[Marxism] Fwd: Black Arts Movement in postwar LA, new book

John A Imani johnaimani3 at gmail.com
Mon Jun 4 23:21:57 MDT 2012

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: John A Imani <johnaimani3 at gmail.com>
Date: Mon, Jun 4, 2012 at 10:14 PM
Subject: Re: Black Arts Movement in postwar LA, new book


Was just talking w somebody about Tapscott.  Oh yeah it was with my friends
at the book launch party I attended before meeting w you guys.  I think.
Getting old.

We talked about the paradigm shifting soul-searching reach of "Free Jazz"
by, including Tapscott, Ornette Coleman, Sun Ra, Eric Dolphy and the realms
of freedom explored and trailblazed by god, John Coltrane.  Even Weather
Report, I think, fits within that milieu.

Thanks for this.  It seems to go a long way in describing the revolutionary
culture that moved the movement as the movement moved it in the '50's and
the '60's.

Gonna pick it up.


On Mon, Jun 4, 2012 at 9:54 PM, x yz <zenostorm at gmail.com> wrote:

> Hey John, check this book review out.
> ---
> Title:Black Arts West: Culture and Struggle in Postwar Los Angeles
> Author(s):Amy Abugo Ongiri
> Source:The Journal of African American History. 96.3 (Summer 2011): p427.
> Document Type:Book review
> Full Text:
> Daniel Widener, Black Arts West: Culture and Struggle in Postwar Los
> Angeles. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2010. Pp. 368. Cloth
> $89.95. Paper $16.95.
> There is so much to recommend Daniel Widener's Black Arts West:
> Culture and Struggle in Postwar Los Angeles it is hard to know where
> to start. It includes the story of Horace Tapscott's move to Los
> Angeles where his mother saw as a priority finding him a piano teacher
> over finding the family a suitable apartment, and a detailed account
> of the rise and fall of the Watts Writers Workshop. The book also
> offers a thorough analysis of postwar African American cultural
> production in Los Angeles. In a 1991 review in American Literary
> History, David Lionel Smith lamented "the paucity of scholarly
> literature on this body of work," noting that we do not have a single
> book, critical or historical, scholarly or journalistic, devoted
> explicitly to the Black Arts Movement." The situation has been
> rectified by recent scholarship on the Black Arts Movement by William
> Van Deburg, James Smethurst, Melba Joyce Boyd, Julius Thompson, D. H.
> Melhem, Carole Marsh, and others. However, what has been missing from
> recent scholarship is a specific and necessary emphasis on the Black
> Arts Movement in Los Angeles and the production of local culture in
> relationship to that movement.
> Black Arts West does the critical work of charting the development of
> the Black Arts Movement in Los Angeles and the multi-genre and
> multidisciplinary approach allows for careful attention to the
> political and social complexities of cultural production. In doing so,
> Widener offers a challenge to earlier studies that describe artistic
> movements through a single genre, or a single axis of production. In
> addition, Widener is interested in "a cross-generic framing of
> popularly directed cultural production that privileges the voices of
> artists, as opposed to formal criticism of works of art." Though the
> book is specifically focused on the development of the Black Arts
> Movement in Los Angeles, Black Arts West is suggestive of the ways
> researchers might reconceptualize the study of artistic and cultural
> movements, and thus it moves towards a broader conception of postwar
> African American cultural production.
> Widener uses a combination of source materials to construct a cohesive
> picture of arts culture in postwar Los Angeles. Resisting the
> temptation to focus on the Hollywood film industry, Black Arts West
> begins by examining the complex politics and social context of
> cultural representation in the World War II era. Exploring the staging
> and social context for the 1941 Duke Ellington stage musical Jump for
> Joy, Widener argues that "the most prominent iterations of New Negro
> cultural activism in interwar Southern California emerged not from
> creative personalities connected to the rapidly growing entertainment
> industry, but rather from sojourning scholars with ties to the local
> ranks of the black professional class." Duke Ellington, novelist
> Chester Himes, theater producer Francis Williams, and others
> constituted the new class of African American artists and
> intellectuals who created the fertile environment out of which the
> Black Arts Movement would emerge in the 1960s and 1970s. Drawing on
> the idea of a black Popular Front, Widener labels this emerging
> creative class a "Black Cultural Front." From attempts to create
> independent African American theaters and film companies to attempts
> to foster more positive black images in the Hollywood film industry,
> Widener details the ways in which "southern California's particular
> relationship to entertainment, information, and propaganda ensured
> that creative personalities would occupy a strategic space in the
> broader search for racial equality unleashed in the course of the
> Second World War."
> Divided into three sections that reflect "patterns of cultural
> activism," the book covers the rise of a cultural arts scene in Los
> Angeles between the wars, the rise of the Black Arts Movement,
> especially in relationship to Free Jazz and visual culture; and the
> era ushered in by the 1973 election of Thomas Bradley, Los Angeles's
> first black mayor, whom Widener labels an "intimate enemy" to black
> cultural nationalists. Widener's exploration is impressive for the
> breadth of his historical analysis, which begins in the early 1940s
> and ends in the late 1990s, as well as for the depth of its cultural
> analysis, which moves from the works of visual artists such as Charles
> Burnett and Noah Purifoy to the community organizing work of the
> cultural nationalists who organized the Watts Tower Art Center, Studio
> Watts, and the Ebony Showcase Theater.
> Black Arts West provides a groundbreaking examination of the culture
> of Jazz in Los Angeles, but does not focus on the best known sons of
> Los Angeles--Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy, and Ornette Coleman who
> developed their styles in Los Angeles, but relocated to the East
> Coast. Rather the emphasis is on cultural activism at the grassroots
> level that produced musicians like Horace Tapscott and the decidedly
> community-oriented musical experiments such as the Underground
> Musicians Association (UGMA) and the Pan Afrikan People's Arkestra.
> Widener's analysis of the UGMA is incisive in situating the discussion
> of Los Angeles's cultural development in relation to larger national
> and transnational movements. "The historical moment that facilitated
> the emergence of the UGMA ensured the emergence of peer organizations
> elsewhere in the United States. In Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, and
> elsewhere, community-oriented musicians made attempts at collective
> organization, freeform musical experimentation, and support for
> radical politics." Widener argues that "the politics of black
> improvised music after 1950 is a national, even international, story."
> At the same time, Tapscott and other artists adhered to the
> contemporary emphasis on "the theory and practice of community
> control." In South Los Angeles, "Tapscott had a vanguard vision based
> less on the charismatic model of Huey Newton and Martin Luther King
> than on the radical participatory democracy of Ella Baker. Thus, while
> trained instrumentalists made up the bulk of the Arkestra, many of the
> more than two hundred individuals who passed through the Ark were
> poets, young musical apprentices, or simply interested people from the
> surrounding community."
> Widener meticulously documents the struggles of local artists and
> community organizations in a manner that illuminates national and even
> international struggles around cultural production and thus makes this
> book an invaluable contribution to the scholarship on postwar African
> American culture. It constitutes an important addition to local and
> regional studies of the Black Arts Movement, and to scholarly analyses
> of black radicalism and its relationship to African American
> expressive culture, the African American avant-garde, and the social
> movements and community organizations that created one of the most
> significant periods of African American artistic expression.
> Amy Abugo Ongiri University of Florida
> Ongiri, Amy Abugo

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