It was a huge honour to be invited to join Jayne Cortez’s friends and fellow poets, writers and performers at the celebration of her life in New York on Wednesday, 6 February 2013.
The celebration took place in a most fitting venue, the Great Hall of the Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, founded by inventor, industrialist and philanthropist Peter Cooper in 1859. The building — today a New York City landmark — quickly became a common meeting place of intellectuals, inventors, tinkerers, and people from across the social strata. Perhaps its greatest feature was the Great Hall.
The Cooper Union website records that:
The Great Hall of The Cooper Union has stood for more than a century as a bastion of free speech and a witness to the flow of American history and ideas. When the hall opened in 1858, more than a year in advance of the completion of the institution, it quickly became a mecca for all interested in serious discussion and debate of the vital issues of the day.
The Great Hall was the platform for some of the earliest workers’ rights campaigns and for the birth of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), the women’s suffrage movement and the American Red Cross. To the Great Hall’s podium has come a pageant of famous Americans — rebels and reformers, poets and presidents. Before they were elected, Presidents Lincoln, Grant, Cleveland, Taft, Theodore Roosevelt and Barack Obama all spoke there. Besides Woodrow Wilson, two other incumbent presidents have spoken in the Great Hall: William Jefferson Clinton, who, on May 12, 1993, delivered a major economic address on reducing the federal deficit and Barack Obama, who, on April 22, 2010, gave an important speech on economic regulation and the financial markets.
During the past century’s times of tremendous upheaval, it was through meetings in Cooper’s famous auditorium that the politics and legislation necessary to build a humane city took shape.
In that place, steeped in the history of the birth of social movements, the contestations of ideas and ideologies and the shaping of liberation struggles, some of the most progressive voices and talents gathered to honour an extraordinary woman with an equally extraordinary talent, Jayne Cortez.
In a programme moderated by Danny Glover, actor, film director, political activist, ally and dear friend of Jayne and husband Mel Edwards, poets, academics, musicians, cultural and political activists gathered to honour Jayne Cortez and celebrate her life.
As a former member of the organizing committee of the International Bookfair of Radical Black and Third world Books (1982 –1995) and Founder Trustee of the George Padmore Institute, I also paid my own tribute to Jayne.
CLICK HERE TO READ PROF. GUS JOHN’S TRIBUTE IN FULL
Among the numerous guests who attended the ceremony, there were musicians:
Lisette Santiago, a Bata drummer and Latin percussionist who performed with Jayne at Lincoln Center Danrosch Park and the Schomberg center for a ‘Women in jazz’ programme. Salieu Suso, a Kora player from the Gambia who played with Jayne on her iconic album ‘Taking the Blues Back Home’ and Tapani Damba, a Griot (Jali) from Mali, who performed with Jane in Easter 2012 as part of Randy Weston’s ‘An African Nubian Suite’ at New York University (NYU). Craig Harris (trombonist), James Carter (saxophonist), Al MacDowell (Bassist), T.K. Blue (saxophonist & flautist), great friend of Jayne’s, Denardo Coleman (drummer), son of Jayne and her former husband Ornette Coleman.
There were poets:
There were speakers:
CLICK HERE TO SEE PHOTOS OF THE CEREMONY
It was a pleasure to celebrate Jayne’s life and work with such extraordinary people. And I used the occasion to announce that a UK tribute is also being planned for later this year.
Picture (home): “Jayne Cortez at the Poetry Project“, by T. Carrigan (Flickr – CC BY-ND 2.0)