American Black Music 101

By Leslye Joy Allen                                                                                                     Historian, Educator, Theatre and Jazz Advocate & Consultant, Ph.D. Candidate

"Listening"  Self-Portrait. Copyright © 2014 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

“Listening” Self-Portrait. Copyright © 2014 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

Copyright © 2014 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

Back during the very short time that I was a music major, several of my instructors and professors commented on my unique ability to hear damn near anything and explain exactly what instruments I heard, along with my INABILITY to reproduce it in performance.  I always earned an “A” in aural studies.  I laugh loudly now because my old piano teacher said I would make a great musicologist, which is, among other things, a music historian.  I never practiced piano much, but I could always tell you the story behind the song or something about the life of the composer.

At the same time, no one needs to be an accomplished musician or be able to read music to identify a Blue Note—those often flatted third, fifth and/or seventh notes that became the signature of Black American music—in order to feel and absorb the origins of that Blue Note.  The origins are deeply rooted in the African American experience.  The rhythms of Africa, the melodic vocal and verbal patois of Black Americans severed from their ancient drums met the European scale to produce something as authentically American as Negro Spirituals, Field Hollers, Work Songs, Ragtime, Jazz, along with our Soul-Sauce-sprinkled-on-Jewish-folk-melodies that gave us Tin Pan Alley, and indeed American Popular Song.

All things American are deeply infused with the Black experience, so much so that it is hard to know where one or the other begins and where it all might end.  The Black slave in the field handed a musical gift to the White American composer; and both have more in common with each other because of this infusion than one might think.  Only the blighted soul has problems giving the Motherland Africa much praise for some of the creation of so-called American popular music, music that came from the hearts and souls and longings of her transplants in the New World.

So this blog is not just about your ability to know, but about your ability to feel and to hear how much things change yet remain the same when the roots are acknowledged and claimed.   All you have to do is listen to the following Trinity of songs that cover over one hundred fifty years of music.  All you need is a soul and a pulse to understand.  Àṣé!

“ROLL, JORDAN, ROLL”  

“ACCENTUATE THE POSITIVE”  

“HAPPY”

Leslye Joy Allen is a perpetual and proud supporter of the good work of Clean Green Nation.  Visit the website to learn more about it: Gregory at Clean Green Nation!

Copyright © 2014 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.
Creative Commons License This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.  Any partial or total reference to this blog, or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly and visibly stated as the author.

Ms. Allen’s U. S. History 2110: Songs of Social Consciousness and Protest, 1960s to 1980

By Leslye Joy Allen                                                                                                     Historian, Educator, Theatre and Jazz Advocate & Consultant, Ph.D. Candidate

Copyright © 2013 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

One of the fun things about teaching history is not only helping young people discover new ideas, but also having them help you, the instructor, re-discover some of those ideas.  One of the things we did as a class this semester was revisit some of the music of the early 1960s up to 1980 that had socially conscious and/or protest lyrics.  Many of the songs on the following list were songs that I personally remembered and contributed.  Yet, many of the songs were discovered by several of my students, along with a few suggestions by a few friends.  My students and I had a good laugh about how some people upload music to YouTube in violation of copyright law.  Yet, we all agreed that when one video or recording of a song was removed, another video would take its place.  So, if any of the hyperlinks below have become inactive, I can only encourage you to do a quick search for the title of the song and/or artist.

My musical repertoire dates back to before Ragtime, thanks to my late birth to parents who were much older than the average age for first-time parents, and who were late born babies themselves.  I was tempted to create a mammoth song list that touched on every possible social or political concern for the last hundred years. This list is hardly comprehensive or even representative of all the music that I know of that can be counted as having lyrical content that speaks about some social or political issue.  Yet, it remains a great list when one considers that the music represented here is much, much older than the majority of my history students and that these songs still have relevance and meaning.  Also, a comprehensive list would be too long to be useful.  The idea of this assignment was to get students to look up and listen to music and access other art forms and discover that all of these art forms are important cultural markers which help tell so many stories and contribute to the history of any given era.

Many of my students have commented that too much of the music today seems empty of meaningful content.   I agree.  So, below is the list in date, rather than alphabetical, order. I hope you enjoy what my students discovered; and I hope you will make your own lists of songs of social consciousness and protest and then introduce those songs, musicians, songwriters, and messages to some young person that you know.  You may even learn something new in the process.  Peace.

(1962) “The Death of Emmitt Till” by Bob Dylan: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RVKTx9YlKls

(1963) “Masters of War” by Bob Dylan: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Mvr72uTd7kc

(early 1960s**) “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Round” by Sweet Honey in the Rock: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c5Z1trynEHs  (**Many singers have sung “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Round.”  It remains a Traditional Negro Folk Song, adapted by the SNCC Freedom Singers, who began singing it at rallies in the early 1960s.  Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon, who founded the vocal group “Sweet Honey in the Rock” was an original member of the Freedom Singers.  The version above is a more recent version that she and the members of Sweet Honey in the Rock recorded for a PBS Series titled “Soundtrack for a Revolution.”)

(1963**) “Cotton Fields” by Odetta: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tXQDgqXnaT8 (**Odetta recorded this song live with Lawrence Mohr in 1954.  Yet, she released this studio-recorded version in 1963)

(1964) “Mississippi, Goddamn” by Nina Simone: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fVQjGGJVSXc

(1965) “I Ain’t Marching Anymore” by Phil Ochs: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gv1KEF8Uw2k

(1965) “Draft Dodger Rag” by Phil Ochs: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tFFOUkipI4U (This song has some very humorous lyrics.  It quickly became one of the anthems of the Anti-Vietnam Movement).

(1965) “People Get Ready” by The Impressions (featuring Curtis Mayfield): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l04yM7-BWbg

(1966) “Love Me, I’m A Liberal” by Phil Ochs: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u52Oz-54VYw

(1967) “We’re a Winner (Movin’ on Up)” by The Impressions (featuring Curtis Mayfield): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uLMRzDFMvEo

(1968) “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud” by James Brown: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j0A_N-wmiMo

(1968) “Why? (The King of Love is Dead)” by Nina Simone: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wh6R0BRzjW4

(1968) “Revolution” by The Beatles: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u2LKMogdjm8

(1969) “Freedom” by Richie Havens: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rynxqdNMry4

(1969) “Choice of Colors” by The Impressions (featuring Curtis Mayfield): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SNV1Y01xNk8

(1970) “Young, Gifted and Black” by Nina Simone: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PEMOxRxcJpo 

(1970) “War” by Edwin Starr: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dQHUAJTZqF0

(1970) “Ball of Confusion” by The Temptations: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JWtIvoub6XU 

(1970) “If There’s Hell Below, We’re All Gonna Go” by Curtis Mayfield: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l2cTc7DofrA&list=PL1AE86EA721372D55

(1970) “Heaven Help Us All” by Stevie Wonder : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_gOLnLz9KjY

(1971) “Bring the Boys Home” by Freda Payne: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=–fFhunuUJM

(1971) “People Make the World Go Round” by The Stylistics: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8EDUBOGTVv0  (One of my students was amazed by the remarkably high falsetto voice of the lead singer.  His name is Russell Thompkins.)

(1971) “Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Hollar)” by Marvin Gaye: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X1uelY2SGmw

(1971) “What’s Going On?” by Marvin Gaye: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H-kA3UtBj4M

(1971) “Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology)” by Marvin Gaye: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EMuWmU1iNJo

(1972) “King Heroin” by James Brown: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NoLrrnXiRCk

(1972) “I’m Just Another Soldier” by The Staple Singers: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BdoPI3fjwMI

(1972) “I’ll Take You There” by The Staple Singers: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xO0Q3192Jrs

(1973) “We Were all Wounded at Wounded Knee” by Redbone: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2VB2LdOU6vo  (This song was only released in Europe in 1973.  It was released much later in the USA on a compilation.  Redbone was the only Native American Soul/Pop group to have a hit record during the 1970s.  That hit song was released in 1974 and titled “Come and Get Your Love.”)

(1973) “I Can’t Write Left-Handed” by Bill Withers: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l6qhfY-aLnk (This song was recorded live at Carnegie Hall in 1972 and released in 1973 on the album Bill Withers at Carnegie Hall.)

(1973) “Someday We’ll All Be Free” by Donny Hathaway: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mDHmhBjl70o

(1973) “Fish Ain’t Bitin’” Lamont Dozier: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DXnv71BRXU0

(1973) “If You’re Ready” by The Staple Singers: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HanwLunJau0

(1975) “I Am Woman” by Helen Reddy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zu4xpDuf84A

(1975) “Wake Up Everybody” by Harold Melvin & the Bluenotes (featuring Teddy Pendergrass on lead vocals): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-TDfPgd3Kyc

(1977) “A Real Mother For Ya’” by Johnny Guitar Watson: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IdTgyyUcAYQ

(1980) “At Peace With Woman” by The Jones Girls: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hGa8dK9GILk

Leslye Joy Allen is a perpetual and proud supporter of the good work of Clean Green Nation.  Visit the website to learn more about it: Gregory at Clean Green Nation!

Copyright © 2013 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.
Creative Commons License This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.  Any partial or total reference to this blog, or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author.

A Personal Bibliography (After “Four Little Girls”)

By Leslye Joy Allen                                                                                                     Historian, Educator, Theatre and Jazz Advocate & Consultant, Ph.D. Candidate

Copyright © 2013 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

“Books II” by Leslye Joy Allen, Copyright © 2013.  All Rights Reserved.

“Books II” by Leslye Joy Allen, Copyright © 2013. All Rights Reserved.

When Erich McMillan-McCall, founder of Project1Voice said, “We need a bibliography,” I knew I was about to be called upon to begin pulling together books that focused on the lives and accomplishments of Black women.  I almost declined because there really is no shortage of books written by or about or which target Black women and girls as a reading audience.  The real task was not finding books, but rather which ones should be on the list.   Erich (pronounced “Eh-rish”) asked me to do this as part of his overall focus on Black women, but also in some ways as a response to the reading of the Christina Ham play “Four Little Girls” that streamed live online at the Kennedy-Center’s website at 6:00 PM EST on Sunday, September 15, 2013.

Although Diane McWhorter’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book Carry Me Home gives a detailed account of that fateful Sunday morning when Cynthia, Addie Mae, Carole, and Denise were killed, there is no book written exclusively about these four little girls who died in that church bombing on September 15, 1963.  Indeed, it can be debated that the White racist terrorists that bombed Birmingham, Alabama’s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church that ended the lives of these girls did not specifically set out to kill young Black females.  Often the targets of racial violence were and tend to be Black males, or at least many folks think the targets are always Black males.  After all, two Black boys, 16-year-old Johnny Robinson and 13-year-old Virgil Ware were shot and killed the same day in the immediate aftermath of the church bombing.  Yet, Black women and girls were not only routine victims of sexual violence, but were often beaten or killed with impunity during slavery, the era of Jim Crow, and well into and beyond the Civil Rights era.  Black female martyrdom and valor in the struggle for human and civil rights is often muted in favor of other types of narratives.  A perfect example of this is how most people view Rosa Parks.

Too often the public (and a few historians) mistakes Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat to a White person in Montgomery, Alabama in 1955 as just an example of what happens when a Black woman simply gets tired of racial injustice.  But it was much, much more than that.  Historian Danielle L. McGuire aptly noted that Parks had a long career of dangerous work as an NAACP investigator in the decades before her fateful act in 1955.  McGuire also reported that the very first question Rosa Parks’ mother asked her after Parks was released from jail for her now-famous refusal to give up her seat to a white bus passenger was: “Did they beat you?”  That kind of question was, at one time, almost as typical for Black women as the sun coming up.

One way to dispel myths and increase our understanding of our lives and the world we live in is to read and do our own research.  One way to honor those four little girls tragically killed on that fateful Sunday in 1963 (and all of our Black heroines) is to examine and celebrate our resilient and diverse and often brilliant Black womanhood, a womanhood denied to them.  So here goes…

The books contained in the .pdf attachment at the end of this blog were my favorites and the first books that came to mind, along with a few marvelous book suggestions about Black female musicians courtesy of my good friend and alumna sister from Agnes Scott College, ethnomusicologist Dr. Birgitta Johnson.

Some books are old and some relatively new.   There are no separate sections where fiction is separated from nonfiction.  The only separate section in this bibliography is a section of books devoted exclusively to and for Black girls from preschool to middle school.  A few parents might find this useful.   I am also happy to report that books for and about Black girls is a growing industry.

My book list is not comprehensive.  For some of you who read all the time, you might find some glaring omissions.  I make no apologies.  I never choose a book simply because it was or is popular, and neither should you.   I also have not been fond of everything on the bestseller list now or in the past.  This list is MY LIST and it is hardly an exhaustive list of all the books I have read about Black women and/or any other subject.  Yet it is a beginning.  For those of you who read occasionally, you might find this list particularly useful so that you can begin that journey where you read and discover new things, new ideas, and new writers.

Now, for those of you who might be tempted to send me some remark about how I left out what you consider to be the “best book ever,” do not despair and save your energy.  The attached bibliography has an important page with a header that reads: “Add Your Favorite Books Here.”  THIS IS YOUR PAGE.  This is where I hope you will begin to write down the authors and titles of those books that have mattered the most to you.  I hope you will create your own bibliography, because if you do, we can begin to shape a real dialogue that is truly about ALL OF US.   I invite you to start one part of your/our journey by clicking here: **By, About, and For Black Women, a Personal Bibliography by Leslye Joy Allen.pdf**

Portable Document Files (.pdf ) have to be opened with an Adobe Reader.  If you have a problem opening the file above, please visit http://www.adobe.com, click on the section near the top of the page that is marked “Download,” then highlight and click “Adobe Reader” and download the Adobe Reader free of charge.

Also be sure to visit the Gist of Freedom, free podcasts devoted to preserving our rich African American History at: http://www.blackhistoryuniversity.com

Leslye Joy Allen is also a perpetual and proud supporter of the good work of Clean Green Nation.  Visit the website to learn more about it: Gregory at Clean Green Nation!

Copyright © 2013 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.
Creative Commons License This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.  Any partial or total reference to this blog, or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author.

Mercy, Mercy Me: Black, Clean, and Green!

by Leslye Joy Allen

Historian, Educator, Theatre and Jazz Advocate & Consultant, Doctoral Student

Copyright © 2012 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

I am sure there is someone who saw the title of this blog and instantly thought of the late Marvin Gaye’s environmental anthem from 1971, “Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology).”  Well, this is not exactly about Marvin Gaye.  Yet, music can trigger an entire series of memories.  Music is as much a cultural and historical marker of the times in which we live and have lived through as anything else.  However, I arrived at this title and this blog via a beautiful and talented woman named Freda Payne.  If you recognize that name, then you probably remember her anti-Vietnam era song “Bring the Boys Home.”  Freda sang “Bring the Boys Home” with a sense of urgency and longing that none of us who grew up in the 1960s and 1970s will ever forget.  It is ironic, but no accident that Freda’s anti-war anthem and Marvin Gaye’s song bemoaning our poisoning of the environment were released in the same year.  For those of you who are unfamiliar, you can do a quick Google or YouTube search and find all the information, beautiful music and pointed messages you need.  Yet, this blog is not exactly about music.

Not long ago, I received a sweet and thoughtful message from Freda Payne, along with a request from her to tell folks about her son Gregory who is a partner with Clean Green Nation.  Before I could even visit the website, I heard Freda’s song in my head, then I heard Marvin Gaye.  These were songs from my childhood and adolescence.  As the music played in my head, I looked up Clean Green Nation on the Internet.  It specializes in environmentally sound and clean energy for your home, your business, and even your farm.  I smiled as I clicked on one section of the website after another because one of the first things that struck me about the website was the same thing that struck me about Freda’s request.—Her request, like the website itself, was filled with a deep understanding about this nation’s need to reduce its dependence on foreign oil, and the need to reduce greenhouse gases so that everyone can breathe cleaner air.  She is also a proud mother.  Her son Gregory is one of a growing number of young Black Americans committed to this admirable and much needed goal.

I visited what has to be one of the very best websites and businesses for selling, installing, promoting, and explaining clean energy.  The best part about what Gregory and Clean Green Nation are doing is that there is some item or service available there for every budget.  Solar panels and wind turbines are available for homes and businesses.  For under $20.00, you can purchase a variable flow showerhead that saves water; another nifty gadget that helps you to time and shorten your showers is available for $2.99.  Importantly, Clean Green Nation has one of the best Learning Centers that I have ever seen.  In clear language, visitors to the site find out exactly how solar and wind energy work.  They learn about radiant barriers that keep heat out of a house in the summer and hold more heat in during the winter.  A range of services and products are offered that will simultaneously save the customer money and help clean up the environment at the same time—I cannot stress the importance of these factors when it comes to marketing anything affiliated with that word “environment” to Black and other communities of color.  There was a time when I would go to rallies and lectures about the environment and I could count the number of Black folks (including myself) in attendance on one hand.

The first time I told someone I was an environmentalist was over fifteen years ago.  The man looked at me strangely, as I stood there with my cloth shopping bags.  I went into one of my quick talks about how we should use “these bags” instead of the petroleum based plastic bags many stores continue to use.  Once, I even got a manager at a local grocery store to start recycling these same petroleum based bags.  However, for a long time there seemed to be a kind of disconnect about the whole concept of cleaning up the environment in many Black communities; and that is a shame because WE Black folks, and other peoples of color, are usually the first to suffer from environmental toxicity.  It is no accident that toxic waste dumps are often located near or in poor communities, particularly poor Black communities.  Yet, regardless of race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status, WE all bear responsibility and have the capacity to contribute to the fight to clean up the environment.  I say this so that those folks who read this, who happen to be White or members of some other ethnic group, do not feel left out.  My message in this blog, however, is deliberately directed at Black people because information about the environment has not always reached or been directed toward Black communities.  This is where Clean Green Nation comes in.

While Gregory services the West Coast and West Hollywood specifically, anyone can order products and services from his website.  Even more important, anyone can learn more about how to lower utility bills and help the environment!  It is just that simple. I must add something important here: Gregory was not born when his mother sang that song that showed the human and personal costs to us as we lost one young man after another in the Vietnam War.  The song was so potent that U. S. Armed Forces Radio banned it from its airwaves.  Gregory was not born when Marvin Gaye sang a song with lyrics filled with sadness over the way we all had poisoned our natural environment.  The tragedy is that both of these songs are still relevant some forty plus years later because the problems we were dealing with in 1971 are still with us today.  I remember it well.  Future generations do not so much need new songs as they need new songs with different themes.  Now when I was a kid, James Brown taught us to chant, “Say it Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud.”  Today I ask you to support a committed young man who drives a hybrid in a town that often prides itself on glamour; a young man trying to make an honest living and help clean up the planet at the same time.  Say it with me now, “Let’s Be Black, Clean and Green.”

Copyright © 2012 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

Leslye Joy Allen is proud to support Clean Green Nation.  Visit the website to learn more about it: Gregory at Clean Green Nation!

Creative Commons License This Blog was written by Leslye Joy Allen and is protected by U. S. Copyright Law and licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.  Any partial or total reference to this blog, or any total or partial excerpt of this blog must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author.