INSIST! – Black activist voices in Music, pt.6

I was so pleased when Bill and Stephen began this series, and I especially enjoyed reading about one of my all-time favorite artists, Nina Simone. Music frequently serves as a source of inspiration for listeners. It can bring people together around a common cause. At times though, and sometimes more important than this call to action, music can serve as a much-needed source of comfort. Therefore, I asked if I could contribute a post focused not only on activism in the traditional, outwardly-directed sense, but also on what I think of as activism on a more personal level. To that end, when I think of music centered on knowing one’s worth and demanding respect from others, one artist inevitably comes to mind, and that artist is Lizzo.

Years before she garnered mainstream success, Lizzo released her debut Lizzobangers. Songs like “Be Still” and “T-Baby” (short for tar baby) reference the difficulties she faced in those early years trying to make it as an artist, namely her experiences with houselessness and food insecurity. Numerous tracks speak to the experience of living in a world that devalues blackness, women, and bodies that have never been and will never be a sample size. These themes continue in Lizzo’s second studio album, Big Grrrl Small World. From the opening song “Ain’t I,” a reference to a speech by the abolitionist Sojourner Truth, to the penultimate track “My Skin,” Lizzo reveals to us her confidence while also highlighting the long journey it takes for so many of us to overcome self-doubt. The world does not often know how to handle such brazen self-assuredness from a bigger-bodied black woman, and, luckily for her listeners, Lizzo could not care less.*

cover of Lizzo's Coconut Oil album The final album I want to address in this post is my personal favorite, her 2016 EP Coconut Oil. While her earlier and, tragically, lesser-known music spoke of struggle—both personal and more broadly—this six-track EP exudes joy in its reminder to take care of ourselves. In “Scuse Me” and “Coconut Oil,” we find self-love anthems. With lyrics like “I don’t need a crown to know that I’m a queen” in the former and “Don’t worry ’bout the small things, I know I can do all things” in the latter, Lizzo exudes a sort of self-assuredness toward which we all strive. Furthermore, she stresses that, if we can love ourselves, then we know just how deserving of others’ love we are, as illustrated in the lyrics of “Worship” and her first big single, “Good as Hell.” Activism, whether it entails fighting for the collective or for oneself, is exhausting. This EP provides us with that brief break necessary to avoid burnout and to practice a little self-care.

Of course, if you are completely unfamiliar with Lizzo, go ahead and start with her most recent album Cuz I Love You, which you can borrow from the Music Library here. Do yourself a favor though, and go back and stream all her earlier releases.

*I wanted to include an addendum after the online bullying that occurred in response to the release of Lizzo’s most recent music video. In stating that the singer “could not care less,” I am in no way implying that she is unfazed by the racist and fatphobic comments she receives online and in the media. The confidence that Lizzo displays in her lyrics and her media presence is something to which so many of us aspire, and I hope this post illustrates my gratitude to her for that.

INSIST! – Black Activist Voices in Music, pt.5

Thanks for the prompt, Bill. I’m pleased to spring forth from the mighty Nina Simone and bring this to the present day with a spotlight on the Chicago-based composer, clarinetist, keyboardist, bandleader and vocalist Angel Bat Dawid. Part of the International Anthem record label’s roster, and truly a force to be reckoned with, she and her band Tha Brothahood sit at the nexus of modern free and spiritual jazz, unfurling cosmic waves of righteous beauty and anger and passion. And of all her releases thus far, the best demonstration of her craft and insistence can be found on the 2020 release ‘Live’.

Album cover for LIVE by Angel Bat Dawid & Tha BrothahoodRecorded primarily at JazzFest Berlin in 2019, the festival and experience of being in Germany presented her and the band with a series of stressors and slights that very much played out in the band’s confrontational performance that November night. The recording is also bookended with field recordings (set to music) of her giving a hotel staffer the what-for and of comments from her appearance on a panel discussion during the festival.

This is a truly transcendent and fiery recording, and there might be no better current embodiment of the purpose of this blog series than ‘Live’. This post will remain short so you, dear reader, can listen to Angel Bat Dawid’s sounds and read her in her own words.

Find the entire release, with extensive notes and commentary from Angel Bat Dawid, on Bandcamp.

Or borrow the CD, available at the Music Library.

Until next time…

Happy Retirement, Deb Fields!

On May 21st Duke University Libraries will bid a fond farewell to our amazing Technical Services colleague Deb Fields. After 42 years working for the library, Deb has helped so many people with her seemingly infinite expertise and thoughtful approach to work. We asked Deb and some of her longtime colleagues to share some DUL memories on the occasion of her retirement.  

Deb Fields 

Tell us something interesting about yourself most people probably don’t know. 

I’m a pretty open book, but those of you who work closely with me know that I like quilting and canning. My grandmother taught me how to do simple block quilting when I was younger, and that’s something I want to share with my granddaughter. Some folks reap the rewards of my gardening and canning; I like to bring stuff in whether folks want it or not! I also have a second job with my sweetie’s trucking business. I’ve done his bookkeeping work for the last 15 years. Also, not everyone knows I have a wicked sense of humor.  

Tell us about some of your memorable moments working at Duke over time 

I told Virginia the other day I didn’t like all of these questions, because what I find memorable is also sad in a way. A memorable moment for me was meeting my soulmate Larry years ago, and having a fine life with him until he passed. We both worked at Perkins. I can talk about this now without crying, so that’s a good sign.  

Another memorable moment for me is I met my best friend of 38 years, Penny. She’s been much more than a colleague; she’s seen me through the good and the bad, and I absolutely treasure her. 

On top of all of this, my primary memorable moment was my first day at Duke University. My son Chris was 11-weeks old, and I was trying to hold back the tears all day. I was missing my baby, and I wanted to quit. Back then you had to walk to Perkins to get your benefits, and I fell! We’d had a huge snowstorm that weekend, and it was snowy and icy. But a nice young man helped me up and helped me get to the door of the library. Thankfully I didn’t quit. 

How did you know you wanted to work at Duke? 

It wasn’t so much that I wanted to work at Duke; Duke was the first job after having Chris that I applied for. Fortunately, I was hired, so you could say Duke chose me. I’ve had five or six different jobs. They’ve always been in Technical Services, the majority in Acquisitions. I’ve enjoyed the work, and I’ve been fortunate enough to have had supervisors who encourage me and support me learning new things. 

What are some of the biggest changes you’ve experienced throughout your career at Duke? 

Personally, I was divorced, I was married, I was widowed. Professionally, I had to learn different ILSs and adjust to a variety of supervisors over the years. Technology has changed a lot in my forty-something years. When you look in Aleph you might wonder, who the heck is CRM? Only people who have been here for a while know that’s my son’s initials. 

I should send you a list of jobs I’ve had over the years. I was departmental secretary for Acquisitions a while. I started out as a clerk typist making $3.23 an hour. One of the first desktop PCs in the department landed on the secretary’s desk. It had Lotus 12-3, which we now call Excel. I also did typing on the side for a few professors’ manuscripts for books for publication. 

What’s the first thing you want to do for fun when you retire?  


I actually want to take a trip to the beach. I love the Outer Banks. I love to fish. We’re thinking late September or early October because the fish like to run around and get caught that time of year. This summer I’ll also be watching my granddaughter, and I want to resume birthday lunches with fellow DUL “life timers.” I’ve also never made a quilt for myself, so I hope to work on my bookshelf quilt and a dragon quilt for my granddaughter. 

Deb's bookshelf quilt in progress

Any other parting thoughts? 

I hope my colleagues feel that I’ve been a thoughtful, kind, and respectful colleague to them. I hope they feel I’ve helped them. I think my colleagues here in Technical Services are the best on the planet.   

Antha Marshall 

I met Deb when she was hired to work in the Acquisitions Department.  We realized then that we had attended junior high school together and knew some of the same people. Two of my favorite things about Deb are her friendliness and sense of humor.  We have had many laughs through the years.  I will miss her wealth of knowledge of serials and periodicals.  Also, Deb would contribute to keeping the Candy Bowl filled up by bringing bags of candy! 

Shelia Webb 

I met Deb when she came to Duke as part of the Acquisitions Dept. under Rick Keyworth and Mary Plowden.  I was working in the Serials Records Dept. and I placed the serial and periodical orders.  Her department handled the monograph orders.  We shared a database to print orders and claims. We had scheduled times to print and this was my first interaction with Deb. 

One of the favorite things Deb used to say to me was “You are breathing my air”! When I joined the Acquisitions Accounting Dept. in 2009, Deb trained me in all the processes, and the one we did not care for was invoice reversals.  When she is in a good mood, she is “Deb”, but when she is in a bad mood, she is “Debra”.  I loved the looks she gave me when I was getting on her nerves with my silly antics.  I told her if I don’t get on your nerves, who will!!  I learned a lot from Deb and she never got tired of helping me get what I needed to do my job. She tried her best to keep me in line, but that was a hard job! I miss our morning walks and talks when we were onsite.  I just miss her! 

I don’t think most people know that Deb grew up in a military family or how talented Deb is outside of work.  She makes beautiful quilts and is a very crafty person.  She is a “Jack of All Trades” and a master of them all!! 

Whenever we had luncheons or meetings offsite, Deb always offered the transportation.  We always went in her car, but she did not want to drive—that was Penny’s job!  She made sure we all went together and came back together. Deb loves to do for others and wants nothing back in return.  I wish her the best retirement, she has definitely paid her dues!! 

Penny Brown 

I first met Debra when I came to work for the library in July 1982.  She was the departmental secretary type person.  I’m not sure what her title was but she was surely a jack of all trades (and still is)!  If anyone needed anything she knew where to find it or was able to do it.   She was always kind, friendly, and helpful.  She made me feel at ease which wasn’t a simple task as this was my first full time job.  She is one of the hardest workers I’ve ever known.  When she was supervisor, she wouldn’t ask us to do anything she wouldn’t do herself.  She was always right there to open a box or type and order.   We became fast friends.  She isn’t just a coworker or colleague.  She is family.  We have shared lots of laughter and more than a few tears over the 39 years we’ve worked together.   

Debra is one of the kindest people I have ever met.   She has the biggest heart of anyone I know.  Always the giver.   She’s always willing to help whether its work related or something personal.  At work she is always to first one to volunteer for the job nobody else wants.   One of Debra’s hobbies is making quilts.  When my children were little, she made several quilts and Halloween costumes for them.  Everything from pumpkins to princesses.   She is one of the few people I know who still does things that have become a lost art, things like sewing, gardening, canning, freezing, pickling things.  You don’t see much of that any more.   I am hoping that working from home will make her retirement a little less painful for me.  It will be a big loss for me personally.   I will miss having a confidant and supporter, a sounding board, and someone on whom I can always depend at work!!!  Fortunately for me, our friendship doesn’t end with retirement; but the office will certainly be missing something big. 

Virginia Martin 

I believe I first met Deb before I started working at Duke because she was on the search committee that hired me! We’ve worked together since I started at Duke in October 2014, and she really was my touchstone during my first few months at the library, showing me the ropes in Aleph and teaching me about how we handle orders and invoices for subscriptions. I think she was the one who blew my mind about how we treat periodicals and serials differently at DUL, which is something I had never heard of before. Deb was – and still is – always generous with her time and support. I had a pretty rough onboarding process and I don’t think I would have made it through without Deb’s help.  

I will miss everything about Deb when she retires! She’s the only person in the department who is comfortable teasing me and giving me a hard time, which is maybe what I will miss the most. Pre-pandemic, she was the frequent victim of my “drop-bys,” and would listen to me talk about what I had been cooking or patiently explain to me the history of why we do some of the weird things we do around Technical Services. I’ll miss hearing about what is going on with her sweetie, Mr. King, and her granddaughter, Maya. I’ll also miss all of the expertise and knowledge she has about our work; losing that will be big hit to the department, but fortunately she has put in a lot of time training all of us so that we’re ready to handle things ourselves when she’s gone. She’s just so dependable, helpful, and kind – lots to miss there! 

Many of Deb’s hidden qualities have already been revealed by others earlier in this blog post, but one thing that hasn’t been mentioned yet is her evil twin, “Margaret.” When Deb isn’t having a good day, Margaret appears, and takes the blame for any surliness. The funny thing about Margaret is that she is just as helpful and dependable as Deb is!  

I want to thank Deb for all that she has done for the library over her 43 years of service, and for me personally over the past six and a half years. With Deb, I grew our little baby department that was just the two of us in December 2016 into what is now, five years later, a much larger department of ten. She and I have learned and grown so much together over the years, and have really supported one another. I am so grateful to Deb for being there for me and being such an awesome colleague and friend. I hope that her retirement is amazing, because she really deserves it.  



Farewell and Happy Retirement, Jane!

Our esteemed colleague Jane Bloemeke has worked with us here at Duke Libraries for 42 years, starting fresh out of high school in 1979.  She started her DUL career working with the Bindery before moving to Serials Receipts where she specialized in Periodicals, finally joining us here in Monograph Acquisitions where she placed and processed orders for librarians all over the libraries. Below are a few of the words of appreciation from co-workers past and present. 

Dear Jane, 

Congratulations on your retirement. 

I am very lucky to be able to work with you for 20 years. You have been a wonderful neighbor to sit next to all these many years, and every day I go to work I see that you are already working there. When I learned that you were going to retire, I was really sad.  The library is like a big family, and you are like members of my family. I will miss us working together and chatting together. I have prepared a gift for you, I hope you like it. When you see it in the future, you will remember the scene of us working together. Thank you for your help in my work. I hope you will enjoy your good life after retirement and you are safe and healthy. 

Yaoli Shi 


Due to a reorganization in Technical Services, I started working in the same unit with Jane in January of 1991.  This team processed the serials, periodicals, and set standing orders.  I became aware that Jane had many talents, such as, she has a great singing voice and she can write poems for any occasion.  She would give her poems to people at their birthday celebrations or for other occasions.  With her enthusiastic spirit, she enjoyed team parties and readily helped with the preparation for them.  Jane has always been a friendly and pleasant person to know and to work with throughout the years!  Upon her retirement, I wish her much joy and happiness as she begins this new chapter in her life. 



Orange and white kitten wearing a top hat with front paws in the airI had the good fortune to work with Jane when I was in Order Management, and then lucked out when she became my Order Specialist for music after I transitioned to the Music Library!  One quality of Jane’s I’ve enjoyed most over the years is her sense of humor—she has the *most* infectious laugh which always gets me giggling too, usually over crazy ordering snafus on my part, like the time I inadvertently cut off a couple of numbers when copying an OCLC # for her so that instead of a record for an incredibly staid Bach score that I had meant to send her, the number brought up this random and wacky title when she searched for it on OCLC: From artichokes to Zanesville: the story of trucks serving America.  I think this was also probably one of many instances where we exchanged some goofy icon with “jazz hands”—appropriate for music orders, but also for the many, many funny circumstances and the many good laughs we had during all of those great years working together.   I really appreciated what a fantastic colleague Jane has always been, always helpful, always cheerful, incredibly thorough and conscientious, and just a really caring person.   Thank you, Jane, and have a fantastic and fun retirement!  

Laura Williams 


Hi Jane. It was great working with you for so many years. I wish you a long and happy retirement. You deserve it.

Ken Wetherington 


Drawing of a gray cartoon cat wearing a Santa hat and green-and-red scarf

I had the privilege of working with Jane for several years in the former Receipts Management Section. In addition to her strong work ethic (and her knowledge of AV materials), I remember her fun sense of humor! We loved talking about Lucille Ball and our favorite “I Love Lucy” episodes.  We also looked forward to snow in the weather forecast, and had fun trading this cute cartoon back and forth via email on such occasions! I’ll miss Jane’s presence at Smith Warehouse, but wish her all the best in retirement!  

Lesley Looper 

Jane is a caring, funny, and most importantly CAT-LOVING colleague and wonderful friend with whom is has been my deep pleasure to work with over the years. Perhaps my favorite recollection from our ordering days together is that we spoke with each other over the phone almost daily – I miss those times, and I will greatly miss Jane’s presence at Smith. Congratulations on your retirement, Jane, and please, please, please keep in touch!!! 

Here are a few snippets from emails and PEPs that illustrate her dedication and good grace: 

“OMG, Jane, are you going to drop down in your tracks from all this extra ordering? Yikes!” – 8/10/2012 [Danette to Jane] 

“Ms. Bloemeke does an excellent job of communication. She is easy to work with, responsive, and professional in all she does. I feel very lucky to have Ms. Bloemeke on my team!”– 4/8/2013 [contribution to Jane’s PEP] 

“I’d like to share a recent excerpt from an email from a user, who benefited from Jane’s proactive work. When Ms. Bloemeke discovered that the DVD requested by [the patron] wouldn’t arrive until payment was received, she asked the filmmaker if a link could be sent to the student who wanted to include an analysis in her senior honors thesis; on Monday, April 4, 2016 [the patron] wrote: “[The filmmaker] just sent me the link to the film after Jane Bloemeke requested it from her. Thanks so much for your help securing it!” – 4/5/2016 [contribution to Jane’s PEP] 

“We already ordered this one; you requested it as a rush in January.  It has been in production, and just happened to arrive today!   Yay!” [Jane to Danette] 
“Wow, now that’s service! Thanks, Jane. 😎” [Danette to Jane] – 4/6/2016 

From: Jane Bloemeke 
Sent: Monday, September 12, 2016 4:57 AM
To: Danette Pachtner
Subject: RE: Rush book for Lilly Reserves; Fall2016 

It’ll be here tomorrow. [Jane to Danette] 

“Thanks, Jane!!! What time do you awaken… ?! J [Danette to Jane] 9-12-2016 

“I miss you SO MUCH!!!! :))))))  Thanks!!! Happy Friday!” 9/20/2019 [Danette to Jane] 

Danette Pachtner 


It has been an absolute pleasure and honor to work with Jane over my first few years at Smith and DUL. She was a good-natured and patient trainer as I learned the ropes of A/V materials and remained my go-to consultant for all such matters. I especially appreciate her laugh, which would always brighten my day. Jane, I know I made a lot of corny jokes, so thank you for laughing even if you were just humoring my attempts at humor. She was also always willing to help out with whatever questions or issues I or anyone else encountered, and consistently with nothing but upbeatness and cheer. Jane, I wish you nothing but the happiest of retirement. We’ll miss you! 

Stephen Conrad 


I remember so clearly when I first met Jane – during the interview session for my first (unsuccessful!) attempt to get a job in Order Management. Jane’s wit and friendliness did not fully mask her ability to look straight through me and see that I had little idea what I was talking about where library acquisitions were concerned! 

Luckily for me, Jane was welcoming and encouraging when I finally did manage to claw my way into the department. In what I came to understand as standard behavior, Jane helped situate me within the culture of Order Management and offered me guidance on GOBI, workflow management, and the expected responsiveness on the part of the Order Specialist. 

When I moved into a position of supervision within the department, it became clear that my experience of Jane was shared throughout DUL. Every year, come PEP time, I heard from librarians who were eager to offer praise and appreciation for Jane’s steady support. It was always such a relief to know that I could count on Jane to focus on her work with good cheer and reliability. 

Jane’s spirit and friendliness will be missed in MonoACQ, but we’re so happy for her that she’s able to start her much anticipated retirement! Best of luck, Jane, from a deeply grateful supervisor. 

Bill Verner 

INSIST! – Black Activist Voices in Music, pt.4

Album cover for a recording of Nina Simone at Carnegie Hall

Stephen, thanks for a solid post on Eugene McDaniels. I knew the Les McCann version of “Compared to What”, but that was the extent of my awareness of his work. “Supermarket Blues” sure packs a wallop of defiance embedded in a tight groove that can propel a person through even the most tedious Excel spreadsheets at speed.

I do have to respond to one assertion in your piece though: while I can’t deny that McDaniels wields the word with the skill of a master knife-fighter, the defining “goddam” of the Civil Rights era does in fact belong to Nina Simone.

We’ve been wanting to get to “Mississippi Goddam” since we started this series, but truthfully its centrality to the concept of Antiracist protest in musical performance makes it hard to do it justice with the brevity we’re trying to bring to these posts.

Reportedly written in an hour in response to the murders of Medgar Evers and Emmett Till in Mississippi, as well as the 1963 Birmingham Church Bombing in Alabama, Mississippi Goddam cloaks seething outrage in a boppy little piano ditty that would be at home in any Broadway revue of the time. Simone seems to acknowledge this to her Carnegie Hall audience in the live recording from 1964 as she asserts, “This is a show tune, but the show hasn’t been written for it yet.” (While one can hear this plainly in the recording, we pull the quote from this excellent article by Malik Gaines in which he contextualizes Simone’s work: Simone’s body of recorded music reveals an anti-racist agenda enacted through performance. Simone used African-American musical, textual, and theatrical strategies, elaborating a history in which blacks have transformed the locations of marginality and exclusion into improvised positions from which to speak.)

However bouncy the tune, the lyrics do not pull any punches. Its opening stanzas make explicit the rage felt by people of color on a daily basis:

Alabama’s gotten me so upset
Tennessee made me lose my rest
And everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam

And later:

Hound dogs on my trail
School children sitting in jail

Black cat cross my path
I think every day’s gonna be my last

Lord have mercy on this land of mine
We all gonna get it in due time
I don’t belong here
I don’t belong there
I’ve even stopped believing in prayer


“Mississippi Goddam” nearly instantly became an anthem of the Civil Rights era, despite many radio stations (mostly in the south) refusing to play the song. In fact, as reported both in this Atlantic article and in an interesting Netflix documentary (streaming or at Lilly on DVD), most southern stations returned promotional packages with copies of the record snapped in half. It was an audience favorite in live performances, and Simone played it as a closing number in many of her concerts throughout the Sixties.

While browsing the web looking for a clip of the original release of the song (embedded above), I ran across this live recording from ’65 in Antibes. I was struck by what came across as Simone’s bone-deep fatigue as she turned in what was nonetheless an electrifying performance. How wearying it must have been to have been giving your all in so many performances of such a song, knowing that white audiences likely were listening but not hearing.


I guess I point this out as a way of saying that I hope we’re living up to our responsibility to practice a new kind of listening now at DUL.

So, speaking of the “now”, Stephen – we’ve spent some time on the history of Antiracism in music (and we’re far from done with that), but do you want to take us into the present day for a glimpse of Black Activism in the current music scene?

Info Sessions for Head of Resource Description, Duke University Libraries

Arial Image of Perkins Library

Please join us to learn more about the position and ask questions.

We are offering two identical sessions over Zoom for interested candidates. We will share more information about the university, our library, and the Head, Resource Description position. We would also be happy to answer questions or put you in touch with staff to learn more about working at Duke or living in the Triangle region. No registration is needed – just click the link at the listed date and time.  All times are in Eastern Standard Time.

Tuesday, March 9th, 4-5pm EST:

Monday, March 15th, Noon-1pm EST:

The Head of Resource Description provides strategic direction and operational management of bibliographic metadata and cataloging infrastructure, policies, and practices. The position reports to Dracine Hodges and is a member of the division’s leadership team. You will direct Resource Description production of MARC metadata at all levels, in all formats, and languages reflected in Duke University Libraries’ (DUL) collections strategy. You will lead change initiatives in response to emerging data models (RDF, BIBFRAME, Linked Data), to enhance user-centered resource discovery, and transitions driven by technological innovation (e.g. FOLIO, SHARE-VDE).

Learn more here:



INSIST! – Black Activist Voices in Music, pt.3

Eugene McDaniels' ‘Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse’ album cover

Picking up from Bill’s last post concerning the titular album for this series, we proceed ahead to the year 1971 and this stone classic of Black Consciousness from Eugene McDaniels.

McDaniels, already a singer and songwriter of much renown, shifted from using Gene back to his given Eugene in the late 60s, along with establishing a much more political and revolutionary bent to his music (and with moving back to the US after residing in Scandinavia for a spell). This update to his sounds first came most prominently in the form of ‘Compared to What’ in 1969 (though written in 1966).

By then, a standard of sorts, the tune became a hit for Les McCann (who McDaniels had been affiliated with since the beginning of the decade) and Eddie Harris on their smash live album ‘Swiss Movement’. The version remains the quintessential one:

‘Outlaw’, from 1970, was the first album-length foray for McDaniels into this new style, but it was the following year’s ‘Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse’ that set a standard for funk/jazz/rock protest music. And even though it sat un-reissued until the early 00s, the album (originally released on Atlantic) somehow allegedly caught the attention of silly Spiro Agnew on its release, which helped curtail promotion and distribution. The entire album is a stunning commentary, with unassailable musical chops, but one track in particular stands out on listening in 2020 and that is ‘Supermarket Blues’:

The narrator simply tries to exchange his mislabeled can of pineapple and very quickly the full blunt reality of life in America bears down and all hell breaks loose, demonstrating the tightrope on which he constantly walks.

Totally as a side-mention, Eugene McDaniels remains the phraser par-excellence of ‘Goddamn’ in song, with apologies to Miss Simone. Any potential blasphemy aside and forgiven, his emphatic usage of the term/phrase in both ‘Compared to What’ and ‘Supermarket Blues’ serves to set both songs a bit more on edge and drills the seriousness of their situations more into being. For a further example of the use of the phrase, and a sound/style also similar to McDaniels, check out this Chicago underground track from 1973 from a group called Boscoe:

One cut from ‘Headless Heroes of the Apocalypse’ is on the box set ‘What It Is: Funky Soul and Rare Grooves’ CD is available from Duke University Libraries’ Music Library, here, with all other tracks currently active on Spotify and YouTube.  Also, the album is partly well-known and regarded for the bounty of samples it supplied to hip hop tracks. Which, on that note and speaking of sampling, expect near-future posts to head in that direction…

INSIST! – Black Activist Voices in Music, pt.2

As promised in our last post, today’s post highlights an album that features, among other stellar musicians, the vocalist Abbey Lincoln, in a performance that at times can sound haunting and plaintive and at others embodies the rage and frustration felt by Black Americans during the (first) height of the Civil Rights Struggle.

We Insist! – Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite is one of the seminal recordings of activist jazz (and is the album from which our humble blog series takes its name). The album emerged from a joint project between Max Roach, one of the most significant drummers in jazz history and a lifelong civil rights activist, and Oscar Brown, a singer and lyricist also deeply involved in Black rights issues. The original intent of the project was to commemorate the 1963 centennial of the Emancipation Proclamation, but after the 1960 Greensboro Sit-Ins, Max Roach felt a sense of urgency about contributing his voice and vision (both comparatively more radical than those of Oscar Brown) to the Civil Rights movement. As seen in the above picture, the cover of the album featured a picture of three of the Greensboro Four seated at the Woolworth’s lunch counter, making explicit the connection between the event and the art it inspired.

And wow – the art! The musicians on this record represented what at the time were both straight-ahead hard bop royalty (Max Roach and saxophonist Coleman Hawkins, most significantly) and members of an emerging progressive sound (notably the always amazing Booker Little on trumpet and Julian Priester on trombone). This album would be an early step in the ongoing intertwining of the jazz Avant Garde and Black Activism, future examples of which we’ll no doubt get to. (Eh, Stephen?)

Abbey Lincoln’s impassioned delivery of Oscar Brown’s lyrics enhances many of the pieces, but most stirring is her wordless vocals, delivered alternately in tones of sadness, anger, and hope, in the piece “Triptych: Prayer/Protest/Peace”:

Streaming versions of this record are unfortunately scarce. None of DUL’s online music services offer the recording (as far as Stephen and I can tell), and it’s not available through any of the standard commercial streaming services such as Spotify or Googleplay or, like, FaceTunze or whatever.

Maddeningly, the physical disc seems currently to be out of print, though thanks to Laura and Stephen, our fine Music Library does hold a copy (linked above in the main text of the post).

You can stream the whole album on YouTube, though. It’s a tough, gut-punch of a listen, but inspiring and motivating nonetheless.

We should also point out that many, many articles have been written on this important recording, not a few of which are available in full text versions online via the DUL catalog. We looked at many of these, including this piece. (Also, yes we looked at Wikipedia. We’re lazy.)

Stephen, what do we have up next? I’m excited to see what you’ve picked out for us…