The Washington Post

The Smithsonian’s Jazz Appreciation Month underscores activism and music

Frank Sinatra in 1992. (Adam Butler/Associated Press)

The 2012 edition is examining the broader role of jazz artists with the theme of “Jazz Crossing Borders & Cultures.” To illustrate how musicians often took a stand on civil rights issues, the program is highlighting a 1945 song “The House I Live in,” by Frank Sinatra. Sinatra’s image by LeRoy Neiman is feature on the 2012 JAM poster.

Below are renditions of the song by Sinatra, several decades apart, and a duet with Neil Diamond.

The song, along with a 10-minute short, was an appeal for religious tolerance, unity and freedom after World War II, a time when many African-American veterans were angry that they were returning home to Jim Crow conditions and second-class treatment after their war service. The film received an Honorary Academy Award in 1946 and was selected for the National Film Registry by the Library of Congress in 2007.

The song was recorded by Paul Robeson, Mahalia Jackson and Josh White, and became a battle cry.

Many other artists became ambassadors to the world, bringing America’s musical styles to international audiences. They also joined the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s to lend their voices and songs to the struggle.

April was selected by the National Museum of American History, the originator of the tribute, because so many seminal people were born this month. The list includes Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Charles Mingus, Tito Puente and Herbie Hancock. Hancock will join UNESCO in declaring April 30 International Jazz Day.

JAM programs will include a concert April 14 by the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra doing selections of jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery. The program is at the National Museum of Natural History.

Claudia Acuna will do a Latin jazz workshop April 19 at the American History museum.


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