Monday, December 03, 2007

1950 - 2007: Elizabeth Amelia Hadley + Tom Terrell : Spirits Fly Home

Elizabeth Amelia Hadley (aka Elizabeth Hadley Freydberg) was a friend whom I've known for over 10 years now, although we didn't really connect until a Black Women's Health Project Conference where we staged a little intervention to address the lack of, well, address of queer black women's health issues. A little queer/straight alliance was born among some of the black women at that conference. One of the smartest people I have ever met, Elizabeth was (I can't believe I'm writing "was") a musician (she got her undergraduate degree on an opera scholarship), a costume designer, a painter, a writer, a theater director, a media commentator, and a serious computer geek-nerd before it was cool to be one. Elizabeth could take apart a PC and put it back together without hardly thinking about it. She was a black music connoisseur, a lesbian feminist, a community and national activist, and a scholar of African American film, theater, music, and literature, and earned her doctorate from University of Indiana at Bloomington, home of one the larger black film archives in the United States. Her life began in New York where as a little black girl she primarily grew up in foster care. She was a Rockefeller and Fulbright recipient, as well as an NEH scholar. Her last position was Chair of Africana Studies at Simmons College in Boston. Her biography of Bessie Coleman, the first woman and first African American woman aviatrix, Bessie Coleman: The Brownskin Lady Bird, was the first such study of Coleman and is considered to be definitive in its scope. Unfortunately it is currently out of print. Nevertheless, Elizabeth's lobbying was largely responsible for the United States Postal Service issuing a Bessie Coleman stamp.


Elizabeth was tirelessly curious, she had a singularly active mind, and an acerbic wit--she really didn't suffer fools very well. But she was also quite big-hearted, compassionate, and generous--to a fault sometimes. I had some of the best conversations ever with her. She could talk about anything, and was constantly surprising me with whatever information would follow the opening, "you knew I had been a ________ , didn't you?" When she became seriously ill with metastatic breast cancer, I wondered if I would find out all the things she had been.

Elizabeth is the primary reason why I am where I am now. One day when I was overwhelmed and frustrated, I called her. I said "I'm ready to let this go--I don't have enough time, it probably isn't even the right place for me," etc. I was tired, anxious, and car-less in Atlanta trying to prepare an application for deadline in about 5-10% of the time I would normally take to do so. Elizabeth, by that time having faced mortality repeatedly, tended to put things in perspective quickly and kicked my butt over the phone, backed that up with a healthy dose of verbal tough love and faith, and sent me on my way. I was fuming afterwards, but determined to follow through. As a result I got my second chance to do something, actually many things I love. Because not just that time, but always, Elizabeth believed in me. She was that kind friend to me and I'm sure to others as well. I was very fortunate to have known her on this plane. I will miss her always, though I am relieved that she is no longer existing in daily pain and uncertainty. Elizabeth passed away on Sunday, October 14th.

The Boston Globe obituary includes some recollections from her daughter Malika Hadley Freydberg, who is a choir teacher and a singer/songwriter. Here is my favorite:

"'She made my dolls until about age 7, at least,' her daughter said. 'When I was born, she could not find dolls of color that were soft, so she learned how to make dolls. My first doll was a black Raggedy Ann, and my favorite part was that she sewed on a heart that said, 'I love you.' If you looked under the doll's dress, there was the heart sewed onto her chest.'"

There is a memorial planned for Elizabeth in the near future, in her hometown of Harlem, New York.



* * * *


I never met Tom Terrell (pictured left, photo Jimmy Saal), but I'll always remember him because of the benefit organized on his behalf by Giant Step and others after Terrell, without health insurance, was diagnosed with prostate cancer that had spread to his bones. The benefit, "An Esoteric Night - A Benefit for Tom Terrell" was my introduction to the New York music community, and my first September 11th anniversary in New York City. This was not just any New York music community, but the community where I could imagine myself contributing, living, listening, and supporting other folks. That night the Canal Room was full of life, and love and some profound musical moments from a diverse cross-section of folks. Each and every musician had been selected by Terrell and was playing a tune requested by him as well (his personal iPod Show was the reference). Terrell had worked seemingly in ever part of the music business, alternative rock DJ, PR rep for Verve Music Group, road manager, and music journalist, and everyone loved him. Terrell's friend Harry Weinger told me Terrell called himself a "promosexual," because he was so committed to promoting people he saw as talented and whose work needed to be heard. (oops, I partially misheard Weinger's story, actually Terrell called himself a "promosexual" because he loved to get free promo materials. But the fact of his commitment to artists I got right. I guess that was the thing, the man was clearly a true believer in the transcendent and profound power of music to matter. That we as human beings needed these artists, and needed their music to touch us, to get us partying down, to bring us together, to grow our respective and collective consciousnesses, etc. For more on this aspect of Terrell you can check out Greg Tate's remembrance, with additional recollections of Terrell from various music folk, writers, and friends who knew him for the wonderful person he clearly was (thanks again to Rob at Bold As Love for the heads up on this).

That was the first time I heard and saw Toshi Reagon, Vernon Reid, Chocolate Genius (aka Michael Anthony Thompson) , Coati Mundi, Nora York, Randy Weston, and Angelique Kidjo live. And it was the first time I'd ever heard Harriet Tubman, and for that alone I could remember and treasure Terrell forever. But the whole evening was so moving and magical that it also was my first NY-area blog entry.* I often thought of Terrell over the past year hoping that he was doing well, in remission, happily doing some music-oriented something somewhere.


According to the Nedlist announcement Terrell died peacefully and without pain on at 5:05am on Thursday, November 29th. The family is planning a funeral service on "Saturday, December 8th in Washington, D.C. (all are welcome)." There are tentative plans for a memorial service in New York as well, and once I hear about those I'll post them here. Thank you Mr. Terrell.

Friday, December 7, 2007
"Wake" - 6:00 P.M. - 8:00 P.M.
Stewart Funeral Home, Inc.
4001 Benning Road, N.E.
Washington, D.C. 20019
(202) 399-3600

Saturday, December 8, 2007
"Celebration of Life"
9:00 A.M. Viewing
11:00 A.M. Funeral Service
Andrew Rankin Memorial Chapel at Howard University
6th Street and Howard Place, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20059
(202) 806-7280

*Endnote I:
While writing this post I went to my blog to access the perma-link for that first New York city entry on the Terrell Benefit, and I noticed "1 comment" listed. I didn't remember having gotten one, but thought I'd read it and jog my memory. It was from Tom Terrell. I'd never seen it before just now (The entry was from before you could get blogger.com to notify you if someone left a comment--which I still don't have activated now that I could). I'm just stunned and moved. Fortunately, I found a photo that captures the salsa dancing he mentioned in his comment. (above right, Tom Terrell benefit, Coati Mundi holding the mic stand, and Terrell dancing in the middle from ZOOMZOOM)

Endnote II:
• Thanks to Rob Fields of Bold As Love (via Brian Tate and Full Spectrum) for citing this Washington Post obituary for Terrell.
• For more information on Tom Terrell check out Rob Fields' Bold As Love December 3rd and December 7th entries on his life and passing.
• Thanks again to Fields for pointing readers to the Bluegum
culture & music blog entry on Terrell which includes a link to one of Terrell's richly thoughtful, emotionally and aesthetically layered Pop Matters columns. (This one is on the death and funeral of his aunt, the legendary and wonderfully human jazz pianist/arranger/vocalist Shirley Horn, and touches on the loss of vocalist Lou Rawls--he riffs memorably about my favorite album of the latter, Lou Rawls Live! with its great "Girl from Ipanema" rap). Also included on the Bluegum site is a link to the World Music Central notice of the loss of Terrell.

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11 Comments:

At 7:55 AM, Blogger Rob said...

Thanks for the hat tip in this post and for hipping me to your blog. Looking forward to following it more closely. Happy holidays!

 
At 1:53 PM, Blogger Christina said...

Dr. Elizabeth Amelia Hadley was my mentor, teacher, and great friend. We met when I was an undergraduate at Simmons College in 2001, and she literally changed my life. My work has evolved based on her insight, brilliance, and ability to deliver either a compassionate word, or well-deserved kick in the ass whenever I needed it. I remember so many of her sentences beginning with "Did you know that I was _______," or the quiet moments of, "Oh, so you know about those things, too." I miss her deeply, and was relieved to find your electronic tribute to her, and feel so glad to be connected to someone else who knew how amazing she was...

 
At 11:19 AM, Blogger audiologo said...

Rob and Christina,
Thanks for your comments. Two amazing folks who will definitely be missed.

 
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