Arts & Entertainment

Hammer Museum multimedia performance takes on LA black music 1960–1980

Roger Guenveur Smith and Marc Anthony Thompson
Roger Guenveur Smith and Marc Anthony Thompson
Courtesy Hammer Museum

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The Hammer Museum’s show in the “Pacific Standard Time” series focuses on art and black Los Angeles between 1960 and 1980. Wednesday at 7 p.m. the museum’s presenting specially commissioned multimedia performance "Twenty Twenty" that’ll take viewers onto the dance floor and into melody-filled clubs to showcase African-American music in L.A. during the same time period.

The Hammer’s art exhibit makes the point that during a 20-year span African-American art in L.A. was a bubbling cauldron of creativity, much of it forgotten. The multimedia performance “Twenty Twenty” makes the same case for the region’s African-American music.

“Louie, Louie” is an L.A. song. "Twenty Twenty" begins with the story of Richard Berry, a Louisiana transplant to L.A. just a couple of years out of Jefferson High School. In 1955 he wrote “Louie, Louie” after gigging with L.A. Latin bands and it’s since become one of the most popular party songs ever.

Collaborators Marc Anthony Thompson and Roger Guenveur Smith have joined video, photographs, interviews and narration in L.A.’s signature assemblage style, Thompson says.

"We’ve got Ornette Coleman over Charles Wright with Sam Cooke singing, we’ve got the Fifth Dimension joined by Barry White," Thompson says. "We’ve got Barry White doing a duet with Odetta. What else do we have? It’s like a big mashup."

Guenveur Smith’s an actor and writer, best known for his work in several Spike Lee films and his own one-man stage show “A Huey P. Newton Story.” Thompson’s an accomplished musician and songwriter.

They’ve worked together for 20 years. They relish being the first to tell people that singers Odetta, Esther Phillips and Barry White all grew up in L.A. But the point of the “Twenty Twenty” performance is to praise the music and the musicians.

Like the song “7 and 7 Is” by Arthur Lee’s band Love.

"He formed a multiracial band, in early '60s, that became the toast of Sunset Boulevard. There’s a really great scene in a Doors documentary where the Doors are getting out of an airplane and they ask Jim Morrison, and he says one day he’d like to be as big as Love and people think he was talking about the emotion love, but he was talking about the band Love."

The performance also ventures into the tragic: gospel-turned-pop star Sam Cooke, killed in a motel near Watts. And the undying kinship, Roger Guenveur Smith says, between jazz greats Charles Mingus and Eric Dolphy.

"As the story goes, when Dolphy died, Mingus threw himself into his grave and said 'take me with you Eric.'"

Guenveur Smith and Thompson say that as L.A.-based African-Americans they know these stories well; now is the right time to share them with others.