“Love takes off the masks that we fear we cannot live without and know we cannot live within. I use the word ‘love’ here not merely in the personal sense but as a state of being, or a state of grace — not in the infantile American sense of being made happy but in the tough and universal sense of quest and daring and growth.” -James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time

“A Love Supreme: A Celebration of Family, History and Identity” event offered an opportunity to feel the love this Valentine’s Day in a way that only The Town can deliver. February 13th brought a full house hosted by Impact Hub Oakland and KQED. The night offered a rare treat to see award-wining poet Sonya Renee Taylor perform three moving poems, words that expertly faceted radical unapologetic self-love, and the intersections and inherited expression of that love from one’s own family.

The facet reflecting Black History in America and the social forces menacing black families connected in a profound way to the night’s film “Through A Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People” by Thomas Allen Harris. The filmmaker describes the film as an exploration of “170 years [of] pioneering African American photographers [who] have recorded the dramas and aspirations of generations. The film traces the spiritual transformation from slavery to economic mobility and social stability, and examines how these photographers helped their communities reclaim self-worth and humanity.” There were other facets, reflections on the genius of John Coltrane’s 1964 album and the event’s namesake, “A Love Supreme,” brought us deeper into the night’s theme of creativity and artistic production as prayer.

Rev. Dereca Blackmon revealed the structure of Coltrane’s musical offering as a spiritual path in four tracks; “Acknowledgement”, “Resolution,” “Pursuance,” and “Psalm.” This profound structure reminded me that Sundays were days of music growing up, the record player revealing my mother’s vinyl collection as an exotic counterpoint to the radio’s top 40 hits of my youth. I explored the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s through blues, folk, classical and some country. Hearing John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” for the first time, however, was an introduction to a lifelong love of jazz and my musical awakening to study music more seriously. At the age of 11, jazz had the power to transport me into a type of expanding center like nothing else.

John Coltrane's 1965 album 'A Love Supreme' celebrates it's 50th anniversary this February.

John Coltrane’s 1965 album ‘A Love Supreme’ celebrates its 50th anniversary.

Writer Marvin K. White brought us back to photography with an explanation of the photo used for the album cover as one selected by Coltrane himself. The importance of an image to show ourselves, in all our facets, to ourselves and outwardly to the world is what lead me to personally study photography. That, and the elusive nature of the portrait, with its promise to reveal something behind the mask, reveal something of ourselves in one another. The night was affirming, moving and lifted the importance of self discovery in art and the necessity of seeing one another through another’s lens. There is a specific type of joy in determining that image when no one else is looking. When no one is really seeing you, when there is nothing that you recognize being reflected back at you, there is power in creating it and documenting it in others. Art becomes the prayer, and love, supreme love, becomes a state of grace.

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2 Responses

  1. Duane Deterville

    Greetings LaToya, actually it was me who did the backstory on how producer Bob Thiele’s photo was selected by Coltrane himself to grace the cover of “A Love Supreme”. I was in the first panel discussion that was moderated by musician Angela Wellman. I was there for the whole event and I recall Marlee I-Hand from the Coltrane Church doing the theological explanation of Coltrane’s titles for the compositions on “A Love Supreme.” She was also on the panel with me. The second panel moderated by Ashara Ekundayo had filmmaker Thomas Allen Harris, Reverend Dereca Blackmon and Marvin K. White. They also had a very profound conversation.

    duane d.

    • Sarah Filley

      Hi Duane,
      Sarah here, I am the author and I apologize for mis-attributing the backstory. I came after the introductions and missed the last panel so I was relying on the flyer for programming accuracy and names. As it turned out the event was a bit more fluid. I was enthralled by your comments about the backstory and will update the article to give you proper credit. Thank you for sharing and for taking the time to comment.


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