As I sat on the edge of my chair at the Huemann Bookstore in Harlem, peering into the eyes of film legend Melvin Van Peebles, it was hard for me to fathom the lack of promotional fanfare. I could not understand why Mr. Peebles, as so many other legends, are infrequently receiving the accolades for breaking into Hollywood, theater and or music. Mr.Peebles sat in the bookstore without major paparozzi, and spoke to me and several other reporters, producers and scholars, as well as aspiring writers and children, on the systematic approaches he needed to break into Hollywood. Amidst the systemic racism, stereotypical roles, and lack of technical assets Mr. Peebles moved to Europe and eloquently informs of his causasian comrades that have assisted him along the way. Mr. Peebles spoke of the power of unity in the community prior to integration, and how not having come from a culture that promotes unity, for individualism is an American tradition and that we as a people were critically effected by racism. He explained the lack of cohesiveness. He spoke of being able to use the passport to avoid the radical, and powerful tools corporate America uses to stagnate your growth. It was a learned experience and I am prompted to have you, the reader, research all that you can on the life and works of this genius. I use Melvin Peebles as an example of great African-Americans that are pioneers in the film industry, and whose art and style set the trends for action packed movies. His association with Stax records led to the making of some of the greatest soundtracks of the 1960’s and ’70s.
Melvin Van Peebles confirms African Americans have set the cultural standard of music. He says that with film the larger movie houses continue to utilize Black recording artists to sell their movies. As he said, now a days, movies are just long soundtracks. Sometimes people go to a movie because of the sound track.
The legacy of Melvin Van peebles, filmmaker, writer, pioneer, is like the instruction manual for independent filmmakers. I am urged to advise all artists, music lovers, writers and filmmakers to study his works, his films, and to learn from the hardship and success stories.
Being a lover of film and music it was not very hard to choose both genre’s as my column’s topic. It is vital for us to continue to observe, praise and document the many contributions Blacks continue to make in this country and the world.
All things new are old:
As of late, many corporations, media houses, and universities, are attempting to document the contributions that have been made in hiphop. Although there have been many great innovative artists that have been promoted in the mainstream, there still is a decade of artists that go almost unnoticed. I remember when lawyers, librarians, record labels and mass media thought disco would be the music that would be forever. I observed the music scene at a very early age. My father’s cousin, Fats Lewis and Bobby Robinson owned Fury and Enjoy records. In the early sixties Gladys Knight and Pips graced their label. Later in the mid seventies Bobby promoted rappers. I was influenced by music from that era but it was my Grandmother, who sang gospel everyday, that exposed me to music. My uncle Al Eford wanted a club and he decided to take on the task of running a club, which became 22 West 135th Sstreet. So of course the family worked there, and I sold tickets for any party my mother and aunts gave. From promoting 22 West and going to parties at Harlem World, Harlem Prep and the Celebrity Club and Renaissance Ballroom I met a lot of Djs. My experience with living in Manhattan and the Bronx, partying in the centers, parks, fire escapes, roofs, led to my love of aerial views and prompted me to get into video at an early age. I still wrote poems and news articles on a freelance basis with the Amsterdam News and other small tabloids when I got older. I still, however, loved music and thus learned how to produce my own songs and worked with young producers like Strafe, Toney Woods (New Jack Swing/Teddy Riley’s producer) Donald D, Pumpkin King of the Beats (PBUH) and Paris Ford (7 Minutes of funk) Michael B and Richie Weeks (Weeks and co). Then later Barry B (Get Fresh Crew). I learned to respect the innovators who also had been influenced by the legends of rap and r&B and of course funk.
Although music was a passion, I rarely witnessed women on tv being promoted or promoting rap on a positive level, or even allowing new rappers to speak to the public and see a more intelligent side. I observed that women on tv were promoted as hookers or emasculate. So I decided to get into tv production and public access was a vehicle.
Moments in Hiphop are vignettes of the talk shows that I hosted/produced. It shows a side of many artists who may have set trends and who have had an opportunity to influence the sculpture of the ever evolving hip-hop culture.
We as producers, artists, poets, actors, filmmakers, writers, painters, dancers, djs, are the creative force that shape the world. We are the true innovators and it is only genius when we learn from history how to identify the new to preserve our HISTORIES…
We must be the authors of the dictionaries that define our works. All too often creative individuals do not receive the proper acknowledgments for their contributions, because somewhere in this generation, someone decided that when you are too old you are not important. Remember it was the elders that gives the knowledge to the young who are to manifest what is learned. It is up to us to tell Our story. When DJ Yoda spoke of a plan to preserve the hiphop culture with pioneers in the industry, I referred him to the necessary grant writing agency that could do the job in raising funds for his tasks.
History tells me that it is important because it can repeat itself. As the scholar Professor James wrote in his expose’ Stolen Legacy, “if it remains to be seen if we are beyond typical historical responses to challenging ideas and if we only had original documentation. We must keep in mind the burning of the Egyptian and Ethiopian Libraries, the sacking of Timbuktu, the Inquisition and the many book burnings in history”.
Legends of film, like Melvin Van Peebles, Gordon Parks,and all the masters of Rock, Soul, Jazz and the true pioneers of Rap like Kool Herc, Afrikaa Bambatta, Grand Wizard Theordore, Jazzy Jay, Pete DJ Jones, Pebblee Poo, Cold Crush Brothers, Crash Crew, Mike and Dave, Eddie Chebe and Reggie Wells, Mr. Magic, Frankie Crocker, Eddie Ojay, and that bum DJ Red Alert, and so many others that would run off this page, must be remembered, documented and preserved.