Noble Sissle

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Noble Sissle was an American jazz lyricist, composer, singer, playwright and band leader. Above is Sissle’s 1928 version of Westward Bound.

Sissle was born in Indianapolis, Indiana on July 10, 1889. his parents were very religious but loved music. He joined the 369th Regimental Band led by the great James Reese Europe. During this time, he also met Eubie Blake who he collaborated with for years after the death of Europe.

Noble Sissle was one of African-American music’s unsung tradition-builders. As half of the duo that composed Shuffle Along, he helped to bring African-American creativity to a new level on the Broadway stage. As a bandleader, Sissle nurtured the careers of vocalist Lena Horne and other important musicians, and he participated fundamentally in the popularization of African-American jazz and pop in Europe. Sissle went on to compose memorable jazz tunes like I’m Just Wild About Harry and Shuffle Along. His song Viper Mad was in Woody Allen’s film Sweet and Lowdown.

Westward Bound interview with our artist Patrick Singh

The West Harlem Art Fund is so pleased to be working with Patrick Singh again. This Skyped interview was done while the artist was in the South of France with his gallerist. His bio is below in English and French.

Born to an Indian father and a French mother, Patrick was predestined to multicultural encounters. He spent his childhood traveling between the South of France and London, England. He is a holder of a State Diploma in Managing Leisure and Cultural Activities – French “Diplome d’Etat Relatif aux Fonctions d’Animation”.

Since 1997, Singh’s career has been punctuated by international exhibitions – collective and individual – along with artistic residencies throughout Europe, South America and Asia. Singh’s work is exhibited in multiple collections, including the Anne Cros Gallery located in the South of France. His visions come to life under his brush without his using models.

Né à un père indien et à une mère française, Patrick a été prédestiné aux rencontres multiculturelles. Il a passé son enfance voyageant entre le Sud de la France et Londres, Angleterre. Il est un détenteur d’un Diplôme d’État dans le Loisir se Débrouillant et les Activités Culturelles – le français “Diplome d’Etat Relatif aux Fonctions d’Animation”.

Depuis 1997, la carrière de Singh a été ponctuée par les expositions internationales – collectif et individuel – avec les résidences artistiques partout dans l’Europe, l’Amérique du Sud et l’Asie. Le travail de Singh est exposé dans les collections multiples, en incluant la Galerie d’Anne Cros trouvée au Sud de la France. Ses visions reprennent conscience sous sa brosse avec de ses modèles d’utilisation.

Video Commentaries on artist Patrick Singh — Part One

These Skyped interviews were created by Savona Bailey-McClain, Executive Director & Chief Curator of the West Harlem Art Fund, Inc. and National Park Service, Manhattan Sites. The commentaries were recorded while the participants were in Berlin, Atlanta and Harlem. All of the participants gave very thoughtful views of the artist’s work and its relationship to the African Burial Ground or African artistic expressions.

Kamal Sinclair (American, born 1976) is a professional artist, teaching artist, and producer of live and transmedia art. Kamal obtained her BFA from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and graduated with honors from Georgia State University’s Robinson College of Business MBA program. Her professional career began as a cast member of STOMP where she performed in the national and international tours, as well as on the Emmy Awards, MTV’s Beach House, Good Morning America, The Today Show, BET, and PBS’s Reading Rainbow. Sinclair was the founding artistic director of Universal Arts and creative director for many festivals and awards shows. She taught business courses to artists through the Savannah School of Art and Design (SCAD) and Fractured U: Continuing Education for the DIY Artist. Sinclair is also a periodic contributor to the acclaimed theatre publication, Black Masks.

Birta Guðjónsdóttir (Born 1977) is an artist and curator. She obtained her MFA degree of Fine Arts from the Piet Zwart Institute in Rotterdam and a BFA-degree from The Icelandic Academy of the Arts. In 2009-´11 she was a director of The Living Art Museum in Reykjavik. In 2008-´09 she was an artistic director and chief curator at exhibition space 101 Projects, Reykjavik. In 2005-´08 she had the position of chief curator of SAFN Art Collection, Reykjavik. In 2008 she worked as curator´s assistant at MuHKA; Museum of Contemporary Art in Antwerp. In 2007-08 she took part in the Nordic Baltic Curatorial Platform project, initiated by FRAME; Finnish Fund for Art Exchange. In 2011 she participated in the Curatorial Intensive at ICI-New York and The Cornwall Workshop organized by Tate St. Ives Museum in S-England. She has curated shows in Melbourne, New York, St Petersburg, Copenhagen and most major art museums in Reykjavik, and been an editor of four exhibition catalogues. She has been on advisory boards of the Icelandic Art Center, The Icelandic Academy of the Arts and for various commissions and art prizes. She has produced her home-gallery Dwarf Gallery since 2002, is a founding board member of Sequences Art Festival, a member of IKT, International Association of Curators of Contemporary Art and a member of curator’s collective WAG. As an artist, she has participated in over 30 solo- and group exhibitions.

Dianne Smith (born 1965) is an abstract painter, sculptor, and installation artist. Her work has beenexhibited in solo and group exhibitions in New York City’s Soho and Chelsea artdistricts as well as, numerous galleries and institutions throughout the UnitedStates. She is an educator in the field of Aesthetic Education at LincolnCenter Institute, which is a part of New York City’s Lincoln Center For the Performing Arts. Since the invitation to join the Institute over five years ago she has taught k-12 in public schools throughout the Tri-State area. Her work as a teaching artist also extends to under graduate and graduate courses in various colleges and universities such as: Lehman College, Columbia University Teachers College, City College, and St. John’s University to name a few.Recently she was invited to join the team at The Center For arts Education in New York City. In 2007, Dianne was one of the artists featured in the Boondoggle Film Documentary Colored Frames. The film took a look back at fifty years in African-American Art, and also featured other artists such as Benny Andrews, Ed Clark and Danny Simmons.That same year the historical Abyssinian Baptist Church, which is New York’s oldest African American church commissioned Smith to create the artwork commemorating their 2008 Bicentennial. In addition, she co-produced an online radio show the New Palette, for ArtonAir.org (Art International Radio)dedicated to visual artists of color. In1995, she presented Poet Dr. Maya Angelou and Broadway Choreographer George Faison each with one of her paintings: Spirit of My Ancestors I and II. Her work is also in the private collections of Danny Simmons, Vivica A. Fox, Rev. and Mrs. Calvin O. Butts,III, Cicely Tyson, Arthur Mitchell and Terry McMillian. Dianne is a Bronx native of Belizean descent. She attended LaGuardia High School of Music and Art, the Otis Parsons School of Design and the Fashion Institute of Technology. Smith is currently pursuing her MFA at Transart Institute in Berlin. She currently lives and works in Harlem.

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.

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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Gumboot Juba


Dianne Smith, one of the commentators for Westward Bound is an accomplished artist and teacher herself. In collaboration with the West Harlem Art Fund and Armory Week 2011, the window installation Gumboot Juba was presented. Juba, Pattin’ Juba or Guiba is the name of the dance (of West African influence) the slaves did on southern plantations, in the Caribbean and Dutch Guiana. The sounds and movement took the place of the drums.

Please view the images of this stunning installation that was seen at the Mink Building in West Harlem.

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Video interviews by Columbia University

Mapping the African American Past is the product of a grant from the JPMorgan Chase Foundation. The site was produced by the Columbia Center for New Media Teaching and Learning (CCNMTL) in partnership with Columbia University’s Teachers College and Creative Curriculum Initiatives (CCI).

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