Arthur Kempton, the author of Boogaloo: The Quintessence of American Popular Music, is a fellow at the Institute for African-American Research at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. (March 2006)

‘Hey, It’s Me’

During the small hours of December 11, 1964, the Negro singing star Sam Cooke met his abrupt end in a cheap Los Angeles motel. In enraged pursuit of a woman he’d just checked in with, Cooke broke down the motel’s office door. He was wearing only his shoes, undershorts, and …

Street Diva

In the spring of 1947, Jimmy Fletcher heard from his bosses at the Federal Bureau of Narcotics that it might be a convenient time to visit Billie Holiday at home. Her manager, a former fight-fixer, whoremonger, and running dog in Al Capone’s pack, had offered up the celebrated Negro “torchchanteuse” …

The Fall of The Black Empires

By the time the “equal opportunity” generation of black Americans started going to college in the Sixties, Booker T. Washington’s reputation had washed up on the wrong side of history, beached and moldering like the carcass of a whale. For these newest “new Negroes” he was as old-fashioned as the …

The Lost Tycoons

Before Berry Gordy Jr. became the most conspicuously successful black entrepreneur of the twentieth century by selling black music to white people, American Negro fortunes were made in the self-service industries of a people whose intimate concerns others were indisposed to serve—like hair-care products, cosmetics, burial insurance, and ghetto publishing.

How Far from Canaan?

Moments before he was shot in Memphis, Martin Luther King, Jr:, leaned over the balcony outside his room at the Lorraine Motel and spoke to a group of men standing in the courtyard below. He asked one of them, the saxophonist Ben Branch, to have his band play “Take My …

Native Sons

“The apartment is crowded with teenagers, all wearing half-laced sneakers and necklace ropes of gold. Doorbells ring every few minutes, white powder dusts the table tops; jagged-edge matchbook covers and dollar bills seem to flow from hand to hand. The talk is frenetic, filled with masterful plans and false promises.