Since 1995, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts has paid tribute to the legendary pianist and composer with the Mary Lou Williams Jazz Festival. Williams is the subject of a new documentary, Mary Lou Williams: The Lady Who Swings the Band. The film premiered on public television on April 1.
Missed it? If you’re in the Philly area, you’re in luck. There will be a screening of the documentary on Tuesday, July 14, at the International House. Hosted by the Scribe Video Center, the screening and conversation with director Carol Bash is co-sponsored by the Leeway Foundation, Philadelphia Jazz Project, Ars Nova Workshop and Reelblack.
Sadly, luck is running out on the Women of Jazz mural, which depicts jazz icons including Williams, Billie Holiday and Nina Simone. This civic asset is on the chopping block.
On June 1, I provided public comment before the Philadelphia City Council Committee on Housing, Neighborhood Development and the Homeless, which is chaired by Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell. I brought to Blackwell’s attention the Philadelphia Housing Authority plans to demolish the mural. I made it clear the goal of increasing the availability of affordable housing and preserving the City’s jazz heritage is not mutually exclusive.
COUNCILWOMAN BLACKWELL: Thank you very much. So you're saying they're slated to tear down the mural? MS. ANDERSON: Yes. The Women of Jazz mural at 3200 [block] of Arlington. It will be torn down sometime this year. The date to be determined. COUNCILWOMAN BLACKWELL: All right. I'm happy to work on that.
The complete transcript is available here. Clap along if you’re happy.
On June 7, 1979, President Jimmy Carter recognized June as Black Music Month. A resolution recognizing the importance of African American music was introduced by Congressman Chaka Fattah in 2000. Passed unanimously by the House of Representatives, House Resolution 509 proclaimed:
Whereas African-American genres of music such as gospel, blues, jazz, rhythm and blues, rap, and hip-hop have their roots in the African-American experience.
Incredibly, some question whether jazz is black music. That was the subject of a panel discussion at Lincoln Center a few years ago. Jazz critic Nat Hentoff wrote:
We wouldn’t have been at Lincoln Center for that discussion had it not been for black field hollers, ring games, call and response church music and the blues. So it’s indisputable that jazz began as black music.
That 2008 discussion wasn’t the first time the roots of jazz were questioned. A 1959 documentary, Cry of Jazz sparked controversy when one of the characters asserted that “jazz is merely the Negro’s cry of joy and suffering.” The character, Alex, explained that “the Negro was the only one with the necessary musical and human history to create jazz.”
In 2010, Cry of Jazz was added to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress. The films selected are considered “culturally, historically or aesthetically significant, to be preserved for all time. These films are not selected as the ‘best’ American films of all time, but rather as works of enduring significance to American culture.”
Today marks the 50th anniversary of the start of the civil rights demonstrations at Girard College in protest of the segregated all-white boarding school. The demonstrations were led by then-Philadelphia NAACP President Cecil B. Moore and legendary radio broadcaster Georgie Woods who served as vice president of the local chapter.
The voice of the community, Georgie, as he was affectionately called, was the “Guy with the Goods.”
Georgie produced and sometimes emceed shows at the famed Uptown Theater. He also staged sold-out “Freedom Shows” that raised tens of thousands of dollars for the Civil Rights Movement.
In addition to a plaque on Philly’s Walk of Fame, Georgie is immortalized in a mural on a wall of the Uptown.