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 Good Day In Court

by Leslye Joy Allen

Recently I went to court on a routine traffic offense.  Last year, I pleaded “Not Guilty” to this offense and requested a trial.  There is/was no way in hell I was going to roll over for some cop sitting near a corner on a street where the Stop Sign was and remains completely obscured by an oak tree.  Well, after the City of Atlanta finally transferred my ticket to Fulton County Courts—for those of you who don’t know, most of our city is located in Fulton County, Georgia—I arrived on time and anticipated having a long stay.  Well, something different happened.  The Solicitor General of Fulton County, Keith E. Gammage walked in the courtroom.

Gammage told all of us that we were the first group to participate in a brand new program.  This was its first day.  He noted that many of our tickets could possibly be dismissed, and that the Solicitor General’s Office wanted to prosecute real criminals rather than tie up its time with cases involving minor offenses like “failing to yield.” Then the next thing he said floored me.  All offenses for everyone’s minor traffic violations would be reduced to a fine of $75 dollars rather than the $250 to $450 plus dollars that most of us expected to pay if found guilty. My fine, had I been required to pay it, would have been $265.  Gammage stood there and answered everyone’s questions about what plea they should enter to what did they have to do if they couldn’t pay that $75 on their day in court.  Everyone with this $75 fine would have a full 30 days to pay it.

While seated in court and waiting for my name to be called, I made small talk with a Spelman College alum who was also a teacher.  I told her about my dissertation research; and when I discovered that she was a Kindergarten teacher, the conversation shifted to my late Mama (also a kindergarten teacher) and we laughed about some of the crazy things that five-year-olds can do and say.  I mentioned to her that I voted for Keith E. Gammage for Solicitor General after attending a conference devoted to the late Sandra Bland, who tragically died in jail for failing to put her blinker on.  Bland was ordered out of her car by a cop that resented her asking him why she had to put her cigarette out.  My brilliant performance artist-writer-educator-poet-actor-activist-sister/daughter Talitha Anyabwelé organized a “Sandy’s Day” program in her honor.  A young Black woman on Anyabwelé’s panel of speakers named Anana Harris Parris brought up Keith E. Gammage’s name as someone who wanted to help straighten out our criminal justice system.  This same young woman, who worked for a law firm, recalled in vivid and horrid detail how she had been stopped by police one night right in front of her parents’ home when she was a college student. Ms. Anana Harris Parris was physically searched and had her breasts groped by a male police officer right in front of her home.  So when Anana Harris Parris brought up the name Keith E. Gammage as a young Black man trying to do the right thing, I remembered his name…So

as I sat in court, Mr. Gammage looked in my direction, walked over to me and said, “Didn’t I meet you before?”  I honestly don’t know why or how he remembered me.  I told him we did meet over a year ago at a coffee shop in our neighborhood when he was out campaigning to become the new Solicitor General of Fulton County.  We exchanged pleasantries and he handed me his business card.  He resumed wallking around the courtroom.  I turned back to talk with my Spelman sister and told her that I thought he was an impressive young Black brother trying to do the right thing.  She confessed that she was worried about being in court all day.  I totally understood her point of view. When you plead “not guilty” or don’t just pay the fine, the City of Atlanta and Fulton County drags the process out.  Just as she was beginning to worry about having to go out to put money in the parking meter, Keith E. Gammage pulled her aside to speak with her.  When she came back to where I was seated she said that he found out she was a school teacher and since her offense was so minor it was dismissed.  “After all,” he said, “Your money is best spent on the things you need to teach our kids.”  Everyone in that courtroom had only $75 to pay (well below the $250 to $450+ original fines) within 30 days or no fine to pay at all; and for a change being an educator was treated with the respect that it deserves.  Remember the name of Keith E. Gammage because this court date/my court date was one of the very few times it was pleasant.

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.

ALLternative News

By Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © 2017 by Leslye Joy Allen

(The following blog is something to think about in the aftermath of the recent U. S. presidential election.)

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(a news icon, a mono vector symbol)

Today I spoke with a graduate student named Wardah.  She is originally from Karachi, Pakistan.  In the course of our conversation, I told her one of my favorite professors is originally from Lahore, Pakistan.  As I mentioned his activism, she soon mentioned the string of terrorist attacks that have recently rattled Pakistan.  She said, “You know, when I am home, I’m not afraid of these attacks. But when I am a long way from home and I hear about these attacks, I become extremely worried and afraid.”  She was young and energetic and polite, and it rubbed me the wrong way that I missed this news about Pakistan. As our conversation ended, I wished her good luck with her studies and she wished me good luck with finishing my dissertation. I frequently read online foreign newspapers, but this subject slipped passed me.

I bring up my conversation with her so that you—whoever you are—can think about whether you heard anything about these attacks in Pakistan on  any American news outlets. Did these attacks appear in the news feeds that run at the bottom of your television screens?  And if you did see these news stories, how much did the stories resonate with you?  You do not need to answer these questions.  This is not a test or some trick.  I do, however, offer a suggestion.

So many people are either upset about our current president or glad our current president is in the White House or spend much of their time venting about what he will or will not do, that they do not bother to look anywhere else or at anything else.  Like a record player’s needle stuck in a damaged part of a long-playing record album, they repeat the same fears over and over again. Are we being told the truth?  Occasionally, we are told the truth.  Yet, the truth is, the world does not begin and end at the White House; it never has. This unfortunate preoccupation with “fake news” (which too many people are willing to accept as fact) must not make us blind to the fact that there is “alternative news.”  What is my definition of “alternative news”?  Alternative news is simply news from other sources, typically foreign sources, that discuss other matters happening in the rest of the world, but also news outlets that discuss events that happen in the United States that our stateside news sources conveniently and routinely ignore. It is news that affects us ALL whether we see our connections to the rest of the world’s peoples or not.

It is quite easy to rant about a man that many of us believe will do serious harm to human rights, democracy, and the U. S. Constitution.  Yet, if you have been paying attention you should know that he is not going to change any more than a leopard can change its spots.  Worried?  Worry is certain.  Yet, the business of living and being productive citizens requires that we invest in ourselves and our progeny, and in other people in other parts of the world, not in a man who probably does not care about any of this or any of them.  Protest and work—yes.  Paralysis and fear—no.

So, since the new occupant of our White House has described U. S. media as being irreparably biased against the new occupant of the White House, why not do yourself a favor and read some other news sources outside of the United States.  If you have not done so (or, if you do not do it on a regular basis), this might be the time to start.  Reuters, The Guardian, Al Jazeera, The Africa Report, and The Independent are just a few non-U. S. news sources that you might want to read.  ALL of them have something to say about the current state of affairs in the United States and the events happening all around the world.  You will find information you can really use; you will find opinions and analyses that might open your eyes to some other possibilities for resolving problems; and you are certain to discover that you have allies all around the world that you never knew you had. 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

 

I Celebrate Them

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By Leslye Joy Allen

Copyright © 2017 by Leslye Joy Allen.

People that know me well (and some people that barely know me), know that I am a huge advocate for theatre.  I’m a Historian, an Oral Historian, and at the insistence of actors Margo Moorer and Keith Arthur Bolden, I’m also a dramaturge.

I saw the play “FENCES” that was written by the magnificent and late August Wilson decades ago.  Wilson was that rare African-American playwright that thought the particular culture of ordinary Black Americans was as worthy of a story to tell as any other story on earth…And he was right…He was damned right…

One of the joys of being an Oral Historian is interviewing people, many of who will never see their names in a book or newspaper.  Yet, what they can tell us about any particular period of history is invaluable precisely because they will tell you the truth about how any public policy affected them or did not affect them…which is why I always celebrate them…because they are so very important…and sometimes their stories are told in books and in films when most people least expect to see their stories told…So…

I am celebrating the fact that Denzel Washington and Viola Davis have brought the stage play FENCES to life as a film…and I am not going to lecture about how many people need to go to see this film or to see plays…

And I am positively, deliriously delighted to see Viola Davis win the Golden Globe for FENCES; and I am delighted that the story of the African American FEMALE scientists who helped put a man on the moon is now brilliantly portrayed in the film HIDDEN FIGURES. Now, what I am about to say in the next few lines matters to me and to a lot of women…

It is rare when Black women (or women in general) receive any visible, tangible praise or remuneration for having brains. Women get called on for advice and to listen to people’s problems; and women get praised for their physical beauty and politeness and tact, but we rarely get praised for being smart…and we rarely get paid for being smart…

Now, while I can almost hear all the good men I personally know getting ready to challenge me on this, I want to remind everybody of one important thing…

President Barack Obama actually awarded the Medal of Freedom to Dr. Katherine Coleman Johnson who is the subject of the film HIDDEN FIGURES, a film that traces her and many other Black women’s mathematical and scientific contributions to the race to place a man on the moon.  The Medal of Freedom is the highest award a president can give to a civilian American.  Actor Taraji P. Henson portrayed Dr. Katherine Coleman Johnson in the film HIDDEN FIGURES.  However, Dr. Johnson won this Medal in December of 2015 and it was featured in a news story in the New York Times and in a few other mainstream newspapers…But

this Medal of Freedom award did not particularly resonate and become viral news with too many folks…Hell, even I stumbled on it much later in mid-2016 and I wondered why I did not know much about this Black woman, myself…But I’m not angry with anybody…and I’m not calling any names because…

When I was a little Black girl growing up in Atlanta, a beautiful and regal and talented and supremely intelligent and gloriously Black woman named Diahann Carroll received death threats from White folks via mail because she was a Black woman who portrayed a widowed nurse named “Julia Baker” on a TV show called “JULIA” back in the late 1960s…and there are folks that think I ought to forget about that…but I will not forget it…and

I, and so many other young Black girls from that era, dreamed of a day when young Black women like Ava DuVernay and Taraji P. Henson and Viola Davis and so many other glorious sisters would occupy places in the sun and tell great stories…and I know I am leaving out about three dozen names of some other wonderful sisters, but I am going to ask you all to fill in those extra blanks and go support these young women whenever you can…and I can say that after witnessing my sisters with talent and brains be too often ignored that…

I lived long enough to see enough of them shine without asking anybody’s permission…and I am going to live even longer to see them shine even more and tell some more great stories, and ask no one’s permission to do so…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.