Aretha: A Mini-Multi-Ethnic History Lesson

by Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved

Aretha is/was international and global and pro-Black and pro-people of color long before those phrases became buzz words. But you already know Aretha. She’s part of the soundtrack of my/your life. If you were paying attention, you know about her activism, her once offering to pay Angela Davis’ bail; and the hurt in her voice at Martin Luther King, Jr.’s funeral.  My Dad was there. When he got home he said, “This is the only time I’ve ever heard Aretha sound so destroyed.”  But let’s consider the setting at Atlantic Records that nurtured her after her dad, the Reverend C. L. Franklin decided that Aretha’s voice was as secular as it was sacred; that her piano-playing was as inventive as anyone out there. I always, always wanted Aretha to make an instrumental album of nothing but her on piano, but I digress…

Ahmet Ertegün, our brother from Turkey, along with Jerry Wexler, founded Atlantic Records with the mission to produce some of the best Rhythm and Blues and Soul music ever. They succeeded. Not long after they made Ray Charles a household name, they signed Aretha Franklin, who reigned as Queen on a record label that had no shortage of music luminaries: Big Joe Turner, Ruth Brown, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, The Drifters, The Spinners, The Pointer Sisters, The Modern Jazz Quartet, Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young, Donny Hathaway, Roberta Flack, The Bee Gees, and the list goes on.  The early days for Aretha consisted of recording sessions with musicians, the majority of whom were young white men from Muscle Shoals, Alabama, a tiny town that still does not have 15,000 residents. The Black brothers in the band grew up with Rhythm and Blues, but these white musicians took a turn toward the Blues and Soul Music and never, ever looked back. These cats backing Aretha produced some of the most poignant, memorable, timeless, and soulful music in the twentieth century.

Beginning in the early 1960s, Arif Mardin served as Aretha’s principle producer for over two decades at Atlantic Records. Mardin, another musical genius from Istanbul, Turkey impressed the hell out of Dizzy Gillespie and Quincy Jones, so much so that after meeting these two Black American musical giants in 1956 after a State Department-sponsored concert, he became the first recipient of the Quincy Jones Scholarship at the Berklee School of Music in Boston. After Mardin graduated in 1961, he went to work for Atlantic Records. Aretha acknowledged him as the positive turning point in her career.  Together they churned out the hits all of us already know.  He produced that incredible gospel album “Amazing Grace” that everybody still talks about, and still plays.

So what is my point?  Well, the whole concept of globalization has always existed in music and the arts; and it, for damned sure existed with Aretha; and for people of color.  That multi-ethnic colored world that some white folks fear, the one that seems to be suddenly upon us has always been here.  You’ve been grooving to it, remember?  But know this: I don’t just know my people when I see them; I know them when and where I hear them. Marinate on that for a while. Rest in Paradise Queen of Soul, Aretha Louise Franklin.

Copyright © Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

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 or any blog authored by Leslye Joy Allen, or any total or partial excerpt of this or any blog by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: https://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

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I Owe Ted Turner and my Maternal Grandmother

by Leslye Joy Allen

Back in the day in Atlanta, Ted Turner, the TV mogul, was keen on making sure television shows like Jacques Cousteau’s nature shows stayed on the air. Turner believed in the preservation of our natural environment.  He drove an economy car and at one time he had an office without air conditioning. This was his contribution to not contributing to dirtying up our environment.  When I was a teen, I thought he was just another eccentric White multi-millionaire.  Yet, when I listened to his reasoning about cleaning up the environment, he made so much sense.

Now, my late maternal grandmother, Lorena Wilkes Wilson was born in 1886.  She lived through the Atlanta Race Riot of 1906 when she was a student at Clark College (now Clark Atlanta University). I remember that sunny, warm, Fall day when I was in my teens. A large flock of birds swarmed our front yard.  I heard them.  “Some bad weather is coming,” Grandma said.  “It’s probably going to snow,” she said.  I looked at her confused, “Grandma, it’s almost seventy degrees outside. Where is the snow coming from?”  She stared back.  “The birds know. They plan for bad weather. So when you see a swarm of them, you can be sure some bad weather is on its way.”  Well…

right after that week of unseasonably warm temperatures, the snow came just as Grandma predicted.  A well-read, well-educated Black woman from a small Georgia town she was.  I remembered that my grandmother was born before there were any weather men and women on TV.  She relied on nature to tell her how to prepare for bad weather, when to plant, and how to dress.  I also remembered how cool Ted Turner was talking about saving animal populations and not disturbing the food chain.  Yet, I also remember people being turned off by things like recycling and driving economy, rather than luxury, cars.  Most people I knew then really didn’t want to hear any of this.

As I currently watch reports about one hurricane after another, about how deforestation has destroyed our natural speed bumps, I am grateful to Grandma and Ted Turner.  I wonder what people would think or say if I told them that I recently spoke with a scientist who told me that almost all of us are consuming tiny bits of plastic every time we eat seafood because we have dumped so much plastic on the ocean floor that the fish are now infested with much of this plastic.  The scientist said there was a guy working on some technology to clean up that ocean dumping ground.  Yet, I honestly hope that what I just wrote made you a little sick to your stomach.

I hope you will recycle your bottles and cans and papers rather than throw them in the trash. I hope you will think about the health and well-being of future generations. And I hope someday that one of your children or grandchildren writes about you and thanks you the way I have to thank Ted Turner and my maternal Grandmother. They both taught me to pay attention to and to respect all of creation on and in the only home we have; and to treat this home like the temporary home that it is and one that I must share with all of creation.  I hope you will too!  Àṣé!

I’m still not blogging as much for a while…So, you are welcome to read my older blogs until I return later (trust, there is some good stuff in my archives at my blog)…I have to get my dissertation finished, and blogging and responding to every little detail is not on the agenda…In the meantime, stay focused, and stay woke, and for God’s sake don’t fall for the easy answers because the news media is full of “easy answers.”  Do your research.  Think for yourself.  Peace and Blessings. I will see you when I see you.  — Leslye Joy Allen

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 or any blog authored by Leslye Joy Allen, or any total or partial excerpt of this or any blog by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: https://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

Remembering Belinda (Lynn)

By Leslye Joy Allen, Copyright © 2017.

(In memory of Belinda E. Fanning, August 1952 to August 2017)

A good friend

was laid to rest,

one who could

make you laugh

until your sides

split open,

one who could

play-the-dozens

until it drew a

crowd of

laughing witnesses,

one who nicknamed

me

“Yellow Biscuit,”

and

whose father

nicknamed

me

“Mosquito,”

one who my late Drew

loved and always

razzed,

DELIBERATELY.

Her laughter was

never muffled,

but

contagious and

deliberate

and natural.

To this

day,

I don’t trust

any

Black person

so prim and proper

that they suppress

their laughter.

As Drew used to say,

“If they don’t feel

better

after

having been around Lynn,

if they don’t like Lynn,

then something’s

wrong with them.”

I’m so glad I got

to tell her

over and over

again that he

was right.

 – Leslye Joy Allen, Copyright © 2017.

 

Still taking some time away from blogging for a while…So, you are welcome to read my older blogs until I return later (trust, there is some good stuff in my archives at my blog)…I have to get my dissertation finished, and blogging and responding to every little detail is not on the agenda…In the meantime, stay focused, and stay woke, and for God’s sake don’t fall for the easy answers because the news media is full of “easy answers.”  Do your research.  Think for yourself.  Peace and Blessings. I will see you when I see you.  — Leslye Joy Allen

 

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 or any blog authored by Leslye Joy Allen, or any total or partial excerpt of this or any blog by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: https://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

 

A Few Hyperlinks…

by Leslye Joy Allen

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

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

Copyright © 2017 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

I have to thank my academic and theatre families for reminding me that what I say and do matters more than I think it does.  They remind me to keep pressing on.  For those that asked, here are the archived hyperlinks to some segments of WABE’s Closer Look with Rose Scott and Jim Burress that I participated in as an Atlanta historian and as a native Atlantan of my beloved hometown.  Just click on any of the titles/hyperlinks below and then scroll down to listen to these archived programs on SoundCloud.  Thanks to all of you for your support. Enjoy!

June 6, 2016: Closer Look: Emory’s New President; Muhammad Ali; And More

August 12, 2016: History and Rebirth of Manuel’s Tavern

Sept. 22. 2016: Closer Look Special: How The 1906 Race Riot Changed Atlanta

Jan. 3, 2017: Closer Look: Kasim Reed’s Legacy; Community Planning; And More

 

Copyright © 2017 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

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 or any blog authored by Leslye Joy Allen, or any total or partial excerpt of this or any blog by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: https://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.

 

Sacred Places

By Leslye Joy Allen

Tropical Blue Ocean Water (public domain)

Tropical Blue Ocean Water (public domain)

I was among the people supremely delighted at the decision of the Army Corps of Engineers to halt any further construction of the Dakota Pipeline on Sunday, December 4, 2016 until further study of its environmental impact on the water supply in that area. I am not going to preach about the fact that eventually that pipeline would have negatively affected the water supply. You can read my previous blog “A Time of Drought,” to get an idea.

For environmentalists, like myself, this was an incredible victory because for the first time, in a long time, the environment was front and center.  The many Native American nations, along with military servicemen and women, environmentalists, and peoples from around the globe were involved in this protest. Often protests of this nature compete with news stories about who-wore-what to some awards show or the endless stories that moan and groan about things some people obviously have no intention of doing anything about, else they would not spend so much time moaning and groaning about them in the first place…

This time something as precious as water was at the forefront; and access to clean water is something that everyone can understand, even when they are less informed about other matters related to the environment…

Now, what I am about to say here might stun a few folks…

What a lot of people often fail to recognize is that in almost every instance where the earth or air or water has been disturbed or polluted, whether it is to extract oil or some other resource or to build some structure, there has almost always been some violation of the sacred, some disturbing of something that meant something precious to someone or to some group of people…

For my Atlanta readers, you might know, or might need reminding, that underneath a portion of Interstate 75-South lies an old cemetery filled with the graves of Black folks, our brothers and sisters. Where Interstate 75-South meets Cleveland Avenue lies a marble marker that designates the graves of roughly 1,700 former slaves who were buried in Gilbert Cemetery which had been created as a burial place for slaves in the early 1840s.

Because the area around this grave came to be known as “Plunkett Town” which was still occupied by poor, rural Blacks as late as the 1960s, the graveyard there did not illicit much concern until work crews from the Georgia Department of Transportation discovered the damaged burial grounds while building Interstate 75.  By the time of the discovery, the graves had already been disturbed, and the plans and money to build that highway were already in place.  No one considered the graveyards to be more important than building a much-needed highway.  What has been left there is a marker letting people who bother to look know that they are driving over a graveyard…

This is exactly what we all have been doing to Native Americans’ sacred sites ever since Europeans arrived on these shores, eventually and forcibly transporting millions of Africans here to perform heavy labor as slaves…

This is not a moral judgement, but rather food for thought.  Too often we—and that includes environmentalists as well, and I am just as guilty—do not think of water as anything other than something that will come out of a faucet when we turn that faucet on.  And as long as we can pay our Water Bill, we seem assured that when we turn that knob, water will come out…

But go pour a glass of water.  Look at it!  Say a prayer to it!  Respect it!

The Standing Rock protest that has temporarily halted the Dakota Pipeline might not have converted any new environmentalists; I know too well from experience that a lot of people do not want to be inconvenienced in any way, even if that small inconvenience will help clean up the environment, or at least slow down the toxicity of the natural environment…

Yet, we all need to stay on guard because this battle may come up again as a new president moves into the White House in January 2017.  However, for the time being, recognize what this protest and this small victory has made us all pay attention to: respect for the dead and for the most precious resource on earth: water.  If you are not humbled by this, I do not know what else to tell you except that you will eventually be humbled by this, whether you want to be or not.

Àṣé.”

Copyright © 2016 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

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 or any blog authored by Leslye Joy Allen, or any total or partial excerpt of this or any blog by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: https://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author. All Rights Reserved.