Part 6: Peace Mission, the Uptown Theater, and the Unity Community (1990s – 2020)
Alfie, this is something we’ve spoken about in previous conversation but I wanted to ask what your relationship to the Peace Mission Movement was.
Okay. Well, I was blessed to meet a woman who was one of the members of the Peace of Mission Movement. Her and my cousin, Marlena Phillips White, used to work together at the social security office. So the lady, her name is Miss Happy V. Love — I found out that she has written a lot of songs that are sung in the Peace Mission Movement services. And so my cousin, Marlena Philips White, had let Miss happy know that I’ve composed music and I do demos. So Miss Happy had a lot of demos of her songs that she’s created and there are songs that are reflective of her experiences with the Peace Mission Movement. Through her, I met Mother Divine and I met a lot of other great folk who were a part of the Peace Mission Movement. And I had a student named Miss June Peace. I had her for a while as a piano student, and a lady named Miss Seraphim in recent years as a piano student and so, being around that vibration of peace and harmony and brotherhood in creating justice and equality with Father Divine’s movement, I was inspired to compose a song or inspiration for a song to come through me in a song titled “The Divine Light” and I played it on the piano for Mother Divine. She enjoyed it and so did other members of the Peace Mission Movement, Circle Mission, as well — church folk.
So what years were you involved in the movement? And when did you compose “The Divine Light”?
I guess, the early 2000s. Well, from the late 90s to early 2000s, you know, I still keep in touch with the Peace Mission. This beautiful movement has really helped humankind on this planet to move forward. Father Divine, during the Great Depression, was known to feed people — affordable haircuts and a lot of different services for humans who were struggling with the depression. And possibly, probably some things that were free for folks to be able to participate and partake in.
And yeah, I mean, it’s a journey that a lot of people from our generation need to take heed, and, you know, really understand because of the commitment that you’ve made over the years, and how today you’re still standing as a musician, rooted in in a strong foundation, in the black community and in black history. So what we wanted to do today was actually bring it back to Philadelphia in the 60s and 70s, but also bridge the connection with Philadelphia to connect it to a wider understanding or a wider scope of your life. And what you believe, I mean, what principles you’re rooted in. So I actually wanted to begin, we actually want to begin talking about Father Divine, the Peace Mission Movement and how this has shaped your worldview.
Okay, well, you know, I’ve known of Father Divine just about all my life, you know, in the Peace Mission Movement, and my brother and my sister — my brother, Harry Pollitt, who’s deceased, and my sister, Lacey Pollitt, Carolyn Pollitt Smith, and my father, Alexander Howard Pollitt. My mother, Mae Hemsley Pollitt, they all went to his, I guess you would call it his wake when the Peace Mission Movement laid his body down, and they were able to attend there. And then years later, two years ago, three years ago, his wife, Mother Divine, laid her body down, and my sister and brother and I were blessed to be able to attend the wake there up at Woodmont. Woodmont is the estate in Gladwyne and it’s called the Mount of the House of Lord which is the, I guess it’s the, you know it’s a big large estate, you know, and the Peace Mission Movement headquarters, I would guess, or part of the headquarters. And so back in the I’d say like 80s, maybe late 80s, my cousin Marlena Phillips White; She was working with a lady named Miss Happy Victoria love at social security in Philadelphia. I think it was like around Third and Spring Garden and they became friends and Miss Happy is a member of the Peace Mission Movement and she has written a lot of songs that have done in the Peace Mission Movement services, what have you. My cousin, Marlena, told her that I do demos, you know, at that time I had a 8-track cassette recording machine and I would do demo records or songs of people’s, you know, demonstrations of people’s songs and programming music and that kind of stuff. So Marlena put Miss Happy and I in touch with each other. Now, over the years, I’ve done a number of her songs that she’s written, that reflect the Peace Mission Movement’s different concepts. Then years later, I met Mother Divine. And in fact, I think she might have came to one of the performances. You know, one of the groups I was part of, a jazz group back in the day somewhat, and you know, supported us and came to our performances. Father Divine was a person who had, in the Peace Mission Movement, one of the writings he’s expressing the need for reparations for people of African descent in America should receive, you know? And also he did not — he thought that words like, say people call their children or they call children “kids” — he said that’s inappropriate, and that should be strucken from the English language. Also the word, “H-E-L-L-O” as a greeting should be struck because it depicts, it reflects like a greeting of hell, hell is a low place, HELL-O. And so and personally I do not use it, that term mysself, and also being an active in the Nation of Islam, we were also introduced to that concept to about not using the word, “hello”, you know, say “greetings” or “Assalaam Alaikum, peace be upon you”, or whatever, you know. So and, the Peace Mission Movement has been so tranquil to me and influenced me, for a song to come through called “The Divine Light” which was a piece that I was inspired to participate in, having it come through my physical, my brain and my fingers and through the keyboards and all that from a spiritual origin.
Yeah, I think what separates and artists like you from artists of today is that they see themselves as organically connected to the people and the thinking of the people but also the movements that people produce. And in our initial interview, the first one, we talked about Georgie woods, at the Uptown Theater and how he connected the music at the Uptown Theater to the Civil Rights Movement, and they were working hand in hand with each other. But at a certain point, the Uptown Theater did close. And I was wondering, like how did that impact the community of North Philadelphia and black music in Philly?
Well, you know, the music industry has changed over the years. Back in the day, when I used to go to the Uptown Theater, when I was a, maybe a preteen, you could see, I don’t know how many different acts, different performances, you know, maybe, I don’t know — 10 different acts, and would be like 10 shows a week, you know, billed as 10 big shows, you know, and like Saturday and Sunday or Saturday it would be a matinee performance and an evening performances, and sometimes a midnight performance. So for that, you know, you would see acts like Little Richard, I saw Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, The Chantels, Donnie Elbert, Jackie Wilson, so many people — The Shirelles played there, and you just paid 50 cents to get in. You know, that was back in the 50s. Now, to have class acts, a number of them, you gotta pay a whole lot of money for each individual act. Like, what was paid to the acts I guess back in the day, you know, maybe collectively, all of them, what they get paid might be close to paying for one act a day or a very few acts, you know, so it’s a different scene and at that time people would come there from, like I came from Bryn Mawr. I took the trolley, the Philadelphia and Western, Red Arrow Trolley from Bryn Mawr, which is in an interurban trolley called P&W for Philadelphia and Western, to 69th Street Terminal, and then I caught the Market-Frankford El to City Hall. And then I caught the Broad Street Subway Northbound to Dauphin and Susquehanna. And a lot of people came that same kind of way or by public transportation. It was no parking lots, you know, I guess the people who parked on a street or off the street, you know, but nowadays, to have a venue like that, you’d have your own parking facilities, you know, secured parking. In fact, some years after the Uptown, it changed hands, you know, Uptown Theater with Georgie Woods and different people — Mitch Thomas, Jimmy Bishop. I think Jocko Henderson had some events there too, you know, a lot of people and years later, it closed down and then the, the new tech, John Bowser and his corporate group, they were able to purchase the building and called it “New Tech Uptown Entertainment” something facility, what have you, and I was a member of the New Tech, during that time, You know, we were trying, we were bringing it back. So we had different acts perform but it was a different day back in the late 80s — in the early 80s. Yeah. And through the 80s, you know, and, and then it closed down and then so the Uptown Entertainment group, organization, corporation, they own it now. And it’s in need of a lot of physical and financial input and help, you know, so to bring it back, you need millions of dollars, you know. I’ve been a volunteer on that committee as well. And we did a show one time, we had Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, the Blue Notes, and also my dance teacher Otis Givens who passed away a few months ago, we had a small group of two dancers, we did a performance of a cha cha — it was two females and Otis and myself and we did a demonstration performance, part of the fundraiser concert to open the Uptown Theater which was held at the International House on 37th and Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, you know. But to run a theater like that nowadays and acts I mean, a lot of people got their starts there like James Brown, the Jacksons, the Jackson Five, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, Motown Review, on and on and on. So many folks have performed there. And this is a whole different day. So when the when the Uptown closed down, I mean, a lot had changed in the city of Philadelphia anyway, you know, so to keep something like that afloat, you need major finances, you know, so of course it affected the whole city, you know, and North Philadelphia as well, you know, because an entity wasn’t there. People would walk by and they’d say, “Is the building abandoned? What’s going on?”. However, the Uptown Entertainment and Development Group does a number of different activities. I think it might be one going on today in celebration of Juneteenth you know, 2020 as a fundraiser, what have you. So, I mean, there’s a community radio station that’s connected to the Uptown Theater Group now, and a lot of different things like a component of young people — summer youth activities and technical filmmaking and last year I was doing a music appreciation class, you know, with some of the youth, you know, upcoming youth. It was really good, you know, but it’s a wholly totally different day than it was back in the day. Hopefully we’ll be able to bring it back, you know, you know, bring it back and be able to — but it won’t be like it was before. We can’t have like 10 acts, major mega-folk, you know, because the overhead is so much, like an insurance, to do an event, you gotta pay the insurance a million dollars and so insurance and stuff like that, whatever regulations or like as far as whatever it takes financially, which is a giant operation, you know?
Yeah, I mean, and the music today is so different. I mean, what’s popular. And I think one of the things that you said that really struck me was when you were talking about the commute that you made from Bryn Mawr to North Philadelphia.
And I wasn’t the only person — people came from Ambler, they came from wherever. Swarthmore, Yeadon, Darby, Norristown, Chester, wherever, Jersey, Camden, yeah. It’s part of the so-called, “Chitlin Circuit”. You know, it was the sister theater to the Apollo Theater in New York, the Regal and Howard Theaters. These different theaters were part of this whole network for that time.
Yeah, and learning from your story and you saying that it wasn’t an uncommon journey for a lot of people to take. It seems like people came to North Philadelphia, especially to the black community in North Philly to forge a greater sense of life for themselves, you know, and redefine themselves in a more meaningful, deep, meaningful and purposeful way. And I think that, I mean, it seems like it wasn’t just coming to the Uptown Theater to be entertained, but you know, to be a part of something that really moves you and lifts you spiritually.
Okay, I could go with that. Georgie Woods would play records on the radio and then advertise he’s gonna have a recording artist on the show, so like hey, we wanted to come and see our heroes. So it would be lines around the corner, people waiting to get in, what have you. So I guess, yeah, there was a spiritual component that came out of that too. Yeah, I mean, you know, besides the entertainment aspect in addition to it.
Yeah, I mean from my generation, you know, people from my area around Abington, they take the regional rail over to Philadelphia, but it’s not, it’s so different from like, what you’re talking about in your life, because people come down to Temple University on the regional to party, or you know, things that don’t really give them meaning or things that don’t move them, but to, you know, further indulge in this culture, this white culture of Philadelphia that preys on the poverty of the black community. And it’s, like, for me, it’s just so striking, like, you know, the way that you came to Philadelphia versus the way many people in my area or my generation come to Philadelphia.
And not only did I come but you know, I mean, you know, other people, my brother and sister, they were younger than me, they came with their crews. They came, you know. So it was a thing to do.
Circling back to the Uptown Theater, I actually wanted to ask how this decline you described, and then also, the increase in overhead. And these shows in these venues becoming increasingly hard to access for a lot of ordinary people. How did that affect you as an artist and your trajectory, the trajectory of your art?
Well see, I mean, I only worked at the Uptown a couple times. I worked there with Major Harris and I worked here with The Futures and that was in 1974-1975. So after that time, you know, things changed up, you know, and then with the advent of MTV, you know, stuff just really changed up worldwide with music, you know, so, you know, people couldn’t afford to have a place like the Uptown and competing with like the Spectrum, competing with these different big giant venues and big operations giving stuff and paying a lot of money to people like the Rolling Stones and people like that, you know? So it was no contest, no kind of way to compete.
Well, actually, I think this ties in smoothly to a question about you know, what we’ve been wanting to ask you about Philadelphia and why you choose to route your life in Philadelphia and why you’ve chosen to stay here?
Well, basically because of family, you know, but at one point I was looking to move to LA but decided not to. I’m back here so I guess, you know, perhaps I’ve blown some opportunities being here in Philly. You know, Philadelphia is like a lot of people, cliquish, and some people are very small minded and not you know, unified in the music industry. But I’ve been here, while being here, I’ve connected with people like James Solomon, Walter Sorey, a lot of different other songwriters and we’ve collectively been compiling music and writing songs of situations for causes like social movements, Solomon, Walter Ray and myself, we wrote a piece called “No Longer Bound”. It’s an anthem song for celebrating Juneteenth, which today is Juneteenth. And, you know, and we’ve written you know, we, so, you know, we’re here, since we’re here, and hopefully we’ll be able to break out and be known outside Philadelphia in the music industry and be able to be blessed to thrive and doing our music and share our music with larger, worldwide audience. Yeah, that’s our goal.
And in that vein, having seen so much of this history and contributed and lived so much of it, what is your message to young people today and also to young people living in Philadelphia is a city that’s changed so much. What do you think is important for the younger generation to understand about the city?
Well, people generally, but for people of color especially to unite, like the younger with the older. Cause we are all we got. You know what I mean and in unity there is strength, and like minds can do a lot of work. Like minds make lighter work — many hands make lighter work and stuff like that. So it’s been a disconnect between the younger and older or all kinds of different divisions in humanity, you know what I mean. So we all realize everybody on the planet is African anyway, you know? We’re all humankind, you know, humans. Not human kind meaning some kind of Human but we are one giant family of folk who walk upgright. Some are on crutches, some are on walkers, some of them are in beds, you know what I mean?
And what do you think this unity looks like?
What’s it look like? What should it look like?
Yeah, what do you envision it being or how —
The media has so much stuff done to people and people is all messed up, the whole planet is all messed up, the ecology is all messed up. So whoever is like-minded who is down for unifying, great. It might be just a handful of people. Hopefully everybody will wake up but the likelihood of that happening, you know, the efforts of our media change stuff all up. The way it is now is real crazy. Like “me first” and that kind of mentality, you know, as opposed to a “we” mentality, you know, in a lot of different aspects of life you know: education, industry, college, all kinds of stuff — entertainment, medicine. So, I mean, do what we can do.
Yeah. Alfie. I think one of the things that really moves me about the music during the period of the Black Freedom Movement is this interconnectedness between human beings. I think like the song that we talked about earlier, “Wake Up Everybody” but also songs by Marvin Gaye or Curtis Mayfield. You know, they stress this unity between people of color as you were saying,
And James Brown…
And James Brown, to really use their resources or use their human will for the betterment of humanity as a whole. And I actually think this can transition into our next question about the Divine and about God, because there is this concept of God or the universe in the Black Freedom Movement that really links people in a much deeper way beyond the superficial or the current moment. So we wanted to ask you, do you believe in God and and what is God? Who is he?
Well, I’ll quote Malcolm, you know, or paraphrase what Malcolm said. Malcolm says, “spirituality is between the creator and the individual”. You know what I mean, you know, like, what one person might believe and somebody else believe, you know, but I believe that the Creator is in everything, you know, because everything was created by the Most High. I say “Mother-Father Creator” because in this world today, you know, people say God and they say He in like the male aspect. I view it as a female and male. I put the female first. I say “Mother-Father Creator” because life comes from the mother, you know. Mother, woman, mother births the offspring, you know and so it’s only a natural type thing you know, to applaud and look to one greater than what we individually human type can do as our guide and direct guidance, direction and put protection throughout this sojourn of life.
So you believe that God lives within all of us.
Yes. Or we are as God is. That’s another way of expressing that too.
I did want to ask you about that. How your relationship to music ties into your relationship with something divine.
Well, I heard a song the other day. It was like a rap. I guess you’d call it a rap and R&B combo piece. And it had a song, “Family Reunion”, the O’Jays “Family Reunion”. It had the introduction to that built into the song. It was real subtle, but I could hear it. Definitely hear it. But the song, the subject matter of the song was totally out and negative. You know, so it’s like, you know, people, they’ll sample stuff that was done out of goodness and now it don’t matter just as long as you can pimp something to exploit to blow your ego up or ill-gotten finances from it. You know, just like Professor Griff who was the minister of information for the Public Enemy group. He calls hip hop acronyms, “High Infinite Power, Healing Our People”. HIP-HOP. High Infinite Power, Healing Our People. And he even has a comic book he’s done about how hip hop is being compromised by the so-called media and Illuminati, whoever was, to change it and and take the healing out of it and make it something demonic and as a weapon against people and minds, you know, for the for the not so good.
I mean, I like KRS-One, I like his work. Melle Mel, Marley Marl all these different people, Rakim, you know, I love the messages they give. It’s using the technology like with the hip hop folk, they started out, they didn’t have musical instruments, like the DJ would be working with turntables and somebody developed the scratching and what have you and sampling and coming up with very ingenious creative stuff. And hip hop also incorporated breakdancing, graffiti or they called burners like, you know, graffiti on subway cars and a number of different things, aspects that were part of that whole origina High Infinite Power, Healing Our People, if you will, platform and movement.
I remember you speaking about this in our third interview when you were talking about how a lot of mainstream music today samples the music from, you know the Black Freedom Movement and that era, but —
And other times.
Right, but what’s so different about that process is that there’s no struggle beneath it. I mean, you don’t really have to work through these spiritual questions, or these existential questions the way that it seems to me, you know, links you to something divine.
You mean like doing the work to actually create something?
Oh, definitely. Yeah. Yeah. As opposed to just, I got a machine and I’m just going to like, capture this. Because technology-wise, I know how to do that. And then I put it into something else. And you know,
Yeah, and you’re talking about —
I’ll borrow other people’s sweat, blood, sweat and tears they went through, [and] just like go to the bank, take it to the bank.
Yeah, and you’re talking about —
And get as people say, stupid paid, you know. And then while the creators, they get played and waylaid, especially if nobody gets the rights or sanction to use their music and to cut a deal with them where they get money from the newer stuff that’s going out and being sold, you know.
And even just the contrast between this song you just brought up where they’re sampling, umm…
Family Reunion. Yeah.
Yeah. But then you shared with us about a song which you wrote about reunions and when you spoke about it, you spoke of it as hoping to inspire and spread, you know, the communion that comes from families reunited united all over the world.
Yeah, in fact, it’s a piece, Kenneth Salaam, and myself. It’s a piece that came through us in 1990. And Kenneth is also known as Freedom Smitty. He was one of Cecil Moore’s freedom fighters. He went down South on the Freedom Rides when he was 15 years old. He stayed with Fannie Lou Hammer, stayed there on the Mississippi. Worked with her, worked with Dr. King. You know, he was one of the pallbearers at Dr. King’s funeral. And so he’s a great songwriter. And so he came up with this, we collaborated together on this piece called “It’s Our Family Reunion”. And some of the words are “We are family, united as one, let us all celebrate, it’s time to have fun. Sharing ideas of all that is good, keeping peace and harmony like every family should”. You know, and we view it as an international, God willing, an international theme song for family reunions anywhere. And we were blessed to have Russell Tompkins Jr, who is the lead singer of the Stylistics, he’s the voice of the Stylistics. All those hit records from the past, that’s him. And he’s one of my piano students. And I was able to show him the song and things evolved. So we wound up recording the song with Russell singing lead on it! So, this is something that the Creator willin, will be able to take off and we can not only be in business with it but also to spiritually help heal the planet and those who are willing to listen and embrace that transmission and shake hands with it, so to speak. Does that make sense?
After what we were speaking about with unity, it makes me think about how those lyrics also stand as a metaphor for what you were saying about unity. And you know, how we have to unite to move forward. And that’s really what it comes back to
Or it behooves us to and is a benefit, beneficial to us to reunite now.
Now if we don’t, if we don’t, today, we just, you know, like Minister Louis Farrakhan and I heard him say one time, if you don’t listen to the voice in your head to tell you something, you’re committing self-genocide.
You’re cutting off something that can help you, and it’s coming right to you clearly, you know, and you ignore that, boom. And the karmatic boomerang that goes along with that.
Yeah. I mean, I do think there’s this need for the younger generation to see the world of humanity as family and to take that responsibility for, you know, the world.
And music is also — Kenneth Salaam, he wrote a piece. He took the word ‘music’ and he broke it down to an acronym: Man Understanding Spiritual Information Clearly. Music. Man understanding spiritual information clearly. And so that’s a piece that you know, that’s medicine right there, it’s good medicine I would say. Think about, think on those terms, you know, think like that. And to me it gives hope for a better, a better world and better universe.
And what is the responsibility you feel for the younger generation?
That, their responsibilities?
No, what is the responsibility that you feel to them, you know, as a mentor?
Oh, to not lie to them and tell them about stuff that you know, try to tell them stuff like the way it is. Don’t give them no half-truths or if anything, try to give it to them straight like Thelonious Monk’s song “Straight, No Chaser.”
Yeah and this link between the older and the younger
And like try to be a living example through the way I live, you know. Not just like lip service or talking or valueless conversation, you know. So if they like, they like the way I be living, you know, that’s groovy and then they want to emulate that and they want to ask me to help them I can share what I know. They might consider something on me, that I don’t know better help blow me up, you know?
Right, well there is something sacred about this link between the younger and the older generation. And it is not one that I really grew up with. Because, I mean, so many of us are immigrant children and our parents, and our elders are so far away. And like we’ve spoken about, you know, young people are really unfamiliar with the history that is truthful and what really happened. And I think we are really beginning to come full circle with these interviews because it comes back to, you know, why we’ve conducted this in the first place. And yeah, how important it will be to guide the younger generation, the contributions that you’ve made to society and you know, the experiences that you’ve lived. And I wanted to ask you what, what do you think are some of the greatest lessons that you’ve learned from life?
Well, being introduced to as it is called, a holistic lifestyle, embracing concepts of the health food store, organically grown products and that kind of stuff. You know, as opposed to drinking Thunderbird, which is basically I would say chemicals and it distorts your whole thing, you know, drugs and all that kind of stuff, you know. And the angels of healing, some of them are breathing good fresh air, drinking fresh water, meditating, getting sunlight, exercising, being around the ocean, and laughter, you know, good positive thoughts. You know, all humans are potential angels of healing. I’ve read that there are seven angels of healing or healing components. I don’t have them in front of me to read from so I’m winging it, so to speak.
And the respect of people, respecting those from whence they came, like the elders, you know, mother and father, grandfather, old heads, respecting them and holding them in high esteem, and then respect to the youth too. And then the older people respect young people too and honor the ancestors.
I feel moved when I hear you speak about life because it’s clear that there’s a fullness and a depth with which you lived. And what do you think are some of the essential qualities of the life you’ve lived? What is it that you have loved most about, you know, the experiences you’ve lived and what have you learned the most from?
Well, I mean, a lot I’ve learned from being around and seeing and hearing and listening to the music of John Coltrane, you know, because, it’s just, and I wish I could share that with other people, that other people could, you know, would be open to investigating that for themselves and seeing and being able to experience, it’s like a spiritual, unexplainable kind of vibration stuff to be happening from, from that, that music and it’s like, it’s like, ageless, it’s like, it’s the ancient and it’s the future, it’s all, been all, it makes, it just touches me and makes sense to me, you know, what all the music and, you know, and the complexity and the simplicity, same time.
Well, what what we’ve been learning from studying the black freedom movement, but also, like talking to people like you is that like, it’s not just about living day to day or surviving, but what purpose do we live with and what guides us, and that’s what makes our life much fuller than it is from when we start out. So yeah, I mean, I just really appreciate you taking the time to do this. Because I’m learning a lot.
I appreciate you all for taking the time out to present this to me and share me, you know, share with me with this, you know. Oh, one thing that happened last night, I got a text from a friend of mine. And she, she works for a lady named Lady B who was a disc jockey on a radio. I think on WR&B. And she texted me, the lady’s name is Roxi Max, she’s a friend of mine, Carl Helm, who is a disc jockey on WDAS radio in Philly. He’s still with us and he sang on the background of the Blue Notes records, Stylistics and Blue Magic, you know, all the background stuff, a lot of that. His daughter works for Lady B and I think she spins records for the radio show. So she texted me saying that last night they want to play the song that we co-wrote called No Longer Bound, a song for Juneteenth. And they played it, I heard it last night and that’s a blessing. So this is a piece that’s written by Walter Sorey, James Solomon, myself and it’s called No Longer Bound. And it’s a song this speaks to, it celebrates Juneteenth, you know, and hopefully it will become a international theme for Juneteenth, you know? And so we’re, and we’re constantly working to improve the song and expand it, so we’re in process of that right now.
Alfie, do you think you feel free? Do you feel free in the life you’ve lived?
I’ve become freer, you know. Yeah, free. Yeah, I mean, you know, like, with Rittenhouse Square, you know, crash here, ain’t got paid no money, no, eat bad, panhandle money, no. No, no, but a freedom, you know, freedom, justice and equality. You know, yeah, which is great. Also, also I just want to acknowledge another very close friend of mine, one of my mentors. His name is Robert Dickerson, him and his wife, Momma Wanda. In fact, you’ve seen him perform the Universal African Dance and Drum Ensemble at the Church of the Advocate, and they were our partners and they say I’m one of their, I’m on their advisory board and I’m one of the mentors to their children, their children, their two sons are teachers, music teachers in the Camden school system and they, they have students who have gone on to become great, worldwide musicians, like one lady named Arnetta Johnson, I worked with her, she’s a trumpet player, now she’s been with Beyonce for some some years now. She plays trumpet with Beyonce so, you know, through the Dickersons also, they were introduced to music by Mr. Leon Mitchell, who has been a piano player at the Uptown Theater back in the day along with Sam Reed, he was the musical director. And so through him, the Dickersons’ children got into the music and, and expanded into what we see today Universal African Dance Drum ensemble, and all the other entities that are part of that umbrella, unity community in Camden, New Jersey, and they do great work as well and they’re mentors of mine even though they’re younger than me, but they’re my old heads to me. And I have the right to say that. And if they don’t like hey, they could get over it. And I’d be remiss if I did not mention my good friend and mentor, Brother Wesley Wilson Bey and his wife Anssa.
Well, the last question I wanted to ask you is just to wrap up, how, how has this process been for you? What did you think of the interview and the process?
This is great, it’s something I’ve been procrastinating on participating in. And every day people say, well, they, I talk with them and they hear me say this and that. They say, “Well, when you gonna write your book?”. Brother Daooud Nasir said, “You got a book in you?” and all that stuff. I say, “Well, I mean, you know, if I get somebody who could help me or whatever, you know, help me record, whatever. So I’m very grateful that you guys have selected a little old me. (Laughs) You know what I mean? I’ve been here, like this, you know what I mean? This is really great. I’m grateful and thankful, I appreciate you all taking the time, you know, and energy and everything, and concern, and thought, and interest and looking at the, as you see, the value that you perceive from our endeavoring together, so to speak as it were.
Interview conducted and compiled by Michelle Yuan Lyu and Brandon Hai Do.