Bronzevillian Renaissance in Bronzeville & beyond.....
Driving on a warm summer day... thinking about the movie I had been watching titled Brother to Brother. The film is about a young student who is learning about himself and how to express his artistry while also learning about writers during the Harlem Renaissance..... The film steps back in time and looks at these writers in Harlem such as Langston Hughes , Zora Neale Hurston and more....
Writer- Zora Neal Hurston
I began reflecting upon my own experiences with
artists and writers in Bronzeville...and my own artistic coming of age in Chicago.
I spent many a summer at the Lake Meadows Art Fairs and Harper Court Art Fairs dancing with the Sun Drummers, floating 2 the Gold Coast Art Fair up north with my cousin, painter, Frank Smith and cruising through the 57th St Art Fair in Hyde Park.
River of Darkness
by Frank Smith
I spent a summer selling my own pen & ink notecards and performing in an African dance troupe to raise money 2 get to the Motherland for the first time......Ghana.......
I've spent fun nights out with dancers, mimes and crazy folk going to see the Dance Theatre of Harlem and Alvin Ailey......laughing at the Bistro and dancing 2 Old School... House and Funk at NEO's back in the day-day.
Listening 2 the poets rock some neo - soul floetry, I reflect on how The Last Poets were my beginnings. Jazzoetry is Poetry!
Jam Sessions at home.....Old Town jazz at the Pickle Barrel and Lincoln Avenue clubs like Ratso's and of course, the Jazz Showcase, near north was my entre' into my love for live music.
As a musician.......I've spent many a minute in numerous bands playing numerous gigs that flowed into one long musical memory of gigs, jam sessions and concerts. Memories of Miles Davis, Sun Ra concerts and Jazz Fests in Chicago flow through my mind.
I can almost feel the wail of the guitar from the Blues Fest and the shout of the Gospel Fest that rings in June in the summertime.
I spent a lifetime as a Nubian in Bronzeville who lived right around the corner from THE Blues club........The original Checkerboard... so I heard the Blues anytime I wanted.....
Culturally, I realize I've been spoiled... growing up in Bronzeville and in Chicago.
There's so many cultural feasts in the summer flow in Chicago - from music festivals and food sampling at the Taste - to the Bud Biliken Parade marching bands from all over the country.
There's a cultural richness that shines like sunshine... that it carries me through the Hawk in Chicago's winter.
Then I began to dig deeper... to go way back in the way back.... thinking about the stories I had been told about my mother's own experiences with the writer, Langston Hughes back in the day in Bronzeville when he would come to visit her home....
Artists have always been around my family.......
I remember seeing Gwendolyn Brooks and Margaret Burroughs come to visit our home. I remember visiting Etta Moten Barnett on ML King drive with my mom very shortly before I went on a trip to West Africa. Mrs. Barnett gave me a donation to help me on my journey.
I remember visiting the Art Institute, loving the lions and going to exhibits at the Bronzeville's Art Institute-The Southside Community Art Center.
I remembered painting a mural with my mother, sister and with the Father of Muralist art, Bill Walker, right on 44th st on the side of Price School. It was mural that spoke to the lifestyles in the community. As I drive past these days... that mural has been replaced.
In Bronzeville, Walker began a Muralist Movement in Chicago starting with his mural titled the Wall of Respect in 1967.
Wall of Respect-Chicago 1967
by Muralist - Painter Bill Walker
Fast forward 2 now........ Saturday July 19, 2008 I feel like I'm in a movie of my own... except it's the Bronzeville Renaissance and it's own parallel universe.....
On the way to Lake Meadows Shopping center for a snack with a song writing buddy suddenly I feel the urge to show them my grandmother's old house so I turn off King drive and head down Calumet.
I'm drivin' past 3219 and see that the door's open... The owner is chatting with someone and it looks like maybe an art exhibit opening. I stop to chat with the gallery owner, Helen West. She invites me in to catch the last moments of a book signing for an author....
Once inside the mansion I pause.. remembering moments at the house as a child growing up and marvel at the changes that have been made in the internal design...while enjoying the intense color on the walls, the paintings and the overall gallery and energy of the space today....
As I began to chat with the author, she told me of her inspiration and how she came to write her story about a woman who contemplates suicide in eight days.
I met a male singer who regaled us with some low-down blues acapella.
It was so low that I just had 2 give him a little harmony 2 go with the flow.
A glass of wine, some chocolate covered strawberries, a chat with a photographer, a mini tour through the setting of intense paintings and sculptures and a flow of creative exchange in conversations made the movie come 2 life in this impromptu moment in Bronzeville.
I believe the spirit has a mind of its own...... making me turn down the street where my grandmother lived and where the the arts still do...