Jazz and gospel concert celebrates civil rights
BY SONNY GANADEN / Special to the Star-Advertiser
Commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the third annual jazz night at the Hawai’i State Art Museum organized by the Hawaii Friends of Civil Rights is a celebration of equality and advocacy.
A STAR-STUDDED EVENING OF JAZZ AND GOSPEL
Presented by Hawaii Friends of Civil Rights
» Where: Hawai’i State Art Museum, 250 S. Hotel St.
This year’s event features a short jazz poetry performance by Kathryn Waddell Takara.
“I actually prefer to work over music,” the longtime academic, author and poet said. She recently read her poem “Shame on you America,” originally published in 1992 during the Los Angeles riots/uprising, on Bastille Day at a bookstore in town.
As a researcher and professor at the University of Hawaii, Takara has been a historian of the African-American experience in Hawaii, from the first free blacks who visited isle shores with American missionaries through the experience of her father, William H. Waddell, a member of the U.S. Army’s 25th Infantry Regiment (the “Buffalo Soldiers”) who cut trails through Hawaii island a century ago.
Takara has also collaborated frequently with jazz musicians. Jazz poets of Takara’s generation such as Gil Scott-Heron and Amiri Baraka continue to have an influence in hip-hop and slam poetry.
SINCE FORMING in 2007 through the work of Faye Kennedy, Amy Agbayani, Bettye Jo Harris, Sharon Ferguson-Quick, Pierre Day and artist John Nichols, the Hawaii Friends of Civil Rights has organized several fundraisers, contributed to the Honolulu African American Film Festival and partnered with the Hawai’i State Art Museum for summer jazz nights.
The Friends never have a problem with attendance at their events. Using collective years of experience, tenacity, soft skills and old-fashioned organizing, previous jazz nights have exceeded the state art museum’s seating capacity by the hundreds. Old friends, allies and jazz fans often bring blankets, umbrellas, their own chairs and refreshments.
“The main draw is Al Harrington,” Kennedy said. “His wife, Rosa, worked hard with me to put this together as well.”
Having entertained local audiences for decades, Harrington continues to receive ovations for his rendition of “The Prayer,” made famous by opera superstar Andrea Bocelli and Celine Dion.
In addition to Takara’s and Harrington’s poetry, the museum’s jazz night features Chris Vandercook, Starr Kalahiki, Ginai, the Chuck James Trio and Oahu-based gospel singer Sherry V. Graham. Graham’s album “Brand New Day” earned her a Na Hoku Hanohano award nomination in the religious category in April.
Did you know that last night
Visions of ancestors
–Kathryn Waddell Takara,
The event includes introductory remarks on the roots of jazz and gospel and access to the museum’s sculpture garden and exhibits.
“We’re so grateful for the way this event has been received,” said Kennedy, who co-chairs the event subcommittee with Nichols.
At 83, Kennedy has not slowed her tempo of civil rights advocacy. She also co-chairs the organization with Agbayani.
In the last year, the Hawaii Friends of Civil Rights has used its influence to support other organizations.
“We’re in a giving mode rather than a receiving mode,” Kennedy said. “The reason we founded the organization was to promote justice and diversity, and to build bridges in the community. So now it’s time to give away the money we’ve raised in past years and support others.”
The Friends have donated to Planned Parenthood of Hawaii, the YWCA and other groups. Both Kennedy and Agbayani stood in long lines to testify at the state Legislature on behalf of marriage equality last fall.
THIS YEAR marks the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The act was monumental in U.S. law, acting as a template for the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Civil Rights Act of 1968 and American Disabilities Act of 1990.
“Young people tend to take this legislation for granted. My personal feeling is that many young people are apolitical and not concerned with standing up for their own rights,” Kennedy said.
“It’s important to remember the struggle and realize that the struggle remains to stay inspired.
“The most important thing is this: that we support each others’ causes. I want my tombstone to read, ‘All the pitiful people must support each other,’” Kennedy said with a laugh.
“But there’s not a lot of speechifying at our events. We want to bring people together.”