By Christopher “Flood the Drummer®” Norris
11.11.15: Philadelphia – (Politics): Last night in Philadelphia, when patrons in their fine wear, amidst the drizzling of rain, exited the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts after the 2015 Marian Anderson Award Gala Performance honoring iconic jazz musician Mr. Wynton Marsalis, the conversations seemed to be about the nine-time Grammy-Award winner’s more than 10 minute acceptance speech rather than the stars who graced the stage in his tribute.
Even Mr. Marsalis’ septet rendered two amazing performances – one opened by a dazzling drum solo – but it was the revered band leader’s elocution prior to receiving the award named after a Philadelphia-born contralto that appeared to wow the audience.
Mr. Marsalis, who in 2003 appeared on a panel about jazz and democracy with former President Mr. Bill Clinton, and Ms. Marian Anderson, who in 1961 sang at the inauguration of President John F. Kennedy, have bodies of work that span the spectrum of social, political and artistic, yet it remains that both individuals are incomparable, neither one has a peer in the music industry.
“Excellence itself is a form of protest,” said Mr. Marsalis, the first jazz musician ever to win the Pulitzer Prize, who took to the lectern less than a minute after his performance and spoke about slavery, mass incarceration and social and racial justice.
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Mr. Marsalis’ eloquence and deliberateness as a speaker is celebrated equal to his musical talents. After both performances with his septet, he received a hearty applause, but during his speech, lauding from his audience came after almost every sentence.
“We have a famous, blood-stained and very painful past. Slavery will always be a part of the blood soaked roots of our nation; it cost us the virginity of our idealism,” said Mr. Marsalis, who noted that despite the barbarism of the slave trade, the most powerful gift of American slavery has been music. “And that music, like the principles that undergird our beliefs,” he continued, with the Mayor of Philadelphia standing behind him, “still has to power to denigrate and enslave, as it also has the power to liberate and enlighten.”
The music of Marian Anderson – and her life in general – would fit the bill of the latter. In fact, Mr. Marsalis characterized her life’s work as a call to action. And with that comparison, the jazz great who was born in New Orleans offered his own ask in an attempt to muster empathy and involvement in the issues that are printed before us in the news media.
“Let us realize as we sit here tonight… the black American is still called upon to wear the Black-face of degrading names; still called upon to provide comic relief against the backdrop of heinous crimes that were committed against him. As the black American degrades him/herself for the entertainment of others, so, too, does the nation degrades itself in the eyes of the world. Let us realize that as the black American is uneducated, so, too, are we uneducated. As the black American is incarcerated at record numbers, many times for the perception of crimes, so, too, does the nation incarcerate itself.”
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Mr. Marsalis’ speech last night, before an audience who paid nicely to attend the concert, could’ve easily fit into an anti-racism protest where the spectators are the bystander and the rowdy activist alike.
“He’s a leader,” said Grammy-Award-winner and jazz bassist Mr. Christian McBride, who told Techbook Online in an interview today about his upcoming ‘The Movement Revisited’ concert that Mr. Marsalis is one of his biggest inspirations. “I’ve known him since I was 14 years-old; I listened to his records in High School.”
The theme of Mr. Marsalis’ brief but substantive utterance was clear: togetherness; above all, one country.
“The artistic story of Marian Anderson is an American story much more than it is an Afro-American story, or a black story, or an African-American story or an American Negro story. It’s the story of church members who paid for her initial lessons. It is as much a social story of her winning a competitor to sing with the New York Philharmonic in the early 20s; it as much the encouragement of Roland Hayes, the greatest American Negro tenor of that period. It’s the political story of the daughters of the American Revolution v.s Eleanor Roosevelt. In all these stories Marian Anderson emerges triumphant, but she’s not alone at all, the triumph is plural… it is a victory for all us. Because the life of Marian Anderson was serious, let us honor her by giving her life the proper framework to resonate in all of its true glory far, far into the future.”
‘The Modern Day Civil Rights Movement,’ a free 6:30pm panel discussion at the Kimmel Center in Philadelphia preceding Grammy Award-winner Mr. Christian McBride’s Nov. 21st 8pm concert at the Merriam Theater, will be moderated by Christopher “Flood the Drummer” Norris.
Thanks for reading. Until next time, I’m Flood the Drummer® & I’m Drumming for JUSTICE!™
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