Saturday, August 22, 2009

Wreath Laying Ceremony & Birthday Tribute Swings Forgotten Jazz Great’s Contributions Back Into The Spotlight…

By R2C2H2 Tha Artivist/Artstorian & The Jimmie Lunceford Jamboree Festival Committee

“What we do for ourselves dies with us. What we do for others and the world remains and is immortal.”

~Albert Pine

Photos: ©The W.E. A.L.L. B.E. Group/r2c2h2 tha artivist

A Cake & Ceremony Fit For A King…‘The King Of Swing’ That Is!!!

Photos: ©The W.E. A.L.L. B.E. Group/r2c2h2 tha artivist

From the Greatest Generation to the latest generation…From BeBop to Hip Hop…From Ebony to Ivory…From Congressman to everyman…From the young to the young at heart…From the uninformed to the initiated…All were represented and present on June 6, 2009, for the 107th Life Affirmation Day Celebration & Wreath Laying Tribute to jazz music great Jimmie Lunceford @ The Lord’s Chapel in historic Elmwood Cemetery in Memphis,Tn…It was a glorious sunny Saturday afternoon both literally and metaphorically for a man who is considered the Willie Mays of Swing, a five tool player who could do it all in terms of music and showbiz presentation…

Jimmie was not only a master showman, but also a master teacher because he assembled quite arguably the greatest jazz swing orchestra in history with the help of his former high school music students from Manassas High School in Memphis,TN, along with former college buddies from Fisk University…As a matter of fact Jimmie Lunceford was the first high school band director in Memphis City Schools history, but he wasn’t hired to be a music teacher…

Jimmie’s epic life story reads like a feature length movie with a Denzel Washington type-personality in the lead role produced by Walt Disney…It began June 6, 1902, in the cotton fields of Fulton, Mississippi (not Fulton, Missouri as so many articles and websites featuring his bio wrongly pass off as fact)…He is raised in the mountainous and atmospheric air of Denver, Colorado, where he is personally trained by master teacher Wilberforce Whiteman, Denver Schools Music Superintendent & the father of popular band leader Paul Whiteman the self-proclaimed King of Jazz…It is also evident that Jimmie is a naturally gifted athlete…He excels in football, track, baseball, basketball and boxing…However, his passion and legacy will be his music…

He attends Fisk University and gets a degree in sociology and moves to Memphis to become a teacher at Manassas High School…He is hired for several jobs including football coach, Spanish, History/Civics & English teacher, physical education instructor, and track coach…
He starts the first music education program in Memphis City Schools with no start up money from the system…With limited resources he finds a way to equip young Black boys with music instrument and ingrain in these eager young musicians/disciples a love for music excellence and discipline…He uses a Victrola and records of jazz greats such as Jelly Roll Morton & Louis Armstrong to instruct his protégés on how to play the popular music of the day, jazz…He arguably singlehandedly creates the first jazz education program in U.S. public schools history…

Since that time in the 1920s the seeds that were planted by the singular will and the creative force known as James Melvin Lunceford has produced successive crops of legendary musicians that have serenaded and marinated the world with their artistic genius…This list of greats from Manassas High include but are not limited to Isaac Hayes, Emerson Able, Hank Crawford, Frank Strozier, Harold Mabern, Booker Little, Charles Lloyd, George Coleman, Howard Grimes, Phineas Newborn, opera great Vera Little and a host of others worthy of any music hall or walk of fame…

Manassas High School has been recognized as a Jazz Mecca by many included jazz titan Miles Davis who had several key sidemen (saxophonists Frank Strozier, George Coleman & pianist Harold Mabern) come from the fabled school… In his autobiography Miles Davis wrote, “Before I left New York I had had tryouts for the band and that’s where I got all those Memphis musicians–Coleman, Strozier, and Mabern. (They had gone to school with the great young trumpet player Booker Little…and the pianist Phineas Newborn. I wonder what they were doing down there when all them guys came through that one school?)”…Many of these jazz greats were taught by legendary Manassas High School Band Director Matthew Garrett the father of jazz diva Dee Dee Bridgewater…

Before the King of Pop was put in the Guinness books for his generous efforts or even born for that matter, the true King of Swing, Jimmie Lunceford, was a well known philanthropist who gave large sums of money to start music education programs throughout the country…A true social worker and teacher to the end, he thought music could eliminate rampant juvenile delinquency and keep dropout rates low…When he came to Memphis to perform sold out concerts at the famous Robert R. Church Auditorium, he would also visit his old stomping grounds of Manassas High School to give free concerts and master classes to the eager & star strucked students…As matter of fact future music educator & Memphis music legend Emerson Able can recall vividly and fondly playing and listening to the greatly revered Lunceford Orchestra as a member of Manassas High School’s music group known as the Rhythm Bombers...Lunceford also wanted to start a retirement community for musicians and was looking for ways to invest his and interested band members’ monies so that they can live comfortable when they got older…

Photo: ©The W.E. A.L.L. B.E. Group/r2c2h2 tha artivist

Being a true Renaissance man, Jimmie Lunceford owned and flew his own planes at a time when Blacks were not allowed to attend flight schools in America…
Unfortunately Jimmie died much too young…On July 12, 1947, he dropped dead while signing autographs at a record shop in Seaside, Oregon…Some believed that he was poisoned by a racist restaurant owner who had a problem serving Blacks…

In spite of all his fame and success (he was true jazz royalty and lived on Edgecombe Ave. in Harlem, New York’s fabled Sugar Hill neighborhood), Jimmie thought enough of his adopted hometown a.k.a. ‘The City Of Good Abode’ to be buried there…Unfortunately, the city did not think too much of her adopted native son and so his extraordinary legacy was somewhat buried alongside him for 60 plus years in a city better known for the blues, racial polarity and the premature deaths of kings (MLK & Elvis)…

copyrighted image by r2c2h2

In 2007, R2C2H2 Tha Artivist created the Jimmie Lunceford Jamboree Festival to rectify this cultural and historical error/omission and to re-introduce a forgotten chapter in Memphis music’s rich past. Over a 2 year period events including wreath laying ceremonies, two Jimmie Lunceford Jamboree Festival Symposiums @ Manassas High School, a W.E. A.L.L. B.E. TV documentary as well as a special news feature by the Memphis City Schools were created to bring attention and awareness to this unique man’s contribution to the culture and education of our city. The Jimmie Lunceford Legacy Awards were created to bring honor and awareness to those musicians, dead and living, who have committed themselves to that exceptional ‘Luncefordean tradition’ of excellence in music and music education.

Some High Notes Of The Ceremony

With that said here are some highlights or rather high notes from our Jimmie Lunceford 107th Life Affirmation Day Tribute & Wreath Laying Ceremony @ the Lord’s Chapel in historic Elmwood Cemetery :

Photos: ©The W.E. A.L.L. B.E. Group/r2c2h2 tha artivist

With horn in hand R2C2H2 Tha Artivist channels the spirit of Satchmo to set off the community affair in true second line fashion…

Photo: ©The W.E. A.L.L. B.E. Group/r2c2h2 tha artivist

Alongside the art of the Renaissance Man known as R2C2H2 Tha Artivist is a beautiful designed and heavenly floral wreath by that Memphis floral institution known as Henley’s Flowers…The establishment’s founder, the late Ms. Henley, was a true pioneer in the florist industry in Memphis as well as the wife of Jimmie Lunceford’s former music student and influential swing band drummer, Jimmie ‘Crawl’ Crawford…Talk about coming full circle!!!

Photos: ©The W.E. A.L.L. B.E. Group/r2c2h2 tha artivist

The phenom known as PNut, Memphis rap’s version of a young Mozart, woos his longtime and new fans alike with his amazing free style and stage presence…Not too shabby for a 6 year old!!! Check out more from this freestyling prodigy on his MySpace and YouTube pages respectively:

Photo: ©The W.E. A.L.L. B.E. Group/r2c2h2 tha artivist

A true PNut Gallery: Fans & Family Members show their love and support for ‘the littlest biggest star in the world!!!’

Photo: ©The W.E. A.L.L. B.E. Group/r2c2h2 tha artivist

The great virtuoso songstress extraordinaire Laila Patrice Wright channels Ella as in Fitzgerald and serenades the crowd with her ballad artistry…

Photo: ©The W.E. A.L.L. B.E. Group/r2c2h2 tha artivist

Green entrepreneur, folk singer and author Marvin Butler a.k.a. ‘Mr. Organic’ germinates the crowd with his soulful and earthy original folk ballads…

Photo: ©The W.E. A.L.L. B.E. Group/r2c2h2 tha artivist

Memphis music devotee and longtime great public servant U.S. Congressman Steve Cohen (D, 9th District,TN) presents a proclamation paying homage to the man who made the Memphis Sound swing on his special day:

Photos: ©The W.E. A.L.L. B.E. Group/r2c2h2 tha artivist

Memphis music icon & Luncefordphile No. 1 Emerson Able makes Beale St. talk with his beautiful tenor sax and his invaluable recollections of Jimmie Lunceford and Memphis music history from the African American perspective…

Photo: ©The W.E. A.L.L. B.E. Group/r2c2h2 tha artivist

Longtime Memphis music patron, Luncefordphile, jazz aficionado and civic leader Dr. Vasco Smith moves the crowd with his emotional plea on why it is important to remember the genius of Jimmie Lunceford and why it is necessary to celebrate our other heroes and heritage.

Dr. Vasco Smith, who is married to Memphis civil rights legend Maxine Smith, was a student of the beautiful Crystal Tulli Lunceford, Jimmie Lunceford’s wife and a former English teacher at Booker T. Washington High School in Memphis,TN…

Photos: ©The W.E. A.L.L. B.E. Group/r2c2h2 tha artivist

Working in the true Luncefordean tradition of excellence in music and music education, prolific gospel literary & performing artist Gloria McGhee and her youth group PADA (People Against Drug Abuse) provides food for thought & the soul with their spirited gospel infused vocal ensemble performances…Church!!!

Paying Homage To The Master @ Graveside…

Photos: ©The W.E. A.L.L. B.E. Group/r2c2h2 tha artivist

At Jimmie Lunceford’s earthly remains resting place with wreath and horn in hand, R2C2H2 Tha Artivist sums up the importance of memorializing Jimmie Lunceford not only as a great musician and teacher, but also as a fallen civil rights leader and visionary who used music to teach the world that there was a better way for us to live, thrive and jive together…Furthermore, R2C2H2 Tha Artivist encourages those at graveside to continue to make Jimmie Lunceford’s legacy a living one by promoting the teaching of African American history as well as sustaining the arts and the arts education in a community and city which is arguably America’s cultural crossroads!!!

He ends by playing a classy, brassy and jazzy swinging taps in the rendition of Jazz Cat No. 1, Louis Daniel ‘Satchmo’ Armstrong!!!

Special Thank Yous!!!
Without the assistance of these folks and entities there wouldn’t have been a Jimmie Lunceford Wreath Laying Ceremony & Life Affirmation Celebration to speak of!!! In addition to those exceptional people mentioned in the summary above, The Jimmie Lunceford Jamboree Festival would like to extend a special thanks to the following:

* Elmwood Cemetery & Staff for providing us access to their exceptional beautiful chapel and cemetery free of charge!!!

* Sis. Callie Herd a.k.a. ‘Tha Artivist’s Mom’

* Bro. Jerrold Grabler for timely financial donation.

* Bro. Todd Richardson for timely financial donation.

* Bro. Andrew Rome Withers provided great additional photographs of the event:

* Bro. Grover Mosley for sharing his enthusiasm and collection of Jimmie Lunceford memorabilia.

* Bro. Kelvin Butler for his invaluable camera work in helping capturing history.

* Also everybody who took the time to just show up to be a part of not only history, but community we thank you all from the sincerest and greatest of places…In the words of the great Duke Ellington, “We Love You Madly!!!”

For the best information about the great Jimmie Lunceford on the information highway go to the official Jimmie Lunceford website:

Also view the great documentary “And Rhythm Was His Business: Jimmie Lunceford...A Memphis Music Legend” in three parts on the W.E. A.L.L. B.E. TV YouTube Channel:

• “And Rhythm Was His Business: Jimmie Lunceford...A Memphis Music Legend Part One of Three”:

• “And Rhythm Was His Business: Jimmie Lunceford...A Memphis Music Legend Part Two of Three”:

• “And Rhythm Was His Business: Jimmie Lunceford...A Memphis Music Legend Part Three of Three”:


W.E. A.L.L. B.E. TV~"Jimmie Lunceford: A Memphis Legend"

W.E. A.L.L. B.E. News & Radio Special~2nd Annual Jimmie Lunceford Jamboree Festival Radio Program:

W.E. A.L.L. B.E. News & Radio Special~1st Annual Jimmie Lunceford Jamboree Festival Radio Program:
Buy Jimmie Lunceford Art & Gear To Support The Jimmie Lunceford Jamboree Festival Movement...

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