Denise Sullivan

Author, Journalist, Culture Worker

Music is the answer for God’s Children

As the year winds down, I’m taking a minute to tell you about an archival release from 2018 I think you may be interested in knowing a bit more about if you come to this blog with any frequency.

God’s Children: Music is the Answer, The Complete Recordings, is recommended listening for anyone interested in the roots of Chicano Rock; the group’s studio sessions never saw the light of day in the ’60s for some of the usual reasons — corporate bungling, market considerations, and the strains on the lives of people whose work intersects with politics and race matters.

From left to right: Lil’ Ray, Little Willie G. & Lydia Amescua: God’s Children Cover design by Barb Bersche, photo  courtesy of Willie Garcia.

Part super-group, part side project, and part pipe dream, the band featured a young singer, Lydia Amescua, alongside Little Willie G. and Lil’ Ray, sprung from Thee Midniters, legends of LA’s Eastside music scene (primarily remembered for the hit, “Whittier Blvd.”). The music industry had big ideas (the first danger sign), for the Latino-led, multiracial and mixed gender group. But business deal delays and behind the scenes bull resulted in the act timing out, proving to be too mainstream for the hippie scene and a little confounding to their friends in the forming Chicano movement. On one hand, Willie G. was cutting sides like “Brown Baby” (“you’re brown and you’re beautiful”), performing at folk clubs and and doing political work supporting the United Farm Workers; on the other hand, the suits who ran the record labels and funded recordings were stuck in the mid-’60s. The entire story as I wrote it based on interviews with the band is contained in the liner notes to God’s Children, Music is the Answer: The Complete Collection, released this year by Minky Records on brown vinyl for Record Store Day (though the liner notes are only available with the CD).

Here’s where things get personal: Those liner notes I wrote in 2016 which accompany the package released this year were cribbed, caged and generally remixed for the album’s press launch (and every subsequent article that was published on the project). That would be ok in the name of “getting press” for a worthy project like God’s Children, however, rendering invisible my original research and writing of the liner notes is not. It was I who dug the archival information, interviewed the three original members of the group and drew the vital connections between the story of rockers of color in 1969, and what’s happening now. It was I who took liberties with Spanglish because I am a Californian, trying to be careful and stay conscious, living daily with the complications that go with living on stolen land. And had I known at the time when I wrote the piece in 2016 where the country was going, that there would be unmitigated hatred and horror waged on women and children at the border, I would’ve written that into the narrative too, but how could I know the future? I just try to report on it.  And while there’s not much I can do about the fact my work was mangled and plagiarized, I can call out those practices, along with the attempt to shame me for taking a stand. I’m not at all surprised: this is how we roll in America and the music business is just another arena where men like to take the shine away from the deep work and research we do as women and render it invisible. My situation is nothing new under the sun, these indignities are all too common, and yet the incident feels particularly egregious in a year when the country let us know how it really feels about justice for all.

By year’s end, the unearthed recordings of God’s Children suffered a  fate similar to their original project: The music went unheard. Though well-meaning folks tried to get the sounds to a wider audience, its message of unity, of peace and empowerment was completely lost in the morass of new releases, higher profile media campaigns, and the neverending spectacle.  Don’t get me wrong: I’m happy to have been part of the God’s Children: Music is the Answer project: it’s an important part of California’s musical history and I wouldn’t have spent a minute with it or on this post if I didn’t believe in the power of the music and its message. It was a great privilege and honor to be asked to do the writing that created the opportunity for me to speak to the gracious musicians, pillars of our state’s contribution to rock and roll.  I hope you’ll seek out more from God’s Children on your usual streaming and vinyl channels or wherever you listen to music; this alternate take was all I could find to share with you.

 

 

 

 

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Filed under: cross cultural musical experimentation, Latina, Latino culture, Latinx culture, Roots of Rock'n'Soul, vinyl, Women in Rock, Women's issues, Women's rights, , , , ,

Two California Women in Conversation

Getting to meet inspiring, creative and intelligent people is probably my favorite part of the job as an independent journalist, editor and curator (aside from doing the writing, of course…). Over the past couple of years, I’ve had the pleasure of working with two extraordinary women, Kim Shuck, a poet/educator/beadworker and Lynell George, a journalist/essayist/photographer. Somewhere along the way and between individual conversations with both of them, I had the idea to get the pair together to talk about the things we seem to talk about most: The changing cityscapes of Los Angeles and San Francisco. Being born Californian and staying here has given Lynell and Kim a deep understanding of the place. I hope you’ll explore their insights and their work, and I invite you to read the conversation, published this month in Boom California, by the University of California Press.

(photo of Kim Shuck by Doug Salin; photo of Lynell George by Al Quattrocchi)

Filed under: Arts and Culture, Book news, Books, California, gentrification, Poetry, racism, San Francisco News, Women's issues, , , , ,

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