Tuesday, July 9, 2019

RIP Steve Cannon

[Image via Facebook]

Update: A gathering to remember Steve Cannon and collectively mourn his loss is set for Sunday, July 14 at the Bowery Poetry Club from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Steve Cannon, a local cultural icon who founded the East Village-based A Gathering of the Tribes, died this past weekend. He was 84. A cause of death was not immediately known.

Cannon, who was born in New Orleans in 1935, had been recovering at the VillageCare Rehabilitation and Nursing Center on West Houston Street for a broken hip, according to The Villager.

In 1991, Cannon founded A Gathering Of The Tribes as an arts and cultural organization "dedicated to excellence in the arts from a diverse perspective." It started as a print magazine at the time that he lost his eyesight to glaucoma. Through the years, A Gathering of the Tribes evolved into a salon of sorts in Cannon's East Third Street apartment for artists to meet and exchange ideas.

As The New York Times Style Magazine described it in a February 2018 feature: "It was a living monument to Lower Manhattan’s lineage of multicultural artists and thinkers — people who often get overlooked in favor of narratives of and by successive generations of self-destructing, gentrifying white bohemians — but it was also an all-hours open house, where all were welcome (even the gentrifying white bohemians) and an essential site of Lower Manhattan’s last gasp as the center of the avant-garde."

Here's more on Cannon from that Times piece:

Cannon ... came to New York in 1962, and even before he founded Tribes, he played such a role in New York’s counterculture that he has become a kind of oracular figure to those who have encountered him. In the early ’60s, he convened informal discussions about music and literature with writers like [writer David] Henderson and [his friend Ishmael] Reed and other members of Umbra.

In the 1970s, Cannon ran a publishing house with Reed and the poet Joe Johnson that was one of the first independent presses to focus on multicultural literature. The painter Gerald Jackson once saved him from drowning in the Hudson River. Sun Ra used to seek him out to tell stories about flying around in space. (“If he says he flew into space, then I guess he flew into space,” Cannon says.) He helped integrate the public university school system in New York by becoming an early faculty member at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, where he taught humanities. The composer Butch Morris refined his ideas of improvised music in his living room.

After a lengthy legal battle with his landlord, Cannon moved out of his longtime Third Street home in 2014, relocating to East Sixth Street.

Cannon's friends and followers have been leaving tributes these past 48 hours...

View this post on Instagram

Steve Cannon R.I.P😎🙏🏽🕊 I remember him always sitting at the corner of the bar at the NuyoricanPoets Cafe smoking a cigarette, long ash refusing to drop. A young poet prepares to take the stage to read/slam/spit his/her poem...but first begins to explain what the poem is about. Steve, the blind ogre with a heart of gold yells out from his sacred corner of the bar "Read the goddamn poem!" He seemed mean but he made us (me) better, made us (me) sharper less afraid to take the stage and just "read the goddamn poem" without apology or explanation. He loved us poets. He toughened us. He is gone. There are more stories more memories... more than more, much more. This is just one of the so many more that popped in my mind. For you Steve I will READ THE GODDAMN POEM #stevecannon #nuyoricalpoetscafe #tribes #blackpoet #apoetsangel #readthedamnpoem

A post shared by Liza Jessie Peterson (@lizajessiepeterson) on

View this post on Instagram

we love you madly Steve Cannon. Poet. Professor. cultural leader. Gatherer of souls. you did everything imaginable for artists and for our city. you showed us that Magic was still here, despite the new york changes, showing us what yesterday was Like and what today could be. your Space fostered countless new relationships, visions, creations. I found my way to the Tribes doorstep as a wandering 18 year old artist looking for something real.. it changed and illuminated everything. we Honor you by the continuation of generations that Thrived because of your selfless work and your love. we love you madly madly madly. (photographs © No Land, one by @chavisawoods and one by Gaia squarci) @a_gathering_of_the_tribes @bobholman @illybeats #stevecannon #gatheringofthetribes #tribesgallery #umbrapoets #lowereastsidenyc

A post shared by No Land (@nolandtapes) on

We'll update the post when more details are available, including news of a memorial.

Previously on EV Grieve:
Musical interludes: Steve Cannon plays piano at Tribes Gallery

A Gathering of Tribes faces an uncertain future on East Third Street


Anonymous said...

RIP, sweet man :(

John Penley said...

I am very sorry to see your report that Steve Cannon has passed on. For years I saw him usually multiple times a week and during those times friends of mine lived above him and below him. I went to hundreds of art shows, poetry readings and parties in his apartment and in the back yard. Damn.. he was a certified icon old skool East Village shaman and his sense of humor was unforgettable. The good ones are all moving on and Steve will be missed by many.

Unknown said...

a dear dear friend from way back when in the arts & beyond.
Lennox Raphael, Copenhagen

Unknown said...

Lennox Raphael said ...
Steve was a dear friend of mine from way back when in the arts & beyond. We participated also in the UMBRA Workshop; and Steve & I, were 2 of 3 persons, the other being Walter Thompson, who interviewed Ralph Ellison, published in 1965 as a Harper's cover story. Lennox