THE SEKOU SUNDIATA RETROSPECTIVE ORAL HISTORY TIMELINE: A TESTIMONIAL
A blending of documented events and personal testaments
Researched and compiled by Talvin Wilks
1910 – William Feaster is born in Jacksonville, FL.
1922 – Virginia Singleton is born in Kingstree, SC.
1948 – William Feaster meets Virginia Singleton in New York City.
1948 – August 22: Robert Franklin Feaster (Sekou Sundiata) is born to William and Virginia Feaster, Harlem, New York.
1966 – Robert Feaster (Sekou) enrolls in CCNY as part of the Search for Education, Elevation and Knowledge Program (SEEK).
1968 – After the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Robert Feaster (Sekou) leads a group of nearly 300 City College students in a march through Harlem to 125th Street. They run into Mayor John Lindsay and his entourage. The mayor joins the march. Campus radicalism explodes.
1968 – Robert Feaster (Sekou) joins forces with Leroy Hodge and others to form the Black and Puerto Rican Student Community of City College (BPRSC).
1969 – The Committee of 10, an ad hoc group of students representing the roughly 2,000 Black and Latino students enrolled at the CCNY, storms the offices of President Dr. Buell Gallagher and posts a list of five demands on the walls of the administration building. The BPRSC organizes a campus-wide rally in support of the implementation of the Five Demands; 1,500 students march through campus calling for a general shutdown of the university. Black and Puerto Rican students occupy CCNY’s South Campus.
1969 – With classmate and fellow poet Louis Reyes Rivera, Robert Feaster (Sekou) cofounds The Paper, the first CUNY student newspaper under the control of Black and Puerto Rican students.The Paper contributes to a growing focus on emancipatory journalism around the country by students of color to open up dialogues.
1969 – Robert Feaster (Sekou) checks into the Maris Blistein Institute for heroin detoxification. He kicks his habit.
1970 – Robert Feaster (Sekou) returns to CCNY where he is mentored by Toni Cade Bambara, June Jordan, Addison Gayle, Dr. Wilfred Cartey, Charlie Russell and Harold Cruse.
1971 – Robert Feaster (Sekou) begins collaborating with jazz musician Harry Whitaker. He also forms the trio Everlasting Life with Wayne Providence and Kirk Lamkin.
1972 – On a trip to the first Caribbean Festival of the Arts (CARIFESTA), in Georgetown, Guyana, Robert Feaster adopts the name Sekou Sundiata, after Sékou Touré, the first president of Guinea, and the legendary Sundiata Keita, founder of the Mali Empire.
1972 – Sekou graduates with a B.A. from CCNY, English major, Humanistic Studies minor.
1973 – Sekou develops an early work, Blood Flower, with novelist Arthur Flowers as part of the Black New York Action Committee (BNYAC), a left-wing socialist group based in Harlem. The artists involved include Doug Booth, Khaliq al Raouf and Sandra Burton. This group becomes the precursor to Are & Be.
1974 – Sekou passes the torch of The Paper (CCNY) to Stephanie Berry and Diane Wilson. Jill Nelson is a contributing writer.
1974 – Sekou forms Are & Be, his first band; it develops from the art and activism convergence with the BNYAC. Are & Be members include Sekou Sundiata, Sandra Burton, Kawana Coleman and Brenda Denmark as “Oralizers.” The band is Douglas Booth (vocals and guitar), Tony Bridges (bass), JT Lewis (drums), Khaliq al Raouf (reeds), Harry Whitaker (piano) and Yolanda Lee McQuay, (vocalist).
1974 – Sekou joins the American delegation to the 6th Pan African Congress in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
1976 – Sekou and his ensemble perform The Sound of the Memory of Many Living People. This production, which includes Arthur Flowers and poets Safiya Henderson-Holmes, BJ Ashanti, Tom Mitchelson and Louis Reyes Rivera, et al., is staged in Harlem over two days, signaling much of what is to come from Sekou's vision of Performance Poetry.
1976 – Harry Whitaker records Black Renaissance: Body, Mind and Spirit, featuring Sekou Sundiata on vocals.
1977 – Along with Zizwe Ngafua, Rashidah Ismaili, Fatisha (Hutson), Sandra Maria Esteves, Akua Lezli Hope, Mervyn Taylor, Arthur Flowers, Safiya Henderson-Holmes, BJ Ashanti, Tom Mitchelson and Louis Reyes Rivera, among others, Sekou forms the Calabash Poets Workshop.
1977 – FREE!, Sekou’s first and only book of poetry, is published by Shamal Books.
1977 – Sekou and Barry Simpson take over a building in East Harlem and launch a new social and cultural scene.
1978 – Sekou celebrates ten years free from addiction.
1979 – Sekou receives his M.A. in creative writing from City College. He submits From the Memory of Many Living People (a script of poetry in performance) for his thesis. June Jordan is his advisor.
1982 – Are & Be records and releases its first album.
1982 – The International Rally for Disarmament and Human Needs. One million people demonstrate in New York City's Central Park against nuclear weapons and for an end to the Cold War arms race. It is the largest anti-nuclear protest and the largest political demonstration in American history. Sekou and Are & Be perform on a bill with Rita Marley, Linda Rondstadt, Jackson Brown and Bruce Springsteen.
1985 – Sekou forms his second band, The Kou.
1985 – The Black Rock Coalition is formed, a New York–based artists' collective and nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting the creative freedom and works of Black musicians. The coalition was founded by Vernon Reid (guitarist for the funk metal band Living Colour), Greg Tate (musician and journalist for The Village Voice), DK Dyson (lead singer of Eye & I) and Konda Mason (producer).
1986 – Sekou is awarded a Charles H. Revson Fellowship on The Future of the City, Columbia University.
1987 – Sekou becomes Writer-in-Residence at The New School for Social Research.
1987 – Craig Harris begins working with Sekou and The Kou, and Sekou begins working with Craig’s band Cold Sweat. Their first concert together is at Sounds in Motion, Diane McIntyre’s studio at 290 Lenox Avenue, above the classic jazz club The Lenox Lounge.
1988 – Sekou records with Craig Harris and his band on Cold Sweat Plays JB, a tribute to James Brown.
1989 – Sekou forms his third band, dadahdoodahda. Regular members include Douglas Booth, Michael Hill, Kevin Hill, Tony Lewis, Kweyao Agyapon. dadahdoodahda performs at a David Dinkins fund-raiser, Art for a Change, at Aaron Davis Hall, with Urban Bush Women, the BRC All Stars, Cassandra Wilson, Amiri Baraka, Toni Morrison, Richard Gant and Quincy Troupe.
1989 – dadahdoodahda joins the BRC and records on its first compilation album, History of Our Future. On the album dadahdoodahda performs Sekou’s poem “Son Talkin’,” featuring Sekou on vocals.
1989 – Sekou joins the faculty of Eugene Lang College at The New School for Social Research, where he continues to teach through 2007.
1989 – The Matsunaga Incident: Sekou defaces a racist drawing by the Japanese artist Shin Matsunaga (as part of an exhibit at Parsons The New School for Design), writing “This is Racist Bullshit!” and causing a huge controversy on the New School campus.
1991 – The Mystery of Love, Etc: An Anthology of Folk Tales, Stories, Poems and Lies is commissioned and presented as a multimedia theater work by Aaron Davis Hall (Harlem Stage), NYC. Books and lyrics by Sekou, music composed and arranged by Douglas Booth. The collaboration also featured the Brad Brewery Puppet Troupe, dadahdoodahda, Craig Harris and The Cold Sweat Horns. Videography by Kit Fitzgerald, directed by Virlana Tkacz.
1992 – The Black Rock Coalition Orchestra featuring Sekou Sundiata performs at the Pori Jazz Festival in Finland.
1992 – The Circle Unbroken is a Hard Bop premieres at Aaron Davis Hall (Harlem Stage), featuring Stephanie Alston, Sekou and Craig Harris, written by Sekou, directed by Rome Neal. The production wins three AUDELCO Awards for Excellence in Black Theater (including Best Playwright and Best Production) and a Bessie New York Dance and Performance Award.
1993 – The Circle Unbroken is a Hard Bop tours to ten cities and is a featured performance at the New Performance in Black Theatre Series at the National Black Theatre Festival, Winston-Salem, NC.
1994 – What Is This Thing Called Love? Fiction, Poetry & Music in Response presented by Aaron Davis Hall (Harlem Stage), featuring Sekou, Toni Cade Bambara, Cornelius Eady, Jessica Hagedorn, Kimiko Hahn, bell hooks, Kurt Lamkin, Jaime Manrique, Tracie Morris, Douglas Booth, Dean Bowman, Gordon Chambers and Bill White.
1994 – The Mystery of Love premieres at the American Music Theatre Festival, Philadelphia, with a new cast led by Sekou, and The Mystery of Love Band featuring Douglas Booth, Kysia Bostic, Darrell Grant, Calvin Jones, William McClellan, Jr. and Craig Harris. Choreographed by Marlies Yearby, directed by Talvin Wilks.
1994 – Craig Harris and Sekou are hired to curate a series of music events for the newly built and revitalized American Center in Paris. They lead off with a concert performance of their own material called Lost in Translation, featuring members from previous bands, guest artists Marlies Yearby and Vernon Reid; staging by Talvin Wilks.
1994 – Sekou, Bob Holman and Bill Adler start a record label, NuYo Records. Maggie Estep is the first signed artist.
1995 – Sekou and Craig follow their previous concert at the American Center with Hearsay.
1995 – Sekou performs on the Bill Moyers’ PBS series The Language of Life.
1995 – Sekou is first diagnosed with early signs of kidney failure. Within months he will begin dialysis.
1996 – The Return of Elijah, The African begins its development through a consortium of Presenters, New WORLD Theater/University of Massachusetts at Amherst, Rites & Reasons Theater/Brown University and Aaron Davis Hall (Harlem Stage). This is an important phase in the collaboration between Sekou and Craig Harris. The project includes Richard Harper as musical director and Talvin Wilks as director.
1996 – Tongues of Fire Choir, a concert and poetry event conceived by Sekou and Craig Harris, premieres at Aaron Davis Hall (Harlem Stage). Featured artists include Ntozake Shange, Jessica Hagedorn, Qunicy Troupe, Amiri Baraka, Nona Hendryx, Regina Carter, Sekou and Craig Harris and Tailgaters Tails; staged by Talvin Wilks.
1996 – Bob Holman, Bill Adler and Sekou pitch their defunct spoken-word label to Mercury Records and Mouth Almighty is born.
1997 – Sekou’s The Blue Oneness of Dreams (Douglas Booth, musical director) is the debut release on the newly formed label Mouth Almighty.
1997 – Sekou joins the founding board of The Brotherhood-Sister Sol and continues to serve through 2001.
1998 – Craig Harris records Nation of Imagination on Polygram Records, featuring Sekou on vocals.
1999 – Katea Stitt, Sekou’s friend and manager donates a kidney to him.
2000 – Sekou releases longstoryshort on Ani DiFranco’s Righteous Babe Records label.
2000 – Sekou makes the first of his many appearances at the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival, Waterloo Village, NJ.
2000 – The original The Return of Elijah, The African is transformed into UDU as Sekou and Craig Harris become interested in telling a story about the modern-day slave trade in Mauritania and northern Africa, inspired by American journalist Samuel Cotton’s searing depiction, The Silent Terror. It premieres at Penumbra Theatre in St. Paul, and embarks on a multicity tour, including a New York premiere presented by 651 Arts at the Harvey Theater/Brooklyn Academy of Music; project management by MultiArts Projects and Productions (MAPP International Productions). The ensemble features Sekou with Helga Davis, Carla Cook, LaTanya Hall, Trent Armand Kendal, Sam McKelton and Beverly Prentice. The band includes Craig Harris with Damon Due White, Cheikh M’Baye, Abdou M’Boup, Bahnamous Bowie, Richard Harper and Chulo Gatewood.
2000 – Sekou and MAPP International agree to continue working together. MAPP International begins booking tour dates for Sekou’s band and producing his next piece, blessing the boats. The partnership continues throughout the rest of his life.
2001 – Sekou and his band join Ani DiFranco’s Rhythm & News Tour, a 23-city tour including Central Park SummerStage.
2001 – The September 11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. Sekou is featured poet with the Brooklyn Philharmonic Orchestra at New York Rises 9-11 Benefit Concert, Brooklyn Academy of Music.
2001 – Sekou delivers the keynote address, “East Coast, West Coast, Worldwide: American Artists and World Citizenship,” at Intersections: Future Aesthetics Conference at New WORLD Theater, University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
2002 – blessing the boats premieres at Aaron Davis Hall (Harlem Stage), Sekou’s first and only solo theater piece, directed by Rhodessa Jones. Sekou and MAPP International develop partnerships with the New York Organ Donor Network and National Kidney Foundation, which lead to speaking and performance engagements sponsored by health care organizations around the country. blessing the boats continues to tour across the U.S. and abroad for the next five years.
2003 – Sekou begins work on The America Project as a shared contemplation of America's national identity, its power in the world and its guiding mythologies. The two main components are public engagement activities designed to involve campuses and communities, artists, scholars and activists nationwide in critical thinking about issues of citizenship; and creation of the 51st (dream) state, a multimedia music-theater work inspired by that thinking and exploration.
2003 – Sekou is the featured speaker and delivers “Ground Zero: One of Many Thin Places/Notes on My New Project.” at the National Imagining America Conference, University of Illinois at Champaign/Urbana.
2003 – Sekou is the keynote speaker and delivers “An Artist’s Journey Through Transplantation and Recovery” at many health-care-related conferences including the American Nephrology Nurses National Conference, Washington, DC; Upstate New York Organ Procurement Organization, Buffalo, NY; Regional Conference on Dialysis, Philadelphia.
2004 – Sekou joins the advisory board of Imagining America: Artists and Scholars in Public Life and becomes a member of the Transaction Council of the National Kidney Foundation.
2004 – Sekou is the keynote speaker and delivers “Democracy, Imagination and Peeps of Color” at The Diversity Revisited: A Conversation on Diversity in the Arts Convening, African American Cultural Center and the Association of Performing Arts Presenters in Pittsburgh. READ THE SPEECH HERE
2004 – Yearlong Artist in Residence, Lafayette College, Easton, PA.
2005 – Resident Dialogue Fellow and Master Artist-in-Residence, Stanford University.
2005 – Sekou produces the Gift of Life Concert at the Apollo Theater to raise awareness about kidney disease and organ donation. He partners with the National Kidney Foundation and the New York Organ Donor Network and receives a major grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. A daylong health fair is held in the Apollo Theater lobby.
2005 – blessing the boats returns to New York for a three-week run at the Apollo Theater Salon.
2005 – Sekou is a featured speaker at the Theatre Communications Group annual conference in Seattle.
2005 – Sekou produces Down for the Cause – A Harlem Relief Response to Hurricane Katrina in partnership with Harlem Stage, featuring Burnt Sugar, Craig Harris Group, Carla Cook, Graham Haynes, Queen Esther and her band, Sekou and his band, Will Calhoun, Ronald K. Brown, Sing Sing Percussion Ensemble, Rha Goddess, Elizabeth Alexander, Daniel Bernard Roumain, Billy Bang and Reverend Osagyefo Uhuru Sekou, among others.
2006 – Work-in-progress showing of the 51st (dream) state at Aaron Davis Hall (Harlem Stage) is the opening event of the annual Association of Performing Arts Presenters Conference in New York City. Sekou delivers the closing keynote address at the conference.
2006 – the 51st (dream) state previews at Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, in March; world premiere in May presented by Stanford Lively Arts at Stanford University followed by performances at Mahaiwee Theatre, Great Barrington, MA; Melbourne Festival, Australia; Brooklyn Academy of Music Opera House (in association with Harlem Stage); Zeiterion Theater, New Bedford, MA.
2006 – Sekou creates and curates Days of Art & Ideas and WeDaPeoples Cabaret at Harlem Stage/The Gatehouse.
2007 – the 51st (dream) state tours from January through March to the University Musical Society at University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill; Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center at University of Maryland, College Park; University of Texas, Austin.
2007 – Sekou’s two-semester course, The America Project, designed for Eugene Lang College concludes in May with performances, publication of an anthology of student writing, an exhibition and WeDaPeoples Cabaret.
2007 – June: Sekou delivers keynote speech at 13th annual Pedagogy and Theatre of the Oppressed International Conference, Minneapolis.
2007 – June: Final performances of blessing the boats at Spoleto Festival, Charleston, SC.
2007 – July: Two days before his scheduled departure to Germany for the European premiere ofthe 51st (dream) state at the Stimmen Festival, Sekou suffers a heart attack. He dies on July 18.
2009 – MAPP International continues Sekou’s America Project as a national program advancing critical citizenship, imagination and civic dialogue through the arts.
2009 – Publication of A Teaching Method for Collaboration, Creativity and Citizenship, and release of the documentary film finding the 51st (dream) state, which Sekou had been working on at the time of his death. First screening of finding the 51st (dream) state held outdoors in the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans as part of Imagining America conference.
2010 – Inaugural America Project commission awarded to Marc Bamuthi Joseph for red, black and GREEN: a blues. MAPP International and Harlem Stage restage WeDaPeoples Caberet with guest curator Carl Hancock Rux and continue to present the event annually with rotating curators.
2011 – MAPP International inaugurates The People’s Potlucks inspired by Sekou’s model of citizenship dinners.
2013 – MAPP International produces Blink Your Eyes: Sekou Sundiata Revisited, a seven-month NYC-wide retrospective in partnership with 17 cultural organizations and educational institutions.