Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Faculty and musicians celebrate John H. Bracey Jr.’s retirement

By Rachel Ravelli

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Courtesy of UMass Amherst)

(Courtesy of UMass Amherst)

On Thursday evening friends and colleagues of John H. Bracey Jr. gathered in the Augusta Savage Gallery at the New Africa House to honor the professor’s history at the University of Massachusetts as he retires from his position as chair of the Afro-American Studies Department.

Throughout the evening, students and faculty members of the Afro-American Studies Department celebrated Bracey’s career as a professor, scholar and civil rights and Black Panther activist by sharing stories, words of praise and jazz music.

“I have a lot of respect for John,” said Charles Neville, saxophonist for The Neville Brothers who played harmonica with his band on Thursday. “He’s truly one of the smartest, you can talk to him about anything at all.”

The air of the multicultural gallery was upbeat with the playing of celebratory songs as attendees commemorated Bracey’s support for the UMass community throughout the past 44 years. Terry Jenoure, director of the Augusta Savage Gallery in the New Africa House, opened the evening by explaining that the gallery has been organizing the event for about a year. Bracey, Jenoure said, has consistently attended the gallery’s exhibits and has bought art in order to support multicultural artists.

“This event is not a performance, but an open dialogue to honor John,” said Jenoure, “Anyone can share what they want, no one needs to sit still!”

Graduate students, former colleagues, friends and others rose to the stage and shared reflective, often humorous stories about their experiences with Bracey.

“(In Professor Bracey’s class) we would read major works, and every class he would bring a muffin and a cup of tea,” said Jim Carroll, a Ph.D. candidate in Afro-American studies. “And after two and half hours, he never touched the tea or the muffin but always went all the way through the book.”

Several jazz musicians played in tribute to Bracey, including the New Africa House Ensemble and bassist-composer Avery Sharpe, a UMass alumnus who has since become world-renowned for his work.

Sharpe played his solo piece, “I Understand,” which invited the audience to clap a steady beat for Sharpe’s fast-paced, concise technique on acoustic bass.

“Amherst can be seen as a mecca of African American culture because of the jazz musicians that come through here,” said Bracey as he thanked Sharpe and other artists for their performances that evening.

The New Africa House Ensemble performed upbeat soul and blues pieces such as, “Move on Up” by Curtis Mayfield and “The Ghetto” by Donny Hathaway.

The New Africa House Ensemble began to close the event by playing an impromptu jazz version of “Purple Rain,” a Prince song chosen to commemorate the pop artist who passed away on Thursday. John Bracey joined the ensemble by playing tambourine.

“John let me be myself in the classroom, and we had a lot of fun” said Joyce Vincent, a Native American Studies faculty member and associate director of the Center for Multicultural Advancement and Student Success (CMASS), who has taught classes with Bracey. “He’s helped native people feel welcome on this campus.”

Bracey has worked as a professor in Afro-American Studies at UMass since 1972. Since his role in the 1960s radical movements in Chicago, he has co-edited over a dozen publications, including “Black Nationalism in America” and “African American Women and the Vote, 1837-1965.”

Rachel Ravelli can be reached at [email protected]


2 Responses to “Faculty and musicians celebrate John H. Bracey Jr.’s retirement”

  1. chris on April 25th, 2016 5:30 pm

    so these classes are mandatory now?

    great like i don’t have enough distractions.

  2. Jim Carroll on April 27th, 2016 1:47 pm

    A little clarification. Steve Tracy, a professor in the Afro-Am department, played harmonica. The New Africa House ensemble played a gig with Charles Neville in February, though sadly he wasn’t there last week.

    Jim Carroll, Ph.D.

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