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"#Viper" /ˈvīpər/: slang for a 🍃 smoker in the 1920s and 1930s.
The cannabis plant played a major role in helping the Jazz Age flourish. It served as a conduit to invoke creative genius, artistic expression and performance. Cannabis advocacy and the cultural lifestyle originated in the mid 1920's, specifically in Black communities. Joints were puffed and passed outside tea pads, jazz clubs and speakeasies. Musicians would light up on tea, grass, or gage — codes for the flower, since this time period is characterized by being the cusp of criminalization — singing tributes to the gentle plant.
Vipers pays homage to these OG VIPERS:
Louis Armstrong: King Of The Vipers
“Speaking of pot, we did call ourselves vipers, which could have been anybody from all walks of life that smoked and respected gage…. That’s what we called it at that time. As we always used to say, gage is more of a medicine than a dope.But if we all get as old as Methuselah our memories will always be lots of beauty and warmth from gage.” -Louis Armstong, jazz legend, cannabis advocate and the king of the vipers.
Josephine Baker: A Viper At The Pantheon
Joséphine Baker, a multifaceted queen of entertainment, will enter the Pantheon today by virtue of her rich life as a music hall artist, resistance fighter, anti-racist activist, historical sharer of cannabis, and adoptive mother of 12 multicultural children. After her last performance at the Strand, Baker had this wonderful golden trophy, like a Academy Award, made for the band with their names engraved on it and full of the magical gage.
Charlei Parker: An Authentic Viper
Charlie Parker played the saxophone like no other and for him it was about more than just playing, it was about real-life emotion. He believed you had to bring everything into your playing to make it truly authentic. Charlie Parker tried heroin for the first time when he was only 15 and cannabis came soon after. Many have accredited his extreme talent to the eye opening substance of cannabis.
Bessie Smith: A Viper With Superpowers
Bessie Smith was one of the best ever Jazz singers and she’s been labeled the ‘empress of jazz’. She would move the audience, create emotion out of nothing and she could sing with or without a mic; her voice had superpowers. She was a woman who knew her worth wasn’t going to be given to her by a man. A born feminist. Bessie Smith was also known to be part of the Vipers; she loved the gage.
Billie Holiday: A Viper And The Blues
Billie’s cannabis consumption began in the early 1930s when you could buy a couple of joints for twenty-five cents. Holiday was hunted down by no less than Harry J. Anslinger, the first and longtime "drug czar" who engineered laws and international treaties banning cannabis. Many jazz musicians, but especially Holiday, paid dearly for Anslinger and the Federal Bureau of Narcotics’ “war on drugs.”
Dizzy Gillespie: The Bebop Viper
At the dawn of the 1900s, in the brothels and speakeasies of Storyville, New Orleans, this cannabis matrimony was sparked ablaze. When they docked in New Orleans, sailors brought weed to the United States from Brazil and the Caribbean, and it was there where Black jazz musicians first adopted and embraced it. Influenced by the gage, pioneers like Dizzy Gillespie experimented with time, rhythms, improvisation, and collaboration.
Join us as we uncover the influence of the cannabis plant in timeless art.