The Watts Prophets

Prior to 1965, few white Americans outside of Los Angeles were aware of the community of Watts - an enclave of working class African-Americans just south of the skyscrapers of downtown. Forty square blocks of shops, churches, parks and families with a unique cultural and economic base were slowly deteriorating under the outside pressures of "urban renewal", "progress," and the overall population growth of the greater Los Angeles area.

In the 1950's, Watts supported an astonishing array of creative endeavors. Seminal artists like Ornette Coleman, Charlie Mingus, and Don Cherry gave birth to much of their artistic legacy in the small clubs and theatres along Central Avenue in the community of Watts.

The anonymity of Watts in the 1950's and early 60's was lost forever after the explosive confrontation between the community and a Los Angeles police force in 1965. Walter Cronkite and a vast America called it the Watts Riots. For the community it was more a rebellion - the inevitable confrontation with what they experienced as an occupying army. However one sees it now, the event brought the community of Watts to the consciousness of all America and sustains it there now - more than thirty years later.

Out of the smoke and ashes, the process of rebuilding included the efforts of Budd Schulberg, (Academy Award-wining screenwriter for On the Waterfront) to create in his Watts Writer's Workshop, an opportunity for local citizens to express themselves and their culture by encouraging art and literacy. It was the Watts Writer's Workshop that bore the Watts Prophet was born.

The Watts Prophets are Richard Dedeux, Amde Hamilton and Otis O'Solomon who live, work and create in Watts, California, something they have done for more than thirty years. In 1967, these three, the best of the students in the prestigious Watts Writers Workshop, won their first amateur talent contest as a nameless group. But then, after they recited/chanted/ spoke/sung/witnessed their unique jazz-accompanied topical poem, an audience member - dazzled by their performance - shouted, "They must be the Watts Prophets!"

The earliest work by the twenty-something aged poets (as documented in their earliest recordings) was an expression of their rage against powerlessness. Racism, poverty, and violence were their everyday reality and provided the thematic foundation for what become a very unique style - what many today acknowledge as the roots of rap.

The Watts Prophets also played at...