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Editor’s Pick #188: Elaine Brown and The Black Panther Party by Eric Vilas-Boas
Elaine Brown's music is Civil Rights era's underappreciated Molotov cocktail

Elaine Brown's music is the Civil Rights era's underappreciated Molotov cocktail

PREVIEW: DOWNLOAD Elaine Brown’s  “Seize the Time” MP3

“Yet, I see they’ve taken liberties / With your souls and your lives.” Elaine Brown led the Black Panther Party from 1974 to 1977, while party leader Huey P. Newton was in Cuba on the run. These lines from the title track of her 1969 album Seize the Time effectively map out Brown’s party, life and activism.

Brown’s music is explicitly African American. In “The Panther” she describes her “hero” clearly: “His name is man / His face is black.” On her second full-length release, 1973’s Until We’re Free, she sings love ballads to dedicated revolutionaries (criminals in the American political structure) George Jackson and his brother Jonathan.

Brown’s soulful voice and the stirring musicianship throughout the record hammer her message home, and forty years later, much of it is still as relevant as anything released today. Racism is still very much a driving force in American culture and politics. If we really had overcome all of the stereotypes and prejudices present forty years ago, electing a black president would have yielded yawns, not media mayhem.

However, in 2002 she derided nearly every major African American political figure in her book The Condemnation of Little B, including Henry Louis Gates Jr, Colin Powell, Condoleeza Rice and even Chris Rock, among others. Brown’s dedication to her cause, both in 1969 and today, shatters perceptions of how far the (according to her) “defunct” Civil Rights Movement really got and how far it has yet to go.

Whatever your opinions of her politics are, don’t deny that the horns in between the verses of “Seize the Time” enthrall as much or more than anything Kanye West has produced.

— Eric Vilas-Boas, Production Editor

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