12 January 2007: the earthly life of Alice Coltrane aka SwaminiTuriyasangitananda transitioned. Composer, arranger, performer but
also known to many as a spiritual person, she had a feather touch
in reaching all those she came into contact with.Radha & Krishna
“Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world…
“Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom…
“Now, Therefore THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY proclaims THIS UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms…
“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood…"Sharp toothed, rough armor skinned American record executives and
UNITED NATIONS, 1948
lawyers who represented all that she and her former husband John
Coltrane opposed were just one barricade she faced. There were the
musicians too, who loved but idolized a man and father of her
children out of perspective. Some even resented her own success and
communication musically with John. The challenge of handling all of
this as a widow, as a person creating her own music who needed her
own life was a heavy one.
As Africans in American society have done, especially women, Alice
Coltrane Turiyasangitananda carried on through immense pressures.
Self definition by a woman cannot be fully comprehended by those
intent on or oblivious to their roles of boxing her into a
perceived place.Born Alice McLeod 27 August 1937 in Detroit, Michigan, she led a
life of triumph and self discovery during her peoples' noted
creative and restive 1940-1970 period. This would span into a time
where the vehicle, the significant vessel of African expression in
the USA, the Black Church tradition, to paraphrase James Baldwin
(1924-1987), ceased to be the the only route to self and group
communication internally and into the wider world.“May there be peace and love and perfection
throughout all creation, o God” (COSMIC MUSIC, JOHN & ALICE COLTRANE, OTHERS 1966)Portal To The WorldAlice was raised in the centuries long and predominant form of
liberating music, her memories of Mount Olive Baptist services
include the mystical journey that is famous all over the world.
Detroit in the late 1940s and 1950s afforded Alice a grounding,
too, in European classical music. Many christian families like hers,
as with that of a young Detroit raised Betty Shabazz (1934-2007) restricted
or forbid even listening to 'devil's music' on commercial radio. Long before
world famous Motown would promote and distribute the somewhat sanitized
version of the music of the people, the church and the street, the city and the country
came together musically. Joe Von Battle and others on Hastings street were
successfully allowing national and global audiences a chance to hear the riches being brewed up.
This was a fertile cultural opportunity for young people to enrich and
be enriched by a surge in social, political and economic growth among African
people in America. Music was everywhere. Fundamentally it was for sacred dancing and praising the creator congregationally. This, Africans are renowned for doing. This development in the USA has traditionally had even the tormentors of the Africans seeking their spiritual 'ok' for transgressions. In recent decades nearly all White House functions of any importance rely on 'black apostles' to sanctify the operations to be undertaken.
But making a joyful noise was also for extreme healing in the so called profane arena.
In every society Africans had been transported to against their wills, prisoners of war,
there has been the duality of the sacred and the profane. Rebellion was never to be directly mentioned in lyrics or even alluded to or demonstrated instrumentally. This antidote to European and other peoples' domination flourishes to the present, a desire to thrive and procreate the human feeling, redefine the self in opposition to any 'master'. In this venue the 'master' is outdone and the African divinity is communicated as a defiant agent, one that can take or leave Western values. The cosmos, the players of music, dancers, singers or speakers remind the world, is bigger than that.
It was determined early on during the expansion of radio and record distribution that access to the profane would be limited and if money was to be made, Whites would make it in the 'negro quarter'. This obssession among Whites had deep roots. Europeans had long forbidden Africans from becoming christians and when this was allowed in North and South America, services were policed. Drums were forbidden on penalty of death to Africans or Indigenous people. Alice (McLeod) would become a mature musician just as the drum exploded into the 20th century within her peoples' music (rhythms and virtuoso harmonies) and in a polyphonic form the entrance of potent African drums in the late '40s and '50s from the Caribbean, especially the island of Cuba.Unleashed By Chano
Stifling racist constraints and pure terror through rape,
castration and lynching had forced millions of 'negroes'
north out of the US South over half a century. They would be called
IDP (internally displaced persons) in another country if they were
not mainly the descendants of Africans made captive to build the
American superstate. The then new United Nations being formulated
did not recognize the people, though. Their status was not really
as citizens though they had once again shed blood in a war for
democracy. Whole African families were building tanks, airplanes,
ships and bombs for the war against 'undemocratic' Japanese and
German armies. Men who had not only USA medals for bravery but
multiple French ones returned to the reality: they could become the
county's 'first colored bus driver'. This was in no way, democratic, christian or humane.
This paradox would spark a mass social movement, just a rolling continuation of African
humanity's resistance to American oppression. In Detroit, this
inequality was countered by a major uprising (1943) in which the
Africans fought physically and not just defensively, a
turning point in US North racial relations. One of the fighters was
a young Robert F Williams (1925-1996), defending against Whites who
were incredulous that African people, often USA military veterans,
would shoot guns to repel their attacks. Detroit 1943
Yet in Detroit alone there were two women growing rapidly in the
music of the bandstand, far from their churches. Alice McLeod was
one, the other Lillie Mae Jones (vocalist Betty Carter). Alice's
older brother, Ernie Farrow (1928-1969) won a 1946 Paradise Theatre
music talent show on bass. According to piano legend and family
friend Barry Harris, b. 1929 said that Ernie Farrow had also mastered
alto saxophone and drums as a youth."My brother, who is not living, played bass. That meant I got to
hear everything that he was doing. And when allowed, I would go with him to
the sessions and hear what the musicians were playing. And I
really believed I could learn what I heard. I said, "I believe I
can play this music if I put my mind to it." He showed me as much
as he could...I feel that he was a big inspiration for me. Had he
not been in the house, I dont know..." Alice Coltrane interview 2001 w/Franya J BerkmanAn early 1950s Baker's Keyboard Lounge vibraphone sensation, Terry
Pollard (1931-2009), was not only a woman role model for Alice, she
promoted her for appearances once she was old enough to play
professionally on the Detroit scene.
Exploitation of women artists was extreme: Ruth Brown (1928-2006),
whose vocal hits built Turkish (friend of Istanbul and Washington DC top politicos) Ahmet Ertegun's Atlantic
Records label, finally was able to recover her royalties, in
1986. Their mothers feared for them and the stages that they began
to play on. Musicians were getting hooked. Alcohol and other drugs,
were distributed by 'colored gangsters' in league of the Italian
mafia/USA gov't/French gov't mounting heroin dump operations
(popularized two decades later in the French Connection movies) in
inner cities. Women musicians, legendary in their contribution,
some say as cultural and social healers, such as Mary Lou Williams
(1910-1981), had by 1952 departed for Europe to play music and
reflect. The Pittsburgh Pennsylvania keyboard giant would dedicate
her music to spiritual matters but also in the 1950s formed a foundation to aid musicians recovering from heroin addiction. '52 was the year that the former 'Detroit Red', soon to be Malcolm X relocated to Michigan after six years in prison and visited his mentor Elijah Muhammad in Chicago. As the world reeled from the transition of Charles Christopher Parker, partly due to health damaged by a heroin addiction, the frustration levels were growing. During this era, White singers were declared rock and roll dieties, appropriating the culture of African people in and from the same terroristic US South they continued to flee from. By 1958, when Alice likely met John Coltrane when he played Detroit gigs, a national economic slump had hit. The post '45 capitalist bubble was bursting. A generation of mostly youth, dispossessed educationally, economically and politically in the cities such as Los Angeles, Chicago and New York City, the children or grandchildren of the refugees, began to assemble in huge groups. Not all were shipped to Korea for the 'fight against the Reds'. Their war was against American society. The US North was on fire.END PART 1
14 October 2016
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