“Americans, the eyes of the world are upon you. How can you expect the world to believe in you and respect your preaching of democracy when you yourself treat your colored brothers as you do?”
As an artist and performer, I revel in every opportunity to CELEBRATE THE HISTORY OF BLACK MUSIC! The beginning of June commemorates the “official tissial” start of the summer and Black Music Month. Some New Yorkers and Brooklynites are coming off of the excitement and energy of Dance Africa at BAM during Memorial Day weekend. The summer is LIT and this is OUR time to celebrate one of the most significant components of Black Culture, OUR MUSIC.
Our journey as musicians and performers in this country has often been marred by the creative scrutiny, financial control, and voyeuristic eye of the dominant culture. Today we celebrate the birth month of one of the most popular and internationally known names in music history, Ms. Josephine Baker.
Born Freda Josephine McDonald on June 3rd, 1906, Ms. Baker’s stamp on the world extends way beyond her reach as a performer. Her definitive stance on civil rights, racism, and injustice only added to her allure. Baker’s popularity soared at time when people of African descent in this country and the world knew when they were behind enemy lines. They allowed no false sense of privilege or opportunity to mask how they were seen or treated. There was no separation from your artistry and your duty to speak up and out against social injustice. You were Artist/Actress/Singer/Activist because your platform had to serve as your soap box and not just a means for financial gain.
It might be the only opportunity for your people to be seen or heard.
She was also one of the forerunners of the artistic migration for wealth and fame to European countries. Many Black performers were able to find solace and financial support aboard as oppose to the second-class citizenship they endured in America. Black artists still migrate, travel and tour abroad for increased visibility and expansion on global platforms today.
“I have walked into the palaces of kings and queens and into the houses of presidents. And much more. But I could not walk into a hotel in America and get a cup of coffee, and that made me mad.”
– Josephine Baker
Ms. Baker’s influence on today’s music is evident in the likes of Beyonce, Rihanna, and many other popular artists. This influence sometimes in limited to performance based expression and not inclusive of activism. Contemporary entertainers and athletes often choose to privately struggle with their preceived losses rather than to speak out against oppression. Sometimes the risk is too great and they aren’t willing to make the sacrifice.
Our students need to know that this wasn’t always the case and that if they aren’t adamant about their voices being heard today, we can’t ensure the manifestation of the dreams and hopes of their own children.
So speak UP and be a mouthpiece for change like Queen Josephine!!