THE NEW YORKER is memorializing Faith Ringgold (1930-2024) with a cover tribute. “Sonny’s Bridge” (1986) by Ringgold is featured on the May 6 edition of the magazine. The painted quilt celebrates tenor saxophonist Sonny Rollins. He’s pictured playing his horn high atop a bridge with the New York City skyline in the background. The scene is framed by a pieced fabric border.

An artist, author, and educator, Ringgold died on April 13 at age 93. Ringgold was best known for her 1960s political paintings and the story quilts she began making in the 1980s. A masterful visual storyteller, she loved jazz music and grew up in Harlem around jazz musicians, including Rollins, who was her friend.


The New Yorker, May 6, 2024: FAITH RINGGOLD, “Sonny’s Bridge,” 1986 (acrylic on cotton canvas, 84 1/2 x 60 inches). | Collection of the High Museum of Art, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Ronald D. Balser, 1995.193; © Faith Ringgold (1986) / ARS / Courtesy ACA Galleries


“I have spent a lifetime listening to the great music of Billie Holiday, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, and others. Many of these musicians also lived in Harlem, so, even though they were stars, they were also neighbors,” Ringgold told the New Yorker in 2022 when one of her Jazz Stories quilts graced the cover of the magazine. “I grew up with Sonny Rollins. My first husband, Earl Wallace, was a classical pianist and composer. Our home was lively with musicians, such as Miles Davis, Charlie Parker, and Jackie McLean, among others.”

In his 2023 review of “Saxophone Colossus: The Life and Music of Sonny Rollins,” jazz critic Gene Seymour called Rollins, the “last living progenitor of jazz’s make-it-new ascent during the 20th century.” Seymour also said, “Like many of his peers, Rollins has at various times been both inside and outside of history’s flow; he has also been at various times an enigma and a victim, a cautionary tale and—now more than ever—a role model. Though sidelined by illness, …Rollins remains a living testament to jazz, to American music, and to improvisational possibility itself.”

Rollins, 93, counted Miles Davis among his collaborators in the 1950s. He was only in his late 20s and already a giant of jazz when he retreated from performing and public life at the end of the decade. Ringgold’s painted quilt is not an imagined image. “Sonny’s Bridge” documents a true narrative. Rollins spent two years incessantly playing his saxophone on the Williamsburg Bridge. The landmark was close to his apartment, the open air and incredible views were inspiring, and he could practice for hours on end without disturbing his neighbors.

“What made me withdraw and go to the bridge was how I felt about my own playing,” Rollins told John Fordham of The Guardian in 2022. “I knew I was dissatisfied.” After a period of focus, he emerged and recorded “The Bridge.” The 1962 studio album was highly praised and more than half a century later was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame (2015).

In 1990, Ringgold told the New York Times that Rollins “was the first determined artist I knew as a kid.”

Both Ringgold and Rollins received honorary degrees at Rutgers University’s 2009 commencement. The accolades coincided with “A Declaration of Independence: 50 Years of Art by Faith Ringgold,” a retrospective of the artist at Rutger’s Mason Gross Galleries that featured “Sonny’s Bridge.” Today, the work is in the collection of the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Ga. It was acquired in 1995.

“I just happened to be out walking and I saw some steps and I thought: let’s see what’s up there. And when I got up to the top, I just saw all this fantastic open space (atop the bridge).… I would play for a long time every day, often 14 or 15 hours.” — Sonny Rollins

It was by sheer coincidence that the bridge became an anchor for Rollins, a place of refuge where he refueled, practiced, and reset his creativity.

“I just happened to be out walking and I saw some steps and I thought: let’s see what’s up there,” Rollins told The Guardian. “And when I got up to the top, I just saw all this fantastic open space. No one was up there. It was busy, sure—the subway trains and cars were going over and the boats going underneath—but there weren’t many people walking on it in those days; it’s much busier now. There were a lot of pillars and abutments back then, where I could find spaces where people couldn’t see me, though they could hear me. The only people who could see me were the few who were walking across the bridge. And not many of them would stop to talk. I guess they mostly thought: who’s that crazy guy?”

Rollins continued: “Well, I would play for a long time every day, often 14 or 15 hours. Of course, sometimes I’d come down to go to the bathroom, or I’d go to a bar I liked where I might have a cognac, but then I’d go right back up. If it was cold, I’d play with gloves on; that was not a problem.

“It was so wonderful to be so close to the sky up there, any time of year. Maybe this might sound a little bit corny to people, but it was a spiritual feeling to me. CT


FIND MORE about Faith Ringgold on her website


READ MORE about Sonny Rollins and The Bridge in The Guardian and a review of his biography “Saxophone Colossus” in The Nation

FIND MORE listen to “The Bridge,” a remastered version of the song by Sonny Rollins


“Saxophone Colossus: The Life and Music of Sonny Rollins” by Aidan Levy won an American Book Award in 2023. The book is named after his critically acclaimed album recorded in 1956. The comprehensive portrait is based on more than 200 interviews with Rollins, his family, collaborators, and other key figures in the musician’s life, and his rich personal archives. “A Declaration of Independence: 50 Years of Art by Faith Ringgold” accompanied the artist’s 2009 retrospective at Rutgers University. “Faith Ringgold: American People” was published on the occasion of the New Museum exhibition of the same name. Also recently published, “Faith Ringgold: Politics/Power” showcases the artist’s most potent and profound political works and “Faith Ringgold” is published to document the survey exhibition at Glenstone Museum in Potomac, Md. The volume is an updated and expanded version of the catalog published in 2020 to accompany the show’s presentation at Serpentine Galleries in London. “Faith Ringgold: Die” is part of the museum’s One on One series of publications dedicated to a single work of art. Ringgold’s early activism is documented in Susan E. Cahan’s book, “Mounting Frustration: The Art Museum in the Age of Black Power.” For children, “The Met Faith Ringgold: Narrating the World in Pattern and Color (What the Artist Saw),” is published by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Ringgold was an artist and a children’s book author. Her publications for children included “Tar Beach,” “Aunt Harriet’s Underground Railroad in the Sky,” and “Harlem Renaissance Party,” among many others.


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