Moonchild: A collaboration between Candace Thomas and Yusuf Salim

Candace Thomas

P.O. Box 4171

Chapel Hill, NC 27515



Completed 2005

Size 38 in wide x 39 x height

Materials: African prints, commercial cottons, silks, thread, beads

Techniques: String strip piecing, fabric manipulation, thread painting, and beading.

7/31/2008 - On July 31, 2008 at approximately 6 o'clock in the morning Brother Yusuf Salim's star ascended in Durham, North Carolina.


When I heard about the call for quilts for Textural Rhythm, and for quilters who would collaborate with jazz musicians, I became very excited. One, because of the possibility to submit a piece to be considered for your exhibition and for the opportunity to collaborate with an artist in another genre. My husband listened as I rattled off the names of musician after musician. Each time giving the reasons why they should be the one and going on and on about my criteria. He confirmed the obvious. Brother Yusuf Salim. We were friends, we had a mutual respect and love for one another, and had spent time together, he has also played with many of the icons of the music. Soon afterwards my husband and I had him over for dinner, something we had done many times in the past. When I asked Brother Yusuf about us collaborating all he said was “cool.” We asked the questions of what will we call it, what will it be, a quilt and music, music and a quilt, a quilt with sound embedded in the piece, he suggested that I should interpret his life in a quilt. I suggested a song to accompany the quilt. Little did I know that the song Moonchild had already been written. Later I had to go to the grocery store. I was still excited and still full of questions. I wanted all of the answers right then. On my way home from the store a voice spoke to me and told me to relax and it would come. When I got home, Brother Yusuf was sitting on the couch. Before I could come through the door he said “Your Royal Highness do you want to read my autobiography?” My reply was, “Come into the kitchen and let’s talk while I cook supper. He began to read, “An Autobiographical Sketch of Moonchild Joseph Oliver Blair aka Brother Yusuf Salim. Location Baltimore Maryland. My star rose on July 10, 1930 to the greatest human beings ever created…” It was at that moment that I knew that our Moonchild was on its way

MoonchildA collaborative project between quilter, Candace Thomas and Jazz pianist Joseph Oliver Blair aka Brother Yusuf Salim. When it came time to sit at the sewing machine and start sewing.As I stitched fabric to fabric.,I thought about him, his autobiography, our conversations, our dinners, past gigs, his physical image and his music. I realized that this piece could not be constructed without each facet of Brother Yusuf’s life having the opportunity to solo. So I took my scissors and cut the piece into several sections. As one of the sections would solo another would wait patiently for their turn. One by one, they would step up to the sewing machine and blow. Sometimes they would improvise for a minute, others would last for 20 to 30 minutes. “Moonchild” become a jam session. Many musical voices came to together as one. In this case the whole was dependent to the sum of its parts. One could not happen without the other. At one of our dinners together I asked Brother Yusuf to fill in the blank: ________ is most important to me. His answer was Allah. Always there. This is represented by beads strung on green wire down the center of the piece. I chose the beads because of their beauty and sparkle. They are strung on green wire to represent the life force that is a constant in Brother Yusuf’s life. Joseph Oliver Blair began playing the piano as a child. By age 14 he shooting heroin. White crystal beads sewn with red thread are sprinkled through the piece to represent another always there in his life.

I thought about using the color blue for the moon, but blue made me think of cold and the blues. Brother Yusuf is neither cold nor does he have the blues. The warm reds, yellows and oranges were chosen because warmth that flowed throughout Brother Yusuf life. He spoke of the red bone women, playing with Red Prysock, and playing at the Red Roof Lounge. He also spoke about the genuine warmth of his many friends and associates. To look at Moonchild unhung you might have a tendency to hang it vertically straight up and down. It is set at an angle so you will ask what holds it up. The same question may be asked about Brother Yusuf who is bent over from decades of playing the piano. Ultimately Moonchild seeks to convey that like life jazz has many colors, textures, layers and rhythms. All one has to do is listen to the music and these elements become clear.