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.
As Women in Jazz Month winds down, I want to salute Pearl Bailey who began her singing and dancing career at the Pearl Theater in Philadelphia. She lived in this house which is located just a few blocks from North Philly’s famed “Golden Strip.”
In 1946, Bailey made her Broadway debut in St. Louis Woman, a musical written by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer.
It’s said that “blues ain’t nothing but a botheration on your mind.” I’m bothered that developers are erasing African Americans’ cultural heritage.
In Philadelphia, developers routinely – and without notice – build in front of or demolish murals that are paid for in part by City taxpayers.
Murals are part of Philadelphia’s cultural fabric. The Mural Arts Program creates murals that engage the community. They reflect a community’s history, identity, hopes and dreams.
City Council members can use Councilmanic Prerogative to require that developers of publicly-subsidized projects replace murals of social or cultural significance. Who will determine which mural meets that threshold? Let’s stipulate that murals that tell stories about events or persons who are the subject of books, songs, documentaries, national holiday, or City and congressional resolutions are culturally significant.
The how of replacement is negotiable. What is non-negotiable is that developers can erase African Americans’ cultural heritage because, to borrow a phrase from Al Gore, there is “no controlling legal authority.” A Council member is the controlling legal authority in his or her district. He or she decides which projects go forward and which ones go nowhere. While developers view murals as disposable, Council members must exercise their prerogative and demand that they respect that which came before.
If you are concerned about cultural heritage preservation, get involved with Avenging The Ancestors Coalition (ATAC) Committee on Arts and Culture, which I chair. For more information, call ATAC at (215) 552-8785.
For updates, follow #BlackCultureMatters on Twitter.
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.
The 17-piece band was led by vocalist Anna Mae Winburn. 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.