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Fordham Professor Provides Hip-Hop History for PBS’ History Detectives


A Fordham University professor has been tapped as an expert for the popular PBS show, History Detectives.

Mark Naison, Ph.D., professor of African and African-American studies, provided commentary for an upcoming episode in which the show’s hosts attempted to find out if 1520 Sedgwick Ave. in the Bronx was the birthplace of Hip-Hop.

Mark Naison, Ph.D. Photo by Bruce Gilbert

“I had a great time with the crew for this show and am proud we had a chance to showcase the work we do before a national audience,” said Naison, the principal investigator for the University’s Bronx African American History Project (BAAHP).

Naison was interviewed on the Rose Hill campus for an episode set to air in August. Tukufu Zuberi, Ph.D., one of the show’s “detectives” and chair of the sociology department at the University of Pennsylvania, led the interview.

“Professor Tukufu … asked some great questions which gave me a chance to showcase some of the information we have learned in BAAHP oral history interviews,” Naison said. “He asked what the Bronx was like before the 1970s … and what exactly took place in that community center at 1520 Sedgwick that sparked a musical revolution.”

Naison said the segment will feature background and commentary on the conditions that led to the growth of Hip-Hop in the Bronx, including de-industrialization, urban renewal, middle-class flight, drug epidemics, the Vietnam War and arson by apartment owners.

Naison provided the show’s producers with BAAHP photos of the South Bronx before the fires, when it was burning and when President Jimmy Carter toured the area in 1977.

“I definitely had my say over and over again,” Naison said of the two-hour shoot. “Hopefully, some of the more sensible things I said will make it on camera.”

As to whether 1520 Sedgwick Ave. can be referred to as the birthplace of Hip-Hop, Naison says yes.

“This is confirmed by virutally every account of the origins of Bronx Hip-Hop, including the latest memoir by (veteran Hip-Hop deejay) Grandmaster Flash titled, The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash, (Broadway, 2008),” Naison said. “Flash said parties (held at that location) captured his imagination of Bronx youth, and inspired him and other deejays to begin holding parties of their own exciting dancers with pounding beats made from instrumental fragments of records.”

According to the show’s website, History Detectives is devoted to “exploring the complexities of historical mysteries, searching out the facts, myths and conundrums that connect local folklore, family legends and interesting objects.”

Traditional investigative techniques, modern technology and plenty of legwork are the tools the History Detectives team of experts uses to give new—and sometimes shocking—insights into our national history, the site says.

The show airs on WNET-Channel 13 in New York at 9 p.m. on Sunday evenings from June through September. The episode featuring Naison will air in August and October. For other PBS stations, check the program schedule on the PBS website.


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