Oct 01 2009
"Staging Site for John Brown Was Stage Site for James Brown" - Musicians and Comedians Performed at Successful Venue; Ray Charles, Chubby Checker, and More!
Staging Site for John Brown Was Stage Site for James Brown
By Ed Maliskas and Joel Maliskas
John Brown’s raid on the Harpers Ferry Armory in 1859 was staged from the rented “Kennedy Farm” in southern Washington County, Maryland. One hundred years later (1959) that property was owned by the IBPOEW (Black Elks) who had hoped to restore the farmhouse and turn the site into a memorial to John Brown for his role in the movement to end slavery. During the time the Elks held the property it was a stop on the Chitlin’ Circuit, a succession of venues where black musicians and comedians performed. Entertainers there included such giants of the music industry as James Brown, Ray Charles, Chubby Checker, and many others.
The father and son writing team of Ed Maliskas and Joel Maliskas have researched and are reporting on this important and interesting story.
Hagerstown, MD – The year is 1959. The place is a converted barn in southern Washington County, Maryland. James Brown is on stage. Brown’s musicians, studded with pioneering rhythm and blues players from Little Richard’s former band, are laying down a funky groove. The Godfather of Soul twirls, drops down into the splits, and pops back up again. The crowd squeals in delight. The good times are rolling!
One hundred years previously, in the fall of 1859, from precisely this same plot of land, the abolitionist John Brown staged his famous raid on the Federal Armory at Harper’s Ferry, Virginia (now West Virginia). From this rural outpost, commonly known as the Kennedy Farm, a bold blow was struck for freedom. It reverberated across an increasingly divided America and led directly to the fratricide of the Civil War. John Brown’s Raid is known as the beginning of the end of American slavery.
Frederick Douglass said, “If John Brown did not end the war that ended slavery, he did at least begin the war that ended slavery.”
In 1959 the land was owned by the IBPOEW (Black Elks) who had hoped to restore the farmhouse and turn it into a memorial to Brown for his role in abolition. During the years the Elks held the property it became a regular stop on the old Chitlin’ Circuit, a succession of venues (including the Cotton Club and Apollo Theater in New York City) where African-American musicians and comedians performed.
Leonard Cooper grew up in Charles Town, WV. When asked of his recollections of the music scene on the Elks property, he gleamed, “I’ll never forget the day that Chubby Checker was there! Everybody was twistin’ all night long – cats, dogs, even the cockroaches were doing the Twist!”
In addition to Chubby Checker and James Brown, the property hosted such giants of the music industry as Ray Charles, Jackie Wilson, Ike and Tina Turner, Fats Domino, the Isley Brothers, the Drifters, Little Anthony, Jerry Butler, Otis Redding, Etta James, and many others.
The quality and popularity of their music led to its crossing over to the white culture, contributing to a major breaking down of racial barriers in the country. What segregationists hoped to forbid with police dogs and fire hoses was no match for the cause of justice or the catharsis of music.
The marching feet in Selma and the tapping toes at the Kennedy Farm joined in a syncopated shock wave that surged across the nation, leading to conditions today that have enabled the election of the first President of the United States who is of African-American heritage.
From the rifle shots and battle shouts of John Brown’s band of 1859 through the rim shots and soul shouts of the Isley Brothers band in 1959, the little farm in rural Western Maryland has stood as a place where was acted upon one persistent ideal: freedom.
The father and son writing team of Ed and Joel Maliskas has brought to light the fascinating story of the music scene at the Kennedy Farm, which heretofore had flown under the radar of most mass media and culture. The giants of the music industry, legends today, played at the site where a single legendary man, who many say was martyred in the cause of freedom, began a violent raid to try and free slaves.
The primary research by the Maliskas, including numerous interviews, and appreciation of the ramifications of the 1859 and 1959 happenings at the Kennedy Farm, form a wonderful background story to the John Brown Sesquicentennial Commemorations. Those events include the Reenactment of John Brown’s March from the Kennedy Farm on October 16th, the Commemoration at the Harpers Ferry Historical Park on October 16-18, and the NAACP Observance on December 2, a procession from the old jail in Harpers Ferry to the hanging site in Charles Town. For more information, visit www.johnbrownraid.org.
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The Maliskases have written a number of short stories, articles, songs, and poems. They are currently working on a script for a major motion picture.
Ed Maliskas Joel Maliskas