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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A New Definition of Brother…

Copyright © 2016 by Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

“Self Portrait” by Copyright © 2015 Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

“Self Portrait” by Copyright © 2015 Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

I had to learn the hard way not to rely solely on

American-born brothers who

talk plenty smack and talk plenty righteousness about

how we Black folk have work to do, but at the same time demand

that I keep my mouth shut about the mess that affects me as a woman and all 

that infects us/we as a people…

I had to learn the hard way that many of my brothers did not

arrive speaking with American accents, but

some had/have foreign accents so thick that I

need(ed) someone to decipher what they were saying, but

what they said mattered less than what they did…

I learned that plenty Josés and Juans and Ahmads and Maliks and

Etiennes and Lúcios and Willies and Sams

 of my world

and my hemisphere

weighed in on matters that affected my life as a Black woman when

so many other so-called brothers assumed that my problems as a Black female

would be handled by someone else or

handled by me by myself…

I had to learn the hard way that my definition of “brother” needed to remain

outside of my typical geographic boundaries of what I/We call the USA

and we either grab hold of each other as kith and kin

or we drown in the waters waiting for

some definition that none of us could live with anyway.

                                  – Leslye Joy Allen, Copyright © 2016. 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 authored by Leslye Joy Allen must contain a direct reference to this hyperlink: http://leslyejoyallen.com with Leslye Joy Allen clearly stated as the author.  Postings or blogs placed here by other writers should clearly reference those writers.  All Rights Reserved.

 

Saying Goodbye to Dr. Kuhn

By Leslye Joy Allen

“Self Portrait” by Copyright © 2015 Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

“Self Portrait” by Copyright © 2015 Leslye Joy Allen. All Rights Reserved.

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

I am writing this tribute now, because I have to mentally recalibrate, take a brief break over the holidays and get back to work on writing my dissertation. Dr. Kuhn would not want anything less than that.   Dr. Clifford Matthew Kuhn, Associate Professor of History at Georgia State University and the first Executive Director of the Oral History Association joined the ancestors the second week of November.  He was 63-years-old…he was also my Dissertation Advisor…

He was…there is that word: was.  You would think that as a historian I would be accustomed to the past tense.  Yet, referring to him as anything other than vibrantly and intellectually alive is difficult. Preparing for the Georgia State University Memorial for Dr. Clifford Matthew Kuhn on December 13, 2015 is harder than I ever could imagine.  I first met him when he was preparing the centennial of the 1906 Atlanta Race Riot back in early 2006…

Dr. Glenn T. Eskew introduced us because he recalled my telling him that my late maternal grandmother, born in 1886, was a 20-year-old student at then Clark Normal School (later Clark College, now Clark Atlanta University) when the campuses of Atlanta’s Historically Black Colleges became the refuge for so many of the Black victims of the Atlanta Race Riot.  Dr. Kuhn was delighted to find a graduate student such as myself that had a personal story that I could tell about this particularly painful moment in Atlanta’s history.  Dr. Clarissa Myrick Harris, who partnered with Dr. Kuhn, interviewed me while filmmaker Ms. Bailey Barash filmed it for posterity.  I was proud and humbled to contribute my grandmother’s story.

Nearly everything I know about Oral History, I learned from Dr. Kuhn: how to get people to talk about their lives; how to make sure they know that they are not obligated to tell their stories; how to make sure that I, the historian and interviewer, did not and will not ever exploit their memories; how to truly listen. I remember everything he taught me.

One of the last things he said to me was that he was so proud of a brief and recent assignment I had in the Georgia State University Library’s Digital Collections where I conducted four interviews for the Planning Atlanta Project. He recommended me for that position and I was glad that I did well and did not let him down…

As I prepare myself, as best I can, to attend Georgia State University’s Memorial Celebration for Dr. Kuhn, I fondly recall a conversation where we discovered that both of us loved Jazz.  Not long after that conversation, there were a few times when we were supposed to be doing something academic, but we drifted into a deep discussion about everyone from Duke Ellington to Nina Simone to Wayne Shorter to Ahmad Jamal.  Yet, that is natural for us historians.  WE have to be aware of everything, so we often look at and listen to everything.  Our conversations were often mixtures of him talking lovingly about his wife Kathie Klein and his two sons Josh and Gabe Klein-Kuhn and History and Jazz.   I will miss that…  

So, below is one for the late, great historian and scholar Dr. Clifford Matthew Kuhn: a video of the great Jazz pianist Ahmad Jamal playing the classic “Poinciana.”  When the percussionists in Jamal’s quartet go into full swing around the time 4:53, I found myself ferociously patting my foot to the infectious rhythms and crying at the same time. Àṣé.

 

 

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.

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.