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The BHCP free summer concert series continues this Thursday with a performance from composer, pianist and music legend Ramsey Lewis! This event is free and open to the public. Early arrival is suggested and doors open at 5:30 pm! Enter to win a pair of free VIP tickets for seating at this extraordinary event! Details are as follows:
BHCP Live! featuring
and His Electric Band
Thursday August 8th at (Doors open at 5:30pm)
*Sorry, no glass containers, alcoholic beverages, or audio/video recorders are allowed.*
In this episode, Brother Malcolm explains why it’s important we maintain the history of Black artistry – and pass it on – so future generations know more about its origins and the forerunners of today’s pop icons.
For comments or questions on this episode, please call the hotline at (323) 455-4219!
Photos by Anna Mae Lam Photography
In this episode of Culture Connection, Brother Malcolm introduces his “Angeleno Cultural Jewels” segment, and its first honoree: film, television and stage actor, Wren T. Brown. Brown is a fourth generation Angeleno from an entertainment family and shared with us his family’s rich Los Angeles legacy as well as some Black Hollywood history. Brown is also the founder of the Ebony Repetory Theatre, resident company and operator of the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center.
If you have comments or questions about this episode, please call the hotline at (323) 455-4219!
Opening and closing song is “Sweet Georgia Brown” by Lester Young, Brown’s uncle.
Black Americans have contributed to the advancement of American society in an endless number of ways. Intellectually, technologically, politically, militarily, and of course by the captivity of our labor our affect on the shaping of the United States of America can hardly be denied. But it might not be wrong to say that our greatest collective legacy in this country has lied in the cultural sphere, particularly through our art and our music. There’s an easy reason for this. In literature, academics and other areas where some measure of organized education has been necessary to gain a mastery of the field, such education was prohibited to the African-American, first by slavery, and then for all intents and purposes by discrimination and segregation. Such barriers to education have declined precipitously across the course of one-hundred and forty-five years, but we are still enduring the ills of a long history of educational disenfranchisement, one that to some extent persists to this day. But in the area of music (and certainly dance and culinary arts) we didn’t need any training. We brought our music over from Africa, and although the precise forms and languages of our former arts were lost to us, our innate, human urge to sing, to dance, and to express ourselves in song was not lost. Music was one of the few consolations for our circumstances the slave master, whether by whip, dog, or separation, could not take away from us. The deeper our pain, the more powerful our music; the purer our songs,the more resonant our expression of the longings of the human soul. Even a cultural critic as narrow minded as Joseph Goebbels, the virulently racist propaganda minister of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi empire, commented that the most distinctive music product of American culture historically was the spirituals of the negro. That the Nazi’s could recognize the power of such music is simply a testament to the depth of its quality.
With the Blues and later Rhythm and Blues came expressions of an evolving but similar pain. Not all music of the forties and fifties dealt directly with the ills of societal injustice and the pain of our persecution, but when you listen to Billie Holiday conjure the deathly imagery of blacks lynched, swinging from trees in the song Strange Fruit, or the soaring somberness of Sam Cooke’s A Change is Gonna Come, it is easy to hear in that the same mourning that colors Old Man River and other dark, somber songs of sadness and lament that arose from the pain of our bondage. That pain has morphed in recent times, but has never disappeared. It lives on, expressed with increasing complexity concurrent with the sprawling urbanization and societal inequity overwhelming the faith and the worldview of our ghetto youth. Our humble mourning of ages gone by has become profane, militant and directionless anger in the noise of many rappers, but if you listen past the cursing and the anger of a song like Tupac Shakur’s They Don’t Give a F–k about Us, or if you bother to pay attention to the words of Momma’s Just a Little Girl, it is not hard to tell that the last agony grows from the same roots as the first. Inasmuch as our music has had a particular power in the heart of America and over the imagination of the world it starts in this, that so much of it grows directly from our experience, that we sing and we play what we know from life.
Of course, not all black music is sorrowful. In the very same way the joy of our music, it’s love and romance, has contributed a warmth and a genuineness to American music that too comes from the hardness of our circumstance. What’s true of black music is also true of Jewish music and surely other peoples who have known oppression, and that is that the happiest and the loving-est music comes from those who are well acquainted with sadness. In the case of black music you can’t talk about the music of Sam Cooke (think You Send Me) or Jackie Wilson (think To Be Loved) or Solomon Burke or Donny Hathaway or Ray Charles without calling to mind a body of romantic music to equal a treatise on love for all time (to say nothing of the great musicians and composers that permeate the history of black music, from Louis Armstrong, to Duke Ellington to Miles Davis). Whereas the politics of race and civil rights divided Americans black and white in so many ways, the universality of American music put crack after crack in the color barrier, and brought blacks and whites together in at least this one thing over time. This tradition continued with the great groups of the Motown era, including of course the Temptations, the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, not to mention the many greats outside of Motown like Aretha Franklin, The Platters and near countless others.
Our music isn’t primarily about love anymore; nor does it find so much time to soulfully reflect upon the smaller and simpler things and battles of life that music helps to illuminate. As the years passed and television and the multimedia era enveloped the years, songs like Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car, a song about a woman who spends her life putting her own dreams on hold first for an irresponsible father, than an unreliable lover, and finally for their children as a single mother, did not come along much anymore. On occasion there is an India Arie, who sings about things that are real. On occasion an Anthony Hamilton can rise to the task. But the overflow of materialism, of gratuitousness and even violence that persists in our music today was never there before. As image transcended substance love was replaced by lust in our music, to great degree, and inasmuch as this is true our music is not as inspiring as it once was. What is troubling is that black people as a whole have little inkling as to how much weaker this has made us as a people.
Blues is a genre of music that originated within the Black community at the end of 19th century. It is distinct in its chord progression and lyrics. Best known for the the expressive way it is performed, Blues music is rooted in spirituals and “work songs” of slavery in most communities from the Deep South and is the predecessor for modern-day Rhythm and Blues music. Blues had a great influence on most music forms including jazz, rock n’ roll, and pop music. As far as musical performance, nothing is more powerful or more moving than the lament of the Blues singer.
With the face of music changing rapidly in the last decade, the powerful voice of the Blues singer is quickly fading from the fabric of Black music. More artists are gaining notoriety for exciting stage shows and dance moves, and less attention is given to a soul stirring voice. However, the power that a great singer yields can’t be blocked by the monotony of autotuned voices, and great singers like Jill Scott, Lalah Hathaway, Patti LaBelle, Dionne Farris, and Jennifer Hudson remain in demand.
The precedent of a great singer as a requirement for great music was started by the ladies who sang the blues. Sit back and listen:
Bessie Smith, Empress of the Blues
Dinah Washington, Queen of the Blues
Billie Holiday, Lady Day
Ethel Waters, Baby Star
Lena Horne, The Young Star
My introduction to Abbey Lincoln was through my favorite Spike Lee Joint, Mo Betta Blues. In the film she played the protagonist, Bleek Gilliam’s spunky and overbearing mother who forces him to practice the music scale on his trumpet instead of letting him play with his friends. I remember thinking then that her presence on screen was so great in the five minutes she was there, and I was curious to learn more. When I discovered she was a jazz singer, I had to hear her singing voice, and was immediately captivated by its quality.
I won’t pretend to be an Abbey Lincoln historian, but her death brought back the memory of that film and the curiosity I had about her back then. A friend who knew nothing of this sent me a link to NPR’s most recent audio tribute to her since her passing last Saturday. The interviews with her showcase that what I witnessed on screen wasn’t acting as much as it was Abbey being Abbey. Spunky. Fierce. Unapologetic.
As our generation continues to lose some of its heavyweights, I find myself wanting to know more about folks I didn’t know enough about while they were here. As I learn, I’ll pass that information on to you.
Check Abbey out:
Abbey Lincoln, the jazz singer who transformed herself from a supper-club singer into a powerful voice in the civil-rights movement, died Saturday. She was 80.
Lincoln started her career singing in nightclubs and dinner theaters in the early 1950s — first in Honolulu and later in Chicago and New York. While performing at the Village Vanguard in Greenwich Village, she met drummer and bebop innovator Max Roach, who introduced her to modern jazz, and to a performing style influenced by the new black consciousness.
After Roach and Lincoln married in 1962, they recorded a series of albums together, where Lincoln was backed by jazz legends such as Sonny Rollins and Eric Dolphy. Her songs became less pop-based and began to reflect her growing involvement in the civil rights and black pride movements.
Lincoln sang the vocal tracks on Roach’s album We Insist! Freedom Now Suite, the now-famous civil-rights document. While recording throughout the ’60s, she also took to Hollywood, starring in 1964’s Nothing but a Man, about a young black couple in the South, and then co-starring in the 1968 romantic comedy For Love of Ivy opposite Sidney Poitier.
In 1972, Lincoln traveled to Africa after a 10-year hiatus from recording. There, she was given the name Aminata Moseka by the president of Guinea and Zaire’s minister of information. She used the names Aminata Moseka alongside Abbey Lincoln to represent her African heritage. She also began to write stories.
In later years, she inspired a series of younger jazz singers, including Cassandra Wilson and Lizz Wright, who both cited Lincoln as an inspiration for their own careers. Eventually, Lincoln began recording again, releasing nine albums after reemerging in the 1990s. Her most recent record,Abbey Sings Abbey, was released in 2007 and featured a dozen songs about self-discovery.
Lincoln received the Jazz Masters Award from the National Endowment for the Arts in 2003. She is survived by her brother, David Wooldridge.