Tuesday, June 28, 2011

A Madman in his Most Incandescent Bloom

There is a lot of thought that goes into my selection for Throwbacks! I'm a music freak and have a wide array of musical tastes. My favorites are neo-soul and funk but I love 90's house, 80's pop, 70's disco, 60's soul and 50's doo-wop. My two step stays steady when the DJ spins Frankie Beverly and Maze and best believe I go in when a hip hop club banger is played. And if I'm looking to be on that conscious tip, I can listen to Nasty Nas, Bob Dylan or Damien Marley.

Or Charles Mingus. Which leads me to my Throwback for this week.

A jazz icon, Charles Mingus was an accomplished pianist, bandleader and composer. He is however most celebrated as a bassist and was one of the leading musicians during the 50's, the big band era in jazz music. Mingus apparently was prone to angry outbursts and temper tantrums, earning him the nickname, the "Angry Man in Jazz." However, many of his song themes were reflective of his disgust of the country's racial oppression. Like other black musicians of that time, he incorporated his civil rights activism in his music.

In 1957, the Governor of Arkansas, Orval Faubus sent the National Guard to Little Rock Central High, blocking nine back students from entry into the racially segregated school even though they were already enrolled. The event further polarized an already divided nation. Hostility sparked from white racists who picketed the school in droves. They made lynch threats to the students and the civil right activists who protested on their behalf. Joining the chorus of those angered by gross racial injustice, Charles Mingus recorded "Fables of Faubus," arguably his most political work. The protest song was recorded in 1959, but Columbia refused to allow for the lyrics to be featured on the album. A year went by before the original recording surface.

What is old is new again. Music is kept alive by message and that is what I had in mind when selecting Charles Mingus' music for this week's Throwback. After a fabulous weekend with Sista Zipporah Pierce at the Gay Pride festivities, I am still celebrating my gay brothers and sisters being granted the right to marry in the state of New York. This was a major achievement for us as a society but the struggle for full equality remains arduous. Songs like "Freedom" and "Fables of Faubus" remind us of the tough path made for us to follow.

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