Black Encyclopedia of the Air

In 1968, a diverse group of historians, anthropologists, and musicians at Columbia University created the Black Identity Project. Based on the work of pioneering Africanist John Henrik Clarke, founder of the African Heritage Studies Association, and funded by the Ford Foundation, the project aimed to acquaint younger audiences, in classrooms and over the radio, with Black history and heritage. One of the outcomes of the project was the 1969 Black Encyclopedia of the Air. Designed for broadcast over Black radio networks to what contributor Alan Lomax called “the rock-and-roll audience,” it consisted of 31 “one-minute-plus” educational spots, researched by Clarke and narrated by WLIB-Harlem DJ and radio personality Jack Walker, “the Pear-Shaped Talker,"" who was also chairman of the National Association of Television and Radio Announcers, the Black broadcast-professional organization. Lomax, along with historian and singer Raoul Abdul (with whom he'd compile the anthology 3000 Years of Black Poetry), devised scripts that drew heavily on Alan’s Cantometrics performance style analysis, covering topics such as the diversity of Black lullaby traditions; African male choruses and “overlap” singing; and a Black history of American pop music. Non-musical entries discussed Black contributors to medicine (heart surgeon Dr. Daniel Hale Williams) and engineering (Lewis Latimer and his carbon light bulb filament). Teaching materials and reading lists were provided with the series, which Atlantic Records released on LP in 1969. John Henrik Clarke provided research for the spots, and trombonist, composer and Cantometric investigator Roswell Rudd served as musical advisor. Despite positive feedback from radio stations across the country, the Black Encyclopedia of the Air was discontinued after its first series.
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