2014 Black History Month Special Programming

Jan 30, 2014

WKMS celebrates Black History Month with special programming in February. We'll hear about the life of Afrobeat revolutionary Fela Kuti, the 'unghosting' of Medgar Evers, Nina Simone's story told by her daughter, a documentary on the legacy of Philly Soul Radio, and a celebration of five decades of great black music.   

The Afrobeat Revolutionary - A Documentary on the Life of Fela Kuti 

Tuesday, February 4 Noon - 1 p.m. and Wednesday February 5 8-9 p.m.


To some he was a great composer and bandleader, to others a prophet, to others a revolutionary -- and Fela Anikulapo Kuti inhabited all of these spaces simultaneously.  Born in Nigeria, Fela was Africa's first international cultural icon. 

In The Afrobeat Revolutionary hosted by recording¬ artist Neneh Cherry (daughter of the late jazz trumpeter Don Cherry), we learn the story of the dramatic life of Fela Kuti who created the music now known as Afrobeat. We also come to understand  the arc of his life to which he devoted to protesting for the human rights of Nigerians and other Africans, and the high price he paid for it. 

The sound Fela created known as Afrobeat combines jazz, funk and African highlife, over a beat that is funky to the core, and hypnotic.  He composed for his huge band that included a horn section, a guitar section, multiple percussion instruments, a chorus and dancers.  Fela lead the band vocally, also playing baritone saxophone and keyboards. 

During his lifetime many international artists sojourned to  his club which was called "The Shrine" including Paul McCartney, Ginger Baker, Stevie Wonder and the James Brown Band.  With the story of his life now portrayed in the Broadway musical, Fela has become a hero to a new generation of artists that include jazz artists Roy Hargrove and Robert Glasper, rap artists Common and Mos Def, neo-soul artists Macy Gray and D'Angelo, Red Hot Chili Peppers, his son Femi Kuti and more. 

The Afrobeat Revolutionary produced by U.K. Producer Sue Clark has woven together a radio documentary that puts us in the center of Fela's eventful life. Filled with many of Fela's voice clips, his music, and the remembrances of over 20 people who knew him well, it's a compelling listen.   


The Unghosting of Medgar Evers 

Monday, February 10 Noon-1p.m.


2013 marks the 50th Anniversary of the Assassination of Civil Rights leader Medgar Evers by Byron De La Beckwith.  We'll examine this critical time in the Civil Rights movement with poems from Turn Me Loose:  The Unghosting of Medgar Evers by Frank X. Walker.  You'll also hear historical accounts of the time, as well as music from 1963.

Frank X. Walker is Professor of English at the University of Kentucky, and the Poet Laureate of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, the first African-American to hold the position.  His collection of poems is published by University of Georgia Press.  Walker takes on the persona of each of the major players in the incident when reading the poems.  Since Walker used period-correct speech of the time, there is use of the N-word in the second part of the show, listener discretion is advised.

Historical context is provided by Dr. Everett McCorvey, head of the University of Kentucky Opera Department, who is a native of Montgomery, Alabama.  He was a child during the most hectic years of the Civil Right movement, and has first-hand recollections of what happened.  Dr. Gerald Smith is Professor of History at the University of Kentucky, and provides an historic background of the major players in this incident.

The show is hosted and produced by DeBraun Thomas for WUKY. Funding for this program comes from the University of Kentucky's College of Arts & Sciences and the College of Fine Arts.  More information about the materials used in the show can be found at wuky.org/evers


Credit NPR

Feeling Good: The Nina Simone Story  

Monday, February 17 9-11 p.m. and Wednesday, February 19 11 a.m. - 1 p.m.


Told by her daughter, vocalist Lisa Simone Kelly, Feeling Good: The Nina Simone Story is a touching, intimate look at life, work and genius of jazz composer, pianist,  vocalist and civil rights activist Nina Simone. 

Whether it was a song she composed or one she interpreted, Nina had the ability to communicate its meaning beyond words. She excavated the essential soul of every song that she sang. 

Whether it was belting out a protest song , moaning out a love ballad or blues tune, or playing the piano with classical virtuosity, Nina commanded her audience.  And in her offstage life she demanded to be treated with respect and dignity at all times.  For a black woman of her time, that stance alone was revolutionary. 

But in this documentary we also hear about the tender, vulnerable, and sometimes funny Nina from the people that she loved and trusted... Her close circle of friends (including former NPR Host Verta Mae Grosvenor), family members, people in her band, recording industry professionals who had the rare opportunity to call her a friend. Most of all, we hear a daughter sharing first-hand insight into the heights and depths of the life of a musical genius she knew as "Mommy". 

We all knew that Nina knew pain. When she expressed it in song, she bravely exposed the raw emotions that most of us tamp down in order to get by.  She was our zeitgeist, because she had the intuition and bravery to call out and capture these emotions, and the brilliance to channel them in high definition . But it meant that Nina was not without her own shadows.   For this reason her daughter reflects that Nina was most free when she performed. 

In Feeling Good we get to hear lots of Nina's music, and remember how nimbly she could transition from jazz to gospel to blues  to classical piano licks in a way that seemed effortless.  Nina Simone deserves to be honored, and this documentary does it elegantly. 

Produced by Sue Clark Productions 


George Woods
Credit MIghty Writers, Facebook

Going Black: The Legacy of Philly Soul Radio 

Wednesday, February 26 11 a.m. - 1 p.m. and Thursday, February 27 7-9 p.m.


"Going Black: The Legacy of Philly Soul Radio" is a new documentary that examines the legacy of Black radio, with a special focus on the legendary WDAS in Philadelphia. The story of Black radio in Philadelphia is actually the story of Black music, of Civil Rights and progress in the African-American community, and of how the radio medium has changed in the last century. The documentary special is hosted by legendary Sound of Philadelphia music producer and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Kenny Gamble. For more about the program, visit our website: mightyradio.org.


Credit aaprc.org

The Big Red Couch: 5 Decades of Great Black Music 

Thursday, February 6     8-9 p.m.; Thursday, February 13   8-9 p.m.; Thursday, February 20   8-9 p.m.


The Big Red Couch produced and hosted by Peabody Award Winner Jim Luce is a nod to five decades of black music that has shaped popular musical culture all over the world.  Luce mixes tunes like eclectic gemstones by musicians who have had a great impact on music worldwide over the past fifty years.  A music lover himself, he does not go for the low-hanging fruit; he goes deeper into each artist’s discography to create a refreshing retrospective. 

Artists heard in this 3-hour special include Joe Henderson, Curtis Mayfield, Duke Ellington, Moacir Santos, John Hicks, Irma Thomas, Earth Wind & Fire, Albert King, Sly & the Family Stone, Jackie McLean, Jimmy Cliff, Arthur Blythe, The Temptations,  Michael Jackson, Dorothy Coates & the Gospel Harmonettes, Luciana Souza, Donny Hathaway, War, Aretha Franklin, Gregory Porter-- and more!