NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — A cacophony of bagpipes, African drums and jazz riffs creatively blended— much like the elements of an Amiri Baraka poem — at the Saturday funeral for the activist-writer and a founder of the Black Arts Movement, who died earlier this month.
The service, held at Newark Symphony Hall, featured poetry, music and tributes to a man several speakers hailed as a creative and committed revolutionary who had a profound influence both on American culture and on a generation of artists and activists.
The 79-year-old author died Jan. 9 in his native Newark of an undisclosed illness. Baraka wrote blues-based poetry, essays, plays, and books and operas — or “boperas” as he called them — mixing music, spoken word and rhythm in a signature style that many credit as an important precursor to hip-hop, rap and slam poetry. He was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1995.
Several of the speakers at Saturday’s service read Baraka-style fist-shaking tone poems in tribute to a man, as poet Tony Medina described, who had “rolled a boulder uphill.”
“Great spirits do not die, they are energy … agitating our bones to move,” Medina said, reading a poem he had written in tribute.
Actor Danny Glover, who officiated at the service with producer-director Woodie King, recalled Baraka’s 1967 visit to San Francisco State University when Glover was a student. He said Baraka pushed him into acting, urging him to perform in a school production. He spoke of the profound influence Baraka had on the school founding the first Black Studies program in American higher education.
Baraka also helped found the Black Arts Movement in 1965 and left a legacy of community activism in Newark and elsewhere.
Several community activists spoke at the service, recounting how Baraka had urged them to work for change in their communities — especially in his beloved Newark — and to engage in social activism through art.
Musicians played jazz standards and original pieces written for the service. Tap dancer Savion Glover performed as poet Sonia Sanchez read a poem written by Maya Angelou as a tribute to Baraka.
Amiri Baraka was named New Jersey’s poet laureate in 2002, but the position was eliminated following controversy over his poem, “Somebody Blew up America.” The poem, alleging that some Israelis had advance knowledge of the Sept. 11 attacks, led to widespread outrage and added fuel to critics who had long denounced Baraka as homophobic and anti-Semitic.
Several of the speakers at his service alluded to Baraka’s fiery, controversial public image, while hailing him as a man who had contributed greatly to the civil rights struggle.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, who spoke at a wake for Baraka on Friday night in Newark, called Baraka “a curious, creative activist and change agent who never stopped fighting or working for the formula to create social justice.”
Baraka is survived by his wife of 47 years, Amina Baraka, and nine children. One of his sons, Ras Baraka, who is running for mayor of Newark, was to give the eulogy at Saturday’s service.
(AP Photo: Poet Sonia Sanchez reads a poem during the funeral of poet Amiri Baraka Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014, in Newark, N.J.)
Also On Black America Web:
This Week’s Celebrity Instagrams (6/18-6/24)
25 photos Launch gallery
1. Me & the homie @jaleelwhite #RujohnFoundation Happy to be in Jamaica! Good times
1 of 25
2 of 25
3 of 25
4 of 25
5. Good Morning. Early day in Detroit! Making press rounds for @thebossnetwork's Ladies That Lead Tour. Thank you @traycemadre and @colourbynumbr for my glam.
5 of 25
6. POWER the best show on TV @djenvy, Queens we so big out here. #EFFENVODKA #FRIGO
6 of 25
7. They said u lost a step, wasn't explosive as once was, the best days was in the real view, questioned your drive, your leadership, your commitment, you don't have killer instinct, going back home is the worst mistake in your career, he got the coach fired, players traded, won't work between him and Kyrie, Him and Kev won't work, love your teammates to much, there's no way he can deliver a championship in his hometown, etc etc etc.... But guess what THATS NONE OF MY BUSINESS #StriveForGreatness #ThisOneIsForTheLand #PutSomeRespeckOnMyName Hahahaha!!! Yes sir
7 of 25
8. Oooooh weeee this man right here is responsible for at least three of our four babies!! #JOE ❤❤❤🎤 #rnb #king #voicelikebutter #ForPeetesSake
8 of 25
9. Hanging with my @abcnetwork family! @abcunclebuck tonite y'all check us out ! @anthonyanderson @traceeellisross
9 of 25
10. My broski ( @sayeedshahidi ) and I are on Top 5 Live on @go90 at 5 (which is super duper close)! Make sure to tune in :) #UncleBuck #Blackish
10 of 25
11. Lights out💤 #GoodNight
11 of 25
12. Late nights mornings
12 of 25
13. Ran into the lovely talented @siedahgarrett on this brutiful favvuz deh!
13 of 25
14. #halal #love #thedargans #kattwilliamsSHOW #mashallah when that Jennah piece HIT!! @sweetjennahcollection glasses by @baddieglamaccessories LIZ 😍 @dynamiteko top @dazzledmv and jeans @thevision414 and shoes: @louboutinworld
14 of 25
15. Big Hair and Optical Illusions #OceanDrive #MiamiLiving #coverparty
15 of 25
16. MAMA and THE SAVAGES ... ⚓️ #supportyourlocalgirlgang
16 of 25
17. From the bottom of my ❤️, thank you new followers & old! & hello fellow night owls! #grateful #racheltrue #naturalhair #curlyhair #curlygirl #healthyhair
17 of 25
18. I feel so grateful because I met these amazing young minds, visiting from Houston TX, during their college tour stop today at #usc.These students are ALL extraordinary and embody academic excellence so I'm humbled to have shared a few moments with them to applaud and celebrate their bright futures ahead! Thank you @EmergeFellows for inviting me to speak and blessing me with your love and attention this afternoon!
18 of 25
19. Happy Fathers Day Pops. U taught me how to be a man. Lessons of love, hard work & gratefulness. Sorry the fishing didn't stick. LOL. I Love U!
19 of 25
20. Sky Zone and Ice Cream! Best Fathers Day Ever!! Photo credit @mariahcarey
20 of 25
21. Look what finally came in the mail 😎 #mtvmovieawards2016 💥+🌽! #straightouttacompton
21 of 25
22. Claudia Jordan: ....
22 of 25
23. 'Member that time I almost knocked a bajillion dollar camera off the car? Really? Yeah, me neither! #Greenleaf Episode 2 comin atcha!
23 of 25
24. Full of love. #birthday #Cabo
24 of 25
25. Oh hey! Look who just joined Snapchat
25 of 25