Kwame Brathwaite, a trailblazing photographer who helped usher in the “Black Is Beautiful” movement has passed away, reports NPR. He was 85.
His passing was confirmed by his son on social media.
"I am deeply saddened to share that my Baba, the patriarch of our family, our rock and my hero, has transitioned,” Kwame S. Brathwaite said. “Thank you for your love and support during this difficult time.”
Born Ronald Brathwaite in Harlem in 1938 to parents from Barbados, he relocated with his family to the Bronx when he was five years old.
Drawn to photography at an early age, he went on to attend the School of Industrial Art (now the High School of Art and Design). A touchstone moment that awoke his creativity was David Jackson's photograph of a brutalized Emmett Till in his open casket published by JET magazine. After seeing the image of Till, Brathwaite realized that photography can be a force for political change. In 1956, he and his brother Elombe co-founded the African Jazz Arts Society and Studios (AJASS), which was his base for documenting Black culture and activist activities.
Brathwaite continued to perfect his craft by shooting luminaries on the jazz scene such as Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis, and was one of the principal photographers of Randall’s Island Jazz Festival in Manhattan. He fit right into the jazz scene being a tenor saxophone player in his own right.
As his popularity increased, he documented The Motown Revue at the Apollo in 1963.
One of Brathwaite’s greatest contributions to the arts was being one of the leaders of the “Black Is Beautiful” movement
In the 1970s, Brathwaite began photographing other genres of Black music. He traveled to Africa with the Jackson Five to document their tour and photographed Muhammad Ali and George Forman’s historic "The Rumble in the Jungle" in Zaire (now referred to as the Democratic Republic of Congo) that same year. He also worked with Stevie Wonder, Sly and the Family Stone, Nina Simone, Bob Marley and many more
For his work that spanned several decades highlighting the Black aesthetic, especially in the beauty of Black women, Brathwaite is one of the most celebrated photographers of his generation.
“His images, carefully calibrated to reflect a moment precisely, made black beautiful for those who lived in the 1960s, and continue to do so for a generation today who might only now be discovering his work,” the historian Tanisha C. Ford wrote in Aperture in 2017.
He published Kwame Brathwaite: Black Is Beautiful in 2019 to rave reviews.
In addition to his son, Brathwaite is survived by his wife, Sikolo; his brother, John; his daughter, Ndola Carlest; and four grandchildren.
We at EBONY extend our prayers and deepest condolences to the family and friends of Kwame Brathwaite.