What is all this about Mona Lisa and Nat King Cole? At least part of the answer can be found in the poem Nat King Cole Babies and Black Mona Lisas, in what we could call the first volume of Mona Lisa Saloy’s ongoing chronicles of Black Creole culture in New Orleans, Louisiana: Red Beans and Ricely Yours (Truman State University Press, 2005).
Nat King Cole (1919-1965) from 1956 to 1957 hosted NBC, the National Broadcasting Company’s The Nat King Cole Show, the first nationally broadcast television show hosted by an African American. It was cancelled after just one season for lack of sponsors, few sponsors willing to be associated with a Black entertainer. (“Madison Avenue is afraid of the dark” – Nat King Cole).
Short lived. But long enough for a number of ‘Black Mona Lisas’ to be born to parents listening to jazz pianist-turned-singer Nat King Cole’s version of the 1950 #1 hit on the pop-charts. And Saloy remembers “Nat King Cole singing to me,” thinking Mona Lisa was his lover, like Sweet Lorraine.
The first of Kalamu ya Salaam’s 100 haiku: “touch with a precise/ tenderness & know all we/ are is each other,” giving his new book of poems its title, is part of a Dedication that reads in part:
“Precise Tenderness is dedicated to all (each & every) folk who choose hard life in the hills over the comfort corruption of the big house / creative chaos & raw improvisation over superficial order and refined technical perfection / the inexactness & unpredictability of merger, amalgamation & self-transformation over the dogma of purity & canonization / …,” telling you a great deal about this veteran African American New Orleans poet and where he is coming from.
“Seule de tout les continents l’Afrique n’a pas d’histoire.” – Eugène Guernier (1882-1973), French historian quoted by W.E.B. DuBois in The World and Africa (1947)
If beforehand you had some preconceived ideas about what to expect, reading Carter G. Woodson’s African American Classic from 1933 you might be surprised by just how severely Woodson critiques not only “the mis-education of the Negro” but also that of white people in America, from kindergarten through schools both public and private to the universities, concluding:
“It is strange … that the friends of truth and the promoters of freedom have not risen up against the present propaganda in the schools and crushed it. This crusade is much more important than the anti-lynching movement, because there would be no lynching if it did not start in the schoolroom.”
In Much Ado About a Name, his Appendix to the 1933 edition of The Mis-education of the Negro, historian and polemicist Carter G. Woodson ridicules a “highly educated” Negro much concerned as to what the race should be called: Africans, Negroes, colored people, or what?
“If others will agree to call Negroes Nordics, he thinks, he will reach the desired end (solving the race problem) by taking a short cut … Many of this class suffer mentally because of the frequent use of “offensive expressions” in addressing Negroes. When dealing with them, then, one has to be very careful. For this reason our friends in other races have to seek guidance in approaching us.”
The Liberation Narratives CD is Nicole Mitchell’s gift to her mentor and friend, poet, publisher, and educator Haki R. Madhubuti and his Third World Press. Ten poems by Madhubuti, read by the author, is set to music by composer and flautist Nicole Mitchell and her Black Earth Ensemble.
Originally commissioned by the Jazz Institute of Chicago, as an artist-in-residence at the University of Chicago’s Logan Center for the Arts 2016 to 2017 Nicole Mitchell worked on developing and performing this suite of music for Madhubuti’s poetry. Recorded live at the Logan Center, the CD Nicole Mitchell and Haki Madhubuti: Liberation Narratives was released by Third World Press/black earth music in 2017 as part of TWP’s celebration of its first 50 years of publishing.
In the Random Notes article on The Penguin Anthology of Twentieth-Century American Poetry, edited by Rita Dove, we wrote: “We are talking about American poetry in English only.”
A survey from 2008-2010 shows that most Americans, 79,7%, speak only English at home, while 12,6% report that Spanish is the main language spoken. Looking below at ‘African American poetry beyond English’, to Spanish we must add French, or French Creole, a language that has a long history in Louisiana, even as French – like all other American languages aside from English and Spanish – account for less than one percent of American spoken languages (see note below).
The Spanish influence on African American (or American) poetry comes mainly via the Caribbean and countries ‘south of the border’ with large populations of Spanish-speaking people ...