THE TIMES OF GODFATHER HARLEM

Encore: January 27, 2021

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

> HI.

I'M JENNA FLANAGAN OF 'METROFOCUS.'

WHEN EPIX PREMIERED THE DRAMA SERIES 'THE GODFATHER OF HARLEM' IN 2019 IT NOT ONLY TOLD THE STORY OF HARLEM'S INFAMOUS MOB BOSS ELLISWORTH BUMPY JOHNSON, IT ALSO PORTRAYED A COMMUNITY PUSHING FOR SOCIAL CHANGE.

AMERICA'S MOST FAMOUS BLACK NEIGHBORHOOD IS KNOWN FOR ITS INNOVATIVE, SOMETIMES PROVOCATIVE AND CONSISTENTLY GROUNDBREAKING SOCIAL SCENE.

AND IT'S FRONT AND CENTER IN A NEW DOCUMENTARY SERIES ON EPIX.

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

MUSIC BECAME A GUIDING FORCE.

IT GAVE 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 DOCUSERIES 'BY WHATEVER MEANS NECESSARY: THE TIMES OF THE GODFATHER OF HARLEM.'

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

KEITH, WELCOME TO THE PROGRAM.

THANK YOU FOR HAVING ME.

AND MUSICIAN AND VOCALIST ROBIN CLARK, WHO IS 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 GODFATHER OF HARLEM' IS AN IMPRESSIVE SERIES ALL 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.

AND THEY WANTED TO KEEP THE FANS IN THE WORLD OF HARLEM.

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

THAT'S KIND OF HOW IT 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 DOCUSERIES?

BECAUSE IT -- THERE IS SO MUCH TO LOOK AT WHEN IT COMES TO POP CULTURE, 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 YOU KNOW, TAKING A LOOK AT 1960s AS A PARALLEL WAS AN AWESOME OPPORTUNITY.

SO WHAT WE FOUND WAS FOR INSTANCE LIKE THE TWIST BY CHUBBY CHECKER WAS JUST AN INNOCENT POP SONG FOR MOST PEOPLE THAT YOU CAN DANCE TO AND IT'S FUN.

BUT YOU KNOW, THERE WAS A REAL MESSAGE IN THAT SONG.

YOU KNOW, 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 WHO IS A PROFESSOR AT COLUMBIA, WAS A BLACK PANTHER IN THE '60s, HE QUOTED ELDRIDGE SEAVER WHO SAID 'THE TWIST' DID MORE FOR PUSHING INTEGRATION AND CULTURE FORWARD THAN LAW, POLITICS, AND RELIGION COULD EVER DO.

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

AND AGAIN, THAT'S WHAT I FOUND TO BE SO UNIQUELY INTERESTING ABOUT THIS, IS THAT 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.

WELL, 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 REINFORCE SOMETHING 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 THEATER.

AND WE WERE TEENAGERS IN HIGH SCHOOL.

AND IT WAS A REPERTORY COMPANY THAT TALKED ABOUT THE TIMES.

WE SANG SONGS ABOUT THE TIME WE WERE LIVING IN.

SO THEY WERE SONGS OF EMPOWERMENT.

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

UP TILL 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 PROBABLY DO IT THROUGH MUSIC BECAUSE THAT'S WHERE I WAS GOING.

BUT WE HAD BEEN EMPOWERED AT THAT POINT IN TIME IN OUR LIVES AND I WOULD SAY 17, 16, 18 YEARS OLD.

WOW.

WHAT IT -- EXCUSE ME.

IT JUST REINFORCED WHERE I STARTED AND WHAT I KNEW.

ABSOLUTELY.

AND THE NOTION I THINK OF BEING THAT KID SOMETIMES CAN, AGAIN, BE SOMETHING THAT'S EASILY DISMISSED BUT IF YOU LOOK THROUGHOUT HISTORY IT'S FREQUENTLY YOUNG PEOPLE WHERE THESE LARGE SOCIAL MOVEMENTS GERMINATE.

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

BECAUSE THE SERIES 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.

AND SO MANY GANGSTER MOVIES, FOR LACK OF A BETTER DESCRIPTION, OR SERIES ARE MARKED BY THEIR SOUNDTRACK.

AND I'M WONDERING IF THE SOUNDTRACK OF THE MOVEMENT WAS IMPORTANT IN TELLING THE STORY.

100%. I THINK WHEN YOU LOOK AT 'THE GODFATHER OF HARLEM' AND WHEN YOU -- BUMPY JOHNSON'S STORY, IT'S 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 HAS LIMITED OPPORTUNITIES.

WE SEE HIM LIKE JUST PLOWING THROUGH BARRIERS.

AND SO THE DOCUMENTARY SERIES TAKES A LOOK AT A DIFFERENT PALETTE.

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

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

AND SO YOU KNOW, YOU LOOK AT 1960, 1969, THE EARLY PART OF THE DECADE YOU LOOK AT GOSPEL MUSIC WHICH WAS UNIVERSAL AS FAR AS BLACK AMERICANS ARE CONCERNED, YOU KNOW, IN THE CHURCH AND HOW THE CHURCH WAS THE CENTER OF OUR COMMUNITY.

AND HOW THOSE TRANSITIONED TO FREEDOM SONGS DURING THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT AND INCORPORATED INTO THE MARCH ON WASHINGTON.

SO MANY OTHER MARCHES.

THOSE ARE THE SOUNDS YOU'RE HEARING.

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

FOR INSTANCE, JOHN COLTRANE WHEN THE FOUR LITTLE GIRLS ARE MURDERED IN THE CHURCH BOMBINGS IN BIRMINGHAM JOHN COLTRANE CREATED THE SONG CAN THE ALABAMA' THAT FOLLOWED THE SAME CADENCES AS MARTIN LUTHER KING'S EULOGY OF THOSE FOUR LITTLE GIRLS.

BY THE END OF THE DECADE WE LOOK AT BLACK POWER, OF COURSE JAMES BROWN AND I'M BLACK AND I'M PROUD WHICH ROBIN TALKED ABOUT BUT ALSO THE EMERGENCE OF THE LAST POETS.

CURTIS MAYFIELD.

A COMPLETE TRAJECTORY FROM EARLY PART OF THE DECADE TO THE ENDING PART OF THE DECADE WHERE HE WAS MORE POP AND MORE FEEL-GOOD TO WHERE THE END OF THE DECADE HE WAS -- HE MADE A SONG THAT SAID 'WE'RE ALL GOING TO GO.'

WHICH CALLED OUT THE DISRUPTIONS AND INJUSTICES AND THE POLLUTION AND HE'S SAYING LISTEN, WE HAVE A LOT OF PROBLEMS.

WE'RE NOT GOING TO FIX ANY OF THEM WEEK, ALL GOING TO GO TO HELL, IT'S GOING TO BE OUR DOWNFALL.

AND HE'S TALKING ABOUT EVERYONE ACROSS THE BOARD.

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

AND SO THAT'S WHAT OUR SERIES REALLY TAKES A LOOK AT.

WELL, 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 AND 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 OPPORTUNITY, HONESTLY SOUNDS LIKE THE BIO OF SOME POPULAR RAPPERS TODAY.

SO I'M WONDERING IF YOU SEE ANY SIMILARITIES AT ALL OR ANY COMMON THREADS 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?

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

SO IT WASN'T ALWAYS AN INCLUSIVE ART FORM.

IT'S VERY SPECIFIC TO A POPULATION.

AND THAT'S WHAT MAKES IT SO STRONG AND SO GREAT.

BUT NOW I THINK BEYOND HIP-HOP WE'RE SEEING LIKE AN EMERGENCE OF A POP CULTURE WHERE PEOPLE ARE NOT -- 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 NOW, FOR INSTANCE, ONE OF THE BIGGEST POP STARS WE HAVE, HER MUSIC HAS HAD ITS OWN ARC.

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, YOU KNOW, THIS YEAR AND HOW IMMIGRANTS WERE UNDER ATTACK UNDER THIS CURRENT CLIMATE.

AND SO THE LIST IS LONG.

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

AND THE '60s WAS ONE MAJOR STEPPING STONE FOR ARTISTS TODAY, YOU KNOW, THE ARTISTS THEY CAME FROM.

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

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

ABSOLUTELY.

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

MARVIN GAYE HAD HIS SOUNDTRACK.

ARETHA FRANKLIN.

YOU KNOW, 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, THIS GENERATION NOW.

THE LAST POETS --

I WAS JUST GOING TO SAY, THE LAST POETS.

THE LAST POETS --

FATHERS OF HIP-HOP, RIGHT?

I CAN'T EVEN BE -- THE FOUNDERS, THE FOUNDING FATHERS OF HIP-HOP.

ALONG WITH BELIEVE IT OR NOT CAB CALLOWAY.

OF COURSE.

THAT FAR.

YOU KNOW, 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, NEW LYRICS ABOUT THE TIME WE'RE LIVING IN.

BUT I'VE BEEN IN THE MUSIC BUSINESS FOR 51 YEARS.

I'VE SUNG FOR A LOT OF PEOPLE.

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

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

BUT KEITH, VERY QUICKLY, FOR PEOPLE WHO WANT TO BE ABLE TO SEE THIS DOCUSERIES, 'BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY:SPT LIFE AND TIMES OF THE GODFATHER OF HARLEM,' WHERE CAN THEY FIND IT?

YOU CAN GO TO EPIX.COM AND STREAM IT THROUGH THEIR APPS.

YOU CAN GO TO AMAZON PRIME AS WELL AND YOU CAN STREAM IT THROUGH AMAZON PRIME.

WELL, LISTEN, KEITH McCARRY THE, THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR BRINGING US THIS DOCUSERIES.

AND ROBIN CLARK, YOUR CONTRIBUTIONS NOT ONLY TO THE DOCUMENTARY SERIES BUT TO MUSIC ARE IMMEASURABLE.

SO THANK YOU BOTH 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, The Peter G. Peterson and Joan Ganz Cooney Fund, Bernard and Denise Schwartz, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, The Ambrose Monell Foundation, 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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