Black History Month: PULSE and Take Me To The River

In celebration of Black History Month, we’re highlighting special content in PULSE that was created based on the award-winning film Take Me To The River, with curriculum developed by Dru Davison, Ph.D., Fine Arts Advisor for Shelby County Schools, Memphis, TN.

The PULSE team spoke with Cynthia DeJesus, an instructor at the Berklee City Music Boston Preparatory Academy, about how she uses the Take Me To The River content in her classroom:

How did you introduce the TMTTR elective?
My objective for this lesson was to bring cultural awareness of music from the south and study how music has transformed over time. I introduced Take Me To The River to my students with discussions on the history of Rock and Roll and Blues. PULSE provided enough resources and information to allow me to teach these lessons to the class.

How did you share this theme of cultural and generational collaboration with your students?
My students listened to different arrangements of famous tunes in the documentary such as “Ain’t No Sunshine” by Bill Withers, and learned about the history and influences behind the songs. We had discussions on the TMTTR videos, listened to related music in the Jam Room, analyzed the form and instrumentation, and talked about how the tunes were arranged by Stax.

What did your students think about the TMTTR content?
Overall my students were very engaged from the beginning until the end, and enjoyed watching the musicians recording in the studio. They were very interested to know more about Stax Records, and the fact that Terrence Howard was the narrator of the documentary sparked their attention even more. In learning about the background and history of Stax Records, they recognized the significance of Stax Records occurring at the same time as the Civil Rights Movement.

Were you able to utilize any of the Teacher Guide lesson plans Dr. Dru Davison provided?
Dr. Dru provided significant resources to assist me with my lesson planning.  I found his instructional activity projects to be very helpful.  By the end of the lesson the students worked in groups, listening to existing pieces of music and discussing different ways they might arrange it regarding style and instrumentation from what they’ve learned throughout our TMTTR studies.

About the teacher: Cynthia DeJesus
Cynthia DeJesus is a vocalist and recent graduate of Berklee College of Music with a degree in Music Business and a concentration in entrepreneurship. While enrolled as a voice major at the Boston Arts Academy, Cynthia participated in the Berklee City Music High School Academy and Berklee’s 5-Week Summer Performance Program on a City Music unnamed-1.jpgSummer Scholarship. In an interview, Cynthia mentions that the City Music program prepared her for college at Berklee and provided her with the opportunity to take Berklee courses while still attending high school. She currently teaches PULSE classes, assists the ensemble teachers, and works with the vocal students at the Berklee City Music Preparatory Academy.  Her weekly PULSE classes are 30 minutes long; her students range from 4th-8th grade, and represent a large variety of experience, instrumentation, and age in the same class, which challenges her to develop creative solutions in order to fulfill each student’s needs.

About the site:
Berklee City Music Boston—the founding site of the City Music Network—provides music education programs and scholarship opportunities to 1,400 underserved students annually throughout Greater Boston. With year-round instruction, expert faculty, and a comprehensive curriculum based around Berklee PULSE, City Music Boston gives students the tools and support they need to reach their full potential.



Black History Month: “Ain’t Nobody” like Chaka Khan

Chaka Khan was born Yvette Marie Stevens in 1953 in Chicago, Illinois.  She is the eldest of five children.  Two of whom, Yvonne Stevens (aka Taka Boom) and Mark Stevens of Aurra, became successful musicians as well.  At age 11 she and her sister formed at group call The Crystalettes

In the 1960s she joined the Black Panther Party and worked at the organizations breakfast program for children.  It was at this time that she adopted an African name given to her during a naming ceremony at the Afro-Arts Theatre, Chaka Adunne Aduffe Hodarhi Karifi.  In 1969 she left the Black Panthers and dropped out of High School and began performing around Chicago with her then boyfriend and soon to be husband, Hassan Khan, in the group Lyfe.

In 1972 she joined Rufus and the group later signed with ABC records.  In 1973 she married Hassan Khan and adopted the stage name Chaka Khan.  Rufus did not take off until Stevie Wonder wrote for them “Tell Me Something Good” that reached number three on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1974 and sold over one million copies.

Throughout the 1970s Rufus continued their success releasing eight albums that went platinum.  In 1978 Chaka Khan started her solo career with the release of Chaka that went on to be a hit record with the song “I’m Every Woman,” which was written for her by Ashford & Simpson and also covered by Whitney Houston in The Bodyguard.

With the success of her solo recording she still had two records to record on her contract with Rufus and recorded Camouflage and Stompin’ at the Savoy – Live.  The latter featured “Ain’t Nobody” and won the Grammy for Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal.  The song remained on the Billboard Hot 100 for 26 weeks.

In 1984 she released her sixth solo record I Feel for You, with the title track being the first single that was originally written and recorded by Prince.  Chaka Khan’s is a distinctive version because of the introductory rap by Grandmaster Melle Mel and the harmonica solo by Stevie Wonder.

Another popular song that helped I Feel for You go platinum was “Through the Fire,” which was later sampled by Kanye West in “Through the Wire.”

Chaka Khan married her second husband in 1976, Richard Holland, and had two children.  Her daughter, Milini, born in 1973 of her first husband Hassan Khan, and Damien Holland from her second husband.

In 1999 she formed the Chaka Khan Foundation that “educates, inspires and empowers children in our community to achieve their full potential.”  The program also supports children and families with autism.  “We envision that through our mission we will give children who are at risk, either through poverty or through health issues like autism, the ability to achieve their dreams and give back to the community.”

In 2004, Chaka Khan was honored by Berklee College of Music and received an Honorary Doctorate.  It was presented by current Berklee College of Music President, Roger H. Brown, during his inauguration to the college.  She is pictured here with Arif Mardin a long time collaborator, former Berklee College of Music professor, and Honorary Doctorate recipient.

Khan and Mardin won a Grammy for Best Vocal Arrangement for Two or More Voices for their work “Be Bop Medley.”

Over her three decade career Chaka Khan has released twenty-two albums, won ten Grammys, has seven RIAA certified gold singles, ten RIAA certified gold and platinum albums, and in 2011 was inducted into the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame with Rufus and received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Art During the Civil Rights Movement


As part of Black History month, we’ve featured some great individuals who impacted our society and culture through American popular music.   There was also a great art movement during the turbulent Sixties that many may not be aware of.  The Brooklyn Museum opens a new exhibition on this movement and its artists: Witness: Art and Civil Rights in the Sixties

“Witness: Art and Civil Rights in the Sixties offers a focused look at painting, sculpture, graphics, and photography from a decade defined by social protest and American race relations. In observance of the fiftieth anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, this exhibition considers how sixty-six of the decade’s artists, including African Americans and some of their white, Latino, Asian American, Native American, and Caribbean contemporaries, used wide-ranging aesthetic approaches to address the struggle for racial justice.”

Visit their site to see a slideshow with information on each piece:

David Hammons: The Door (Admissions Office) David Hammons,

Jae Jarrell, Philip Guston, Norman Rockwell, Barkley L. Hendricks,

Moneta Sleet Jr.: Rosa Parks, Dr. and Mrs. Abernathy, etc. Moneta Sleet Jr.

The exhibit runs from March 7–July 6, 2014

City Music Students Earn Regular Gig at Legendary Hotspot, Wally’s

wallys painting

The Joshua Sutherland Sextet, composed of five Berklee City Music scholars, played their first gig at Wally’s jazz club last month. Founded in 1947 by Joseph L. Walcott, “Wally” was a Barbadian immigrant and first African American nightclub owner in New England.   Wally’s is the last remaining South End jazz club from the mid-twentieth century and still has live music nightly.  It is a beacon of “Mass Ave Jazz.”

“America is the birth place of Jazz and the music will only continue if we provide young musicians a place to perform and perfect their craft.”

Wally’s commitment to showcasing young talent continues with the opportunity afforded the Joshua Sutherland Sextet. The group is comprised of Joshua Sutherland (keyboard), Christoff Glaude (bass), Antonio Shiell-Loomis (guitar), Faraday Fontimus (trumpet), Darryl Staves Jr. (drums) and Brett White (saxophone). The three City Music High School Academy students and three Berklee College of Music undergraduates created the band during the 5-Week Summer Performance Program and began rehearsals last fall. The group recorded a demo and went to Wally’s repeatedly to inquire about a possible gig. Their persistence paid off, and the owner offered them a one-night gig at Wally’s on January 23, 2014.

Joshua Sutherland said that the group was ecstatic to be given the opportunity to play at Wally’s, but admitted that nerves accompanied the excitement. The sextet felt both the pressure of living up to the standards of the club and the surrealism of becoming the very performers they had once watched play there. Sutherland said that as a result of the performance, “now we know what our purpose on earth is.”

When asked about the band name, Sutherland said that the official name is pending; “it’s hard to find a name six people agree on.” While the band name may be up for discussion, the quality of the music is not in question. After a stellar debut performance at Wally’s, the sextet received an offer to return as regular performers. They will be playing at Wally’s every 2nd and 4th Thursday. If you are local, swing by to support these talented students and this historic jazz club!


Black History Month: The Clark Sisters

The Clark Sisters – left to right – Dorinda Clark-Cole, Elbernita “Twinkie” Clark-Terrell, Jackie Clark Chisholm, and Karen Clark Sheard

The Clark Sisters, from Detroit are a gospel group consisting of Jackie Clark Chisholm, Elbernita “Twinkie” Clark-Terrell, Dorinda Clark-Cole, and Karen Clark Sheard and are the daughters of Dr. Mattie Moss Clark. Denise Clark Bradford, another sister no longer performs with the group.  They all began singing early in life and by the 1960s they were performing as a group in church.  In 1974 they signed with Sound of Gospel Records, but it wasn’t until the 1980s with the release of Is My Living In Vain, their first live recording that stayed at the number one spot for the year on the Billboard Gospel chart, that they became more known.

In 1982 The Clark Sisters’ album Sincerely received a Grammy nomination and in 1983 they performed at the Grammy Awards.  Again in 1986 and 1988 they were nominated for a Grammys for their albums Heart & Soul and Conqueror , respectively, without a win.  It wasn’t until wasn’t until 2008 when they reunited after establishing their solo careers that they received their first Grammy Awards for Best Traditional Gospel Album, Live – One Last Time, and best Gospel Performance for “Blessed and Highly Favored.”  Karen Clark Sheard won Best Gospel Song for her work as a songwriter on “Bless and Highly Favored.”

While in Detroit visiting our member, COMPÁS, we had the honor of meeting Dr. Dorinda Clark-Cole and Jackie Clark Chisholm to discuss and learn more about their education initiatives and Dorinda Clark-Cole’s Singers & Musicians Arts Conference.  Every year they hold the conference in Detroit, but last year was the first year they held it in Toledo, OH and have regional conferences in Los Angeles, CA and Birmingham, AL.  As part of the conference there is a free admission education day for youth with seminars for instrumental, vocal, dance, and musical theatre.  Additionally  there are workshops on music business, a youth choir, and a showcase among other activities to help students further themselves in the arts.

The Clark Sisters have recorded more the 12 records in all and this week, on Thursday February, 6 they will be performing at the Berklee Performance Center.  In addition to performing with Berklee students they will be interviewed by Gospel Today Magazine founder Teresa Hairston.  You can get tickets by clicking here.