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In 1969, a transformation in Albina was underway. Displaced by the Vanport flood two decades prior, an influx of Black residents had settled in the area after redlining practices among the city’s realty boards provided few other options. A local economy among Albina’s Black residents had flourished for a time, but soon declined due to chronic disinvestment by the city’s elites. As with many urban centers in America, the impending ghetto-ization of the neighborhood developed as the civil rights movement was in full swing. And the citizens of Albina had something to say about it.

During this time, Shades Of Brown came together at the Albina Arts Center - a community hub for practicing artists of all stripes. A product of the Model Cities initiative, the center was established to develop the cultural and intellectual resources in the neighborhood amid the protests and civil unrest of the times. Paul Knauls’ Cotton Club had shuddered its doors in the wake of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. Albina’s Black residents had been forcibly displaced from their homes to make way for urban renewal projects conceived by the Portland Development Commission. And Williams Avenue, the once-vibrant hub for Oregon’s jazz music with myriad Black-owned businesses lining the streets, was at risk of becoming a blighted shell of itself. Left to their own devices, Black artists were organizing to convey truth through their work and the Albina Arts Center was ground zero.

Rehearsing at the Albina Arts Center, members of the Shades Of Brown found one other as a variety of Albina’s musical acts were shifting, separating, reconstituting, and forming anew. The group would feature members of the Cavaliers Unlimited, Little Nolan & The Antoine Brothers, Youthsound, Upepo, and the Norman Sylvester Band. And as luck would have it, Free Meal Ticket - renowned soul singer Wilson Pickett’s group - would disband while on tour in Portland. This left director, composer, and future Grammy recipient Thara Memory en route to the Albina Arts Center. He was quickly recruited to become the bandleader for Shades Of Brown.

Equipped with the ephemeral resources flowing from the Model Cities initiative, Memory organized youth and adults into a variety of ensembles, and with a penchant for results-driven rigor he would furnish his pedagogy via musical boot camp with the Shades Of Brown. The band was required to read and write their music. Before a note was to be played, members were summoned to the blackboard to chalk out their parts on a musical staff. And it was not uncommon that rehearsals consisted of the band being drilled with marching routines, as was common in the tradition of Memory’s southern upbringing. This went on for months. When the results were in, Memory gave the green light for the band to perform. And the Shades Of Brown would have something to say about it.

Celebrating Albina Music Trust’s tenth vinyl release, the story of Shades Of Brown circles back to the label’s first outing, The Gangsters. Both records spotlight the impact of Thara Memory’s tutelage while highlighting the legacy of community-powered arts education in Albina. Even the label’s logo mark is an inspired interpretation of the Albina Arts Center’s motif.

Being the sole recorded output of Shades Of Brown, the album reflects the group’s sense of fellowship as well as the sentiments of its contemporaries in Albina - makers, dreamers, activists, and youth - under-resourced and confounded by the City Of Portland’s blatant disregard. As vocalist Gregg A. Smith lays bare on “Searchin’ For Love”, one can’t help but hold the image of this community and its cry for decency in light of limited services and harm. Over half a century later, we now have this document to ponder. What are we doing to prevent this from happening again?