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.
I’m a longtime advocate for transparency in government. Back in 2009, I attended the first-ever transparency camp. So my antennae went up when I read the Philadelphia City Council had fast-tracked a bill to authorize the City to buy land on which to build a new prison.
A broad coalition of advocacy groups, journalists, activists and concerned citizens mobilized to stop what would have been a $7.26 million down payment on the school-to-prison pipeline. I was particularly concerned by the lack of transparency. The bill to authorize the City to purchase the land was introduced by Councilman Bobby Henon on April 30. Two months later, we still don’t know who owns the property at 7777 State Road.
The school-to-prison bill is dead, for now. City Council is on summer recess, but the battle for transparency and accountability continues. So on September 10, I will launch PHLWatchdog, a citizen-led initiative to monitor and report on what the City is doing with our money.
Philly taxpayers have a right to know how their money is being spent. We will use social media to share information and calls to action. We will shine a light on government in action because sunlight is the best disinfectant.
Got tips? Send all tips to firstname.lastname@example.org. For updates, follow @PHLWatchdog on Twitter.
Monument Lab asks: What is an appropriate monument for the current City of Philadelphia?
The City of Brotherly Love is currently experiencing a development boom. But the hot real estate market is cold comfort for those living in poverty. Fact is, Philadelphia is the poorest big city in the U.S.
At the preview event, Monument Lab Co-Curator Ken Lum observed that there are “two emerging narratives.” A boom city with new construction and new possibilities that is facing “profound challenges and crises… How will we remember this time?”
I will remember this time as the presence of absence. Developers are erasing African Americans’ presence in the city’s cultural, political and civic life.
I think a closed door would be an appropriate monument.
On April 13, 2015, City Council President Darrell L. Clarke was a guest on “Wake Up With WURD,” hosted by Solomon Jones, on 900AM-WURD. I nearly spilled my coffee when I heard Clarke say, “I’m a developer-friendly Councilperson.” The behind-closed-doors Councilmanic Prerogative is the backdrop to Philadelphia’s development boom.
Councilmembers have arrogated unto themselves the power to sign off or veto any development project in their district. That means nothing gets built without their approval. It also means they should be held accountable when developers don’t hire black workers, don’t contract with black-owned businesses, or don’t respect African Americans’ cultural heritage.
In a recent interview, I noted that jazz musicians performed in nightclubs where they couldn’t sit and hotels where they could not stay. The jazz legends whose music paved the way for the Civil Rights movement were subjected to racial discrimination as they traveled while black.
“The Green Book,” as it was called, lists tourist homes, restaurants, nightclubs, beauty parlors, barber shops and other services. Philadelphia hotels in the 1949 edition include the Attucks, Chesterfield and Douglass.
The list of taverns includes Emerson’s, the setting for the Tony Award-winning play, “Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill.
The Café Society and Watts’ Zanzibar are listed.
After passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, “The Green Book” was no longer published. As All That Philly Jazz breathes life into the city's jazz heritage, my appreciation of jazz is increasing exponentially.
Today is the centennial of the birth of Billie Holiday. Contrary to popular belief, she was born in the City of Brotherly Love in Philadelphia General Hospital.
The misapprehension about Holiday’s place of birth may account for why she hasn't been inducted into the Walk of Fame. Despite her arrests and conviction in Philadelphia, she had love for her hometown. It was, after all, the place where she could work in the nightclubs. After her conviction, she lost her cabaret license and could not work in any place where alcohol was sold. She could perform at a sold-out Carnegie Hall, but couldn't get a gig at a hole-in-the-wall in Harlem.
Parenthetically, Holiday was inducted into the Apollo Theater’s Walk of Fame yesterday.
Yes, there’s an historical marker noting that when Lady Day was in town, she often lived at the Douglass Hotel.
Holiday is depicted in the Women of Jazz mural in Strawberry Mansion. But the mural is scheduled to be demolished by the Philadelphia Housing Authority.
The Music Alliance is best known for the Walk of Fame along Broad Street’s Avenue of the Arts. This series of over 100 bronze commemorative plaques honors Philadelphia area musicians and music professionals who have made a significant contribution to the world of music. The Walk of Fame is the City’s most impressive public monument to the people who have made Philadelphia a great music city.
It’s never too late to do the right thing. So I nominated Billie Holiday for induction into the Walk of Fame.
Happy birthday, Lady Day. We love you more than you’ll ever know.
UPDATE:The Philadelphia Music Alliance announced that “as a special birthday gift,” Billie Holiday is the newest inductee into the Walk of Fame. In a statement, Chairman Alan Rubens said:
The Philadelphia Music Alliance wanted to present what we think is a 'perfect' birthday gift to an extraordinary vocalist, Billie Holiday, and announce her induction on her 100th birthday. It will be an absolute pleasure to be able to walk down Broad Street and see her name where it rightfully belongs, on the Philadelphia Music Walk of Fame, with other homegrown jazz giants like John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, McCoy Tyner, and Grover Washington, Jr.
Since 2002, April has been designated Jazz Appreciation Month. This year’s celebration was kicked off with a big bang. The Smithsonian announced the LeRoy Neiman Foundation donated $2.5 million towards the expansion of jazz programming.
The foundation also donated “Big Band,” a painting by LeRoy Neiman.
Neiman considered the painting “one of the greatest in his career.” Four of the 18 iconic jazz musicians have been inducted into the Philadelphia Walk of Fame – John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, Billie Holiday and Gerry Mulligan.