ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
We must begin building cultural centers where we can enjoy being free, open and black, where
we can find out how talented we really are, where we can be what we were born to be and
not what we were brainwashed to be, where we can literally blow our minds with blackness.
Books by Askia M. Touré
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Ashé, a Poem of Homage & Love
for Iya Barbara Ann Teer
By Olabisi Askia Touré
Ashé, My Love, Ashé!! (for Dr. Barbara Ann Teer) This gaunt, steamy summer led by an equally squalid spring, I sit pondering your splendid subtleties, Mama Barbara Ann Teer. You embodied the unsung essence of life. Wonder woman, rock steady now, with unorthodox delight. Fill our nights with songs from invisible tongues; Sista-woman, heal our accustomed emptiness. Blue voices sing, Larry Neal style, aware of elegance and elegy, this anguished time. The fluent honey of your chant, the precise sonority of your trained dramatics, creative in unsung climates of our being, speak multitudes in twilight shadows, Mama Yemoja, Mama Wisdom-sighs, Mama Honey-voice, Flowing with riverine virtue. Your loss makes us bleed invisible wounds. Your loss makes us weep unacknowledged tears; as though the night-wind stole our Sibyl before we learned to embrace her sacredness. I was never blessed with a blood sister, so, for me you were Family, as though born from the same wombin Spirit, not Flesh. People, I long deeply to weep, but find I have no eyes, to sing, but have no voice. All I can do is write this wretched Blues.
Olabisi Askia Toure, Boston, July 23, 2008
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Dr. Barbara Ann Teer’s Pioneering Vision Leaves a Cultural Legacy
Dr. Barbara Ann Teer, Founder and visionary of the National Black Theatre Inc., made her transition peacefully at home Monday, July 21, 2008 . Dr. Teer was an icon in the healing art of Black Theatre. Leaving behind a lucrative show business career in 1967, she came to Harlem in 1968 and founded the National Black Theatre (NBT). This began a 40-year passion that changed the cultural landscape of the theatrical world. She created a new cultural art form by blending cultural appreciation, performing arts and community advocacy.
In 1983, she expanded that vision with the purchase of a 64,000 sq ft building located at 125 Street & Fifth Avenue. There she created a thriving cultural and business complex housing the largest New Sacred Yoruba Art collection in the western hemisphere. Through a commitment to her vision and purpose, the National Black Theatre is a world-class institution that inspires cultural transformation, social change, human re-development, historic relevance, and futuristic innovation. Throughout her life, she was always on the cutting edge as the world paced one step behind her trail blazing vision and provocative stage productions. As a former dancer, actress, producer, director, writer, cultural entrepreneur, and more recently officially an African Chieftain, she has won countless awards and received numerous Honorary Doctorate Degrees.
However, what mattered most to her was spiritual, self-empowerment. She was known for providing a cultural incubator and training forum for artists in all walks of life. Her commitment through the National Black Theater was to offer an alternative learning environment where she attracted people from around the world whose work she impacted and showcased. Dr. Barbara Ann Teer loved Harlem and took a stand for it against the odds. As much as she loved Harlem, she loved her birth home, East St. Louis, Illinois . Dr. Teer leaves in spirit and love two children: Sade and Michael Lythcott and a host of long-term staff, friends and family. Owens Funeral Home will host her transition in New York. She will be released in perpetuity when returned to her home town for her interment with her family who preceded her.
In her own words: “The only thing you can take to the bank is love.” Love is the currency, the vibratory frequency that Dr. Teer’s spirit leaves for us to continue. She’s given the world her legacy as a treasure chest of authentic, unprecedented achievements that will stand forever as a tribute to her vision and tireless work. Now and forever more, her legacy and love will live on to impact generations to come. Source: National Black Theatre
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Barbara Ann Teer, 71, Dies; Promoted Black ArtsMs. Teer was especially drawn to the Yoruba people of Nigeria, which she visited many times and from which she brought Yoruba artists to New York to create works for the theater building.
Ms. Teer was born in East St. Louis, Ill., on June 18, 1937, and moved to New York City after earning a bachelor of arts in dance from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. On Broadway, Ms. Teer was dance captain in Kwamina, a 1961 show choreographed by Agnes de Mille, and appeared in 1966 as an actor in William Inges comedy Wheres Daddy?
She had an early, brief marriage to the actor and comedian Godfrey Cambridge, who died in 1976. In addition to her daughter, who lives in Manhattan, she is survived by a son, Michael Lythcott, also of Manhattan.
After receiving honorary doctorates in the mid-1990s from the University of Rochester and the Southern Illinois University, she referred to herself, and was known to colleagues, as Dr. Teer. She had a deep appreciation for the historical significance of the African presence in the Harlem community, said Howard Dodson, director of the New York Public Librarys Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. She touched thousands of lives here, bringing to some the consciousness of their African origins that theyd either forgotten or were never in touch with, and providing for others a self-affirmation that was needed as they tried to navigate the waters of the American nation state.
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Barbara Ann Teer and The National Black Theatre
By James Edward Smethurst
The NBT [National Black Theatre], the longest surviving New York company with roots in the Black Arts movement, started in 1968 after Barbara Ann Teer broke with Robert Hooks and Douglas Turner Ward over the course of the NEC [Negro Ensemble Company], including the symbology of using “Negro” in the NEC’s name, its location downtown instead of uptown and its somewhat adversarial relationship to the Black Arts movement and the new nationalism. The NBT, a pioneer of black ritual theater, became an integral part of the Harlem Black Arts loft scene of the late 1960s and early 1970s centered at Fifth Avenue and 125th Street that also included the Black Mind, the Last Poets’ East Wind, the Studio Museum in Harlem, and, for a time, the New Lafayette Theatre.
Like Many Black Arts institutions, the NBT was a school and workshop as well as a performing group, drawing both on Teer’s experience in avant-garde theater (including a troubled stint in BARTS where she had a violent confrontation with the unstable Patterson brothers, Charles and William) and more naturalist productions. In many respects, though, the NBT institutionally and ideologically resembled Sun Ra‘s Arkestra more closely than a traditional theateror even most Black Arts theatersin that the communal NBT addressed every aspect of the black theater worker’s life rather than simply his or her skills as a an actor, stagehand, director, and so on.
Also, as in Sun Ra‘s group, the aesthetics of the theater were governed by a broad mythic vision of the spectrum of African and African American culture. Teer directed theater members/students to attend black churches in Harlem, particularly Holiness or Pentecostal churches, as well as neighborhood taverns, to get a broad sense of African American expressive traditions. She also seriously studied various West African traditional cultures, especially that of the Yoruba, and then incorporated these studies into her pedagogy at the NBT.
So again, as in Sun Ra’s music, the NBT’s training and productions exhibited a fascinating combination of what I have called the popular avant-garde approach with a neo-African alternative culture stance, emphasizing the importance of establishing black spiritual and social myths that would enable the true self-determination of black people. In other words, like Sun Ra’s band or Us in Los Angeles, for that matter, the NBT sought to embody a new yet strangely traditional, black world as well as represent it on the stage.
The long-term impact of Teer and the NBT on the Black Arts movement is a little hard to judge. For one thing, the theater presented no public performance during the first two years of existence, concentrating instead on the training of actors (or “liberators,” in NBT terminology) and technical staff as well as on the development of a viable nonmimetic, non-European dramaturgy that would appeal to a broad black audience. As with many other Blacks Arts groups, money remained a persistent problem in the early days of the NBT but was even more acute for Teer’s theater in progress than for, say, the NEC or the New Lafayette Theatre, both of which did attract significant, if ultimately insufficient, foundation support.
Paradoxically, the apogee of NBT performances was arguably the period from the mid-1970s to the mid-1980sa time when many other Black Arts institutions were in sharp decline (if not long gone), especially in New York. Perhaps the relatively long-term survival of the NBT is not so paradoxical in that Teer’s organizational and aesthetic strategies may have caused the theater many difficulties in the short term but allowed it to better weather the decline of foundation and public support for radical black cultural institutions than initially higher profile institutions like the New Lafayette.
In any case, many Black Arts veterans cite the importance of the NBT as a training ground of young black actors in New York (and simply for the NBT’s ability to remain in Harlem and outlast virtually all its counterparts). And while the NBT did not mount public productions as suc, it hosted lectures, forums, readings, concerts, and so on by many of the leading black artists and intellectuals in New York. Ernest Allen Jr., who taught classes in African American history and politics at the nearby Black Mind loft, recalls hearing the great jazz avant-garde reed player Albert Ayler and poet Felipe Luciano perform on a program at the NBT loft.
Source: The Black Arts Movement, 103-105.
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Services for Dr. Barbara Ann Teer
In lieu of flowers, the family kindly requests donations to the National Black Theatre, Inc. Dr. Teer will lie in state at the National Black Theatre’s headquarters at 2031 Fifth Avenue (between 125th & 126th Streets, in Harlem, NY) where the public can pay their final respects starting at 1:00 pm on Sunday, July 27, 2008. On Monday, July 28, 2008 at 1:00pm there will be a procession from the National Black Theatre to Riverside Church, 490 Riverside Drive (between 120th and 122nd Streets). Services will begin at 3:00pm.In Dr. Teer’s honor, at 9:00pm there will be a fireworks display by the Grucci Family on the Hudson River near Riverside Church.For more information: www.nationalblacktheatre.org Special Note: Sonia Sanchez and Amiri Baraka will speak at the service Monday, July 28, 2008
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Askia Muhammad Touré, right alongside Amiri Baraka , Larry Neal, Sonia Sanchez, Audre Lorde, June Jordan, etc., is considered one of the principal architects of the 1960s Black Arts/Black Aesthetic movements. A member of the legendary Umbra Group and of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Touré has remained an activist poet of conscience throughout his years. His other books include Earth (1968), JuJu: Magic Songs for the Black Nation (with playwright Ben Caldwell / 1970), Songhai! (1972), and From the Pyramids to the Projects (1990), which won an American Book Award. Widely published in Black Scholar, Soulbook, Black Theatre, Black World, and Freedomways, his poems and essays have embodied the ideology of a people seeking to reclaim their images and history. His recent publications include two collections of poetry Mother Earth Responds: Green Poems and Alternative Visions (Whirlwind Press), and African Affirmations: Songs for Patriots (Africa World Press).
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From The World and Africa, 1965
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posted 26 July 2008