Lowell Fulson: Influential West Coast Bluesman, Jazzhouse.org, 1999

Lowell Fulson: Influential West Coast Bluesman
Jazzhouse.org, 1999

Lowell Fulson was not only a major name in his own right in the development of post-war blues, but also served as either a sometime employer of or a leading influence on a number of famous artists. He was a major formative influence on the music of B B King, while his bands in the early-50s included musicians like pianist and arranger Ray Charles, guitarist Ike Turner, and saxophonists Stanley Turrentine and King Curtis. Read more

“Lowell Fulson, 77, Who Took Texas-Style Blues to the West Coast,” The New York Times, March 14, 1999

“Lowell Fulson, 77, Who Took Texas-Style Blues to the West Coast,”
The New York Times, March 14, 1999
By Jon Pareles

“Lowell Fulson, a major figure in West Coast blues, died March 6 in Long Beach, Calif. He was 77 and lived in Los Angeles.

The cause was complications from kidney disease, diabetes and congestive heart failure, said his companion, Tina Mayfield…” Read more

California Soul: Music of African Americans in the West

California Soul: Music of African Americans in the West
Jacqueline Cogdell DjeDje and Eddie S. Meadows, editors

Focusing on blues, jazz, gospel, rhythm and blues, and soul music, California Soul is one of the first books to explore the rich musical heritage of African Americans in California. The contributors describe in detail the individual artists, locales, groups, musical styles, and regional qualities, and the result is an important book that lays the groundwork for a whole new field of study. The essays draw from oral histories, music recordings, newspaper articles and advertisements, as well as population statistics to provide insightful discussions of topics like the California urban milieu’s influence on gospel music, the development of the West Coast blues style, and the significance of Los Angeles’s Central Avenue in the early days of jazz. Other essays offer perspectives on how individual musicians have been shaped by their African American heritage, and on the role of the record industry and radio in the making of music. In addition to the diverse range of essays, the book includes the most comprehensive bibliography now available on African American music and culture in California.

Blues City: A Walk in Oakland by Ishmael Reed

Blues City: A Walk in Oakland
by Ishmael Reed

This work takes the reader on a walk through the vibrant multicultural stew of Oakland, California. Oakland is often overshadowed by San Francisco, its neighbor across the Bay, but is itself an American wonder. The city is surrounded by and filled with physical beauty–hills, mountains, bays, and the ocean–as well as architecture that mirrors its history as a Spanish mission, Gold Rush outpost, and home of the West’s biggest robber barons in the early 20th century. Today, Oakland is perhaps most famous for its astonishingly diverse communities. In one district alone, more than 200 languages are spoken–more than on the entire continent of Europe. This is a city of refugees and immigrants, of political radicals, utopians, and apocalyptic of all stripes. In Blues City, Ishmael Reed–a longtime Oakland resident himself–takes us on a tour of what he calls “planet city,” exploring its fascinating history, its beautiful hills and waterfronts, and its odd cultural juxtapositions such as Japanese jazz clubs and black cowboy parades, opening our eyes to not only a singular city, but to a newly emerging America.

Black Artists in Oakland by Jerry Thompson and Duane Deterville

Black Artists in Oakland
by Jerry Thompson and Duane Deterville

Oakland’s famous and vibrant arts heritage is known throughout the country, but many people are unaware of the extent of this city’s contribution to the national stage in terms of music, dance, visual arts, and literature. Black Artists in Oakland celebrates this amazing story over the past half century through vintage images, from the early days of Slim Jenkins’s nightclub to the changing styles of Esther’s Orbit Room and the Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts. More than 200 photographs lift the curtain on many inspiring artists—masters in their chosen aesthetic and neighbors to the community. Among the artists highlighted in these pages are Ruth Beckford, Raymond Saunders, Alice Walker, and E. W. Wainwright.

The Archaeology of Urban Landscapes: Explorations in Slumland, Edited by Alan Mayne

The Archaeology of Urban Landscapes: Explorations in Slumland
Edited by Alan Mayne
Cambridge University Press
This exciting collection on a new movement in urban archaeology investigates the historical archaeology of urban slums. The material that is dug up – broken dinner plates, glass grog bottles, and innumerable tonnes of building debris, nails and plaster samples – will not quickly find its way into museum collections. But, properly interpreted, it yields evidence of lives and communities that have left little in the way of written records. Including eleven case studies, five on cities in the United States and one each on London and Sheffield, and futher chapters on Cape Town, Sydney, Melbourne and Quebec City, it maps out a new field, which will attract the attention of a range of students and scholars outside archaeology, in particular historical sociologists and historians.

American Babylon: Race and the Struggle for Postwar Oakland by Robert O. Self

American Babylon: Race and the Struggle for Postwar Oakland by Robert O. Self. As the birthplace of the Black Panthers and a nationwide tax revolt, California embodied a crucial motif of the postwar United States: the rise of suburbs and the decline of cities, a process in which black and white histories inextricably joined. American Babylon tells this story through Oakland and its nearby suburbs, tracing both the history of civil rights and Black power politics as well as the history of suburbanization and home-owner politics. Robert Self shows that racial inequities in both New Deal and Great Society liberalism precipitated local struggles over land, jobs, taxes, and race within postwar metropolitan development. Black power and the tax revolt evolved together, in tension. American Babylon demonstrates that the history of civil rights and black liberation politics in California did not follow a southern model, but represented a long-term struggle for economic rights that began during the World War II years and continued through the rise of the Black Panthers in the late 1960s. This struggle yielded a wide-ranging and profound critique of postwar metropolitan development and its foundation of class and racial segregation. Self traces the roots of the 1978 tax revolt to the 1940s, when home owners, real estate brokers, and the federal government used racial segregation and industrial property taxes to forge a middle-class lifestyle centered on property ownership.

“Historic 7th Street: Essay on Black Owned Commerce And Community That Was in West Oakland”

“This is an essay about a West Oakland that was populated primarily by Blacks who migrated to West Oakland during World War II to work in the Military industries. Also this essay is dedicated to those early Black Oaklanders that established an economically self-contained community in West-Oakland and thus leave an example for today’s Black Oaklanders.”

Read more

Ordinance Rezoning 1600-1642 7th Street

Report by the Community and Economic Development Agency
Download the full text of the ordinance

Excerpt:

“As long as you knew your place, Seventh Street could be the place where all the action was. In addition to the music, there were pool halls, gambling halls, and places to eat southern-style foods like Sylvester Sims’s Overland Cafeat 1719 Seventh Street. “No fancy French names for our dishes,” an advertisement assured. “We serve well-cooked home dishes from mustard greens to chicken dumplings, with corn bread and hot biscuits. Just like mother used to fix it,” was the enticement for patrons who liked “down-home” food—now known as soul food (Oakland Independent 19 October? 1929:8).

Shooting pool was a favorite pastime, along with playing cards and shooting dice. The Main Event at 1704 Seventh Street was a favorite hall. The Turf Recreation Hall and Billiard Room at 1736 Seventh Street promised a cosmopolitan atmosphere:

Here you meet the visitor from New York, the breezy Chicagoan, the Cosmopolitan from all points South, East, and west…. A home for the visiting railroad man; a recreation place for the home patron…. A friendly place where you meet visitors from all over the world [Oakland Independent 19 October 1929:7].

Just next door, Charles E. “Raincoat” Jones, operated a business in 1942 selling clothes, jewelry, radios, trunks, and suitcases at 1734 Seventh Street (New Age Publishing Company 1942-43). On the backside of Jenkins’s Corner (Slim Jenkins’s club), Jones operated another business. A barker would holler to passersby: “Action in the back, action in the alley; big craps game”; there “Suitcase” Brown might be presiding over a crap game. The police were allegedly paid to look the other way at these activities. Jones’s operations may have been on the illegitimate side, but he is remembered as a good businessman who kept his enterprises going for years.

While West Oakland was indeed a multi-ethnic neighborhood, Seventh Street and its surrounding area were a haven for Black folks. After the demise of the bohemian Barbary Coast jazz scene in San Francisco in 1921, a number of dancehalls, theaters, and cafes sprang up in West Oakland. The non-Black community in West Oakland in the *20s and ’30s—before the “White flight” of the ’40s—stayed to themselves and had little to do with African American social life. Some Whites patronized Black and Tan clubs—nightclubs that catered to a mixed clientele—although many perceived themselves as “slumming.” Among West Oakland’s most popular Black and Tan clubs were Slim Jenkins’s club (1933-1962) and The Creole Cafe (ca. 1918-1921), both on Seventh Street, but even here the majority of the patrons were African Americans. The phrase had a cosmopolitan tone, and many bands incorporated it into their names, such as Clem Raymond’s Black and Tans, ‘”Black and Tan’ in a band’s title was a selling point—a positive,” as Oakland musician Earl Watkins (1995, pers. comm.) pointed out.

In addition to live music, recorded jazz could be heard in the homes and businesses of West Oakland. Several accounts confirm the reported Pullman porters” role in distributing records from Chicago before they were available in West Coast stores. In 1926,just six years after Mamie Smith’s historic recordings on the Okeh label, jazz records were advertised for sale at the Center Pharmacy, located on Seventh and Peralta streets. Here, |West Oakland residents could purchase records by the latest female blues singers of the ’20s: “Latest Blues,” the pharmacy advertised, “Blues to soothe the aching heart.” The listing of available titles (along with the record’s matrix numbers) included such artists as Bessie Smith, Clara Smith and her Jazz Band, Ethel Waters, Maggie Jones, the Charleston Dixie Washboard Band, Rosa Henderson, and the Harmony Hounds (Western American 30 July 1926:3). By 1930 the West Oakland Music Company, at 1506-A Seventh Street near Chester, sold radios, phonographs, records, and “quality merchandise” (Thompson and Williams 1930:17). The Okay Phonograph Company advertised in local Black newspapers. One such advertisement, for Louis Armstrong’s “St. James Infirmary” and “Save it Pretty Mamma” at a price of 75 cents, pictured a cartoon of a dapper man in blackface with a cane next to Okeh’s logo (Oakland Independent 15 March 1930:4).

While Seventh Street saw the emergence of a bustling nightlife in the ’20s, all did not view it favorably. The Western American featured a column called “Dixie Club Notes” based on activities at the Dixie Club, a hall that could be rented by social groups at 708 Pine Street. Although the column was largely self-serving, one entry does reveal something about West Oakland’s image:

Our state [California] is unique though some people have a dislike for our location of the cabaret it is in a part of the city that some people don’t like… if you visit San Francisco after the show, you want to go to Chinatown. If you go to Paris you want to get in the Latin quarters. I just want to show you that West Oakland is not the worst place on the globe. So let us get together and make Oakland a real city by putting the Dixie Club over [Western American 17 September 1926:2].

Although the fate of the Dixie Club was not learned, clearly West Oakland’s reputation grew to meet the writer’s expectations. The jazz meccas of the East Coast and Midwest—such as Harlem and Chicago—soon had their counterparts in the West. Central Avenue in Los Angeles, the Barbary Coast and later Filmore Street in San Francisco, and—of course—Seventh Street in Oakland were known centers for jazz entertainment and nightlife”