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.”
Tuesday is Election Day in Philly. For the Philadelphia School District, it’s Groundhog Dog. The school district is facing yet another budget crisis. The Philadelphia Inquirer reported:
The city charter requires the school district to adopt its budget by May 30, but funding from the city and state are a giant question mark at this point, leading to the possibility that the district might violate the charter and go past its deadline for the second straight year.
In a similar situation last year, the SRC [School Reform Commission] opted to wait until receiving assurances from Council on a sales tax extension and other measures before passing a budget in late June. Green predicted that Council and the mayor would agree on a short term fix to help close the district’s $85 million projected deficit while they wait on the state, but no one knows for sure.
According to a recent poll, education is the most important issue for Philly voters.
Still, City Council ain’t got time for education. They’ll deal with the school budget deficit when they get around to it. In the meantime, Council is scheduled to vote on a bill sponsored by Councilman Bobby Henon that would authorize the Commissioner of Public Property to spend up to $7.26 million to acquire the land to build a prison. The bill was introduced on April 30 and referred to the Committee on Public Property and Public Works, which Henon chairs. A Council rule was suspended to allow for a vote on the bill on Thursday.
Why the rush? The price tag for the proposed prison is between $300 million and $500 million. The proposed prison is just that – a proposal by lame-duck Mayor Michael Nutter.
The new mayor will have the final say on spending priorities. In response to Decarcerate PA’s mayoral candidate survey, Jim Kenney, the likely next mayor, said he will not move forward on Nutter’s plan to expand the Philadelphia Prison System. He supports a moratorium on the construction of new jails and detention centers.
Get this: Henon said he found the condition of the House of Correction “deplorable.” Has he taken a tour of our public schools? Students are trapped in 100-year-old buildings without librarians, school nurses, guidance counselors or air conditioning.
900AM-WURD host Solomon Jones has been sounding the alarm about the new prison. Jones was the keynote speaker at the school district’s Family Education Summit:
I’m trying to tell you about principles. The only thing that stands between our kids and that prison is us. City Council has its priorities. Our priorities are these kids.
They know where that $300 million is coming from, but they don’t know where the money is coming from to close the school district’s $85 million deficit. We must make sure their priorities line up with ours. … The bottom line: If you have $300 million for a prison, then you have $85 million for the schools. Take it from the Capital Budget if you have to, but do what you have to do to fund our schools. ... Vote on Tuesday, and then whoever doesn’t do what’s right by our schools, vote them out.
Doing what’s right means stopping Philly’s school to prison pipeline. City Council and the next mayor must be held accountable. To do so, we must turn Election Day into Accountability Day.
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.
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.
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.