Monthly Archives: December 2010

African Rhytms: The Autobiography of Randy Weston – Read This Book

Randy Weston performs at the Brooklyn Museum (Widevision Photography)

True jazz buffs will welcome this well-detailed, informative memoir, African Rhythms, by one of the most innovative musicians in America, Randy Weston, for it pays earnest tribute to the African origins, traditions, and their primary influence on the sounds that rose from Congo Square long ago. It is the finest jazz autobiography since that of the big band maestro Duke Ellington’s glorious remembrances, Music Is My Mistress. “Arranged” by jazz writer-producer Willard Jenkins from a collection of interviews and observations over a four year period, it spans over 60 years of Weston’s personal and creative life.

Weston, 85, has his West Indian father to thank for his African cultural consciousness, which was nourished by his immersion in the richness of the Brooklyn jazz scene, the sanctified Black church, the down-home blues, and the lilting calypso from its immigrant neighbors. The pianist learned a deep appreciation of the Mother Country from the works of J.A. Rogers, Alain Locke, Father Divine, and Marcus Garvey, The book conveys some of the magic of those Brooklyn years, detailing the closeness of that black-and-tan community before the advent of the Second World War II.  Read Robert Fleming’s complete review of African Rhytms “Composed” by Randy Weston & “Arranged” by Willard Jenkins (Duke University Press Books, Sept. 2010) here:

Tavis Smiley is no good for Black folks!

Actually, I believe the exact opposite, strongly.

I used the provocative title to draw attention to this blog post.  My hope is that you’ll continue to read the rest of what I’ve written and be moved to support the Brother’s efforts.

I freely admit that I was not always a Tavis Smiley fan.    When presidential candidate, Barack Obama declined to participate in Smiley’s 2008 State of the Union meeting; Tavis openly criticized Obama.  I felt Smiley’s reaction was a mistake; perhaps driven by pettiness or even jealously.   My opinion was reinforced earlier this year when an angry Al Sharpton criticized Tavis for misquoting him regarding Obama’s need for a Black agenda.

In retrospect, I don’t believe Tavis was being petty.  Tavis was simply not going to give Obama a pass because he was Black.  Many Black leaders apparently felt it was more important to get the man into office first, then deal with our issues later.  Well later has come and still too few Black leaders are willing to criticize the President.  Tavis continues to hold the President accountable with it comes to Black folks.  To do this publicly, as a Black man, takes courage, and for that Smiley has my respect and admiration.

But the real meat of Tavis’ impact comes from his institution building.

Tavis Smiley has been in the media for over 20 years; from his political commentary on the Tom Joyner Morning Show, to BET Tonight with Tavis Smiley (the one saving grace of BET if you ask me), to Tavis Smiley on PBS (over 1,000 broadcasts), to Tavis’ new radio program on PRI Smiley & West (download the podcast from iTunes), Smiley’s record of addressing important issues in our community and bringing important people to the fore front is prodigious and sorely needed.

As a book seller I’m most familiar with Tavis’ Publishing company SmileyBooks.  SmileyBooks led by publishing icon Cheryl Woodruff is a co-publishing venture with Hay House.  Tavis has written or edited over a dozen books himself, which is impressive enough, but the legacy he provides by publishing others carries greater importance.

Here are just a few of the titles released by SmilelyBooks:

Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You’re Going Through By Iyanla Vanzant
Iyanla is an best selling author going back to 1998.  The story of Vanzant’s personal journey toward peace from personal struggles and tragedy will resonate with many people.  Iyanla’s down to earth and humorous style is makes her books even more appealing.

Black Business Secrets: 500 Tips, Strategies, and Resources for the African-American Entrepreneur by Dante Lee
Dante has a business savvy which is rare for someone his age.  His business skill is matched by his consciousness which is quite rare for any business person.  Old and young can learn from this dynamic young Brother’s book.

Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell
Given the tremendous impact that media and marketing has on all of us; the issues addressed in this book make it required reading for Black folks.  Burrell founded Burrell Communications, one of the first Black owned advertising agencies.  Heed Burrell’s warning — he knows first hand.

Brother West: Living and Loving Out Loud, a Memoir by Cornel West
In 2009 Dr. West explained to why he wrote his memoir, “…when the prostate cancer hit 8 years ago. I thought and thought about it and decided maybe I could tell my story to help somebody, so they could see how the power of love and education in my life had transformed me from a gangster with raw rage.”

I hope you are inspired to buy and read some of these or other titles from SmileyBooks.

The video below was shot during the launch party for SmileyBooks in 2007.   Since it was a completely positive event in the Black community it did not get much coverage from the major media

An Author You Should Know: Annette Gordon-Reed

Annette Gordon-Reed, American historian and legal scholar

Historian Annette Gordon-Reed has studied and written a great deal about the 2nd Presiedent of the United States, Thomas Jefferson’s.  Gordon-Reed’s research includes delving into Jefferson’s relationship with his slave Sally Hemings.  Interestingly, Hemings was not only Jefferson’s property, but she was also the half-sister of his late wife, Martha Wayles; a situation that would make a Jerry Springer episode seem quaint by comparison.

To learn more about Annette Gordon-Reed, her work, and research on Thomas Jefferson, please visit: