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The Lumpen: The Black Panther Party’s Band Demonstrates the Dual Role of Music in the Black Liberation Movement

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Slide 1:

The Lumpen: The Black Panther Party’s Band Demonstrates the Dual Role of Music in the Black Liberation Movement. A presentation by Sarah Eubanks, HISTORY 210.

Slide 2:

ARGUMENT: Music played a dual role in the Black Liberation Movement.

In the Black Liberation Movement, music played a unique role as both a messenger and agent of cultural change. This role is demonstrated by the group The Lumpen.

Slide Three:

What is The Lumpen? 

The Lumpen was the official band of the Black Panther Party (BPP). They wrote and performed political songs in the style of popular contemporary acts, such as The Temptations and James Brown.(1)

Emory Douglas, the BPP Minister of Culture, suggested the formation of an official Panther band after hearing three members harmonizing a modified, politically irreverent version of The Isley Brothers’ “It’s Your Thing” at an informal Party social function.(2)

1970 was a particularly fraught year for the BPP because the three highest ranking leaders, Huey Newton, Bobby Seale and Eldridge Cleaver, were all either incarcerated or in hiding. Emory Douglas pitched the band concept to interim BPP leadership instead, who agreed to the experiment because there was a dire need to connect with and unite the community while these multiple legal battles unfolded.(3)

Slide 4:

Who Were The Lumpen?

The Black Panther Party was largely a youth organization, with the average member’s age falling between 17-20 years.(4) 

Three of the four members of The Lumpen were student activists and leaders at San Jose University before joining the BPP. (5) The 

four core members wrote and arranged songs, and choreographed performances.

William “Bill” Calhoun, Elected President of the Black Student Union Fall Semester 1968. Calhoun was the group’s leader.  

Michael Torrence, President of the Black Student Union, Fall Semester 1969. Youth NAACP member. 

Clark “Santa Rita” Bailey, Black Student Union Member, Fall Semester 1969.(6)

 Saturu Ned (aka James Mott), was added on the insistence of the BPP Sacramento office. Bill Calhoun reflected on the addition of Ned, “I think they wanted to make sure we didn’t turn out to be dilettante little musicians. So they put a hard-core brother in with us.” (7)

Who Played the Instruments?

The Lumpen were backed by a group of volunteers, The Freedom Messengers, who were not Panthers but a rotating
ensemble of musicians from various racial backgrounds who supported the BPP’s cause.(8)

Slide 5:

❝ It is important to stress that the Lumpen were Panthers first and foremost. Before, during and after the group, we did all the political and day-to-day work that was required of every rank and file comrade. The music was simply another facet of service to the Party and the Revolution. Furthermore, since we were an educational cadre, rigorous study was necessary to be able to translate the ideology of the BPP into song. At all times, we were representatives of the Black Panther Party. ❞ -Michael Torrence (9)

Slide 6:

Why “The Lumpen”?

Part of The Black Panther Party’s mission was to provide Political Education (called “PE”), which were  classes covering political theory.(10)

“The Lumpen” is a reference to Karl Marx’s Communist Manifesto, and a concept covered in PE was Marx’s “lumpenproletariat”, which is the very lowest rung of the working proletariat class–the criminal or undesirable element.(11) Emory Douglas is credited with naming the group,(12) though conflicting accounts report it was BPP Chief of Staff, David Hilliard.(13)

The BPP felt Black people in American society were forced into the lumpenproletariat classification through systemic racism that denied Black people legitimate and equal access to higher socioeconomic status. The BPP sought to energize and mobilize the Black community with the goal of initiating a societal revolution–envisioning the lumpenproletariat class would be on the forefront of social revolution.(14) That is a prime reason music was enlisted as an outreach strategy–to reach people who the BPP believed think pieces and speeches would not extend to.(15)

“[The band name] is based on Karl Marx’s social analysis which says that the lumpenproletariat are the lowest strata of social society.” 

-William Calhoun, member of The Lumpen(16)

Slide 7:

 Music both as messenger…

THE LYRICS

The Lumpen’s lyrics were carefully designed to reflect Black Panther ideology and relay a precise message to audiences. The lyrics are straightforward and confrontational; they were first and foremost an educational cadre.(17)

Songs were brought in and out of rotation based on the occasion. For example, energetic songs and covers of popular songs were used when The Lumpen opened for BPP speaking events featuring high-ranking members. In those circumstances, the role of The Lumpen was to energize the audience–political messaging took a backseat to emotional resonance that would bring the audience along.(18)

Songs with hard-lined, militant lyrics were used when confrontation was sought, such as when The Lumpen played  at San Quentin prison. The plug was pulled on them during “Revolution is the Only Solution”.(19)

Sometimes songs were removed from the repertoire when they no longer served BPP. The song “Killin’ (If U Gon Be Free)” was taken out of rotation when BPP leadership wanted to deemphasize militancy and promote the community survival programs instead. (20)

(title continued) …and agent of cultural change.

DEFIANCE, SOUL, EXCELLENCE AS A REVOLUTIONARY ACTS

“We were creating a culture. A culture of resistance. A culture of defiance and self-determination.”

-Emory Douglas, the Revolutionary Artist and Minister of Culture of the Black Panther Party(21)

 

The BPP were committed to seeking social equity for all Black people everywhere, but the revolution they sought was not strictly political. The BPP wanted total, radical cultural revolution that embraced the humanistic aspects of existence, including pleasure, happiness, love, and soul. A revolution that did not include this transformation was not considered enough.(22)

The explicit message of the music was important, but the image projected by The Lumpen–excellence and relevance–was instrumental in their effectiveness as messengers. It was important that the band projected an image that was cutting-edge and professional “…or the entire performance might degenerate to a grotesque comedy and give the appearance of a shallow mockery of soul.”(23)

Slide 8:

CONCLUSION: The Revolution was, in fact, not televised–nor approved for airplay. Success despite obscurity.

During the 10 month-long experiment, The Lumpen wrote numerous songs, recorded and released a double-sided single, recorded a never-released full length live album, opened high-profile BPP speaking events, and played at protests and marches. Radio stations in the US refused to air their radical songs(24)– nonetheless, they headlined events of their own, shared a bill with national acts such as The Grateful Dead, and found unexpected popularity in Europe.(25) The experiment ended when the band members were assigned new roles due to the changing priorities of the party. (26)

Politically-charged music with a groove existed before The Lumpen, but their expertly-produced take changed the pop music landscape of the 1970’s, opening new vistas and directly challenged and influenced powerhouse artists such as Marvin Gaye, The Chi Lites, Curtis Mayfield, and Gil Scott-Heron, to take up the socially-conscious, danceable baton in their absence. 

Although still obscure, The Lumpen were successful both in bringing radical messages to their target audience–“the brothers on the block”–and in shaping culture with their enduring influence. As dedicated rank-and-file BPP members, The Lumpen did not seek limelight or a narrative that placed them in the forefront anyhow. Their project was a success.

Slide 9:

Thank you for watching! If this topic interests you, I recommend checking out the following:

READ: 

Party Music: The Inside Story of the Black Panthers’ Band and How Black Power Transformed Soul Music 

by Rickey Vincent

Published by Lawrence Hill Books, Chicago, IL  

LISTEN:

Listen, Whitey! The Sounds of Black Power 1967-1974

Various Artists

Released by Light in the Attic Records, Seattle, WA

 …and be sure to take HISTORY 210 at Lansing Community College! (smile emoticon)

Slide 10:

Sources:

SLIDE 1

Image Attribution:

Image of 45s – Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

Image of The Black Panther newspaper courtesy of marxist.org 

 

SLIDE 2

Image Attribution:

Image of 45s – Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

Image on letterhead The Black Panther, May 4, 1968, courtesy of Letterform Archive letterformarchive.org

 

SLIDE 3

  1. Vincent Rickey, and Boots Riley. Party Music : The Inside Story of the Black Panthers’ Band and How Black Power Transformed Soul Music. First edition. Chicago: Lawrence Hill Books, 2013. p. 33 https://lcc.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=e700xna&AN=641892&site=ehost-live
  2. Vincent Rickey, and Boots Riley. Party Music : The Inside Story of the Black Panthers’ Band and How Black Power Transformed Soul Music. First edition. Chicago: Lawrence Hill Books, 2013. p. 26 https://lcc.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=e700xna&AN=641892&site=ehost-live
  3. Vincent Rickey, and Boots Riley. Party Music : The Inside Story of the Black Panthers’ Band and How Black Power Transformed Soul Music. First edition. Chicago: Lawrence Hill Books, 2013. p. 30 https://lcc.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=e700xna&AN=641892&site=ehost-live

Image Attribution:

The Lumpen promotional ad spot in The Black Panther, via The Sociological Cinema. Pinterest: @thesocycinema.

 

SLIDE 4

  1. Nelson, S. The Black Panthers. (2015, PBS). documentary film, accessed via Kanopy.  approx. 24:14. 
  2. Vincent Rickey, and Boots Riley. Party Music : The Inside Story of the Black Panthers’ Band and How Black Power Transformed Soul Music. First edition. Chicago: Lawrence Hill Books, 2013. p. 21 https://lcc.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=e700xna&AN=641892&site=ehost-live
  3. Arnold, Eric. “A Brief History of the Lumpen, the Black Panther’s Revolutionary Funk Band”. KQED Inc., 2019. 

https://www.kqed.org/arts/13851531/a-brief-history-of-the-lumpen-the-black-panthers-revolutionary-funk-band 

  1. Vincent Rickey, and Boots Riley. Party Music : The Inside Story of the Black Panthers’ Band and How Black Power Transformed Soul Music. First edition. Chicago: Lawrence Hill Books, 2013. p. 30 https://lcc.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=e700xna&AN=641892&site=ehost-live
  2. Vincent Rickey, and Boots Riley. Party Music : The Inside Story of the Black Panthers’ Band and How Black Power Transformed Soul Music. First edition. Chicago: Lawrence Hill Books, 2013. p. 31 https://lcc.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=e700xna&AN=641892&site=ehost-live

Image Attribution:

The Lumpen The Lumpen performing, image via It’s About Time Archives, itsabouttimebpp.com

IDE 5

  1. Torrence, Michael. “The Lumpen: Black Panther Party Revolutionary Singing Group”. It’s About Time Black Panther Legacy and Alumni. It’s About Time, 2010-2014. itsabouttimebpp.com/our_stories/The_Lumpen/the_lumpen.html

Image Attribution:

Image of The Lumpen performing at Merritt College, 1970, via It’s About Time Archives, itsabouttimebpp.com. Credit: Ducho Dennis.

 

SLIDE 6

  1. Vincent Rickey, and Boots Riley. Party Music : The Inside Story of the Black Panthers’ Band and How Black Power Transformed Soul Music.  First edition. Chicago: Lawrence Hill Books, 2013. 27 https://lcc.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=e700xna&AN=641892&site=ehost-live
  2. Marx, Karl, and Friedrich Engels. The Communist Manifesto, edited by Jeffrey C. Isaac. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 2012. p. 83 https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/lansing/detail.action?docID=3420865
  3. Torrence, Michael. “The Lumpen: Black Panther Party Revolutionary Singing Group”. It’s About Time Black Panther Legacy and Alumni. It’s About Time, 2010-2014. itsabouttimebpp.com/our_stories/The_Lumpen/the_lumpen.html
  4. Vincent, Rickey,  and Boots Riley. Party Music : The Inside Story of the Black Panthers’ Band and How Black Power Transformed Soul Music.  First edition. Chicago: Lawrence Hill Books, 2013. p.27 https://lcc.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=e700xna&AN=641892&site=ehost-live
  5. Vincent, Rickey,  and Boots Riley. Party Music : The Inside Story of the Black Panthers’ Band and How Black Power Transformed Soul Music.  First edition. Chicago: Lawrence Hill Books, 2013. p.28-29 https://lcc.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=e700xna&AN=641892&site=ehost-live
  6. Torrence, Michael. “The Lumpen: Black Panther Party Revolutionary Singing Group”. It’s About Time Black Panther Legacy and Alumni. It’s About Time, 2010-2014. itsabouttimebpp.com/our_stories/The_Lumpen/the_lumpen.html
  7. Vincent, Rickey,  and Boots Riley. Party Music : The Inside Story of the Black Panthers’ Band and How Black Power Transformed Soul Music.  First edition. Chicago: Lawrence Hill Books, 2013. p.27 https://lcc.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=e700xna&AN=641892&site=ehost-live

Image Attribution:

Image of Karl Marx, courtesy of Wikicommons.com

 

SLIDE 7

  1. Torrence, Michael. “The Lumpen: Black Panther Party Revolutionary Singing Group”. It’s About Time Black Panther Legacy and Alumni. It’s About Time, 2010-2014. itsabouttimebpp.com/our_stories/The_Lumpen/the_lumpen.html

18. Vincent, Rickey,  and Boots Riley. Party Music : The Inside Story of the Black Panthers’ Band and How Black Power Transformed Soul Music.  First edition. Chicago: Lawrence Hill Books, 2013. P.31 https://lcc.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://search.

  1. Arnold, Eric. “A Brief History of the Lumpen, the Black Panther’s Revolutionary Funk Band”. KQED Inc., 2019. 

https://www.kqed.org/arts/13851531/a-brief-history-of-the-lumpen-the-black-panthers-revolutionary-funk-band

  1. Vincent, Rickey,  and Boots Riley. Party Music : The Inside Story of the Black Panthers’ Band and How Black Power Transformed Soul Music.  First edition. Chicago: Lawrence Hill Books, 2013. p.34 https://lcc.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=e700xna&AN=641892&site=ehost-live
  2. Dress Code Studio. Emory Douglas: The Art of the Black Panthers (2015; New York: Dress Code Studio), documentary film, approx. 3:15. dresscodeny.com/work/emory-douglas-art-of-the-black-panthers/||
    22. Vincent, Rickey,  and Boots Riley. Party Music : The Inside Story of the Black Panthers’ Band and How Black Power Transformed Soul Music.  First edition. Chicago: Lawrence Hill Books, 2013. p.27 https://lcc.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=e700xna&AN=641892&site=ehost-live
    23. Vincent, Rickey,  and Boots Riley. Party Music : The Inside Story of the Black Panthers’ Band and How Black Power Transformed Soul Music.  First edition. Chicago: Lawrence Hill Books, 2013. p.32 https://lcc.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=e700xna&AN=641892&site=ehost-live

SLIDE 8

  1. Vincent, Rickey,  and Boots Riley. Party Music : The Inside Story of the Black Panthers’ Band and How Black Power Transformed Soul Music.  First edition. Chicago: Lawrence Hill Books, 2013. p.35 https://lcc.idm.oclc.org/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=e700xna&AN=641892&site=ehost-live
  2. Arnold, Eric. “Demystifying the Black Panther Party on its 55th anniversary”. The Oaklandside, 2021.

https://oaklandside.org/2021/10/21/demystifying-the-black-panther-party-on-its-55th-anniversary/ 

  1. Torrence, Michael. “The Lumpen: Black Panther Party Revolutionary Singing Group”. It’s About Time Black Panther Legacy and Alumni. It’s About Time, 2010-2014. itsabouttimebpp.com/our_stories/The_Lumpen/the_lumpen.html

Image Attribution:

Image of 45s – Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

Image on letterhead The Black Panther, May 4, 1968, courtesy of Letterform Archive letterformarchive.org

 

SLIDE 9

Image Attribution:

Party Music Book Cover – Chicago Review Press, Lawrence Hill Books chicagoreviewpress.com

Listen, Whitey! Album Cover – Light in the Attic Records, lightintheattic.net

This student presentation does not claim rights to any images, music, typeset shown within. Rights for features appearing in this presentation are held by their respective owners and appear here for scholarly/educational purposes only.

Media Description: Presentation by Sarah Eubanks

Instructor: Jeffrey Janowick

Item Credit: Sarah Eubanks

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