Tag Archives: black culture

S is for the Staple Singers

Staple-SingersA major competitor of Motown serving up black music in the United States in the 1960s and early 1970s was STAX Records, which I wrote about extensively HERE.

One of the great groups on the label was The Staple Singers, “an American gospel, soul and R&B singing group. Roebuck “Pops” Staples (1914–2000), the patriarch of the family, formed the group with his children Cleotha (1934–2013), Pervis (b. 1935), Yvonne (b. 1936), and Mavis (b. 1939)… While the family surname is ‘Staples’, the group used the singular form for its name, ‘The Staple Singers’.”

They had appeared on other labels before joining STAX, releasing songs such as For What It’s Worth [LISTEN], a cover of the Buffalo Springfield hit, that went to #66 in 1967 on Epic Records.
Continue reading S is for the Staple Singers

Race in America, late summer, 1963

NBC News did a very interesting thing last month: it rebroadcast the August 25, 1963 episode of the news panel program Meet the Press, 50 years after the original broadcat. You can read the transcript at the site as well. The guests were Roy Wilkins, head of the NAACP, and Martin Luther King, Jr., head of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. They were speaking three days before the massive March on Washington.

What I found fascinating is that there are two overriding themes in the questioning. One comes in the first question Continue reading Race in America, late summer, 1963

E is for Esso

When I was growing up, as often as not, we got our gas from the Esso station. Esso (“S-O”) “is derived from the initials of the pre-1911 Standard Oil.” I didn’t remember this, but I read that it became the focus of so “much litigation and regulatory restriction in the United States [that in] 1972, it was largely replaced in the U.S. by the Exxon brand… while Esso remained widely used elsewhere.” Ironic, since the Exxon brand name has been forever tainted by the Exxon Valdez oil spill, not to mention purposefully manufacturing uncertainty on climate change.

Whereas Esso had quite a positive image, at least with many people of my father’s generation. For there was a time in the United States Continue reading E is for Esso

Black girls' hair

That first week of the London Olympics 2012, when I wasn’t watching, the primary storyline apparently was about Gabby Douglas’ great accomplishments in the Olympics. And her hair. Yawn.

As long as I’ve been alive, how black girls and women wear their hair has been “an issue” with someone. Processed or natural – “proves” how “black” someone really was, at least when I was growing up. Dyed or not – hey, do they “want to be white”?

In large part, I’m less upset by it Continue reading Black girls' hair

Oscar Micheaux, Pioneering Black Film Director

Much of this info is from Rotten Tomatoes:

Oscar Micheaux (January 2, 1884 – March 25, 1951) was the first major African-American feature filmmaker, the most successful African-American filmmaker of the first half of the twentieth century and the most prominent producer of race films. He directed the first black film Continue reading Oscar Micheaux, Pioneering Black Film Director

Slavery by Another Name PBS documentary

My wife and I got a babysitter last Friday night so we could take the bus – MUCH easier than trying to find parking at the uptown UAlbany campus – and watch Slavery by Another Name, “a 90-minute documentary that challenges one of Americans’ most cherished assumptions: the belief that slavery in this country ended with the Emancipation Proclamation.” Though the film will be premiering on PBS, Monday, February 13 at 9pm ET / 8pm CT (check local listings), the real draw of viewing it early on a bigger screen was to be able to see the director of the film, Shelia Curran Bernard, and the writer of the book upon which the film was based, Douglas Blackmon, who I had seen before.

Narrated by actor Laurence Fishburne, “The film tells how even as chattel slavery came to an end in the South in 1865, thousands of African Americans were pulled back into forced labor with shocking force and brutality. Continue reading Slavery by Another Name PBS documentary

Let America Be America Again by Langston Hughes


Today would have been the 110th birthday of James Mercer Langston Hughes, “an American poet, novelist, playwright, and columnist.” When he died on May 22, 1967, I wasn’t that familiar with his work, but I knew that someone important had passed. He was born into abolitionist stock, had both black and white critics, but eventually became a leading light of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s.
Continue reading Let America Be America Again by Langston Hughes

Black History Month

Back in December (or maybe mid-November), I had called a meeting for people at my church interested in working on Black History Month to come to a meeting; no one came. So decided just to do it (largely) myself.

One of the pastors had recommended this series A History of Racism in the United States from an entity called the Thoughtful Christian way back in May of last year, and it looked OK to jumpstart a discussion.

The Adult Education Committee, which I’m on, decided to try an experiment with two different offerings in January. On January 30, it would be my BHM part 1 v. the last piece of a study of the gospel of Mark. People wanted to do both, but ultimately, Mark won out and I had three or four people. My ego wasn’t affected, of course. Continue reading Black History Month

C is for Cosby


Bill Cosby is an iconic individual in my life. It started out with three albums that I listened to so often that I could cite dialogue as well as I could Beatles lyrics, which is to say, quite well.

The problem with describing comedy, though, is it involves context, character development and timing. As the cover of I Started Out as a Child (November 1964) notes, “Cut left at the black Chevy” (from Street Football) is not inherently funny, except as described by the Cos. The album also featured Oops!, a brief bit about the fallacy of the perfection about doctors; and The Lone Ranger, about the masked man and Tonto getting drunk, with the Ranger’s horse Silver telling him, “Get off my back!” But the album also deals with serious topics. Medic is about him being one; “zonked means dead”. And Rigor Mortis, about American funerals, along with my preternatural reading of The American Way of Death by Jessica Mitford, helped formulate my preference for cremation over the casket at an early age.

On Why Is There Air? (January 1965), in Driving in San Francisco, he discusses Lombard Street so accurately that it shows up in the Wikipedia description:
“They built a street up there called Lombard Street that goes straight down, and they’re not satisfied with you killing yourself that way—they put grooves and curves and everything in it, and they put flowers there where they’ve buried the people that have killed themselves. Lombard Street, wonderful street.” (audience reacts with knowing cheers and applause). So the one time I went to San Francisco, in 1988, you KNOW I had to go there.

That album, in $75 Car, has one of the few actual jokes. After Bill has hit a tree, he realizes he has a bunch of tickets in the glove compartment, “Which are like Savings Bonds; the longer you keep them, the greater they mature.” Continue reading C is for Cosby