What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?

In an Independence Day speech to the Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society on July 5, 1852, Frederick Douglass asked, “What to the slave is the Fourth of July?”


The world will come to Philadelphia in 2026 to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. In an op-ed published in The Philadelphia Inquirer, I wrote that rather than celebrate slaveholders (34 of the 56 Signers, including Thomas Jefferson, owned slaves), we should celebrate resistance to slavery as personified by Douglass.

The renowned orator’s presence in Philadelphia dates back to his escape from bondage. He arrived by steamboat from Wilmington in 1838. We can bring Frederick Douglass to life by staging public readings of his iconic speech at places and sites associated with the abolitionist, including Independence Hall, Mother Bethel AME Church, Concert Hall, the Union League of Philadelphia and Camp William Penn. Douglass was delivering a lecture at National Hall when the news came about John Brown’s raid on Harpers Ferry.

At the same time, we should heed the advice that Douglass gave a Black activist shortly before his death: “Agitate! Agitate! Agitate!” Agitation means we resist Philadelphia insiders who presume to tell us how the United States Semiquincentennial should be commemorated. We should follow the blueprint of the July 4th Coalition which, in 1976, rallied between 30,000 and 40,000 people to protest the lack of diversity in official celebrations and the whitewashing of history.

You can read my op-ed, “This July 4th, let’s honor Frederick Douglass and ‘agitate’” here.

The Blue Note Show

Sadly, all good things must come to an end. So I will close out Black Music Month with “The Blue Note Show” which aired on PBS’ Soul! television series on January 26, 1972.

The episode featured Blue Note Records artists Horace Silver, Bobbi Humphrey, Cecil Bridgewater, Bob Crenshaw, Billy Harper, Harold Mabern, and Andy and Salome Bey. Philadelphia natives Jymie Merritt and Lee Morgan, and long-time resident Mickey Roker were in the house. At 33:58 Silver tells host Ellis Haizlip that he formed his quintet after “the fellow that owned the Showboat in Philadelphia called me and said he wanted me to get a group together and come in for a week.”

Lee Morgan’s appearance on Soul! was one of his last performances. He was shot and killed less than a month later.

Lee Morgan’s legacy lives on. All That Philly has nominated the legendary trumpeter for a Pennsylvania historical marker. We are hopeful the nomination will be approved when the committee meets in September.

Black Music Appreciation Month 2022

President Jimmy Carter designated June as Black Music Appreciation Month in 1979.

In a proclamation, President Joe Biden said:

 For generations, Black music has conveyed the hopes and struggles of a resilient people — spirituals mourning the original sin of slavery and later heralding freedom from bondage, hard truths told through jazz and the sounds of Motown during the Civil Rights movement, and hip-hop and rhythm and blues that remind us of the work that still lies ahead.  The music created by Black artists continues to influence musicians of all persuasions, entertain people of all backgrounds, and shape the story of our Nation.

As noted in the 1971 documentary “Black Music in America: From Then Till Now,” Black music is “one of the great artistic contributions to American culture. Black music in America began as the African drum beat and plantation song ignored and then suppressed by white culture.”

To explore the history of Black American music, check out the Black Music Project.

The Untold History of Memorial Day

Originally called Decoration Day, Memorial Day was first observed on May 1, 1865 in Charleston, South Carolina. Thousands of African Americans, including the formerly enslaved, the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, and the 34th and 104th United States Colored Troops, were led by children as they gathered to honor 257 Union soldiers who were buried in a mass grave behind the grandstand of the city’s Washington Race Course.

The ancestors paid tribute to those who gave their lives by decorating their graves, hence Declaration Day.

Parisian Tailors’ Colored Kiddies of the Air

Sam and Harry Kessler opened Parisian Tailoring Company on South Street, the-then heart of the Black community, in 1923. Better known as Parisian Tailors, the company made uniforms – sports jackets and slacks – for Black orchestras. Chief cutter Eddie Lieberman promoted musical acts on the side. Business was booming so as a way to give back to the Black community, Lieberman proposed a children’s radio show to compete with predominantly white The Horn and Hardart Children’s Hour.

The weekly radio show, Parisian Tailors’ Colored Kiddies of the Air, was broadcast from the stage of the Lincoln Theater. Colored Kiddies of the Air debuted on Sunday, March 27, 1932 on WPEN. The live broadcasts featured young Black musicians backed by all-star big bands.

Regular child performers included future jazz legends and National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Percy Heath Jr. (bassist) and Joe Wilder (trumpeter). Wilder went on to become the first African American to play a principal chair in a Broadway pit orchestra. He also integrated broadcast radio and television network orchestras.

In Softly, With Feeling: Joe Wilder and the Breaking of Barriers in American Music, biographer Edgar Berger wrote:

The Colored Kiddies radio show emanated from the stage of the Lincoln Theatre, on Broad and Lombard Streets, Philadelphia’s main venue for leading black performers. Duke Ellington, Jimmie Lunceford, Louis Armstrong, Fletcher Henderson, and Fats Waller were just some of regular headliners at the Lincoln in the mid-1930s. What was most extraordinary about the radio show is that the children were backed by members of these legendary orchestras. Because of Pennsylvania’s blue laws, there could be no regular performances in clubs or theaters on Sunday. As Joe put it, “We could go out and shoot each other on Sunday, but we weren’t allowed to play jazz!” So as part of their contracts with the theater, the visiting bands were obligated to play behind the youngsters during the one-hour broadcasts on Sunday mornings. “We had the joy of having every name band—Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Fletcher Henderson, Earl Hines, Count Basie, the Mills Blue Rhythm Band— play for us on their day off,” Joe said. “They would improvise backgrounds for whatever we played, and they encouraged us. It was unbelievable!” Although the bandleaders themselves didn’t usually play, they did come to the rehearsals to make sure that their musicians fulfilled the terms of their contracts.

John Coltrane House Digital Reconstruction

National Preservation Month began as National Historic Week in May 1973. It has been a month-long celebration since 2005. This year’s theme, “People Saving Places,” encapsulates efforts to save the John Coltrane House.

The Coltrane House has been in a deteriorating condition for more than two decades. Restoration has been stymied by, i.a., legal entanglements (the owner of record died in 2007) and lack of imagination. Over the past 20 years, there have been several schemes to repurpose the property as a historic house museum. The schemers failed to recognize that the historic house museum business model wherein an organization has to raise millions of dollars before the property is open to the public and millions more to keep the door open is no longer feasible.

As I wrote in an op-ed published in the Philadelphia Inquirer, an Act 135 conservatorship is the only viable option to save this National Historic Landmark.

I am collaborating with Chris Hytha, a digital artist and founder of the Rowhomes project, to raise awareness that the rowhome in which Coltrane lived from 1952 to 1958 is at risk. Hytha will create the John Coltrane House NFT, a unique digital artwork. He said:

NFTs are deeply rooted in the culture of collectability. Featuring the John Coltrane House would add another layer of historical significance, and has the potential to introduce this piece of Philadelphia history to a global audience. Collecting memorabilia has been a part of our culture for centuries, and NFTs provide a new outlet to raise funds for the preservation of this National Historic Landmark.

At the same time, I will team up with an architecture firm that is a pioneer in virtual design and construction. Building on architectural drawings, archival photos, scholarly research and oral histories, we will reconstruct the exterior and interior. In so doing, we will create a new paradigm for historic preservation. The interior of the rowhome where Coltrane experienced a “spiritual awakening” will be accessible to virtual visitors wherever they are in the world.

We will cast a wide net for a financially-capable alternate stewardship – an Act 135 conservatorship – to preserve the structure, the tangible reminder of John Coltrane, in public memory. We are taking giant steps to preserve for current and future generations the rowhome where John Coltrane composed “Giant Steps.”

For more info, contact All That Philly Jazz Director Faye Anderson at phillyjazzapp@gmail.com.

International Jazz Day 2022

In November 2011, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated April 30 as International Jazz Day “in order to highlight jazz and its diplomatic role of uniting people in all corners of the globe”:

International Jazz Day brings together communities, schools, artists, historians, academics and jazz enthusiasts all over the world to celebrate and learn about jazz and its roots, future and impact; raise awareness of the need for intercultural dialogue and mutual understanding; and reinforce international cooperation and communication. Every year on April 30, this international art form is recognized for fostering gender equality and for promoting individual expression, peace, dialogue among cultures, diversity, respect for human dignity, and the eradication of discrimination.

Director-General of UNESCO Audrey Azoulay said:

Jazz carries a universal message with the power to strengthen dialogue, our understanding of each other, and our mutual respect. As the world is affected by multiple crises and conflicts, this international day highlights how much music and culture can contribute to peace.

All That Philly Jazz director Faye Anderson is one of 19 American community partners.

On International Jazz Day, events will be held from Albania to Zimbabwe. Faye will lead a walking tour, Billie Holiday’s Philadelphia.

The signature event, an All-Star Global Concert, will be back where it all began – the United Nations General Assembly Hall in New York. The lineup includes Marcus Miller, Gregory Porter, David Sanborn, Ravi Coltrane, Randy Brecker, José James, Terri Lyne Carrington, Linda Oh, Shemekia Copeland and Lizz Wright.

Host and artistic director Herbie Hancock said:

With conflict and division in many parts of the world, it is my hope that, through the universal language of jazz, our celebration this year can inspire people of all nations to heal, to hope and to work together to foster peace.

The All-Star Global Concert will be webcast worldwide on April 30 at 5:00pm ET (2:00pm PT) on jazzday.com, unesco.org, hancockinstitute.org, and International Jazz Day YouTube and Facebook channels.

2022 National Recording Registry

The Library of Congress has announced the 2022 National Recording Registry, an annual list of audio recordings that are “culturally, historically, or aesthetically important.” Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden said:

The National Recording Registry reflects the diverse music and voices that have shaped our nation’s history and culture through recorded sound. The national library is proud to help preserve these recordings, and we welcome the public’s input. We received about 1,000 public nominations this year for recordings to add to the registry.

The list includes “We Insist!  Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite,” the legendary drummer’s still resonant 1960 social protest album.

Duke Ellington’s 1956 album “Ellington at Newport” is on the list.

Soul music and R&B recordings include The Four Tops’ “Reach Out, I’ll Be There” and Alicia Keys’ debut album “Songs in A Minor.”

For the complete list of recordings, go here.