Stories Of Coltrane, King Leave Lasting Memories

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Longtime News & Notes producer Roy Hurst talks with Tony Cox about the pieces he remembers most, including a special feature on the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and interviews with pianist Alice Coltrane and artist Noah Purifoy.

TONY COX, host.

I'm Tony Cox, and this is News & Notes. You know, this week, we've given you a look behind the scenes here at News & Notes with our producers picking their favorite segments from their time. Last but not least, we have Roy Hurst at the seat. Hey, Roy.

ROY HURST: Hey, Tony. You know, I had to think long and hard about picking a few favorites out of the hundreds of segments I've worked on here at News & Notes. And I've taken it as a personal mission within the mission to try and bring to listeners people who should be known even if they fall outside the realm of black popular culture. And so, I brought a couple of examples of that.

COX: Now, one of the people that we're going to hear. She really is known if you're an aficionado of jazz as you and I both are - Alice Coltrane.

HURST: That's right. I talked with Ms. Coltrane in 2004, just a few years before she passed away. And you know, she was blamed falsely, I believe for breaking up the classic John Coltrane quartet. So I wanted to know just how they met. And it turns out they met in New York, backstage at the jazz club called Birdland during the time when Alice was part of an opening act for the John Coltrane quartet.

COX: All right. So let's listen to what she told you about how their love affair began.

(Soundbite of interview)

Ms. ALICE COLTRANE (Pianist): I'd go walking in there, and he - you know, he hadn't gone on. So he's just sitting there.

HURST: What did you say to one another?

Ms. COLTRANE: For a few days, nothing. He was a very quiet person, a person who's seen to dwell in his own universe. So I was sitting on one end side of the room and he'd be sitting there, always looking deep in thought in his face. You would not want to - no one would want to disturb that. So for days, ther3e was nothing to say. Finally after about three days, we began to talk about architecture. That was the first subject because I had brought up - I had book, drawings and paintings and whatnot, and some of them were unusual. And I said, you might want to take a look. And then it was an architecture and that's what we spoke about. That was the beginning.

(Soundbite of music)

COX: You know, Roy. Alice seem to revere John. And I think it's pretty evident in that clip, don't you?

HURST: It is. And she's going to be missed. She had her own thing...

COX: Yes, she did.

HURST: After she died.

COX: She definitely did. You know, one of the pieces that you've done here - I told you this myself that I really, really, really liked - was about the artist Noah Purifoy who you interviewed way out in the Joshua Desert one time.

HURST: Yeah, Purifoy was well into his '80s when I spoke with him and he'd become famous after the Watts Riots in 1965 when he literally took the wreckage from the riots and made protest art from it. He did it through an art form known as assemblage. When I talked to him, he was living in the middle of nowhere and downplaying the validity of protest art.

(Soundbite of interview)

And we sat down out of the sun under a canopy held up by two decrepit trailers. I wanted to get back to his thoughts on protest art.

Mr. NOAH PURIFOY (Artist): Well, I think it was appropriate.

HURST: He said, as he lit a cigarette.

Mr. PURIFOY: It was a phase of evolution. And we all participated in capacity in which we were best known. But some African-Americans are still doing protest art because it sells well. But those who buy it are only trying to subdue to their own guilt. And I don't think an artist should spend a lifetime during protest art, even though it's popular. I think that protest art comes from the same place genuine art come from. It's just another layer which you have to get rid of to get the best part of yourself. Protest art is not the best part of yourself. It's underneath. So, I would only advocate protest art to get rid of my prejudice.

COX: So, you can hear in that piece that Noah was a chain smoker, huh?

HURST: Yeah, and sadly not too long after my interview, he died in his trailer when he fell asleep with a cigarette in his hand.

COX: That is sad. You know, April 4th of last year was the 40th anniversary of the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and you produced a special look back at that time.

HURST: I realized that for people old enough to remember, this was burned in their memory. And I wanted to collect as many notable people as possible to recall that day when Dr. King was killed. One of them was Roger Wilkins. He was assistant attorney general at that time and he was sent to Memphis along with a man named Deke DeLoach, a high-ranking member of J. Edgar Hoover's FBI.

(Soundbite of interview)

Unidentified Man: And Deloach then was "full of information." I'd put that in quotes. He said that they had the rifle upstairs in the FBI laboratory, that this was a lone gunman. It was not the results of a conspiracy, a lone gunman, who would soon be under arrest. I am not sure that any of us were thinking very straight. We had absorbed a terrible shock. We had very little sleep and we had no verifiable sources on the ground to give us information that contradicted that of the FBI. And that, you know, I think general human impulse was to believe your FBI, (laughing) which was a mistake. I should have been more careful. I should have been more suspicious to the FBI. I was not.

COX: Those were fascinating times. You know, we can't let you get out of here without talking about another fascinating time and it's more recent. Just last year at the conventions, which you covered both and you did an amazing job.

HURST: It was one of the most amazing experiences of my time in this business. Just to see how different the two parties are, you know, to see all the energies swirling around in Denver. To see Sarah Palin walking out on the national stage for the first time reinvigorating the Republican Party, (laughing) only to implode...

COX: Later.

HURST: A few weeks later.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COX: One of the characters that you met at the RNC in fact was Linda Lee Tarver. What was her story?

HURST: Now I considered Tarver among the most courageous people of this past election year, because she is Republican. She's African-American and she's outspoken.

Unidentified Women: Yes, we can. Yes, we can. Yes, we can.

Ms. LINDA LEE TARVER (GOP Delegate): They were in love with Barack Obama but they loved cabbage patch dolls not too long ago. They were in love with Britney Spears not to long ago, as well. And now, she's become trailer trash. He has no substance to be president. And people have made this into a spiritual journey for them, for Barack Obama. They've translated historic event into another Martin Luther King. He will not be able to heal this land. He will not be able to walk on the waters and part the seas and bring in a new promised land.

COX: And Roy, listeners can see the whole video piece by googling NPR, Bobbleheads & Bloggers. Pretty entertaining stuff.

HURST: Yeah. You have to see Linda Lee Tarver to believe Linda Lee Tarver.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COX: I'm going to - before you go, you and I have been here longer than anyone else except for Devin Robins, the producer. That's six years. We've been through NPR, Bobbleheads & Bloggers. Pretty entertaining stuff.

HURST: Yeah. You have to see Linda Lee Tarver to believe Linda Lee Tarver.

(Soundbite of laughter)

COX: I'm going to - before you go, you and I have been here longer than anyone else except for Devin Robins, the producer. That's six years. We've been through Tavis, Ed Gordon, here with Farai and here with me hosting the show, and now we're leaving. It's been quite a ride, hasn't it?

HURST: It has been quite a ride. And I want to take a moment to - just to thank Cheryl Flowers, former senior producer who brought me in, and Tavis Smiley, who brought me into NPR.

COX: They both, me too, both of them. Yes.

HURST: Yeah. Until I have to - I can't get out here without doing that. And you. And Farai. Wonderful hosts. And all the folks that we worked with over this time.

COX: It's been something we'll remember, isn't it?

HURST: It has.

COX: Absolutely. Thank you very much, bro.

HURST: Thank you Tony.

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