Hambone, Hambone, Where You Been?

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Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and Eleventh Stack are celebrating Black History Month by highlighting books, music and movies by African American Artists. The following is a guest post by Brittany, a library assistant in the Children’s Department at Main. We also have a ton of great events and programs for children, teens and adults. You can view all of our Black History Month posts here.

I often reflect on my past, and this Black History Month is no exception. I wonder if I’m different from the girl I was twenty-plus years ago. I know the answer is yes, but the question is why?

shakeitCheryl Warren Mattox (1950-2006) wrote a book that consumed my childhood, Shake It to the One That You Love the Best. Published in 1990 by a little known publisher, JTG of Nashville, Shake It to the One that You Love the Best contains twenty-six songs and lullabies that kids can sing along to. What’s special about this book is that the songs and lullabies come from African-American heritage. They come from my heritage and as a young African-American girl growing up in the South, that’s more than something special.

Around the age of eight, I sat with my great-grandmother one hot Kentucky day and pulled out Cheryl Warren Mattox’s book. It was given to me by someone in my family. I remember the cover vividly, its Kente cloth design, the words written on the cover and the three girls of my age that stared back. These girls were me. From the pink and white church dress worn by the girl in the middle, to the braids and barrettes that I’m sure were shaking from left to right. From what I can remember, some versions of the book came with a cassette. I remember mine having a small keyboard attached, the keys stained by marker or crayon or whatever art form I was into at the time.

When I pulled out the book and began to sing, to my surprise my great-grandmother already knew the words. What I failed to realize at the time was that the songs the author collected were songs innate to my great-grandmother.

Hambone, Hambone, where you been?
Round the world and back again…

My great-grandmother sang, patting her knee and rocking back and forth.

Hambone, Hambone, have you heard?
Papa’s gonna buy you a mockin’ bird…

She told me I was doing it wrong, (which I probably was). She knew this song, “Hambone.” Originally a dance known as the Pattin’ Juba, it was performed during gatherings on plantations.

I was no stranger to the other songs contained in the book. I had been singing “Down, Down Baby” and “Mary Mack” with my cousins for years.

Standing on our front porch, we stood in a circle and clapped our hands to the beat:

Down, down, baby, down by the rollercoaster
Sweet, sweet, baby, I’ll never let you go
Shimmy, shimmy, cocoa pop,
Shimmy shimmy, pow
Shimmy, shimmy, cocoa pop,
Shimmy, shimmy, pow.

Mary Mack had become not only part of our playtime, but part of our bodies. Our limbs knew how to move, this way and that, our hands knew the claps before our mouths could spit out the words:

Miss Mary Mack, Mack, Mack
All dressed in black, black, black
With silver buttons, buttons, buttons,
All down her back, back, back.
She asked her mother, mother, mother

For fifty cents, cents, cents
To see the elephant, elephant, elephant,
Jump over the fence, fence, fence

Years later, as I think about the words to the songs, it’s as if they never left.

He jumped so high, high, high
He touched the sky, sky, sky
And never came back, back, back
Til the fourth of July…

In her early years, Cheryl Warren Mattox received a Bachelor of Music from the University of Kansas, then a Master of Arts from San Francisco State University. She founded Warren-Mattox Productions, producing educational material that reflected African American culture.

Cheryl Warren Mattox was not alone in the creation of Shake It to the One that You Love the Best. Illustrators Varnette P. Honeywood and Brenda Joysmith also contributed to the childhood favorite.

Daughter of two elementary school teachers, Varnette P. Honeywood honed her artistic skills at the Chouinard Art Institute, currently known as the California Institute of the Arts. Her artwork offers positive views of the African American family. One portrait, entitled Malcolm, Marcus, Martin shows a father sitting with his two children as they flip through a red and green book. Hues of blue, yellow, brown and pink compose the portrait Adinkra Quilt Conjure Queens, Upon closer inspection, Honeywood utilized Adinkra symbols to layer the artwork.

Brenda Joysmith also contributed her artistic talents to Shake It to the One That You Love the Best. Her impressionistic artwork depicts life as it is. A child with yellow hair bows made of yarn stares over a fence in Open Gate. A group of girls sit in a chair, giggling over a doll in Doll Play. A father and grandparent teach a young boy how to play baseball in Developing a Winner. Joysmith’s work takes you back to the time that you were a child and makes you wish you had never left at all.

Twenty years ago, this book was my life. It was memorized, not by reading the words repeatedly, but by playing the hand games that corresponded with the songs. Twenty years later, this book is still my life. It’s the image of childhood that’s displayed on the cover, an image that brings back memories of my own childhood. Most importantly, it’s the words within that evoke not only feelings from years previous, but memories.

Hambone, Hambone, where you been?
Round the world and I’m going again…

-Brittany

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We Need More Diverse Oscar Nominations

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Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and Eleventh Stack are celebrating Black History Month by highlighting books, music and movies by African American Artists. We also have a ton of great events and programs for children, teens and adults. You can view all of our Black History Month posts here.

There’s been a lot of talk about the lack of diversity in this year’s Oscar nominations.

For the second year in a row, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has nominated only white actors in all of it’s major acting categories. This means some raved about performances from the last year were snubbed, namely: Idris Elba in Beasts of No Nation, Michael B. Jordan in Creed, the biopic Straight Outta Compton and its cast, and Will Smith in Concussion.

Ava-DuVernay

Photo of director Ava DuVernay from ew.com.

Of course, this will come as a surprise to no one who remembers last year’s most egregious Oscar snub – no nomination for the director of Selma, Ava DuVernay, or its leading man, David Oyelowo. It was one of the best reviewed films of 2015 (99% percent on Rotten Tomatoes is a huge thing to pull off, people!) and yet its director and star were not nominated?! Adding insult to injury, DuVernay’s nomination could have made history, as she would have been the first female Black director to be nominated for an Oscar.

Of course, the main reason I was so upset that she wasn’t nominated was because I thought both her and Oyelowo deserved to win. Biopics are not one of my more favorite film genres, as they tend to be overly corny and sentimental, and hit all of the same old tired beats. (Which is just one of the many reasons I love the film Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story, as it’s an almost perfect send-up of the music biopic genre.)

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Seriously, how were these costume designers not nominated? Image from Hive Society. Click through for source.

Selma is really the exact opposite of that sort of sappy film. It wisely chooses to focus on one particular (and important) moment in the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, and omits any of his famous speeches, or the tragic news of his death. In all actuality, it is a film less about MLK, and more about all of the many scholars and activists tirelessly working behind the scenes to push the Civil Rights Movement forward. It’s less about speechifying, and more about backroom machinations and the slow, sometimes tedious process of fighting for justice.

The fact that DuVernay wasn’t nominated last year, and that no actors of color were nominated this year, speaks volumes about just how far we still need to go. Of course, if you missed Selma last year, you can still catch up on it by checking it out from your local library. Or, you can check out one of these other great films from female Black directors: Pariah by Dee Rees, Cadillac Records by Carnell Martin, Eve’s Bayou by Kasi Lemmons, or Beyond the Lights by Gina Prince-Bythewood.

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Selma image from Hive Society. Click through for source.

Me – I’m officially done with the Oscars.

If you too intend to skip the Oscars this year, I can think of no better replacement activity that watching (or re-watching) Selma. Trust me, you’ll be glad you did!

-Tara

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Post-Katrina Fiction

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Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and Eleventh Stack are celebrating Black History Month by highlighting books, music and movies by African American Artists. We also have a ton of great events and programs for children, teens and adults. You can view all of our Black History Month posts here.

More than 10 years after Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and surrounding areas, it’s no wonder that we’re seeing the physical destruction,  human suffering and resulting complicated emotions reflected back to us through fictional lenses. Here’s a look at a few of the many post-Katrina titles worth your time.

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A panel from Dark Rain by Mat Johnson


Dark Rain: A New Orleans Story – Mat Johnson

In this graphic novel, Dark Rain is not only an allusion to physical presence of the hurricane, but it’s also the name of a shady private security firm policing the citizens of New Orleans while simultaneously trying to capitalize on the mayhem. In a story where all the characters are trying to get a piece of the action, one character in particular has to decide what he’s willing to risk and what he’s trying to gain.

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Quvenzhane Wallis in Beasts of the Southern Wild

Beasts of the Southern Wild 

Ok, so this movie isn’t technically about hurricane Katrina, but it’s pretty hard to deny that Katrina helped to shape and influence the film.  With elements of magical realism, the plot centers on a young girl, her father and their surrounding bayou community dealing with a major flood and its aftermath. One of the lead actors, Dwight Henry, has said that living through Hurricane Katrina directly impacted his performance: “I was in Hurricane Katrina in neck-high water. I have an inside understanding for what this movie is about. I brought a passion to the part that an outside actor who had never seen a storm or been in a flood or faced losing everything could have.” With absolutely stellar performances by the two stars, (both novice actors), gorgeous cinematography and evocative storytelling, this one isn’t to be missed.

Salvage the Bones – Jesmyn Ward 

Fourteen year old Esch is pregnant, one of her brothers is attempting to keep pit bull pups alive, her dad is a hard-living alcoholic trying and failing to take care of it all, and, oh yeah, a massive hurricane is on it’s way.  You can feel the looming hurricane in the air as the book builds to its crescendo, yet we never forget that the hurricane isn’t the only, or even the biggest, obstacle these characters face. Life will go on, somehow. Ward brings this family and their struggle to life with poetry and humanity that you won’t soon forget.

-Ginny

 

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African American Media Outlets

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Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and Eleventh Stack are celebrating Black History Month by highlighting books, music and movies by African American Artists. We also have a ton of great events and programs for children, teens and adults. You can view all of our Black History Month posts here.

The Media’s the most powerful entity on Earth.  They have the power to make the innocent guilty and the guilty innocent, and that’s power.  Because they control the minds of the masses. If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed, and loving the people who are doing the oppressing.

Malcolm X

Often history is written with a narrative that certain individuals or groups are trying to persuade you to believe.  As we’ve seen in the news media this year, even our trusty textbooks in school can be written to hide the truth (calling slaves “workers”).  During Black History Month, I thought it would be a great idea to post some non-fiction sources about African American history and current events that are African American sources.      

Henry Louis Gates Harvard Professor of PBS fame, also founder of theroot.com, an African American news media site that provides headlines and opinions that may not be prevalent in the mainstream media. Mr. Gates’ work includes a variety of documentaries, books and more.  One book that for me exemplifies Mr. Gates’ work is Life Upon These Shores – Looking at African American History 1513 -2008; informative with graphic illustrations, photographs and historical texts.  A comprehensive work that touches on many significant topics of Black history.   

New Pittsburgh Courier: I feel very lucky that we get the paper copy of this weekly newspaper in our office, and before it goes on the shelf every week I’m able to read through it.  Originally the Pittsburgh Courier, this newspaper has been providing the community with news from an African American perspective since 1907.  Excellent journalism and in-depth  coverage of issues most media only glance over such as affordable housing, gentrification, diversity and gun violence. Read it online or stop by your local Library.

1839mag.com: Blog/online magazine of primarily writers of color on a variety of topics like race and gender equality, social justice and many other topics.  Very creative writers that address issues local and national.  

Very Smart Brothas: Blog co-founded by Pittsburgh native, author and Ebony contributor Damon Young, VSB’s writers are enlightening, entertaining, serious and often funny too.  If you follow VSB on social media, you’ll find at least one awesome thing to read every day!

I know this list is very far from extensive.  What would you recommend as great media to learn more about the African American experience, both locally and nationally?  I’d love to read/watch/view your selections.  

 

-Scott M.

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The Start of Challenges

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Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and Eleventh Stack are celebrating Black History Month by highlighting books, music and movies by African American Artists. We also have a ton of great events and programs for children, teens and adults. You can view all of our Black History Month posts here.

This is the first year I decided to participate in Book Riot’s Read Harder challenge. There are so many options for challenges throughout the year, but in my opinion, a good challenge is one that makes you explore new interests and read outside your comfort zone, to learn and appreciate something new. This is what Book Riot’s challenge seemed to do for me. (Although I have also found Pop Sugar’s Reading Challenge fun in the past. You’ll see that some of the challenge parts overlap.)

I started reading Tears of a Tiger by Sharon M. Draper for the challenge “read the first book in a series by a person of color.” The book is the first in the Hazelwood High trilogy.

tears of a tiger

As I’m writing this blog post, I haven’t completed reading the book, but I’m already drawn in and saddened by it. It is not an easy book to read. The main character, Andy, makes some bad choices, and the book is about how he chooses to deal with them. However, the book isn’t written from just his view point. The story includes family and friends’ view points as well and in a variety of formats, from school assignments to journal entries. So far, the book is fabulously written but heart wrenching, so pick it up with caution.

Do you have other series by a person of color that you’ve enjoyed?

-Abbey

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There’s Nothing Wrong With Us

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Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and Eleventh Stack are celebrating Black History Month by highlighting books, music and movies by African American Artists. We also have a ton of great events and programs for children, teens and adults. You can view all of our Black History Month posts here.

bookcoverThe Sisters are Alright is not only the title of this book; it’s an affirmation. I think that this book should be for everyone to read, not just black women. This book paints a portrait of how society views the black woman versus how we actually are. It also gives an inside look into the struggles that black women face every day. Also, the book gives varying viewpoints throughout, so it’s not one sided.

I love how the book is divided into separate subjects like beauty, marriage, sex, health, etc. One quote that stuck out to me was from Jamyla, a woman the author interviewed for this book. Jamyla said, “My political feeling is that it very serious work to love yourself as a black person in America.” I agree wholeheartedly with this statement. This reminds me of the Black Lives Matter movement and the backlash that it received not long after it was formed. It left some people asking, “What about all lives?” Even when we love and accept ourselves it’s a problem.

In the beauty section, Harris discusses the natural hair movement and how black women had to create their own websites and products because mainstream media and big businesses weren’t marketing to women of color. Another part that stuck out to me was in the sex section of the book, where Harris mentions a time when FOX News anchor Bill O’Reilly blasted Beyoncé for her video & song “Partition”  because of its sexual content and because she’s supposed to be a role model to young girls. O’Reilly said, “Teenage girls look up to Beyoncé, particularly girls of color. Why would she do it when she knows the devastation that unwanted pregnancies…fractured families…why would Beyoncé do that?”

This quote angered me on multiple levels, because when a black woman embraces her sexuality she gets slammed, ridiculed, even chastised for her behavior, but when stars like Amy Schumer or Madona (who is mentioned in the book) do the exact same thing they are praised and applauded for being so bold and unapologetic. It’s not fair. Why applaud one and criticize another for doing the exact same thing? Another thing, on the song in question Beyoncé is singing about having consensual sex with her husband not a random hookup. Even if she was singing about a random hookup, so what? Like she said herself, she’s a grown woman.

Image from quickmeme.com. Click through for source.

Image from quickmeme.com. Click through for source.

There were a lot of relatable parts of this book for me. One was a quote from the marriage section. Harris said, “And if you trust the what’s-wrong-with-black-women-and-why-won’t-anyone-marry-them industrial complex, black women may not be pretty or chaste enough to merit wifedom.” I can relate to this because I’ve never been in a relationship before, and I sometimes feel like in society’s eyes that something is wrong with me. Looking on the Internet sometimes is so upsetting because I constantly see black women as the butt of jokes or being downed just to praise non-black women. So, sometimes in the back of my mind when I see a cute guy I think, “I wonder if he even likes black women?”

Another part that I related to was in the anger section where Harris said, “Black women do get angry. Everyone does, but the angry black woman stereotype denies them their warranted rage.” I can definitely relate to this because in just about every facet of my life I feel like I have to control my emotions for fear of being perceived as an angry black woman. Even in situations where my anger would be justified. It’s hard to deal with.

This brings me to another point about black women always having to wear a face of control and not only that but strength. One quote in the strength section said, “Ultimately, the ‘strong black woman’ stereotype is an albatross at odds with African American women’s very survival.” This quote is very true because once again I always feel like I have to put on a face and be strong even when I want to break down. It’s like black women aren’t allowed to show any emotion. We’re multi-faceted people and deserve to be seen as such.

The ending of the book reminds black women that we aren’t perfect and that we aren’t supposed to be. “We have facets like diamonds. The trouble is the people who refuse to see us sparkling.”

Request The Sisters are Alright in print, audio CD or eBook.

~Kayla

 

 

 

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You Know Andy Warhol, But Do You Know Mozelle Thompson?

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Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and Eleventh Stack are celebrating Black History Month by highlighting books, music and movies by African American Artists. We also have a ton of great events and programs for children, teens and adults. You can view all of our Black History Month posts here. The following is a guest post by Pittsburgher J. Malls, who has studied and researched Mozelle Thompson over the past several years, and put together an exhibit of more than 100 records featuring the artist’s work.

In January 2013, I was listening to Buddah Records’ 1969 release of Black America Vol. 2: The Man of Love, Dr. Martin Luther King when the liner notes caught my eye. They include a paragraph about the artist who illustrated the album cover. Mozelle Thompson. “Mozelle Thompson was born in Pittsburgh, PA. He is a graduate of the Parsons School of Design and attended the Art Students League and New York University. He is a profuse illustrator of book jackets and record covers. His magazine illustrations and theatre posters are known throughout the United States, while his courses in commercial art and window display are attended widely.”

Image courtesy J. Malls. All Rights Reserved.

Image courtesy J. Malls. All Rights Reserved.

I was intrigued as to who this native Pittsburgh artist was and why I’d never heard of him before. The finite amount of information available online didn’t deter me from researching and digging for more. After twenty two months of combing through microfilm at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, tracking down and interviewing Thompson’s family members and piecing together articles, I identified more than one hundred twenty Mozelle Thompson illustrated LPs and EPs. With a short career (1953-1969), Thompson appears to be the only prolific African-American artist to illustrate album covers. He was a pioneer in his industry, working alongside the first generation artists who contributed to the history of album cover art within the first fifteen years of its existence.

Born in the Hill District in 1926, a young Thompson won awards for his artistic abilities as early as second grade. Like Andy Warhol, Thompson was a student of Joseph Fitzpatrick in the Tam O’Shanter Pallete Saturday classes at the Carnegie Institute. Thompson and Warhol attended neighboring high schools, Thompson at Peabody and Warhol at Schenley. Whether or not they knew each other I don’t know, but considering they were only one grade apart I think it’s very likely that there were some moments when the young artists occupied the same room at the same time. Thompson went on to win numerous local and national awards while studying under Jean Thoburn, who was perhaps his biggest influence.

Image courtesy J. Malls. All Rights Reserved.

Image courtesy J. Malls. All Rights Reserved.

Drawing and painting were just the tip of Thompson’s talent iceberg. A keen eye and passion for fashion and costume design landed him a spot in Mademoiselle. The November 1944 issue of the magazine not only published his award winning dress designs, but they also produced the garment from the seventeen year old’s sketches. When he wasn’t designing beautiful garments, he was a socialite and budding journalist. In the summer of 1945, the aspiring young fashion designer wrote a column titled “The Junior Social Swirl” in The Pittsburgh Courier. He kept readers up to date on who was accepted to which college, who had returned to Pittsburgh and local music events. These events are documented in many Teenie Harris photographs. So far, Thompson is identified in four photographs in the Carnegie Museum of Art’s Teenie Harris Archive.

Thompson attended the Parson School of Design in 1945, returning to Pittsburgh in the summers where he created window displays at Gimbels department store in downtown Pittsburgh. In 1948, he received a scholarship to study abroad in Rome and Paris. Thompson set sail for Europe that June with a group of fifty students from Parsons. His adventures overseas are documented in a three page feature in the February 1949 issue of Ebony when he was twenty-two. The Ebony article is an interesting read and insightful on various levels. He speaks briefly on race relations of the 1940s and his aspirations as a young artist. Thompson mostly talks about his interest in fashion design. The article references his commercial work, which had already been published by 1949 — floral arrangements in Vogue and fashion drawings in Glamour magazine.

Image courtesy J. Malls. All Rights Reserved.

Image courtesy J. Malls. All Rights Reserved.

In 1953 RCA Victor re-released the Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess LP with a Mozelle Thompson-illustrated cover. This is the earliest of Thompson’s album cover illustrations identified so far. He illustrated several more albums from 1955-1957, but 1958 is the year that he churned out the most album covers. So far there are over seventy LPs and EPs released before 1960 that feature Thompson’s drawings and paintings. The bulk of the albums are classical releases, popular music of the 1950s and ethnic and international releases. In addition to album covers, he also illustrated a number of magazines, book covers and theatrical posters, including the original cast album of Purlie and a 1963 paperback edition of A Clockwork Orange. (Which, by the way, looks absolutely nothing like Stanley Kubrick envisioned it.)

Thompson illustrated until the time of his death. The work he created the last year of his life is particularly interesting. It contrasts with his earlier work, both in terms of style and theme, and it’s indicative of the change that was going on in our society throughout the course of his career. This is a change that was eventually reflected in the industry that he worked in, which was gradually becoming more inclusive as the years progressed. In 1969 Thompson continued to illustrate classical LPs and soundtracks, but he also creates a body of Afrocentric work that there was likely less of an opportunity to do in prior years.

Mozelle Thompson’s career and life ended tragically when he fell six stories from his apartment window on December 6, 1969. In addition to illustrating, he taught courses on fashion and window display design at the Fashion Institute of Technology. He was working on an illustrated version of the well-known hymn Life Every Voice and Sing at the time of his death.

Thompson’s work spans many industries and mediums. I haven’t even scratched the surface of the work he did for books, magazines and various posters, etc. but I hope the research that I’ve done up until this point does justice to Thompson’s legacy and introduces this amazing artist to new admirers.

-J. Malls

 

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