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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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African American News & Issues

Black Panther Mini Museum Free to BIPOC Juneteenth Weekend

Lisbet Tellefsen is the curator, Linnea Du is the editor, Otherwise provided design, and Art Kotoulas production.

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Graphic courtesy West Oakland Mural Project.

The Mini Museum of the Black Panther Party @ The Mural opens on Juneteenth, June 19, 2021, at 831 Center St., Oakland, CA.  It’s open from 10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.  Tickets for up to five people for a 30-minute tour can be purchased in advance by logging onto westoaklandmuralproject.org.  Children under 12 are free as are BIPOC folks during Juneteenth weekend. Individual tickets can be purchased for $12.50.

Lisbet Tellefsen is the curator, Linnea Du is the editor, Otherwise provided design, and Art Kotoulas production.

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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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Arts and Culture

Juneteenth Jubilee

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