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Smithsonian Institution
Midwestern CrossroadsAmericans Old and NewMidwestern CrossroadsSouthern FusionLouisiana, Where Music is King
Sunshine drum group

East St. Louis is one of the fabled midwestern cities that, with its largely African-American population, nurtured some of the hottest players in jazz, blues, and r&b. One of the oldest blues songs tells how the singer "walked all the way from East St. Louis," and, in the 1950s, the city nurtured the rough-hewn showbands of Chuck Berry, Little Milton, and Ike and Tina Turner. Miles Davis grew up here, sneaking into local jazz clubs to hear the latest sounds.
       Today, East St. Louis seems at times like a city under siege, but African-American artists are still working hard to instill a sense of pride and history in the younger generation. Two of the guiding lights of the local scene are the drummer Sylvester "Sunshine" Lee and the poet Eugene Redmond. Both have been associated with the arts association headed by dancer and choreographer Katherine Dunham, and it was with Dunham that Lee started out studying the African drumming tradition. He has since trained several generations of African drummers, reminding black youngsters of their roots in the old continent.
       Eugene Redmond is a widely published poet, a major figure in the cultural blossoming of the 1960s. While many of his peers headed for the coasts and their more visible literary scenes, Redmond has opted to remain here, on his home turf, and his poems are deeply rooted in his environment. He writes of what he sees in the streets of East St. Louis, of local heroes and heroines, and of the history that has shaped the city's African-American community. In a world that many community leaders have all but abandoned, he and Lee remain beacons of optimism and hope.


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