Charles Mingus champions an ‘explicitly political work’ in his punchy protest song, Fables of Faubus

Charles Mingus was born in Nogales, Arizona in 1922, and was raised in Watts, Los Angeles. At an early age, Mingus was engrossed in music of the church (the only music that his step-mother allowed around the house), and often engaged in choir and group singing. At eight years old, Mingus heard the melodic voice of Duke Ellington over the radio, and soon developed a serious passion for jazz music. As a teenager, Mingus began to study “double bass and composition in a formal way,” while simultaneously absorbing first hand a vernacular for jazz through some of the earlier greats – in the 1940’s, Mingus began touring with artists such as Louis Armstrong, Lionel Hampton, and Kid Ory.

By the 1950s, Mingus settled in New York and began playing and recording with some of the world’s leading musicians such as Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Bud Powell, Art Tatum, and even Duke Ellington. A rarity as a bassist, Mingus impressively emerged as a “leader of musicians,” and by the 1960s, had formed his own recording and publishing companies in an effort to document and protect his “growing repertoire of original music.” By the late 1960s and early 1970s, Mingus wrote over three hundred scores and recorded over one hundred albums – some noteworthy albums include: Pithecanthropus Erectus, The Clown, Mingus Dynasty, The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady, Cumbia and Jazz Fusion, and Let My Children Hear Music. Until his sudden death in 1979, Mingus remained at the forefront of American music, and often, championed some of the most politically powerful protest songs. Mingus received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Smithsonian Institute, and many other honourable recognitions for his impactful role in the world of jazz. He continues to be a legacy and inspiration to various artists today.

Fables of Faubus

The infamous Fables of Faubus composed by Mingus was first released in 1959. At the time, it was known as one of his most “explicitly political” works, which protested against the governor of Arkansas, Orval E. Faubus, who was behind the National Guard’s prevention of the integration of Little Rock high school.

‘Name me someone who’s ridiculous, Dannie.
Governor Faubus!
Why is he so sick and ridiculous?
He won’t permit integrated schools.’

The song was included on his 1959 album Mingus Ah Um, but Columbia records refused to allow the words on the record to be included. Consequently, only the instrumentals of Fables were produced in the first version on Mingus’ album. Later, in 1960 however, Mingus was approached by a smaller production company known as Candid, and a new version of Fables was produced with lyrics. Because of the controversy with Columbia records, the new version of the song was first released as “Original Faubus Fables.” The vocals on the record feature Mingus himself and drummer Dannie Richmond in a “call and response” form, which was very typical of protest songs at the time. Fables is a powerful, satirical and ‘bitingly direct’ song, which brought to light some of the sinister political and social issues that black Americans faced at the time.

 

References:

Charles Mingus, The Official Site. "Charles Mingus: Biography" Jazz Workshop Inc. 1991. https://mingusmingusmingus.com/mingus

Desmond King. "The world's against me as a black man: Charles Mingus and Segregated America" Journal of Historical Sociology. March, 2000, Vol.13(1), p.54(24)