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Singer, songwriter, pianist, arranger, and civil rights activist - Nina Simone
Category: Voices of Jazz
Tags: singer songwriter pianist arranger and civil rights activist nina simone word life production new quality entertainment

Born on February 21, 1933, in Tryon, North Carolina, Nina Simone received a scholarship to study classical piano at the Juilliard School in New York City, but left early when she ran out of money. She turned her interest to jazz, blues and folk music and released her first album in 1958. In the ‘60s, she became identified as the voice of the civil rights and wrote songs about the movement. She died in France on April 21, 2003.

Early Life

Born Eunice Kathleen Waymon on February 21, 1933, in Tryon, North Carolina, Nina Simone took to music at an early age, learning to play piano at the age of 4 and singing in her church's choir. The sixth of seven children, Simone grew up poor. Her music teacher helped establish a special fund to pay for Simone's education and, after finishing high school, Simone won a scholarship to New York City's famed Juilliard School of Music to train as a classical pianist.

Simone taught piano and worked as a accompanist for other performers while at Juilliard, but she eventually had to leave school after she ran out of funds. Moving to Philadelphia, Simone lived with her family there in order to save money and go to a more affordable music program. Her career took an unexpected turn, however, when she was rejected from the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia; she later claimed the school denied her admittance because she was African-American. Turning away from classical music, she started playing American standards, jazz and blues in clubs in the 1950s. Before long, she also started singing along with her music at the behest of one bar owner. She took the stage name Nina Simone—"Nina" came from a nickname meaning "little one" and "Simone" after the actress Simone Signoret. She won over such fans as Harlem Renaissance writers Langston Hughes, Lorraine Hansberry, and James Baldwin.

Civil Rights Singer

Simone began recording her music in the late 1950s under the Bethlehem label, releasing her first full album in 1958, which featured "Plain Gold Ring" and "Little Girl Blue." It also included her one and only top 40 pop hit with her version of "I Loves You Porgy" from the George Gershwin musical Porgy and Bess.

In many ways, Simone's music defied standard definitions. Her classical training showed through, no matter what genre of song she played, and she drew from many sources including gospel, pop and folk. She was often called the "High Priestess of Soul," but she hated that nickname. She didn't like the label of "jazz singer", either. "If I had to be called something, it should have been a folk singer because there was more folk and blues than jazz in my playing," she later wrote.

By the mid-1960s, Simone became known as the voice of the civil rights movement. She wrote "Mississippi Goddam" in response to the 1963 assassination of Medgar Evers and the Birmingham church bombing that killed four young African-American girls. After the assassination of Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968, Simone penned "Why (The King of Love Is Dead)." She also wrote "Young, Gifted and Black," borrowing the title of a play by Hansberry, which became a popular anthem at the time.

Career Renaissance


As the 1960s drew to a close, Simone tired of the American music scene and the country's deeply divided racial politics. She lived in several different countries, including Liberia, Switzerland, England and Barbados before eventually settling down in the South of France. For years, Simone also struggled with her finances, and clashed with managers, record labels, and the Internal Revenue Service.

Around this time, Simone recorded cover songs of popular music, putting her own spin on such songs as Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are A-Changin'" and the Beatles' "Here Comes the Sun." She also showed her sensual side with the song "I Want a Little Sugar in My Bowl." She then took a break from recording, returning in 1978 with the album Baltimore. The title track was a cover version of a Randy Newman song. Critics gave the album a warm reception, but it did not do well commercially.

Simone went through a career renaissance in the late 1980s when her song "My Baby Just Cares For Me" was used in a perfume commercial in the United Kingdom. The song became a Top 10 hit in Britain. She also penned her autobiography, I Put a Spell on You, which was published in 1992. Her next recording, A Single Woman, came out in 1993. To support these works, Simone gave some performances in the United States.

Touring periodically, Simone maintained a strong fan base that filled concert halls whenever she performed. She appeared in New York City in 1998, her first trip there in five years. The New York Times critic Jon Paneles reviewed the concert, saying that "there is still power in her voice" and the show featured "a beloved sound, a celebrated personality, and a repertory that magnifies them both." That same year, Simone attended South African leader Nelson Mandela's 80th birthday celebration.


In 1999, Simone performed at the Guinness Blues Festival in Dublin, Ireland. She was joined on stage by her daughter Lisa for a few songs. Lisa, from Simone's second marriage to manager Andrew Stroud, followed in her mother's footsteps. She has appeared on Broadway in Aida, using the stage name "Simone."

In her final years, Simone battled with health problems. Some reports indicate she was battling breast cancer, but that claim has not been officially confirmed. She died on April 21, 2003, at her home in Carry-le-Rouet, France.

While she may be gone, Simone left a lasting impression on the world of music. She sang to share her truth, and her music still resonates with great emotion and power. Simone has inspired an array of performers, from Aretha Franklin to Joni Mitchell. Her deep, distinctive voice continues to be a popular choice for television and film soundtracks, from documentaries to comedies to dramas.

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Joan Baez Is not only a Legend, but activist that stood up for the rights of everyday people throughout the course of her career Tags: Joan Baez music hall fame word life production.feature activist human rights










 2008 is a landmark year for Joan Baez, marking 50 years since she began her legendary residency at Boston's famed Club 47. She remains a musical force of nature whose influence is incalculable - marching on the front line of the civil rights movement with Martin Luther King Jr., inspiring Vaclav Havel in his fight for a Czech Republic, singing on the first Amnesty International tour and just this year, standing alongside Nelson Mandela when the world celebrated his 90th birthday in London's Hyde Park. She brought the Free Speech Movement into the spotlight, took to the fields with Cesar Chavez, organized resistance to the war in Southeast Asia, then forty years later saluted the Dixie Chicks for their courage to protest war. Her earliest recordings fed a host of traditional ballads into the rock vernacular, before she unselfconsciously introduced Bob Dylan to the world in 1963 and focused awareness on songwriters ranging from Woody Guthrie, Dylan, Phil Ochs, Richard Farina, and Tim Hardin, to Kris Kristofferson and Mickey Newbury, to Dar Williams, Richard Shindell, Steve Earle and many more. If ever a new collection of songs reflects the momentous times in which Joan finds herself these days, and in her own words, "speaks to the essence of who I am in the same way as the songs that have been the enduring backbone of my repertoire for the past 50 years," Day After Tomorrow is that record, her first new studio album in five years.

Themes of hope and homecoming weave through Day After Tomorrow. Other songs explore the individual and collective anguish of life during wartime, starting with the Tom Waits title track, "Day After Tomorrow" (introduced on his 2004 album Real Gone, and reprised as the emotional closing track of Body Of War, the award-winning 2007 documentary of a paralyzed Iraq war recruit) and the haunting "Scarlet Tide" (written by Elvis Costello and T Bone Burnett for the 2003 Civil War film, Cold Mountain).

Day After Tomorrow, recorded in Nashville, is Joan's first full-length album collaboration with Steve Earle, who produces, plays guitar and sings harmony. Earle is also represented by two new compositions: "I Am A Wanderer," written overnight before one of the sessions; and the album's opening track, "God Is God" (which has already won a place in Joan's concert sets, along with Earle's perennial "Christmas In Washington" - "So come back Woody Guthrie/ Come back to us now..."). A third Earle tune closes the album in acappella form, "Jericho Road," a song that would not be out of place on a Staples Singers record (from Earle's most recent album, Washington Square Serenade, though Joan is careful not to characterize it as a "gospel" tune.

 On two songs, Earle plays the harmonium, an unusual instrument with a curiously unique sound: "Henry Russell's Last Words" by Diana Jones (a true account based on an American mining disaster); and Austin, Texas stalwart Eliza Gilkyson's "Requiem," from her 2005 album, Paradise Hotel. "Requiem" is one of two Gilkyson songs on Day After Tomorrow, along with "Rose Of Sharon" (from Eliza's Redemption Road of 1997). "A little gem," says Joan, "such a sweet song. If I didn't know otherwise, I would have just assumed that it was an old English folk song." from her 2005 album, Paradise Hotel.

 Earle assembled a first-rate core of Music City "A-Team" players to accompany Joan, each one a headliner in his own right: respected singer-songwriters and multi-instrumentalists Tim O'Brien (who shows up on mandolin, fiddle, and bouzouki) and Darrell Scott (guitars, dobro, banjolin, bouzouki), who frequently appear on each other's records; bassist extraordinaire Viktor Krauss; Nashville elder statesman Kenny Malone on drums and percussion; and an occasional jingle of tambourine by the album's veteran recording engineer Ray Kennedy (Steve Earle's long-time producer).

 Guest appearances are limited to two singers on Day After Tomorrow. Ray's wife, Siobhan Kennedy, sings harmony on "Mary," a Christian allegory written by Patty Griffin for her Flaming Red album of 1998. (The song took on a life of its own on the first Concerts for a Landmine Free World benefit album in 2001, and then on Willie Nelson's Songs for Tsunami Relief benefit album in 2005.) UK singer/songwriter Thea Gilmore recorded her harmony vocal in Liverpool for "The Lower Road," one of the songs on her May 2008 album Liejacker, her tenth album in ten years - though the song made its way to Joan months before.

Joan Baez and Steve Earle

Day After Tomorrow now forms (or completes) a trilogy of albums - with Steve Earle as a primal link - that began with 2003's Dark Chords On a Big Guitar, Joan's first new album of studio recordings in six years (at the time), and followed-up with 2005's Bowery Songs, her first live album in ten years (at the time). Both earlier albums brought Joan's history of mutual mentoring up into the new millennium - introducing new collaborations with younger artists and songwriters, a hallmark of her recordings and performances ever since she first stepped on a stage.

Dark Chords On a Big Guitar was a fresh collection from contemporary songwriters whose work resonates with Joan. The songs were drawn from the pens of Ryan Adams, Greg Brown (two songs including "Rexroth's Daughter," whose lyric gives the album its title), Caitlin Cary, Joe Henry, Natalie Merchant, Josh Ritter and Gillian Welch & David Rawlings . The album closed with Joan's definitive version of Steve Earle's "Christmas In Washington."

 In August 2003, just prior to the September release of Dark Chords On a Big Guitar, Joan was invited by Emmylou Harris (who credits Joan as a primary influence) and Steve Earle to join them in the UK for two Concerts For a Landmine Free World. Joan returned to the UK in January-February 2004, for a sold-out 16-city tour (with Ritter opening). The conclusion of that tour coincided with the fifth annual BBC2 Folk Awards, where Joan presented Steve Earle with the Lifetime Achievement Award - the same honor she received when the awards were inaugurated in 2000. Joan and Steve joined together that spring for a U.S. tour.

 Joan returned to New York City in November 2004, for two nights of live recording at the Bowery Ballroom on the Lower East Side, the Friday and Saturday after Election Day. The resulting album, Bowery Songs, captured the message of that fateful week, from her opening acappella benediction of the patriotic "Finlandia," to the prophetic and telling versions of Bob Dylan's "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" and Steve Earle's "Jerusalem," the album's two closing tracks.

 The spirits of Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan were felt throughout Bowery Songs - Joan has been singing Woody's "Deportees (Plane Wreck At Los Gatos)" since the 1960s but this was her first live release of the song. Dylan's "Farewell, Angelina" was the title tune of Joan's 1965 LP that contained two Guthrie songs and four by Dylan, one of which was "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue," a 'Bowery song.' Joan also sang "Seven Curses," Dylan's 1963 adaptation of the Child ballad "The Maid Freed From the Gallows" aka "Anathea" (and a stunning reminder of Joan's unmatched guitar skills.)

 As on previous live albums, Bowery Songs spanned Joan's entire career - from "Silver Dagger" (opening song of her first solo LP, 1960), "Jackaroe" (first heard on 1963's In Concert Part 2, later transmogrified by the Grateful Dead), and "Joe Hill" (sung at Woodstock), through the venerable Irish "Carrickfergus" (from 1989's Speaking Of Dreams), and the songs from 2003's Dark Chords On a Big Guitar. It was also noted that four of the 'Bowery songs' were previously unrecorded by Joan: "Finlandia," "Seven Curses," "Dink's Song," and "Jerusalem."

Bowery Songs reminds us that at crucial moments during her long and storied career - which is to say, at crucial moments in America's history over the past five decades - Joan has recorded and released live performance albums that have served as critical barometers of our times. So Bowery Songs was framed in a rich tradition, capturing the work of an artist whose finest moments often happen onstage.

Fifty Years of Joan Baez

 In the summer of 1958, Joan Chandos Baez, a 17-year old high school graduate (by the skin of her teeth) moved with her family - her parents Albert and Joan, older sister Pauline and younger sister Mimi - from Palo Alto to Boston. They drove cross-country with the Kingston Trio's "Tom Dooley" all over the radio, a guilty pleasure of Joan's. She was an entering freshman at Boston University School Of Drama, where she was surrounded by a musical group of friends who shared a passion for folk music.

 A stunning soprano, Joan's natural vibrato lent a taut, nervous tension to everything she sang. Yet even as an 18-year old, introduced onstage at the first Newport Folk Festival in 1959, her repertoire reflected a different sensibility from her peers. In the traditional songs she mastered, there was an acknowledgment of the human condition.

 She recorded her first solo LP for Vanguard Records in the summer of 1960, the beginning of a prolific 14-album, 12-year association with the label. Her earliest records, with their mix of traditional ballads and blues, lullabies, Carter Family songs, Weavers and Woody Guthrie songs, cowboy tunes, ethnic folk staples of American and non-American vintage, and much more - won strong followings in the US and abroad.

 Among the songs she introduced on her earliest albums that would find their ways into the repertoire of 60's rock stalwarts were "House Of the Rising Sun" (the Animals), "John Riley" (the Byrds), "Babe, I'm Gonna Leave You" (Led Zeppelin), "What Have They Done To the Rain" (the Searchers), "Jackaroe" (Grateful Dead), and "Long Black Veil" (the Band), to name a few. "Geordie," "House Carpenter," and "Matty Groves" inspired a multitude of British acts who trace their origins to Fairport Convention, Pentangle, and Steeleye Span.

 In 1963, Joan began touring with Bob Dylan and recording his songs, a bond that came to symbolize the folk music movement for the next two years. At the same time, Joan began her lifelong role of introducing songs from a host of contemporary singer-songwriters starting with Phil Ochs, Richard Farina, Leonard Cohen, Tim Hardin, Paul Simon, and others. Her repertoire grew to include songs by Jacques Brel, Lennon-McCartney, Johnny Cash and his Nashville peers, and South American composers Nascimento, Bonfa, Villa-Lobos, and others.

 At a time in our country's history when it was neither safe nor fashionable, Joan put herself on the line countless times, and her life's work was mirrored in her music. She sang about freedom and Civil Rights everywhere, from the backs of flatbed trucks in Mississippi to the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King's March on Washington in 1963. In 1964, she withheld 60% of her income tax from the IRS to protest military spending, and participated in the birth of the Free Speech movement at UC Berkeley. A year later she co-founded the Institute For The Study Of Nonviolence near her home in Carmel Valley. In 1966, Joan Baez stood in the fields alongside Cesar Chavez and migrant farm workers striking for fair wages, and opposed capital punishment at San Quentin during a Christmas vigil.

 The following year she turned her attention to the draft resistance movement. In 1968, she recorded an album of country standards for her then-husband David Harris. He was later taken into custody by Federal marshals in July 1969 and imprisoned for 20 months, for refusing induction and organizing draft resistance against the Vietnam war. As the war escalated, Joan traveled to Hanoi with the U.S.-based Liaison Committee and helped establish Amnesty International on the West Coast.

 In the wake of the Beatles, the definition of folk music - a singer with an acoustic guitar - broadened and liberated many artists. Rather than following the pack into amplified folk-rock, Joan recorded three remarkable LPs with classical instrumentation. Later, as the '60s turned into the '70s, she began recording in Nashville. The "A-Team" of Nashville's session musicians backed Joan on her last four LPs for Vanguard Records (including her biggest career single, a cover of the Band's "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" in 1971) and her first two releases on A&M.

 Within the context of those albums and the approaching end of hostilities in Southeast Asia, Joan turned to the suffering of those living in Chile under the rule of Augusto Pinochet. To those people she dedicated her first album sung entirely in Spanish, a record that inspired Linda Ronstadt, later in the '80s, to begin recording the Spanish songs of her heritage. One of the songs Joan sang on that album, "No Nos Moveran" (We Shall Not Be Moved) had been banned from public singing in Spain for more than forty years under Generalissimo Franco's rule, and was excised from copies of the LP sold there. Joan became the first major artist to sing the sung publicly when she performed it on a controversial television appearance in Madrid in 1977, three years after the dictator's death.

 In 1975, Joan's self-penned "Diamonds & Rust" became the title song of an LP with songs by Jackson Browne, Janis Ian, John Prine, Stevie Wonder & Syreeta, Dickey Betts of the Allman Brothers Band - and Bob Dylan. His Rolling Thunder Revues of late 1975 and '76 (and resulting movie Renaldo & Clara, released in 1978) co-starred Joan Baez.

 In 1978, she traveled to Northern Ireland and marched with the Irish Peace People, calling for an end to violence. She appeared at rallies on behalf of the nuclear freeze movement, and performed at benefit concerts to defeat California's Proposition 6 (Briggs Initiative), legislation that would have banned openly gay people from teaching in public schools. Joan received the American Civil Liberties Union's Earl Warren Award for her commitment to human and civil rights issues; and founded Humanitas International Human Rights Committee, which she headed for 13 years. She won the San Francisco Bay Area Music Award (BAMMY) award as top female vocalist in 1978 and 1979, and a number of film and video and live recordings released in Europe and the U.S. documented her travels and concerts into the '80s.

 In 1983, she performed on the Grammy awards telecast for the first time (singing Bob Dylan's "Blowin' In the Wind"). In the summer of 1985, after opening the U.S. segment of the worldwide Live Aid telecast, she later appeared at the revived Newport Folk Festival, the first gathering there since 1969. In 1986, Joan joined Peter Gabriel, Sting and others on Amnesty International's Conspiracy of Hope tour; her subsequent album was influenced by the tour, as it acknowledged artists and groups whose lives in turn were influenced by her, with songs from Gabriel, U2, Dire Straits, Johnny Clegg, and others. Later in 1986, however, she was chosen to perform The People's Summit concert in Iceland at the time of the historic meeting between U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev. Joan's 1989 concert in Czechoslovakia was attended by many of that country's dissidents, including President Vaclav Havel who cited her as a great influence in the so-called Velvet Revolution.

 After attending an early Indigo Girls concert in 1990 (the year after their major label album debut), Joan teamed with the duo and Mary Chapin Carpenter (as Four Voices) for a series of benefit performances. The experience reinforced Joan's belief in the new generation of songwriters' ability to speak to her. When her album, Play Me Backwards, was released in 1992, it featured songs by Carpenter, John Hiatt, John Stewart, and others.

 In 1993, Joan became the first major artist to perform in Sarajevo since the outbreak of the civil war as she traveled to war-torn Bosnia-Herzegovina at the invitation of Refugees International. The next year, she sang in honor of Pete Seeger at the Kennedy Center Honors Gala in Washington, D.C. Also in 1994, Joan and Janis Ian sang for the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's Fight the Right fundraising event in San Francisco.

 In 1995, Joan received her third BAMMY as Outstanding Female Vocalist. Joan's nurturing support of other singer-songwriters came full circle with her next album, Ring Them Bells. This idea of collaborative mentoring was expanded on 1997's Gone From Danger, where Joan was revealed as a lightning rod for young songwriting talent, with compositions from Dar Williams, Sinead Lohan, Kerrville Music Festival newcomer Betty Elders, Austin's The Borrowers, and Richard Shindell (who went on to tour extensively with Joan over the years).

 In August 2001, Vanguard Records began the most extensive chronological CD reissue program ever devoted to one artist in the company's history. Expanded editions (with bonus tracks, and newly commissioned liner notes) were released of her debut solo album of 1960, Joan Baez, and Joan Baez Vol. 2 (1961). The six-year campaign went on to encompass every original LP she recorded while under contract to the label from 1960 to 1972. In 2003, spurred by Vanguard's lead, Universal Music Enterprises gathered Joan's six complete A&M albums released from 1972 to 1976 into a mini-boxed set of four CDs, also with bonus material and extensive liner notes.

 The release of Dark Chords On a Big Guitar in September 2003 was supported with a 22-city U.S. tour. On October 3rd, Grammy Award-winning classical guitarist Sharon Isbin presented her debut performance of "The Joan Baez Suite, Opus 144". Written for Isbin by John Duarte and commissioned by the Augustine Foundation, the piece featured songs from Joan's earliest days in folk music.

 On the night of February 11, 2007, at the 49th annual Grammy Awards telecast viewed by more than a billion people worldwide, it was announced that Joan Baez had received the highly prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award, the greatest honor that the Recording Academy can bestow. In turn, she introduced the live performance of "Not Ready To Make Nice" by dark horse nominees the Dixie Chicks. It was an ironic moment, as Joan's 'lifetime' of activism resonated in sync with the trio. They had been blacklisted by country radio and the Academy Of Country Music (ACM) when they criticized the President and the impending war in Iraq back in March 2003.

 Most recently, Joan was seen by a billion tv viewers around the world, standing center stage behind Nelson Mandela at the "46664" 90th birthday celebration in his honor, at London's Hyde Park on June 28, 2008.

 "All of us are survivors," Joan Baez wrote, "but how many of us transcend survival?" 50 years on, she continues to show renewed vitality and passion in her concerts and records, and is more comfortable than ever inside her own skin. In this troubled world, to paraphrase "Wings," she will always continue to seek "a place where they can hear me when I sing."

 --Arthur Levy, July 2008




Sampeace Brown who was originally born in Nigeria - West Africa with a population of about 150 million people, started his artist career at the age of 14. Sampeace Brown grew up in a big family where singing and listening to pop music and traditional folklore was part of the daily rituals and way of life. This had transpired throughout his early school days leading to the crucial moment after college graduation when it became eminent that the road to exhibit his artistic talent to all mankind was obvious. The year 1978 became the period of revelation on Sampeace Brown as a song writer, composer and singer, even at that early stage, he had already developed the skills of leading a pop group. A boy band- was formed named" T.Bones Family" inspired of his predecessors and legends like: Marvin Gaye, James Brown, Toots & The Metals, Betty Wright, Gladys Night, Curtis Mayfield, Temptations, Stevie Wonder, Candy Staton, Third World, Byron Lee & The Dragoniacs, Jimmy Cliff, Johnny Nash, Manu Dibango, Fela Anikulapo Kuti, Sony Okosun, One World, The Wailers, Rex Lawson, Osadebe, etc,etc.


Sampeace Brown became the architect, leader, the group's song writer and lead vocalist. Their first demo delivery to a local reputable record label, quickly fetched the group record contract and all their studio undertakings same year at some of Nigerias most populous and well equipped studios: Phonodisc and EMI studios Lagos precipitated their debut album "MUSIC CROSSROADS" which quickly created a sensational hit all over the geographical territories of the states of Nigeria, where pop music was consumed in mass. The group’s smash hit also extended to other parts of West African territories too. The group had 3 subsequent releases with major tours when the members had decided to take a break and Sampeace Brown had already moved to Europe. They later decided to make a re-union in Lagos-Nigeria in 1986 when the group’s last album "Eat the Apple" was hatched, recorded at Recordisc ltd, Shanolu studios, EMI studios Lagos and released in same year, which marked the end of the period for the group. Sampeace who has already been residing in Scandinavia (Norway) since the early 80's had then decided to poseur his solo career in 1986.


1989 finally became a breaking point for Sampeace Brown's solo career into the Norwegian main stream music scene. Having grown up in a cosmopolitan type of society, he technically analyzed the core of his musical ambition and concept as symbiosis of Reggae, Soul, R&B, Funk, Afro-pop and West African hilfe music, derived from all species, hard core of the Pan African, American, Caribbean and European musical heritage represented in all corners of the globe. Sampeace Brown has within more than two decades of his artist career in Scandinavia managed to acquaint himself with the Norwegian music industry and worked with various musicians, producers, record labels, both at home and abroad. In his relentless efforts to get his recorded works exposed into the pan Scandinavian/European market in 1987, the indie label T-Kay Music was used as a platform to enhance securing record deals with both Majors, Semi-Majors and Indie Record labels in Scandinavia, Caribbean’s, Africa, and North America where some of Sampeace Brown's recorded works were released and have since the beginning of his artist career sold a good number of records, mostly in Africa.



Still no justice for civil rights-era rapes Tags: civil rights rapes no justice word life production news

The Associated Press
Friday, October 15, 2010; 2:26 PM 


ATLANTA -- Years before Rosa Parks fought for justice from her seat on a Montgomery bus, she fought for Recy Taylor.

Parks was an NAACP activist crisscrossing Alabama in 1944 when she came across the case of Taylor, a 24-year-old wife and mother who was brutally gang raped and dumped on the side of a rural road. Taylor survived only to watch two all-white, all-male grand juries decline to indict the six white men who admitted to authorities that they assaulted her.

Taylor was one of many black women attacked by white men during an era in which sexual assault was used to informally enforce Jim Crow segregation. Their pain galvanized an anti-rape crusade that ultimately took a back seat to the push to dismantle officially sanctioned separation of the races, and slowly faded from the headlines.

Many of these rape victims never got justice and the desire for closure is still there, more than 60 years later - leaving some to wonder what, if anything, can be done to address the wrongs done to them.

"I didn't get nothing, ain't nothing been done about it," Taylor, now 90, told The Associated Press in a phone interview from her central Florida home. The AP is revealing Taylor's identity because she has publicly identified herself as a victim of sexual assault.

"I was an honest person and living right," Taylor said. "They shouldn't have did that. I never give them no reason to do it."

For 20 years after she was raped, Taylor and her family lived in the same Abbeville, Ala., community as the families of her attackers. She spent many years living in fear, and says local whites continued to treat her badly, even after her assailants left town.

Evelyn Lowery, an activist whose husband, the Rev. Joseph Lowery, worked with Martin Luther King Jr., suggested that an apology from the government could be a start to the healing.

"I certainly think it would be in order," Evelyn Lowery said. "For many years, they tried to say that women were the cause of this, that (black) women wanted sexual activity. ... It hasn't been true, but the courts used that to justify not taking action on behalf of the women. It was very demoralizing to all of us."

Taylor is not inclined to pursue a civil case. She believes most, if not all, of her attackers are dead. But she does find the idea of an official apology appealing.

"It would mean a whole lot to me," Taylor said. "The people who done this to me ... they can't do no apologizing. Most of them is gone."

Danielle McGuire, a history professor at Wayne State University who has documented the women's advocacy and Taylor's story in a new book, cites numerous instances of black women enduring unwanted sexual encounters from white men in cities in Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida and Arkansas. Adding to the indignity, McGuire said, was the knowledge that black men - many of them innocent - were accused of and severely punished for the same or lesser crimes against white women. In some cases, they paid with their lives.

"It tells us that there's more to the movement than we think we know," McGuire said. "When we listen to the voices of these women, we get a whole new perspective."

For Taylor's brother, Robert Corbitt, a small measure of justice came courtesy of McGuire's book, "At The Dark End of the Street," which he said finally provided an accurate account of what happened to his sister, who helped raise him after his mother died.

"I still don't like what happened," said Corbitt, now 74. "This happened 65, 66 years ago. It has never been a week that went by where it didn't cross my mind."

When he retired in 2001 and moved from New York back to Abbeville, Corbitt tried to get court documents about his sister's case. He said he was stonewalled by officials at the local courthouse.

"They made it seem it was impossible to go back and pull them up," Corbitt said. "It made me feel terrible that she was still being railroaded."

It's unclear what closure may be available today for black women who were raped in the segregated South. In some states, like Alabama, there is no statute of limitations on rape. McGuire figures "you could make a case for reopening something" if there are living assailants and evidence that can be gathered.

"An enterprising attorney could find a way to use that at least in a civil case," McGuire said.

The Justice Department is not looking into civil rights-era sexual assault cases and lacks jurisdiction to do so, said spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa. She notes that the Emmett Till Act, which created an office to investigate unsolved civil rights-era crimes, is specifically limited to race-motivated killings only.

Parks came to Abbeville in 1944 to investigate Taylor's case. She went back to Montgomery, recruited other activists and by the spring of 1945 had organized the Alabama Committee for Equal Justice for Mrs. Recy Taylor. Local blacks rallied around Taylor even though they knew convictions of her attackers were unlikely, Corbitt said.

"We done all we could to make a little noise," Corbitt said. "We felt that we was getting back at them some way or another. We thought maybe we'll be able to expose these people to the community and at least that they'll be looking upon them as rapists."

Eventually, even Taylor herself gave up. In 1965, she and her family relocated to central Florida.

"I felt like if I tried to push it, to try to get them put in jail, I thought maybe it would be bad on me, so I just left town," Taylor said.

Other blacks, typically women, wrote letters to their governors and other lawmakers demanding justice for these victims. They also expanded their advocacy to take aim at segregated public accommodations.

By the time Parks made history in 1955, hundreds of black women had begun organizing their resistance to the name-calling and inappropriate sexual advances to which they were subjected daily aboard Montgomery's city buses. A high school student, Claudette Colvin, had refused to yield a bus seat before Parks did, but did not become a cause celebre partly because she lacked Parks' pristine image and community standing.

Though the public face of the movement became a coalition of black ministers led by King, black women worked behind the scenes organizing and driving carpools, filling church pews and raising funds to keep the 13-month boycott going, McGuire wrote.

Andrew Young, a King lieutenant, said there were no simple answers to determining why the anti-rape cause didn't become a larger aim of the movement.

"We never focused on that," Young said. "We were focusing on the specific subjects of education, jobs, voting. ... I can think of a thousand things we did not do that I would have liked to have done."

Corbitt said he holds no ill will toward civil rights activists who moved on to other causes after Taylor's case failed in the courts.

"Most of them had to give up because I guess they were at the end of the line," Corbitt said. "Rosa Parks, she done all she could do."



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