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Black History Month: Spotlighting Black Artists (Part 1)

Updated: Sep 18, 2021

Dear San Fernando Valley,


Happy Black History Month! This month we will be spotlighting some amazing Black artists within Los Angeles area and throughout American history.

 

Noni Olabisi

Noni Olabisi has painted many renowned murals in South Los Angeles depicting African American history in the United States. Through her grand artworks, she uplifts the community and those most affected by racism and inequality. One of the most powerful artworks, her mural titled “To Protect and Serve” depicts the history of the Black Panther Party (BPP). Located on 11th Ave. and Jefferson Blvd. Los Angeles, CA, Noni Olabisi was inspired to paint the unwritten history of a community driven by self determination following a conversation with Charles “Boko” Freeman and his involvement in the BPP. The left side of the mural illustrates racist and institutional violence towards African Americans, depicting images of the KKK and Bobby Seale-- American activist and cofounder of the Black Panther Party-- bound and gagged during the Chicago Seven trial in the late 1960s. Pictures above is the judge who presided in the case, Julius Hoffman. Angela Davis and Huey Newton, leaders of the Black Panther Party are also illustrated. The right side is more focused on the Panther’s social projects, such as the sickle cell armenia program and the free breakfast program. Noni Olabisi describes the significance of her work, explaining that “The mural represents so many brave young people standing up to injustice”. She expounds, stating that to her “it is courage in the face of injustice”: a sentiment felt by many uplifted the artwork. You can visit these artworks here in Los Angeles!


To Protect And Serve by Noni Olabisi, 1993 (3406 11th Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90018)


Freedom Wont Wait by Noni Olabisi, 1991 (1815 W 54th St, Los Angeles, CA 90062)


Source: https://sparcinla.org/14-black-muralists/

(Also click here to see other Black muralists!)

 

Sister Rosetta Tharpe

Sister Rosetta Tharpe is nicknamed the “Godmother of Rock ‘n Roll” and the “Original Soul Sister” as she had a unique style, blending gospel music and blues with R&B and rock and roll. She gained popularity in the 1930s to 1940s with her hits “Rock Me”, “This Train”, “Down By the Riverside”, and “Strange Things Happening Every Day”. Tharpe developed a unique guitar sound and technique that would heavily influence rock and roll, as she was one of the first to popularize the use of heavy distortion on the electric guitar. This is especially impressive because it was rare to see women play electric guitar during this time. She would often participate in guitar battles at the Apollo Theater showing off her impressive skills. After her death, Tharpe was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2008. Recently in 2017, she has been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as an Early Influence on the genre.


For background on her early life, Tharpe was born in Cotton Plant, Arkansas in 1915 to two cotton pickers, who were also singers and musicians. Her mother encouraged her to sing and play guitar from a very young age, and by the time she was four years old, she was known as a musical prodigy. Starting from the age of six, Tharpe began touring the US playing religious shows with her mother. She stood out due to her young age and electric guitar style. When she was 23, she signed her first record deal with Decca Records and became a commercial hit soon after with the release of “Rock Me” and the rest of her first album. Her biggest hit was “Strange Things Happening Every Day” in collaboration with Sammy Price in 1944. This record reached second place on the Billboard charts for R&B music and is monumentally cited as the first rock and roll record by many. She continued to be a commercial success and musical pioneer for the rest of her career until her tragically early death at the age of 58 in 1973 from a stroke.


Click here to watch a Rosetta Tharpe performance: https://youtu.be/JeaBNAXfHfQ

 

Amanda Gorman

Amanda Gorman was born in Los Angeles in 1998, and was raised in the city for the duration of her childhood. She was raised by a single mother along with a twin sister. In 2014, she became the first youth poet laureate of Los Angeles and published her first poetry book called, The One for Whom Food Is Not Enough the following year. Gorman majored in sociology at Harvard and graduated with honors in 2020. She has aspirations to run for president in the future while continuing her work as a human rights activist and poet.


Amanda Gorman has a myriad of notable accomplishments. As the youngest inaugural poet in the U.S and also being the first ever National Youth Poet Laureate, Gordon has made great strides in her career at a young age with her immense talent. She has performed at the Obama White House, CBS This Morning, Library of Congress and Lincoln Center, and for Lin-Manuel Miranda, Al Gore, Secretary Hillary Clinton, and Malala Yousafzai, just to name a notable few. Her powerful writing has been featured in the New York Times newsletter The Edit and she also wrote the manifesto for Nike’s 2020 Black History Month campaign. We enthusiastically look forward to her work in the future and commend her for her activism to promote racial equality.


Click here to watch a clip of a performance of her poem "Earthwise": https://youtu.be/xwOvBv8RLmo


Click here for a link to her website: https://www.theamandagorman.com/

 

Thanks for reading San Fernando Valley! See you next week!


Sincerely,

DSFV Team

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