Tag Archives: #CivilRights

Fantasy Lounge

Located across from Philadelphia International Records, the Fantasy Lounge was a popular hangout for PIR studio musicians, movers and shakers, and the rich and famous including Teddy Pendergrass and Lou Rawls.

On Oct. 26, 2015, Billie Holiday’s Walk of Fame plaque was unveiled. It’s located in front of the Kimmel Center which is in the footprint of the Fantasy Lounge. While at the unveiling, I confirmed the location of the club with legendary DJ Jerry Blavat.

From a 1999 news story reporting on the death of Lauretta Tucker Adams, the owner of the Fantasy Lounge:

Among the most famous of her businesses was the Fantasy Lounge, a supper club at Broad and Spruce Streets in Philadelphia, where just about anyone could mingle with famous musicians, politicians and professional athletes. It was the spot where fabulous theater parties were tossed by performing casts, and Diana Ross boogied until the wee hours at a birthday party in her honor, according to a 1985 Daily News story lamenting the lounge’s closing to make room for expansion of the Philadelphia College of Art.

Walk of Fame inductee Kenny Gamble recounted:

She was a role model and mentor to many of us. She promoted us everywhere. She did things because she really cared. She didn’t care about material things, and she would help anybody who really needed help with no strings attached . . . and she was very smart in business.

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Billie Holiday Inducted into Philadelphia Walk of Fame

Billie Holiday was born in West Philly 100 years ago. This morning, her star will be reborn as Lady Day is inducted into the Philadelphia Walk of Fame.

I am proud to have played a role in making this happen.

Billie Holiday Joins Walk of Fame

For me, it was personal. After a failed romance when I was in law school, I started my day by playing “Good Morning Heartache.” My best friend would ask me, “Why are you always listening to that junkie?” I ignored him. We now know Lady Day was an early victim of racial profiling.

Billie helped me get through a rough patch. It will be my pleasure to help keep her bronze plaque clean.

UPDATE: Billie Holiday’s Walk of Fame plaque unveiled. It’s located in front of the Kimmel Center.

Billie Holiday - Walk of Fame Plaque - 10.26.15

John Coltrane and Cultural Heritage Preservation

Jazz legend John Coltrane personified cool.

John Coltrane

Coltrane was into cultural heritage preservation before it was cool. His composition, “Alabama” was in response to the Sept. 15, 1963, bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church that killed four young girls. His mournful tribute captured the zeitgeist of the Civil Rights Movement.

Philadelphia shaped and nurtured Coltrane. On June 5, 1945, the Dizzy Gillespie Quartet, featuring Charlie Parker, performed at the Academy of Music. Coltrane and Benny Golson were seated in the next-to-last row. In an interview with the Smithsonian Jazz Oral History Project, NEA Jazz Master Golson recalled:

When we heard – John and I – when we first heard Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie – I told you he was sounding like Johnny Hodges – our lives changed that night. We had never heard any music like that. Never. We were screaming like these Beatles groupies, when they used to hear the Beatles.

Coltrane kicked his heroin habit at his home in Strawberry Mansion, a neighborhood in North Central Philly. The Mural Arts Program, in collaboration with the community, honored a former neighbor. On or about Sept. 15, 2014, Pennrose Company demolished the Tribute to John Coltrane mural.

John Coltrane Mural - Resized

Pennrose has not contributed a dime to replace the tribute to an American icon. The cultural resource was paid for, in part, by taxpayers. After being called out, a company rep lied about “ongoing discussions.”

I know they lied because I was part of the only discussion that has taken place. At the March 10, 2015, meeting with Mural Arts, Lopa Kolluri, Pennrose’s Vice President of Operations, asked for a “menu of options.” Mural Arts sent a proposal and several follow-up emails to which Pennrose has yet to respond.

Pennrose’s arrogance is particularly galling given the company has feasted on public subsidies seasoned with political donations for nearly 40 years. In 1989, a Philadelphia Inquirer story noted the company’s reliance on government subsidies.

Pennrose doesn’t think our stories matter, but we do. It’s our responsibility to remember the ancestors and preserve their legacy for present and future generations. #BlackCultureMatters

2015 BlackStar Film Festival

The 4th annual BlackStar Film Festival gets underway on Thursday, July 30.

BlackStar Film Festival Logo

The four-day film fest is “a celebration of cinema focused on work by and about people of African descent in a global context. BlackStar highlights films that are often overlooked from emerging, established, and mid-career directors, writers and producers working in narrative, documentary, experimental and music video filmmaking.” The program also includes panel discussions and workshops.

I am particularly looking forward to “Virtuosity,” a collection of shorts, including University of Pennsylvania music professor Guthrie Ramsey’s documentary, “Amazing: The Tests and Triumph of Bud Powell.” The film is based on Ramsey’s 2013 book, The Amazing Bud Powell: Black Genius, Jazz History and the Challenge of Bebop.

Powell had frequent gigs in Philly in the 1940s and ‘50s. He performed in such legendary jazz spots as Watts’ Zanzibar, Downbeat and The Point. While in town, Powell shared his genius with young musicians, including Lee Morgan, at the Heritage House Jazz Workshop.

The festival runs from July 30 to Aug. 2. For the full schedule and ticket information, visit BlackStar Film Fest.

National Dance Day 2015

National Dance Day was first celebrated in the District of Columbia and Los Angeles in 2010.

In 2012 and every year since, Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton has introduced a congressional resolution to designate the last Saturday in July as National Dance Day:

National Dance Day has become a grassroots movement when Americans across the country host local events celebrating dance for fun and exercise. The contribution of National Dance Day to healthy lifestyles makes dance do double duty in a nation that wants to be fit and loves to dance.

Americans’ have a longstanding fascination with black dance. Indeed, Harlem’s legendary Savoy Ballroom was a featured exhibit at the 1939 World’s Fair.

Savoy Ballroom - 1939 World's Fair

The Savoy Ballroom was the first integrated ballroom in the country. Like jazz, swing dancing helped paved the way for the Civil Rights Movement. The jazz culture allowed black and white people to see each other and dance together. More important, blacks were social peers. For a good read on the history of swing, check out “Queen of Swing” Norma Miller’s biography Swingin’ at the Savoy: A Memoir of a Jazz Dancer.

Now 96, the grande dame of swing is scheduled to perform at the Charlie Parker Jazz Festival on Aug. 22, 2015.

Race, Jazz and American Tradition

Trumpeter and Lincoln Center artistic director of jazz Wynton Marsalis spoke and performed in the closing session of the 2015 Aspen Ideas Festival. Marsalis observed:

In our country the greatest challenge is for all of us to be together in spite of our history, and not only in spite of it, but because of our history.

Marsalis was joined by multi-instrumentalist Jon Batiste, bandleader on the forthcoming “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert” on CBS.

Curtis Institute of Music

The Curtis Institute of Music is a conservatory located in Rittenhouse Square. According to U.S. News & World Report, it has the lowest acceptance rate of any college or university (3.2%), making it the most selective institution of higher education in the United States.

The Institute’s most celebrated rejected applicant is Nina Simone who was denied admission even though she had given classical piano recitals since age 10. Jazz.com reported:

At the age of seventeen, Simone moved to New York to take classes at the Juilliard School of Music in New York. She then moved with her family to Philadelphia, where she auditioned for the city’s prestigious Curtis Institute, a conservatory of classical music.

Simone sought the help of a private instructor to help her audition for the Curtis Institute, but was ultimately denied after a supposedly excellent audition. Simone said she later found out from an insider at Curtis that she was denied entry because she was black. This heightened her anger over the racism which was pervasive in the United States during this period.

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NB: The Curtis Institute awarded Nina Simone an Honorary Doctor in Music and Humanities two days before her death in 2003.

The Mitch Thomas Show

The Mitch Thomas Show debuted on August 13, 1955. It was one of the first televised dance shows for black teenagers. During its three-year run, Mitch Thomas brought black rock and roll stars to television, including Little Richard, the Moonglows, Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, and Ray Charles.

Mitch Thomas - Ray Charles - 7.5.15

The Mitch Thomas Show was broadcast from a studio atop Suburban Station in Center City. Across town in West Philly, Bandstand, excluded black dancers and audience members:

In a typical dissemination process [read: cultural appropriation], dances seen on Bandstand were often picked up at school dances or local dance hops and brought back to the show where they were presented by mostly white adolescents. In fact, many dances derived from The Mitch Thomas Show, the popular all-black teen show in Philadelphia, from which they were copied by white teens and then seen on Bandstand.

On August 5, 1957, Dick Clark made his debut as host of Bandstand. Clark’s claim that he integrated the show before it left Philadelphia has been debunked

More than fifty years after the show first broadcast, American Bandstand’s representations of youth culture remain closely linked both to the show’s legacy and to larger questions about popular culture, race, segregation, and civil rights. Billboard magazine journalist Fred Bronson, for example, argues that American Bandstand was a “force for social good.” Bronson bases this claim on Dick Clark’s memory that he integrated the show’s studio audience when he became the host in 1957. “I don’t think of myself as a hero or civil rights activist for integrating the show,” Clark contends, “it was simply the right thing to do.”

In the context of local and national mobilization in favor of segregation, underscored by widespread anti-black racism, integrating American Bandstand would have been a bold move and a powerful symbol. Broadcasting daily evidence of Philadelphia’s vibrant interracial teenage culture would have offered viewers images of black and white teens interacting as peers at a time when such images were extremely rare. Clark and American Bandstand, however, did not memory of integration. Rather than being a fully integrated program that welcomed black youth, American Bandstand continued to discriminate against black teens throughout the show’s Philadelphia years.

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Town Hall

Located in Center City at Broad and Race, the Scottish Rite Temple, also known as Town Hall, was built in 1926. The 1,692 seat auditorium played host to jazz and blues greats, including Count Basie, Lester Young and Jimmy Rushing.

Town Hall - Count Basie - 7.5.15

On Nov. 17, 1955, Ray Charles and his entire band were arrested on drug charges.

Town Hall - Ray Charles

Check out this account from the Ray Charles Video Museum:

Town Hall was divided into two sections; the theater and the cabaret. The Ray Charles show was scheduled for the cabaret. Excited about appearing with a major star like Charles, the Sensations settled into their dressing room and began preparing for the show. All of the sudden, the dressing room door burst open and Ray Charles entered with his entourage including band members David “Fathead” Newman, Jay Dennis, James Sheffield, William Peoples, John Willis, Joseph Bridgewater, Tommy Brown and vocalist Mary Ann Fisher. The Ray Charles band informed the Sensations that this was to be their dressing room and the Sensations must leave. While somewhat in awe of Ray Charles, the Sensations would not back down and give up their dressing room. They were Kae Williams’ group and Kae was producing and MC’ing the show.

If Kae wanted them to have the dressing room, they were staying put! In the middle of the ensuing argument, Kae Williams walked in.

“You don’t understand, I’m Ray Charles!” the famous entertainer proclaimed. Kae Williams had broken into radio a decade before, at a time when blacks were not welcomed in the business. His feisty nature had allowed him to fight back at prejudice and discrimination in the entertainment field. Where weaker men had been driven from radio, Kae had a reputation for not taking crap from anyone. “I don’t care who the @!*# you are!” snapped the fiery dee jay defiantly. “I’m Kae Williams!”

The argument continued for a short while with much shouting. Ray Charles and his band succeeded in getting Kae and his group out of the dressing room and locked the door. Alphonso and the group watched as Kae Williams went to the hallway pay phone and made a call. Shortly thereafter, another commotion ensued. A team of Philadelphia police officers were banging on the door to Ray Charles’ dressing room, looking for drugs. People in the entertainment field knew that members of Ray Charles’ group had at times indulged in the use of illegal substances. But then, drug use was rampant in the business. According to the Philadelphia Tribune, the police found a burnt spoon, a needle and syringe, and a small quantity of marijuana in the dressing room. In addition, Charles and three of the band members were reported to have fresh needle marks in their arms. Ray and his band members were promptly placed under arrest. Fearing a riot, the police consented to allow the show to go on. But through the entire show, the stage was encircled with cops.

After the show, Ray and his entire band were taken downtown and arraigned. Ray Charles made the $2000 bail. The rest were jailed overnight. The Sensations, who had only wine in their possession, were not arrested. Ray Charles, who recalled the incident in his autobiography, Brother Ray, denied the reefer even belonged to his band. The newspapers promptly ran the headlines, “Disc Jockey Had Own Dance Raided For Dope.” After going through a lengthy legal process, the charges were finally dropped. Ray Charles vowed never again to perform in Philadelphia. But Kae Williams further enhanced his reputation that night as a person not to be messed with. And this Kae loved.”

The landmark was demolished in 1983 and replaced with Parkway Corporation’s headquarters and parking garage.