Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Leonard Chess, Jews and African-Americans

Leonard Chess with future stars
Courtesy of Chess family archives. Vanity Fair

Cadillac Records (2008) written and directed by Darnell Martin is in many ways a remarkable movie and not just because of the stellar performance by Beyoncé. The movie tells the real story of the efforts of record company executive Leonard Chess (1917 - 1969) to promote a number of African-American musicians in Chicago. Many of them have since become world famous and recognized in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

"Chess was born Lejzor Czyz in a Jewish community in Motal, Poland (but now within Belarus). He and his brother Fiszel, sister Malka and mother followed their father to Chicago in 1928. The family name was changed to Chess, with Lejzor becoming Leonard and Fiszel becoming Philip." (wikipedia)

Jews and people with dark skin
On the dark side of the subject we must recognize that there is in Judaism an old stream of racism against "kushites", black people. Especially the Orthodox Jews have not found it easy to absorb the Ethiopian Falasha immigrants to Israel because of the colour of their skin.

Also, in the current 2012 presidential elections in the USA we can detect certain racial underpinnings among some of the Jewish Americans and Israelis which does not go undetected by the black American majority obviously supporting the re-election of Barak Obama whose family came to the states from Africa. (Or was forcibly brought...)

Breaking the ugly chains of racism
Against the background of racial tensions between Jews and African-Americans the life work of Leonard Chess is nothing short of amazing and a beacon of hope.

It is not at all exaggeration to say that the persistence, patience and visionary work of Chess was of fundamental importance in breaking the racism still deep in the white population of the US in the 1950'ies.

The phenomenal musical gift, hot rocking beats, unforgettable melodies and often heart touching performances of blues and R&B penetrated the world of the American white youth and no police could stop them from dancing.

This breaking of the ugly chains of racism is so well depicted in the film Cadillac Records that I wonder is there any better way for us to learn history then seeing it so well lived again by deeply committed actors?

Abraham's blessing
When God chose Abraham He made a most wonderful promise - the children of Abraham would be a blessing to the nations of the world.

And the angel of the Lord called unto Abraham out of heaven the second time and said,
“By Myself have I sworn, saith the Lord, for because thou hast done this thing and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven and as the sand which is upon the seashore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies. And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed, because thou hast obeyed My voice.”
Genesis 22:15-18 KJ21

And indeed, the Jewish people have been and are also today a blessing to the nations of the world.

Leonard Chess is a Jew who was in his role as promoter of gifted musicians crucial in changing the perception of African-Americans in the United States of America.

In showingn what they can achieve the heritage of Chess Records is a blessing for dark skinned people living in the States - and everywhere around the world - as music probably more than anything else has made white skinned people to realize what is going on.

Muddy Waters (1913 - 1983)
Photo link

"Last night I lost the best friend I have ever had"
Used in one of the unforgettable moments in Cadillac Records when Muddy Waters finds Little Walter

Can blues get more blue than this?

Well, try Etta James  I'd Rather Go Blind

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