May 15, 2020
The Music Industry Mourns
Andre Harrell
Betty Wright
Little Richard
Within four days we saw three music legends leave this world. The first was on Thursday, May 7, 2020 with the passing of Andre Harrell. Harrell, who has been hailed with the 1986 founding of Uptown Records and starting the careers of  Sean “P. Diddy” Combs and Mary J. Blige , would go on he would have a short stint as president and CEO of Motown Records. In his 2018 interview with The HistoryMakers’ interviewer Harriette Cole, he shared his memories of growing up: “ … I remember green grass and I remember chains around the grass that kept it in order. I remember when the chains got broken and the grass no longer was kept and the projects got rougher. People standing in the front stoop always being weary about who’s standing there because, you know, kids are mean and we would be snapping on each other and then if you come late at night, you didn’t want to bump into the wrong people… I remember always having a lot of kids to play with. I remember the first time that the DJ brought the equipment out, Disco King Mario who was formerly in the Black Spades. He reverted from being in a gang and started being a DJ. ..” [ 1]
Alonzo Brown & Andre Harrell
With this as an influence, he later described meeting Alonzo Brown at Charles Evans Hughes High School in Manhattan: “ I met Alonzo and one of my TE classes and we both were writing rhymes. And we would compare rhymes in the staircase. And we said “We should be a group, Dr. Jeckyll, Mr. Hyde”. Alonzo lived on 110 Street and Madison… We started rapping. We did our first little party in the Clinton projects in the community center. We would say the same rhymes about 9 times, you know, you only had a little bit of rhyme. But then we became the biggest rap group in Harlem .” [ 2 ]
Little Richard on American Bandstand with Dick Clark
July 22, 1964
The HistoryMakers was unfortunately never able to interview Little Richard and Betty Wright , but their legacy certain lives on through The HistoryMakers Digital Archive . Little Richard , who was the second of the three to pass on Saturday, May 9, 2020, is spoken about by over seventy HistoryMakers, including by Leon Huff (1942 - ), co-founder of Philadelphia International Records, who recalled: “ I was really into rock and roll. That's what I really wanted to do. Because I was looking at people like Little Richard and Fats Domino… They had a show called American Bandstand used to come on every day. And I had to see that show because they had all those famous black artists who used to come on there. And the first time I seen Little Richard I was like blown away. Because he had a band called The Upsetters. Boy, I was like dazzled with that .” [ 3 ]
Little Richard & The Upsetters
R&B singer Tyrone Davis (1938 - 2005) was equally as impressed with Little Richard, citing him as inspiration for his own singing career: “ I was listening to Elvis Presley had 'Jailhouse Rock,' and Little Richard had records like 'Tutti Frutti.' That's the way I wanted to sing. I didn't want to be no group. I didn't want to be no group singer. I wanted to sound like these guys .” [ 4]

Astronaut and aircraft commander Capt. Winston Scott (1950- ), who played the trumpet as a teenager, recalled when he “ got to play behind some of the big names of the day like a guy named Carl Henderson , Solomon Burke , and Betty Wright … in the black community as you know this music is such a big part of the community. You have a lot of really fine musicians coming up as youngsters, so it was not unusual for some of us to really excel and we get a chance to play behind some of these people .” [ 5 ]
Betty Wright performing on stage, 2012
We thank Andre Harrell, Little Richard and Betty Wright for their gifts. May their legacies live on!
[1] Andre Harrell (The HistoryMakers A2018.029), interviewed by Harriette Cole, February 28, 2018, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 1.
[ 2 ] Andre Harrell (The HistoryMakers A2018.029), interviewed by Harriette Cole, February 28, 2018, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 2.
[3 ] Leon Huff (The HistoryMakers A2013.085), interviewed by Larry Crowe, March 26, 2013, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 2, story 9, Leon Huff remembers watching 'American Bandstand'.
[ 4 ] Tyrone Davis (The HistoryMakers A2000.018), interviewed by Herb Kent, June 15, 2000, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 1, story 6, Tyrone Davis moves to Chicago, Illinois to sing.
[ 5 ] Capt. Winston Scott (The HistoryMakers A2013.138), interviewed by Larry Crowe, June 6, 2013, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 3, story 4, Winston Scott describes being involved in music during high school.
Suppressing the Black Vote:
An American Tradition
As our 2020 election looms, so do the issues and concerns about voter suppression. These issues are as old as they are new. NAACP Legal Defense Fund head S herrilyn Ifill (1962- ) explained the magnitude of the problem, citing Wisconsin’s controversial decision to not postpone their primary election and refusal to extend the absentee ballot deadline despite the ongoing state-wide stay-at-home order: “ I don’t think we’ve seen a period like this, and in fact that would only make it comparable to the early 1900s, when southern states adopted new constitutions that restricted voting for African Americans. I don’t think we’ve seen a period of sustained retrenchment as we have seen over the past seven or eight years. It’s really quite astonishing. And much of it is steeped in racial voter suppression. Some of it is steeped in partisan voter suppression. And there is an overlap between racial and partisan voter suppression, to be sure. And the willingness of the courts to allow it rather than to see it for what it is. [ 1 ] Furthermore, she stated, “ There is no reason that the Wisconsin primary could not have been postponed .” [ 2 ]
Wisconsin voters outside their polling place
Many have pointed out the hypocrisy of the judges making this decision remotely from the safety of their own homes, while at the same time ensuring voters will be okay to go to the polls. Countless voters were made to choose between voting and protecting their health; and, to make matters worse, “ More than 50,000 voters were expected to vote in Milwaukee, the state's largest city, but the number of polling locations was reduced from more than 180 to just 5… creating long lines of voters spread out for blocks as they attempted to practice social distancing .” [ 3 ] The controversy in Wisconsin had many speaking of voter suppression, a new phenomenon for the state’s white residents but certainly nothing new for minorities.
Two African American men vote for the first time
Mississippi Democratic Primary, 1946
Colonel Stone Johnson (1918 - 2012) reminded us of how blatant the suppression was in the South in the 1940s: “… when I first went, three or four years or more, they wouldn't let me vote. I'd go right back. I pulled up to the courthouse and… then I'd go in there. And Judge Skinner would say, ‘Boy didn't I tell you not to come back here in a year?’ I say, ‘Yes, sir, but I'm qualified.’ ‘No you ain't.’ Wouldn't okay me [to register] .” [4 ] It would not be until 1950 when he was 32 years old that he was allowed to vote. Professor Frank Toland, Sr. (1920 - 2010) explained how it was to be black and vote in Tuskegee, Alabama: “… for a black person to become registered, he had to have a white voucher, a white person who would vouch that this is a good Negro… [and] about three pages of an application, and you had to file a perfect application in order to get to any other part of the process, and the application had a confusing statement on it--unless you read it carefully .” [ 5 ]
Voting rights demonstration, 1964
For Sergeant Major Alford McMichael (1952 - ) and his Arkansas neighborhood, voting was a community affair: “… people took pride in voting…the neighborhood people that owned cars provided transportation to the polls. It wasn't like you just went on your own… It was a ritual. It was necessary if you wanted things to get better. You wanted things not to deteriorate. You wanted to have an opportunity to have civil rights that everybody else had .” [ 6] The Honorable Reverend Walter Fauntroy (1933 - ), one of the organizers of the 1968 Poor People’s Campaign, highlighted the correlation between black voting and the election of black politicians: “ In 1965, there were only six black mayors in the country. But after two million new black voters, we had 60 black mayors. We had only 600 black elected officials in 1965. By 1972, when we were doing the Congressional Black Caucus, we had over 2000 black elected officials .” [ 7 ]
Voting rights demonstration, 2018
A twenty year time span did not change anything according to Texas U.S. Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (1935- ), who witnessed voter suppression tactics in Houston’s black neighborhoods in 1987: “… they went and put signs in front of black polling areas, great big intimidating signs, that said, ‘Stop, you may be prosecuted’ to try to intimidate people from voting… So if you vote, you might be investigated or something or if you had an outstanding ticket or outstanding warrants ….” [ 8 ] Thirty years later, Sherrilyn Ifill in her 2016 interview recalled challenging Alabama’s voter ID laws with the NAACP Legal Defense Fund in the midst of the 2016 presidential election: “… it was a revelation to me that there could be this level of voter suppression and of disenfranchisement that almost kind of flew under the radar while this other national conversation was happening .” [ 9 ]
The same suppression plagues still plagues our elections today, but activist and founder of the SpiritHouse, Ruby Nell Sales (1948 - ), implores us to never forget that voting “ was not power that was handed to black people by Lyndon Johnson. This was power that had been struggled for through blood, sacrifice and the willingness to put everything on the line for freedom .” [ 10 ]
[ 1 ] Kevin Townsend. “Voter Suppression by Pandemic: Sherrilyn Ifill of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund discusses Wisconsin’s election debacle and how the coronavirus has become a new tool of voter suppression,” The Atlantic . April 11, 2020.
[ 2 ] Ibid.
[ 3 ] Connor Perrett. “'Voter suppression on steroids': Wisconsin's decision to hold the state's in-person primary amid the COVID-19 pandemic will suppress voters, advocates warn,” Business Insider . April 7, 2020.
[ 4 ] Colonel Stone Johnson (The HistoryMakers A2007.108), interviewed by Denise Gines, March 23, 2007, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 4, story 11, Colonel Stone Johnson remembers his struggle for voting rights.
[ 5 ] Frank Toland, Sr. (The HistoryMakers A2007.102), interviewed by Denise Gines, March 20, 2007, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 5, story 10, Frank Toland, Sr. recalls Macon County, Alabama's voting laws.
[ 6] Sgt. Maj. Alford McMichael (The HistoryMakers A2013.122), interviewed by Larry Crowe, May 22, 2013, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 3, story 9, Alford McMichael talks about voting rights for African Americans in Arkansas.
[ 7 ] The Honorable Reverend Walter Fauntroy (The HistoryMakers A2003.016), interviewed by Julieanna L. Richardson, January 23, 2003, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 5, story 5, Walter Fauntroy talks about the end of the Poor People's Campaign and increased voter engagement after the Voting Rights Act.
[8 ] The Honorable Eddie Bernice Johnson (The HistoryMakers A2012.094), interviewed by Larry Crowe, June 18, 2012, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 2, tape 6, story 7, The Honorable Eddie Bernice Johnson remembers the confirmation of Judge Craig T. Enoch.
[ 9 ] Sherrilyn Ifill (The HistoryMakers A2016.012), interviewed by Julieanna L. Richardson, August 29, 2016, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 5, story 1, Sherrilyn Ifill describes the importance of local politics.
[ 10 ] Ruby Nell Sales (The HistoryMakers A2003.226), interviewed by Larry Crowe, September 15, 2003, The HistoryMakers Digital Archive. Session 1, tape 3, story 5, Ruby Nell Sales talks about shifting political power in Lowndes County, Alabama.
Favorite Quote

" A Person Must Be A Beacon Of Light That Will Illuminate Dark Places ."

The Honorable Nathaniel R. Jones
Retired Senior Judge, U.S. Court of Appeals
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