December 10, 2010

"A Tribute to Blue Note, The Harlem Renaissance and The Black Arts Movement Part 3"

The Black Arts Movement

or BAM is the artistic branch of the Black Power movement. It was started in Harlem by writer and activist Amiri Baraka (born Everett LeRoi Jones). Time Magazine describes the Black Arts Movement as the "single most controversial moment in the history of African-American literature-- possibly in American literature as a whole. The Black Arts Repertory Theatre is a key institution of the Black Arts Movement.

The movement was one of the most important times in the African American literature. It inspired black people to establish their own publishing houses, magazines, journals and art institutions. It led to the creation of African American Studies programs within universities. The movement was triggered by the assassination of Malcolm X Other well-known writers that were involved with this movement included Nikki Giovanni, Sonia Sanchez, Maya Angelou, and Rosa Grey. Although not strictly involved with the Movement, other notable African American writers such as novelists Toni Morrison and Ishmael Reed share some of its artistic and thematic concerns. Although Ishmael Reed is neither a movement apologist nor advocate, he said:
I think what Black Arts did was inspire a whole lot of Black people to write. Moreover, there would be no multiculturalism movement without Black Arts. Latinos, Asian Americans, and others all say they began writing as a result of the example of the 1960s. Blacks gave the example that you don't have to assimilate. You could do your own thing, get into your own background, your own history, your own tradition and your own culture. I think the challenge is for cultural sovereignty and Black Arts struck a blow for that.

BAM influenced the world of literature, portraying different ethnic voices. Before the movement, the literary canon lacked diversity, and the ability to express ideas from the point of view of racial and ethnic minorities was not valued by the mainstream.

Theatre groups, poetry performances, music and dance were centered around this movement, and therefore African Americans were becoming recognized in the area of literature and arts. African Americans were also able to educate others through different types of expressions and media about cultural differences. The most common form of teaching was through poetry reading. African American performances were used for their own political advertisement, organization, and community issues. The Black Arts Movement was spread by the use of newspaper advertisements. The first major arts movement publication was in 1964.


The Black Arts movement, usually referred to as a "sixties" movement, came together in 1965 and broke apart around 1975/1976. In March 1965 following the 21 February assassination of Malcolm X, LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka) moved from Manhattan's Lower East Side uptown to Harlem, an exodus considered the symbolic birth of the Black Arts movement. Jones was a highly visible publisher (Yugen and Floating Bear magazines, Totem Press), a celebrated poet (Preface to a Twenty-Volume Suicide Note, 1961, and The Dead Lecturer, 1964), a major music critic (Blues People, 1963), and an Obie Award-winning playwright (Dutchman, 1964) who, up until that fateful split, had functioned in an integrated world. Other than James Baldwin, who at that time had been closely associated with the civil rights movement, Jones was the most respected and most widely published Black writer of his generation.
Although Jones' 1965 move uptown to establish the Black Arts Repertory Theatre/School (BARTS) is considered the formal beginning (it was Jones who came up with the name "Black Arts"), the Black arts movement grew out of a changing political and cultural climate in which Black artists attempted to a place for themselves amidst remaining ideologies of the Cold War, decolonization, and the civil rights movement. Black artists and intellectuals like Baraka made it their project to reject older political, cultural, and artistic traditions.

In his seminal 1965 poem "Black Art," which quickly became the major poetic manifesto of the Black Arts literary movement, Jones declaimed "we want poems that kill." He was not simply speaking metaphorically. During that period armed self-defense and slogans such as "Arm yourself or harm yourself' established a social climate that promoted confrontation with the white power structure, especially the police (e.g., "Off the pigs"). Indeed, Amiri Baraka (Jones changed his name in 1967) had been arrested and convicted (later overturned on appeal) on a gun possession charge during the 1967 Newark rebellion. Additionally, armed struggle was widely viewed as not only a legitimate, but often as the only effective means of black liberation. Black Arts' dynamism, impact, and effectiveness are a direct result of its partisan nature and advocacy of artistic and political freedom "by any means necessary." America had never experienced such a militant artistic movement.
Although the success of sit-ins and public demonstrations of the Black student movement in the 1960s may have “inspired black intellectuals, artists, and political activists to form politicized cultural groups,” many Black Arts activists rejected the non-militant integrational ideologies of the Civil Rights Movement and instead favored those of the Black Liberation Struggle, which placed an emphasis on “self-determination through self-reliance and Black control of significant businesses, organization, agencies, and institutions.” According to the Academy of American Poets, “African American artists within the movement sought to create politically engaged work that explored the African American cultural and historical experience.” The importance that the movement placed on Black autonomy is apparent through the creation institutions such as the Black Arts Repertoire Theatre School (BARTS), created in the spring of 1964 by Amiri Baraka and other Black artists. The opening of BARTS in New York city often overshadow the growth of other radical Black Arts groups and institutions all over the United States. In fact, transgresional and international networks, those of various Left and nationalist (and Left nationalist) groups and their supports, existed far before the movement gained popularity. Although the creation of BARTS did indeed catalyze the spread of other Black Arts institutions and the Black Arts movement across the nation, it was not solely responsible for the growth of the movement.

While it is easy to assume that the movement began solely in the Northeast, it actually started out as “separate and distinct local initiatives across a wide geographic area”, eventually coming together to form the broader national movement. New York City is often referred to as the “birthplace” of the Black Arts Movement, because it was home to many revolutionary Black artists and activists. However, the geographical diversity of the movement opposes the misconception that New York (and Harlem, especially) was the primary site of the movement.

In its beginning states, the movement came together largely through printed media. Journals such as Liberator, The Crusader, and Freedomways created “a national community in which ideology and aesthetics were debated and a wide range of approaches to African American artistic style and subject displayed. These publications tied communities outside of large Black Arts centers to the movement and gave the general Black public access to these sometimes-exclusive circles.
As a literary movement, Black Arts had its roots in groups such as the Umbra Workshop. Umbra (1962) was a collective of young Black writers based in Manhattan's Lower East Side; major members were writers Steve Cannon, Tom Dent, Al Haynes, David Henderson, Calvin C. Hernton, Joe Johnson, Norman Pritchard, Lenox Raphael, Ishmael Reed, Lorenzo Thomas, James Thompson, Askia M. Touré (Roland Snellings; also a visual artist), Brenda Walcott, and musician-writer Archie Shepp. Touré, a major shaper of "cultural nationalism," directly influenced Jones. Along with Umbra writer Charles Patterson and Charles's brother, William Patterson, Touré joined Jones, Steve Young, and others at BARTS.

Umbra, which produced Umbra Magazine, was the first post-civil rights Black literary group to make an impact as radical in the sense of establishing their own voice distinct from, and sometimes at odds with, the prevailing white literary establishment. The attempt to merge a Black-oriented activist thrust with a primarily artistic orientation produced a classic split in Umbra between those who wanted to be activists and those who thought of themselves as primarily writers, though to some extent all members shared both views. Black writers have always had to face the issue of whether their work was primarily political or aesthetic. Moreover, Umbra itself had evolved out of similar circumstances: In 1960 a Black Nationalist literary organization, On Guard for Freedom, had been founded on the Lower East Side by Calvin Hicks. Its members included Nannie and Walter Bowe, Harold Cruse (who was then working on Crisis of the Negro Intellectual, 1967), Tom Dent, Rosa Guy, Joe Johnson, LeRoi Jones, and Sarah Wright, among others. On Guard was active in a famous protest at the United Nations of the American-sponsored Bay of Pigs Cuban invasion and was active in support of the Congolese liberation leader Patrice Lumumba. From On Guard, Dent, Johnson, and Walcott along with Hernton, Henderson, and Touré established Umbra.

Another formation of Black writers at that time was the Harlem Writers Guild, led by John O. Killens, which included Maya Angelou, Jean Carey Bond, Rosa Guy, and Sarah Wright among others. But the Harlem Writers Guild focused on prose, primarily fiction, which did not have the mass appeal of poetry performed in the dynamic vernacular of the time. Poems could be built around anthems, chants, and political slogans, and thereby used in organizing work, which was not generally the case with novels and short stories. Moreover, the poets could and did publish themselves, whereas greater resources were needed to publish fiction. That Umbra was primarily poetry- and performance-oriented established a significant and classic characteristic of the movement's aesthetics. When Umbra split up, some members, led by Askia Touré and Al Haynes, moved to Harlem in late 1964 and formed the nationalist-oriented "Uptown Writers Movement," which included poets Yusef Rahman, Keorapetse "Willie" Kgositsile from South Africa, and Larry Neal. Accompanied by young "New Music" musicians, they performed poetry all over Harlem. Members of this group joined LeRoi Jones in founding BARTS.

Jones's move to Harlem was short-lived. In December 1965 he returned to his home, Newark (N.J.), and left BARTS in serious disarray. BARTS failed but the Black Arts center concept was irrepressible mainly because the Black Arts movement was so closely aligned with the then-burgeoning Black Power movement. The mid- to late 1960s was a period of intense revolutionary ferment. Beginning in 1964, rebellions in Harlem and Rochester, New York, initiated four years of long hot summers. Watts, Detroit, Newark, Cleveland, and many other cities went up in flames, culminating in nationwide explosions of resentment and anger following Martin Luther King, JR. April 1968 assassination.

Nathan Hare, the author of The Black Anglo-Saxons (1965), was the founder of 1960s Black Studies. Expelled from Howard University, Hare moved to San Francisco State University where the battle to establish a Black Studies department was waged during a five-month strike during the 1968-1969 school year. As with the establishment of Black Arts, which included a range of forces, there was broad activity in the Bay Area around Black Studies, including efforts led by poet and professor Sarah Webster Fabio at Merrit College.

The initial thrust of Black Arts ideological development came from the Revolutionary Action Movement (RAM), a national organization with a strong presence in New York City. Both Touré and Neal were members of RAM. After RAM, the major ideological force shaping the Black Arts movement was the US (as opposed to "them') organization led by Maulana Karenga. Also ideologically important was Elijah Muhammad’s Chicago-based Nation of Islam These three formations provided both style and ideological direction for Black Arts artists, including those who were not members of these or any other political organization. Although the Black Arts movement is often considered a New York-based movement, two of its three major forces were located outside New York City.

As the movement matured, the two major locations of Black Arts' ideological leadership, particularly for literary work, were California's Bay Area because of the Journal of Black Poetry and the Black Scholar, and the Chicago-Detroit axis because of Negro Digest/Black World and Third World Press in Chicago, and Broadside Press and Naomi Long Madgett's Lotus Press in Detroit. The only major Black Arts literary publications to come out of New York were the short-lived (six issues between 1969 and 1972) Black Theatre magazine published by the New Lafayette Theatre and Black Dialogue, which had actually started in San Francisco (1964–1968) and relocated to New York (1969–1972).

Although the journals and writing of the movement greatly characterized its success, the movement placed a great deal of importance on collective oral and performance art. Public collective performances drew a lot of attention to the movement, and it was often easier to get an immediate response from a collective poetry reading, short play, or street performance than it was from individual performances.
In 1967 LeRoi Jones visited Karenga in Los Angeles and became an advocate of Karenga's philosophy of Kawaida. Kawaida, which produced the "Nguzo Saba" (seven principles), Kwanzaa and an emphasis on African names, was a multifaceted, categorized activist philosophy. Jones also met Bobby Seale and Eldridge Cleaver and worked with a number of the founding members of the Black Panthers. Additionally, Askia Touré was a visiting professor at San Francisco State and was to become a leading (and longlasting) poet as well as, arguably, the most influential poet-professor in the Black Arts movement. Playwright Ed Bullins and poet Marvin X had established Black Arts West, and Dingane Joe Goncalves had founded the Journal of Black Poetry (1966). This grouping of Ed Bullins, Dingane Joe Goncalves, LeRoi Jones, Sonia Sanchez, Askia M. Touré, and Marvin X became a major nucleus of Black Arts leadership.

As the movement grew, ideological conflicts arose and eventually became too great for the movement to continue to exist as a large, coherent collective.

The Black Aesthetic

Many discussions of the Black Arts movement posit it as the “aesthetic and spiritual sister of the Black Power concept.” The Black Aesthetic refers to ideologies and perspectives of art that center around Black culture and life. This Black Aesthetic encouraged the idea of Black separatism, and in trying to facilitate this hope to further strengthen black ideals, solidarity, and creativity.
In his well-known essay on the Black Arts Movement, Larry Neal attests, “When we speak of a 'Black aesthetic' several things are meant. First, we assume that there is already in existence the basis for such an aesthetic. Essentially, it consists of an African-American cultural tradition. But this aesthetic is finally, by implication, broader than that tradition. It encompasses most of the usable elements of the Third World culture. The motive behind the Black aesthetic is the destruction of the white thing, the destruction of white ideas, and white ways of looking at the world.”

Effects on society

According to the Academy of American poets, “many writers--Native Americans, Latinos/as, gays and lesbians, and younger generations of African Americans have acknowledged their debt to the Black Arts movement.”[8]
The movement lasted for about a decade, through the mid 1960s and into 1970s. This was a period of controversy and change in the world of literature. One major change came through the portrayal of new ethnic voices in the United States. English language literature, prior to the Black Arts Movement, was dominated by white authors.

African Americans became a greater presence not only in the field of literature, but in all areas of the arts. Theater groups, poetry performances, music and dance were central to the movement. Through different forms of media, African Americans were able to educate others about the expression of cultural differences and viewpoints. In particular, black poetry readings allowed African Americans to use vernacular dialogues. This was shown in the Harlem Writers Guild which included black writers such as Maya Angelou and Rosa Guy. These performances were used to express political slogans and as a tool for organization. Theater performances also were used to convey community issues and organizations. The theaters, as well as cultural centers, were based throughout America and were used for community meetings, study groups and film screenings. Newspapers were a major tool in spreading the Black Arts Movement. In 1964, Black Dialogue was published making it the first major Arts movement publication.

The Black Arts Movement, although short, is essential to the history of the United States. It spurred political activism and use of speech throughout every African American community. It allowed African Americans the chance to express their voices in the mass media as well as becoming involved in communities.
It can be argued that “the Black Arts movement produced some of the most exciting poetry, drama, dance, music, visual art, and fiction of the post-World War II United States” and that many important “post-Black artists” such as Toni Morrison, Ntzoake Shange, Alice Walker, and August Wilson were shaped by the movement..
The Black Arts movement also provided incentives for public funding of the arts, and increased public support of various arts initiatives.

Key writers and thinkers of this movement

Maya Angelou, Amiri Baraka (Born Everett LeRoy Jones.) Jean Carey, Bond Walter Bowe Gwendolyn Brooks, Ed Bullins, Steve Cannon, Harold Cruse, Tom Dent Ray Durem Addison Gayle Nikki Giovanni Rosa Guy Lorraine Hansberry Al Haynes David Henderson Calvin Hicks Marvin X (known as Marvin Jackson) Ron Karenga Adrienne Kennedy Keorapetse John O. Killens Robert MacBeth Haki Madhubuti "Willie" Kgositsile Nannie Larry Neal Yusef Rahman, Sonia Sanchez, Barbara Ann Teer, Lorenzo Thomas, Askia M. Touré

November 23, 2010

"A Tribute to Blue Note, The Harlem Renaissance and The Black Arts Movement Part 2"


The first major movement of African-American literature, beginning around 1923 and flourishing until the depression, but providing a stimulus that lasted through the 1940s.

The renaissance mainly involved a group of writers and intellectuals associated (often loosely) with Harlem, the district of Manhattan that, during the migration of African Americans from the rural South, became the major center for urbanized blacks. Harlem was described by Alain Locke (1886-1954) as "not merely the largest Negro community in the world, but the first concentration in history of so many diverse elements of Negro life." The renaissance was associated with the New Negro Movement, so called because of the anthology, "The New Negro" (1925) edited by Locke, whose introductory essay is the closest to a manifesto or statement of ideals that the Harlem Renaissance has. In it he writes of the Negro who is no longer apologetic for blackness but who takes a new pride in a racial identity and heritage, of the "renewed self-respect and self-dependence" felt in the contemporary black community, which is "about to enter a new phase."

Elsewhere Locke urged writers to examine the meaning of an African past and to utilize this in their art. This urging coincided with a growing interest among whites at the time in primitivism, evident for example in Eugene O'Neill's plays "The Emperor Jones" (1920) and "All God's Chillun Got Wings" (1924). The Harlem Renaissance was partly fostered by the existence of this interest, and by the concurrent development of American modernism and the readiness to accept experimentation and to expand the breadth of artistic expression. The renaissance was greatly assisted by several whites, especially Carl Van Vechten (1880-1964), whose enthusiasm for African-American culture was reflected in his popular 1926 novel NIGGER HEAVEN. Locke had explicitly called for social and artistic interracial cooperation in "The New Negro," commenting that, "The fiction is that the life of the races is separate, and increasingly so. The fact is that they have touched too closely at the unfavorable and too lightly at the favorable levels." One characteristic of the Harlem Renaissance was a move toward so-called "high art" in black writing, rather than the use of folk idioms, comic writing, and vernacular that had often been considered the special realm of African-American writing up to that time. In some respects this shift mirrors the change from rural to urban life for many blacks in this period. However, several of the Harlem writers made powerful use of folk idioms such as the blues, particularly Langston Hughes (1902-67). The Harlem writers also engaged in an intense debate regarding the place of the African American in American life, and on the role and identity of the African-American artist.

In this sense the Harlem Renaissance is by no means a monolithic movement with a single purpose. For example, the artistic differences between Hughes and the poet Countee Cullen (1903-46) are instructive. Cullen believed that an African-American poet should be free to write in mainstream established traditions, and need not racialize poetry. "I want to be a poet, not a Negro poet," he said, and wrote in forms such as the sonnet and became a translator of Euripides. Hughes, on the other hand, saw this attitude as a betrayal of racial identity, an aping of white European-ness, and sought in his work to accept and explore his blackness using forms and idioms that he associated with it. Both are major poets but their differences point to the relative breadth of the movement and to the development of quite different kinds of African-American writing in the Harlem Renaissance.

Prominent Harlem Renaissance writers include James Weldon Johnson (1871-1938), Jessie Redmon Fauset (1882-1961), the Jamaican-born Claude McKay (1889-1948), Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960), Nella Larsen (1893-1964), Jean Toomer (1894-1967), Arna Bontemps (1902-73), Gwendolyn Bennett (1902-81), and Helene Johnson (1907-95).

November 19, 2010

"A Tribute to Blue Note, The Harlem Renaissance and The Black Arts Movement Part 1"

In 1925,16-year old Alfred Lion noticed a concert poster for Sam Wooding's orchestra near his favourite ice-skating arena in his native Berlin, Germany. He'd heard many of his mother's jazz records and began to take an interest in the music, but that night his life was changed. The impact of what he heard live touched a deep passion within him. His thirst for the music temporarily brought him to New York in 1928 where he worked on the docks and slept in Central Park to get closer to the music.

On December 23, 1938, Lion attended the celebrated Spirituals to Swing concert at Carnegie Hall. The power, soul and beauty with which boogie woogie piano masters Albert Ammons and Meade Lux Lewis rocked the stage gripped him. Exactly two weeks later, on January 6 at 2 in the afternoon, he brought them into a New York studio to make some recordings. They took turns at the one piano, recording four solos each before relinquishing the bench to the other man. The long session ended with two stunning duets. Blue Note Records was finally a reality.

The label's first brochure in May of 1939 carried a statement of purpose that Lion rarely strayed from throughout the many styles and years during which he built one of the greatest jazz record companies in the world. It read: "Blue Note Records are designed simply to serve the uncompromising expressions of hot jazz or swing, in general. Any particular style of playing which represents an authentic way of musical feeling is genuine expression. By virtue of its significance in place, time and circumstance, it possesses its own tradition, artistic standards and audience that keeps it alive. Hot jazz, therefore, is expression and communication, a musical and social manifestation, and Blue Note records are concerned with identifying its impulse, not its sensational and commercial adornments.”

At the end of 1939, Lion's childhood friend Francis Wolff caught the last boat out of Nazi-controlled Germany bound for America. He found employment at a photographic studio and joined forces with Lion at night to continue Blue Note. In the late 1940s, jazz had changed again, and Lion and Wolff could no longer resist the be-bop movement. Saxophonist Ike Quebec had become a close friend and advisor to both of them. Just as he had ushered in their swingtet phase, he would also bring them into modern jazz, introducing them to many of the new music's innovators and encouraging them to document it. Soon they were recording Fats Navarro and Bud Powell and giving Tadd Dameron, Thelonious Monk, Art Blakey, among others, their first dates as leaders. Lion and Wolff became especially fascinated with Monk and helped his career in every conceivable way. Despite critical resistance and poor sales, they recorded him frequently until 1952.

Monk's case was the first major example of what Horace Silver described in a 1980 interview, "Alfred Lion and Frank Wolff were men of integrity and real jazz fans. Blue Note was a great label to record for. They gave a first break to a lot of great artists who are still out there doing it today. They gave me my first break. They gave a lot of musicians a chance to record when all the other companies weren't interested. And they would stick with an artist, even if he wasn't selling. You don't find that anymore."

Album covers started to become a distinctive component in the Blue Note mix. Frank Wolff's extraordinarily sensitive and atmospheric photos and the advanced designs of Paul Bacon, Gil Melle and John Hermansader gave Blue Note a look that was both distinctive and beautiful.

Meanwhile, Lion was making first albums by the likes of Horace Silver, Lou Donaldson, Clifford Brown, Wynton Kelly, Elmo Hope, Kenny Drew, Tal Farlow and Kenny Burrell. He was also recording significant sessions with established modern talents like Kenny Dorham, George Wallington, Milt Jackson, Miles Davis, Thad Jones, Sonny Rollins and Herbie Nichols.

In 1952, Alfred became intrigued by the sound of a Triumph recording that saxophonist-composer Gil Melle had done at engineer Rudy Van Gelder's parents' home in Hackensack, New Jersey, where Van Gelder had a recording set-up in the living room. Blue Note had always been known for its superior sound and balance, but in Rudy, Alfred found an intelligent, kindred soul from whom he could extract an ideal sound. Van Gelder engineered most of the major jazz recordings of the '50s and '60s for many labels. He told me, "Alfred knew exactly what he wanted to hear. He communicated it to me and I got it for him technically. He was amazing in what he heard and how he would patiently draw it out of me. He gave me confidence and support in any situation."

By 1954, Blue Note naturally gravitated toward a system that was much akin to a repertory theatre company: using a revolving cast of sidemen and leaders who would assure them the creativity, compatibility and dependability that Blue Note sought. Leaders would appear on each other's projects: recurring sidemen would be groomed to grow into leaders. Sometimes such instances could be purely serendipitous. Horace Silver's first session was to have been a Lou Donaldson quartet date that Lou had to cancel at the last minute to go out of town. Alfred thought it was time for Silver to make his debut anyway and offered him the same date as his own trio session.

On the subject of Horace Silver, Lion felt in late 1954 that Horace should do a record with horns. He and the pianist arrived at the ideal personnel: Kenny Dorham, Hank Mobley, Doug Watkins and Art Blakey. The date went so well that these five men decided on a common purpose and formed a co-operative band called The Jazz Messengers. The group's idea was to present soulful modern jazz that incorporated the language of be-bop (without the virtuosic cliches of its second-generation followers) and the soulful, warm roots of blues and gospel music. It worked, and it became, with Van Gelder's engineering, the Blue Note sound.

Soon after, Blue Note would set in motion another trend in jazz. On the advice of Babs Gonzales and other musicians, Lion and Wolff ventured out to hear a Philadelphia pianist who had abandoned his original instrument and woodshedded intently for more than a year on a rented Hammond organ in the corner of a warehouse. As Frank Wolff told it in 1969, "I first heard Jimmy Smith at Small's Paradise in January of 1956. It was his first gig in New York. He was a stunning sight. A man in convulsions, face contorted, crouched over in apparent agony, his fingers flying, his feet dancing over the pedals. The air was filled with waves of sound I had never heard before. The noise was shattering. A few people sat around, puzzled, but impressed. He came off the stand, smiling, the sweat dripping all over him. 'So what do you think?' 'Yeah', I said. That's all I could say. Alfred Lion had already made up his mind."

Around the same time, Wolff met Reid Miles, a commercial artist who was a devout classical music fan. They struck up a rapport and Miles became the designer for the label for the next 11 years. He relied on Alfred to describe the mood and intent of each album and then created wonderful graphic covers that were different from each other, but still maintained an indefinable Blue Note look.

It was 1956, and the cast that gave the label its sound and identity - Lion, Wolff, Van Gelder, Miles, Blakey, Silver, and Smith - was complete. For the next decade or so Blue Note dominated the artistic and commercial courses of the music. As Wolff once said, "We established a style, including recording, pressing and covers. The details made the difference."

The early '60s saw Blue Note move to a higher plateau in the record industry. While they had always had strong sales with Jimmy Smith, Horace Silver and others, Donald Byrd's "A New Perspective", a unique 1963 album for jazz group and wordless choir, began crossing over to more general audiences. The next year, the company released two albums that were unexpected blockbusters, which had lengthy stays on the pop charts: Lee Morgan's "The Sidewinder" and Horace Silver's "Song For My Father".

In addition to continuing its hard bop tradition with Morgan, Mobley, Silver, Blakey and younger men like Hancock, Green, Wayne Shorter, Bobby Hutcherson, Freddie Hubbard and Joe Henderson, the label also moved cautiously into the avant-garde. Although a lot of chaotic and inferior music was passing for art in that movement, Lion and Wolff typically found the best and most substantial artists of the genre to record. Their first project was Jackie McLean's 1963 group with Grachan Moncur, Bobby Hutcherson and Tony Williams, all of whom would soon be recording their own albums as well. Tony's albums led to an association with Sam Rivers. There were also impressive works by Larry Young and Andrew Hill as well as the grand old masters of the avant-garde: Cecil Taylor, Eric Dolphy and Ornette Coleman.

When Liberty Records made them an offer to sell out of Blue Note in 1965, they took it. Lion stayed on until mid-1967, when health problems forced him to retire. Wolff and Duke Pearson divided the producing chores, and the roster still maintained many fine straight ahead artists, but jazz was moving into another cycle of hard times, economically and artistically. There were few working groups and few decent, good-paying clubs. The scene did not provide an environment in which it could nurture young talent and perpetuate itself.

Frank Wolff slaved away at Blue Note until his death in 1971. With Wolff's death and the lessening involvement of Duke Pearson, the label's emphasis shifted more toward fusion. Donald Byrd discovered Larry Mizell and asked him to produce "Black Byrd", a huge hit. Mizell later produced Bobbi Humphrey who was brought to the label by Lee Morgan.

The old Blue Note managed to survive through a program of reissues and previously unreleased material that Blue Note executive Charlie Lourie and Michael Cuscuna started in 1975. That program survived sporadically until 1981: the last active Blue Note artist was Horace Silver, who recorded for the label from 1952 until 1980.

In 1982, Lourie and Cuscuna started Mosaic Records as a by-product of trying to convince current owner Capitol Records to restart Blue Note. Our first releases were complete Blue Note collections by Thelonious Monk and Albert Ammons-Meade Lux Lewis. In mid 1984, EMI hired Bruce Lundvall to resurrect the label in earnest in the United States. The label was relaunched the following February with the "One Night With Blue Note" concert of all-star bands composed of new and old Blue Note artists at New York's Town Hall. Blue Note was reborn.

September 29, 2010


Pianist, composer, arranger, producer and NAACP Image Award Nominee, Onaje Allan Gumbs was born September 3, 1949 in New York, New York and is one of the industry’s most respected and talented musical collaborators. He has worked for more than 30 years with an illustrious list of jazz,R&B and pop artists. In 1974, he created a special arrangement of “Stella By Starlight” for the New York Jazz Repertory Company as part of a concert honoring Miles Davis at Carnegie Hall. He followed that with performances on albums by such artists as Woody Shaw (Moontrane), Buster Williams (Pinnacle), Cecil McBee (Mutima) and Betty Carter (Betty Carter). In 1975, Onaje joined forces with trumpeter Nat Adderley and his quintet, contributing to the group’s releases on Atlantic and Steeplechase Records.

Nils Winter of Steeplechase, upon hearing Onaje’s solo improvisations, invited the young pianist to record a solo piano album entitled Onaje (1976). Also in 1976, Onaje provided the arrangement on 'Betcha By Golly Wow' for the late vocalist Phillis Hyman. In 1978, the Woody Shaw Group, which Onaje contributed as pianist and as one of the composers, won the Down Beat Reader’s Poll for Jazz Group and for best jazz album, Rosewood. The album was later nominated for a Grammy. In 1985, Onaje lent his keyboard work and arrangement to "Lady in My Life" on guitarist Stanley Jordan’s enormously successful debut album, Magic Touch on Blue Note Records. This was the 1st jazz album in history to maintain the 1 spot atop Billboard Magazine’s jazz charts for more than 47 weeks.

In 1986 Onaje received the “Min-on Art Award” from the Soka Gakkai International" recognition of his great contribution to the promotion and development of a new musical movement for people with the aim of the creation of peace..." Previous recipients of this prestigious honor include Tina Turner, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and Buster Williams. He received yet another award from the SGI while in Tokyo in 2005 along with Wayne Shorter, Buster Williams, Nestor Torres, Larry Coryell, Shunzo Ono and other professional members of the Arts Division of SGI.

Motivated by his goal for World Peace, he uses the practice of Nicherin Daishonin’s Buddhism as a philosophical, spiritual and technical approach to all of his projects. In addition to to the release of That Special Part of Me(1988), Dare to Dream(1991) and Return To Form (2003), he has an independently financed solo project for the 21st century, Remember Their Innocence(2005). Onaje has been featured twice on NPR Piano Jazz with Marian McPartland. He composed,arranged and performed the original score for a Showtime film directed by actor/producer, Danny Glover entitled “Override”(1994) and in 1997, he was conductor and arranger for vocalist Cassandra Wilson’s concert Travelin’ Miles, a tribute to Miles Davis. While on the subject of Miles, Onaje recently enjoyed the opportunity of playing some live engagements with trumpeter Wallace Roney who has the distinction of being the only jazz trumpeter personally mentored by Miles.

Onaje is also an integral part of ensembles, both recording and live headed up by the outstanding bassist and composer, Avery Sharpe, having so far recorded Dragonfly , Legends and Mentors and Autumn Moonlight.

He was nominated for an NAACP Image Award in the Outstanding Jazz category was for his independent project Remember Their Innocence.
received in 2006.

His current project, Sack Full of Dreams(2007) features singer, actor, producer, director Obba Babatunde singing the title track. It was also picked my Jazz Improv Magazine as one of the best jazz recordings of 2007.

In 2008, Onaje received the "Virtuoso Award" from the Noel Pointer Foundation, named after the late, great jazz violinist, Noel Pointer. Onaje performed live and on two recordings in the late 70s as keyboardist with Noel's ensemble. It was during that same period that Onaje was also the pianist with the Woody Shaw Quintet.

Onaje states, “Music has a healing force that is immeasurable and I am committed to being a part of that healing process.”

Yuma "Dr. Yew" Bellomee a.k.a. Yewmanyeti was born in Bronx, NY and raised there and Mt. Vernon, NY. As the son of a musician and a dancer, at an early age, he acquired a love and inclination for music, which rooted in African drumming, then later branched into learning keyboard & saxophone, writing poetry, and creating Hip Hop music. Yuma enjoys being a student of life, especially in the realms of health, nature, culture, and music.

He earned his certification in holistic health in 2007 and is now a registered Naturopath in the Washington, D.C. metro area and is also co-founder of Yew-360 Wholistic Health & Wellness ( along with his wife, "Dr. Sade" Bellomee. Yewmanyeti currently spends the majority of his time finding ways to infuse his life experiences with his diverse knowledge and musical talents to advocate living a healthier and more well-rounded lifestyle that will better his communities and beyond.

September 12, 2010


Born and Raised in Cincinnati, Ohio, Janine Nash…aka…Lady J is a lyricist, poet and singer with over 10 years of performance and studio experience. She has been a background vocalist for Barrington Henderson (lead singer for the Temptations); and The Rose Brothers. She has performed as an opening act for Kirk Whalum; Howard Hewitt; Bloodstone and Slave. As a writer she has penned songs with former Earth, Wind and Fire guitarist, Sheldon Reynolds and member Ralph Johnson. One of her written pieces appears on the recently released “Devoted Spirits CD, “The Answer”.

Born October 11th, Lady J is true to her birth sign…Libra. Balance and Harmony are very important and is reflective in her lyrics.

Lady J’s live performances blend soulful R&B with thought-provoking spoken word/poetry…delivering significant messages with a seductive vibe.
Her sets have been described from “Unique & Soul Stirring” to a “Quiet Revolution”. “She makes a sincere and intimate connection with her audience as though they were sitting in her living room”.

"Shades of J", the title of her debut CD, is also the name of her performance band which consists of Co-writers and & Producers Don Manor (Guitar/Keyboards) and Eric Bolden (Drummer).

To visit Janine Nash's website CLICK HERE

August 31, 2010

The Evans Family

Todd C.C Evans better known in the poetry world as "The Son Of Black" was born in Philadelphia, PA, March 8, 1965 to the late Playwright Donald T. Evans and the late singer Frances J. Evans. The Son of Black refers to his father being a Black History Professor and mother instilling Black pride into her children. Todd was introduced to the arts through his parents and Godfather, the late Ken McClain.

In his youth, Todd has won a writing contest with Ebony Magazine. Much of Todd’s work reflects on music and the ups and downs of urban street life and modern day situations. He has co-written two songs with his brother, jazz musician, Orrin M. Evans, on the Imani Record Label. His work has also been heard on Eadon’s Place.Com. Todd has been a finalist in several on-line poetry contests and his new book, Staggerlee Booker T. and Me, will be out on FavorTwoU, Inc. Publications,
Todd resides in southern New Jersey with his wife and two children. He has also cared for three foster children.

Born into a family of artistic educators,Rachel Marianno spent most of her younger years surrounded by theater and music. Her father was a playwright and taught African-American history at Trenton State College and her mother was an accomplished Mezzo-Soprano while serving as the Assistant Director for the after school program at the YWCA in Trenton, New Jersey.

This energy created a desire in her to perform. Rachel has studied dance, piano, creative writing and drama. She attended Mercer County High School for the Performing Arts where she nurtured her talent while acting and dancing in a variety of shows and showcases. While in high school Rachel performed in "Good News Charlie Brown," "The Wiz" and also had the opportunity to perform some of her original monologues and poems.

After graduation Rachel attended Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts majoring in Elementary Education. Still, there was a need to perform so she put her voice to work as a Gospel DJ on a local radio station.

In 1991 Rachel graduated with honors from Northeastern and started her tenure in the Philadelphia Public School System while also attending Cheney University to attain her Masters.

As an educator Rachel will continue to make a difference in children throughout the Philadelphia area. As a performer, Rachel has performed at Freedon Theater, The Don Evans Black Box Theater, the Karamu Theater and many other venues. She continues to travel and read original poetry and those of great writers that came before her.

Orrin Evans was born in Trenton, New Jersey in 1976 and raised in Philadelphia, Pa. He attended Rutgers University, and following this studied with Kenny Barron. Since moving to New York in the winter of 1995 Orrin Evans has been recognized as one of the most distinctive and inventive pianist of his generation. In a short span of time Orrin has earned the titles of pianist, composer, bandleader, teacher, producer and arranger.

Growing up in a musical city like Philadelphia was extremely important to early development of Orrin’s career. Philadelphia afforded Orrin the opportunity to study informally with the likes of Trudy Pitts, Shirley Scott, Mickey Roker, Bobby Durham, Edgar Bateman, Sid Simmons, and formally with William Whitaker, Jack Carr, and Charles Pettaway. In 1993, after attending Girard Academic Music Program, Orrin was accepted into the Mason Gross School of The Arts at Rutgers University. While attending Mason Gross some of his teachers included Kenny Barron, Joanne Brackeen, Ralph Bowen, & Ted Dunbar. They instilled in him the importance of the fundamentals of jazz as well as the necessity of listening to and living the music.

After moving to New York in August of 1996 Orrin was invited to join Bobby Watson’s band “Horizon” on their European tour. This opportunity introduced Orrin to the New York jazz scene. His recording and performing resume includes Wallace Roney, Mos Def, Common, Pharoah Sanders, Antonio Hart, Carmen Lundy, Ralph Peterson, Ralph Bowen, The Mingus Big Band, Roy Hargrove, Nicolas Payton, Brandford Marsalis, Gary Bartz, Eddie Henderson, Sean Jones, Tim Warfield, Ravi Coltrane, Robin Eubanks, Duane Eubanks, and Dave Douglas.

Orrin’s recording career started in 1994 with a self-produced trio release called “The Trio” featuring Matthew Parrish on bass and Byron Landham on drums. The release can now be found on the Imani Record label under the title “Déjà Vu”. In 1996 he was introduced to Gerry Teekins from Criss Cross records. This relationship afforded Orrin the opportunity to release six critically acclaimed recordings for the Criss Cross label. During a hiatus from Criss Cross Orrin released recordings for the Palmetto record label and his own label Imani Records. In 2002 Orrin combined forces with drummer Donald Edwards, vocalist JD Walter, saxophonist Ralph Bowen, and his wife vocalist Dawn Warren to form the band Luvpark. The band recorded the critically acclaimed self titled album “Luvpark” and is presently working on the release of their sophomore recording.

The New York Times described the pianist as “...a poised artist with an impressive template of ideas at his command”, a quality that has undoubtedly assisted in keeping Orrin at the forefront of the music scene.

Evans spent 3 years as a teacher at the coveted Germantown Friends School where he taught middle school music and conducted three jazz ensembles. He returned to Settlement Music School to teach individual piano lessons, theory lessons and an advanced jazz ensemble. He continues to be a musical commentator, conducting workshops, clinics and master classes both in the United States and abroad, while continuing to record and tour with his own bands.

The newest Orrin Evans disc, “Live in Jackson, Mississippi”, on the Imani Records label is available at retailers or on I-Tunes.

Lately Orrin’s greatest joy has been producing projects for other artists like Sean Jones and playing with his own band, which at different times, has included such notables as Ralph Peterson, Jr., Sam Newsome, Ralph Bowen, Nasheet Waits, Reid Anderson, Eric Revis, JD Allen and Duane Eubanks.

August 18, 2010


Oni Lasana "desired poet of the people" was born and raised in North Philadelphia during the height of the Civil Rights era in America. She was deeply affected and involved in the Black Consciousness Movement. An avid traveler, she pursued a life course to bring positive awareness of African American and Caribbean culture to communities worldwide. She spent a successful career in the music industry as a publisher and promoter of Black music in the 70's, 80's and 90's.

A cultural conduit and creative muse to many, Oni established Oni Lasana Productions, in 1994. It allows her to serve the community as a cultural enrichment teaching artist, poet, storyteller, musician, producer, publisher, songwriter, historical interpreter (Harriet Tubman), playwright, (The Soul of Kwanzaa), among many other artistic ventures.

Oni Lasana is known internationally for her one woman theatrical production and audio CD on the poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar. She brings to life the poetry of Dunbar, from backyards to reputable theaters. Oni's programs are embraced internationally, from Germany to Trinidad and Tobago. Renowned Poet and Professor, Nikki Giovanni announced on several occasions that Oni is the "Voice of Dunbar!” Oni Lasana is featured in Sourcebooks, “Hip Hop Speaks To Children“, a audio and book of poetry slated for release in October 2008. Lasana’s "spirit driven" original poetry can be heard on her sophomore CD "Sister Wings, Spoken Word Songs, Bass & Beats“ a blend of soul, reggae and hip hop grooves, also, “Doin’ Dunbar as ‘Lias’ Mother” which features the dialect poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar, both CD's are available at

Past-president, and presently the PR Chair of Keepers Of The Culture, Inc., Philadelphia's Afrocentric Storytelling Group she is also a life member of the National Association of Black Storytelling, Inc. Oni Lasana Productions are welcomed at countless cultural, social, educational and corporate events.

To visit Oni Lasana's website CLICK HERE

August 03, 2010


O scar Peterson was born August 15, 1925 in Montreal, Quebec, Canada. His parents were immigrants from the British West Indies and Virgin Islands. His father, Daniel Peterson, was boatswain on a merchant ship when he met Olivia John in Montreal, where she worked as a cook and housekeeper for an English family. Daniel gave up the sailing work and began working as a porter for the Canadian Pacific Railway. He and Olivia married and stayed in Montreal as their family grew.

Oscar was the fourth of five children. Their father insisted that they all learn a musical instrument, and Oscar began to study the trumpet. A childhood bout of tuberculosis forced a fortuitous switch to the piano, under the tutelage of his father and his older sister, Daisy. It soon became apparent that Oscar’s talent surpassed the capabilities of home teaching, and he was sent first to teacher Lou Hooper and then to the gifted Hungarian classical pianist, Paul deMarky. A warm and respectful musical friendship developed between the two, and with Mr. deMarky’s guidance Oscar’s mastery of the instrument grew, along with his dedication to and command of his talent.

The performance career of Oscar Peterson began while he was still a young teenager in high school, as pianist with the Johnny Holmes Orchestra in Montreal. After a few years with the Orchestra, he formed his own trio, the first in a format he maintained throughout his lifelong career. With the trio, he quickly gained fame and popularity throughout Canada. His appearances at the Alberta Lounge in Montreal were broadcast live on the radio. In 1949 impresario Norman Granz heard one of those broadcasts, went to the Alberta Lounge and enticed Mr. Peterson into making a surprise guest appearance with Granz’ all-star “Jazz at the Philharmonic” at Carnegie Hall later that year. Leaving the audience awestruck, Oscar joined JATP in 1950 as a full-time touring member. He formed a piano-bass duo with Ray Brown as well, and began recording for Granz at the same time. He also added Barney Kessel as the first of the guitarists with whom he would create trios, returning to the group format he loved.

He was voted Jazz Pianist of the Year in 1950 by the Downbeat Readers’ Poll, a title he garnered for an additional twelve years. He toured the globe extensively with Jazz at the Philharmonic as well as with his own trio.

During the busy touring years in the early 1960s he founded a jazz school in Toronto called the Advanced School of Contemporary Music. This attracted students from all over the world. For a few months each year he and his trio, along with Phil Nimmons, a clarinetist from Toronto, would conduct classes at the school. The demands of his touring schedule forced closure of the school after a few years, but students still fondly recall their experiences there.

Oscar Peterson began composing while still a member of the Johnny Holmes Orchestra, and as time progressed he devoted more and more time to composition, while still maintaining a vigorous performance schedule. His “Hymn To Freedom” became one of the crusade songs of the Civil Rights Movement led by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the United States. It is still performed frequently by choirs worldwide. He also composed a salute to his beloved Canada, “The Canadiana Suite,” in the early 1960s. He has composed music for motion pictures, including the Canadian film “Big North,” made for Ontario Place in Toronto, and the feature film “The Silent Partner,” for which he won the Genie Award (Canadian Oscar award) for best original film score in 1978. He composed work for the National Film Board of Canada. His collaboration with filmmaker Norman McLaren on the film “Begone Dull Care” won awards all over the world. He composed the soundtrack for the film “Fields of Endless Day,” about U.S. slaves using the Underground Railroad to escape to Canada. Other compositional projects include a jazz ballet, a suite called “Africa,” and the Easter Suite, commissioned by the BBC in London and broadcast live on Good Friday in 1984, with annual broadcasts after that. “A Salute to Bach” for the composer’s 300th birthday, premiered with trio and orchestra at Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall in 1985. He composed a suite for the Olympic Arts Festival of the Calgary Winter Olympics in 1988, and music for the opening ceremony of the Skydome in Toronto. In addition, Oscar Peterson composed more than 400 other pieces, many of which he performed and others continue to perform. Some of these compositions remain unpublished, but hopefully they will be published for future generations to hear.

Oscar Peterson has an extensive discography of his trio and quartet recordings, as well as his recordings with many of the other jazz greats. His varied albums include recordings with Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Eldridge, Ben Webster, Coleman Hawkins and Joe Pass. His worldwide performances and his recordings, particularly those with his trios and quartets, brought him recognition from numerous places all around the world.

Mr. Peterson also made many television appearances during his lifetime. He hosted five different talk show series, and Oscar’s widespread appeal led to his interviewing a variety of guests. The unusual range of personalities to appear on these programs included the former Prime Minister of England, the Rt. Hon. Sir Edward Heath, Twiggy, Anthony Burgess as well as many musicians. He also appeared in television commercials “Tears Are Not Enough,” a musical fundraiser for African famine relief.

Preferring not to use his celebrity status to sway public opinions, Mr. Peterson nevertheless remained dedicated to the belief that his native Canada has a responsibility in leading the world in equality and justice. With this in mind, he took a firm stand to promote the cause of human rights fair treatment for Canada’s multicultural community. In recognition of this effort, Mr. Peterson was promoted to Companion of the Order of Canada, Canada’s highest civilian honor. He had been inducted as an Officer of the Order in 1972.

During his life and career Mr. Peterson received many awards and honors. These include the Praemium Imperiale (the Arts equivalent of the Nobel Prize, presented by the Japan Art Association), the UNESCO International Music Prize, 8 Grammy Awards (including a Lifetime Achievement Grammy), the 1993 Glenn Gould Prize, of which he was the third recipient, the first chosen by unanimous decision and the first ever non-classical musician, and many honorary degrees.

Despite a stroke in 1993 that debilitated his left hand, Oscar Peterson was determined to continue performing, recording and composing. Within a year he had recovered and resumed his worldwide concert appearance schedule.

Oscar Peterson lived in the quiet city of Mississauga, Ontario, Canada. His hobbies included fishing, photography and astronomy. He was an avid audiophile and synthesist, as music was not only his profession but also his hobby. His home contained his own private recording studio, allowing him to work and still enjoy his family life. His passion for life, love and music remained strong for his entire life, and he continued to perform until shortly before his death. Oscar Peterson crossed over at his home on the morning of December 23, 2007. His legacy lives on through his music.

To visit Oscar Peterson's website CLICK HERE

Just Bill aka William S. Peters, Sr. is the Proud Single Father of 11 children and 7 Grandchildren.

He has been writing for over 40 years, expressing his thoughts on matters of the Heart, Spirit, Consciousness and Humanity. His primary focus is that of Love, Peace and Understanding! Due to his own personal circumstances that “Life’s Travels” has presented to him such as the Crossing Over of his Beloved Wife, Virisa on 2 July 2006, he says he found himself deeply immersed in an abysmal place filled with convoluting voices of Love, Light, Darkness, Despair and Understanding. These Voices transmuted to feelings and thus to insights and thus to the expressive words you will find all over the internet.

Bill is not only a Writer / Poet, but he is also a Public Speaker, Empowerment Work Shop Leader, Consultant, Activist, Video Producer, Spoken Word and Recording Artist and so much more. He also is the Director of Inner Child Enterprises as well as the Director of Publicity for Society Hill Music. Bill is involved in well over 80 Social and Writing Sites to include My Space, FaceBook, Inner Child, Adelle Conexxions, Humanity Healing, it’s a Beautiful World, Black Preaching Network, etc., and many, many more. He has accumulated several thousands of Readers and Friends from all over the Globe. Bill was recently featured in Big The Magazine, which incidentally he won the esteemed “Person of the Year Award” for the Year 2009 – 2010. He has been featured on countless Sites for his Insightful Spiritual Loving touch found in the words of his Expressions in Poetry, Story and Analogy. He has published 13 book, his latest offering a Poetic Collection “the light in the window’, which incidentally is available for purchase at his Web Site.

He also has his own Social Community His Publicist, Adelle Banks Wilson of Adelle Conexxions ( ) has nothing to say but good things about Bill and his wonderfully empowering Spiritual Work. Bill is truly a blessing to anyone that is so graced to know him !

In December 2009 and January 2010, his divine work was featured in the highly Humanitarian Oriented Magazine : Humanity Healing’s “Om Times” which also has a World Wide Distribution. Bill additionally writes monthly for “Signature Women Today Magazine” and We Are Creative People, the Magazine. He also works avidly in his Church Community / Family as a Steward and Director of the Audio / Visual Ministry.

Bill additionally offers himself to others for Inspiration, Healing and Counseling. He has supported and inspired many Writers and Poets to further their course with their own expressions. He owns his own Publishing Company : Inner Child Press

Inner Child Press.
P.O. Box 420
Waterford Works New Jersey 08089

Bill says . . .
I have always likened Life to that of a Garden. So, for me, Life is simply about the Seeds we Sow and Nourish. All things we “Think and Do”, will “Be” Cause and eventually manifest itself to being an “Effect” within our own personal “Existences” and “Experiences” . . . whether it be Fruit, Flowers, Weeds or Barren Landscapes! Bill highly regards the Fruits of his Labor and wishes that everyone would thus you go on to plant “Lovely” Seeds on “Good Ground” in their own Gardens of Life !
The Inner Garden

To Visit William Peters' website CLICK HERE

July 22, 2010


Born on December 12, 1943, in Buffalo, NY. Grover Washington, Jr., One of the finest musicians ever tagged with the charge of commercialism by purists, was commonly known as one of the founders of the smooth jazz-pop style that gained wide public favor from the 1970s through the 1990s. By the late 1990s he had produced albums in a range of styles and seen his music influence such commercial giants as Kenny G. Music lovers' appreciation for Washington's music was hardly diminished by his untimely death in 1999.

Washington came from a musical family. His mother sang in church choirs, and his father, who played the saxophone and maintained a large collection of jazz 78 RPM records, bought a sax for his son at the age of ten. "We came out of the ghetto," Washington said in the Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock & Soul, "but despite that fact, and despite Buffalo's cold winter climate, the city had a warm creative atmosphere, as far as I was concerned." His parents encouraged him to study classical music as well as jazz, and these studies proved beneficial later in Washington's career, honing his sight-reading skills and instilling in him a bent toward musical composition.

As a teenager Washington snuck out to jazz clubs and even performed with a blues band. "I'd play in a club until three o'clock in the morning, then be at school at quarter to eight," he recalled to the Encyclopedia of Pop, Rock & Soul. His brother Darryl became a jazz drummer who backed such stars as Angela Bofill and Gato Barbieri. Washington also hoped for a basketball career, but was frustrated by his small stature (he stood 5 feet, 8-1/2 inches tall). Graduating from high school at the age of 16, he immediately formed a rhythm-and-blues group called the Four Clefs, which toured with some success around the Midwest and the rest of the country.

This phase of Washington's career was cut short when he was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1965, just as American troops were becoming enmeshed in the Vietnam conflict. Washington assumed he was headed for Southeast Asia, but his musical talents came to the rescue: he won a spot in the 19th Army Band. Stationed at Fort Dix, New Jersey, Washington found himself conveniently situated to continue building his musical career. He played with various ensembles in and around New York and Philadelphia, and performed and made friends with drummer Billy Cobham, another jazz-pop pioneer.

Discharged from the Army in 1967, the newly married musician worked for a record distributor while steadily gaining recognition as a jazz baritone-sax sideman. His breakthrough in the music profession came in 1971, when he was snared by Kudu record label producer Creed Taylor as a last-minute recording-session replacement for absent saxophonist Hank Crawford. Washington was to fill in on alto saxophone, an instrument he had not played since he had left the Army. Playing a rented instrument, Washington delivered a recording, released under his own name as Inner City Blues, that in the words of New York Times critic Robert Palmer, "sold hundreds of thousands of copies and did much to break down barriers between jazz and pop."

Washington's subsequent albums for Kudu continued his upward trajectory in the 1970s, with Mister Magic and Live at the Bijou meeting with special success. Washington energetically promoted his records on his own, and, in search of stronger label backing, moved first to Motown and then to Elektra at the end of the 1970s. The 1980 album Winelight, his second for Elektra, made him a superstar. It remained on Billboard magazine's pop chart for 102 weeks and was Number One on the jazz chart for 31 weeks. On the album Washington performed a duet with vocalist Bill Withers, "Just the Two of Us"; the two musicians, with their shared sophisticated-yet-earthy styling, complemented each other perfectly, and the recording remains one of Washington's best known.

Washington was not the first jazz musician to adopt pop and R&B influences, but his mixtures were new and convincing ones. Like other instrumentalists he performed jazz improvisations over a rock or urban contemporary beat; his improvisations were musically sophisticated but never lost the directness of the popular forms in which they were based. Washington, who was encouraged by his wife Christine to listen to more pop music, saw his music become a staple of various urban contemporary radio formats through the 1980s and beyond. And he was no temporary pop phenomenon. Most of his 1980s Elektra albums remained in print in the late 1990s.

Signing with the Columbia label in 1987, Washington kept up a steady schedule of releases. It was not until the 1990s that he relaxed somewhat in his pace of making new music. While continuing to make music that appealed to his large fan base, he took steps to address the concerns of critics who deplored the commercialism of his style. He made two albums, 1988's Then and Now and 1994's All My Tomorrows, that moved in the direction of straight-ahead acoustic jazz, toning down the popular rhythm tracks that had defined much of his music. "If you don't do things like this every now and then," Washington told Down Beat in 1994, "people think you don't know how. ... Most of us are multi-faceted, just like diamonds." Other albums, such as 1992's Next Exit, were more commercially oriented.

His success and celebrity assured--he performed at the inauguration ceremonies for President and fellow saxman Bill Clinton in 1993--Washington branched out into new areas in the 1990s. He collaborated with Boston Pops conductor John Williams and the London Symphony Orchestra on a recording of music from the film A Place in the Sun for an album called The Hollywood Sound. And he remained alert to contemporary pop trends: the 1996 album Soulful Strut ventured into hip-hop, acid jazz, and African rhythm. A Christmas album, his first, appeared late in 1997. Many of his concerts, though, continued to feature the jazz-pop instrumentals that brought him his own place in the sun. As a Washington Post critic noted in 1997, "few people have played this music longer or more successfully than Washington."

Washington died on December 17, 1999, following the taping of an appearance on CBS-TV's Saturday Early Show. Jazzman Sonny Rollins told Downbeat: "He was one of the best people we had in this music, both on a human level and as a great player." In 2001 Jason Miles worked with a range of recording artists to put together a tribute album called To Grover, with Love.

To visit Grover Washington Jr's website CLICK HERE

Sonia Sanchez, Born Wilsonia Benita Driver on September 9, 1934, in Birmingham, AL; daughter of Wilson L. and Lena (Jones) Driver; married Albert Sanchez (divorced); married Etheridge Knight (divorced); children (second marriage): Anita, Morani, Mungu. Education: Attended public schools in New York City; Hunter College, BA, 1955; postgraduate work at New York University.

Career: Downtown School, New York, instructor, 1965-1967; San Francisco State College, instructor, 1966-68; University of Pittsburgh, assistant professor, 1969-70; Rutgers University, assistant professor, 1970-71; Manhattan Community College, assistant professor of black literature and creative writing teacher of writing, 1971-73; Amherst College, associate professor,1972-73; Muhammad Speaks, columnist, 1970s(?); Spelman College, poet-in-residence, 1988-89; Temple University, Laura H. Carnell Professor of English, 1977-99.

Memberships: Poetry Society of America, American Studies Association, Academy of American Poets, PEN, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Selected awards: PEN Writing Award and the American Academy of Art and Letters' $1,000 award to continue writing; honorary Ph.D. in fine arts, Wilberforce University, 1973; National Education Association Award, 1977-78; Honorary Citizen of Atlanta, 1982; Tribute to Black Womanhood Award by black students at Smith College; 1985 American Book Award for Homegirls and Handgrenades; Pew Fellowship in the Arts, 1992-93.

Addresses: Home–Philadelphia, PA.

Sanchez also has contributed to journals and anthologies as a poet, essayist, and editor. She has edited anthologies, including Three Hundred and Sixty Degrees of Blackness Comin at You, An Anthology of the Sonia Sanchez Writers Workshop at Countee Cullen Library in Harlem; and We Be Word Sorcerers: Twenty-five Stories by Black Americans. Also, she has written and edited stories for young readers, such as the compilation A Sound Investment, and the tale, The Adventures of Fathead, Smallhead, and Squarehead. In addition, Sanchez has contributed to a book on Egyptian Queens and written for the publications Black Scholar and Journal of African Studies. She also has recorded her poetry.

In her 1973 book of poems, A Blues Book for Blue Black Magical Women, Sanchez explores being a woman in a society that "does not prepare young black women, or women period, to be women," as she told Claudia Tate in Black Women Writers at Work. She also writes about politics and ethnic pride and uses parts of her life to illustrate a general condition. Although she still advocates revolutionary change she also focuses on individuals battling to survive and find love and joy in their lives. Her work has been called both autobiographical and universal. Critics have observed that while her early books address social oppression, her 1970s plays are about her personal struggles. In Uh, Huh: But How Do it Free us? a black woman participating in the movement against white oppression refuses to be mistreated by her husband. As Sanchez said to Claudia Tate, "If you cannot remove yourself from the oppression of a man, how in the hell are you going to remove yourself from the oppression of a country?"

Sanchez's books of verse include Wounded in the House of a Friend and Does Your House Have Lions? The first book, published in 1995, is a blend of poetry and prose in which she pays tribute to Essence magazine and presents memorial pieces for Malcolm X and James Baldwin. According to Publishers Weekly, "Sanchez is at her best...when she places her speaker in the furious center of criminal action: a raped woman's detailed account of her attack, a woman trading her seven-year-old daughter for crack ('he held the stuff out/to me and I cdn't remember/her birthdate I cdn't remember/my daughter's face'). A brilliant narrative is offered in the voice of a Harlem woman struggling with (and eventually hammered to death by) her junkie granddaughter."

In Does Your House Have Lions? (1997) Sanchez concerns herself with AIDS and familial estrangements and reconciliations. In the book she writes of her brother who left the South angry at his absentee father. He hurls himself into the gay world in New York City, "and the days rummaging his eyes/and the nights flickering through a slit/of narrow bars. hips. thighs./and his thoughts labeling him misfit/as he prowled, pranced in the starlit/city," wrote Sanchez. But AIDS pursues him and the family is only brought together again because of his illness and hospitalization. As he dies, he hears the spiritual voices of his ancestors, who also are present. Kay Bourne stated in the Bay State Banner, "Stylistically, the 70-page heartfelt lyrical poem is a wonder. It is a triumph of skill with its consistent rhyming pattern (ababbcc) that propels the reader forward. It is brilliant in its choice of words, which, while never sending the reader scurrying to the dictionary, is touchingly apt in plumbing the depths of her brother's experience and that of her other family members."

The author has won numerous awards for her work and activities, including the PEN Writing Award and the American Academy of Arts and Letters' $1,000 award to continue writing. She was given an honorary Ph.D. in fine arts by Wilberforce University in 1973 and received a National Education Association Award in 1977-78. She was named Honorary Citizen of Atlanta in 1982, and received an NEA award in 1984. More recent awards include a Pew Fellowship in the Arts in 1992-93, an honorary Ph.D. from Baruch College in 1993, a PEN fellowship in the arts in 1993-1994, and a Legacy Award from Jomandi Productions in 1995.

Throughout her distinguished teaching career, Sanchez taught and lectured at institutions across the country. As a teacher her legacy is as one of the pioneers of African-American Studies. She was the first professor to offer a course on the literature of African-American women (at the University of Pittsburgh in 1969). She began teaching in 1965 at New York's Downtown Community School. After teaching at several universities, including San Francisco State College (now University), the University of Pittsburgh, City College of the City of New York, Amherst, Spelman College, and the University of Pennsylvania, she became a professor of English and Women's Studies at Temple University where she remained until her retirement in 1999.

Though retired from teaching, Sanchez did not quit writing. She kept to her discipline that she started as a youngster. She attributes her desire to keep writing to her "love of language," as she told African American Review. "It is that love of language that has propelled me, that love of language that came from listening to my grandmother speak black English. I would repeat what she said and fall out of the bed and fall down on the floor and laugh, and she knew that I was enjoying her language, because she knew that I didn't speak black English. But I did speak hers, you know. It is that love of language that, when you have written a poem that you know works, then you stand up and you dance around, or you open your door and go out on the porch and let out a loud laugh, you know."

With the 2004 publication of the spoken-word album, Full Moon of Sonia, Sanchez is continuing her legacy as the poet who brought black English to the world. As put by Black Issues Book Review: "It is refreshing to see a legend, a respected artist, come forward and show all of us how to do it right. Full Moon of Sonia does more than give us good poetry set to music; it galavants through an amazing formal and stylistic range that reminds us all how Sonia Sanchez finally got to this place."

Homecoming Poems, Broadside Press, 1969.

We a BaddDDD People, Broadside Press, 1970.

Liberation Poems, Broadside Press, 1971.

It's a New Day: Poems for Young Brothas and Sistuhs, (Juvenile) Broadside Press, 1971.

A Blues Book for Blue Black Magical Women, Broadside Press, 1973.

Love Poems, Third Press, 1973.

I've Been a Woman: New and Selected Poems, Black Scholar Press, 1981.

Homegirls and Handgrenades: Poems, Third World, 1985.

Under a Soprano Sky: Poems, Africa World Press, 1987.

Shake Down Memory and Continuous Fire, Africa World Press, 1991.

Wounded in the House of a Friend, Beacon Press, 1995.

Does Your House Have Lions?, Beacon Press, 1997.

Shake Loose My Skin: New and Selected Poems, Beacon Press, 1999.

The Bronx is Next, Tulane Drama Review, 1968.

Sister Sonji, New Plays from Black Theatre, 1970.

Malcolm/Man Don't Live Here No Mo', Black Theatre, 1972.

Uh, Huh: But How Do it Free us? 1975.

I'm Black When I'm Singing, I'm Blue When I Ain't, OIC Theatre, 1982.

Black Cats Back and Uneasy Landings, 1995.

Sonia Sanchez, Pacifica Tape Library, 1968.

Homecoming, Broadside, 1969.

We a BaddDDD People, Broadside, 1979.

A Sun Lady for All Seasons Reads Her Poetry, Folkways, 1971.

Sonia Sanchez and Robert Bly, Blackbox, 1971.

Sonia Sanchez: Selected Poems, Watershed Intermedia, 1975.

IDKT: Capturing Facts about the Heritage of Black Americans, Ujima, 1982.

Full Moon of Sonia, 2004.

Black Women Writers at Work, ed. by Claudia Tate, Continuum, 1983, pp. 132-148.

Black Women Writers, 1950-1980: A Critical Evaluation, 1984.

Contemporary Authors, Gale, Vol. 49, New Revision Series, pp. 349-355; Vols. 33-36, First Revision, 1973, p. 691.

Contemporary Black American Poets and Dramatists, ed. by Harold Bloom, Chelsea House Publishers, 1995, pp. 171-172.

Contemporary Literary Criticism, Gale, Vol. 5, 1976, pp. 382-383.

Ijala: Sonia Sanchez and the African Poetic Tradition, Third World Press, 1996.

Notable Black American Women, Gale, 1992, pp. 976-977.

Sanchez, Sonia, Does Your House Have Lions? Beacon Press, 1997 p. 9.

Sanchez, Sonia, Wounded in the House of a Friend, Beacon Press, 1995.

African American Review, Winter 2000.

American Visions, August-September, 1996, p. 36.

Bay State Banner, October 23, 1997, pp. 22, 24.

Black Issues Book Review, March-April 2005.

Booklist, February 15, 1997.

Chicago Sun-Times, April 18, 1997.

Nation, April 17, 1972, p. 508.

New Yorker, April 8, 1972, pp. 97-99.

Poetry, 1973, pp. 45-46.

Publishers Weekly, July 15, 1974, p. 77; February 27, 1995, p. 97; February 24, 1997.

Time, May 1, 1972, p. 53.

Vibe, August 1997, p. 136.

World, May/June 1999.

—Alison Carb Sussman and Sara Pendergast

To visit Sonia Sanchez's website CLICK HERE

June 28, 2010

"Southern Poetology"

Marie Grady, affectionately known in the entertainment world as LyriQ, was born, September 7, 1971, in a small town called Heerlen in the southern region of the Netherlands, but now calls South Carolina home.

LyriQ is an author, songwriter/vocalist, and spoken word performer. With about nearly 10 years of performing experience under her belt, LyriQ is still a babe in the industry, yet she strives daily to reinvent herself and to take her craft to the next level.

To LyriQ’s acclaim are two self-published books of poetry entitled, “My Piece Be With You” and “Eye of Thee…Behold Her.” She also completed her first romance novel entitled “Tomorrow Promises…” A skilled vocalist and songwriter, LyriQ has fashioned a number musical/poetic favorites to include collaborations with such artists as the phenomenal Eryk Moore, Bro Poet of Da Wonda Twinz Dub TP Productions, B.L.I.S.S. of 1224 Entertainment, Nxt Lvl and the infamous Daryl Hayott of Konfuscious Klan. These and more heartfelt creations were compiled to create LyriQ’s soon to be released first album entitled “Sole to Soul”.

Currently, LyriQ travels with a group of poets called New Danger, whose primary purpose is to provide inspiration to our youth through spoken word performances at the Department of Juvenile Justice group homes, schools and colleges, as well as a number of community developed events. A member of the Black Poetry Café, the Black Author’s Network, and co-host of the Lyrical Disciples internet radio show, LyriQ is definitely out there doing her thing in the poetic realm.

A connoisseur of eclectic verbal stylings, LyriQ remains humbled by the concept of being a vessel through which vibes of existence flow. Her mission in life…to make a positive difference in the world we lovingly refer to as home.

To visit LyriQ's website CLICK HERE

To Listen to an interview I had with LyriQ CLICK HERE

Keith Pender better known as Quiet Storm of Spoken Word, was born in the city of Wilmington, NC on February 3, 1969. He grew up in a household with both parents and a sister named Keisha. He called her "Shortcake". She was his best friend, but, God saw fit to call her Home at the age of 9.

Keith's early years were a bit awkward, but, all of that changed one day as I listened to some Gospel Records that his mom owned. Gospel sparked his love for music as he listened to the words of the songs, really paying attention to them for the first time. It changed his life from that moment onward. He soon began taking piano lessons at the age of 10, and that lasted for 8 years. Quiet Storm sang in the Chorus during his Junior and Senior High School years. During those same years he began to write, but, that ended for a period when Shortcake died. Keith's desire to write was gone, but he kept on playing the piano and singing. Just like most in that day and age he'd been through many highs and lows. During one of his lowest points about nine years ago, he began to write again and has been doing so every since.

For Quiet Storm, spoken word came along within the last couple of years. He started doing what he does today as a form of expression and therapy. He continues spreading positive and heartfelt messages, because, he feels he's a Messenger. He feels that he speaks for those that may not be able to articulate certain feelings themselves, to the point of getting people to really understand or hear them completely.

Keith says; "I Am QuietStorm Of SpokenWord. I Have Much To Say To the World!"

To visit Quiet Storm's website CLICK HERE
To listen to the interview I had with Quiet Storm CLICK HERE

June 18, 2010

"Vibin' with a Lady"

Warren Robert Cheeseboro, better known as Khan Jamal, was born July 23, 1946 in Jacksonville, Florida. Born into a musical family, his mother played jazz piano, Jamal was raised in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In his late teens, he took up the vibraphone, studying music both at college and privately.

Soon, he was playing professionally, and through the late 60s and into the 70s he worked mainly in the Philadelphia area. Among the musicians with whom he worked, sometimes under their leadership, were Frank Lowe, Grachan Moncur III, Archie Shepp, Byard Lancaster, Sam Rivers, Trudy Pitts, Sun Ra and Jerome Cooper.

With other Sun Ra alumni, he played in Cosmic Forces and, in collaboration with Lancaster he formed the group known as Sounds Of Liberation. The latter unit included at one time or another guitarist Monnette Sudler, drummers and percussionists Alvin Sharpless, Dwight James, Omar Hill and Rashied Salim, bass player Billy Mills.

Jamal continued with his studies, and one of his tutors was vibraphonist Bill Lewis, with whom he recorded an album of vibraphone-marimba duets. Also in the 70s, he was music director of the Philadelphia Jazz Foundation and played in Sunny Murray's band, Untouchable Factor.

During the following decade, Jamal, who plays both vibraphone and marimba, was with Ronald Shannon Jackson's Decoding Society, Billy Bang, Joe Bonner and others, notably Johnny Mbizo Dyani, who appeared on three of Jamal's mid-80s albums for SteepleChase Records.

Absent from the recording scene for some time, especially as leader, at the end of the 90s and early in the 00s, he made a striking return with the well-received Balafon Dance. Illness dogged Jamal for a while and a 2002 medical support fundraiser saw the appearance of several colleagues and friends, including the Sun Ra Arkestra under the direction of Marshall Allen.

A gifted, dynamic and restlessly inventive player, Jamal's chosen location, Philadelphia, has tended to keep him from the more widespread attention he deserves. When he does venture farther afield, and through his recordings, he ably demonstrates to the wider audience that his is an exceptional talent.

“Each and every poem I write, I consider a gift from God. A turn of a phrase. Emotions that surface. An experience distilled into verse. Each offering is a present from the Creator. All Praises. Thank you for choosing me as the vessel.” (Lady Dove’s Artist’s Statement)

"Lady Dove" aka Pheralyn Dove, is a poet, performer, wordsmith, infotainist and culturalist whose work has been showcased nationwide and internationally as a spoken-word artist, actor, author, essayist, playwright, creative writer and technical writer. She has appeared on stages in her native Philadelphia, New York City, Paris, France and Rome, Italy. Dove has been a press agent, an entertainment editor for the Philadelphia Tribune and feature writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

She portrays 17 characters in her poignant one-woman show, “Little Girl Blue,” which combines music, spoken word, monologues and video. Many of the poems in “Little Girl Blue” are excerpted from her book, Color in Motion (Axis Press), which has a foreword by drumming legend Max Roach. A graduate of Hampton University, Dove studied poetry and creative writing under Professor Sonia Sanchez at Temple University’s Pan African Studies Community Education Program (PASCEP). Currently Dove teaches “Practical Writing” in the very same Temple University PASCEP program. Dove was named an Honored Author two consecutive years at the Free Library of Philadelphia’s Annual Borrowers’ Ball, performed at the Jazz a la Villette Festival in Paris, France with the Sounds of Liberation and was a featured poet at New York City’s renowned “Vision Festival.”

Lady Dove lives in a perpetual state of gratitude. On a daily basis, she gives thanks to the Almighty for all the resplendent provisions. All praises, indeed.

To visit Lady Dove's website CLICK HERE

May 16, 2010

"A Tribute To Lena Horne"

Lena Horne, one of the greatest American artists of all time, endured more than her fair share of “Stormy Weather” as the title of her 1943 film and sultry signature song implied. Yet the chanteuse and actress – who possessed one of the most lush voices in the history of recorded music – broke down barriers, not only with performances of memorable songs like “Honeysuckle Rose" and "Black Coffee,” but also for speaking out about the prejudice she experienced during her early years as a contract player at MGM and the subsequent hardships she experienced throughout her time in the entertainment business. The recipient of a Kennedy Center Honor in 1984, the elegant actress was a legend with a cause. Horne sang her pain, acted through intolerance, and fought long and hard to erase color lines.

Lena Calhoun Horne was born in Brooklyn, NY on June 30, 1917 to Edwin “Teddy” Horne and Edna Scottron. After her parents separated, the young Horne moved in with her paternal grandparents and uncle. She was exposed as a child to the fight for civil and women’s rights as her grandmother, Cora Calhoun Horne, was an active member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Urban League, and Suffragette organizations and it was she who often brought her granddaughter to meetings. Horne’s fair-skinned mother Edna was a singer and dancer in various drama troupes, and started bringing her daughter on tour when she was six. They moved around frequently due to Edna’s career, and Horne often stayed with relatives or family friends, such as two women from Macon, GA who taught her southern-style cooking as well as instructing her in the Bible. The youngster reunited with her father while she was living in Fort Valley with her uncle. After years of going from city to city, Horne and her mother settled back to New York when she was 12 years old.

Four years after moving back home, Horne began her career as a dancer at Harlem’s legendary Cotton Club, earning $25 a week. There, she was introduced to the growing community of jazz performers, including Billie Holiday, Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, and Harold Arlen, who would go on to write her biggest hit, “Stormy Weather.” She also discovered her vocal talent was on par with professional performers, so it was not long before the young girl made her recording debut with Noble Sissle’s band in 1936. Horne made history in 1940 when she toured with Charlie Barnet’s band – the first African-American to do so with an all-white band. While changing the face of the music industry, Horne also made waves as a theatrical performer. She made her first Broadway appearance in the 1939 musical “Blackbirds” and later received her best reviews for her performance in a 1957 production of “Jamaica.”

In 1942, two years after she toured with Barnet’s band, Horne rewrote history again when she became the first black performer to receive a contract from a major film studio. Discovered by a talent agent while performing at the Cotton Club, MGM gave the talented songstress various musical projects, including “Panama Hattie” (1942), where she had an uncredited role as a nightclub singer. Horne’s appearance in the film, however brief, was widely regarded as the best aspect of the entire film. Impressed with her onscreen appeal, MGM gave her a bigger role in their all-star revue, "Thousands Cheer” (1943), where Horne sang another one of her most famous numbers, “Honeysuckle Rose.” However, although she was signed to the most revered and powerful movie studio and lacked nothing in the way of beauty, style and talent, Horne’s skin color remained an issue for moviegoers throughout most of the country at that time. Because of this perspective, her film roles were often kept to minor characters or shot separately, so she was edited out for versions shown to Southern moviegoers who could not accept black performers playing anything other than servants or sidekicks. Getting edited out in certain versions of her films was the lesser of two evils for Horne, who stipulated in her MGM contract that she would not get such stereotypical roles.

The studio capitalized on Horne’s skin color much more than recognizing her true talent. Iconic makeup company Max Factor even invented the “Little Egyptian” makeup line for the star to highlight her dark features. MGM also loaned the actress to another studio – 20th Century Fox – for its all-star, all-black musical “Stormy Weather” in 1943. Singing the title song gave Horne her signature number that would remain the song most closely associated with the star. It was also her first real acting role. “In every other film I just sang a song or two,” Horne later remembered. “’Stormy Weather’ and ‘Cabin In the Sky’ were the only movies in which I played a character who was involved in the plot.” By the mid-1940s, Horne was the highest paid black performer in the country. Her renditions of “Deed I Do,” “As Long as I Live,” and Cole Porter’s “Just One of Those Things” became instant classics. Thousands of black soldiers abroad during World War II had Horne’s photos pinned up above their bunks. She had one last film appearance, singing “Baby Come Out of the Clouds” in “Duchess of Idaho” (1950), before Horne became an unfortunate target of that era’s biggest political and cultural dilemma.

Hollywood and politics clashed in the early 1950s when the Joseph McCarthy congressional hearings resulted in the blacklisting of several performers, including Charlie Chaplin, Orson Welles and Gypsy Rose Lee. Horne, who had been politically active since she was a young girl, accompanying her grandmother to NAACP meetings, was now suddenly blacklisted as an adult for her participation in what was then considered “Communist actions." Not surprisingly, her film career was put on hold. Instead, the hardworking entertainer refocused and spent her time singing in nightclubs and cabarets. It would take six years for Horne to return to Hollywood, where she appeared as herself in the comedy musical, “Meet Me in Las Vegas” (1956).
After the decline of McCarthyism, her political involvement – particularly in regards to civil rights – intensified, with Horne continuing to be an active member of the NAACP. On Aug. 28, 1963, she joined 250,000 others in the march on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, the historic day when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his “I Have a Dream” speech. Horne also spoke at a rally that same year with another civil rights leader, Medgar Evers, just days before his assassination. Tired of always being offered throwaway cameo roles rather than starring vehicles in films, Horne decided she was done with Hollywood moviemaking. She instead chose to focus on her music and television appearances, where she was a favorite guest star on the talk and variety show circuit, including “The Ed Sullivan Show” (CBS, 1948-1971) and “The Perry Como Show” (CBS, 1948-1963). Horne also appeared on TV specials hosted by her A-list friends Judy Garland, Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra, as well as the comedy hour “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In” (NBC, 1968-1973).

Music was always synonymous with Horne, and it was where she left her greatest mark. Her 1957 recording Lena Horne at the Waldorf-Astoria became the best-selling album by any female artist in RCA Victor’s history. The early 1970s proved challenging for Horne, who lost her father, son, and husband in the span of 12 months. She retreated from public life for a certain time, only to perform in CBS’ all-star entertainment revues “That’s Entertainment” (1974) and “That’s Entertainment II” (1976). Horne also appeared as Glinda the Good in the 1978 film “The Wiz,” an African-Americanized version of “The Wizard of Oz” (1939) starring Diana Ross and Michael Jackson. It was her final feature film appearance.

One of Horne’s proudest achievements occurred outside the entertainment industry. After having turned down numerous offers, the artist received an honorary doctorate from Howard University in 1980. Horne also made a triumphant return to Broadway in 1984 with her comeback show “Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music.” The Brooklyn native saw her name in the bright lights on Broadway once again as the one-woman-star of the autobiographical production that included such signature songs as “Stormy Weather” and “The Lady Is a Tramp.” The show won a Drama Desk Award, a Tony Award, two Grammy Awards (for its soundtrack), and a rave review from the New York Drama Critics’ Circle.

Fifty-two years after getting her MGM contract, Horne finally spoke out about the overt prejudice she had experienced with the studio when she was asked to co-host the 1994 special “That’s Entertainment III.” She accepted – but only if she could comment on her early years with MGM. That same year, she reunited with Sinatra in “Sinatra Duets” (CBS), and filmed her own special “An Evening with Lena Horne.” Working only sporadically at this point, in 2004, she appeared as herself in the celebration of MGM’s golden years, “The Masters Behind the Musicals.”

Lena Horne crossed over on May 9, 2010 at the age of 92