Benjamin Franklin famously said, “In this world, nothing is certain except death and taxes.” When I leave this world, I want to go to “Soul Heaven” where every month is Black Music Appreciation Month.
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.
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.
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.
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.
A stretch of Broad Street in Philadelphia was renamed Patti LaBelle Way in 2019.
I cannot think of a better way to close out Black History Month 2022 than with Ms. Patti’s Tiny Desk (Home) Concert from NPR Music.
Lee Morgan was killed by his former paramour at Slugs’, a New York City jazz club, on February 19, 1972. While only 33, Lee’s legacy includes collaborating as a sideman on John Coltrane’s Blue Train and Art Blakey & The Jazz Messengers’ Moanin’. As a bandleader, Lee recorded 30 albums for Blue Note Records, including The Sidewinder, one of the label’s best-selling albums.
Lee’s nephew, Raymond Darryl Cox, and I visited his grave on the 50th anniversary of his death. Lee was briefly united with his cherished flugelhorn.
To commemorate this milestone, All That Philly Jazz, along with Blue Note Records, Lee’s family, Mastbaum Area Vocational Technical High School alumni, business leaders, and Lee Morgan scholars and enthusiasts have nominated the legendary trumpeter for a Pennsylvania historical marker. A historical marker recognizes people, places and events that have had a measurable impact on their times, and are of statewide or national significance.
Cem Kurosman, Vice President of Publicity at Blue Note Records/Capitol Music Group, said:
Fifty years after his death, Lee Morgan’s music remarkably continues to grow in stature. There remains a high level of interest from jazz fans all over the world in Lee’s life and music, which has fueled our efforts to reissue his Blue Note catalog so that his music can keep finding new generations of listeners. The expanded box set The Complete Live at the Lighthouse was widely acclaimed and sold out shortly after its release in August 2021. A historical marker would be a long overdue public memorial celebrating one of the greatest jazz musicians of all time.
Raymond Darryl Cox, executor of the Estate of Lee Morgan, said:
My mother, Ernestine Morgan Cox, was Lee’s older sister. She bought Lee his first trumpet and exposed him to jazz at the Earle Theater. JazzTimes named The Complete Live at the Lighthouse the number two historical album of 2021. The flugelhorn with which Uncle Lee posed on the album cover is a treasured family heirloom. Uncle Lee lives forever in our hearts. If the nomination for a Pennsylvania historical marker is approved, Lee Morgan will live forever in public memory.
Jazz master and trumpeter Cullen Knight met Lee in 1956. Knight was entering Mastbaum AVTS and Morgan was graduating from the storied high school. Knight said:
Lee’s heart and soul went into his music, and that’s what came out. Although Lee’s life was cut short, he said what he wanted to say with his trumpet and his compositions, and that was plenty.
The full press release is available here.
For more than 400 years, music has powered African American resilience, resistance and joy. From the rhythmic beat of the African drum that was banned by enslavers to “Rhythm Nation,” music is how we got over.
To kick off Black History Month, the National Museum of African American Music presents Rivers of Rhythm. Made possible by Renasant Bank, the six-part docuseries traces the history of African American music from its roots in Africa to The Roots and hip-hop.
Rivers of Rhythm premiered on February 1.
New episodes of Rivers of Rhythm will be released weekly on Tuesday on American Songwriter’s YouTube channel.
Historian and founder of the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, Dr. Carter G. Woodson, launched Negro History Week the second week of February 1926. Black history became a month-long celebration in 1976. Several Philadelphians are included on Woodson’s iconic broadside, Important Events and Dates in Negro History, including Richard Allen, Anthony Benezet, Elizabeth Taylor Greenfield, and Robert Purvis.
The Preservation Alliance for Greater Philadelphia erased 371 years of Black history and nominated six blocks of Christian Street for designation as Philadelphia’s first “Black-themed” historic district. I voiced opposition to the proposed Christian Street Historic District from the jump (here, here and here). February is the shortest month so I’ll keep it short: Why Christian Street? The most accomplished albeit largely unknown former resident of the proposed historic district, architect Julian F. Abele, did not identify as Negro. His biographer, Dreck Spurlock Wilson, told Smithsonian magazine, “For all intents and purposes, Julian did not consider himself black. He was almost a-racial. He buried himself in being an artist.”
In Julian Abele, Architect and the Beaux Arts, Wilson notes that Abele was not adverse to following in his brother Joseph’s footsteps but he was not light enough to pass for white. He wrote:
Abele’s racial denial approached delusion. He was both a cocoon with interstitial space for only himself and a shell to ward off unwelcome intrusions. It insulated his talent giving him precious time to mature and repelled the exigency of racism from subverting his ambition. He chose an existence that was neither black nor white. It was beige.
In view of his lifelong rejection of his racial identity, Abele would roll over in his grave at the notion that he would anchor a “Black-themed” historic district.
Abele’s great uncle, Absalom Jones, cofounded the Free African Society with Richard Allen who founded Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church. The historical markers memorializing this history are located at 6th and Lombard streets. Fact is, from the Delaware River to the Schuylkill River there are extant buildings on Lombard Street where Black history happened.
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Mother Bethel is central to African American history and culture. Henry O. Tanner, who is included on Woodson’s broadside, created a bas-relief of Bishop Richard Allen, Sarah Allen and the blacksmith shop where the first AME church was built.
I am once again asking: Why Christian Street?