Free Angela

Professor Angela Davis visited Keene State College this evening and gave an enlightening, challenging talk tracing the historical connections between the carceral state and global capitalism and advancing the idea of abolishing prisons as an important step towards imagining a more just world. She was precise and expansive, moving easily between concrete and theoretical examples–from Frederic Jameson to Ferguson, Missouri. Needless to say, the audience was rapt.

Angela Davis - 1

For the hour before the talk, I held my station at the WKNH studio, spinning a playlist of music inspired by and dedicated to Angela Davis. In my research, Tara Betts’ work on sampling Davis’s and other black female activists’ voices and Pat Thompson’s book Listen, Whitey! were essential sources for exploring Davis’s influence on music. After the talk, I spent a few unforgettable moments with Dr. Davis, during which we talked about these cross-genre connections as part of the legacy of the Black Power Movement on the West Coast.

I also played a few tunes from the album Free Angela, sold to support Davis’s legal defense after her arrest, as well as a few other compositions and performances that were released on smaller labels that tend not to be available through streaming services. Such a confluence of political commitment and musical expression affirms and fulfills the Black Arts Movement’s vision for a populist, revolutionary aesthetic in music and poetry.

Thanks to Dr. Dottie Morris for bringing such crucial programs to Keene State College.

Schooling Life

It may already be a few weeks into the semester, but that first-day-of school freshness hasn’t faded yet. With the change of the season it still feels appropriate to celebrate new beginnings.

The first show of the academic year celebrated the return to class with an eclectic set of tunes about teachers, students, school-pride, and a bit of delinquency. One lesson I learned while creating this playlist: songs about going not going to class seem to be somewhat more popular than those about going to class.

This fall, Instrumental Voices Radio (on WKNH 91.3FM in Keene) moves to a new day and time. Stream (at wknh.org) from 6-8pm every Wednesday evening. There’s a lot of music in store for the semester ahead.

Pieces of a Man

Eugene Coles Winter in America

During the final week of classes this past spring, I hosted my first guest-DJ on Instrumental Voices Radio at WKNH (91.3 FM in Keene). The illustrious, inimitable Dr. Don Geesling earned his PhD from the W.E.B. Du Bois Department of Afro-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, where his dissertation project, and now book manuscript focuses on the poet, novelist, singer, song-writer, teacher, activist, and master-griot Gil Scott-Heron.

Tony Bolden’s essential article, “Blue/Funk as Political Philosophy: The Poetry of Gil Scott-Heron,” notwithstanding, there has been shockingly little attention paid to Scott-Heron’s work in the fields of literary criticism and cultural studies. Marcus Baram’s Pieces of Man (St. Martin’s, 2014) is a worthy contribution, though not without it’s issues. Which is to say that Dr. Don’s book will be a welcome, urgently needed scholarly treatment of the life and art of Gil Scott-Heron in the context of the Black Arts Movement and beyond.

What’s more, Dr. Don leads the New Africa House Ensemble, the house band for the Department of Afro-American Studies. I first saw the New Africa House Ensemble accompany Abiodun Oyewole (of the Last Poets) in October, and caught their next performance with Sonia Sanchez in March. The following month, they returned to the Augusta Savage Gallery to perform their tribute for Gil Scott-Heron and Terry Callier.

New Africa House Ensemble1

When Dr. Don visited the WKNH studio later that same week, we attempted the impossible: to honor the fullness of Scott-Heron’s work and vision–the politics, humor, poignancy, spirituality, and the poetry. In doing so, I sought to remain attentive to a crucial statement from his posthumous autobiography, The Last Holiday (Grove, 2012). Scott-Heron writes, “When people picked ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’ to decide what kind of artists we were, they overlooked what the hell the whole album said. We didn’t just do one tune and let it stand, we did albums and ideas …” (159-60).

Although I led with the classic second version of “The Revolution…,” it was perhaps appropriate that my recording didn’t start until mid-way into the next tune. When Dr. Don joined me in the second hour, he led an insightful discussion of the profound depth and breadth of this major practitioner and theorist of the Black Aesthetic.


Thanks to Dr. Don for his knowledge and commitment to teaching us all about the legacy of Gil Scott-Heron, especially as a writer, intellectual, and activist. Be sure to check out his important interview with the man himself, published in the Brooklyn Rail, and to keep a lookout for his forthcoming book.