During a time when society did not value the Black cultural and visual aesthetic, Kwame Brathwaite, a Brooklyn-born photographer, spent his career working to elevate natural Black beauty through the "Black Is Beautiful" movement.

Inspired in part by the writings of Marcus Garvey, Kwame Brathwaite, his older brother, Elombe Brath, and the African Jazz Arts Society and Studios (AJASS) popularized the phrase “Black Is Beautiful” in the late 50's and early 60’s. “Black Is Beautiful” is one of the most important political and cultural ideas of the twentieth century. Brathwaite and Brath did their part to spread this idea through Brathwaite’s writings and photographs and the activities of the two organizations they helped co-found: AJASS and Grandassa Models.

Fast forward to today, a time when acts of violence and hate against the Black community are now captured on video and spread through social media, we felt a need to revive "Black Is Beautiful" to elevate the Black community and highlight their value and worth in this society because all lives don’t matter until Black lives matter.

The Vision

Brandon Baker, Exec. Chairman of Adobe’s Black Employee Network, collaborated with Kwame S. Brathwaite, son and Director of the Kwame Brathwaite Archive, Grammy award winning musicians Marcus Gilmore and Nicholas Payton to create a multi-media experience highlighting "Black Is Beautiful" with Kwame Brathwaite’s unique photography combined with original musical compositions.

Marcus Gilmore

Marcus Gilmore is a multi Grammy Award winning drummer/composer. While Marcus can be found performing and recording with a diverse array of the finest musicians in the world such as Chick Corea, Pharoah Sanders, Savion Glover, Pat Metheny & Ravi Coltrane, he has also demonstrated his multifaceted musical talents and personality through long term solo projects with his own groups Actions Speak and Silouhwav. In 2020, he wrote his first orchestral composition titled “Pulse” as part of the 2018 - 2019 Annual Rolex Mentor and Protégé Art Project.

Marcus, in all of his playing, integrates a unique style where he is musically expanding rhythm, while supporting the great musicians with whom he plays. He has also performed/recorded with Mulatu Astatke, Common, Thundercat, Vijay Iyer, Flying Lotus, Cassandra Wilson, Jill Scott, Talib Kweli, Queen Latifah, Black Thought, Zakir Hussain, Roy Hargrove, Robert Glasper and Taylor Mcferrin.

Nicholas Payton

Nicholas Payton – Grammy award-winning, multi-instrumentalist, composer, vocalist and essayist from New Orleans, Louisiana, is among the most essential voices in the exploration of artistic and sociopolitical intersections. Nicholas has presented a vast array of works — from records featuring the likes of Joshua Redman and Roy Hargrove, to collaborations with rapper Common and drummer-producer Karriem Riggins, as well as composing and performing a large-scale piece commissioned by Prague Proms entitled the Black American Symphony. He is also a prolific and provocative writer who comments on a multitude of subjects, including music, race, politics, and life. This will be Nicholas and Marcus's second recording project together, the first being Nicholas's Into the Blue album in 2008.

Marc Bamuthi Joseph

Marc Bamuthi Joseph is a 2017 TED Global Fellow, an inaugural recipient of the Guggenheim Social Practice initiative, and an honoree of the United States Artists Rockefeller Fellowship. His piece, “The Just and the Blind” investigates the crisis of over-sentencing in the prison industrial complex, and premiered at a sold out performance at Carnegie Hall in March 2019. Bamuthi is currently at work on commissions for the Perelman Center, Yale University, and the Washington National Opera as well as a new collaboration with NYC Ballet Artistic Director Wendy Whelan. Formerly the Chief of Program and Pedagogy at YBCA in San Francisco, Bamuthi currently serves as the Vice President and Artistic Director of Social Impact at The Kennedy Center.

We Will Breathe

“We Will Breathe” was composed in the aftermath of the momentum following the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. It is the latest in a collaboration in which Marcus Gilmore and I created a tone poem based on an image by Kwame Brathwaite. The images, “Women on Boxes" and "Men on Boxes” from 1966, are from the Black Arts movement and are emblematic of the Black Power era where Black folks were reclaiming their ties to Mother Africa and eschewing perms and conks for natural hairstyles. The Black Power era was one of affirmation. In light of that, and inspired by the 3-note mantra played by Marcus, the incantation “We Will Breathe” popped into my head. I’m not a fan of the mantras repeated at protests nowadays, such as “I can’t breathe,” or “Hands up; don’t shoot.” I feel that they’re negative and serve to ignite and perpetuate trauma. “We Will Breathe” is a mantra that challenges victimization and empowers Black people to take control of the narrative. As a song, “We Will Breathe” was developed much like the struggle for Black liberation itself, step-by-step. The inspiration for this song isn’t linear. It is a work in real time with roots in the past. Like the Ghanaian Sankofa bird, we reached back to bring new life into our current strata. Ancestry.

—Nicholas Payton

Performance by

  • Nicholas Payton: trumpet, keyboard, bass and vocals
  • Marcus Gilmore: drums and keyboard
  • Marc Bamuthi Joseph: spoken word
  • Jasmine Mitchell: vocals
  • Melanie Charles: vocals
  • Vegas Cola: vocals

Executive producers:

  • Brandon Baker & Kwame S. Brathwaite

Contact Us

Kwame S. Brathwaite - kwame@kwamebrathwaite.com


Brandon Baker - Branbake@adobe.com

Created By
Brandon Baker