Saturday, June 27, 2015

The Frederick Douglass Voice and Other Ephemera

© Gary Carner. Copyright Protected. All rights reserved.

The family is away for a few weeks, giving me a great opportunity to get lots of Pepper work done. The first thing to do is to prepare for a follow-up interview with Dave Schiff, about whom I wrote a few weeks ago. Also, Im going to listen again to my Rochester interviews to prepare for an interview with Paul Remingtons father, Frederick. Frederick is Rochester trombonist Dave Remingtons first cousin and a fine Tatum-influenced pianist in his own right. Frederick Remington was on the scene in the mid-1940s when Adams was in Rochester. He knew a lot of the important musicians, including pianist Herbie Brock. Additionally, he trained as a psychiatrist. As a musician and a student of behavior, he might have insights regarding the personalities of that time. 

Along with Brock and Remington, the third leg of the 1940s-Rochester-musician stool is Doug Duke. Im receiving from researcher Sheron Wahl a set of interviews that she did about Duke, most significantly with Paul Preo and Dick Mulhaney. Both knew Duke in 1945. Heres what Wahl told me about Preo:
At some point along the way I met Paul Preo, a Kodak engineer who lived in Rochester NY and who discovered Doug Duke at Squeezers back in 1945. Paul loved tinkering with the latest recording devices available. He began recording Doug while he still worked at Joe Squeezer’s and continued to record him until shortly before Doug’s death. Discovering Paul Preo along with his hundreds of recordings and memories was like discovering a gold mine. Paul and I worked together gathering materials to develop the Doug Duke page.  
Trying to learn more about that time in Rochester, and to contextualize everything that went on, Ive been working to locate a run of the Frederick Douglass Voice, the most important Rochester black newspaper of the 20th Century. Thanks to University of Rochester research librarian Melissa Mead, whos been extraordinarily helpful, I reached archivists at the Rochester Museum and Science Center. The Museum houses what seems to be a complete set of the newspaper. Generally referred to as The Voice, because it changed names several times, heres an overview of its incredible 63-year pedigree:

The Voice: October, 1933- November, 1942
The Rochester Voice: June, 1943- December, 1947
The Voice of New York: January, 1948- November, 1949
The Frederick Douglass Voice: January, 1950- July, 1960
The New Negro Voice: December, 1960- January, 1961
The Rochester Voice: October, 1961- March, 1967
The Frederick Douglass Voice: July, 1967- May, 1996

One of the Museums librarians sent me a Finding Aid to their Coles Collection. From the Coles website is this description of Howard Wilson Coles: The legacy that Coles has left through this collection is unparalleled, not only in this community but also in the nation. It sheds light on the remarkable career of a trailblazer in human rights activism, journalism, history and culture, and at the same time offers a sweeping look at 20th century America.
See Coles Collection and

Because jazz researchers dont know about this Collection, as my tribute to Howard Coles and the astounding (and probably little known) work he did, heres an excerpt from the Finding AidHistorical/Biographical Note about him (with footnotes deleted and lightly edited):

Howard Wilson Coles was born on November 12, 1903 in Belcoda, New York. His family came to the Rochester area from Culpepper, Virginia in the 1880s. Howard was the grandson of the Reverend Clayton A. Coles, former “body servant” of Confederate General Thomas (Stonewall) Jackson and later founder of the Second Baptist Church of Mumford in the 1890s. Howard was one of two sons born to Charles and Grace Coles. Howard spent his childhood in Mumford, New York, [not far from Rochester,] and attended Scottsville High School. By his own admission he was not interested in an education and left at the age of fifteen to work and earn money to buy his own things. (He later regretted his decision and earned a diploma in June, 1947 from East Evening High School in Rochester, New York.) After traveling throughout the Northeast in the 1920s, working as a hotel bellboy and a waiter, Coles returned to Rochester in the early 1930s and settled there for the remainder of his life.

Coles borrowed $2,800 from his life insurance policy in the early 1930s and with the help of Elsie Scott Kilpatrick established The Voice newspaper. Coles published and distributed the newspaper throughout Western New York from 1933 through 1996 and, at its apex, circulation reached approximately 10,000 copies. Throughout the newspaper’s life he worked as a real estate agent, insurance sales agent and court attendant to earn enough money to support the publication of the newspaper. The Voice helped chronicle the lives of African-Americans throughout the Twentieth Century and has been recognized as the longest continuously published African-American newspaper in Rochester history.

In 1938, Coles became Rochester’s first African-American radio personality at local radio station WSAY. Over the next forty years, Howard developed several radio shows such as The Vignettes, The Gospel Hour, The Bronze Trombones, and The King Coles Show. These shows provided entertainment and served as a sounding board for relevant issues in the African-American community.

The unhealthy living conditions in Rochester under which some African-American families were forced to survive during the late 1930s may have started Coles on his lifelong activist role. The New York State Legislature credited Coles in 1938 with conducting the first documented housing survey of Rochester’s low-income families. Information he presented to the New York State Temporary Commission of the Condition of the Urban Colored Population was later published in the 1939 report. City Manager Baker appointed Coles to the City Wide Housing Committee of the City of Rochester to help alleviate the poor conditions documented in the survey. 

In 1939, Coles published the City Directory of Negro Business and Progress, which documented the socioeconomic progress of Rochester’s African-American community since 1926. He also authored The Cradle of Freedom, a history of Rochester’s African-American community, which was published by Oxford Press in 1941. Coles compiled “The Negro Family in Rochester,” documenting the African-American community’s progress during a century of living in Rochester, and “Nomads of the South,” illustrating the journey of various migrant groups to upstate New York. Neither work was published in book form but there is evidence that both ran as serials in The Voice newspaper. . . . 

Coles married publicist, dramatist, and journalist Alma Kelso in 1940. The two worked diligently on The Voice and collaborated on several other projects until they divorced in the late 1940s. . . . 

On December 10, 1996, Coles died of complications from pneumonia. Mayor William A. Johnson, Jr. and several other ministers eulogized him at the historic Mt. Olivet Baptist Church, located in Rochester, New York. Coles has been called a “trailblazer” and the heir to his hero, Frederick Douglass.

Ive yet to determine the extent of Coles coverage of Rochesters black entertainment scene but Im intrigued by its possibilities and encouraged by the fact that Coles had several radio shows. It looks like Ill be spending some time at the Museum when Im in Rochester!

                          (Howard Wilson Coles in the studio of radio station WSAY)

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