THE TIMES OF GODFATHER HARLEM

New EPIX docuseries “By Whatever Means Necessary: The Times Of Godfather Harlem” brings to life the excitement of 1960s Harlem and introduces the artists who dared to use their voices, instruments and lyrics to take a stand against systemic injustice. Featuring interviews with Academy Award-winner Forest Whitaker, musicians Gladys Knight and Herbie Hancock, activists Reverend Al Sharpton and Felipe Luciano, former U.S. Representative Charles Rangel and Apollo Theater historian Billy Mitchell and so many more. The series uses archival footage for a look beyond the black and white historical images into the multicolored souls of musicians unafraid to use music as a weapon against change. Tonight, executive producer and director Keith McQuirter and  vocalist Robin Clark takes us on this meaningful musical tour of Harlem.

For more information on “By Whatever Means Necessary: The Times Of Godfather Harlem,” click here.

Aired on November 19, 2020.

TRANSCRIPT

IN HARLEM AND IN THAT TIME, THINGS WERE COMING TO A HEAD.

MUSIC BECAME A GUIDING FORCE.

IT GAIFS A SENSE OF COMMUNITY.

WE STARTED A REVOLUTION.

THERE WAS A TRANSITION HAPPENING.

WHEN YOU LOOK AT HARLEM, THE PEOPLE, THEY WERE TRYING TO BE TREATED WITH RESPECT.

THE ONLY THING EVERYONE AGREED ON, IT WAS TIME FOR REAL CHANGE.

THAT WAS JUST A CLIP OF SOME OF THE FOUR-PART DOCU-SERIES 'BY WHATEVER MEANS NECESSARY, THE TIMES OF THE GODFATHER OF HARLEM.'

I'D LIKE TO WELCOME SERIES DIRECTOR AND EXECUTIVE PRODUCER KEITH McCOURTER.

WELCOME TO THE PROGRAM.

THANK YOU FOR HAVING ME.

AND MUSICIAN AND VOCALIST ROBIN CLARK ALSO FEATURED IN THE SERIES.

ROBIN, WELCOME.

THANK YOU.

IT'S A PLEASURE BEING HERE.

I'M GLAD TO HAVE YOU BOTH ON.

KEITH, I WANT TO START WITH YOU AND ASK HOW DID THIS DOCUMENTARY COME TOGETHER?

THE GOD FATHER OF HARLEM IS AN IMPRESSIVE SERIES ON ITS OWN, BUT WHAT WAS THE INSPIRATION FOR THIS DOCUMENTARY SERIES?

I HAD A CONVERSATION WITH THE PRODUCERS OF THE SCRIPTED SERIES, AND THEY HAD CREATED A REALLY EXCITED FAN BASE FOR THE SERIES, AND THEY WERE GOING INTO THEIR SECOND SEASON.

THEY WANTED TO KEEP THE FANS FROM THE WORLD OF HARLEM.

I PITCHED THE IDEA OF DOING A DOCUMENTARY SERIES AND EXPLORING THE CULTURE AND POLITICS OF THE MUSIC AS A WAY TO TAKE A DEEP DIVE INTO THAT TIME PERIOD.

THAT'S KIND OF HOW IT A ALL CAME TOGETHER AND CAME ABOUT.

OKAY.

AND WHAT STRUCK ME THE MOST WAS THE FRONT AND CENTER LINK BETWEEN MUSIC AND, IF YOU WILL, POPULAR OR POP CULTURE WHICH CAN SOMETIMES BE DISMISSED AS FRIVOLOUS AND THE ROLE THAT THAT PLAYED IN CREATING THE SPACE FOR SOCIAL CHANGE.

WHY WAS THAT PLACED SO FRONT AND CENTER IN THIS DOCU-SERIES?

BECAUSE THERE IS SO MUCH TO LOOK AT WHEN IT COMES TO THE MUSIC AND POLITICS, NOT ONLY IN THE 1960s, BUT TODAY, WHAT'S GOING ON TODAY.

SO 2020 HAS BEEN A YEAR OF CHANGE AND A YEAR -- EYE OPENING YEAR FOR SO MANY PEOPLE ACROSS THE COUNTRY AND THE WORLD.

AND SO TAKING A LOOK AT 1960 AS A PARALLEL WAS AN AWESOME OPPORTUNITY.

SO WHAT WE FOUND WAS, FOR INSTANCE, T'THE TWIST' BY CHUBB CHECKER IS AN INNOCENT POP SONG THAT YOU CAN DANCE TO AND IS FUN.

BUT THERE WAS REAL MESSAGE IN THAT SONG.

IT BROUGHT BLACK CULTURE INTO WHITE HOUSEHOLDS FOR THE FIRST TIME, AND THE WHITE TEENAGERS TOOK ON THIS DANCE CRAZE AND IT WAS UNSTOPPABLE.

SO JAMAL JOSEPH, WHO WE INTERVIEW IN OUR SERIES, A PROFESSOR AT COLUMBIA AND BLACK PANTHER IN THE '60s QUOTED ELDRIDGE CLEAVER AND SAID THE AT WHICH TIME DID MORE THAN LAW, POLITICS AND RELIGION COULD EVER DO.

THAT'S ONE EXAMPLE OF HOW POP CULTURE IS SO INTEGRATED INTO OUR EVERYDAY LIVES THAT WE TAKE FOR GRANTED OFTENTIMES.

AGAIN, THAT'S WHAT I FOUND TO BE SO UNIQUELY INTERESTING ABOUT THIS, THAT DOESN'T SEEM TO BE A NARRATIVE THAT WE REALLY FULLY EXPLORE.

BUT, ROBIN, I WANT TO TURN TO YOU AND ASK, FIRST OFF, HOW DID YOU GET INVOLVED WITH THIS PROJECT?

WE GOT A PHONE CALL FROM ONE OF THE PRODUCERS OF THE SHOW, AND I WAS ASKED TO DO IT.

MY HUSBAND WAS ACTUALLY ASKED TO DO IT.

AND I STARTED TALKING IN THE BACKGROUND, AND THE PERSON SAID CAN I SPEAK WITH YOUR WIFE AS WELL.

THAT'S WHY I'M HERE.

THAT'S HOW I GOT HERE.

THEN, GIVEN YOUR PERSPECTIVE, I'M WONDERING IF THROUGH YOUR PARTICIPATION IN THIS, AND EVEN SOME OF THE POINTS THAT KEITH WAS MAKING, DID IT CHANGE THE WAY THAT YOU LOOKED AT THE ROLE YOUR CAREER PLAYED IN A LARGER MOVEMENT, OR DID IT SORT OF REENFORCE SOMETHING THAT YOU ALREADY KNEW BUT WAS BEING BETTER EXPLAINED TO A LARGER AUDIENCE?

I THINK IT REINFORCED SOMETHING I ALREADY KNEW.

I STARTED IN A GROUP NAMED LISTEN MY BROTHER WITH LUTHER VANDROSS AT THE APOLLO THEATERMENT WE WERE TEENAGERS IN HIGH SCHOOL.

IT WAS A REPERTOIRE COMPANY THAT TALKED ABOUT THE TIMES.

WE SANG SONGS ABOUT THE TIME WE WERE LIVING IN.

SO THEY WERE SONGS OF EMPOWERMENT.

WE WERE EMPOWERED AT AN EARLY AGE.

THE MOVEMENT WAS STARTING TO HAPPEN.

WE WERE TERRIFIED, BUT WE WERE ENGAGED AT THE SAME TIME, AND BECAUSE OF THAT APOLLO THEATER AND THE SONGS AND THE REPERTORY THAT WE DID, IT REALLY GOT US IN TOUCH WITH OURSELVES AND OUR CULTURE AND OUR BLACKNESS.

FOR THE FIRST TIME IN OUR LIVES, NOT BE AFRAID TO SAY I AM BLACK AND I AM PROUD.

UNTIL THEN YOU DIDN'T HEAR A LOT OF 'I'M BLACK AND I'M PROUD.'

SO WE WERE REINFORCED, I WAS REINFORCED AS A TEENAGER IN THE UNDERSTANDING THAT I COULD DO SOMETHING FOR MY CULTURE AND I COULD DO IT THROUGH MUSIC BECAUSE THAT'S WHERE I WOULD GO.

WE HAD BEEN EMPOWERED AT THAT POINT IN TIME IN OUR LIVES.

I WOULD SAY 17, 18, 16, 18 YEARS OLD.

IT JUST REINFORCED WHAT I -- WHERE I STARTED AND WHAT I KNEW.

ABSOLUTELY.

THE NOTION, I THINK, OF BEING THAT KID SOMETIMES CAN AGAIN BE SOMETHING THAT'S EASILY DISMISSED.

BUT IF YOU LOOK THROUGH OUT HISTORY, IT'S FREQUENTLY YOUNG PEOPLE WHERE THESE YOUNG SOCIAL MOVEMENTS GERMINATE.

KEITH, I WAS WONDERING IF YOU COULD TALK, ALSO, ABOUT THE PERSPECTIVE OF THE DOCUMENTARY.

THE THEORY, OF COURSE, IS TOLD FROM VERY MUCH BUMPY'S POINT OF VIEW, WITHOUT GIVING AWAY TOO MUCH, BUT COMING OUT OF JAIL FROM BEING LOCKED UP FOR ABOUT TEN YEARS INTO A TRANSFORMED HARLEM IN THE 1960s.

SO MANY GANGSTER MOVIES, FOR LACK OF A BETTER DESCRIPTION OR SERIES, ARE OFTEN MARKED BY THEIR SOUND TRACK.

I'M WONDERING IF THE SOUND TRACK OF THE MOVEMENT WAS AS IMPORTANT IN TELLING THE STORY.

100%. I THINK WHEN YOU LOOK AT 'THE GODFATHER OF HARLEM,' AND BUMPY JOHNSON'S STORY, LIKE YOU SAID, ABOUT THE CRIMINAL UNDERWORLD OF THAT TIME PERIOD.

BUT THE MESSAGE IN THAT STORY IS A CIVIL RIGHTS STORY, TOO.

BUMPY JOHNSON WAS SEEKING ECONOMIC EMPOWERMENT THROUGH THE CRIME WORLD WHERE A BLACK MAN IN THAT TIME, IN THE LEGITIMATE WORLD AND THE CRIME WORLD HAD LIMITED OPPORTUNITIES.

YOU SEE HIM PLOWING THROUGH BARRIERS.

SO THE DOCUMENTARY SERIES TAKES A LOOK AT A DIFFERENT PALLET.

THE CONNECTING TISSUE IS THE TIME PERIOD IN HARLEM AND A LOT OF KEY PLAYERS IN THE SCRIPTED SERIES LIKE MALCOLM X, CLAYTON POWELL, BUMPY JOHNSON AND SO MANY OTHERS.

SO WE REALLY WANTED TO TAKE A COMPREHENSIVE LOOK OF HOW MUSIC WAS ENGAGING THE COUNTRY THROUGH THE POB OF HARLEM.

YOU LOOK AT 1960 TO 1969, THE EARLY PART OF A DECADE, LOOK AT GOSPEL MUSIC WHICH WAS UNIVERSAL AS FAR AS BLACK AMERICANS ARE CONCERNED, THE CHURCH AND HOW THE CHURCH WAS SO MUCH THE CENTER OF OUR COMMUNITY AND HOW THOSE GOSPEL SONGS TRANSITION TO FREEDOM SONGS DURING THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT.

INCORPORATED INTO THE MARCH ON WASHINGTON, SO MANY OTHER MARCHES.

THOSE ARE THE SOUNDS YOU'RE HEARING.

WE CAN GO FROM THERE TO JAZZ AND LOOK AT HOW JAZZ WAS IMPACTFUL, HOW JAZZ TOOK ON ITS ROLE.

FOR INSTANCE, JOHN COAL WHEN THE FOUR LITTLE GIRLS WERE MURDERED IN BIRMINGHAM, JOHN COLTRANE CREATED A SONG THAT FOLLOWED THE SAME CADENCE AT MARTIN LUTHER KING JUNIOR'S SPEECH ON THE FOUR LITTLE GIRLS.

YOU LOOK AT THE EMERGENCE OF THE POETS.

YOU SEE CURTIS MAY FIELD, A COMPLETE TRAJECTORY FROM EARLY PARTS TO THE ENTIRE DECADE WHEN HE WAS MORE POP AND MORE FEEL GOOD.

BY THE END OF THE DECADE HE WAS MORE -- HE MADE A SONG -- IT'S CALLED -- THE INJUSTICES AND THE POLLUTION.

HE'S SAYING, LISTEN, WE HAVE A LOT OF PROBLEMS.

IF WE DON'T FIX THEM, WE'RE ALL GOING TO GO TO HELL.

HE WAS TALKING ABOUT EVERYONE ACROSS THE BOARD.

YOU HAVE JUST THIS BOW OF MUSIC THAT TELLS A STORY OF HOW BLACK PEOPLE WERE STARTING TO BECOME EMPOWERED THROUGH THAT DECADE.

THAT'S WHAT OUR SERIES TAKES A LOOK AT.

BUILDING ON THAT, BECAUSE EARLIER YOU DID MENTION THAT A LOT OF THE THINGS THAT HAPPENED IN THE '60s IN TERMS OF CULTURE AND MUSIC HELPED CHANGE THINGS.

THAT'S STILL TRUE FOR TODAY.

EVEN JUST IN YOUR DESCRIPTION OF BUMPY JOHNSON, A BLACK MAN COMING OUT OF JAIL WITH NOT A LOT OF OPPORTUNITIES, HONESTLY SOUNDS LIKE THE BIO OF SOME POPULAR RAPPERS TODAY.

I'M WONDERING IF YOU SEE ANY SIMILARITIES AT ALL OR ANY COMMON THREAD BETWEEN THE MUSIC AND THE CULTURE AND THE SOCIAL MOVEMENT THAT SORT OF FUELED THEM OR VICE VERSA AS OPPOSED TO TODAY, THE '60s VERSUS NOW.

YOU KNOW, HIP-HOP HAS ALWAYS BEEN FRONT AND CENTER WHEN IT CAME TO ACTIVISM AND SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER AND SPEAKING PLAINLY WHAT ONE EXPERIENCES FROM THEIR NEIGHBORHOOD.

SO IT WASN'T ALWAYS AN INCLUSIVE ART FARM.

IT WAS VERY SPECIFIC TO A POPULATION, AND THAT'S WHAT MAKES IT SO STRONG AND SO GREAT.

BUT NOW I THINK BEYOND HIP-HOP, REMOVING -- WE'RE SEEING AN EMERGENCE OUT OF POP CULTURE WHERE PEOPLE ARE NO LONGER PLAYING THE BUSINESS CARD AND SAYING I WANT TO BE KIND OF FREE OF THE POLITICS.

THEY'RE DIVING RIGHT IN.

IF YOU LOOK AT BEYONCE, ONE OF THE BIGGEST POP STARS WE HAVE, HER MUSIC HAS HAD ITS OWN ART, RIGHT?

WHERE SHE IS NOW UNAFRAID TO SPEAK TO POWER.

HER PERFORMANCE AT THE SUPER BOWL A FEW YEARS BACK WAS VERY MUCH AN EMPOWERMENT PERFORMANCE.

IF YOU LOOK AT J. LO, THE SAME THING, HER PERFORMANCE AT THE SUPER BOWL THIS YEAR WAS A DIRECT -- WAS SPEAKING DIRECTLY TO THE ISSUES HAPPENING AT THE BORDER THIS YEAR AND HOW IMMIGRANTS ARE UNDER ATTACK UNDER THIS CURRENT CLIMATE.

SO THE LIST IS LONG.

WE'VE SEEN A PROLIFERATION OF ARTISTS KNOWN AND UNKNOWN WHO ARE MAKING MUSIC IN HIGH NUMBERS LIKE YOU'VE NEVER SEEN BEFORE.

AND THE '60s WAS ONE MAJOR STEPPING STONE FOR ARTISTS TODAY TO COME -- WHERE THE ARTISTS TODAY CAME FROM.

IN THE '60s THEY'RE DOING IT IN WAYS WE HADN'T SEEN BEFORE THAT TIME.

ACTUALLY, ROBIN, I WANT TO BRING YOU IN ON THIS AND ASK, AS A MUSICIAN, ARE THERE ANY ASPECTS OF THE RHYTHMS AND THE BEATS AT THAT TIME THAT YOU STILL HEAR CARRYING THROUGH TODAY, JUST MUSICALLY?

ABSOLUTELY, ABSOLUTELY.

MARVIN GAYE IS THE SOUND TRACK OF THIS GENERATION AS WELL AS MY GENERATION.

MARVIN GAYE, HIS SOUND TRACK.

ARETHA FRANKLIN, THE IMPRESSIONS, AGAIN, JAMES BROWN, HUGE INFLUENCE IN HIP-HOP.

SAMPLED OVER AND OVER AND OVER AGAIN.

THAT MUSIC FROM THE '60s TOTALLY INSPIRED HIP-HOP MUSIC.

THE LAST POETS --

I WAS GOING TO SAY, THE LAST POET.

FATHERS OF HIP-HOP, RIGHT?

I CAN'T EVEN -- THE FOUNDERS -- THE FOUNDING FATHERS OF HIP-HOP, ALONG WITH, BELIEVE IT OR NOT, CAB CALLOWAY.

YOU CAN GO BACK THAT FAR.

THIS MUSIC THAT'S HAPPENING NOW, THE NEW GENERATION OF MUSIC, THE HIP-HOP, THE R&B THAT'S HAPPENING NOW, IT'S ALL RECYCLED.

A LOT OF RECYCLING GOING ON.

YES, THE LYRICS ARE ABOUT THE TIME WE'RE LIVING IN.

I'VE BEEN IN THE MUSIC BUSINESS FOR 51 YEARS, SUNG FOR A LOT OF PEOPLE.

I'VE HEARD THE SAME THEMES RUNNING THROUGH THE MUSIC FOR DECADES.

UNFORTUNATELY WE ARE GOING TO HAVE TO LEAVE IT THERE, ALTHOUGH I COULD ABSOLUTELY CONTINUE WITH THIS CONVERSATION.

KEITH, VERY QUICKLY, FOR PEOPLE WHO WANT TO BE ABLE TO SEE THIS DOCU-SERIES 'BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY, THE LIFE AND TIMES OF THE GODFATHER OF HARLEM,' WHERE CAN YOU FIND IT.

EPIC.COM, STREAM IT AND YOU CAN GO TO AMAZON PRIME AS WELL AND STROOEM STREAM IT THERE.

KEITH McCOURTER, THANK YOU FOR BRINGING US THIS DOCU-SERIES.

ROBIN CLARK, YOUR CONTRIBUTIONS NOT ONLY TO THE DOCU-SERIES BUT MUSIC ARE IMMEASURABLE.

THANK YOU VERY MUCH FOR JOINING ME.

Funders

MetroFocus is made possible by Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Denise Schwartz, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Janet Prindle Seidler, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.

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