Located on the corner of 16th and South streets, Budweiser was popular throughout Philadelphia. According to saxophonist Sam Reed, Billie Holiday performed here.
Saxophonist Benny Carter played here with Jimmy Tisdale and his orchestra.
Former mayor and police commissioner Frank Rizzo was sued by the Justice Department for a pattern of police brutality that shocks the conscience. Rizzo died on July 16, 1991. He was born again eight years later in the form of a 10-foot monument commissioned by Rizzo family and friends.
The Frank L. Rizzo Memorial Committee decided to place the statue in front of the Municipal Services Building. They also decided it would be unveiled on New Year’s Day 1999 after the Mummers Parade, an event best known for clowns prancing around in blackface.
Almost from the moment the hunk-of-junk was unveiled, African Americans and allies peacefully protested for its removal from the gateway to municipal services. Fast forward to 2017, Mayor Jim Kenney said it would be removed by May 2018. Then he said by 2021. Then Kenney said the statue would not be moved before 2022. On May 30, 2020, demonstrators tried to topple it.
Realizing the jig is up, Kenney said the statue would be removed:
The way its engineered, it’s bolted into the stairs and under the stairs is the concourse where people get their permits and pay their taxes. We didn’t want to tear that up until we did the entire place. We’re going to move it, hopefully in about another month or so. We’re going to accelerate the removal.
The protests accelerated the removal. Rizzo was hauled away three days later. As for the concourse under the stairs, who are we to believe – Kenney or our lying eyes?
Kenney’s lie was compounded by his spokesperson Michael Dunn:
The statue is bolted into the infrastructure of the plaza, which is also the roof of the underground concourse. Removing it while ensuring the integrity of that infrastructure will be a complicated task.
It was such a complicated task the statue was removed under the cover of darkness.
For more on the take down of Frank Rizzo, check out my essay, “The Rizzo reign is finally over. Thank Black Philadelphia.”
In my op-ed, “3 Black Philadelphians whose statues should replace Frank Rizzo” published in The Philadelphia Inquirer, I suggested a memorial to Philly native Billie Holiday, who was harassed by then-Police Captain Rizzo, would be poetic justice. In 1939, Lady Day told the world black lives matter.
March is Women in Jazz Month, a time to celebrate and recognize the contributions of women to jazz. As a lifelong activist, I want to celebrate women who used music as a platform for social change.
Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” is well-known.
Ethel Waters’ “Supper Time” is not as well-known. Written by Irving Berlin especially for Waters, the song is about a wife’s grief over the lynching of her husband.
Ella Fitzgerald broke down racial barriers. On October 7, 1955, the “First Lady of Song” performed with the Jazz at the Philharmonic in Houston. The concert tour was produced by her manager Norman Granz, an ally in the fight for racial justice. The Music Hall had “Negro” and “White” labels on the bathroom doors. Shortly before the show, Granz removed the labels.
Houston’s segregationists were angry about Granz’s attempt to integrate the show by refusing to pre-sell tickets. Some whites asked for a refund rather than sit next to an African American. After the first show, the police stormed Fitzgerald’s dressing room and arrested her, trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, saxophonist Illinois Jacquet and other musicians on trumped-up charges.
With the intervention of her friend, actress Marilyn Monroe, Fitzgerald was the first African American to perform at the legendary Mocambo nightclub.
Nina Simone’s outrage over the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church emboldened civil rights activists.
Simone’s celebration of black excellence inspired a new generation of civil rights activists, including the writer.
In 1919, President Woodrow Wilson proclaimed November 11 as Armistice Day:
To us in America, the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of the nations.
November 11 commemorates the armistice agreement Allied powers signed with Germany bringing hostilities to an end on the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month” of 1918.
In June 1954, Congress passed legislation changing the name from Armistice Day to Veterans Day, a day to honor veterans of all wars. On October 8, 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued the first Veterans Day Proclamation.
Just six years earlier, President Harry S. Truman signed Executive Order No. 9981 establishing the President’s Committee on Equality of Treatment and Opportunity in the Armed Services. The EO signaled the government’s commitment to integrate the military.
United Service Organizations (USO) policy expressly banned racial discrimination. However, there were separate facilities for African American servicemen in the Jim Crow South and segregated North. In Philadelphia, USO sites for African Americans included Parker Hall and South Broad Street USO. Billie Holiday entertained the soldiers at both locations.
Parker Hall was on the top floor of the Parker Building.
The Parker Building is now home to the ACES Museum whose mission is to preserve the history of World War II veterans and restore Parker Hall as a functioning USO for black veterans and their families. The ACES Museum is headquarters of the Philadelphia Chapter of the National Association of Black Veterans.
For more information, visit www.acesmuseum.online.
March is Women in Jazz Month, a time to celebrate the contributions of women to jazz. Few – male or female – have contributed more to the jazz canon than Billie Holiday. In the decades since her death, Lady Day has been celebrated in film, song, books, fashion and art.
ClickitTicket, a resale marketplace, has created a timeline of Billie Holiday’s life, beginning with her birth in Philadelphia in 1915 and ending with her death in a New York City hospital in 1959.
Billie Holiday’s voice was a little thin and somewhat limited. She had no technical training; she couldn’t even read sheet music.
Yet, Holiday is one of the greatest vocalists of all-time.
What she lacked in power and tone, she made up for it with the ability to tell a story and emote. Every song she sang she made her own.
Holiday was a true artist who had a profound impact on both jazz and pop music.
She made a huge impact on countless artists including Frank Sinatra.
“Lady Day is unquestionably the most important influence on American popular singing in the last twenty years,” explained Ol’ Blue Eyes to Ebony magazine in 1958.
Despite personal demons, abusive romantic relationships, and the specter of racism, Holiday achieved commercial and artistic success during her lifetime.
Since her death in the late 1950s, generations of musicians have turned to her recordings for inspiration and enlightenment.
March is Women in Jazz Month, a time to celebrate the contributions of women to jazz.
As a lifelong activist, I want to celebrate the role that women in jazz played in paving the way for the Civil Rights Movement. While Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit” is well-documented, Ethel Waters’ “Supper Time” is not well-known. Written by Irving Berlin especially for Waters, the song is about a wife’s grief over the lynching of her husband.
The Sweethearts were popular in the 1940s. Indeed, they were one of the top swing bands, appearing on radio broadcasts, and touring the U.S. and Europe.
The group disbanded in 1949.
The legendary Showboat was located in the basement of the 1409 Hotel, formerly the Douglass Hotel.
The historical marker out front notes that Billie Holiday “often lived here.”
In 1964, Herb Spivak bought the property and renamed the jazz spot in the basement “Showboat Jazz Theatr” (purposely leaving off the “e”). All That Philly Jazz Director Faye Anderson interviewed Spivak on International Jazz Day 2019.
Spivak increased the seating capacity from 100 to 200. The small bandstand was behind the bar. The Showboat played host to jazz greats such as Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Lee Morgan, Art Blakey, Cannonball Adderley, Bootsie Barnes, Philly Joe Jones, Thelonious Monk, Dinah Washington and Ramsey Lewis.
On June 17, 1963, John Coltrane Quartet recorded “Live at the Showboat” featuring Coltrane (sax) McCoy Tyner (piano), Jimmy Garrison (bass) and Elvin Jones (drums).
I had a visceral response to news that City Councilman Mark Squilla introduced a bill that would impose new rules for a “special assembly occupancy” license. Among other things, applications for an SAO license must be approved by the Philadelphia Police Department. Promoters and venue operators would be required to provide the police department with the “full name, address and phone number of all performance acts scheduled to perform during the promoted event or special event.”
There is concern the bill is racially motivated, i.e., it’s targeting venues that promote hip-hop artists. Capt. Francis Healy, the PPD’s legal adviser, told the Philadelphia Inquirer Squilla’s bill has “nothing to do with race,” adding:
I could see where it could be [interpreted as such].
The police department has a sordid history with black musicians. During Philly’s jazz heyday, clubs were under police surveillance. Jazz venues would be raided because black and white patrons were fraternizing. In a piece for Hidden City Philadelphia, Jack McCarthy shared a news report from 1949:
A preholiday raid by… detectives… once again smacks of racial prejudice on part of the law enforcers… [The] Downbeat is the favorite hangout for the be-bop fans and is the only downtown spot which never has discriminated against Negro patronage. In fact, crowds here have been interracial in character, attracting everybody from the intelligentsia to the rabid be-bop fan.
Nat Segall, former owner of the Downbeat who originally established the room, gave it up a year ago rather than give in to certain political powers who urged he adopt a segregation policy for the room. When he refused to give in, Segall, a former musician now in the booking business, was pestered by police raids and finally sold out.
Charges of underage drinkers at the Downbeat, basis for the raid, is a weak one when you see the patronage of purity-white places… you’ll find teenagers any night of the week in practically every night club in town.
Police harassment put the legendary club out of business. Philadelphia police and federal narcotics agents hounded Billie Holiday. Indeed, Lady Day was the first casualty of the War on Drugs.
On Nov. 17, 1955, Ray Charles and his entire band were arrested on drug charges. Although the charges were later dropped, Brother Ray vowed to never again perform in Philadelphia.
Sixty years later, there are echoes of Ray Charles’s concern about the climate for musicians. As currently written, the police department would maintain a registry of performers. Musicians are posting on social media that if Squilla’s bill passes, they will skip Philly.
Heard enough? Then take note and join the protest against Bill No. 160016 at City Hall on Thursday, Feb. 4 at 9 a.m. For more information, visit March for Musicians Against Bill #160016 on Facebook.
Don’t let Squilla stop the music.
UPDATE: Councilman Mark Squilla’s bill struck a discordant note. At a hastily-arranged meeting with music industry leaders, Squilla said:
There’s a distrust between some performers and the government, a feeling of “big brother watching you.” That was not my intent.
In the wake of the social media backlash, Squilla will “withdraw the bill and start over from scratch.” Strike up the band and let the music play.
On Saturday at the Merriam Theater, bassist Christian McBride performed like it was 1969. McBride’s “The Movement, Revisited” is centered around the words of four Civil Rights icons, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Rosa Parks and Muhammad Ali.
McBride and his 18-piece band were joined by the Philadelphia Heritage Chorale, and four narrators – Rev. Alyn Waller as Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., Dion Graham as Muhammad Ali, Samuel Stricklen as Malcolm X, and Sonia Sanchez as Rosa Parks.
McBride shared that he grew up reading Jet and Ebony which gave him a history lesson in the black experience. The four icons stood out for him. “The Movement, Revisited” stems from a commission by the Portland Arts Society to compose a piece for Black History Month:
The genesis for this project began in 1998 when McBride was commissioned by the Portland (ME) Arts Society to compose THE MOVEMENT, Revisited, a two-part composition for small instrumental group and gospel ensemble. This year, McBride envisioned a project of wider scope on the same theme and it has grown into a full-scale, 90-minute production.
The narrators brought to life the personality and passion of their character. I particularly enjoyed McBride’s exuberant “Rumble in the Jungle.” The choir evoked the spirit of the Freedom Singers with “I’m So Tired” and “Freedom, Struggle.”
In an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer, McBride said:
I don’t want to predict anything, but the magnitude of the piece – why it was written, what it was about – I can’t imagine I’ll ever write something as monumental on this scale again. I do get overwhelmed playing it, and every time I do, it feels new. Sometimes, I play this piece and still go, “Wow, did I really write this?”
If the standing ovation is any indication, the audience was wowed by the piece.
McBride’s message music harkens back to earlier generations of jazz greats who were inspired by the struggle for racial justice. In 1929, Louis Armstrong asked, “(What Did I Do to Be So) Black and Blue.” Composed by Fats Waller, it is considered the first American popular song of racial protest.
Billie Holiday told the world about the horrors of lynching.
Both Armstrong and Holiday are featured in an exhibition at the Library of Congress, “The Civil Rights Act of 1964: A Long Struggle for Freedom.” The multimedia exhibition explores the events that shaped the Civil Rights Movement. It includes manuscripts like Dr. Billy Taylor’s “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free,” composed in 1954 and popularized by Nina Simone in the 1960s.
In 1959, bassist Charles Mingus composed “Fables of Faubus,” a satirical protest against Arkansas governor Orval Faubus who had deployed the Arkansas National Guard to Little Rock Central High School to prevent nine African American students from entering the segregated school.
Jazz has an element of freedom. It is that freedom that allowed jazz musicians to use their platform to sound a message of defiance and resistance. From John Coltrane’s “Alabama” to Max Roach’s “We Insist! Freedom Now Suite,” jazz was a soundtrack to the Civil Rights Movement.
“The Civil Rights Act of 1964: A Long Struggle for Freedom” will be on exhibit at the Library of Congress until Jan. 2, 2016.