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Ashawnta Jackson

Ashawnta Jackson

Ashawnta Jackson is a writer living in Brooklyn, NY. Her writing has appeared in Atlas Obscura, Timeline, Downbeat, and others. You can find her tweeting infrequently @_heyjackson and see more of her work at www.heyjackson.net.

Mango the Mambo dancer performs on stage with drum accompaniment, 1954

When Mambo Was King, Its Creators Were Stereotyped

As a style of Afro-Cuban music and dance, mambo was considered "primitive." And not just by white North Americans.
A postcard showing three trolleys at the Public Gardens Portal in Boston sometime before 1914

The Folk Song That Fought against Fare Hikes

"M.T.A." is a humorous ditty about a never-ending subway ride. But it began in Boston's progressive political circles.
A poster for FluxFest

You, Too, Can Screen an Experimental Film

In the 1960s and '70s, where and how a film was shown was often as important as the work itself.
From left, Desmond Bryan, Caesar Andrews, Delroy Witter and Ken Murray, in the 'Into Reggae' record shop, 3rd October 1975.

How Black-Owned Record Stores Helped Create Community

What was it like for Black American music lovers during the age of segregation to find a place they could call their own?
A barefoot pedestrian is overtaken by the Royal Caledonian Basket on a road near Glasgow.

The Forgotten Craze of Women’s Endurance Walking

Hardy athletes called pedestriennes wowed the sporting world of the nineteenth century. They also shocked guardians of propriety.
A black light poster

The Forgotten Radicalism of Black Light Posters

Fluorescents have fascinated artists for millennia, but the 1960s and '70s saw a generation of revolutionaries experiment with black light.
Parody English heavy metal band, Spinal Tap

The Mockumentary: A Very Real History

What's the appeal of humor masquerading as seriousness? An entire movie genre stands ready to shed light on that question.
Photograph: Beah Richards in a still from the film, "Guess Who's Coming To Dinner."

The Poem That Inspired Radical Black Women to Organize

Beah Richards is best known as an actor, but in 1951 she wrote a sweeping poem that influenced the Civil Rights Movement.
A mother plays the guitar while her two daughters sing / Guitarist Joan Jett of the rock band "The Runaways" performs on stage in Los Angeles in August, 1977

At First, the Guitar Was a “Women’s Instrument”

The history of the guitar shows that musical instruments have been gendered—but just how changes over time.
Marian Anderson with Harold L. Ickes (Secretary of the Interior)

Marian Anderson Photo Archives

The African American opera singer made history with a stirring concert at the Lincoln Memorial. But there was much more to Marian Anderson.
Jelly Roll Morton and His Red Hot Peppers

How Mexican and Cuban Music Influenced the Blues

The pianist and composer Jelly Roll Morton once told an ethnomusicologist that real jazz tunes needed "tinges of Spanish."
Parental Advisory label

Parental Advisory: The Story of a Warning Label

Songs weren't always labeled for explicit lyrics. The history of how it all came about includes some unlikely bedfellows.
Ida B. Wells-Barnett

The Alpha Suffrage Club and Black Women’s Fight for the Vote

Black women's experiences in the suffrage movement show that the Nineteenth Amendment marked one event in the fight for the vote, not an endpoint.
Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison’s Operatic Life

Toni Morrison was renowned for the musicality of her prose, so writing lyrics for classical music wasn't a huge stretch.
The title card from an episode of Black Journal

Black Journal and Liberatory Television

Underrepresented in the country's newsrooms, Black journalists found an outlet on public affairs shows like Black Journal.
DJ Kool Herc speaks during a press conference about the fate of 1520 Sedgwick Avenue, a building considered by many to be the birthplace of hip hop on January 15, 2008 in the Bronx

The Rec Room Party Where Hip-Hop Was Born

Thinking quickly and reading the dance floor, an innovative DJ began playing the funkiest parts of every record.
Linda Martell

The First Black Woman to Perform at the Grand Ole Opry

Linda Martell made the switch from R&B to country music in the late 1960s. Her star then shined on country's biggest stage.
The sheet music booklet for I'm Just Wild About Harry

When the Truman Campaign Used a Song from an All-Black Show

"I'm Just Wild about Harry" originated with the songwriting team of Sissle and Blake and first appeared in the Broadway musical Shuffle Along.
Charles Mingus

The Newport Rebels and Jazz as Protest

In 1960 a group of jazz musicians organized an alternative to the Newport Jazz Festival, which they saw as too pop and too white.
A hand holding a trading card featuring Ruby Dee

How Trading Card Collectors Have Fought Stereotypes

By making what may have been unseen visible, trading cards have often provided an opening into larger conversations on race, gender, and representation.
David Ruggles

The First Black-Owned Bookstore and the Fight for Freedom

Black abolitionist David Ruggles opened the first Black-owned bookstore in 1834, pointing the way to freedom—in more ways than one.
The Beatles as they prepare for 'Our World', a world-wide live television show

All You Need Is Live

The very first international TV simulcast was 1967's Our World, which featured performers from around the globe—including the Beatles.
A delivery person is seen crossing a nearly empty 5th Avenue during the coronavirus pandemic on April 25, 2020 in New York City

Recalling City Sounds During a Quarantine

The New York Public Library presented the city with the gift of its own "missing sounds" during the coronavirus crisis.
Martin Luther King, Jr.

Why MLK Believed Jazz Was the Perfect Soundtrack for Civil Rights

Jazz, King declared, was the ability to take the “hardest realities of life and put them into music, only to come out with some new hope or sense of triumph.”
Art Is (Girlfriends Times Two)

Visiting “Soul of a Nation”

A new exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum asks: Is there a Black aesthetic?