“Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness.”
― Maya Angelou
“Can you remove your hood in the store ma’am?”
That was the last I heard of the store clerk after removing the hood. I’d stepped once more into a sea of misplaced smiles, the check-out line occupied by a mixture of awe and wonder, of marvel and disgust alike. And it all started six years ago.
January 3, 2009
My husband and I were in Norman Oklahoma for a documentary production to which we were preparing to premier that summer. Meanwhile, I’d become fed up with the perm and decided I was no longer going to be engaged in such a one sided relationship. I was tired of complaining about what to do with it and tired of it not growing much in return. What did this hair think it was anyway? I was supposed to spend money on perms and braids while it just sat there. Nope. I was not having it. And so while at my sister’s house, letting her husband and mine occupy the office while we did girl things, I decided right then and there to let her twist my hair.
It was the beginning of a beautiful relationship. I had no idea how deeply I would fall for this new thing in my life, or how much emotion something as seemingly unimportant as hair, would garner.
It was easy in the beginning. Like any other relationship the “newlywed” phase was going smoothly. While I mostly kept it covered with head wraps to which I had also fell for, my selfie game was tight. This was before Facebook though and I wasn’t really into MySpace, so most of these pictures were not published online. That was ok though because this was just the beginning. I couldn’t be sharing this new love of my life with everyone. It was like I had met myself for the first time. I felt alive, strong, and free.
Eventually, I could not keep my hair under wraps for too long. I loved the head wraps but they had become hot and uncomfortable. My hair was growing faster than it had in my life and was attempting to crawl down my back. In addition, I started to enjoy the look of myself without the head wrap even more. My hair was no longer just a combination of DNA strands emerging from the follicles of my scalp, but it was part of everything I did. I had to take into account the way my hair looked when I got dressed, and when I added accessories. “Does this hair go with these shoes? Hmmm”. Now, I was ready to hit the streets.
No, not like that (get your minds out the gutter). I mean I was ready to take on the world. That is when I noticed it. This hair took on more attention than I did. It stopped people in the streets. Stopped them mid-sentence. It even momentarily stopped women from shopping (now that’s serious!) How could they risk going on without asking me how I got my hair like that? Men too marveled, “See I want my hair that thick”, they would say. It was really something and opened the door to deeper questions of identity. I often get questions concerning where I’m from. They think I’m going to reply:
Instead I say, “I’m originally from Chicago”.
“Oh”, they say and continue to stare. I smile because I get it. They are confused because I don’t look like an American. I like that.
Trouble in Paradise
Not all of the attention brought on by this hair is good. There are a lot of people who look at me like I disgust them. In truth it is because they’re curious about me. It is not just my hair that is different and they can sense it. This brings me to the beginning of this post.
“Can you remove your hood in the store ma’am?”
It was the last thing I heard before my feet was crossing the threshold out of Family Dollar. The few customers present bathed me in eyeballs and the employees spoke in whispers among themselves. After ringing me up the man didn’t bother to inform me on the final cost of my products. It was as if he thought I could read his mind. Good thing I can count. I peered over the computer screen and paid what was due. With that I walked out of the store. No one ever said a word.
First you get people all excited, then curious, angry, surprised, and even fearful. Look at you turning heads and opening minds, you emotional hair you!
Welcome back to another episode of Black History Fun Fact Friday.
So, I wanted to present music in general for you this morning. But the African American contribution to music is too far reaching to cover ever genre in one post. Black people have had influence on almost every kind of music there is, for example: Born in the South, the blues is an African American-derived music form that highlighted the pain of lost love and injustice and gave expression to the victory of outlasting a broken heart and facing down adversity. The blues evolved from hymns, and work songs.
Blues is the foundation of jazz as well as the prime source of rhythm and blues, rock ‘n’ roll, and country music.
Duke Ellington: Master Composer
“One of the most significant figures in music history, Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington was born on April 29, 1899, in Washington, D.C. He began studying the piano at the age of seven. He started playing jazz as a teenager, and moved to New York City to become a bandleader. As a pianist, composer, and bandleader, Ellington was one of the creators of the big band sound, which fueled the “swing” era. He continued leading and composing for his jazz orchestra until his death in 1974. “Ellington plays the piano, but his real instrument is his band. Each member of his band is to him a distinctive tone color and set of emotions, which he mixes with others equally distinctive to produce a third thing, which I like to call the ‘Ellington Effect.'”
—Billy Strayhorn, composer and arranger
New Orleans: The Melting Pot of Sound
“New Orleans had a great tradition of celebration. Opera, military marching bands, folk music, the blues, ragtime, echoes of traditional African drumming, and all of the dance styles that went with this music could be heard and seen throughout the city. When all of these kinds of music blended into one, jazz was born.” —Wynton Marsalis
Louis Armstrong is born: The Jazz Original
“Through his clear, warm sound, unbelievable sense of swing, perfect grasp of harmony, and supremely intelligent and melodic improvisations, he taught us all to play jazz.” —Wynton Marsalis
Louis Armstrong was one of the most influential artists in the history of music. Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, on August 4, 1901, he began playing the cornet at the age of 13. Armstrong perfected the improvised jazz solo as we know it. Before Armstrong, Dixieland was the style of jazz that everyone was playing. This was a style that featured collective improvisation where everyone soloed at once. Armstrong developed the idea of musicians playing during breaks that expanded into musicians playing individual solos. This became the norm. Affectionately known as “Pops” and “Satchmo,” Louis was loved and admired throughout the world. He died in New York City on July 6, 1971. – Louis Armstrong House Museum
Dizzy Gillespie: A Jazz Visionary
“The first time you hear Dizzy Gillespie play the trumpet, you may think that the tape was recorded at the wrong speed. He played so high, so fast, so correctly.” —Wynton Marsalis
Trumpeter, bandleader, and composer John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie was born on October 21, 1917, in Cheraw, South Carolina. He got his first music lesson from his father and took off from there. He moved to New York City in 1937 and met musicians such as Thelonious Monk and Charlie Parker. Together they experimented with jazz and came up with the bebop sound. Dizzy also helped to introduce Latin American rhythms to modern jazz through his collaborations with artists such as Machito and Chano Pozo. His bold trumpet playing, unique style of improvisation, and inspired teachings had a major influence, not only on other trumpet players, but on all jazz musicians in the years to come. He died in Englewood, New Jersey, on January 6, 1993.
– Dizzy Gillespie Biography
Bebop: The Summit of Sound
“If you really understand the meaning of bebop, you understand the meaning of freedom.” —Thelonious Monk, pianist and composer
In the early 1940s, jazz musicians were looking for new directions to explore. A new style of jazz was born, called bebop, had fast tempos, intricate melodies, and complex harmonies. Bebop was considered jazz for intellectuals. No longer were there huge big bands, but smaller groups that did not play for dancing audiences but for listening audiences.
Latin and Afro-Cuban Jazz: Beyond the Borders
“Afro-Cuban jazz celebrates a collective musical history. Through its percussive beat, it unites ragtime, blues, swing, and the various grooves of Cuban music. It proclaims our shared musical heritage.” —Wynton Marsalis
The combination of African, Spanish, and native cultures in Latin America created a unique body of music and dance. Jazz musicians from Jelly Roll Morton to Duke Ellington to Dizzy Gillespie combined their music with this Latin sound to create a powerful blend. In the 1940s and 50s, when musicians from Cuba began to play with jazz musicians in New York, the circle was complete. Gillespie and Chano Pozo, a Cuban musician, created a new form of Latin jazz called CuBop.
And that’s it for today’s segment of Black History Fun Facts. February is over and done but the fun never stops. To mark our 10th Fun Fact Week, I am introducing a new Fun Fact Badge. I will be using it to represent Black History Fun Facts for now on:
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