Straight Down to the Bones | Boston Review

ARTS IN SOCIETY

Straight Down to the Bones

In this searching interview, legendary Black Arts poet Sonia Sanchez discusses the ancestral influences on her work and how art can give us strength.

Includes new audio of Sanchez reading from her work.SONIA SANCHEZ, CHRISTINA KNIGHTThis interview is featured in Boston Review’s new book, Ancestors.ORDER A COPY TODAYEditor’s Note: You can hear Sonia Sanchez read some of her poems at our launch event for Ancestors next Thursday, March 11!

In addition, we are thrilled to announce that Sonia Sanchez will be one of the judges for this year’s creative writing contests. Free for writers from non-Western countries (as well as those experiencing hardship), our short story and poetry contests are open now.

A key figure in the Black Arts Movement and a founder of Black Studies, Sonia Sanchez has authored more than a dozen books of poetry, criticism, and plays. Though I’ve never met Sanchez in person, it is not an exaggeration to say that her life as a poet, playwright, and professor has made my own possible.

Taking a class on the Black Arts Movement as an undergraduate introduced me to the fire behind her language. My graduate training in African American Studies showed me images of her as an impossibly young professor, fighting for the establishment of Black Studies at San Francisco State University. And most recently, in my own life as a young professor in Philadelphia, I’ve seen Sanchez enter a room and be suddenly surrounded by former students, friends, and colleagues, living evidence of her lifelong generosity of spirit. Sanchez radiates brilliance, humor, and integrity, and her work has touched countless lives.It was a joy, then, to speak with her about the many people, living and dead, who have shaped her own journey. In our interview, she discusses mentors and teachers as well as her fierce devotion to her students. She concludes by recalling her writing process for A Blues Book for Blue Black Magical Women (1974), an astonishing volume of poetry shaped by the artist’s dream dialogues with her late mother.—Christina Knight“How could I be a graduate in New York City and never come across these Black books?

”Christina Knight: You have mentioned before that there are lots of people, of various ethnic and racial backgrounds, who have inspired you and your own vision for a more just and peaceful world. Could you talk about who some of those people are—those chosen ancestors—who guide you on your journey? Sonia Sanchez: Some of them are people like Jean Hutson, who was a curator and then chief of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture for decades. When I was finishing my bachelors at Hunter College, I had done some substitute teaching around my neighborhood, and I had this agreement with the principal that I would have a job in September. But I graduated in January, and when you come from a family that’s not wealthy, jobs are very important, are they not? So my dad said, “Well, you’d better go out and get a job.” I looked around in the newspapers and I went to all these places to get a job, and they all said they were filled. But I had the feeling that it had to do with how I looked, you know, my color, right? Someone I was talking to said, “Why don’t you look at the New York Times? They have all of these ads.” So I looked and there was one that said to write in; it was for a writer for a firm. And I thought why don’t I, at that point, play with what I really want to be?So I sent my CV, and I wrote whatever they asked me to write. And I got a telegram on Saturday that said to report to work on Monday; I was hired. So on Monday I went out in my blue suit, and my hat, and my blue pumps, and my blue bag. I had gloves and everything. I went out like a church person, you know what I mean? I got there at 8:30, and I remember waiting outside this door, which was locked. I’m standing there thinking, “Am I in the right place?” And I heard these heels come clicking down the hall. This woman came up to me and said, ‘Can I help you?’” So I took the telegram out and handed it to her.I remember she read it, and then she looked up at me; she looked back down, she read it again, and then she looked back up at me. Then she handed it to me, unlocked the door, and said, “Come in and have a seat.” You know how it is just to be twenty? How young you are at that time? Being eighty-six, now, you look back, and you remember the youngness in your eyes—like, “Whoa, here I am, I’m going to get a job. I’ve been hired to do something that I want to do.” It’s amazing. So I’m sitting there, and a man walks in and says, “Yes, can I help you?” I got up, and I had my letter out, and I handed it to him. And he read the letter and looked at me; he looked down at the telegram and read it again and looked up at me. And you know, I am smiling the whole time. And he handed it back to me and said, “I’m sorry, the job is taken.”With my New York City humor, I said, “Oh, I got it—the telegram said report to

Source: Straight Down to the Bones | Boston Review

August Wilson’s Uncompromising Vision “For Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” | The New Republic

August Wilson’s Uncompromising Vision for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

It has taken decades for his Century Cycle plays to reach the screen—but not for lack of interest.

ADGER COWANS/GETTY
American playwright August Wilson (1945–2005), in New York in 2000

August Wilson had a magnificent ear. His supreme gift as a playwright was for transforming African American vernacular into crystalline poetry onstage. His sense for language was also evident in how he chose to be known. Growing up in the largely Black, poor, and working-class Hill District of Pittsburgh, dreaming of the sort of literary glory enjoyed by his idols Richard Wright and Langston Hughes, the young man must have known that “Frederick Kittel Jr., Great Black Writer” somehow didn’t have the right ring to it. At the age of 20, he rejected being the namesake of his father, a white, German-born, alcoholic baker who was, the playwright would later recall, “a sporadic presence” in his life. “August” was originally his middle name. “Wilson” was the maiden name of his Black mother, Daisy. Put the two together, and you had a moniker exuding steadfast wisdom, a name with gravitas, a name commensurate with its owner’s audacious ambition.

In the early 1980s, August Wilson embarked on a theatrical decathlon of his own design, aiming to write 10 plays, each set in a different decade of the twentieth century, that would reflect African American culture “in all its richness and fullness.” The time frames of the plays did not unfold chronologically. Take, for example, three of Wilson’s best: Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom (set in 1927) was followed by Fences (set in 1957), which was followed by Joe Turner’s Come and Gone (set in 1911). Collectively, the 10 plays would be called both the Pittsburgh Cycle and, perhaps more aptly since one of the works is set in Chicago, the American Century Cycle. Between 1982 and 2005, Wilson worked steadily, averaging a play every two and a half years. The tenth and final play in the Cycle, Radio Golf, premiered five days before his sixtieth birthday. Mission accomplished, he died of liver cancer six months later.

The plays are remarkable in both the depth of their historical exploration and their breadth of tone. The most emotionally wrenching are the two that take place earliest in the century. For many of the characters in Gem of the Ocean (set in 1904) and Joe Turner’s Come and Gone, slavery is a living memory and the Middle Passage an ancestral trauma that returns in nightmarish visions that, horrific as they are, can lead to a redemptive “washing of the soul.” Meanwhile, two of the plays set later in time border on satire in their caustic wit. In both Two Trains Running (set in 1969) and Radio Golf (set in 1997), Black folks strive to make it in America’s capitalist game only to find that, for them, the rules are subject to constant color-coded changes.

Wilson was showered with accolades, among them two Pulitzer Prizes, a Tony, two Drama Desk, and six New York Drama Critics’ Circle Awards. Even in his lifetime, the literary establishment was carving out his space on the Mount Rushmore of American Dramatists, alongside the monumental figures of Eugene O’Neill, Tennessee Williams, and Arthur Miller. Toni Morrison, in her foreword to the published text of The Piano Lesson (set in the 1930s), praised the epic grandeur of Wilson’s oeuvre and his genius for evoking the beauty of Black American speech—even while acknowledging “respectful reservations” that some critics had expressed about some of his plays: “their length (too much), a plethora of deus ex machina devices (ghosts; characters who live for centuries; sudden, senseless death) and sermonizing instead of storytelling.”

It is rarely noted today, but, in the last decade of his life, Wilson came to be seen—in the eyes of America’s theater establishment—as something a bit more fierce and troubling than a benign Broadway griot conjuring the history of his people onstage. In June 1996, at the peak of his fame and influence, Wilson gave a speech titled “The Ground On Which I Stand” that shocked and appalled prominent arbiters of the dramatic arts in America. Proudly proclaiming himself a “race man,” Wilson offered a blistering critique of “cultural imperialism” in the theater world and made a bold, blunt call for Black self-determination in the arts. Nine years later, in Radio Golf, Wilson would ridicule ambitious African Americans of the Clinton era who surrendered their principles for “a seat at the table” with high-status whites. With this speech, Wilson, who had been welcomed and fêted more enthusiastically than any other Black playwright, effectively knocked the table over. In his foreword to the text of Jitney (set in 1977), the always-iconoclastic Ishmael Reed wrote that Wilson wanted to distance himself “from the neo-cons and neo-liberals who had claimed him as a member of their ranks.” As a character in an August Wilson play might put it: Them white folks thought he was they boy. But he wasn’t studying them.

Wilson’s insistence that African Americans “have control over our own culture and its products” explains why it has taken several decades for any of his plays to make the journey from stage to screen. A compelling film version of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom premiered on Netflix in December, arriving four years after a superb adaptation of Fences. Both films showcase illustrious Black talent in front of and behind the cameras. A generation ago, Wilson’s demand for Black artistic independence led some to call him a “separatist”; his stance was considered at best unrealistic. Today, he seems more like a visionary.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, I sensed that a lot of older white theatergoers I spoke with felt a bit virtuous about attending August Wilson plays. They would say, “I loved The Piano Lesson” with the same sort of self-regard as the dad in Get Out when he declares he would vote for Obama a third time if he could. Seeing an August Wilson play wasn’t just a great night out at the theater—it was an edifying anthropological excursion.

“Don’t never let nobody tell you there ain’t no good white people,” the former slave Solly says in Gem of the Ocean. But good white people are hard to find anywhere in the Century Cycle. In a cumulative dramatis personae numbering in the 70s, I counted a grand total of four white characters onstage, and all of these are men with dubious motives. Of the countless offstage white characters mentioned, they are overwhelmingly cheats, murderers, and rapists, or, as is the case in Jitney, in which a young white woman falsely accuses her Black boyfriend of rape, deadly liars. The widespread white villainy in the plays either did not register with Wilson’s white admirers or did not trouble them. After all, he wasn’t writing about people like them, was he?

At some point in every one of the 10 plays, Black characters engage in a debate that could be boiled down to Personal Agency vs. Systemic Racism. Are they masters of their own destiny or eternally limited in their aspirations by the legacy of slavery? Sometimes the conflict is roiling within a single character. In Two Trains Running, a restaurant manager named Memphis rails against Black Power activists “talking about freedom, justice and equality and don’t know what it mean. You born free. It’s up to you to maintain it.” Yet this same character had to flee the South when a gang of white men wanted to take over land he had bought and paid for. “Got home and they had set fire to my crop,” Memphis recalls. “To get to my house I’d have to walk through fire. I wasn’t ready to do that.”
It’s possible that the “neo-cons and neo-liberals” that Ishmael Reed invoked did not absorb the complexity and ambiguity of the debates among Wilson’s characters when they claimed the playwright as “a member of their ranks.” But for Black Americans, even success is often stigmatized. In March 1996, August Wilson sat at the wooden table in the dark void of the Charlie Rose Show set. “Some have said,” the host drawled unctuously, “that, in a sense, your success keeps other Black playwrights in the shadows,” as if it were somehow Wilson’s fault that he had been anointed the Chosen One by the theater establishment. Wilson looked dismayed by the suggestion and said, “I don’t understand the logic behind that.” Three months later, he would offer a more full-throated response on the situation of Black dramatists in America.

“I am what is known … as a ‘race man,’” August Wilson declared in his keynote address to the Theatrical Communications Group national conference at Princeton University, in June 1996. “That is simply that I believe that race matters—that it is the largest, most identifiable, most important part of our personality.” This pronouncement came after he had, earlier in the speech, cited among his influences, “Marcus Garvey and the Honorable Elijah Muhammad,” two names that Wilson certainly knew would raise the hairs on many an American neck.

He then turned to his métier. “If you do not know, I will tell you,” Wilson said. “Black theater in America is alive, it is vibrant, it is vital … it just isn’t funded.” In the theater world, financial resources were “reserved as privilege to the overwhelming abundance of institutions that preserve, promote, and perpetuate white culture.” As a remedy, he called for the creation and funding of institutions that would be dedicated exclusively to African American works: “We need theaters to develop our playwrights. We need those misguided financial resources to be put to better use. Without theaters we cannot develop our talents.… We need some theaters.”

Wilson went on to criticize the sort of white theatergoers who flocked to his plays, saying “the subscription audience holds theaters hostage to the mediocrity of its tastes, and impedes the further development of an audience for the work that we do.” He added: “While intentional or not, it serves to keep Blacks out of the theater. A subscription audience becomes not a support system but makes the patrons members of a club to which the theater serves as a clubhouse.” Finally, for good measure, Wilson slammed reviewers, most of whom had lavished praise on his work. “A stagnant body of critics,” he said, “operating from the critical criteria of 40 years ago, makes for a stagnant theater without the fresh and abiding influence of contemporary ideas.… The critic who can recognize a German neo-Romantic influence should also be able to recognize an American influence from the blues or Black church rituals.”

The speech was instantly controversial. Perhaps no one was more offended by it than Robert Brustein, then director of the American Repertory Theater at Harvard and drama critic for, ahem, The New Republic. In “The Ground On Which I Stand,” Wilson called out Brustein for suggesting that theatrical institutions were lowering their aesthetic standards in their zeal to produce more culturally diverse works. Wilson stated that “works by minority artists may lead to a raising of standards and a raising of the levels of excellence, but Mr. Brustein cannot allow that possibility.”

Brustein and Wilson went at it in a series of written exchanges in American Theatre magazine. Criticizing the playwright for employing “the language of self-segregation,” Brustein said, “I fear Wilson is displaying a failure of memory—I hesitate to say a failure of gratitude” for the support his work had received in the theater world. Wilson responded: “To suggest that I owe a debt of gratitude to the theaters that have done my work is to suggest my plays are without sufficient merit to warrant their production other than as an act of benevolence.”

The Brustein brouhaha culminated in a public debate at New York’s Town Hall in January 1997, an event that the chattering classes greeted with an excitement usually reserved for Ali-Frazier prizefights. The moderator, Anna Deveare Smith, had to ask for order in the crowd after Brustein mocked Wilson for considering himself “African” and said that the playwright had “probably the best mind of the seventeenth century.” Wilson replied: “These are some of the most outrageous things I’ve ever heard.” After that, the evening got really contentious. You can listen to excerpts of the debate on YouTube.

“The Ground On Which I Stand” was most widely attacked for the opposition August Wilson expressed in it to nontraditional or color-blind casting. “To mount an all-Black production of Death of a Salesman,” he declared, “or any other play conceived for white actors as an investigation of the human condition through the specifics of white culture is to deny us our own humanity, our own history, and the need to make our own investigations from the cultural ground on which we stand as Black Americans.”

Wilson did not mention that he had, in fact, written a brilliant African American retort to Arthur Miller’s masterpiece. It’s called Fences, and the parallels between the two plays are fascinating. Instead of Miller’s lowly Willy Loman, Wilson presented a Black Everyman, the sanitation worker Troy Maxson. Willy is unfaithful to his wife and has a difficult relationship with his athlete son. Ditto for Troy. Both plays end with bittersweet eulogies. And both plays were immediately appreciated, each winning both the Tony Award and the Pulitzer Prize. But Troy Maxson’s American journey is profoundly different from Willy Loman’s, his travails inextricably intertwined with his race. And Loman and Maxson have strikingly opposite views on life. Take, as just one juicy example, Willy’s obsession with being “well-liked.” He tells his sons: “Be liked and you will never want.” By contrast, Troy advises his son: “Don’t you try and go through life worrying about if somebody like you or not. You best be making sure they doing right by you.”

When Paramount Pictures approached Wilson about buying the film rights to Fences, the playwright had a fundamental request, one he used as the title for an op-ed piece he published in The New York Times in 1990: “I Want a Black Director.” As Wilson recounted in the article, his wish was “greeted by blank, vacant stares and the pious shaking of heads as if in response to my unfortunate naiveté.” Wilson even turned down “a well-known, highly respected” white filmmaker. “White directors are not qualified for the job,” he insisted. “The job requires someone who shares the specifics of the culture of Black Americans.” August Wilson stuck to his guns. And when he died 15 years later, none of his plays had been turned into movies.

Today, Wilson’s decision to hold out is reaping luscious fruit. In 2010, Denzel Washington starred in a Broadway revival of Fences, bringing a febrile energy to the role of Troy Maxson, reimagining James Earl Jones’s original, more somber, and seemingly definitive portrayal. Wilson’s widow, Constanza Romero, approached Washington about a film adaptation. At last, Wilson would get his Black director. Arguably the all-time biggest Black star of stage and screen, Washington had won his first Oscar for playing a runaway slave turned Union soldier in Glory and had incarnated Malcolm X. He had portrayed not only action heroes but also (Hooray for nontraditional casting!) Richard III. The film version of Fences that he starred in and directed is a master class in “opening up” a piece of theater. With clever changes of settings and dynamic camera work and editing, Washington made the stagiest of dramas thrillingly cinematic. He also respected the cultural integrity of Wilson’s work. The playwright’s estate has entrusted him to produce film versions of all 10 plays in the Century Cycle.

The second film adaptation, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, features Viola Davis in a bravura performance as the title character, “the Mother of the Blues.” Davis has become the preeminent interpreter of Wilson’s women. She won her first Tony Award for playing the fiery Tonya in King Hedley II (set in 1985) and nabbed a Tony and an Oscar for her portrayal of Troy’s wife, Rose, the most soulful of the wounded warriors in the Maxson family battleground, in Fences. In addition to her towering talent, Viola has the most expressive pair of eyes in American cinema since that other dazzling Davis: Bette.

Wilson’s demand for Black artistic independence led some to call him a “separatist.” Today, he seems more like a visionary.

Most of the film’s action takes place in a Chicago recording studio on a sweltering day in 1927. Ma Rainey and her four-man band are scheduled to record several tracks, including the song that Wilson took as the title of his play. As in all of Wilson’s Cycle, the script is bursting with sublime language: boasting and jiving, tall tales and philosophical debates, angry clashes and painful confessions, all rendered with an uncanny eloquence that is uniquely African American. Wilson garners tremendous suspense from the power struggle between Ma Rainey and the two white men who are ostensibly in charge of the recording session. Throughout the long, hot afternoon, the blues singer wages a battle for both her artistic integrity and her personal dignity. “They don’t care nothing about me,” she says of her manager and the record company chief. “All they want is my voice. Well, I done learned that, and they gonna treat me like I want to be treated no matter how much it hurt them.”
Chadwick Boseman as Levee, Viola Davis as Ma Rainey, and Colman Domingo as Cutler, in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom”

DAVID LEE/NETFLIX

The leaders of the Ma Rainey creative team embody August Wilson’s vision of Black self-determination in the arts. The film’s director, George C. Wolfe, began his long and distinguished theatrical career with the piquant satire The Colored Museum and the musical drama Jelly’s Last Jam, about jazzman Jelly Roll Morton. The screenwriter, Ruben Santiago-Hudson, was a frequent Wilson collaborator. While remaining faithful to Wilson’s text, they have added a prologue and an epilogue to the film version that only enhance the power of the work. The casting of Glynn Turman as the pianist Toledo will warm the hearts of Black film lovers who have revered the actor since his role in the 1975 classic Cooley High. Finally, after portraying such Black icons as Thurgood Marshall, Jackie Robinson, James Brown, and the superhero T’Challa, Chadwick Boseman capped his career with a scorching performance as the trumpeter Levee, his last appearance on-screen before his tragic death at 43.

By insisting on a Black director for a movie adaptation, August Wilson proved himself to be as much of a badass as his Ma Rainey, who knows that, aside from her talent, her greatest power as an artist is the power to say “no,” and to keep on saying it, until she gets exactly what she wants. As producer of the Century Cycle, Washington has approached an array of acclaimed Black directors, including Ava DuVernay, Ryan Coogler, and Barry Jenkins, to helm future adaptations.

Thanks to the movies, people worldwide will get to discover August Wilson’s extraordinary poetry, grounded in the intensity of his listening to his Black elders in Pittsburgh. In his introduction to Seven Guitars (set in 1948), he paid tribute to his mother, Daisy, saying that the everyday content of her life was “worthy of art.” During that heated Town Hall debate in 1997, an audience member asked August Wilson about his mixed racial heritage, in effect, raising the specter of Frederick Kittel Sr. The playwright’s response was swift and to the point: “My father was German. What about it? … The cultural environment of my life is Black. I make the self-definition of myself as a Black man, and that’s all anyone needs to know.”

Source: August Wilson’s Uncompromising Vision “For Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom” | The New Republic

“The Hill to Climb” ℘ Amanda Gorman, U.S. Youth Poet Laureate ℘ Jan. 20, 2021

When day comes we ask ourselves, where can we find light in this never-ending shade?

The loss we carry, a sea we must wade.  We’ve braved the belly of the beast. We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace.

And the norms and notions of what just is.  Isn’t always just-ice. And yet the dawn is ours before we knew it. Somehow we do it. Somehow we’ve weathered and witnessed a nation that isn’t broken but simply unfinished.

We the successors of a country and a time.

Where a skinny Black girl descended from slaves and raised by a single mother can dream of becoming president only to find herself reciting for one And yes we are far from polished far from pristine but that doesn’t mean we are striving to form a union that is perfect

We are striving to forge a union with purpose.  To compose a country committed to all cultures, colors, characters and conditions of man. 

And so we lift our gazes not to what stands between us but what stands before us.  We close the divide because we know, to put our future first, we must first put our differences aside.  We lay down our arms so we can reach out our arms to one another.

We seek harm to none and harmony for all.  Let the globe, if nothing else, say this is true: That even as we grieved, we grew.  That even as we hurt, we hoped. 

That even as we tired, we tried.  That we’ll forever be tied together, victorious.  Not because we will never again know defeat but because we will never again sow division.  Scripture tells us to envision that everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree. 

And no one shall make them afraid If we’re to live up to our own time.

Then victory won’t lie in the blade But in all the bridges we’ve made.  That is the promise to glade.  The hill we climb.  If only we dare.

It’s because being American is more than a pride we inherit, it’s the past we step into and how we repair it. We’ve seen a force that would shatter our nation rather than share it.  Would destroy our country if it meant delaying democracy.  And this effort very nearly succeeded.

But while democracy can be periodically delayed it can never be permanently defeated.  In this truth in this faith we trust.  For while we have our eyes on the future history has its eyes on us.

This is the era of just redemption We feared at its inception. 

We did not feel prepared to be the heirs of such a terrifying hour but within it we found the power to author a new chapter.  To offer hope and laughter to ourselves So while once we asked, how could we possibly prevail over catastrophe?

Now we assert How could catastrophe possibly prevail over us? We will not march back to what was but move to what shall be.  A country that is bruised but whole, benevolent but bold, fierce and free.

We will not be turned around or interrupted by intimidation because we know our inaction and inertia will be the inheritance of the next generation.

Our blunders become their burdens. But one thing is certain: If we merge mercy with might, and might with right, then love becomes our legacy and change our children’s birthright.

So let us leave behind a country better than the one we were left with. Every breath from my bronze-pounded chest, we will raise this wounded world into a wondrous one.

We will rise from the gold-limbed hills of the west, we will rise from the windswept northeast where our forefathers first realized revolution.

We will rise from the lake-rimmed cities of the midwestern states, we will rise from the sunbaked south.

We will rebuild, reconcile and recover and every known nook of our nation and every corner called our country, our people diverse and beautiful will emerge, battered and beautiful.

When day comes we step out of the shade, aflame and unafraid. The new dawn blooms as we free it For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.

– Amanda Gorman, U. S. Youth Poet Laureate

Pick Up the Pieces: Excursions in Seventies Music, Corbett

Unless you lived through the 1970s, it seems impossible to understand it at all. Drug delirium, groovy fashion, religious cults, mega corporations, glitzy glam, hard rock, global unrest—from our 2018 perspective, the seventies are often remembered as a bizarre blur of bohemianism and disco. With Pick Up the Pieces, John Corbett transports us back in time to this thrillingly tumultuous era through a playful exploration of its music. Song by song, album by album, he draws our imaginations back into one of the wildest decades in history.

Source: Pick Up the Pieces: Excursions in Seventies Music, Corbett

Ava DuVernay’s new Netflix series sheds light on the horrors of wrongful incarceration

“The time that we lost, we can’t get that back,” Kevin Richardson told NBC’s Lester Holt in an interview along with the group. “We lost our youth, our youthful years.”Their stories are profiled in the upcoming Netflix series “When They See Us,” a four-episode drama which was directed and co-written by Ava DuVernay. The limited series chronicles the journeys of the five men over the course of 25 years through their trials to their release from prison.“I always go back to whose story am I telling and is this choice helping to tell their story, in the most dynamic way, the most truthful way, for them,”

DuVernay told Holt.DuVernay, known for directing social justice films like “Selma” and big budget movies like “A Wrinkle in Time,” felt it was critical to tell the story of how false confessions landed the five teenagers in prison for crimes they did not commit.

Source: Ava DuVernay’s new Netflix series sheds light on the horrors of wrongful incarceration

America Loves Black Culture But Not Black People – The Black Detour

“Cultural appropriation occurs when a style leads to racist generalizations or racial stereotypes where it originated, but is deemed high fashion, cool, or funny when the privileged takes it for itself.”

-Amandla Stenberg, Don’t Cash Crop My Cornrows: A Crash Course on Black Culture, 2015.

Source: America Loves Black Culture But Not Black People – The Black Detour

Is Hip Hop Destroying Black America?

TIME AND TIME AGAIN, THE REAL DECISION MAKERS GET AWAY WITH MURDER WHILE RAP ARTISTS ARE PROJECTED AS THE EMBODIMENT OF EVERYTHING THAT IS WRONG WITH HIP HOP AND YOUNG BLACK MALES.

“If this doesn’t sound like the kind of Hip Hop you’re familiar with, blame the music industry and mainstream media for bombarding you with a steady diet of rappers talking about drugs, sex and violence for over two decades. Blame MTV, BET, and other networks for trying to redefine what Hip Hop is in order to sell it and shove it down the throats of unsuspecting consumers. It’s easy to blame simple minded rappers for promoting negative messages and images while multi billion dollar companies and shrewd businessmen who market these artists are free from criticism. It’s easy to blame someone like Chief Keef who becomes the obvious poster boy for mindless rap while Jimmy Iovine, the head of Interscope Records, keeps a low profile and avoids having to address his part in promoting “death through entertainment”.

It’s easy to protest flavor of the month Trinidad James who raps about Molly, the industry’s latest fashionable drug, while Def Jam’ president Joie Manda proclaims his new discovery as “the cutting edge of what’s happening in the culture today.” It’s easy to blame talentless top 40 rappers for dominating the airwaves of so called hip hop radio stations like L.A.’s Power 106 or New York’s Hot 97 while Rick Cummings, president of programming for Emmis Communications, which owns both stations, isn’t held accountable for his part in broadcasting filth to millions of listeners.Time and time again, the real decision makers get away with murder while rap artists are projected as the embodiment of everything that is wrong with Hip Hop and young Black males.”

Source: Is Hip Hop Destroying Black America?

 

More Than ‘Kind Of Blue’: In 1959, A Few Albums Changed Jazz Forever : NPR

John Coltrane, Dave Brubeck, Ornette Coleman and Charles Mingus all cut timeless classics, which is why many fans hold that 1959 is the greatest year in all of jazz music. There are countless think pieces exploring the idea, a popular new blog devoted to the subject and even a documentary film, 1959: The Year That Changed Jazz.

Source: More Than ‘Kind Of Blue’: In 1959, A Few Albums Changed Jazz Forever : NPR

“The Queen of Soul” ::: The New Yorker

“The Queen of Soul” (After Charles White’s “Folksinger”), by Kadir Nelson

 

cover-STORY-nelson_franklin

Aretha Franklin, a pillar of postwar American music, passed away Thursday morning, at seventy-six. A few hours later, the artist Kadir Nelson sent a sketch to The New Yorker, which drew inspiration from “Folksinger,” a 1957 ink drawing by Charles White. “I wanted to draw her in a choir,” he said. “She was a preacher’s daughter, and so much of what she gave us came from the church, even after she moved beyond gospel.” Nelson, of course, wasn’t the only one who paid tribute, and you can read some of The New Yorker’s writing on Franklin, old and new, below.

David Remnick on Franklin’s legacy:

“Prayer, love, desire, joy, despair, rapture, feminism, Black Power—it is hard to think of a performer who provided a deeper, more profound reflection of her times. What’s more, her gift was incomparable. Smokey Robinson, her friend and neighbor in Detroit, once said, ‘Aretha came out of this world, but she also came out of another, far-off magical world none of us really understood. . . . She came from a distant musical planet where children are born with their gifts fully formed.’ ”

Amanda Petrusich on Franklin’s live performances:

“When Aretha sings ‘Amazing Grace’ in that church, it’s suddenly not a song anymore, or not really—the melody, the lyrics, they’re rendered mostly meaningless. A few bits of organ, some piano. Who cares? Congregants yelling ‘Sing it!’ None of it matters. I’m not being melodramatic—we are listening to the wildest embodiment of a divine signal. She receives it and she broadcasts it. ‘Singing’ can’t possibly be the right word for this sort of channelling.”

Emily Lordi on the Queen and soul:

“This was the promise of soul: that pain granted depth, and that one was never alone but accompanied by a vibrant community that had crossed too many bridges in order to survive. Franklin was the queen not only of soul music but of soul as a concept, because her great subject was the exceeding of limits. Her willingness to extend her own vocal technique, to venture beyond herself, to strain to implausible heights, and revive songs that seemed to be over—all these strategies could look and sound like grace. She knew that we would need it.”

 

The New Yorker Magazine

Sign of the Times — Medium

 

“When I dare to be powerful, to use my strength in service of my vision, then it becomes less and less important whether I am afraid” — Audre Lorde

My consciousness is not arranged in such a way that I view any good person’s life as inherently more valuable than any other good person’s life. We all have value. We are all inherently valuable. The unjust arrangement of this world is premised on the notion that some humans are more human than others and therefore inherently more valuable. As I observe the posts, statuses, remembrances, reflections, tributes and energy devoted to ensuring Prince’s safe passage to the next realm. I am reminded that while no one life has more inherent value than another, a single life can be profoundly meaningful in its impact and influence. That is to say, one life can be so robust with meaning that it elevates the inherent value not of themselves but of humanity.

We are society very accustomed to biting on the style of an icon and leaving all the substance on the bone. Prince the man, the artist, the visionary, the philanthropist, the quiet activist are inextricably powerful in their meaningfulness because they all emanated from genius anchored in primordial excellence, a sense purpose and passion, ancient wisdom and an understanding that surpassed the colonization of knowing, all fused with a fierce sense of self determination, which like Harriet Tubman, was informed with a get free or die trying spiritness. You can’t get free, if you are too afraid to even acknowledge you are in bondage. Prince was/is clear.

Behind the iconic purple rain was an Oya like tornadic force powered by a prodigious work ethic, mastery of craft, a sense of excellence and a will to be good rather than to simply look good — that he was able to do both is part of his virtuosity too. In an age in which we aspire to be seen without having done anything worth looking at, in which one aspires to be stylistically robust but substantively bereft, in an era where we seem to have forgotten that subtly, allusion and refinement are demonstrations of genius in control of itself, its will and intent, fully aware of its prodigious fertility, conscious of what it is trying to birth. Prince stands as a reminder, a road map, a flashlight on a darkened path that being true to oneself, pursuing your purpose, your destiny may not make you famous, may not make you rich but it damn sure make you profoundly powerful.

What Prince possessed was not the manic individualism that is so characteristic of the ethos of American society but rather an ancient African ethos which speaks to a kind of expressive individualism rooted in a sociology of personhood, that asks us to improvise — speak our own special truth — within a shared cultural mosaic in such a way as to transcend and transform — improve — it without changing its fundamental essence. In many ways, Prince’s life was jazz personified, which is to say Black life set to a funky syncopated rhythm.

Few artist in my lifetime — ok, none — simultaneously embodied the times and presaged them the way Prince did. From the gender flexibility to the provocative dress to the saturation of sex to the empowering of sexuality as an element of spirituality to the narcissism to defining oneself on ones terms to understanding the sign of the times to the necessity of owning ones labor and ones worth. Prince stood firmly within a Black (African) tradition of artist as activist and philanthropist, in this regard Prince was/is closer to Harry Belafonte than Jimi Hendrix.

Nature abhors a vacuum and so too does print and television media, there is air and space to fill, so there will lots of hot air filling space from a media, fascinated by Black life but inured to the point of indifference about Black suffering, mostly about Prince’s art and it/his impact and likely be very little about the man — the Black man — the activist and the philanthropist. This is unfortunate because here there is much to be gleaned from Prince’s life, his work as well as his approach to life, to love, to liberation, and much to teach us about how to convert a life that was inherently valuable just because into a life that was so meaningful that it imbued humanity with additional value.

The image for which Prince became best known for is a stylized Ankh. The ankh is symbol that derives from KMT (the ancient African Nile Valley civilization best known as Egypt). The symbol represents that creative synthesis of complementary parts in fertile harmony; it represented the life giving power of masculine and feminine energy invested in creating eternal possibility, in generating life eternally. The eminent African psychologist Wade Nobles has noted that much of what is useful in African (American) culture is either overlooked or misunderstood due to our inability to understand the role and function of symbolism in African (American) culture. Even when he wasn’t using his name Prince was always speaking truth to power.

The prescient African novelist Ayi Kwei Armah rightly notes in his memoir, The Eloquence of the Scribes that: “ …Connections is a constant motif in all autonomous African culture, it comes from an ethos that says death cannot be the end; that beyond death remain connection, between those here and now, those who were once here but are now elsewhere, and those who, though not yet here, are destined to come some day….Bodies may connect visibly in the here and now; souls are connectors across the present with past and future time.”

Put another way, energy is neither created nor destroyed it merely changes forms. A profoundly meaningful Black man, a comrade in the struggle for a just, egalitarian and verdant world has departed: Next Woman, Next Man up. As Ella Baker, the Civil Rights activist said: “The struggle is eternal. The tribe increases. Somebody else carries on.” They always do — Will it be you?

Maa Kheru Prince, you did your work on the earthly realm; we look forward what your genius in collaboration with the other ancestors will provide us in the ancestral realm and in ours.

Dearly beloved
We are gathered here today
2 get through this thing called life…

Live. Love. Create Fully,

Àdísà

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    Àdisà Àjàmú

    Pan-Africanist. Doma. Healer. Scribe. Humanist. Force Multiplier. Path Clearer. Crossroads Guardian. A lit candle in a dark room.

  • Source: Sign of the Times — Medium

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