Oral Histories

Interview of Richard Dedeaux

Founding member of the Watts Prophets, a music and spoken word performance group. Influential in development of hip hop and rap musical styles.
Black Music and Musicians in Los Angeles: Spirituals, Gospel, Jazz, and Spoken Word
African American History
Biographical Note:
Founding member of the Watts Prophets, a music and spoken word performance group. Influential in development of hip hop and rap musical styles.
Patterson, Karin
Dedeaux, Richard
Persons Present:
Dedeaux, Patterson, and Adriana Montenegro (videographer).
Place Conducted:
Dedeaux’s home.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library’s Center for Oral History Research. Original digital video cassettes were deposited with the Department of Ethnomusicology. Additional materials relating to these interviews are located in the UCLA Ethnomusicology Archive.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Karin Patterson, UCLA Department of Ethnomusicology; B.A., Ethnomusicology, UCLA, 1997; M.A., Ethnomusicology, 1999; Ph.D., Ethnomusicology, UCLA, 2007.
Processing of Interview:
The transcript is a verbatim transcription of the recording. It was transcribed by a professional transcribing agency using a list of proper names and specialized terminology supplied by the interviewer. Dedeaux was then given an opportunity to review the transcript and make corrections and additions. Those corrections were entered into the text without further editing or review on the part of the Center for Oral History Research staff.
4.5 hrs.
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Series Statement:
These interviews with African American musicians provide details about the narrators' background, training, influences, and musical choices and discuss their contributions, and connections to the music of black Los Angeles. The series was a collaborative project of the UCLA Center for Oral History Research, the Department of Ethnomusicology, and the Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies, with funding from an Arts Initiative grant from the UCLA School of Arts and Architecture. UCLA Professor Jacqueline DjeDje was the principal investigator and defined the scope and selected the individuals to be interviewed. In addition to the audio recordings housed with the UCLA Center for Oral History Research, the interviews were all captured on video, and those videos can be accessed at the UCLA Ethnomusicology Archive.
Lineage of father and mother – Spending time in Chalmette with grandfather as a child – Grandmother’s influence – Growing up in the Ninth Ward – Father’s experiences as a construction worker – Living in the Seventh Ward with Creole communities – Death of the Creole language – Dealing with racism as a child – Differentiation between Creoles and blacks – Noticing segregation as a child – Moving to California at age fourteen – Brother joins the service – Death of aunt’s baby – Death of grandmother – Attending first school in California in Sugar Hill – Train ride to California – Integration of school in Mount Vernon – Relationship between races in Los Angeles and New Orleans – Family life in Sugar Hill – Living in foster homes in Watts – Relationship with father and alcoholism – Buying car and working at sixteen – Life with his foster family – Becoming a machinist and moving to Detroit – Meeting his first love – Attempting to elope in Arizona – Buying a house in Compton – Blowing up his boat.
Blowing up his boat in Long Beach – Married at a young age – Joining the Committee and then the Donnybrook Players ensemble theater in the 1960s – Going through divorce and starting to write poetry – Receiving critiques from the Watts Writers Workshop about poetry being too soft – The creation of the Watts Writers Workshop in reaction to the 1965 Watts riots – Early activities of the Watts Writers Workshop – Harry Dolan and the early members of the workshop – Community involvement with the workshop – Performing “The Iron Hand of Nat Turner” – Raising children while participating in workshop – Writing as a means of dealing with anger and the trauma from history of slavery – Lack of romantic interest in white women – Learning how to fundraise from Budd Schulberg – The COINTELPRO counter intelligence program infiltrates the workshop by means of an FBI agent code named “Othello” – The Mafundi Institute – What’s Happening coffeehouse – Relationship with Mafundi Institute director Roger Moseley.
Meeting Father Anthony Made, "Amde," Hamilton at the Watts Writers Workshop – Harry Dolan’s role in bringing the group together – Working in the workshop with Hamilton, Otis O’Solomon, and Dee Dee McNeil – Helen Mingleton leaves the group – Coming up with the name Watts Prophets – Exposure to the Last Poets in New York – Working with Dee Dee to incorporate music into their poetry – Relationship between music and poetry in their performances – Writing from personal experience – Social issues overwhelming the next generation – Integration breaking up black communities – Policemen replacing community and family authority – Destruction of mom-and-pop stores – The topic of integration provides material for the Watts Writers Workshop – Changing roles of the grandmother and mother within the family – Lack of education and acknowledgement of trauma with integration – Need for recognition of slavery as part of America’s legacy.
Survival of Creole language and culture – Lighter skin color as a means to first-class citizenship – Creating own black police force within New Orleans black communities – Playing games and making own toys growing up in New Orleans – Traditional songs from childhood – Listening to blues radio as a child – The first TV arriving in New Orleans - The loss of three family members – Father’s death – Last years of his father’s life – Teenage years – Return to school – New ideas developed after arriving in California – Dealing with issues surrounding race – Teaching style – Comparison between old European teaching versus African teaching methods – The importance of poetry – The Watts Prophets' journey – Developing the hip-hop poetry choir – Early days of the Watts Writers Workshop.
Controversies surrounding the “N” word – The first black book festival in Leimert Park – The disconnect between generations of black communities – The origin of boom boxes – The beginning of hip-hop culture – Relationship between males and females in hip-hop culture – Women's adaptation to the new culture – The need for more black leaders – Speaking in prisons – Watts Prophets' creative writing workshop – Self-publishing books with company named Lulu – The change poetry brings to incarcerated children – Teaching philosophy.