Friday, September 21, 2007
September of 1969.....Muammar al Gaddafi had seized control of Libya, the My Lai Massacre had just occurred in "Nam", the "Chicago Eight" were being brought to trial, and Jimi Hendrix was taking Harlem by storm. No stranger to soul music he had a few years earlier, recorded with both the Isley Brothers and Harlem legend Lonnie Youngblood.
"Its Friday afternoon September 5th and a community sound truck races through the streets announcing the United Block Association's Street Block Party Festival at west139th street between 5th and Lenox. It would feature radio DJ Eddie O'Jay, The 128/129th Street Block Ass'n Steel Bands,The Lovemen LTD,Funny MC Chuck-A-Luck, The Sam and Dave Band, Jimmy Brooks, J.D.Bryant, Big Maybelle, The Fabulous Miss Maxine Brown and The Great Jimi Hendrix Experience.
Jimi Hendrix y'all... Rock star wild man who had to go to England to make it! With six "million selling" albums and working on a seventh, brother Jimi is coming home,man, to be with his brothers and sisters. In search for truth and peace, he has now added justice and he's bringing a message to the ghetto, to the people.... and for free!
The sun goes down and thousands of people crowd 139th street. Rooftops,windows and fire escapes are full with community people. Not one sweet little flower child in sight.
Time passes and the other acts play and go home. Mothers close their apartment windows, and only a few hundred people stay out late on the magical night. But it is worth it.
Outside, under the Harlem sky, Jimi and a four man band play. Noises never heard by the human ear blast out of his guitar, speakin' and cryin' to the priveledged and patient.
With a playful, bashful defiance in his eyes,pop goes Jimi , and he breaks out his kaleidescopic and very plugged in version of "Fire" along with Juma Sultan, Jerry Velez, Larry Le, Billy Cox and Mitch Mitchell.
Its almost 3 o'clock in the morning and Jimi, ever the showman, caps off the festival with "Voodoo Chile Babe". Its a bitchin' rendition and, the mass relates to that extra something spiritual,that extra voodoo inner drive that has kept us black people going since bondage. Hendrix fades into "Machine Gun" and you could feel the ghosts of all the black Vietnam War dead. Everyone agrees that Jimi's a "down brother".
As Jimi enter his limo, he promises to come back to Harlem, and passes three little poor black boys who should be home in bed. The kids wave goodbye as they play their invisible electric guitars.
Jimi never leaves. Jimi never left. Grant Harper Reid
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Not long ago, a postcard arrived advertising a musical called "Sprang Thang"at the "Amas Musical Theater" in Greenwich Village. A closer inspection revealed that the theater had been founded in 1968 by none other than Rosetta LeNoire ,the consummate actress and social activist who spent many years in the Riverton.
LeNoire, whose incredible career spanned some seventy years, devoted most of her working life to the struggle for racial equity. At times her views placed her at odds with the powers that be, as the spectre of blacklisting loomed over those in the entertainment industry who dared to speak out during the McCarthy era.
The GodChild of Bill "Bojangles" Robinson, she was born in 1911 and had her acting debut as a kabuki dancer in the 1939 production of "The Hot Mikado". While time and space do not permit an exhaustive examination of her career, it should be noted that LeNoire is best known to modern audiences for her work in television. She had regular roles on the series Gimme a Break, and Amen , and is most closely identified with her role as Estelle "Mother" Winslow on Family Matters
In 1968, using her own savings, Rosetta founded the AMAS Repertory Theater Company, an interracial theater dedicated to multi-ethnic productions in New York City. With this company, Rosetta created an artistic community where members' individual skills were recognized without regard to race, creed, color, religion, or national origin. She became a successful and groundbreaking Broadway producer developing, among other things,"Bubbbling Brown Sugar". The Actors Equity Association awarded her the first award for helping contribute to the diversification of theater casting; in 1988, the award was named the Rosetta LeNoire Award. Happy Fortieth Birthday to the "Amas Theater"!!!
Thursday, September 13, 2007
When asked about their favorite musicians from the community, most Rivertonians recall the names of Dr Billy Taylor, the late Eddie Haywood, and soul icon Gregory Abbott. But the course of hiphop was profoundly altered by the Crash Crew, a group of kids from Lincoln and Riverton who began "crackin the mike" at project parties in the late seventies. Guy Foster, Kenny Yoda, and the late DJ Daryll C(Calloway) together with their Lincoln contemporaries GMan, La Shubee, Barry Bistro,Ek Mike C and Reggie Reg crafted a unique style that rocked the foundations of the whole neighborhood.In 1980, they pressed up their first single-High Powered Rap and sold it out of the trunk of their car. Guy's mom, Denise, recalls the beginnings of the HipHop phenomenon.
For more info,check ou the following links:
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Its nearly impossible to not think of firefighters on 9-11, and it is equally difficult for me to think of firefighters and not think of Mr Glasse. A quiet and good humored man who was the backbone of Boy Scout Troop 163 , Mr. Glasse was a decorated New York city firefighter, who would ultimately rise to the rank of Bronx Borough Commander...... and remember the Bronx was burning at the time! In his leisure, when he wasn't sharing life/survival skills with the neighborhood youth, this finely tuned athlete and scholar very unassumingly ran, as well as swam the marathon.
But before all of that, he was a Tuskeegee Airman. A B-25 Pilot with the 477th, Mr. Glasse, like many of his African American contemporaries, would find the fight for equality at home to be as perilous if not more than the war raging overseas. In March 1945, along with 162 other Black Officers facing Jim Crow accomodations at Freeman Field Indiana, the young aviator openly(under possible penalty of death) defied orders not to enter its "whites only" officers club. The so-called Freeman Field Mutiny and other similar acts of defiance played a significant role in the decision made by President Truman in 1948 to issue Ex. Orders 9980 and 9981, which spelled the beginning of the end of segregation in the armed forces and government. For more info visit:
Thursday, September 6, 2007
Is it just me, or is anyone else disturbed at the alarming rate at which our Harlem institutions are falling by the wayside.Some like Copelands -are the victim of economics, while others others are falling prey to changing community standards (read gentrification).
I met my wife in the late Eighties in the last iteration of Small's Paradise, the speakeasy cum night club, where on any given night of the week, one just might witness something extraordinary, and entirely unique to Harlem. That venerated space has been reduced to hustling the same pancakes available in almost any city in the world. Not a hundred feet away, the Big Apple, after which our dear city is nicknamed was recently removed in favor of corporate design in keeping with Popeye's look.
Down the street, The Renny lays fallow after many decades, awaiting action by its owner. Will its development follow a course that is respectful of history and tradition or will it be yet one more proceeedure in the evisceration of Harlem.
And while we're on the subject of the evisceration of Harlem, let us not forget the silencing of the Garvey Park drummers who have earned their place in the City's cultural landscape after after decades of support by the community. Is it just me, or is there a pattern in place? What do you think?