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Bay Area African American Women in Music: Tramaine Hawkins takes Gospel to Selma and the Symphony

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As a teenager growing up in Berkeley during the 1960s, Tramaine Hawkins, the daughter of Ronald and Lois “the Pie Queen” Davis, was well aware of the Civil Rights Movement. She was too busy, however, singing the praises of Jesus Christ at her grandfather Bishop E.E. Cleveland’s Ephesian Church of God in Christ and other churches to actively participate in the movement.

On Sunday, March 8, during the 50th anniversary of the infamous “Bloody Sunday” and the successful Selma-to-Montgomery march and passage of the Voting Rights Act that followed, Hawkins showed her support for the movement by taking part in a star-studded concert in Selma following a march across the Edmund Pettis Bridge.

Some 50,000 people attended the free concert, which also included performances by the Blind Boys of Alabama, Kirk Franklin, Doug E. Fresh, Kelly Price and Ruben Studdard. The reclusive Bill Withers spoke but let his two adult children do the singing.

“It was an awesome honor and a wonderful celebration of voting rights of African Americans,” the singer says. “My heart went out to the people there – parents, grandparents, children. It was an awesome sight to have our people come together like that to support and celebrate one another.”

Hawkins and many others were accompanied by a symphony orchestra and mass choir directed by Henry Panion III, a professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. Panion personally invited Hawkins to appear at the concert and has written earlier symphonic arrangements of some of her songs that were performed with orchestras in Washington, D.C., and other cities.

Hawkins will next perform his arrangements with the Stockton Symphony at Christmas concerts on December 12 and 13 in the Atherton Auditorium on the San Joaquin Delta College campus in Stockton.

“I’ve always loved a challenge. I’ve always loved to spread my wings and not just do one genre of music. I’ve been a trailblazer in a lot of respects, with what I did with “Fall Down” and singing with Carlos Santana. He recorded with me on my Grammy-winning album,” she says of her 1990 album “Tramaine Hawkins Live.”

“I think the range and intimacy and fervor of my voice really stand out when I’m singing with an orchestra. It really allows me to just kind of float and have a presence over the music,” she explains. “I hear different chord structures and really play with the melodies and experiment a little bit. It’s a wonderful feeling.”

Hawkins lives near Sacramento with her husband of 20 years, Tommie Richardson Jr. She was previously married to Bishop Walter Hawkins and was a featured soloist in his Love Center Choir. She has seven grandchildren and another on the way.

“So many artists have gleaned so much from me,” she explains, now billed as Lady Tramaine Hawkins. “I’ve always been known as a lady on stage with such presence.”

Arts and Culture

Buddy Bolden: The Forgotten Father of Jazz

It is suggested that Bolden was a byproduct of his time and circumstances. He was an improviser; there was no trace of written music left. He performed at the beginning of the age of recorded music and silent film, so there are no known video or audio traces of him. So far, only one photograph of him has been discovered.

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Buddy Bolden holding his coronet is standing to the left of the upright bass player. Wikipedia photo.

Charles “Buddy” Bolden (1867–1831) is one of the central figures in New Orleans music, yet his place in the history of jazz remains tenuous. His name may mean nothing to a casual jazz listener but his legacy, a collage of truth, whispers and some rumors, lives on.

Much of what is known of Bolden comes from oral accounts passed down decades after his death. Records about his life remain scarce. It was often said that he cut hair at a barber shop in New Orleans; jumped from a hot air balloon over Lincoln Park and played his coronet on the way down; moonlighted as the editor of a scandal sheet called The Cricket.

What music scholars do know is that Bolden grew up in the New Orleans’ neighborhood now known as Central City. It’s likely that there, from childhood, he was constantly exposed to brass bands parading through the streets. He probably attended Fisk School and may have even graduated. During this time Bolden began studying the coronet.
Bolden would later become a working musician known for his loud sound and improvisational skills. He played in parades, at picnics, parks and union halls, and was a favorite at the honky-tonks. Yet this talented pioneering jazz musician had schizophrenia.

He was unable to properly read music and had impaired motor function. He only improvised on his coronet, playing the ragtime music popular from the 1890s to the 1920s. It never mattered because people loved him.

Bolden was arrested for the first time in 1906. According to newspaper reports, Bolden, in a fit of psychosis, was convinced he was being drugged or poisoned. He attacked his caregiver, who was either his mother or his mother-in-law. “He was booked on a charge of being insane, and alcohol abuse was cited as the reason for his insanity.”

How long Bolden was jailed is unknown. His life, however, would deteriorate after the incident. He became erratic and unreliable; he eventually quit playing his coronet. His final public performance was during a parade on Labor Day 1906. He dropped out of the festivities before the finish.

Two more arrests were made the following year. After the third (March 13, 1907), Bolden was committed to the State Insane Asylum in Jackson, La. It was there that he would spend the rest of his life.

By the time New Orleans music was dubbed jazz (1918) Bolden had been in the mental asylum for more than a decade. He was a distant memory.

It is suggested that Bolden was a byproduct of his time and circumstances. He was an improviser; there was no trace of written music left. He performed at the beginning of the age of recorded music and silent film, so there are no known video or audio traces of him. So far, only one photograph of him has been discovered.

Bolden died in obscurity. He was buried in Holt Cemetery in New Orleans, but the location is unknown.

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City Selects Ayodele Nzinga as Inaugural Poet Laureate

As poet laureate, Nzinga will make an inaugural address, partner with the city’s youth poet laureate Myra Estrada on a reading series, deliver four readings in Oakland, and write a poem that commemorates the city.

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Oakland first poet laureate Ayodele Nzinga, author of “SorrowLand Oracle” and “The Horse Eaters,” in an undated photo. (Photo courtesy City of Oakland).

Poet, playwright, and community activist Ayodele Nzinga was selected as Oakland’s inaugural poet laureate, city officials announced on June 11.

Nzinga is the founding producer and director of the West Oakland theater company Lower Bottom Playaz, established in 1999. She’s also the founding director of Black Arts Movement Business District Community Development Corporation, which produces BAMBDFEST, an international arts and cultural festival celebrating the arts in the Black community.

“Her decades-long commitment to Oakland’s art scene will feed the richness of her storytelling as she nurtures creativity in others,” Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said in a statement.

Nzinga is the author of at least two books of poetry: “SorrowLand Oracle,” a collection of spells, incantations, prayers, and “The Horse Eaters,” which is described as an origin tale, a reclamation of memory and a movement toward wholeness in thought.

Nzinga said she is “overjoyed” with her selection as Oakland’s first poet laureate.

“I look forward to representing ‘The Town’ and the honor of bringing poetry to the people!” she said in a statement.

As poet laureate, Nzinga will make an inaugural address, partner with the city’s youth poet laureate Myra Estrada on a reading series, deliver four readings in Oakland, and write a poem that commemorates the city.

“Whether in the visual performing arts, music or literature, the talents of the Town’s artists are world-renowned and deserve recognition and financial support,” J. K. Fowler, cultural affairs commissioner and chair of the poet laureate selection team, said in a statement.

City officials closed nominations on May 19 for Oakland’s inaugural poet laureate and five members of the city’s literary community selected Nzinga from other nominees based on five criteria.

That included their poetic work, and among other things, their understanding of civic stories around belonging, culture, and equity.

Nzinga will serve a two-year term until May 2023. Her selection comes with a $5,000 honorarium.

The date for the inaugural address by Nzinga has not been set.

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Arts and Culture

Juneteenth Jubilee

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