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for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes


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 I have never had a big record deal. I have been with small labels, which has worked

ok for me. Now because of the internet, many musicians are able to produce

and promote their own CDs without having to go to a record label



John Blake CDs

Quest (1992, 1995)  / Epic Ebony Journey (1997)  /  A New Beginning (1988, 1990)

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Rudy Interviews John Blake, Jazz Violinist


Rudy: I know very little about music though I'm here now listening to a CD of Charles Mingus. I suppose the first album of his I recall is "Black Saint, Sinner Lady" or something like that. Actually, when I bought this Mingus CD I was trying to buy one of Roland Kirk but they didn't have any in.

 Did you ever read Mingus' Beneath the Underdog? It reminded me so much of Henry Miller's trilogy Nexus, Sexus, Plexus. But that was a long time ago. I never studied it for its musicality.

 John: I have not read that book on Mingus. I am familiar with and have played and performed his work and also been featured with the Mingus Big Band which still performs his music around the world. My son plays drums with that band and is currently on tour with them in Malaysia.

 Rudy: There's this story (maybe it was in Amsterdam) that the cops just tossed his compositions into the street. Have you heard the tale? I've probably got it ass backwards. The tale I heard was quite symbolical of the lack of respect for artists and that music we call "jazz."

 John: Mingus was always controversial and very outspoken about civil rights and the treatment of Black people in America, particularly during the sixties. He also was known to have had a violent temper, at times, even with some of his band members. I could probably find out more about your story from some of the veteran musicians who still work in his band, which is run by his wife Sue Mingus.

 Rudy: Or has jazz really joined the Establishment? Do you think jazz has a role to play in our cultural wars?

 John: All the music that Blacks have created in America I believe has a relation to every aspect of Black life. I also believe that this way of using music happened not long after  Africans hit the shores of America. All the music created on plantations, work songs, spirituals, and blues are the roots of African American music.

They were created by the ancestors as a means of survival. It was a gift that allowed them to express themselves and communicate their deep feelings in regards to their everyday lives while suffering under great hardships. Many of these songs expressed anger, love, religious feelings and allowed them to communicate in secret through hidden messages in the lyrics of the songs.

Music in Africa was used in every aspect of the culture. It was used to preserve history, and in some cultures it was actually considered a language, which is why the drum was not allowed to be used or played in America during slavery.

African American history can be traced through the music that was created. I believe that many musicians still use their music to communicate all kinds of ideas, thoughts, emotions good or bad that speak to all kinds of things in our society.

I choose to use my art to try and uplift humanity. I want my work to reflect good. I believe in order for me to see a better world I must strive to transform myself in a positive way that will hopefully affect others.

Rudy: Would you consider yourself a member of the Hip Hop generation? From your photo, I say you are in your late twenties, early thirties.

John: The photo of me is a bit old. I was in my late 40's when that was taken. I am now 57 and was in high school and college during the turbulent sixties.

Rudy: You are a native of Philly?  I assume you have had some classical training, and then opted for jazz. Is that how it went?

John:  I am a native Philadelphian. I was born in South Philadelphia. I started off as a classical violinist but later became interested in jazz. The first jazz violinist I heard was Ray Nance who played in the Duke Ellington orchestra. I was blown away after hearing him. This started me on a new journey that I'm still on.

Rudy: You have recordings? That seems so easy these days. So the question should be have you got a big recording deal with a big corporation.

John:   I have never had a big record deal. I have been with small labels, which has worked ok for me. Now because of the internet, many musicians are able to produce and promote their own CDs without having to go to a record label. I have chosen to do this. I find it very exciting and empowering.

Rudy: A lot of questions are being raised these days about "black success." How do you define that for yourself? Family together?

John: I measure my success several ways. First to be able to survive and make a living as musician is a blessing. I enjoy my work. It means so much to me to be able make a living at something I love. I feel honored and rich. Not so much financially but spiritually.

I’ve been able to support my wife and children and maintain my family. This has always been important to me. My success is not just measured by my material possessions. The love from my family and my friendships and relationships with others along with faith that God truly provides my needs make me very thankful for all I have. 

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Rudy: I went to to search out your music and found Epic Ebony Journey. I listened to snatches of the thirteen pieces. I like your music and ordered the CD.  It is reflective and danceable. That's what I like about Mingus, and of course however furious he was, there was a bit of humor. How did this album come about? You have the spiritual, the gospels, the blues, the contemporary classical feel, the appalachian fiddle (in "Passion Dance"). If it is not classic I'm sure it will become one.

John:   You ask some very thought provoking questions. My duo CD with bassist Avery Sharpe "Epic Ebony Journey” was a collaborative effort. We are very good friends and have similar backgrounds in regards music and faith. This CD evolved almost without us realizing that it reflected so many aspects of African American history. When Avery and I both looked at the music we created, we saw a theme that seems to express a journey. Thus this led to the title. This recording was done after the CD “A New Beginning.”

Rudy: amazon.comalso had A New Beginning. On this album you have such titles as "Samba Di Bahia" and "Serengetti Dance." It sounds as if you have been both to Africa and Brazil, and that these compositions are reflections on those journeys. I just received an email from my niece Monica telling me she was on her way to Brazil in search of the Almighty. Are you in search of a new spirituality?

John: I have been to Brazil but have not been to Africa. I have been to both places spiritually. Many times my inspiration doesn't always reflect where I've been physically. I travel musically from the interaction in communicating with others and listening to music from around the world. I enjoy the music from various cultures and am often influenced by what I hear. My music does reflect journeys but they are not always physical. Sometimes creatively I find myself spiritually in places I've never been before. It's wonderful, and I love to take my audiences with me to those special places.

 Rudy: I recently found that many consider August Wilson a "black nationalist." You are of the same generation. Do you want to make a revolution? Do you think black music can heal the ails of America? Has that been the project of the black arts?

John:  I desire a spiritual awakening for mankind. There is too much hate, greed, and selfishness in this world. Man has made very little progress in this area. My goal in life is to let my light shine in every way it can. I ask God to lead me this way during my life on this earth. I want my life to work towards a better world each and everyday I live. I might not see man evolve to this higher place in my lifetime, but I want to serve in some small part in making it happen. 

God is shaping me into who I should be through the gifts and insight He keeps giving me. It will perhaps take many years, for change to take place in the hearts of men. The good works and the love we show others does bring about change.

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Rudy: I’m interested in your creative process. I’ve just been reading about African American drama, August Wilson, and black aesthetics. This scholar Mikell Pinkney points out five "essential elements" or "aesthetic principles," of which music and spirituality are included, the others being protest, assertion, and revolt. When you compose do you use drama as a kind of analog, for you have tied music to provoking the emotions, especially to fears of survival? Are their stories you want to tell by your music?

John: My creative process varies from work to work. Sometimes I hear music from beginning to end in one shot. Other times I get bits and pieces of ideas that eventually become a song. Sometimes I am awakened in the middle of the night with a melody or rhythm. I never know where or when an idea will come. I know it is a great feeling when it arrives. Sometimes we as artists feel stagnant when the creative process seems to be at a stand still. I am always pleased when a idea comes forth through me. I have written music for film, dance, poetry and for storytellers. 

I love the process of being stretched creatively in these other mediums. It is challenging to compose that way, where you are given a visual or literary background to work from. My sister Charlotte Blake Alston (who is a storyteller) and I have composed and performed works combining storytelling and jazz.                                       

Rudy: When you speak on spirituality, you remind me of John Coltrane and his “Love Supreme.” You played awhile with McCoy Tyner? Could you tell us about some of your influences, musically and otherwise?

John: My experience working with Mc Coy Tyner for five years as a sideman in his band has to be one of the highlights of my career. Working with him transformed me as a player and a composer. There was a real connection I made with him that was spiritual and elevated my playing. He has been a major player in my growth as an artist. We shared many great moments on and off the bandstand. There also many wonderful stories he shared with me about his early years with Trane and his experiences in that band.

Rudy: Where do you see jazz today, and its future? Usually, jazz has been associated with rebel figures (Bird, Miles, and Trane), outside the arena of respectability. These guys yet were superior and brought something new to the music. Do we have that kind of assertion and revolt today in jazz music?

John: There are still emerging young jazz artist creating wonderful music. Many of them are not being promoted well. So much of the public is unaware of their work unfortunately. We who realize how important this music is, have to find more ways to educate our young people and the general public through concerts in small venues in our communities, schools as well as theaters and concert halls.

Rudy: What projects are you working on now and when and what can we expect in the near future from you by way of composing, recording, and concerts?

John: My latest project is a performance on the 29th of April at the Four Seasons Hotel ballroom. I have just finished composing a new work called “A Celebration of Fiddle Music from Africa to America.” This work was commissioned by Chamber Music America. It represents an anthology of violin history from Africa to the early music developed by African Americans in the south on plantations. This work is a tribute to my ancestors, celebrating the rich, deep music that they created in Africa and in America. 

The violin was the first instrument Africans played in America though there were one and two string fiddles found all over the continent of Africa. I am honored to write this work to highlight the history and the great music that was created.

Rudy: Is Philly a good home base for you and your music? Are there a lot of musicians about town you jam with? What kind of intellectual exchanges are taking place between musicians and others in the arts community?

John: Philly is still a great place to live and still continues to be a breeding ground for so many past and present artist. There are institutions here like The Philadelphia Clef Club ( Lovett Hines), The Mt Airy Cultural Jazz Society (Tony Williams) The Settlement Music School, The Kimmel Center Jazz Youth ensemble. These groups and others are keeping jazz alive through their youth ensembles. 

Other organizations like Strings For Schools, Young Audiences, and The Institute For Arts in Education help keep the arts alive in our schools through educational jazz performances and workshops for students. I have been honored  to closely work with all these groups. There are great people in this area who are trying to make a difference.

Rudy: Have you heard the spiritual “Go in the Wilderness”? Some say, Nat Turner composed this song; others that it came from South Carolina. It is in the wilderness, the song argues, that we will find our liberation. I’d like it very much if you’d put it on your things-to-do list to compose a piece “God in the Wilderness” and dedicate it to Nathaniel Turner, the prophet of Southampton. You think that’s a possibility?

John: I am not familiar with that spiritual, but would love to hear it. Anything is possible when the creative process is at work. I am always looking to be inspired and find new ideas for new works. Thank you for your creative thoughts and ideas. We’ll see what happens.  

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According to T. W. Higginson, "Their [the Christian slaves] best marching song, and one which was invaluable to lift their feet along, as they expressed it, was the following ["Go in the Wilderness"]. There was a kind of spring and lilt to it, quite indescribable by words." Some say the song was first composed by Nathaniel Turner, who linked himself to the wilderness theme by his exploits:

Go in the Wilderness

Jesus call you. Go in de wilderness,
     Go in de wilderness, go in de wilderness,
Jesus call you. Go in de wilderness
     To wait upon de Lord,
Go wait upon de Lord,
Go wait upon de Lord,
Go wait upon de Lord, my God,
     He take away de sins of de world.

Jesus a-waitin'. Go in de wilderness,
     Go wait upon de Lord,
Go wait upon de Lord,
Go wait upon de Lord, my God,.
All dem chil'en go in de wilderness
     To wait upon de Lord.


*   *   *   *   *'s 25 Best Selling Books



#1 - Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark
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#3 - Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane
#4 - Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper
#5 - Stackin' Paper 2 Genesis' Payback by Joy King
#6 - Thug Lovin' (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark
#7 - When I Get Where I'm Going by Cheryl Robinson
#8 - Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby
#9 - The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 - Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 - Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 - Don't Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 - For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 - For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 - Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 - The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 - Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 - Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 - Stackin' Paper by Joy King

#20 - Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 - The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 - Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 - Married Men by Carl Weber

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#6 - Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey
#7 - The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight
#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 - Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 - Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can't Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 - Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 - Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 - A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 - Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 - Age Ain't Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 - 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino
#23 - Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul by Tom Lagana
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#25 - Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

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Incognegro: A Memoir of Exile and Apartheid

By  Frank B. Wilderson III

Wilderson, a professor, writer and filmmaker from the Midwest, presents a gripping account of his role in the downfall of South African apartheid as one of only two black Americans in the African National Congress (ANC). After marrying a South African law student, Wilderson reluctantly returns with her to South Africa in the early 1990s, where he teaches Johannesburg and Soweto students, and soon joins the military wing of the ANC. Wilderson's stinging portrait of Nelson Mandela as a petulant elder eager to accommodate his white countrymen will jolt readers who've accepted the reverential treatment usually accorded him. After the assassination of Mandela's rival, South African Communist Party leader Chris Hani, Mandela's regime deems Wilderson's public questions a threat to national security; soon, having lost his stomach for the cause, he returns to America. Wilderson has a distinct, powerful voice and a strong story that shuffles between the indignities of Johannesburg life and his early years in Minneapolis, the precocious child of academics who barely tolerate his emerging political consciousness. Wilderson's observations about love within and across the color line and cultural divides are as provocative as his politics; despite some distracting digressions, this is a riveting memoir of apartheid's last days.—Publishers Weekly

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Sex at the Margins

Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry

By Laura María Agustín

This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label 'trafficked' does not accurately describe migrants' lives and that the 'rescue industry' serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice. "Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality."—Lisa Adkins, University of London

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

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The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

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