by Anthony R. Green
Yesterday, I had the pleasure of hosting the incredible L'Merchie Frazier in a talk titled: Rhapsodies: a song for the beloved. This talk was built upon the following description:
Utilizing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s poignant thoughts on Black music as a foundation, L'Merchie Frazier will discuss quilting, Black music, Black genius, and more. Through incorporating observations on the relationships between pain, beauty, and passion, Frazier will unearth and articulate the creative moments that often serve as intersections between art, creativity, and life.
This blog is a bit of a recap of 4 elements that were evoked during L'Merchie's incredible talk:
1) Dr. MLK Jr.'s essay on Black music;
2) Billy Strayhorn and his iconic work arranging and conducting King fit da Battle of Alabama;
3) Zilpah White and her relationship with Walden Woods;
and 4) The example of African agency at Ibo Landing.
L'Merchie, towards the early part of her talk, quoted Dr. King's essay on jazz that was featured in the 1964 Berlin Jazz Festival. The bold line from this essay is "This is Triumphant Music." King, in the essay, goes on to talk about various forms of Black music and its role in the lives of Black people as well as people around the world. L'Merchie applies these words to all Black music, irrespective of genre, and linked Dr. King's words to the various roles and purposes that unfold from all Black arts as well. These rhapsodic links set the foundation for the rest of her talk.
Fluidly flowing to Billy Strayhorn, L'Merchie mentioned his work as an arranger and conductor for King Fit da Battle of Alabama, a performance that significantly moved Dr. King. While many are familiar with Duke Ellington and Dr. King, L'Merchie shared her observations that Billy Strayhorn is lesser known, but a powerhouse musician. Strayhorn wanted to be a classical composer, but in the mid 1930s, he knew this endeavor would be difficult, and switched to Jazz. Often uncredited or undervalued, Strayhorn is responsible for such hits with and without Ellington as Lush Life, Chelsea Bridge, and Take the 'A' Train. Listen to a performance of King Fit da Battle of Alabama at Boston's own Jordan Hall below (performed by the Boston Children's Chorus):
Later in the talk, when discussing how Black textile artists during the times of slavery spun cloth from scratch, and were given scraps which they transformed into the fine art that is quilts, L'Merchie brought forward Zilpah White, a formerly enslaved woman who resided as a lonesome hermit in Walden Woods (and was criticized for it) before Thoreau did the same thing (and was praised for it). Thoreau misspells her name in his recollections (writing Zilpha rather than Zilpah). According to many sources, she brought her spinning talents from the south to Walden, and would spin so long that it worsened her eye sight. You can read more about her HERE and HERE.
And lastly, in discussing Black agency and the Black relationship to water, L'Merchie mentioned Ibo Landing. I remember learning about this recently (on Instagram) and immediately thinking about the beloved spiritual Oh, Freedom! In 1803, a ship containing West Africans who were stolen from Africa survived the middle passage journey and landed in Savannah. From this group of stolen Africans, 75 Nigerians were purchased for $100 each to work on St. Simons Island, about a 1.5 hour drive south of Savannah. During the trip from Savannah to St. Simons Island, the enslaved Nigerians captured and drown their purchaser. Upon arrival, the Nigerians refused to be captured and enslaved, so they marched into the water at Ibo Landing and drowned themselves. This powerful piece of history was linked with Phillis Wheatley, who - as a child in West Africa - most likely spoke Wolof, and also survived the dreadful middle passage journey over the waters of the Atlantic Ocean. The Black relationship with water includes the ancestral memories of these trips, and L'Merchie's creative practice, as she states, is deeply involved in memory.
I wish I could highlight all of the beautiful elements of L'Merchie's deeply moving talk. These are only a couple of incredible moments from the lecture. Be sure to check out L'Merchie's beautiful artwork on her website HERE, and stay tuned for the video version of Sound & Appliqué in the near future!
Writings, musings, photos, links, and videos about Black Artistry of ALL varieties!
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