Turn Maxine Sullivan’s House into a Cultural Center Honoring the Bronx’s Jazz Traditions
Today, I had the honor of participating in a street naming ceremony to honor the great jazz singer, radio personality, and community leader Maxine Sullivan. Neighbors, elected officials, jazz musicians and educators came from all over to pay tribute to this giant in the world of jazz who opened her home to neighborhood children, became chair of her local school board and in the middle of a time of devastation in her Bronx neighborhood opened a community center – The House That Jazz Built- which became a safe haven for neighborhood youth.
The renaming of Ritter Place in honor of Maxine Sullivan is part of series of initiatives to publicize and reclaim the musical heritage of the Morrisania and Hunts Point communities, who during the 1940’s 1950’s and 1960’s produced more varieties of popular music than any place in the US with the possible exception of Treme in New Orleans.
But there is an irony in this process of cultural reclamation. Now that the once devastated areas of the Bronx have been rebuilt, and the Bronx’s great musical heritage is being recognized, not only here, but around the world, there is a danger that developers might come in and push out the very people who created the music and rebuilt the communities that were once endangered.
Today, we all felt that threat when we saw for sale signs outside Maxine Sullivan’s beautiful house-818 Ritter Place. And in response, the great jazz pianist and educator Valerie Capers came up with an idea- Why doesn’t the Bronx Borough President buy the house and turn it into a cultural center to honor the Bronx’s jazz traditions.
I think this is a GREAT idea. And through this post, I am inviting all people who love the Bronx, love its people, and love its culture, to work together to make this happen
If you are with me on this, weigh in here and contact your elected officials- including the Borough President- to help make this a reality!!
Mark Naison is a Professor of African-American Studies and History at Fordham University and Director of Fordham’s Urban Studies Program. He is the author of three books and over 100 articles on African-American History, urban history, and the history of sports. The Bronx African-American History Project, Dr Naison’s most recent venture, was launched collaboratively with the Bronx Historical Society in the Fall of 2002 . Since that time, Dr Naison has conducted over one hundred and fifty interviews with African-American professionals, community activists, business leaders and musicians who grew up in Bronx between the 1930’s and the 1980’s. . Naison is currently working on two books related to the BAAHP, a collection of oral histories and a memoir written by Allen Jones entitled “The Rat That Got Away.” When not doing historical research, Naison likes to play tennis, golf and basketball, and make periodic forays into the media. He has appeared on the O’Reilly Factor, the Discovery Channel’s Greatest American Competition (as Dr King’s advocate), and on the Dave Chappell Show, where his “performance” has been preserved on that show’s Second Year DVD.