Archive for the Cultural Matters Category

Liberation from White Ladyship?

Posted in Cultural Matters with tags , , , , on November 7, 2013 by playthell

Gorgeous proper blon gangbanged

A pretty, perky, Proper White “Lady” and her Five Bangers

 Is the Interracial Gang Bang a White Feminist Statement?

In the now classic English novel Lady Chatterly’s Lover, written by D. H. Lawrence in 1928, which provoked quite a scandal at the time, there was a class of men called “Fuckers.” They were generally working class men of strapping physiques, well-endowed private parts and great stamina. They were the bulls selected by high class ladies to get their Jones fixed, sexual toy boys that filled the gaps left yawning by their effete, effeminate, or indifferent husbands.  The novel’s view of sex and class in British society sparked a wave of outrage and was even subjected to an obscenity trial in England.

The fact that D. H. Lawrence’s once bawdy novel now barely raises an eyebrow among the reading public bespeaks the radical change in attitudes toward sex and class in Britain.  Just as the seemingly endless and ubiquitous videos of white women engaging in sexual “gangbangs” with groups of generously endowed black males signals a paradigm shift in attitudes toward race, gender and sex in the United States.

For people born after the struggles of the 1960’s were over, and even for black men who always lived in the North, the full extent of white male rage over the very thought of white women having sex with black males is unbeknownst to them, and unimaginable to most Americans today.  It was once the ultimate taboo in American society; in the Deep South it may well have been more abhorrent than incest.  But those of us who are of the same generation as Emmett Till,  and were living in the South during the 1950’s when this spunky black teenager from “up North” was beaten to death by a posse of enraged white men because he whistled at one of their wives, remember that white male rage all too well.

 Emmitt Til

News story about lynching Emmitt til

A signal moment in the life of black southern males 
The Funeral of Emmit Till
Emmitt Till
This is what happen to black men that flirted with white women

We also remember how it was a badge of honor among southern white men to have sexual relations with black women, which they did with impunity even though they had passed the anti-miscegenation laws forbidding interracial sex.  It was a southern tradition extending back to slavery times; a situation that caused many black men to fantasize about fucking a white girl just to settle a grudge against white men.

The unfairness of the rules regarding interracial sexuality was highlighted by the fact that racist white men openly consorted with their black women, who were willing partners in crime.  They even came to visit their chocolate delights at their homes in the black community; some even had several children by them.

Some prominent white men had white families on one side of town, or in a nearby town and a black family in Dark Town.  And there was nothing that black men could do about it because white male sexual access to black women was one of the sacred pillars of white supremacy.  A striking case in point was Jimmy Brock, the manager of the Monson Motor Lodge, the guy who put the acid in the pool when Dr. Martin Luther King tried to swim in the motel pool; Brock sired multiple children by several black women!

Jimmy Brock Pouring Acid in Motel Pool
Jimmy Brock - Copy
But he loved having sex with black women

 The case of Strom Thurmond, longtime Senator and quintessential southern gentleman, is a representative anecdote of the story of white men and black women in the South during the era of segregation and open white supremacy.  Thurmond, who served in the Senate for over half a century, was an exemplar of the so-called “southern way of life.”

Although while a young man of 22, he was tupping his family’s sixteen year old black maid, who gave birth to his first child, a daughter.  Although this fact was well known in the black community in South Carolina – especially to her fellow black students and Administration of South Carolina State College, it was never acknowledged in the white community.  Nor did it restrain him from becoming a firebreathing racist, denouncing “niggers” and cursing “race mixing,”

I was first told about Strom’s daughter by a friend of mine who went to college with her, and clearly remembers Senator Thurmond coming to the college and the administration – who depended on state funds to survive – setting aside a special room for them to meet.  It is virtually impossible to imagine what his daughter must have been thinking when as a young woman she witnessed her father, who was the leader of the Southern “Nullification” movement that vociferously fought against civil and voting rights for black people; the people who had nurtured her even as her father’s people refused to recognize her existence.

However we can get some idea of what she might have felt from reading her testimony.  In her book “Dear Senator: A Memoir by the Daughter of Strom Thurman,” which she published after 70 years of silence, Essie Mae Washington-Williams recalls what it was like when she visited her father in his law office in South Carolina to collect child support payments. “He never called my mother by her name. He didn’t verbally acknowledge that I was his child.”

Curiously, Essie Mae also tells us that even as she watched her father become the leader of the “Dixiecrats” in 1948, the southern branch of the Democratic Party that broke with the national party after liberal Minneapolis Mayor Hubert H. Humphrey succeed in getting a civil rights plank adopted in the Party Platform in the Presidential election that would sweep Harry Truman back into the Oval Office, she remained silent about his racial hypocrisy.

Strom Thurmond and his White Wife take a Ride on Fine Horses
Strom Thurmon on horse back 
Like Jefferson: A front porch puritan and backyard lecher!

She remained silent even after Thurman declared: “There’s not enough troops in the army to force the southern people to break down segregation and admit the nigger race into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into our homes and into our churches.” Essie Mae stood in the shadows and remained silent even as her father spoke on the Senate floor for 24 hours without a break to filibuster the 1957 Civil Rights Bill.  

Essie Mae stood and watched as dear old dad opposed all of the Civil Rights legislation of the 1960’s that bestowed upon her full civil rights for the first time in her life, and dramatically increased the life chances of her children and grand-children in American society. All of these acts piled insult upon injury, but she never said a mumbling word.

Why did she do it? Why did she follow in the footsteps of her mother and say nothing as this man did his best to keep her people under the heal of white supremacy?  In her memoir she offers a terse explanation, He trusted me, and I respected him.”  Say what?  Essie Mae is a representative example of the kind of black southern women who was capable of loving a man that despised her mother, her mother’s people, and denied her existence.

This is a tradition that began during slavery, and is exemplified in the long running relationship between Thomas Jefferson and his slave concubine Sally Hemings, with whom he sired seven children, and never formally freed them or her from slavery. Indeed he denied them even as they lived under his roof.  Yet the persistent rumors of a sexual relationship with “Dusky Sally” almost cost Jefferson the Presidency.  Alas, sometimes think Condoleeza Rice is also just a sophisticated updated version of Sally, especially when I reflect upon her relationship with George Bush.

Senator Strom Thurmond and his Oldest Daughter Essie Mae
Strom and his black daughter
An excellent parent, devoted teacher, a daughter anyone would be proud of

However as southern white women gained a broader education beyond that required to be a good home maker – which was referred to in the parlance of the age as “women’s work,” they began to think critically about southern society and their role in it.  And in 1949 a group of these white southern women got together and issued a manifesto seeking to redefine that role in a critical – even revolutionary way.

Lillian Smith, a moving force in the white anti-racist women’s revolt, wrote a letter to Eleanor Roosevelt, the First Lady of the US for three terms, explaining her goal at the time: “I have been trying for six or seven years to prove to white southern women of my social class that we can speak out plainly about racial democracy, that we can take a public stand against discrimination and even against segregation without losing too much prestige and without suffering martyrdom. It seems very important to me for a southern woman to demonstrate this successfully”

To this end she not only ran a progressive private school for well-to-do white girls in Georgia and wrote “Strange Fruit” in 1944, a shocking novel about interracial love that was banned throughout the south, then wrote a seminal analysis of the pathologies in white southern culture, especially the sexual hypocrisy of the southern white patriarchy.  Appropriately titled “Killers of the Dream,” I believe this text to be the best single volume on the nature and consequences of what people like Strom Thurmond affectionately called “The southern way of life.”  The picture she paints is not pretty.  To begin with, she calls proper white southern white Christian men, beginning with the Founding Fathers, “front porch puritans and back yard lechers!”

Lillian Smith
Lillian_Eugenia_Smith_NYWTS
   A brilliant writer and champion of black southern Men

Lillian Smith’s unique insights into the pathological nature of the celebrated “southern way of life” was aided by what Dr. W.E.B. Dubois called the “second sight” or ‘double consciousness” developed by outsiders who must make their way in a hostile culture.  As a woman who rejected the concept of “southern womanhood,” which she saw as nothing more than an extension of white patriarchy over women; an open dissenter against the system of racism and segregation, which she viewed as another expression of the power of white male patriarchs; a feminist and a sexual rebel who had love affairs with women, Lillian was a radical dissenter in the south of the mid-twentieth century. 

And she saw the question of sexual freedom as critical to personal freedom, which is why she supported the right to interracial love.  It is interesting that many of the most progressive white women on the race question also recognized its relationship to the oppression of women because of their sex.  And the more radical feminist recognized that male control of their choice of sexual partners was an expression of masculine privilege and power, the more they sought to subvert…some by becoming lesbians.

Some of these women rebels – like Eleanor Roosevelt and the progressive lesbian intellectuals with whom the First Lady carried on sexual liaisons in a cottage on their estate in the New York suburbs, while Franklin carried with his mistress – conceived some of FDR’s most progressive policies which were planted in the President’s head through Eleanor’s pillow talk.  This is not a matter of speculation; it is well documented in the recently published book “One Nation Under Sex,” an excellent history of deviant sexual behavior in America’s political leaders from the founding of the American Republic.  Written by Dr. David Eisenbach, a professor of American history, and published by radical free speech advocate and erstwhile pornographer Larry Flynt, this seminal text is a wild and crazy tale that significantly alters how we must view American history.

The Women’s Liberation Movement in America is a mass transformative movement whose objective was to elevate the status of women in American society through winning legal rights and expanding individual freedom.  In this sense it is the same class of phenomenon as the Civil Rights Movement or the Algerian Revolution, hence despite their obvious ideological differences and specific tactics, it has many things in common.

A fundamental characteristic of all such movements is that despite their commitment to a mutually shared goal –i.e. women’s liberation – the individual organizations that make up the mass movement have widely varying ideas about what “liberation” means.  This was true in the 19th century when the feminist movement was born.  There were the respectable Christian ladies like Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Harriet Beecher Stowe, and irreverent radicals like the beautiful brilliant Victoria Woodhull, a business woman and newspaper publisher – who presented public lectures arguing that it was more honorable for American women to be whores than wives.

Victoria Woodhull
Victoria Woodhull
19 Century Feminist Firebrand

The ideological diversity of the 20th century Women’s Liberation Movement was even more complex, ranging from disgruntled housewives like Betty Friedan, who just wanted to win full equality for women in all areas of American life in order to improve relations between men and women, to the radical Feminists whose militant hostility to men were expressed in the Red Stockings Manifesto.

The ultimate declaration of war on the male species was expressed by the radical feminist philosopher Ti Grace Atkinson. For many of these women, sex with men was an act of betrayal.  Born to privilege in a well to do white family in Louisiana, Atkinson first took a degree in fine arts at the University of Pennsylvania in the 1960’s and worked for a while as a critic and arts administrator.

Then she discovered the French Existentialist writer, and gal pal of the famed philosopher John Paul Sartre, Simone De Beauvoir’s feminist book “The Second Sex.” Grace was so inspired by this treatise she entered Columbia University and earned a PhD in philosophy.  She began a correspondence with Simone, who told her to seek out Betty Friedan, the founder of the National Organization of Women.  Like the women in NOW, and quite unlike Grace, Simone loved men; although she may well have been bisexual.  Rumor has it that she was bangin the handsome Afro-American novelist Richard Wright, who was the toast of Paris at the time. Richard Wright has said only “Simone really knows how to be a woman.”

Grace began her feminist activism as a member of NOW, but soon rejected their goals and methods as became the voice of the ultra- radical lunatic fringe of the Women’s Liberation Movement, calling the women in NOW stinking Jackals!  She was in such a state of militant rage and desperation that she sought the advice of Joe Columbo, a mob leader in New York City, because she wanted to make her “sisterhood’ as strong as his brotherhood.”

She also penned an essay titled “The Institution of Sexual Intercourse,” in which she argued that the male erection is an act of hostility against women, and for there to be true equality between the sexes men would have learn to cum with flaccid penises.  And, of course, according to Grace, women don’t truly enjoy vaginal intercourse with men anyway because all of their erotic sensation is in the “joy button.”  That this dyke inspired penis envy is transparent poppy-cock – which I can attest to on my own authority based on the injection of hard evidence – is beside the point.  What is important is that this unscientific drivel was being argued as gospel truth by some very smart women, which is a measure of the desperation felt by militant feminist lesbians.

There were puritanical feminist ideologues who adhered to conventional notions of sexual morality, and others felt that the entire notion of “acting like a lady” was to acquiesce in allowing their role in society to be defined by the perogatives of patriarchy.  Some of these women rejected the role of “lady” and chose to be tramps, sluts, whores; the polar opposite of the male defined role of “lady.”  Hence being a slut became a radical act of liberation.  Thus the feminist porn stars, such as Mary Rexroth and Annie sprinkle were born, along with provocative sexual “performance artists” like Veronica Vera.

Dr. Annie Sprinkle: Feminist Porn Star
Annie Sprinkle II  Goddess/Guru to feminist Sluts

These radical sexual activists use public sexual performances to destroy any vestige of the respectable lady as defined by male dictated norms.  And the white ladies who are the stars of interracial Gangbang movies are their spiritual heirs, whether they know it or not.  It does not matter if it is a conscious act of rebellion against gender and race-based sexual taboos, no more than it matters whether women in the military understand the fight and thought that made their existence possible; they are standing on the shoulders of the women who preceded them.

  Veronica Vera

Veronica Fairy Color

 Feminist Sexual Performance Artist

 

Veronica’s Act
Veronica Vera's twat 

 The Vagina as Performance Prop

There is no question that these white women – all of who are well spoken, fairly well educated women – would not be making these movies if they were bound by the conventional wisdom and morality regarding ladylike decorum. With an almost religious joy on their faces, they enthusiastically engage in every imaginable sexual act with a group of 5 to 7 well hung energetic black males, who vigorously penetrate all their orifices, and then the self-identified  white “sluts” routinely swallow their sperm with great fanfare.

While it is conventional wisdom that women in porn are ruthlessly exploited victims of an amoral male dominated industry, the testimony of the women themselves range from those who feel exploited – a la Linda Lovelace of Deep Throat fame, to those who find the experience empowering and often pleasurable…they love their work and don’t wish to be rescued.

Nina Hartley: Enthusiastic Seasoned Slut
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There’s no shame in this Gal’s Game!

The venerable Nina Hartley, who is billed as having “the best ass in porn,” earned a nursing degree from the prestigious San Francisco Medical Center before she ever entered the sex entertainment business.  She is the quintessential example of a woman who gets off on her job.  She started as a stripper in North beach clubs, the made her way into the porn industry where she found her true calling.  Determined to do what she wanted as a woman without regard for prevailing social conventions, Nina had sex with black men despite warnings from porn producers that she would lessen he market value with white men, who are the majority of porn consumers – which, incidentally, has turned out to be untrue.

Nina Hartley with Ray Victory
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Flaunting Racial Taboos

Now well into her fifties, Nina is still making movies for a new generation of fans.  In fact, she has helped spawn a new genre called MILF films – “Moms I’d Like to Fuck” – which are becoming increasingly popular with young and older fans, male and female; like most porn Queens Nina is bi-sexual.  She is also a high price “escort.”  From everything she has said for the public record, and as an intelligent articulate women she has said plenty, she really enthusiastic about here work – which she has been at for over thirty years and thousands of flicks.

Nina as MILF

Nina 

She’s into Black gangbangs too

When questioned about why she chose a career in sex work by writer Vanessa Pinto, in the San Francisco Huffington Post in March of 2012, Nina said ever since she was a teenager, before she went to college. She thought about becoming a prostitute, but it was illegal and dangerous.  Then she explained:

“”Why sex? Because sex is my thing. It is what I am about both as a queer person, but also as a nurse and a health professional. In our society sexuality is sick and sick people need a nurse’s care. I am here not just for my own jollies, of which I’ve certainly had plenty. I am also here to talk about sex with people who cannot talk about it. A nurse’s role includes education, role modeling and advocating for those who cannot speak for themselves. I educate people in safer sex and how to be better at it. I advocate about sexual freedom and sexual autonomy for people who are still in danger of losing hearth, home, children and job, should their sexual lives become known. So I am out here because I don’t have any kids to embarrass.”

It is clear that Nina not only adores her job but believes she is providing an important human service.  And Nina is not alone.  It’s kind of an individual thing.  Acting in porn movies is a voluntary career choice however, so the very act of choosing is an exercise in self-determination that represents a newfound freedom for females.  And while many contemporary porn stars may not understand this legacy any better than many black and Hispanic baseball players understand that they are the progeny of Jackie Robinson, there are some who do.

For instance in a February 23, 2013 article by Dylan Ryan titled “How I Became a Feminist Porn Star,” we find clear evidence of intellectual continuity between the pioneering pro-sex feminist strain in porn and the present generation. Ryan tells us:

“My engagement with porn was not one challenged by shame. I respected the women who I saw in the films and had little to no preconceived judgments about them, but I would find myself critiquing them as performers and considering what I would do differently and better… I was exposed to images of some of the scions of feminist pornography including Annie Sprinkle and Nina Hartley. I watched Nina Hartley’s films and felt admiration for her clear and frank way of talking about sex. I loved that she was completely present and aware of herself and her presentation. The films Nina, Annie, and others made represented a sexuality that was open, honest, and without shame; they showcased sex that was fun and consensual. They had a sexual agency that I found arousing.”

However Ryan does not shrink from engaging the issues of shame that any “respectable lady” would be expected to feel from indulging in explicit sexual acts in a public forum, and the coercions that most outsiders assume female porn stars are subjected to.  She tells us:

While I know that I feel good about what I am doing and do not experience coercion in my sex work, it can be difficult to communicate that to others. It can also be difficult to express my personal belief that a woman has the right to engage in consensual objectifying activities without shame. Looking back on interviews I gave in the past, I see how my responses have evolved. I became more aware of what kind of career I was crafting for myself in the porn industry, and I became more comfortable with articulating that to people. My initial ideals about my role in porn slowly transformed into what I actually did in porn. Porn has been a positive choice for me. It is no longer something I think will be good for me, it is something I can say has been empowering and strengthening rather than oppressive and denigrating.”

Those who find it difficult to connect willing female performers in porn movies with women’s liberation should consider the fact that defining and controlling female sexuality is a cornerstone of the patriarchal order worldwide.  One need look no further than the fact that there are still countries where they would be stoned to death for such bawdy sexual behavior – Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan, Iran, Jordon, etc.

To understand the extent to which patriarchs will go to control the sexuality of women one need only consider the case of Misha’al bint Fahd, a beautiful Saudi Arabian Princess from the House of Saud, who went to study in Lebanon at the age of 19.  There she met and fell in love with the nephew of the Saudi ambassador and they had a sexual relationship. Upon her return to Saudi Arabia word had reached the kingdom, conveyed by spies who wished to gain the favor of the Royal family, that the princess had conspired to meet with her young lover alone on several occasions.

Based on that flimsy charge the Princess and her lover were charged with adultery, her close family begged her not to admit it, but she confessed that she and Khaled al Sha’er Mullhallal had been lovers after a failed attempt to flee the country disguised as a man.  Under sharia law they were both executed in the public square by beheading!

 The Public Execution of Princess Misha/al bint Fahd

Death-of-a-Princess The Ultimate Male Tyranny!
  An Adulteress in Somalia
Somali Woman stoded to death 
This is the fate of women who break male norms

There are gruesome executions like this, often by stoning, all over the Islamic world even in the 21st century.  And as I write another Saudi Princess is in England hiding out from her husband who has pledged to execute her, with her family’s blessings no less, because he suspects her of committing adultery.

Princess Misha was executed in Jedda Arabia on 15 July 1977, and was the subject of a BBC documentary “Death of A Princess.”  This sexist atrocity was committed eight years after the radical feminist Red Stockings Manifesto, and it is reasonable to assume that American feminist were aware of it.  And it could not have helped but fire the radicals up for a full frontal assault on all the vestiges of patriarchal power and privilege, which was mostly exercised by hetero-sexual white males.

It does not take a great deal of imagination to see how the status of women in a male dominated world could fuel them for the fight everywhere.  However women in Muslim dominated societies don’t enjoy the constitutional right to free speech guaranteed to American women.  Hence the rejoicing of young Arab women in France at the banning of the Muslim veil by the French government, which saves young girls from having those oppressive medieval customs imposed on them by their families – is indicative of the way many educated women feel in Islamic countries.

An Arab Girl in France Rejoices at Outlawing of the Veil in France
 Arab Girl in France, celebrating the French decision to Ban the Burkka
She know this law will liberate her Islamic Oppression

This contemptuous attitude toward the anachronistic puritanical custom of veiling women – to prevent them from tempting men – is widespread among educated Arab women I have discussed this question with them in England and the US.  One of the main ways they are showing their absolute contempt and hostility towards these dangerous, often murderous, male methods of repressing female sexuality is by putting their bodies on display in what are considered sexually provocative ways, and fucking black men – behavior that would get them stoned to death in the old country.

In fact I have known several well born Arab women who were living a liberated life in American University communities; and they were all pretty wild.  In fact, one of their black male lovers told me that he was beginning to understand why Arab men were afraid of their sexual prowess and felt the need to suppress it; the other wondered if they “were on a secret mission to assassinate black American men with pussy!”

The Ultimate Taboo in 1865
A racist poster miscegenation
The Fear that Provoked a War

The bloody history that surrounds sexual relations between black men and white women in the US, leaves question that the willingness of white American women to appear on screen in living color and violate the most longstanding taboos about proper behavior for lovely white ladies – by banging a group of burly ebony black men packing a yard of dick -represents a radical transformation of conventional mores on sex, gender and race in American culture and society.  

Charlotte Stokely: Heir to Nina Hartley

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A Joyful Banger!
There Seems no End to Willing White Women

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Who happily Bang Black Gangs!
Some Even Become Superstars

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Like Inari Vachs

The old order of white male sexual tyranny has been overturned and white females are seeking liberty in a variety of ways.  There can be but little doubt that the ability of white women to publicly engage in wanton sex with black men on films, without worrying about violent attacks from outraged white boys driven by racist hysteria, represents a newfound freedom for white women in the US; notwithstanding what one may think of the wisdom of morality of their choices.

Yet, after all is said and done about this issue, I tend to agree with the late comic/philosopher/provocateur/ social critic Lenny Bruce on the question of obscenity in movies.  Noting the insatiable American appetite for gunplay in films, even as they condemned pornography, Bruce – who had been arrested on moral charges for his sexually explicit act – observed with deep sense of the absurd: “A penis shoots life…a gun shoots death! “

 **************

It is virtually impossible to properly understand the full magnitude of the cultural changes that made possible interracial gangbang films without the viewing it in historical perspective. The hysteria of white southern males regarding sex between black men and white women was on dramatic display in the case of the Scottsboro boys in the 1930’s.

One of the most notoriously miscarriages of justice in any modern democratic country, nine young black men from Alabama were riding the rails as hobos during the depression in search of work.  When the boxcar was opened by during an inspection by police in Scottsboro Alabama two white women were found hovering in a corner on the other side of the car.  Since they were dressed like raggedy men and ugly as sin, the boys had not noticed them.  And in any case the racial etiquette of the south at the time would not have encouraged fraternal relations between white and black men.

  The Scottsboro Boys

Scottsboro boys

Condemned to Death for a Rape they didn’t Commit!

The Sad Sack White Bums they were Convicted of Raping
White girld the Scotts boro boys were accused of rapng
Poor and Powerless they Dared Not Speak the Truth
A Mass Movement Organized by the International Labor Defense Committee
Demonstrations for Scottsboro Boys
This Movement, Organized by the Communist Party, saved their Lives

None of this mattered once the white cops discovered that two white females were riding in a railroad car at night with nine black “bucks.”  The young men were charged with rape and sentenced to death.  The verdict set off an outcry that was heard around the world.

Hence the Emmett Till lynching of 1957 was but one many instances of white male madness on the question of white women and black men enjoying a sexual relationship.  The extent and variety of their pathological obsession on this issue is revealed in the notorious 1957 “Kissing Case” in Monroe North Carolina.   The pertinent facts of the case involve a group of white and black children playing together chasing fireflies and the like.  One of the white kids suggested that this white girl give the black boys a kiss, and she kissed each on the cheek.  And that’s the long and the short of it.

The trouble started when the little girl innocently told her mother about her kissing the black boys.  The parents called the police and told them the boys had raped their daughter.  The boys, 9-yr old james Hanover Thompson and 7 yr-old David Simpson, were arrested and charged with molesting a white girl.  Here is one of the boy’s recollection of the event as an adult.

“They uh….took us down to the bottom of the police station to a cell.  And they had us handcuffed – they started beating us to our body, you know?  They didn’t beat us to the face; where nobody could see it; they just punched all in the stomach, and back and legs.  We thought they was gonna kill us.”

On the other hand,  Louis Medlin, a white Monroe resident charged in 1959 with assaulting and intending to rape a black woman who was eight months pregnant, was acquitted by the court despite extensive evidence of his guilt.  The fact of the acquittal was bad enough, but the argument of the defense so enraged the black community that Robert Williams, a veteran of the US Marine Corps and President of the Monroe NAACP, told black men that they must judge their white transgressors and carry out the sentence on the spot.

Williams called for the black community to arm themselves and he began training them.  This would soon result in an armed clash between blacks and whites that put the Klan to flight and resulted in a federal warrant for Robert Williams on trumped-up charges.  Rob didn’t wait around he skipped town… and then the country; he wasn’t willing to take his chances with the American justice system – a system he had fought to preserve.

Despite the myriad injustices that were the everyday lot of Afro-Americans living under white supremacy, it was the southern attitudes regarding interracial sex that most often led to violence.  However there was an unintended consequence of all the white male hysteria about sex between black men and white women: It made both of them curious about the other, and both became angry about white male privilege.

This curiosity and anger would result in black men and white women tasting this forbidden fruit in the fifties and sixties as undercover lovers, then out in the open as legal barriers fell…and now they are doing it in  movies that seem to be everywhere on the world wide web!  It is important to remember that this is a market-driven phenomenon, a business, which means that these films exist because there is a demand for it.

It was a telling development when one of the first commercial blockbusters in the hardcore porn industry was “Behind the Green Door,” an interracial flick featuring Marilyn Chambers, the effervescent fresh faced blonde model from the Ivory Snow Ads.  Paired with the muscular ebony complexioned Johnny Keyes, her alabaster skin was accented, magnifying the racial differences.

It was a smash hit, Marilyn Chambers became the first porn superstar, and things have never been the same regarding the depiction of explicit sex between white women and black men in erotic movies.   An indication of how dramatically attitudes have changed on this once explosive issue we need only consider the fact that Marilyn Chambers ran for the Vice Presidency in 2004 and 2008 on the tickets of the Libertarian Party.

Marilyn Chambers as VP Candidate

Marylyn Chambers today

Just Another Suburban Politician

This was no picayune development in American popular culture.  In fact, in one of the most dramatic turnarounds in the history of American race relations, the image of the black penis has gone from menace to fetish in these interracial Porn flicks.  In film after film, the generously proportioned black penis is an object of veneration reminiscent of ancient Phallus worship cults.

We see this tendency toward veneration early on in these interracial porn scenes, such as in the early pairing of Ray victory and Nina Hartley.  The way in which she holds his generously proportioned ebony member in her alabaster hands, adores it with voracious stares…before sucking on it as if she were suckling on the tree of life.

If we consider the long history of employing social ostracism, extra-legal mob violence,  and the coercive power of the state to prevent black men and white women from having sex, it is hard to overstate the radical nature of this development.  And the symbolic significance of the gangbang as a rejection of the historic status of the “White Lady,” a reverential status in American society bestowed upon them by white males, for the despised role of a “nigger lovin slut” obsessed with BBC – Big Black Cock in the parlance of porn – is virtually impossible to comprehend…especially by people who grew up after the demise of legal segregation in America.

 The Ivory Snow Girl
Marylyn Chambers
 She shocked the Nation!

Open adulation, coupled with unabashed penis envy, is most apparent in the cuckold films, where white men get off watching their wives being sexually ravaged by black men.  There is a whole genre of these films which are advertised as home-made amateur films shot by the husband as his wife cavorts with her black bangers.  And given the abundance of advertisements from white couples on the internet seeking young hung black men willing to gangbang a white wife while her husband watches, one is not certain if these films are a case of life imitating art, or art imitating real life!

There are myriad films where the white husband’s puny penis is compared with some king-sized black penis while he is being excoriated for his shortcomings by his wife.  But the ultimate celebration of the black penis is in the gangbang movies. Here the white females seem unable to get enough, and after she wears them all out, it is regarded as proof of superior female prowess for many of the women who watch these movies.

More importantly however, the freedom to make such movies represents the liberation of these women, and the legions that experience it vicariously by watching, from the restrictions imposed on women by the role of “Lady.”   This is a recurrent theme in the commentary of the early feminist porn stars, who were all highly intelligent women that hailed from a wide variety of backgrounds.

While their choices may appear bizarre to most people, everybody’s got their own idea of personal freedom…and there are many roads to get there. In a free society adults ought to be free to do what they please so long as they are not injuring others.  But, of course, when speaking of controversial cultural products what constitutes “injury” is a matter in dispute. It is a subjective judgment determined by one’s value system.  Hence I shall confine my determination of “injury” to its legal definition.

Given the pervasiveness of pornography on the internet and the number of viewers it attracts, there can be no question that it has become an important influence on American culture in sexual matters.   In an article titled, How Much Porn Does the Internet Hold, “journalist Adam Tarantola tells us:

The world’s top porn sites—XVideos, LiveJasmin, YouPorn, Tube8, Pornhub—are on par with Google and Facebook. XVideos alone averages 4.4 billion page views per month, double what Reddit pulls over the same time and triple what CNN can do. And it’s not just the amount of traffic that these sites generate, it’s the length of individual visits as well. Most sites, Gizmodo included, average three to six minutes per visit. Porn sites average five times that—15-20 minutes per visit.

In terms of actual data usage, porn sites are behemoths. Most sites average 50 – 200 TB of material, which individually really isn’t all that much. But during peak times, when the site’s loading image galleries, downloading content and streaming video, its data usage soars.”  Then he cites statistics from Extreme Tech, who monitor the internet, and according to whom:

“You Porn hosts  over 100TB of porn”, and serves “over 100 million” page views per day. All told, this equates to an average of 950 terabytes of data transfer per day, almost all of which is streaming video. This is around 28 petabytes per month, which means our 29PB estimate for X videos is on the low side; it probably serves 35 to 40PB per month.  It gets better! At peak time, You Porn serves 4000 pages per second, equating to burst traffic in the region of 100 gigabytes per second, or 800Gbps. This is equivalent to transferring more than 10 dual-layer DVDs every second.”

Considering the world wide audience for their sexually explicit videos posted on the internet, it would be folly to deny that the decision of white women – who are often pretty and intelligent – to appear in them does not represent a profound cultural statement.  And I have no doubt that the roots of this rebellion of white women against white male defined roles regarding gender and race are rooted in the pro-sex radical feminist thought of an earlier generation.

I met several of these women and interacted with them off and on over a 20 year span from the mid-1960’s to the middle of the 80’s.  Those who made the greatest impression on me with their radical feminist ideas were Ti Grace Atkinson, Annie Sprinkle, Veronica Vera and the brilliant Australian feminist intellectual Germaine Greer, author of the best-selling book “The Female Eunuch.”

I have said little of Greer, since she is Australian, and it is beyond the scope of this essay to try and cover every important feminist thinker whose contribution to the redefinition of sex and gender roles is reflected in the revolt against white Ladyship.   Yet this essay would be incomplete without reference to her.

A highly educated albeit mercurial thinker, Greer is said to have challenged the father of Rock Guitar, Jimi Hendrix, to an arm wrestling match and won. She has described herself as an anarchist with Marxist leanings…which explains why her analysis of the place of women in society is so confusing to her intended audience, as well as other interested readers who have grappled with “The Female Eunuch.” 

However her attacks on marriage, the family, chastity, elegance, high heels, and “femininity” itself – along with her declaration that the “Buck Negro” is the most sexually potent male on earth, and her admonition to her white middle class sisters to fuck anybody they want – Dr. Greer, a Shakespeare scholar, must take some of the credit, or bear the blame depending upon your perspective, for the wholesale abandonment of all the perceived virtues that attend respectable ladies.  Now, in her dotage, she apparently regrets it.

Germaine Greer
Germaine Greer
Whassup?  Looks like a model right here

As I weigh the evidence, it appears that the interracial gangbang featuring a white woman and a posse of well-endowed black males is as much about money and personal empowerment as sexual pleasure. Financial independence and empowerment are two of the enduring issues of the women’s movement harking back to 19th century.

For Victoria Woodhull these aspirations converged with the desire for sexual freedom among the free thinking radicals.  She not only was a spiritual leader who preached “free love” and declared it more honorable to be a whore than a wife, but she established the first female owned investment bank with a clientele of Madams who ran the country’s many whorehouses and their “working girls,”   Vicky was also the first woman bold enough to run for the US Presidency, with black Frederick Douglass, who was rumored to be her undercover lover – as Vice President.

My objective in this essay is to ponder the cultural significance of the increasingly popular genre of hardcore porn featuring the interracial gangbang, a sexual free for all involving a single white woman with five to seven hung young black males.  And they perform every sexual act they can think of. Given the history of sex between black men and white women – which for most of the history of the USA was a life and death matter- this must mean something of real importance.

What, one wonders, is the meaning of the “cuckold” movies that purport to be home movies filmed by the husbands as their wives fuck a platoon of black hung like horses, or the flicks where the “husband” cleans the semen of black men from the vagina’s of their wives with their tongues?  One does not need to be an expert in human psychology to recognize the symbolic destruction of the prerogatives of white patriarchy in these acts.

Just as it is obvious that the growing genre of “interracial bondage gang bangs” represent a perverse expression of total freedom for the white women who engage in them.  This freedom is emphasized in the interviews conducted with the women who appear in the videos before the shoot, in which it is made clear that this is role play and the women are always in charge.  They ask them what kinds of things they have fantasized about, and what they will or won’t do.

Then they give them a code word and gesture to use if the role playing became too rough.  None of them ever stop the action in the films I studied, although the action gets very wild.   Whatever the motives for the production of these films, whether cultural or commercial, and I have little doubt that financial imperatives were paramount, the willful participation of these well educated eloquent white women – no dem and doze “Dumb Dora” types here – represents a conscious decision to violate every taboo associated with the “White Lady.”

I have spent little effort on explicating to motives of the men who appear in this flicks.  that’s because the motives of males are far less complicated.  While some are no doubt turned on at the chance to humiliate white males by demonstrating their sexual prowess – the historical revenge motive – most are motivated  by pussy and money.  Revenge, pussy and money have moved men to treachery and greatness throughout history; in all times and places.  I believe there is nothing deeper than that going on with the gang bangers in these movies; as near as I can tell these dudes just seem to be banging white boxes for bucks and having a ball!

An Act of Freedom?
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Scene from a Bondage Gang Bang

Although I would not want any woman I care about to be involved in the porn business, I have taken no moral position on the performers in porn movies or the genre itself.   The best that can be said, if one wanted to be completely fair and objective, is some people’s vices are other folks virtues….Let those who are without sin cast the first stone.

                                                    Chocolate Phallus Worship…

big

…Or liberating Ritual?

Charlotte

A Nordic Nazi Wet Dream Genuflecting before black phalluses 

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Note: Videos featuring these women in Gangbangs can be found online.
Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York 

November 2013

 

 

 

 

Molding Marvels from Clay

Posted in Ceramic Sculptors, Cultural Matters with tags , on October 11, 2013 by playthell

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Fascinating Figures from the Fantastic Imagination of a Visual Alchemist

 

On The Transreal Art of Susannah Israel

There are many hidden treasures in the hills and valleys of Northern California; gold being the least among them when compared to the impressive colony of  artists that live and work there.  And the tradition of ceramic art in the region  represents a unique cultural treasure –  you can see it exhibited even in the facades of buildings – and spawned a  tribe of modern alchemists who turn sand into great art.  

The medieval Moors that ruled Spain were said to possess an alchemy that could magically turn sand into gold….but this proved a myth when confronted by modern science.  Great ceramic artists turn sand into priceless treasures for real; and once created, like fine diamonds,  they will grow more valuable with time.  One of the brightest stars in this artistic galaxy that illuminates the East Bay art world is Susannah Israel: Sculptor, Teacher and insightful Critic.

In a world where art schools and universities turn out “well-trained” artists in a never ending stream – people who have been tutored in the history and techniques of their chosen field – the search for an original style is endless.  And in the modern era this has more often than not led to gimmickry, farce and sometimes tragedy; far less to success.  Ms. Israel is one of the rare artists who have achieved an original style that is as distinct as the sound of Miles Davis’ trumpet, which is unmistakable to even to the casual jazz fan.

Ms. Israel’s work reminds us that there really is a sharp distinction between innovation and what I have called elsewhere “a mindless search for novelty.”  Just as she demonstrates that personal style is the result of mastery in art.  Alas, while to the untutored ear all of Miles Davis’s records sound alike, Ms. Israel’s art is said to lookalike by commentators with untutored eyes: the novice, philistine and pretentious dilettante.

In such instances the observer appears to be mesmerized by the distinctiveness of the artist’s style, much as Immanuel  Kant was mesmerized by the church steeple outside his window, as they ponder the meaning of the work. I have always felt that people who think all of Miles’ music sounds alike were either tone deaf or tasteless, and I get the feeling that those opinionated wags who say Susannah’s art all looks alike are in need of a seeing eye dog, who would probably exhibit better taste and judgment.  With Miles it is the pervasive use of the mute in one of his most prolific and musically profound periods that leads the careless listener to conclude that all of his music sounds the same.

Yet the careful listener can easily hear the vast difference between Miles’s languid legato phrasing in “On Green Dolphin Street” and “Someday My Prince Will Come,” compared to the rapid fire staccato statements on up tempo tunes, although he is using the mute in both performances.  Likewise, the careful viewer can easily see the dramatic differences in the work of Professor Israel.  Like Miles’s Mute, it is the otherworldly character of her figures that stands out in the minds of most people.

While this is a signature element of her style, the variety of ways in which it is expressed is dizzying.   Susannah has produced over 5000 works of sculpture – which have brought her honors and accolades and are exhibited in museums around the world – and from what I have seen of it every piece is unique.  They express the full range of human emotion – pathos, bathos, mirth, mystery and more – a truly remarkable achievement.

This can be clearly seen in the photos of her work below.  Artist who achieve an original style often arrive there by different routes.  For Miles Davis and Charlie Parker, two of the greatest innovators of 20th century music, it was the need to free themselves from the musical conventions established by the great virtuosos that preceded them on their instruments – such as Johnny Hodges and Benny Carter on alto-saxophones, and  Roy Eldridge  and  Dizzy Gillespie on trumpets – and find their own voice.

Susannah, however, although no less intent on freeing herself from  the influence of her mentors, nevertheless arrived at her style by virtue of philosophical considerations anchored in her personal history.  Part Chinese, part Spanish Sephardic Jew, and Part Irish, she has never fit into the neatly defined racial and ethnic categories that have shaped race relations in America.

Her father, Dr. Calvin Israel, a Spanish Jew that grew up in Jazz Age Harlem and cut this teeth in Greenwich Village with the “Beats,” was first a radical labor organizer then metamorphosed into a professor of Literature and a Beckett scholar.  Her mother – Bonnie Burbank– was a history teacher and a painter.  It is no wonder that Susannah is such a lover of books and avid reader that she  is a throwback to the likes of Robert Penn Warren, a two time Pulitzer Prize winning writer, banishing television in favor of books.

All that reading made for an inquisitive mind and a free thinker.  Thus it is also not surprising that she would question social conventions and even taboos about race, gender and sexual orientation.  Living in San Francisco – with its open minded cosmopolitan ambiance – facilitated her unconventional take on social reality.  It is reflected in the family she formed; a Afro-American father, a multi-racial mother, a white daughter and a bi-racial daughter who is Black like Barack.   Ironically this was the “all-American family” even as most white Americans continue insist it’s still Ozzie and Harriet.

As a result of her experience with race and ethnicity, and the fact that many of her closest friends and colleagues are gay or lesbian, added to some misguided attempts to classify her art by gender, Professor Israel decided to make a statement in her art about arbitrary and dangerous distinctions between human beings, and thus she makes her figures unrecognizable based on gender or race. Hence the otherworldly characters that populates her oeuvre, which many would describe as surreal.

My decision to label her work  “Transreal” is no mere play on words; it is meant as a mark of distinction.  Although Surrealism was revolutionary in its time, when Salvador Dali was all the rage early in the last century, the aesthetic philosophy that guides Professor Israel’s work is of her own invention.  What Susannah shares in common with surrealists  is her unwillingness to be bound by the limitations of “reality” imposed on “representational” art and surrender to the dictates of her imagination.  She tells us:

“My approach to my materials is a combination of well-practiced skill and reckless disregard for established convention. I willingly sacrifice lifelike anatomy to questions of composition and gesture. I use both high and low-fire clays. A confirmed alchemist, I am always testing new formulas. I use nontraditional materials with clay – paint, metal, found objects, – when they serve the work best. I tell my students  ‘Use all your options,’ and I actually do take my own advice.” 

This is the source of her unique style, and her works  only “look alike” to the untutored or prejudiced eye.  Many people  who insist that all of Ms. Israel’s work looks alike know nothing of serious art, they are  pompous ignorami, given to muttering muddled manure masquerading as learned opinion.  But let me hasten to add that professional critics who have ventured an opinion on Professor Israel’s sculptures have been kind, if not reverential.

Professor Michelle Gregor, an outstanding ceramic sculptor in her own right, has called Ms. Israel “A ceramic sorceress.”  This salutary assessment of Susannah’s work was echoed  in a statement from the California Conference for the Advancement of Ceramic Arts, who called her “one of the most fascinating artists working in the field today.’  Yet Susannah points out that despite her good fortune in winning critical acclaim, the commercial market place has been indifferent, if not hostile, to her work and the field of ceramic art in general.

Fortunately the art merchant’s opinions shall have but little moment, because great art will find an audience and a market long after the memory of these snide and ignorant philistines, who genuflect before Mammon while sacrificing truth and beauty upon the altar of commerce,  have faded from the scene.  In fact they shall be remembered in history as the art world’s equivalent of the television executives who turned down Bill Cosby’s  “Huxtables”.  Which,  soon after it was aired, became the most popular television show in the world!

Susannah’s treasures in clay will last as long as the rock of Gibraltar if the curators do their jobs.  Yet despite her great originality she is working with materials provided by mother earth that some conservative critics say is not the stuff from which great art is created – for them clay is for modeling bronze sculptures.  And the difference between the two in their considered opinion represent the distinction between “art” and “crafts.”

Yet one has only to study the remarkable sculptures Susannah molds from clay to see that,  despite their attempts to sway the conversation through intimidation by pretensions  to expertise, they are clueless.  And while I claim no specialized knowledge of the art and science of ceramics, I recognize intelligence and beauty wherever I see it; whether in music, painting, literature, sport or an intellectual treatise.  And I see  generous doses of beauty, intelligence and inventiveness in the sculpture of this gifted artist.

As I carefully studied the uniqueness of her work, I was astonished at the subtle ways she manages to give each of her statues a distinct  facial expression that seem to mirror spiritual qualities.  Sometimes it seems that she just gives the clay a slight twist to produce a remarkably different attitude, bequeathing each figure a unique personality.

This heightened facility for subtly and nuance is the mark of an artist equipped with uncommon gifts, and defines virtuosity among molders of clay.  Those critics who refuse to recognize the achievements of the best ceramic sculptors as fine art should be placed in the same category as those pompous churchmen who believed Johann Sebastian Bach was ruining the music of the high church.

The representations of Susannah Israel’s  work in this photo-essay, though only a peek into the  vast oeuvre of this prolific sculptor, speaks far more eloquently to her gifts than any words a poet, much less a critic,  could conjure.

Each Statue Expresses a Distinct Persona

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Even the casual observer can see it
 
Majestic in their Silent Repose
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The Evidence of a Rich, Fecund Imagination
The Myriad Postures of Repose
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To Each its Own
 

 Nonchalance

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Chillin in tha Cut
 
 Sometimes They Appear…
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 ….To be in conversation

They even Gesture for Emphasis…
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…..Like Real People!

 

 As if they were alive
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How animated they are!
Contemplation
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Soul in a Restful Place
 
 Terra Cotta Beauties
 Susanna's Terra cotta -Edit
Reach out to the Visitor

 

 Everywhere They Sit….
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 ………Like otherworldly beings bearing silent witness to human folly
They Seem to gaze at Us…..

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…….As if we are on display
Sometimes they even seem vain
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Checking out their finely wrought forms in the mirror

 

 They hang out in Cliques

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 In A Temple to Art    

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 And Other Times………

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……..They seem to be just hangin out
 
 With Godlike Aura’s

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 They Fix their gaze down Upon Us
 
      Dissatisfaction with the Foibles of Mortals
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Seem Etched on Their Faces
 
 Their Faces are life like Masks…
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On which the entire range of human emotions are revealed
 
Some Masks….
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….Look as if they might speak
 
Some Got Attitude

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Like they don’t give a fig….”Whatever!”
 
And others……..
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Look as if they speak to Each Other Every Night
 

And Boogie Down…..

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 In the Dark!
 
 Other’s Prefer Ballet
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Daring Duets at Dawn… It’s a Splendid Alchemy
 
 And Some Prefer Solo’s

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 Dance!  Ballerina Dance!
 

 Some Regal Figures Look Like they are…..

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Watching Each Other’s Back
 

 Paragons of the Contemplative Life….

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A Visual Paean to the Life of the Mind

 

They Stare into Some Distant Horizon

Staring into the future 
 Which only They Can See
Fantastic Creatures Seem to Dwell Everwhere
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Like Magical Astral Travelers

 

 They Cavort on Desktops

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As if they were in a Playground
 
 Prometheus Tames the Eagle
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Susannah Twists the Myth
 

 Mixing Myths and Metaphors: A Modern Medusa…….

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………Or a highly stylized Lone Ranger with Tonto Rising?
 

Sometimes they lurk in the Dark

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Like Frozen Shadows
 

 Many of these Fantastic Creatures began as Drawings

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This is how Susannah Conceptualizes her Sculpture
 
 They Now Paper the Walls
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In that Temple to Art that she calls Home
Through Susannah’s special alchemy these drawings……
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………are transformed into Marvelous Sculptures
A Hundred Years Shall Pass
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And the Glow of their Majesty will Flare even Brighter!
 
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Professor Susannah Israel!
 The Innovative Artist that Created these Treasures….
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Demonstrating the Magic of her Potter’s Wheel

   

 The Artist Amid her Creations

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A Spiritual Communion with Clay

 

 Professor Israel is also a distinguished Writer /Teacher/Critic
 
Susannah III
The Statuesque East Bay Bohemian Amazon /Artist/Intellectual in her study

 

As Resident Director of the Oakland Mueseum of Ceramics….
Susannah
The Fecund Sorceress Meditates…over he next Creation
Double Click to hear Miles Davis:”Someday My Prince Will Come.”
http://youtu.be/fBq87dbKyHQ

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 Text and Photos By: Playthell G. Benjamin
October 12, 2013

The Blues Philosopher’s Last Chorus

Posted in Cultural Matters, Music Reviews with tags , , on August 24, 2013 by playthell

Albert Murray

The Literary Lion in his Den

 Life as a Fully Orchestrated Blues Statement

Albert Murray was not only one of the most original thinkers in American letters during the 20th century, he was also a tutor to a couple of generations of American intellectuals trying to understand their country and its culture.  For many intellectuals and artist making the trek up to Mr. Murray’s apartment in Lennox Terrace, the experience was like a religious devotee making a pilgrimage to a sacred shrine to sit at the feet of a holy man, or like the seekers of wisdom and truth who sat at the feet of Plato in ancient Greece.

Some of the most illustrious names in Literature, Art, Music and cultural criticism have found their way to this book laden temple of learning.  Professor Murray was Harlem’s senior sage.  He was 97 years old when he danced to his last blues chorus, and his status was unassailable.  In fact, Mr. Murray’s shoes are so hard to fill we will probably have to dip them in gold, hang them in an honored spot on a wall of heroes, and leave the position of Senior Sage open for the foreseeable future.

While I am not certain that I could define a philosopher in language that would satisfy the academic guardians of the canon, like the Supreme Court Justice when asked to define pornography: “I know one when I see one.” Since the subject of this panegyric, Professor Murray, was a master of language who was also devoted to improvisation and therefore no slave to convention, I shall feel free to take liberties in defining what I mean by philosopher in reference to him.

For me a philosopher is one who contemplates the deeper meaning of things and finds hidden connections between phenomena that escape the rest of us, with the ultimate aim of defining reality.  While the common lot of us look upon the world and our obvious predicament and ask why?  Philosophers dream of things yet unseen and ask why not?  Albert Murray was always opening our eyes to hidden truths that revealed new possibilities.

I was first introduced to his ideas by Larry Neale – the distinguished poet, essayist, editor, and teacher of literature at Yale.  And it changed the way I saw the world in important ways.  I remember well the first time he mentioned Mr. Murray to me.  I was living in an apartment in midtown Manhattan, thirty two stories above Broadway.  I was a Professor on leave from the University of Massachusetts, and was managing the Great singer Jean Carn.

A friend of mine, Tanya, a tall fine blond lady who could bust some moves like a Soul Train hoofer, was grooving to Sly and the Family Stone’s “Everyday People,” when Larry told her that she was not white.  He said her whiteness was a great American fiction, a superficial matter of pigment.  I was shocked at his announcement because the alabaster beauty was as white as any white person that I ever saw.   But Larry went on to explain that she was a cultural mulatto, and Omni-American!  And he held up a copy of Mr. Murray’s book.

Tanya: I thought she was white
Karen-picas editLarry Neal said she was a Cultural Mulatto…An Omni-American

Larry was such a serious intellectual and devoted teacher he died of a heart attack while presenting a lecture.  He was the sort of person who would slaughter his own sacred cows in deference to a greater truth.  This is what happened when he encountered the writing of Professor Murray.  A founding father and avatar of the Black Arts movement of the 1960’s, who along with Amiri Baraka, aka Leroi Jones, co-edited Black Fire, the seminal anthology of the early writings produced by the Black Arts movement, it was no easy task for Larry to accommodate the ideas in Mr. Murray’s book.

An unsentimental and uncompromising literary critic, Professor Murray cavalierly dismissed most of the writing produced by the Black Arts movement as aesthetic mediocrities….and some as literary atrocities.   And he irreverently referred to the lot of us black cultural revolutionaries  as “the bam bam boom boom Brillo Head Crowd.” In a startling commentary on a reading of works by some of the Black Arts luminaries that he attended in Greenwich Village, Mr. Murray denounced their works as little more than public temper tantrums devoted to ostentatious racial exhibitionism of questionable literary merit.  But he reserved his most caustic criticism for the largely white, affluent, artsy fartsy audience who applauded wildly and treated the performers as cultural heroes.

Mr. Murray concluded that with “friends” like these the black artist was doomed to mediocrity, and he placed them even lower on the scale of reliable friends than white boxing managers.  For even if one assumed that the rumors of financial exploitation of boxers under their management was true, Mr. Murray argued: “at least they were trying to produce world champions!”  The profound truth of this revelation hit me like a ton of bricks and I carefully devoured the rest of the essays in his remarkably wide ranging eclectic collection of essays, “The Omni-Americans,” his first book.

I was hooked on Mr. Murray’s learned, unique, and insightful commentaries on life, literature, the essence of artistic creation and its implications for society, as well as his penetrating iconoclastic views on politics: cultural and otherwise.  But what I loved most about Mr. Murray was his quiet assumption that Afro-Americans were the hippest and most stylish people on earth.

This is the Black America Mr. Murray Referenced

diahann-upper-crust-blacks

“Duke Ellington’s “Satin Doll”

This is most apparent in his discussion of the “fakelore of black pathology,” and “the folklore of white supremacy,” a bogus intellectual construction that compelled white editors to privilege any story of black pathology over a tale of black heroism.  This rule is still all too true, as is evidenced by the muted attention being given to Antoinette Tuff, a black female bookkeeper who talked down a white male armed with an AK 47 and 500 rounds of ammunition that had begun to shoot up an elementary school in Georgia.  Ms. Tuff talked the gunman into laying down his weapon and lie on the floor until the police came to arrest him.  An although not one person lost their life, Ms. Tuff has yet to receive the kind of media adulation a white woman who had talked down a black gunman would have received.

Mr. Murray was an indefatigable defender of Afro-Americans against those who would attempt to play us cheap by portraying us as something less than what we are.  He constantly pointed out that humanity is no less complex and fascinating in a black skin than in a white skin.  Disproving that myth was a major impetus for his novels: Train Whistle Guitar, The Spyglass Tree and Seven League Boots. 

One of the most interesting aspects of Mr. Murray’s critique of the study of Afro-Americans is his dismissal of the way sociologist have approached the subject.  Referencing them as mere “statistical survey technicians” he has called their method “an elaborate fraud.”  In order to demonstrate his point he critiques two studies that were considered the state of the art, one by a white social scientist and one by a black.  An American Dilemma, a massive study conducted by the distinguished Swedish social economist, Dr. Gunnar Myrdal, and Dark Ghetto, written by Afro-American Social Psychologist Dr. Kenneth B. Clarke.

Both of these scholars were prominent in their field. Kenneth Clarke, the first tenured Afro-American scholar in the City University of New York, was world famous as the result of his “Dolls” study.   This study was appended to the NAACP brief in the landmark Brown v. The Board of Education case in which the Supreme Court ruled that segregated schools were “inherently unequal,” and it was credited by many with swaying the Judges’ decision.   Dr. Myrdal, who headed what was the most massive research project on Afro-Americans in history, was chosen not only because he was a distinguished social scientist – since there was no paucity of able social scientists here – but also because he came from Sweden, a country with no black/white racial problem.

They funders of the study reasoned that Myrdal would be more objective writing about the volatile race problem in the US than an American scholar by virtue of his background. The result was a text of nearly a thousand pages that was roundly hailed as the final word on black life in America. Professor Murray was unimpressed with the results of both studies and emphatically dismissed them.  He said the most obvious thing about Dark Ghetto was that it was “written by a Negro who hates himself.”

Murray observed that things in Harlem could not be as grim as Clarke described them “even if half the residents robbed the other half every night.”  He took a similar position on Claude Brown’s bestselling novel “Manchild in the Promised Land,” which was being widely acclaimed as the real story of what life was like in Harlem.  Mr. Murray said it was no such thing!  He said it was merely the story of what it was like for one Negro who grew up in Harlem “and evidently had a hard time doing so.” The book told you nothing about “what it was like to be the Society Editor of the Amsterdam News,” or “one of the people who ran the most complex mass transportation system in the world.”

As for Mr. Myrdal’s “landmark study,” Murray thought it had been a great waste of money if the objective was to help us understand black life in America.  His indictment of the study was spurred by the fact that nowhere in those hundreds of pages filled with numbers and sociological jargon did anyone ask what was the meaning of the blues among black Americans, who invented the art form and based the great American art of Jazz on its deeply moving changes?

This question reflected Mr. Murray’s conception of art and its function in human society.  His view was summed up in his contention that “an art style is the refinement and elaboration of a lifestyle.”  If this assumption was true, then the question of the meaning of the blues in Afro-American culture was no picayune consideration. Mr. Murray thought it was critical to understanding the amazing grace that Afro-Americans had shown during the long night of racial oppression.  He would go on to answer this question in the text that I consider his magnum opus: Stomping the Blues; which many critics believe is the best book ever written on Afro-American music –this writer included.

Bill “Count” Basie
Count Basies Band-singer JimmyRushing1943
Master of the Fully Orchestrated Blues Statement

In this text Mr. Murray waxes philosophical about the meaning of the blues and corrects some widely held misconceptions.  The most pervasive of which is that the blues is sad music.  He skillfully dispels this myth by exploring the origins of the concept of blues by dividing his quest into “The Blues as Such” and the “Blues as Music.”  Mr. Murray shows that while the blues as such is a feeling of sadness and melancholy, and can be traced back to the idea of “blue devils” in Elizabethan England, the blues as music is the antidote to the blues as such.  Hence when viewed in its proper cultural context, the “down home Saturday night function” i.e. a dance party held among Afro-Americans in the south, the blues becomes a music of celebration.

Black musicians played the blues to chase away the blues as such; they “stomped the blues.” This is the meaning of the title of Mr. Murray’s text: Stomping the Blues.  He pointed out that there are several ways of dealing with the blues as such.  One could commit suicide, turn to alcohol  and drugs, or get sharp and go out dancing to a blues band.  His central point throughout this amazing text is that contrary to conventional wisdom the blues is a music of affirmation not resignation – as both the Black Nationalist activist/intellectual Mualana Karenga and the revolutionary black psychiatrist Franz Fanon had concluded.

This was the basis of his criticism of both the portrayal of black life in Richard Wright’s Native Son and the nihilism that characterized so much of the rhetoric of black radicals in the 1960’s.   Murray thought we relied far too much on the grim pessimism of the sociologists – who were mostly square white boys that knew little of real life and could be taken off for everything they had by “any fourth rate Harlem hustler” once they stepped outside their class rooms – rather than rely on the wisdom of the blues.  He pointed out that the blues sensibility was the antithesis of the “sack cloth and ashes” view of life.  While the blues admits “life is a low down dirty shame” we have to keep on swinging.

Through his eyes musicians became heroes and “blues idiom dancing,” his description of typical Afro-American popular dance, was a heroic exercise.  For Mr. Murray, the ability to dance gracefully is a core value of Afro-American culture; it is so widely shared that it is “disgraceful to be awkward on the dance floor.”  The importance he placed on this as a signature of ones integration into the Afro-American cultural idiom is clearly demonstrated in his essay on Gordon Parks, a brilliant multi-talented Afro-American contemporary.

In his description of Gordon Parks upon their first meeting as young men he describes Park’s talents and concludes with the comment “and he was graceful on the dance floor.”   But when he describes Gordon Parks later in life, after he had become enormously successful and was lionized by white society, Murray notes his many successes then comments wryly: “But he was no longer graceful on the dance floor.”

Albert Murray’s writing was a revelation to me, and many other black intellectuals who took the time to carefully read him.  He offered new perspectives on many levels and prompted us to rethink a lot of our ideas.  For instance he considered the description of Harlem and other black communities as “ghettos” to be erroneous, the result of “too much pillow talk between black intellectuals and their Jewish lovers.”

He thought that Malcolm X’s preachment about the white man convincing Afro-Americans to  hate our looks  was nonsense, and said all one had to do was watch “American Negroes” on the dance floor to see that it wasn’t true.  He said that Afro-Americans who were good looking knew that they looked good, and those who thought they were ugly probably were.

Blues Idiom Dancers
Jazz Dancers The Elegance Albert Murray Witnessed

He also thought Malcolm’s contention that house slaves were more impressed with the master than field slaves ignored the fact that it was the house slaves who saw the masters for the flawed creatures that they were, because they were all up in their business i.e. no man is a hero to his butler.  And he pointed out that it is déclassé intellectuals that lead revolutions because ordinary working people don’t spend their time thinking about the things one has to think about in order to organize a revolution.  That is the province of the intellectual.

Although I would come to have my disagreements with Mr. Murray, sometimes about culture but mostly about politics, and even argued with him personally on the value of sociology, accusing him of throwing the baby out with the bathwater….I regard his presence among us as a blessing, and his literary legacy a benefaction.

His collaboration with Count Basie on his autobiography “Good Morning Blues” provides us a look into the world of the Jazz musician and the evolution of the big band that is unprecedented, and his intellectual repartee with the great visual artist Romare Beardon, even naming some of his master works, along with his critical role in the founding of Jazz At Lincoln Center – a seminal event in the history of American culture, is further evidence of Mr. Murray’s widespread influence on American civilization.  Mr. Murray has been justly showered with many accolades in recognition of his singular contribution. I believe we are not likely to see his kind again. For the elements so blended in him that such a man may come along once in a century.

A career Air-Force officer and a refined gentleman, an intellectual of great depth, a prolific writer and iconoclastic thinker, a professor and philosopher, an epicure, elegant dresser and graceful dancer, a devoted husband and good father, and pater-familias to a tribe of intellectuals and artists who are shaping the culture of the world.  When one considers that he taught literature and military aviation, was a novelist and essayist of distinction, an equally able and insightful critic of literature, music and the visual arts – all of which he wrote highly original treatises on – we are compelled to place him among the modern renaissance men.

Mr. Murray was an exemplar of a type of black southern gentleman that is fast fading from the scene.  He was cut from the same cloth as my Uncle Jimmy Strawder, who also danced and joined the honored ancestors just days before Mr. Murray played his out chorus.  Both were men from small southern towns, Mr. Murray from Nkomis Alabama, Uncle Jimmy from St. Augustine  Florida.  Both men grew up during the era of American apartheid, when the ruling ideology was white supremacy, and although life in their birthplace was really a low down dirty shame they kept on swinging for a nearly a century – Jimmy Strawder for 90 years Albert Murray for 97!

One could say their lives were like “fully orchestrated blues statements,” a term Mr. Murray coined, in that they were complete and left nothing to be desired.  They were “Killer Dillers;” handsome hep-cats who dressed to the nines and strutted their stuff like peacocks on the dance floors of elegant ball rooms that were all the rage in their youth; places with names like the Savoy Ballroom, Grand Terrace and Paradise Lounge.  This is where the fabulous big bands like Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Earl “Fatha” Hines, Cab Calloway, Chick Webb, and the International Sweethearts of Rhythm played the fully orchestrated blues statements Mr Murray wrote so insightfully about, music played at “the velocity of celebration.”

Duke Ellington and his Orchestra
Ellington
“America as She Was Swung!

The fact that one gets no hint that “Fatha” Hines and his great orchestra was playing for dancers at the elegantly appointed Grand Terrace, a scene so hip Al Capone came by to dance to the music, in Richard Wright’s wildly acclaimed novel Native Son, which was set in Chicago during this era, is one of Mr. Murray’s most potent grievances against the text.

Mr. Murray would become a military officer and a writer, Uncle Jimmy became a military officer and would have become a writer if Columbia University – to their everlasting shame – had not turned him away after congratulating him on his distinguished war record as a decorated combat officer, and his outstanding performance on the entrance exam, part of which he took in Latin, with the cold announcement” ‘Columbia College already has its quota of Negros.”

As I noted in my eulogy to Uncle Jimmy: “If white Americans who survived the Great Depression and fought World War II can be considered “The Greatest Generation,” men like Uncle Jimmy and Professor Murray” are the greatest of The Greatest Generation!   Thus I bid these good men… officers and gentlemen, hail and farewell.

Playthell and Professor Robert O’Meely of Columbia at Sorbonne

Me and Robert O'Mealy

Analyzing the influence of Mr. Murray on Wynton Marsalis, Virtuoso trumpeter
 
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 Double Click to see the Basie Orchestra Swing!
http://youtu.be/hHMYhajNtNg
A fully Orchestrated Blues Statement
Double Click to Hear Duke Ellington and his Orchestra!
http://youtu.be/NW1mGHABhgU
Duke plays his classic compositions
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Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
August 23, 2013

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Afro-American Jazz and Black South Africans

Posted in Cultural Matters, Guest Commentators, Music Reviews with tags , , on August 19, 2013 by playthell

 Hugh Masekela

Hugh Masakela: A South African Original

 

 On the Transformative Power of Black Jazz

Growing Up in Mantzi I have been Fortunate enough to come from a Township of Soweto that in the early sixties and all the way to the rule of the ANC had electricity and telephones in our community.  Why is this important?  I grew up with uncles who were playing 78 rpm dicks on a gramophone, and we gradually upgraded to what was called Pilot FM radio (big and huge like caskets which contained a turntable and a FM radio.  Eventually we came to be exposed to Hi Fi systems in the late 1960’s and 70’s and graduated to more sophisticated name brands like Marantz and the like.

Music was the driving force in the evolution and American Jazz was one of the most powerful influences that we were exposed to.  Our elders, uncles and big brothers collected all of the great artist such as Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and all the seminal figures Playthell Benjamin cites in his essay “Wynton Marsalis and the Great American Art, as the produced this music. And we sought to get in their favor by our recognition and approval of the importance of their treasure troves of LP vinyl Jazz albums.

Furthermore, we were living amongst musicians who played Jazz and formed big bands here in Mzantsi; we were also imbibing a lot of South African Jazz that embodied all the diversity characteristic of South Africa in its sound.  As we grew older we extended our listening and appreciation of the music by forming Jazz Clubs in the late Sixties whilst still in high school.

Our weekends were spent getting together bring new vinyl recordings we might have bought on Friday, and sample it with other members.  If they could not identify the record one was made Jazz Appreciation King for the day and it lasted the entire week until we met again.  Exposure to American Jazz was very important for us and it affirmed and solidified our beliefs that we were not mere “Kaffirs” (niggers) who were backward in all we did or were – African American Jazz told us, that those who looked like us, that those who looked like us, were the best in the world in this art form.

The Great Edward Kennedy “Duke Ellington”
Duke+Ellington - paragon of elegance 
Composer, Pianist, Bandleader, Paragon of Male Elegance
Dollar Brand
Dollar Brand
South African Pianist, Composer

This told us too, that we are the better people in the world, just from the Jazz perspective.  We imbibed art forms and so forth from our African American brothers, but Jazz was paramount in entrenching and embedding beliefs about ourselves.   Some of us went as far as to walk, talk, and dress like our Afro-American brothers.  Others named themselves accordingly.

As we became more mature and refined in our understanding of the wide world of Jazz, we began to travel overseas to Jazz concerts all over the states, Canada and Europe.  This expanded our horizons beyond the brutal apartheid world of South Africa.  We became well marinated in the Jazz Milieu, which knew no national boundaries because of the recording industry.  What has all this to do with Wynton Marsalis, the subject of Playthell’s recent essay?  Everything!

Playthell’s analysis of the heroic role of Wynton in the advancement of Jazz as a vibrant art form supports the fledgling arguments of those among us here in South Africa, who have been insisting that Wynton has advanced Jazz beyond what the hard core Jazz classist here in Mzantsi think of a real Jazz, in fact they insisted that Wynton was not playing Jazz at all.

Wynton Marsalis

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The Most Versatile Trumpeter in the World

I think the fact that he came from the Baroque side of classical music was lost to these detractors here for they knew nothing about the fact that Wynton had become the Master Jazz/Trumpeter /Composer/Innovator of the art and literally lifted and elevated Jazz into the 21st century.  They just couldn’t wrap their minds around that fact.

I also suspect that they have lost touch with what Wynton was doing and saying, and hung on to the old ways of understanding Jazz.  Wynton blew some of us away when he merged modern Jazz with African drummers on the same stage.  We were amazed and fascinated as we watched his rehearsal sessions with these Africans, especially the way that he was able to show the similarities and the origins of Jazz as an African art form.

Conducting the performance of Congo Square
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The Lincoln Center never witnessed anything like it!

Soul to Soul

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The Rhythmic circle remains unbroken

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The drum choir blended perfectly with the band

This edified us and lifted our long held beliefs that the music we were listening to called Jazz had melodic signatures which can be found in our own traditional songs and Jazz music here in Mantzsti.  Playthell’s essay “Wynton Marsalis and the Great American Art,” is for me and Jazz Aficionados of kindred spirit, is so filled with erudite analysis about the art of Jazz and Wynton’s role in preserving and advancing the best of the tradition, that I feel compelled to post it on all the African sites I have access to.

There are some pretentious self- proclaimed Jazz gurus and avid fans who cannot accept anything new in Jazz.  Not since Babatunde Olatunji took his “Drums of Passion” orchestra to Carnegie Hall – industrialist Andrew Carnegie’s gift to New York City and the art of music –has anyone achieved that.  Wynton, however, took it a step further; many levels higher in fact, by merging both ensembles – African American musicians and a choir of African master drummers – on the same stage as part of one group.  To me it was one of the things Wynton did that silenced the howling jazz dinosaurs in the Appreciators here in Mzantsi.

THE GOAT

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 Greatest of All Times!

I concur with all that Playthell wrote about Wynton Marsalis….and then some.  I have learned so much from reading this article that I immediately went over to my collection of Wynton’s records and have been following on some nuggets he doled/dropped in the essay.   This kind of study will upgrade one’s understanding, appreciation and listening skills; enabling you to better grasp the techniques Wynton is employing to make such marvelous music.  I am happy to have found Playthell’s article, for it confirmed what we had long believed.   Jazz is an African art form and it resonates loudly with us here in Mzantsi and wherever it is played.

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Double Click to see Dollar Brand 

Double click to see Dollar Brand in a clearer video

Click to see Hugh Masakela  perform tribute to Mandela

Double Click to see Wynton conduct Congo Square with Orchestra and African drums 

Double Click to hear the Winston “Mankunzu” Ngozi Quartet

 

Skhokho Sa Tlou

Mzantsi, South Africa

August 19, 2013

 ** All Photos of Wynton and Congo Square Concert 

by: Frank Stewart, official photographer for JALC

Wynton Marsalis and the Great American Art

Posted in Cultural Matters, Music Reviews with tags , , on August 18, 2013 by playthell

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 Conducting his innovative suite “Congo Square” with Ghanaian Drummers

 I have written about Jazz in the New York Daily News, The Sunday Times of London, The Guardian- Observer of London, he Village Voice et al.  And I have major essays anthologized in books.  I have also covered the New York Jazz scene on WBAI FM.  I have written about Wynton in all these venues and interviewed him on radio. I am about to put those interviews online. I have also appeared with Wynton and Ellis in a lecture/demonstration on Jazz and wrote the program notes for Jazz at Lincoln Center Concerts.  Hence I have firsthand knowledge of the jazz milieu and I have paid close attention to Wynton’s career.

The Jazz scene in New York had become so dismal by the late 1970’s that I published an essay despairing over the future of the art form – See: “Will Jazz Survive: Notes on the State of the Great American Art ” in the Freedomways Reader – because the last commercial jazz station in New York, WRVR, had suddenly gone off the air.  I wondered how the tradition could survive if the jazz community in the Mecca of Jazz couldn’t even sustain a single radio station devoted to this quintessentially American art. How could you produce new stars if young musicians couldn’t even hear the music on the radio?

Then I heard this young trumpet player from New Orleans perform with the Herbie Hancock VSOP orchestra…and my spirit danced.  I knew he was going to be the next big thing the anointed one – having seen all the great innovators from Pops Armstrong to Freddie Hubbard live, I felt qualified to make the judgment – and history has proven me right…as it often does with my political prognostications.

Later I heard Wynton play the classical trumpet; a magnificent art that most jazz fans no know nothing about and many jazz musicians can’t play….I was amazed.  As a failed trumpeter I understand the technical requirements for performing the masterworks by the great European composers.  I know what embouchure is; I understand the difficulties of triple tonguing and circular breathing; I know how hard it is to achieve great intonation, and the complexity of fingering.  All of which a trumpeter must master in order to play the European classical repertoire. Yet Wynton makes it look so easy people who have no hands on experience trying to play the trumpet are clueless as to the degree of difficulty involved.

It’s not surprising that music for the trumpet is so difficult in European art music, especially the Baroque music Wynton is so fond of; the trumpet is, after all, their instrument.  I am presently writing a piece about Wynton’s influence on the great young classical trumpeters.  Most people will be shocked to discover how many of the principal trumpeters in the great symphony orchestras were inspired and tutored by Wynton’s performances.

Yet the classical trumpet is Wynton’s second language on the horn.  He is first and foremost a jazz trumpeter, who was raised by Ellis Maralis – a great pianist who is so devoted the art of Jazz piano that he named his son after a piano player, the marvelous Wynton Kelly, who was of Jamaican background – and he was tutored in the art of jazz by Alvin Bastise, a New Orleans clarinetist who is a master of Jazz and European classical music.

I watched as a member of the New York media as Wynton became the most sought after musician /commentator for the art of Jazz by virtue of his unique “skill set” as a bilingual trumpet virtuoso who was also a serious student of the history of Jazz and European art music; he was erudite, articulate, charming and funny.  Plus he was good looking and a fabulous dresser: he was a television producer’s dream! That’s how it happened; the role was thrust upon him even as other’s would have given anything to play the role.  That’s the real reason for all the hatin.

Much of Wynton’s style on and off the stage  came from his tutelage under the great writer Albert Murray, author of the single most important book on Afro-American music: Stomping the Blues,” and whom Duke Ellington said was “The hippest cat I know.”  In 1996 I presented a paper at a conference on Afro-American music held under the auspices of the European and US Associations of American Studies at the Sorbonne in Paris exploring this relationship titled: “The Influence of the Writings of Albert Murray on the Musical Compositions and Sartorial Style of Wynton Marsalis.  But the point is that for all of these reasons I have cited here, i.e. his myriad virtues, Wynton became a favorite of television producers and hosts: And it is the best thing that ever happened to Jazz.  In fact, I believe Wynton’s advocacy for the form as artist and advocate resurrected classic acoustic jazz – which is the highest expression of the art form.  And I am prepared to argue this point with anyone!

Wynton Conducting the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra

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A Master of his Trade

As a former history professor and co-founder of the first degree granting, freestanding, black studied department in the world – the WEB DuBois Department of Afro-American Studies at U-Mass Amherst, which awarded full Professorships in black music to Jazz Masters Max Roach and Archie Shepp – I know something about the history and cultural development of Afro-Americans, and I would argue that the Jazz at Lincoln Center program here in Manhattan is the most important cultural development in the history of black America!

And it definitely would not have happened without Wynton Marsalis.  In order to get a Jazz department in the Lincoln the first task was to convince the Princes and Powers at the Lincoln Center – the world’s greatest performance emporium – that Jazz was an art form worthy of inclusion in a cultural warehouse that was stocked with classical European arts: Ballet, Grand Opera, Chamber Music, and the New York Philharmonic.  Wynton was the ideal person to sell them on the artistic merit of Jazz precisely because he had won Grammy’s for the best Jazz and Classical instrumental performances – an incredible feat that no other musician in the world has repeated!  And they bought what he was selling to the tune of 150 million dollars.

That’s why Congressman Jerry Nadler, who represents the district, said on opening day of the 150 million facility – “If Yankee Stadium can be called The House that Babe Ruth built, then Jazz at Lincoln Center will henceforth be known as the House that Wynton built.”  As for the criticism of other musicians: I say bring them on!!!!!!  Like the late great Sugar Ray Robinson I love a good fight, although, I must confess, that thus far they wither like snow balls in the sun when they cross swords with me on this question.  However I would like to conclude this little discourse with the following observations about musicians and Wynton.

All of those I have heard criticize him are clearly his inferiors as musicians and promoters of the music.  I could name names but I won’t….unless my veracity is called into question …but I’d rather not go there because my intention here is to set the record straight about Wynton not rag on other musicians.  But if properly provoked I’ll sing like a canary.  For the moment I a representative anecdote that is characteristic of what I found investigating the gripes of Wynton’s critics among musicians will suffice.

There was this very well know jazz trumpeter who used to dog Wynton’s playing; said it didn’t have enough ‘grits’ or some such inexplicable foolishness.  So Wynton issued a challenge for him to come down to Lincoln center during a concert and “cut my head,” which is Jazz parlance for engaging in a competitive duel called “cutting sessions.”  After the challenge was issued Wynton told me “That joker ain’t gonna show up…I’ll bet money on it.”  He seemed so sure about this prediction that I hesitated to accept a wager that at first looked like easy money.  So I declined the offer and instead asked him how he could be so sure the other trumpeter wouldn’t show.  “Because he can sell all the Woof tickets he wants out in the streets,” said Wynton, “but he and I have practiced together and he knows the truth!”  As Wynton predicted the dude punked out!

The affect that Wynton has on other trumpet players reminds me of the way flute players responded to Hubert laws when he first showed on the scene, another ambidextrous musical genius.  Hubert scared everybody to death and it resulted in people saying dumb stuff like “his tone is too pretty,” or “he does not make enough mistakes” or “he plays like a machine.”  I recognized it as the baseless slander of jealous peers back then, and the criticism I have heard of Wynton today does not rise above that level in my estimation.  THEY ARE ALL JEALOUS HATERS!!!!!!!!!

The World’s Greatest Trumpeter?
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Gerald Wilson Thinks So!

However let me conclude on the upbeat.  While Wynton has his detractors he also has many ardent admirers among musicians.  Dr. Billy Taylor, the Dean of musician/critics, loved the ground Wynton walked on and considered him the best hope for the music’s survival and growth.  He told me that because of Wynton’s efforts to promote the music to a wider audience many of the musicians who criticize him are working more than ever.

When I wrote a big feature story for the Sunday Times of London on Betty Carter and the jazz youth festival she was hosting at the Majestic Theater and Brooklyn Academy of Music titled “School For Cats,” all of those brilliant young musicians – which included such virtuosi as pianist Cyrus Chestnut and drummer Adonis Rose – told me that one of the main reasons why they were seriously playing Jazz was because “Wynton came to my school and gave a talk on Jazz.”

At the time Wynton was in a little feud with Miles Davis, whom Wynton tells us in the interview with David Frost was his major influence.  I asked the Empress of Swing, who had seen and heard them all, what she thought of the beef.  “Miles is just jealous!” she said.  “I knew Miles when he was Wynton’s age and has never been the trumpeter that Wynton is.”

Maestro Wilson Conducting JALC Orchestra
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A Swinging Octogenarian

When I interviewed the legendary bandleader/arranger/composer Gerald Wilson – who also happens to be a trumpeter of long standing – I asked him what he thought of Wynton’s playing. He said without a moment’s hesitation: “Wynton Marsalis is the greatest trumpeter in the world!    One of the virtues of writing in this new digital medium that is not enjoyed by writers in print publications is the ability to create multi-media presentations.  Hence by virtue of You Tube I can demonstrate Maestro Wilson’s Claim.

I have selected two performances by Wynton Marsalis: a classical European composition and a wholly improvised jazz performance.  Both performances were chosen because of the technical demands on the artist, which require the highest level of virtuosity in each genre.  The extent of the difficulty an artist must overcome is the measure of their mastery of the horn.  In the first video Wynton performs “The Carnival of Venice.”  When the great composer of martial music John Phillip Sousa formed the US Marine Corps band he billed it as “The greatest Brass Band in the World!”

The brook of fire trumpet and cornet players had to cross in their auditions was to perform the Carnival of Venice,” a composition that contain myriad pit falls into which a hapless player will be devoured.  It is a piece that demands mastery of all the elements of trumpet performance.  The second video features Wynton playing Cherokee at break neck speed.  It was the composition that those who aspired to share the bandstand with the elite players had to perform, often in a jam session when all eyes were on you.

Whereas in European art music all solos are composed, with improvisation allowed only in cadenzas, a kind of extended ornament, in jazz extemporaneous coherent musical statements is the rule.  This demands the ability to create music at the speed of thought.  Thus the more complex the musical statement – which must be negotiated within the restrictions of complex harmonic changes and polyrhythmic pulses – dictate the level of virtuosity required to perform it.   To the untutored ear it may all sound the same but, as a matter of fact, they are vastly different.

Check them out, and you need not be highly tutored in musical performance in order to recognize the Genius on display here. And you will lose any desire to argue with Maestro Gerald Wilson when he declares: “Wynton Marsalis is the best trumpeter  that I have ever heard and I played with all the greats,” So there!  You have it from the lips of the Gods….I say fuck the haters!!!!!

 

He is the best that I have ever heard and I played with them all!!!” So there!  You have it from the lips of the Gods….fuck the haters!!!!!

Me and Dr. Robert O’Meely Droppin Science at the Sorbonne

Me and Robert O'Mealy

Exploring the relationship between Wynton and Albert Murray 1996
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Double click here to see Wynton Perform Carnival of Venice  
http://youtu.be/0-jDld11jhw
This video has a million and a half views!
Double click here to see Wynton perform Cherokee
http://youtu.be/9OtZrIjQuwA
Double click to see Wynton interviewed by David frost 
http://youtu.be/mFNIvo-tx2s
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Text by: Playthell Benjamin

All photos by: Frank Stewart – except pic from the Sorbonne

August 17, 2013

In Defense of the Catholic Church

Posted in Cultural Matters, Uncategorized with tags , , , on August 9, 2013 by playthell

St Benedict

                       The Church of St. Benedict The Moor

A Reply to Comments On My Essay On the Pope

While everything that has been said in the responses has the ring of truth, it does not tell the whole story. Since my intention is to always tell the truth, to render unto God that which is God’s and unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and even give the Devil his due, I must set the record straight regarding my views on the Catholic Church.

While the wildly popular protestant evangelist Reverend Agee calls the mother church of the Christian faith “the Whore of Babylon,” and the Anti-Defamation League Grand Inquisitor Abraham Foxman was indifferent when questioned about his alliance with Rev. Agee in Israeli support groups, I feel compelled to say a few words in favor of the Church and their work.

There is for instance the charity and service rendered by dedicated priests and nuns who have pledged to spend their lives serving their fellow man around the world; often at great danger to themselves and almost always under difficult circumstances; willing taking a vow of poverty in order to serve others. Needless to say I could recount myriad examples. But let me cite a couple from my own life.

When the rigid laws of Florida prevented me from entering elementary school in the public system because I wasn’t yet six years old, although I could read better than some adults, the little Catholic school funded by the church of “St. Benedict the Moor” took me in and gave me my first formal education. We were not catholic, but staunch members of First Baptist Church, located right around the corner. Yet they took me in and the white nuns who taught us – and taught us well – were the only white people I ever encountered growing up in Florida who treated us as the precious children of God.

I found their colorful costumes and pagan rituals – bowing before idols and burning exotic incense – an intriguing dramatic show; and their curious cannibalistic ritual of drinking wine and “eating the body of Christ” bizarre and somewhat frightening; it kept me awake at night the first time I experienced it. And the way they described the horrors of hell and purgatory was enough to make me walk a straight and narrow line and try my best to keep the Ten Commandments.

Hence I’d say my experience at St. Benedict the Moor was a good thing, and as I look back now and reflect upon the fact that they chose to serve us in the Apartheid south, with all of the danger and inconvenience that must have attended their mission, I take my hat off to them with eternal gratitude.

When I decided to reject the idea of God at thirteen years old I sat in a pew in the white Cathedral downtown on Easter  Sunday morning, when blacks were allowed to sit in the back pews, and I cursed God when the priest was reciting “Escum spirit tu tu o” or something like that – my Latin is less than weak – and announced the presence of God’s spirit at the elaborately decorated altar.

When no lightning bolt crashed through the ceiling and wiped me out, I said it again, and again! When I left church that Easter Sunday I was convinced that both God and the Devil were figments of the imagination of man, designed to scare children into submitting to the orders of their dictatorial elders.

I have since discovered that the purposes of religion are far more complex and vital to human existence than that – after all I was only a 13 year old colored boy in apartheid Florida – but I have never since doubted that man created God rather than the other way around. And thus gods have no powers other than those designated by man. I have clung to this belief even on the high seas when the angry waves tossed the tanker around like a beach ball, and the old Salty Dogs who had long sailed the seven seas fell to their knees, passionately praying to God for deliverance…while I sat silent.

Still, I have been saved by the charity of the Catholic church more than once during my life as a scribe churning out graffiti for dollars in New York City, a town full of fine writers willing to become media whores for the fool’s gold of the corporate press. In such a marketplace an honest scribe can starve.  Hence in my dramatic falls from grace after having written some incendiary text that offended my publisher, who then decided to teach me the danger of biting the hand that feeds me, I turned to catholic charities to pay my rent.

It is no exaggeration to say that they saved me from the shame and agony of homelessness in New York City, and they never asked me what parish I belonged to. If the catholic church could save an un-churched heathen like me without question – and have done this all over the world, it is fair to say that they have made some recompense for their myriad sins.

A Shrine to the Christian Moor

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The Pride of black Catholics in St. Augustine Florida

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Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
August 9. 2013

A South African Views US Redskin Controversy

Posted in Cultural Matters, Guest Commentators, On Foreign Affairs with tags , , , , on June 16, 2013 by playthell
The Truth about the Apartheid Era

White Hunter

                       This was also a common scene in the American West during the “Indian Wars”

 

What’s In a Name?

What’s in a name? Everything! I am familiar with the naming of the enslaved people being called all names, but those that edify them. You can imagine in South Africa, we have been called “Kaffirs” – same as nigger’ in the States – monkeys, baboons (Akin to jigaboos), boy/girl  for elderly people; “natives” (as in ‘tribes”)’Bantu'(which really means ‘people’, but was used against us to dehumanize and ‘de-Africanize Africans in South Africa)’ “Plurals” (I guess to remind Themselves that whites in South Africa), that we, Africans, are too many against them; “Darkie”(Dark one); African children called ‘black pica ninny’, and so forth.

As I begun by asking and replying, “What’s in a name?  Everything!”  For us to learn about the Washington Red Skin Debacle brings to mind the hideous and harmful nature of being named and forced to get used to that derogatory name, and you find the White chumps who are so arrogant they can’t see and think as far as their eyelids and foreheads, and because they have had no reason to respect any person enslaved/colonized, they see nothing in calling people with their White people’s ‘invented’ names, and these are not salubrious names/tags and that they assist in disappearing a people’s identity and being.

In South Africa, our mothers, when they were giving birth to us, were forced to choose what was called a ‘Christian’ name i.e. a white European name.  And if it we were given an African name in many cases it was not written on our birth-certificate; although in the Townships and villages we lived in the community called us by our African names.  Our elders explained the importance of our African names and what those names mean. The elders pointed out that giving a child a bad name is a bad omen – “Bitso lebe ke seromomo” – literally meaning “a bad name is a bad omen/karma to the child”.

We grew up within our communities here in Mzantsi known by our African names and were constantly told what they mean, along with our last names. The Apartheid regime did not recognize how we relate to each other as Africans and what was the significance of naming things and the importance of our names to us. They compartmentalized and divided us and dubbed us “tribes” who would never come together.

Meanwhile, they have never ever wanted to call us “Africans. Now, they, the Boers, called themselves Afrikaners – which today, they claim and allege, gives them the right to say they are Africans!’  So, we African people of South Africa, are accused by various ethnic groups in South Africa, who claim that they are Africans, and we blacks really are not.

 So that, in their disrespect of anything African, South African whites accuse indigenous black Africans of South Africa of wanting to hog the Name African.  And yet, these different ethnic groups are themselves African so that, they parrot, that our saying we are “Africans of Mzantsi South Africa” is meaningless, dumb, infantile babble. Thus, we find these people dissing us all the way to denying our existence.

 A Common Sign during the Apartheid Era in South Africa
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The policy of European Invaders in South Africa and the USA

Yet, this awareness as to who we are is excellently captured by Dr. Amos Wilson- the Afro-American Psychiatrist – when he notes that: “Even these people recognize that a name is connected to social role. A name is not just something you call people, but the name a people are called signifies their role. Therefore, a change of name represents a people’s attempt to change their role and position in the world.” Some ‘negroes’ (Africans) think that to change our name is just some foolish game we’re playing. It is not about that. It’s not a game we’re playing here. Identity is very important, as is the idea that Black (African) people would dare name themselves. Whites recognize that as an incursion on their power of naming and an incursion on their power of domination.

I have alluded to how the apartheidizers forced us to have European First names, which in effect messed with our culture, because now we have amongst us so many African Peters, Denisi’s, Marks, John’s, and so forth.   And we are called by these names in our contact/interaction with Europeans- who insist upon calling us these Euro-names. Alas, even when we tell them our African names they claim they are hard to pronounce. We, in our African collective/communities, are then called and known as Sipho (Gift), Thabang (Be all Happy), Karabo (The Answer), Tshepiso (The promise), Ntombi (the girl) and so forth, our African names.

So Playthell Benjamin’s article about the big controversy over the “Washington Redskins” football team refusing to remove the word “Redskins” from their name, which is decried by Native Americans as an insult to their people, because it masks a history of genocide and the ‘disappearing’ of a whole people by the obnoxious and arrogant Europeans – who still feel that they are superior to everyone else.  Incredibly, they feel that the naming of people and things under their purview is fait accompli and a ‘given’. We know, here in South Africa, that is not the case, and there is still an ongoing cultural war about the naming of things with African names since the ANC came into fictive power.

Although along the way, in order to appease their handlers, they compromised a lot in renaming a lot of things here in South African with their given names. This is a real war, and there is a lot I can say about the battles that are presently fought over the naming of Africans, and the “Winning of the hearts and minds of Africans” here in Mzantsi” by the former Apartheidizers.  And now of late, they are being assisted by the American Think Tanks and NGOs, working to turn South Africa into a mini-USA.

It is therefore no surprise and wonder Africans in South Africa dislike Israel, for in it, we see ourselves in what they are doing to the Palestinians; we also detest the arrogance and mien with which they interact/communicate with those they consider not Jews; and this has caused a lot of animosity, which you capture so well with this Yoyo, Snyder, whose people are very quick to defend their lot, as you cogently point out above.

Right now, some of us here in Mzantsi are involved in the fight against our culture, and it is a very difficult battle. Not because our former enslavers made it so (of which they still do and control all the bullshit-covert actions in place now, but because some of our African brothers feel fulfilled if they are seen to be “very American”, “very British”, and even “very Chinese-and dress like the Chinese.

These clowns, the African pseudo-elites, are the ones that are hampering us and assisting our detractors in making gains and headway into our communities; which end up making these African societies dysfunctional. These retarded South African Uncle Toms are assiduously working their lives away trying to “Out-American Americans”, or British, French, or Italians, while making sure they distance themselves from or discard their self-perceived “backward African Culture” and everything about it.

That is our present problem, and these ‘scoundrels, quislings and turncoats are thriving.   They even believe that they have a handle on being the puppets of mega-capitalist corporate and International governments to whom they beg to be slaves and become our slave drivers themselves, whilst showing off their ill-acquired wealth and looking silly trying to be as white as any foreign white-in all aspects and by any means necessary.

These are the people who are interfering with African people naming themselves, and their environment. They are the very people who are in cahoots with some of these sleazy monied potentates who run the world of ideas and money and control the Army.  They are the great pretenders and trumpet untruths that they are our leaders and run the leading ruling party-ANC.  As I read Playthell’s Indians article on the struggle of Native Americans, the so-called “Indians,” I can see that we have quite similar problems here in Mzantsi and then some.

The indigenous of peoples of America are subject to the same treatment of disrespect and disregard/ignored by their colonizers; who see it as a White privilege. And in South Africa, where the white Apartheidizers descendants they still own 83% of the land given to them under the Apartheid era Group Areas Act, your article’s treatment of the massive theft  of  Native American lands really hit a very bothersome issue for us. It is interesting for one to begin to learn that this same treatment of using derogatory names to those who have been dispossessed, is one of the many ways to keep and display the dominance of the European over the indigenous peoples everywhere in the world!

The South African Bantustans Mirror “Indian’ Reservations
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 Whites Arrived in Virginia 1619 and Cape Town 1652
 
The Way We Were

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 White South Africa’s Idea Of child’s Play!

Even in this day of the fictitious democratic sham that is our country, there are still White folks who will never ever cease and desist from calling us “Kaffirs”(equivalent or same as “Nigger”) because they feel they can and know that they have many adherents and sympathizers amongst their Afrikaner “Volk”(Folk). What Playthell is saying is what we are fighting for here in Mzantsi. This is made concrete when he quotes the Congressman Eni who charged that “Native Americans throughout the country consider the ‘R-word’ a racial, derogatory slur akin to the ‘N-word’ among African Americans or the ‘W-word’ among Latinos.”

We feel the same way here in Mzantsi, and throughout the African Continent and the Diaspora.  But, seemingly, every time we raise this issue we come across arrogance and dismissive attitudes that defies logic or common sense. I guess the more things change, the more they stay the same.

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Skhokho Sa Tlou

Mazantzi, South Africa

June 16, 2013