Black History Month Leap Year Review: the Good, the Sad & the Bizarre

Posted by Billyjam, March 2, 2012 11:40am | Post a Comment

Among the "good" of this year's Black History Month was Robert Glasper's excellent
Black Radio album on Blue Note released Feb 28th, 2012

Maybe it's because this is a leap year that Black History Month 2012, which ended two days ago, seemed a little out of whack. Or maybe it was because it was a Black History Month that started on a really bad note when, on the morning of Feb 1st, the tragic news that Don Cornelius of Soul Train fame had taken his own life was the first thing we were to read about. That was bad enough but this tragic news came hot on the heels of the world losing a string of other black music/cultural icons, including in just the preceding two weeks both Etta James and JImmy Castor.  And then, of course, ten days later, on the eve of the Grammys, the whole world was taken aback with the shocking news that Whitney Houston had died at age 48. Not exactly a great time to joyously celebrate black history!

Then on top of all this were a string of other simply bizarre  moments during Black History Month 2012, ranging from weird to surreal incidents like the black owned music label Cash Money Records (Lil Wayne's label) signing Limp Bizkit, to Billy Crystal donning blackface in his portrayal of Sammy Davis Jr. during the Oscars on Sunday night, to the debacle that was national publication XXL magazine inviting "guest columnist" Too $hort to give "fatherly advice" to young school age boys on how to sexually take advantage of girls whether they want it or not - essentially endorsing and promoting abuse and rape of underage girls. WTF? indeed. The only silver lining to this inexcusable editorial move by the magazine that claims to cover "hip-hop on a higher level" was that it sparked a national discussion on the the current societal ill that is commonly referred to as "rape culture," of which one of the most poignant discussions was an audio/video streamed one from last week from Oakland that was hosted by Davey D for TradioV Multi Media Network and is archived here. I recommend you check it out.

Of course besides all the sad and the bizarre moments of Black History Month that this leap year brought with it there were enough good moments, incidents, and events to outweigh or at least balance out the negative ones. These included such things as all the Black History Month Amoeblogger  posts here on this website to the such new album releases as the excellent Robert Glasper Experiment's Black Radio that that arrived in Amoeba on Tuesday (Feb 28th) care of Blue Note Records.  For this collaborative full-length recording project the talented jazz keyboardist (along with his band Experiment's saxist Casey Benjamin, bassist Derrick Hodge, & drummer Chris Dave) has carefully handpicked a wide array of artists including Erykah Badu, Bilal, Lupe Fiasco, Lalah Hathaway, Shafiq Husayn (Sa-Ra), KING, Ledisi, Chrisette Michele, Mos Def, Musiq Soulchild, Meshell Ndegeocello, and Stokley Williams of Mint Condition, who, while clearly outside of his genre, somehow fit perfectly with his style and consequently this album just flows like water. Beautiful! Check out the electronic press kit (EPK) video above on this album to get a good sense of what it's all about and buy it online from Amoeba here.

Among the many other "good" things for me about Black History Month 2012, which I spent entirely in New York City, were the black history/culture themed exhibits and events that I got to attend during the month. These included such events at City College of New York as the third annual Is Hip Hop History? conference with legendary hip-hop DJ/producer Pete Rock as a keynote speaker, and the month long The Long Walk to Freedom: Portraits of Civil Rights Activists Then and Now which was a photography and oral history exhibit about "16 ordinary people from diverse backgrounds who, through grassroots organizing, helped to change our nation and gave birth to the civil rights movement."
What I personally love about exhibits like the Long Walk is that they highlight a time in "history" that is really not that many years ago and yet so much has radically changed in the intervening years. Even more profound in driving home this point is the incredible photo exhibit The Loving Story: Photographs by Grey Villet at New York's International Center of Photography which runs beyond Black History Month until May 6th and is well worth a visit if you are in NYC. You likely are already familiar with the content of this historic exhibit that was also the subject of the documentary The Loving Story which debuted on HBO a couple of weeks ago on Valentine's Day. In fact it was during the making of The Loving Story documentary that filmmaker Nancy Buirski uncovered LIFE magazine/freelance photographer Grey Villet's images which she incorporated into her documentary.

These intimate images, including the one above, capture a historic time in America's not too distant past when - up until 1967 - sixteen US states prohibited interracial marriage. At the center of this landmark change in American law was the married couple of Richard Perry Loving, a white man, and his wife, Mildred Loving, a woman of African American and Native American descent. (their last name - hence the title "The Loving Story"). In 1958 they got married and then five weeks later got arrested in the state of Virginia for miscegenation. The Lovings' persistent legal battle to justify their marriage changed history when the Supreme Court unanimously declared Virginia's anti-miscegenation law, and all race-based marriage bans, unconstitutional. The exhibit features 20 vintage prints of the Lovings. For more info call  (212) 857-0000 or click here.

        As well as performing Run DMC classics DMC also did this new solo single "Rock Solid"

Another excellent event in NYC that I got to attend during this Black History Month was one action & education packed day Saturday (Feb 18th) at the American Museum of Natural History's (AMNH) African-American Musical Mosaic day long program of family-friendly activities and live musical performances, that concluded with both a Q+A and a special concert by Darryl “DMC” McDaniels of Run DMC fame, held in the museum's large LeFrak IMAX Theater. The concert portion, for which DMC was joined by DJ Charlie Chan, was a crowd-pleasing Run DMC greatest hits set that included such classics as "It's Tricky" and "Mary Mary" plus some new solo material including DMC's new single "Rock Solid" + a short collaboration with the IMPACT Repertory Theatre choir. But even more enjoyable was the preceding Q+A portion of the evening with DMC that was moderated by fashion model and host Gail O’Neill and included many random questions posed by audience members.

DMC, who came across as a totally down-to-earth, nice & sincere guy (he later seemed that way in person at the meet-and-greet that followed in the lobby) talked openly and honestly on many topics including his  sobriety. "When I went into rehab they put all the addictive personality traits up on a board and said 'Pick two.' I looked at them all and said they are all me," he confided in hushed tones with the large auditorium. "Then they gave me books about things like suppression. They gave me books about how to be a human being, not about hurry up and get better so you can get back on the road. It wasn't about that. When I went to rehab the first thing that I had to admit to myself was that show business might be over because how could I go back into those venues and be around drink? How can I be around others who are driniking? I can't! Those things I can't be around. I had to go into rehab and learn about me; simple things like 'Was there ever a time in the music business Daryl that you were in a room and people said something that upset you and you didn't speak out about it?" And I said no. And my therapist said, 'Excuse my French but, 'Muthafucka but you goddam liar!"

On the sad topic of fellow Run DMC member Jam Master Jay's murder ten years ago he said when he and his wife, who were at their New Jersey home when phone calls started coming in and the news came on the TV, that he refused to believe that this was true. He said that this was part denial and partly because there had been rumors before 2002 that Jay was shot & killed. "In 1986 on the Raising Hell tour there was a rumor going round that Jam Master Jay was shot," he recalled so when he heard the news he dismissed it as another rumor. He said it was only when he and his wife drove into New York and onto Jamaica in Queens to where Jay's recording studio was that he realized it was true. "I was like, Jam Master Jay don't get shot. He don't die. But when we got to Jay's studio I saw two people. I saw Ed Lover crying and I saw Chuck D crying, and you know how strong that brother is....And then I knew it was true!," he steadily stated as the auditorium grew silent hanging onto every word. 

But the biggest response DMC got from the audience was when he fielded a question about what made Run DMC so popular with audiences. It was their simple but true to the roots of hip-hop live show he said. "We had no fake lighting. We never used a DAT machine. We didn't have dancers. We didn't have elaborate costumes. We didn't have sound effects. We didn't have AutoTune.....All we ever used was the same thing we used when we were 10, 11, and 12 years old in the park: two turntables, microphones, a crate of records, and ye'all [an audience]. That's all we needed." And to that the auditorium applauded wildly including me. It was one of those moments, that as a lifelong hip-hop fan, gave me goose-bumps and made it a good Black History Month. 

And finally I leave you with a song by an artist that I listen to a lot both during Black History Month and every other time of the year, Nina Simone and a moving live version of the song "Mississippi Goddam."


Relevant Tags

Black History Month 2012 (11), Chuck D (25), Xxl (4), Robert Glasper Experiment (1), Jam Master Jay (5), Run Dmc (16), Loving Story (1), Dmc (55), American Museum Of Natural History (2), Billy Crystal (1), Don Cornelius (4), Cash Money Records (7), Etta James (10), Rape Culture (1), Too $hort (45), Black History Month (134), Davey D (4), Whitney Houston (11)