Drumsticks used by Art Blakey, 1980s

Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of Peter Bradley

Since its inception, in the spirit of Carter G. Woodson, Sapelo Square has commemorated Black History Month with daily Black Muslim History facts. This year, Sapelo Square is exploring the Muslim collection at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC). During Black History Month, we will display a different object each day from the collection, showing how the objects help tell the rich histories of Muslims of African descent in the United States. View the entire series at our dedicated Black History Month 2021 page.

Born in 1919, jazz drummer and bandleader Art Blakey rose to prominence playing with greats like Billy Eckstine, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and Sarah Vaughn. In the 1940s, he adopted the name Abdullah ibn Buhaina, signaling his embrace of Islam through the Ahmadiyya Movement, with which a number of jazz artists had become affiliated during that same period.  The prominence of Muslims in jazz prompted a 1953 feature story in Ebony Magazine, titled “Moslem Musicians,” that quoted Blakey stating, “Islam has made me feel more like a man, really free.” By 1954, the collective that Blakey had started years earlier had evolved into the Jazz Messengers, which would become a proving ground for up and coming jazz artists for over three decades until Blakey’s passing in 1990. The featured pair of wooden drumsticks are the last to be used by him, and they represent the long history of Muslim influences in Black music, from the blues all the way to contemporary Hip Hop.

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