Monday, February 24, 2014

Buddy Gist, the Man Behind the Miles Davis Trumpet

The Miles Davis Trumpet is listed on the
UNCG Bucket List
Passing through the atrium of the Music Building, it is easy to overlook the modest exhibit featuring a trumpet. It is in a small case, dwarfed by its surroundings. Even upon reading the plaque, it is difficult to believe that the trumpet belonging to Miles Davis is housed on the campus of The University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Although the name of Miles Davis attracts immediate attention to the instrument, the man responsible for its donation is not as commonly remembered by the visitors making pilgrimages to be close to a noted artifact of music history. The Miles Davis Trumpet was donated to UNCG on September 27th, 2001 by “Buddy” Gist.  

Arthur Taswell “Buddy” Gist, Jr. was born in Spartanburg, SC in 1925, but was raised in Greensboro, NC. His father and mother, Arthur and Louise Gist, were the proprietors of the Magnolia House Motel on Gorrell Street. The Gist family hosted an impressive array of entertainers in their establishment, including Ray Charles, Satchel Paige, Jackie Robinson, and Tina Turner. Magnolia House, which is preserved as a historical landmark, accumulated such a remarkable list of patrons because it served as one of the few motels providing quality accommodations for African American travelers prior to desegregation.

In August of 1942, Gist was enlisted in the military, serving in the Navy for the duration of World War II. Into adulthood, Buddy Gist attended North Carolina State A & T University, where he was a member of the Omega Psi Phi fraternity. Upon graduating in 1947, Gist continued the entrepreneurial family tradition, but relocated from Greensboro to Harlem, which provided far greater opportunity than the South during the Jim Crow Era.

Upon taking up residence in Upper Manhattan, Buddy Gist submerged himself in the thriving African American cultural community. During one evening in 1949 at the Birdland Jazz Club, billed as the “Jazz Corner of the World,” Gist was introduced to Miles Davis by US heavyweight boxing champion, Ezzard Charles. This began Buddy Gist’s friendship Miles Davis and his family. Gist met many of Davis’ recording friends and even helped look after his children while Davis was on tour.

Miles Davis performed in concert at UNCG in 1973
Unlike many of his New York circle of friends, Buddy Gist was not a musician or sports hero. In keeping with his family tradition, Gist was a successful business owner through the 1960s and 1970s. He owned several car dealerships in the New York area, and he began two African import coffee companies, after which (Mt. Kilimanjaro Coffee Company), Miles Davis named his album, Filles de Kilimanjaro. For several decades, Gist lived a life of glamour and success, but by the 1980s, he fell upon hard times and returned to Greensboro.

A few years after taking up residence in Greensboro, Buddy Gist allowed the Miles Davis Trumpet to be exhibited on loan to UNCG, beginning in 1996. The trumpet was not officially donated to UNCG until September 27th, 2001. At this time, the value of the trumpet, modestly estimated in the annual report of the School of Music, was $70,000. The jazz program became the Miles Davis Jazz Studies Program, a memorial to Gist’s friendship with the jazz legend. Soon after the donation became public and the instrument was on display, the Missouri Historical Society requested it be loaned for an exhibit on Miles Davis. A more professional appraisal was conducted, and it was discovered that the serial number on the UNCG trumpet matched that of the trumpet featured on the cover of Davis’ Kind of Blue album. This meant the instrument Gist donated was not just any trumpet, but that is was the trumpet used during the recording of a masterwork of 20th century Jazz. This cultural treasure was revalued by appraisers at $1.6 million. In honor of Buddy Gist’s donation, Steve Haines, director of the UNCG Jazz Program, funded the construction of a custom display case in which the trumpet is featured today.

Tragically, Buddy Gist’s life took a turn for the worse. After returning from sabbatical in 2008, Steve Haines followed up on rumors that Buddy Gist, 83 years old, was homeless, living in Center City Park. By August of 2008, Haines organized assistance for Gist, moving him into Partnership Village, a program operated by Greensboro Urban Ministries. Essentially, Buddy Gist was adopted into the family of the UNCG music faculty. Chad Eby, jazz professor, invited him to Thanksgiving dinner with his family, and Gist continued to receive a steady stream of visitors who were recipients of the amazing stories Gist would tell about his life. In July 2009, Buddy Gist suffered an incapacitating stroke. John Salmon of the School of Music became Gist’s legal guardian, and he was moved into the Golden Living Nursing Center in Greensboro.         
Not a historically accurate photo, but we like to think Dr.
McIver would approve.

On April 18th, 2010, Arthur “Buddy” Gist, Jr. died, requesting that all memorial donations be made to UNCG’s Miles Davis Jazz Festival. The UNCG School of Music held a memorial service in the Organ Hall on April 25th, 2010. Gist’s name will be forever connected to Miles Davis through the generosity of his two greatest treasures, the trumpet and his relationship with the faculty of UNCG.    

"Arthur Taswell "Buddy" Gist [obituary]," News and Record, April 22, 2010
"Memorial Service for 'Buddy' Gist set for Sunday at UNCG," by Dioni L. Wise, News and Record, April 21, 2010
"Miles Davis' longtime friend Buddy Gist dies," by Dioni L. Wise, News and Record, April 19, 2010
"Taking care of Buddy," by Jeri Rowe, News and Record, October 18, 2009.
Music on Demand, Part 2: Music and the Early Curriculum, 1892-1910

Monday, February 17, 2014

African Americans and WC Library Use Prior to Desegregation

In February 1951, UNC System Trustee (and vocal segregationist) John W. Clark contacted Woman’s College Chancellor Edward Kidder Graham to inquire about faculty members’ support of integration and college policies regarding campus facilities and resources. In investigating Clark’s questions, Graham found that the Library (which had just moved in to its new building) allowed limited use by African-American students from neighboring colleges, and that Librarian Charles Adams had recently conducted an internal discussion with his staff regarding use of the Library by African Americans.
Entrance to the newly-constructed library, 1951

Adams’s library was relatively open to African Americans – both students and faculty at neighboring colleges and select community members. Full access to the public catalog as well as use of books from the closed stacks (via call slip), from the open shelves in the reference and periodical rooms, or through interlibrary loan was permitted. Visiting African-American librarians from neighboring colleges and students in the Library Training program at Bennett College were given full tours of the Library facilities. Reference services were “given liberally on request and considerable effort has been made to help them graciously and fully in locating material for their study or research.” Only the reserve reading room, which housed required reading for WC students, was not open to use by the African-American visitors.

After a face-to-face meeting with Adams regarding library policy in early April 1951, Graham wrote a tense letter outlining what he saw as the leading issues related to the use of Library resources by African Americans and chastising the librarian for his decisions to construct and apply Library policy without first consulting the chancellor. Graham argued that it was Adams’ responsibility to bring this matter to his attention before creating an internal policy, stating that “any procedure or practice, or any policy question, bearing on the use of College facilities by Negroes should be brought to my attention.” He added that any policies relating to use of College facilities must conform to Trustee regulations (which required segregated facilities), and that, because Adams did not involve him in the discussion regarding use policy sooner, “we now find ourselves in an unhappy position.”

WC Chancellor Edward Kidder Graham
Graham sought a formal policy specifically restricting African-American use of the library facilities. Adams, however, notably avoided a creating a policy that limited access based on race, choosing instead to develop a policy that more uniformly limited library access for all non-WC college students. Adams insured that use of the WC Library by non-WC students would continue, but only with a new requirement in place. All students from outside of the Woman’s College would now be required to present a letter of introduction or a card of identification from their home institution’s library.

While these new restrictions satisfied Chancellor Graham, Trustee Clark continued his assault on WC. In February 1952, he once again argued against use of the Library by African Americans, proposing a movement “that the Woman’s College Library be reserved for the students for whom it was built, and that if the Negro students do not have a sufficient library, one be built for them.” Trustee Laura Cone, a graduate of WC, pointed out the existing policy that required all non-WC students to present documentation from his or her own college librarian stating the student’s research needs. But, the remaining Trustees voted to refer the issue to the Executive Committee (which no longer included Clark) and request a full report at their meeting on April 19.

Adams once again avoided producing a policy with constraints solely based on race. His March 1952 policy statement specifically targeted “the use of Library materials by non-college persons” – never specifically placing restrictions on use by African Americans, students or non-students. Instead, it required all people who are not WC students or alumnae to present clear evidence of their need for the use of the WC Library. As noted in Adams letter from the previous summer, the policy required students from other colleges in Greensboro to “present a card or letter from their librarian requesting books or services not available at their institution.” Unlike the policies at State College and Chapel Hill, the WC policy allowed non-WC students – regardless of race – to borrow books as long as they provided the required letter of need from their home institution.

WC Librarian Charles Adams
On May 12, 1952, Graham took the finalized policy for use of the library by non-WC students to the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees. His report, along with reports provided by his counterparts at State College and UNC Chapel Hill, was presented by President Gray. Trustee Laura Cone made the initial motion to close the investigations, stating that “the Executive Committee is satisfied that the use of the library by Negroes is properly restricted and conducted at the three institutions.” With that, the major discussion of the issue at the Board level was resolved. Restrictions against library use by non-WC students were formally and firmly in place, but were to be equally applied to all non-WC students, regardless of the patron’s race.

The debate over African-American use of Woman’s College resources touched upon many key topics prevalent in North Carolina in the 1950s. While administrators of the Consolidated System fought against desegregation and the forced admission of African-American students to the University campus in Chapel Hill in 1951, Charles Adams and the librarians of the Woman’s College stepped forward to commit to access to information and Library resources, regardless of the color of the patron’s skin.

Monday, February 10, 2014

The Motown Invasion of 1968/69

18 year old Stevie Wonder during his
1968 UNCG performance
In the late 1960s and into the early 1970s, the advancing struggle for civil rights infused nearly every facet of the UNCG and the Greensboro community. The Greensboro environment of this time, while being a volatile scene for race relations, enjoyed musical performances from some of the great African American musicians of the era. Artists touring through the city included Marvin Gaye in 1965, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band in 1969, and the Jackson 5 performed at the Greensboro Coliseum on December 28th, 1970. In addition to performing within the typical entertainment venues of the city, the UNCG campus attracted a respectable share of these musicians, and if you happened to be a Motown fan during the 1968/69 school year, you were in heaven.  

The King of Beach Music, Clifford Curry
Kicking off the Fall Charlies of the 1968/1969 school year was none other than Stevie Wonder. Wonder, who was 18 years old at this time, (and noted as unmarried to the interested readers of the student newspaper), opened his performance with “Your Precious Sweetheart.”  Wonder tried to engage the audience into participating in “The Look of Love,” but the lackluster clapping and vocal accompaniment by the audience prompted the remark, “I don’t hear you say nothing’- sounds like Governor Wallace.” During his performance, these students were treated to Wonder’s amazing talent, not only in voice and piano, but also percussion and harmonica. When asked to define the nature of Soul Music, Wonder’s replied, “’Soul’ is a feelin; it’s being capable of expressing oneself and for me all I can do is express myself through music. Anyone can have ‘Soul.’ The quality of expression determines the depth of ‘Soul.”

The Shirelles
Following Stevie Wonder in the concert series was none other than the “King of Beach Music,” Clifford Curry. Curry, originally from Knoxville, was a veteran of the 1950s doo-wop scene, having performed with The Echoes and the Five Pennies. Curry’s recording of, “She Shot a Hole in My Soul,” catapulted him to fame in the Carolina Beach Music scene, and  he recorded successfully in this market for decades. In 1995, Curry was inducted to the Beach Music Hall of Fame, and his latest CD, a compilation of his hits, was released in 2010.

Of course, Valentine’s Day was reserved for the ladies. The Shirelles, one of the pioneer “girl groups” of the 1950s and 1960s, performed in the Cone Ballroom for the “couples only” Valentine’s Day Dance on February 15th, 1969. The original members of the Shirelles, Shirely Owens, Addie “Micki” Harris, Doris Coley, and Barbara Lee, began recording in 1958. The Shirelles was one on the first girl groups to make it to the Billboard Top 100, rocketing to fame with the hit, “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow.” They recorded several hits through the 1960s, including "Tonight's the Night," Dedicated to the One I Love," Mama Said," and "Soldier Boy." The Shirelles have been inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Vocal Group Hall of Fame.          

Monday, February 3, 2014

Early African American Campus Employees

While African American students were banned from enrolling at the school now known as UNCG prior to 1956, the campus during its earlier years operated primarily on the labor of African American men and women who served as cooks, janitors, handymen, and others who worked behind the scenes.

Ezekiel "Zeke" Robinson
Little is known about these early African American employees, but the 1913 edition of the student yearbook (known at the time as the Carolinian) carried a short article about them as part of its section celebrating the school's twentieth anniversary. This section, titled "Some Old Servants of the College," highlights the contributions of many of the workers "who have served our Alma Mater long, faithfully and honestly." The language used and viewpoints presented are indicative of how the white female student body viewed the African American service workers.

The largest portion of the article is dedicated to Ezekiel "Zeke" Robinson, who the author notes "is now the acknowledged 'power behind the throne.'" After being hired by president Charles Duncan McIver at the school's opening in 1892, Robinson managed the school’s large support staff, nearly all of whom were African American. He is praised in the article for his faithfulness to the school, nothing that "no member of the faculty has ever felt more responsible for the College than Zeke has."

Amanda "Aunt Mandy" Rhodes
Amanda "Aunt Mandy" Rhodes, who also worked at the school at its opening, is also singled out for praise. Rhodes served as a dormitory housekeeper, and the article notes that "there isn't a girl who has lived on Aunt Mandy's hall whose love she hasn't won by her irrepressible enthusiasm and her interest in the girls and in everything they do."

William "Uncle William" Peoples is described in the article as "our most talented servant," as he "can pack, wrap, and dispatch packages, deliver and open boxes, fix electric lights, force the most difficult trunk locks, and a hundred other necessary things." Peoples, who arrived at the college around 1901, is also praised for his sense of humor.

William "Uncle William" Peoples
The article concludes with brief mentions of "a few more of the many servants who have proved indispensible [sic] to the College." These include "Uncle Henderson, and old cook of the College, and an interesting character, who died in service here" as well as as "Johnson, janitor at the Training School for many years, [who] has always won the love and respect of both teachers and children by his integrity, his faithfulness, and his polite and willing service" and his wife Nannie, "maid in Senior Dormitory, and the sworn friend of every Senior."

Needless to say, the State Normal would not have succeeded without the contributions of these and the many other African American employees who ensured that the lights operated, the buildings and grounds were clean, the students and staff were fed, and the general operations proceeded smoothly and did not disrupt the school's educational mission.