Tag Archives: Cultural Heritage Preservation

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 - Lombard Street Sign

From the 1920s to 1940s, the 1600-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.

Mr. Silk’s 3rd Base

Gus “Mr. Silk” Lacey, was the unofficial mayor of 52nd Street, aka “the Strip.” He and his wife, Virginia, owned Mr. Silk’s 3rd Base. Heavyweight champion Joe Frazier, and music legends Cab Calloway, Teddy Pendergrass and Stevie Wonder were among the celebrities who frequented Silk’s.

Mr. Silk's 3rd Base

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.”

Silk’s 3rd Base was featured in the 1972 blaxploitation film 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.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe

In 1957, Sister Rosetta Tharpe moved to Philadelphia. She was a first-generation resident in the historic Yorktown neighborhood, and a member of Bright Hope Baptist Church.

From Philadelphia, she did some of her finest recordings, releasing five LP’s and gaining a Grammy nomination with her 1968 album, “Precious Memories.” Her tours of Europe in the late 1950’s helped to spark the British blues revival and the onset of 1960’s popular music.

Sister Rosetta was gospel’s first superstar who brought spiritual music into the mainstream with a blend of blues, jazz, big band, and rhythm & blues. Her ringing soprano voice and guitar virtuosity set her apart from other greats of gospel’s Golden Age. In 2007, she was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame.

In 2011, a historical marker was installed outside the house in Yorktown where she lived for 15 years until her death in 1973.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe Historical Marker

Walk of Fame Class of 2016 is All Philly Jazz

Philadelphia is a jazz town. This fact will be underscored on Wednesday, October 19th when the Philadelphia Music Alliance inducts the Class of 2016 into the Walk of Fame. This year’s inductees are organist Joey DeFrancesco, tenor saxophonist Benny Golson, bassist Christian McBride, bassist Jaco Pastorius, and WRTI radio broadcaster Bob Perkins

PMA Board chairman Alan Rubens said in a statement:

The Alliance is very excited to be able to specifically honor jazz this year as an extension of Philadelphia’s essential ties to this unique American art form’s rich legacy. It’s important to be reminded of the global impact and influence that Philadelphia has continued to bring to the jazz world, since the Roaring ’20s. Jazz doesn’t always get its due these days, even though it’s current as ever. Jazz is today, and it’s very much got a thriving pulse in our great city.

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#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.