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Dick Griffin

Composer, trombonist and artist Dick Griffin was born in Fannin, Mississippi in 1940. He began playing the trombone in the seventh grade and sang in a doo-wop group as a teenager. His first professional break came while he was still in high school, when his group, the Sputniks, was selected to open for Sam Cooke. He graduated from Jackson State University in 1963 and later earned his M.S. degree in music education and trombone from Indiana University.

In the mid-1960s, Griffin performed with the Sun Ra Arkestra and began a longtime collaboration with saxophonist Rahsaan Roland Kirk. His first album with Kirk was The Inflated Tear, which came out in 1968. Griffin has also worked with many other musicians, including Charles Mingus, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Marvin Gaye and Michael Jackson. Griffin released his first album as a leader, The Eighth Wonder, in 1974. This was followed by Now is the Time in 1979, A Dream For Rahsaan in 1985, All Blues in 2003, and Time Will Tell in 2011. He has played at such prestigious events as the 1980 Olympics, and with symphony orchestras such as the Harlem Philharmonic and the Symphony of the New World. He has also performed in several Broadway shows, including The Wiz, Me & Bessie, Raisin, and Lena (starring Lena Horne). He has made television appearances in the United States on shows such as "The Today Show", "Soul", "Faces", "The Ed Sullivan Show", and "Like It Is". In the 1980s, Griffin composed World Vibration Suite, which was premiered by the Brooklyn Philharmonic.

In addition to playing music, Griffin has also served as a professor of music. He has taught at Wesleyan University and the State University of New York at Old Westbury. Griffin is also an accomplished painter. He has had group and solo exhibitions in cities all over the world, including Vienna, Tokyo, and Nairobi.

Griffin lives in New York City.

Dick Griffin was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on February 19, 2014.

Accession Number

A2014.058

Sex

Male

Interview Date

2/19/2014

Last Name

Griffin

Maker Category
Organizations
Schools

Jackson State University

Indiana University

Lanier High School

Hinds Community College

Speakers Bureau

Yes

Speakers Bureau Availability

Any

First Name

Dick

Birth City, State, Country

Fannin

HM ID

GRI08

Speakers Bureau Preferred Audience

Any

Speakers Bureau Honorarium

Yes - $5,000 - $10,000

Favorite Season

Summer

State

Mississippi

Favorite Vacation Destination

Africa

Favorite Quote

Wow.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

New York

Birth Date

1/28/1940

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

New York

Country

United States

Favorite Food

Salmon, Grapes, and Pecans

Short Description

Trombonist, composer, and painter Dick Griffin (1940 - ) has played with the Sun Ra Arkestra and Rahsaan Roland Kirk, in addition to leading his own bands. Griffin released his first album as a leader, The Eighth Wonder, in 1974. This was followed by Now is the Time in 1979, A Dream For Rahsaan in 1985, All Blues in 2003, and Time Will Tell in 2011. He is also an accomplished painter.

Employment

Sun Ra Arkestra

Wesleyan University

State University of New York at Old Westbury

Favorite Color

Blue

DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Dick Griffin's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Dick Griffin lists his favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Dick Griffin talks about his parents and his childhood neighborhood

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Dick Griffin recalls working on a beer truck as a junior high student

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Dick Griffin talks about the origin of his last name

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Dick Griffin talks about his birth and his childhood dog

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Dick Griffin talks about his maternal family history, pt.1

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Dick Griffin talks about his maternal family history, pt.2

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Dick Griffin describes his mother, Ruby Mae Griffith O'Banner, pt.1

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Dick Griffin describes his mother, Ruby Mae Griffith O'Banner, pt.2

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Dick Griffin talks about his half siblings

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Dick Griffin talks about his stepfather's death

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Dick Griffin remembers learning that his stepfather was not his biological father and getting free lunch in school

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Dick Griffin talks about his religious upbringing

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Dick Griffin remembers listening to a neighbor play the guitar and learning to play piano

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Dick Griffin talks about learning to play the trombone in seventh grade

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Dick Griffin remembers being selected to open for Sam Cooke at Lanier High School in Jackson, Mississippi

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Dick Griffin talks about the State Fair in Jackson, Mississippi, with performers like Peg Leg Bates, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and HistoryMaker B.B. King

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Dick Griffin remembers working as a clerk and butcher for "Mr. Dad," who owned a cafe and grocery store in his neighborhood

Tape: 2 Story: 10 - Dick Griffin talks about his mother's value for education and learning to run a store from "Mr. Dad"

Tape: 2 Story: 11 - Dick Griffin recalls why his family moved from the Under-The-Hill neighborhood

Tape: 2 Story: 12 - Dick Griffin talks about his experience at Lanier High School in Jackson, Mississippi

Tape: 2 Story: 13 - Dick Griffin talks about how water moccasins drove his neighbors out from Under-The-Hill

Tape: 2 Story: 14 - Dick Griffin talks about his route through white neighborhoods as a student at Lanier High School in Jackson, Mississippi

Tape: 2 Story: 15 - Dick Griffin talks about playing trombone and piano in high school, and his band, the Blue Notes

Tape: 2 Story: 16 - Dick Griffin talks about his encounters with racial discrimination as a teenager

Tape: 2 Story: 17 - Dick Griffin remembers being sent from Jitney Jungle to work in a shoe shine parlor

Tape: 2 Story: 18 - Dick Griffin talks about his vocal group, the Sputniks, and his musical elementary school classmate Freddie Waits

Tape: 2 Story: 19 - Dick Griffin talks about training his ear for music

Tape: 2 Story: 20 - Dick Griffin remembers not receiving a scholarship to attend college

Tape: 2 Story: 21 - Dick Griffin talks about his decision to attend Utica Junior College in Utica, Mississippi and his mentor there, Louis Lee

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Dick Griffin recalls meeting Sun Ra in Chicago, Illinois and becoming serious about the trombone

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Dick Griffin talks about the Civil Rights Movement in Jackson, Mississippi and his work on voter registration

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Dick Griffin remembers the assassination of Medgar Evers in 1968

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Dick Griffin talks about Sun Ra's band in New York City

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Dick Griffin describes Sun Ra

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Dick Griffin describes his musical development under Sun Ra

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Dick Griffin remembers the musicians he met in New York including Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Charles Mingus, John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, and more

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Dick Griffin talks about the development of his arrangement techniques

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Dick Griffin remembers meeting Charles Mingus at the Five Spot

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Dick Griffin recounts the time he was almost fired by Charles Mingus

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Dick Griffin talks about his friendship with Charles Mingus

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Dick Griffin talks about earning the respect of Charles Mingus and lying to Charles Mingus

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Dick Griffin describes the musical genius of Charles Mingus

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Dick Griffin talks about Charles Mingus' family background and Mingus' temper

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Dick Griffin remembers working in the Apollo Theater and playing in the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Big Band

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Dick Griffin talks about moving to New York, and a missed opportunity to play for John Coltrane

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Dick Griffin recalls his initial interest in multiphonics and the development of his technique

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Dick Griffin talks about his marriage and his son

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Dick Griffin talks about his early musical career in New York City, New York

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Dick Griffin talks about how Rahsaan Roland Kirk challenged him as a musician

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Dick Griffin lists the musical acts he saw while playing in the house band at the Apollo Theater

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Dick Griffin shares his memories of working with Rahsaan Roland Kirk

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Dick Griffin talks about Rahsaan Roland Kirk's name change, intelligence, and blindness

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Dick Griffin compares the management of Sun Ra, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, and Charles Mingus

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Dick Griffin talks about the release of his first album, 'The Eighth Wonder' in 1974 with Strata-East Records

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Dick Griffin talks about the leadership of Strata-East Records and the company's difficulty fulfilling large orders

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Dick Griffin talks about the band he assembled for his first album, 'Eighth Wonder' and his composition process

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Dick Griffin talks about his composition, 'World Vibration Suite,' jazz v. classical trombone, and playing with the Symphony of the New World

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Dick Griffin talks about his string quartets commissioned by Max Roach, which premiered at the 2011 Vision Festival

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Dick Griffin talks about his early affinity for art and his renewed interest in art as an adult

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Dick Griffin describes how the death of Freddie Waits inspired him to take his painting seriously

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Dick Griffin talks about his early art career and teaching career

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Dick Griffin talks about the launch of his career as an artist after receiving a master class from HistoryMaker Edward Clark

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Dick Griffin recalls his art training and reentry into the art world after a yearlong hiatus

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Dick Griffin talks about playing for musical greats like Lionel Hampton, Cab Calloway, Count Basie, Thad Jones and Mel Lewis, Frank Foster, and Lena Horne

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Dick Griffin talks about working on a beer truck as a teenager and his relationship with Thelonious Monk

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Dick Griffin talks about musicians at the Village Vanguard

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Dick Griffin talks about his good friend and mentor, Donald Byrd

Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Dick Griffin talks about his artwork

Tape: 7 Story: 2 - Dick Griffin describes the importance of creating boundaries between music and art

Tape: 7 Story: 3 - Dick Griffin talks about seizing life's opportunities

Tape: 7 Story: 4 - Dick Griffin talks about the economic factors behind demographic shifts in jazz

Tape: 7 Story: 5 - Dick Griffin talks about creativity and innovation in gospel, blues, jazz, and hip-hop music

Tape: 7 Story: 6 - Dick Griffin talks about jazz musicians in academia

Tape: 7 Story: 7 - Dick Griffin reflects upon his legacy

Tape: 7 Story: 8 - Dick Griffin talks about how he would like to be remembered and his values

Tape: 8 Story: 1 - Dick Griffin plays his trombone

Tape: 8 Story: 2 - Dick Griffin narrates his photographs

Helen Jones Woods

Licensed practical nurse and trombonist Helen Elizabeth Jones Woods was born in 1923 in Meridian, Mississippi. Woods began her life in a Mississippi orphanage for white children. When it became obvious that she was not white, Woods was adopted by Professor Laurence Clifton Jones, the founder and director of Piney Woods Country Life School, and his wife. After the sudden death of Jones’ wife, Woods, at the age of four, became part of the general population of the school where she enjoyed music and special programs. Helen Keller, George Washington Carver and other luminaries visited the Piney Woods campus. Woods was a member of the school’s traveling and fundraising band, Cotton Blossom Singers, which was directed by Consuela Carter. In 1937, Jones formed the Swinging Rays of Rhythm, another all-girl band led by Carter. The band toured extensively throughout the eastern United States to raise money for the school. In 1941, Woods and several other girls left Piney Woods when they found out that some of them would not graduate because they had been touring with the band instead of going to class.

The band relocated to Arlington, Virginia where it was renamed The International Sweethearts of Rhythm due to the diverse racial and ethnic composition of its members. Comprised of African American, Asian, Mexican, Native American, and Caucasian girls ranging in age from fourteen to nineteen years old, the sixteen-piece band continued under the management of Daniel Gary. Although the band’s lineup changed frequently, it attracted many talented musicians. The original members included Woods on trombone, Pauline Braddy on drums and Willie May Wong on saxophone. Anna Mae Winburn, former leader of the Cotton Club Boys in North Omaha, Nebraska, was appointed the band leader. The band’s first composer was Eddie Durham, with Jesse Stone taking over in 1941. Later members included trumpeter-vocalist Ernestine “Tiny” Davis and saxophonist Vi Burnside. The band headlined venues such as the Apollo Theater and Washington, D.C.’s Howard Theatre, where in 1941 it set a box office record of 35,000 patrons in a single week. As a member of the band, Woods was one of the first African American women to tour with the United Services Organizations (USO) during World War II, traveling to France and Germany. Groundbreaking in its all-female and racially integrated lineup, The International Sweethearts of Rhythm also received great critical acclaim for its musical talent.

After the original band dissolved in 1949, Woods traveled to Omaha where she eventually settled down and married William A. Woods, the first black man to get an accounting degree from Creighton University. Woods served as a licensed practical nurse at Douglas County Hospital for twenty-three years, retiring in the 1970s. She is the mother of four children, including media mogul Cathy Hughes. Woods was inducted into the Omaha Black Music Hall of Fame in 2007.

Helen Jones Woods was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on October 6, 2007.

Accession Number

A2007.281

Sex

Female

Interview Date

10/6/2007

Last Name

Woods

Maker Category
Marital Status

Widowed

Middle Name

Jones

Occupation
Schools

The Piney Woods School

First Name

Helen

Birth City, State, Country

Meridian

HM ID

WOO09

Favorite Season

Holiday Season

State

Mississippi

Favorite Vacation Destination

California, Washington, D.C., New York City

Favorite Quote

You Get Back What You Give.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

District of Columbia

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Washington

Country

United States

Favorite Food

All Food

Short Description

Trombonist Helen Jones Woods ( - ) was the original trombonist of The International Sweethearts of Rhythm. She was part of the first group of African American women to tour with the USO during World War II.

Employment

Douglas County Hospital

Favorite Color

None

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Helen Jones Woods' interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Helen Jones Woods lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Helen Jones Woods describes her adoptive father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Helen Jones Woods describes the history of the Piney Woods Country Life School in Piney Woods, Mississippi

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Helen Jones Woods remembers her adoptive mother

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Helen Jones Woods describes early African American student singing ensembles

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Helen Jones Woods describes her earliest childhood memory

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Helen Jones Woods describes the campus of the Piney Woods Country Life School

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Helen Jones Woods recalls the faculty of the Piney Woods Country Life School

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Helen Jones Woods talks about the founding of the Piney Woods Country Life School

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Helen Jones Woods describes her activities at the Piney Woods Country Life School

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Helen Jones Woods describes her early interest in music

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Helen Jones Woods recalls the formation of the International Sweethearts of Rhythm

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Helen Jones Woods describes the racial discrimination in Piney Woods, Mississippi

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Helen Jones Woods recalls her education at the Piney Woods Country Life School

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Helen Jones Woods describes her schedule at the Piney Woods Country Life School

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Helen Jones Woods recalls touring with the International Sweethearts of Rhythm

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Helen Jones Woods describes the repertoire of the International Sweethearts of Rhythm

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Helen Jones Woods remembers travelling to Washington, D.C.

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Helen Jones Woods recalls the International Sweethearts of Rhythm's independent career

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Helen Jones Woods remembers meeting African American entertainers, pt. 1

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Helen Jones Woods remembers meeting African American entertainers, pt. 2

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Helen Jones Woods talks about female musicians

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Helen Jones Woods recalls touring overseas with the International Sweethearts of Rhythm

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Helen Jones Woods remembers moving to Omaha, Nebraska

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Helen Jones Woods talks about her husband

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Helen Jones Woods describes her nursing career

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Helen Jones Woods describes her hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Helen Jones Woods reflects upon her life

Tape: 3 Story: 10 - Helen Jones Woods reflects upon her legacy

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Helen Jones Woods talks about her children

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Helen Jones Woods describes how she would like to be remembered

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Helen Jones Woods narrates her photographs

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$2

DAStory

1$8

DATitle
Helen Jones Woods describes her early interest in music
Helen Jones Woods remembers travelling to Washington, D.C.
Transcript
When did you first become interested in music?$$Well, playing music---it must've been while I was about six or seven year old. But, I used to like to watch music. I remember when I first started be--want to be involved, my [adoptive] father, Mr. Jones [Laurence C. Jones], wanted me to play violin. And I told him no 'cause I don't feel like holding no violin under my chin all day long, I wanna play a instrument you know what I mean (laughter). "Well, what do you wanna play?" he was always--I say, "I wanna play a trombone, I like seeing that slide go up and down see." So he told the music teacher, "That girl's got problems would you please get, get her a trombone," (laughter) see--so. And I'm, I'm glad I really you know, I don't think I could've made a violin, you know.$$Okay.$$You gotta have patience, you got a have a lot of good, you know.$$Okay, the trombone. So, so--okay--so Cons- Consuela Carter was your music te- teacher then?$$She was our first teacher, Consuela Carter, yeah she played Carnegie [Carnegie Hall, New York, New York] she was very good. She had been trained by some retired band leader, you know, that came to Piney Woods [Piney Woods Country Life School, Piney Woods, Mississippi] to help.$$Okay, she played the trumpet?$$Yeah, she was very good.$$Now, was it common in those days for women to play the horns and?$$Well, I don't know I--'cause we didn't know, we didn't--we were in the country--we didn't--what did we know what was going on. Piano was the only thing, you know, they thought people, you know, could play you know.$$Okay (simultaneous).$$(Simultaneous) But, I imagined during them days it was--good musicians there but you--they didn't get the recognition that should've been given 'em you know.$So by the time you're seventeen the war [World War II, WWII] started, so they decided to send you oversees for the USO [United Service Organizations] (simultaneous)?$$(Simultaneous) Yeah, but see we weren't with Piney Woods [Piney Woods Country Life School, Piney Woods, Mississippi] then, you know, that don't you?$$Right, yeah, yes ma'am, yes.$$But, what happened was, we were doing all this traveling around, you know, you know, in the South and things. And a lot of parents were saying--things had gotten better this, this could do the whole route. Things had gotten better in the South, blacks were beginning to do more than just picking cotton for a living, you know, you know, working in, in somebody's kitchen. They were doing a little bit more you know, and so we, we, you know, we was still traveling in the South and everything. And the parents began to say, well wait a minute we're not getting chance to get an education, we're busy raising--fundraising, you know I mean. So this is how we got away from Piney Woods. A fella came to hear us playing, at one of these little dances, you know, sorority dances or fraternity dance, and he said well if you all will leave Piney Woods, and come with us, we'll see that each one of you'll get good money, and each one you can have a, a diamond ring, or he just told us everything beautiful. We're a bunch of color, colored girls, southern girls--$$Now this--is this a black fella or?$$Yes two, two black fellas named--Dan Gary [Daniel Gary] was the fella.$$Dan Gary?$$Yeah, he was the one that encouraged us to come to Washington, D.C.$$Okay, so, so, Dan--$$He, he give us all these wonderful promises, if we come to Wa- leave Piney Woods, and come to Washington.$$Okay.$$So one night after we played the dance, we took the bus and left and went to Washington, D.C. Now the bus belong to Piney Woods now.$$So, he just took the--$$We stole the bus and went to Washington, D.C.$$Okay, now, who--it was, it was--the band [International Sweethearts of Rhythm] just got up and left, just left?$$Uh-huh, just got up and left. Because the man had given us all these promises. We gonna do this for you, and I'm gonna do that for you.$$So, so who drove the bus? Who drove the bus?$$The regular bus driver that use to drive us around. He came too.$$Okay, so everybody got, did, did, did, Consuela, Con- Consuela Carter go with (simultaneous)--$$(Simultaneous) No she wasn't with the band.$$She wasn't with you?$$No. She had gone to another school teaching music.$$Okay, well who was the leader of the band?$$I forget her name, but she was a, a little, a young girl that played guitar. That knew how, you know, and another thing, we were playing stock music, you know, we just, just had--whoever could--directed the band, was--could, you know rehearsals with the stock music you know.