Mustafa Ahmed: Spoken-Word Poet

Mustafa Ahmed_17 year old Spoken Word Poet from TorontoMustafa Ahmed (Spoken-Word Poet, born 1996, age 17, Toronto, Canada)

The Walrus, Feb. 19th 2014: Mustafa Ahmed interviewed by Julien Russell Brunet:

My dad was a social worker. He used to give, even though we didn’t have much. I knew I wanted to help people too, but I wasn’t sure how to go about it. And then I found poetry and I found the arts. I was writing about change, about Regent Park, the beauties of my life. Sharing my poetry, I felt like people connected.

I started off at ten years old, just writing to communicate with my sister. I thought it was cool and I loved doing it, but I also felt like I had a voice. As I grew older, my poetry grew as well.

When I’m dialed in, I love every moment of it. I just need to get in my own space and write. There’s this desperation: all of what’s inside just screaming at me to share my words. The most important thing is developing whatever feeling I have. If, as an artist, I’m unable to make myself vulnerable and allow myself to feel, I won’t be able to write.

…There will be weeks when I don’t write at all. And then [something] will happen. You never know when it’s going to come, but the evidence is there. All over my phone and in my drawer, there are bits of text everywhere: drafts, scraps, pieces of paper. Sometimes my mind races faster than my hand.

I’m writing through the journey. But, if I can’t continue it, I’ll stop and I’ll give it time. When I force the poetry, it’s horrible, it’s never good.

.     .     .

Mustafa Ahmed’s Spoken-Word video “Lost Souls” (released February 20th 2014):

http://www.mustafathepoet.com/news/2014/2/20/lost-souls-video

.     .     .     .     .


Alain Mabanckou: “Letter to the Sun” / “Lettre au Soleil”

Francks François Décéus_On the beach_Sur la plage_2009

Francks François Décéus_On the beach_Sur la plage_2009

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Alain Mabanckou

(born February 24th, 1966, Pointe-Noire, Republic of The Congo / lives in Paris and Los Angeles)

Letter to the Sun”

.
Sun:
Here’s my registered letter,
with an accusation of deception.

I summon you – right here, right now –
to honour a tribute to Light,

something you owe this clump of Earth

capering around you.

.

Your revolutionary “revolving”,
the spheroid halo of your loophole-kisses,

these don’t impress me.
I’ll await you at the bend
between Dawn’s shyness

and Azure Sky’s confusion.
My rage will be at “high noon”,

tatooed by a fadeless rancour.

I’ll go – if need be – to “unearth” you in the dust of stars

and the vagabounding immensity of the Galaxy.

Then I will bear a grievance alongside the Eclipse

in order to mock you at your zenith

before a Humanity oh so reverential of your virtues…

.     .     .


Alain Mabanckou (né le 24 février, 1966, Pointe-Noire, République du Congo)
Lettre au Soleil”
.
Soleil
Voici ma lettre recommandée
avec accusé de déception
.
Je te somme ici et maintenant
d’honorer le tribut de lumière
que tu dois à la motte de Terre
qui cabriole autour de toi
.
Ta course révolutionnaire
et le halo sphéroîdal de tes embrasures
ne m’impressionnent plus
Je t’attendrai au tournant
entre la timidité de l’Aurore
et la confusion de l’Azur
Ma rage sera à son midi,
tatouée d’une rancoeur immarcescible
J’irai s’il le faut
te dénicher dans la poussière stellaire
et l’immensité vagabonde de la Galaxie
Je porterai alors plainte auprès de l’Eclipse
pour te ridiculiser en plein zénith
devant l’humanité qui révère tes vertus…

.

.

© Alain Mabanckou, 1995

.     .     .

To: Another Understanding or Guiding Light”

.

In the shade of your sleep

rest the vestiges of illusions.

It seems that beyond the hilltops

indicates another point of view / horizon.

.

I beg of the Sun not a single ray;

for I carry within me

the light of your awakening,

the marvel of your gaze

fixed upon Eternity.

.     .     .

À l’autre lumière”

.

À l’ombre de ton sommeil
reposent les vestiges des songes
il paraît qu’au-delà des collines
pointe l’autre horizon.
.
je n’implore du soleil
aucun rai
je porte en moi
la lumière de ton éveil
l’éblouissement de ton regard
rivé vers l’éternité.

.

.

.

Translations from French into English: Alexander Best

.     .     .     .     .


Léopold Sédar Senghor: “À New York”: un poème typique du courant de la Négritude / “To New York”: a classic poem of the Négritude movement

Lois Mailou Jones_Africa_Oil on canvas_1935

Lois Mailou Jones_Africa_Oil on canvas_1935

Léopold Sédar Senghor (1906-2001, Sénégal / France)

Recueil : Éthiopiques (1956)

À New York” (pour un orchestre de jazz : solo de trompette)

.

- I -

New York ! D’abord j’ai été confondu par ta beauté, ces grandes filles d’or aux jambes longues.
Si timide d’abord devant tes yeux de métal bleu, ton sourire de givre
Si timide. Et l’angoisse au fond des rues à gratte-ciel
Levant des yeux de chouette parmi l’éclipse du soleil.
Sulfureuse ta lumière et les fûts livides, dont les têtes foudroient le ciel
Les gratte-ciel qui défient les cyclones sur leurs muscles d’acier et leur peau patinée de pierres.
Mais quinze jours sur les trottoirs chauves de Manhattan
– C’est au bout de la troisième semaine que vous saisit la fièvre en un bond de jaguar
Quinze jours sans un puits ni pâturage, tous les oiseaux de l’air
Tombant soudain et morts sous les hautes cendres des terrasses.
Pas un rire d’enfant en fleur, sa main dans ma main fraîche
Pas un sein maternel, des jambes de nylon. Des jambes et des seins sans sueur ni odeur.
Pas un mot tendre en l’absence de lèvres, rien que des cœurs artificiels payés en monnaie forte
Et pas un livre où lire la sagesse. La palette du peintre fleurit des cristaux de corail.
Nuits d’insomnie ô nuits de Manhattan ! si agitées de feux follets, tandis que les klaxons hurlent des heures vides
Et que les eaux obscures charrient des amours hygiéniques, tels des fleuves en crue des cadavres d’enfants.

.

- II -

Voici le temps des signes et des comptes
New York ! or voici le temps de la manne et de l’hysope.
Il n’est que d’écouter les trombones de Dieu, ton cœur battre au rythme du sang ton sang.
J’ai vu dans Harlem bourdonnant de bruits de couleurs solennelles et d’odeurs flamboyantes
– C’est l’heure du thé chez le livreur-en-produits-pharmaceutiques
J’ai vu se préparer la fête de la Nuit à la fuite du jour.
C’est l’heure pure où dans les rues, Dieu fait germer la vie d’avant mémoire
Tous les éléments amphibies rayonnants comme des soleils.
Harlem Harlem ! voici ce que j’ai vu Harlem Harlem !
Une brise verte de blés sourdre des pavés labourés par les
pieds nus de danseurs Dans
Croupes de soie et seins de fers de lance, ballets de nénuphars et de masques fabuleux
Aux pieds des chevaux de police, les mangues de l’amour rouler des maisons basses.
Et j’ai vu le long des trottoirs, des ruisseaux de rhum blanc des ruisseaux de lait noir dans le brouillard bleu des cigares.
J’ai vu le ciel neiger au soir des fleurs de coton et des ailes de séraphins et des panaches de sorciers.
Écoute New York ! ô écoute ta voix mâle de cuivre ta voix vibrante de hautbois, l’angoisse bouchée de tes larmes tomber en gros caillots de sang
Écoute au loin battre ton cœur nocturne, rythme et sang du tam-tam, tam-tam sang et tam-tam.

.

- III -

New York! je dis New York, laisse affluer le sang noir dans ton sang
Qu’il dérouille tes articulations d’acier, comme une huile de vie
Qu’il donne à tes ponts la courbe des croupes et la souplesse des lianes.
Voici revenir les temps très anciens, l’unité retrouvée la réconciliation du Lion du Taureau et de l’Arbre
L’idée liée à l’acte l’oreille au cœur le signe au sens.
Voilà tes fleuves bruissants de caïmans musqués et de lamantins aux yeux de mirages. Et nul besoin d’inventer les Sirènes.
Mais il suffit d’ouvrir les yeux à l’arc-en-ciel d’Avril
Et les oreilles, surtout les oreilles à Dieu qui d’un rire de saxophone créa le ciel et la terre en six jours.
Et le septième jour, il dormit du grand sommeil nègre.

.     .     .

Léopold Sédar Senghor (1906-2001, Senegal / France)

From: Éthiopiques (1956)

To New York” (for jazz orchestra – with solo trumpet)

.

- I -

.

New York! At first I was bewildered by your beauty,

Those huge, long-legged, golden girls.

So shy, at first, before your blue metallic eyes and icy smile,

So shy. And full of despair at the end of skyscraper streets

Raising my owl eyes at the eclipse of the sun.

Your light is sulphurous against the pale towers

Whose heads strike lightning into the sky,

Skyscrapers defying storms with their steel shoulders

And weathered skin of stone.

But two weeks on the naked sidewalks of Manhattan—

At the end of the third week the fever

Overtakes you with a jaguar’s leap

Two weeks without well water or pasture all birds of the air

Fall suddenly dead under the high, sooty terraces.

No laugh from a growing child, his hand in my cool hand.

No mother’s breast, but nylon legs. Legs and breasts

Without smell or sweat. No tender word, and no lips,

Only artificial hearts paid for in cold cash

And not one book offering wisdom.

The painter’s palette yields only coral crystals.

Sleepless nights, O nights of Manhattan!

Stirring with delusions while car horns blare the empty hours

And murky streams carry away hygienic loving

Like rivers overflowing with the corpses of babies.

.

- II -

Now is the time of signs and reckoning, New York!

Now is the time of manna and hyssop.

You have only to listen to God’s trombones, to your heart

Beating to the rhythm of blood, your blood.

I saw Harlem teeming with sounds and ritual colours

And outrageous smells—

At teatime in the home of the drugstore-deliveryman

I saw the festival of Night begin at the retreat of day.

And I proclaim Night more truthful than the day.

It is the pure hour when God brings forth

Life immemorial in the streets,

All the amphibious elements shining like suns.

Harlem, Harlem! Now I’ve seen Harlem, Harlem!

A green breeze of corn rising from the pavements

Plowed by the Dan dancers’ bare feet,

Hips rippling like silk and spearhead breasts,

Ballets of water lilies and fabulous masks

And mangoes of love rolling from the low houses

To the feet of police horses.

And along sidewalks I saw streams of white rum

And streams of black milk in the blue haze of cigars.

And at night I saw cotton flowers snow down

From the sky and the angels’ wings and sorcerers’ plumes.

Listen, New York! O listen to your bass male voice,

Your vibrant oboe voice, the muted anguish of your tears

Falling in great clots of blood,

Listen to the distant beating of your nocturnal heart,

The tom-tom’s rhythm and blood, tom-tom blood and tom-tom.

.

- III -

New York! I say New York, let black blood flow into your blood.

Let it wash the rust from your steel joints, like an oil of life

Let it give your bridges the curve of hips and supple vines.

Now the ancient age returns, unity is restored,

The reconciliation of the Lion and Bull and Tree

Idea links to action, the ear to the heart, sign to meaning.

See your rivers stirring with musk alligators

And sea cows with mirage eyes. No need to invent the Sirens.

Just open your eyes to the April rainbow

And your eyes, especially your ears, to God

Who in one burst of saxophone laughter

Created heaven and earth in six days,

And on the seventh slept a deep Negro sleep.

.

.

.

Translation of “To New York” from the original French into English: Melvin Dixon

For more translations by Dixon click the link: 

http://zocalopoets.com/2013/06/18/melvin-dixon-as-translator-a-handful-of-love-letter-poems-by-leopold-sedar-senghor/

.     .     .     .     .


June Jordan: “Poema sobre Intelecto para mis Hermanos y Hermanas” / “A Poem about Intelligence for my Brothers and Sisters”

Gordon Parks photographer_Boy at swimming pool_Harlem_New York City_1942

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June Jordan (1936-2002)

Poema sobre Intelecto para mis Hermanos y Hermanas”

.

Hace unos años me dicieron que Negro es un seso hueco y otra gente

tienen cerebros / casi como las células dentro las cabezas de niños negros

estaban fuera tomando una siesta a la hora en punto – cada hora.

.

El Científico llamé este fenómeno El Lapsus Arthur Jensen (de mala fama) – ¿no recuerdas?

Bien, estoy pensando en idear una prueba para los eruditos – los sabios, ¿sabes? – algo como una Prueba Cociente Intelectual Stanford-Binet por la CIA – ¿comprendes?

Por ejemplo…El señor doctor Einstein, incuestionablemente el “cerebro” más espectacular del siglo – ¿no?

.

Y estoy luchando contra estas sobras-Lapsus de mi niñez negra, y me pregunto por que alguien deciría: E = MC Squared – la equivalencia entre la masa y la energía.

Intento discutir sobre ésto con la vieja mujer que vive en mi cuadra…

Está escobando la escalera de entrada en una noche de sábado, enojado porque un “burro” dejó un colchón de cama king-size – manchas y demás – en frente de su casa, y no quiere saber nada de éso en primer lugar.

.

Inclinándome en la verja, digo: “Señora Johnson, ¿qué piensas en alguien que se inventa E = MC Squared?”

“¿Cómo te va?” me responde de su lado, como no quiere permitirme saber que tengo pelo no peinado (esta mañana de domingo) y que tengo el atrevimiento de molestarle durante una tarea seria con mis preguntas locas…

“¿E igual a que, cariño?”

Pues le digo: “Este tipo que dijo éso, ¡creo que fue El Padre No Refutado de La Bomba Atómica!”

“Sí, eso es,” murmura, no tan amablemente.

“¡Y siempre olvidó ponerse calcetines con sus zapatos!”– agrego (un poco deseperada).

En este momento Señora Johnson se aleja de mí, con su escoba, y da un gran paso atrás en la escalera.

“Y nunca no hizo nada para nadie sino en una comisión…Y decía “¿Qué hora es?” y alguien decía “Son las seis.” Y él decía “– ¿de la mañana o de la tarde?”…¡Y nunca no hirvió agua para una taza de té para nadie durante su entera vida brillante!…¡Y [ mi voz se eleva un poco ] nunca no bugui bugui ni nunca tampoco, no!”

“¿Y bien?” dice ella. “Supongo, sí – cielo – que eso es lo que llaman el Genio, ¿no?”

.

.

Versión de Alexander Best

.

.

Gordon Parks photographer_Street scene_Three young boys_Harlem_NYC_1943

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June Jordan (1936-2002)

A Poem about Intelligence for my Brothers and Sisters”

.

A few years back and they told me Black

means a hole where other folks

got brain / it was like the cells in the heads

of Black children was out to every hour on the hour naps.

Scientists called the phenomenon the

Notorious Jensen Lapse, remember?

Anyway I was thinking

about how to devise

a test for the wise

like a Stanford-Binet

for the C.I.A.

you know?

Take Einstein

being the most the unquestionable the outstanding

the maximal mind of the century

right?

And I’m struggling against this lapse leftover

from my Black childhood to fathom why

anybody should say so:

E=MC squared?

.

I try that on this old lady live on my block:

She sweeping away Saturday night from the stoop

and mad as can be because some absolute

jackass have left a kingsize mattress where

she have to sweep around it stains and all she

don’t want to know nothing about in the first place.

“Mrs. Johnson!” I say, leaning on the gate

between us: “What you think about somebody come up

with an E equals M C 2?

“How you doin,” she answer me, sideways, like she don’t

want to let on she know I ain’

combed my hair yet and here it is

Sunday morning but still I have the nerve

to be bothering serious work with these crazy

questions about

E equals what you say again, dear?”

Then I tell her, “Well

also this same guy? I think

he was undisputed Father of the Atom Bomb!”

“That right.” She mumbles or grumbles, not too politely

“And dint remember to wear socks when he put on

his shoes!” I add on (getting desperate).

At which point Mrs. Johnson take herself and her broom

a very big step down the stoop away from me.

“And never did nothing for nobody in particular

lessen it was a committee

and

used to say, ‘What time is it?’

and

you’d say, ‘Six o’clock.’

and

he’d say, ‘Day or night?’

and –

and he never made nobody a cup a tea

in his whole brilliant life!

and

[my voice rises slightly]

and

he dint never boogie neither: never!

.

“Well,” say Mrs. Johnson, “Well, honey,

I do guess

that’s Genius for you.”

.     .     .     .     .


Audre Lorde: “Afuera” / “Outside”

ZP_Audrey Lorde poster copyright artist Beeswax Goatskull

Audre Lorde (18 de febrero, 1934 – 1992)

Afuera” (1977)

.

1.

En el centro de una ciudad cruel y fantasmal
todas las cosas naturales son extrañas.
Crecí en una confusión genuina
entre césped y maleza y flores
y lo que significaba “de color”
excepto la ropa que no se podía blanquear
y nadie me llamó negra de mierda
hasta que tuve trece.
Nadie linchó a mi mamá
pero lo que nunca había sido
había blanqueado su cara de todo
excepto de furias muy privadas
e hizo que los otros chicos
me llamaran agrandada en la escuela.
Y cuántas veces he vuelto a llamarme
a través de mis huesos confusión
negra
como médula queriendo decir carne
y cuántas veces me cortaste
e hiciste correr en las calles
mi propia sangre
quién creés que soy
que estás aterrorizado de transformarte
o qué ves en mi cara
que no hayas descartado ya
en tu propio espejo
qué cara ves en mis ojos
que algún día
vas a
reconocer como la tuya
A quién maldeciré por haber crecido
creyendo en la cara de mi madre
o por haber vivido temiendo la oscuridad potente
usando la forma de mi padre
ambos me marcaron
con su amor ciego y terrible
y ahora estoy lasciva por mi propio nombre.

.

2.


Entre los cañones de sus terribles silencios
Madre brillante y padre marrón
busco ahora mis propias formas
porque nunca hablaron de mí
excepto como suya
y los pedazos con que tropiezo y me caigo
aún registro como prueba
de que soy hermosa
dos veces
bendecida con las imágenes
de quienes fueron
y quienes pensé alguna vez que eran
de lo que traslado
hacia y a través
y lo que necesito
dejar detrás de mí
más que nada
estoy bendecida en los seres que soy
que han venido a hacer de nuestras caras rotas un todo.

.     .     .

Audre Lorde (born February 18th, 1934, died 1992)

Outside”

(first published in The American Poetry Review, Vol.6, #1, Jan.-Feb. 1977)

.

1.

In the centre of a harsh and spectrumed city

all things natural are strange.

I grew up in a genuine confusion

between grass and weeds and flowers

and what “colored” meant

except for clothes you couldn’t bleach

and nobody called me nigger

until I was thirteen.

Nobody lynched my momma

but what she’d never been

had bleached her face of everything

but very private furies

and made the other children

call me yellow snot at school.

.

And how many times have I called myself back

through my bones confusion

black

like marrow meaning meat

for my soul’s hunger

and how many times have you cut me

and run in the streets

my own blood

who do you think me to be

that you are terrified of becoming

or what do you see in my face

you have not already discarded

in your own mirror

what face do you see in my eyes

that you will someday

come to

acknowledge your own.

.

Who shall I curse that I grew up

believing in my mother’s face

or that I lived in fear of the potent darkness

that wore my father’s shape

they have both marked me

with their blind and terrible love

and I am lustful now for my own name.

.

2.

Between the canyons of my parents’ silences

mother bright and father brown

I seek my own shapes now

for they never spoke of me

except as theirs

and the pieces that I stumble and fall over

I still record as proof

that I am beautiful

twice

blessed with the images

of who they were

and who I thought them to be

of what I move toward

and through

and what I need

to leave behind me

for most of all I am

blessed within my selves

who are come

to make our shattered faces whole.

.     .     .

Otros poemas de Audre Lorde:  http://zocalopoets.com/2012/07/01/mujer-y-de-la-casa-de-iemanja-por-audre-lorde-woman-and-from-the-house-of-yemanja-by-audre-lorde/

.     .     .     .     .


Gwendolyn Brooks: “Estar enamorado” / “To be in love”

Francks François Décéus _Cloud 9_2012

Francks François Décéus _Cloud 9_2012

Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000)

“Estar enamorado”

.

Estar enamorado

es tocar con mano más suave.

En tú mismo te estiras – y estás bien.

Miras las cosas con los ojos de él.

Es rojo el cardenal, es azul el cielo;

y de repente sabes que él lo sabe también.

Él no está allí pero

sabes que ustedes los dos están probando juntos

el invierno o el tiempo primaveral.

Cuando toma tu mano

es demasiado soportar.

No puedes encontrar sus ojos

porque tu pulso no debe decir

lo que no debe ser dicho.

Cuando cierra la puerta,

o cuando él no está,

tus brazos se convierten en agua.

Y eres libre con una libertad horrible.

Eres la bella mitad de un daño de oro.

Recuerdas…pues codicias su boca

– tocarla, y susurrar sobre esos labios.

Ay, cuando declarar el Amor – ¡es una Muerte, por seguro!

Oh, cuando notificar es cautivar…

Y ver rendirse la Columna de Oro

en ceniza ordinaria.

.

Traducción del inglés: Alexander Best

.     .     .

Gwendolyn Brooks (1917-2000)

“To be in love”

.

To be in love
Is to touch with a lighter hand.
In yourself you stretch, you are well.
You look at things
Through his eyes.
A cardinal is red.
A sky is blue.
Suddenly you know he knows too.
He is not there but
You know you are tasting together
The winter, or a light spring weather.
His hand to take your hand is overmuch.
Too much to bear.
You cannot look in his eyes
Because your pulse must not say
What must not be said.
When he
Shuts a door,
Is not there,
Your arms are water.
And you are free
With a ghastly freedom.
You are the beautiful half
Of a golden hurt.
You remember and covet his mouth
To touch, to whisper on.
Oh, when to declare
Is certain Death!
Oh, when to apprize
Is to mesmerize,
To see fall down, the Column of Gold,
Into the commonest ash.

.     .     .

Otros poemas de Gwendolyn Brooks:

http://zocalopoets.com/2014/01/30/gwendolyn-brooks-mis-suenos-mis-trabajos-tendran-que-esperar-hasta-mi-vuelta-del-infierno/

.     .     .     .     .


Aida Overton Walker: Glamour on The Stage – a century ago

Aida Overton Walker in a glamour portrait from the first decade of the 20th century

Aida Overton Walker (February 14th, 1880 – 1914) dazzled early 20th century American audiences with her original dance routines, an enchanting singing voice, and a penchant for elegant costumes. She was one of the premiere African-American women artists from the end of The Gilded Age, the Cake-Walk era, the dawn of Jazz’s birth. In addition to her alluring stage persona and  acclaimed performances, she won the hearts of Black entertainers for numerous benefit performances near the end of her all-too-brief life. She was, in the words of the New York Age‘s Lester Walton, the exponent of “clean, refined artistic entertainment.”

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Born in Richmond, Virginia, Aida Overton grew up in New York City, where she gained an education and considerable musical training. At the age of fifteen, she joined John Isham’s Octoroons, a  Black touring group of the 1890s, and the following year she became a member of The Black Patti Troubadours. Although these shows consisted of dozens of performers, Overton emerged as one of the most promising “soubrettes” of her day. In 1898, she joined the company of the famous comedy team Bert Williams and George Walker, appearing in all of their extravaganzas—The Policy Players (1899), The Sons of Ham (1900), In Dahomey (1903), Abyssinia (1905), and Bandanna Land (1907). Within about a year of their meeting, George Walker and Overton had married and before long became the most admired of African-American couples on stage.

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While George Walker supplied most of the ideas for the musical comedies and Bert Williams enjoyed fame as the “funniest man in America,” it was Aida who became the indispensable member of the Williams and Walker Company. In The Sons of Ham, for example, her rendition of Hannah from Savannah won praise for combining superb vocal control with acting skill that together presented a  strong image of Black womanhood. Indeed, onstage Aida refused to comply with the “Plantation image” of Black women as plump Mammies, happy to serve; like her husband, she viewed the representation of refined African-American types on the stage as important political work. A talented dancer, Aida improvised original routines that her husband eagerly introduced in their shows; when In Dahomey played in England, Aida proved to be its strongest attraction. Society women invited her to their homes for private lessons in the exotic Cake Walk that the Walkers had included in the show. After two seasons in England, the company returned to the United States in 1904, and Aida was featured in a New York Herald interview about their tour. At times Walker asked his wife to interpret dances made famous by other performers—one example being the “Salome” dance that took Broadway by storm in the early 1900s.

George Walker (1873-1911), attired for "In Dahomey" (1903)

George Walker (1873-1911), attired for “In Dahomey” (1903)

Bert Williams_1875-1922

Bert Williams_1875-1922


After a decade of nearly continuous success with the Williams and Walker Company, Aida’s career took an unexpected turn when her husband collapsed on tour with Bandanna Land. Initially Walker returned to his boyhood home of Lawrence, Kansas, where his mother cared for him. In his absence, Aida took over many of his songs and dances to keep the company together. In early 1909, however, Bandanna Land was forced to close, and Aida temporarily retired from stage work to care for her husband, now seriously ill. No doubt recognizing that he would not recover and that she alone must support the family, she returned to the stage in Bob Cole and J. Rosamond Johnson’s Red Moon in the autumn of 1909, and she joined the Smart Set Company in 1910. Aida also began touring the Vaudeville circuit as a solo act. Less than two weeks after Walker’s death in January 1911, she signed a two-year contract to appear as a co-star with S. H. Dudley in another all-Black traveling show.
Aida Overton Walker_portrait made at the Apeda Studio NYC
Although still a relatively young woman in the early 1910s, Aida began to develop medical problems that limited her capacity for constant touring and stage performance. As early as 1908, she had organized benefits to aid such institutions as the Industrial Home for Colored Working Girls, and after her contract with S. H. Dudley expired, she devoted more of her energy to such projects, which allowed her to remain in New York City. She also took an interest in developing the talents of younger women in the profession, hoping to pass along her vision of Black performance as refined and elegant. She produced shows for two such female groups in 1913 and 1914—the Porto Rico Girls and the Happy Girls. She encouraged them to “work up” original dance numbers and insisted that they don stylish costumes on stage.

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When Aida Overton Walker died suddenly of kidney failure on October 11, 1914, the African-American entertainment community in New York went into deep mourning. The New York Age featured a lengthy obituary on its front page, and hundreds of people descended on her residence to confirm a story they hoped was untrue. Walker left behind a legacy of polished performances and model professionalism. Her demand for respect – and her generosity – made her a belovéd figure in African-American theater circles.

Aida Overton Walker in 1912

Aida Overton Walker in 1912

 

Reprinted from:

Jazz: Black Musical Theater in New York, 1890-1915. Washington, D.C., Smithsonian Institution Press, 1989, Thomas L Riis

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