Saturday, February 28, 2009

A free Jazzanova download

Jazzanova, a German “nu jazz” collective, decided to collaborate with some black American soul singers for the 2008 CD “Of All the Things.” Among those singers were Leon Ware, Paul Randolph and Dwele.

A cut from that album is available as a FREE MP3.

Click here to hear “Look What You’re Doin’ to Me,” featuring Phonte, a North Carolina rapper who also sings.

To download it, follow this link to

Saturday morning cartoon

Remember “Tennessee Tuxedo”?

Friday, February 27, 2009

Live video from Jamaica

A jazz funeral

As I mentioned last week, New Orleans R&B singer and guitar virtuoso Snooks Eaglin has passed away. Today, Mr. Eaglin was honored with a procession through the streets of the city’s Warehouse/Arts District... in the manner of a traditional “jazz funeral.”

A brass band started at noon with “What a Friend We Have In Jesus,” played as a dirge.

Then the musicians kicked up a swinging march (alas, I can’t name the tune), and a few onlookers broke into “second line” dance moves.

Such is the visual magic of a New Orleans jazz funeral that many folks – black and white – had their cameras out.

Including me.

To mark the occasion, I’m spinning another Snooks Eaglin track on my Vox blog. Click here to hear his rocking version of “Red Beans” from 1991. (This tune was Professor Longhair’s rewrite of “Got My Mojo Working.”)

There will also be a jazz funeral tomorrow... for Antoinette K-Doe, the widow of R&B performer Ernie K-Doe and the keeper of his shrine: the famous Mother-In-Law Lounge in Treme.

Miss Antoinette died on Mardi Gras day. She was 66 years old and a beloved local character.

Friday Concert: Ani DiFranco

Did you know that indie-rock superhero Ani DiFranco lives in New Orleans?

Originally from Buffalo, N.Y., she has bonded with the Crescent City... especially post-Katrina. New Orleans seduces people like that.

Next month DiFranco, the hardest-working babe in show business, will tour the American South. Check her MySpace page for dates.

Ani and her band performed in Amsterdam last October. The entire 20-song set is embedded below.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

A free Braithwaite & Whiteley download

Here’s a FREE MP3 with a Black History Month twist to it.

Diana Braithwaite and Chris Whiteley are Canadians. She’s a blues singer with a bit of an international reputation; he’s a veteran roots musician who has played with Leon Redbone and John Hammond, Jr.

“Freedom Train” is a track from their 2008 album “Sugar & Gold,” which is subtitled “New Songs from the Underground Railroad.”

Click hear to hear “Freedom Train” on my Vox blog. To download it, click the song title below.

“Freedom Train” (MP3)
Album available at iTunes Music Store

‘The Black List: Vol. 2’ on HBO tonight

Remember last year’s stylish HBO documentary “The Black List: Vol. 1,” from Elvis Mitchell and Timothy Greenfield-Sanders? (I blogged about it here.)

Well, now comes “The Black List: Vol. 2.” It premieres tonight at 8 p.m. (Eastern Time) on HBO.

The new “List” includes Angela Davis, Laurence Fishburne, Tyler Perry, T.D. Jakes, Deval Patrick, Maya Rudolph and Charley Pride. Here’s the trailer:

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A free Jody Watley download

Good to see that Jody Watley is still doing her thing. The Aris Kokou mix of her latest single, “Candlelight,” is available as a FREE MP3.

Click here to hear it on my Vox blog. To download it, click the song title below.

“Candlelight” (MP3)
EP available at iTunes Music Store

Random hotness

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

All on a Mardi Gras day

Being a Mardi Gras virgin, I figured this was the day to attach myself to my boy David Simon and his wife, Laura Lippman.

We were out of the hotel before 8 a.m., got good and coffeed up, then headed to the Treme neighborhood to see some skeletons roll out. (Here’s Simon with actor Clarke Peters...)

We then walked to Claiborne Avenue, saw a few Mardi Gras Indians in all their finery. Made time for a couple of drinks at Kermit Ruffins’ bar.

By the time the Zulu parade came through, we had hooked up with two more actors – Khandi Alexander and Kim Dickens. Those two were bead magnets, let me tell ya.

Now it’s 6 p.m. and all I wanna do is sleep. Hard to believe that today, for the rest of the country, was just another ordinary work day.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Ultra-rare Funkadelica!

This is, without a doubt, the hippest piece of film ever posted on YouTube!! Of course, as a P-Funk fanatic I might be biased.

I have never seen these images before. I doubt that many Funkadelic fans have. (“that dude,” where y’at?)

This is George Clinton and his band in New York City circa 1973, when Funkadelic was at the cutting edge of American rock ’n’ roll.

People say that audiences used to be scared of George. And you can see why... with his white face paint, fucked-up hairstyle and hoodoo gesticulations.

You got Fuzzy Haskins in his torn long johns... Garry Shider’s genitals swinging to and fro in his diaper... and the best look I’ve ever had at guitarist Ron Bykowski, the only white member of Funkadelic during the group’s early years on Westbound Records.

This. Is. Magic.

UPDATE (02/23/09): Thanks to my reader papasean, who explains that this video clip is part of a recent CD release called “Toys,” featuring assorted Funkadelic rarities. Happy Monday Gras!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Nelson George does London

London is a city I’d like to visit. Now more than ever after watching this 5-minute “video diary” from writer/filmmaker Nelson George.

Saturday morning cartoon

Here’s one from the “Mister T” cartoon series of the 1980s. The writing is horrible, the voice acting is subpar and the animation sucks. But hey... they’re in New Orleans for Mardi Gras!

Friday, February 20, 2009


So... I’m in New Orleans. Last weekend I saw my first Mardi Gras parade. Last night I saw my first nighttime parade. It was all cool. But I didn’t quite get the thrill of it. Particularly since I wasn’t buzzed, and I don’t have a kid.

Tonight, I was hanging with David Simon, and he explained that you have to get into the whole thing of catching beads and other “throws” which the float riders toss to the begging crowd.

Well, at the Krewe of Hermes parade a few hours ago, I caught my first set of beads on the fly. Yeah, it was fun. It didn’t unleash my inner child, but I kinda get it now.

The best part was hearing Simon tell tales of parades past. That cat knows how to Mardi Gras.

Louie Bellson (1924-2009)

I am late in noting the death last Saturday of an all-time great jazz drummer – Luigi Balassoni, or Louie Bellson.

The L.A. Times obituary is here.

Before leading his own bands, Bellson played with Benny Goodman, Tommy Dorsey, Harry James and Duke Ellington.

Mr. Bellson for decades was Pearl Bailey’s husband and musical director.

Click here to hear his 1977 recording of the Ellington standard “Cotton Tail.” It starts with a characteristically splendiferous drum solo.

Speaking of splendiferous drum solos, feast your peepers:

Ebert on Siskel

Precisely 10 years ago – on February 20, 1999 – Gene Siskel died at the age of 53. Here is some of Roger Ebert’s televised tribute to his departed friend:

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Snooks Eaglin (1937-2009)

New Orleans R&B legend Snooks Eaglin passed away yesterday. He had prostate cancer.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune obituary is here.

Mr. Eaglin, a virtuoso guitarist, was known locally as “the human jukebox” for his massive personal repertoire of folk, jazz, blues and soul tunes (plus, I’m told, the complete works of Bad Company). The man could not be stumped when it came to requests.

Blind since infancy, Eaglin was billed as “Li’l Ray Charles” early in his career. He went on to record with giants of New Orleans music such as Dave Bartholomew, Professor Longhair and James Booker.

Click here to hear “Brown Skinned Woman,” an acoustic blues from 1961, on my Vox blog.

Random hipness

This is how they do in New Orleans. Buck-jumpin’ fun, y’all!

Happy birthday, David Murray.

Best wishes on this day to one of America’s most prolific jazz artists, tenor saxophonist David Murray, who turns 54.

As a founding member of the World Saxophone Quartet, Mr. Murray has had hold of my ear for a good quarter-century. Under his own name, he has released 50 albums in the last 20 years.

I’m streaming on my Vox blog a track from Murray’s 1993 CD “Ballads for Bass Clarinet.” Click here to hear “Elegy for Fannie Lou” (composed by cultural activist Kunle Mwanga).

I do enjoy the sound of a bass clarinet, and this cut really picks up steam as it goes. Murray’s A-list sidemen for the session were John Hicks, Ray Drummond and Idris Muhammad.

To dig deeper into David Murray’s music, visit his MySpace page.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A timely repost

[NOTE: This blog has had a boost in readership today... mainly because of people Googling phrases like “black people monkeys” and “comparison to monkeys blacks.”

[The Googlers were inspired, no doubt, by the controversial New York Post cartoon above, which seems to compare President Obama to a crazed chimpanzee.

[So... why would Googling “black people monkeys” lead folks to here? The reason is below: an edited version of a piece I posted in October 2007... about the history of comparing black people to monkeys.]

I recently discovered an old text online – “The Negro: What Is His Ethnological Status?” It was published in 1867 under the pseudonym “Ariel.” In fact, the author was a Southern clergyman, the Rev. Buckner H. Payne of Nashville, Tennessee.

Rev. Payne argued that Negroes weren’t descended from Adam and Eve.

“... Adam and Eve being white, ... they could never be the father or mother of the kinky-headed, low forehead, flat nose, thick lip and black-skinned negro...”

The minister continued: “[I]t follows, beyond all the reasonings of men on earth to controvert, that [the negro] was created before Adam, that, like all beasts and cattle, they have no souls.”

Rev. Payne then broke it down scientifically: “[W]e take up the monkey, and trace him ... through his upward and advancing orders – baboon, ourang-outang and gorilla, up to the negro, another noble animal, the noblest of the beast creation.

“The difference between these higher orders of the monkey and the negro is very slight, and consists mainly in this one thing: the negro can utter sounds that can be imitated; hence he could talk with Adam and Eve, for they could imitate his sounds.”

(You can download the full 48-page text of Buckner Payne’s “The Negro” as a PDF file, courtesy of Google, by following this link.)

To me, it’s no coincidence that this description of blacks as non-human was published in 1867 – after the South lost the Civil War. Southern whites didn’t have to bother defining Negroes as animals while they were enslaved. But once the Negro was free – and politically empowered during Reconstruction – that’s when the defeated white Southerner felt the need (psychologically, not just politically) to put forth this ugly idea.

And guess what? When white Southerners reclaimed their political dominance and disenfranchised black people, the monkey thing stuck.

In 1900, Charles Carroll published a book advancing Buckner Payne’s notion. “The Negro a Beast” cites the Apostle Paul’s declaration that “there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts.”

Carroll wrote: “[I]t becomes plain that the dog, the swine and the negro all belong to one kind of flesh – the flesh of beasts.”

He argued further that the “red, yellow and brown” races resulted from the “amalgamation” of whites and blacks. Therefore, all those non-whites aren’t human either. To argue otherwise, according to Carroll, was a blasphemy equal to Darwin’s theory of evolution:

“This modern church theory that the negro and the mixed-bloods are included in the Plan of Salvation is another result of putting man and the ape in the same family.”

(Charles Carroll wasn’t a clergyman, but there are many references to him as “Professor.” I haven’t been able to find out where he was a professor, or what his field of scholarship was.)

Carroll’s book was sold door-to-door across the South and was “enormously influential,” according to Jane Dailey, a Johns Hopkins University historian. In a 2004 essay, Prof. Dailey quotes an earlier historian:

“During the opening years of the twentieth century [‘The Negro a Beast’] has become the Scripture of tens of thousands of poor whites, and its doctrine is maintained with an appalling stubbornness and persistence.”

To give you a sense of the impact of “The Negro a Beast,” I dug up a reference to it by Bill Arp, a newspaper columnist who was hugely popular in the South. The following appeared in Arp’s column in the Atlanta Constitution on May 18, 1902:

“I have just received a pleasant letter from a North Carolina friend asking me what I think of Carroll’s book, ‘The Negro a Beast,’ and he asks, ‘Do you believe the nigger is a beast?’ I answered at the bottom of his letter, ‘Which nigger?’ ”

UPDATE (02/19/09): It turns out that CNN’s Kyra Phillips quoted from my blog post, even though she didn’t credit me. (Note the phrase “breaks it down scientifically.”)

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Random wrongness

Tuesday 12-inch Flashback: ‘I Like What You’re Doing to Me’

Here’s one of my favorite college-era dance cuts... from Young & Company (who were never heard from again).

Monday, February 16, 2009

Hollywood actors do Lincoln and Douglas

My father owned a lot of books. One of them was the complete text of the Lincoln-Douglas debates.

I didn’t crack that one open until after I’d graduated college. And I was surprised to discover that Mr. Lincoln and Mr. Douglas were debating the very essence of “race” in America... the legal and moral status of black people.

Stephen A. Douglas, one of the nation’s most powerful politicians at the time, didn’t hesitate to declare Negroes a lower form of humanity, unworthy of the rights of citizenship.

Abraham Lincoln, notwithstanding his opposition to slavery, likewise disavowed the ideal of “political and social equality” between blacks and whites.

How did I make it through the public school system and then earn a bachelor’s degree without knowing that Lincoln and Douglas were debating about black folks?

Last month, BBC Audiobooks released a complete audio version of the Lincoln-Douglas debates, performed by David Strathairn (as Lincoln) and Richard Dreyfuss (as Douglas).

I’m streaming a 5-minute excerpt on my Vox blog. It starts with Dreyfuss and ends with Strathairn. Click here to listen and learn.

Joe Cuba (1931-2009)

Bob Davis of passes along the news that Gilberto Miguel Calderón – a.k.a. Joe Cuba, the “Father of Latin Boogaloo” – died yesterday.

The New York Daily News obituary is here.

Born in Spanish Harlem to Puerto Rican parents, Cuba started playing congas in his teens. Inspired by Tito Puente to become a bandleader, he formed the Joe Cuba Sextet, which would rise to fame during the boogaloo era of the 1960s.

Click here to hear an awesome 1972 track called “Do You Feel It.”

A day ruined

So I had a little drama this morning in New Orleans. I went to a laundromat on the edge of the French Quarter to wash some clothes. Place called the Clothes Spin.

They got a jukebox in there, I was surprised to see. So I decided to pass the time by punching up a few tunes. At four songs for a dollar, I picked two by the Isleys (“Summer Breeze” and “Harvest for the World”) and two by James Brown (“Hot Pants” and “Papa Don’t Take No Mess”).

It was sounding good to me. And there was only a handful of other customers in the place.

So I started playing some Ms. Pac-Man. And during the second song, the manager came over and turned the jukebox down. Like, way down... so that I could hardly hear it over the rumble of the machines.

Later, when my wash was finishing, I decided to approach the manager. I told him I didn’t want to sound like an asshole, but why’d he turn the volume down?

He said somebody complained it was too loud, “and I have to keep everybody happy.”

“If I knew you didn’t want me to play it,” I said, “I wouldn’t have put my money in it.”

Dude said, “I don’t care if you play it. Just don’t play it too loud.”

Number one, I didn’t set the volume in the first place. But, hell, I didn’t feel like arguing.

Except, after loading my clothes in the dryer, I went up to him again and said, “Can I have the dollar back that I put in it?” Guy says “No,” all brusque and shit. So much for keeping everybody happy.

Here’s the funny thing about it: That one dollar he wouldn’t give back... just cost the motherfucker at least fifty. Because I’m gonna be in New Orleans for another six weeks. And I won’t be going back to the Clothes Spin.

Except maybe to duck in, slip $5 in the jukebox, and punch up “The Candy Man” for 18 plays in a row... then walk out.

Fuck that peckawood.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

A free T.C. III download

Philadelphia native William Theodore Carney III – known professionally as T.C. III (“T.C. the Third”) – is a bebop vocalist in the old tradition.

Not many like that still around.

T.C. is a fixture in the New York City jazz scene. Last night he opened for Wynton Marsalis in Brooklyn. Tonight he’s hosting an open-mike jam at St. Nick’s Pub in Harlem.

If you’re registered at, you can cop a FREE MP3 from T.C.’s 2006 album, “Mega Jazz Explosion.” It’s his rendition of the Jon Hendricks vocalese version of Miles’s “Freddie Freeloader”... performed live with an all-star band (including Gary Bartz, Don Braden and Eddie Henderson).

Click here to hear it on my Vox blog. To download it, follow this link.

George Washington Carver speaks

It just wouldn’t be Black History Month without George Washington Carver. Am I right, y’all?

I’ve had a 13-second piece of audio on my hard drive since 2007, and it’s time I shared it. This is (to my knowledge) the only sound recording of George Washington Carver’s voice. Can’t even remember where I found it.

Click here to hear Prof. Carver on my Vox blog.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Saturday morning cartoon

Another potentially offensive song from Jessy Delfino:

Friday, February 13, 2009

Why YouTube is better than television

Reason #1: Absolute randomness.

Siskel & Ebert on ‘The Truman Show’

The sad thing about this one is, Gene Siskel offered his comments via telephone... from his hospital bed. That was in June of 1998. Within months, Gene would be dead from brain cancer.

Looking back, I’d have to say that Siskel (as well as Ebert) overpraised this picture.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

A free Simone download

Nina Simone’s daugher, who performs under the name Simone, put out an album last year called “Simone on Simone,” wherein she sang tunes previously recorded by her mother (even though Simone sounds nothing like Nina Simone).

One of those tunes – Ellington’s “The Gal from Joe’s” – is available as a FREE MP3. Click here to hear it on my Vox blog.

To download it, follow this link to

Random Japaneseness

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Marian Anderson loved her cat. (Perhaps too much.)

Marian Anderson – the renowned concert singer and credit to her race – is familiar to any student of Black History Month.

She famously performed on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1939 at the urging of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. (Because some white ladies wouldn’t let Ms. Anderson sing at Constitution Hall... ’cuz she was black.)

But did you know that Marian Anderson was a cat fancier?

Forty-five years ago, near the end of her concert career, she released an album dedicated to her cat. It was called “Snoopycat: The Adventures of Marian Anderson’s Cat Snoopy.”

Click here to hear a little of it on my Vox blog. See how much of teh cuteness you can stand.

Random hipness

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

What could possibly be more cute than...

... Natalia Lafourcade in a duck suit, singing her little hiney off?

Tuesday 12-inch Flashback: ‘This Time Baby’

Here’s a real nice one from 1979, a bona fide disco classic by Jackie Moore (though it only reached No. 24 on Billboard’s R&B chart).

I just learned that “This Time Baby” was originally done by the O’Jays... for their 1978 LP “So Full of Love.” Click here to hear the O’Jays version on my Vox blog.

Philly session man Bobby Eli, who played guitar on the O’Jays album, produced the Jackie Moore remake.

Hardcore soul fans know that Mr. Eli is active online. So I dropped him a note and asked him how the Jackie Moore version came to be.

“Jackie and I were trying to find one or two special songs with which to round out [her] album,” Eli wrote back, “and somehow in our discussions the O’Jays’ name came up, and almost instinctively we both brought up ‘This Time Baby’ as a fave, and I then blurted out, ‘Well then, why don’t we do a dancey version and see what happens?’

“And the next day, that’s exactly what we did, with Atlantic Starr providing the backing track.” Remixer John Luongo did his thing for the 12-inch, and the rest is history.

One last tidbit: “This Time Baby” was written by Bell & James, who became gold-record performers in ’79 with “Livin’ It Up (Friday Night).”

Monday, February 9, 2009

A free Shemekia Copeland download

A tip of my hat to blogger Harry Allen for shining a light on Shemekia Copeland, a funky Chicago blues singer.

Her new CD, “Never Going Back,” drops in two weeks.

Till then, I can point you to a FREE MP3 from Ms. Copeland’s 2006 album, “The Soul Truth.” (It was produced by legendary Stax guitarist Steve Cropper.)

To hear “All About You” on my Vox blog, click here. To download it, click the song title below.

“All About You” (MP3)
More on this album


Sunday, February 8, 2009

‘Faubourg Tremé: The Untold Story of Black New Orleans’

Want to learn a little something about the Tremé neighborhood... ground zero of the black music culture of New Orleans?

Check the schedule of your local PBS station for a new documentary called “Faubourg Tremé: The Untold Story of Black New Orleans.”

In some markets, the show has already aired. In others, it’s coming up soon. WHYY in Philadelphia will broadcast “Faubourg Tremé” Thursday night at 10. Washington’s WHUT will show it next Sunday at 8 p.m.

Chicago’s WTTW will air it on February 22 at 3 p.m. But in New York City, you’ll have to stay up late next Sunday; “Faubourg Tremé” comes on WNET at 1 a.m. (February 16).

Wynton Marsalis has lent his name to “Faubourg Tremé” as an executive producer. But the film was written and co-directed by Lolis Eric Elie, a New Orleans journalist and book author.

Here is the trailer:

When Stevie Wonder ruled the Grammys

My whole adult life, I’ve ignored the Grammy Awards. (Because I’ve pretty much ignored pop music.)

The “Best New Artist” award emblemizes why I don’t give a crap about the Grammys. I’m not just talking about Milli Vanilli either. Do you know who beat out Alanis Morissette for Best New Artist in 1996?

Hootie & the Blowfish.

Somebody named Marc Cohn won Best New Artist over Seal. Christopher Cross won it over the Pretenders. Elvis Costello lost to A Taste of Honey.

Anyhoo... when I think of the Grammys in a good way, I remember how Stevie Wonder freakin’ dominated in the 1970s. He earned 12 Grammy Awards between 1973 and 1976 – including three for Album of the Year. (He has since added another 10 Grammys to the heap. No solo artist has won more of ’em.)

Stevie will perform at tonight’s Grammy ceremony.

On my Vox blog, I’m streaming a 1½-minute excerpt from a 1988 radio special in which Stevie Wonder talks about the single that got him his first trophy for Best Male Pop Vocalist. Click here to listen.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Why YouTube is better than television

Reason #22: Amateur satire.

Saturday morning cartoon

This might be the riskiest thing I have ever posted. I hope no one is offended. (Although singer-songwriter Jessica Delfino probably hopes some people are.)

Friday, February 6, 2009

A free John Forté download

Brooklyn rapper and convicted drug felon John Forté – whose prison sentence was commuted by President Bush 10 weeks ago – has a FREE MP3 out already.

Click here to hear “Homecoming” on my Vox blog. (The other rapper is Talib Kweli. The beat is Kanye’s.)

Follow this link to to get the track.

‘The Lost Archives of Quincy Taylor’

A friend of mine, Jay Torres, has co-produced and directed an online series for MySpace. Here’s the first episode. It’s pretty comical.

Siskel & Ebert on ‘Eddie Murphy Raw’

When Chris Rock broke through with his 1996 HBO special “Bring the Pain,” it made me reappraise Eddie Murphy as a standup comedian. Because, let’s face it... Eddie wasn’t really saying much.

He is a gifted actor and a Hall-of-Fame sketch comic. But “Eddie Murphy Raw” – hot as that movie was in 1988 – is about Eddie Murphy ego-tripping and indulging his contempt for various and sundry targets.

It lacks the courageous self-scrutiny of Richard Pryor’s best material (and the political sophistication of even Rock’s weakest).

Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel disagreed along these lines when they reviewed the film. They disagreed quite strongly, in fact.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

What could possibly be more cute than...

... this kid?

Before They Were Kiddie-Show Stars

On “Sesame Street,” Roscoe Orman has played the part of “Gordon” for more than 30 years. And a better black role model would be hard to imagine.

But shortly before Mr. Orman got that gig, he starred as a badass pimp in the 1974 blaxploitation flick “Willie Dynamite.”

So let’s double up on some Roscoe Orman this mornin’, shall we? YouTube style.

In the “pimp council” scene, also keep a sharp eye out for a “Sanford & Son” co-star. (Not to mention Robert DoQui, a charter member of the Black C-Listers Hall of Fame.)

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

W.E.B. Du Bois speaks

On my Vox blog, I’m streaming a 12-minute excerpt of a 1960 speech given by W.E.B. Du Bois. The title: “Socialism and the American Negro.” To listen, click here.

Amazingly, Dr. Du Bois was 92 years old at the time.

The man had a brilliant mind. But you can’t help but be stunned by the warm, sweet kisses he blows toward the Soviet Union and Red China.

Du Bois describes those totalitarian states as “astonishing[ly] successful” paragons of Communism.

While Du Bois was speaking these words in Madison, Wisconsin, the People’s Republic of China (unbeknownst to the world) was in the middle of a man-made famine that would take many millions of lives.

And the Soviet Union would authorize construction of the Berlin Wall the following year... to prevent East Germans from fleeing Communism.

Du Bois joined the Communist Party USA in 1961. He died in 1963 as a newly naturalized citizen of Ghana.

Why YouTube is better than television

Reason #7: True confessions.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Tuesday 12-inch Flashback: ‘Rapper’s Delight’

This being Black History Month, I wanted to find something historically significant for today’s 12-inch flashback.

The choice was obvious.

“Rapper’s Delight” by the Sugarhill Gang was the first hip-hop record ever. (Yeah, I know “King Tim III” had rapping in it... but it wasn’t a hip-hop record.)

Can you believe it has been 30 years?

No human being in 1979 could’ve imagined that rap music, three decades on, would be a multi-billion-dollar industry and a cornerstone of global youth culture.

By the way, did you know that “Rapper’s Delight” also inspired the first hip-hop parody record?

Yep. Chevy Chase released “Rapper’s Plight” on a 1980 comedy album. Click here to listen. It’s fucking horrible.

A free Alela Diane download

The “Free Single of the Week” at iTunes is by a Native American folksinger named Alela Diane.

The track is quite nice. It’s called “Dry Grass & Shadows.” Click here to listen on my Vox blog. (I hear a little Phoebe Snow in her.)

Alela is on the rise. Her new CD “To Be Still” drops in two weeks. So hithee to iTunes if you want the FREE MP3.

What could possibly be more cute than...

... a polar bear with gingerbread men?

Monday, February 2, 2009

Bill Hicks on the Letterman show

If you’re a standup comedy fan – or a student of pop culture more largely – something happened last Friday night you should know about.

Bill Hicks – who died of metastatic cancer 15 years ago – performed on “The Late Show with David Letterman.”

The comedy routine was taped in October of 1993, but it was never shown... until Friday night. Letterman accepted blame for banning the performance in the first place. And he apologized to Hicks’s mother, face to face.

The “censoring” of Bill Hicks by Letterman – who had been his biggest champion – was a major event in Hicks’s legendary life. Letterman didn’t know at the time that Hicks had pancreatic cancer and would be dead within months.

When he passed at the age of 32, Hicks had secured a reputation as the most groundbreaking, risk-taking American satirist since George Carlin.

Watch this ferocious set... and Letterman’s comments at the end. You’re bound to imagine what the George W. Bush years would’ve been like with Bill Hicks still around.

Name this singer, win a prize.

Ready for another contest? Click here and listen to a mystery track on my Vox blog.

The first person to correctly name that singer – in the comments section here – will win a prize. (Only one guess per person, please.)

That prize is a new CD featuring Miles Davis in his boppish prime, alongside John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Bill Evans and other all-stars. The “Broadcast Sessions” album contains performances recorded for radio in 1958 and 1959. (Click here to hear one of those tracks.)

UPDATE (02/04/09): Well, no winner this time. Contest is over. The song is called “Miles,” and the singer is Frank Holder, an esteemed jazz vocalist in the U.K.

Holder also used to be a Calypsonian. He was born in Guyana.

A Bad Brains documentary?

Tantalizing info posted last week by Rob Fields on his Bold As Love blog...

A documentary movie about the legendary D.C. punk band Bad Brains is nearing completion. (Talk about some Black muthaphuckin’ History!)

The project was directed by Mandy Stein (daughter of record executive Seymour Stein, who discovered the Ramones) and Ben Logan. Here’s a 1-minute teaser:

Random hipness

Negroes on stilts.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Playlist: The jazz tracks that turned me out

Let me start off Black History Month with a personal reflection.

I lived more than 40 years not knowing shit about jazz. Musically, my main bag was funk... P-Funk in particular.

I was also deep into ’70s pop and soul... the music I grew up on. (Plus, of course, the Beatles.) My tastes had broadened into areas like South African music and rock en español.

As for jazz, well... I dug Cab Calloway from childhood on. When I discovered the World Saxophone Quartet in 1984, I became a fan. And I got around to copping “Kind of Blue” in the mid-’90s. Played it to death.

But Monk? Mingus? Trane? I was absolutely ignorant. (Never mind cats like Booker Little, Joe Henderson and Sonny Criss.)

Then came the autumn of 2003.

I was writing a pilot script about an L.A. private detective, and I had a half-assed notion that the character was into classic bebop... just because that’s a sound you don’t hear in TV dramas.

Already a music downloader, I went to and got a few modern-jazz MP3s. Also bought a few CDs... basically at random.

My mind was immediately blown.

I made up for lost time by acquiring vast amounts of small-group jazz from the 1950s and ’60s. It was an obsession that waned only when I started to blog. (Then this became my obsession).

The private-eye project went nowhere. But now – 4,000 MP3s and 300 CDs later – I have a basic familiarity with the hard-bop repertoire and all the major players. I can call myself a jazz head.

Below are some of the tunes that turned me out. It was a revelation to me that modern jazz had hooks... like the best pop records.

And that it could groove as hard as the best funk.

I don’t expect this music to trigger in you what it triggered in me. But these tracks move me emotionally... because they still evoke that wonderful feeling of discovery from five years ago, when jazz opened itself unto me.

Click the titles to listen on my Vox blog.

1. “Strode Rode” – Sonny Rollins
(With Max Roach killing his drum kit.)

2. “Ching Miau” – Yusef Lateef
(I’m aware of only two other tunes with a 5/4 time signature: Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” and Lalo Schifrin’s “Mission: Impossible” theme.)

3. “Delilah” – Clifford Brown and Max Roach
(With Harold Land on tenor sax.)

4. “Jump Monk” – Charles Mingus
(With two unsung horn players: George Barrow on tenor and Eddie Bert on trombone.)