I AM…

 

(for Billie, who insisted that I boldly say, “I AM,” and for Nevaina (nih-von-yah)—one of many actors who were once under Billie’s direction—who reminded me to say it even louder)

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 am Thomas and Syble’s daughter.

I am the granddaughter of Lorena and George and Minnie and Will.

I am a historian.

I am an intellectual.

I am a dramaturge and patron of theatre and the arts.

I am a Jazz fan.

I am a Johnny Mathis fanatic.

I am eloquent.

I am also a great procrastinator.

I am one who is often impatient.

I am one who does not like braggarts or pretenders.

I am a good and loyal friend.

I am also one who, some times, does not listen.

I am a woman who will drop you like a bad habit if you lack empathy or fidelity.

I am an environmentalist.

I am a lover of animals and nature.

I am a lover of children.

I am a Black Nationalist because it makes sense to take care of your home and your people first.

I am a woman that does not deal easily with shallow people.

I am a woman that prefers simplicity.

I am a woman who is fond of the exotic.

I am a woman who has learned how to say, “No” the hard way.

I am a woman who does not like playing small.

I am a woman who never discounts what other people have to go through to do whatever it is that they need or have to do…which is why I am deeply offended when other people discount what I go through.

I am a woman that dislikes men and women who try to prove their worth with things rather than demonstrate who they are by what they believe in and what they put into practice.

I am a woman who would prefer the company of a poet over that of a stockbroker or the company of a musician over that of an accountant or the company of a college professor over that of a CEO of a Fortune 500 company…

I am my mother and father’s daughter.

— Leslye Joy Allen 

Copyright © 2016 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.

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Frank Wittow’s Legacy…Nevaina’s Dream

by Leslye Joy Allen

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

The late great actor-director-educator Frank Wittow remains one of my favorite figures in Atlanta’s rich theatre history.  His work with the late, great Georgia Allen was second to none—He placed this multi-talented Black woman in a non-servant role on an Atlanta stage in the early 1960s when the city and indeed the nation were still grappling with the idea that maybe Black folk were more than just the servants of White folk. Georgia Allen had appeared in numerous films and theatre productions throughout the nation and on the campuses of Spelman and Clark Colleges, and Wittow was wise enough to recognize Allen’s superior gifts.  He was simply a different kind of White man. There were no syrupy and useless White liberal platitudes about race relations spewing out of his mouth—he just did what he wanted to do.

Now, Allen predated Wittow’s arrival in Atlanta and she had a much longer career, and to fully honor her contributions to all of the arts and to education would require writing a tome. So, I will save that project for a later date.  Much like Allen, however, Wittow directed, trained, and mentored some of the best performers on the planet and took theatre performances into Atlanta Public Schools throughout much of his life.  He did this almost to the day he died in 2006.  One of his younger protégées had the benefit of his training…

Her name is Nevaina Rhodes—her first name is pronounced “Nih-Von-yah” like “lasagna.”  The first time I saw her perform, I did not know she had any affiliation with Wittow.  When she told me her basic philosophy about acting there was something refreshingly new about her approach to her craft, but also something rather familiar…Let me explain…

You see, when I was growing up in Atlanta, an actor, a musician, a poet, an academic, an intellectual, was simply part of the community in which we all lived.  Importantly, you had to participate in the arts and the humanities, and it did not matter if you had talent or an exceptional intellect or not.  While I adore and admire many younger performers and scholars—and by younger, I mean anyone born after the Baby Boom—I find an increasing number of them who are quite insular; they have fewer connections to each other or with the folk in the communities where they live.  Unlike the Atlanta of my childhood, in recent years I have attended far too many functions filled with musicians, actors, poets, filmmakers, and historians and I end up being the only person in the room who actually knows everybody in that room…

Well, to make a long story short, Nevaina’s conceptualization of Real Actors Workshop (RAW) makes it open to amateur and professional alike.  Her basic theory is that whether you are a professional actor or not, all of us humans act and perform in certain ways depending on the circumstances.  In other words, she insists that, we all are actors. Although she is a North Carolinian by birth, her approach feels much like the Atlanta of my youth, where the long theatre traditions on the campuses of our Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and people like Georgia Allen and Frank Wittow made certain that theatre reached who it was supposed to reach—the people. We were not a community of strangers…everybody knew everybody, which is the way it should be.

I should add that I am writing this to inform you that Nevaina is not only a dazzling performer and an amazing drama coach, but she is also a real survivor. Native Atlantans, in particular, love people with a strong work ethic and those who bounce back when things do not always go as planned.  Less than five years ago, Nevaina miraculously and fully recovered from a stroke that could have easily killed her; and she remained positive while she also endured some personal losses that probably would have destroyed some weaker souls.

Today her Real Actors Workshop (RAW) is headquartered at Dream Café, Atlanta’s first cafe and empowerment lounge, which is owned by Nevaina and her partners, Jay White and Stevie Baggs.  Dream Café‘s premise is simple.  It is designed to be a place where artists, intellectuals, young and old folk can meet and greet and talk and achieve their dreams, over coffee and healthy food.  This concept and these young owners have my support not only because it feels familiar to me, but because it feels right…and it also feels rather cyclical…

Now, I am aware that my hometown has changed.  Nothing stays the same, nor should it stay the same.  Yet, there are some core elements that we must never lose—namely, the ability to connect with each other and exchange ideas.  Not even a semblance of community can survive if we lose this ability.  So, I am proud to call Nevaina a friend. It has been a great privilege to watch her perform; and I have been encouraged by her intellect, her big smile, and her big spirit…I am also certain that Wittow (and Allen) are watching her from that place where great souls go when they leave this earth…So, in honor of them and in honor of future generations, go visit the Dream Café, and write your dream on the wall. Àṣé!

To learn more about Real Actors Workshop (RAW), and Nevaina’s distinguished career as an actor, drama coach, and public speaker, click here: Nevaina Rhodes Inspirational Speaker and Drama Therapy Specialist.

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.

A Thought for the Old and New Year

By Leslye Joy Allen                                                                                                     Historian, Educator, Theatre and Jazz Advocate & Consultant, Ph.D. Candidate

Copyright © 2014 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

One of the first things that came to mind shortly after Christmas and before the New Year was how much my Mom and Dad would have been thrilled and proud that a great film like 12 Years a Slave received great reviews and had enjoyed large viewing audiences.  I would have heard a litany of what they remembered about their childhoods and how far we Black folks have come.  And if they were still alive they would surely have warned me not to hyperventilate about whether or not Santa Claus was Black or some of the foolish and racist slips of the tongue that seem to dominate our current news cycles on most days.

Strangely, my mind goes back to that one scene in the film 12 Years a Slave where after a slave has literally dropped dead from exhaustion while laboring in the fields, you see the slaves standing around a gravesite that they have prepared for their fallen comrade.  Suddenly, a slave woman begins singing the old Negro spiritual “Roll, Jordan, Roll.”  Then all of the slaves joined in and they sang with a joyous abandon.  At this moment in the movie theater, I completely lost my composure.  I wept so loudly that I had to place my hand over my mouth to muffle the sound.  For days, I wondered why that scene—and not one of the other more horrible scenes where someone was beaten or tortured—caused me to cry like a two-year-old toddler.  Then it came to me.  This was a gift.  The gift was not simply my ancestors’ songs, but their decision that they had a right to sing their songs.

Their gift feels as familiar as a book of black poetry or history or the first time my parents took me to a Jazz concert or to see the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre or to a Broadway play.  Afterwards, they would always inform me that I must never forget that it was my people that had created the artistry and creative offerings that I had just witnessed.  The lesson was simple—I could perpetually cry about what white folks had done to my people or I could fight for and celebrate what my people had done for themselves and for me, all of which is a balancing act.  Yes, one must call out and fight against racism.  Yet, one cannot allow it too much space in one’s head, lest one descend into perpetual victimhood.  “How much of your energy are you gonna’ give THEM,” Daddy would ask without blinking?

I wept in the dark of that movie theatre, as the slaves on the screen sang with abandon and rejoicing.  It is difficult to count one’s blessings when the world and everyone in it seems to be your enemy.  Yet, that is exactly what the slaves did.  My slave ancestors did not sing with joy because they were happy and content, but rather because the singing allowed them to reclaim their humanity, to reclaim their right to joy.  No degree of inhumane treatment routinely meted out to them by white slave masters could make them surrender their own humanity, or their very human need for joyousness and a belief in the future even when that future was uncertain.  Their gift is still a gift that keeps on giving if you are willing to claim it.  This is what I hope to remember now, and in the New Year.

Peace.

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.

Artistic and Intellectual Dangers: Two Scenarios

By Leslye Joy Allen                                                                                                     Historian, Educator, Theatre and Jazz Advocate & Consultant, Ph.D. Candidate

Copyright © 2013 by Leslye Joy Allen.  All Rights Reserved.

Scenario One:

Although it now seems ages ago, I remember one of my former classmates told me something quite revelatory shortly before my graduation from Agnes Scott College.  She told me that when my classes were over, and I had turned in that last paper, I was going to make a discovery:  I would discover my reading and analysis addiction.  I laughed.  After all, I thought, we both were older when we returned to school to complete our college degrees.  Were we not naturally immune to the kind of excesses that affected much younger women?  Agnes Scott’s student body was and still is well over a fourth non-traditional age students, meaning students over the age of 25.

The benefit of attending school with students of various ages was that we all learned something from each other.  I was a History major and every semester I was usually assigned anywhere from 18 to 22 books to read in semesters that were usually no longer than 15 or 16 weeks.  When my classmate (who graduated before me) told me that after graduation she would get up at 6:00 AM just to go out to fetch the morning newspaper to read, I was certain she was telling one of her funny stories.  I was wrong!

After I turned in my final paper for the Senior History Colloquium, I lounged around for a couple of days and then it started: the hunt for reading material.  Now, I already owned over a thousand books.  I suddenly found myself opening books and re-reading chapters of books I had read years ago; then magazines, scholarly journals, and the TV guide.  I read a couple of stage plays, including the stage directions.  Was it possible for me to just stop reading and just let my brain relax for a moment?  Was it possible for me to pause and not do what I was trained to do?  Yet, if I did read something, could I read it just for pleasure?

Like most “Scotties,” my classmate gave me some good advice.  She said we all know that most people need to read more.  We tell our children to read books; and there is a genuine crisis in how little some people read.  Yet, she said, anything you cannot turn off for a while is controlling you, not the other way around.  Reading is absolutely necessary and essential to any good education.  Yet, when you have to struggle to allow yourself to take a break, there is a problem.  Reading and deep analysis must always be self-directed.  Deep analysis can become ineffective once it becomes an involuntary reflex.

Scenario Two:

On a few occasions, I have attended stage plays with actors.  Most of these actors I love to death.  We have sat in the audience making small talk before the show began and then WHAM!  Less than two minutes into the production, the same actors that I love were analyzing every thing:  “I wonder why the set designer placed that chair over there?”  “How did the stylist get that woman’s hair to look like that?”  After the play was over, the analysis really kicked into high gear:  “I thought that this character should have entered from the left instead of the right.”  “It was a great play, but I would have placed the intermission in a different place.”  “Why was that odd sculpture on the table in the corner?”  Soon I was thinking to myself, “Why, oh why, did I not just come to see this play by myself?”

Now, to be fair, all actors, playwrights, directors, and etcetera have to analyze plays like this.  If they do not do this, they risk overlooking important details that might compromise the integrity of their future performances and productions.  It is an exercise in understanding what works on a stage and what does not work on a stage.  They cannot take anything for granted: the lighting, the set, costumes, particular moments in the script that they believe need to grab the audience’s attention.  Yet, there is a problem when the criticisms and evaluations seem to run on automatic pilot.  There is also a problem in not being able to simply sit in an audience and just enjoy the show.

So why are these two scenarios a bit dangerous?  After all, there is every reason to complain about the lack of intellectual and artistic stimulation in society as a whole.  Most of us with any degree of brains knows that putting a book in a child’s hands or taking them to see a play or to a concert is far better than giving them $200 sneakers and video games.  Most of us have witnessed the performance that pandered to the audience for cheap laughs or sank into a ridiculous melodrama designed to do nothing more than make people weep.  We have all read the book or essay that seemed written purely for titillation.  We do not need any of that.  Yet…

The danger in never being able to simply watch a performance just for sheer enjoyment is dangerously close to losing the joy of viewing performance art altogether.  The danger in not being able to momentarily, put the book down or not being able to stop analyzing everything is also very close to becoming entirely disconnected from the very people you wish to reach and teach.  When you watch what they watch or read what they read, do you do so through their eyes and ears?  How can you know what the people expect or need to know or want to know or want to experience or need to experience unless you occasionally JOIN THEM?

So, take a moment and just chill.  Every once and awhile, when you read, simply drink in whatever you are reading, and leave your criticisms, questions, and analysis for some later time.  If you are watching a play or listening to a piece of music, just watch, just listen, just enjoy.  Pause and try to recall when everything that you know now (or think you know now) was once perfectly fresh and new to you.  Take that occasional moment to deliberately NOT review, but to renew.  Then, get back to work!

Peace.

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.