Rev. F.D. Kirkpatrick / Frederick Douglass Kirkpatrick

Ballads of Black America

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Folksinger the Reverend Frederick Douglass Kirkpatrick was commissioned to write and record this album of songs about prominent African Americans as a means of educating young people. (Kirkpatrick shares credit on the album cover with banjo player Pete Seeger and bass player Jeanne Humphries. The tracks also reveal other uncredited performers including a second vocalist on "Benjamin Banneker" and a trumpeter on "Paul Robeson.") A bass-baritone with a heavy Southern accent, Kirkpatrick sings his biographical lyrics over simple folk and blues tunes, celebrating the lives of such well-known figures as Harriet Tubman, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and his namesake, Frederick Douglass. Lesser known is Benjamin Banneker, who participated in the design of Washington, D.C., and somewhat more controversial are "The Deacons," of which Kirkpatrick himself was a member, described in the liner notes as "a small group of local black men" in Jonesboro, LA, "who secured licensed guns to defend themselves and their families" from white racists "even before the better known Black Panthers" in 1965. Although they are also described as a "non-violent, self-defense group," that's not quite the same approach as Dr. King's, nor as Tubman's, in Kirkpatrick's telling. "I stabbed that overseer," he sings in the voice of the former slave who became a leader of the Underground Railroad, "I took his lowdown dirty life." Other black leaders are not celebrated for their violent activities, but Kirkpatrick does acknowledge that aspect of the struggle for Civil Rights in his musical history lessons.

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