Though he committed suicide in 2002 at the age of 58, Weldon Irvine racked up an impressive musical resume that included collaborations with Nina Simone, Q-Tip and Mos Def. Filmmaker and musician Victorious DeCosta ("Love Seat") sees these accomplishments not as stand-alone snippets, but points of a decades-long fight for Black freedom of expression. He explores them further in "Digging for Weldon Irvine," a feature-length documentary for which DeCosta set up an Indiegogo crowdfunding campaign.
"Weldon’s thing went beyond jazz, beyond music," DeCosta told Colorlines. "He was also an activist, a playwright who wrote about 15 plays and one of the pillars of the Billie Holiday Theatre in Brooklyn. Weldon is a lot of things that people don’t really know."
"Digging for Weldon Irvine" hopes to unearth much of this unknown history, including Irvine’s longtime battle with his family and a troubled mental health history. "His father played over two dozen instruments, but he* never knew his father. " DeCosta says. "And Weldon’s family helped build Hampton University into what it is today. We go there, and to his first abandonment—his mother, who left his family for a new husband."
The film follows Irvine’s creative relationship with Nina Simone as both her bandleader and the lyricist behind "To Be Young, Gifted and Black," as well as his mentorship of various rappers in the 90s.
DeCosta and the documentary’s other collaborators seek crowdfunding support for production, editing, music licensing and crew compensation expenses. Supporters will receive gifts ranging from raw film footage access and tickets to regional jazz festivals across the country.
Visit Indiegogo.com to learn more.
*This article has been updated to correct a misquote about Irvine’s relationship with his father.