Black Studies

Gina A. Ulysse on Human Rights, Haiti, and Wyclef

August 12, 2010
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Gina A. Ulysse on Human Rights, Haiti, and Wyclef

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Duke Ellington’s America reviewed in the Telegraph

July 12, 2010
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Duke Ellington’s America reviewed in the Telegraph

The Telegraph recently ran a review of two new books on two of the greatest names in twentieth century jazz. In his review Ian Thomson sets Harvey G. Cohen’s Duke Ellington’s America alongside a new book on Thelonious Monk, both of which, Thomson argues, eloquently demonstrate how these “two giants of jazz … reinvented black American music.” The review begins: At a funeral in New Orleans in 1901, Joe “King” Oliver played a blues-drenched dirge on the trumpet. This was the new music they would soon call jazz. A century on, from the hothouse stomps of Duke Ellington to the angular doodlings of Thelonious Monk, jazz survives as an important musical voice of America. Ellington was the first jazz composer of real distinction. No other bandleader so consistently redefined the sound and scope of jazz. As a classically trained pianist he fused the hot, syncopated sounds of Jazz Age Harlem with an element of dissonance to produce something unique: a dance music of trance-inducing charm, originality and attack. Continue reading at the telegraph.co.uk and read this excerpt from Cohen’s book. . . .

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Harvey Cohen on BBC’s Nightwaves

May 18, 2010
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Harvey Cohen on BBC’s Nightwaves

Harvey G. Cohen, author of Duke Ellington’s America was recently interviewed by Philip Dodd on the BBC Radio 3 program Nightwaves. In the program Cohen discusses the profound influence Ellington and his music had on American culture and the complex role he played in America’s civil rights movement. You can find the archived audio from the interview on their site. (You’ll want to fast forward to about 17.10 for the beginning of Cohen’s interview.) Read an excerpt. . . .

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Duke Ellington’s America in the New Yorker

May 13, 2010
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Duke Ellington’s America in the New Yorker

Duke Ellington’s influence on the world of music is well documented, but less so his impact on race relations in twentieth century America. In his new biography, Duke Ellington’s America, cultural historian Harvey G. Cohen shows how, as Ellington’s music propelled him to international fame, he was able to harness his unique social status and artistic genius to influence issues of race, equality and religion. A recent article on Ellington in the New Yorker draws on Cohen’s biography to offer a glimpse into Ellington’s life and his strategies for manipulating American cultural attitudes towards race. In the article, Claudia Roth Pierpont paints a picture of Ellington as a man constantly struggling to maintain a broad appeal, (even in the American south where he occasionally played for segregated audiences), while making his music the front on which he waged war against the racism that inevitably shaped his compositions, performances, and his life. Read it online at the New Yorker website. Also read an excerpt from the book. . . .

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Press Release: Cohen, Duke Ellington’s America

May 6, 2010
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Press Release: Cohen, Duke Ellington’s America

Duke Ellington towered over the world of popular music for decades, a singular figure of nearly unmatched achievement and influence. From his unforgettable jazz standards like “Mood Indigo” and “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” to his longer, more orchestral suites that dramatically expanded the boundaries of the form, to his peerless leadership of his big band, Ellington left his mark on every aspect of jazz in its heyday. With Duke Ellington’s America, Harvey G. Cohen offers music fans a vivid, comprehensive account of Ellington’s life and times, setting the artist and his music fully in the context of twentieth-century American culture and history. Making use of unprecedented access to Ellington”s archives—as well as new interviews with his friends, family, and band members—Cohen illuminates Ellington’s constantly evolving approach to composition, performance, and the music business, while also taking into account his role as a spokesman for civil rights and racial justice. Throughout, Cohen regularly hands the mike to Ellington himself, drawing from countless interviews the bandleader gave over the years to lend Duke Ellington’s America an immediacy and intimacy unmatched by any previous account. . . .

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Jazz.com interview with George E. Lewis

December 16, 2009
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Jazz.com interview with George E. Lewis

Jazz.com‘s Ted Panken recently posted an in-depth two–part interview with George E. Lewis, author of A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music. In the interview Panken and Lewis engage in a detailed dialogue on the history, theory, as well as practice of one of the most influential jazz collectives of the 20th century—The Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. From Panken’s preface to the interview: A Power Stronger Than Itself is a landmark work. The bedrock of the text is an exhaustively researched linear narrative history, constructed on over 90 interviews from which Lewis traces keen portraits of numerous members; AACM archival records; encyclopedic citations from contemporaneous literature, both from American and European sources; and vividly recounted personal experience. Furthermore, Lewis contextualizes the musical production of AACM members—a short list of “first-wavers” includes such late 20th-century innovators as Muhal Richard Abrams, who stamped his character on the principles by which the AACM would operate; the founding members of the Art Ensemble of Chicago (Roscoe Mitchell, Joseph Jarman, Lester Bowie, Malachi Favors, and Don Moye); Anthony Braxton, Leo Smith, Leroy Jenkins, Henry Threadgil, Amina Claudine Myers, and John Stubblefield—within both the broader spectrum of experimental activity . . .

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Abrams, Lewis, and Mitchell trio at the Chicago Jazz Festival

September 3, 2009
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Abrams, Lewis, and Mitchell trio at the Chicago Jazz Festival

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Mary Pattillo on the black middle class

August 5, 2009
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Mary Pattillo on the black middle class

Mary Pattillo, author of Black Picket Fences: Privilege and Peril among the Black Middle Class and Black on the Block: The Politics of Race and Class in the City was interviewed recently on Penn State Public Broadcasting’s Conversations webcast speaking on the topic of her two books: the American black middle class. In the interview Pattillo talks about the history of the rise of the black middle class and the unique issues that middle class African American’s face today in negotiating their place within their communities and in American society at large. Navigate to the Penn State website to view the episode. Also read this excerpt from Black on the Block and another from Black Picket Fences. . . .

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Slumming and the unmatchable thrill of doing something disreputable

July 7, 2009
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Slumming and the unmatchable thrill of doing something disreputable

The New York Times City Room blog ran an article yesterday on a 19th century pastime that began as a morally transgressive practice of the urban upper class, but also played an important role in dramatically recasting the racial and sexual landscape of cities like New York and Chicago. “Slumming”, as the practice was popularly known, invited “well-off white urban to explore black, Chinese, gay, or poor working-class communities” in search of a good time, and the unmatchable thrill of doing something disreputable. In the late 1800’s upper class whites, sometimes accompanied by a local guide, would push their way into the living spaces residents in impoverished neighborhoods in a voyeuristic attempt to “see how the other half lived,” reveling in the excitement of police raids, opium dens, and “gawking at prostitutes, gays, lesbians and cross-dressers.” The City Room posting cites Chad Heap, author of Slumming: Sexual and Racial Encounters in American Nightlife, 1885-1940 as he explains how, in the course of the following decades, the practice of slumming evolved into a vital avenue for communication and appreciation across social, economic and cultural barriers that typified Jazz-Age America. From the City Room blog: “In the late 19th century, American . . .

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Press Release: Heap, Slumming

May 14, 2009
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Press Release: Heap, Slumming

Greenwich Village. Harlem. Bronzeville. Even in this freewheeling, globalized age, the names of these iconic neighborhoods still conjure up an atmosphere of glamour, excitement, and illicit thrills. But long before today’s teens or even yesterday’s beatniks wandered their streets, these neighborhoods exercised a powerful attraction for upright members of the middle class looking for dissipation and disreputable fun. With Slumming, Chad Heap brings these early havens of hip to life, recreating the long-lost nightlife of early twentieth-century New York and Chicago. From jazz clubs and speakeasies to black-and-tan parties and cabarets, Heap packs Slumming with vivid scenes, fascinating characters, and wild anecdotes of a late-night life on the borders of the forbidden. And while he doesn’t ignore the role of exploitation and voyeurism in slumming—or the resistance it often provoked—he argues that the relatively uninhibited mingling it promoted across bounds of race and class helped to dramatically recast the racial and sexual landscape of burgeoning U.S. cities. The unforgettable tale of an urban past that continues to resonate in our day, Slumming is a late-night treat for all urbanites and fans of the demi-monde. Read the press release or read the introduction. . . .

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