Stories

Cypress Freeway

The Cypress Freeway was just one of the urban developments that struck a fatal blow to an already embattled West Oakland.

Built in the 1950’s, the construction of the freeway effectively severed West Oakland from the downtown and from Oakland’s more affluent communities. By the time the freeway arrived, West Oakland was already facing economic hardship. During WWII, people came to Oakland from all over the United States to find jobs in Oakland’s shipyards and transit stations. Once the war ended, the boom began to bust. Continue reading “Cypress Freeway”

Slim Jenkins’ Place

Founded in 1933 by Slim Jenkins, Slim Jenkins’ Place began as little more than a corner juke joint. Under Jenkins’ disciplined hand, it soon became the premiere club in 7th Street’s blues and jazz orbit, widely recognized as West Oakland’s favorite nightspot.  Jenkins wanted to create a place where clientele of all races could listen to music, dance, and enjoy themselves. And enjoy they did. Continue reading “Slim Jenkins’ Place”

Tom Bowden

From his house on Wood Street, young Tom Bowden watched weary porters and sailors trudge home toward 7th Street’s boarding houses. As a boy he shined shoes for a nickel and later racked pins at the local bowling alley. As he got older, Bowden didn’t just play music on 7th Street. He knew the place; watched the people; understood how his little corner of 7th Street worked. He is often referred to as “The Mayor of Wood Street.”

Continue reading “Tom Bowden”

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.