February 04, 2009

Black History in Music and Verse

This month in celebration of Black History Month on "SPOTLIGHT ON JAZZ AND POETRY, Bigtrigger showcases the music of the Great African Americans who were the true pioneers of Jazz and Poetry. You'll also hear excerpts from some of the great African-American orators. This special program will be featured in two parts the weeks of;

FEBRUARY 8, 2007 and FEBRUARY 22, 2007

In the meantime here's some Black History facts to get things rolling.

Around 1914 the great exodus north began. WWI was a major catalyst in producing the modern black man. It was through this internationality that African-Americans were able to see the world as more of a whole and their place as Americans within it. They participated in the war (albeit in their own segregated troops) and while they were meant to simply be more bodies to use in the war-machine, they gained an enormous sense of being part of something....that something being America. And so they began to try and step up into the role of American, not just ex-slave.
African-Americans were drawn for many reasons to the industrial centers of the north(mainly St. Louis and Chicago). One of the biggest was simply the need to leave behind the south and the slavery it was associated with. There was also the call of work, work that was not simply agricultural. The American dream was drawing these particular Americans forth as much as it did with the early pioneers of the West. Up the river went the Blues and a new kind of music went with it.

During the reign of Napoleon, the military band was all the rage among the French. This translated to the importation of brass band instruments to all the french settlements, New Orleans included. Creoles ("mixed breeds"- usually part black,part french, sometimes part indian) who were usually well educated freemen, and later their newly freed bretheren, became infatuated with these instruments and the sounds they could make. Incorporating the sounds of blues and the same non-western, non-syncopated rythyms that had been brought from Africa, a new breed of music began to grow. At first it was simply a take on traditional marching band music, but it began to metamorphize as blues became more and more prevalent. First Ragtime, and then Jass, or Jazz. Again, the instrument was employed to mimic the human voice in tonality and spirit, and again, something wonderful emerged.

From New Orleans, Jazz moved upriver with the exodus and in the house-parties of the 20' and 30's, it gained momentum. Where the Blues was the "devil's music" to many of the Black middle class, Jazz was acceptable. "Black music" was the rage in the clubs and parties of the 20's. Jazz made it possible for Afro-American music to be imitated for the first time by white musicians...the beginnings of what was to come. The broad emotional meaning of the genre allowed such cross-cultural developments without being 'watered down'. From Jazz grew many different elements within it. Bebop, Swing, Boogie Woogie, Free Jazz and Hard Bop were all examples of the experimentation the musicians of the time were making to elevate the sound. It became more and more mainstream and more and more musicians began to try new things...to take things another step along.

The Black Arts Movement was a loose network of Black Nationalist African American artists and intellectuals during the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s. In many respects, the Black Arts Movement was the cultural wing of the Black Power Movement.
It is difficult to date the beginning of the Black Arts Movement exactly. One possibility is 1965, when Amiri Baraka and other black cultural activists founded the Black Arts Repertory Theatre/School (BARTS) in Harlem, New York. However, a number of important forerunners to BARTS helped make the larger movement possible. For example, Umbra, a seminationalist group of African American writers and poets in the Lower Eastside of New York City in the early 1960s, provided a training ground for a number of influential Black Arts activists, including Ishmael Reed, Lorenzo Thomas, David Henderson, Calvin Hernton, and Askia Muhammad Touré.

Baraka is considered the leading figure of the era. Baraka's Black Arts poetry, drama, musical criticism, and social commentary were apocalyptic, antiwhite, and often misogynistic, anti-Semitic, and homophobic, projecting a powerful vision of a utopian unity of African Americans that proved tremendously important in defining the discussion of a black aesthetic. Other significant writers of the Black Arts Movement include poet and essayist Larry Neal, poet Sonia Sanchez, poet Don L. Lee (Haki Madhubuti), poet Nikki Giovanni, playwright Ed Bullins, and novelist Toni Morrison. Such critics, scholars, and editors as Addison Gayle, Jr., (editor of the anthology of criticism The Black Aesthetic [1971]), Harold Cruse (author of the study The Crisis of the Negro Intellectual [1967]), and Hoyt Fuller (editor of the journal Black World) played prominent roles in promoting and shaping the conversations and debates that took place among Black Arts artists and intellectuals.

Jazz musicians, such as Archie Shepp, Sun Ra, and Richard Muhal Abrams, were among the most powerful and most visible artists of the movement. Many African American popular musicians were heavily influenced by Black Power and Black Arts, producing best-selling songs such as Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions's "Keep On Pushing" and "Say It Loud (I'm Black and I'm Proud)" by James Brown, which became anthems of the period.

Spotlight on Jazz and Poetry is now available "On Demand". That's right – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, in your office, in your home, anywhere you have an internet connection! New shows will be aired each Sunday and will run all week. Tune in to Spotlight on Jazz and Poetry on http://www.sojpradio.com and as always we welcome your feedback, so send your comments and suggestions to bigtrigger@sojpradio.com.

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