Tag Archives: Civil Rights

Jump for Joy: Duke Ellington and Social Change

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.”

Duke Ellington-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.”

Marvin Gaye Forever

Motown legend Marvin Gaye was born on April 2, 1939. To celebrate what would have been the 80th birthday of the “Prince of Soul,” the United States Postal Service will release the Marvin Gaye Commemorative Forever® Stamp.

Marvin Gaye - Forever Stamp2

In a Facebook post, USPS wrote:

Dear Music Fans,

We’re honoring the life, legend and sound of Marvin Gaye (1939 – 1984) with the newest stamp in our Music Icons series. Pictured here in front of Washington D.C.’s @howardtheatre, where he graced the stage, our stamp features a portrait of Gaye inspired by historic photographs.

With hits like “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing,” “I Heard It Through the Grapevine,” and “Too Busy Thinking About My Baby,” Gaye helped shape the buoyant sound of the Motown record label in the 1960s. Released in 1971, his expansive masterwork, “What’s Going On,” is widely considered one of the greatest recordings in the history of American popular music.

Gaye’s presence and unique sound will live on forever through his music and now through the mail. Send some soul by including the Marvin Gaye stamp on your envelope.

The Marvin Gaye Commemorative Forever® Stamp will be unveiled at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles. You can watch the dedication ceremony on the USPS Facebook page at www.facebook.com/USPS on Tuesday, April 2, 2019 at 11 a.m. PDT.

Jazz saxophonist Elan Trotman will be present at the celebration. Later that day, he will drop a tribute album, “Dear Marvin,” a collection of ten of the iconic crooner’s best songs.

Marvin Gaye - Elan Trotman

Trotman told JazzCorner.com:

It’s been an honor to be able to share my interpretations of some of Marvin’s classics. As with all cover projects, I made an extra effort to learn lyrics and storylines for each composition in order to truly understand his interpretations and performances on each song.

You’ve got to give it up for Marvin Gaye who is forever stamped in our hearts and minds.

Women in Jazz Month 2019

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.

Ella Fitgzerald - Arrested - October 1955

With the intervention of her friend, actress Marilyn Monroe, Fitzgerald was the first African American to perform at the legendary Mocambo nightclub.

Ella Fitzgerald - Marilyn Monroe

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.

Remembering Marian Anderson

Given the givens, some folks have called for a “do-over” of Black History Month 2019. I want to close out February on a high note by remembering Marian Anderson.

The name Marian Anderson has been part of my life from Day One. An older-now-deceased sister was named Marian. As a schoolgirl, I was puzzled when I would hear my teachers say her name. Of course I would later learn they were referring to the world-renowned contralto who inspired a generation of civil rights activists, including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Marian Anderson - Lincoln Memorial

In a high school essay, 15-year-old Martin wrote:

Black America still wears chains. The finest Negro is at the mercy of the meanest white man. Even winners of our highest honors face the class color bar. Look at a few of the paradoxes that mark daily life in America. Marian Anderson was barred from singing in the Constitution Hall, ironically enough, by the professional daughters of the very men who founded this nation for liberty and equality. But this tale had a different ending. The nation rose in protest, and gave a stunning rebuke to the Daughters of the American Revolution and a tremendous ovation to the artist, Marian Anderson, who sang in Washington on Easter Sunday and fittingly, before the Lincoln Memorial. Ranking cabinet members and a justice of the Supreme Court were seated about her. Seventy-five thousand people stood patiently for hours to hear a great artist at a historic moment. She sang as never before with tears in her eyes. When the words of “America” and “Nobody Knows De Trouble I Seen” rang out over that great gathering, there was a hush on the sea of uplifted faces, black and white, and a new baptism of liberty, equality and fraternity. That was a touching tribute, but Miss Anderson may not as yet spend the night in any good hotel in America. Recently she was again signally honored by being given the Bok reward as the most distinguished resident of Philadelphia. Yet she cannot be served in many of the public restaurants of her home city, even after it has declared her to be its best citizen.

That was then. Ms. Anderson is now an American icon who will be celebrated in her home city with a new exhibition, “Marian: A Soul In Song,” presented by the National Marian Anderson Historical Society.

Marian Anderson Exhibit

The exhibition features a collection of the opera singer’s performance gowns, costumes and accessories, photographs, video and recordings. The exhibition runs from February 27, 2019 to January 1, 2020. For more information and tickets, visit the Marian Anderson Museum & Historical Society.

Remembering Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Martin Luther King Jr. was born on January 15, 1929 in Atlanta. An HBO documentary includes scenes from his last birthday celebration in 1968.

dr. king - xernona clayton

dr. king - xernona clayton2

Xernona Clayton said she organized the office party to “cheer up” the civil rights leader. For information about King in the Wilderness, go here.

Happy birthday, Dr. King. We miss you but your legacy lives on in our determination to “keep moving.”

Citizen Salon

I am an advocate for the arts. I believe in the power of art to transform lives and ignite social change. Last summer, the Arthur Ross Gallery invited citizens to select an artwork from the University of Pennsylvania Art Collection to be included in a crowdsourced installation, Citizen Salon.

Citizen Salon

I was among 600+ people who responded. The citizen curators included art historians, Penn faculty, artists, scientists and ordinary citizens. I selected a portrait of Marian Anderson, the first African American soloist to perform with the New York Metropolitan Opera. The top 50 picks are now on view, including Robert Savon Pious’ portrait of the world-renowned contralto.

Marian Anderson - Faye Anderson - Citizen Curator

I was asked to provide commentary for the label and audio tour which you can listen to here.

Citizen Salon will be on view at the Arthur Ross Gallery through March 24, 2019.

UPDATE: I’m the featured citizen curator on the Arthur Ross Gallery blog.

Veterans Day 2018

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.

Billie Holiday - South Broad Street USO

Parker Hall was on the top floor of the Parker Building.

Parker Hall - Germantown CDC

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.