Finding Afro-Kola at the Library of Congress

The following is a guest blog by 2016-2017 Library of Congress Jazz Scholar Ingrid Monson.

“Finding Afro-Kola at the Library of Congress” 
Ingrid Monson, Harvard University
2016-2017 Library of Congress Jazz Scholar

For scholars and researchers interested in jazz, a visit to the Music Division of the Library of Congress can be a rewarding improvisation in its own right. A solid foundation of special collections—the papers of Max Roach, Charles Mingus, Gerry Mulligan, Ella Fitzgerald, Anita O’Day, Oliver Lake, Gunther Schuller and many more; the contents of letters, scores, and unissued recordings—all open avenues of research and networks of unexpected connection. Just begin with a finding aid and start requesting boxes. They are quickly and professionally delivered by Library of Congress librarians and staff, whose expertise should be made a part of the research effort as it extends not only to the materials that have been catalogued, but the rich treasure trove of materials in process. In my own case Senior Music Reference Librarian Larry Appelbaum guided me to materials I otherwise never would have found including letters and photographs of Abbey Lincoln, Eric Dolphy’s manuscript scores, lines of inter-connection not immediately apparent in the Max Roach Papers, and a collection of notated copyright deposits that would have taken me six months to compile through direct requests to the Copyright Office.

The Library of Congress librarians thoroughly enjoy seeing the collections being used, not just by the usual suspects—academics, biographers, journalists—but by the general public with an interest in music. Users with no research background need not be intimidated by the request procedures because the librarians and staff are genuinely interested in helping you.

On my first day at the Music Division, Larry Appelbaum told me about a jingle that Max Roach had written in 1970 for a product called Afro-Kola. Intrigued, I headed to box 140, folder 20 where I learned that Afro-Kola was a beverage distributed by Max Roach’s friend Frank Mabry, Jr., who owned a company called Afro-American distributors. On June 1, 1970, at Nola Studios in New York, Max Roach recorded three versions of a radio advertisement for Afro-Kola—10 second, 30 second, and 60 second versions. From the papers filed with AFTRA and the American Federation of Musicians it can be seen that the singer was Brock Peters and the band included Reggie Workman, Montego Joe, Warren Smith, and Charles Williams.

The lyrics of the sixty second version highlight Afro-Kola as a black owned product with the potential to contribute to broader community goals.

The taste of freedom
The soul drink
Right on (repeated 8 times, accompanied by a 16 bar piano solo)
The soul drink
Right on

The score to the sixty second version shows a B flat minor melody in 6/8 meter accompanied by a familiar Afro-Cuban bell pattern. The lead vocal part is accompanied by a small choir, piano, bass, and percussion (Images 1 and 2).

Image 1. Afro-Kola Jingle. Sixty seconds. Max Roach Papers. Library of Congress. Box 37, folder 1.

Image 2. Afro-Kola Jingle. Sixty seconds. Max Roach Papers. Library of Congress. Box 37, folder 1.

Charles Stewart made posters for Afro-Kola and designed a logo. The jingle was translated into Spanish and arrangements were made for broadcast on three local radio stations: five weeks on WLIB, four weeks on WWRLL, and two weeks on WADO. The total cost of the recording of the jingle and its broadcast was $13,015.79 billed to Afro-American Distributors by Abbey Lincoln, Inc. Advertising.  The recordings of the three versions of the jingle can also be heard at the Library of Congress.

The ambitions of Afro-Kola were high. Frank Mabry wrote to the heads of Safeway Stores, Grand Union, and Seven-Eleven in the hopes of getting Afro-Kola and its related flavors of Afro-Orange and Afro-Grape stocked on the shelves of major supermarkets, but it was an uphill battle. Afro-Kola clearly did not become a household word, but the hopeful ambitions for African American entrepreneurship resound.

In archival research one thing leads to another with an unpredictable rhythm. A tip provided by Larry Appelbaum led me to a chain of discoveries—Afro-Kola, Afro-American Distributors, Abbey Lincoln Inc. Advertising and the catchy tune of the jingle. The improvisational ethos of the day and the hopes and dreams of a generation for black empowerment, enrich our understanding of Max Roach’s life in music, that previously published documents do not. The fantastic librarians and staff at the Library of Congress can help everyone find their own research groove.


About Ingrid Monson

Ingrid Monson is the Quincy Jones Professor of African American music at Harvard University. She has served as chair of the Department of Music and as Interim Dean of Arts and Humanities at Harvard. She is the author of Freedom Sounds: Civil Rights Call Out to Jazz and Africa (Oxford University Press, 2007) and Saying Something: Jazz Improvisation and Interaction (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996). Monson is editor of a volume entitled the African Diaspora: A Musical Perspective (Garland/Routledge 2000). Her books have received the Woody Guthrie Award from the International Association for the Study of Popular Music and the Irving Lowens Book Award from the Society for American Music. Monson’s article, “Hearing, Seeing, and Perceptual Agency” (Critical Inquiry 2008) explores the implications of work on cognition and perception for poststructural theoretical issues in the humanities. She was a Guggenheim Fellow (2009-10), a Marta Sutton Weeks Fellow at Stanford Humanities Center (2009-2010), a Walter Channing Cabot Fellow (2008), and a Radcliffe Institute Fellow in 2012-2013. She is currently finishing a book called Kenedugu Visions about Malian balafonist Neba Solo. Monson’s articles have appeared in Ethnomusicology, Critical Inquiry, Journal of the American Musicological Society, Black Music Research Journal, Women and Music, and several edited volumes. She began her career as a trumpet player. She also plays piano and Senufo balafon.


Library of Congress Jazz Scholars

The Library of Congress Jazz Scholars program, made possible by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, provides leading jazz experts with the opportunity to spend extended periods conducting research in the Library’s jazz collections. Library of Congress Jazz Scholars participate in interviews and deliver lectures to present the results of their research. Recent scholars to hold the title include Ingrid Monson, John Szwed, Dan Morgenstern and Abdullah Ibrahim.

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