Archive for the Cultural Matters Category

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

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

Chillin with the Stars at the Cigar City Club

Posted in Cultural Matters, Hangin with Dr. J with tags , , , on October 20, 2015 by playthell
Kwaku Saunders, Playthell, Julius and Doreese Erving
An evening of Fine Cigars, Great Cuisine, Music and Beautiful People

Oh what a night!  When businessman /promoter Dana Pitcher invited Event Producer Kwaku Saunders and me to join him at the Cigar City Club  to watch the Atlanta Falcons football game I thought it would be fun.  As a serious football fan who loves a good cigar it seemed a can’t miss proposition.  I liked the atmosphere of the club from the outset; the elegant décor with fine wood paneling, crystal chandeliers, leather seats and thick carpets complimented by fine food and drinks it was the ideal venue to watch a game with the hometown crowd.  So long as you were not rooting for the other team.

Since I am a Seattle Seahawks fan I had no dog in the fight.  Hence I was not glued to the TV set and was free to roam about taking pictures of the room and the beautiful people lounging about after deciding that I wanted to document this unique Black business. To my knowledge there is nothing like it in Harlem, which has long been considered the Cultural Capitol of Black America, and was once considered the Metropole of the black world.

When I first arrived at the Cigar City Club I didn’t know it was owned by an Afro-American businessman, Julius Bolton, but once it was made known to me I decided to make a record of my visit.  I chose to do this because I view this club as yet another example of the uniqueness of Atlanta’s Afro-American community.  Ever since I was a boy growing up in St. Augustine Florida, black Atlantans were known for two  things: Higher education and black business enterprise.

To this grand tradition has been added black political power and expanded wealth.  One can easily see the expression of black political power from the moment you set foot in the airport and witness that magnificent photographic exhibit on the history of black Atlantans posted along the walls of the corridor, and the marvelous stone sculptures by artists from Zimbabwe!  And the legacy of black enterprise is embodied today in establishments like the Cigar City Club.

After Dana introduced us and we struck up a conversation, Bolton struck me as a low key unassuming guy.  I would never have picked him out of the crowd as the owner, as there were several others in the room who looked the part.  But then some guys look like players and turn out to be farmers.   I was intrigued by how he happened to open this Cigar club, because I have been smoking Cigars for decades and have never visited a Cigar Club…in fact it never occurred to me.

Bolton told me that he liked to enjoy good food and drinks with a fine cigar and entertainment but had noticed that in his travels he could never find all of these things in one place.  This was the inspiration for his establishment and he has realized his dream beautifully.  The club has a great live music act, “The Jas Trio,” which on this night featured swinging performances from singer Quida “Sugapuddin” Fanklin  They are a swinging straight ahead jazz ensemble that plays the classic jazz repertoire known to all aficionados of the music.  They could hold their own in any jazz venue.

Bolton is employing technology to best advantage: The cigar store is a giant humidor with a wide number of choices; the television is programmed to switch from voice to silent text while the game is going on, and he has even employed Social Media man, Joshua McCoy, to keep the public apprised of what’s happenin at the club.

The Real McCoy!


 He’s got the world at his fingertips

 However the highpoint of the evening for me came with a surprise visit from Julius “Dr. J” Erving, a first ballot basketball Hall of Famer who gets my vote as the best ever on the hardwood court.  Kwaku Saunders and Julius Erving have been best friends since boyhood and I met them both when they were students at the University of Massachusetts in 1969.  There were other students in their class who also did well, like the singer Natalie Cole, but I don’t think any have equalled Kwaku and Julius’ impact in their chosen fields.

It was an exciting time in the country, radical changes were taking place in the status of women and minorities, propelled by the energy of the black Civil Rights Movement, which began in the South and engulfed the nation.  Kwaku was a student activist who was a leader of the students that demanded the establishment of a Black Studies Department, and thus sat on the student committee that interviewed the perspective professors who would design the department and offer courses.

I was the first Professor hired and along with a group of distinguished international colleagues we built the first degree granting Black studies Department in the world in Amherst and name it after the most distinguished scholar in the black world: The WEB Dubois Department of Black Studies.  (See:”Dr. DuBois Then and Now” on this site.)  For an extended discussion of Dr.  DuBois’ life and work see the book “Reconsidering the Souls of Black Folk” by the present writer.

They also demanded that black students be given a block of air time on the University radio station, which was called “The Black Mass Communication Project.”   I thought Kwaku a bright young man who was mature beyond his years and would go far in life.

Julius Erving, although just a sophomore, was the most popular student on campus.  People used to point him out to me and declare that he was the “best forward in college basketball.”    I dismissed such talk as home town hype.  Admittedly my opinion was greatly influenced by the fact that at the time I was involved with a lady who was a professor at UCLA, who were the National Champions of collegiate basketball.

Hence I had attende numerous basketball games in the fabulous UCLA arena known as “The House Kareem Built;” it was a fabulous place with real Hollywood stars sitting at courtside.  Sydney Wicks and Curtis Rowe were the forwards on the team and they looked and acted like stars.  Since the conventional wisdom among sports commentators was that this tandem were the best forwards in college basketball I was sure the accolades heaped upon the skinny bushy head kid on campus, who I and nobody I knew outside of Amherst had ever heard of, was nothing more than overinflated puffery and I refused to believe the Hype – as his fellow Long Islanders Chuck D and Public Enemy would exhort us twenty years later.

However as it turned out Julius Erving was the real deal.  I first discovered this when a friend of mine, big Jim Corbin, who had been a college All-American football player and later a high-school basketball coach suggested that we go check this young man out and see for ourselves if all the fuss was justified.  That night U-Mass played Providence and Julius was pitted against their 6” 9’ forward Marvin Barnes, who went on to a solid NBA career but was then the terror of the Yankee Conference – which I had never heard of before coming to U-Mass.  Julius dominated this great player – who was bigger than him – in every phase of the game: rebounding, defense and scoring.   And he did it in such a convincing fashion that Big Jim said Julius was “the best college basketball player” he had ever seen.  And he predicted he would go on to achieve greatness as a pro.  History has proved both of our hunches true!

Kwaku went on to make history as the first black music agent at the powerful William Morris Agency, after a stint with the legendary Norby Walters where he represented virtually all of the top black stars in Rhythm & Blues as well as the pioneering Rap acts that rose up from the playgrounds and small clubs in Harlem and the South Bronx and made Hip Hop a billion dollar industry whose product is enthusiastically consumed world-wide and changed the character of youth culture everybody: for good and bad.

He would later become an artist manager whose group “The Sounds of Blackness” was declared his “favorite group” by that intrepid saxophone player in the White House, President Bill Clinton.  During his tenure there Kwaku had several occasions to book his group at White House events and “Sugar Willie” even broke out his horn and joined them on one occasion!

Before Kwaku became the manager of this group they were just another choir in the Twin Cites of Minnesota. It was under his astute and careful guidence that they became a world wide attraction.  Kwaku is now a successful producer of big live events around the world.  As I write he is producing a concert with the legendary R&B artist Charlie Wilson at the River front Amphitheater in Montgomery Alabama on November 7.

After his Hall of Fame basketball career Julius returned to what he would have done had he not made it into pro-basketball, become a successful businessman.  Today Julius is involved in international deals that take him as far away as China!  As a long time student od Chinese society I had many questions for him, and his thoughtful observations conveyed a sense of wonder at the size of Chinese cities and the pace of modernization.

Sitting and rapping with them my mind wandered back over four decades when they were just young men with enormous promise, and reflecting on how that promise has been fulfilled in grand fashion.  In a solemn moment of reflection Julius noted the passing of his former coach in high-school and U-Mass, Ray “Speed” Wilson,” and told me that he would soon be departing for Rhode Island to deliver the Eulogy at his final rites. There was a profound humility in his voice as he spoke of this man who he says taught him much more than the game of basketball.

What I find most impressive about these two old friends – whose relationship is explored in the outstanding NBA Television documentary “The Doctor -”  is how little success has changed their fine personalities and character.  In this documentary, which was aired nationally, we learn that Kwaku actually nicknamed Julius “The Doctor” and he in turn called Kwaku “The Professor.”  And there we were almost a half century later hangin out and reminiscing in Atlanta’s cigar club….Oh what a night!


It was a Grand Party!

The “Doctor” and the “Professor


Friends 4 Life
Debating the Atlanta Falcon vs. New Orleans Saints Game
Much pompous drivel was spouted before the Saints crushed their hopes
 Big Dana Pitcher Was in da House


A Louisiana Businessman and Bon Vivant making his mark in Atlanta
Although he is a relativly Young Man Dr. J’s hair is Steel Grey


Julius Says its a family trait; his father had it and he loves it
And from the look of things…..


…….so do the ladies
A Visionary Entrepreneur


He saw a vacuum and filled it: fine food, drinks, live music and great cigars
He created and elegant environment


That attracts a Smart and Stylish crowd
It’s a Cigar Smoker’s Paradise


That offer a dazzling array of choices
A Well Designed Humidor


Carfully designed to satisfy the taste of the most demanding epicure
Exotic Tobacco Leaf from Far away Lands


Find their way to these shelves
Its the kind of Posh Place…..


Gentleman of high style and substance are drawn to
And beautiful women flitter about…..
Like luminous technicolor fire flies in Africa’s night
Satin Dolls like Duke Elington Conjured up……


In Black, Brown and Biege
It’s also the Lair of…..
…………..Redbone Foxes!
 Even the waitresses are fine!


Like this Tall, Tan, Terriffic Beauty
Or this Pulchritudinous Eye Candy


The guys get a kick outta watching Sarah work the floor….perhaps some girls too
And there was great Music!


James Schneider and the JAS Trio was Killin
 The bass and the drums were locked in the pocket!
Quida “Sugar Puddin” Franklin
Swung a Jazz Song with Blues and Soul
For those whose taste runs to Chess and Champaign


Its Yours Upon Request
From Night to Night you’ll find Him…..


Watching over the care of his customers
And big Dana….Who invited me to the Cigar Club


Scoped the scene with a for real  Louisiana Players Lean


Double Click on links below to view videos
Playthell Benjamin Television Commentary
The Sounds of Blackness
Julius “Dr. J. Erving: A Documentary
Photos and Text: By Playthell Benjamin
Video selections by: Playthell Benjamin
Multi-Media presentation conceived and designed by Playthell
Atlanta, October 2015

Fallen Angel: Self-Destructing before the World  

Posted in Cultural Matters, Film Criticism, Movie Reviews, Music Reviews with tags , on July 7, 2015 by playthell


Amy during better days
 The Short and Tragic Life of Amy Winehouse

The new documentary film on the British singer Amy Winehouse now playing at the Sunset Theater in the East Village is beautifully produced and directed by Asif Kapadia. Over the course of two hours and eight minutes we are provided a remarkable look into the life of this six time Grammy winner who rose up from the London working class and captured a world-wide audience writing and singing songs based on the vicissitudes of the high times and bizarre episodes that mark the rise and fall of her short but remarkable life.  Watching the movie I got the impression that we were witnessing the human equivalent of a shooting star that blazes across the night skies in a bright flash of light and then flames out before our eyes.

The film is thoughtfully constructed from video clips of her life; some of it is finely produced footage from her live performances in the UK and the USA, but most of the footage comes from family and friends.  Thus we see her in a wide variety of settings.  Some of the film has sound, and thus we can observe her speaking, but other footage is accompanied by voice overs of Amy speaking.  Hence we hear a lot of her story in her own words. And what we see is a young person of considerable creative talent who appears to understand little in life except making music, and cannot overcome the deep seated emotional problems caused by the lasting trauma of her father abandoning her and her mother at an early age.

This leaves her with a deep need to be loved by men, or at least win their approval, and her emotional neediness drives her into a destructive relationship with a guy who is also emotionally damaged because of a screwed up relationship with his parents.    He promises to be her rock and help Amy cope and instead he introduces her to crack cocaine and heroin.  Abuse of these drugs along with excessive alcohol consumption final did her in at the tender age of 27.  However in the meantime she managed to become an international superstar who could have become fabulously rich if she had been able to stay sober.

Although Amy’s particular experience is unique, the basic narrative is an old story: old wine in a new bottle.  In many ways her saga is so familiar she comes across at times as a cliché, depending upon who is watching it.  For those who know something of music business history and inside lore it is easy to place Amy’s self-destructiveness within a tradition of music history in the 20th century. Creative geniuses like Charlie Parker and Jimmy Hendrix self-destructed on drugs, and there is a long line of singers whose fame and fortune couldn’t rescue them from self-destruction: Billy Holiday, Judy Garland, Elvis Pressley, Janis Joplin, Michael Jackson, Phyllis Hyman, Whitney Houston, et al.  However none of them acted their destruction on stages with a million people watching.

Under Asif Karpadia’s direction we are provided glimpses of Amy’s life before she became a star, when she was a passably pretty girl who was more sensuous that beautiful; her best feature being full pouty lips –DSL’s that forced one’s mind into the gutter –and her long black hair, which she often wore in “big hair” styles resembling the popular “beehive” styles of the 1960’s.  She reminded me of one of those smart mouth delinquent working class English girls in the British movie “To Sir with Love,” starring an unusually stiff and priggish Sidney Portier.

But after all is said and done the raison d’etre for this documentary film is Amy Winehouse’s talent and importance as a musical artist.  On this issue the movie becomes an extended panegyric that degenerates into special pleading.   While there is no doubt that Ms. Winehouse had talent, it is a gross exaggeration to call her “The Queen of Soul,” while the real queen, Ms. Aretha Franklin, was alive and well – not to mention her numerous Afro-American progeny such as Whitney Houston, Alicia Keyes, Beyoncé et al who are singing their asses off in the tradition.  And Tony Bennet’s claim that she was “one of the purest jazz singer I ever heard….if she had lived she would have been on the same level with Ella Fitzgerald and Billy Holiday,” is shameless hyperbole.

Perhaps Tony Bennet’s assessment of Ms. Winehouse’s talent was influenced by the fact that she constantly cites him as her artistic “hero,” along with Sarah Vaugh, Billy Holliday, Thelonious Monk, and other Afro-American Jazz greats.  Testimony from black American artists in the film like the drummer/leader of “Da Roots,” an innovative hip hop band from Philly, revealed that she was a serious student of the Jazz tradition that was constantly recommending records for him to study.

However most of the music selected for the film – which one presumes was a representative sample of her work – was Rhythm & Blues and her band was rocking!  There were excerpts from some of her Jazz performances, the most extensive being a recording date she did with Tony Bennett, where she was scared to death and nearly walked out of the studio when she kept screwing up on take after take.  It was clear that Amy and Tony have a mutual admiration thing going; that accounts for the dreamy things they say about each other.  But reality is not so easy to conceal.

Amy Winehouse was just the latest white singer to study the black vocal style and brazenly imitate her idols.  Here too her story is an oft told tale.  It was true of Elvis Pressley, Mick Jagger, Joe cocker, Billy Joel. Janet Joplin, et al.  It was also true of white instrumentalists too.  And in each of these cases once the white performer became competent in the genre they were crowned “The King of Jazz” aka Paul Whiteman; the “king of Swing” aka Benny Goodman; the “King of Rock and Roll” aka Elvis Pressley; the “King of Hip Hop” aka M&M; the “Queen of Rap” aka Iggy Azalia.

According to this film Amy Winehouse was both “The Queen of Soul” and was on the way to rivaling the great Ella Fitzgerald and the incomparable Billy Holliday as a Jazz singer.  Yet each of these art forms are Afro-American inventions, and only black artists and audiences can decide who is boss because they set the standards of excellence.  The resulting product has captured the imagination and created devotees among musicians all over the world…since the turn of the twentieth century Afro-American musicians have been the most infventive and imitated artists on earth. It is obvious that white folks need to chill, get over themselves.

Aside for these gross exaggerations regarding the magnitude of Ms. Winehouse’ talent; this is a pretty good flick about a very troubled performer who literally decomposes before our eyes.  We watch her go from a healthy, perky, quite attractive girl, to a bulimic sack of bones who seem to be knocking on death’s door – one foot in the coffin and the other on a banana peel.

Lost in Space?
High off everything ….but life

Yet nobody cold reason with her; not her closet girlfriends who had been at her side since childhood, nor the Afro-American rapper/actor  Mos Def, who she evidently admired and pops up throughout the movie at various stages of her career like Banquo’s ghost, warning Amy to turn away from her self-destructive path. Finally, on a hot July day in 2011, she finally killed herself; the autopsy said she died of “alcohol poisoning.”

In the end the filmmaker managed to produce a poignant portrait of a self-destructive artist who turned her pain into song poetry and allowed the world to witness her self-immolation even as she tried to hide out in plain sight.


Double Click on links to see Amy Perform

Live in London 2007

Amy’s last tragic Concert


Aretha Franklin

Whitney Houston

On the progressive Black Church

Posted in Cultural Matters with tags , , , on June 25, 2015 by playthell

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., right, and Rep. Adam Clayton Powell, are shown at a news conference at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York's Harlem, November 14, 1965.   (AP Photo/David Pickoff)

The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., right, and Rep. Adam Clayton Powell, are shown at a news conference at the Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York’s Harlem, November 14, 1965. (AP Photo/David Pickoff)
Two Afro-American Baptist preachers who changed America

The Rock on which we stood When all else failed…

This post is in response to  the statement below by Tamara Tornado,  a snide racist white bitch who does  NOT UNDERSTAND black church history yet presumes to criticize it.  I don’t like know-it-all crackers in the first place, because like this stupid broad they usually know nothing about us!  The fact is that the black church has a dual history: progressive and reactionary.

The progressive tradition is heroic and grows out of the beliefs of those black slaves who interpreted the stories in the Old Testament bible about the enslaved Hebrew people in the Land of Egypt to be a parable about their situation in the American House of Bondage, where the white leaders of America collectively were Pharoah, locally represented by the slave master class.  In other words Afro-American Christians converted Christianity into a weapon of liberation in a way that black slaves under Islam were unable to do.

Another Ignorant racist commenting on Black culture
Condemnation of black churchwomen by a snide white bitch
This silly pretentous Bitch is no friend of ours!

The fact is that the majority of southern whites never owned slaves and Tamara’s grandfather was probably not one of them. Since she is obviously classless white trash. Every half ass redneck likes to identify with the slaveholding class, when most of their ancestors were nothing more than pawns of the planter class who supported the interests of the rich over their own because they were told that just being white made them special even though they didn’t have a pot to piss in nor a window to throw it out of: JUST LIKE ALL OF THE PO WHITE CRACKER ASSHOLES WHO VOTE REPUBLICAN TODAY!!!!

Before the Civil War slaves were the most valuable property in the US., that’s why in 1850 New Orleans was the richest port in the country. Black churchwomen were the backbone of the great Civil Rights movement that destroyed the racial caste system of the south…what has this dumb cracker bitch done to make this country a better place? My argument is not with the black church as such, but this particular church congregation at Mother Emanuel in Charleston. The fact that I am an atheist does not blind me to all of the GOOD WORKS the black church has done and is doing! It is far superior in its practice of Christianity to the WHITE CHURCH!!!

That’s why the great German theologian and preacher Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who came here to complete his PhD thesis and teach at the distinguished Union Theological Seminary, became mesmerized by the Afro-american church service..  Although Bonhoeffer  was unimpressed with the academic standards at Union, a bastion of white theological study, he was befriended by a black seminarian named Frank Fisher, and was introduced to the Afro-American church.

The learned German theologian  was taken to a service at the Abyssinia Baptist Church in Harlem, and he was so moved by the experience that he regularly attended service at Abyssinia thereafter.  And, dispite the ignorant slander leveled against them by that pretentious white trash airhead Tamara Tornado, the beautiful, elegant black women in the congregation were, and are, a majestic sight to behold!

The Ladies of Abyssinia

Easter Parade 2012 - Harlem Sisters edit




Easter Parade 2012 086


Easter Bonnet - Satin Doll


Adam Powell and Hazel Scott

Reverend Powell and his beautiful gifted wife Hazel Scott

While he dismissed Union Seminary with the observation “there’s no theology in this place,” he concluded that the Black American church was the manifestation of what God intended a Christian to be!   Bonhoeffer, who would become one of the great theologians of the 20th century,  taught Sunday school at the church during the rest of his stay in the US.   He later taught Afro-American Spirituals to his congregation secretly in his church back home to give them hope as the Nazi’s took over Germany! This man would later lead the German church in OPPOSING HITLER, even participating in an assassination plot against the German dictator and was murdered by the Nazis!!!

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer II

The German theologian who became mesmerized by black Church

The African Methodist Episcopal Church INVENTED LIBERATION THEOLOGY with the founding of Mother Bethel during 1792 in Philadelphia, just five years after the US Constitution was drafted a few blocks away.  It was the first American church founded as an act of resistance to the sin of white racism and oppression of black people! So don’t get what I am saying about my experience with God and white folks twisted: I lost my faith in God in a pretentious white Catholic Catedral.  I DO NOT REPUDIATE THE WORK OF THE PROGRESSIVE BLACK CHURCH!!!!

Bishop Henry McNeal Turner
AME Bishop Henry McNeal Turner
Father of the South African Liberation Movement

In my view the congregation of Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church is BETRAYING IT’S FIGHTING LEGACY!  One of the founders of this church was Denmark Vesey, who organized what would have been the bloodiest slave uprising in American history – and there were over three hundred!  However the reason it failed is because of some sambos who believed that Old Testament shit about a “SLAVE SHOULD OBEY HIS MASTER!” But those following Vesey acted on the old testament text that calls for “an eye for an eye”

Dr. DuBois, the most learned American intellectual of the 20th century, called the AME church “one of the greatest institutions ever devised by man.” And he said their Bishops ran from “Saints like Benjamin McNeal Turner” to some that “represented just what the devil would look like at the turn of the twentieth century.” Yet he, like me, was an atheist!  But as a father of the 20th century Pan-Africanist Movement, DuBois was well aware of the role the AME church layed in the Black Liberation Movement here in the USA and in colonized Africa.  For instance, Bishop Henry McNeal Turner could rightly be called “The Father of the black Liberation Movement in South Africa. (see “Pan-Africanism: Myth or Reality?”

Dr. WEB DuBois

Dr. dubois in the Crisis Ofice

The Great Scholar at Work

It is little wonder that Dietrict Boenhoffer was capitivated by the Afro-Ameican church service, especially the baptist, who are reknowned for their preaching.   It is the most dynamic and capitivating oratorical style in the world.  The brilliant Florida novelist and forklorist Zora Neal Hurston, described the power of the Afro-American sermon best.

In a letter to her fellow Floridian, James Weldon Johnson, polymath and cosmoplite, who had published “God’s Trombones,” a great collection of epic poems based on the black southern folk preacher, Zora told him it seemed like only the two of them really understood that the negro sermon is epic poetry.  She told johnson that she cast the preacher in her own novel, Jonah’s Gourd Vine, “as the poet that he must be in order to survive in a Negro pulpit.”  Both Adam Clayton Powell and Dr. King were great orators who were masters of the Afro-Ameican sermonic art, and when they employed it to sway opinions in the political arena they were formidable.

Added to these achievements, the progressive black church has produced more great innovators in American music than Julliard, and more great transformative  leaders than the white American church can match. We need only look at two examples: Congressman Adam Clayton Powell Jr, the Pastor of Abyssinia Baptist Church, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. the modern day Prophet who led the great Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s.

As Chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor, Powell sponsored and got passed 60 bills that provide the entitlements for the working class that we now refer to as the “Social Safety Net.”  And the struggles led by Dr. King, who gave his life to the cause, of wiped out racist laws that make black Americans aliens in our own land.  Together these two black Baptist preachers transformed America into a better country for EVERYBODY!!  The rich white Christian clergy can make no such claim!  This is the real leagcy of the black church!

Double click on link to see video of Rev. Powell

Click to see Video on Dr. King
Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
June 25. 2015

Just a Crazy Southern Cracker……

Posted in Cultural Matters with tags on June 22, 2015 by playthell
South Carolina Shooter
Crazed white racist mass murderer

…….Or the tip of an Iceberg?

“They are raping our women and taking over our country!”

The tearful statement of remorse by Governor Nicky Hailey mourning the tragic mass murder committed by crazed white racist terrorist, Dylann Roof, who gunned down nine Afro-Americans conducting a prayer meeting  in the sanctuary of their church, camouflages a deep racial divide in the state of South Carolina that the Republican political leadership is in denial about.

The governor sounded shocked that something like this could happen in her state, as she assures us that Charleston,  “The City of Churches” is a God fearing community where everybody “loves each other.”  However the Southern Poverty Law Center, whose raison d’etre is monitoring racist hate crimes, says there are 19 organized white racist hate groups based in South Carolina!

This is the  framework from which the racially motivated mass murder of Afro-American worshippers  should be analyzed; it should also be viewed in historical perspective and in the light of present racial realities.  And we must not be influenced by the tearful sentimental statements of politicians and pundits looking for a safe place to take a stand.

Let us begin our analysis here by considering the official statement issued by the SPLC:

“A white man who admires apartheid walks into a black church and kills nine people.  According to an eyewitness, he says that he has “to do it” because black people “rape our women” and are “taking over our country.”  It’s an obvious hate crime by someone who feels threatened by our country’s changing demographics and the increasing prominence of African Americans in public life.

Since 2000, we’ve seen an increase in the number of hate groups in our country — groups that vilify others on the basis of characteristics such as race or ethnicity.  Though the numbers have gone down somewhat in the last two years, they are still at historically high levels.  The increase has been driven by a backlash to the country’s increasing racial diversity, an increase symbolized, for many, by the presence of an African American in the White House.   

Since 9/11, our country has been fixated on the threat of Jihadi terrorism. But the horrific tragedy at the Emmanuel AME reminds us that the threat of homegrown domestic terrorism is very real. Our hearts go out to the victims and their families.  Black churches, including those in South Carolina, have been the targets of hate crimes throughout our country’s history.  We know that they will remain resolute and their faith unshaken in the face of this tragedy.”

As usual, most of the white commentators in the press are spinning this as the act of a single deranged individual, not the manifestation of a deep seated anxiety among a class of powerless, alienated, white men suffering from racial anomie and black penis envy that seek solace in white supremacist mythology.  Notwithstanding the fact that this dude may be certifiably nuts, a designation  I am content to leave to the shrinks, he is clearly suffering from the mental maladies that I have cited above.   For instance he is powerless.

That’s got to be hard to take if you are a white male nurtured on the myth of white supremacy but your real life circumstances suggest you ai’t shit.  And it must be especially hard to see all of these black men who are succeeding bigtime everywhere; yet you are po as the snake without a pit to hiss in.  And you wake up hatin on Jay Z because you had a wet dream about Beyoncé….although like the old folks down south say: “Boy yo eyes may roll and yo teeth may grit…but some of that fine brown sugar you ain’t never go git!”

And he is profoundly ignorant of the world around him, a condition that’s epidemic in the US.  Consider this analysis of the role played by  a lack of factual information in Roof’s murderous behavior in an article titled published in Psychology Today titled: “Anti-Intelectualism is Killing America:

“Many will correctly blame Roof’s actions on America’s culture of racism and gun violence, but it’s time to realize that such phenomena are directly tied to the nation’s culture of ignorance.

In a country where a sitting congressman told a crowd that evolution and the Big Bang are“lies straight from the pit of hell,”(link is external) where the chairman of a Senate environmental panelbrought a snowball(link is external) into the chamber as evidence that climate change is a hoax, where almost one in three citizens can’t name the vice president(link is external), it is beyond dispute that critical thinking has been abandoned as a cultural value. Our failure as a society to connect the dots, to see that such anti-intellectualism comes with a huge price, could eventually be our downfall.”

The Psychology Today article goes on to point out that anti-intellectualism has become something to brag about among large segments of the American populous.  When we read Dylann Roof’s rambling manifesto and enter his twisted world, a world of racists websites where Trayvon Martin’s murderer become the hero, we see all to cleary the grave danger Psychology Today is warning us about.

For how could a pathetically ignorant and confused white boy, nurtured on a narrative white of victimhood preached 24/7 by all right wing media, not be alienated from an America where in his eyes niggers are in the White House who don’t belong there, and the President of the USA is an incompetent Arab nigger Moslem con man traitor who secretly created and supports ISIS….and is a communist controlled by the Zionist Jews, who can’t even produce a valid birth certificate.  This is how contemporay American society looks to deluded white boys like Roof….the genuine American failures who are invisible until they explode into our conciousness in a hail of bullets.

As I write, an FBI Agent who has spent the last forty years investigating hate crimes and interrogating the perpetrators is painting a psychological profile of the racist murderer on MSNBC. He says that he has interrogated many perps like this guy, and they are not psychotic in the psychiatric sense of the word; their judgement is distorted by bigotry which is expressed by an intense hatred of particular racial and ethnic groups.

He describes how this is a class of phenomenon and the killers of the Sikh’s, or those who shoot up a synagogues, all belong to the this class.  He also explained how “white supremacist” websites constantly egg these fanatics on.  He vividly described the world that these right-wing nuts inhabit; it is a bizarro world in which they spend most of their time reading the racist drivel on white supremacist websites like the neo-Nazi Stormfront, and talking back and forth with other enraged white fascist until they explode in acts of violence….as this guy did.

The present racially motivated mass slaughter raises another disturbing question: Did the white cop that murdered a young black man in this same city by shooting him the back eight times share the same views?  From what we know of him they come from the same class of powerless white men.

For instance, before becoming a cop 33 year old Michael Slager worked as a waiter and spent a stint in the Coast guard, the kinds of jobs held by poor powerless white men. Then this mediocre cracker winds up on the streets of Charleston wearing a gun and a badge which he viewed as a license to kill black men and he ends up shooting Mr. Walter Scott in the back eight times over a trivial matter.

When the video of the murder recorded on the cell phone of an eye witness showed up on the internet, the City of Charleston took swift action by firing Slager from the police force and indicting him for murder. North Charleston police chief Eddie Driggers told reporters during a news conference: “I have watched the video and I was sickened by it…I have not watched it since.”  However the rest of the world was watching it 24/7 and Mr. Scott’s family is convinced that were it not for the video going viral on the internet “they would have just swept it under the rug like they always do.”

The right to carry guns under the sanction of the state, whether in the military or the civilian police force, gives the powerless class of white men a feeling of power and importance; they are the contemporary counterparts of the “patrollers” and “overseers” of slavery times.  Like their ancestors these poor southern white men are lap dogs for the rich and powerful class of whites – in antebellum times they supported the enslavement of black people and went to war to defend it, despite the fact that competing with slave labor meant they would never be able to bargain for a fair wage for themselves.

If that sounds crazy, and it is, it is no crazier than all the poor whites who vote Republican today, many of whom still fly Conferederate Battle flags….just like the flag flying over the Republican controlled state house!  Yet the Republicans are  the party of the plutocrats, people who despise working class whites and care so little for their welfare they ship their jobs overseas to non-white countries, deny them unions wherever they can to prevent collective bargaining – the only protection workers have in dealing with rapacious amoral multi-national corporations – and think nothing of hiring low wage illegal immigrant labor, which is almost wholly non-white, to replace them  here at home.

Mitt Romney made it abundantly clear what he thinks of the working class when he cited workers in China, who are locked in their factories and forced to work horrendous hours, as an ideal work environment during what he thought was a private conversation with fellow plutocrats.  We only learned about his true feelings  because he was secretly recorded by one of the waiters who put his phony ass on blast.

Here, live and direct on You Tube,  was a pompous rich prick that made his fortune shipping American jobs overseas; hid his money in foreign banks that are favored by Latin American drug lords; paid relatively fewer taxes on his hundreds of millions than his secretary paid on her paltry pay.

Yet poor whites everywhere voted overwhelmingly for Mitt over President Obama, who gave them health care – many for the first time in their lives – and provided support to local governments under his stimulus  plan, the Economic Recovery Act, which saved hundreds of thousands of public service jobs like cops and firemen and kept millions of working class families from sliding into poverty – See “The New New Deal,” by Michael Grunewald.  Barack Obama is the best friend poor whites have had since President Franklin Roosevelt; yet they hate him with a searing passion!

What is most striking to me about these Charleston murders perpetrated by white southern men against innocent, unarmed, Afro-Americans is that they came from legal and extra legal sources just like the old days when I was growing up in apartheid Florida.  Back then, in the middle of the twentieth century, racial discrimination was open and LEGAL!   White supremacy was the ruling ideology of southern politics and black lives didn’t matter.

It was like walking in a minefield whenever you had to interact with whites…especially white women.  For instance, it was a grave offense to ask a white woman for a pack of condoms if she was a clerk in the drugstore.  Hence when I hear that Dylan Roof wished things were “the way they used to be,” and then he tells the congregants in Mother Emanuel, African Methodist Episcopal Church “I have to do this because they are raping our women and taking over our country” it sounded all too familiar to me.

These two issues were the paramount obsessions of white southern males since the end of the Civil War; fear of economic and sexual competition with free black men has been the driving force in shaping both law and custom in the American South.  And Professor Martha Hodes convincingly demonstrates that  violent attacks against black male /white female  unions grew much worse after slavery was overthrown in her scholarly book “White Women, Black Men: Illicit Sex in the 19th Century South.”

As a result of the victories won in the Civil Rights Movement, the old bargain between rich and poor whites that reserved whole classes of jobs “for white men only” has been nullified; hence they must compete in a labor market that includes Afro-Americans, Asians, Hispanics and white women.

Alas, they are discovering the harsh reality that if they have no education or special talents being white in America today means nothing in the competition for the spoils of success in an amoral increasingly Darwinian economic environment.  This is the incubator of the lost souls who fall under the spell of white supremacist ideology…they are so far removed from the centers of power in this society that they don’t even recognize that white men are still in power!

A sad sack girlie looking little un-athletic poot-butt white boy, Roof is obviously obsessed with and intimidated by black masculinity.  Living in football crazed South Carolina he probably watched the curvaceous blond cuties he lusted for drooling over the black football stars all through his school years.

And like the old school white racist of my time Roof deceives himself that any sexual interaction between black men and white women is rape…because no white woman would ever willing fuck a nigger.  That is obviously what Roof has managed to delude himself into believing; otherwise he would talk about the multitude of smart and pretty “race traitor” white women who are wild about black men….and here I speak from experience.

The problem with the way racist white men think about the attractions between white women and black men is that they choose to view us all as illiterate, inarticulate, unattractive, thugs. Although their is no paucity of white girls – including solidly middle class and wealthy young women – who are wild about the black gangsta/thug/rapper style.  One need only watch the videos of Too Live Crew, and Snoop Dog’s Up in Smoke Tour to see how wildy erotic many white women see them.

But that view of black men is a racist myth.  Most black men are not thugs, and many of us are very smart, well built, charming, eloquent, stylish, great dancers, athletic, and successful!  We have to fight white women off – smart, attractive, successful white women.  Trust me on this…for I know whereof I speak.  My circle of black male friends are so impressive that after attending a party with us most white supremacist would consider cutting their throats…especially if there were good looking white women in the house…like my old girlfriend Tanya – artist, fashion designer and teacher – who has danced and joined her ancestors after a bout with cancer.

Tanya is the kind of long legged Blond Neo-Nazi tyoes have Wet Dreams about
Karen-picas edit 
Seeing her with me drove racist white males mad from black penis envy

Ever since I was a young boy I always felt superior to southern white boys, because my parents – along with the preachers, teachers and professionals in my all black community – constantly reminded us that if white men really felt superior like they preached, they would not be so terrified of competing with us on equal terms.  And they would point to the great success of Joe Louis and Jackie Robinson to show what happened when we got a chance to compete on equal terms.  They also pointed out the obvious fact that people who truly feel that their competition is inferior wouldn’t spend so much time and effort stacking the deck against them.

Nowhere was this more obvious than when it came to competing for the affections of women.  Southern white men were notorious for chasing black women surreptitiously, seeking to become undercover lovers.  Every good looking black women in the apartheid south has tales to tell about being harassed by white men.  Knowing the severe economic discrimination that black men were forced to endure under the old white man job reserve system; they attempted to use their superior social status and economic position to seduce beautiful black women.  My family was filled with beautiful educated stylish black women and white men were always trying to hit on them.  I could always  tell when a cracker said something to one of them because they would be livid!  Their common response was “If my brother made advances to his sister they would kill him…yet he has the nerve to approach me?”  They saw it for what it was: an insult.   And the women of my family – most of whom were second generation college graduates – looked upon black women who engaged in secret liaisons with white men as the scum of the earth.

Despite their incessant chasing of black women, southern white men were prepared to commit murder to keep white women away from us…they of course said they were “defending the purity of southern white womanhood” from beastly black rapists.  I have argued elsewhere that the vulgar paternalism involved in the creation the idealized “White Lady” has had some unexpected consequences with the rise of feminism. See: “Liberation from White Ladyship?”   If anybody ought to be mad about race relations in American it’s me….not this little paleface punk Dylann Root, who has endured nothing and whose failures in life a purely the result of his own shortcomings.   But he has been made to feel a victim due to the incessant blather of verbal arsonists in the media like that porcine dope fiend Rush Limbaugh, the greaser Sean Hannity, et al.  How else could Roof come to the conclusion that black men are taking over the country?  Where does such a young person get these ideas?

If the situation were not such a tragedy it would be funny watching old racist Republican hypocrites like Lindsay Graham express pain and puzzlement over the racist slaughter.  Yet he has been one of the perpetrators of the old southern myth of the “Lost Cause.”   He has supported flying the confederate Battle flag on the South Carolina state capitol grounds; which is an insult to everybody who enjoys the benefits of citizenship in the United States today. As I write the swelling demand to take down this shamful flag has reached the point where it was just announced that Senator Graham and Governor Nicky Hailey are going to call for the removal of that foul rag and store it in a confederate war museum.

This is long overdue; forming the southern Confederacy and launching a war against the US government  was an act of treason!  Yet these Carolina rednecks like Senator Lindsay Graham defended the right of South Carolina to fly this symbol of treason over their state capitol until this moment.   Aside from this, all the major avenues are named for Confederate generals: This in the state that started the devastating Civil War.  This is like going to Berlin and seeing the Swastika flying over the Reichstag and its major boulevards named for Nazi Generals and SS officers like Himmler and Goering.   After all, Nazi Germany and the southern confederacy were based on the same “master race” ideology that Hitler borrowed from the USA!

An objective analysis of the social structure in Charleston will reveal that the white “old money” crowd that run the town made their family fortunes from black slave labor;  the poor whites are descendants of the poor crackers from which the overseers were recruited, and the mass of blacks are descendants of slaves and the survivors of apartheid – i.e. the legal racial caste system based on white supremacy.  It becomes apparent that any change in the racial hierarchy of Charleston is a relative thing.  The old money whites and their political shills in the Republican Party – the Grand Obstructionist Party that has blocked almost every good thing Barack has tried to do for the American people – feel that it is their divine right to rule South Carolina.

The black slave population was greater than the free white population as far back as the 18th century, whites have always felt uneasy about maintaining their grasp on power; which accounts for the severity of their slave codes and segregation laws after the end of chattel slavery.  And it is the main reason why they are resorting to all manner of chicanery in order deprive Afro-Americans of their right to vote today.

Root is heir to this racist heritage, and he has surely heard all of the racist lies about President propagated by Tea Party and mainstream Republicans alike.   For instance Sarah Palin – whose principal contribution to American politics is to make stupidity fashionable – leveled a  hysterical charge that Obamacare was setting up “death panels” to decide who among the elderly shall live or die; to the evangelical Christians who preach that he is “the anti-Christ,” which have become conventional wisdom among ignorant desperate racist southern whites.

These are the forces that shaped Root’s perception of reality; he is a direct product of their anti-black propaganda.  Hence it is safe to assume that he is not an aberration but the avatar of a nihilistic and increasingly violent tread among powerless, alienated, white men.  We shall surely see his like again.


Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
June 2oth, 2015









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