Playing Russian Roulette with the World!

Posted in On Foreign Affairs, On War and Peace in the Mid East! with tags , , on November 24, 2015 by playthell
Russian Fighter PlaneThe Russian Fighter Shot Down by Turkey
Drifting into Nuclear War over Syria

Caliph Ibrahim is laughing his ass off!   Here the powerful and meddlesome “crusaders” from the East and West – Russians and Americans – the infidels and swine eaters that have come to destroy his Caliphate, are about to destroy each other in a tragic/comic fiasco.   In fact, looking at the issues involved it is hard to foresee a solution that will not end badly.  The only question is how badly.

The Turkish Air Force has shot down a Russian fighter plane flying combat missions over Syria; the Turks say the Russians violated their airspace but the Russians deny it.  The radar records released by the Turks is confusing; which means that even if the Russian aircraft did violate Turkish air space it was  a close call and it lasted only a few moments before the Turks shot them down.

Listening to the television talking heads, even on CNN, one gets no clue as to how dangerous the present situation is. Hence most Americans have no idea of the catastrophe that confronts us as this dangerous drama unfolds.  As I write NATO is in an emergency meeting and President Putin is meeting with his advisors formulating a response.   This is the kind of situation that I have long feared and warned against; the kind of situation that could lead to a military confrontation between the US and Russia.

Looking at the situation objectively, one could argue that this was bound to happen.  The proximity of combat forces on conflicting and sometimes confusing missions made a US/Russian confrontation inevitable. The Russians are in Syria at the invitation of the Syrian government, with whom they are allied.  Hence Russian firepower is directed at all the armed opponents of the Syrian government.

This puts them at odds with the US and NATO, who is committed to overthrowing the Syrian government; which makes NATO de-facto allies of ISIS, Al Qaeda, al Nuesra, and other Islamic Zealots whom NATO has defined as their paramount enemy. Hence the idea of a moderate opposition is a dangerous fiction; any arms that the US gives to anti-Assad forces will end up in the hands of the Jihadists.

As I write the world awaits the Russian response to the Turks and  depending what they decide to do in retaliation, the security of the entire world could suddenly be at stake.  The fact that a third rate country like Turkey could plunge the world into a nuclear holocaust demonstrates in no uncertain terms the folly of the NATO alliance, where the USA is bound to join Turkey and even Estonia in any military conflict in which they are engaged.

This might have made some sense during the Soviet era when were in a Cold War with Russia and forever trying to encircle and outflank them.   But it makes no sense at all today.  Alas, the nature of the alliance means it is a relic from another era, one that endangers US national security far more than it enhances it.  As I write President Obama is making a speech at a news conference with the President of France, whom he is huddling with in an attempt to put together a strategy for destroying the ISIS Caliphate.

However his speech rings hollow against the brewing crisis over the downed Russian plane by a member of NATO.  Yet I have listened intently and there has been no mention of the growing crisis in relations between the US and Russia.   If ever there was a case of not being able to see the forest for the trees this is it!   The eradication of ISIS is a picayune matter when compared to the possibility of an armed conflict between the US and Russia.

If any country had willfully shot down an American plane there would be no question of retaliation with superior military force.  Alas, should Russia respond in the way Americans would we could end up in a war between the world’s foremost nuclear  powers and NOBODY can  say how it will end.  Alas, while the French leader blathers on about building a grand coalition against ISIS at the White House, it seems further and further away.

This point is underscored by the anemic response to a question from reporters to President Obama.  His response was woefully inadequate given the gravitas of the issue.  Instead of expressing regret for the downing of the Russian plane he chose to lecture Russians on their policy of supporting the Assad government.  I thought it was arrogant and unfeeling.  Given the fact that Russia cannot hope to prevail in a military conflict with NATO, it would not surprise me if we find ourselves on the brink of a nuclear confrontation in the following days.

The Russian jet crashed into the Mountains
Turkey-Syria-Russian-warplane-downed.jpg III 
And no one knows where it would lead

When a similar question about Turkey’s downing of the Russian fighter was put to the French Prime Minister, he followed the example of President Obama; pontificating about who the Russians must target in Syria, although they have no clue who is and is not a “terrorist” among the forces fighting President Assad. The self-righteous declarations of the US and French presidents cannot fail to be insulting to the national pride of the Russians. All the pugnacious buffoons who have been calling for establishing “no fly” zones in Syria, like the Republican presidential candidates, should take note.  These are very dangerous times indeed and pugnaceous motormouth airheads can only add to the danger!


Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
October 24, 2015








Tulsi Gabbard is Right on Syria!

Posted in On War and Peace in the Mid East!, Playthell on politics with tags , , , on November 22, 2015 by playthell

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, waits for a photo with Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, in the Rayburn Room of the Capitol after the new 113th Congress convened on Thursday, Jan. 3, 2013, in Washington. The official oath of office for all members of the House was administered earlier in the House chamber. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Military Officer, Combat Veteran and Congresswoman

 Barack Obama should listen to her Wise Counsel

While Hillary Clinton rattles her sabers and talks tough in an attempt to show that she is hawkish enough to be Commander-In-Chief, and most members of Congress support the Presidents dual policy of overthrowing the Assad government in Syria and defeating ISIS, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard – a Democrat from Hawaii – is boldly calling this policy what it is: a contradictory plan at war with itself that is doomed to failure!  Her logic is so impeccably clear it is puzzling that President Obama, and the Congress for that matter, does not see it, especially since it is supported by our recent history in the Middle East.  As a wise wag once observed, “To do the same thing over and over yet expect different results is the definition of madness!”

The central theme in Gabbard’s critique of US policy in Syria is that the goals of overthrowing President Assad and defeating ISIS are in conflict; both objectives cannot be achieved simultaneously and that, as in all realpolitique, we have to choose the lesser evil.  And she argues correctly, as does President Vladimir Putin of Russia, that Assad is the lesser evil.

While the two senior GOP Senators who covet the Oval office – John McCain and Lindsay Graham – advocate arming the “Syrian opposition” against Assad, and point to their military experience as policy credentials, Gabbard, who has actual combat experience in the region, unlike these old farts from the Vietnam era – dismisses their arguments and offers the following analysis.

“The US and the CIA should stop this illegal and counter-productive war to overthrow the Syrian government of Assad and stay focused on who our enemy actually is: The Islamic Extremist Groups,” says Gabbard.  “Right now we can see why this is counter-productive…by working to overthrow the Syrian government of Assad we are strengthening our enemies, the Islamic extremists who will lock in and take over all of that country.”

Her reasoning is based on an astute recognition of reality that is supported by logic and the motion of history.  The points she makes that the overthrow of Assad would result in the expansion of Isis by placing control of Syria in their hands; CIA actions at the behest of the Obama Administration to overthrow Assad are illegal and US activities in Syria could result in an “accidental war” with Russia, who is a longtime ally of the Assad regime are irrefutable!

Although there can be no disputing the factual basis of her arguments – all of which I have made in several previous essays – it is a point of view that is seldom voiced by members of Congress.  While I am convinced this dangerous campaign of silence regarding these critical facts about the Syrian situation is partially the result of ignorance, which is bad enough, the imperatives of domestic politics is responsible for the silence of the chicken hawks who are willing to send our young people off to die on foreign soil in yet another misbegotten war while squandering trillions in American treasure and ponds of American blood.

However unlike these armchair warriors who talk tough out on the stump and on the floor of Congress, but will do anything to keep themselves or their progeny out of harm’s way, Gabbard is an officer in the Hawaiian National Guard who has done two tours of duty in Iraq.  Hence to her war is not a rhetorical abstraction she can exploit to win votes: It is a tragic fact.  She has lost friends and comrades in arms to wars in the Middle-East.  And she does not hesitate to cite their views on this matter.  And they all agree that American policy in Syria amounts to dangerous folly.

Major Tulsi Gabbard


Earning her Brass

Although she does not employ this specific language in her criticism of US policy in Syria, her descriptions nevertheless corresponds closely with historian Barbara Tuchman’s view of folly in her important book “The March of Folly,” in which folly is defined as the continued pursuit of a policy that all the observable evidence demonstrates will end in disaster for the pursuer.  By this definition US policy in Syria may well prove to be Barack’s Folly.

This is why the President would do well to listen carefully to the advice of his Hawaiian home girl; for although she is a surfer babe who looks like a Playboy center fold, she is one smart tough cookie.   Hillary should thank her lucky stars Gabbard didn’t decide to throw her hat in the presidential race; given her eloquence, intelligence and fearless independence she might have proven as formidable an opponent as Barack.

Major Gabbard on the Battlefield
tulsi_gabbard_in battle
A fearless leader of men

 An important part of the Congresswoman’s critique of US Syria policy is her observation that the overthrow of Assad will simply be a repeat of the catastrophic events in Iraq, Algeria, Egypt, et al.  In each case she correctly argues, a “secular dictatorship” was overthrown by the US and her allies only to result in an Islamic Jihadists take it over of the government.  It is astonishing that proponents of overthrowing the Assad government could have failed to grasp this tragic reality and wish to take us there again in only a decade.  If ever the philosopher George Santayana’s axiom rang true it is now: “Those who refuse to learn the lessons of history are doomed to repeat its mistakes.”


This is a Multi-Media Presentation

Double click to watch Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard present her argument
Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
November 2015


Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra Swings Berkeley

Posted in Cultural Matters, Music Reviews, Photo-Essays with tags , , on November 17, 2015 by playthell


Maestro Marsilis conducts the Boys in the Band

 An Evening of Gilded Memories and Divine Music

Standing in front of Zellerbach Hall waiting for the great Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra to hit, my mind was filled with random thoughts; all provoked by being in that particular place on that particular occasion.  The University of California at Berkley has a unique niche in my memory bank.  I first became aware of this campus in the 1960’s, over half a century ago, when it had a dual identity both as a center for radical ideas and activism, and the University with the most Nobel Laurates on its faculty.

Furthermore it was located in a part of America whose exotic manscapes and landcapes looked as if they had emerged from a fairy tale to my East Coast eyes.  The aura of “radical chic” was enhanced by the fact that Berkeley was located just across the Bay from San Francisco, then the home of the Hippy Counter-Culture which I had observed first hand upon my maiden voyage to the City, where I found myself living at the intersection of Haight and Ashbury.

The Square outside Zellenboch Hall
First Choice

It was as if I had stumbled into an alien world unbeknownst to me.  I had been raised in the racially segregated black community in St. Augustine Florida, where I was socialized on the values of the “Talented Tenth;” the enlightened striving class who set high standards for the Afro-American community and guided us away from “the worst in our own and other races” as Dr. DuBois had called upon them to do in 1903.

And I made my maiden voyage to San Francisco directly from the comparatively staid and culturally conservative environment of Philadelphia.  I had driven up from Los Angeles with a young mathematician who had worked on the Appollo Space Project plotting maps around the moon. And her sister, a young MD, lived the Haight-Ashbury District.  It was the now iconic “Summer of Love,”  a time and place where like the song says “anything goes.”  It was sex, love, acid, Psydchelic rock music, and people were tuning on and tuning out. I was fairly shocked at the way white folks were carrying on in “the Haight.”  The few black folks I encountered were Jimi Hendrix acolytes, and at that time I thought Hendrix had lost his cotton pickin mind.

Me and the Mathematician

Playthell and Rose

Dr. Fine: My Sanfrancisco Guide

At the time I was a disciplined member of the leadership of the Revolutionary Action Movement – an armed underground movement of Afro-Americans which gave birth to the Black Panther Party of Oakland, a matter I have written about extensively elsewhere – and as a doctrinaire Maoist I viewed the entire counter-cultural movement as a mass exercise in bourgeois self-indulgence that only well off white folks could afford to fool with.  I was a soldier in the black struggle, a committed warrior intellectual who had been trained in the use of arms by the US military.

My first visit to the University of California Berkley was occasioned by an invitation to present a speech on the importance of Black Studies in the struggle to eradicate white racist ideology and behavior from American life.  Given the nature of the times – with massive urban riots in which it seemed that the torching of American cities had become common fare and the country was on the verge of race war – this subject matter was considered an urgent matter and Universities were trying to define a useful role they could play in resolving the racial crisis. Normally presenting this argument was easy work; I had already presented it with great success at universities and school boards across the country, including the Claremont Colleges and four of the campuses of the University of California.

But to my mind Berkeley was different.  I was all too aware that this was the incubator of the “Free Speech Movement,” an Ivory tower where great minds communed about perplexing problems in the social and physical world.  Hence when I walked through the imposing gates on Telegraph Ave and set foot on the campus I felt an intimidation that I had never felt before.  Nobody really knew me there yet I got a big audience because I was on the program with Afro-American writer Alex Haley, whose collaboration on “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” had made him the most famous author in America, and read around the world.

At the time Haley was a Writer-in-Residence at the university and was working on a new book that he called “Before the Anger,” but was later published as “Roots,” an epic saga about African slavery in America that became one of the bestselling books in the history of publishing and was made into a riveting blockbuster television saga that made ratings history.  As a devotee of Brother Malcolm, whom I knew well, and a big fan of the book, I was delighted to meet Mr. Haley, whom I thought had done America a spiritual benefaction by writing the “Autobiography.”

He was a warm and unpretentious southern brother that reminded me of church deacons that I had known in Florida.  I expressed my gratitude for his labors which he accepted with grace. As I waited to go on after his remarks, I pondered how to approach this audience, who routinely heard great minds hold forth in this space.  It was as if I suddenly had a revelation; I heard an inner voice say “What would John the Prophet Do?”

It was not the biblical prophet that I had in mind but the modern day sound sorcerer John Coltrane, whose music we revolutionaries were convinced was the sound track of the black Revolution.  And when he showed up at a speech of mine in North Philly at a rally organized by radical activist/Jazz Pianist John Churchville, a leader in the Northern Student Movement and we spent the rest of the evening rapping, I was convinced that we were right….Trane told me so.  “I say it all with my horn young brother,” he replied when I invited him to speak to a Black history class I was teaching in the basement of Mt. Zion Church, pastored by the Reverend Doctor Leon Sullivan, “The Lion of Zion!”

After pondering the question for a moment, I decided that if Trane was in my place he would come out and wail, knowing there was no profounder musical truth than that which he was preaching….so that’s what I did.   The audience bought what I was selling – being a skilled orator trained by my aunt Rosa, an exacting tutor, made the task a lot lighter – and they rewarded me with a standing ovation! All of these memories swirled around in my head as I waited for the concert to start in Zellerbach Hall.

Although I am a former history professor who left the profession for other endeavors, I have never lost my love for the study of history and how it can illuminate our understanding of present realities.  It is especially gratifying when you can reflect on events that you participated in that have now become important historical milestones and the people now famous whom you knew back when.

I found special satisfaction in how Black Studies have become a standard part of university curriculums across this nation. This was not always true; I know because I was a co-founder of the first free standing, degree granting, Black Studies Department in the world at UMass Amherst in 1969, just a couple of years after I spoke on this campus, and we were the first to incorporate Jazz Studies taught by seminal artists into the curriculum when we awarded full professorships to instrumentalists/Composers/bandleaders Max Roach and Archie Shepp.

I also have a deep pride in what the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra has made of itself since I was present at its inception and produced the most extensive media report on the opening of Jazz at Lincoln Center, presented on WBAI FM in New York. I have also worked on a book project with the world famous photographer Frank Stewart, who is the official photographer for the JALC Orchestra.

Titled “Magic Moments in the House of Swing,” the book documents some of the great performances in this Mecca of Jazz in words and pictures.  Some of my essays were written as program notes for important concerts at Rose Hall, and they were illustrated with Frank’s photos.  As I write the manuscript is finished but unpublished because publishers say a picture book is too expensive to publish correctly and books on Jazz don’t sell well enough for them to make the investment.

The slice of history that I was most conscious of that evening was a story told by Dr. Ortiz Walton – bassist extraordinaire, insightful music critic and Ph.D. in sociology – who had been a doctoral student when Duke Ellington and his Orchestra performed on campus circa 1966.   Walton – who would later write the great book “Music: Black, White and Blue” – was shocked and appalled by the absence of black students at the concert. In order to provide a scientific explanation for what was obvious evidence of a cultural disconnect Walton designed a questionnaire and administered it to the Black students at Berkeley, and the results provided evidence a cultural disaster!

The dominant answer of the black students was that they played past the concert because Duke Ellington’s band “didn’t play Black Music.”  Walton was astonished!  Duke Ellington, the greatest composer in the Afro-American musical tradition, had become a stranger to his progeny; a prophet without honor in his own land.  It was the predictable results of a music business driven by the imperatives of commerce rather than a commitment to promoting high culture, and a educational system that has either removed musical instruction altogether or continues to priviledge European concert music over the indigenous art music of America.

This experience led Walton to write two important books about music and the Afro-American tradition.  A musically ambidextrous virtuoso on the double bass violin, Walton was a principal bassist with the Cairo Symphony and also played with John Coltrane.  Like Wynton, he is a master of both musical Idioms.

Hence one of the things I paid close attention to was the number of black students, or young black people from whatever walk of life, who attended the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra concert.  Although half a century has passed since Duke’s band was here, and the world has turned upside down, black student disinterest in serious Afro-American art music has evidently remained pretty much the same. Here the old adage “the more things change the more they stay the same” applies.  The scant black presence at the concert dribbled off to near nothing when it came to young people, who were outnumbered by their elders despite, and among those that I talked to only one young couple were not musicians; the rest were all aspiring musicians.

However the diversity of the crowd and the young musicians who sought Wynton’s musical advice is eloquent testimony to the widespread influence of the Afro-American art of Jazz; which in its love of personal freedom and promotion of invention makes it the quintessentially American art. (see: “Jazz Around the World” on this site.)  And that art has never been on finer display than it was at Zellenbach auditorium on that enchanted evening.  The band, an aggregation of virtuosi on all instruments, was in fine form.  The ensemble play was perfectly balanced, with each musician contributing his unique voice to a musical tapestry composed of many intriguing colors.

The program moved effortlessly as the music went from the classic big band repertoire to the most modern Jazz styles; the entire tradition of complex Afro-American art music was traversed and each was true to the performance style of the period. The essence of Jazz is individual improvisation in conversation with the ensemble, which places the soloist at the center of the action.

Here the JALC orchestra offers an embarrassment of riches as each instrumentalist speaks with a highly original voice and individual style that moves the audience to repeated ovations.  I think the seeker would be hard pressed to find a Jazz orchestra that ever played the music better than this one, now or at any period in the past.

Maestro Marsalis: Leader of the Band
The Brighest Star and Guiding Light

Wynton Marsalis, Pulitzer Prize winning composer and multiple Grammy winning trumpeter, remains the Orchestra’s guiding light as Artistic Director, as well as its most celebrated and inspirational performer.  When the orchestra sounded its last note the audience, hungry for more of these celestial blues drenched sounds that make body and soul dance, rose to its feet in a thunderous ovation and shouts of “Bravo!” rang out in the auditorium.

I have seen this Orchestra play many times; they are always excellent….and on this night in Berkeley they served up the music straight with no chaser, swinging hard and straight ahead.  The audience showed their love through vigorous applause when the musicians were on stage, and something akin to hero worship during the reception backstage when they got a chance to meet and greet them.  I was there, and I had my camera.  Below are some of my visual impressions of the evening.


The sold out audience was mostly white, Asian…..
………..and long in the tooth
 This couple were the only young black people……


…..who were not musicians
The Afro-Americans in attendance were Seasoned Fans


Like Heidi Moore-Reynolds
Maestro Marsalis

Edited Version

Positions himself to meet and greet the crowd
And they came in droves


Some just wanted to speak to the great artist
Other’s posed for Pictures


A momento that, like fine wine, will grow more valuable with time
Other band members soon joined Wynton in the reception lounge

Ali edit

Ali Jackson shares tricks of the trade with a young drummer
Trombonist Don Gardner
Imbibed Spirits with the adoring music lovers
A brilliant composer and arranger


He always takes the time to talk with aspiring 
Alto Saxophonist / Arranger Ted Nash

 Edit III

Was right at home among the Cosmopolites
With Oakland’s City Council President Jane Doe on left


And Sculptor/Professor Susannah Israel to his right
Sophisticated Ladies from all walks of life….


……….vie for his Attention
 And Music students ask complex technical questions


Demonstrating the proper embrocure for trumpet
Other times he conducts impromtu discourses


Discussing weighty questions about music theory
The City Council President paid close attention


And listened closely
So did Professor Israel


Who gloried in the marvelous music and good company
Wynton autographed every program presented to him


Most are musicians 
People from all backgrounds turn ot to hear the Band


Proof that Jazz  lovers are EVERYWHERE!
And I was there with my Camera!
Wynton and Me - Copy - Copy - Copy
Double click on links below to see the JALCO
Wynton and JALCO members tuning up before a concert
Watch the Lincoln Center Orchestra in concert featuring Wayne shorter
Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
Text and Photos by: Playthell G. Benjamin
*** Cover photo and Wynton in Perormance by: Frank Stewart
****Photo of Playthell and Wynton by:Susannah Israel

Is Ben Carson Nuts?

Posted in Playthell on politics with tags , , on November 12, 2015 by playthell
Dr. Ben Carson - Crazy
Dr. Ben Carson on the campaign trail

 An Idiot Savant Who is good with his hands?

Without a doubt the most interesting thing about the rise of Dr. Ben Carson as a leading candidate for the Republican presidency is that nobody has made an issue of his race.  That no one seems to notice this is further evidence of its uniqueness as an American political event.  Although Carson will be loath to admit it – given that he is the darling of the ignorant lunatic right that make up the Republican base – the reason his race is not an issue is because the outstanding presidency of Barack Obama has laid the silly question of whether a black man is capable of handling the job a moot point.

It is proof that the advice given to generations of black Americans by their teachers, preachers and parents is true: If you are the first black person to enter an arena you must be “twice as good” as your white competitors so that the door will remain open for the next black person to enter.  Arguably, Barack Obama has been more than thrice as good as his predecessor George W. Bush.

Despite his pristine Anglo-Saxon pedigree and Myriad advantages as the son of a former US President /plutocrat, the incompetence of George W. Bush  led to the first successful military assault on the US since the War of 1812 -despite several warnings of the impending attack; the worst collapse of the American economy since the Great Depression of the 1930’s; a war of choice against an un-offending nation that has destabilized the entire Middle East – which they had also been warned would happen by experts on the region – created ISIS and produced the conditions for a military conflict between the US and Russia that could easily spiral into a nuclear confrontation capable of destroying the world.  In fact, its gonna take a miracle to prevent this grim scenario from materializing.  Hence by any objective standard the leadership of Barack Obama – who corrected course, stabilized the sinking ship of state, and kept the nation afloat – has been a blessing.

It is incontestable that Ben Carson greatly benefits from the fact that he is running in a political environment in which a sitting black President saved the American Auto industry; led the economic recovery from the Bush crash; protected the American homeland from major terrorist attack; killed Osama bin Laden; kept the USA from starting anymore foreign wars; provided the American people with an affordable health care plan;  made equal pay for women the law; blocked the environmentally disastrous dirty oil pipeline from Canada; signed a major nuclear arms treaty with Russia and won a coveted Nobel Peace Prize for it, and many other achievements far too numerous to list here.

However the data is easily available online for anyone who wants to find it. And the book “The New New Deal,” which details how wisely the 700 billion dollars appropriated under the Economic Recovery Act was invested in the public interest free of any evidence of corruption is readily available on Amazon.

Barack The Maginificent!

Barack being fortified with the laying on of hands.

Church Leaders Laying on Hands

Although our President has been dubbed “Barack the Magnificent” by the great and wise Calypsonian “Mighty Sparrow,” a Trinidadian, Ben Carson has not, and will not, admit his debt to President Obama is yet another example of how contemptuous he, and the Republican Party in general, is of the truth.  As I write Carson is deeply embroiled in multiple controversies about things he wrote in his Autobiography, “Gifted Hands,” which cannot be corroborated by independent investigations conducted by professional journalists.

As it looks increasingly probable that Dr. Carson was lying about several incidents that are critical to the myth he has carefully constructed about himself, the pertinent question is why?  When Dr. Carson wrote this book he was already considered one of the greatest neuro-surgeons in the world.  And he had risen to this exalted status from the slums of a deindustrializing Detroit.  As the son of a single working class mother he had not been afforded any of the advantages that most kids who go to Yale and become world renowned surgeons took for granted.  He had done it all by his own hard work, exceptional intelligence and iron discipline; a model of intestinal fortitude fueled by grand ambitions.

This would be an outstanding resume for anyone.  Hence the question is why did he feel the need to invent a series of incidents to embellish this already marvelous story?  One thing is certain; we won’t get an explanation from Dr. Carson, the author of these fables.   Indeed he has decided to adopt a stance West Indians call “wrong and strong.”

When reporters interrogate him about his claims to have met with General Westmoreland, the commander of US forces in the Vietnam War, at a time and place that the General’s schedule shows he was not present; or his claim to have sheltered white students in the biology lab of his high-school during black rioting following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, which none of the white former students interviewed by reporters remember; or the offer of a scholarship to West Point, when admission to the elite military academy is by congressional appointment and all expenses are paid, Carson becomes surly and accuses the press of being out to get him.

 Carson in a Hissy Fit
Ben Carson IV
The Liberal Media are after Me!

A rank amateur at the art and science of politics, Carson evidently had no idea of the intense media scrutiny he would receive if it looked like he could end up in the Oval office.  Now he is running around like a chicken with a freshly wrung neck leveling ridiculous charges against the press; which will only insure that they will increase the scrutiny and all the skeletons in his closet as well as the bald faced lies he has told will be uncovered and held up to public scrutiny. In other words, he has chosen a self-destructive path from which it is difficult to forsee a road to victory.

As I write the press continues to break new stories about Carson that cast further doubt about his veracity and raises new questions about his character.  For instance the Washington Post just broke a story about Dr. Carson being a defendent in a paternity suit brought by an unidentified woman in Florida, which Carson denounces as “blackmail,” yet refuses to submit to a paternity test.

This response does not pass the smell test; as a doctor Carson knows that the easiest way to determine truth from a lie in this instance is to take a DNA test.  So what’s up wit dat?  Carson may be viewed as a victim by anti-media conspiracy kooks and the fundamentalist fanatics on the Christian Right, but he is increasingly looking like a pathological liar and pompous prick to the rest of us.  Yet despite the hysterical claims that the “liberal media” is out to get him the question remains: Why did Ben Carson fabricate stories about his life?

It is conventional wisdom among medical professionals that talented surgeons suffer from “a God complex.”  When you consider what they do it is not hard to imagine how they might develop such an inflated self-concept because some of the things that they can do are God like.  Saving lives by entering a person’s body and removing malignant organs or correcting the function of body parts to make them perform better, even transplanting organs from one body to another, replacing faulty parts with good ones like taking your car to a body shop, is incredible stuff that we mere mortals can only marvel at.  Thus it is not hard to understand how a person who is capable of such amazing feats, that literally give people new and better lives, could develop a God Complex.

Alas, despite his attempts to appear humble, Ben Carson is beginning to come across as a raging megalomaniac who is out of touch with reality.  His response to a reporter who questioned him about whether he would submit to brain surgery conducted by someone who had never attempted it before reveals the extent of his egomania and hubris.

He contemptuously dismissed the question with the comment that anyone who would ask such a question, suggesting it is analogous to his run for the presidency has no idea of the level of intelligence and skill it takes to conduct neuro-surgery.   It is such a silly statement, unconnected from any sense of reality, one is forced to wonder if he is delusional, on drugs or some special species of idiot savant: a guy who performs life enhancing miracles in the operating room and spouts dangerous life threatening drivel outside.

If we followed Dr. Ben Carson’s prescriptions it would result in the deaths of many innocent people; whether we are talking about affordable health care, gun control, or his militaristic views on foreign relations – especially our relations with Russia, which would hasten the pace of our movement toward nuclear catastrophe in which millions would perish.

Given his religious fanaticism it is worth asking if Dr. Carson would welcome such a doomsday scenario, after all many fundamentalist Christians  believe that the world will end in a fiery holocust come the Rapture, which will follow the Battle of Armegeddon when God and the Devil has the final throw down; the brawl for ir all!   As crazy as this may sound to rational people, there are millions of Americans who actually believe this deranged fantasy and many of them believe that the holocaust fortold in the Bible represents nuclear war between Russia – the forces of evil, and the US the elect of God.

One need only listen to the things Carson says regarding US-Russian relations to become suspicious of whether he shares these views.  Among the things Dr. Carson has advocated on the record is “We should fight them everywhere” and “We need to be supplying weapons to the Ukraine.” This is a plan of action that would lead inexorably to a war with Russia.

Since any military conflict with the US would involve all the members of NATO, a military alliance that the US has craftily constructed to surround Russia militarily – violating the spirit if not the letter of the agreements that ended the cold war – the Russians would have no choice but to go on a nuclear alert, and should the conflict proceed we could accidentally slide into nuclear war.

The way Carson talks about setting up a “no fly zone” in Syria and ordering American planes to intercept any Russian aircraft that crosses it suggests that he views the situation like a schoolyard fight where one kid draws a line in the sand and dares  the other to cross it.  He even employs the language of a school yard fight, calling Vladimir Putin a “bully” who we have to “stand up to.”   As outrageous as his statements on the Affordable Health Act are, or the self-aggrandizing lies he tells to spice up his life narrative, they pale in relation to his positons on a nuclear armed and increasingly nervous Russia.

To any sane and sober observer it is clear that the election of Dr. Ben Carson – a medical version of “Dr. Strangelove” – is a terrifying thought.  Hence, contrary to his cries of harassment by the “liberal media,” bringing out the truth about just what a whacko Carson is represents their finest hour.  It is amusing to hear right-wing whites who are borderline racist accuse the press of attacking Carson because he is black!

It is a scurrilous charge that insults both the integrity of honest reporters and the intelligence of the American electorate.  The fact is that, as I previously pointed out, race has nothing to do with Carson’s troubles with the press; it is his incessant lying about his personal history and his willingness to say anything to placate the crazies in the Republican base – people who can only support a black person who is willing to deny his people’s history of oppression – i.e. the real history of the USA.

A case in point is how he speaks of America’s history of “freedom,” this from a man that would have been a slave when the constitution was written, and whose children could be auctioned off like piglets –a wretched condition that lasted 250 years!  Another striking example is his support of white racist flying the Confederate flag at NASCAR events, flying in the face of the struggle by black and white Americans to remove this symbol of slavery and treason from American life after the mass murder in a South Carolina church by a young white mass murderer who was enamored of the flag and all that it symbolized. .   The things that Carson says in defense of these positions suggest a man who is totally out of touch with reality.

For instance he says: “Swastikas are a symbol of hate for some people, too. And yet they still exist in museums and places like that. If it’s a majority of people in that area who want it to fly, I certainly wouldn’t take it down.”  This comment won him the endorsement of the retired redneck NASCAR star Richard Petty, who describes the doctor as “very humane.”  Carson is so ignorant of the world beyond the operating room he comes across as a character in a comedy of the absurd.

He apparently does not know that flying a Nazi flag in public is illegal in Germany, and if those rednecks dared to fly a Nazi flag over their events the organized Jewish community would drive NASCAR into obscurity and ruin by getting all the major corporate sponsors  withdraw their support and no television networks would broadcast their races – including FOX.  NASCAR would revert to the backwoods cracker event that it used to be. And they well know it; so that’s not going to happen.  Is this guy really so out of it that he cannot distinguish the difference between displaying a Nazi flag in a museum exhibit denouncing Nazism and triumphantly flying a Confederate flag at a NASCAR race?

Whatever one may decide in this instance, the overall character of his comments – of which we have discussed a representative sample – suggests that he is either a soulless charlatan ready to tell as many lies as he thinks he needs to in order to advance his political career; a colossal ignoramus about history, politics, economics and foreign affairs; or he has serious mental problems.  His performance in the Republican primary debate tonight, November 10th, leaves no doubt that he is an ignoramus in all of these critical areas.  He is a super-lightweight vying for the Heavy-Weight crown of politics, and his mental stability remains an open question.

How then do we explain his appeal to so many white Republicans? After all, they have put him within a few points of the lead in the Republican presidential campaign, heads and shoulders above capable career politicians like Governors Jeb Bush, John Kaicish and the governor of New Jersey, all of whom are talking crazier in an effort to compete with the frontrunners Trump and Carson. I believe the answer to this enigma lies in the nature of the contemporary Republican/Tea Party.

This is a party that has built a worldview based upon the denial of science, failure to recognize the international realities but clings to the outmoded and dangerous ideology of “American Exceptionalism,” rejection of the facts of US history, weaving a web of outright lies about their democratic opponents, and continues to refer to Russia as the “Soviet Union.”

It is also a party that resists taxing the rich among us despite a mountain of evidence that the distribution of wealth between the rich and the rest of us is economically inefficient; morally bankrupt and unchristian; openly despises the government as an institution and has convinced millions of Americans that the Federal government, which they elect, is also their enemy.  It is no wonder that such a party cannot govern.  The recent Republican rule under George Bush more than adequately makes this point.

Given the bizarre world of the Grand Obstructionist Party it is not surprising that Ben Carson looks like a hero to his base and a weirdo to the rest of us.   Carson is common fare for black Republicans; whom I have repeatedly pointed out are all strange birds – remember Herman “Suga” Cain and “Uncle” Justice Thomas, Mr. “Nine Nine Nine” and the black mummy on the Supreme Court who acts like a sounding board for the opinions of that right-wing greaser Antonin Scalia.  There seems no end to the irrational things Carson has said he believes; his vociferous insistence that the Pyramids of ancient Egypt were a granaries built by Joseph to store grain for the Jewish people, not tombs for the pharaohs as archaeologists have demonstrated for over a century.

 As dangerous a religious fanatic as any ISIS soldier
Dr. ben carson professes his religion
Nobody told this egotistical Buffoon that the US is a secular society?

 He clings to this silly belief despite the fact that, as the big builder and political rival Donald Trump pointed out, the Pyramids are solid rock structures with room for little else except the pharaoh’s tombs.  This kind of information is very easy to research, but Carson says he got his information from the Bible, which suggests that Carson has no interest in factual information or scientific analysis outside of the medical field.

This is reason enough to confidently conclude that to elect him President would be a danger to the entire world!  After all the known facts are carefully considered, one thing is certain: Something is missing in the mind and character of Ben Carson that unsuits him to be the Chief Executive of the American government and especially Commander-in-Chief of the US armed forces – the last thing the world needs now is another tough talking religious zealot and reckless chicken hawk directing American firepower.    If I had to sum it up succinctly, I’d say the guy is nuts!

To View some of Carson’s Lunacy Click Links Below
On the origins of the Universe and Evolution
Hear Dr. Ben Carson’s prescription for starting a nuclear war



Playthell Benjamin
Harlem, New York
November IIth 2015

Fronting for Uncle Charlie

Posted in Cultural Matters, Music Reviews, Photo-Essays with tags , , on October 31, 2015 by playthell


Promoter Darryl Anderson  and Mayor Todd Strange

This Could be the Start of Something Big!

When I was a very young man selling life insurance, my sales manager called me into his office one day and said “We really don’t offer benefits much different from a dozen other companies; the key to selling is to sell yourself, make the customer like you so that they will buy from you rather than the other guy.”  Riding around Montgomery Alabama wheeling and dealing with concert producer Kwaku Saunders, as he put the various pieces in place for a Charlie Wilson concert on November 7, I witnessed the truth of the manager’s claim.

We set out early, driving down from Atlanta at six in the morning, and from the moment we hit town he went to work.  The first stop on a crowded agenda was a press conference with the Mayor of Montgomery to announce the forthcoming concert and receive the Mayor’s personal welcome.  There was a slight chill in the clear morning  air as we were joined by the concert’s promoter Daryl  Anderson at Montgomery’s beautiful River Front Park, the venue where the concert will be held.

A Fabulous Venue for a Concert


The producer will convert this elegant band shell into a state of the art sound stage

The Mayor was warm and exceedingly eloquent in his comments as the television camera’s rolled, employing terms like “ambiance” – with the proper French pronunciation – in his descriptions of the venue.  Listening to his southern drawl I had figured him for a country music fan, but the enthusiastic way spoke of Charlie Wilson’s forthcoming concert one would never know.  He sounded like a sho nuff soul man from way back in the chicken shack, cut from the same cloth as Elvis who was a huge fan of black music.

There were hearty smiles all around and a whole heap of back slapping. It was a portrait of good will as both sides congratulated each other for making the event happen. It was a portrait of a deal well done, because the essence of a successful deal is that both sides get what they want. For the Mayor and the promoter there was far more at stake than a single concert.

After explaining the complicated arrangement with the state that brought River Front Park into being, Mayor Strange pointed out that he had not found a way to make it pay.  Hence he was all ears for whatever the promoters had to say.  The promoter was seeking to promote a series of events this beautiful venue not just hit it and quit it…and this was seductive music to the Mayors ears  It sounded like a match made in Nirvanah, a splendid example of the art of deal making.

Although there are standard steps in successfully promoting a concert, securing the act and the venue being basic to the project, actually producing a successful public event that makes, rather than loses money, is far more art than science.  It involves being able to think on ones feet and sell the dream of a glorious evening when all will participate in a joyous occasion to various people who are vital to your success. In this instance it was a performance by the legendary song and dance man Charlie Wilson, with the lady killer crooner El Debarge as the opening act.

A few years ago promoting  concert featuring these two stellar performers would have been a piece of cake.  Although they are performing at a high level and some music critics, commentators and fellow musicians feel that the are better than ever, they appeal to an old school crowd that require more effort toget out than the youth market.  However among young musical performers its a different story; they know these artists because they were influenced by their work.    In fact, the nick name “Uncle Charlie” was bestowed on Wilson by Rappers who got their grove on listening to Charlie when he was the leader of the ultra-funky Gap Band.

Kwaku’s task was to sell this concert to the right demographic and see to it that everything is in order to deliver a great show, while satisfying the myriad demands of the artists contained in “riders” i.e. special clauses in their contracts. It was fascinating watching Kwaku as he artfully put all the pieces of this complex puzzle together so that things will move with the precision of clockworks.

Nobody does it better, as his splendid track record as an events producer will testify.  Kwaku has worked in every phase of the business first as an agent with Norby Walters – who taught him the tricks of the trade – then on to the Super agency William Morris.  From there he went into artist management – Mint Condition, The Sounds of Blackness, etc – and finally events production, where he produced Jazz in the Gardens for the city of Miami Gardens, taking it from a non-entity to the largest music festival in the South, attracting as many as 50,000 paying customers a night over several days.  He is one of the best in the business of putting performing artists on stage.

From the press conference with the Mayor we went straight away to a meeting of the Special Events office for the City of Montgomery.  Although the coming event and the promise of future events had a built in appeal, Kwaku still had to convince them to get on board for some complicated and potentially costly tasks.  Although he is a big guy, his luminous smile, soft spoken demeanor and abundant charm cast him as a jovial giant.  It is a winning combination; plus he can “talk a gopher outta his hole” as folks used to say when describing smooth talkers back in the day when I was growing up in Florida.

Kwaku got everything he wanted from them and we proceeded to the best hotel in town, where he also got the deal he wanted.  Then he worked out a peachy arrangement with the local Coca Cola distributor to supply soft drinks.  And it was on to meetings with a local promoter who was engaged for his expertise with the Montgomery market, then he worked out a deal with the local radio station.  It was like watching a great performing artist at work; a thing of beauty if you are into business deals.

By the time we headed back to Atlanta all the pieces of the puzzle were in place, and those who attend this concert are in for the time of their lives.  All that Uncle charlie and El Debarge will have to do come show time is walk out on stage and “break a leg” as they say in show business.  The front men will have done everything else – lights, sound, seating, food and drink concessions, security, seating, etc right down to supplying the guitar stands.  Now let the show begin on November 7th!


What a Place for a Show!


A Riverfront setting that combines modern design…….
….with ancient Greco-Roman inspired architecture


Combining the Classic with the quintessentially American
The Promenade is Stunning!


A great place for a stroll and drinks before curtain call….
……Or Recline on the Veranda of the Sand bar


Imbibing fine Spirits…..
Maybe even take a Steamboat Ride
Before the Show begins
The Choices are Endless


Take Your Choice
And then there’s Charlie!

CINCINNATI, OH - JULY 26: Charlie Wilson performs during the 2013 Macy's Music Festival at Paul Brown Stadium on July 26, 2013 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Stephen J. Cohen/Getty Images)

Large and in Charge

And El Debarge


Driving the Ladies Crazy with his Soulful Tenor Voice
Kwaku Lays out the Master Plan
Guiding them through Step by Step 
Its no Wonder the Mighty Three are Laughing
They know they bout to rock da park with a hellified show!
The Promoter expresses gratitude to the Mayor and Montgomery’s Fans
DSCN8236 And promises many more to follow


This is a multi-media Presentation, click on links below to see Artist
Charlie Wilson Live in Europe
 El DeBarge Live:  “All This Love
Text and photos by: Playthell Benjamin
*** Except for Photos of Charlie Wilson and El Debarge
  • Charlie Wilson’s photo was shot by Steven Cohen
** El Debarge Photo was supplied by his management.

A Living Legend!

Posted in Cultural Matters, Logan Westbrooks: Living Legend, Music Reviews, Photo-Essays with tags , on October 25, 2015 by playthell

llf awards logan brenda (1)

Dr. Logan Westbrooks  recieves Vanguard Award from Brenda A. King

Living Legend foundation honors Logan Westbrooks

From the moment I heard that Logan Westbrooks had been chosen for the Vanguard Award by the Living Legends Foundation I decided to attend the ceremony.  Given the pioneering role he had played in advancing the position of black professionals at major companies by virtue of his success, I felt such recognition from his peers was long overdue.  Logan and I have been buddies for forty years and during that time I have witnessed his remarkable career from a front row seat.  It is a rare opportunity to watch somebody accomplish something that hasn’t been done before; to set out on a journey filled with obstacles without a map or compass yet successfully navigate their way.  When I first met Logan he was already at the top of his game as the Director of Special Markets for CBS Records, which, at the time, was the most iconic entertainment company in the business.

I remember that his office had a carnival like atmosphere with colorful streamers hanging from the ceiling and people running to and fro grooving to The Sound of Philadelphia; it seemed that everybody was having fun while they took care of business.  Logan had an open door policy where one could pretty much walk in and ask to speak with him.  And if they sounded like they had a good idea they could get an audience.  That’s how the Senegalese promoter Johnny Sekka convinced him to come to Senegal to attend a music festival featuring the Jacksons.  It was a marvelous model for conducting business and the proof of Logan’s methods was the steady string of hits that issued from his department that generated millions of dollars.

Among the acts that fell under the purview of Logan’s department were Earth, Wind and Fire, Sly Stone and especially the acts on the Philadelphia International label whose records were written and produced by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff and their gifted associates like Tommy Bell and Linda Creed.  Clive Davis, the Harvard trained music loving lawyer who headed the CBS Records Group, tells us in his book that Gamble and Huff started turning out hit records before the ink was dry on their contract with CBS.  The acts in Logan’s department would dominate the charts during the 1970’s; Gamble and Huff went on to induction into the Rock & Roll Songwriters Hall of Fame. 

Logan’s performance at CBS exceeded all expectations and set a benchmark that opened the corporate doors for all who followed. Although we don’t hear it much nowadays, when we were coming up it was conventional wisdom that if you were the “first” black person to walk through the doors of opportunity you should try and be “twice as good” as your white counterparts in order to make it easier for other Afro-Americans to enter.

Although this may sound like he was walking into a pressure cooker Logan didn’t experience it that way.  By the time he arrived at CBS Logan had learned the business of marketing music from the ground up, and knew exactly what he wanted to do.  Although it has become conventional wisdom that the now famous Harvard Business School Case Study supplied him with the blueprint for success, Logan told me that it only confirmed what he had already learned from working the field for years with several companies.

What he did learn from the study had more to do with organizational structure and management than the marketing of black music, which is what he was tasked with by CBS, after Clive accidentally discovered how much money was in it.    Once they decided to get in the Black Music business CBS conducted a nationwide search; big multi-national corporations do not select people for top executive positions and put them in charge of million dollar budgets with final decisions on how it is spent without thoroughly checking them out – which was especially true for their first black executive!  So obviously Logan was a star in the records business before he went to CBS; they just gave him the resources to shine brighter.  And he became a Supernova!

When we used to hang out back in the seventies the record business was in a golden age that’s gone with the wind and will never return. This was a time when record companies made stars of anonymous performers…sometimes overnight sensations.  Thus top executives had virtually unlimited expense accounts so long as they were doing company business.  But in the business of music the difference between work and play is sometimes hard for the untutored eye to distinguish. I got my first taste of that opulent lifestyle when a CBS act was performing in Atlantic City and Logan asked me if I wanted to join him in a trip down to the Shore from Manhattan to see the show.

He and I were living in the same building at the time , One Sherman Square at 70th and Broadway; which was about twenty blocks from the “Black Rock,” a sobriquet for the CBS headquarters building at 50th Street and Avenue of the Americas.  Logan ordered a limo and we were chauffeured down to Atlantic City, sipping Champaign and imbibing exotic spices of life along the way.  During the show we dined on splendid gourmet fare fit for kings.  When I marveled at the plushness of it all Logan just smiled and said “this is how the game is played in the major Leagues.”

But he didn’t start in the big leagues and had done his time in the minors, learning the tricks of his trade down on the ground where the action is.  By the time he was recruited by CBS Logan says “I knew everything there was to know about marketing records because I had done it.”  In fact, when Logan went to CBS to market Black Music he was always the most knowledgeable exec in the room; CBS had the wherewithal but Logan had the know how.

It proved to be a perfect marriage and produced millions in revenue.  Logan was innovative in his approach to building his promotion team and this accounted for much of his success.  He understood that the key to the success of an act was good record production, air play and publicity.

In Gamble & Huff, Sly Stone and Earth, wind and Fire he was provided excellent products; his job was to sell them, which nobody at CBS had any idea how to do.  The first thing that Logan did was to assemble a crack promotion team.  Unlike most people, who would have hired people they like, Logan polled the Jocks that made decisions about which records got on the air in major markets and asked them to recommend promotion men.

He figured if the Jocks picked the promotion men they would have the best chance of getting his records played: it proved a stroke of genius!   He also demonstrated great insight and vision by insisting that his promotion men attend important events in the markets they worked in, thereby becoming a part of the life of the the community.  All of these practices were innovations introduced by logan to the business of marketing music.

His next step was to hire Afro-American publicists for the first time ever at CBS and he bought large ads in black publications which was also a first.  He hired Howard Bingham, Muhammad Ali’s personal photographer, to shoot album covers – another first at CBS.   And when his good friend, the Chi-Town jock Don Cornelius, launched his television dance show, “Soul Train,” Logan got Gamble & Huff to write the theme song.  Once the show was established Logan used it as a major venue for the promotion of his acts.

The Hit Maker!

Logan Westbrooks, hit maker

Back in the Day: Logan displaying some of his many hit records

Logan’s entire approach to the marketing of black music was a marvelous combination of art and science. And when he left CBS and started his own label, Source Records, in LA, his first release, “Bustin Loose,” by Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers, went to # 1 on the Billboard R&B charts. With the great success of this record Logan took a local Washington DC sound, Go Go music, and made it world famous The rhythm track was later sampled by the rapper “Nellie” for his Grammy winning mega hit “It’s Getting Hot in Here,” which continues to pay handsome publishing royalties. 

After experiencing great success as the founder and Director of the Special Markets Division, Logan transferred to the International Division.  When he was selected to head a joint venture with African businessmen to produce and market African music from a base in Nigeria, he again set a precedent by engaging this writer as a consultant.  At the time I was still a Professor in the University of Massachusetts, at Amherst where I taught a course on African history and politics.   Logan assembled a group of executives from CBS international and I conducted a seminar on the history, economy, culture, ethnic divisions and politics of Nigeria.  I also recommended a select bibliography for further study.  At the top of this list were the novels of Chinua Achebe, especially “Things Fall Apart” and No Longer at Ease.”

I chose Achebe because his novels present the reader who is untutored in African affairs with a comprehensive and penetrating view into the realities of African life and cultural values, and like all great novelists Achebe allows the reader to enter that world and see events through African eyes.  Logan would later tell me after his Nigerian sojourn – which he abruptly terminated after witnessing the 1976 assassination of General Murtala Muhammad, the military ruler of the country, while riding in a motorcade with him! – that he understood everything which was going on around him after reading Achebe.

Logan left the country as soon as possible because many Nigerians suspected CIA involvement in the Assassination;which made all Americans in the country suspect, and therefore in danger.  He had remained calm throughout this incident because although he has a humble demeanor, Logan is in fact a former US Army paratrooper who had completed officer training….hence he was trained for trouble!

Logan is the ideal student that every professor wishes for…a student who loves to read and is anxious to learn something new.  After I conducted the seminar at CBS headquarters and left them speechless, Logan would later laugh cynically and observe with a sense of pride: “These white folks up in here never think that we might know anybody black that can teach them something about the world…”

Logan has left an indelible mark on this business of music; hence I can think of no one more deserving of the Vanguard Award than Logan Westbrooks.  Since this essay is a multi-media presentation the reader can learn more of the details of Logan’s career by simply clicking on the link from the University of Indiana Archives – where all of his records from his years in business are housed and catalogued by Dr. Portia Maultsby – located at the bottom of this text.

A Note on Logan’s Life After the Record Business

Although it is not as well-known Logan’s life after he left the record business is just as fascinating and in some respects even more important.  While there is a plethora of examples I could cite, one in particular stands above all the others: his work with young black boys who had run afoul of the law i.e. having committed serious crimes that led to incarceration.  I think his work in this regard is especially important to mention here because endangered black boys was a persistent theme in the Living Legends event under discussion, but more importantly because of what it reveals about the relationship between Logan and his beloved wife Gerry.

Having witnessed their relationship from a pretty good vantage point over four decades, the first thing that comes to mind in any attempt to characterize it is to say that it is a great love story…the kind of love story that is extraordinary even by the exaggerated standards of a romance novel.   As evidence for my claim it is quite enough to note that they have been married for 50 years!

Alas, anyone who is vaguely familiar with the many temptations and pit falls a life in show business presents will recognize this as something of a miracle.  Yet they appear to still be really in love; as is evidenced by Logan ending his speech at the Awards ceremony with a love poem to his wife. It was so moving that the next inductee openly acknowledged that he had learned from Logan’s example and would incorporate his style in order to improve his own game on the home front!

However I discovered the true depth of their relationship and what a magnificent team they are working together – and since Logan was just starting out in life and was like a snake without a pit to hiss in when they hooked up, everything that he has accomplished Gerry was right by his side….not behind him – around the issue of these dangerous juvenile delinquents that virtually everybody else had written off as dead end thugs destined to go nowhere in life.

At first that’s how Logan saw them too, and so did I when I heard that Gerri was teaching a group of young LA gang bangers, all of whom had committed serious felonies – more often than not involving violent assault.   However in 1981 Sidney Miller, the publisher of Black Radio Exclusive – an important trade journal in the industry at the time -engaged Logan to produce his annual convention and he selected Rev. Jesse Jackson and myself as keynote speakers.

When I came to LA I had conceived of my task as composing a speech for rich black people in a period of Republican resurgence; which was difficult enough, given the notorious lack of political consciousness among the well-to-do.   So I composed a speech titled “On the Role of the Black Elite in the Age of Reagan, and proceeded to the conference certain that I had the situation in hand.  The speech was published in the next issue of Black Radio Exclusive and can be read there.

But not long after I got in town I was confronted by Gerry, who told me in no uncertain terms that her boys needed to hear some inspiring words from me far more than some rich fat cats at the Hyatt House in downtown LA.   And it was abundantly clear she was not taking no for an answer; Logan warned me “Gerry is a Tushie from way back,” which is an old southern way of describing a woman with an iron will that is determined to have her way once she sets her mind on something.   Unable to envision an honorable way out, I set my mind to composing a speech suitable for a group of Bloods and Crips who posed such a menace to society that they were locked up in a real prison – the fact that it was designed for youths made it no less a prison.

I decided that my first, and most important, task was to construct a speech that would “keep hope alive,” as the Righteous Reverend Jessie L. Jackson preached.  Alas, this was no easy task.  Yet I was inspired to press on by the admonition from our enduring Poet Laurate Langston Hughes “Hold fast to dreams /for if dreams die / life becomes like a bird with broken wings / and cannot fly.”

Once having defined my purpose and theme, I began to contemplate the content of my speech with the objective of selecting examples that could help me achieve my goal of giving these incarcerated youths a reason to hope for a better future.  I decided that the most powerful presentation I could offer would be to introduce them to a number of men who had served time in prison yet went on to accomplish great things later in life.

I chose two playwrights – the Frenchman Jean Genet and the New York Puerto Rican writer Miguel Pinero, a bad boy from the hood whose prison play “Short Eyes” had recently won the prestigious New York Drama Critics Circle prize for Best Play.  I included the great Jazz saxophonists Jimmy Heath, Businessman/boxing promoter Don King, World Heavyweight champion Sonny Liston and California writer/ activist Eldridge Cleaver, whose book of essays “Soul on Ice” was largely written while he was incarcerated in the California prison system and had captured readers world-wide.  And I concluded with a discussion of Malcolm X, who went to prison a dope dealing thug but emerged one of the greatest spokesmen for the oppressed in the 20th century!

I was satisfied that I would touch their souls with this speech…unless they had deep holes in their souls that could not be repaired, in which case my words would just seep through as if in a sifter.   However from the moment that Gerry began to address the class in this grim heartbreaking place – the misery of which was amplified by the fact that it was situated amidst the vulgar opulence of Malibu Beach – I began to see them in a wholly different light.

This is because, as she would later explain to me: “I never saw them as dangerous thugs; I saw them as lost little boys in need of love and guidance.”  She spoke to them the way a kind and wise parent would speak to their children.  Her love and concern for them was palpable, and they responded to her in kind.

It was a transcendent moment the likes of which I have never witnessed in a classroom before or since….and I come from four generations of teachers, have lectured to many diverse audiences of students and remain something of a compulsive pedagogue even now.  After a generous introduction from Gerry, I instantly gained their attention and trust.

It was easy work from that point on and my speech went very well.  Yet if they gained inspiration from my talk, I was also inspired by their response into believing that many of them could be salvaged, and I could see that their chances of salvation were immeasurably increased by having Gerry Westbrooks in their lives.  For she was much more than a teacher: she was a savior.

I had often wondered why she took on the job of teaching those whom the rest of society had condemmend as the worst kids in America – especially when she didn’t need to work at all for financial reasons. When I asked her one day if she was so dedicated to teaching why she didn’t choose to teach in better schools; she said simply: “Those kids don’t need me, they already have everything.  These kids need me.”

It is impossible to understand this kind of commitment unless you understand the commandment of Jesus Christ to serve “the least among us.”  Gerry is a real Christian that practices what she preaches.  It is the kind of rare and amazing grace that can move the heart of even an unchurched wretch like me.  I felt honored to have participated in her program; it was the kind of experience that even the memory can make your spirit dance.

Through Gerry’s prodding Logan would also have a change of heart and great things happened as a result.  From her close work with these troubled young men Gerry came to the conclusion that they needed different kinds of male role models; so she convinced Logan to polish up his Rolls Royce, dress to the nines, cock his hat duece tray  and come out to visit the boys so that they could see a hip black man who had acquired those material things without being a gangster, athlete, or entertainer.

Once Logan met her boys he fell in love with them too.  And working together they made a great difference in the lives of many of them.  By the time I went out to speak with them Logan was firmly in their corner and to witness the way these young gang bangers related to them as parental figures was a marvel to behold!

As a result of their work with these troubled young men the Westbrooks bought the fabulous mansion built by Lucy Hauerwass – the wife of the widow of the wealthy German immigrant businessman John A. Hauerwass – in 1914. They converted this house into the Helping Hands Home for Boys in the early 1980’s and maintained it for a decade before selling it to Boys town in 1998.

Gerri Westbrooks was honored by the City of Los Angeles for her devoted work on behalf of at risk boys, which she carried out with Logan’s support.  Hence while all of the eleven honores who received a Living Legend’s Award have made outstanding contributions, none was more deserving than Logan Westbrooks.

The Awards celebrations were outstanding by any measure.  Covering several days, the formal ceremonies began with a tribute from the Los Angeles City Council, and reached its apex with the evening banquet; then everybody had a ball at the Sunday Picnic.  My photographic impressions of each phase of the ceremonies are exhibited below.  This is a multi-media presentation;  with text, photos and videos.

The subject matter in the video clips are clearly labeled and the reader can view them by double clicking on the links at the bottom of this page.  All of the details on the honorees and the foundations work can be found on the first video clip titled “On the Living Legend Foundation Awards.” For maximum viewing of the photos, expand your screen to 150%.

The Helping Hand Home for Boys
Logan Westbrooks - Home for Boys II
Logan and Gerry Westbrooks Refuge for Boys at Risk
Gerri Westbrooks Honored by City of Los Angeles

Gerri Westbrooks Honored by city


Visual vingettes from the Celebration

At the City Council

Logan and Councilman

Logan Westbrooks with City Councilman


Dr. Westbrooks with Conference organizer

Logan and Organizer

Sunshine smiles beamed all around


Record Industry Icons Rap


About the golden days of the Music Business


Which they remember as a whole lotta fun 


Turning out the hits that brought Joy to Millions


Representatives of the Living Legends Foundation


Kept a Watchful Eye over the Proceedings


Councilman addressing the Honorees before entering the Chamber


He spoke knowledgebly about the recording Industry


Living Legends display their Citations
 Recognition for their role in bringing us good music


It was a Marvelous Moment
Radiant Smiles told the Story


Logan and Wife Gerry Leaving the Council Chamber
 Logan was deeply moved by the ceremony

 At the Banquet

 Edited VersionA A Motown Legend


It Was Star Time
 Edited II
As Logan and his elegant wife Gerry arrive in their Bentley


It was all the way Live!

Edit III

Classic Hollywood Glamor


There was even a Red Carpet!

Edit IV

Where the entrance of the Stars was filmed


Lights, Camera, Action!

Edit V

It was Strictly Hollywood……


Noted Movie Critic Gil Robertson was there…..

Edit VI

Checking things out with a critical eye


And so many Stars!


Ruben Rodriguez and his lovely Lady


Elegant Eye Candy was on Prominent display


Like this chocolate Delight!


Or this Butterscotch Beauty Colleen Wilson

Edit IX

Elegance and Class…Fine as Vintage Wine


Powerful full Figured Foxes


A Living Legend and her Tribune


The Full range of Black Beauty was on Display

Edit X

Dark and Lovely like the Night


They were Masters not slaves to fashion… 

Edit XI

High Style and Great Taste were Common Fare


Clean as a Mississippi Sissiy on Easter Sunday!

Edit XII

He looks like he stepped off the cover of GQ


It was a Bootylicious Affair!


J-L0 ain’t got Nothin on Her!


The Outside Gardens were Lush


In an LA sort of Way


And Inside Everything was Plush

Edit XVI

Todd Kalman: Vice-President at Marketron


The Awards Ceremony

Honoring Living Legends
The Main Ballroom was da bomb!


Nothing was spared on the Grandeur of the Fete


Pater-Familias of All Black Record Executives in the Fortune 500 


Logan Westbrooks Recipient of the Vanguard Award
Reed Shannon, Star of the Musical “Motown,”   sang our National Anthem
 The depth of emotion of his performance was astonishing from one so young


 The Audience Rose to its Feet….

Edit XIX

Lifted Every Voice and Sang!


As the Living Legends were introduced by their Presenters


The Vanguard Award winner dropped some science his many progeny


Logan Graciously Shared treasured Memories of a Life Well Lived
Logan Westbrooks II
And implored the audience: “We must tell our own stories


The Living Legends that followed


Gave Shout Outs to Dr. Westbrooks


This Young Lady


Accepted the Award for her Parents


Cee Cee was presented an award for her work with the Foundation


It really caught her by surprise


Big John was in tha House!


The New CEO: Warner/Chappell Worldwide Operations


But he had come to sing the praises of a Legendary Young Entrepreneur
And was just one of tha Boyz


It was the kind of fabulous affair where people came to see…..


…….and be seen


But mostly it was an occasion for old friends……


…… get together and reminisce about good times past

Honorees and Foundation Board Members

Logan Westbrooks in group Photo - honorees and Foundation board

Los Angeles October 2015

At the Picnic!


Ain’t Nothin but a Partay!


She’s Down wit it…….


………and can’t quit it!


Big Party over here!
P Funk in da Hooouse!


Rico Suave was Layin Down da Beats!
And Pumpin uo da Funk! 


Some folks just sat around looking outrageously fine….


……..Like Jackie Rinehardt!


And it was all about the Record Business


The Real Deal!


Double click on links below to view videos. 
On the Living Legends Awarda
Videos on the Career of Logan Westbrooks
Double click on links below to view
A Short documentary on Logan from the University of Indiana  Archives
To View Logan’s Comments on Chuck Brown’s #1 hit record
To hear reording of “Bustin Loose
On the Assassination of General Muhammad
Text and Photos by: Playthell G. Benjamin
*****Except for the following Photos.
*The Cover and the group ph0to of the Honorees
*The Mansion
*Gerri Westbrooks receiving Award from City
October 25th, 2015

It’s A New Day in Canada!

Posted in Guest Commentators, On Foreign Affairs with tags , , on October 23, 2015 by playthell

Justin Trudeau gestures while weighing-in for a charity boxing match against Conservative Senator Patrick Brazeau in Ottawa March 28, 2012. REUTERS/Chris Wattie

 Justin Trudeau Newly Elected Canadian Prime Minister

Reflections on the Canadian Election

We Canadians know only too well how rarely U.S. citizens think of us. In fact, we’re pretty much convinced that you’re only mildly aware of our existence. A friend who played hockey in the States was travelling north to Canada on a bus full of U.S. players who seemed sure that they would cross the border to immediately encounter snow squalls and moose crossing the streets in major cities. We’re quaint, but honestly, living in Toronto is much like living in New York, which is one of my favorite cities.

We’ve just finished a major election which will bring sweeping change to the ethos of our whole country, and as your neighbor, I thought you might like to know what’s going on up here. Canada’s Parliament, modeled on the British form, is made up of locally elected Members from many districts across Canada. For a national election like the one we just held on the 19th of October, 2015, when you vote for a local Member of Parliament, you’re voting for the leader of his or her party, and the leader of the party that gains the most seats in the House of Commons becomes our Prime Minister for four years.

Conservatives are blue, the New Democratic Party, or NDP, are orange, and the Liberals are red. Last night, a crimson tide swept across our nation with an unprecedented number of people flocking to the polls from East to West as the day went on. Advance polls saw a 70% increase from the 2011 election. First Nations people from many tribes, who have traditionally avoided voting, showed up in car pools. Muslims, immigrants and the young people of the nation raced to their polling stations by the busload. Justin Trudeau, the Leader of the Liberal Party became our Prime Minister, utterly ousting the Conservatives. Trudeau’s Liberals, coming from third place, got 4.2 million more votes than in 2011. We were desperate for change, and I’ll tell you why….

First Nations Peoples of Canada
First Nations People
They turned out and helped drive the right-wingers from office

 For the past 10 years, our Prime Minister (Canadian code for President) Stephen Harper of the Conservative Party has led Canada down a dark road of increasing exclusion, lightly veiled homophobia, racism and passive/aggressive Islamophobia, all the while pumping out a rhetoric of fear of anyone other than whites of European descent – a rhetoric that has Canadians locking their doors.

Did you watch Bowling for Columbine? If you did, you’ll know that we’re usually more trusting than that up here. He’s infamous for muzzling journalists and scientists, for making Canada the laughing stock of international efforts to improve the environment, and for openly stating that the 1,182 First Nations women who were murdered or went missing in recent years was not a priority for him. He was too busy protecting us from evil foreigners to demand action on resolving the cases of these women; cases which had been tossed aside and neglected for years.

Stephen Harper’s Last Hurrah…


He got Smacked down by the Liberals

Harper insulted Muslims by insisting that a woman should not be allowed to wear her Niqab while being sworn in as a Canadian citizen. He openly used code phrases like “Old Stock Canadians” to assure those Old Stock Boys that his consistently divisive leadership would continue to favor them above others. He put forward laws to decrease health benefits for refugees, and the list goes on. Ralph Nader, in a guest spot last week on CBC Radio, said that he hardly recognized Canada any more – it used to be a leading country in quality of life and evolved compassion, but that he now felt embarrassed for what we had become under Harper’s regime of fear.  This is not the country I grew up in – this is a country I no longer recognize. Let me tell you why this election was so important to Canadians.

I was a little kid sitting in the back seat of the family Volkswagen, and to my father’s astonishment, I was writing an election campaign speech. I had caught “Trudeau-mania”. For the course of my young life, politics had been austere, gravely serious and mostly about men making decisions for the rest of us. And along came Trudeau. Pierre Elliott Trudeau, Prime Minister from 1968-1979 and from 1980-1984, is the late father of our new Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau. We called him PET. Trudeau created a country that welcomed immigrants from all over the world with open arms. America represents itself as the famous “Melting Pot,” where people of other cultures blend in, but Canada became a “Mosaic” where other cultures, languages, customs and traditions were accepted and celebrated.

Canada was a fabric made of thousands of individual brightly-colored threads representing nations far and wide. That was our trademark – you could come here and feel welcomed, but you didn’t have to give up your culture or heritage – you could still benefit from the blessings of democracy, an advanced Medicare system and endless natural resources. PET was a breath of fresh air, bringing a forward-thinking new platform on women’s rights, equality and inclusion. PET put us on the map internationally, gaining the friendship and respect of foreign leaders. He brought us in leaps and bounds into a future of promise, where people of all races and religions worked together in harmony and felt safe. That’s the Canada he built. That’s the Canada I knew and loved. That’s the Canada Ralph Nader remembers.

Pierre Elliot Trudeau
Pater-familias of Todays victorious Liberals

An acquaintance from Iran who fled to Canada in the 1979 Revolution, often spoke of his alarm and dismay at how complacent and indifferent he found North Americans in terms of their engagement with politics. In a world where many have to walk miles, dodge bullets and navigate devious practices in order to place a vote, I tend to agree with him. But in yesterday’s election, my faith in Canadian citizens was restored. In the final weeks of the campaign, we waited, almost in a quiet panic, to see how this election would turn out. Various groups sprung up across the country to study the trends and provide local statistics on the best way to unseat the Conservatives.

People all across the country shared social media posts and links to tell the truth about Conservative policy and approach, and thousands upon thousands realized that no commentary was needed – one needed only to post the actual decisions, laws passed, policies and quotations, to tell the story of how Harper attempted to turn trusting, open-hearted Canadians into frightened, racist and suspicious people who thought they saw a terrorist hiding at every corner. The truth spread so far that even generally indifferent Canadians became fed up with this reign of fear, and they too wanted their Canada back.

Justin Trudeau Courts Muslim Vote

Trudeau meets with muslims

Building a winning Liberal Coalition

 The Liberal Party sent out volunteers in droves, and during the 78-day campaign, I was telephoned at least once a week by Liberal Party members looking to answer any questions, make sure I would vote and offer me a ride to the polling station. They were out on the streets in droves, knocking on doors and giving solid, clear answers to peoples’ questions. My experience in my own riding of Etobicoke South / Lakeshore left me deeply impressed with the integrity and hard-working team of local Liberal Candidate James Maloney, who won the riding. A casualty of the landslide vote in favor of the Liberal Party was the New Democratic Party, which lost many good Members of Parliament to the strategic vote.

In areas where a Liberal win was likely, staunch NDP members abandoned their representatives – the lesser evil if it meant ousting the Conservative Party, which was the goal of so many Canadians.  I was moved. It was like going to church last night, watching the Conservative blue disappear in a sea of Liberal red. I marveled at the well-oiled machine composed of dedicated Canadians who loved their country enough to work together as one to reclaim it from the reactionary conservatives.

Justin Trudeau, our new Prime Minister, is only 43 years old, and the campaign television ads used to try and diminish Trudeau said, “He’s just not ready.” But they were dead wrong. There was much negative speculation about how this very young man would handle the first debate, but the morning after, the pundits and journalists were singing his praises, impressed and inspired by his strength, knowledge, confidence and political savvy. During the weeks of the campaign, his opponents often suggested that Trudeau would run out of steam, not being used to the rigors of the road. Again, they were dead wrong. Justin’s energy and vitality increased as he continued to rise to every occasion. He was in good physical, mental and emotional condition and he remained consistent.

Justin Trudeau makes his Case

Justin Trudeau makes his case

And the Canadian people put the reins of power in his hands

Here’s the thing – Trudeau has not been mindlessly spouting some party line. He grew up immersed in the kind of belief system and world view of which the Liberal Party is so proud – a world view that is inclusive and positive and that welcomes the stranger and embraces the ‘other’ – a belief system that chooses to challenge the increasing gap between the rich and the poor – an outlook that values the hard-working middle class and resists favoring corporate giants at the expense of the ordinary person. Young Trudeau has already made some statements that are commanding our attention. He wants to focus on the important environmental issues which the Conservative government put on the shelf. He promises that he will name an equal number of men and women as Cabinet Ministers. Already, there are 26% more female representatives in the House of Commons than in the previous House.

Indigenous people who have been ignored and side-lined have hope that they will be included in infra-structure improvements that will finally bring them clean water and a trustworthy safety net. The list goes on, but the point is this: Canada lived through an increasingly negative decade wherein our progressive identity was insidiously being eroded, and we finally woke up.

Our new leader has a heart, and we can sense that he genuinely cares about the average Canadian.  It’s in his DNA to have compassion. He got it from his parents. As he joined his supporters for his speech, with his beautiful wife, Sophie on his arm, they chanted his name in ecstatic joy. And he promised to give Canada back to the Canadians who love it and serve it. He restored hope to an increasingly cynical nation.  He closed with a reminder that the Conservative Party members are not our enemies, but rather, they are our neighbors, and he urged us to work together to make Canada stronger. And there it is – there’s the big difference we worked so hard to bring back.

So why should you, my dear American neighbors, care about this Canadian election? First, you should probably know about the unprecedented shift that has taken place in a country that is attached to you for thousands of miles along your northern border. And second, you too have a major election coming. You too have an opportunity to raise awareness of the issues that are most important to you. What kind of a country do you want to be? What is it that other nations say about you? Is that okay with you? Would you like it to be something else?

I’m no politician – I’m not even a journalist. I’m a divorced Anglican (Episcopalian) Priest, a proud mother of two young adult women, and – yes, I have to own it – a sort of middle-aged hippie. I have always believed, like Jesus, Gandhi and Mohammed, that the sign of a truly good country is how well it cares for its most vulnerable citizens and brings justice to all people. I want to remind you of the dynamic power of one; because the action of the one, when added to the actions of many, becomes an immensely powerful force for change. We did it – we changed the whole ethos of our country, and you can too.




Reverend Susanne McKim
Tronto, Canada
October 20, 2015





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