Robert Gumbs pointing to himself on the mural Credit: Cinque Brath photo

Bob Gumbs was a creative artist who was active in his community for years.

He worked as a graphic artist, photographer, and designer of commemorative emblems, book publisher, painter, author and editor. Bob was one of the handful of Black coin designers in the United States. In 1956, he was one of the founding members of the Jazz-Art Society, later the African Jazz Arts Society and Studios (AJASS), along with Elombe Brath and Kwame Brathwaite. Beginning in 1962, AJASS produced a series of “Black Is Beautiful” natural hair fashion shows featuring the Grandassa Models which set off a global movement.

Bob Gumbs was born in Harlem on March 15, 1939, and raised in the South Bronx. A graduate of New York City Community College, he also studied at The School of Visual Arts, The Arts Students League, New York University and the New School. From 1963 to 1965 Bob was a United States Army photographer.

He designed a series of commemorative coins to honor notable African and African American men and women: Sgt. Cornelious H. Charlton, Doris ‘Dorie’ Miller, Mary McLeod Bethune, Harriet Tubman, Thelonious Monk, Nelson Mandela, The Black Panther Party and the Montford Point  Marines. Two of his drawings of Thelonious Monk were featured in a New York City Art Exhibit, to honor the legendary jazz pianist and composer.

One of his most popular publications, “The Harlem Cultural/Political Movements, 1960-1970,” was done in association with Klytus Smith and Abiola Sinclair in 1995. And he was an important editor and advisor on “Elombe Brath—Selected Writings and Essays,” edited by Herb Boyd, and published by the Elombe Brath Foundation.

Bob served on the board of several nonprofit organizations and was responsible for nearly a half dozen street co-namings of jazz artists that took place in the Bronx over the past few decades. He helped define the history of the South Bronx with Professor Mark Naison of Fordham University in “Before the Fires: An Oral History of African American Life in the Bronx from the 1930s to the 1960s.” More recently Bob Gumbs served as the lead commentator for the six award winning documentary by Louise Dente entitled “AJASS: Pioneers of the Black Is Beautiful Movement.” 

A mural was created by 320 Arts under the nonprofit organization Uptown Grand Central on 125th Street between Park and Lexington Avenue that prominently features Bob Gumbs.

Bob was recognized as one of the top 50 Black designers and Black graphic artists of the ’60s and ’70s, and he was in the process of helping to commemorate an exhibit of his and fellow AJASS members’ design history with Cooper Union Herb Lubalin Center for Design and topography in 2024. His most famous design is likely the iconic Black Is Beautiful poster he designed using photos of Grandassa Models taken by Kwame Brathwaite. The poster sold out in the Studio Museum in Harlem and has appeared as 20×20 displays in museums and was turned into an 8×5 flag that flew over Rockefeller Center under the flag project in March of 2021.

Bob transitioned due to a sudden heart attack on the morning of October 23, 2022, and he is 

survived by his wife Ida Gumbs and son Diallo Gumbs.

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1 Comment

  1. Bob Gumbs’ enduring spirit will live on in all of us who were fortunate enough to know him! He lived life joyfully and with purpose.
    Jacqueline Gantt Brathwaite

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