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Ambassador Satch's Talk-Back

By Julian Bond & Amiri Baraka

Julian Bond dug the first issue of First of the Month and stayed in our corner. While his support for First was of vanishingly small import compared to his other services to our country, it was an honor to know he was paying attention. After Amiri Baraka died last year, Bond sent First a swatch of an interview he'd conducted with Baraka under the aegis of the University of Virginia’s “Explorations in Black Leadership” program. Once it was edited and published he wrote to say "it was great to read this again, especially the Louis Armstrong section." What follows is the section he highlighted.

BOND: I can remember being distant from, that is, I embraced Charlie Parker, but Louis Armstrong, it took me a while to—

BARAKA: To understand that.

BOND:—embrace Louis Armstrong—

BARAKA: I understand that...it took me a while to really know who Louis Armstrong was, you know. I mean, I was an adult before I could dig Louis. And before I really, before I really manifested who that was—the greatest trumpet player, ever, anywhere, you know—I was like in my forties or something like that. You know.

BOND: Yes. I was turned off by what I took to be the clownish—

BARAKA: Yeah, the clownish—

BOND:—aspects of his—

BARAKA: Absolutely.


BARAKA: Oh, yeah. Absolutely.

BOND: And I couldn't. I couldn't do it.

BARAKA: Of course…all of those teeth and what not, you see. But then later on, it—and then remember when Louis came out with the thing during the Arkansas—

BOND: Little Rock crisis. Yeah.

BARAKA: Yeah, the Little Rock crisis...I'll tell you what really blew my mind about Louis Armstrong. He was on—this was much later—he was on a television interview with his manager, Joe Glaser. And the commentator asked him, "Well, Mr. Armstrong, can you tell us in your sixty years of being in the music business what have you learned? ...What would you tell young people." He said, "Well, I'll tell ya' one thing I learned is if you're black and you're in the music business, you gotta find yourself some white man and make yourself that white man's nigger. Ain't that right, Joe?"

BOND: Really? Oh, my Lord. What a remarkable thing.

BARAKA: No, I saw that actually. It made you want to look away from the television.

BOND: Yes. Yes.

BARAKA: I said because he's obviously been waiting fifty years—

BOND: To say to them. What did Glaser say?

BARAKA: Joe Glaser didn't say nothing…he looked like somebody had peed on his shoe, actually…He looked just like "Cut to the commercial." You know?

From August, 2015

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