Harvey Dalton Arnold is a Music Maker Partner Artist, and will release his first album on the Music Maker label on March 4, 2014.
When I think of black history month, and the struggle for civil rights, what comes to my mind is a snapshot of my hometown as a child. When the pavement at the edge of town turned to dirt, everything changed. The sidewalk ended, the houses were no longer painted, there were no streetlights, and the residents were all black. My sister and I were about eight and six when we met several black children the same ages that we were, also brother-sister, at the paved-dirt line. We played hopscotch together there for about a week, each day. One night our parents told us that somebody in town had “said something” about us playing with “colored” children and that it probably wasn’t a good idea. The next day we had to tell our new friends that we couldn’t meet them anymore, though none of us really understood why.
Shelton Powe is a Music Maker artist who currently lives in Georgia. When we asked Shelton Powe to tell us his thoughts on Black History Month, he directed us to learn more about Claudette Colvin, who was actually the first person arrested for resisting bus segregation in Montgomery, AL. Though Rosa Parks would be the famous face of civil disobedience for not giving up her seat to a white person in Montgomery, Claudette was the first to be arrested. Mainstream history does not talk very much about Colvin, and largely seems to have forgotten her. We can’t help but compare Colvin’s unremembered greatness to many of our Music Maker artists. History, it seems, has passed them by as it declares their music dead and gone even as they play on.
Doctor Dixon is a “Discovery Artist,” which means we’ve just begun to form a partnership with him. Read Dr. Dixon’s story about traveling in Chicago below. Enjoy!
In 1976, arriving in Chicago from Atlanta with Muddy Waters Band, I was asleep that early morning when I was awoken by Muddy’s great guitarist Luther “Guitar Jr.” Johnson. “Wake up son, you’re in ‘Chi-Town,’ The Windy City!”
Bring me all of your dreams,
Bring me all your
That I may wrap them
In a blue cloud-cloth
Away from the too rough fingers
Of the world.
“The Dream Keeper” by Langston Hughes
I’m writing this article on the eve of the release of my first album, Vari-Colored Songs: A Tribute to Langston Hughes, on the third day of Black History Month and two days after Langston Hughes’ birthday. There is so much going through my mind that it’s hard to say exactly what I’m feeling.
I generally resist being politically charged. I use my music to convey different pieces of the American Experience as I interpret them. You can talk to me about my politics in person if you might find it necessary. But… since I’m writing about Black History Month, I feel the use of the words “Black,” “History” and “Month” all together are pretty politically charged anyway – I figure the kid gloves are off. So here goes. (more…)
Leroy James, Willie James (Center), James Weston
After leaving New Orleans, we headed towards Willie James – our country’s greatest Juke Joint drummer. When he plays the drum, you hear the sweat, the beer, and the cigarettes of a lifetime playing the roughest back country juke joints in Mississippi.
It was a cold night when we arrived at Willie James’ home, and we all sat down in his living room, all the burners on the stove were on and the oven door was open, providing all the heat for their trailer. Willie was obviously in pain; he told us he had been under the trailer for the past two days trying to fix their busted water pipes. “My arthritis has really got me,” he said. We caught up with each other, talked of our travels in France and the many shows he did with his band-leader, Willie King. He had been Willie King’s drummer all his life and when King died, Willie James was put out of work – and has been since. Most of the old musicians he knew in the area either had jobs or had retired from playing, and weren’t able to give him any connections to more work.
Taj Mahal called me Saturday night and was excited as he had just learned that the legendary black jazz guitarist Charlie Christian’s father played the harp guitar. “What I would give to know what kind of music they played,” he said.
In 1997 I met photographer Mark Austin, who had bought a glass plate negative of a black man holding a harp guitar, taken in 1915 or so. Amazingly, with some research I identified the guitarist as a Todd Jones – his granddaughter Perlista contacted me after I published the photo. I learned of the black photographer who documented his community, and how after he passed away his photo plates were found and sold out of his abandoned house. That is how this photo of Todd Jones found its way to Mark Austin, and to me. We have a print of the photo hanging in the Music Maker offices, not only as a lovely piece of art but to remind us how easily it was for talented Roots musicians to be lost to history – and our job is to make sure that does not happen.