The Crusader Newspaper Group

Multiple esteemed deaths rock the world of Black arts and culture

Photo caption: Third World Press Publisher Haki R. Madhubuti and Useni Eugene Perkins.

Third World Press reports that esteemed author Useni Eugene Perkins has died

“It is with heavy hearts that we at Third World Press acknowledge that our brother, poet, playwright and author, Useni Eugene Perkins, has joined the ancestors. His passing will leave a void across the country but especially here in Chicago. He was an activist, deep thinker, writer, poet and scholar. He encouraged us all but especially Black children who he saw as “tomorrow’s promise.”

William Goodwin 4
Useni Eugene Perkins

Perkins was born in 1932 in Chicago in the midst of the Harlem Renaissance and died on May 7 in Chicago and was one of the great literary giants to come out of the Chicago area. His father was a sculptor, so he was exposed to arts from birth.

He was one of the authors comprised of a collective known as OBAC, the Organization of Black American Culture. The group was formed in 1967 on the South Side, dedicated to the struggle for freedom, justice and equality for Blacks.

Among other writings, he was famously known as the author of the poem “Hey Black Child.” Reportedly, the 1975 poem was written as a mantra, determinedly creating a new way for Black children to think about their lives and futures.

He was an artist, poet, playwright, community leader, publisher of the “Black Child Journal” and the founder of the Institute for the Positive Development of Black Youth.

Perkins graduated from Wendell Phillips High School in 1950, developed an interest in writing and later graduated from Williams College, before serving in the U.S. Air Force. He later worked at the Henry Horner Chicago Boys Club, before becoming executive director of the Better Boys Foundation of Chicago in 1966.

The HistoryMakers writes that in 1976, he wrote “Home Is A Dirty Street: The Social Oppression of Black Children.” Other appointments were with the Chicago Urban League. In 1990 after a few years living and working in Portland, Oregon, Perkins was named the interim president of what is now the DuSable Black History Museum and Education Center. In 1991, he founded the Association for the Positive Development of African American Youth, where he served as president, and became the project director of the Family Life Center at Chicago State University—among many other prestigious local appointments.

Chicagoan Joy Bennett told the Crusader: “I’m very sad to hear of Useni’s passing this weekend. He was a great friend to Dad and was an immeasurable help to me throughout Dad’s illness. He and Rev. Kenneth Todd often took Dad out or joined him for lunch. He even arranged for his personal barber to come to the house and trim Dad’s hair and beard. Bennett’s dad is noted author, historian and was the executive editor of Ebony Magazine for 50 years, Lerone Bennett, Jr.

“He gave wonderful remarks at Dad’s funeral and although we will miss him personally, we all owe him a debt for his service to our people, his literary elegance and his devotion to Black youth.”

Services for Useni Eugene Perkins were unknown at Crusader press time on Wednesday, May 10.

Renowned jazz artist Ahmad Jamal dies at age 92

Ahmad Jamal died of complications from prostate cancer on April 16 in Massachusetts.

In 1930, Jamal was born Frederick Russell Jones in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and was a jazz pianist, composer, bandleader, and educator. For six decades, he was one of the most successful small-group leaders in jazz. He was a National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Jazz Master and won a Lifetime Achievement Grammy for his contributions to music history in 2017.

Even Miles Davis took cues from Jamal. “All my inspiration comes from Ahmad Jamal,” Davis once said. Jamal knocked me out with his concept of space…his lightness of touch, his understatement, and the way he phrases notes and chords and passages.”

Jamal started playing piano around the age of 3. By the time he was 20, he converted to Islam and changed his name.

In 1950 he moved to Chicago, performing intermittently with local musicians Von Freeman and Claude McLin, and solo at the Palm Tavern, occasionally joined by drummer Ike Day.

However, Pittsburgh was always on his mind. “Pittsburgh meant everything to me and it still does,” he said in 2001, and it was there that he was immersed in the influence of jazz artists such as Earl Hines, Billy Strayhorn, Mary Lou Williams, and Erroll Garner.

After first recording for the Okeh label in 1951, he formed the Ahmad Jamal Trio. The Trio found recognition in Chicago but was further appreciated in New York City. He worked as the house trio at Chicago’s Pershing Hotel on South Cottage Grove in 1957. His releases during this time brought him much acclaim into the early 1960s.

When he returned to the U.S. after a tour of North Africa, a financial windfall came with Jamal’s success of his album “At the Pershing: But Not For Me,” which included the hit “Poinciana” that stayed on the charts for 108 weeks when it was released in 1958. Afterward he opened the Alhambra in Chicago.

He took a break from performing and in 1964 while living in New York he released an instrumental of “Suicide is Painless,” which was the theme song from the 1970 film “Mash.” Clint Eastwood also used two of Jamal’s songs from his “But Not For Me” on “The Bridges of Madison County” soundtrack. As well, many of his songs have been sampled by Hip-Hop artists.

From 1979 through the 90s, Jamal was the house musician for New Year’s celebrations at New York’s Blues Alley.

In an article published last year, the New York Times reported that Jamal said, “I’m still evolving. Whenever I sit down at the piano, I still come up with some fresh ideas.”

In 2021, the late music critic Stanley Crouch wrote that bebop’s founding father, Charlie Parker, was the only musician “more important to the development of a fresh form in jazz than Ahmad Jamal.” He added: “Through the use of space and changes of rhythm and tempo, Jamal invented a group sound that had all the surprise and dynamic variation of an imaginatively imagined big band.”

Among other accolades, Jamal received the Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master award, and induction into France’s Order of Arts and Letters.

Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J.
Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J.

Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J., is the Entertainment Editor for the Chicago Crusader. She is a National Newspaper Publishers Association ‘Entertainment Writing’ award winner, contributor to “Rust Belt Chicago” and the author of “Old School Adventures from Englewood: South Side of Chicago.” For info, Old School Adventures from Englewood—South Side of Chicago ( or email: [email protected].

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