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Finale: Linda Thomas Jones

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Grandmother's of the Drum
Young Linda

Young Linda

By the time I had heard of this fabulous artists in the year 2000, she had already been drumming, performing and teaching for over 22 years. Even in the year 2000, professional women djembe drummers were a rare species. But Linda-Thomas Jones had been quietly working behind the scenes through her arts to build community with the drum. 
Show Celebrates Imani’s Success!”
The Imani African-American Dance Company, one of only two in the Cleveland area, launched its second full season at the Garfield Heights Community Center with a show and anniversary celebration on September 23.”  
Okay. That’s nice, I thought.  But so what. The article continued by stating that,
 
 

 

“…By the end of the 1985 season, 160 pupils had come to the Imani classes, which include African, modern, improvisational and children’s creative dance….By the end of the last season (1985) the Imani company had performed and put on workshops on African-American dance before 12, 000 people in schools and community organizations.”  Jim Konkoly-Sun Newspaper; Cleveland, 1985


 
Now, that’s still news! I  have worked in and with artistic organizations for 20 years. I am well aware of how difficult it is to reach the populations, particularly in schools and community groups.  A major performance at a festival can boosts the stats.  Reaching 12,000 people through teaching and performing in schools and community groups is a phenomenal feat. I am still impressed.

Linda says she formed Imani because,“There weren’t any consistent African dance and drum classes and people were interested in learning about their culture. After going to the Chuck Davis dance and drum classes and seeing all of the mothers, fathers and children dancing together, I decided to focus on everyone so that I could actually create a village.” 

Creating villages is  exactly what Linda did. “Sometimes I would have as many  as 100 men women and children in my classes ages 21 months to 70 years of age. I did not just focus on women. I taught anyone who came to me. I taught juvenile detention centers with young men that had simply given up on their lives. After about one hour I would have them playing drums and dancing for each other. Rival gang members would encourage each other to not give up on the rhythms or the movements that I was trying to get them to perform. They would become like little boys again. Then I would sit and talk to them about their lives and choices. The drum was the tool to open them up. I have worked in the maximum security prison for men and women teaching long-term drum and dance programs.” 

Linda is a consummate performer.  Major performances include; Cleveland Art Museum, Cleveland Natural History Museum, Oberlin College, Case Western Reserve, Michigan State University, Cain Park Amphitheater, Minneapolis Cultural Gardens ,  a nationally televised performance with the Cleveland Orchestra and Dance Africa Chicago. She composes her own music and has composed music for an adaptation of Wole Soyinka’s, ‘The Bacchae’.

Many know Linda from her performances in the middle years of the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival where she performed with many female musicians on the day stage and night stages. These performances included work with Edwina Lee Tyler, Ubaka Hill, Nuru Abena, Debra McGee, Roberta Stokes, Nydia, Virginia Lopez, Carolyn Brandy and Phyllis Bethel. It was Linda’s work at Mich Fest, sharing her work with over 10,000 women at a time, that she became a grandmother of the Women’s drumming movement.

 Linda’s work is also focused in the Orisha Community. She says that, “In the beginning the men would not let me play the drum during ceremonies; only  sing. Then I went to  a Bembe where I saw other women playing for their own Orisha. From that point on I have played for my own Orisha and for other priests as well. Her Excellency, Aina Olomo, has always encouraged me to play.  She appreciates my ability to touch people with my drumming.

Many of us prefer the stage to community service. Many of us do a combination. Linda has done both but here is a woman who   has dedicated  most of her life to using the drum in service to Spirit, youth, inmates and the isolated. Linda has produced one CD, ‘Sacred Waters’.  The long awaited second is in process. She continues her work teaching drumming and music in Texas and writing music and books for children.

One of her most prominent accomplishments was the formation of the Imani Dance and Drum Ensemble in Cleveland, Ohio.  Of Jones’ work and the Imani company, one particular article said it all:

Series Navigation«Grandmothers of the Drum: Linda Thomas Jones part II

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