Inspired by the musical archives of the SFPL, Josh Kun's Hit Parade examines contemporary issues of gentrification, eviction, and neighborhood change through an engagement with local music history.

Hit Parade

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Hit Parade

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Hit Parade, the LP

In the SFPL music library, portions of the sheet music collection are cataloged with call numbers that begin with “HP,” or “Hit Parade,” a term that dates back to the 1930s when the record industry began assembling ranked lists of the most popular, most played, most commercially successful songs of the day. A radio program based on these songs, Your Hit Parade, began aring 1935 and its TV spin off, sponsored by Lucky Strike Cigarettes, aired throughout the 1950s. This project approaches Hit Parade differently: as a metaphor for social inequality and an invitation to re-think the hierarchies of visibility and audibility in contemporary San Francisco. Who gets the hit? Who gets hit?

 

Album credits: All original records made by Josh Kun, Inna Arzumanova and Tamara Porras, with additional recording assistance from Jenn Kang, Natalie Hara, Sophie Schwarz, and Jessica Lie. Recordings were made during a series of musical storytelling days held at the Mission, Bayview and Western Addition branch libraries, all supervised and organized by Stella Lochman.

Featured interviews: “Gold Rushing” (Mohammed Soriano Bilal); ” I Woke Up Fifty Years Ago” (Claude Carpenter, Alonzo Menelik, Larry Williams.); “Gone” (Bobbie “Spider” Webb); “There Are Still People Here” (Ahkeel Mestayer, Daniel Riera); “It Was My Dream Apartment” (Teresa Moore); “Father and Farther Out” (John Santos); “That Fillmo Sound” (Mohammed Soriano Bilal); “Way Down in the Mines” (Luis Gutierrez, Ramon Garcia, Cesar Ascarrunz)

Inspiration: J. Period’s mixtapes, Gray Brechin’s Imperial San Francisco, the militant sound investigations of Ultra-Red, Rebecca Solnit’s Hollow City and “Death by Gentrification,” Checkpoint 303’s The Iqrit Files, Tom Stoddard’s Jazz on the Barbary Coast, Leta E. Miller’s Music and Politics in San Francisco, Kathy Stone and Sascha Feinstein’s Keystone Korner, the music and writing of Vijay Iyer, James Brook and Chris Carlsson’s Reclaiming San Francisco, Arthur Dong’s Forbidden City, Erik Lyle’s On the Lower Frequencies, and Jeff Chang’s We Gon’ Be Alright.

Gratitude: Stella Lochman, Deena Chalabi, and Dominic Willsdon of SFMOMA, Inna Arzumanova of USF, Chris Veltri of Groove Merchant, Jason Gibbs and Naima Dean of SFPL, Perry B. Johnson of USC Annenberg, Todd Cochran, Fre Goodyear, Oliver Wang, David Katznelson, Jeff Chang, Gerald Johnson, and Valerie Voorhies.

Hit Parade Listening Room Playlist

 

Now you can enjoy the sounds of Hit Parade from work, home, the bus and wherever else you listen to Spotify. Tune in to the Hit Parade Listening Room playlist for a fun array of songs recorded live in San Francisco. Follow us and tell your friends!

 

Ahkeel Mestayer & Soltron

Out of the five musicians who donated their time and creative energy to Hit Parade’s Live Rehearsals, held in July of this year, Ahkeel Mestayer was the youngest. Mestayer is a musician, student, activist, and Mission local. He plays percussion for Soltron, a local band whose presence pushes back against assumptions about out-migration and disappearance in the Mission.

 

Here is how the band describes their mission:

 

“Soltron was born in 2014 out of the rich arts community of San Francisco’s Mission District. Their sound echoes the traditions of the Afro-Latino musical diaspora while artfully blending electronic, hip-hop and rock influences. The band’s music addresses gentrification, displaced youth and the struggle to survive while expressing the joy, beauty and pride of their cultural traditions and family ties.” (http://soltronsf.com)

 

And check out Mestayer speaking with Roberto Hernandez (“Our Mission No Eviction”) about growing up in the Mission, seeing Latinx business owners, being able to speak Spanish in the neighborhood and what it means when all that starts disappearing. The short conversation was recorded for StoryCorps (Cross Currents, KALW News).

Cool Don’t Live Here No More: A Letter to San Francisco, by Tony Robles

The following is an excerpt from Tony Robles’s “16th and Mission Friendship Train,” from the collection Cool Don’t Live Here No More: A Letter to San Francisco.

“Having lived the life,

He now lives it out

In an electronic wheelchair

 

Which is his

Present day Cadillac

Brougham

 

He sits and a friend

Stops by with

A radio

 

The baseline breaks

Through the static of

The old radio

 

An old song comes

Through, an oldie called

‘The Friendship Train’ by

The Temptations

 

And his eyes and

Ears perk up

 

And he rises

Out of that

Chair

 

‘Good God’ he says”

Barbary Coast

“In the hottest hot place anywhere around, anywhere around
Step up to the wicket,
Get yourself a ticket San Francisco bound! I said Frisco bound!”



With lyrics by Ira Gershwin and music by George Gershwin, “Barbary Coast” (1954) was written for the musical “Girl Crazy,” starring Ethel Merman. The song was written for the character Frisco Kate, “a rough-and-tumble ‘floozy’ from San Francisco’s Barbary Coast,” played by Merman (Furia, 77).


According to Philip Furia, in Ira Gershwin: The Art of the Lyricist, “the song was designed for Kate to illustrate her former career as a Barbary Coast chanteuse, and Ira gave Merman a lyric laced with slang to recount the tale of Delilah, a ‘floozy’ who ‘never gave a damn’ until the day she fell for a ‘swell buckaroo whose name was Sam’” (77). For more on how this song represents Gershwin’s sonic innovation, check out Furia’s book.

Full sheet music courtesy of SFPL Sheet Music Collection

The Politics of Space

Richard Florida, the influential theorist and writer responsible for popularizing and lionizing the existence of what he called “the creative class” and in doing so, many would argue, helping transform American urban centers into playgrounds for wealthy professional classes, has now decided he was all wrong. Jacobin Magazine reports that Florida’s newest book, The New Urban Crisis, is a “long mea culpa,” acknowledging that “The rise of the creative class in places like New York, London, and San Francisco created economic growth only for the already rich, displacing the poor and working classes. The problems that once plagued inner cities have moved to the suburbs.”

The problems of gentrification and their endlessly multiplying ramifications are hardly new for San Francisco residents and visitors alike and Hit Parade has been contending with the ways in which these changes have once again changed the shape of the city’s musical identities. We’ve posted about it at length and discussed it during our Live Rehearsals. But in this moment, when Florida, the posterchild for waterfront condos, fancy ballparks, high-priced housing, and disappearing local arts spaces, has decided to rethink his dangerous policies, the connection is worth revisiting directly.

Every one of the musicians we interviewed for this project spoke about the loss of performance spaces, the loss of rehearsal spaces, clubs and bars closing, and what the lack of all-ages spaces has done to SF’s musical landscape. Here is Tanya Yule, musician, Program Director for Blue Bear School of Music in SF, and co-founder of SF Popfest talking about Café Du Nord:

“Something that affected the music school greatly was the loss of Café Du Nord… We had ran our showcases, we put bands together and we have shows… We used to do them at Café Du Nord for years and when they closed, that was a huge upset… The loss of Café Du Nord was a loss for the city. It was a great venue. It was like the nice… kinda like you could still take your parents there but you could see… indie shows or jazz shows. They were really awesome support of the communities… And we’ve been struggling to find places for all-aged bands to play. And that’s the other thing. We have… 20s, 30s, 40s somethings in bands. But what we need to be concentrating on as a city is the 15 year-olds that are in bands and that’s getting harder and harder. Parkside, Bottom of the Hill, Brick & Mortar… And if these places can’t make money off of booze sales… they don’t want to take these kids’ bands…. That’s what I worry more about.”

Tanya Yule being interviewed by Inna Arzumanova at the Western Addition Library. Photo: Beth LaBerge

 

Radio Center at the Palace Hotel

In 1937, the Columbia Broadcasting Company took over a local San Francisco radio station and effectively adopted the controversy that this station came to symbolize. That station was KSFO and in 1937 it was part of the KNX network that CBS purchased. But KSFO wasn’t the station’s original name and San Francisco wasn’t its original home. The station started out as KTAB in Oakland. It was owned and operated by Tenth Avenue Baptist Church until 1935, when debts forced the church to sell the station to Wesley I. Dumm. As the new owner, Dumm promptly moved the station to San Francisco and changed the call numbers to KSFO.

Once CBS acquired KSFO, the company set out to build a new studio to house the station. This new studio was a “Radio Center,” a complex attached to the Palace Hotel in San Francisco and designed by the San Francisco architect William Lescaze. The construction, captured in these photos from SFPL’s Historical Photo Collection, took a year and cost roughly $250,000 (reports vary).

[Photos courtesy of SFPL Historical Photo Collection]

 

Clyde Doerr

Clyde Doerr is known today as a pioneer saxophonist, who first got noticed playing with the Art Hickman Orchestra in San Francisco. Born in 1894, Doerr was originally from Michigan and while he played the sax since high school, his formal musical training was as a violinist (jhe studied concert violin at the King Conservatory in San Jose). In 1919, however, Art Hickman hired Doerr to play the saxophone in his band and Doerr’s career took off.

 

For a great overview of Doerr’s accolades and biography, check out Tim Gracyk and Frank Hoffmann’s book Popular American Recording Pioneers: 1895-1925. And here is Clyde Doerr and his Dance Orchestra performing in 1927.

 

What both of these excellent sources are missing, however, are an explanation of how Doerr ended up in San Francisco. Doerr’s photo in the SFPL’s Historical Photo Collection has an answer. Here is the copy that accompanies this portrait:

 

“Who says musicians aren’t as romantic in their private lives as in the music they make? Here’s Clyde Doerr, who directed orchestra and played saxophone in his own distinctive style on NBC programs in the East – until a wedding anniversary came around. ‘Let’s celebrate it in San Francisco where we first met’, suggested his wife and the two packed their car with baggage and trekked all the way across the continent to the city where they were married – between performances of the Art Hickman band, all those years ago. They discovered so many loved corners and scenes in San Francisco that when the program department there suggested Clyde stay awhile, he signed on the dotted line. He is the musical director of ‘Night Court’ popular new hour-long variety show broadcast over KPO every night except Saturday and Sunday at 10:00 o’clock P.S.T. Colorful, brilliant rhythms mark his music, and originality his own compositions, ‘Impromptu’, ‘Technicality’, ‘Valse Chromatique’, ‘Saxophist’s Dream’ and a tribute to Mrs. Doerr – ‘Valse Hilda’. NBC Photo 5/16/34.”

 

[Photo and copy courtesy of SFPL Historical Photo Collection]

 

Idris Ackamoor

Hit Parade’s July “Live Rehearsals,” held July 11 – 13th at the Mission, Bayview, and Western Addition branch libraries, featured five San Francisco-based musicians. Together, Idris Ackamoor, Minna Choi, Akheel Mestayer, Diana Gameros, and Marcus Shelby interpreted and re-invented songs composed in honor of the city.

 

On the saxophone (and a few other instruments) was the legendary Idris Ackamoor. Originally from Chicago, Ackamoor settled in San Francisco in 1970s, after an extensive tour and having founded his first jazz collective, The Pyramids. Max Cole, of the Red Bull Music Academy, writes of the collective:

“The Pyramids and their avant-garde, theatrical performances are part of a long lineage of musicians who used jazz and free improvisation to express a global, humanist music. With one foot firmly in the camp of John and Alice Coltrane, Ornette Coleman and Horace Tapscott, and the other in the politically-conscious funk of James Brown and On The Corner era Miles, they captured something of the quest for alternate ways of living in the 70s, as America looked to the stars and ripped up the rule book.” (For more, check out the full piece here).

 

He later founded the SF-based performance company Cultural Odyssey with frequent collaborator Rhodessa Jones. Ackamoor has received numerous awards – including two lifetime achievement awards – and as we saw during Hit Parade’s Live Rehearsals, is as committed to musical experimentation and innovation as ever.

 

Here Idris Ackamoor performing with The Pyramids on a 1975 TV special:

 

 

Bimbo’s 365 Club

One of the images that energized Hit Parade as a project early on was this photo from 1970/1971. Three men are shown inside Bimbo’s 365 Club in San Francisco. Oscar, the man seated in the middle, was a music promoter in the city and was the one to donate this photo to SFPL’s collection.

Located on Columbus Avenue in San Francisco’s North Beach district, Bimbo’s 365 Club opened in 1931 and has been something of a local institution since then. The club, opened by Agostino Giuntoli (whose nickname was Bimbo) and Monk Young, was originally located at 365 Market Street and moved to its current location on Columbus in 1951. Regardless of address, though, Bimbo’s popularity never waned. Over the years, it saw a steady stream of musicians, performers, comedians, gamblers and chorus girls. Of its many attractions, the club was known for its “girl in the fishbowl” act, which, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, “allowed patrons a glimpse of a shapely dancer writhing on a black velvet couch a floor below the lobby of the nightclub. A system of mirrors reduced the woman to a tiny size and made it seem as if she were swimming in air.”

 

Here are a few photos that serve as just a small sample of the performances that took place at Bimbo’s: (left) undated – patrons watching the “girl in the fishbowl” act; (middle) 1943 – chorus girls in a dressing room; (right) 1960s – hair show, featuring Jose (the proprietor of the hair show), Francis (the “queen” of the show), and Tonida.

 

[Photos courtesy of SFPL Historical Photo Collection]

 

 

 

 

 

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