World-renowned film composer and trumpet player Terence Blanchard was returning from a two-week stint in Japan when Hurricane Katrina struck his New Orleans hometown. Blanchard and his family were forced to evacuate from their New Orleans homes for months, and his evolution as a displace musician fighting for the cultural rebirth his hometown continues to blossom. A portion of Blanchard journey is captured in both the CD and the documentary, “Flow: Living in the Stream of Music,” that follows Blanchard and his band on a stunning round-the-world musical journey. Additionally, director Spike Lee invited Blanchard to score his tour-de-force 4-part documentary, “When the Levees Broke.” One of the most poignant scenes in the film depict Blanchard and his aged mother and aunt clinging to each other during the family’s first post-Katrina visit to their ravage homes. Today, Blanchard says his mother and aunt are on the verge of moving back into their homes, but he is still concerned about the future of his hometown as it struggles to recover from a storm that occurred nearly two years ago.
During a quick studio break on Friday evening from mixing the “Levee” soundtrack he’s re-scoring for release this summer, Blanchard says he is concentrating on keeping a spotlight on the gravity of the new Orleans situation were thousands of residents continue to suffer.
“One of the things that we’re trying to do with the album is keep the awareness out there,” said Blanchard. “When we were recording the record, we did a take of a tune I had written in the New Orleans tradition in 4/5. It was very upbeat kind of song and I was going to close the album with it. But we decided to pull it form the album because we didn’t want to give anybody the impression that everything was okay. You know, because we want people to still talk about what’s going on and be involved in what’s happening.”
Blanchard was a pivotal voice in the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz “Commitment to New Orleans” initiative which includes the relocation of the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz Performance to the campus of Loyola University New Orleans from Los Angeles. “The Monk institute has a strong commitment to community service. They have a big outreach program that reaches a lot of high school, middle school and grade school kids. That program in itself will touch the lives of a lot of young kids outside the music world and hopefully will encourage some young musician in the field of jazz. We also told the students to come with a horn in one hand and a hammer in the other cause it’s all about rebuilding the city.”
The Institute’s programs will also provide employment for New Orleans musicians while attracting displaced musicians living in other areas of the country back to their hometown, and unite the city’s jazz, arts, and cultural communities.
“I don’t see the music (in New Orleans) as being lost forever because it’s such a part of our culture,” explained Blanchard. “It’s our DNA; you know, it’s what we’re made of. So I don’t ever really see that as something that’s going to be lost. But I do see (the music scene) taking a huge hit right now because there are a lot of musicians who are just not at home and they’re living elsewhere to make do, and that’s hard. I know some guys who’ve been instrumental in the music scene on New Orleans and they’re not in New Orleans right now. We have to be concerned about that. And there are people making efforts to bring those people back. There’s a lot of work to be done.”
“When it comes to jazz there’s certain cities in certain part of the country that get all the attention, you know, Detroit, New Orleans, Kansas City, New York. But, I went to school at Rutgers University and one of the things I learned is that New Jersey has a vast history with the music. And it gets overlooked a lot one of the pivotal creators of this music. He carved out a new path for the role of the guitar in jazz.
Terence was a featured panelist at this year’s Sundance Film Festival (he will also perform at the upcoming festival in 2007) and served as a keynote speaker at the Billboard Film and Television Music Conference in November. Flow: Living In The Stream of Music is scheduled to screen at various film festivals throughout 2006/2007, and has been touted as an engaging documentation of what it means to commit to a life in music, a landmark educational film for young people — and for anyone of any age facing the uncertain prospect of a career as a musician. “The overriding goal in what we do,” says Blanchard, “is to stop being musicians and start being the music.”
|Celebrating a central role in families|
|By BOBBI BOOKER|
|Most mainstream media often overlook the role that Black men share as father, mentor and supporter. The distinct and unique role fathers have in African-American culture was explored with several Philadelphia fathers who reflected on the impact men and fathers have on their children.
Democratic mayoral candidate Michael Nutter says fatherhood is about teaching and guidance.“I think fatherhood is a very serious responsibility, as is motherhood,” said Nutter. “The impact that men and fathers have on their children is often underestimated or ignored or even downplayed. If you look at any of the television shows, the fathers are not necessarily actively involved, or in many cases not even around.”
“I learned any number of very important lessons in life from my own father, who is still with me. Whether as a young boy playing sports or learning how to throw or how to act in competition, there’s a verbal and non-verbal communication that goes on and kids pay attention to what their parents do and listen to what they say and often imitate those behaviors in their own lives. I certainly see many of those things with my own children.”
Nutter says the many life skills he learned from his father are shared with his own children, Olivia, 12 and Christian, 24, who flanked him last month onstage election night of Democratic nomination.
Fatherhood was the theme of Nutter’s most successful campaign commercials, which featured his daughter, Olivia, who discusses her father’s daily activities. Nutter says one of his prime responsibilities since pre-school is taking his daughter to school.
”(My children) have helped to make me the person that I am and, of course, for the better,” said Nutter.
“The fathers are often looked upon for that great kind of silent strength and are often seen as the protector and guardian. I think that’s a very powerful image and reality for many children throughout Philadelphia.”
“Nowadays, being a father means everything to me because of the way the majority of the children are being raised and the things that change in the world,” said Allen. “I can’t even put it into words, to tell you the truth. It’s a delight to see them grow. I never thought I would have girls, so it’s just a change in life for me. It slowed me down tremendously. (Having daughters) made me look at life in many views. They are my future.”
Together, Fatin Dantzler and Aja Graydon are the husband and wife duo known as Kindred the Family Soul.
As a business couple, they run The Kulture Shop on Baltimore Avenue and as a loving Black family, they share their lives with their children Aquil, 8, Diya, 5, and Nina, 3.
Graydon says she see positive messages of love in the families throughout her neighborhood, yet many times Black men (especially the incarcerated) are overlooked.
“I think that the fathers who are out there busting their behinds and are really working and doing their thing are overlooked. I live on a block with fathers who take care of their children but are definitely overlooked. Even the fathers who do have unfortunate situations, where fathers are incarcerated or who have been incarcerated who come out and take care of their kids or who continue relationships with their children throughout a very difficult situation, and we forget about them too, but they exist.”
Dantzler says although his father was not involved in his life, another man helped him in his life’s journey.
“For every father, the experience is different in raising your children in the different ways that they may need you or in how you have to assist or teach them, things that you didn’t realize that you were a teacher of. That, within itself, is just a blessing and a beautiful thing that you get an opportunity to see yourself as a person who is worthwhile and meaningful in someone else’s life.
“We get an opportunity to see the direct connection that we have with our children. I value the opportunity to be in my children’s lives.”
Hughes says his father’s influence “was like a blanket blessing that hung over my life, and still does, because of his life, his work and who he was as a person. In life, he was solid as a rock for me. When I talked about running for public office, which came out of nowhere, he was right there asking the appropriate questions, probed and made sure he stood with me.”
Hughes says the lessons he learned from his father are passed forward to the next generation.
“I’m a grandfather now,” reflected Hughes. “And I try to be solid, consistent and dependable for my children. I try to explain the pros and cons of what the issues are for them. And I try to do what I can to help them realize their dreams.”
=Originally Published in The Philadelphia Tribune on Father’s Day, June 17, 2007=
This Sunday at 2 a.m., sleepy Americans will turn their clocks forward
one hour, thus marking the beginning of Daylight Saving Time (DST). If
it seems a bit early in the calendar year for the change, you are
right. It is the second year of the Energy Policy Act of 2005, a
federal law extending Daylight Saving Time by about a month. As of
2007, DST starts the second Sunday of March and ends on the first
Sunday of November.
Every spring we move our clocks one hour ahead and “lose” an hour
during the night and each fall we move our clocks back one hour and
“gain” an extra hour. The phrase “spring forward, fall back” helps
people remember to perform this annual task, but many people ask why
DST is necessary. Ostensibly, DST helps save money through reduced
use of power by businesses during daylight hours. An early goal of DST
was to reduce evening usage of incandescent lighting, formerly a
primary use of electricity; however, modern heating and cooling usage
patterns can cause DST to increase electricity consumption. While
adding daylight to afternoons benefits retailing, sports, and other
activities that exploit sunlight after working hours, it also causes
problems for farming, entertainment and other occupations tied to the
sun. While extra afternoon daylight reduces traffic fatalities, its
effect on health and crime is less clear.
“When we entered an industrialized society then we could alter the
time as we wished,” explained Franklin Institute’s Chief Astronomer
Derrick Pitts. “When time moved from being a natural phenomena to this
thing you wear on your wrist, than that changed the world altogether.
Once electricity became widely available then we could have artificial
night so people could stay up later and people could work through the
night because we had power and light to see. This changed our natural
schedule of operation, so rather than us going to bed when the sun
goes down and getting up when the sun rises, we don’t get enough hours
of sleep anymore.”
Although standard time in time zones was instituted in the U.S. and
Canada by the railroads in 1883, it was not established in U.S. law
until the Act of March 19, 1918, sometimes called the Standard Time
Act. The act also established daylight saving time, a contentious idea
then. Daylight saving time was repealed in 1919, but standard time in
time zones remained in law. Daylight time became a local matter. It
was re-established nationally early in World War II, and was
continuously observed from February 9, 1942 to September 30, 1945.
After the war, its use varied among states and localities. The Uniform
Time Act of 1966 provided standardization in the dates of beginning
and end of daylight time in the U.S. but allowed for local exemptions
from its observance. The act provided that daylight time begin on the
last Sunday in April and end on the last Sunday in October, with the
changeover to occur at 2 a.m. local time.
The federal law that established “daylight time” in the United States
does not require any area to observe daylight saving time, and the
practice is controversial in some parts of the country. Arizona (with
the exception of the Navajo Nation) and Hawaii and the territories of
Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, Guam, and American Samoa are the only
places in the U.S. that do not observe DST but instead stay on
“standard time” all year long. Around the globe, more than one
billion people in about 70 countries around the world observe DST in
During the “energy crisis” years, Congress enacted earlier starting
dates for daylight time. In 1974, daylight time began on January 6
and in 1975, it began on February 23. After those two years, the
starting date reverted to the last Sunday in April. In 1986, a law was
passed that shifted the starting date of daylight time to the first
Sunday in April, beginning in 1987. The ending date of daylight time
was not subject to such changes, and remained the last Sunday in
October. The Energy Policy Act of 2005 changed both the starting and
“Saving energy should be a national priority that calls on every
American to realize the need to save,” noted Pitts. “Fooling around
with the time is a way for us to avoid the really hard issue that we
need to conserve and we need to change the way we use energy in this
country. That’s a tougher pill to swallow than us changing time,
apparently. This is much easier than trying to change our energy
industry by moving from a petroleum-based energy system to hydrogen or
solar-based energy system, or any of these alternative fuels.”
On Tuesday, February 5, 2008, newspaper deliveryman Mr. Floyd Culver died. He was 100 years old, and the following interview was done on the eve of his century-old mark. Mr. Culver still possess the old bike he delivered papers on for nearly 60 years, but he now uses a sporty little mobility chair to get around in. I could almost see the wink in his eye when he first proposed to me and his charm gave me insight to why he’d been married thrice. Ironically, his first child wasn’t born until he was 50 years old, the age she now is. He was a treat to speak with, and his presence will be missed.
As door-to-door delivery from the iceman and the milkman were fading
into the past, newspaper deliveryman Floyd Culver maintained a
substantial route in South Philadelphia. For 58 years Culver rode his
custom-made bike throughout the region servicing homes, business and
both Graduate and Pennsylvania hospitals. So, when he retired from
his route five years ago, many of his customers were sadden but
understood that it was time for the 95-year old gentleman to rest his
bike. Although Culver agreed to give up his paper route, he still has
not only his bike (which he still rides occasionally) but also a
motorized chair to tool around in.
Today marks a century since Culver‘s birth in Alabama on October 9th,
1907. “I was born in a little town they call Headland, Al.,” recalled
Culver on the eve of his 100th birthday. “Born on a farm. Worked in
the field. Went to school four months a year. Finished 6th grade. My
mother took me out of school and I worked at a grocery store for 24
cents a day. That was in 1914, when I was only about 5 or 6 years old.
I rode a bicycle then.”
As a young man, Culver joined the Navy and was part of the World War
III invasion of Okinawa after the attack on Pearl Harbor. After his
tour of duty, his travels brought him to Philadelphia which has been
his home ever since.
It came as no surprise that Culver has married thrice, considering his
first words to the reporter after hello was, “Would you marry me?” As
charming as Culver is, he was a decidedly more business minded
individual. After his divorce from his third wife (with the legal
assistance of a young Leon Higgonbotten, Jr. Esq.) Culver attended the
William Penn Institute and earned his business degree in two years.
His first venture was a candy store at 18th and Bainbridge before he
realized another opportunity: newspaper delivery.
In his heyday, Culver sold upwards of 3,000 daily papers along a route
that spanned from Broad Street to 23rd Street and from Pine Street to
Washington Ave. In addition to selling The Philadelphia Tribune and
several other Black newspapers of the time, Culver also sold the
(now-defunct) Philadelphia Journal, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The
Philadelphia Daily News and The Philadelphia Evening Bulletin. “At one
time I had three boys working for me,” said Culver. “That’s when I had
the route all the way down to Moore Street. I had the biggest route in
At age 50, Culver welcomed his only child, Brenda J. Taylor (now 50
herself). “That’s my backbone,” he says of his daughter. He is also
grandparent to a grandson, Evan, and granddaughter, Nicole, both
residents of Atlanta, GA. He’s a devout reader of the Bible, and looks
forward to the rare visits he makes to Shiloh Baptist Church at 21st
and Christian Streets. As a person who has bore witness throughout the
20th Century, Culver has lived through incidents of inner-racial
disparity. “I went to the church at 16th and Christian one time and
sat on the wrong side of the church where the light skinned people sat
and the (usher) girl come moving me over where the dark people sat. I
said ‘I won’t go to this church no more.'”
He credits his good health to the healthy lifestyle he has maintained
for decades through diet and a regiment that includes 666(r) Cold
Preparation pills, castor oil and Epson salt. In 1940 he gave up red
meat. “The food that I ate at the time that I grew up had a lots to do
with my body because I don’t eat no pork and no beef,” said Culver. “I
eat a lot of green vegetables, fish, chicken and turkey. That’s the
way I go.”
When asked the secret to a long life, Culver replied, “Mind your own
business, stay clean and don’t try to harm nobody.”
Remembering sculptor John Simpson’s genius through wood, words
John “Yah Yah” Simpson
By Bobbi Booker
Most folks look at a piece of wood and simply see the remnants of a tree. As a sculptor, John Simpson would look at the same piece of wood — a displaced branch or discarded tree trunk — and see a canvas.
Simpson’s death at age 71 on Dec. 3, lays to rest an artistic visionary whose highly evolved senses released the life forces inherent in wood and crafted into life-sized images of human figures that continue to resonate with art collectors, fans and friends alike.
Simpson, known affectionately as “Yah Yah” to many, was a unique and divinely inspired sculptor. He first started his craft as a boy in Norfolk, Va. fashioning play soldiers for himself from discarded wooden clothespins.
He was never formally trained, yet without being well versed in African art, he moved on to creating breathtaking works out of chair legs and baseball bats. When people first began comparing his sculptures to African works, he remained unaware of the connection. Others however, felt the sprit of Africa was clearly present in his artwork and jewelry.
“I feel so connected to Yah Yah’s jewelry,” neo-soul singer Erykah Badu recalled. “I remember when I first saw it, I was automatically taken back to the Congo, or whatever part of Africa represented in these atoms that are caught in this stuff. I could smell Africa with this jewelry.”
Badu, whose distinctive sense of style was enhanced by Simpson’s breathtaking jewelry, took time out from her studio sessions to poignantly describe her feelings after hearing the news.
“When I heard he died, I was wearing a ring that he made me out of turquoise rock and a spoon. This jewelry is like music to me. It carries millions of billions of atoms of those rocks and that metal in them. It’s impossible not to feel the expressions of my ancestors through that because Yah Yah’s hands did it.”
Simpson staged his first one-man show at age 18 with his 1959 Philadelphia exhibit debut. His work spanned over the course of six decades and was featured at the Brooklyn Museum, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and is represented in the collections of such notables as George Dupont, Walter Edmunds and Charles Searles. Simpson taught art for three years at the Christina Arts Center in Wilmington, Del. and for one year in the Philadelphia Model Cities Program at the Ile Ife Black humanitarian Center.
Most recently, Simpson showcased his mixed media collection of wood sculpture and handcrafted silver artesian jewelry at the Ellen Powell Tiberino Memorial Museum.
“John was independent and one of the most productive people I’ve known,” said Richard Watson, curator of the African American Museum of Philadelphia. “He transcended description because his work was motivated by the love of the culture and people.”
Simpson married twice and was the father of five children: Karen Simpson, 50; John Ridley Seal Simpson, Jr., 47; Yvette Penny Simpson, 41; Oladele Simpson, 40 and Nile Simpson, 25. His oldest child remembered her father as an open-minded sprit who was intrigued with learning and sharing his experience from his global travels.
Simpson said her father traveled to South Africa twice, initially meeting with Winnie Mandela and gaining an audience with President Nelson Mandela on his subsequent visit.
“Every time he went somewhere, it was like he soaked up the culture, the people and the everything,” noted Karen. “He had that amazing ability to do that and then bring it back and put it into his artwork. It was unbelievable.”
Simpson’s halcyon years could be described as the period between the 1960’s and throughout the ’70s when maintained a studio at 34th Street and Spring Garden. The space served as a regional artist colony. Some of the guests that stopped by were legendary, yet Simpson, a quietly humble man, never bragged. It was just another natural occurrence in the life of a naturally gifted artist.
“Nina Simone, Sarah Vaughn, George Howard, Grover Washington and Stevie Wonder used to come to his studio when he was in West Philly,” evoked his daughter. “He was cool with them but it wasn’t like he was tripping about it. He would vibe with them and give them what he had to offer and would take in what they had.”
“He did a lot of work with entertainers,” concurred Watson. “He entertained the likes of people like the Funkadelic and Stevie Wonder and he made all kinds of things for people. Philadelphia International and the whole family of musicians frequented John’s studio. Erykah Badu was one of his latest clients and he was making jewelry for her. He did not go unnoticed and unappreciated whatsoever.”
Simpson was also a skilled conga player (he occasionally made and sold congas, as well) who frequently sat in on the jam sessions that would break out at his studio. “That place that he had at 34th and Spring Garden was really wonderful,” recalled friend and fellow artist, Falahuddain Deni.
“All the female dancers that used to be with Alvin Ailey would come down from New York and spend the night over there. He had drums set up in there along with a family of conga drums and an upright metal bass. Plus, he was such a groovy brother, even all the brothers loved him. He was the type of person who was natural with his leadership ability.”
Simpson’s art was the conduit that linked Africa to America and ultimately bridged the timeline between jazz and hip-hop. “Yah Yah” has been creatively described as a sorcerer of wood for his ability to take true nature forms such as a tree or piece of wood and breath a life-like image into it.
A piece of wood Simpson crafted into the image of Badu is prominently displayed in the vocalist’s Brooklyn apartment. “It’s like carving away at a piece of clay only to reveal what’s already there,” explained Badu. “Whatever piece he made, it was already there. He’s just filling the space up with the physical manifestation of it.”
A memorial honoring the life and work of John “Yah Yah” Simpson is scheduled for Sunday, January 6, from 1-4 p.m. at the African American Museum of Philadelphia, 701 Arch St.
=Originally published in The Philadelphia Tribune December 21, 2007=
Photographer pushes the boundaries
Man of many talents dazzles with ‘innovative’ collection
By Bobbi Booker,
As a great contemporary American painter, etcher and lithographer for more than 35 years, John Edward Dowell, 65, has now added master photographer to his list of accolades. During a debut of his latest exhibit “Cityscapes,” which opened in Philadelphia on Friday at the Brandywine Workshop, Dowell greeted dozens of art enthusiast, collectors and colleagues who were captivated by the scope and artistic depth of his latest collection. The North Philadelphia resident happened upon his innovative, cutting-edge style of photography less than a year ago as he experimented with combining lithographs with photo images of slices of urban life. Eventually, photography evolved into his primary focus. Dowell now shoots photos using a 4-by-5-format field camera and then digitally scans the images. The final pictures are produced as nearly 2-by-3 foot prints that are amazingly detailed. High-rise vantage points serve as his backdrop for capturing spectacularly detailed slices of urban life. What is most unusual is that each of Dowell’s photographs captures a natural, ethereal-type of iridescence that results from a blend of light and movement. As guests survey the multidimensional photographs, they marvel at the spectrum of color and cutting-edge photographic style. They also point out the clarity of everyday life captured in the photos, which convey the tale of metropolitan life in each respective city. In one photograph, Dowell shoots Chicago’s landmark Marina City, built by architect master Bertrand Goldberg. The photos capture the Twin Round Towers (aka corn cobs) in a multidimensional montage that reflects, in extraordinary detail, a McDonald’s work crew cleaning up after closing on the building’s ground floor; a Christmas tree twinkling in a eighth floor bay window, the continuous blur of saffron highway traffic and mirrored images reflecting iridescent scenes off of the Chicago River. “What blew me away was they aren’t like any approach to photography I’d ever seen,” said Allen Edmonds, president and executive director of Brandywine Workshop. “It’s the choice of contrast, the colors, the time of day and they were not manipulated. That’s composition … that’s understanding. So they’re really paintings. You couldn’t do this and just be a photographer with a camera. You’ve got to be an artist to do this.” Dowell’s works in canvas, ceramics and print currently sits in 58 private museum collections worldwide, including the Biblioteque Nationale Museum in Paris; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art; The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture; and Yale University Museum. “ It’ s electric,” said Larry Robin, owner of Robin’ s Bookstore. “ His art has evolved from ceramics, to lithography, to photography. John has a mind that just doesn’ t stop. He wasn’ t a photographer. He was looking for a way to express the continuity of what you see.” He is the chair of the Printmaking Area and a full, 35-year tenured professor at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art. Dowell instructs students in his master’s of fine art classes to think beyond the rules, urging them to interpret art with the nostalgic vision of their mind’s eye and creative autonomy. A Lindback Award recipient, recognized for distinguished teaching, Dowell has taught his innovative perspective on art at universities spanning from Rome to Seattle. Still, it is his laid-back North Philadelphia style and artisan’s finesse that people notice before they’ve even glimpsed his work. “He was never trained as a photographer, if so, they would have told him that he couldn’t do this,” Robin said. “He knew what he wanted and he made the camera do what he wanted, which was to be able to see and sense the history, movement, continuity, while capturing the separateness and space.” A major element in Dowell’s art has been to find an abstract, visual interpretation of poetry and music. He has been drawn in particular to the equivalent of a artsy-style visual of jazz. “In my head, I’m thinking about music,” Dowell said. “I want to shoot where you see a reflection from the outside (and wonder) is that real or not real? But then, I’m shooting inside the building and you see people inside. But it’s all caught in an instant. I hear one guy blowing the saxophone and all of a sudden the drummer comes in with a solo. See that’s what I hear and I’m looking for that and I see that in my images.” Artist and poet Theodore Harris said, “It’s so shocking and beautiful. The fact that he has expanded his vision with photographs and experimentation, ever since I’ve seen John’s work from his abstract prints and drawing to this he’s always expanding his work … moving into realms of thought. This takes you into another world and let’s you know more about him as a person and an artist. That’s what it’s all about: taking chances and rolling the dice and see what we hit. I think John hit big time with this.” “Illuminations” featuring the photographic work of John E. Dowell Jr. and Andrea Baldeck runs through July 8 at the Brandywine Workshop, 730 S. Broad St . For more information contact (215) 546-3675 or visit http://www.brandywineworkshop.com/.