A Groundbreaking Show Presents a New, Inclusive Vision of American Art

“Outliers” opens with a two-walled area featuring four artists, carefully, and promisingly, positioning together taught and self-taught artworks of relatively recent vintage united by color, found materials and a degree of abstraction. Three works by the outsider sculptor Judith Scott (1943-2005), known for creating evocative misshapen presences by wrapping found objects in layers of yarn , share a low platform with the work of the mainstream artist Nancy Shaver, whose delicate assemblage-boxes covered with found papers and fabrics, resemble folk-art updates. An airy assemblage by Jessica Stockholder, also mainstream, takes elegant charge of one wall. On another hangs a large provocative quilt by Rosie Lee Tompkins (1936-2006) made of found fabrics, including segments of an American flag and towels, one depicting Jesus. It has the bold color and scale of a James Rosenquist Pop art painting.

That is just the overture. Because of the volume of material here, it’s best to view the show the way Ms. Cooke intended, by tackling the three periods chronologically.

1924 to 1943: Folk Aesthetics Reconfigured

Photo

Palmer Hayden “Untitled Dreamer,” from around 1930. Credit Justin T. Gellerson for The New York Times

This section traces the growing understanding of folk art’s formal simplicity as implicitly modern. It includes the work of trained artists who were early appreciators, among them, Charles Sheeler, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Marsden Hartley, Florine Stettheimer and Elie Nadelman. There are also unfamiliar works that mesmerize, including two from around 1930: “Adam and Eve and the Garden,” a carved wood tableau by José Dolores López that buzzes with medieval sprightliness, and Palmer Hayden’s “Untitled (Dreamer),” which depicts a black man sleeping in a pose and simplified style reminiscent of both Henri Rousseau and Paul Gauguin. The man’s head rests sweetly on a fringed pillow, while a trumpet, a guitar and a drum are played by disembodied hands.

The Museum of Modern Art collected and exhibited some of the self-taught artists found here under the leadership of its founding director, Alfred H. Barr Jr. — a folk-art true believer. Perhaps the most surprising is the presence of work by Edward Hicks, the early-19th-century Quaker painter of sentient animals, including a “Peaceable Kingdom,” from about 1834, similar to the one the Modern once owned.

Photo

“Milky Way,” a 1945 dripped-paint abstraction by Janet Sobel. Credit The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA, via Art Resource, NY

At times the allegiance to chronology curtails chances to surprise. Lonnie Holley’s wonderful 1985 sculpture in carved sandstone is marooned just outside the show; it should have been with its (mostly) 1930s precursors, among the carved stone sculptures of William Edmondson and John B. Flanagan whose pairing is by now a bit tired. And there are strange missed opportunities: Milky Way,” a luminous dripped-paint abstraction from 1945 by the self-taught Ukrainian-American artist Janet Sobel, should have been paired with one by Jackson Pollock (who was aware of her work). But Ms. Cooke consistently skirts canonical figures; her vanguard artists are also in different ways outliers, except for art stars like Kara Walker and Cindy Sherman, both of whom appear later without much justification, though Ms. Sherman collects and has written about some of the outsider photographers grouped around her.

1968-1992: Commensurables and Incommensurables

Photo

Works from the 1968 to 1992 period include, forefront, John Outterbridge’s “Captive Image #1” from 1971-72. And clockwise from far left: Mr. Outterbridge’s “Captive Image #4” (circa 1974-76); Betye Saar’s “Sambo’s Banjo” (1975); and “Untitled” (1976) from Senga Nengudi. Credit Justin T. Gellerson for The New York Times

The second section gives the show a combustible center; its title alludes to the debate over whether self-taught artists could be compared to trained ones or are incomparable. “Outsider art” supersedes “folk art,” connoting a more jarring, free-range aesthetic usually from outside the Northeast, as demonstrated here. Starting in an almost too spacious gallery this section contains the most intense visual conversations between taught and self-taught.

First, it’s between the idiosyncratically figurative Chicago Imagists (Roger Brown, Jim Nutt, Gladys Nilsson) and some of the outsider greats they discovered, recovered or championed: Ramírez, Joseph Yoakum and P.M. Wentworth. The back and forth between Brown’s meticulous landscape forms and Yoakum’s is especially rewarding.

Next, there is also a dialogue regarding visceral materials and sometimes painful themes between self-taught and taught African-American artists. The first group gained wider attention with “Black Folk Art in America: 1930-1980,” a landmark exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in 1982. They included David Butler (1898-1997), who fashioned animals, angels and people from cut and painted tin and other found items; the religious painter Sister Gertrude Morgan (1900-1980); Steve Ashby (1904-1980), who made raw figurative assemblages out of scavenged materials; and Elijah Pierce (1892-1984), whose carved and painted wood reliefs depict biblical scenes and national figures like the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.

Then the show turns to work by the second group, an imposing cadre of trained artists working in Los Angeles like Betye Saar, John Outterbridge, Senga Nengudi and Noah Purifoy, who worked for decades at the margins of the mainstream, exploring aspects of assemblage and found materials as well as political expression in often abstract forms.

1998-2013: Determining Difference Differently

Photo

Greer Lankton’s dolls, which she used to allude to her transition to womanhood and celebrate various kinds of glamorous icons, including the first lady Jacqueline Kennedy. Credit Justin T. Gellerson for The New York Times

The show starts to unravel as it rushes through its final section, despite the title’s koan-like optimism. Mr. Holley’s two delicate assemblages may make you yearn for something bigger and more ferocious from this versatile Southern outsider, and also for the obstreperous painted or rusted metal reliefs by his friend Thornton Dial, who is inexplicably absent. Two formally educated artists especially make sense in the “outlier” zone. One is Greer Lankton, whose drawings, photographs and dolls allude to her transition to womanhood and celebrate various glamorous icons, including the first lady Jacqueline Kennedy, who remains unforgettably elegant amid tragedy, in the famous pink Chanel suit she wore on Nov. 22, 1963. The other is Matt Mullican, whose large drawings on paper-backed bedsheets covered with numbers, words and images has a “drawing in tongues” quality, and were partly achieved through hypnosis. It is however unclear what — besides being two-sided — his work has to do with the big watercolors of the towering outsider talent Henry Darger (1892-1973), whose illustrated epic about the Vivian Girls used enlarged images from children’s coloring books and would be better compared with Warhol.

In the last gallery you can revel in the vibrant geometric quilts of Mary Lee Bendolph and Annie Mae Young, who emerged in the rapturously received exhibition “The Quilts of Gee’s Bend,” which toured the country in 2002. Also here are two more quilts, made of small irregular squares of color, by the great Rosie Lee Tompkins. Ms. Tompkins may belong to the string of geniuses who emerged in the last three decades of the 20th century. But who knows, there always seem to be more, expanding and improving the story of American art.

Looking for More Information? Here’s a History

Photo

Morris Hirshfield’s “Girl With Pigeons,” part of the exhibition “Outliers and American Vanguard Art,” is in the Museum of Modern Art’s collection. Credit Justin T. Gellerson for The New York Times

The first section of “Outliers and American Vanguard Art” includes a memorable glimpse of the MoMA’s early devotion to self-taught artists. This involvement is known, but seeing it made flesh with wonderful works of art is a different order of magnitude — at once exciting and saddening. We see a museum that might have been: more open and democratic, less bound up in the rigid Francophile narrative that defined the Modern in the later decades of the 20th century.

Barr, the museum’s founding director, viewed self-taught and educated art as equally essential to 20th-century modernism. Ultimately, this didn’t sit well with the museum’s blue-blooded trustees, and it was among the main reasons he was fired in 1943.

Barr, who might well have embraced the “outliers” term, is the de facto hero of Ms. Cooke’s National Gallery exhibition: a historic figure and early adopter of the integration that her exhibition proposes. It’s enticing to consider how different the Modern and the art world might be had his directorship continued. “Outliers” and its predecessors might not even have been necessary.

During the 1930s and early 1940s, Barr and his curatorial staff mounted several shows of self-taught artists and included them in more general exhibitions. Rousseau, the French naïve painter who is represented in “Outliers” by three silent, hallucinatory canvases, was arguably the cornerstone of Barr’s self-taught faith. An American favorite was John Kane, known for his dense paintings of life and industry in and around Pittsburgh, like the one in “Outliers,” and also for his startling 1929 self-portrait. One of six Kanes still in the Modern’s collection, it shows a bare-chested strongman going soft, seemingly deified by three thick white bands that frame his head.

One of the “MoMA-owns-this?” surprises in “Outliers” is Dominique-Paul Peyronnet’s “The Ferryman at Moselle,” from around 1934. This polished vignette freezes forever a moment from World War I: its protagonist has just cut the ferry’s rope, capsizing his boat and its load of German soldiers while others watch from the bank. A great artist who got away is also here: a dozen of Bill Traylor’s taut silhouettes of town and farm life. Barr tried to buy a group of Traylors in 1941 for such a pittance that his offer was spurned. No one gets every great thing that comes along, not even Alfred Barr.

In 1941, a new installation of the museum’s permanent collection began with a gallery of “modern primitives,” but Barr’s time was running out. One of the last straws was an exhibition of the paintings of the retired tailor Morris Hirshfield, represented in “Outliers” by “Girl With Pigeons” (1942), which shows a statue-like figure reclining on a splendid red couch. Today the most prominent vestige of Barr’s folk-art advocacy is Rousseau’s work, such a familiar part of the Modern’s identity that it barely registers as “self-taught.”

Continue reading the main story RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment

Paradise lost and found at California African American Museum

Adler Guerrier’s work defines the quest for sanctuary in Black Urban America. His photographs, collages, and video creations evoke the original allure of LA’s and Miami’s ghetto-suburbs, while celebrating their present and their promise.

A typical photograph of the California African American Museum’s show called “Conditions and Forms for blck* Longevity’’ reproduces a powerful, immediate symbol of African presence in America: a bright-colored assortment of flourishing blooms of flowering shrubs in all colors of red, violet and purple from all over the world. Here, thriving in South LA, are alien presences that have rooted themselves comfortably and very presentably in what was once the very epicenter of White America, just as their black human neighbors  have. Guerrier’s work is rife with the idea that cultivation—of self and of soil– is rooted in the entitling self-determination movements in Black history—such as Marcus Garvey’s United Negro Improvement Association of 90 years ago.

Untitled (Deployed conditionally and sunsetted; Underground), 2017
Untitled (Deployed conditionally and sunsetted; Underground), 2017

Adler Guerrier

The hues of Guerrier’s equatorial flora are echoed by the minty green, papaya pink, and cantaloupe orange paint of many of the sunshiny Los Angeles and Miami homes in his pictures, as well as an evocative, even alluringly romantic video called “(Devoted to the cause and improvement).”

Untitled (57 Palms Van Ness), 2017
Untitled (57 Palms Van Ness), 2017

Adler Guerrier

In a black-and white photo, towering palms soaring over residential Van Ness Avenue suggest a desert oasis, one of many domiciliary sanctuary evocations that the artist calls his “limited utopias.”

* “In titling this project, the artist uses a unique phrasing—blck—to destabilize the way we might read and think about the term “black” as an identity marker, concept, color, and collective definition. He suggests the critical role that imaginaries—shared visions of possibility—have in giving shape to the space of liberation and self-determination. blck is emblematic of the artist’s relationship to the poetics and openness of language, and it resonates with a notion of selfhood that is similarly open and in formation. In this spirit, Guerrier’s romantic works of contemporary landscape offer glimpses of a black utopia that is ephemeral, personal, and grounded in lived experience.” – California African American Museum

Guerrier’s photos are the cornerstone of the exhibit at the California African American Museum. Other powerful pictures  include a twilit shot of a statue of Toussaint Louverture, liberator of Guerrier’s native Haiti. Louverture led the only successful slave revolt in history and said: “I was born a slave, but nature gave me the soul of a free man.”

As Guerrier states, a true utopia “would allow us to live fulfilled lives.” Which, he implies, even the most flowery and colorful urban environments cannot alone assure people of color.  His other images include visages of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, both of whom were violently denied the fulfillment offered by Guerrier’s (and King’s) ideal of “Black longevity,” itself a concept parallel to “Black Lives Matter:” the idea that black people should not be denied the fundamental right to live as long and as peacefully as whites.

The prints in the show, which utilize drawings and collage images, combine political thought with an almost pastoral vibe, perhaps stressing the goal of struggle over the image of struggle itself.

Untitled (Place marked with an impulse, found to be held within the fold) i, 2017
Untitled (Place marked with an impulse, found to be held within the fold) i, 2017

Adler Guerrier

They include Guerrier’s folded works, reminiscent of automobile road maps, that begin with processed photographs but evolve far away. Printed on large sheets of paper in black and white, they form the substrate of complex collages that can be displayed folded or not. These intricate structures comprise Guerrier’s personal cartography, his maps of the soul, of where the future ought to be.

In “South of Pico,” her recent book on Southern California African-American Art, Columbia University professor Kellie Jones calls black migrations: “nothing less than black people willing into existence their presence in American life.” Now, in Black History Month, Adler Guerrier’s show demonstrates how this migration has become an essential element of our sub-tropical urban America. But it also suggests the challenge that remains to bring to this element the equality it deserves.

Untitled (Street View, View Park), 2017
Untitled (Street View, View Park), 2017

Adler Guerrier

“Adler Guerrier: Conditions and Forms for blck Longevity” is at the California African American Museum through August 26, 2018, and is curated by Diana Nawi. CAAM is at the corner of Figueroa Street and Exposition Boulevard, just west of the 110 Freeway. Marc Haefele has covered Southern California for 89.3-KPCC since 2000.

RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment

A Hall of Fame hitmaker finds happiness and harmony in Bellingham

AN ENTHUSIASTIC CHEF, Thom Bell has collected some 1,500 cookbooks. Their numbers grow like a soufflé in the Mediterranean-style home he and his wife, Vanessa, built in Bellingham in 2000. They rarely eat out, preferring his mainly Asiatic cuisine.

What you won’t find around their well-appointed home is any trace of his former life. You won’t see walls covered with the 30+ gold records or 10 platinum records he received for the soul-music hits he wrote or produced in Philadelphia from the 1960s to the ’80s. You won’t see photos of him with the groups he made into stars — the Delfonics, the Stylistics, the Spinners. Or the artists he worked with — Johnny Mathis, Dionne Warwick, Elton John and James Ingram, among many others.

He gave all that memorabilia to his kids and grandkids. “That’s another life,” the 75-year-old Bell says. “Good memories, but I’m finished with it now.”

Bell was playing piano in Chubby Checker’s band in the 1960s when he stopped in Bellingham on his way to Vancouver, B.C., for a show. He was impressed with the beauty of the scenery, the chill of the air and the warmth of the people. “I couldn’t believe how nice the people were,” he says. He kept Bellingham in the back of his mind.

Most Read Stories

Unlimited Digital Access. $1 for 4 weeks.

While still working in Philadelphia, Bell moved with his former wife, Sylvia, to Tacoma in 1976 because she had health problems they believed were exacerbated by the tension of living in a big city. They divorced in 1984, and he remarried a year later. He and Vanessa, who was born in Hawaii, lived in the Seattle area and Maui before moving to Bellingham in 1998.

It took them two years to build their home on a heavily wooded 3-acre parcel overlooking Bellingham Bay. “You need a strong house here,” he says. “The wind can be 70, 80 mph. The first year we were here, a tree fell — it was about 40 or 50 feet tall. It missed my house by six feet and crushed my Jeep Cherokee.”

He says this with the chuckle of a man fortunate enough to have had a talent that made listeners’ spirits soar — and allowed him to build a home with a spectacular view.

AS A TEENAGER in 1958, Bell was making fish cakes in his father’s West Philadelphia fish market when he listened, transfixed, to “Tears on My Pillow,” the first hit by Little Anthony and the Imperials. “I fell in love with the whole production,’’ he says. “I listened to the background, the bass, a lot more than just the lyrics.”

In the late 1960s and ’70s, it would be Bell’s music that delighted a generation of Baby Boomers. They sang along with the sweet melodies and tight harmonies he created as a writer, arranger and producer during the heyday of Philadelphia soul music, including the Delfonics’ “La-La (Means I Love You)” and “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time) and the Stylistics’ “Stop, Look, Listen (to Your Heart),” “You Are Everything,” “Betcha by Golly, Wow” and “People Make the World Go Round.”

In 1972, Bell took over a group that had been sorely neglected at Berry Gordy’s Motown Records (the singers had to work as chauffeurs for the Temptations and other groups). Under Bell’s direction, the Spinners became Top 40 regulars with such songs as “I’ll Be Around,’’ “Could It Be I’m Falling in Love,’’ “One of a Kind (Love Affair),’’ “They Just Can’t Stop It (The Games People Play)” and “The Rubberband Man.”

Bell helped rekindle Warwick’s flagging career in 1974 by teaming her with the Spinners on “Then Came You.’’ Joe Tarsia, the studio engineer on many of the hits Bell produced, told me he was “the black Burt Bacharach.’’

During the 1970s, Bell produced hits for the Stylistics, the Spinners and Dionne Warwick, plus others. (Courtesy, The Philadelphia Inquirer, 1977)During the 1970s, Bell produced hits for the Stylistics, the Spinners and Dionne Warwick, plus others. (Courtesy, The Philadelphia Inquirer, 1977)
During the 1970s, Bell produced hits for the Stylistics, the Spinners and Dionne Warwick, plus others. (Courtesy, The Philadelphia Inquirer, 1977)

From the time Bell received a small drum kit for Christmas when he was 5, he knew he wanted a career in music. At his mother’s insistence, he started piano lessons around the same time. As he got older, he played the classics but also was composing tunes in his head. His father, an accountant and businessman, played Hawaiian guitar and accordion. His mother was a pianist and organist who instilled in Bell and his nine siblings a love of music. He performed in recitals and sometime accompanied his sister Barbara’s ballet performances. But he says he got bored playing other people’s music, even Chopin’s.

“I’m a poor imitator,” he says. “I wanted to create my own music.”

Bell and his teenage buddy, Kenny Gamble, tried unsuccessfully to make it as the singing duo “Kenny and Tommy.” But Bell knew his future was at the keyboard. He dropped out of Dobbins High School in North Philly to do club gigs with various bands.

It was Checker’s road manager who urged him to change his name from Tom to Thom to make it more distinctive. Bell played in the house band at the Apollo in Harlem and at Philadelphia’s Uptown Theater, backing up Sam Cooke and others. Producer Luther Dixon heard him at the Uptown and invited him to New York, where he played on Chuck Jackson’s hit “Any Day Now,’’ and with the Shirelles.

SYLVIA, HIS WIFE at the time, wasn’t happy with the unpredictable life of a studio musician. At 22, Bell promised her he’d find another profession if he didn’t make it by the age of 25. He landed a tedious job transcribing songs at Cameo-Parkway Records before getting his big break with the Delfonics. Time was running out on his deal with Sylvia when he co-wrote (with the group’s lead singer, William Hart) and produced the No. 1 record “La-La (Means I Love You).”

In time, he became a major creative force in the burgeoning music empire that Gamble headed with Leon Huff. Bell never partnered with them at their record company, Philadelphia International, preferring to pick his spots with singers, musicians and other record companies. Unlike Gamble and Huff, who wrote and produced dozens of soul hits, Bell could read music. While Gamble and Huff brought songs and chord progressions into studio sessions and worked things out with musicians on the fly, Bell wrote every note to every part. He insisted they be performed exactly as written. In some sessions, he played piano or one of the other 17 instruments he had mastered.

Kenneth Gamble, Leon Huff and Thom Bell, from left, pose in front of a wall of gold records at Gamble and Huff Music in Philadelphia, during a rare trip back home for Bell. The three are partners in a music publishing company. Gamble and Huff were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2008. (Stephanie Aaronson / The Philadelphia Inquirer, 2013)Kenneth Gamble, Leon Huff and Thom Bell, from left, pose in front of a wall of gold records at Gamble and Huff Music in Philadelphia, during a rare trip back home for Bell. The three are partners in a music publishing company. Gamble and Huff were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2008. (Stephanie Aaronson / The Philadelphia Inquirer, 2013)
Kenneth Gamble, Leon Huff and Thom Bell, from left, pose in front of a wall of gold records at Gamble and Huff Music in Philadelphia, during a rare trip back home for Bell. The three are partners in a music publishing company. Gamble and Huff were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2008. (Stephanie Aaronson / The Philadelphia Inquirer, 2013)

Although success came, he and fame eluded each other. While Gamble and Huff were celebrities in Philly, “I was like a ghost,’’ Bell says. “I didn’t want to be recognized. I’m strictly a music person, 24 hours a day.”

He composed soaring ballads, often with lush arrangements backed by musicians he enlisted from the Philadelphia Orchestra. “Most black people were not supposed to do things like that,” he says. “They’re supposed to write toe-tapping music.’’

In the 1960s, Motown’s chief songwriting tandem of Lamont Dozier and brothers Brian and Eddie Holland were widely known. When success came to the so-called Philly Sound, much of the credit went, rightfully, to Gamble and Huff, who were also Bell’s partners in the Mighty Three music publishing company. The two kingpins of Philadelphia International were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2008. Bell, in the words of Little Anthony, remains “on the outside looking in.’’ He hasn’t been ignored, though. He was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2006 and received a Grammy Trustees Award last year in New York.

Bell latched on to the Stylistics because he loved Russell Thompkins Jr.’s clear falsetto. He didn’t care for the backup singers, and on most of the recordings, their voices were replaced by studio vocalists, sometimes including Bell himself. As he did for all the singers he worked with, he would record every part on tape and give each singer the part to practice.

“To put it in a nutshell, he’s responsible for everything that’s happened to me in my career,” says Thompkins, who still tours, with a group called The New Stylistics. “He helped me in knowing my vocal range, finding the best way to sing a song. Everyone was his instrument. It didn’t matter if you were a singer, a trombonist or a studio engineer. You were part of his construction.”

Thom Bell, right, works with jazz singer Dee Dee Bridgewater, left, at Smith-Kaye Studios in Seattle. Bell co-wrote several of the songs on the album he produced for Bridgewater, including both of the singles that were released. (Rick Perry/The Seattle Times, 1980)Thom Bell, right, works with jazz singer Dee Dee Bridgewater, left, at Smith-Kaye Studios in Seattle. Bell co-wrote several of the songs on the album he produced for Bridgewater, including both of the singles that were released. (Rick Perry/The Seattle Times, 1980)
Thom Bell, right, works with jazz singer Dee Dee Bridgewater, left, at Smith-Kaye Studios in Seattle. Bell co-wrote several of the songs on the album he produced for Bridgewater, including both of the singles that were released. (Rick Perry/The Seattle Times, 1980)

Although he ruled recording sessions with a firm hand, Bell says he never saw himself as the star. “I’m just a conduit, part of a chain that makes other people the stars,” he says.

He wasn’t the first soul-record producer to use orchestral arrangements, but he was a pioneer in using unorthodox instruments. He employed a sitar on the Delfonics’ “Didn’t I (Blow Your Mind This Time),’’ an oboe on the Stylistics’ “Betcha by Golly, Wow.’’ Even wind chimes — he has several around his Bellingham home. They lend mystery to the opening bars of the Stylistics’ “People Make the World Go Round.”

The Spinners were considered underachievers in Detroit and were about to be released from their record contract. Bell had seen them perform at the Uptown in Philadelphia and wanted to work with them.

“They had gone through so much crap with Motown,’’ Bell says. “They treated them like dogs.’’

To lure them, he promised if he didn’t produce a No. 1 record for them, he’d pay each of them $10,000. If he did, they’d have to buy him a custom Cadillac. Sure enough, “I’ll Be Around’’ was a million-seller. But he let the Spinners off the hook. It was just as well, because Bell didn’t learn how to drive until he was 45.

He made a more realistic side bet with Warwick. She had so little faith in the original track of “Then Came You,” which she recorded with the Spinners and Bell produced, that he made her a wager. He ripped a dollar bill in half. If the song hit No. 1, she’d have to send her half back to him and write “I’m sorry” on it. If it didn’t, he’d have to do the reverse. He still has both halves, one inscribed with her apology.

Thom Bell fell in love with Bellingham in the 1960s. “I couldn’t believe how nice the people were,” he says. He moved to the city in 1998, and finished building his home overlooking Bellingham Bay in 2000. (Steve Ringman/The Seattle Times)Thom Bell fell in love with Bellingham in the 1960s. “I couldn’t believe how nice the people were,” he says. He moved to the city in 1998, and finished building his home overlooking Bellingham Bay in 2000. (Steve Ringman/The Seattle Times)
Thom Bell fell in love with Bellingham in the 1960s. “I couldn’t believe how nice the people were,” he says. He moved to the city in 1998, and finished building his home overlooking Bellingham Bay in 2000. (Steve Ringman/The Seattle Times)

FOR MUCH OF Bell’s career, his main songwriting partner was Linda Creed, who fell in love with black music when she saw Smokey Robinson and the Miracles on TV. She wanted to be a singer and landed an audition with Bell. Her rendition of “Heat Wave’’ by Martha and the Vandellas was “terrible,’’ Bell says.

“You probably are a great singer,’’ he told her. “You’re probably fantastic to somebody, but I don’t think I’m the right person for you.’’ She told him she also wrote lyrics. He offered to give her a melody to see what she came up with, telling her she had to stick exactly to the melody, with no extraneous syllables. The next day she came back with the words, and he was stunned. The song turned out to be “I Wanna Be a Free Girl’’ and was recorded by Dusty Springfield. “Stop, Look, Listen (To Your Heart)’’ was the first of many hit love ballads the Bell/Creed team wrote for the Stylistics.

“In those days, people didn’t particularly appreciate a black and white team,” Bell says. It took some people a long time to realize they were partners, not lovers. At the studio, her race was irrelevant to the mostly black artists. Nobody called her Linda; she was simply “Creed.’’

Unlike his other songwriting partners, she grew bored sitting with him at the piano. When he finished the melody, she would work on the lyrics, then sing them to him. The process worked well. Fighting writers block one day, they took a walk down Broad Street in Philadelphia. They saw a well-dressed black man in his late 20s, standing in the middle of a busy street and looking back at a woman headed in the opposite direction. “Cars started to honk,’’ Bell says. “I don’t know how he survived, but he did. He kept looking at this girl. He’s thinking she’s somebody he knows. But it’s not who he thinks it is.”

It was one of the few times Bell came up with the opening lyric: “Today I saw somebody/Who looked just like you/She walked like you do,/I thought it was you …” The million-seller “You Are Everything’’ was born.

“All songs are either about love or escape,’’ he tells me, a contention I think is highly debatable. He and Creed didn’t always agree, either. When he came up with the jarringly unpoetic opening words to “People Make the World Go Round,’’ Creed hated them: “Trash men didn’t get my trash today/Oh why, because they want more pay.” She couldn’t believe he thought that was a good idea. Said Bell, “It sounds right to me.’’ He stuck to his guns, and that was a hit, too.

Thom Bell, 75, is gregarious and charming, but says he’s always been satisfied with staying behind the scenes, writing and producing hit songs for others. “I’m just a conduit, part of a chain that makes other people the stars.” (Steve Ringman/The Seattle Times)Thom Bell, 75, is gregarious and charming, but says he’s always been satisfied with staying behind the scenes, writing and producing hit songs for others. “I’m just a conduit, part of a chain that makes other people the stars.” (Steve Ringman/The Seattle Times)
Thom Bell, 75, is gregarious and charming, but says he’s always been satisfied with staying behind the scenes, writing and producing hit songs for others. “I’m just a conduit, part of a chain that makes other people the stars.” (Steve Ringman/The Seattle Times)

They avoided religion and politics because they felt those subjects were too personal to appeal to wide audiences. That is, until Creed sang her words for “You Make Me Feel Brand New” and came to “God bless you …’’ Bell objected, leaving Creed in tears. Her mother later told him that Creed had written the lyrics as a tribute to him. He relented. “I felt like about two cents,’’ he says.

They worked for six weeks on an album for Mathis, “I’m Coming Home,’’ sometimes writing two songs a day. Unlike other songwriters, who embraced Mathis’ ability to hit the high notes, Bell preferred “the conversational sound of my voice in the lower register,” Mathis says. “It was enlightening and very pleasing. I love to listen to that stuff.’’ Mathis calls it “one of the best albums I’ve ever done.’’

Mathis says his first meeting with Bell and Creed surprised him. They asked him questions that had nothing to do with music. “What colors do you like? What clothes do you like? What makes you sad — or happy?” Later, he realized they had incorporated his own phrases into the songs. “Linda used a lot of words that only I could understand. That’s the way I talk. It was the most enjoyable experience I ever had with songwriters.’’

A recording session with Elton John produced six songs, including the catchy “Are You Ready for Love” with the Spinners; it was a hit, but only in England. Bell produced songs for a former Stevie Wonder backup singer named Deniece Williams, and “It’s Gonna Take a Miracle’’ became her first No. 1 hit.

Bell and Creed worked together for nine years. One of her last hits was “The Greatest Love of All,’’ recorded by George Benson and later covered by Whitney Houston. Creed left Philadelphia in 1978, unhappy that Gamble and Huff wouldn’t make her a full partner in their organization. She and her husband, record promoter Stephen Epstein, moved to California. After fighting breast cancer for 11 years, she died in 1986 at the age of 37. Bell was among those at her side.

“We were like brother and sister,’’ he says.

Thom Bell, 75, is a Philadelphia hitmaker who has lived in Bellingham since 1998. Here he enjoys a minute with his grandson Samir Bullock, 21. Bullock is holding Bell’s first gold record, for “La-La (Means I Love You),” by the Delfonics. (Steve Ringman/The Seattle Times)Thom Bell, 75, is a Philadelphia hitmaker who has lived in Bellingham since 1998. Here he enjoys a minute with his grandson Samir Bullock, 21. Bullock is holding Bell’s first gold record, for “La-La (Means I Love You),” by the Delfonics. (Steve Ringman/The Seattle Times)
Thom Bell, 75, is a Philadelphia hitmaker who has lived in Bellingham since 1998. Here he enjoys a minute with his grandson Samir Bullock, 21. Bullock is holding Bell’s first gold record, for “La-La (Means I Love You),” by the Delfonics. (Steve Ringman/The Seattle Times)

WHEN ONE OF his old hits plays on the radio while he’s driving in Bellingham, Bell generally switches the station. He’s already heard it hundreds of times, he says. “I knew every nuance. If you were writing a piece for a magazine, would you want to keep reading the same thing over and over?”

His daughter Tia, a clinical psychologist in Alameda, Calif., has a far different reaction.

“When I hear his music, I hear safety,” she says. “It’s calm; it’s my childhood. If I’m having a day where I really miss him, I’ll put his music on, and I’ll hear his voice. There’s something about him that’s magnetic.

“He is a genius.”

RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment

Sexuality of Obama painter Kehinde Wiley downplayed at ceremony

Kehinde Wiley, gay news, Washington Blade

From left are artist Kehinde Wiley, President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama and artist Amy Sherald at the National Portrait Gallery Monday for the unveiling of their portraits. (Photo by Pete Souza; courtesy National Portrait Gallery)

When artist Amy Sherald and Michelle Obama unveiled Sherald’s portrait of the former first lady at the National Portrait Gallery Monday morning, there was polite applause as the public got its first look at a regal-looking subject wearing a Michelle Smith-designed, mostly black-and-white dress in front of a sky-blue background.

But the reaction minutes later as artist Kehinde Wiley and President Barack Obama unveiled his portrait was noticeably different. The massive, 7-foot-tall portrait elicited a more visceral, electric reaction. It shows the former president seated on a wooden chair atop and in front of a wild tangle of leaves featuring symbolic flowers arranged around its subject.

There was no special light on it, yet it seemed almost lit from behind or within. The colors popped and though the president wears a stern expression, there’s joy in the almost enchanted forest-esque background.

The occasion was historic on several fronts. Not only are the Obamas, of course, the country’s first African-American president and first lady, but Sherald and Wiley are the first black artists chosen to paint any presidential portrait in the gallery’s historic collection, which holds more than 1,600 likenesses of U.S. presidents.

And although no mention was made of it publicly Monday, Wiley is also the first out gay artist to be selected for a presidential portrait.

The comments, as one would expect, were jovial and occasionally humorous. Obama said he tried to convince Wiley to give him less gray hair and smaller ears but said, “Kehinde’s artistic integrity would not allow that.” He said he was more successful convincing the artist to eschew the “partridges, scepters” and “robes” that adorn some subjects in previous Wiley works.

“I told him I’ve got enough political problems without making me look like Napoleon,” Obama said.

He also joked about Wiley working at a disadvantage compared to Sherald because his subject was “less becoming, not as fly.”

Wiley deflected in his own comments.

“How do I explain that a lot of that is just simply not true,” he said.

Obama also said he and Wiley bonded over their similar backgrounds — both were raised primarily by their mothers; their African fathers were largely absent from their lives.

Obama said he appreciated the way Wiley allows his subjects, often everyday people he meets on streets, to be elevated.

“What I was struck by when I saw his portraits was a degree to which they challenge the abuse of power and privilege,” Obama said. “The way he would take extraordinary care and precision .. and recognize the beauty and grace and the dignity of people who were for so long invisible in our lives and put them on a grand scale. To force us to stop and see them in ways that so often they are not.”

He said that resonated with his philosophy of politics that they not be from “the top down” and “not simply about celebrating the high and the mighty.”

Wiley said his urge to paint, often driven by chance encounters, was driven largely by “corrective” endeavors.

“Growing up as a kid in South Central Los Angeles and going to the museums in L.A., there weren’t too many people who looked like me in those museums,” Wiley said. “My purpose as a painter has been to project out into the world this urge, this itch, this desire to see something corrected. It seems silly. You’re taking this hairy stick and nudging things into being, but it’s not. This is consequently who we as a society decide to celebrate. This is our humanity. This is our ability to say, ‘I matter, I was here.’”

Wiley pointed out the symbolism of the flowers seen in the portrait — African blue lilies to represent Obama’s Kenyan-born father; jasmine for Hawaii where Obama was born; and chrysanthemums, the official flower of Chicago, where Obama’s political career began.

“Mr. President, I thank you for giving me a chance and for giving this nation a chance to experience your splendor on a global scale,” Wiley said.

Wiley, born in Los Angeles in 1977, gained a following with what the New York Times called his “crisp, glossy, life-size paintings of young African-American men dressed in hip-hop styles but depicted in the old master manner of European royal portraits.”

More recently he has started painting women as well as models from Brazil, India, Nigeria and Senegal creating what the Times called a “collective image of a global black aristocracy.”

George M. Johnson, writing for the Grio, says Wiley’s sexuality is an important part of the portrait.

“News coverage of (Monday’s) unveiling noted Wiley as ‘the first black artist’ to paint a presidential portrait, completely erasing his queer identity,” Johnson wrote. “Although many will see this as small or a part of some ‘gay agenda,’ it is neither. Black queer people have historically faced the erasure of their identity in order to be accepted in black spaces and spaces at large. It’s a byproduct of white supremacy which continues to place us in harm’s way.”

Johnson also said Wiley’s sexuality is as important to the narrative as his being black.

“The omission of that tells only part of the story,” he wrote. “A revisionist history black queer people are only now unpacking with many of our legends getting their due honor inclusive of identity long after death.”

Artist Kehinde Wiley greets attendees at the National Portrait Gallery Monday. (Washington Blade photo by Joey DiGuglielmo)

RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment

Paradise lost and found at California Africa American History Museum

Adler Guerrier’s work defines the quest for sanctuary in Black Urban America. His photographs, collages, and video creations evoke the original allure of LA’s and Miami’s ghetto-suburbs, while celebrating their present and their promise.

A typical photograph of the California Africa American History Museum’s show called “Conditions and Forms for blck* Longevity’’ reproduces a powerful, immediate symbol of African presence in America: a bright-colored assortment of flourishing blooms of flowering shrubs in all colors of red, violet and purple from all over the world. Here, thriving in South LA, are alien presences that have rooted themselves comfortably and very presentably in what was once the very epicenter of White America, just as their black human neighbors  have. Guerrier’s work is rife with the idea that cultivation—of self and of soil– is rooted in the entitling self-determination movements in Black history—such as Marcus Garvey’s United Negro Improvement Association of 90 years ago.

Untitled (Deployed conditionally and sunsetted; Underground), 2017
Untitled (Deployed conditionally and sunsetted; Underground), 2017

Adler Guerrier

The hues of Guerrier’s equatorial flora are echoed by the minty green, papaya pink, and cantaloupe orange paint of many of the sunshiny Los Angeles and Miami homes in his pictures, as well as an evocative, even alluringly romantic video called “(Devoted to the cause and improvement).”

Untitled (57 Palms Van Ness), 2017
Untitled (57 Palms Van Ness), 2017

Adler Guerrier

In a black-and white photo, towering palms soaring over residential Van Ness Avenue suggest a desert oasis, one of many domiciliary sanctuary evocations that the artist calls his “limited utopias.”

* “In titling this project, the artist uses a unique phrasing—blck—to destabilize the way we might read and think about the term “black” as an identity marker, concept, color, and collective definition. He suggests the critical role that imaginaries—shared visions of possibility—have in giving shape to the space of liberation and self-determination. blck is emblematic of the artist’s relationship to the poetics and openness of language, and it resonates with a notion of selfhood that is similarly open and in formation. In this spirit, Guerrier’s romantic works of contemporary landscape offer glimpses of a black utopia that is ephemeral, personal, and grounded in lived experience.” – California African American Museum

Guerrier’s photos are the cornerstone of the exhibit at the California African-American Museum. Other powerful pictures  include a twilit shot of a statue of Toussaint Louverture, liberator of Guerrier’s native Haiti. Louverture led the only successful slave revolt in history and said: “I was born a slave, but nature gave me the soul of a free man.”

As Guerrier states, a true utopia “would allow us to live fulfilled lives.” Which, he implies, even the most flowery and colorful urban environments cannot alone assure people of color.  His other images include visages of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, both of whom were violently denied the fulfillment offered by Guerrier’s (and King’s) ideal of “Black longevity,” itself a concept parallel to “Black Lives Matter:” the idea that black people should not be denied the fundamental right to live as long and as peacefully as whites.

The prints in the show, which utilize drawings and collage images, combine political thought with an almost pastoral vibe, perhaps stressing the goal of struggle over the image of struggle itself.

Untitled (Place marked with an impulse, found to be held within the fold) i, 2017
Untitled (Place marked with an impulse, found to be held within the fold) i, 2017

Adler Guerrier

They include Guerrier’s folded works, reminiscent of automobile road maps, that begin with processed photographs but evolve far away. Printed on large sheets of paper in black and white, they form the substrate of complex collages that can be displayed folded or not. These intricate structures comprise Guerrier’s personal cartography, his maps of the soul, of where the future ought to be.

In “South of Pico,” her recent book on Southern California African-American Art, Columbia University professor Kellie Jones calls black migrations: “nothing less than black people willing into existence their presence in American life.” Now, in Black History Month, Adler Guerrier’s show demonstrates how this migration has become an essential element of our sub-tropical urban America. But it also suggests the challenge that remains to bring to this element the equality it deserves.

Untitled (Street View, View Park), 2017
Untitled (Street View, View Park), 2017

Adler Guerrier

“Adler Guerrier: Conditions and Forms for blck Longevity” is at the California Africa American History Museum through August 26, 2018, and is curated by Diana Nawi. CAAM is at the corner of Figueroa Street and Exposition Boulevard, just west of the 110 Freeway. Marc Haefele has covered Southern California for 89.3-KPCC since 2000.

RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment

Can I kick it? Yes, you can

Sahra Soudi sat patiently during our interview, wringing their hands every now and then as they processed the weight and excitement of the days to come.

Golden earrings that took shape of a hand dangled from their ears as they talked. The earrings were a gift from a friend and were crafted specifically for Black women, carrying their strength and magic. Soudi wore them hoping to gain that strength, power and light.

The third year Multimedia student is getting ready for their first curated show at HAVN, the Hamilton Audio/Visual Node gallery and workspace on Barton Street, this coming weekend. The three-day exhibition is a long time coming for Soudi, and was bred out of wanting and needing to create an artistic space that celebrates Black identities.

Apprehensive about having their own solo show, Soudi turned to the support of the HAVN community, as well as COBRA, the Coalition of Black and Racialized Artists, to put together the Can I Kick It? Yes, You Can group show.

Despite taking place during Black History Month, the show not only celebrates Black history, but makes a conscious effort to address and celebrate Black futures.

“I want to get people to move away from thinking about ‘oh we only need to celebrate our history’. Not everyone can do that, especially because it’s really hard. With the future aspect I also wanted to explore Afrofuturism,” explained Soudi.

Afrofuturism is a philosophy of science and history that combines elements of science fiction, Afrocentrism, and fantasy to critique and revisit historical and present-day issues and oppressive systems that the Black community faces.

“Some of the themes that [the exhibit] puts out there is exploring the relationship between Black bodies and space, [as well as] performing unapologetic Blackness, and doing away with systems of power that have been historically oppressive to not only Black people but also Black artists,” explained Soudi.

Can I Kick It? Yes, You Can will feature the artwork of Destiny de Kock, Stylo Starr, Sam Carter-Shamai, Anthony Haley, Magda Uculmana-Falcon, Abbey Adiekum, Isa Ben, Ismail Alkashim, Jamie Milay, Melissa Charles, and Ebassa Dugassa.

One painting in particular will explore institutional and systemic racism in terms of police brutality. Soudi hopes the piece will confront the audience and initiate conversation within the art space as a means to confronting systemic inequalities.

“Blackness is something that is always politicized even when you’re not trying to. A few of the submissions that I have [are trying to] move away from being politicized and reclaiming those identities [by gaining] control over what [they’re] sharing. A lot of it is celebrating those identities,” explained Soudi.

Can I Kick It? Yes, You Can will also include some of Soudi’s own pieces celebrating prominent figures in the Black community and activists. Angela Davis and Assata Shakur are two women that have strongly influenced Soudi’s community organizing and activism, and now their art.

The show will also include photography that highlights the beauty of Black people and a video installation that celebrates identities. Friday night will open with much anticipated performances by DJ Judah Jump with Joanna Joanna, Shanika Maria, Kojo Damptey and Emay.

“I’m just really excited because these performances are inherently unapologetic, they’re fun and loud. I think it’s really cool that people can come to a space for that… I want people to be able to come out who don’t normally go see art shows because they don’t see themselves represented,” said Soudi.

Soudi also hopes that the show will encourage the art community to continue carving out spaces of Black artists in the Hamilton. They are serving as inspiration for others who want to showcase their own work and curate shows.

“I think it’s nice to see someone who isn’t entirely sure of them self, still do something that’s really important and that sort of changes the structure and formula of like how you are supposed to go about doing things,” explained Soudi.

Curating Can I Kick It? Yes, You Can was a learning experience for Soudi, but HAVN and COBRA have been a constant supportive community and Soudi’s friend, Jamie Milay, always offered a shoulder to lean on.

Throughout this journey Soudi found strength in themselves and paralleled support and resilience in their community.

Can I Kick It? is a question that lingers alongside self-doubt in Soudi’s mind. It’s a question many Black artists ponder on. This exhibition is an affirmation that Yes, You Can carve out spaces, Yes, You Can celebrate and share your identity and Yes, You Can unapologetically express yourself.

Can I Kick It? Yes, You Can will open at HAVN on Friday Feb 16th from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. and on during the weekend from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.

Comments

RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment

Obama’s Portraits Highlight Black Excellence and the Black Plight

The official presidential portraits of Barack Obama and former first lady, Michelle Obama, which were unveiled at the National Portrait Gallery Feb. 12, highlight African American history and excellence, while offering a glimpse into the complexities associated with being both Black and American.

Portraits of former President Barack Obama and former first lady Michelle Obama were unveiled at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery Feb. 12. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

As the first African American couple to be featured in the official presidential collection housed at the National Portrait Gallery, the Obamas continue to make history over a year after they left the White House.  What makes these portraits even more groundbreaking is that Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, who painted the portraits, are the first Black artists whose works are featured in the presidential collection. While most official presidential portrait reveals have become “a little more than ceremonial routine”, according to a New York Times article, this historic debut showcasing the former first couple in all their Blackness, painted by Black artists, is far from ordinary.  It’s Black, political excellence, refocused, revealing the likeness of two complex figures.

Having been showcased in the Portrait Gallery exhibit, Recognize, which featured Hip Hop musicians in urban clothing, painted against baroque backdrops in poses and settings reminiscent of famed Renaissance paintings, Wiley fans may not be surprised by the juxtaposition in his most recent work of Obama.  Yet for both Wiley devotees and newcomers, the contrast captured in the portrait of Obama is captivating and telling of his experience and complexities as the first African American to serve as president.

Wiley’s portrait of Obama in a casual, collapsed pose, and semi-casual attire, sporting a dark suit and open collar, is in reference to his traditional style of showcasing his muses appearing to be in their element, even though in this case the subject is a former president.  In contrast to the casualness of the pose and attire, Obama sits in a throne-like chair, seemingly suggesting the power in which he held as former leader of the Free World.  The chair, not grounded, floats against an ornate, floral backdrop, yet the president’s body language suggests his presidency was anything but relaxing frolic in the garden.  Instead Obama looks as if he’s tense, in deep thought, listening intently, and preparing for action.

Indicative of the Black American experience, Obama’s portrait shows the distinct dissonance associated with his presidency and as a man of color in the United States- unable to relax, always ready, having to rise above the dirt (like his floating chair), and still appear bright and beautiful like the floral scene surrounding him.

Sherald, the Baltimore-based artist who painted the former first lady’s portrait, captured Black Girl Magic in all its conflicting glory.

“The paintings I create…aspire to have a message of humanity,” said Sherald in reference to her portrait of former first lady, according to a tweet from the National Portrait Gallery the day of the unveiling.

In contrast to her husband’s casual attire in the Wiley portrait, Mrs. Obama is featured in a ball gown.  The gown in itself is a contradiction and suggestion of race relations, featuring the work of white fashion designer, Michelle Smith.  With an all white base, the dress is spattered with dark shapes and patches of color that are reminiscent of African textiles, indicative of Mrs. Obama’s experience as the first African American first lady, a role held until 2009, by only White women.  In addition, the dress perhaps pinpoints the former first lady’s overall life experience as one of the few Black women in positions of power, in a White world.

With a light-blue backdrop, Mrs. Obama’s strong skin stands out, yet her face itself almost fades into the portrait.  A Sherald signature, Mrs. Obama’s ashen, grayish skin color, versus her actual brown complexion, identifies the generalization of Black women and their experiences.  Further the highlight on her gown and body parts, as opposed to her face, is also reminiscent on the attention given to Mrs. Obama’s fashion choices while first lady, particularly in reference to the flack she received when showing off her toned arms.

Though regally donned, Mrs. Obama’s facial expression looks like she’s headed to anywhere but a ball. Her body language, similarly to her husband’s, is that of a person who is waiting for someone to give them a hard time.  While there’s an undertone of slight concern on her face, the former first lady’s pose, with her fist on her chin, looks like someone who is confident and will not back down from battle.  The battle is racial and gender inequities that the former first lady fought while her husband was in office, and continues to address even post her role as first lady of the United States.

Acknowledging the historic nature of her portrait, as well as the underlying messages featured in the work, Mrs. Obama said, “I am humbled.  I am honored. I am proud.  But most of all, I’m grateful for all the people that came before me in this journey,” according to a tweet from the National Portrait Gallery, during the unveiling ceremony.

In the case of both paintings, many reacted with an understanding of the power that each portrait held politically, historically, and racially.

Film director Ava Duvernay, tweeted the portraits, calling them “Monday  morning joy” and that it reminded her “to hope”.

Mr. Obama’s portrait will hang long-term among his presidential peers in the exhibit, Presidential Portraits, on the second floor of the National Portrait Gallery.  Mrs. Obama’s portrait is part of a temporary exhibit on the first floor that showcases new works.

RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment

Rhythms of black history: Looking at the black experience through its musical influence


The many eras of black music | Left from top: Lead Belly, Billie Holiday. Center: Fisk Jubilee Singers. Right: Curtis Mayfield, Kendrick Lamar.

To try to encompass the entirety of African-American music in a single article is a futile effort. From early work songs and spirituals to blues, jazz, rock and roll, soul, hip-hop and everything in between, black music has dominated American culture and has found itself as the foundation for the majority of modern music worldwide.

From the beginning, black artists and their songs have been a reflection of the black experience in America.

It’s equally a bridge between African roots and European influence as much as it’s a counter to white oppression. It’s a celebration of black excellence and a critique on shortcomings in black communities.

It’s deeply religious in some facets while being carnal and excessive in others. It clings to its origins while consistently moving toward innovation.

Here are just a few noteworthy songs from artists who planted their flags in the vast and diverse catalogue that is African-American music.

— Compiled by David Silva

“Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen” – Fisk Jubilee Singers

The spiritual is widely considered the first true genre of the Americas, one that’s a distinct merge between African song traditions and the life situations imposed on African-Americans due to their enslavement.

Spirituals, which find their stylistic origins in work songs, are manifestations of slaves’ Christian conversion and the hardships they endured under slavery. Most spirituals were also strongly tied to a desired freedom.

The lyricism of “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen” holds true to that era’s sentiment, asserting that the physical and emotional pain experienced by the singer is so great that no one else can truly understand it, except for Jesus Christ.

In some variations of the song, the singer speaks of the difficulties of staying in the path of righteousness, but affirms that if the listener ends up in heaven first, to tell everyone that they will be there one day, too.

“The Bourgeois Blues” – Lead Belly

The origin timeline of the blues genre is one closely tied to black emancipation. Unlike spirituals, which were limited to being performed a cappella due to restrictions on instruments, the blues became a genre that allowed black artists to express themselves on several platforms. The artists were free to experiment lyrically, vocally and through instrumentation, namely the guitar and the American-made banjo.

“The Bourgeois Blues” ties artistic freedom with the daily oppression experienced by newly freed slaves. Lead Belly sings of his visit to the nation’s capital and the mistreatment that he suffers there.

He calls the “home of the brave, land of the free” a bourgeois town, pointing out that the idealism in D.C. was just a lift to help white Americans climb upon their high horses while they continue to live with their conventional attitudes toward race.

“Strange Fruit” – Billie Holiday

Although a well-known staple in depicting the violence and cruelty that black Americans endured between emancipation and the civil rights era, this Billie Holiday classic is in many ways a departure from the jazz genre that the singer dominated.

Jazz at its height was the signature genre not only for the black community but also for the country as a whole. Its upbeat, dance-worthy, larger-than-life characteristics are nowhere to be found here though.

Released in 1939, “Strange Fruit” opens with sharp and pained horns and a melancholy piano. Holiday’s iconic voice illustrates the horrific picture of lynched black bodies “swinging in the Southern breeze.”

Its intensity only increases as Holiday’s voice amplifies, creating perhaps the most realistic description of brutality in the South. It’s the expression of an artist who not only changed jazz on a vocal standpoint, but also of one who was not afraid to deliver a devastating message.

“Little Child Runnin’ Wild” – Curtis Mayfield

During the ‘60s and ‘70s, everyone had something to say about the civil rights movement and the state of the black community.

Artists like James Brown promoted self-love and unity in the face of discrimination while artists like Gil Scott Heron pointedly protested integration and hypocrisy.

Curtis Mayfield used his platform, namely his “Superfly” album, to comment on the inner-city struggles of crime, poverty and drug abuse. Sonically, this entire album sounds like the soundtrack for a too-cool-for-school blaxploitation film, and that’s because that’s exactly what it is.

However, Mayfield’s lyricism paints a different picture.

The opening track, “Little Child Runnin’ Wild,” tells the tale of a young homeless man contemplating his downward spiral into drug abuse. The man questions why it had to be him falling into addiction, then frantically pleads his drug dealer for a fix.

While songs like “Pusherman” and “Superfly” are the most recognized of the album, “Little Child Runnin’ Wild” frames the distressed atmosphere of what may be the most critical and politically conscious concept album of the era.

“i”- Kendrick Lamar

Kendrick Lamar’s “Alright” is largely considered the anthem for the Black Lives Matter movement for good reason. It unapologetically speaks on police brutality, vices within the black community and views the future with religious optimism.

However, “i,” from the 2015 “To Pimp a Butterfly” album, speaks directly on the importance of both self-love and collective love within the black community.

The song is staged like a live performance, one that is interrupted by a fight in the crowd halfway through the set. Lamar stops the show and asks those around him how many friends they’ve lost due to violence.

He tells them, “We don’t have time to waste time” on violence against one another, then, before starting the show, rhymes about the origins of the “infamous, sensitive N-word.”

At nearly the end of the album, the song takes all of the self-hatred, exploitation and self-destructiveness displayed throughout the previous records and combats them with his a cappella rhyme.

Lamar tells the audience of negus, the Ethiopian word for royalty, a word that he claims has been overlooked and bastardized and that needs to be reclaimed to its proper definition.

Lamar’s intention is clear: revisit the glory of the past and know that your history does not begin on slave boats, but instead as the rulers of continents.

College hosts Black History Month events

RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment

Obamas’ official portraits expand beyond usual format

Barack Obama tried to negotiate less grey hair, he recalled, but Kehinde Wiley’s “artistic integrity” would not allow it. He tried to negotiate smaller ears but “struck out on that as well”. There was one area of concession, however: Wiley’s impulse to depict Obama on a throne, holding a sceptre or perhaps even riding a horse. “I had to explain that I’ve got enough political problems without you making me look like Napoleon!”

The result was a vivid official portrait that shows the 44th president sitting in a suit, without a tie, floating in vegetation and flowers, the Guardian reports.

Obama was on hand to unveil it on Monday at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery in Washington, where the America’s presidents section was previously an exclusive club for white people painted by white people.

Картинки по запросу Presidential portraits obamas green

“How about that?” said Obama, after he and Wiley pulled down a black cloth to reveal the 84in-high canvas, watched by an audience that included former vice-president Joe Biden and donor Steven Spielberg, the Hollywood director. “That’s pretty sharp.”

The ceremony also witnessed the unveiling of a portrait of former first lady Michelle Obama, by Amy Sherald, whom the former president praised for capturing his wife’s “hotness”. Both portraits – produced after two sittings each – have sombre expressions, perhaps not entirely inappropriate in the era of Donald Trump.

The National Portrait Gallery began commissioning portraits of the president with George H W Bush in 1994 and added commissions of the first lady, beginning with Hillary Clinton, in 2006. Wiley and Sherald are the first African American artists selected. They were chosen from candidates interviewed by the Obamas at the White House, where the first couple often hung works by African American artists.

Wiley is a Los Angeles-born (in 1977), New York-based artist best known for his vibrant, large-scale paintings of African Americans. He typically portrays people of colour posing as famous figures in western art, challenging the white-dominated western canon. Some of the flowers in the background of his Obama portrait carry special meaning: the chrysanthemums reference the official flower of Chicago; the jasmine evokes Hawaii, where he spent the majority of his childhood; the African blue lilies stand in for his late Kenyan father.

Wiley said: “In a very symbolic way, what I’m doing is charting his path on earth through those plants that weave their way. There’s a fight going on between he in the foreground and the plants that are trying to announce themselves underneath his feet. Who gets to be the star of the show? The story or the man who inhabits that story?”

Obama noted that he had never had his portrait done before. The celebrated “Hope” election campaign poster was “cool”, he said, but he did not sit for it. “I don’t like posing, I look at my watch,” he admitted. “It’s pretty tortuous trying to take a photograph of me, never mind a portrait.”

Both Obama and Wiley were raised by American mothers and had African fathers who were absent, the former president noted. “But what I was always struck by whenever I saw his portraits was the degree to which they challenged our conventional views of power and privilege and the way that he would take extraordinary care and precision and vision in recognising the beauty and the grace and the dignity of people who are so often invisible in our lives and put them on a grand stage, on a grand scale, and force us to look and see them in ways that so often they were not.

RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment

Eating for liberation creates food for thought

By Heather Pearson
Staff Writer

When I sat down with organizers Dr. Anne DeLessio-Parson and Sophia Brownstein to learn more about their upcoming event ‘Eating for Liberation,’ Dr. DeLessio-Parson set out tortilla chips, rice and beans for us to share.

“Food invites us into conversation every time we sit down to share the table,” stated the Eating for Liberation website. “Through intentional, authentic dialogue that bridges life experiences, we can co-create new ideas for action.”

This conversation bridging food and social justice is exactly what Eating for Liberation hopes to start. To do so, the event invites participants to share in a four-course plant-based meal on March 10. The menu is inspired by bell hook’s “All About Love,” and will take place at the Salem Convention Center.

Food justice advocates Salimatu Amabebe and Dr. A Breeze Harper will speak at the event. Amabebe is a renowned artist and vegan chef who hosts Black Feast, a Portland monthly dinner series celebrating black artists and writers. Dr. A Breeze Harper is an academic and activist tackling issues of “ethical consumption, the food system, and diversity,” and is founder of the Sistah Vegan Project, which “serves as a supportive connection point for people of color (and others) interested in plant-based diets, social justice, anti-racism, [and] feminism,” among other topics.

“Some people have called [Dr. A Breeze Harper] one of the most famous vegans of our time,” said Dr. DeLessio-Parson, describing what a privilege it is to have her speak. “She challenges whiteness in vegan spaces and animal rights spaces.”

Before the meal, individuals will be paired with a theme (i.e., community gardens, veganism on a budget, activism, or prison abolitionism) which they will explore alongside other participants in-person and/or online. Then they will join in on the meal on March 10. Afterwards, they are asked to write three letters and create one art piece about their experience. These post-event activities allow participants to take what they learn from the meal and create something from it which they can share beyond that space.

How do food and equity work connect? “As we nourish our bodies, we nourish our minds, cultivating the strength and resilience needed to be more engaged and caring members of our communities,” writes Dr. DeLessio-Parson. Recognizing the personal as political, she explains, food choices and personal food philosophies can be politically radical.

The event is open to anyone interested in peace and justice, and artists and writers are especially encouraged to apply. The organizers stress that they “hope to find a balance of folks from different backgrounds and at different life stages for each theme,” and that groups are welcome. Participants are not required to be vegetarian or vegan, though conversation will discuss vegan philosophy. The event is free.

Those interested can find the application at www.eatingforliberation.com.

hpearson@willamette.edu

RankTribe™ Black Business Directory News – Arts & Entertainment