Page 1



A Publication of the Initiative for the Study of Religion and Spirituality in the History of Africa and the Diaspora (RASHAD) “Jubilees to Jazz” Workshop Issue


The Art of Illustrating History

Since July 2010, it has been my great pleasure to collaborate with Nathaniel Rhodes, the multi-talented artist whose photographs have provided the visual evidence of much of RASHAD’s work. Thanks to him, each picture really does “paint a thousand words,” as the song says. All images in this special “Jubilees to Jazz” Workshop issue of Traditions & Beliefs are Nathaniel’s, unless otherwise noted. –RNW

Above piano photo by Regennia N. Williams.

Piano Lessons Thoughts on Music, Black Aspirations, and the Art of Negotiation Regennia N. Williams, PhD, Executive Director & Editor


Early in the 1983-1984 academic year, I agreed to serve on the planning committee for Cleveland State University’s Black Aspirations Week Program. Almost immediately, I suggested that we form a gospel choir that would have its debut performance during the April 1984 celebration. Because I was a 24-year-old wife, mother, full-time staff member in CSU’s Registrar’s Office, and undergraduate student at the time, I knew that I would need the support of my family, the committee, and other members of the campus community and Cleveland’s faith communities-- if this musical component of the larger program was going to come together in an excellent way. From day one, the committee chair offered sound advice and wise counsel. My favorite story from the planning period relates to challenges associated with identifying a rehearsal space with a piano. In time, I was able to speak with a staff member in the Music Department, who agreed to allow us to use a room in the Main Classroom Building, if I would pay $100 per rehearsal to use the piano in that room. I was so desperate to secure a suitable space and get started with the rehearsals that I was ready to make the personal sacrifices required to cover the $400 monthly payment myself, a hefty amount for a student already juggling multiple responsibilities. (Continued on page 2.)




(Continued from page 1.) When I shared the details of the proposed agreement with the other committee members, there was a consensus that the request was unreasonable, and the chair agreed to negotiate a more favorable arrangement. Long story short, the committee agreed to pay $100 to tune the piano at the start of the three-month rehearsal period and $100 to tune the piano at the end of that period. Nathaniel Williams, Jr., my 22-year-old brother and future CSU Music Department alumnus, agreed to serve as pianist–director, and other colleagues and friends also came to my rescue. Through it all, I learned some important lessons about the power of music and the value of negotiation—and I saved myself about $1,000 in the process! All of this had the makings of a great article, so I worked with another student leader to be certain that our Black Aspirations Week success story (right) was included in the next issue of The Vindicator, a CSU student newspaper. Nearly 30 years later, when I was serving as a tenured faculty member in CSU’s Department of History, I received a notice from Property Control about the sale of a used piano. At the time, I was in the market for a good practice piano, and it appeared that this instrument would suffice, so I decided to submit a bid for its purchase. When my bid for $200 –the same amount that we had paid to use a piano for a few months in 1984 -- was accepted, I invited my then grown-up sons to ride with me in a rented truck to pick up our piano. For several years, that piano sat in my living room, and it provided countless hours of enjoyment to my family. (Eventually, I painted it red, my favorite color, and imagined that it was that same piano that we used during the1983-1984 school year.)

At the piano on Tuesday, January 27, 2016, the day before the movers arrived. (Photo courtesy Regennia N. Williams.)

After 23 years on the faculty, I left CSU in 2015, in order to pursue other opportunities outside of Greater Cleveland, and the beautiful red piano that brought so much joy to my family, now sits in the Cleveland home of a dear friend. It was my musical gift to someone who enjoys music as much as I do. To my mind, piano lessons, like quality time with friends and family, are priceless. 2





The “Jubilees to Jazz” Workshop, January 22-23, 2016

Pictured above (left to right) are Trewery Ford, Babette Reid Harrell, and James LaVar Arnold. (Photos courtesy Catherine Young, Cleveland Public Library.)

The January 22-23, 2016 “From Jubilees to Jazz: Black Sacred Music, at Home and Abroad” Workshop was an overwhelming success! Presented as a follow-up activity to the Spiritual Gifts Choir’s December 2015 European Tour, the workshop was designed to meet the needs of classroom teachers, singers, instrumentalists, directors, and others interested in acquiring new knowledge about the music of the historic African American Church—from the 19th-century era of the Fisk Jubilee Singers, through the 20thcentury liturgical jazz of Duke Ellington, to 21st-century gospel music.

Bottom photos (clockwise from top left) Vocalist Caleb Wright with Regennia N. Williams, a library display of books and audio-visual materials, pianist-vocalist Brenda E. Johnson, and Maestro Glenn A. Brackens.

Led by Dr. Regennia N. Williams and presented with support from Cleveland Public Library and the Center for Excellence and Innovation in Education at Cleveland State University, the workshop attracted more than two dozen participants over the two-day period—enough for a near capacity crowd in the primary classroom space. Additional library patrons and guests joined participants at the closing performance. Participants received packets containing the course syllabus, sheet music, sample lesson plans and bibliographies, and a detailed discography. Course-related materials will continue to be available online via Spiritual Gifts’ Facebook page, ISSUU, and Regennia N. Williams’ YouTube channel. Four classroom teachers earned 7.5 CEUs each for their participation. The Professional Development Office of the Cleveland Metropolitan School District provided promotional support for our 2016 workshop. 3



Lecturing, Listening, Viewing, Teaching . . .

There was no shortage of interesting and engaged participants in the “Jubilees to Jazz� Workshop. Pictured here (clockwise from the top left) are Geraldine C. Hardin Washington (workshop co-facilitator with Dr. Robyn Davis), Minister Michael Keith Jester, Dr. Ernestine Davis, Joy Yokie, and Michael Thompson, who shared copies of books (pictured below) from his personal library on visual artist and composer Romare Bearden and the history of jazz.


/ WINTER 2016





. . . Discussing, Performing, Learning! Photos (Top to bottom): Part of the crowd that gathered outside Cleveland Public Library’s Special Collections and Fine Arts areas to hear the “Jubilees to Jazz” Workshop performance. Pastor Irma J. Williams conducts as the Brenda E. Johnson Family and Friends Recording Choir leads the audience in singing Glenn Burleigh’s gospel composition, “Order My Steps.” Members of the audience (left) listen as Regennia N. Williams (right) introduces the next performing artist.

For more information: Spiritual Gifts P.O. Box 18683 Cleveland Heights, Ohio 44118, USA Please like Spiritual Gifts’ Facebook page! Regennia N. Williams, PhD Independent Humanities Scholar Founder and Executive Director of Spiritual Gifts and The Initiative for the Study of Religion and Spirituality in the History of Africa and the Diaspora (RASHAD) | (216) 244-6630

"Jubilees to Jazz" Winter 2016 Workshop Newsletter  

The special issue of RASHAD's Traditions & Beliefs newsletter includes information on Spiritual Gifts' January 22-23, 2016 "From Jubilees to...