Stealing the Blues

The account below about the origin of Memorial Day serves to support my contention that these books should be required reading in High School because they tell the truth about how Africans in America survived the horrors of slavery through music and how their music has been copied and commercialized by white producers and all but ignored by black people.

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One of the things that most black people know is that the public school system does a horrible  job teaching black history. They will gladly tell you all the wonderful things that white people did and maybe even go back to Europe, but the contributions of African Americans are kept entirely on the back burner. [Source]

A fact that you should probably know is that African Americans are the reason that Memorial Day even exists in the first place.  According to Professor David Blight of Yale University, the event began on May 1, 1865.  A group of former slaves in Charleston, SC gave a proper burial to 257 Union soldiers who’d been put into a mass grave.

The black community of Charleston then consecrated the new cemetery with “an unforgettable parade of 10,000 people.”  The event was initially called “Decoration Day” and was led by 3,000 black school children who started off by singing the song “John Brown’s Body.”  They were then followed by hundreds of black women with baskets of flowers and crosses.  After that, black men marched behind them in cadence, followed by Union infantry.

The Union soldiers lived in horrible conditions, and 257 of them died from exposure and disease.   This was the reason for the creation of the mass grave site.  A total of 28 black men went to the site an re-buried the men properly, largely as a  “thank you” for helping fight for their freedom.

They also built a fence around the cemetery, and on the outside, put the words, “Martyrs of the Race Course.”

Dr. Boyce Watkins, who created an online course based on a forum held with Minister Louis Farrakhan last month, says that this is simply the tip of the iceberg.  He says that misinformation is one of the most storied weapons used to perpetuate the oppression of black people. 

“Black people must, as part of our healing, go back and rewrite history to ensure that we learn the truth,” said Dr. Watkins. “You’ve been lied to for your entire life, so it is up to all of us to use the Internet as a critical resource in helping us to learn who we truly are.  We are great people and America would not be the country that it is today without our sacrifice.”

Now you know the rest of the story.  Go tell this one to everyone you know and consider acquiring and reading the books posted above.

Three Surprises

Since May 14, I have been on a leave of absence from my coursework and from most other activities, although I’ve had some loose ends to tie up. An invitation to attend the WIMUST Conference in Italy, led me to set up a crowdfunder for the travel expenses. Over 50 people donated over $2,000 in five weeks and I’m still expecting more to be donated. Donate to this travel fund at http://www.gofundme.com/jc-wimust

jeanniecheathamToday, I received two very surprising phone calls that confirmed my conviction that the work I do to promote women musicians is appreciated and necessary.  The first call came from California.  Jeannie Cheatham called to tell me about an article in ELLE magazine on Women in Music.  Jeannie questioned why the writer omitted women in jazz and blues and she called me to ask why there were no veteran women in music represented and if I thought Alicia Keys is a jazz musician.  I told her that times have changed and Jazz is not Jazz anymore. Alicia’s music is based on the two-chord theory that most of the other musicless hit songs of the day are based on.

Jeannie Cheatham was my guest on MUSICWOMAN RADIO on August 25, 2010.  Jeannie said she believed I knew the women in jazz and blues who should have been featured in that article. I concurred and recited a litany of names including:

I told Jeannie that these women and women like her are not on the “A” List of women in music, although they are on the “A” list of women in Jazz and Blues, along with several others who perform frequently in the Northeast, on the West Coast, and around the world.  I asked her if Esperanza Spaulding was in the article. Yes, the fledgling bassist/vocalist/composer is in the article. I told Jeannie, this is the new breed of women in music. These are the curvy darlings of the industry and we, at 65 and 84, are no longer in the running because the culture is about image, now, rather than about artistry and music. She asked me to mail her the list of women I felt should be highlighted. I agreed to do this, immediately.

The second call came from Hong Kong. Magda Machado called to say that she wanted to donate to my project but that she’d given up her bank account and credit cards and was going to send me money by Western Union.  I was very surprised.  She told me the work I’m doing is very important for women musicians and she wanted to help me get to Fiuggi, Italy in July. She said I could pick the money up at Publix tomorrow as she was on the way to the doctor’s office and would telegraph the money to me, immediately.  I was floored to hear from this Brazilian woman who thought enough of me to call me from China – Maguinha-Magda Machado Garshol.

Then, I thought what a blessing to have women like these in my life – women like Jeannie, who understood why I had to find her, after starting her book Meet Me With Your Black Drawers On, why I had to search her on the Internet and track her down from the number on her website.  Magda understood me too, although she’d only met me once, face-to-face, and was my guest on MUSICWOMAN RADIO on November 4, 2009, just before she departed Florida for Hong Kong, where she’s been ever since, reluctantly, until she met a woman composer who is helping her write down here music.

The third surprise was a link to an article entitled Why Musicians Make Our Brains Sing posted on the StooshPR Group page and tagged to me.  This article asserted that, “each act of listening to music may be thought of as both recapitulating the past and predicting the future.”

In light of that assertion, I concluded that, although I’m about to be extinct as a jazz vocalist, I can rest assured that I have touched many hearts not only with my music but with my non-profit organization Women in Jazz South Florida, Inc. that has the mission of promoting women musicans, globally, whether they are old, young, curvy, fluffy, obscure or famous. The messages in women’s music MUST be heard and we must Consciously Include Women Musicians in all programming, particularly that funded by public taxes.