Saturday, August 23, 2008

I didn't know them well, but, I did attend an Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity dance at UC Berkeley's International House with Jackie Robinson after one of the football games between the Bears and the Bruins ... .

such a warm, wonderful, and truly handsome young man. But that was several years before either of us had married and -- I was young and pretty -- probably not a day over 18 -- and it was just a Saturday evening date with an out-of-town high-profile football hero(click to enlarge).

I remember his speaking of Rachel, the young nursing student he'd met while attending UCLA and later married in 1946. My very own halfback (whom I later married), Mel Reid, at the time was engaged to someone else, though we'd been friends since I was fourteen.

Truly exceptional women married to famous men tend to get lost in history. This beautiful young bride, Rachel Isum Robinson, is such a women. I wonder if anyone ever has given thought to what those awful years were like for her when her young husband was being literally spat upon and publicly humiliated? I've often wondered how Rachel managed to hold onto her sanity.

Before their marriage (during WWII in 1942) Rachel studied nursing during the day while working as a riveter in an aircraft factory at night, though if one were to ask, I would guess that Rachel didn't think of herself as "Rosie the Riveter" any more than I did at the time. Rosie was symbolic of white women in the home front work force.

Jackie spent the earlier years of his baseball career barnstorming with the Kansas City Monarchs of the Negro American League. At the time of their married in 1946, Jackie was playing with the Montreal Royals farm club in preparation for the move up -- a move planned and executed by Branch Rickey. Jackie joined the Brooklyn Dodgers as the first black athlete allowed to enter the major leagues in 1947, only a year after their wedding.

Those thoughts rose again for me when Careth handed me the 8"x 10" age-yellowed envelope from the Joseph collection. There were a dozen or so photos of Jackie and Rachel's wedding in the envelope. They were so young. So vulnerable. They were so traditionally American -- two youngsters who chose to be the sacrificial lambs in a baseball world that showed few signs of being civilized or even properly socialized. I can't imagine what that would have been like for her. It was his choice, but it would be her life as well. And she was the support he desperately needed in order to survive in that unbelievably mean world of professional sports.

Corporate leader, activist, professor, nurse, wife, and mother, Rachel Isum Robinson is a woman of enormous accomplishments, her own and those achieved jointly with her husband, Jackie Robinson who broke the color barrier in Major League Baseball in 1947 when he played with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Together the couple supported numerous causes, but particularly civil rights in and out of the sports sphere. Since her husband's premature death at age 54, Ms. Robinson has used her ability and his legacy to further the causes they so ardently supported.

A career nurse, Ms. Robinson earned her masters degree in psychiatric nursing worked as a researcher at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine's Department of Social and Community Psychiatry, which she held for five years. Ms. Robinson then became Director of Nursing for the Connecticut Mental Health Center and an Assistant Professor of Nursing at Yale University.

Following the death of her husband in 1972, Robinson incorporated the Jackie Robinson Development Corporation, which had been founded to build housing for people of moderate and low incomes. A year later, Ms. Robinson created the Jackie Robinson Foundation, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to provide scholarships and leadership training.

After years at the head of the Foundation's board, Ms. Robinson stepped down as chairwoman in 1996. That same year, she authored "Jackie Robinson An Intimate Portrait" published by Abrams Publishing Company. Robinson has received numerous awards including the Candace Award for Distinguished Service from the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, the Equitable Life Black achiever's Award and the Associated Black Charities Black History Makers Award. In addition, St. John's University, Springfield College, MacAlester College, Boston College, Suffolk University, New York University, Connecticut College and the University of Massachusetts have conferred upon her honorary doctorates.

Ms. Robinson has two children and ten grandchildren.

Can you imagine a more illustrious background than this word picture gives us of Rachel Robinson? Can you imagine the waste in human potential we've endured over the years as women like this were dependent for recognition upon the reflected glow from their famous husband's public image? Or to be asked to share his shame and humiliation by virtue of sharing his name?

We've had a lifetime to view the Jackie Robinson story through his eyes -- but in looking at these historic photos -- can we begin to see those awesomely cruel years through hers?

Friday, August 22, 2008

Still excited about our most recent discoveries from the E.F. Joseph photo collection ...

Remembering what a huge crush I (and every other young female jazz fan in the Bay Area) had on Jimmy Lyons of Monterey Jazz Festival fame. He hosted the late night (all night?) radio jazz show from San Francisco, and set the bar for all the disc jockey's who followed. It was therefore no surprise to find him photographed as Sgt. Jimmy Lyons, producer of "Jubilee" for US Armed Forces Radio during WWII.

Jimmy died more years ago than I can recall, and his passing was mourned across the music world. Remembering him brings back to consciousness all the others who reigned supreme during those years; San Francisco bassist Vernon Alley, tenor saxman Jerome Richardson, Nat and Duke and Hamp and Ella and Sarah and Dinah and Carmen and Shirley Horn and the singer who inspired them all, Billie Holiday. All of those now existing only in memory are given a tiny spark of life again as I view their images here. But they've left a huge legacy in recordings and film for us to enjoy and to learn from.

Those were the days when black artists set the pace and created the sounds that defined jazz. It's hard these days to hear white voices defining our music while our kids -- almost totally bereft of music programs in inner-city schools have had the tools of their culture eliminated from curricula -- leaving them with little more than their mouths and a beat. With that they've continued to create the world phenomenon of Rap and an exciting Hip Hop culture.

I've become quite expert at being able to discern whether an artist is black or white by their sound. It's a game I play while driving ... and I'm rarely wrong. It's also true that black voices are now few and far between. We've all but disappeared into obscurity -- one of the unanticipated outcomes of integration. The transitioning stage was obvious during recent years when we became the back-up singers for white performers -- then slowly -- we began to disappear. Think Paul Simon, Sting, Eric Clapton, etc., the trend moved slowly, but in the end jazz disappeared into "the American Musical Melting Pot," and the best of truly innovative black jazz artists returned to the choir loft with a few exceptional young black players archived into the conservatories. Our best music has since remained there in the black church with few exceptions. Think Take Six, Kirk Franklin, the late great Thomas Whitfield, one of the greatest gospel/jazz pianists and composers of them all.

I shed tears of real grief recently while viewing the prize-winning film, Faubourg Tremé; watching a young black trombonist turned drug addict arrested for parading on the streets of New Orleans without a permit! This, in the place where jazz was born a couple of centuries ago -- created by young self-taught musicians parading on those same streets in my father's and his father's times in the Tremé. When jazz no longer comes up from the streets and alleys; from late night rent parties and wakes for the dearly departed; from the back rooms of saloons; when there are no longer any raw edges to explore and survive -- that's when we will hear only white musicians still playing the Charlie Parker/Count Basie/Duke Ellington charts of the Forties and Fifties. It is then that Jazz -- the most dynamic form of American music will have passed into oblivion.

But what is there left of the Jimmy Lyons legend? I don't recall that he was a musician yet his life was devoted entirely to being the translator, the agent, the recorder, the historian, and the producer of those jazz greats whom we remember best. It was Jimmy Lyons and his Monterey Jazz Festival that catapulted jazz to unanticipated heights -- out of the clubs and onto the world stage. Montreaux and Newport and all the others followed, but Monterey was the first and the greatest festival of them all. And Monterey was the brainchild of Jimmy Lyons.

These still photos from Jubilee are so wonderful to see after all the years ... I'd almost forgotten ... .

And bless the late and most prolific Emmanuel Joseph for capturing our times in this precious collection of his life's work - and bless Careth Bomar Reid for rescuing this priceless legacy of the images that chronicle our lives and times so vividly.

It might easily have all passed unnoticed ... .

Photo: at the group's far right an unidentified performer, Eddie "Rochester" Anderson, heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis, Jimmy Lyons, Nat "King" Cole.
Second photo; a very young Lena Horne, Jimmy Lyons, singer Thelma Carpenter, and Frank Sinatra.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Historic script turns up in the stunning Careth Bomar Reid/E.F. Joseph photo collection ... .

This 17-page original script for the US Armed Forces Radio show, "Jubilee" was suddenly there in my hot little hands on Saturday. In this photo Lena Horne is holding it in her hand as she works with Eddie "Rochester" Anderson from the famous Jack Benny Show on mike. Not only the script, but in the same yellowing manila envelope were still photos from the same studio session; multiple pictures of the producer, Sgt. Jimmy Lyons (noted deejay and creator of the Monterey Jazz Festival); a very young Frank Sinatra, Slim Gaillard, the Nat "King" Cole Trio, the Jimmy Mundy band, singer Thelma Carpenter, Lionel Hampton, child prodigy pianist Sugar Child Robinson, composer (and not related) Earl Robinson -- (writing partner of Yip Harburg of "Over the Rainbow" and "Strange Fruit" fame), and Harry "The Hipster" Gibson. These were the "rock stars" of the entertainment industry during the early years of WWII.

The script is fascinating as it is written in the "jive" idiom of the day and is generously sprinkled with words and phrases that defined the world of jazz at that time. Every word brings memories of seeing the Nat Cole Trio for the first time sitting in the dimly-lit tiny but chic 365 Club in Hollywood; the place to be seen. He'd just started to be noticed having recently recorded "Straighten up and fly right" and "Sweet Lorraine". I remember it well and felt 18 again for just a few minutes there; holding that crumbling script in hand and noticing in one of the group shots the back of Nat Cole's patent-leather shiny "conked" hair (a story for another time). Oh how young we all were! The emancipating introduction of natural hair styles for African Americans was still 20 years into the future though common in European countries. We were still torturing our hair to try to emulate white straightness and "good" hair as opposed to "bad". I'd almost forgotten ... . Oh how far we've come -- to a day when Oprah can talk on camera of hair textures as style choices rather than indications of political attitudes.

At this "Jubilee" airing for the armed forces Lena sang "Lover Man", Frank Sinatra performed "The House I Live In" with the composer, Earl Robinson, interviewed as well.

There are so many memories to be re-lived and cherished ...

Were we ever so young? And, yes ...

where did the time go?

Photos: 1) Script, 2) Eddie "Rochester" Anderson with Lena Horne, bottom left, Lena Horne, Frank Sinatra, bandleader Jimmy Mundy. These and many more from this Jubilee show are among those referred to in this precious studio script. They are the property of Ms. Careth Bomar Reid by whom all rights are reserved.