Hip Hop pioneer, fly kid, Soul City resident, scion of the Sugar Hill/All Platinum Records empire, and the man who gave me my first job in the record business, Joey Robinson, dead at the age of 53. R.I.P.
Tonight at 10 PM EDT @insideplaya suits up and gets in the game with @QTipTheAbstract on his Abstract Radio show. Webcasting globally on Apple Music’s Beats 1
Bree Newsome of Charlotte, North Carolina, is not your average southern girl. She’s been blessed with many gifts; she is athletically built and has lovely, brown skin like the color of an early autumn chestnut. She speaks thoughtfully while using a confident and clear tone and, when she does speak, people listen. Newsome is cosmopolitan, politically aware, a classically trained musician, an award winning filmmaker, a graduate of NYU’s prestigious Tisch School of the Arts, the lead vocalist of a retro ’70s style funk bar band, looks great in a climbing harness and handcuffs, and she’s a freedom fighter of the first order.
Last Saturday, the final three attributes on the list combined to make Ms. Newsome an Internet-breaking sensation. While wearing the harness, she courageously climbed a flagpole in an act of civil disobedience that reminded this observer of Rosa Parks defiantly choosing to sit down in the front of a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama 60 years ago. By doing so, both Ms. Parks and Ms. Newsome struck a blow for freedom.
The disobedient Ms. Newsome broke an unjust law that allows an archaic symbol of white supremacy to fly unfettered over property financed by taxpayers of all kinds. By lowering the state sanctioned Confederate flag, waving it for all to see, and then descending into the waiting arms of the local authorities, she brought an already raging controversy into sharp relief: there is no just place for a symbol of the failed secession – the rebel states who fought to protect the institution of slavery – to fly on publicly financed U.S. soil. While sliding down the pole and holding the captured flag, she quoted biblical scripture and informed the waiting officers that she was, “prepared to be arrested.” That’s when she was handcuffed.
The actions of Dylan Roof, the alleged murderer of nine unarmed churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina had a taste for displaying the controversial symbol in online photographs.
Previously, controversy raged over South Carolina’s right to fly the symbol of oppression, terror, treason, sedition, and slavery. This led to an NACCP organized economic boycott that resulted in $7 billion in lost revenue from tourism. Controversy over the legitimacy of the flag was sparked again by the savage acts committed at Mother Emanuel. William J. Barber II, the President of North Carolina’s NAACP, said of Ms. Newsome’s lowering of the flag, “We stand in solidarity with her, and the deep commitment which she has to justice, love, and true inter-racial community. We stand with her as she is our family.”
Once Bree was arrested, members of the progressive and creative Twitter community weighed in; Oscar winning documentarian, Michael Moore, tweeted, “Friends of @BreeNewsome – I will pay her bail or any legal fees she has. Please let her know this. #Charleston #TakeDownThatFlag.”
Ava Du Vernay, the director of the Academy Award snubbed, civil rights epic “Selma” referenced rumors that Marvel is interested in her directing “The Black Panther” and tweeted her support, “Yes. I hope I get the call to direct the motion picture about a black superhero I admire. Her name is @BreeNewsome.
A crowdfunding campaign for legal fees was mounted. It has so far yielded over $110,000, and minority leader of the South Carolina state legislature (D) Todd Rutherford will represent Ms. Newsome in her upcoming trial. She and her flag lowering co-conspirator, James Ian Tyson, face charges of defacing a public monument and a possible maximum sentence of three years in jail.
While eulogizing Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the slain pastor of Mother Emmanuel and a sitting member of the South Carolina State Legislature, Barack Obama said,
“Over the course of centuries, black churches served as ‘hush harbors’ where slaves could worship in safety; praise houses where their free descendants could gather and shout hallelujah rest stops for the weary along the Underground Railroad; bunkers for the foot soldiers of the Civil Rights Movement. They have been, and continue to be, community centers where we organize for jobs and justice; places of scholarship and network; places where children are loved and fed and kept out of harm’s way, and told that they are beautiful and smart and taught that they matter. That’s what happens in church.”
In a statement that she issued immediately after her arrest, Ms. Newsome (who chose not to participate in this story) referenced the Emmanuel Massacre and the bombing of four little girls in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1964 and said this,
“Not long ago, I had watched the beginning of Selma, the reenactment of the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing and had shuddered at the horrors of history.
But this was neither a scene from a movie nor was it the past. A white man had just entered a black church and massacred people as they prayed. He had assassinated a civil rights leader. This was not a page in a textbook I was reading nor an inscription on a monument I was visiting.
This was now.
This was real.
This was—this is—still happening.”
No one can do everything, but each of us can do something and that’s precisely what Bree Newsome did. Something. She is one of those fully grown beautiful children that Obama referred to in his eulogy.
As Complex Magazine said in an online report on Ms. Newsome, “Not every superhero wears a cape.” Sometimes they wear handcuffs.
Nina Simone was way ahead of her time. “What Happened, Miss Simone?” the new Netflix documentary – that went up on the site this weekend – clearly depicts this fact. Oscar nominated, Liz Garbus and producer/music industry vet, Jayson Jackson have come up with a tale of art, power, pain, and sacrifice that has lit up the independent film festival circuit and is a must see.
Simone was a bi-polar, bi-sexual, genre defying artist/activist, whose career arc began as a child prodigy in the Black church. While growing up in her hometown of Tryon, North Carolina, Jim Crow was master of all he purveyed. But in spite of this, Nina’s obvious talent attracted the attention of white patronage and tutelage. Eventually, aspirations were stoked within the young artist’s soul for a career in classical music. The dream of glory on the stages of the great European concerts halls, playing the compositions of Beethoven, Bach and Brahms was dashed, when racist thinking prevented her acceptance into a prestigious Philadelphia based music school.
Young Nina found hope and opportunity nonetheless, and began to pursue a career as an Atlantic City nightclub singer. Notoriety that she received from this period led to a recording contract and the release of her smash rendition of Gershwin’s standard “I Loves You Porgy” and a stunning debut at the Newport Jazz Festival. What then appeared to be a promising career as a jazz influenced standards singer was redirected by the bombing death of four little girls in a Birmingham, Alabama church, the assassination of Mississippi activist, Medgar Evers and Nina’s eventual participation in a civil rights movement in full swing.
With all of her standing in the international creative community, she chose to fight for the rights of her people. Nina’s commitment to change, to justice and to better may have caused her to lose millions. The radicalized Simone performed for marchers on the eve of the Selma protests, hung out with James Baldwin, Lorraine Hansberry, and Langston Hughes and became the next door neighbor of Malcolm X. Simone’s defiant expression of Afrocentric creativity not only planted seeds for the eventual emergence of hip hop, but found supporters and followers in a nascent feminist movement that has flowered into a serious presidential candidacy for Hillary Clinton.
Last February, when John Legend received his Best Original Song Oscar for “Glory,” his collaboration with Common, from the soundtrack of “Selma,” he both quoted and thanked Nina Simone when he said, “It’s an artist’s duty to reflect the times in which we live.” Through his music and his work with the Black Lives Matter Movement, Legend has proven to be a creative and political son of Nina Simone’s that she might have been proud of. Along with Talib Kweli, J. Cole, Jigga and Q-Tip, Legend has risked commercial acceptance by raising his voice for justice.
The recent events in Ferguson, Staten Island, Cleveland and Charleston remind us that the struggle that Simone was engaged in is not over, and that lessons from the past must inform our fight for a better present and a more hopeful tomorrow. Revolutionary activist, Angela Davis has contributed liner notes to a forthcoming compilation album, “Nina Revisited: A Tribute To Nina Simone” that has been inspired by the film, and that will feature five new vocal performances from Ms. Lauryn Hill. Davis wrote this of Simone, “I first heard Nina Simone’s music as a high school student in the late 1950’s in New York. Although her name did not yet by itself evoke black freedom, as when she later sang “All I want is equality/ For my sister, my brother, and me,” I do not think that I was alone in feeling that something in her phenomenal voice beckoned us toward the battle to come. It was from Nina Simone that we learned, for example, how not to interpret the tactical importance of nonviolence as mitigation of our collective anger against racism. Thus “Mississippi Goddamn” became as important an anthem of the Civil Rights Movement as “We Shall Overcome.”
On this last weekend of Black Music Month, and while we fight to reform an unjust system that must be reminded that Black Lives Matter, it might be instructive to watch “What Happened, Miss Simone?” and remember how much further we must travel before we overcome and how hard Nina Simone fought to get us here.
Posted in Film, hip hop, insideplaya, Jazz, Music, New York, Politics, Soul, Soul City | Tagged Angela Davis, Jay Z, Jayson Jackson, Malcolm X, Nina Simone, Q-Tip, What Happened Miss Simone? | 4 Comments »
Jayson Jackson, Producer of the Netflix Documentary, What Happened, Miss Simone? And The Great Bill Withers
Last Sunday night, Janet Jackson released a sexy slice of hot weather seduction called “No Sleeep”. The record is rocketing up the iTunes global pop chart and looks like it may be the first look at what could be an historic comeback.
At 3:26 the joint is all whispered hypnotic seduction where she threatens to keep her lover up all night while she handles her business. Classic Black Pop production team, Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis have reteamed with Janet after a long layoff, and have delivered a down tempo smash that recalls the vocal style of the late hip-hop princess, Aaliyah.
The firm of Jackson, Jam and Lewis were collectively responsible for co-creating the lion’s share of 21 number one pop singles in a run that lasted from late 1985 until 2001 that included “What Have You Done For Me Lately”; “Nasty”; “Rhythm Nation”; “Funny How Time Flies”; “That’s The Way Love Goes” and “Got ‘Til It’s Gone”. This is required listening. Her album is expected to drop this fall. I can’t wait.