Dr. Eugene B. Redmond was honored for his lifetime of contributions as a poet, educator, and leading figure the Black Arts Movement during the “Drumvoices” book party at the Master Barber and Beauty Shop this past Thursday evening in South Sacramento.
The septuagenarian was a professor of English and a Poet–in–Residence in Ethnic Studies at California State University–Sacramento, (1970-1985), before returning his hometown of East St. Louis. He served in various educational posts prior to joining the faculty of Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville in 1990 where he is now emeritus professor of English.
Dr. Redmond is the author/editor of more than 25 volumes of poetry, collections of various writings, plays for stage and television, and has earned numerous prestigious awards and accolades during his fruitful career in academia.
Sales of the special 20th anniversary commemorative issue of “Drumvoices Revue” were brisk. Dr. Redmond warmly greeted all those who approached and personally autographed each copy of the latest edition of the multicultural literary journal that he founded.
The schedule of entertainment for the evening commenced with improv jazz music provided by Sacramento musicians Rodg Little (bass), Damarus Lewis (drums), and Russell Brown (guitar), known collectively as the Deeper Shades of Soul.
Joining the group on stage for the initial jam session on the saxophone was smooth jazz musician Ralph Gordon who complemented the group nicely with spontaneous melodic riffs.
Just before emcee and host Justin Desmangles took the stage to formally commence the evening’s program, poet Vincent Kobelt joined Deeper Shades of Soul on the stage.
Kobelt delighted the audience with a flawless performance of his jazz poem entitled, “Right Off the Ghetto Streets,” that was partially written, but largely improvised in keeping with the spirit of the music and the atmosphere of celebration.
Desmangles then took the microphone to first acknowledge and thank those who contributed making the evening possible including Mary Brown, Rodney Brown, and Marichal Brown, the proprietors of Master Barber and Beauty Shop.
Desmangles, the host of weekly radio broadcast, New Day Jazz at KDVS, 90.3 FM who is also an accomplished journalist, poet and producer, then went on to explain to the audience his involvement Dr. Redmond over the past 10 years. He provided details of their individual and collective efforts committed to the preservation and dissemination of Afro-American history and culture.
Desmangles emphasized the historical significance of Dr. Redmond’s bestselling book of literary criticism; “Drumvoices: The Mission of Afro-American Poetry, A Critical History.” The work was published in 1976 and written during his tenure as a scholar at CSUS.
At the time of its publication, “Drumvoices” was the first comprehensive survey and literary analysis of Black poetic expression tracing the arc of its historical development in the context of major periods going back over the previous two centuries.
The formal program of entertainment began when Desmangles introduced vocalist Ayla Doizer. She was accompanied by Brandon Stomsvik on the acoustical guitar.
Doizer’s first selection was a rendition of Stevie Wonder’s 1976 hit, “Pastime Paradise.” She performed the tune in the style of folk music style which emphasized her rich alto vocals.
Stomsvik then plugged in his acoustical guitar to an amp which highlighted his musical talents while accompanying Dozier who sang “Soul to Squeeze,” by the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
Dozier completed her set without accompaniment by reciting an original poem entitled, “Warrior of Joy.” Throughout the poem, she describes her self-appointed mission of spreading joy and to respond positively to the many challenges of life.
Local spoken word artist Malik Saunders then came to the stage and delivered a heart-felt performance of his poem entitled, “Reader’s Die-gest-This.”
The piece is inspired by local author and community activist Grace Carter-Douglas’ 1988 historical study of the Sacramento’s Women’s Civic and Improvement Club from the book entitled, “The Griot: An Anthology of African Necromancers.”
Saunders followed up with “As “I” Drift,” a poem he dedicated to Master Barber and Beauty Shop. He then took a few moments to outline his near death experience following a serious automobile collision in 2004.
Saunders is the author of the book, “Memoirs for the 5th Floor, Running for My Life,” which details his experience following the accident. He then began his final poem on the subject before becoming emotional. The appreciative audience responded with an outpouring of love and support for Saunders, a man who faces serious medical challenges on a daily basis, with the motto, “Never Give Up.”
Desmangles then brought back poet Vincent Kobelt who electrified the audience with his stage presence and unique style of jazz poetry.
Kobelt seamlessly transitioned from his jazz poem “Right Off the Ghetto Streets,” into the piece “Hoppy’s Blues” without taking a break. His expression of the poetry was so rhythmically profound it seemed as if he had musical accompaniment.
Kobelt then read shared three selections from his recently published chapbook, “Textures of Pregnancy.”
The poems, “Fallopian Magic” and “Belly” were brief, but sophisticated pieces that were eloquently presented with the cadences and strong dramatic style of spoken word poetry.
Kobelt took a pause to share his feelings on the lack of human contact in the modern world while guitarist Russell Brown was on-stage preparing to accompany him on his final poem.
He went on to relate how as a teenager his “tongue was in his shoe,” when asking for a prom date, juxtaposed to his teenaged daughter’s recent experience of trading text messages when fielding requests for a prom date.
Kobelt concluded his set with his wonderfully inventive and creative piece entitled, “The Diary Maid,” which incorporates ice cream as metaphor for breast feeding.
Desmangles then warmly welcomed multi-talented author, jazz poet, playwright, performance and visual artist Charles Curtis Blackwell to the stage.
Blackwell spoke for many attendees of the event as he prefaced his performance with impromptu remarks about Dr. Redmond. Blackwell was a student at CSUS during the early 70’s when there was a strong cohesion in the black community that was especially centered in the arts.
Blackwell related to the crowd that his first impression of Dr. Redmond came when he accompanied a friend to one of his lectures and heard him to “talk about things people don’t want to talk about,” such as suicide in the black community.
His respect for and admiration of Dr. Redmond was shared by the audience, many members whom were also long time friends and acquaintances.
Blackwell stated what many people in the room experienced first-hand with Dr. Redmond and knew to be true; that he would want to be remembered for “doing something to help somebody,” and for “doing things,” and not for the laundry list of accomplishments and honors bestowed upon him personally during his lengthy career.
With the accompaniment of flautist Ralph Gordon, Blackwell then proceeded to put on masterful performances of his jazz poems, “Feeling Its Depths,” and “When Mingus Troubles Down.”
Dr. Redmond brought along several companions from the St. Louis-East St. Louis area, all of which are scheduled to participate in the weekend’s event, entitled “Drumvoices’ for Ahaji,” A Three-Day Festival Of Arts & Conch/Us/Nest-Raising
Desmangles introduced Poets Darlene Roy East of St. Louis and Charlios Lumpkin of St. Louis. The women came to the stage together to celebrate their long-time affiliation with Dr. Redmond and to describe the purpose of the festival in Sacramento.
Roy, who has served as the president of the Eugene B. Redmond Writers Club in East St. Louis for the past 25 years, explained how the evening’s book party was the initial event of the festival celebrating literary, cultural, and visual arts.
The planned activities which run through Sunday, July 8, include a play at the Guild Theater along with a series of workshops and events at the Women’s Civic Improvement Center in Oak Park.
The events are all intended to recall and celebrate a period of intense artistic, cultural and political fervor that was present all across the U.S. and felt here in Sacramento during the era when Dr. Redmond was a member of the community.
In addition to the celebration, the purpose of the event is to honor and raise funds in the name of the late George Austin “Ahaji” Jones (1931-2009) and Robzene Jones (1930-2008), Sacramento educators whose combined teaching experiences totaled 60 plus years.
Lumpkin’s first poem was entitled, “Miles Black and Blue.” She explained to the audience that its structure was that of a Kwansaba; a poem limited to seven lines of seven words per line, with no word having more than seven letters, except proper nouns and names.
The Kwansaba structure was created by Dr. Redmond in 1995 in East St. Louis. Its popularity has grown and spread and is now recognized internationally as an original African-American form of poetry.
Lumpkin then shared an original free verse poem entitled, It’s All About the Borders.” The piece is a socially conscious exploration of the nature of conflicts that result from artificial separation of humankind from each other due to geo-political, social, language, and gender divisions.
Roy then stepped forward and performed the poem, “Moving On,” a work she described as a self-explanatory “transition piece” centered on love.
Roy then graced the audience with one of her original Kwansabas entitled, “Miles of Jazz.” She explained that the poem was inspired by jazz legend Miles Davis, a frequent subject of East St. Louis poetry. Davis, who was born and raised in the area, is revered for his influence in jazz, art, and popular culture.
Lumpkin and Roy then finished their time on stage with a poet duet performing the Kwansaba, “Godfather’s Request.” The poem by George Austin Jones was written as a tribute to the late R&B, singer James Brown who was often referred to as the “Godfather of Soul.”
Desmangles then brought Dr. Redmond to the stage for an interview session. His sharp wit and sage wisdom on full display while as he touched on a wide variety of topics.
In response to questions from Desmangles, Dr. Redmond observed that there has been an erosion of the sense of “having each other’s back” in the black community during his lifetime that has resulted in a “discontinuity of the race.”
His overriding message was that there needs to be a “Conch/Us/Nest-Raising,” a process that can be taken through well defined steps that include self-definition, self-knowledge, and self sufficiency.
Dr. Redmond indicated that this “rekindling” should be approached with “evangelical fervor,” in order to bring the young generations into an understanding of the meaning of love based in the community.
Dr. Redmond also noted that there have been longstanding historical trends of black culture and black artists being imitated by the dominant culture. He provided several notable examples from the distant past and more recent times.
Dr, Redmond concluded his interview with several amusing reminisces of his experiences with well known figures and icons he has known over the years.
Dr. Redmond then demonstrated why he has been the poet laureate of East St. Louis since 1976, with his graceful presentation of three selections from his extensive collection of poetry.
His first piece was entitled “Avery Brooks.” It is a work inspired by and dedicated to one of his former students who maintained his roots in academia but still managed to attain celebrity status as an actor and performing artist.
Dr. Redmond then shared a poem that explored the heritage of many of his students whose roots were the South and the Mid-West before coming to the West Coast entitled, “Northern California.” The recitation was interrupted on several occasions by the enthusiastic audience with spontaneous applause and acclamation.
Dr. Redmond then completed his time on stage with a love poem entitled, “I Can Never Unlove You,” that was taken from his 1973 book of poetry, “In a Time of Rain and Desire: New Love Poems.” Toward the end of the recitation, Dr. Redmond delighted the crowd when he improvised several lines in the poem as a tribute to Sacramento and members of the audience.
After some brief remarks in conclusion, wherein the thanked Roy and Lumpkin for their collective efforts in editing the Drumvoices Revue over the years and providing leadership to the many writers who careers have been bolstered through the literary journal
The evening’s entertainment concluded with the Deeper Shades of Soul taking the stage for a brief jam session. Sitting in with the group was trumpeter Tim Glaze, a former member of the Stone City Band who became famous for their time playing for the late R&B/Funk singer Rick James.
Laura Cook, a member of the audience who along with many others lingered after the event formally ended to socialize with friends and take a photo with Dr. Redmond indicated that she was “pleasingly surprised” with the evening.
“I had heard of Eugene Redmond, but I wasn’t really familiar with him,” stated Cook, a local spoken word artist who is known in local poetry venues by her stage name, “immoBme.”
“I felt like I was sitting at the feet of elders-listening and learning,” said Cook.
Vann LaMarr Walker was one of Dr. Redmond’s former students at CSUS who attended the event to get reacquainted with his friend and mentor.
“It was really, really, grand,” said Walker when asked for his thoughts on the program featuring Dr. Redmond.
“Events like these are something that Sacramento needs to see a lot more of,” stated Walker.
An enthusiastic Darlene Roy paused to express her thrill at being back to visit Sacramento and accompanying Dr. Redmond for the festival.
“I really love the people here,” she stated, while going on to explain how blessed East St. Louis was to have Dr. Redmond return to his hometown in 1985 to lead the bevy of writers and poets that have benefited from his presence as the leader of the Eugene B. Redmond Writers Club.
“The event tonight was historical,” said Roy as she described it in the context of the weekend’s ‘Drumvoices for Ahaji festival.
The Drumvoices for Ahaji: A Three Day Festival of Arts, will continue through Sunday, July 8, at the Women’s Civic Improvement Center located at 3555 3rd Avenue in Oak Park. A day pass for all events is $10 for adults, $7 for seniors, and $5 for students.
Anyone who is interested in attending the event should contact Faye Kennedy at email@example.com or may purchase a pass at the door.