This year marks the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s address before the 1st Berlin Jazz Festival. In his opening remarks, Dr. King reflected on the importance of jazz:
Jazz speaks for life. The blues tell the story of life’s difficulties, and if you think for a moment, you will realize that they take the hardest realities of life and put them into music, only to come out with some new hope or sense of triumph.
This is triumphant music.
Modern jazz has continued in this tradition, singing the songs of a more complicated urban existence. When life itself offers no order and meaning, the musician creates an order and meaning from the sounds of the earth which flow through his instrument.
It is no wonder that so much of the search for identity among American Negroes was championed by jazz musicians. Long before the modern essayists and scholars wrote of racial identity as a problem for a multiracial world, musicians were returning to their roots to affirm that which was stirring within their souls.
Much of the power of our Freedom Movement in the United States has come from this music. It has strengthened us with its sweet rhythms when courage began to fail. It has calmed us with its rich harmonies when spirits were down.
On Sunday, Jan. 12, 2014, the Pennsylvania State Chapter National Action Network (PA NAN) will return to its roots and present the 3rd Annual Jazz for Justice Fundraiser.
I hope you will join us as we party for a cause and kick off PA NAN’s 2014 advocacy in action. Tickets are $20.00 and include live jazz (the Unity Band) and a fish platter.
Proceeds from the event will help fund PA NAN’s social justice initiatives, including voter protection and voter mobilization for the midterm election.
Tickets may be purchased on PA NAN’s secure website (please click this link).
The celebration of the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom is in the history books. Sadly, the impact of role of jazz musicians and the jazz culture in breaking down barriers to racial integration has largely been lost to history.
In 1939, Billie Holiday told the nation that “Southern trees bear a strange fruit.”
In 1955, Louis Armstrong transformed Fats Waller’s song of unrequited love, “(What Did I Do To Be So) Black and Blue,” into an anthem of protest against racial discrimination.
Holiday, Armstrong and Waller were members of the Harlem Renaissance. In his invocation at the “Let Freedom Ring” commemoration, Pastor A.R. Bernard Sr. noted how artists helped ignite the civil rights movement:
They called themselves the New Negro Movement, better known as the Harlem Renaissance, creating their own literature, art, music, theater. They artistically and intellectually challenged the pervading black stereotypes. From this generation emerged names like W.E.B. DuBois, Alain LeRoy Locke, Zora Neale Hurston, Claude McKay, Langston Hughes, Fats Waller and Duke Ellington.
White America experienced it and said, “Ooh, we like the style of these people.” So they enjoyed it, adopted it, integrated it and exploited it. And the popularity of black style and culture soon spread throughout the country. But it was not enough for black folks to be artistically admired. Blacks wanted and demanded full participation in the social, political and economic life of American society. And that attitude set the stage for the civil rights movement of the 1950s and the 1960s.
The legacy of the March on Washington include the Civil Rights Act of 1964. In February 2014, we will commemorate the signing of that seminal legislation, as well as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s remarks at the 1964 Berlin Jazz Festival. For more information, send us an email.