Wednesday, May 21, 2014


Dear Friends:

I have gone to China to teach a seminar.  The blog will resume mid-July.

See you then!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014


Just out from Duke University Press's C.L.R. JAMES ARCHIVES series is this important new book from Christian Hogsbjerg. Christian's first volume in this series was an edition of the original script of James's play Toussaint Louverture: The Story of the Only Successful Slave Revolt in History. This new book is the first to offer a full examination of James's years in England following his departure from Trinidad in 1932. In the few short years between his arrival in England and his departure for the United States, James published Minty Alley, The Case for West Indian Self-Government, World Revolution, A History of Negro Revolt and  Black Jacobins, all while keeping up work as a cricket writer and participating in the work of the African Service Bureau, International Friends of Abyssinia, and others. These years are vital for understanding James's evolution as a thinker and revolutionary, indispensable for understanding the work that he would do in the United States.

Sunday, May 18, 2014


A few minutes into the movie Lady Sings the Blues, I figured out how to watch the thing. If you stopped thinking about Billie Holiday, forgot there had ever been such a person as Billie Holiday, it was really a pretty good movie. 

You don't have to go quite to that extreme to enjoy Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill, but it's best to ignore the book and just enjoy it as what it pretends to be, a late performance in Philadelphia by Lady Day. Holiday, of course, would never have spoken so openly about her life and trials to strangers, and much of what we hear in the spoken interludes is purest fiction. If you can put that aside, which is not always easy to do even with the lights down, even with the well structured illusion of a night club evening (members of the audience down front sit at cafe tables and interact with Lady), this is one of the finest concerts of the year.

Audra McDonald, I have to say, mimics Holiday masterfully, singing in a voice that is not her own. This did not work as well for me when she was speaking, but the singing, which takes up most of the show, is masterfully done.  You may have seen McDonald on The Colbert Report recently when she did a number from the show, "What a Little Moonlight Can Do." My first impression watching on TV, after having seen the show at Circle in the Square, was that McDonald was overdoing the impression. Or, I thought, maybe it's just that TV exaggerates what seemed natural in the theater.

But then I did the obvious thing. I played a few very late recordings of Billie Holiday singing the number live, and McDonald had nailed the performance. 

So -- don't go to this show looking to learn anything about Billie Holiday from the script. Still, there is so much about Holiday to be learned from the singing.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014


Like President Obama and the First Lady, I scored tickets to the new production of A Raisin in the Sun at the Barrymore Theater.  I have to say, this is the best cast I've seen since the long ago movie version (which made cuts in the script). It would be hard to top, or even rival, a production that included Ruby Dee, Sidney Poitier, Claudia McNeil and Diana Sands, with early and memorable appearances by Ivan Dixon and Lou Gossett.

This revival was to have featured Diahann Carroll, and I'd been curious to see how she'd play the role. But when Carroll dropped out of the show well before opening, she was replaced by Latanya Richardson Jackson, who turned out to be an inspired choice.  Given Denzel Washington's age, they had to make some adjustment, and so Walter Lee Younger is here 40, as opposed to Sidney Poitier's 30 -- which in turn would seem to make Beneatha (here played by Anika Noni Rose) either much younger than her brother, Walter Lee Younger, or a wonderful late bloomer. But once things are under way, nobody in the audience is thinking about the age of anyone in the cast. Sophie Okonedo plays Walter Lee's wife.

One touch I much appreciated at the Barrymore was that a recording was played in the time before the curtain of a late interview with Lorraine Hansberry. I dare say that most in the theater that evening had never heard Hansberry's voice. It was powerfully moving to hear that voice again, and it's an intriguing interview.

The play runs through June 15 -- Forget about the Puffy version of some years ago -- (and how many even remember the American Playhouse broadcast in 1989, with a cast that included Danny Glover and Esther Rolle?) -- This is the one to see --