Sunday, February 14, 2010

History Detectives - Overview of 2/13/10

I absolutely adore the hit PBS show History Detectives. I was recently asked if I would write a review of each show and include it in my genealogy blog. I am more than honored to do so!

I am located in southern West Virginia, and History Detectives airs here on Saturday's at 4 p.m.

Yesterday there were three segments to the History Detectives:

Segment 1:
A songbook titled "Slave Songs of the United States", published in 1867 was presented. The request was to discover who collected the songs and was it, indeed, the very first collection of African-American spirituals.

In 1860 there were more than 4-million slaves in the United States. Most of these had been "imported" from Africa. And they had brought with them songs from their native land. These songs evolved into spirituals, gospels, jazz and protest songs of the '60's.

Avery Clayton's mother, Mamie, collected alot of things during her lifetime. While Avery was going through a box he came across this book of songs.

Our History Detective discovered right off the bat, from the first couple of pages, who the compilers of the songs were: William Francis Allen, Charles Picard Ware, and Lucy McKim Garrison.

Next, our detective headed to Howard University, in Washington, D.C. and James Norris, director of the Howard Choir.

"These songs were everything [to the African-American]," he said. They brought visions of hope. And sometimes of escape.

Although the words were spiritual, the meanings were personal: hell [being sold farther south], Jordan River [the Mississippi, Ohio, Tennessee rivers, etc.], reward [freedom], etc.

Eventually this music evolved into Jazz, Rock n Roll, and into Hip Hop.

Hesonia Caldwell stated that Allen, Ware and Garrison were committed abolitionists, and that this is indeed the very first compilation of African-American songs. It was collected before and during the Civil War.

Dr. Harvey from Port Royal explained that during the Civil War, Port Royal was overtaken by the Union soldiers, and slave owners and their families fled, leaving behind their slaves. Teachers, missionaries and abolitionists poured into the area to teach and prepare the slaves for emancipation.  And that's when Allen, Ware and Garrison came down and began recording the songs for posterity. They wrote the songs phonetically, just the way they were sung to them.

At the close of this segment, Howard University's choir gave Avery Clayton a private concert of some of the songs from the text.


In this segment, Jeb McIntire has a Guild guitar that he suspects was owned by folk guitarist Josh White in the '60's, and may have been the prototype for a signature guitar made especially for White.

Josh White was an African-American that was an early ambassador of music to the white community. His name is almost forgotten today, but those who do remember him consider him a legend.

McIntire wants to know if this guitar is indeed one that was owned by Josh White, and second if Guild had intended for it to be the protoype of a signature guitar for White. When McIntire tried to research the guitar, he says he discovered it was made in 1959.

Josh White was a brilliant guitarist. He frequented the White House of our nation; FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt enjoyed his talent immensely. Political groups considered him "a champion of the people". His talent is considered to be much like Woody Guthrie, and others of the time and genre. He had an uncanny ability to draw mixed race crowds; he had a charismatic personality; and he frequently played in the Cafe Society in New York.

As a young boy, Jeb McIntire even met and played with Josh White.

In the era of Cold War, The House Committee of Unamerican Activities sought out Josh White and wanted him to name names among his friends and members of the artistic community. White refused to do so, and moved to England until things in America would cool off and come back to "normal".

Our History Detective took the Guild guitar to Jay Pilsner of Guild who stated that the model is made of Brazil wood and was definitely a special order, made in 1965 [confirmed by it's serial number]. A Josh White Ovation guitar came out in 1967, so he doubted that Guild would have meant for this one to be a signature guitar.

A bit disappointed that this Guild was not a Josh White signature guitar, the History Detective took the guitar to White's son, Josh White, Jr. who used to sing and play alongside his Dad in Cafe Society. He stated that the guitar was definitely made for his Dad. The proof was in the extra-wide neck; he stated that it only made sense that Guild would not have made him such a special guitar if they had not meant to make it a signature collection.

The 1965 director of Guild was located by the History Detective, who then brought the story to fulmation.

Guild had in fact made the guitar especially for White in 1965. It was in fact to be a signature series guitar. Plans just kind of fell by the wayside, and in 1967 Ovation guitars stepped in and picked up a signature guitar series contract with White.

Josh White's major message was social consciousness. He died in 1969, unexpectedly of heart disease.


1520 Sedgewick Avenue, The Bronx
[This was a repeat from a previous show.]

In the 1970's President Jimmy Carter helped to renovate this area.

Elvin Raez collects vinyl records. He performs part-time as a DJ. He says that the myth of Clive Campbell, aka "Cool Hurt", the "father of Hip Hop" lived at this address and threw a party there on 11 Aug 1973, and from here on that date Hip Hop was born.

Hip Hop is an African-American phenomenon.

To look at the building, however, one sees a plain, blocky building, with a brick facade.

Our History Detective goes to Curtis Sherrad of the Hip Hop Cultural Ceneter.

Sharrad states that Hip Hop is a combination of four major components:
    1 - MC
    2 - graffiti
    3 - break dancing
    4 - DJ

Sherrad states that at a house party in 1973, "Cool Hurt" threw a dance , using 2 turntables and "Boom! Hip Hop!"

Mark Massis of the Director of the Urban Center states that the Bronx was "the most integrated community in the United States".

In 1967, Clive Campbell, aka "Cool Hurt", moved to the Bronx from Jamaica with the great influx of Jamaican immigrantion. His sound captivated and captured the imaginations of young people there.

At Harvard university's Hip Hop Studies Archive, director Marceline Morgan states that "birth is a process, not just a moment", and so it was difficult to place a single moment as the birth of Hip Hop. She stated it was important to understand this genre, and that it is had a tremendous impact on the face of this country.

Then from her archives, Ms. Morgan pulled out a hand written flyer for an invitation to a house party dance, hosted by "Cool Hurt", on August 11, 1973 from 9p.m. to 4a.m.. in the Rec. Room.

The address?

1520 Sedgewick Avenue. The Bronx.

The result being that Hip Hop was, indeed, born at this address on the date so named in "the myth".


This has been a great privilege for my part in viewing and reviewing this episode of the show. I look forward to reviewing next week's History Detectives on PBS.

1 comment:

Cindy said...

I am sooooo jealous! I too live in West Virginia - in the eastern panhandle and since last year sometime, we get ONE, count 'em, only ONE of the PBS channels on our basic cable system (yes, I could pay for digital or a dish but who wants to pay more for TV?) and I do not get this show any longer. At least now I can read your reviews and get a feel for the shows that I'm missing. Thanks for that!