“Not all art is provocative. This is a great cliche. Art is a language, and [with] language, you can say anything, from the shocking to the comforting, the hilarious to the heartbreaking. The art that survives most expressively embodies the human experience; in the same generation, you’ll have a conservative and a radical survive as great artist because of that.”
Dana Gioia, (Former President George W. Bush Appointee)
Former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts
Los Angeles Times
November 5, 2011
The Watts Prophets® is a group of poets and musicians from Watts, Los Angeles, California. Like their contemporaries, The Last Poets, the group combined elements of jazz music and spoken word performance, making the trio one that is often seen as a forerunner of contemporary hip hop music. Formed in 1967, the group comprises Richard Dedeaux, Father Amde Hamilton (born Anthony Hamilton), and Otis O’ Solomon (also billed as Otis O’Solomon Smith). Anthony Amde Hamilton was the third American to be ordained as a priest of the ancient Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Hamilton, O’Solomon, and Dedeaux first met and collaborated at the Watts Writers Workshop, an organization created by Budd Schulberg in the wake of the Watts Riots, as the African-American civil rights movement was beginning to take a new cultural turn. Fusing music with jazz and funk roots with a rapid-fire, spoken word sound, they created a sound that gave them a considerable local following, but little commercial success. They released two albums, 1969′s The Black Voices: On the Streets in Watts and 1971′s Rappin’ Black in a White World, which established a strong tendency toward social commentary and a reputation for militancy. Despite considerable acclaim, the group was unable to secure another record deal; a promising deal with Bob Marley’s Tuff Gong label famously fell through. Unable to sustain success, the group has performed only sporadically since the mid-1970s.
In recent years, the group’s profile has improved somewhat. In the late 1990s the Watts Prophets signed with David Lieberman Artists’ Representatives (dlartists.com) to handle their exclusive booking engagements around the world. The 1997 recording, When the 90′s Came, found them in the studio with pianist Horace Tapscott, and a European tour reunited the trio with former collaborator DeeDee McNeil. In 2005, Things Gonna Get Greater: The Watts Prophets 1969-1971 combined the group’s first two efforts, bringing them back into print for the first time in more than a decade.
Amde Hamilton, who is a priest of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, can be seen performing a spoken word piece at the 1981 funeral service of Bob Marley in Jamaica in the 1982 film Land of Look Behind.
In 1994, the group appeared on the Red Hot Organization‘s compilation CD, Stolen Moments: Red Hot + Cool, appearing on a track titled “Apprehension” alongside Don Cherry. The album, meant to raise awareness of the AIDS epidemic in African American society was named “Album of the Year” by Time Magazine.