'Poets of Action': The Saint Louis Black Artists' Group, 1968-1972 (Part 4-4)


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The most thorough overview of the Black Artists' Group to date is Peter Madden's unpublished Master's Thesis, "Creative Collectivism: A Study of the AACM, BAG, and the CAC," (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan, April 1996), though Madden's focus is only on the musical component. BAG's musical component is also briefly discussed in John Litweiler, The Freedom Principle: Jazz After 1958 (New York: William Morrow and Co., 1984), pp. 186-89; and Valerie Wilmer, As Serious As Your Life: The Story of the New Jazz (London: Allison and Busby Ltd., 1977), p. 222. To my knowledge, there is no published work on any of BAG's artistic components besides music. The two main BAG documents from the period are A Black Theater for St. Louis: A building proposal for The Black Artists' Group (St. Louis, MO: Privately printed, 1970), and Malinké Kenyatta [Robert Eliot], Black Theatre Notebook (St. Louis, MO: Privately printed, 1971); both have now been deposited in the MHS archives. Many of BAG's existing reel- to-reel recordings are no longer accessible, having been stolen from member Bakaida Carrol. Background materials on the local music scene might include William Howland Kenney, "Just before Miles: Jazz in St. Louis, 1926-1944," in Miles Davis and American Culture, ed. Gerald Early (St. Louis: MHS Press, 2001), and the Spring 1996 issue of the Black Music Research Journal, which focuses entirely on St. Louis.

Sources of the quotations are as follows: The remarks from Ingrid Monson, assist. prof. of music at Washington University 1996-2001 and now at Harvard, are drawn from an interview by the author, 02 December 1998. The remarks attributed to Dennis Owsley are drawn from a telephone interview by the author, 28 December 1998; the reference to Kelvyn Bell and Marty Ehrlich, as well as the statement that BAG albums received little or no local radio play, also rely on the Owsley interview. All remarks by Floyd LeFlore are from a telephone interview by the author, 18 December 1998. Oliver Lake's comments "In our meeting...", "I never thought of [BAG's work] as political..", "My friend Lester Bowie had arrived...", and "BAG had begun performing..." are from Lake's May 1998 interview by Le Jazz , 23 Nov. 1998; his remark "In St. Louis, it was about doing it..." is quoted on Gallery 41 , 23 Nov. 1998; "It could be that there is a singular way..." is quoted in Clifford Jay Safane, "The World Saxophone Quartet," Down Beat (October 1979), p. 29; his comments "energy towards having groups in the community" and "We're not going to eat any pork..." are quoted in Madden, pp. 24 and 26. Julius Hemphill's comment "A number of people before that I didn't know..." is quoted in Madden, pp. 23-4; the remark "[He] allowed us to use his office..." is quoted in Miyoshi Smith, "An Interview with Julius Hemphill," Cadence, vol. 14, no. 6 (June 1988), p. 14; his comments "They would come down here.." and "In the '60s, there was a lot of interest" are quoted in Harper Barnes, "Visit to St. Louis Stirs Memories of '60s for Julius Hemphill," SSt. Louis Post-Dispatch (9 April 1989), p. 3E; his BAG-AIR goal "to make black people more aware..." is quoted in "Black Artists' Center to Offer Free Classes," SSt. Louis Post-Dispatch , 13 March 1969; his remark "Without being condescending Parran's remarks "were entering new territory...", "open tonality and form..", "Early Afro- centric Free Jazz", "musician/educators", and "formed and flourished, then disappeared..." are taken from his unpublished essay "The St. Louis Black Artists' Group (BAG)," presented April 1999 at the University of California, San Diego as part of the symposium Improvising Across Borders ; other Parran remarks are from a telephone interview by the author, 30 August 2000. The Bruce Rutlin (Ajule Menelek) assertion "We're not artists. We're cultural aestheticians" is quoted in Malinké Kenyatta [Robert Eliot], Black Theatre Notebook (St. Louis, MO: Privately printed, 1971), p. 3. Malinké Eliot's remarks "[O]ut of these discussions...", The Blacks "would be a perfect vehicle...", "layers of transparency", "A lot of times people would approach us...", audiences "were usually very raucous...", "Twenty four hours [a day] for the next several years...", "BAG performances at that time...", and "BAG was an evolutionary process..." are drawn from his tape recorded correspondence to author, February 2001; his comments "Black arts is family..." and "poets of action" are from his Black Theatre Notebook, pp. 3 and 6. Hamiett Bluiett's remark "The critics who were going to the different halls..." is quoted in Safane, p. 29.


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