Max Roach was a famed jazz drummer and composer who has countless albums with various configurations of artists. His career spanned decades and if you are up on jazz at all, you know Max Roach even if you don’t know that you know Max Roach. One thing that stands out to me about him is how socially conscious his albums and music were. And it all started with this album—and cover: 1960's We Insist! Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite.
Controversial when it was released because of the themes—Abbey Lincoln put her foot all up and through the vocals on this record—We Insist! comes out of the gate swinging with an album cover inspired by the sit-ins happening across the country in the late 50s and into the early 60s. By the time this album is released in December of 1960, the students of Greensboro’s North Carolina A&T University had staged their infamous sit-ins at Woolworth that became a Civil Rights Movement flashpoint—one of the Woolworth’s countertops is even in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. Max Roach decided to put on for his movement and staged a sit-in of his own for his album in tribute to what happened in Greensboro. Three Black men are sitting at the counter, two staring into the camera, with a third more-or-less watching the surroundings while the white man behind the counter looks on.
For 1960, this was as controversial as you could get, especially for an artist with a profile such as Max Roach at the time. He decided he couldn’t not use his platform to speak truth to power. So he did, and he made a statement. And that statement starts with a cover that leads into a BlackAF album that could be used in any Spike Lee movie (if it hasn’t been used already), especially “Tears for Johannesburg.”
I insist you check it out.