AFRO-AMERICAN MUSIC INSTITUTE CELEBRATES 36 YEARS
Pain Relief Beyond Belief
November’s retrospective at Most Wanted Fine Art focuses on the album cover art of Mozelle Thompson. The exhibition will be a must-see for anyone with an interest in local history, art or music. It includes additional book and magazine illustrations accompanied by biographical information about the artist. There will be six opportunities to see the exhibition and our hope is to ultimately raise an awareness of this neglected artist’s legacy and demonstrate a need for further documentation and preservation of his life’s work.
Mozelle W. Thompson, Jr (1926-1969) was a prolific African American illustrator born in Pittsburgh with associations to neighborhoods including the Hill District, Garfield and Homewood. Thompson’s professional career arguably began as early as 1944 when he was published in the pages of Mademoiselle magazine as a senior at Peabody High School. He won numerous awards that year including a scholarship to the Parsons School of Design in New York. At age twenty-one he traveled abroad to study in Europe, which is documented in the February 1949 issue of Ebony Magazine.
Thompson’s earliest known album cover illustration was done in 1953. By 1960 he had illustrated over fifty album covers and by 1969 he illustrated at least ninety albums, which very likely makes him the most prolific African American visual artist of that era to contribute to album cover illustration. Thompson’s imagery adorns albums from the likes of Cab Calloway, Ella Fitzgerald, Gerry Mulligan, Hank Williams and Jimmie Rodgers, just to name a few. Throughout the 1960’s he received numerous acknowledgements from publications such as Billboard Magazine, Graphis Annual and Art Direction Magazine. In 1967 he received a Grammy Award nomination for graphic arts. His illustrations were featured on book covers, in magazines, on theatrical posters and in the pages of The New York Times. Illustrations for a paperback of A Clockwork Orange and the first edition of the novel Shaft gave him a very early association with relevant works that eventually had an indelible impact on popular culture. His illustrations for James P. Johnson’s Lift Every Voice And Sing, which he was working on at the time of his death, received critical acclaim.
Thompson fell six stories from his apartment window just short of his forty-third birthday. He was a working artist teaching at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City at the time. His death was reported as a suicide and his legacy has been forgotten over the course of forty-five years. He currently has no representation to speak of in the city of Pittsburgh, where he had a very traditional experience as a young local artist sharing mentors with the likes of Andy Warhol, Philip Pearlstein, Mary Shaw Marohnic, Louise Pershing and George Heppenstall, not to mention affiliations with historic local institutions, The Pittsburgh Courier and Gimbels department store.