Oh for the love of Tap

Many people may not realize that Sammie Davis Jr. was a tap dancer and an excellent one at that. A December baby born in 1925 and a Harlemite. Davis started as a child vaudevillian who became known for his performances on Broadway and Las Vegas. He went on to become a world famous recording artist, television and film star. Davis was also a member of Frank Sinatra’s “Rat Pack”.

At the age of three Davis began his career in vaudeville with his father and “uncle” as the Will Mastin Trio, toured nationally, and after military service, returned to the trio. Davis became an overnight sensation following a nightclub performance at Ciro’s after the 1951 Academy Awards. With the trio, he became a recording artist. In 1954, he lost his left eye in an automobile accident.

Though his film career had begun as a child in 1933, in 1960 he appeared in the first Rat Pack film, Ocean’s 11. After a starring role on Broadway in 1956’s Mr Wonderful, Davis returned to the stage in 1964’s Golden Boy, and in 1966 had his own TV variety show, The Sammy Davis Jr. Show. Davis’ career slowed in the late sixties, but he had a hit record with “The Candy Man”, in 1972, and became a star in Las Vegas.

As an African American, Davis was the victim of racism throughout his life, and was a large financial supporter of civil rights causes. Davis had a complex relationship with the African-American community, and attracted criticism after physically embracing Richard Nixon in 1970. One day on a golf course with Jack Benny, he was asked what his handicap was. “Handicap?” he asked. “Talk about handicap — I’m a one-eyed Negro Jew.”This was to become a signature comment, recounted in his autobiography, and in countless articles.

After reuniting with Sinatra and Dean Martin in 1987, Davis toured with them and Liza Minnelli internationally, before dying of throat cancer in 1990.

Gregory Hines was also born in New York City, Hines and his older brother Maurice started dancing at an early age, studying with choreographer Henry LeTang. Together they were known as “The Hines Kids” and later as “The Hines Brothers.” When their father joined, Maurice Hines, Sr., the name changed again in 1963 to “Hines, Hines, and Dad”.

Hines performed as the lead singer and musician in a rock band called Severance in 1975/1976 based in Venice, California. Severance was one of the house bands at an original music club called Honky Hoagies Handy Hangout, otherwise known as the 4H Club. In 1986, he sang a duet with Luther Vandross, entitled “There’s Nothing Better Than Love”, which reached the #1 position on the Billboard R&B charts.

Hines made his movie debut in Mel Brooks’ History of the World, Part 1. Critics took note of Hines’s comedic charm, and he later appeared in such movies as The Cotton Club, White Nights, Running Scared, Tap, and Waiting to Exhale. On television, he starred in his own series in 1997 called The Gregory Hines Show on CBS, as well as in the recurring role of Ben Doucette on Will & Grace. In 1999, Hines made his return on television with Nick Jr.’s Little Bill, as the voice of Big Bill.

Hines made his Broadway debut with his brother in The Girl in Pink Tights in 1954. He earned Tony Award nominations for Eubie! (1979), Comin’ Uptown (1980) and Sophisticated Ladies (1981), and won the Tony Award and Drama Desk Award for Jelly’s Last Jam (1992) and the Theatre World Award for Eubie!. He also co-hosted the Tony Awards ceremony in 1995 and 2002.

And then there was the King of Pop. Are there any words that could even begin to touch on his influence in music, dance and performing. AMAZING!
Three legends — three generations loving an art form that stemmed across an ocean.

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Ice Cube Understands Green

Ice Cube studied architectural drafting before he became an entertainer. He understood from a cultural standpoint how to make do with what you have. African Americans have been practicing that philosophy from day one in this country. Instead of being praised for such creativity, it was ignored and deemed unworthy. Yet, it didn’t stop others from taking what we were doing or practicing the same philosophy and getting fame, glory or a wealthy life. Now, we need to spotlight how we all share each others ideals and philosophies for the betterment of all people. We must share our humanity. And in this video, Ice Cube offers his perspective on the Eames team (Charles and Ray Eames). I happen to like their work as well. Great minds think alike.

The Banjo’s African Roots

The Banjo originated in Africa and African slaves brought it to America in the 17th century.

It is the only Western stringed instrument with a vellum belly. African stringed instruments commonly include the musical bow, lute, lyre, harp, and zither. Professional musicians among the people of Gambia play the kora, a 21-string harp-lute. The xalam, a plucked lute, is a close relative of the African-American banjo. It is used in Senegal by Wolof praise singers, whose songs revere important people.

From various historical references, however, it can be deduced that the banjar, or bangie, or banjer, or banza, or banjo was played in early 17th century America by Africans in slavery who constructed their instruments from gourds, wood, and tanned skins, using hemp or gut for strings. The banjo was similar to instruments made by the Moors north of the Sahara. It is a stringed instrument of the lute family, with an open-backed round body consisting of a circular wood hoop over which is stretched a vellum belly, a long, narrow, fretted neck, and metal or metal-wound gut strings.

The strings run from a tail piece, over a bridge held in place by their pressure, up the neck to rear tuning pegs. Five strings are typical: four full-length strings and a shorter fifth “thumb” string running to a tuning screw halfway up the neck. Often a five-string banjo body is suspended in a metal or wood resonator. Early banjos had fretless necks, a varying number of strings, and, sometimes, gourd bodies. Thomas Jefferson, in his 1785 notes on the State of Virginia, aptly remarked that the slave instrument of choice, “is the Bonjar which they brought hither from Africa.”

Adopted by white musicians in 19th-century minstrel-show troupes, the banjo gained frets and metal strings. The five-string banjo, plucked with the fingers, is common in folk music and commercial bluegrass bands. The plectrum-plucked four-string banjo was popular about 1900 in vaudeville bands. What brought the instrument to the attention of the nation, however, was a grotesque representation of Black culture by white performers in minstrel shows.

Reference:
The Encyclopedia of African-American Heritage
by Susan Altman

Below is an article by the group Carolina Chocolate Drop. Formed in 2005, the group members wanted to keep a Black tradition alive by learning the Banjo. Now, they have created a formidable music group that performs nationally. The banjo was viewed as a slave instrument and technically it was but it roots goes back to Africa and it needs to be reclaimed here among African Americans. Slavery made African Americans ashamed of traditions that others now celebrate in the open and with joy. It’s our time to celebrate our ancestry and enjoy its wealth.

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Mark Bradford

Interview of the artist Mark Bradford. He talks about how he makes do with materials that he finds. That has been apart of African American life from the beginning in this country. Adjusting to a new world and crafting a way to live, to express oneself and honor that life. In tribute to our enduring spirit and the 20th anniversary of the re-discovery of the African Burial Ground.

Interior Tour of The African Burial Ground

WNET reflects on the African Burial Ground at the Outdoor Memorial

In recognition of the 20th anniversary of the discovery of the African Burial Ground, NY Daily News experienced a tour with National Park Service Ranger Cyrus Forman.

Howard University was there from the beginning

Howard University

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Shortly after the end of the Civil War, members of The First Congregational Society of Washington considered establishing a theological seminary for the education of African American clergymen. within a few weeks, the project expanded to include a provision for establishing a university. The new institution was named for General Oliver Otis Howard, a Civil War Hero, who was both a founder of the University and a Commissioner of the Freedmen Bureau.

It was only fitting that Howard University led the excavation project, analyzed the remains and documented the results.

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