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.

Wine and Guns

by Leslye Joy Allen

Wine and Guns

This blog is going to be really short…Last week I went to purchase my seasonings, cooking oils and wines at Trader Joe’s on Monroe Drive here in Atlanta. I had a conversation with the man checking out my groceries. After talking about some of my favorite Rosés, he said, “You know, we almost didn’t get a license to sell wine because we’re so close to Grady High School.”   Henry W. Grady High School’s Stadium is approximately 217 feet from Trader Joe’s door; about a one-minute walk.

As we began to talk about the problem of underage drinking, I fully understood the logic of lawmakers.  We don’t ever want to encourage underage drinking or make it any easier for teenagers to buy alcohol.  But later after the March For Our Lives rallies, I decided to look up the legal age for purchasing and owning firearms.  You can buy and legally own a gun at the age of 18 in the state of Georgia.

Now this is not a blog to condemn gun owners who never bother anyone. Yet, it does make one wonder why anyone 18-years-of-age (or older) needs and has the right to buy an assault rifle which is primarily designed to kill as many people as quickly as possible. I’m not going to go off on a tangent about the NRA, except to say that a group of kids has managed to put them on notice in a way that no member of Congress or the Senate ever has.  But here it is, at least in Georgia, you can legally own a gun, any kind of gun, before you can legally buy an alcoholic beverage. Just let that sink in.

#NoMore

 

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 Word About “A Wrinkle in Time”

 

By Leslye Joy Allen

This is a musing about the film A Wrinkle in Time directed by Ava DuVernay.  This is not exactly a review, but it is a set of thoughts that happened as I read the mixed reviews; and then watched the energy and wanderlust of children I saw in the movie theater watching the film.  I’m not going to spoil it for you, but A Wrinkle in Time is not the same rollercoaster that Black Panther is. These are two different films. Yet, it is ironic (and heartwarming) that Ryan Coogler, the director of Black Panther, has designated Ava DuVernay his “Big Sister.”  Coogler wrote a beautiful public letter to her; and he also noted in an interview that Ava had to go through some mess that she won’t ever talk about publicly.  I know what Coogler—who I plan to adopt as my son if his parents will share him—meant when he said that Ava DuVernay had gone through some stuff…She is the first Black woman to helm a big budget film and she was adapting Madeleine L’Engle’s children’s book that has been in circulation since the early 1960s. And L’Engle herself had to suffer through 26 rejections from publishers and self-righteous Christians that disliked the fact that she aligned Jesus with the Buddha and other “saviors” in the same book.  So go figure?

Now with that said, let me tell you what I got from A Wrinkle in Time.  First, the hero (or heroine) of the story is a little Black girl named “Meg Murray” (played by the incredible Storm Reid).  Meg Murray is the adopted daughter of an interracial couple, both of whom are scientists.  The first thing you notice about her is that her father’s disappearance is weighing her down socially. Both she and her younger brother “Charles Wallace  Murray” (portrayed by the adorable Deric McCabe) are getting into trouble at school.  Meg wears glasses; the kids tease her; and her grades have slipped.  What also shines through is her love for her father and her occasional doubts about whether or not she will ever find him.  Eventually, she heads out with the help of “Mrs Which,” “Mrs Who,” and “Mrs Whatsit”**, with her little brother “Charles Wallace” and friend “Calvin” (played by Levi Z. Miller) along for the ride.

Before the film was over, I watched little girls and boys of all shades and ethnicities in the movie theater watch a little Black girl literally save the world.  WE have never had a Black girl be this kind of hero in a film.  I watched two little girls get up in the theater and dance their own little dance to Sade, who came out of semi-retirement to lend her musical gifts to this film. I watched a young 40-something Black father sit with his 11-year-old daughter; and I watched him glance at her like my own father did when he was watching to see if I was enjoying a movie.  I had my moments of nostalgia and I would be lying if I said you shouldn’t bring along a few tissues.  Yet, what the film delivers most is staunch warnings against uniformity, against not believing in yourself, and against making decisions solely based on fear.  Before it’s over you think about everything from those times when you were jealous, when you were mean to someone or when you underestimated others or yourself. It is, as one person wrote, “A love letter to children.” And in this moment it was a little Black girl that delivered it.

Now, a few reviewers got it right when they said that this film is a family movie where kids are the primary and central audience.  (A reviewer named Mark Hughes wrote an incredibly insightful review of A Wrinkle in Time for Forbes Magazine which honestly surprised me. He thought so much more about the intersections of race and gender than most white or black movie reviewers that I have ever read, so I read what he wrote twice.)  Children need their own space and their own entertainment.  In an increasingly ADULT-centric world of self-absorbed adults, it is mandatory.  But for me, the film meant so much more.

I haven’t been a little Black girl for a long time.  I’m now an AARP Black woman.  But like “Meg Murray,” I know what it means when your father believes in your intellectual abilities.  We still live in a male-dominated world; and with less than 7 percent of CEOs being female and only 14 percent of films in Hollywood directed by women and even fewer directed by women of color, the numbers reinforce this domination, which is why director Ryan Coogler’s support of Ava DuVernay and his acknowledgement of what he knows she and women go through matters tremendously.  WE don’t get this kind of support and acknowledgement too often.  And girls and women get judged all the time based on nothing more than their physical appearance.  In this film we see what that looks like and how it feels. Importantly, Black women and girls who are assertive, who give themselves permission to be righteously angry, and insist on their right to take charge of their lives are often called the typical “Angry Black Woman” or worse; they’re/we’re called “B*tches.”

In A Wrinkle in Time, Meg Murray’s alleged faults become what she uses to change the world she inhabits. Those faults become her strengths. The film, like few others, gives young females the right to have flaws like all other human beings. For a change, and for a couple of hours, little Black girls in particular, and girls in general are not forced into those tragic two-dimensional “either/or” boxes. Instead, it becomes okay, even if only in fantasy, to be exactly who one is rather than some stultifying version of what the world and society expects one to be.  That’s all I’m going to tell you except take a child with you to see this film. If you have forgotten what it feels like to be a kid, I am so very sorry for your tragic loss.  Kids have an uncanny way of seeing things clearly when the adults miss the lessons or avoid the lessons altogether.  That’s why I love children and hang around them every chance I get…Without them, I/we would be amoral and dumb as a box of rocks!

**Author Madeleine L’Engle insisted that the abbreviation “Mrs” have no period in her book A Wrinkle in Time.  That idiosyncracy has been respected in this blog.

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.