Tag Archives: Race

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.

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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.

#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.

Chasing Trane

September 23rd marked the 90th anniversary of John Coltrane’s birthday. The milestone was celebrated across the country.

The documentary, Chasing Trane, may be coming to a theater near you. From the Hollywood Reporter:

A music titan gets his cinematic due in Chasing Trane, a comprehensive, engrossing and, it’s tempting to say, worshipful account of the life of John Coltrane, the alto sax player and composer most aficionados would agree deserves a spot on the jazz equivalent of Mount Rushmore. Smartly shaped and vigorously told by prolific documentarian John Scheinfeld (Who Is Harry Nilsson, The U.S. vs. John Lennon), the film bulges with insights offered by everyone from family members and close collaborators to the likes of Cornel West and Bill Clinton. The incessant rush of the innovator’s music should spike the interest of younger viewers insufficiently exposed to the man’s short career, pointing to an extensive life in all markets, domestic and international, wherever interest in great jazz still flourishes.

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O.V. Catto Lodge

O.V. Catto was a 19th century civil rights activist. He was killed on Election Day 1871 when he tried to exercise the right to vote guaranteed in the 15th Amendment.

O.V. Catto

Located at 16th and Fitzwater streets, the O.V. Catto Lodge was a hub of community life for 30 years. In addition to its large meeting space and recreation facilities (including a full boxing ring and a basketball court), the building boasted a large roof garden for formal gatherings. The lodge’s Two Bit Club was also a draw.

In Whisper Not: The Autobiography of Benny Golson, the NEA Jazz Master recounted that for two years he played with the Mickey Collins Orchestra every Sunday at this South Philly landmark. This photo was taken in 1946 when Golson was seventeen.

O.V. Catto Lodge - Benny Golson 1.0

Published by Temple University Press, Golson’s autobiography is available for purchase here.