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“I Got a Lust for Life:” The African-American Great Migration to Northwest Ohio and Southeast Michigan

By Annette Wright

The Truth Reporter


On Saturday, January 20, 2018 a very interesting and informative series of panel discussions took place in Detroit, Michigan and Toledo, Ohio.  “I Got A Lust For Life” sponsored by the University of Toledo, College of Arts and Letters presented an impressive host of panelists who discussed the African-American Great Migration from southern states to northern states, specifically to Toledo and Detroit. 


While many individuals and families who were part of the migration obviously came north in search of a better life via working in the automotive industry, the wonderful residual impact of the migration included African-Americans’ impact on the literary and music world during that same time period.


Among the panelists who spoke at the kick-off of the day’s events at Wayne State University was Toledo's queen of song, Ramona Collins.  Collins candidly shared with the audience her personal feelings of how and why African-American's were so inherently endowed with gifts and talents in the area of music. 


“Jazz and blues are cousins” said Collins, as she reiterated the point that the authenticity of jazz and blues was embedded in southern blacks.  Another panelist, Toledo-native John Gibbs Rockwood, reminisced about hearing great music and having good times at the Old Mud Hens Stadium in Maumee and in working with groups such as the Griswolds.  “I was almost famous” exclaimed Rockwood, as he reflected on meeting many great artists such as BB King.  


Other panelists who participated at the Wayne State University session included Oliver Ragsdaled Jr., president of the Carr Center in Detroit and Ben Blackwell, co-founder of Third Man Records and official archivist for the White Stripes.


The morning session of the day’s events in Detroit concluded with a very impressive performance by the Wayne State University Student Jazz Ensemble. 


Back home in Toledo, part two of “I Got A Lust For Life” began at the McMaster Center of the Toledo Lucas County Public Library with opening remarks by Sara Lundquist, PhD, chair of the Department of English Language and Literature for the University of Toledo, followed by introductions from Kimberly Mack, PhD, assistant professor of African-American Literature for the University of Toledo. 


Spearheading the literary portion of the day’s events “Open Mic: A Drive to Write” featured poetry readings inspired by Toledo-area high school students.  Storyteller and Performer Tyehimba Jess, a Detroit native and 2017 Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, read from “Olio” his award-winning collection of poetry that weaves together sonnet, song and narrative to examine the lives of mostly unrecorded, African-American performers directly before and after the Civil War up to World War One. 


The exciting day of events concluded at the beautiful GlasSalon, Glass Pavilion at the Toledo Museum of Art.  After opening remarks by Charlene D. Gilbert, MFA dean of the College of Arts and Letters at the University of Toledo, the enthusiastic crowd was treated to a dynamic and his well-attended round-table type of discussion featuring panelists Tyehimba Jess, noted Pulitzer Prize winning poet; M.L. Liebler Detroit-based award winning poet and editor of the anthology Heaven was Detroit: From Jazz to Hip-Hop and Beyond; Frances Brockington, classical vocalist and associate professor of Voice at Wayne State University; and Lee Ellen Martin, PhD, jazz vocalist.


Certainly, no meaningful discussion about the African-American Great Migration and the subsequent heavy influence this historical event had (and continues to have) in all musical genres, would be complete without mentioning Toledo's legendary music genius, Jon Hendricks, who passed away just three months ago, on November 21, 2017.  


A musical tribute in honor of Hendricks, both highlighted and closed the full day of events.   The musical ensemble was composed of Lauren Smith and Isabella Weik on vocals, Benjamin Maloney on piano, David Cerelli on bass, and Olman E. Piedra, PhD on drums.


A recommended reading list is provided for those of you who are interested in learning more about the influence of African-Americans in the literary and music arenas:


-         A Trouble Shooter's Voice Manual by Frances Brockington (1997)

-         African American Music: An Introduction edited by Mellonee V Burnim and Portia K. Maultsby (2006)

-         I'll Take You There:  An Oral and Photographic History of the Hines Farm Blues Club by Matthew A. Donahue (1999)

-         Olio by Tyehimba Jess (2016)

-         The Music of Black Americans:  A History by Eileen Southern (1997)

-         Lost Toledo by David Yonke (2015)

-         Dancing in the Street:  Motown and the Cultural Politics of Detroit by Suzanne E. Smith (2001)

-         Heaven was Detroit:  From Jazz to Hip-Hop and Beyond by M. L. Liebler (2016)

-         Leadbelly by Tyehimba Jess (2005)


Copyright © 2018 by [The Sojourner's Truth]. All rights reserved.
Revised: 08/16/18 14:12:13 -0700.



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