Of jazz, genes, and gee's bend

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KLRN's Black History Month programming documents the African-American experience

KLRN celebrates Black History Month in February with a series of programs examining the African-American experience from historical, musical, artistic, political, and scientific perspectives.

The Quiltmakers of Gee's Bend, airing February 3 at 10 p.m., tells the story of an art collective that has unassumingly produced some of America's finest folk art for the past 150 years. The women of Gee's Bend, Alabama, descended from slaves of the Pettaway Plantation, carry on the quilting tradition that for more than a century was their ancestors' sole means of expression; they are just now being recognized as prominent artists in their own right. The Quiltmakers presents a portrait of the women as artists and, more importantly, as messengers of personal strength.

Race: The Power of an Illusion, airing February 5, 12, and 19 at 8 p.m., is a three-part examination of the scientific and historical creation of "race" and how it has contributed to a modern America that, despite significant advances, remains divided along social, economic, and political lines. Episode One dismantles misconceptions about race by demonstrating through gene sequencing that skin color is not genetically linked to physical or mental traits. More likely, racial attributes are linked to social and political policies of the cultures in which they arise, creating an artificial foundation for racism. Part Two follows race from the exploration of the New World to slavery in America, and part three takes up race in the 20th century, scrutinizing institutional racism and the folly of adopting a "color-blind" approach that ignores inequalities in the system rather than acknowledging and repairing them.

Two programs on February 6 highlight African-American music. Hines Farm Blues Club, airing at 4 p.m., tells the story of a club in a small community outside Toledo, Ohio that hosted blues legends such as John Lee Hooker and Freddie King. At 6 p.m., NPR's Robert Siegel interviews trumpet-player Wynton Marsalis who discusses his autobiography, Jazz in the Bittersweet Blues of Life. Marsalis, a Pulitzer Prize-winner for his epic jazz suite Blood On The Fields, and artistic director of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, has become the figurehead for jazz in the 21st century (and the last 10 years or so of the 20th century), while at the same time acting as a polarizing force within the jazz community. Love him or hate him, Marsalis never flinches at a question and speaks freely, if not always truthfully, about himself, his career, and jazz history.

Slavery and the Making of America examines slavery from its colonial origins through antebellum years and into Reconstruction. The two-part series challenges notions of slavery as an exclusively Southern institution, presenting scholarship that portrays slavery as a foundation of the entire nation. Slavery also offers an examination of slave life through re-enactments and in-depth profiles of Harriet Jacobs and Frederick Douglass, who each escaped slavery and exposed the injustices they suffered to a wide audience through literature. Part One of Slavery and the Making of America airs February 9 at 9 p.m., with Part Two following on February 16 at 9 p.m.

For more information and local listings, visit klrn.org.

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