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Showing posts from 2021

Don Shirley, "Green Book," and Me

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I finally got the chance to sit down and watch the Oscar-winning film Green Book , on the life of African American concert pianist Don Shirley . As I had written in an earlier blog ( "Ebony and Ivory: A Dissonant Truth" ), I had visited with Dr. Shirley in his apartment above Carnegie Hall when my parents were in New York with the Fisk Jubilee Singers. The film gave a very accurate depiction of his home and the extravagant, ostentatious décor. The Real Don Shirley in his home Don Shirley was praised early in his life as a genius, a wunderkind whose forte was the traditional classical repertoire. Composer Igor Stravinsky said of him: "His virtuosity is worthy of Gods." But his record label forced him to play jazz, and sent him on tour with a jazz trio. In an interview, Shirley said that his record label wanted him to appear in overalls with a red bandana around his neck on the album cover. He refused. In my own book I have written about facing racism as an African Am

Nina Kennedy Invited to Present Lecture/Book Signing at Juilliard

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As you may have read last month (in my blog  "Juilliard Covers Its Ass" ), I was very upset to learn of an auditory exercise conducted by the Juilliard Drama Division depicting scenes from slavery. Several students complained about this exercise, and posted some of the actual audio on Facebook and Instagram. The person who presented this workshop claimed that the intent of the exercise was to explore the origins of Negro Spirituals. The Fisk Jubilee Singers Anyone who knows me knows that my father directed the Fisk Jubilee Singers, who have been called the originators of the Negro Spiritual. In my  Lammy-nominated memoir ,  Practicing for Love , I wrote extensively about the history of the Jubilee Singers, and how their music had been utilized by Czech composer Antonín Dvořák in his Symphony from the New World. When I wrote the first blog, Juilliard had expressed no interest whatsoever in my book. Well, about a week after I sent an email of complaint to the Director of Alumni

Juilliard Covers Its Ass

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On April 23rd, I received an email from the Juilliard Alumni Association director. In it was an email from the president of the school addressing an issue concerning a workshop conducted by the Drama Division. Evidently, the Drama Division invited a guest lecturer who conducted a workshop on the African American experience during slavery. In the words of President Woetzel to students, faculty, and staff:       "I write to you to address a September 2020 Drama Division workshop that has impacted our school community. While I am s haring a message below that was sent to the drama community by Evan Yionoulis, dean and director of the Drama Division, I believe it is important for our school community to hear directly from me.      To live our values requires an acknowledgment of mistakes we have made. To that end, I want to state unequivocally that this workshop was ill-conceived and should not have occurred in the manner that it did. I extend a heartfelt apology to the individuals wh

Frances Elizabeth Taylor: Dancer, Actress, Muse

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Frances Taylor at the Miles Davis exhibit Frances Taylor While watching the PBS documentary on the life of jazz trumpeter Miles Davis ( Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool ), I was very interested in the interview with dancer Frances Taylor, to whom Davis was married from 1959 to 1968. After doing some research, I learned that Frances Taylor was the first African-American ballerina to perform with the Paris Opera Ballet. She was a member of the Katherine Dunham Company, had roles in the Broadway musicals Mr. Wonderful , Shinbone Alley , and was an original cast member of West Side Story . Taylor also appeared in the Off-Broadway productions of Carmen Jones and Porgy and Bess .  While working on Broadway, she was credited as Elizabeth Taylor because there was already an actress named Frances Taylor, so she used her middle name. Frances Taylor and Leonard Bernstein Frances Taylor was a  member of the original cast of  West Side Story , working alongside Leonard Bernstein, Jerome Robbins, and

Matthew Kennedy 100th Birthday Celebration March 10th

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Join us as we pay homage to  American classical pianist, professor, choral director, composer, and arranger of Negro Spirituals Matthew Kennedy , who was born March 10, 1921 in Americus, Georgia. We will be posting links to his recordings, articles, and film clips as part of his 100th birthday celebration. As a young boy, Matthew Kennedy sat in the segregated audience for a live concert given by famed Russian pianist and composer Sergei Rachmaninoff. He decided to become a pianist himself after that concert. Soon afterwards, he and his mother traveled to New York City at apply for study at the Juilliard School, for which he won a scholarship as a result of imitating Rachmaninoff's playing style. After graduating from the Juilliard Preparatory Division, he entered Fisk University as a freshman and served as piano accompanist for the Fisk Jubilee Singers under then-director Mrs. James A. Myers. He traveled the world with the group performing several solo pieces on their programs, thu

Susan Seltzer: Patroness, Partner, Spirit

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  Susan Seltzer in her office at Met Life On this day in 1990 at 2:13 am., Susan Seltzer passed away. She was thirty-three years old. Two and-a-half years earlier, she was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. After six weeks of radiation therapy, and then six months of chemo therapy, she lost her battle with cancer, and took her last breath while holding my hand.     Susan Seltzer was born in Yonkers, New York to Evelyn and Herman Seltzer. The family soon moved to New City, New York, where she went to high school. Susan attended Union College in upstate New York, and then transferred her credits at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, where her classes were conducted in Hebrew, in which she was fluent. Her father was a V.P. at Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, and enabled her to have her first job as a Systems Programmer. Herman Seltzer was quite successful in his own right as an originator of the first IBM Mainframe computer, which is on display at the Smithsonian Institution. Susan

Raphael Warnock Quotes Howard Thurman

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Senator Raphael Warnock At the end of Inauguration Day, I heard the new Georgia Senator the Reverend Raphael Warnock being interviewed by Rachel Maddow on MSNBC. At one point in the interview, Rachel pointed out how some Republicans had tried to hold Warnock's religion against him. As part of his response, he quoted the words of American philosopher and theologian  Howard Thurman: " By some amazing but vastly creative spiritual insight the slave undertook the redemption of a religion that the master had profaned in his midst."   The words went by so fast that I had to pause and rewind, and listen to it several times.  While contemplating these words, I thought of how slave owners had used biblical text to encourage passivity and obedience in their slaves. The church was the only legal gathering place for slaves, precisely  for that purpose. So how were formerly enslaved people able to claim this religion after emancipation? I do have a rather unique perspective as I was f