New Thoughts on the Black Arts Movement

By Lisa Gail Collins; Margo Natalie Crawford | Go to book overview
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11
"If Bessie Smith
Had Killed Some
White People"
Racial Legacies, the
Blues Revival, and the
Black Arts Movement

Adam Gussow

You've taken my blues and gone—
You sing 'em on Broadway
And you sing 'em in Hollywood Bowl,
And you mixed 'em up with symphonies
And you fixed 'em
So they don't sound like me.
Yep, you done taken my blues and gone…

—LANGSTON HUGHES, "NOTES ON COMMERCIAL THEATRE," 1940

"Look like ah, what the Klan couldn't kill, look like we gonna let die for lack of love. Look like
now we dont, we don't much listen to ourselves, you know what I mean. We don't really listen to
ourselves any more, Mister Can't Sing Blues Black Man, be telling me the blues is 'bout submis-
sion, shuffl ing, and stuff too ugly to hang on yonder wall. But submission is silence, submission
is silence, and silence is NOT my song!"

—KALAMU YA SALAAM, "MY STORY, MY SONG," 1990


OUR STORY, OUR SONG

Jazz, not blues, is generally taken to be the soundtrack of the Black Arts Movement. Young jazz musicians of revolutionary temperament such as Archie Shepp, Sun Ra, and Albert Ayler—proponents of the so-called "New Thing"— played downtown fundraisers and uptown marches for Amiri Baraka's Black Arts Repertory Theater/School in the heady spring and summer of 1965, joining the newly established BARTS faculty as founding members. Black Arts poets reimagined John Coltrane as a secular saint, modeling their spoken-word performances on his keening, freedom-yearning, glossolalic saxophone style— what literary critic Kimberly Benston has termed "the Coltrane poem." This

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