In February of last year, my mother and I went to support our cousin, Linda Spellman, at an event for Women’s History Month at the New Amsterdam Musical Association (or NAMA), a historical organization based in Harlem since the 1920s.
The event was called the Lady Legends of Jazz and it is an annual event held by NAMA where women artists pay tribute to the legendary women of jazz, blues and rhythm and blues. Tributes this year included Billie Holiday, Eartha Kitt, Esther Phillips, Lena Horne, Sarah Vaughan, Abbey Lincoln, Minnie Riperton and Whitney Houston. The women embodied the artist that they were paying tribute to by performing in character and sharing.
It was a really beautiful experience and we enjoyed the wonderful performances and the warm atmosphere in the venue. When the Vice President, Ktaki Arthur Brown, stood up to speak about the history and legacy of NAMA, I realized that I had read about this organization in history books. Surprisingly, I was not aware that the organization still existed.
The New Amsterdam Musical Association has its origins as a union for musical artists who were denied entry to New York’s Local Union (310) because they were colored or ethnic. Founded in 1904 by a group of musicians which included James Europe Reese (who was also a member of the renowned Harlem Hellfighters), the organization was based in Midtown until moving up to Harlem in the 1920s. There, it moved into a brownstone and became a home for musicians whenever they came to Harlem. Musicians could study and rehearse on its lower levels or board in rooms on the upper floors. There was even a speakeasy in the basement. Famed musicians such as John Coltrane, Max Roach and Jelly Roll Morton all made stops at NAMA.
No longer a music union, NAMA continues to be a hub for musicians and other creative spirits. People come from all over the city and the world to get a glimpse of its history and the bustling creativity within. Known for its historic Monday Night Jams, NAMA provides a haven for artists of the past, present and future.
Since joining, my family and I have been active participants at events held at NAMA and its fundraising efforts. We have a found a wonderful community of artists who are like-minded and want to see NAMA continue for generations to come.
To learn more, visit their website: http://www.namaharlem.org/
New Amsterdam Musical Association (NAMA)
107 West 130th Street
New York, NY 10025