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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Before He Ever Got to the White House

Copyright © by Leslye Joy Allen 

A few people just asked me what I remembered about our current president before anyone ever dreamed about his occupying the White House.  Here goes.

First things first. Back in 1993, I watched “The Donald” try to block a Native American Nation from operating a casino in the Catskills because “they didn’t all look like Indians.” He then spent well over a million dollars in attack ads to try to prevent them from running a casino. I wrote a word about this a few years ago.

Second (feel free to click this hyperlink): He spewed the vitriol and helped the criminal justice system railroad the Central Park Five (Thank Goddess that filmmaker Ava DuVernay is bringing these young men’s tragic story to a series for Netflix; and thank God they’re here to witness it.) The Central Park Five were five Black and Afro-Latin young men falsely accused of rape and sentenced to prison. Yusef Saalam was 15-years-old when Trump asked for his execution for a crime he did not commit. These five young men were between the ages of 14 and 16 years old. They were beaten by police into pleading “Guilty” to a crime they did not commit. Nevertheless, they spent between 5 to 13 years behind bars.

Third. He spent three years barking about how Barack Obama was not an American citizen, even though Obama was born in Hawaii.  All of this was done to try to make people believe that the first African-American President of the United States was not legitimate because he allegedly wasn’t an American citizen.

Fourth. This is from me, alone. I don’t need someone to call me “Nigger” to prove they are racist.  Most of the racists I know have grinned in my face. All of those chicken-eating, glory-seeking, money-grubbing Black preachers that met with Trump, along with Omarosa Manigault and her sudden discovery that she was working for a racist; and all the rest of the members of the Coon Show are not necessary for me for proof of the racism, misogyny, and xenophobia coming from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  I’m not surprised he can divide immigrant families at the border, imprison children or ignore a storm-damaged Puerto Rico like the island and its people are the bastards at his family picnic.  Anyone who didn’t know the above three facts either had their heads buried in the sand or were too busy figuring out how to get their cut of money from the spawn of Satan himself.  I don’t have a short memory.  And I also prescribe to the Book of Malcolm X who said that you do not call any man (or woman, for that matter) your brother or sister until they demonstrate that that is exactly what they are. Peace.

Copyright © by 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 Thought About Black Panther

By Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © 2018 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

“Royal Purple” by © Leslye Joy Allen

This is not a review of the film Black Panther.  This is a brief musing about what crossed my mind after I saw this film.  First, Black Panther is unapologetically “Black.” I use “Black” here to indicate that while the film is set in the fictional African nation of Wakanda, it also includes Africans of a variety of ethnicities, African Americans and a genuine nod to the entire African Diaspora most of whom are descendants of former slaves in the West.  I am a member of that African Diaspora. The film also gives a few cultural nods to the Ndebele, Yorùbá, Maasai, and Akan peoples on the African continent (thank you, actor-vocalist-friend Saycon Sengbloh for pointing this out first).  The film gets the multi-facted roles of African women so very right.  The film also has some serious messages unlike any messages you have ever heard in a Marvel Super Hero movie.  Don’t worry, if you have not seen it yet, I’m not going to ruin it for you.  All I can say is that it is an entertaining joy ride of a film that will make you think…really, really think.  With that said, here’s what I thought about immediately after I saw Black Panther.

Black Panther has stirred up a genuine sense of pride in Black Americans that we don’t get to feel with this much enthusiasm too often.  It has taken decades of hard work to undo some of the psychic and spiritual damage done to Africa’s descendants in the West who have endured brutal chattel slavery, Jim Crow, systematic racism and discrimination, police brutality, you-name-it.  It has taken decades of hard work and scholarship to undo some of the psychic and spiritual damage done to Africa’s descendants in the West who, for centuries, were told that Africa had no real history, no real contributions to civilization when all of what these descendants were told is/was/remains patently false.  However, it is dangerous to over-romanticize any history; to make any and every description of our African ancestors totally positive. Black Panther, in its own unique way through fiction, de-romanticizes history by showing us a multi-ethnic, multi-generational Wakanda with all the friction and righteous compromise and conflict such diversity can foster.  You leave the movie theater proud, but fully aware that Africans (and we African descendants) have tremendous gifts and flaws not because we are or ever have been inferior or superior, but rather because we are human.

I remember a lecture given by the late African scholar, Dr. Ali Mazrui back in 1996 where he stated that to deny Africans the ability to be wrong was also the same as denying them their humanity.  Dr. Mazrui was always controversial.  He said the only African-American activist that he had any real respect for was Randall Robinson, the founder of Trans-Africa. When asked why he only dug Robinson, Dr. Mazrui said, “Robinson not only raises his voice when Whites do something wrong to Africans, Robinson speaks out when Africans are doing something to wrong to other Africans.”  I’ve never forgotten that statement and what that statement truly means.

When you love your people, you praise them when they are right and you don’t make excuses for them when they are wrong.  You work to correct them.  You speak out against racism, colonialism, and the exploitation of your people no matter who the adversary is.  That lecture by Dr. Mazrui, and so many lectures given by visiting and former professors drove home that I could not afford to care as much about how Africans and African-descended peoples looked to the rest of the world more than I cared about how well or how poorly they/we all were doing.  If you love your people you don’t worry about what their image is and how it affects you as much as you worry about their well-being, period.  Black Panther shows just how difficult that can be, but it also shows that it can be gloriously done…

Now, if you don’t exactly understand this post, it is probably because you have not seen Black Panther yet.  It could also be because you know very little about the continent of Africa’s very complicated history.  However, my points will be clearer once you’ve opened a few books and taken the ride to Wakanda.  So, get to the movie theater.  You won’t be disappointed.  Wakanda Forever.

Copyright © 2018 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.

Out of the Fog: A Christmas and New Year’s Wish

Photo of Bank of America Building by
© Leslye Joy Allen

By Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © 2017 by Leslye Joy Allen

While driving in the early morning hours in my beloved city of Atlanta, I saw the usual signs of city growth:  traffic that can make a Nun cuss, shiny new buildings, massive construction everywhere, people bustling off to work, school and the airport, and homeless people huddled under bridges.

When I witnessed the top of the super large Bank of America Building on Peachtree Street, its steeple-shaped illuminated top seemed to hang in the air in our unusually heavy fog.  If I did not know anything about this building or if I was a kid with a vivid imagination, the sight of that lighted steeple would have given me the best fantasies of flying saucers and aliens.

As I took that quick snapshot of the top of the Bank of America Building it made me think of the Star in the East.  Even when I looked at the top of this building and recognized it in the distance, I knew that what I saw was only one component of the building.  Maybe it was the brightest component, certainly the top of it.  But it wasn’t hanging in the air by itself.  So here is something to think about:

Puerto Rico, Dominica and St. Johns, Virgin Islands still have no electricity. There will be no Christmas lights and there probably will be no lights on New Years’ Eve.  These tan and brown and black human beings have been without power for over 14 weeks at this writing.  And just like the homeless in downtown Atlanta, many folks stay on these islands to protect what little possessions that they have left after hurricanes.  They take cold showers when they can, and eat food prepared from makeshift kitchens.  You may not give a damn about any of this because it doesn’t directly affect you, but it actually does. You may not care about all of these people of color, but you will because they are necessary in ways you may never have imagined.  Remember, no one gave a damn about a homeless brown couple–with the wife being very pregnant–in Bethlehem over two thousand years ago, either.

For much of the past year, many of us have whined and moaned about the current state of affairs in Washington, D. C.  We have often exhausted ourselves with tales of political misconduct and malfeasance and sexual impropriety.  We have listened to racist, sexist, homophobic, and misogynist rhetoric.  And at times, I have to say, I wondered when (or if) anyone was going to get tired of feasting on all of it.

It’s not that these evil things don’t exist; they do!  Yet, in our well-meaning attempts to publicize many of these problems, we often perpetuate our own lack of resolve to change any of it simply by believing that ranting about it on social media does anything more than help us blow off some steam. We often forget that much of this nation is built off and on the backs of people who now lay on the streets in cities all over the nation and throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.  In 2018, let’s plan to get out and stay out of the fog long enought to recognize the rest of the building; and that the top cannot and never has stood without the support from all those floors and a steady foundation.

That’s it for the year folks. If you didn’t understand this post, I’m sorry, but that’s it. I’m tired, happy, at times anxious, exhilarated by our capacity to triumph, glad about the women who no longer ask permission to be great or to do the work they were born to do. I know we can change anything we want to change.  But we can’t do any of it in a fog.  Peace.

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.