asked when he was going to compose a civil rights piece. His reply, “I did my piece more than 20 years ago when I wrote Jump for Joy.”
Debuted on July 10, 1941, at the Mayan Theater in Los Angeles, the musical addressed African American identity and representation. For Ellington, showcasing black excellence was an act of resistance to racial caricatures. Although Jump for Joy received rave reviews, it ran for only 122 performances. The musical never made it to Broadway. The “Great White Way” was not ready for Ellington’s unapologetic blackness.
Nearly 80 years later, audiences still jump for joy when they hear songs from the musical, including “I’ve Got It Bad (and That Ain’t Good) and “Rocks in My Bed.”
Jazz musicians were about intersectionality before the term was coined. During 2018 Jazz Appreciation Month, I moderated a conversation on art, jazz and activism, curated by Black Quantum Futurism and Icebox Project Space.
During the Jim Crow era, Louis Armstrong asked, “What did I do to be so black and blue?”
In 2018, men in blue uniforms arrested two African Americans whose only sin is in their skin. Their offense – waiting while black at Starbucks.
@Starbucks The police were called because these men hadn’t ordered anything. They were waiting for a friend to show up, who did as they were taken out in handcuffs for doing nothing. All the other white ppl are wondering why it’s never happened to us when we do the same thing. pic.twitter.com/0U4Pzs55Ci
While implicit bias led to the 911 call, Police Commissioner Richard Ross is complicit in the criminalization of black men. In a video posted on Facebook, Ross said:
They did a service that they were called to do. And if you think about it logically, that if a business calls and they say that someone is here that I no longer wish to be in my business, [police officers] now have a legal obligation to carry out their duties.
There is nothing logical about implicit bias.
In an open letter, Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson said the arrest was “reprehensible”:
By now, you may be aware of a disheartening situation in one of our Philadelphia-area stores this past Thursday, that led to a reprehensible outcome.
I’m writing this evening to convey three things:
First, to once again express our deepest apologies to the two men who were arrested with a goal of doing whatever we can to make things right. Second, to let you know of our plans to investigate the pertinent facts and make any necessary changes to our practices that would help prevent such an occurrence from ever happening again. And third, to reassure you that Starbucks stands firmly against discrimination or racial profiling.
In the coming days, I will be joining our regional vice president, Camille Hymes—who is on the ground in Philadelphia—to speak with partners, customers and community leaders as well as law enforcement. Most importantly, I hope to meet personally with the two men who were arrested to offer a face-to-face apology.
I am heartbroken to see Philadelphia in the headlines for an incident that — at least based on what we know at this point — appears to exemplify what racial discrimination looks like in 2018.
However, Kenney is not “heartbroken” enough to launch an independent investigation of the incident. Instead, the Philadelphia Police Department is investigating itself. A fact noted by the Washington Post:
Kenney said little about the response of his police force beyond mentioning an ongoing review from Police Commissioner Richard Ross.
In his Facebook monologue, Ross said the police department sends all new recruits to the National Museum of African American History and Culture and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum because “we want them to know about the atrocities that were, in fact, committed by policing around the world.”
The Commissioner encouraged us to “make our own value judgment.” So here’s mine — Negro, please! Did you send new recruits to visit the African American Museum in Philadelphia’s exhibit, “Arresting Patterns: Perspectives on Race, Criminal Justice, Artistic Expression, and Community?” The museum is located one block from police headquarters.
Ross declared his “officers did absolutely nothing wrong” in arresting two black men whose only offense is the color of their skin. But he will not have the last word.
POWER, a coalition of clergy leaders representing more than 50 interfaith congregations in Southeastern and Central Pennsylvania, will hold a march and sit-in on Monday, April 16. Protesters will gather at 3:30pm at The Philadelphia Ethical Society, 1906 Rittenhouse Square. From there, they will march and occupy the Starbucks located at 1801 Spruce Street from 4-6pm.
Commissioner Ross, just so you know, they will not make any purchases. So get your paddy rollers ready.
On November 11, 1966, John Coltrane gave his final performance in Philadelphia at Mitten Hall.
Mitten Hall will again be filled with joyful noise as the community tells Temple University: We Shall Not Be Moved.
Some background: On March 6, Temple will hold an “informational town hall” to discuss its proposal to put a 35,000-seat football stadium in the heart of an African American residential neighborhood. Temple has been planning this project for nearly two years. President Richard Englert claims Curtis J. Moody, lead architect with Moody Nolan, met with community members “to hear their concerns and has worked to integrate those comments into the designs.” Unless Moody has designed a stealth stadium, there is no way he has integrated the concerns of a community that understands a football stadium is displacement by design.
Temple’s first-ever public forum comes on the heels of a community town hall meeting convened by Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity, Philadelphia NAACP and Stadium Stompers.
Between chants of “We Shall Not Be Moved,” there was testimony from diverse stakeholders, including Mary Stricker, a sociology professor. Prof. Stricker noted the Faculty Senate passed a resolution by a 24-1 vote opposing Temple’s fantasy football scheme:
I really think this is a bad idea not only because it is a financial risk, but also because it’s in the worst interest of the surrounding community. Temple owes something to the community that has been hosting it for all these years.
Temple Faculty say no new stadium. We are strong, united and determined in this fight.
Pastor Jay Broadnax, president of Black Clergy of Philadelphia and Vicinity, said:
We love football but we’re calling a timeout. We love football but the people in this community will not be a football, passed, punted, kicked and carried across the city line in order for institutions to score profit points or get land grab wins.
For 40 years, they have disinvested in North Philadelphia. You couldn’t get a mortgage. You couldn’t get a loan. You couldn’t get a home improvement loan. You couldn’t get a loan to start a business. But however today, they got all the money to make a stadium right in your backyard.
There’s something wrong with that. Whenever they start to pour money into a neighborhood, they want to push out black folks. … Race is dug deep in this thing. Race is a factor in this thing. This stadium is about moving black folks from North Philadelphia.
Rev. William Moore, pastor of Tenth Memorial Baptist Church, captured the mood of the hundreds who turned out in the rain for the community meeting. Echoing a local resident who said the stadium design is akin to “putting a whale in a goldfish bowl,” Rev. Moore said:
If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit. If it doesn’t fit, don’t force it.
The inaugural Jazz Congress will be in session January 11-12 in New York City. Co-produced by Jazz at Lincoln Center and Jazz Times, the conference will “bring together artists, media and industry leaders in the global jazz community to exchange ideas in order to nurture and grow the jazz community and the underlying business and organizations that promote, produce, present, market and support the music.”
Jazz at Lincoln Center is excited to host this much needed community initiative. We will stimulate an inclusive environment, explore new ways to expand audiences for our music, and learn from one another. With so much discordant non-communication around the world and in our country, now is the perfect time for us to come together for serious discourse around and about our cultural, business and aesthetic objectives.
Jazz has what our modern world needs. Let us all take pride in our collective advocacy of this great music by identifying, declaring and demonstrating our common ground.
The program includes panels focusing on race and gender, and audience development. Hall of Fame basketball legend Kareem Abdul-Jabber, a jazz enthusiast whose father was a trombonist, will deliver the keynote address. Abdul-Jabbar will talk about the role jazz can play in today’s society.
I am particularly interested in the panel discussion on jazz, politics and activism. One of my objectives with All That Philly Jazz is to contextualize jazz within the framework of movements for social change. Indeed, the jazz culture was about intersectionality before the term was coined.
Some of the sessions will be livestreamed. You can join the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #JazzCongress. For more information, visit JazzCongress.org.
In 1970, a band of musicians sounded a call to arms over the exclusion of black jazz musicians in the mass media, specifically commercial television. Broadcast TV was the dominant medium of the era. Multi-instrumentalist Rahsaan Roland Kirk spearheaded Jazz and People’s Movement. Kirk circulated a petition in New York City jazz clubs which was signed by, among others, Lee Morgan, Charles Mingus, Andy Cyrrile, Freddie Hubbard, Cecil Taylor, Elvin Jones, Pharoah Sanders, Archie Shepp and Roy Haynes.
The petition reads, in part:
Many approaches have been used through the ages in the attempted subjugation of masses of people. One of the very essential facets of the attempted subjugation of the black man in America has been an effort to stifle, obstruct and ultimately destroy black creative genius; and thus, rob the black man of a vital source of pride and liberating strength. In the musical world, for many years a pattern of suppression has been thoroughly inculcated into most Americans. Today many are seemingly unaware that their actions serve in this suppression – others are of course more intentionally guilty. In any event, most Americans for generations have had their eyes, ears and minds closed to what the black artist has to say.
Obviously only utilization of the mass media has enabled white society to establish the present state of bigotry and whitewash. The media have been so thoroughly effective in obstructing the exposure of true black genius that many black people are not even remotely familiar with or interested in the creative giants within black society.
Action to end this injustice should have begun long ago. For years only imitators and those would sell their souls have been able to attain and sustain prominence on the mass media. Partially through the utilization of an outlandish myth, that in artistic and entertainment fields bigotry largely no longer exists, and by showrooming those few blacks who have sold out, the media have so far escaped the types of response that such suppression and injustice should and now will evoke.
Jazz and People’s Movement took action. Demonstrators disrupted tapings of The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, The Dick Cavett Show and The Merv Griffin Show. On signal, group members played noisemakers and instruments that they had smuggled into the studios. They also passed out leaflets and displayed placards.
Fast forward to today, the multi-Grammy winning Jones is taking a journey into jazz and beyond with Qwest TV, the world’s first subscription video-on-demand platform dedicated to jazz from bebop to hip-hop.
In a statement, Jones said:
The dream of Qwest TV is to let jazz and music lovers everywhere experience these incredibly rich and diverse musical traditions in a whole new way.
At my core, I am a bebopper, and over the course of my seventy-year career in music I have witnessed firsthand the power of jazz – and all of its off-spring from the blues and R&B to pop, rock and hip-hop, to tear down walls and bring the world together. I believe that a hundred years from now, when people look back at the 20th century, they will view Bird, Miles and Dizzy, as our Mozart, Bach, Chopin and Tchaikovsky, and it is my hope that Qwest TV will serve to carry forth and build on the great legacy that is jazz for many generations to come.
Qwest TV co-founder Reza Ackbaraly added:
By bringing Qwest TV to the general public and to universities everywhere, we seek to promote the values inherent to jazz: hard work, diversity, openness towards others, mutual respect and consideration, cooperation, and improvisation. Jazz touches people across all national, social and cultural boundaries. Qwest TV is of course about extending that reach, but it is also about bringing exciting music from around the world back to jazz and music lovers who have yet to discover it. Quincy and I plan to build a community where the love goes both ways.
The streaming service will launch in fall 2017. For more info, visit Qwest TV.
Mrs. Coltrane shared memories of her legendary husband John Coltrane, including his views of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X:
A lot was going on in the ’60s—black empowerment, civil rights, new jazz music was becoming the New Thing, which also had a political edge. How did John look upon all of that at the time—especially race politics? Was he with Dr. King or more with Malcolm [X]?
He was very interested in the civil-rights movement. He appreciated both men from their different perspectives. He did see the unity in what they were trying to achieve, basically almost the same thing, taking different directions to reach that point of achievement.
He knew that Dr. Martin Luther King was an intelligent man, who would’ve probably found his quest in civil rights more horrible, more horrendous, by going through the system as a lawyer or a professor. John felt that [King] as a preacher could reach the heart of the people. And he felt that this was very good, that it was an asset, that he would be able to lead the people based on the spiritual sense instead of the civic, intellectual, legalistic. John felt if you can talk to their heart you’ll get their support, and you’ll get them to believe in what you’re doing.
About Malcolm, I know John had attended some of his talks that were in our area. Once he came back and I asked him, “How was the lecture?” and he said he thought it was superb. Different approaches to the same goal, telling the people [to] be wise, try to get some kind of economic freedom, be self-sufficient, depend on yourself, strengthen your family ties. Things like that, not even involved with religion, just basic areas of improvement so that you can make yourself a strong force for the good that needs to be achieved. He told me that he appreciated the way that when the really tough questions were asked from the audience, every one was answered with an intelligence which the people could comprehend.
I know that some musicians who were around at the time were more militant. How did John feel about that?
He would not be a part of it, and this is what many people wanted him to do. They’d say, “Why don’t you take your horn, use it as an instrument to rally people together, to awaken consciousness in these people to really stand and fight for their rights?” He just said, “That’s not the way for me to go with this music.” It was not the way for him, to take his music into a militant zone to try to stress a point. If anything, we saw him going up. I would imagine his philosophy would be closer to Martin Luther King Jr.: Let me try to reach your heart, your spirit and your soul, and then we can move forward uniformly as a people and accomplish great things.
He didn’t prefer violence to peace, and he was very disturbed by the consequences [of the riots in the mid-1960s] and all the people who were getting hurt in the rioting. I believe he called us once [when] he was out of town when those [riots] were happening. He was mainly on the phone with his mother, because she was with us at the time and she was quite upset about it.
Octavius Valentine Catto was a 19th century educator and activist. He was killed on October 10, 1871, Election Day, when he tried to exercise his right to vote guaranteed by the 15th Amendment.
Located at 16th and Fitzwater streets, the O.V. Catto Elks Lodge was a hub of community life for 30 years. In addition to its large meeting space and recreation facilities (including a full boxing ring and a basketball court), the building boasted a large roof garden for formal gatherings.
The lodge’s Two Bit Club was also a draw. In Whisper Not: The Autobiography of Benny Golson, the NEA Jazz Master recounted that for two years he played with the Mickey Collins Orchestra every Sunday at this South Philly landmark. This photo was taken in 1946 when Golson was 17.
Published by Temple University Press, Golson’s autobiography is available for purchase here.