W.E.B. Dubois at Fisk: A Discovery of The Beauty and Soul of Black Folks

For years my late father maintained a scrapbook he compiled from African American publications like Ebony,and The Chicago Defender. It was from his well kept book of black memorabilia that as an adolescent I learned about Dr. W.E.B. Dubois and Fisk University, the illustrious scholar’s beloved alma mater. A first rate scholar and among Harvard’s most esteemed Ph.d. graduates, among his classic, landmark books is The “Souls Of Black Folks” a masterful treatise on black leadership potential, intellectual contributions and cultural development.The book became a blue print for the concept of Negritude and expression of unassailed, unique contributions of the black arts movement and culture to the world entering the era of Harlem’s great Renaissance. From the fierce self-determination and talent of Fisk Jubilee Singers formed in 1866 whom he adored as well as the outstanding cultural contributions emerging from similar historically black colleges and arts groups to the era of Harlem’s fabled Renaissance unprecedented cultural production . In his classic book, “The Soul of Black Folks published in 1903 Dubois wrote:”

“Little of beauty has America given the world save the rude grandeur God himself stamped on her bosom; the human spirit in this new world has expressed itself in vigor and ingenuity rather than in beauty. And so by fateful chance the Negro folk-song — the rhythmic cry of the slave — stands to-day not simply as the sole American music, but as the most beautiful expression of human experience born this side the seas. It has been neglected, it has been, and is, half despised, and above all it has been persistently mistaken and misunderstood; but notwithstanding, it still remains as the singular spiritual heritage of the nation and the greatest gift of the Negro people.”Chapter XIV The Sorrow Songs”Souls of Black Folks(1903)

Dubois was enamored with the beauty and power of Negro spirituals and work songs introduced to the world by his classmates The Fisk Jubilee Singers whose enormous contributions introduced black music to European audiences that radically changed perceptions of a nation first coming to realize the impact of black culture and black folk as purveyors of serious world art. Hence, Dubois was inspired to pen his classic book,”The Soul’s of Black Folks”, and it became the clarion voice of black intellectual and artistic aspiration of the 20th century.It was by reading and leafing through my father’s well kept compendia of articles and photographs as well as an old Smithsonian Folkways recording of the renowned Fisk Jubilee Singers I became inspired to matriculate at his beloved alma mater, Fisk University.Dubois throughout his career as an international scholar and public intellectual unfailingly attributes his deep appreciation of black culture and discovery of Fisks’ environment for intellectual and cultural development to his years as a student at Fisk University in Nashville. This historical fact is often marginalized but must not be forgotten.D.Day 2016

The Family Saga of Stevie Wonder: Deep Roots in East Chicago, Indiana

Lula Hardaway the beloved mother of Stevie Wonder eventually gave Stevie the surname Morris,named after their Morris relatives,in East Chicago, Indiana with whom she once lived.Lula’s maiden name was Hardaway,the father of Stevie and his siblings was Calvin Judkins. Lula retained the Hardaway surname for her children rather than Judkins, with the exception of Stevie, who was given the name of his grand parents whose Liquor store business and property are shown in the picture above. The Morris and Hardaway families of East Chicago played a huge part in Stevie’s formative years, this was the pre-Finger tips era and the Live Regal theater recording that catapulted him to stardom as “Little Stevie Wonder”.The biography of mom, Lula for some odd reason omits her life in East Chicago where she actually migrated to from Eufaula, Alabama.Instead the biographer fictitiously places my old neighborhood where some of Stevie’s and his mom’s folks lived as in the City of Chicago proper, which is false and completely inaccurate.Stevie Wonder uses Morris as his legal surname. As a side bar,there’s a similar distortion portrayed erroneously in the TV biopic of “The Jacksons”, that runs on cable TV repeatedly. It shows the couple Joe and Catherine as living and meeting in Chicago, however, for the record, Joe and Catherine Jackson met in East Chicago, Indiana 20 miles southeast of Chicago’s Loop, where Joe worked as a crane operator at Inland Steel and not US Steel in Gary, Indiana as presented in the movie. The couple soon after married and moved to Gary where they started the family, the rest is history. I suppose using the City of Chicago as a romantic backdrop was much more appealing to Hollywood producers than the gritty industrial melting pot of a blue collar town like East Chicago was back in the day. One interesting fact is Stevie’s beloved mom Lula and Michael’s beloved mom Catherine lived only a few blocks apart in the City of East Chicago, Indiana.The good folks who live there know the true story and Stevie and the youth(especially my sister and her crew) whom followed him and his care taker around like groupies during the hot summer have fondest memories of his many visits and childhood vacations spent in the old “hood”. D.Day 2014

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Morris Family Liquor Store, owned by Stevie’s relatives Bob and Ilona Morris, East Chicago, Indiana

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Lula Mae Hardaway, and son Stevie Hardaway Morris

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Stevie samples his mom’s home cooking as his siblings look on.

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Stevie Wonder and Dennis Day at Harlem’s Hueman Bookstore

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Sir Steveland Judkins Hardaway-Morris aka Stevie Wonder

ART FLETCHER WARRIOR FOR GOP CHANGE IS A Much Needed Voice Today

ART FLETCHER:AFRICAN AMERICAN WARRIOR WHO FOUGHT FOR AND AGAINST THE GOP FOR CHANGE

2/20/13
By Dennis Day
Art Fletcher was a stand-up guy who gained considerable political influence in and out-side the Beltway of the nation’s capitol. As a young political novice I met Art during his un-successful but hard fought bid to become Mayor of the District of Columbia. We connected around many issues,Affirmative Action, civil rights, fair housing and wistful thinking that through organization and bold leadership that a progressive vision could help forge the “Big Tent”notion of GOP party loyalists like Congressman(R) Jack Kemp and Senator Ed Brook (R) .Art could be a political lightening rod; bold and out-spoken, he was an anathema to conservative Republican brand of towing the party-line aimed at capping social programs.

A native of Kansas, Art had been among the early complainants in developing the landmark case of Topeka vs. Board of Education which eventually led to debunking the unconstitutional Separate but Equal doctrine thus ending dejure segregation of American public education. As  Assistant Secretary of Labor he along with his associate John Wilkes, crafted the Philadelphia Plan which became the template for federal and State Affirmative Action programs.The legal entitlement crafted for these protected classes ensured : blacks,women, Hispanics, Asians, Pacific Islanders and Native Americans were given equal opportunity access to government subsidized contracts in bidding processes classified as certified minority and women’s business enterprises.Affirmative Action initiatives and Small Business initiatives such as the federal MESBIC (Minority Small Business Investment Companies) Act did more within one generation to lift poor,and minority and women contractors and hires into the middle-class American main stream than, perhaps any government mandate since the G.I. bill.

I attended Art Fletcher’s funeral in July 2005 held at the old Evangel Temple in North East Washington. Neither president, George W. Bush nor George H.W. Bush Sr. attended the funeral instead, sent their personal tributes and  condolences which were read. By the time Art passed at age 80 he had become such an activist and gad fly for change within the GOP leadership, that senate and congressional party leadership kept him at “arms length” to avoid Art’s demands for radical change and concessions for minority inclusion within the GOP. Those who knew Art understood he didn’t ‘give two hoots” about being on the outside agitating, he had spent a lifetime advocating for the poor and down trodden. Art Fletcher was a fearless warrior for change in America and he fought tirelessly to bring needed change  and diversity within the GOP where he could administer a “political stiff- arm”as effectively as he had done during the 50s as the first black player for the NFL Baltimore Colts and later the L.A. RAMS. Art believed in opening doors for the less fortunate and if necessary, legally “breaking down those doors” when they were resistant to change and being opened. He is regarded as the “Father of Affirmative Action.” Based upon his formulation and successful implementation of the Philadelphia Plan which became the template for Affirmative Action, minority hiring targets and contracting opportunities grew exponentially. Art Fletcher deserves our nation’s recognition and honor during Black History month and far beyond  February. The nation’s broadening of the black middle-class in American colleges and universities as well as minority access to federal contracts for goods and services to considerable degree can be attributed to the skillful leadership and unyielding demands that blacks, women and other minorities had a right to be “at the table” in America.Under his reign as Assistant Secretary of Labor during the Nixon administration and after, well into the Clinton years black Americans and women made inroads and progress as entrepreneurs,contractors and sub-contractors within the trades and among the ranks of Small business.

Today’s GOP could well learn from Art Fletcher’s playbook regarding minority and immigrant inclusion, and how to craft programs to uplift the poor and expand economic opportunity; principles Art clung to dearly until his death from heart failure. Admirers of every political stripe turned out for the home-going of this “giant”who held a mirror toward his GOP party , revealing its warts, blemishes and bigotry. Conservative republicans would eventually rebuff  his insistence on the need for expanding Affirmative Action and opening the GOP as a big tent for minorities and women as opposed to merely giving “lip service” to the concept of inclusion.

Liberals, progressives, and moderates all attended the funeral to pay homage to this largely unsung African American hero and patriot. The eulogy was given by the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright, a close personal friend of the Fletcher family, who remarked, “Art is in heaven right now arguing with Saint Peter , telling him to ,“Come on y’all, open these gates wider, and let more people up in here.”Those whom were in the trenches in the turbulent civil rights era can will appreciate the battles Art fought; as a friend and mentor I value lessons I learned from him.Fortunately for me, we stayed in touch over the years until his death from cancer at age 80.To this day I value his steady counsel  and unwavering fight for equal and social justice.

My commentary above will post on my blog with video excerpts of the Art Fletcher home going service at a later date. D.Day Media Group Inc.

From: The Seattle Times, Editorial Board of the Tri-City Herald July 15. 2005

Art Fletcher: The Poor Have Lost Their Hero

People living outside political circles might not appreciate the power Art Fletcher carried, but those who knew him know he was one of the…

People living outside political circles might not appreciate the power Art Fletcher carried, but those who knew him know he was one of the most influential men in recent American history.
The former Pasco city councilman died this week at the age of 80 at his Washington, D.C., home. The legacy he leaves behind is astounding. He helped prove a black man could be a force in politics at a time when blacks in some parts of the country were afraid to vote. Most notably, he shaped the nation’s equal-opportunity and affirmative-action policies when the fight against discrimination was just beginning.
As a young man, Fletcher became the first black to play football for the Baltimore Colts and later the Los Angeles Rams. Wounds suffered during World War II in a segregated Army ended his football career.
After the war, he ended up as a teacher in rural Kansas in the 1950s, becoming involved in efforts to overturn school segregation. In fact, Fletcher was the last living member of nine original plaintiffs involved in the Brown v. Topeka Board of Education case, which led to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that ordered nationwide integration of public schools.
He always was a champion of human rights, and fiercely fought to improve the economic fate of blacks. When he moved to Pasco in the late 1960s, Fletcher created the East Pasco Self-Help Cooperative, a neighborhood development corporation helping blacks start their own businesses.
In 1967, he became the first black person ever elected to a city council in the Tri-Cities. That election night, another black man won in Seattle, making the two of them the first black men in the state to win city council seats.
Not long after, he won the Republican primary for lieutenant governor of Washington by a 2-1 margin. He lost to the incumbent during the November election by slightly less than 50,000 votes out of 1.2 million cast. The close race caught the attention of President Richard Nixon, who appointed Fletcher assistant secretary for the Department of Labor, where he was in charge of stopping employment discrimination. Later, Nixon appointed him chairman of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.
Fletcher always was a staunch Republican, but in recent interviews lamented his party’s shift to a far-right agenda that hurt the poor and minorities.
“I find the Republican Party condemning people for being poor,” he once said. He also criticized Republican candidates for talking about family and religious values while at the same time “not being charitable.”
The poor still need a champion, someone with the political force to speak up for them.
If anything, that’s what Fletcher did, and our country is much better for it.

East Chicago-Baseball Integrates Decades Before the Major Leagues or Little League Baseball

babe-ruth-ec-kiwanas-bball-teamThe great Jackie Robinson integrated major league baseball in 1948. But in East Chicago, Indiana boy’s baseball has been an integrated enterprise since 1924. The East Chicago Kiwanis boy’s baseball league pre-dates the American Little League which began in June 1939 in Williamsport, Pennsylvania when “Lundy Lumber Company” defeated Lycoming Dairy’s youth team in a 3-2 series in the best of three games. From these humble beginnings, Little League Baseball began in America. The sport became the world’s largest youth sports program. The city of East Chicago’s Kiwanis League began its youth baseball league in 1924 making it the oldest organized youth league in the nation. In the picture above the Sultan of Swing, “Babe Ruth” himself meets with me young players from the East Chicago Kiwanis League baseball team, at Chicago’s Comiskey Park.The team’s players represent the ethnic and racial “melting pot” neighborhoods that make up the fabric of this Rustbelt City, once a thriving industrial manufacturing corridor twenty miles southeast of Chicago’s Loop. (D.Day Media 2017)(c)

Masonic Hall: Once A Hub of African American Culture and Society

 

The building pictured below is the Masonic Hall. It is but a remnant of its past glory.Built by  an Indiana chapter of the Prince Hall Free Masons the fraternal and service organization is a branch of North American Freemasonry founded by Prince Hall in the 18th century  composed predominantly of African Americans.

For years, the Hall served as a civic and social meeting place serving several generations of African American and Puerto Rican citizens of East Chicago, Indiana a polyglot city also referred to as the “Twin City” because of its two-distinctive business and residential corridors both incorporated under one city charter, East Chicago and Indiana Harbor.

However, the most fundamental difference was the way the bloods of different races and nationalities mingled within each twin. Both twins had predominantly foreign populations, but one was more foreign than the other. After completing of the North Township on July 30 1907, their report cited that foreign born residents made up fully 75 per cent of the people of East Chicago, and an even greater 85 percent of the population of Indiana Harbor. The writer Archibald Mckinlay describes in his book Twin City, East Chicago had a high percentage of so called Old Immigration, including Welsh, English, Irish Scandinavian, and German; the number of nationalities in East Chicago was limited mainly to northern European,Slavic, and Italian, and the number of races to one: white, Indiana Harbor on the other hand had all of the tongues of Babel and all the colors under the rainbow, and the number of races and nationalities was unlimited.”

The Twin Cities various civic, social and fraternal service groups such as the Elks and Kiwanis, were for all intent and purpose, segregated with restricted membership. A wide range of planning and organizing activities were the exclusive province of the largely white business and civic leaders. As tens of thousands of blacks migrated and settled into the city there was a need for spaces and institutions to accommodate cultural and social activities that were not within the purview of churches or public schools. Prince Hall Masons attempted to fill a void by building a facility to serve as a venue designed for convening conferences and meetings to accommodate both entertainment and social events for a growing urbane black middle class.

The Masonic Hall was built on the Harbor side of town; a two-story brick edifice  designed with a stage for the  performance arts,music concerts lectures, conferences and social gatherings.

The old Masonic Hall building conjures memories of doting parents accompanying aspiring  young performers with incredible talent and glazed with dreams, poised to dance or stroll down a fashion run way eager to sing or play with a band before an audience. There were lectures, rallies, regular dances, teas, wedding receptions,political rallies, civil rights forums, plays and other social events that helped make the fabric of black communal life from post WW II era leading up to the civil rights era and the accepted normalcy of northern defacto racial segregation. In fact, any activity deemed social, communal and constructive for black folks in East Chicago took place at this historic venue. My early teen singing groups, appeared before their first audiences there along with pretty young debutantes, and tap dancers; Puerto Rican and Mexican wedding receptions, musicians’ recitals, weekend teen dances, featured bands and artists from the Region, aspiring singers, guitarists all found a welcoming forum within the walls and safe haven of the Masonic Hall.

I recall my last appearance there with the Valiant’s, a group I organized a few years earlier as a sophomore at East Chicago Roosevelt with the late Fred Kelly a gifted baritone.

I returned to East Chicago the end of my sophomore year in college with my roommate, a fine guitarist, Frank”Silk”Smith a chemistry major from Cleveland I’d teamed with in Nashville. That summer Frank stayed with my family and I. Our plan was to secure music bookings and gigs around the Chicago/Gary area together as we worked in the steel mills to make a little extra money before heading back to Fisk.I also sang with The Valiants my earlier group who were booked for a show at the Masonic Hall.The group was still fantastic and had recorded my early ballad,“I Shed a Tear” sung by lead singer Fred Kelly an original Valiant. My next-door neighbor, Solomon Ard,who was the first black Fire Chief of East Chicago, along with a former member of “The Senators” singing group, Delroy Bridgeman who’d returned from the Armed services. Rounding out the group was the late beloved Clifton “Bellows” Johnson.

Frank “Silk” Smith and I had gigged around Nashville’s clubs and colleges and earned a few bucks on the Music City’s famous Music Row recording demos and jingles. Frank backed us on guitar and was asked to play for the The Opals who at the time were riding the “Hit Chart” with  a danceable tune,”Hop, Skip and Jump”. The talented group was the Region’s answer to the “Supremes” but never received the deserved recognition nor the needed promotion as a female vocal group. Talented, singer/actor Ludie Washington sang with the Valiants after I left the group to attend University also performed on the show along with Gordon Keith. Both men were among the four co-founders of Steeltown records; the label that originally discovered and recorded the Jackson Five and Michael as well as “The Valiants.”

The Masonic Hall was packed that grand night and the entertainment was as usual excellent. I had seen The ECW Senators a male vocal group led by Delroy Bridgeman and made up of black , white and Puerto Rican students, signed to Gary’s Vee Jay records as well as Mo Rodgers and other great local groups had appeared at the Masonic Hall over decades. The Valiants last show remains my fondest memory of a place and time in history with old friends with whom I spent many hours singing and harmonizing some of whom have  made their transition: Fred Kelly, Solomon Ard, Richard Sanders (original Valiant), Clifton “Bellows” Johnson all gone too soon.masonic-hall-ec-indianaMasonic Hall Indiana Harbor an historic landmark and popular hub of Black and Latino  Social life. The  ECW Senators a racially integrated student singing Group, A classic picture of An African American Debutant’s Ball. Social events, dances and performances were part of the Masonic Hall’s community based programs.

The Masonic Hall, a fabled institution that provided much fun, recreation and community engagement for generations of black and Hispanic residents. One other personal highlight of that special summer came when” Frank “Silk” Smith and I performed at the new Sheraton Hotel in downtown Gary. Headlining the show were the Jackson Five featuring a phenomenal other worldly, supremely gifted “man-child” named Michael, we all knew Michael and the group were destined for ‘Big, Big’ things, everyone within ear shot of the Sheraton’s new sparkling hotel ballroom was in awe, completely mesmerized the rest as they say:”is history”! D. Day Media 2017

 

Terry Morrissett Leaves A Rich Legacy of Jazz and Community Service for Chicago & Beyond

R.I.P. Terry “Tut” Morrissette, whose transition was made earlier today, Saturday January 7, 2017 at his home in Chicago, Illinois.
     Terry Morrissette has long been a first-call drummer on Chicago’s legendary creative and always deepening Jazz scene. Early in his career Terry was a member of  The Ramsey Lewis Trio, and frequently toured with that august ensemble.
     For me it’s a personal loss. Terry produced my first CD at his Southside residence where he created TUTS Studio (his nickname was derived from the Egyptian Boy King Tut). Tut was always learning, tinkering, exploring, and creating in the spirit of the true artist and consummate musician he was. He was an early proponent of digital technology, as being ahead of the game was Tut’s M.O.
     Tut was somewhat of a musical conduit and magnet, as are most great producers, in that he always seemed to know everyone in town on the Chicago jazz scene, and most of the top-tier players knew him as well.  It was at his studio that I met the late great Art Porter Jr. (President Bill Clinton’s favorite saxophonist), Lawrence Hanks (pianist/ keyboard player extraordinaire and musical director for both the Regal Theater and award winning R&B singer Jerry Butler), and Nick Corlionne the internationally renowned Smooth Jazz guitarist. All four of these incredible musicians were assembled by Terry and appear on my debut recording, Dennis Day For Only You, which Terry produced in 1989-90.
     Perhaps Tut’s Southside moxie and experience entertaining and informing music lovers while he served as the on-air knowledgeable disc Jockey on the University of Chicago’s Community Radio station WHPK 88.5 FM’ further anchored him in the music and culture he loved. His long running evening Jazz radio program emanated from Hyde Park.
     Terry has worked with numerous musicians over the years – many familiar names, and some just starting out. Terry always gave the same 110% whatever the occasion. Frank Russell, a first-call bass player from Chicago says this about Terry Morrissette, “It was at Terry’s house where I met Randy Hall, Bobby Irving and Vince Wilburn. They had just done Miles Davis’ comeback album The Man With The Horn, and they were big heroes of mine. I played that record until the grooves wore out. That meeting was very monumental to me.”
     More importantly, Terry Morrissette was like family in an even more visceral sense. We’re both proud uncles of the same nieces and nephews, since my youngest brother is wed to his youngest sister. Our holidays from both sides of our families were filled with music, singing, and playing. No one in the house could escape at least a chorus of some melody.
     Terry has one beautiful daughter who was his pride and joy. Terry is one of four brothers, and he has two sisters. Younger brother Kevin Morrisette is a well known jazz pianist in the”Windy City,” and is in fact one of the Obamas’ favorites, so I’ve been told. From what I know and have heard of Kevin, I’m not surprised – he’s fantastic.
     In recent years Terry was part of the worship music ensemble for a church on the Southside. Details of his funeral arrangements are forthcoming. R.I.P. Terry Morrissette. Well done and thank you for all the joy you brought to this world. Dennis Day 1/7/17

(Here is a YouTube link to one of the Ramsey Lewis recordings entitled “Sassy Stew” which Terry appears on drums as part of the Great RL Trio: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9snFv0gJ9yE.)

 

The Great Comet of 1812 : Catch it if You Can!

D-Day Media : New Broadway Play, My Take!

dday media

denee-comet-danceWe lucked out and received theater tickets last night — one of those unexpected perks we New Yorkers sometimes joyfully encounter when friends unexpectedly have to forego their evening plans. It’s now intermission at the Imperial Theater on Broadway in Manhattan. The play is Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812, based upon a portion of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace. The musical stars singer/actor Josh Groban as Pierre in mid-life existential crisis, paired with a lovely rising young African American co-star, Denee Benton, as Natasha, an alluring young love interest.

Now by intermission I can say that this is shaping up to be a great show with a fantastic musical score that combines elements combining a Russian Pop and Bolshoi Opera production blended with postmodern urbanity. There’s the “street” rhythmic energy of Hip Hop’s cultural panache,  captured with riveting precision and style similar to Lin Manuel Miranda’s block-buster Hamilton.

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