History Making Tulsan Musician Salutes Greenwood in New Work
Young Tevin Thomas changed the legacy of city of Tulsa in 1970 when his mother drove himself and his sister to Salk Elementary School in South Tulsa. His mother taught school there the first African American ever to do so. It was a long drive and his mother kept the car radios on; she knew how it pleased her young son. Out of the dashboard came the great pop and soul music of the time, entrancing him, stirring a gift inside him that would later become the passion of his life. Arriving at Salk, she took her daughter's hand and began to walk into her into the halls of this new, unfamiliar school, far away from her child’s neighborhood, her friends, everything she had come to know at this young age. Her mother knew it would be difficult for the young girl but she knew it was
important and she knew it was time. Time to be brave.
She directed Tevin to cross the street to begin his first class at Byrd Junior High School. When he sat down in his classroom, the legacy of Tulsa profoundly changed. What Tevin and his sister had done had been for decades unthinkable in this particular part of this Oklahoma city, once described as one of the most “rigidly segregated urban enclaves in America.”
Tevin, a quiet, studious African American young man, now sat among his classmates, all white as it had been at for all prior students for all prior years. He was the first with a darker skin to ever sit at a desk at Byrd Junior High School. There is an ancient Chinese proverb: The longest journey begins with the first step. That day in 1970 was a first step. It had taken over a century, but at last it had started. With this simple act the often-brutal pall of discrimination, exclusion, hatred and massive death and destruction, that had lingered over the city since its inception had, at last, begun to lift. A city that had witnessed America’s most destructive and bloody racial tragedy -- The 1921 Tulsa Massacre -- was now taking its first steps to come to grips with its past and begin to build towards a better, more racially harmonious city.
Tevin’s aunt had told him about that day, June 1, 1921, of unthinkable terror. It still painfully lived in her memory. This “Dark Stain on the America Soul,” as writer John Lisbon Wood describes it in his soon to published, There Stood Greenwood, haunted not only a city in Oklahoma, but all of America, as well. There are things Wood writes that just “can’t be forgotten.” Unless it is, at last, fully acknowledged, fully investigated, amends made, its lessons learned, this “Magic City” as it was called owing to its new-found oil wealth, may well never have to again suffer the fate philosopher George Santayana warned of when he wrote: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” To this end, Tevin Thomas has employed his considerable artistic talent to realize a major work chronicling this “Day of Dread,” entitled Bad Wind Blowin’. The piece is a spoken word musical featuring Tevin’s original compositions and dialogue by John Lisbon Wood.
Tevin’s music career is more than impressive. He stands as one of the most talented artists to ever come from Tulsa. Thanks to his music teacher -- Tulsa’s own Richard Wilson -- he had his first gig at age 14, playing sax and keyboard at the Tulsa YMCA. Tevin’s considerable talent led him to the New York Institute of Technology where he earned a master’s degree. Deeply committed to the well-being of under-privileged students, he taught at P.S. 811 in the Bronx where he performed with autistic students and continued to contribute to the community as a member of Impact Repertory Theatre. Tevin has performed with Bobbi Humphrey, Dionne Warwick, Jay-Z, Roberta Flack and is one of the few pianists to accompany the “godfather” of avant-garde jazz, Ornette Coleman. Tevin co-wrote the song “Raise it Up” with Jamal Joseph and Charles Mack for the Robin Williams’ film August Rush. The composition was Oscar-nominated for “Best Original Song’” and Tevin performed it live with Jamia Simone Nash at the 80th Academy Awards in Hollywood.
Bad Wind Blowin’, which critics have compared to Hamilton, depicts the vibrant life of Greenwood and features a number of actual historical personages, including A.J. Smitherman, editor of the Tulsa Star; entrepreneur J.B. Stratford; attorney John Hope Franklin; community pioneer O.W. Gurly, among others.
The musical was first produced at Purdue University (NW) with Corya Kennedy Channing directing. Mechelle Brown, Program Coordinator at the Greenwood Cultural Center, was the honored guest speaker; the debut performance received an unusually strong reception. Excerpts, selected scenes and musical numbers have been performed in various venues including New York City, Chicago and Gary, Indiana in churches, parks and
Tevin and John are now actively planning on hopefully, staging and performing a number of these excerpts as part of the upcoming Centennial, hoping to raise awareness and funds for this historic and vitally important event. Originally, the production was in preparation for a workshop in NYC in the spring of this year until the pandemic forced a temporary delay.
In addition, Mr. Wood is recording a series of readings from his soon to be
published book, There Stood Greenwood. He’s already done selected in person
readings for the University of Chicago Graham School of Writing.