In June 2001, jazz scholar Ashley Kahn interviewed Alice Coltrane.
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.
The full transcript is available here.
February is Black History Month. This year’s commemoration is special because we are still celebrating the opening of the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
I have visited the museum twice; my next visit is later this month. The museum can be overwhelming so I methodically focus on one floor at a time, beginning with the History Galleries.
It is as emotionally wrenching as you would imagine. It is also motivating and inspiring. I thanked the ancestors for surviving the brutality of slavery and maintaining their humanity, their “soul value.” I am empowered by their enduring legacy of struggle and resistance.
Last week, I checked out the Culture Galleries.
It was sheer joy to experience black culture in all its glory – music, fashion, dance, culinary and visual arts, as well as the performing arts. Philadelphia’s music legends are in the house, including Marian Anderson, John Coltrane, Dixie Hummingbirds, Kenny Gamble, Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday, Leon Huff, Patti LaBelle, Paul Robeson and Sister Rosetta Tharpe. There’s an image of a billboard advertising an appearance by Fats Waller at the Lincoln Theater, a Philly landmark.
I ended each visit at Contemplative Court where I sat and, well, contemplated how we got over.
September 23rd marks the 90th anniversary of the birth of legendary saxophonist John Coltrane. It’s hard to believe but Coltrane has been dead longer than he was alive.
Trane’s life and legacy will be celebrated during nine days of free events, including film screenings, concerts, lectures and exhibitions. The festivities are organized by the Philadelphia Jazz Project in collaboration with Temple University Libraries, WRTI, PhillyCAM, Jazz Near You, among other partners.
The highlights include:
For more information, visit Philadelphia Jazz Project.
Who is Sister Rosetta Tharpe? The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame nominee is buried here in Philly
Philly.com, October 5, 2017
When Does Historic Preservation Become Social Justice? Public Art and Cultural Heritage Preservation
Preservation Leadership Forum, National Trust for Historic Preservation, July 26, 2017
Philadelphia’s music history – a DIY tour
PSN News powered by the Associated Press, May 29, 2017
Jane’s Walk 2017: Walking tours to take in Philly this weekend
Curbed Philadelphia, May 1, 2017
Pearls on Ridge
The PhillyHistory Blog, April 26, 2017
Historic Preservation and Social Justice
PlanPhilly, February 28, 2017
Ridge Avenue’s last standing jazz club
Philadelphia Inquirer, February 24, 2017
Preserving Philadelphia’s Built African-American Heritage: A Conversation with All That Philly Jazz’s Faye Anderson
Extant Magazine, Volume Two, Issue 1
Battle over proposed sale of first black Catholic church intensifies
Philadelphia Daily News, June 12, 2016
North Central: Philadelphia Celebrates Its Rich Jazz History
Philadelphia Neighborhoods, April 20, 2016
In Sharswood, remembering the music on Ridge Avenue
Philadelphia Daily News, April 16, 2016
Why Are Some Of The City’s Most Historic Black Churches Being Sold?
CBS Philadelphia, March 15, 2016
Luxury housing takes over Black landmarks in Philly
The Philadelphia Tribune, March 12, 2016
Malcolm X House Nominated for Listing on Philadelphia Register of Historic Places
SlideShare.net, March 2, 2016
Redevelopment In Sharswood: Will It Come At The Expense Of Preservation?
Hidden City Philadelphia, Feb. 24, 2016
Breaking Through Historic Preservation’s Color Line
Hidden City Philadelphia, Feb. 4, 2016
Housing Authority discusses Sharswood renewal project at Planning Commission
PlanPhilly.com, Nov. 18, 2015
Three Key Historic Neighborhood Buildings Recommended For Register
Hidden City Philadelphia, Sept. 16, 2015
Short-term art: When murals fall to developers
Philadelphia Daily News, June 5, 2015
Billie Holiday, The Roots join Walk of Fame
Philadelphia Inquirer, May 31, 2015
Lost and found jazz in Philadelphia
Al Dia News, April 9, 2015
At Last, Billie Holiday Being Nominated For Broad St. ‘Walk Of Fame’ Plaque
KYW Newsradio 1060, April 7, 2015
Remembering Billie Holiday
Philadelphia Inquirer, March 29, 2015
Video: Faye Anderson on All That Philly Jazz
Generocity, March 20, 2015
Share stories, preserve history with All That Philly Jazz app
Philadelphia Tribune, March 6, 2015
All That Philly Jazz documents region’s rich jazz legacy from bebop to hip-hop
Examiner.com, March 6, 2015
Fast Forward Philly: What’s Next for Philly?
DesignPhiladelphia, Oct. 10, 2014
All That Philly Jazz app breathes life into the local jazz scene
The Key, Aug. 28, 2013
Where Music Lives: In A Jazz Past Resurrected
WRTI, July 3, 2013
On the first day of summer, I had to report for jury duty at the Juanita Kidd Stout Center for Criminal Justice. As I stood in line to go inside the Jury Assembly Room, I noticed a panoramic mural. I made a mental note to check it out during the break.
It is clear the details only could have come from folks who were there. So it was no surprise to learn the mural was conceived by Doug Cooper in collaboration with “Philadelphia elderly.” Cooper wrote:
I brought together more than 40 elderly residents to complete it, and I worked jointly with them at the Center in the Park in the Germantown district of Philadelphia. Local artist, Deborah Zwetsch and I assembled their memories over the previous 80 years.
The memories of the elderly are highly personal. Some are sentimental, some painful, some humorous, some ordinary.
There is nothing ordinary about the depiction of the Ridge Avenue jazz corridor.
Ridge Avenue is ground zero in the Philadelphia Housing Authority’s plan to transform the Sharswood neighborhood. There is widespread concern that PHA has no plan to preserve the neighborhood’s cultural heritage and historic resources.
Cooper’s mural, showcasing Pep’s, the Showboat, Blue Horizon, Uptown Theater and jazz clubs on Ridge Avenue, tells part of the story of Philadelphia’s rich jazz heritage. We must capture the rest of the story while the folks who were there are still here. If we don’t, their stories will be lost for current and future generations.
It’s been more than a decade in the making, the National Museum of African American History and Culture will open on September 24. Founding Director Lonnie Bunch wrote:
After 13 years of hard work and dedication on the part of so many, I am thrilled. In a few short months visitors will walk through the doors of the museum and see that it is a place for all people. We are prepared to offer exhibitions and programs to unite and capture the attention of millions of people worldwide. It will be a place where everyone can explore the story of America through the lens of the African American experience.
The National Museum of American History is asking citizen curators to vote on photos from its Archives Center that reflect the diversity of the African American experiences. Twenty-five photos, six of which selected by the public, will go on display in September to commemorate the opening of the new museum. For more information, visit http://s.si.edu/PhotoVote1. Voting closes May 27 at midnight ET.
To say I can’t wait is an understatement. Even though I get no closer than the “No Trespassing” sign, I stop by the museum on every trip to DC.
On Opening Day, the National Museum of African American History and Culture will be open for 24 hours. I plan to skip President Barack Obama’s ribbon cutting and visit after midnight. I hope to spend some quiet time in the Contemplative Court reflecting on the ancestors and their incredible stories of faith, struggle and triumph.
Great Gosh A’Mighty! Been a long time coming.