Director: Ben Proudfoot and Kris Bowers
Editor: Lukas Dong
Featuring: Kris Bowers and Horace Bowers, Sr.
“Never think you shouldn’t be there because you wouldn’t be there if you weren’t supposed to be there.’ – Horace Bowers, Sr.
Belle and Ron sit down to watch the Oscar nominated documentary A Concerto Is A Conversation and are deeply moved for very different reasons.
A bit of background, Kris Bowers is a very young composer, whose work can be heard in films such as Green Book and the upcoming Space Jam: Legacy and television series Dear White People and When They See Us.
His grandpa, Horace Bowers, Sr. was from Bascom, Florida, one of thirteen children who grew up on the Bowers Plantation and eventually built a clothing cleaner empire in Los Angeles, CA.
Belle: Gorgeous. What are your thoughts?
Ron: This piece, specifically the actual Concerto: For A Younger Self, really affected me. I never had much support when my family found out I wanted to be a performer. Mr. Horace talks about how they used to sing on the porch when they were children so there were musical inclinations in the family to begin with. So, seeing how, even with all the racism and struggles this family were faced with, they still gave Kris the unconditional support he needed to become who he is… it honestly made me a little envious.
Belle: For me, because I did have that support, while I can see where you’re coming from I had a very different reaction. I didn’t even notice that to be honest because there was never a time I wasn’t told I could be an artist and make a living from it. There was never a time I was told I couldn’t be who I wanted to be.
Ron: Exactly and it’s why you’re you. To me, it’s remarkable that a man who came from a family of sharecroppers to owning businesses and properties in California, was so supportive of his grandson becoming an artist. With my background that’s just a hard leap. I was immediately struck by how my family, who had every advantage just by being white, basically said, ‘You do that as a hobby, not a career. You find a career and just do that on the side.’
Belle: And to this day both of my parents have been remarkably supportive of what I do. Hell, my mom basically rearranged her whole life, even while serving in the military, to make sure I had every opportunity.
Ron: It makes me think of how many artists we could have if they were supported like Bowers was. I honestly sat there thinking, ‘If I had that kind of support how different would my career have been? Would I have taken chances in a way I didn’t until I was much older?’ I was scared because I was told I needed to have a safety net and I cut myself off at the knees a lot.
Belle: I absolutely get that but for me what struck me was the journey of this family. When Mr. Horace spoke about, when he was a child, watching his grown father being called ‘boy’ by a white child that wrecked me. It made me think of my mom and how she grew up where Klan rallies were held ten minutes away from where she lived and once she realized what that meant she vowed to never stay there. While she always had a home in Maryland, to be in touch with her family, she has never set foot back where she grew up to this day. That’s the story of so many Black people. Then there’s the fact that Mr. Horace quietly built an empire.
Horace Bowers, Sr.
Ron: Yeah, he bought land, he bought out other businesses, and he did it through the mail once he realized that the system was rigged against him and that he would keep getting shut down because he was Black.
Belle: I keep thinking of how many Black people have had to do that, hell how many Black people have to do that today. I wonder if my name wasn’t a traditional European name just how differently I would be treated.
Ron: They’ve done studies about that and let’s just say, the evidence isn’t great. I remember when I started college and got a job near school the assistant manager told me to my face that he almost didn’t call me in because I lived in a predominantly Black neighborhood and he assumed I was Black. Of course, he assumed when I came in and I wasn’t Black, that I thought the same way as he did. I ended up reporting him and he was fired but what if I didn’t? He’d still be doing that to this day and probably is somewhere else.
Belle: That goes to one of the things I’ve been talking about with several friends lately: Racism isn’t always burning crosses in the front yard. More often than not it’s the microaggressions like you described above that Mr. Horace faced and overcame by being smarter than the people trying to block him. Mr. Horace figured it out, faced it down and never, ever forgot it. As Mr. Horace said, ‘In the south you were told, in the north they show you.’
It reminded me of what my mom has often said, ‘Give me your confederate flag waving, MAGA hat wearing, Nazi tatooed racist any day over someone who will look me in the face, smile and then undermine me at every turn.’
Ron: It actually made me think of an old George Carlin bit where he speaks on how, people who are the least free in society tend to be more free in letting their children and grandchildren find their passion as opposed to what they’re ‘supposed’ to do.
Mr. Horace built an empire for his family and then said to his children and grandchildren, ‘Do that thing that no one thinks you can succeed at. Do it. I will be there every step of the way’ and that’s beautiful and so profoundly moving to me as someone who didn’t have that.
Belle: Yes, and that for me was the best part of the short. Despite every hardship that came his way, there is so much joy in Mr. Horace and love and you can see that he passed that on to Kris and that’s why his music is so moving. That’s one of the things that’s been missing in so much of the media where the Black experience is depicted, especially in recent years. Yes, being Black is a day-to-day struggle because yes, everyday we wake up we have to do the math of ‘how am I going to get through this day without being murdered for being Black in America’ but we are so much more than our struggles. There is joy and glory in being Black and you can feel it in the piece that’s underscoring the documentary. It’s wonderful.
Ron: It really is and wish it was longer or eventually becomes several shorts just for this family as I’m fascinated by their story and I would love to see more.
In the end A Concerto Is A Conversation shows the history of a Black family in America over the course of three generations and showcases their unimaginable joy and beauty.
4.5 Concert Halls out of 5
A Concerto Is A Conversation can be viewed for free on YouTube