Sunday, July 21, 2019

The Real Legacy of the Chicago Defender By Myiti Sengstacke-Rice

Footprints of My Ancestors: The Real Legacy of the Chicago Defender

By Myiti Sengstacke-Rice 

This week is officially the first time that the Chicago Defender Newspaper has not printed in over 114 years. The headline, "Legendary Black Newspaper Prints Last Copy" hit me like a ton of bricks last week. Those few words carry the weight of a century. I am heartbroken, yet I continue to work daily to carry this legacy forward for our next generation. 
Robert S. Abbott (founder, 1905) and his successor, John Sengstacke, publishers of the Chicago Defender, carried a purpose and commitment greater than themselves. Their advocacy for justice and the determination to be a voice for those who were unheard is why the Chicago Defender had such a major impact. They were the ‘fire in the belly’ type of publishers that would merit the continued printing of a daily newspaper even in today’s digital age. 
I am clear that a majority of readers receive their news online, however, print publications still serve as a tangible record, relevant critical filter and source of authoritative news. There are still newspapers in print that are thriving. There are others, facing major challenges trying to survive solely with online advertising revenue. 
Growing up, I recall the proudest accomplishment of my grandfather, John H.H. Sengstacke, was how he transitioned the newspaper from a weekly to the Chicago Daily Defender in 1956. 
For generations, the Chicago Defender has been there. A rock, a refuge, and a reminder of a connection so deep that the sadness many of us felt hearing this news needed no explanation within the Black community. 
As news reports came in about this development, it became apparent to us how many people are not aware of the Sengstacke family legacy in the newspaper publishing business. A large part includes 90 years of producing the Bud Billiken Parade. 
Earlier this year we renamed the Chicago Defender Charities, founded by my grandfather in 1945. We decided to name it after my great-grand uncle, the Defender's founder and publisher, the Robert Sengstacke Abbott Foundation. We maintained ownership of the Bud Billiken Parade and hundreds of thousands of historical archives long after our family was forced to sell the newspaper in 2002. 
As the fifth generation of the Sengstacke family of publishers, I am proud to continue our publishing roots by celebrating the first anniversary of Bronzeville Life, a bi-monthly publication online and 'in print.’ The celebration will take place as part of the 90th Bud Billiken Parade on August 10, 2019. 
Robert S. Abbott established a way of thinking that transcended everyday problems and focused on solutions. He had a vision for the future, diligently and lovingly preparing his nephew and successor, John H.H. Sengstacke, for over a decade before passing the torch and transitioning in 1940. 
My grandfather, not one to waste time, sprang into action after the passing of his uncle, Robert S. Abbott in 1940. At age 27, he founded the Negro Newspaper Publishers Association which changed to the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) in 1956.  
During an era where Black newspaper publishers rarely had the ear of U.S. Presidents—Sengstacke had the ear of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. In his efforts to diversify the White House press room, he arranged for the first African American correspondent in White House history, Harry McAlpin in 1944. From fighting for the integration of the U.S. Armed Forces, fair housing, healthcare, education and employment for Black Americans—Sengstacke was a persistent voice for change. 
Six decades under Sengstacke's leadership, through his influence, courage, and sheer determination, his accomplishments and contributions to humanity are far too many to mention here. Throughout his tenure and under his leadership, the Defender was printed daily until soon after his passing in 1997. Johnson Publishing Company (Ebony and Jet Magazine) founder John H. Johnson always acknowledged the support John Sengstacke gave him in his efforts to start his own publishing company. Another heartbreaking development comes with the recent news of the auctioning of the Johnson Publishing Company’s archives. 
My grandfather set an example to follow, and in our family, we take this legacy seriously. I recall in everyday conversations he would drop gems like,” Don’t get mad, get smart.” The Chicago Defender was a publication that influenced millions of people to migrate from the South to the North during the Jim Crow era. The Defender, now unavailable in print, represents a loss. Consciousness of the Defender legacy represents an awakening, an opportunity, and a call to action in the “When They See Us” era. 
With the help of a dedicated, hardworking team, we are carrying on the work begun by Robert S. Abbott in 1905 and so valiantly continued by John H.H. Sengstacke. This latest is not the end; it is the beginning of a new era of cultural excellence, empowerment, and engagement in Black media.

John Malveaux: Annelle Gregory: "Russian Music for Solo Violin and Orchestra" on Naxos

Annelle Kazumi Gregory

Taneyev: Suite de Concert, Op. 28
Rimsky-Korsakov: Fantasia on Two Russian Themes, Op. 33

John Malveaux of 

Violinist Annelle Kazumi Gregory recording "Russian Music for Solo Violin and Orchestra" with conductor Dmitry Yablonsky and the Kiev Virtuosi Symphony Orchestra is scheduled for release  August 2019 on NAXOS.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

John Malveaux: Retracing Slavery’s Trail of Tears

John Malveaux of 


Smithsonian Magazine

America’s forgotten migration – the journeys of a million African-Americans from the tobacco South to the cotton South


November 2015

Virginia Delegate Delores McQuinn  has helped raise funds for a heritage site that will show the excavated remains of Lumpkin’s slave jail. (Wayne Lawrence)

When Delores McQuinn was growing up, her father told her a story about a search for the family’s roots.

He said his own father knew the name of the people who had enslaved their family in Virginia, knew where they lived—in the same house and on the same land—in Hanover County, among the rumpled hills north of Richmond.

“My grandfather went to the folks who had owned our family and asked, ‘Do you have any documentation about our history during the slave days? We would like to see it, if possible.’ The man at the door, who I have to assume was from the slaveholding side, said, ‘Sure, we’ll give it to you.’

“The man went into his house and came back out with some papers in his hands. Now, whether the papers were trivial or actual plantation records, who knows? But he stood in the door, in front of my grandfather, and lit a match to the papers. ‘You want your history?’ he said. ‘Here it is.’ Watching the things burn. ‘Take the ashes and get off my land.’

“The intent was to keep that history buried,” McQuinn says today. “And I think something like that has happened over and again, symbolically.”

McQuinn was raised in Richmond, the capital of Virginia and the former capital of the Confederacy—a city crowded with monuments to the Old South. She is a politician now, elected to the city council in the late 1990s and to the Virginia House of Delegates in 2009. One of her proudest accomplishments in politics, she says, has been to throw new light on an alternate history.

For example, she persuaded the city to fund a tourist walk about slavery, a kind of mirror image of the Freedom Trail in Boston. She has helped raise money for a heritage site incorporating the excavated remains of the infamous slave holding cell known as Lumpkin’s Jail.

“You see, our history is often buried,” she says. “You have to unearth it.”

Not long ago I was reading some old letters at the library of the University of North Carolina, doing a little unearthing of my own. Among the hundreds of hard-to-read and yellowing papers, I found one note dated April 16, 1834, from a man named James Franklin in Natchez, Mississippi, to the home office of his company in Virginia. He worked for a partnership of slave dealers called Franklin & Armfield, run by his uncle.

“We have about ten thousand dollars to pay yet. Should you purchase a good lot for walking I will bring them out by land this summer,” Franklin had written. Ten thousand dollars was a considerable sum in 1834—the equivalent of nearly $300,000 today. “A good lot for walking” was a gang of enslaved men, women and children, possibly numbering in the hundreds, who could tolerate three months afoot in the summer heat.

Scholars of slavery are quite familiar with the firm of Franklin & Armfield, which Isaac Franklin and John Armfield established in Alexandria, Virginia, in 1828. Over the next decade, with Armfield based in Alexandria and Isaac Franklin in New Orleans, the two became the undisputed tycoons of the domestic slave trade, with an economic impact that is hard to overstate. In 1832, for example, 5 percent of all the commercial credit available through the Second Bank of the United States had been extended to their firm.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Sphinx Organization: Sphinx Virtuosi at Carnegie Hall: Get tickets now!

Tickets on sale now!

Sphinx Virtuosi at
Carnegie Hall

Friday, October 11 at 7pm

Don't miss a world-class concert on the iconic Carnegie Hall stage!

Be Inspired: The Sphinx Virtuosi's 2019/20 tour program, For Justice and Peace, explores the ways in which both artists and citizens can play a role in propelling peace and positivity.

Hear Diverse Repertoire: The program includes a premiere by Sphinx Competition Laureate Xavier Foley and works by Béla Bartok and Franz Schubert. 

Experience a one-of-a-kind opera performance: 3 Sphinx Medals of Excellence recipients will join the Sphinx Virtuosi for an electrifying world premiere! Damien Sneed (piano), J'Nai Bridges (mezzo-soprano), Will Liverman (baritone), and the Sphinx Virtuosi will bring to life a special arrangement from Damien Sneed's groundbreaking opera in celebration of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, We Shall Overcome.

Interested in VIP tickets & gala sponsorship packages?
The 2019/20 Sphinx Virtuosi National Tour is sponsored by
JPMorgan Chase & Co. and Robert F. Smith.

John Malveaux: Annelle Gregory at International Music Festival in Burgos, Spain July 17

John Malveaux of 

Annelle Kazumi Gregory shared  comments from Burgos International Music Festival Faculty Concert
Cathedral, Burgos, Spain, July 17, 2019
"What a wonderful time playing Strauss Piano Quartet with these amazing musicians! It was so fun rehearsing and performing with you guys. Thank you for a wonderful experience! Let’s do it again soon."

John Malveaux: Roderick Cox will conduct YOLA National Symphony Orchestra July 26

Roderick Cox

John Malveaux of 

From July 24 to 27, the YOLA (Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles) National Symposium will bring together educators, administrators, advocates, and other key stakeholders in Sistema-inspired programs and programs similarly invested in youth and community development through music education. The theme of the symposium is “Empowering Youth, Building Community.”

Over the course of the symposium, participants from around the world share best practices, network with their peers, and explore the challenges and opportunities of empowering young people and communities through music.

This year’s keynote speaker is Dr. Bettina Love, an award-winning author and Associate Professor of Educational Theory & Practice at the University of Georgia.

The symposium will culminate in a performance of the YOLA National Symphony Orchestra conducted by Roderick Cox at Walt Disney Concert Hall on July 26, 2019.

Thursday, July 18, 2019 Excerpts from Scott Joplin's opera "Treemonisha" Aug. 3

Scott Joplin

Hudson Valley One

by Violet Snow

July 12, 2019

African-American talent will be showcased in two operas at the tenth annual Phoenicia International Festival of the Voice, August 2-4, in the Shandaken hamlet of Phoenicia [New York]. Damien Sneed, who led the previous Festival’s extraordinary gospel concert, conducts excerpts from Scott Joplin’s ragtime-influenced opera Treemonisha on Saturday afternoon, August 3. That night, Donizetti’s comedic Elixir of Love is set in an African village, featuring dancers and a drummer originally from West Africa.

Outside of black companies such as Opera Noir and Opera Ebony, opportunities for African-Americans to sing the traditional repertoire can be hard to come by. However, Festival executive director Maria Todaro said, “We take whoever is knocking our socks off at auditions. We don’t care about the color of their skin.” Baritone Lawrence Craig, who has been featured in past Festival productions, including Of Mice and Men, will sing Dulcamaro in Elixir. Bass Morris Robinson returns on Friday, August 2, for the opening concert, a selection of favorite arias from the past ten years of Festival presentations.

This year’s featured operas provide an abundance of roles specifically for black artists, including singers, dancers, instrumentalists, and the multi-talented Sneed, whose career, not unlike Joplin’s, spans composing, arranging, conducting, and piano-playing, as well as combining classical and popular music.

Scott Joplin was born just after the Civil War, the son of a freed slave. He became the leading composer of ragtime, which was named for its syncopated or “ragged” rhythm, blending European march and dance forms with African polyrhythms. Ragtime gained enormous popularity across the U.S. in the early 1900s, with Joplin’s most famous composition, “Maple Leaf Rag,” selling millions of copies of sheet music, each individual sale earning him one cent in royalties.

Around 1903, Joplin, who had classical training, turned to opera, creating The Guest of Honor, about black leader Booker T. Washington’s controversial dinner with President Theodore Roosevelt at the White House. A tour of the show failed when the box office receipts were stolen. Although the score of Joplin’s next effort, Treemonisha, was praised by a reviewer, he died before he could raise enough money for a full production.

Intercultural Music Initiative: Presenting new IMI Artists!

IMI Artists

Caroline Modiba, soprano

Caroline Modiba performing Verdi's "Sempre Libera" from "La Traviata"

Veena Akama-Makia, mezzo-soprano

Veena Akama-Makia with pianist Evan Ritter performing "Steal Away" (arr. by Maria Thompson Corley)

Jessica Platt, violin
(Orchestra, chamber music, soloist)

Jessica Platt performing with the Saint Louis Gateway Festival Orchestra


Wednesday, July 17, 2019

NOBLE Statement on President Trump's "Go Back" Tweets

July 17, 2019 

The National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE) Calls on Elected Leaders to Seek Higher Moral Ground Following President Trump's "Go Back" Tweets

[Alexandria, VA] Today, Vera Bumpers, President of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE), issued the following statement regarding a series of tweets from President Donald Trump that targeted four minority Democratic congresswomen:
"NOBLE is deeply concerned by recent tweets from President Trump that call on four Democratic congresswomen to "go back" to where they came from. While everyone is entitled to their own opinions and to practice freedom of speech, targeting people based on their religious or racial identity should be out of bounds. Like every other American, immigrants are an integral part of the fabric of our society and of what makes our country great. Moving forward, we encourage all elected leaders to rise above their political differences and seek moral high ground for the benefit of all Americans."

Michael Abels conducts Chicago Sinfonietta in "Get Out" September 21, 7:30 PM