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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Guide My Feet…

by Leslye Joy Allen

“Guide My Feet”
(Traditional Negro Spiritual)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright © 2015 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

I am grateful that my late Mama and Daddy taught me our old African tradition of ancestor worship.   That worship was as much a part of my childhood as was the old Western Judeo-Christian tradition…Now, for those who know me well, you know that I can be the most severe critic of ministers and organized religion(s) that too often fail to act in the best interests of the flocks they claim to serve, lead and protect.  Yet, that is another blog.  Save your breath.  I am only responding to the message(s) sent to me…

I occasionally re-read the poem that my friend actor-poet-writer Charles Reese wrote immediately following the death of my nearly 92-year-old mother in early 2013.  In homage to her, he referred to my Mama as “a Queen,” but he also referred to her as “our newest ancestor.” — Nothing in “Syble’s Poem” struck me as much as that line about her becoming an ancestor.  For people who know my late Mama, they know that certain songs remained in her repertoire right up to the very end of her days here on earth.

I do not need to recount the tragedies that have happened to Black folk in the last few weeks or even over the last year.  Yet, for the last couple of days I have been unable to get the old Negro Spiritual “Guide My Feet” out of my head.  Composed and sung in the caldron of American chattel slavery and passed down from generation-to-generation by my people, I have been singing it and humming it off-and-on for the last couple of months.  At first, I thought I was going crazy.  I must confess that I had a similar experience with “You Gotta to Move,” a Gospel/Blues song composed by Mississippi Fred McDowell.  A few months earlier in the year, I was singing “You Gotta Move” in an impromptu singing session that followed a gathering of my Sistahs that was a combination of good coffee, prayer, testimony, and truth-talking with each other at Dream Café…A few days after that meeting, I ran into a brother in a wheelchair who was singing the same song on a corner in downtown Atlanta.  That had to mean something, I thought…

When I went to my cousin Dexter’s graduation from Morehouse College this past May 2015, the class Valedictorian and Summa Cum Laude graduate Jerek Sharrod Brown burst into “Guide My Feet” before he began his inspirational and spellbinding Valedictory address.   His voice in song was an unexpected, but welcome and perfectly poetic pleasure.  I felt something inside of me shift and move when Brown sang and when he spoke.  I felt something shift again when my cousin Dexter’s name was called as a new graduate of Morehouse College. After all, I remembered when I first held him in my arms when he was still an infant…

Today I decided to see whether the lyrics to “Guide My Feet” would come up in a general search on Google.  It did.  Now, usually when something comes up in an internet search, I typically download it and then email it to myself just to make sure that I have a couple of copies of my research findings in two different places.  Yet, something strange and beautiful happened after I performed my usual ritual…

When I clicked the email button to send my Google search findings to myself, the email did not pull up my personal email address.  Instead, it opened my late Mama’s email address which was and remains a secondary email account affiliated with my own primary account…Sometimes the Creator knows that you need a little help.  Sometimes the ancestors are talking to you…

There are moments when no matter how bad things are or may seem, you simply do not worry and you no longer expend energy on people who do not work in your and your own people’s best interests.   I have reached that moment. More than we know or acknowledge, the ancestors speak to us in small but important ways if WE only listen, if WE only listen…So, Thank You Mama and Daddy and all the known and unknown ancestors and saints…Thank You Goddess…Thank You God…Peace and Blessings.  Àṣé…

Guide my Feet,

while I run this race.

Guide my Feet,

while I run this race.

Guide my feet,

while I run this race,

For I don’t want to run this race in vain.

 

Copyright © 2015 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 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. All Rights Reserved.

 

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.