From the Jim Crow world of 1920s Greenville, South Carolina, to Greenwich Village’s Café Society in the ’40s, to their 1974 Grammy-winning collaboration on “Loves Me Like a Rock,” the Dixie Hummingbirds have been one of gospel’s most durable and inspiring groups. […] Continue reading »
Rosa Parks, an African American seamstress in 1955 Alabama, had no idea she was changing history when, work-weary, she refused to surrender her seat to a white passenger on a segregated bus. Now she is immortalized for the defiance that sent her to jail and triggered a bus boycott that catapulted Martin Luther King, Jr., into the national spotlight. Who was she, before and after her historic act?* Douglas Brinkley, a familiar and respected television commentator on a wide range of historical, documentary, and news programs
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More than half a century after his bebop debut, and more than eleven years after his death, Miles Davis lives on. His music is used to pitch jeans, shape films, and personify an era. To this day, he is revered as the archetype of cool.
While several books have been written about Davis, including his own autobiography, due to his passion for reinvention and his extreme reticence the real story of Miles Davis has been obscured by the legend and widely misunderstood. […] Continue reading »
The integration of baseball in 1947 had undeniable significance for the civil rights movement and American history. Thanks to Jackie Robinson, a barrier that had once been believed to be permanent was shattered — paving the way for scores of African Americans who wanted nothing more than to be granted the same rights as any other human being.*
In an interview with Jerry Jazz Musician publisher Joe Maita, NPR Weekend Edition host Scott Simon, author of Jackie Robinson and the Integration of Baseball, discusses how Robinson’s heroism — and that of Dodger general manager Branch Rickey — got America to face the question of racial equality. […] Continue reading »
Alice Walker’s 1975 Ms. magazine article “Looking for Zora” and Robert Hemenway’s 1977 biography reintroduced Zora Neale Hurston to the American landscape and ushered in a renaissance for a writer who was a bestselling author at her peak in the 1930’s, but died penniless and in obscurity some three decades later.
Since that rediscovery of novelist, anthropologist, playwright, folklorist, essayist and poet Hurston, her books — from the classic love story Their Eyes Were Watching God to her controversial autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road — have sold millions of copies. Hurston is now taught in American, African American, and Women’s Studies courses in high schools and universities from coast to coast.
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Lenny Bruce’s words had the power to provoke laughter and debate — as well as shock and outrage. It was the force of his voice that would place him on the wrong side of the law in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago and New York.
Lenny committed his life to telling the truth. But the truth he told infuriated those in power, and authorities in the largest, most progressive cities in the country worked effortlessy to put him in jail. To them, Lenny’s words were filthy and depraved. But to his friends — the hip, the discontented, the fringe — his words were not only sharp and hilarious, they were a light in the dark to the repressed society of the early 1960’s. […] Continue reading »
Hoagy Carmichael remains, for millions, the enduring voice of heartland America, a beloved counterpoint to the urban sensibility of Cole Porter and George Gershwin. The author William Zinsser said of Carmichael ,”Play me a Hoagy Carmichael song and I hear the banging of a screen door and the whine of an outboard motor on a lake — sounds of summer in a small-town America that is long gone but still longed for.” […] Continue reading »
Bill Evans (1929 – 1980) played a major role in the history of modern jazz. The New Jersey-born pianist’s groundbreaking ideas were so widely absorbed by his peers and subsequently by every new generation of musicians that he can be classed among the most influential figures in post-war jazz, ranking alongside Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie. […] Continue reading »
That trumpeter Chet Baker was a sensitive musician whose sound is a cherished part of the jazz landscape is well known. That he led a hard life is also pretty well known, perhaps even to the most casual music fan. His 1988 death from a fall out an Amsterdam window only added to the sad mystery surrounding his persona.
What was not known by most of us is the haunting depth of Baker’s self-destructive life; that he was an arsonist, a thief, a second-story man, a drug addict, an abusive husband and lover, a philanderer, a liar…need we go on? We could, you know.
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The child of the fundamentalist South with an eighth-grade education, a self-taught intellectual in the working-class Communist Party of the 1930s, a black man married to a white woman, and an expatriate in France after World War II, Richard Wright was always an outsider. He went well beyond the limits of the times in which he lived, and sought to reconcile opposing cultures in his work.
“How the hell did you happen?” the Chicago sociologist Robert Park once asked Wright. In Richard Wright: His Life and Times, biographer Hazel Rowley shows how, chronicling with the dramatic drive of a novel Wright’s extraordinary journey from a sharecropper’s shack in Mississippi to international renown as a writer, fiercely independent thinker, and outspoken critic of racism. […] Continue reading »