Charles Mingus - “Fables of Faubus”
from Mingus Ah Um
I should have posted this yesterday — the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s death — but thought of it too late. It’s a sentiment worth repeating on any day of the year, though.
As a black-dominated art form, especially in the era I’ve focused on so far, jazz is a significant component of the Civil Rights Movement — not only demonstrating the value of these musicians individually, regardless of race, but as part of the movement itself, a chorus of pro-equality voices. Other compositions in the art form qualify, notably the standard “Strange Fruit.” Here, we have “Fables of Faubus.”
In 1957, nine black students attempted to enter Little Rock Central High School to attend classes. They were prevented from doing so by the then-governor of Arkansas, Orval E. Faubus, a staunch segregationist, who even went so far as to bring in the National Guard. Little Rock’s mayor, Woodrow Nilson Mann, went over the governor’s head and requested that President Eisenhower send in protection for the students; Eisenhower obliged with the 101st Airborne Division, and even went so far as to federalize the Arkansas National Guard, a big middle finger to Faubus. The students were admitted by the end of September 1957, but that wasn’t the end of Faubus’s segregationist actions — just the most notable.
Mingus, naturally, would be the one to call Faubus on his crap in song, resulting in “Fables of Faubus.” It is in fact a song, in the proper sense (for the pedants reading); it has lyrics. Columbia, however, being Columbia, wouldn’t let him record it with lyrics for this album. A later recording on Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus on the smaller Candid label includes the lyrics, though the song is called something else because of legal snares with Columbia.
Name me a handful that’s ridiculous, Dannie Richmond.
Faubus, Rockefeller, Eisenhower
Why are they so sick and ridiculous?
Two, four, six, eight:
They brainwash and teach you hate.
Further reading on jazz as a tool of progress is available all over the place; one well-reviewed source is Norman Granz: The Man Who Used Jazz for Justice, a biography of one of the most important producers in music. Obviously, the Civil Rights Movement is an era that produced a lot of writing, but I will specifically point out David Halberstam’s excellent The Children, as he found himself pushed into the movement as a young journalist at the time and was about the age of a lot of us who today are coming into an era in which we can and should be politically influential.
And enjoy the music, too.