Karen Bass: The Story of the Roots Brass Band

Column: Karen Bass’ Latino-Black family is everything the ugly audiotape is not.

It’s no secret that Karen Bass was a huge, lifelong fan of the music of Los Angeles-based singer Josey Wales. In fact, she would argue that it’s impossible to know the history of black and latin popular culture without a place for the bass superstar’s music in it.

In the fall of 2015, Karen was on the plane from Texas to New York for a meeting with Wales. As always, she was wearing a T-shirt with a quote that said: “I was going to be somebody you never saw again.” As it turns out, that would be the day in October 2015 when the bass singer was booked onstage at a music festival in upstate New York for a performance by his band and crew, a project that would eventually become the Roots Brass Band which was founded and remains under Bass’ management until this year.

Over the course of that weekend, Bass would become famous for many reasons: her music (though it wasn’t until she was well into her twenties), her relationship with her brother, the backlash to her use of the word “tranny,” and her ongoing feud with the band’s namesake, the famous black musician José González. To say that those circumstances all intersected to produce a volatile and dangerous situation would be an understatement.

At any time, as the singer and activist told us, we could have been calling the cops. It could be an armed robbery, or just a random fight in the streets — and it could have been anyone’s fault. Karen, she said, was a woman of color with political and religious views that many thought were outside of the mainstream.

“[I]t could have easily been anyone’s fault, because people could say, ‘Well, you shouldn’t have supported her, you should have been able to make more money because of your skin color.’ They could say a lot of things,” she said. “I don’t think that I was made a villain by

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