The Music Finds a Way
Steven L. Isoardi
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In The Dark Tree: Jazz and the Community Arts in Los Angeles (University of California Press, 2006), Steven L. Isoardi told the story of hundreds of artists in Los Angeles committing themselves to the improvement of their community through artistic work in support of socio-political action. It was a journey that began with their becoming community artists in the movement led by pianist, composer, bandleader, and activist Horace Tapscott.
In the 1960s, it was known as the Underground Musicians Association (UGMA) and then the Underground Musicians and Artists Association (UGMAA). From 1971 to the present day, as the Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra (PAPA), with the umbrella organization designated the Union of God's Musicians and Artists Ascension (UGMAA).One of the more compelling, mostly untold stories in the earlier volume is how the artists who committed to this movement were able to discover and forge culturally-focused artistic lives, while growing up in the challenging social conditions of Los Angeles's postwar black community. It is this story that is told here, drawing on dozens of oral history interviews. It is part of the prequel to the history of UGMA and the Arkestra.Each of these young people was to benefit deeply from the best that the community and culture had to offer, and they did so in multi-faceted ways.
Rarely was just one avenue decisive. Instead, there were layers, different levels, which served to reinforce their studies and purpose, from neighborhood and family to schools and churches, private teachers, formal and informal spaces and institutions, and more than a few unsung heroes. Perhaps, it was a reflection of the difficulties the community faced that only those involved with multiple levels, with that range and depth of exposure, were able to pursue careers in music. To withstand all contrary motions required many reinforcing supports. And they were present in this community.