- Created on 13 November 2012
The mutual relationship between music and society, as well as its undeniable cultural connection to the world, has long existed; however, for many, the relationship is even more unique when it comes from the community, specifically, public housing.
From Chicago's own soul legend Jerry Butler in Cabrini Green to rapper Jay-Z's rise from Brooklyn's Marcy Houses to Diana Ross's days in Detroit's Brewster-Douglass housing projects, some of the most talented and notable artists from the music industry hail from our nation's public housing communities. To celebrate this legacy, the National Public Housing Museum (NPHM) will feature its latest exhibit, "The Sound, the Soul, the Syncopation," at the Expo 72 Gallery, 72 E. Randolph St., beginning Thursday, November 15. This technological and interactive exhibit will feature over 50 artists from musical genres including jazz, punk, gospel, country, hip-hop and more.
For NPHM Executive Officer Keith L. Magee, public housing's impact on the nation's musical landscape is important to explore. " 'The Sound, the Soul, the Syncopation' tells the dual story of the role of music in the creation and development of community and the role of community in the creation of music," said Magee. "This exhibit will reveal that for many of today's most popular artists, public housing was--and is--a place to call home."
"The Sound, the Soul, the Syncopation" runs daily through March 15, 2013 and is free and open to the public; gallery hours vary. For more information, contact 312.996.0834.
- Created on 12 November 2012
King Drive between 43rd and 35th streets is the place to be Monday at 9:30 a.m.
The 86th Annual Veterans Day Parade will kick off at 43rd and King Drive at 9:30 a.m. U.S. Army veteran and Illinois Secretary of State Jesse While will serve as Grand Marshal. Parade organizers will also feed homeless veterans during a special luncheon at Mother Price's Feed, Clothe and Help The Needy Center, 59th and Racine Avenue, at 2 p.m.
The parade will also recognize the Momford Point Marines –– recently honored with the Congressional Gold Medal –– at the end of the parade route at the historic Victory Monument at 35th and King Drive.
- Created on 07 November 2012
His father abused drugs and growing up he said he did not feel his fathers love. Now, the young playwright has forgiven and incorporates some personal story in his upcoming stage play.
The audience can expect to see themes that address forgiveness, drug abuse and father and son relationships.
Richard Gallion is a well-known and talented Chicago actor/playwright/director. Living Without Love Inspirational Stage Play: A Story of Pain, Love and Redemption is Gallion's encore performance, which can be seen Nov. 10 - 11 at King College Prep, 4445 S. Drexel Blvd.
The cast is a mixture of local up-and-coming actors and recognized names. Terrell Carter from Tyler Perry's Meet the Browns stars with Gallion. Comedian Alonzo Ruffin, Shakita Winston, and Keeland Ellis also hit the stage.
Originally, Gallion said the play was never meant for an audience. He wrote it as a way of releasing emotions, he said, but it slowly transformed into a stage play.
"I let a few people read it and I was getting feedback that way. I knew it was great feedback once I let John Ruffin read it, he gave me the feedback, that's when I knew okay, I should do this," Gallion said.
As someone who has played John Ruffin's roles, Gallion said it was inevitable Ruffin would have some type of influence on him. John Ruffin is a local playwright and director.
"Anytime you're dealing with entertainment, you want to be a student, you want to make sure that you're still learning and that's the thing, I didn't close my heart to learning," he said.
"Being under him, you have no choice but to be influenced by his great work."
This production has parts of Gallion's personal experiences throughout it. Growing up, his father did not play an active role in his life, which Gallion said hurt as a child, but made him stronger as an adult.
"As I've gotten older, from enduring so much pain and hurt, it made me stronger. If it wasn't for my father, being who he was, I would not be this strong as I am right now. It has its pros and cons," he said.
His father abused drugs and the production addresses drug abuse. Another parallel theme, and what Gallion calls the "ultimate topic," is the father and son relationship.
His father was able to see the debut performance before he passed away a few months ago.
"He told me how the play stopped him from doing drugs, how it made him want to change his life completely," Gallion said.
"I give God all the glory, but if it could change my father's way of thinking in his life, it can definitely do that for other people."
Instead of just writing and directing, Gallion could not stay away from his other love, acting. He plays a character he described as searching to fill this void he feels.
"He's trying to feel the void with all the wrong things. The only true person that can actually fill that void is God, but he's looking for it through relationships, he's looking for it through work, success, but that can only satisfy you so much," Gallion said.
He encourages everyone to come see the production this weekend.
"The overall message is no matter how bad a situation may look, as long as you stay focused and stay positive, God will definitely work it out," he said.
- Created on 09 November 2012
Phylicia Rashad and Rev. Willie T. Barrow to Receive the Edwin C. "Bill" Berry Civil Rights Award at the 51st Annual Golden Fellowship Dinner
Best known as mother and attorney Clair Huxtable on the groundbreaking NBC sitcom The Cosby Show, Phylicia Rashad will accept the Edwin C. "Bill" Berry Civil Rights Award at the Chicago Urban League's 51st Annual Golden Fellowship Dinner on November 10, 2012 at the Hilton Chicago at 720 S. Michigan Avenue.
Throughout her prolific and award-winning career, Rashad has set a standard of acting that is rooted in grace, dignity and humanity, resulting in groundbreaking performances that have deeply touched audiences. In 2004, she won a Tony Award for her portrayal of Lena Younger in A Raisin in the Sun, becoming the first black woman to win the coveted honor for a dramatic lead role.
Along with Rashad, Rev. Willie T. Barrow, one of the nation's consummate community organizers and respected Civil Rights leaders, will also be presented with the Edwin C. "Bill" Berry Civil Rights Award. The award is named for Bill Berry, who led the Chicago Urban League from 1956-1969 and was a key leader in the civil rights movement in Chicago. Both Rashad and Barrow are being presented with the honor for making a mark on the nation through their hard work, perseverance and creativity.
- Created on 06 November 2012
It was shocking," write Yuval Taylor and Jake Austen in Darkest America: Black Minstrelsy From Slavery to Hip-Hop (W.W. Norton), "that in a city bursting with parade enthusiasts and curious tourists, a pair of European women who stayed less than an hour were the only white faces in the crowd other than ours." The passage appears in a description of the Zulu parade at New Orleans's Mardi Gras, one of the few contemporary events at which African-Americans wear blackface as a matter of course. The authors are trying to convey the manic strangeness of carnival. At the same time, though, they highlight their whiteness—and, paradoxically, their attempt to adopt blackness. In that sense, they've put on a kind of literary blackface.
That's not to criticize Taylor and Austen, both of whom have strong Chicago ties (Taylor is a senior editor at Chicago Review Press, Austen has written features for the Reader). On the contrary, their mild stumble here serves mainly to throw into relief how sure-footed, thoughtful, and perceptive they remain through most of Darkest America—no mean feat when you consider that black minstrelsy, the practice of blacks donning black greasepaint and/or performing routines associated with minstrel shows, is one of the most charged topics in American pop-cultural history.
During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, blackface performances by whites perpetuated the racist stereotype of the happy, lazy, stupid, watermelon-slurping darky. It seems self-evident that black Americans would despise the whole idea. And yet, as Taylor and Austen demonstrate, they've been longtime, even enthusiastic participants in the minstrel tradition. From Louis Armstrong to Flavor Flav, minstrel tropes have been central to black music and comedy.
How can that be? Is it an example of false consciousness—an oppressed group duped into adopting the worldview of the oppressor against its own interests? Or were black entertainers forced to adopt minstrelsy as the only avenue to success in a white-controlled entertainment industry?
Such explanations have been staples of a long-standing antiminstrelsy discourse among black artists that includes polemics by Richard Wright and Spike Lee's 2000 film Bamboozled. Taylor and Austen respect that discourse, but mostly reject its conclusions. Black minstrelsy, they argue convincingly, can't be explained in terms of self-deception or coercion alone. Nobody forced Paul Robeson to record "That's Why Darkies Were Born," a minstrel-style song that advises blacks to keep laboring, have faith, and "accept your destiny."
Taylor and Austen argue that black artists have used the minstrel tradition in a number of different ways. Sometimes they've deployed it satirically, as in Bamboozled, the tale of a black TV executive who pitches a minstrel variety show hoping it'll get him fired but finds himself with a hit instead. Sometimes they've subverted its racist messages through recontextualization. Robeson, for example, treats "That's Why Darkies Were Born" as a spiritual in which blacks shoulder suffering, hardship, and injustice on their way to the Promised Land, thereby turning a rationale for servitude into a dream of liberation. In a similar vein, the great black blackface performer Bert Williams undermined minstrel caricatures by injecting humanity into his characters, pathos and nuance into his performances.
But, all these strategies notwithstanding, Taylor and Austen suggest that minstrelsy has been enjoyed by blacks in much the same way it's been enjoyed by whites—as low humor and sentimental escapism. Southern hip-hop performers who gesture toward minstrelsy by clowning about chicken or watermelon do so because they find it funny and aren't going to be embarrassed about it just because various cultural arbiters say they should be. Louis Armstrong wasn't embarrassed, either, when he first sang "When It's Sleepy Time Down South" during the 1930s. The song's nostalgic vision of ease and plenty in the lazy "dear old Southland" appealed to him and other blacks during the Great Depression, just as it appealed to whites.
The southern paradise of laughter and ease is, of course, racialized in minstrelsy—a world of blackface is by definition a world in which everyone is black. Whites may regard that world as an object of ridicule. But it's also, as Taylor and Austen note (and their trip to Mardi Gras perhaps confirms), an object of yearning. For whites, to put on blackface is to be free, crazy, funny, authentic, cool. And it can mean the same for blacks. Thus, Zora Neale Hurston—who loathed white minstrelsy but used minstrel tropes extensively in her work—often spoke admiringly about black primitivism, naturalness, and spontaneity. The "white man thinks in a written language," she wrote, "and the Negro thinks in hieroglyphics."
Hurston's investment in black minstrelsy and folk traditions helped inspire her to create Their Eyes Were Watching God, one of the great American novels of the 20th century. It may have also caused her to oppose integration, fearing that black authenticity would be contaminated. Her racial pride and her racism were two sides of the same coin.
It's viscerally jarring to learn that, in notes to a white benefactor, Hurston occasionally called herself "your little pickaninny." Still, that bit of personal black minstrelsy is just a variation on the problem that confronts any minority artist working in a racist society. From well before Bert Williams to the present, black music, theater, literature, and comedy have been a glorious, seemingly limitless aesthetic treasure. And yet those riches have been produced in—and are to a degree dependent on—the marginalization resulting from segregation and oppression. To celebrate Mardi Gras or Hurston or even Paul Robeson is to celebrate the fruits of racism.
Nothing makes this clearer than black minstrelsy, a black art form built—through courage and cowardice, resistance and acquiescence—out of racism itself. In that sense, Darkest America isn't a story about an obscure and forgotten curiosity. It's a graceful and erudite rediscovery of what may be our most inspiring, shameful, and American art form.