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The Gilcrease Museum hosted Tulsa native poet and musician, Joy Harjo, Friday evening to bid farewell to the T.C. Cannon: At The Edge Of America collection which will be displayed next at the Alexander Hamilton U.S. Custom House in New York City.
Cannon, also an Oklahoma native born in Lawton, was himself a musician and song writer in addition to his world renowned painting. As is the case with many artists Cannon built relationships all over the country through his art forms.
Bob Powers, singer and song writer from Ardmore, had several encounters with Cannon in his formative years. As Powers opened the show and spoke of the memories and impressions made on his life by Cannon he was moved to nostalgic tears more than once.
Powers recounted how Cannon, though he already had a show at the Smithsonian at the time of their meeting, was not one to brag about his accomplishments. Grand Lake Ladies, written by Cannon for a few girl friends moving to Grand Lake Colorado, performed by Powers was a powerful piece of music that immediately connected my personal experience in Oklahoma to a broader culture that is of this land.
Brian Frejo, native to Oklahoma City, drove all night from Milwaukee to accompany his friend Harjo as DJ.
Frejo’s own accomplishments are numerous and varied. From acting in several large movie productions, to musician, to community organizer and activist; Frejo’s native culture and Oklahoma roots have informed the strength of his spirit in all endeavors.
As the audience was being seated Frejo was mixing the sounds of Native America with hip-hop beats and jazz riffs, reminding us that we are one people of one land. At one point Frejo remarked that we were waiting for a few others to arrive before starting the show, we all felt at home when he joked about Indian Time.
When Harjo took the stage her powerful presence and humble appearance created a cognitive dissonance. Dressed in all black from her hair to her ankles, she blended in with the curtain behind her, with the exception of ruby ballet slippers. You could feel Harjo’s energy with greater intensity than you could perceive with your eyes.
Every word spoken by Harjo was an ancestral knowledge relating the self to the earth, relating the personalities of wildlife to our own personal heights and pitfalls. Harjo spoke softly and slowly of meeting Cannon as a college student while wetting her reeds.
When Harjo in her easy way spoke the phrase “my house is the red earth”, suddenly the homey conversation was elevated to a performance with Frejo taking his cue perfectly while Harjo wailed her introduction on the saxophone.
Harjo’s mixture of Mvskoke folklore with modern narratives touches us in a way that is at once comforting and forward thinking.
One of the poem\songs recounted the Mvskoke tale of Rabbit the trickster in a modern setting. Harjo tells the audience, while again wetting her reeds and speaking soft wisdom, that this is a modern telling that will one day become folklore, as will the saxophone become a traditional Mvskoke instrument. “this is how these things happen”, says Harjo as she cues Frejo.
Joy Harjo and Brian Frejo on Clowns and Kings
Being within the Gilcrease Museum, filled with the art and artifacts of the people of the land we all belong to; listening to these three old friends gathered from all over the country with the intention of honoring the artist, whom each called friend and mentor; was a powerfully grounding experience. Our home is the Red Earth. Our art holds our dreams. Our actions can, and will, become folklore if deemed bold or tradition if deemed safe and steady.
Harjo’s performance, like T.C. Cannon’s work, speaks to who we are individually and reminds us that we create the identity of the people for generations to come.
You can still see the T.C. Cannon: At The Edge Of America collection on it’s final day at the Gilcrease Museum, Sunday October 7th.
Casey McLerran is the Literary Editor at the Black Wall Street Times. She is a Sooner State transplant from Forest Hills, NY. McLerran arrived in Oklahoma at the age of three shortly after gentrification displaced her and her family out of their home in New York. At first glance, many think they have McLerran figured out. To be frank, she’s a biracial American young woman that unapologetically embraces her half-African identity — a feminist-womanist she is. Her pen operates as her voice as well as her sword. Her accolades include the 2018 Rural Oklahoma Poetry Museum’s Oklahoma Poem Award, a business management degree, and her three beautiful children. Her objective with the Black Wall Street Times is to elevate and amplify the literary art of modern black American culture, pay tribute to African-American literary trailblazers, all while simultaneously linking and introducing children to the world of colorful American writers.