All That Jazz

This summer, KHC features daily posts about the speakers and topics in the Humanities catalog. Today’s featured presentation is “Kansas City Jazz and the Early Civil Rights Movement” by Kevin Rabas.

Famed jazz tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins (top row, right) was a member of the 1920-1921 Topeka High School Orchestra. Image from kansasmemory.org, Kansas Historical Society, Copy and Reuse Restrictions Apply.

Famed jazz tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins (top row, right) was a member of the 1920-1921 Topeka High School Orchestra. Image from kansasmemory.org, Kansas Historical Society, Copy and Reuse Restrictions Apply.

Kansas City jazz thrived on diversity: just as it melded and reshaped African and European musical traditions, it also gained energy and vitality from the talents of musicians of all races. Kevin Rabas’ Speakers Bureau presentation explores how musicians such as Charlie Parker, Coleman Hawkins, and Lester Young drew national attention to the need for racial harmony by touring with integrated bands and writing songs that advocated equal rights in the early years of the Civil Rights movement.

“Jazz helped fuel the American Civil Rights movement and affirm and exalt African American identity in a changing world,” said Rabas. “Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King said, ‘It’s no wonder that so much of the search for identity among American Negroes was championed by jazz musicians. Long before the modern essayists and scholars wrote of racial identity as a problem for the multiracial world, musicians were returning to their roots to affirm that which was stirring within their souls.'”

Kevin Rabas

Kevin Rabas

Kevin Rabas co-directs the creative writing program at Emporia State University and edits Flint Hills Review. A jazz drummer and poet, he has four books inspired by jazz including Lisa’s Flying Electric Piano, a Kansas Notable Book.

You can bring Kevin Rabas’ “Kansas City Jazz and the Early Civil Rights Movement” or one of the other presentations in the Humanities catalog to your community for FREE with a Resource Center Support Grant. It’s quick and easy! Visit the Speakers Bureau page to get started or contact Leslie Von Holten, director of programs, at leslie(at)kansashumanities.org for more information.