Sunday, November 16, 2008

"Mama Africa" Miriam Makeba, 76
Singer and Activist, Dies

“Her haunting melodies gave voice to the pain of exile and dislocation"...

- Nelson Mandela

"I look at an ant
and I see myself:

a native South African, endowed by nature with a strength much greater than my size so I might cope with the weight of a racism that crushes my spirit." - Miriam Makeba

Published: The New York Times /November 10, 2008

Miriam Makeba
, the South African singer whose voice stirred hopes of freedom among millions in her country with music that was banned by the apartheid authorities she struggled against, died overnight after performing at a concert in Italy on Sunday. She was 76.

The cause was cardiac arrest, according to Vincenza Di Saia, a doctor at the private Pineta Grande clinic in Castel Volturno, near Naples, where Ms. Makeba was taken by ambulance. The time of death was listed in hospital records as midnight, the doctor said.

Ms. Makeba collapsed as she was leaving the stage, the South African authorities said. She had been singing at a concert in support of Roberto Saviano, an author who has received death threats after writing about organized crime.

Widely known as “Mama Africa,” Ms. Makeba was a prominent exiled opponent of apartheid since the South African authorities revoked her passport in 1960 and refused to allow her to return after she traveled abroad. She was prevented from attending her mother’s funeral after touring in the United States.

Although Ms. Makeba had been weakened by osteoarthritis, her death stunned many in South Africa, where she was an enduring emblem of the travails of black people under the apartheid system of racial segregation. It ended with the release of Nelson Mandela from prison in 1990 and the country’s first fully democratic elections in 1994.

In a statement on Monday, Mr. Mandela said the death “of our beloved Miriam has saddened us and our nation.”

“Her haunting melodies gave voice to the pain of exile and dislocation which she felt for 31 long years,” he said. “At the same time, her music inspired a powerful sense of hope in all of us. “She was South Africa’s first lady of song and so richly deserved the title of Mama Afrika. She was a mother to our struggle and to the young nation of ours.”

Mr. Mandela’s was one of many tributes from South African leaders.As a singer, Ms. Makeba merged the ancient and the modern, tradition and individualism. Her 1960s hits “Qongqothwane,” known in English as “The Click Song,” and the dance song “Pata Pata,” which would be remade by many other performers in the next decades, used the tongue-clicking sound that is part of the Xhosa language her family spoke. Traditional African ululation was also one of her many vocal techniques.

But Ms. Makeba was also familiar with jazz and international pop and folk songs, and while South African songs would always be the core of her repertory, she built an ever-expanding repertory in many languages. Her voice was supremely flexible, and she could sound like a young girl or a craggy grandmother within the same song.

Miriam Makeba "The Naughty Little Flea!
Performed: Live at Bern's Salonger

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Barkley L. Hendricks at the Studio Museum

For those of us who came of age in the urban America of the 1960's and 70's, Hendrick's portraits are a reminder of the period's pride, energy and style. Those years offered an explosion of black expression and thought, culminating in a commercialism within American popular culture, that came to be known as "Blaxploitation."
For the post Malcolm X, X-generation and others untutored in the period, we encourage you to explore the exhibition for what it reveals of individual African-American style, as a reflection of the era's film, music and political culture.

Say it LOUD, I'm BLACK and I'm PROUD!
- James Brown

I'm pretty, I'm pretty, I'm a baaaad man... - Muhammad Ali

November 14, 2008 through March 9, 2009
The Studio Museum in Harlem
144 West 125th Street

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Charles Wright (1932 - 2008)
African American Novelist, Dies at 76

The Messenger,
1964 American PB edition, Cover: Photograph, author Charles Wright, The Wig, 1966 American HB edition, Cover Design: Milton Glaser, The Wig, 1968 British PB edition,
Below: Photograph, author Charles Wright.

By BRUCE WEBER/The New York Times
Published: October 8, 2008

Charles Wright, who wrote three autobiographical novels about black street life in New York City between 1963 and 1973 that seemed to herald the rise of an important literary talent but who vanished into alcoholism and despair and never published another book, died on Oct. 1 in Manhattan. He was 76 and lived in the East Village.

The cause was heart failure, said Jan Hodenfield, one of Mr. Wright’s former editors; earlier in the year, he said, Mr. Wright had learned that alcohol had eroded his liver. From the mid-1970s through the mid-1990s, Mr. Wright lived in the spare room of the Brooklyn apartment of Mr. Hodenfield and his family.

Mr. Wright’s three books were “The Messenger” (1963), “The Wig” (1966) and “Absolutely Nothing to Get Alarmed About” (1973), all published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux. Together they describe a loner’s life on the fringes of New York society, his protagonists stand-ins for himself, working at low-level jobs, living in low-rent apartments, hanging out with lowlife personalities.

“The Messenger” was the best received of the three, perhaps because it told a more universal tale about being an outsider.

“The Wig” is a far angrier effort. “Malevolent, bitter, glittering,” the critic Conrad Knickerbocker wrote in The New York Times, adding that Mr. Wright’s style was “as mean and vicious a weapon as a rusty hacksaw,” and that he wielded it against blacks as well as whites. The book is an occasionally surreal, comic portrait of a black man, Lester Jefferson, who feels he must hide his blackness to achieve the acceptance and material rewards he thinks he deserves.

“Absolutely Nothing,” most of which had been previously published in columns that Mr. Wright wrote for The Village Voice, is a chronicle of seedy adventures — as a dishwasher and porter, as a lover, as a drunk — that some critics questioned as self-hating, though others found it evocative and disturbing. The three books were republished in a single volume by HarperCollins in 1993.

Charles Stevenson Wright was born June 4, 1932, in New Franklin, Mo. His mother died when he was 4, and his father, a railroad porter, sent him to live with his maternal grandmother. When he was 14, they moved to another central Missouri town, Sedalia.

By that age, Charles was an avid reader and knew he wished to be a writer; he dropped out of high school and spent his days in the library, and according to one story he told the Hodenfield family, he would read magazines in their bound stacks at the railroad station because he knew that once they got to the local drugstore, he wouldn’t be allowed in to look at them.

At 17, having read about the Handy Writers’ Colony in Marshall, Ill., newly founded by the novelist James Jones and others, he went there.

Mr. Wright served in the Army during the Korean War and moved to New York in his 20s. An early novel was rejected by Farrar, Straus, but an editor there encouraged him to write his own story, which became “The Messenger.” Over the next decade, his profligate habits — he told one interviewer his hobbies were smoking and drinking — seized hold of him. Mr. Hodenfield, who in the late 1960s was working at GQ Scene, a magazine for teenage boys, assigned him to write an article about Motown.

“He was a very strange man, and after we met I thought, ‘Well, this is not going to work,’ ” Mr. Hodenfield said. “Then he turned in the most perfect manuscript I’d ever received.”

The two men became friends, and when Mr. Hodenfield saw Mr. Wright, then 44, spiraling into oblivion, he offered him a room in his home. Mr. Wright leaves no survivors.

“He came to stay for a few weeks in 1976,” Mr. Hodenfield said. “And he stayed until just before he turned 64. He was a second father to both my children.”