Celebrating the life of photographer and filmaker and Minnesotan Gordon Parks at the Ordway

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MPR’s Dan Olson reports on a VocalEssence tribute to artist Gordon Parks. Report includes numerous commentaries.

African American photographer, composer, writer and Hollywood filmmaker Gordon Parks didn't buy his first camera and roll of film in Minnesota, but he had his first photographic show here. And the Twin Cities is where Parks got his first job playing piano and where his first musical compositions were performed. Parks is a Kansas native who spent his teen and early adult years in Minnesota. Now in his 90's Parks lives in New York City. His remarkable life story is told at the Ordway Theater as part of the VocalEssence Witness series.


(00:00:05) On a day off in December 1937 while working as a railroad. Waiter. Gordon Parks went to a Chicago movie theater and was Spellbound by dramatic wartime newsreel footage and then the personal account of the photographer who shot the film in a 1998 Minnesota Public Radio interview Park says, he was infected with the thrill of capturing the spectacular images and not incidentally impressed with the dashing figure cut by the newsreel photographer and he jumped out on stage and the Beautiful white suit and I thought that was very glamorous glamour was conspicuously absent from Gordon Parks has early years his mother whom he adored died when he was 15 sending the family's 15 children off in different directions to be raised by others Parks arrived in st. Paul to live with a sister and her husband the brother-in-law kicked him out on a cold winter night after a violent confrontation Parks was homeless. He roamed the streets looking for work riding street cars all night to stay warm desperate to survive he worked. Any job, he could find to pay rent Parks landed a piano playing job at a North Minneapolis bawdy house until a patron was murdered and the police closed the place Parks his early years were an emotional roller coaster that included scrapes with the law and violent confrontations with lowlife many sparked by racism Parks burned with anger at the Discrimination. He also burned with the passion to create I spent my last seven love and fifty cents buying a camera pawnshop on Seattle the Coalescence production includes, Lou Bellamy re-enacting scenes from Gordon Parks has life Bellamy is founder and artistic director of st. Paul's penumbra theater. He says Parks has talents are like having many artists in one body one knows how to direct film one knows how to direct for the stage one knows how to compose one knows how to take pictures. Well, here's a guy who continually put all those things together and I think it's a very African in view of the world all these things exist in the same place. You don't compartmentalize them Gordon Parks Farm Security Administration photographs of poor people during the Great Depression helped land him a job with Life magazine and that led to work as a New York Fashion photographer through it all he wrote his books about his life led to filmmaking Parks is the first African American to write direct and compose music for a major Hollywood film The Learning Tree. Nine Warner Brothers release about his growing up in Kansas

(00:02:38) well-groomed use The Learning Tree

(00:02:43) Gordon Parks his grandniece Robin Hickman a Twin Cities video producer says The Learning Tree followed by Parks has other movies featuring black men as larger-than-life. If not, always law-abiding Heroes helped break down gender and color barriers in Hollywood. He actually helped to launch the careers of many people behind the camera and that was just a Great lesson for me that it is about each one reach one Each one teach one fuel can claim a life story with as many emotional highs and lows as Gordon Parks Minneapolis playwright David Grant who wrote the script for the vocalessence tributes as Parks is a model for risk-taking Gordon and of stands there like this. Beacon is sending out this this this Clarion call to if that dream has been struck stuck in your craw for a long time. Why don't you risk stamping out there and scratch that itch Gordon Parks? Each to create is the subject of the vocalessence witness production Sunday afternoon at the Ordway theater in st. Paul Danielson, Minnesota Public

(00:03:43) Radio. Why is snow with to Dawn by his side? and a nice good To know well the sparrow flies where blue birds can sing. There grows the land tree.


Digitization made possible by the National Historical Publications & Records Commission.

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