Jessica Hagedorn and the West Coast Gangster Choir: October 30, 1975

The Poetry Center presents Jessica Hagedorn and the West Coast Gangster Choir, in this historic mid-1970s video recording. Introduced by Nashira Ntosha Priester ("Good God, America's a gangster country!"), with music for the band composed by luminary musician Julian Priester working in close collaboration with the poet, Hagedorn and company are presented in the group's premier public performance, at San Francisco State University, in Studio One, Creative Arts Building. Hagedorn's poems performed here are drawn mostly from her first book, Dangerous Music (Momo's Press, 1975), published in San Francisco the same year. Of the musicians, electric bassist Heshima Mark Williams and drummer Augusta Lee Collins would join Julian Priester's Marine Intrusion band. Guitarist Makoto Horiuchi was the first arranger/producer signed to work for Quincy Jones's Qwest label, and recorded two albums for the label under his own name. Hagedorn is accompanied on vocals by a three-voice chorus led by prolific Bay Area gospel, R&B, and women's music singer, songwriter, and recording artist Linda Tillery. 

The performance was video-documented by a student television production team in what is today SF State's BECA (Broadcast and Electronic Communication Arts) program, working in collaboration with The Poetry Center.

Background to the event: Hagedorn, with her newly assembled West Coast Gangster Choir, had been contracted by Poetry Center director Lewis MacAdams to perform earlier that same month, on Wednesday October 8. Minutes before they went on stage, Sam Peoples, the band's keyboardist, while standing outside the building was racially profiled, arrested by SF State campus police, and consequently jailed by SFPD. The October 8 performance in Knuth Hall was stopped as Hagedorn and the band learned of Peoples' arrest, and partial funds were collected from the audience toward his release. The musician was held until $170 in outstanding traffic fine and court costs were paid. (By comparison, Hagedorn and the band were paid $200 from the Poetry Center for their performance.) The rescheduled performance, documented here, was moved to TV production Studio 1, and took place at 2 p.m. Thursday, October 30, airing on campus television. Poets Otis Brown, from Philadelphia, and performance poet William Talen opened for Hagedorn and company (they are thanked by Nashira Ntosha Priester in her introduction). The tapes of Brown's and Talen's performances are yet to be digitized. 

Christine Bacareza Balance's informative essay from 2013, "Dancing to Rock & Roll Poetry: Jessica Hagedorn and the West Coast Gangster Choir," focuses on this recording and its West Coast cultural context.

American Poetry Archives
Studio 1, Creative Arts Building, San Francisco State University
Event Run Time
Augusta Lee Collins
Heshima Mark Williams
Sam Peoples
Linda Tillery
Julian Priester
Nashira Ntosha Priester
Makoto Horiuchi
Ota Pierce
Norman Jayo
Duke Doug Santos

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Jessica Hagedorn and the West Coast Gangster Choir (00:54:19)

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