Celebrating Our Diversity in 2021
African American Music Appreciation Month
Music is an art form like no other, as it gives voice to our every emotion and expresses the inexpressible. It has the power to soothe a broken heart, instill confidence, teach us about social injustices, it elevates our mood, to feel tenderness or righteous anger, or causes us to dance wildly just for the sheer joy of being alive. In America, we have a vast choice of popular music styles to choose from, a rich legacy of musical creativity – and this legacy is almost exclusively a Black American legacy.
This month is African American Music Appreciation Month. But even if we were to highlight numerous artists every week this month, we would not have enough time to recognize the countless Black musicians who have contributed to this musical heritage. Instead, I thought I would simplify it for us. Virtually every style of American popular music that we listen to has been invented by our Black American brothers and sisters.
But is it really that simple?
Can you guess the number of different styles of music that were born in the creative, fertile, and inventive minds of Black Americans? I’ll bet it’s more than you’ve guessed, and given that this is an incomplete list, it’s even more than we have shared below. Enjoy!
The Evolution of African American Inspired Music
Starting from the roots of African slave work songs and spirituals, to House music, countless black musicians have inspired us and transformed the music that we hear; Scott Joplin, Jelly Roll Morton, King Joe Oliver, Louis Armstrong, Robert Johnson, DeFord Bailey, Mahalia Jackson, Bessie Smith, Sam Cook, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Ray Charles, Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Motown greats like Stevie Wonder, The Supremes, Smokie Robinson, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, James Brown, Miles Davis, Clive Campbell, Alan King, Frankie Knuckles, The Sugar Hill Gang, MC Hammer, Salt-n-Pepa, Robert Hood, to name a very few. Even the banjo, a quintessential country music instrument, has it's roots from Africa.
So, the next time we find ourselves singing along with a song in our car, completely uninhibited, or, just by listening to a piece of music, we feel ourselves being transported to another time and place within the story of a song, we may find the strength to rise above our present troubles or sadness, we feel a deep emotion and compassion for fellow human beings; that music we are listening to will likely have been gifted to the world by our Black American brothers and sisters.
What a rich treasure – a source of pride, and reason for gratitude and celebration. Aren’t we lucky?
This month (March 2021) we are celebrating two groups, Women and our Irish American brothers and sisters. To celebrate, and many thanks to those who contributed, we have lined up some very special people to share with you. We hope you enjoy!
Joyce Edwards Doyle & James Joseph Doyle
Born in Senghenydd, Wales on July, 17, 1931, Joyce was the third of five daughters born to Daniel and Florence Edwards. Daniel was a coal miner, and Florence a housekeeper. Joyce enjoyed referring to her mom as "Rosie the Riveter," as she worked in the munitions factory during WWII. Her family moved to London when her father could no longer work in the mines and Joyce took a job at the Heinz company, which was destiny because it was there she met her future husband, Jim.
James (Seamus) Doyle was born in Dún Laoghaire, Dublin, Eire. He was the first of four children born to John (Sean) and Bridget Doyle. After serving in England for the Royal Air Force as an air traffic controller, Jim took a job at the Heinz company.
They met, fell in love, and were married on July 23rd in 1949. Twelve years later they immigrated to Seymour, CT with their two daughters, Janis (then 8) and Teresa (2-1/2). After arriving, Jim worked for Waterman Bic Pen Corporation (in the building which now is the DeForest Street apartments, overlooking the falls in the center of town).
From the moment her foot touched American soil, Joyce was an avid fan of Yankee baseball and, later in life, NASCAR. For Joyce and Jim, becoming naturalized citizens from humble beginnings was a milestone of which they were so very proud.
Jim became the premier precision ball maker at Bic, and the National Bureau of Standards used one millimeter balls made by Jim and his team for the American National Standard. Although Jim had a limited formal education by today's standards, he was a self-taught, lifelong learner and his abilities in math, poetry and the social sciences would rival that of advanced degrees of our time. Jim delighted in making people laugh and was every bit a leprechaun with twinkling eyes, always ready with a story and a joke.
Joyce didn't have a ministry, her life was a ministry. Known as Nanny, Miss Nanny, Nanny Doyle, some people never realized her name was Joyce. Knitting prayer shawls, baptism shawls, wedding afghans and "Nanny blankets" were outward signs of affection which her family and entire community enjoyed. Joyce spent time with her children whenever she could, and gave unconditional love to every child. Of course, her own grandchildren, and great-grand children were her greatest source of joy and pride.
Together and individually Jim and Joyce Doyle have made the world a better place with their passion for family and community.
Visit us on Facebook, and please share a favorite memory in tribute of these two wonderful people.
Creola Katherine Johnson
Imagine a world with no smart phones, now take away your tablets, your computers, the only computers that exist are so big you need a room to hold them and they are not advanced enough to rely on for calculating such things as trajectories, launch windows, and emergency return paths. So NASA had a group of "human computers" who did the job for them.
Creola Katherine Coleman was born in August of 1818. She was the youngest of her parents' four children and showed a talent for mathematics at a very young age. Johnson graduated from high school at the age of 14. She was enrolled in West Virginia State and took every math class they had to offer and then some; W. W. Schieffelin Claytor, the third African-American to receive a Ph.D. in mathematics, created classes just for Johnson. At the age of 18, she graduated summa cum laude, with degrees in mathematics and French. She was the first African American woman to attend graduate school at West Virginia University in Morgantown, West Virginia. Her her tell the story of how that came about.
She went on to become an invaluable asset to the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, the predecessor to NASA. Her mathematical skills and particularly her knowledge of analytic geometry, brought her from the segregated area of "computers who wore skirts" (as she named it) to the inner circle of engineers in the Guidance and Control Division of Langley's Flight Research Division.
Johnson played an integral part of Alan Shepherd's first flight into space, the 1961 Mercury Mission, and was called upon to verify the computer calculations for John Glenn's first orbit around the earth. She also helped to calculate the trajectory for the 1969 Apollo 11 flight to the moon. During her career Johnson co-authored 26 scientific papers and received numerous awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015 and the Congressional Gold Medal in 2019.
During her career Johnson also raised 3 daughters, and some of that time as a single mother after her first husband died from a brain tumor after only 17 years of marriage. Johnson died in February of 2020 from natural causes at the age of 101. She was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in 2021 which will be celebrated on October 2nd of this year.
This month (February 2021). To celebrate, Carolyn, one of our parishioners, "invites" special people of African American Heritage to join us during services on Sunday mornings. Rev. Tricia shared a little bit about each person today at the announcements, and on this page we fill in a little more. Join us as we celebrate these significant individuals!
We all have those moments, the breaking one, where we say, I'm just not going to "do it" or "take it" anymore. And for most of us, we just don't and then go on our way, making life, maybe a little bit better for ourselves. Little did Rosa Parks know that that moment for her would spark such controversy, a momentous event that changed many lives, and ultimately led to a Supreme Court ruling!
Parks was not new to fighting for civil rights. At the age of 40, Parks joined the Montgomery chapter of the NAACP, and served as its Secretary for 15 years.
Here's what I think is a common misconception, Rosa Parks was sitting in the white section of the bus and refused to move her seat to the back. The reality of the situation was that she was already sitting in the black section, in the first row, and when the bus became too crowded the bus driver, moved "the line" back a row and demanded that the 4 passengers in that row move. Parks, tired of giving in, refused. When threatened with arrest Parks was said to reply, "You may do that." And the bus driver did. The following day Parks was convicted of disorderly conduct and violating a local ordinance. Parks formally challenged the legality of racial segregation by appealing her conviction. On the first day of Park's trial, the Women's Political Council distributed 35,000 leaflets asking people to show solidarity by boycotting the buses for one day. 381 days later, after the US Supreme Court ruled that segregated buses were unconstitutional, and the city of Montgomery repealed its law requiring segregation, the boycott ended.
Parks and her husband left Montgomery, in the wake of job loss and death threats, and ultimately ended up in Detroit, MI where Parks lived out her life. She never stopped her activism, supporting several causes in her later years. In the 1980s, Parks founded the Rosa L. Parks Scholarship Foundation, and the Rosa and Raymond Parks Institute for Self Development. She published two books, Rosa Parks: My Story and Quiet Strength. She died on October 24, 2005. Her legacy and honors are too numerous to list here, but show a life dedicated to the pursuit of justice and equality.
There are quite a few movies and tv shows that have paid tribute to Parks and the Boycott. Angela Bassett's award-winning performance of Parks in the TV movie, The Rosa Parks Story is a great one to watch, and did you know Dr. Who visited the bus in Montgomery the night Parks was arrested in and 2018 episode entitled "Rosa?"
What always blows me away about stories like this group of men is that, in a country where they are valued as less than their white counterparts, they are still willing to defend, and risk dying for their country. It exemplifies the phrase, "rising above." That being said, here are some fun facts about these pioneers, and some links to learn more.
This group of men totaled 922 individuals, primarily African Americans but it also included five Haitians from the Haitian Air Force, and one pilot was from Trinidad, and a Latino airman born in the Dominican Republic. All together they formed the 332nd Expeditionary Operations Group and the 477th Bombardment Group of the US Army Air Forces.
Prior to WWII there was only one other African-American pilot, Eugene Bullard, who served in WWI but he needed to go to France to serve. It's a very interesting story to check out!
Back to our Airman - the history of their establishment is hard to summarize so I encourage you to read it on wikipedia, but basically civil rights activists fought to allow Black men to serve as pilots, and ultimately funds were appropriated for their training but funneled into civilian training and that's where Tuskegee come in. Tuskegee Institute (now Tuskegee University) offered a Civilian Pilot Training Program. By the time the the war department initiated their first all-black flying unit in 1941, there were a great number of black men who were eligible to apply.
Initially they served under a white Officer, but ultimately five black youths were admitted to the Officers Training School (OTS) at Chanute Field as aviation cadets. Specifically, Elmer D. Jones, Dudley Stevenson and James Johnson of Washington, DC; Nelson Brooks of Illinois, and William R. Thompson of Pittsburgh, PA successfully completed OTS and were commissioned as the first Black Army Air Corps Officers.
The Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture has a display to honor these brave and pioneering men, including a vintage Stearman biplane, and a Congressional Gold Medal that was awarded, by President George W. Bush, to all the pilots in 2007 to recognize their “unique military record that inspired revolutionary reform in the Armed Forces.”
Riley B. King, also know as B.B. King, and the King of the Blues, was a well accomplished blues musician. For more than fifty years he entertained people and some note he was"the single most important electric guitarist of the last half of the 20th century."
The son of sharecroppers, King was born on a cotton plantation in Mississippi in 1925. When he was young, King performed music in choirs, taught himself how to play guitar, and played on street corners for change. At the age of 22, King hitchhiked to Memphis, TN, and stayed with his cousin, Bukka White, a then celebrated blues performer. With White's guidance and an exposure to all styles of African American music could be found, King developed his guitar playing into an undeniably identifiable sound. He perfected a left-hand vibrato, and "played precise and complex vocal-like string bends."
Almost as well-known as King himself is his guitar, Lucille. One night, on a tour, "a brawl broke out between two men and caused a fire. [King] evacuated along with the rest of the crowd but went back to retrieve his guitar. He said he later found out that the two men were fighting over a woman named Lucille. He named the guitar Lucille, as a reminder not to fight over women or run into any more burning buildings." (excerpt from Wikipedia)
In his lifetime, King never had a number 1 in the Billboard chart, but had 32 songs make it to the top 100. He was an inspiration to thousands of guitarists, including Eric Clapton. King also won 15 Grammys for performances, recordings and albums. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom from George W. Bush, in December 2006. King performed for his fans until he was too sick to stay on the road. He died in May of 2015 at the age of 89. He was honored with a funeral procession down Beale Street, the very place he got his start, and was laid to rest, very near his birthplace, at the B.B. King Museum in Indianola, MS.
Jack Roosevelt Robinson
"A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives."
~ Jackie Robinson
At first glance you'd probably think Robinson was talking himself in this quote, or was he talking about his single Mom who raised him, along with 4 other siblings, or maybe it was the impact his older brother, an Olympic medalist, had on his life. Regardless of who he meant, Robinson exemplified this ideal. In high school as well as college, Robinson was a well rounded athlete, playing football, basketball, track and baseball. In high school, and also as the first player to accomplish this at UCLA, Robinson lettered in all 4 sports.
Robinson was unable to finish his college career due to monetary reasons, and was then drafted to a segregated unit in the Army. Even though Army buses in his location were unsegregated, the MPs were called to arrest Robinson because he refused to move to the back of the bus one evening. After being court-marshaled, Robinson was unanimously acquitted, and subsequently honorarily discharged.
As a rising star in the Negro league of the MLB, Branch Rickey, the president of the Brooklyn Dodgers, chose Robinson to join his team, making him the first black player in 63 years to "break the color line" in major league baseball (learn more). After his big break he had an illustrious, although somewhat controversial, baseball career, resulting in an induction in the Baseball Hall of Fame and the retiring of his number, 42. This number is the only number that is retired across all teams in the MLB.
To learn more about his life after baseball (where he became the first black person to serve as vice president of a major American corporation, Chock full o'Nuts), his family, and his never-ending advocation of equality, click on... oh and check out "42" an excellent movie, starring Chadwick Boseman, about Robinson's life.
Like the success of Jackie Robinson, Althea Gibson's skills as an athlete led her on a path to become "one of the first Black athletes to cross the color line of international tennis. In 1956, she became the first African American to win a Grand Slam title (the French Championships). The following year she won both Wimbledon and the US Nationals (precursor of the US Open), then won both again in 1958 and was voted Female Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press in both years."* Billie Jean was quotes as saying, "Her road to success was a challenging one but I never saw her back down." All told, Gibson won 11 Grand Slam titles, and was inducted into the International Tennis and International Women's Sports Hall of Fames.
A woman of many talents, Gibson was also a pro golfer, and pursued a career in the entertainment industry after retiring from tennis. Gibson competed and performed as a vocalist and also saxophonist.
But she never forgot to give back. I came across an article titled, "My Inspiration: Althea Gibson" written by Katrina Adams, a former President of the US Tennis Association. Adams speaks about meeting Gibson at a tennis clinic in Midtown Chicago that changed her life.
William Felton Russell
If you're a fan of basketball you certainly know who this man is! Would you be surprised to know that basketball didn't come naturally to him? But a high school coach saw his potential and helped develop Russell into an excellent player.
Russell started to excel his Junior and Senior years in high school and then went on to become a NCAA championship winner with the University of San Francisco, twice. Between his college career and his first year with the Boston Celtics, Russell captained the US Olympic basketball team and helped bring the to a Gold Medal victory 1956. He was almost ineligible to play for the olympic team because he had already been drafted, but the Olympic committee deemed him eligible. Apparently Russell commented that if he wasn't, he would have entered into the Olympic competition as a high-jumper. Oh, did I mention he had stellar track and field skills?
Throughout his career as player/coach, Russell was a 12-time All Star player, was voted MVP 5 times, and won 13 NBA championships. In 2011 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his accomplishments on the court and in the Civil Rights Movement.
When Russell was in college, UCLA coach John Wooden called him"the greatest defensive man I've ever seen." A skill that launched Russell into an amazing professional basketball career.
The Most Rev. Michael Bruce Curry
“If it’s not about love, it’s not about God.”
~ Presiding Bishop Michael Curry
It's no surprise that Bishop Curry became a Priest. His father was a Reverend and both his Grandfather and Great-Grandfather were Baptist Ministers. What may seem as a surprise is that he chose the Episcopal church, but there's a good reason for that. When, during segregation in Ohio, the Episcopal church started allowing both blacks and whites to receive communion from the same chalice Bishop Curry's parents, Kenneth and Dorothy, converted.
After college and divinity school, Bishop Curry was ordained deacon and priest in June and December of 1978, in upstate New York. After serving as Rector in North Carolina, Ohio, and Maryland, Bishop Curry was elected the eleventh bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina on February 11, 2000 and installed as presiding Bishop and Primate on November 1, 2015, All Saints' Day, during a Eucharist at Washington National Cathedral. He is the first black man to hold this position in the United States. These are just milestones, if you wish to learn more, wikipedia has done a nice article about him.
Some interesting facts about Bishop Curry...
• Even after sanctions, he maintained his public support for same-sex marriage
• He was invited and performed the sermon at Prince Harry and Meghan Markle's wedding.
• He is a cancer survivor
• He has authored several books, including Love is the Way: Holding on to Hope in Troubling Times, published in September of last year.
While researching Absolom Jones, I came across this fantastic film which will be premiering on PBS on February 16 & 17, 9/8c. The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song is a moving four-hour, two-part series from executive producer, host and writer Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor at Harvard University and director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research, that traces the 400-year-old story of the Black church in America, all the way down to its bedrock role as the site of African American survival and grace, organizing and resilience, thriving and testifying, autonomy and freedom, solidarity and speaking truth to power.
The documentary reveals how Black people have worshipped and, through their spiritual journeys, improvised ways to bring their faith traditions from Africa to the New World, while translating them into a form of Christianity that was not only truly their own, but a redemptive force for a nation whose original sin was found in their ancestors’ enslavement across the Middle Passage.
A production of McGee Media, Inkwell Media and WETA Washington, D.C., in association with Get Lifted. More info
The Right Reverend Barbara Clementine Harris
One of the most difficult parts of doing this is really conveying the essence of a person. From what I know, Bishop Harris was, well, larger than life. Bishop Harris was a fighter for civil rights, and participated in civil rights freedom rides and marches, including Selma to Montgomery. She held a corporate human resources position, and then folIowed her calling in the Episcopal church and ultimately became the first woman, and black, Bishop.
I give you this from Bishop Curry and will provide links below for you to learn more about Bishop Harris and hear her speak:
“Bishop Harris was not large of physical stature. In fact, the opposite,” Presiding Bishop Michael Curry said. “But she was larger than life. She was larger than life because she lived it fully with her God and with us. She did it by actually living the love of God that Jesus taught us about. She did it walking the lonesome valley of leadership, paving a way for so many of us whose way had been blocked. She did it lifting her voice for those who had no voice. She did with a joke, a whispered word, a secret joy in spite of anything that got in her way, including death. No wonder she titled her memoir, ‘Hallelujah, Anyhow!’”
Right Reverend, Most Reverend, what does it all mean? Well in the U.S., Right Reverend is a title you receive when you become a bishop. The Most Reverend title is for those who become Archbishops and Primates. For example, The Most Reverend Michael B. Curry is both a Primate (or leader) and Archbishop of the Episcopal Church in the USA.
Barack Hussein Obama II
We all know Barack Obama, first African American man to hold the office of President of the United States. Rather than go over his very accomplished career below you let's find out about what he's doing now, and maybe a few facts you didn't know!
• Obama graduated from Columbia University in 1983 with a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in political science (international relations specialization) and English literature.
• He graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law school.
• He was the first Black editor of the Harvard Law Review.
• Obama is the child of a bi-racial marriage. "In a 2006 interview, Obama highlighted the diversity of his extended family: 'It's like a little mini-United Nations,' he said. 'I've got relatives who look like Bernie Mac, and I've got relatives who look like Margaret Thatcher.'"
• Did I mention he has a great sense of humor?
So where is he now?
After staying in Washington, DC for his youngest daughter to finish high school, the Obamas moved to Martha's Vineyard. They have received an enormous amount of money to publish their memoirs which helps them to fund their foundation and the Obama Presidential Center. I also enabled their foundation to donate some $2 million to job-training programs for low-income residents in the Chicago area.