May this be just a starting point to discover many more black Americans who made an impact in the world of art by paving the way for others in the art industry.
There was a time when many names that were not readily available to us in the past are now online for anyone to access with the push of a button. This is indeed exciting news. As I set out to discover some trail blazers that made valuable contribution in the world of art, entertainment and music; I found a long list and only picked the 3. The first 2 are from my Online research and the third is my own personal interview. I do invite you to find even more of the amazing trail blazers of art and discover more Black Americans who made and are still making history.
I start out with famed Harlem Renaissance portrait photographer James Van Der Zee. James was born in Lenox Massachusetts on June 29, 1886, and actually demonstrated and early gift for music, and was initially interested in a professional career as a violinist. Photography was his second favorite thing to do and in his teenage years he bought his first camera.
In 1906 James moved to Harlem in New York City with his father and brother, where he worked several jobs. In 1915 James took a job in a portrait studio in New Jersey. A year later James returned to Harlem just as a large number of Black immigrants and migrants were arriving into that part of the city.
During the 1920s and 1930s, James being highly sought after; produced hundreds of photographs of Harlem’s growing middle class; where residents entrusted James visual documentation of their weddings, funerals, celebrities and sport stars. Among his many renowned subjects were poet Countee Cullen, dancer Bill (Bojangles) Robinson, Joe Louis, and Marcus Garvey to name a few.
James Augustus Van Der Zee died in Washington D.C. on May 15,1983 at the age of 96
There is so much more to this dynamic man of the arts who had dozens of exhibitions and books of his work. We are proud to include him as a trail blazer in Black American History and invite you to learn more about him and share the message.
Augusta Savage was born on February 29,1892 in Green Cove Springs, Florida she is most definitely a trail blazer in the world of art for Black Americans and in 1934 became the first African-American artist to be elected to the National Association of Women Painters and Sculptors. Augusta faced many obstacles in her life to carve out her place in the world of art.
She is an American sculptor who is also associated with the famed Harlem Renaissance era. She spent her life working for equal rights for African Americans in the arts.
Her tough lessons came from an early age as she put it, her father licked (whipped) her four to five times a week because he disagreed with her wanting to make clay figures from the red clay from her hometown. She once recalled, “and almost whipped the art out of me”. This was in part due to his belief that her sculptures were sinful based on his interpretation of the “graven images” portion of the Bible.
It was while attending her new high school in West Palm Beach in 1915 that she was encouraged by her principal to teach a clay modeling class. This began a lifelong commitment to teaching as well as to creating art.
In 1919 she was granted a booth at the Palm Beach County Fair where she was awarded a $25 prize and ribbon for most original exhibit. So far we can already see why I call her a trail blazer in art.
She arrived in New York City in 1921 with a letter of recommendation and just $4.60 however it was discovered that she could not afford tuition, she was encouraged her to apply to Copper Union, a scholarship-based school, in New York City where she was admitted in October 1921. She was selected before 142 other men on the waiting list. She completed the four-year degree course in three years!
In 1923 Savage applied for a summer art program sponsored by the French government; although being more than qualified, she was turned down by the international judging committee solely because they refused to award a spot to a Black person. Savage was deeply upset and questioned the committee, beginning the first of many public fights for equal rights in her life.
She obtained her first commission for a bust of W.E. B. DuBois for the Harlem Library. Her outstanding sculptor brought more commissions, including a bust for Marcus Garvey.
This dynamic pioneering woman of art opened her studio to anyone who wanted to paint, draw or sculpt. Her many young students included many future nationally known artists, that include Jacob Lawrence, Norman Lewis, Gwendolyn Knight and Kenneth B. Clark who’s letter research contributed to the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown vs Board of Education that ruled school segregation unconstitutional.
Augusta Savage died in New York on March 27, 1962
The Augusta Fells Savage Institute of Visual Arts, a Baltimore, Maryland public high school, is named in her honor.
In 2001 her home and studio in Saugerties, New York were listed on the New York State and National Register of Historic Places as the Augusta Savage House and Studio. It is the most significant surviving site associated with the productive life of this renowned artist, teacher, and activist. Her home has been restored to evoke the period when she lived there, and serves to interpret her life and creative vision.
Like Van Der Zee, Savage made a huge contribution to the world of art and we encourage you to learn more about the life of this pioneering powerhouse of an artist and share the beautiful world of art.
I feel honored to have an individual that has been an intricate vessel in the black music culture that I was personally able to interview. Kelvin Anderson has become a part of Black History for sure. I have included some of that interview here (partial interview):
My good personal friend Kelvin Anderson Sr. is the owner of the World-Famous VIP
Records and is most assuredly a legend in the music industry. He is also Black History as an innovating pioneer in helping to establish many careers in the black music culture.
Kelvin is both mentally sharp and strategic in application all wrapped in a quiet and humbled man. Kelvin is a good listener and a very strategic talker. As Kelvin starts our interview, he wastes no time taking me right to the beginning, sharing the fact that he is 1 of 10 children born and raised in Brandon Mississippi with as he put it, the greatest parents on earth. There are 6 boys and 4 girls he proudly told me. The family pride continued as he said they grew up on a farm, had good values, was hardworking and was known for being good people in the community. They were raised in a Christian home and wasn’t exposed to music, fighting, drinking or smoking. In other words, he said, he lived in the perfect home.
Kelvin said he graduated high school in May of 1972 and a few years prior to that, his older brother Cletus moved to Los Angeles, where he opened a record store in Compton California. Kelvin said he already had it planned to follow his older brother after graduating high school. Laughing as he told me, prior to that he had dreams of becoming a long-distance truck driver so he could see America. However, as destiny would have it, Kelvin
continues the story by telling me that two days after graduating high school, he boarded a 6AM flight out of Jackson Mississippi and landed in Los Angeles California at around 10AM PST. Kelvin story started to move about as fast as his life as he told me, that his brother picked him up at the airport, took him to breakfast, stopped at the house to drop off his bags and by 1PM Kelvin was already working in his brother Cletus record store. Kelvin and I both took a breather after that. As we resumed our interview Kelvin told me that his whole life changed in the span of 6 hours. From the farm in the country to the bricks and concrete of the big city. This was only 2 minutes into our interview. I knew I was in for an adventure with some of which would be included in this article. With the amazing life that Kelvin has lived thus far it would take an entire book to tell all of it.
As we continued once again, it was apparent that Kelvin’s hardworking ethics were about to pay off, as he told me he worked and learned from his big brother Cletus for the next 7 years. He started in the stock room and mopping the floors to being the general manager for 12 locations. I told him this was genius of his brother and that’s what set him up to being so knowledgeable in the industry, learning from the bottom to the top.
On we went to the subject of VIP Long Beach, when Kelvin told me it was his brother Cletus opened VIP Long Beach, in June 1978 and 6 months later in January 1979 he (Kelvin) purchased it from his brother. Kelvin and I had a good laugh as we both said, “40 years”! After sharing in the realization that he has owned VIP Records Long Beach for the last 40 years, we both enjoyed a long sigh and a comfortable moment of silence.
I asked Kelvin to share some of the details that launched VIP Records as the place to be for music. Kelvin said the name, VIP Records was a household name in and around the Los Angeles area prior to opening VIP Records Long Beach, however it was after the now famous video by Snoop Dogg that gave way to the “World Famous VIP Records”. Snoop Did a video on the roof of VIP Long Beach and that video was seen all over the world adding a layer of International fame too VIP.
Kelvin went on to say that many artist’s first stop on the West coast was VIP Records to show how things flowed in the West coast. In a word they would teach and break down how to conduct themselves. When I asked him was this before the whole Snoop video, he replied, “this was before rap”. Kelvin said VIP was a major influence in the industry of jazz, gospel, blues, reggae and R&B.
With their in-store player ability, Kelvin said he could listen to a record and immediately tell you how many he could sell, because he was so aware of his customer base. He said people wanted to buy what they heard on the radio and it was important for them to know what all the radio stations were playing. Customers would come in wanting what they heard on the radio and the minute they walked in, they got brain freeze. Kelvin was good at getting it out of them.
That's when I told him, I had been one of those people many times over in the twenty plus years that I’ve known him. I call him the record store psychic. Kelvin said he enjoys being able to connect with his customers like this. I mentioned that Kelvin was the Google of music before they existed. All you had to do was give Kelvin a few keywords and he would provide you with your answer. He had to wear many hats to relate to his customers. Sometimes he wore his reggae hat for his Rasta people or his blues hat for his down- home people. With pride in his voice he says, that VIP Records was without a doubt the best in the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and into the 2000’s as far as being able to sell music and break in new and independent artist. Kelvin said that lots of record stores learned from them especially the large chain stores. I commended Kelvin for going from mopping the floors to working his way to the top in 7 years qualifying him with a PhD in the music industry and marketing.
Those 7 years set him up and he was fortunate enough to have Carte Blanche when he purchased VIP Records Long Beach in 1979, with all the major record labels. He was a trusted source in the industry because he was known for taking care of business for his brother. He had an open line of credit along with marketing and promotion money.
The relationships he built in the industry, while working for his brother was carried over to his business and this helped him considerably. Most independent record stores didn’t get or receive what the major chains store did, however he was able to get a lot of the same treatment that the major chain stores got with regard to support from record labels.
Knowing what was being played on the radio was huge and that if someone came in inquiring about something they heard on the radio, he was able to satisfy that need as well as provide them with a similar independent artist that wasn’t getting air play. Kelvin was and still is good at finding what you're like and opening a whole new world for you with an artist you didn’t even know existed. Again, I go back to saying that Kelvin was a computer before we were all using them. I can remember walking out the door with a handful of tracks, when I just came in for one and feeling good about it.
Kelvin’s voice has a genuine smooth and attentive tone in it that is backed up by a library of music knowledge that you know you can trust. He says he gets his passion because there are thousands of super talented artists out there that most people will never get to hear, just listening to top 20 or 40 playlists. All Kelvin does is give people what they want...variety and a broader palette of appreciation.
Kelvin said a big part of his success was the same reason his brother Cletus was able to accomplish so much was by having real good help. By him running things for Cletus, it allowed him to really get involved with the recording industry and he remembers Cletus recorded the first Ice-T tracks and working with Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. He said Cletus also use to pick up Dr. Dre and take him to the studio where he would mix on various projects. Cletus was able to build these kinds of relationship, because he had good help at the shop. Likewise, Kelvin said his eldest daughter LaTasha did that for him. Having her take care of business at the shop, really propelled him in the industry.
Lonzo Williams honors Kelvin with the "Life Time Achievement Award" in the Unsung Heroes Award of West Coast Hip Hop. Scroll through images to see some of Kelvin's family in attendance (All pictures by Pauline Samuels)
Kelvin spoke of going to Def Jam records in New York every three month just to sit down and listen to their new releases and hear their marketing promotions. Additionally, Kelvin would meet with the music man himself Mr. Clive Davis and Sean P-Diddy Combs who Kelvin referred to as Puffy to discuss their upcoming releases and promotional campaigns. Kelvin reiterated that all of this was only possible because of good help at the shop and said his son Kelvin Jr. who is a good friend of mine too, was an integral part of helping also.
Many other family members were part of the VIP Brand that made it a success like his brother David, Glenn, Timothy, his baby sister Lisa who owned a couple of stores herself, all accomplished a lot over the years.
It is a fact, the VIP Brand made a HUGE impact in the music industry, Los Angeles and west coast music market.
Kelvin has received countless awards for his contribution to the music industry.
Although it didn’t all start with VIP Long Beach, they are the only store still open and for this we say that my friend Kelvin Anderson made Black History!
Interviewed for Creative Artist Magazine Winter 2020 issue and the man on the cover! (we have since changed our logo)
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