Posted in Uncategorized, tagged Brooklyn Academy of Music, Holidays, Martin Luther King Jr., Mavis Staples, New York, Oregon, Portland, Staple Singers, We’ll Never Turn Back, You Are Not Alone on January 17, 2011 |
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As a still relatively new holiday, Martin Luther King, Jr., Day has yet to develop its widely recognized celebratory routines. Thanksgiving involves a feast; Christmas, a tree and gifts; the Fourth of July, fireworks. Is MLK Day set aside for remembering and reflection, or is it a time for public service? I confess I don’t know the best way to commemorate the great man’s achievements. (In Portland, Oregon, options include listening to speeches and going to the zoo for free.)
I do know that my most memorable MLK Day so far occurred in the last January of my years in New York. The Brooklyn Academy of Music arranged a program of events culminating in a concert by Mavis Staples, who sang songs from her then-still-new recording We’ll Never Turn Back, along with Staple Singers classics. King inspired the Staple Singers, who started to sing “freedom songs” in the 1960s. She wanted We’ll Never Turn Back to convey the same message as those anthems from the civil rights movement: “We’ve got to keep pushing to make the world a better place.” Having people like Mavis Staples making beautiful music does precisely that, I believe (and her fine 2010 follow-up, You Are Not Alone, backs me up).
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Posted in Events, Fighters & Writers, tagged Advance, Amy Adrion, Berry Gordy, Booker T. & the MGs, Boxing, Craig Fahle, David Marshall Silverman, Detroit, Fighters & Writers, Freedom Riders, Git Along, Hammer of Tor, Hitsville USA, I Am a Man, Imperfect Armor, Isaac Hayes, Kate Lain, Little Dogies, Lorraine Motel, Martin Luther King, Marvin Gaye, Memphis, Mitchell Rose, Motown, National Civil Rights Museum, No Neutral Corner, Otis Redding, Pony Rides Are for Girls, Shoegazer, Smokey Robinson, Snake Fever, Staple Singers, Stax Museum of American Soul Music, Stax Records, Stevie Wonder, Sun Studio, Supremes, Temptations, Thomas Hauser, Tor Hamer, Traffic Jam, Washington DC, WDET, Wendy Greene on October 31, 2010 |
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October ended with a burst of activity involving multiple projects. Imperfect Armor screened at the 13th annual Indie Memphis film festival on the 23rd along with some wonderful short films like Mitchell Rose’s Advance, Kate Lain’s Git Along, Little Dogies and Amy Adrion’s Shoegazer. (Other festival highlights included Wendy Greene’s short documentary Snake Fever and David Marshall Silverman’s hilarious Pony Rides Are for Girls.)
In addition to screenings and festivities, we took in a bit of the city. The National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel provides a powerful reminder of how the color line scarred the United States. In 2009, Indie Memphis screened I Am a Man, a documentary about the sanitation workers’ strike that brought Martin Luther King, Jr., to the city where he was assassinated. This year, it showed Freedom Riders, a film about front-line fighters against racial segregation – the kind of bold Americans the NCRM vividly commemorates.
Of course Memphis’s historical contributions also include some of the greatest music of all time. Though the actual studio where Booker T. & the MGs, Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding, the Staple Singers and many other brilliant musicians made records, the Stax Museum of American Soul Music recreates and celebrates the place where it once stood at the corner of McLemore Avenue and College Street.
In some ways, Memphis reminded me of Detroit, our next stop. And there are some meaningful connections. As the tour guide at Hitsville USA (as the Motown Historical Museum is commonly known) mentioned, King first delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech not in Washington DC but in Detroit, where Berry Gordy’s company made a recording of it. Motown is better known for having recorded artists such as Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, the Temptations, the Supremes and Stevie Wonder. Though Stax Records and Motown used different methods, they both achieved musical magic. Somehow, even though I grew up in Detroit, I’d never visited the building at 2648 West Grand Boulevard, but I corrected that oversight on this trip.
- With Craig Fahle at the WDET studio
The real reason for the excursion to my hometown was not to extend our tour of recording studios. (On our 2009 trip to Memphis, we went to Sun Studio.) Instead, it was to read from Fighters & Writers, which I did at the Traffic Jam on the 29th. I also appeared on The Craig Fahle Show on WDET 101.9 FM.
The musical theme was not the only unifier of our two-city trip. Indie Memphis showed two short films about heavyweight Tor Hamer. One of them (Hammer of Tor) ends with the boxer being asked a question by Thomas Hauser, an author I interviewed for the documentary No Neutral Corner and write about in Fighters & Writers.
With my sister, Laura, at a book-signing in Detroit
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