Rhythms Changing America; The Stories and the Music Behind The Rhythms That Have Shaped America’s History by Goldman Sachs Multicultural Junior Fellow Taylor Aldridge
On April 10, 2013, I had the pleasure of attending Rhythms Changing America; The Stories and the Music Behind The Rhythms That Have Shaped America’s History, a public program held in the Warner Bros. Theater at the National Museum of American History. The panel included NEA Jazz Master Randy Weston, a world-renowned pianist, composer, bandleader and cultural ambassador and NEA Jazz Master Candido Camero, a Cuban-born percussionist. The panel also included scholars and Jazz historians Robin D.G. Kelly and Wayne B. Chandler. The discussions were led by The Smithsonian’s own John Edward Hasse, the curator of American music at the National Museum of American History (NMAH), and Johnnetta Cole, the Director of The National Museum of African Art. The audience and overall atmosphere generated much anticipation for a profound and memorable discussion.
The panel began with Randy Weston. Weston is a jazz icon, a native of the Bed-Stuy neighborhood of Brooklyn, and a lifelong appreciator of African history. He was joined by Johnnetta Cole, who declared Randy Weston to be, “one of the most acclaimed Jazz artists to ever walk this earth.” The discussion between the two seemed as natural as old friends exchanging bits of wisdom.
Weston attributed much of his desire and appreciation for African culture to his father and childhood. He explained that his father, who was of Jamaican and Panamanian decent, instilled the importance of knowing his history as a descendant of African heritage. Weston mentioned his father’s statement, “You are an African boy in America. You have to know the great African empires.” Weston explained that this encouragement and the historical knowledge of his parents, as well as the rich diversified cultural surroundings of Brooklyn during his youth, made him the man he is today. Cole deemed him as “contemporary Griot,” providing cultural narratives through his music and allowing his craft to serve as a connector to his African heritage. Weston is a man of large stature with incomparable presence, yet exudes humility and is very quick to attribute his success and knowledge to those who came before him. “Respect your ancestors and they will guide you,” he memorably exhorted his audience.
The panel continued with Robin D.G Kelley, a professor of American history at UCLA and author of the prize-winning, Thelonius Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original. John Edward Hasse, the curator of music at the NMAH, joined Kelley. They discussed the role that Jazz had in raising awareness and bridging freedom struggles of African people around the world. “Randy Weston’s role in bridging African freedom with African American freedom needs to be acknowledged,” declared Kelley.
The panel ended with personal recollections made by the renowned Cuban-born percussionist Candido Camero. He explained the story of his first bongo lesson: his father did not have enough money to purchase real bongos, so he made two bongos, for four-year old Camero, out of two small milk cans.
A common thread among all the speakers last evening was that of ancestry and the importance of preserving culture. The success of Weston and Camero has only been used to educate and make others aware of cultural history, in and outside of America, as it relates to Jazz.
Please view the live stream of The Rhythms Changing America talk in its entirety at: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/national-museum-of-american-history#/recorded/31263571