Three columns about memorable people, and their art. (Follow the links in the headlines.)

A slave ship and a restauratrice: black history done right (June 4):

Two recent news items along the Gulf Coast can help teach us the right way to
think about “black history.” To be clear, some of us cringe at the separatist subtext in the way some people use the term “black history.” We believe history is history, period. If “black history” is segregated into its own racialized category, it further Balkanizes society and diminishes the commonality of the human enterprise.

On the other hand, if the point of “black history” is to revivify elements of history that had been unwisely ignored in ages past, and to reintegrate the story of those of African lineage into common frames of reference and understanding, then I couldn’t agree more — the effect is salutary and the effort worthwhile.

In that light, the discovery of the remains of the last-ever American slave ship, the Clotilda, and the recent death of New Orleans’ greatest black chef, Leah Chase, are two items of black history that should not go unremarked….

The right place, never the wrong time, to hear Dr. John (June 7):

There may never have been a more oddly mesmerizing musical stage presence than Dr. John. The outlandish, stunningly talented New Orleans music legend died June 6 at age 77, more than 60 years after his first professional gigs. To watch him on stage was to understand how genius and a form of madness can easily coincide.

Dr. John, born Malcolm “Mac” Rebennack, was flamboyantly funky with a stage voodoo persona complete with walking stick featuring what I thought was a snake’s head, but what the New York Times identified as “voodoo beads, a yak bone, an alligator tooth and key rings from Narcotics Anonymous.” His musicianship owed much to the unique New Orleans melding of R&B, boogie-woogie, and percussive funk, with occasional hints of his early psychedelic rock phase. But his sensibilities inhabited a bizarro world: Imagine, perhaps, Warren Zevon and Louis Armstrong somehow melding into one….

Rafa, Rodger, Novak: Never have we seen their like (June 7): Sitting here watching Rafael Nadal play Roger Federer at the French Open on TV, a sports fan realizes, if he has any sense of gratitude, that it is a rare privilege to see athletes this good, for this long, with this degree of mutual respect and classiness….


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