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.

Advertisements

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 Message for Democrats

by Leslye Joy Allen

About a year ago, I was interviewed by veteran broadcast journalist Maynard Eaton. One of the things I told him was that “No one ever asks educators anything.”  The recent election of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old Latina who unseated a veteran Congressman for New York’s 14th District DID NOT COME AS A COMPLETE SURPRISE TO ME.  Ocasio-Cortez is a newly elected Democratic Socialist and her opponent Joe Crowley, a 20-plus year veteran Congressman, out spent her campaign by a margin of 18 to 1.  Go figure. Well, here are about five of my own observations that I think Democrats need to pay attention to:

First things first.  Women are a big trend this year.  We, women are sick and tired of being talked down to, ignored, condescended to, assaulted, raped, murdered, denied equal pay, you name it. The current administration’s open hostility to women has made it abundantly clear that more women should be and are running for office and winning.  Men might start thinking about the fact that women are the majority.  Now, many women will vote against their own interests to keep the peace in their households or to hold onto a deeply flawed belief that the needs of their particular ethnic or racial group outweigh the real problems and needs of women. A lot of young women no longer have the capacity to be that self-sacrificing; and that’s a good thing. Self-sacrificing for others has never gotten women much reward, only fatigue, frustration, and maybe a few extra flowers on Mother’s Day.

Second, women (and a few men I know) are now tired of the “Pissing Contests” far too many male candidates and political pundits make of the Democratic process. I personally find that “male competitive streak” a complete turn off.  Very little productive work gets done when a group of men are trying to out talk, out preach, out pontificate, out work each other in their quest for some top position or for some form of dominance.  This kind of competition can destroy a perfectly good social movement when hyper-masculine egos worry more about what will happen to and for themselves as individuals. Many women have adapted this masculine paradigm, but it rarely works for them.  Women work best when they celebrate those things that are uniquely female and then fight against anything and anyone who works against women’s interests. I never forget that most of the so-called “established” Black male leadership and their attendant pontificators such as Jesse Jackson, Andrew Young, John Lewis, along with pundits like Earl Ofari Hutchinson, Stanley Crouch, Cornell West, and Tavis Smiley, all went out of their way to hyper-critique Barack Obama when he sought the Democratic nomination for president in 2008.  NONE of these men were Obama supporters until it became apparent that Obama would win the nomination. They were wrong over eight years ago, so I don’t trust their political instincts and I don’t like their pettiness.  Women of all races and ethnicities were Obama supporters long before a lot of men decided to join his campaign.  Right now, younger women (and by young, I mean any woman born after the Baby Boom) are successfully collaborating with each other on everything from television production to political campaigns.  All Democrats might want to take a play out of the Feminine Playbook of female teamwork if you want to get elected.

Third, the Democratic Party is still currently dominated by aging men and women that young candidates and young voters see as part of a corrupt system.  Some of these Democratic politicians are now in their late sixties or well into their seventies and they haven’t had a new idea in two decades.  However, Bernie Sanders was an older white man that reached young America, the Millennials. Young Democratic Millennial America wanted Sanders as their Democratic candidate.  My own “play niece” CeAvani who graduated Maynard Jackson High School here in Atlanta in 2017 told me that ALL of the students at her high school were “Feeling the Bern.” Democrats, hell bent on focusing on Hillary Clinton, never bothered to find out what portion of Sanders’ message and platform resonated so well with young voters and those who would soon be registered voters.

Fourth, every teacher, college instructor, and college professor you know could have told you that there were Bernie Sanders loyalists sitting in their classrooms.  One of my former students told me point blank that there were elements of Socialism in Sanders’ message.  There’s that terrifying word: Socialism.   Yet, she said, that is exactly what drew her to him. Now, none of these young people are talking about Cold War Era Soviet-style Socialism where the government owns and controls everything. Yet, they do think certain protections (like having healthcare and not drowning in Student Loan Debt) ought to be things that they shouldn’t have to constantly worry about. It is no accident that newly elected Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is defined as a Democratic Socialist.  I met and meet young Democratic Socialists with a variety of ideas almost every day. Yet, you can’t find any career Democratic politicians willing to examine this particular pulse in the youngest voting population in this country.  (And here’s another sidebar to remember: It wasn’t Democratic or Republican members of Congress that put the National Rifle Association on notice; it was a group of high school students, led by 18-year-old Emma González, who formed the March For Our Lives Movement because they are weary of seeing their classmates shot to death because some crazy guy could easily purchase an assault rifle. They are currently going around the country registering people to vote.)

Finally, young people, and young women in particular, are about to reshape American politics in ways no Democrat over the age of 50 has ever seen. These young people do not engage in Twitter wars of words (a waste of time, if there ever was one).  They don’t respond to or post every ridiculous comment our current president says.  They are back on the streets.  They are knocking on doors. They are going to places of business and schools and talking to people face-to-face instead of doing what lazy ass politicians do: namely, annoying everybody with robocalls. They are doing things not always covered by the news media. They have also discovered and perfected methods of campaigning where they don’t need as much money to get elected as the long term Congress People they intend to replace; and not a single current member of Congress can tell you how these young people are accomplishing any of this.  So Democrats, if you want to regain some political momentum, you need to stop acting like young people have nothing to tell you. They do.  You also need to stop thinking that the only way you should leave public office is in a coffin or an urn.  For God’s sake, please retire with some grace; and remember our young people are not supposed to think just like you and I.  If you care anything at all about them and about our future, you might consider that they are the future. They will outlive and out last us all.  They will turn the tide.

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.

 

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.

 

Rituals, Theatre, and Transformative Goodness

Adinkra symbol of transformation.

Adinkra symbol of transformation.

By Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © 2017 by Leslye Joy Allen

The first time I met theatre expert Paul Carter Harrison, he distinguished “theatre” from “drama” as theatre being the story that always contained some form of ritual and symbolism whereas drama simply told a story.  It was a bit more complicated than that, but I still remember that discussion.  It made me think of essays I read about how theatre began among us humans as rituals and performances designed to appease the gods or God.  Theatre was birthed in belief, in belief in something higher and more potent than ourselves, and that we all had a responsibility to this entity or entities higher than ourselves.  This thought has popped in my head off and on for the last two weeks…and today I think I discovered why this notion of ritual as theatre and theatre as ritual all designed to bring favor from the gods or God is so potent and timely…

Today I met a fiftyish White woman from Minnesota who told me that several cities in Minnesota solved their transportation problems by “building freeways through Black neighborhoods and business districts.”  Then she said, “they destroyed those neighborhoods.  There is a documentary about this but I can’t remember the name of it.” I then mentioned a former classmate who was writing his thesis about such a topic.  She was genuinely angry about it and talked about how unethical it all was.  “I’ll take Atlanta’s traffic to that kind of destruction any day of the week,” she said.

After she and I exchanged a few mutual comments about the late Minneapolis-born Prince, she asked me what was my discipline and I told her “History” and that my dissertation topic was about theatre.  Then she mentioned the Penumbra Theatre in Saint Paul, Minnesota and our conversation was off to the races.  I also had a conversation with a young man from South Africa that had moved here and lived on my side of town.  “I love it, here!” he said.  He and I had a conversation that ranged from the problems of the old South African government to recent politics to the status of women.  He also mentioned that he had a hard time with sexism since everyone came from the body of a woman.  I reiterated that I always meet talented, respectful young Black people every single day.  So what does this have to do with theatre and rituals?

Here is something I would like you to think about, and it ties in with theatre as ritual, and the rituals found in theatre and everyday life.  When one attends the theatre, one typically leaves with a different perspective.  No one leaves a theatre the same way that they came in.  Sitting in the dark of that theatre and watching performers suspend reality and portray characters other than themselves is in and of itself a ritual for performer and audience member alike.  One is literally transformed by witnessing what is done on stage.  One can get into the habit of going to the theatre, but a ritual is not a habit.  A habit is something you do almost by reflex, almost involuntarily, and it may or may not have any particular benefit to you.  You just do it because, well, you’re in the habit of doing it; and that might not be a bad thing, but a habit does not originate from the same source as a ritual.

A ritual is deliberately done; it follows a deliberate pattern in order to produce specific results.  Rituals create order, or at least make us feel that there is some order to the universe and the world we inhabit even in the midst of chaos, which is why human beings created rituals in the first place; and also why human beings can become so alarmed when certain rituals are not followed to the letter.

Today I discovered my own ritual.  Someone asked me how I end up having these stimulating conversations with people who are often complete strangers like the woman from Minnesota and the young man from South Africa.  Well, maybe it is because I don’t really meet strangers.  Yet, it is also due to my determination to not become a news junkie that feeds on bad news and controversy.  And to avoid bad news and controversy these days, one must deliberately turn off the television and internet and smart phone, and look for the truth, or at least find some balance between the real truth and the truth that is often manufactured for us.  So consider this…

The word “theatre” comes from a Greek word meaning “the seeing place.”  The seeing place was where you went to witness performers deliver the truth and wisdom.  Well, the truth is that, in spite of what you see in the media, there are so many nice, thoughtful people out there. Most of these people will never be on the news.  You have to look for them where you are; and you often find what you deliberately look for.  Make that a ritual.  Àṣé.

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.