Fordham University            The Jesuit University of New York

Kwame Braithwaite


Kwame Braithwaite 

112th interview
Interviewers: Dr. Mark Naison, Maxine Gordon
Interviewee: Kwame Braithwaite
The interview took place May 17, 2002
Summarized by Concetta Gleason 11-29-06

Kwame Braithwaite, a longtime activist, photographer and expert on the history of jazz in NYC, was originally born in Harlem and his family moved to the Bronx in 1943 when he was five years old. His father was a tailor who owned several Dry Cleaning businesses and his mother was a homemaker who sold special Caribbean dishes from her home. His family’s house was on Kelly Street between Longwood Ave and 156th, near by Prospect Hospital and St. Margaret’s Church. Braithwaite lived on a very racially mixed block.

Braithwaite’s family attended St. Margaret’s Church and sent Braithwaite and his brother to PS 39, where they became acquaintances with Colin Powell’s family. Kwame and his brother loved going to school and education was very important to his parents. Although the family did not belong to any Barbados or West Indian associations or fraternal organizations, they did go to Church and Community dances. Braithwaite and his younger brother were allowed to play outside after they washed, changed their clothes and completed their homework. Mostly boys played together because there were not many girls on the block.

Braithwaite did not have a black teacher until P.S. 52. and he did not receive bad treatment from teachers based on race until high school. Aside from a few incidents, he had no major problems growing up in a multi-ethnic, multi-racial neighborhood. One instance dealt with a police officer shooting a boy and another concerned his brother being called a “nigger” by Collin Powell for being dark skinned.
Braithwaite’s interest in the arts originated from his music lessons in piano and clarinet, in particular his lessons from Prof. Phillips, a black Caribbean teacher whose methods were old and proper, but very effective. When he attended P.S. 53 he joined the band. Braithwaite entered the Harnett School of Music with the ambition of being a professional musician. Braithwaite became interested in jazz in 1954 when he was a junior in High School at the School of Industrial Arts. The School of Industrial Arts was a great experience for Braithwaite with a very mixed, co-existent atmosphere where spontaneous dancing was the norm during lunch.
In 1956 Braithwaite and a group of friends wanted to start doing jazz concerts and they recruited people they knew from the School of Industrial Arts and the Bronx to form a musical group. They started “The Jazz Arts Society” as a way to bring jazz into the Bronx, and it composed mostly of musicians. They decided to have a dance that was a jazz concert and have an African dance group during the intermission. They set up their first affair on Christmas Eve 1956 entitled “A Small Paradise” in Harlem. They started putting on Sunday afternoon jazz concerts, which turned out a good attendance. The jazz concerts were held at Club 845 from 1957 to 1961, and then they moved headquarters to 125th Street on October 1, 1961. The society began traveling in 1968 to Africa and since then they have traveled to nine other countries.  The brother Elombay was leader and spokesperson and Kwame was the one that got the actual work done as the chief of publicity.
Braithwaite went to school for Advertising art and met David Giddens, a friend who came to a jazz concert and took pictures.  Braithwaite became interested in photography from his friend’s pictures and his uncle’s attendance at the NY Institute of Photography. He took night classes at Baruch and studied business administration.  He also bought a camera and began working for the college’s paper “The Reporter.” 
Key Words: Harlem, Jazz, St. Margaret’s Church, Caribbean, Colin Powell, PS 93, The Bronx Council, Barbados, Dances, Tailor business, Kelly Street, The Garvey Movement, Embassy Ballroom, Hunts Point Palace, Rockland Palace, Privately owned block, Stoop games, Racial Pride, PAL Center, “Lynch Center”, Black teachers, Block busting, Music, Jazz, Landlord, P.S. 52, The School of Industrial Arts, Jazz Arts Society, Garvey Day, African National’s Pioneer Movement, Carbon Crooks, Modern Jazz Society, Jazz clubs, Thelonius Monk, “be-bop Bronx”, Club 845, Barbados


© 2009 Bronx African-American History Project at Fordham University

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