Tag Archives: #BlackCultureMatters

Historic Preservation and Social Justice

Two years ago I launched All That Philly Jazz, a public history project that is telling the story of Philadelphia’s rich jazz legacy. In documenting the places where jazz history unfolded, I also want to contextualize the impact of jazz musicians and the jazz culture.

Fact is, the jazz culture was about “intersectionality” before the term was coined . As Philadelphia Inquirer architecture critic Inga Saffron notes in her column, “Ridge Avenue’s last standing jazz club,” gay performers such as the “Sepia Gloria Swanson” were an integral part of the scene.

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In a piece for PlanPhilly, I wrote about why historic preservation matters:

1409 Lombard Street helps tell the story of artistic greats like Lady Day, Ray Charles, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Nina Simone and McCoy Tyner. It also tells the story of disruption and defiance. In remarks to the 1964 Berlin Jazz Festival, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said jazz is “triumphant music.” If walls could talk, they would tell how the jazz culture broke down social barriers. The first racially integrated nightspot in Center City was a jazz club, the Downbeat. For the first time, blacks and whites mixed on an equal basis. Jazz musicians created a cultural identity that was “a steppingstone” to the Civil Rights Movement.

At its core, historic preservation is about storytelling. The question then becomes: Who decides what gets saved and whose story gets told? The built environment reflects racial inequalities. Given African Americans’ socioeconomic status, few of the buildings associated with black history meet preservation standards regarding architectural significance. Although unadorned, they are places that tell a more complete American story. The stories of faith, resistance, and triumph are relevant to today’s social justice activists.

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Women in Jazz Month

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.


I also want to celebrate the pioneering women of the International Sweethearts of Rhythm, the first racially-integrated all-female big band. The 17-piece band was led by vocalist Anna Mae Winburn.

international-sweethearts-of-rhythm-e1425870519326

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.

Dunbar/Lincoln Theater

African American bankers E. C. Brown and Andrew Stevens opened the Dunbar Theater in 1919, with plans to offer refined entertainment. However, within two years, business floundered and Brown and Stevens sold the theater to John T. Gibson, the black owner of the more raucous Standard Theater on South Street.

Later during the Depression, Gibson was forced to sell the theater to white owners who renamed it the Lincoln Theater.

Dunbar Theatre Historical Marker

From the 1920s to 1940s, the 1400-seat theater hosted major performers such as Duke Ellington, Louise Beavers, Willie Bryant, Lena Horne, Don Redman, Ethel Waters, Cab Calloway, Paul Robeson and Fats Waller.

Lincoln Theater 1.2

The joint was jumping.

All That Philly Jazz Named One of the Best Jazz Blogs on the Planet

All That Philly Jazz was named one of the top 50 jazz blogs and websites for jazz musicians, teachers and students. We came in at #41. The list includes JazzWax and Jazz at Lincoln Center.

Way to go!
Top 50 Jazz Award

 

For more news and mentions, check out ICYMI: All That Philly Jazz in the News.

Mr. Silk’s Third Base

Gus “Mr. Silk” Lacey, was the unofficial mayor of 52nd Street, aka “the Strip.” He and his wife, Virginia, owned Mr. Silk’s Third Base. Heavyweight champion Joe Frazier, and music legends Teddy Pendergrass and Stevie Wonder were among the celebrities who frequented Mr. Silk’s.

Jazz vocalist Jimmy Scott performed here. In his biography, Faith in Time: The Life of Jimmy Scott, he recounted the neon sign outside read: “Always Touch Third Base Before You Go Home.”

Mr. Silk’s was featured in the 1972 blaxploitation film Trick Baby.

Mr. Silk's - Trick Baby

Film critic Dan Buskirk wrote:

Between “White Folks” and Blue, we see both sides of the city: from a posh dinner party where “White Folks” meets well-heeled businessmen whose greed makes them potential marks as well as the raucous scene at “Mr. Silk’s Third Base” a West Philly nightclub that functions as Blue’s unofficial office. We see a lot of the warm glowing interior of Mr. Silk’s. The club was a real place, a center of African American nightlife at 52nd and Spruce (their slogan was “You have to touch 3rd Base before you go home”). Owner Gus Lacy was “Mr. Silk,” by all accounts a bon vivant who received his smooth moniker by selling ladies’ undergarments along his postal route. He was also known as “The Mayor of 52nd Street” and before it closed in 1985 politicians, pimps and regular folks rubbed shoulders with stars like Stevie Wonder, Muhammad Ali and James Earl Jones. It’s a blessing that this little corner of the world was captured on film.

A blessing indeed.

#APeoplesJourney

The newly opened National Museum of African American History and Culture was 100 years in the making  The dream of black Civil War veterans was fulfilled on September 24, 2016. With the ringing of the First Baptist Church Freedom Bell, President Barack Obama opened the doors to a view of African American history and culture through an African American lens.

I was in DC for the grand opening ceremonies.

I did not visit the Museum because I did not want my first visit to be rushed (I have tickets for October and November). So I spent the weekend reveling in the Freedom Sounds Festival. It was comforting to see the ancestors presiding over the community celebration.

ray-charles-freedom-sounds

By the way, Ray Charles’ “Lonely Avenue” was remixed into a freedom song, “Fighting for My Rights.”

On my visit to the Museum on October 3rd, my first stop will be the Slavery gallery. If time permits, I’ll check out the Music collection. My plan is to check out one gallery on each visit.

Are you ready to visit? Admission is free, but you need a timed pass. You’ll have to plan ahead because Museum tickets are sold out for the rest of the year. Passes for Museum admission between January and March 2017  will be available online starting Oct. 3 at 9 a.m.

For more info, check out Top 10 Things To Know About Visiting the Museum.