Black Perspectives; Black Arts: The Beacon in our Heritage. Part 2
Good evening welcome to black perspectives a half hour feature focusing on black issues information and lifestyles in the communities of Boston and the so sure. I'm Charles Desmond you host of black perspectives. Tonight we're doing the second part of a series focusing on black arts. Black artist and with a particular focus on the National Center for Afro-American I was located here in Boston. In that discussion last week we spent a considerable amount of time talking with Alma Lewis who is the founder of the Alma Lewis School of Fine Arts in the driving force behind the creation of the National Center of Afro-American itis this week will be concluding that series focusing on some of the. Not seeing not necessarily some of the but the legacy of the National Center which are its distinguished students who have graduated and its fellow collaborators and other artistic. Luminaries who have worked with her in making the national center an internationally recognized entity so that joining us this
evening will be John Ross who is the music director for the National Center for Afro-American artist and also for the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts and who has been with Miss Lewis for some 17 years now and perhaps could say quite a few words about what it means to be on that closely associated with such an important and distinguished person. Let's begin with Miss Lewis again saying a little bit about who are some of the people who you've collaborated with over the years and then how did this young gentleman who you speak so highly of John Ross become such an important force in your life and in the work of the National Center. Well it's dangerous to speak of. People are because you're sure to leave out some very important people but the ones who are still there are more apt. To come to mine and their service is long and distinguished. John Ross is an incredible musician. Just an incredible
musician. He is one of the few people who understands the total. How shall I say panorama is not the correct word but the total tapestry of music. And he understands music and has studied it profoundly from the European standpoint and has absorbed and interpreted it in the most beautiful way possible from the black standpoint particularly the black Americans template but not only he's with us and we'll talk with you after a while. He's been there since he was in his 20s Barry Gaither museum program simile has been there since graduate school and is. An exhibitor of. Unusual gift and an art historian who pays a great deal of attention to his material
that is very rare to have people who combine the levels of scholarship these gentlemen do with a level level of performance. Then we have had such people as Billy Wilson who studied very profoundly in the classic ballet and performed with the Royal Ballet in Holland and came back to America and was director of our company and went on to Broadway we've had Talley Beatty whose name is legendary in the dance world of Vernon Blackman's with us Vernon Of course you know as a young actor acted with Dustin Hoffman one of the things I really would like to say is that we've had John O'Sullivan Francis with us as really the only sensitive I'd say administrator we ever had that. Very hard thing to come by a man who knows business a man who knows investment. A man who walked out of the Office of Management Budget in a White House after 20
years of government service at the very highest level came and spent many many many years with us before he went his own entrepreneurial endeavors and I understood the necessity for supporting the artist and this level of AI to stick and dabble. But I think John can speak for himself and he's here and perhaps give you some perspective on the inside that the others bring. Yeah I was hoping that we would be able to do that and I'm very glad that you're able to join us on the second and concluding part of the series since all of the work of the National Center manifested so in some way in the arts. And so as the music director that plays such an important life historically in the present day in allies of black people. So we obviously want to hear a lot about what you have to say what you think and what you doing over there. So maybe use that as an intro and turn it over to you. Thanks Charles. I am reminded of my own recollections go back as far as my third year of life and
that's to say my encounters with. Miss Lois go back to when I was at least three now she would remember me even younger than that but I do in fact remember writing my try sickle in her driveway because her very good friend Nesta Lee was also my mother's very good friend and when my mother was hospitalized briefly I spent time up there in the neighborhood and I do in fact remember being three years old and Miss Lois was then. Barked on her career at an early age but because we are in. What was then even a stable interconnected community of black people at the time we were in Roxbury it was not exclusively a black community. It became that more in the 60s but when I was young and this was living in. The community there were many black families and even as today how we are all somehow connected if we don't know each other personally we know who we are and we all have friends in common. And as a
result I can say that over my lifetime and I'm not speaking just for me but many of us have been involved at a very deep personal level or we have been within the sphere of influence of many people whose effect on all of our lives has been very profound. And that is very unique to our situation in Boston as black people. There isn't anything quite like that on an urban scale in America. What we have in Boston this is stabilized the black community. It does exist in small black towns but you can imagine I'm in my 40s and I have over a life time had the opportunity not only to get to know Miss Lewis but her father who she'd spoken of at great length I'm sure whose effect on many people's lives was profound and who was a very distinct scholar. And while I wasn't a scholar when I was a young child I could be aware of people of his generation who to me were when viewed from a distance.
Very. Unusual mystifying people. This man I knew to attend one of the more rarified several of the more rarefied types of intellectual events that happen regularly in Boston like the Community Church like the Ford hall forum lectures. That was his day to day after day week after week. Expression of himself and his in counter with the life of the world of ideas. And while I'm as too young to really fully comprehend what that was there were people like him I could look at and then this Louis of course is more nearly as closer in age to me. So we've had a longer more developed a relationship. But other friends of mine. Were part of the student life of the Alma Lewis school even when I was not a student there and by long slow degrees the community of artists myself included who were part of the picture event in Boston
were by historical facts and other influences drawn more closely together by the time I was an adult. Miss Lewis and I and and staff. While we weren't in a formal relationship I had a lot of exchange. I remember playing rehearsal piano for preparation for some of the operatic theatrical endeavors that Donnelly Corben and his laws were responsible for either through Shaw house or through the center right of the school activities before the center was founded and in due course of time I was in my late 20s. We began to have conversations about this concept of National Center of after Merican artists in which was Louis and John Francis and Ron and Blackman were already engaged. Developing this Lewis and John most especially and I remember a conversation at a rehearsal for babes in Thailand which was really a spectacular
seasonal events around Christmas. We still have down time but it was not only going to vent. It was very hard for what was going to Bradman the hotel Somerset and children that were treated as people and they were invited guests and they sat at tables the way adults sitting without having without their parents. And this whole production of apes and Toy Land was deployed in front of them not just on the stage but all throughout the house. We always have a very elegant ballroom to work in and children were sitting there like their parents. And anyway I don't want to digress like I was. We were involved in that production several times together and once I remember John saying to me having a conversation about well we hear music director of this center which is now formed and about to move and I said well I don't feel capable of that. I'm just a player and
things and events however organized themselves and in ways and if you let things happen that should happen sometimes you find yourself moving towards your destiny so I conclude now that. It was right. For this to happen it happened by a peculiar series of events I had already said no I can't do that. That seems to be too big a job I'm not ready. But in an very short time thereafter events changed and I found myself calling up Miss Lewis on the phone and saying you know the conversation we had not so long ago I'm ready to talk to you. And in her kitchen we talked in that right in that time I had a birthday and when we talked I was 28 and in a few weeks or months later when I came to work for the center I had just turned 29. It was January of 1900. Yeah. And what an experience that was. But you don't have time. I think five years it does Monster. I would say this though.
That there is nothing comparable to a shared intense experience that people have when they're moving in the same direction together and philosophically they're trying. Sincerely to clarify as they move toward a goal. We have all of us who have been in the center any length of time and had an exceedingly rich experience. I think very interpersonally at a spiritual level and it's affected us at a metaphysical level and it's affected us in the most practical ways. It's hard to explain that except to use abstractions and so I don't know the listening audience can necessarily appreciate the kind of experience I'm trying to describe but maybe that's happened to them. But we have had as a community of people a very rarified human experience which has been very rewarding it's we would have us all in terms of our personal growth I believe and I hope we've been able to rule and the tremendous satisfaction in
seeing. Work that we identify as important goals for black people to see it realized in slow degrees I mean in our lifetime we won't ever see everything that we would want realized on behalf of our entire race and culture. But then John Harvard didn't live to see Harvard come to what it is but what is exciting is that having been a part of setting this in motion in somebody's lifetime it will come to realization it's been exciting to be a part I think that that may be a very good point for us to take a brief intermission on let me tell our listening audience that you're listening to black perspectives ninety one point nine on your FM dial on chance doesn't your host will be turning shortly on our discussion with Miss M. Lewis and John Ross from the National Center for Afro-American artist. Hello this is Mayor Andrew Young with a lot of. Black History called this to remember and salute the flag. But our rich heritage gives us hope. You know you hear our greatest sounds of hope. Actual.
Life History has also made them play in my family's life because it showed the way how we want to be equal with him had a slutty command that made us equal with him and if he can. Said that when I did some some things was made that his did not object. But promised to care for where we're going. So that the dreams of our children and we realize. This is Andrew Young. With the young boys in the locker room. Saluting this Black History Month. This black history salute is brought to you by FAA communications have this station. We're back from a big intermission on WMD FM. I'm Charles Desmond your host for black perspectives and tonight our discussion is on black arts the beacon of our black heritage and joining us in this discussion is Miss Emma Lewis who is the
founder of the miller school for. Fine arts as well as the force behind the creation for the National Center of aftermarket artist. Joining us also is John Ross who is the music director for the National Center for American artists. Just before our break John you were waxing philosophical but I think plucking at a could a lot of us can understand it really goes back to what we discussed last week which is that the National Center is doing something that's at the root in fundamental for black people here in the United States and is what allows us to communicate with black people throughout the world and that is getting to the basic communication that has to take place between black people on a very fundamental level about what we are and what we're doing how we spics press us not ourselves. And this particular case it's been through the arts and it's been Miss Lewis who sort of created the. Orchestration that's allowed so many people to speak about those matters Hughes said.
You know it's not a crime to make a sacrifice for one's own idea. But when one speaks to young people very young people when one speaks to John Francis someone like John Francis who was at the time more nearly the age John Ross is today and who had five children one of whom had a serious heart problem and say to him leave the security of the White House and the government and come and do what you must for your people. And they have all of these people buy in at a very basic level. Not only do I believe I give my talent to this. Not only do I give my talent to this I give my financial resources to this. And in almost every case they have had to go elsewhere earn money bring it and put it in there to support it. The white people in the South used to support the church. At a very basic level these young men have married the concept with everything they had. John had to take his wife and children and marry the
Khans and John Francis. This John had to play commercial shows like don't bother makin open dancing in the street and all of the Saturday night gigs as they say in the music world and wanting the money and put it in there to pay all the people of less commitment. But then you know what I said. I said even I respect those people who are the typist in the Falklands because they didn't even get emotional reward. And they put their money in to bring this to today. This was not the government's money not the government's concept not of a proposal we wrote it was the core of our being to rescue ours. Now you know what we brag when we are in the middle of a dread drug infested community. We never had a drug problem. We've never had a threat theft problem we have never had any kind of basic social problems show with an occasional person doing wrong. We ran 11 years of the playhouse in the park a hundred thousand people a summer without the police.
That is really remarkable. What we made people's minds home made their spirits home. That's what the heart should do. The value of art is not beauty but a right action. We were you know we're about to have a major rehabilitation building. So momentarily the program doesn't expand as it normally would because where right now you know I guess in hiatus. And so we were just talking the other day about things that we have done this year is this season not the year but the season after Black Nativity which was our last production before this broadcast. This present season won't see us in the media as much but we were thinking back over some of the things we had done. Just prior to our coming out of the building. There have been some at the at the very bottom line for artistic product going back spectacular going way way way way way way back and including the playhouse in the
park where in the farthest in the many seasons that we were in there Franklin Park rocks. We have Duke Ellington he would just come and play there. He's coming actually and everybody sitting on his side and really phenomenal dance ensembles from many many places. Major black bands artists even the Boston Ballet which of course we know not to be black they perform there the Boston Pops I think they look and I think feel are conducting and that when you season that 11 and that is now only on hiatus it's really back to back in the park. But even more you know what really made me excited to commission works such as to commission Randy Weston to create a work that he could play with full symphony and five jazz sideman the only master class that has ever been held in Symphony Hall was not held by the symphony but was held by us on that stage with a Randy Weston and his compatriots offering a master
class to whoever would come. I mean we have been able to do many many things we commissioned know of the cost of the costume and Max Roach played that and Max Roach played without. The most remarkable things have happened that we are now in the business of trying to put a 10 8 foot high bronze sculpture outside of our museum hall the eternal presence which will be placed there by which will be created by John Wilson the Boston sculptor who with whom I grew up and who just placed ahead of Martin Luther King in the rotunda at the Capitol that also was at our urging. Barry had to go all the way to the wall with that to get that commission for him. He is a full professor. John Wilson is incidentally. But the things that could not have been done had there not been the nationals and that is why we do have to sing about it and tell about it as a legs
didn't set me myself I have to tell it. And it's the institutions of a people that dignified people that an individual person has a certain kind of influence and impact but the institution supports that person statement and supports the statements of many communities of interest. And no culture can afford to live or even survive no culture really can survive without its institutions I think that the great. As difficult as it has been. To keep our doors open in the face of financial pressures which all nonprofit institutions have including Harvard. But we're not out there yet I guess that they haven't done that. We have no endowment but the pressures always are financial on nonprofit institutions and yet no culture can live without its institutions and so every culture every ethnic culture every any
other community of cultural interest has to at the very bottom of their being understand the necessity for supporting its institutions and creating institutions if they don't exist. Now the National Center intends to be a not just national. That's the easy part. We our intention is really international because we. The throne as was as it was has a continuing intellectual and fraternal involvement and dialogue with people all over the world. I remember the minister of culture of Senegal sitting in her living room. Unfortunately I didn't get there in time and he sat there and he was so stimulated by the exchange and the conversation between the people gathered there. He took us all to settle my account and celebrate presently opposing fourth birthday who was in the living room at the time we were married very very and saddened that so much is missing from the primas Mark Freeman has a museum prison.
There were 15 of us I kind they were out of the mollies Zull Callie's entirely Missouri well-led did the Africans that is here yes yes but we constantly and then you see John has been able to take many of our one young lady who started as a welfare mother has been able What has she been able to travel with you to Brazil Brazil today to go to Senegal as a performer as an artist with the reality with reverence. I write as a Caribbean hazy Santa Domingo. So he's able to take a survey. And our young student Leon Mobley who many of your listeners may know because we on was here for a master. They were early on has gone I was on his first you know he has only a kid and he was assume don't get out of us. And he studied drumming with the great master drummer Michael at 20 Michael Bubble 20 or 20 who at the time was our faculty person. And Leon was our little boy. Now he's a full grown man and he continues as a professional African percussionist and his
first trip to Africa was with us. We took him to Senegal to perform with John. Yeah. So then I obviously and the arts in music has provided a vehicle for many many young people to find out who they are in to expand the process has been education at its most refined level that the per that this thing we call the arts. This process of the arts has been a conduit through which we could mediate whole worlds of experience to the people who received whatever it was. At the moment we were trying to offer it with our students we miss Laura says. Position was that this is where we give the students life meaning that this experience with us must be the important experience in their life beyond family and interpersonal family relationships that the public school yes has an as a
place it should teach you to read and I count my money. But the cultural institutions in one's life must have a bearing on people's value. How do we see ourselves and what values do we share as black people and what is our difference with the rest of the world. How do we differ because we should celebrate differences and enjoy them and respect other people's differences. But all of that was part of the process. So we went about teaching singing and dancing it was through the singing and the dancing in the reading and the lecture that you teach life and the satisfaction has been seeing how those germs and seeds take root in people's lives. We see that even when we entertain and we do consider ourselves to be entertainers those of us who are performing. That it should have entertainment value what we do if it includes finger popping fine. But to take something like Black Nativity or some of the television specials we have to like something about the
blues or blues and gone with which one to me but that those things should be at least entertaining. But at bottom they should have a message in life that communicates itself to everybody. I suppose the black audience for what we perform will receive at a deeper level some of the inherent message dancing in the street was a production which ran for a year and a half in Boston. Much of the talent in that came right directly out of the National Center and those many of the people in the cast were have been students and at many levels involved. Billy himself was the director. I was the music director and arranger and people who were in the show. Many of them came out of school and in the band at any rate. That show would look to be an assemblage of very interesting songs and dances but there was a central message in it about the pride of coming from this kind of a culture. And it was quite a long time and a chronicle of a time. And that is what
made the show last. And everything we do and that's just an example of anything that we do and the things that come out of Barry's apartment I want to say this about Barry too that his public prominence as an hour sometimes obscures the fact that he is a social critic and historian of the whole culture. And one of the most profound musical intellects that I know and while he does not consider himself to be a performer of music he is as accomplished and as knowledgeable as any musical historian who has sought a degree in any area. And that is a one that's a fabulous combination because he like John Francis who combines several sensitivities with us with several different skills. You get this all mixed in one person makes a very inspiring and exciting kind of firm and when you get those kinds of people together in one community work together. John Francis does not physically work on our
site anymore anymore but he continues to be a part as does everybody who's name we mentioned really Billy Wilson who's been gone we never missed from you from years. We never lose them and we talk all the time and we're on the phone the other day Miss Lewis was on the phone talking with Billy. They called to talk about something else. And then two hours later they were still talking and the relationships never end. We have people who like us and Lucy who have been retired from the National Center and from the school for several years and and we only consider them to be. Not. Actively involved in the day to day but they are as much a part of the life of the school as this hauen singleton. Who's been I was for many years an office manager and who works at the Roxbury Community College but we're all still involved and we see each other from time to time and it is a it is a genuine family extended you know and it keeps extending. I think that and I want to tell our listening audience again that I know that this has been one of the more
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- Part two of a two-part series on the arts in the black community, featuring guests Elma Lewis, founder of the National Center of Afro-American Artists (NCAAA), and John Ross, NCAAA music director. Topics discussed include Ross's long personal and professional relationships with Lewis, the contributions of long-time staff members such as Ross, museum director Barry Gaither, and dancer/choreographer Billy Wilson; NCAAA contributions to Boston's black community and the city at large, the importance of black-centric art to the community, and the positive impact NCAAA has had on individual black people's lives and on the community's quality of life.
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Guest: Ross, John
Guest: Lewis, Elma
Host: Desmond, Charles
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- Chicago: “Black Perspectives; Black Arts: The Beacon in our Heritage. Part 2,” 1987-12-11, WUMB, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed September 20, 2020, http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-345-80vq8bj7.
- MLA: “Black Perspectives; Black Arts: The Beacon in our Heritage. Part 2.” 1987-12-11. WUMB, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. September 20, 2020. <http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-345-80vq8bj7>.
- APA: Black Perspectives; Black Arts: The Beacon in our Heritage. Part 2. Boston, MA: WUMB, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (WGBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from http://americanarchive.org/catalog/cpb-aacip-345-80vq8bj7