The Lumpen

Once in a while I come across something that doesn’t fit into the garage category but deserves some wider exposure – the Lumpen 45 is one of these records.

“Free Bobby Now” is an anthem for Bobby Seale. The Lumpen were a group of Black Panthers based in Oakland but peforming throughout the Bay Area to get the Panther’s message across through music.

A full history of the group by member Michael Torrance is on the Black Panther history site, It’s About Time. I’ll quote some of it here for background:

The original members were Bill Calhoun, Clark (Santa Rita) Bailey, James Mott and myself, Michael Torrance. We had all sung in groups in the past, Calhoun having performed professionally in Las Vegas, and it just came naturally.

Calhoun wrote “No More” in a spiritual/traditional style, and then “Bobby Must Be Set Free”, a more upbeat R&B song. We recorded these two songs and soon we were singing at community centers and rallies. Emory Douglas, Minister of Culture, named the group the Lumpen for the “brothers on the block,” the disenfranchised, angry underclass in the ghetto.

Thanks to Calhoun’s expertise, we were able to put together a high-energy hour-long “act” complete with uniforms and choreography. By the time the Lumpen were about to go on an East Coast tour, the auditorium at Merritt College was packed for the kick-off concert which was recorded live. The whole audience sang along with “Bobby Must Be Set Free.”

The first copy I found was in New Orleans shortly before Katrina hit. I was listening to a batch of records and this one caught my attention, though I realized right away it was mislabeled – it has labels from a hit on the White Whale label that must have been at the press at the same time. Which would date this to December, 1970. Recently I found another copy with the correct labels on it.

15 thoughts on “The Lumpen”

  1. I James Mott am amazed at the impact we had on the movement and the impact that is still growing to this day. Bill Calhoun, Clark Baily and myself reside in Sacramento Calif. Micheal Torrence lives in L.A. To this day I am still active with programs in the community. It seems the cycle is repeating itself–people need hope and answers to the negative conditions. I have a CD copy of about six plus revised lumpen songs. If you would like a copy please let me know–we are honored to be remembered.

    Warmest Regards
    Jame Mott

    1. Hey James Mott!!
      I wonder if you remember me. I spoke with Santa Rita just the other day!! Jan T. and I were best friends! If you are in touch with Santa Rita he should help you to remember who I am.. Mike T. and I were friends for ever, went to school together. I can’t believe I saw this site. Santa Rita told me about the book written recently about you guys, and I have to have it. I can’t this, this is just amazing…I also went by Joannne.

    2. Hi James, Would it be possible to get hold of a CD copy of the six songs you mention. I have a copy of the Lumpen’s 7″ but would love to hear more of the music.

  2. Hi. I’ve been enjoying the old single “Free Bobby Now,” and I’d like to get more of the music. I have a live track that I found called “We Want,” but the sound quality isn’t so hot. If anyone can float me copies of any Lumpen releases, like “Lumpen Live,” that would be awesome, as I’m interested in hearing more.

  3. My name is Bill Calhoun. I am a founding member of the Lumpen and I wrote “Bobby Must Be Set Free” and “No More”. Like James Mott I am very pleased that the efforts that Michael, Clark, James and I made at trying to spread the message of the Party through music is still finding favor with people after all this time. The songs I wrote for the group back then were truly labors of love, both for the people and for my commrades.

    Although our paths have taken us where they have, I will never forget the rehersals, the performances and spirit of so many that supported and inspired us to keep on keepin’ on.

    All Power To The People
    Bill Calhoun, Panther!

    1. I hope this message gets to you Rev. Bill Calhoun, I performed as clerical secretary for Wo’se in Oakland. What a wonderful and marvelous experience in my spiritual life – well anyway I pray that our Creator finds you in High Standing. I would love to get a copy of the Lumpen CD, life is so wonderful – for the pass year I have been wanting to introduce Wo’se opening song “It”s Time to Stand Like a People” or was it “No More” to the temple I attend to keep spirit positive. Our Creator makes no mistakes. Always in Imani! Tanya

  4. Please contact me if there is anyway to get more Lumpen tracks. Older comrades always brag about seeing the Lumpen perform, and us younger radicals want in on the action! This is just such an incredible song, and i’d really love to get more. my email address is kazsds (at) thanks!

  5. I understane that Rickey Vincent is devoting his next History of Funk show on KPFA to the Lumpen. I don’t know whether this means he has enoufgh recordings by the group to fill a whole two hours or not, but it should be very interesting

  6. I have a copy of the depicted 45rpm and saw the Lumpen at The Day of Solidarity concert opposite the Grateful Dead at Oakland Auditorium, March 5, 1971. I later found a poster for the event. My close friend, Jumuda aka Doug Albert was playing piano with the Lumpen at the concert. I thought he played on the recording of “No More” but it’s hard to tell. Is that true? Thanks!

  7. Hello Mrs Calhoun. I been looking for you for quite sometime, We are devoting our next few years to the archives and building of newsletters, photos, stories and documents of the BPP Oakland / LA.
    We also are working with Dorion Hilliard (Son of David) on the 3rd Edition of BPP Clothing. Inspired by Huey P Newton.
    We would love to interview you and get a more extensive information about THE LUMPEN.
    It is an honor to be able to archive and learn about the Historical Movement which has molded our society nowadays…

    An student of History and Life

    Renz “De Madrugada” Revelli
    Listen Recovery
    Listen Clothing

  8. Peace,
    first off thanks for this post. Much respect to the Black Panther Party and the Lumpen Band. I have utmost respect for the work which was done. I am in Oakland and have been working on some research using Rickey Vincent’s recent release Party Music. It has been of much help in giving a different perspective to the events of the time and the impact and role of the band in pushing the message and goals of the Party. I would as others have said previously love to get a copy of any available music from the band. Please let me know if this would be possible.
    Much respect and love

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