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.
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 or two galleries 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.
This year marks the centennial birthdays of Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, Thelonious Monk and Mongo Santamaría. The jazz visionaries will be celebrated on Friday, September 30 at 8:00 p.m. at the Merriam Theater.
Anne Ewers, President & CEO of the Kimmel Center for the Performing Art, said in a statement:
Philadelphia is a revered jazz city and this presentation gives us a one-of-a-kind opportunity to celebrate the music of four jazz icons in their centennial year. Touting artists from around the world, Jazz 100 will showcase the unifying fibers of this genre.
Over the course of their careers, the jazz legends performed in clubs and venues in Philadelphia.
Dizzy’s Philly roots are deep. Born in South Carolina, his family was part of the Great Migration. For a time, he lived at 637 Pine Street. He was a member of the house band at the Earle Theater. After a tiff with management, Dizzy became a regular at the Downbeat Club, which was located within shouting distance of the Earle Theater.
Dizzy was a founding member of Union Local 274.
An iconic television commercial is one of my earliest memories of “The First Lady of Song.”
One of my most memorable experiences was attending Thelonious Monk’s funeral in 1982 at Saint Peter’s Church in New York City. Musicians paid loving tribute to Monk with version-after-version of “Round Midnight.”
Jazz 100 brings together an all-star ensemble of musicians, including Lizz Wright (vocals), Avishai Cohen (trumpet), Wycliffe Gordon (trombone, vocals) and Chris Potter (saxophone, woodwinds). The tribute concert “showcases the individual artistry of each icon and the powerful unifying threads between them.”
Tickets can be purchased at the Kimmel Center Box Office or online at kimmelcenter.org (save over $45 with promo code “Dizzy”).
In 1852, abolitionist Frederick Douglass asked, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”:
What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? and am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?
Would to God, both for your sakes and ours, that an affirmative answer could be truthfully returned to these questions! Then would my task be light, and my burden easy and delightful…
…But, such is not the state of the case. I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought life and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine. You may rejoice, I must mourn. To drag a man in fetters into the grand illuminated temple of liberty, and call upon him to join you in joyous anthems, were inhuman mockery and sacrilegious irony. Do you mean, citizens, to mock me, by asking me to speak to-day?
For me, July 4, 2016 means that in a little over two months, I will join thousands of African Americans for the opening of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture.
The museum has been 101 years in the making. At last, everyone will now know that when we celebrate black history and culture, we, too, sing America.
On the first day of summer, I had to report for jury duty at the Juanita Kidd Stout Center for Criminal Justice. As I stood in line to go inside the Jury Assembly Room, I noticed a panoramic mural. I made a mental note to check it out during the break.
It is clear the details only could have come from folks who were there. So it was no surprise to learn the mural was conceived by Doug Cooper in collaboration with “Philadelphia elderly.” Cooper wrote:
I brought together more than 40 elderly residents to complete it, and I worked jointly with them at the Center in the Park in the Germantown district of Philadelphia. Local artist, Deborah Zwetsch and I assembled their memories over the previous 80 years.
The memories of the elderly are highly personal. Some are sentimental, some painful, some humorous, some ordinary.
There is nothing ordinary about the depiction of the Ridge Avenue jazz corridor.
Ridge Avenue is ground zero in the Philadelphia Housing Authority’s plan to transform the Sharswood neighborhood. There is widespread concern that PHA has no plan to preserve the neighborhood’s cultural heritage and historic resources.
Cooper’s mural, showcasing Pep’s, the Showboat, Blue Horizon, Uptown Theater and jazz joints on Ridge Avenue, tells part of the story of Philadelphia’s rich jazz heritage. We must capture the rest of the story while the folks who were there are still here. If we don’t, their stories will be lost for current and future generations.
I’m a cold weather person so today marks my countdown to the end of summer. While the living ain’t easy, I take some comfort in the cool versions of one of my favorite songs, George Gershwin’s “Summertime.”
June is Black Music Month. This June marks the 95th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921. For two days (May 31-June1), white vigilantes massacred hundreds of black residents, looted and burned to the ground the most prosperous black community in the United States.
The riot took place in the Greenwood District, known as the Black Wall Street, the heart of which was bounded by Greenwood Avenue, and Archer and Pine streets. Tulsa natives, brothers Charlie, Ronnie and Robert Wilson’s band name pays tribute to one of the worst race riots in U.S. history.
Black Wall Street, a hotbed for jazz and blues, was a stop on the famed Chitlin’ Circuit. Bandleader Walter Barnes was one of the most colorful characters on “the stroll.”
In his book, The Chitlin’ Circuit: and the Road to Rock ‘n’ Roll, Preston Lauterbach writes:
The tour [Walter Barnes and his Royal Creolians] kicked off in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the week before Thanksgiving, where Barnes found “Black Wall Street” bustling. “Greenwood is the name of the colored district of Tulsa, and one can get anything here from a shoe shine up.” Barnes highlighted the stroll’s musicians, dance promoters, dance halls, and its dentists, barbers, pharmacies, cafes, cab companies, and lodgings, always stressing the up-to-date. “I stopped with my entire orchestra at the modern and exclusive Small Hotel” in Tulsa, “one of the best equipped in the country, having newest electrical fixtures, telephone in each room, bath in every room, and modernistic furniture.” The Kings of Swing played the Crystal Palace Ballroom, “the last word in beauty,” and hung around the Goodie Goodie Club, Cotton Club, and Del Rio. “There’s plenty niteries here.”
In 1940, Barnes was killed in a fire while performing at the Rhythm Club in Natchez, Mississippi. The tragedy was memorialized in tribute songs by blues musicians, including Howlin’ Wolf and John Lee Hooker.