From the PA’s DEI Committee: Celebrating Black History Month

Posted on Thursday, February 4th, 2021

February marks the start of Black History Month, an annual observance that recognizes the great achievements and history of African Americans in this country. In celebration of Black History Month, Traci Lester, the mother of Hailey in the Light Blue Cluster, shared a personal story about Hailey’s grandfather, jazz saxophonist Samuel Conrad “Connie” Lester.

Connie Lester was born in New Jersey before World War II. He began playing the saxophone when he was a young man and mastered the alto, tenor, and soprano saxophones, along with the clarinet and piano. His musical heroes included famous saxophonists Charlie Parker and Lester Young.

Connie performed  in small and large big bands during his early years and would later tour around the country with many jazz singers and musicians. His music could be heard at famous venues such as the historic Birdland in New York City. In 2002, he joined his peers to become a member of the Newark Jazz Elders, a group that played together to highlight the rich cultural history of jazz in New Jersey.

Among his honors was a proclamation from the city of Newark for “decades of contributions to the residents of this great metropolis through music and the sounds of jazz.” And, in 2007, the state of New Jersey issued a proclamation to the Newark Jazz Elders, citing “their extraordinary contributions to the cultural richness of our largest city, our state and our country.” (WBGO, 8.22.19).

Connie passed away in 2019 leaving a legacy of music for generations to enjoy.

This drawing is courtesy of Hailey Lester (c) 2019 in the Light Blue Cluster and is a tribute to her grandfather, Jazz Musician Samuel Conrad “Connie” Lester.

Check out the links below for original music performed by Connie Lester, and to learn more about the history of jazz.

Two Different Worlds on the album Mo’ Greens Please — Connie Lester, Tenor Sax

History of Jazz narrated by Wynton Marsalis, part of the Jazz at Lincoln Center series

Black History Month pays tribute to the generations of African Americans who struggled with adversity to achieve equality. Black History Month isn’t only about celebrating Black people, but it is also meant to support and encourage awareness about things that are and were created by Black people about non-Black specific topics. Learn more about Black History Month and the many ways you and your family can both celebrate and have conversations about black stories using the resources provided below.