Celebrating Black History Month

Last month, to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, artist Lennie Peterson partnered with the HSBA to display a 3’ x 6’ mixed media portrait of Nina Simone in the Harvard Square Kiosk.

In celebration of Black History Month, we added Lennie’s incomparable depictions of John Coltrane, Miles Davis and Billie Holiday to the exhibit.  Mr. Peterson said, “My portraits are a tribute to the people who have used their gifts and talents to make the world a better place. The large size of the portraits reflects my wish that we remember them as larger than life. I render half of my subject’s face symbolizing my belief that we can only know a part of the makeup of such great icons. The color for the background represents their essence or nature and the geometric shapes represent the building blocks of life’s challenges and triumphs. Once inside the recognizable physical form of the subject’s face, viewers can see and take interest in the details and makeup of the whole, much like getting to know a person.” 

The artwork, detailed as follows, can be viewed from the east side of the Kiosk.     

John Coltrane (1926–1967)  (Brush, Ink, and Acrylics on Weathered Canvas, 4’ x 5’)   “I’d like to point out to people the divine in a musical language that transcends words. I want to speak to their souls.”   Despite a relatively brief career as a saxophonist, composer, and bandleader, John Coltrane developed his craft working with famed musicians and bandleaders Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington and Miles Davis. Coltrane went on to become an iconic figure of 20th-century jazz with albums like ‘Giant Steps,’ ‘My Favorite Things’ and ‘A Love Supreme’. He is among the most important and most controversial figures in jazz. An accomplished player who changed his style radically over the course of his career, his almost religious commitment to music cements his place in the history of jazz.  

Miles Davis (1926- 1991)  (Giclee print on Gatorboard, 3’ X 6’)   “The thing to judge in any jazz artist is, does the man project and does he have ideas?”   Miles Davis made music over several decades that grew from an uncanny talent to hear the future and a headstrong desire to play it. As a trumpet player, composer, and bandleader, he became the standard-bearer for successive generations of musicians, shaping the course of modern improvisational music many times over. His various groups shifted and morphed through the early ‘60s until he settled for a four-year run with his classic quintet, a lineup that is still hailed today as one of the greatest and most influential jazz groups of all time. Miles Davis was the catalyst for countless musical legends in their own right including Herbie Hancock, John Coltrane, Bill Evans, and Cannonball Adderley, to name just a few.  

Billie Holiday (1915- 1959) (Giclee print on Gatorboard, 3’ X 6’)   “You can’t copy anybody and end with anything. If you copy, it means you’re working without any real feeling. No two people on earth are alike and it’s got to be that way in music or it isn’t music.”   The first popular jazz singer to move audiences with the intense, personal feeling of classic blues, Billie “Lady Day” Holiday (birth name Elinore Harris) is considered one of the greatest singers of the 20th century.    With an instinctive sense of musical structure and with a wealth of experience gathered performing at the root level of jazz and blues, she developed a singing style that was deeply moving and individual. Despite many personal problems, Holiday was a major star in the jazz world and in popular music and her constant struggle with addictions eventually ravaged her voice, although not her technique. She gave her final performance in New York City in 1959.   

Nina Simone (1933 – 2003) (Brush, India ink and Oils on paper, 3’ X 6’)   “What I was interested in was conveying an emotional message, which means using everything you’ve got inside you sometimes to barely make a note, or if you have to strain to sing, you sing.”   Born Eunice Kathleen Waymon, Nina Simone was an American singer, songwriter, pianist, arranger, and activist of the Civil Rights Movement. Simone’s rich, deep velvet vocal tones, combined with her mastery of the keyboard, established her reputation as an engaging live performer and her recordings found commercial success. Nina Simone was not an artist who could be easily classified. Her classical training showed through, no matter what genre of the song she played and she drew from a well of sources that included gospel, pop and folk. Simone’s undaunted stand for freedom and justice for all continued to keep Simone in the forefront of the few performers willing to use music as a vehicle for social commentary and change.   

For more information, please visit www.LenniePeterson.com