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John McHenry Boatwright: Operatic Bass-Baritone

  As a member of the Hamburg Opera in Germany, he sang the lead in the 1967 premiere of Gunther Schuller’s Visitation. In 1969, he took part in the premiere performance of Dave Brubeck’s “The Gates of Justice.”

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John McHenry Boatwright.

 It was in the sanctuary of St. James A.M.E. Church in Tennille, Ga. that John McHenry Boatwright (1928–1994) developed a passion for music. He was seven years old at the time and a natural piano player. 

     Boatwright was the youngest son of Levi and Lillie Boatwright. His father was a switchman in Tennille’s rail yards. He found himself out of work when the Great Depression struck in 1929. Boatwright’s mother helped to support the family by working as a cook in a private home.

   The people around young Boatwright who’d experienced his gift knew that his talent would go unrecognized if he stayed in the South. So, his older sister invited him to live with her. By age 12, he’d abandoned familiar surroundings for opportunities in Boston.


    As time progressed, his talent exploded. Young Boatwright would soon face the conundrum of finishing high school or playing jazz music. His choice was the latter, yet he wouldn’t allow his education to suffer. He completed his high school studies at night.


    He later attended the New England Conservatory of Music. To afford the tuition fees, he worked as a cab driver, elevator operator, and at other odd jobs. Throughout those times, Boatwright focused on developing and training his voice. Near the close of his studies there, the voice became his major. In order to support these lessons, he tutored other students in the art of singing. Boatwright received a bachelor’s of music degree ‘sin 1950 and a bachelor of music in voice in 1954 from the conservatory. 

    After his 1956 debut in Boston, he sang the lead role in Clarence Cameron White’s “Ouanga,” presented by the National Negro Opera Foundation at the Metropolitan Opera House. In 1958, he made his operatic debut with the New England Opera Theater in the role of Arkel in Debussy’s “Pelleas et Melisande.” His performance led to an invitation to sing with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra.


    Boatwright later created the central role in the 1966 premiere of Gunther Schuller’s “Visitation.” He repeated the role at the Metropolitan Opera. He also performed the role of Crown in the first complete stereo recording of Gershwin’s “Porgy and Bess” with the Cleveland Orchestra.


    As a member of the Hamburg Opera in Germany, he sang the lead in the 1967 premiere of Gunther Schuller’s Visitation. In 1969, he took part in the premiere performance of Dave Brubeck’s “The Gates of Justice.”
    Making numerous appearances as a recitalist, he sang for several presidents at the White House. This included his performance during President Jimmy Carter’s 1977 inauguration.

    Boatwright was the recipient of several music prizes, among them are two Marian Anderson Awards and first place in the National Federation of Music Clubs competition.
    For many years Boatwright taught voice at Ohio State University. At his death in 1994, he was a professor emeritus at the university’s school of music. He was buried in Bronx, N.Y.

 

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Activism

Democrats in Sacramento Take Steps to Make Voting Easier

Recently, in some states, most notoriously Georgia and Florida, lawmakers have taken steps to restrict voting access and rights for many Americans. But in California, policymakers and legislators are doing the opposite, making proposals to simplify the voting process and expand access to the polls. 

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The electoral process is foundational to the durability of America’s democratic structure.

And as the battle for fairer voting laws rages on, politicians and activists on the political Right claim they are responding to allegations of widespread voter and election fraud. Those on the Left say they are rallying to fight a coordinated political offensive to restrict access to the polls and increasing reports of voter suppression.

Recently, in some states, most notoriously Georgia and Florida, lawmakers have taken steps to restrict voting access and rights for many Americans. 

But in California, policymakers and legislators are doing the opposite, making proposals to simplify the voting process and expand access to the polls. 

Invoking the violent history of voter suppression in the South that her parents endured, which sometimes involved murders — California Secretary of State Shirley Weber says it is a priority of hers to “ensure the right to vote.” 

“I tell people all the time that no number is good unless it’s 100% in terms of voter participation,” Weber told the Public Policy Institute of California. “Why didn’t 5 million go to the polls? We need to figure out where they are and what stopped them from going.”

In the California Legislature, an amendment to Senate Bill (SB) 29, which passed earlier this year, was one bill in a broader legislative effort to secure the right to vote in vulnerable communities.

Before that amendment passed, California law dictated that a ballot would be mailed to all eligible voters for the November 3 statewide general election in 2020 as well as use a Secretary of State vote-by-mail tracking system to ensure votes are counted. 

SB 29, which the governor signed into law in February, extended those requirements to any election “proclaimed or conducted” prior to Jan. 1, 2022.

A record number of voters participated in California elections in 2020. Some political observers attribute that spike to the vote-by-mail system instituted last year.

“To maintain a healthy democracy in California, it is important to encourage eligible voters to vote and to ensure that residents of the state have the tools needed to participate in every election,” the bill reads.

Senate Bill (SB) 583, introduced by California State Sen. Josh Newman (D-Fullerton), would require the Secretary of State to register or preregister eligible citizens to vote upon retrieving the necessary paperwork from the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

Citizens who do not wish to be registered can opt-out of the process altogether.

Newman stressed the importance of access and simplifying the voter registration process. 

“In our state there are an estimated 4.6 million U.S. citizens who are eligible to vote who have not yet registered,” Newman said. “Our obligation as the people’s elected representatives is to make the process simpler and more accessible for them.”

On April 27, the Senate Transportation Committee passed SB 583 with a 13 to 3 vote. The Appropriations Committee has set a hearing for May 10. 

Senate Bill (SB) 503, introduced by Sen. Josh Becker (D-Menlo Park), proposes that if a signature shares enough characteristics with a previous signature from the same voter, then it would be recognized as official on voting paperwork.

Current law dictates that a signature has to match exactly for it to be considered valid.

Disability Rights California (DRC), a non-profit advocacy organization that advances and protects the rights of Californians living with disabilities, has come out in support of SB 503.

“Studies have shown that signature matches disproportionately impact voters with disabilities,” Eric Harris, director of public policy for the DRC wrote in a letter. 

“Voters with disabilities, including seniors, are more likely to vote by mail and would have to sign their name on their ballots,” Harris argued. “A voter’s signature changes over time and for people with disabilities, a signature can change nearly every other time one is written. Some people with disabilities might have conditions that make it difficult to sign your name the same way multiple times.”

For now, the Senate Appropriations Committee has tabled SB 503, placing the bill in what the Legislature calls a “suspense file,” where it awaits further action by lawmakers. 

At the federal level, lawmakers have introduced two bills in the U.S. Congress to expand voting rights, the For The People Act of 2021 and the John L. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

The For The People Act, or H.R.1, proposes a three-pronged approach to expanding election access: Voting, campaign finance, and ethics.

Hilary Shelton, director of the NAACP’s Washington Bureau and senior vice president for Advocacy and Policy, compared the current voting rights battle to that of the Civil Rights Movement in a press conference about H.R.1 and the John L. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

“If you look at some of those 1960s shots of the C.T. Vivians of the world, of the Joe Lowerys and so many others that helped lead Americans to those registration sites, you’ll see them actually literally being beaten to the ground,” Shelton said, referring to well-known Civil Rights Movement activists. 

The John L. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2021, or S.4263, would amend the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to restore the powers it lost after the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling in Shelby v. Holder.  In that case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that laws requiring states and local communities to first clear any changes to voting their local laws with the feds, was unlawful.  

“Well, we’ve become more sophisticated in our disenfranchisement,” Shelton continued. “We want to make sure that we stop that disenfranchisement all along the way and that’s why we’re convinced that a bill named for John Lewis and a bill that speaks for the people are bills that need to pass.”

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Black History

Odetta Gordon: Citizen of the World

Bob Dylan once commented that “hearing Odetta on record turned me on to folk singing.”

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Odetta Gordon (1930–2008) was born in Birmingham. After her father’s death, she moved to Los Angeles with her mother. What she didn’t leave behind was the soul of Birmingham. The city’s deep Southern music had become a part of young Odetta’s being.
At age 13, Odetta studied piano, had voice training, and taught herself to play the guitar. Later, she earned a degree in classical music from Los Angeles City College and performed in a 1949 production of Finian’s Rainbow in San Francisco. Soon (1950s) she would emerge as an important figure in the New York folk music scene.
Gordon relocated to New York City, where her talent was supported by performers such as Harry Belafonte and Pete Seeger. With their encouragement, she performed and recorded more widely. Her repertoire included a distinctive blend of spirituals, slave songs, prison and work songs, folk ballads, Caribbean songs, and blues. Her career had taken off.
In New York, Gordon released her solo recording, Odetta Sings Ballads and Blues (1956), followed by At the Gate of Horn (1957). Bob Dylan once commented that “hearing Odetta on record turned me on to folk singing.” Her voice beckoned four repeat performances at the Newport Folk Festival (1959–65) and subsequent appearances at Carnegie Hall, on television and in several films including Sanctuary (1961).
Gordon’s career continued to blossom. She performed with symphony orchestras and in operas worldwide. She was a featured performer throughout the states, her audience weaving through various cultures. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. dubbed Gordon “queen of American folk.” She had the “ear” of the people, thus  were next on her agenda.
In 1963, Gordon performed at the historic March on Washington and took part in the March on Selma. She sang for President Kennedy and his cabinet on the nationally televised civil rights special, Dinner with the President. Through addressing political and social issues Gordon had become an important advocate for civil rights; an activist for social change.
Sadly, the movement lost steam and interest in folk music began to wane. As a result, Gordon’s career started to lose its fire. Still, she continued to perform throughout the 1960s and 70s internationally. She recorded Odetta Sings the Blues (1967) and in 1974, appeared in the television film The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. In 1987, the concert marking forty years of her life as a performer (1986) was released as the live recording Movin’ It On.
In 1999 President Clinton awarded Gordon the National Medal of Arts, the highest award given in the arts in the United States. The Library of Congress, in 2003, named her a Living Legend.
Gordon is remembered as an American folk singer who was noted especially for her versions of spirituals and became for many the voice of the civil rights movement of the early 1960s. She passed away on December 2, 2008, at the age of 77.

Source:  https://www.thehistorymakers.org/biography/odetta-gordon-41
https://www.britannica.com/biography/Odetta
Image:  By Jac. de Nijs / Anefo – Nationaal Archief, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=31277817

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Black History

At the 93rd Academy Awards, Blacks and Asian Take Home Top Honors

According to USA Today, nine of the 20 acting nominees were people of color as compared to #OscarsSoWhite in 2015 and 2016 when all of the nominated actors were white.

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     The 93rd annual Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Awards kicked off Sunday night at Union Station in Los Angeles with Regina King sashaying in to present the first awards, which were for screenplays.

     She first addressed the elephant in the universe: “I know many of you want to reach for your remote when you feel Hollywood is preaching to you but as the mother of a Black son who fears for his safety, no fame or fortune changes that.

      People have been “vaxxed,” tested, retested, socially distanced, and we are following all of the rigorous protocols that got us back to work safely.  So just like on a movie set, when we are rolling, masks off.”

     Daniel Kaluuya won supporting actor for his role as Fred Hampton in “Judas and the Black Messiah” and in his acceptance speech said to Hampton who was killed in 1969:   “[t]hank you for your light . . . .  Thank you so much for showing me myself.”

    Mia Neal and Jamika Wilson were the first Black women to win an Oscar for make-up and hairstyling for “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.”  The film also won an Oscar for best costume design.

    The awards were presented by Don Cheadle and Neal acknowledged her grandfather, a Tuskegee airman.

     In her acceptance speech, Neal said “I can picture Black, trans women standing up for [Ma Rainey], and Asian sisters and our Latina sisters and Indigenous women, and I know that one day it won’t be unusual or groundbreaking.  It will be normal.”

      According to USA Today, nine of the 20 acting nominees were people of color as compared to #OscarsSoWhite in 2015 and 2016 when all of the nominated actors were white.

    “Soul” won for a best-animated feature and best original score and advisor Dr. Johnetta Cole was given a shout-out.  It was Pixar’s first film to feature a Black character in the lead, voiced by Jamie Foxx.

    Tyler Perry and The Perry Foundation have presented the humanitarian award and Perry encouraged all to “stand in the middle and refuse hate.”

     Oakland’s own Zendaya presented awards and Vallejo’s own H.E.R. garnered an Oscar for the original song, “Fight For You,” which was in “Judas and the Black Messiah.”   H.E.R. is now halfway to an EGOT, having received an Oscar and a Grammy, a Tony award for theater, and an Emmy for television..

     The “In Memoriam” tribute introduced by Angela Bassett and underscored by Stevie Wonder’s, “Always,” included Cicely Tyson, Yaphet Kotto, Paula Kelly, Earl Cameron, Brenda Banks, Jonas Gwangwa, Thomas Jefferson Byrd, Charles Gregory Ross, Ja’net Dubois, DMX and Chadwick Boseman.

One notable miss from the tribute was Naya Rivera.

A non-award highlight was when Lil Rel Howery and Quest Love, whose movie “Summer of Soul” comes out July 2, got Glenn Close to do “Da Butt”.

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