Today, I had the honor of participating in a street naming ceremony to honor the great jazz singer, radio personality, and community leader Maxine Sullivan. Neighbors, elected officials, jazz musicians and educators came from all over to pay tribute to this giant in the world of jazz who opened her home to neighborhood children, became chair of her local school board and in the middle of a time of devastation in her Bronx neighborhood opened a community center - The House That Jazz Built- which became a safe haven for neighborhood youth.
The renaming of Ritter Place in honor of Maxine Sullivan is part of series of initiatives to publicize and reclaim the musical heritage of the Morrisania and Hunts Point communities, who during the 1940's 1950's and 1960's produced more varieties of popular music than any place in the US with the possible exception of Treme in New Orleans.
But there is an irony in this process of cultural reclamation. Now that the once devastated areas of the Bronx have been rebuilt, and the Bronx's great musical heritage is being recognized, not only here, but around the world, there is a danger that developers might come in and push out the very people who created the music and rebuilt the communities that were once endangered.
Today, we all felt that threat when we saw for sale signs outside Maxine Sullivan's beautiful house-818 Ritter Place. And in response, the great jazz pianist and educator Valerie Capers came up with an idea- Why doesn't the Bronx Borough President buy the house and turn it into a cultural center to honor the Bronx's jazz traditions.
I think this is a GREAT idea. And through this post, I am inviting all people who love the Bronx, love its people, and love its culture, to work together to make this happen
If you are with me on this, weigh in here and contact your elected officials- including the Borough President- to help make this a reality!!