Archive for October, 2015

Fronting for Uncle Charlie

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

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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

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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!

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What a Place for a Show!

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

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

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

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

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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

El 5- EL DEBARGE

Driving the Ladies Crazy with his Soulful Tenor Voice
Kwaku Lays out the Master Plan
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Guiding them through Step by Step 
Its no Wonder the Mighty Three are Laughing
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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

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This is a multi-media Presentation, click on links below to see Artist
https://youtu.be/kCiRaZXe7AY
Charlie Wilson Live in Europe
 El DeBarge Live:  “All This Love
https://youtu.be/AXZ5HvjkaJ4
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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

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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
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Gerri Westbrooks Honored by City of Los Angeles

Gerri Westbrooks Honored by city

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Visual vingettes from the Celebration

At the City Council

Logan and Councilman

Logan Westbrooks with City Councilman

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Dr. Westbrooks with Conference organizer

Logan and Organizer

Sunshine smiles beamed all around

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Record Industry Icons Rap

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About the golden days of the Music Business

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Which they remember as a whole lotta fun 

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Turning out the hits that brought Joy to Millions

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Representatives of the Living Legends Foundation

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Kept a Watchful Eye over the Proceedings

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Councilman addressing the Honorees before entering the Chamber

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He spoke knowledgebly about the recording Industry

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

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It was a Marvelous Moment
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Radiant Smiles told the Story

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

 Edited VersionA A Motown Legend

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

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It was all the way Live!

Edit III

Classic Hollywood Glamor

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There was even a Red Carpet!

Edit IV

Where the entrance of the Stars was filmed

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Lights, Camera, Action!

Edit V

It was Strictly Hollywood……

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Noted Movie Critic Gil Robertson was there…..

Edit VI

Checking things out with a critical eye

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And so many Stars!

VII

Ruben Rodriguez and his lovely Lady

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Elegant Eye Candy was on Prominent display

Edit VIII

Like this chocolate Delight!

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Or this Butterscotch Beauty Colleen Wilson

Edit IX

Elegance and Class…Fine as Vintage Wine

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Powerful full Figured Foxes

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A Living Legend and her Tribune

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The Full range of Black Beauty was on Display

Edit X

Dark and Lovely like the Night

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They were Masters not slaves to fashion… 

Edit XI

High Style and Great Taste were Common Fare

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Clean as a Mississippi Sissiy on Easter Sunday!

Edit XII

He looks like he stepped off the cover of GQ

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It was a Bootylicious Affair!

EDit XIV

J-L0 ain’t got Nothin on Her!

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The Outside Gardens were Lush

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In an LA sort of Way

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And Inside Everything was Plush

Edit XVI

Todd Kalman: Vice-President at Marketron

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The Awards Ceremony

Honoring Living Legends
The Main Ballroom was da bomb!

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Nothing was spared on the Grandeur of the Fete

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

XVII

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

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 The Audience Rose to its Feet….

Edit XIX

Lifted Every Voice and Sang!

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As the Living Legends were introduced by their Presenters

XXI

The Vanguard Award winner dropped some science his many progeny

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

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The Living Legends that followed

XXII

Gave Shout Outs to Dr. Westbrooks

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This Young Lady

XXIII

Accepted the Award for her Parents

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

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It really caught her by surprise

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Big John was in tha House!

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The New CEO: Warner/Chappell Worldwide Operations

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

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

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…….and be seen

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But mostly it was an occasion for old friends……

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……..to 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!

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Ain’t Nothin but a Partay!

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She’s Down wit it…….

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………and can’t quit it!

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Big Party over here!
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P Funk in da Hooouse!

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

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Some folks just sat around looking outrageously fine….

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……..Like Jackie Rinehardt!

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And it was all about the Record Business

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The Real Deal!

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Double click on links below to view videos. 
On the Living Legends Awarda
http://www.eurweb.com/2015/10/living-legends-foundations-19th-annual-awards-dinner-gala-is-huge-success-videophotos/
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
https://youtu.be/WnWKjBxfbWU
To View Logan’s Comments on Chuck Brown’s #1 hit record
https://youtu.be/kr1-wYuQcU4
To hear reording of “Bustin Loose
https://youtu.be/wwHi10qX8u8
On the Assassination of General Muhammad
https://youtu.be/PRYOiszzDtE
**************************
Text and Photos by: Playthell G. Benjamin
*****Except for the following Photos.
*The Cover and the group ph0to of the Honorees
*The Mansion
*Gerri Westbrooks receiving Award from City
October 25th, 2015

It’s A New Day in Canada!

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

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

 Justin Trudeau Newly Elected Canadian Prime Minister

Reflections on the Canadian Election

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stephen Harper’s Last Hurrah…

Harper

He got Smacked down by the Liberals

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

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

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

Pierre Elliot Trudeau
pierre-trudeau
Pater-familias of Todays victorious Liberals

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

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

Justin Trudeau Courts Muslim Vote

Trudeau meets with muslims

Building a winning Liberal Coalition

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

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

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

Justin Trudeau makes his Case

Justin Trudeau makes his case

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

******************************

 

Reverend Susanne McKim
Tronto, Canada
October 20, 2015

 

 

 

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
DSCN8039
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!

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 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

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

DSCN7994 

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

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

DSCN8057

…….so do the ladies
A Visionary Entrepreneur

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

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

DSCN7967

That offer a dazzling array of choices
A Well Designed Humidor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Scoped the scene with a for real  Louisiana Players Lean

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Double Click on links below to view videos
Playthell Benjamin Television Commentary
https://youtu.be/MpafVd8puCo
The Sounds of Blackness
https://youtu.be/RE08EFwKyLA
Julius “Dr. J. Erving: A Documentary
https://youtu.be/X3_1hZDi-qw
Photos and Text: By Playthell Benjamin
Video selections by: Playthell Benjamin
Multi-Media presentation conceived and designed by Playthell
Atlanta, October 2015

On the “Deconfliction” Policy in Syria

Posted in On Foreign Affairs, On War and Peace in the Mid East! with tags , on October 3, 2015 by playthell
Kerry and Larov at deconfliction meeting
 Kerry and Foreign and Sergi Lavrov trying to avoid disaster

A Clear and Present Danger!

The gravity of the situation in Syria – where the US and Russia both have armed forces operating, with drones and planes flying around dropping bombs all over the place – was clearly reflected in the faces of John Kerry and Sergei Lovrov as they announced their policy of “deconfliction” in Syria at the United Nations.  Tasked with devising a policy designed to prevent an accidental clash between the US and Russian military forces deployed in Syria – the consequences of which are too frightening to contemplate, except for those religious fanatics who believe they are going to ascend to heaven when the earth goes up in the flames of nuclear holocaust – the American Secretary of State and the Russian Foreign Minister have given us “deconfliction,” a new word coinage of uncertain intent conjured up to explain a hastily drafted policy.

However what is all too clear is that the two top foreign policy officials of the world’s greatest military powers felt the situation in Syria is so serious that taking measures to prevent an accidental conflict between their countries cannot be postponed or confused by employing provocative language, or inciting tensions with jingoistic posturing.  Hence when they called for an immediate meeting of Russian and American military commanders in Syria, to work out the details of a strategy to implement the newly minted policy of “deconfliction,” I let out a sigh of relief.   I view this move as evidence that the Obama Administration has finally accepted reality in Syria.

However anyone who watched President Vladimir Putin of Russia on CBS’ Sixty Minutes last Sunday heard him present a coherent policy on Syria that recognizes the political and religious conflicts in the region – which are often the same thing – and explicate the dire consequences of following the ill-conceived, unrealistic, policy of the American government.  Putin correctly recognized that the very existence of ISIS is the result of the epic failures of past US decisions in the Middle East – like the invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of Sadam Hussein.  And he astutely warns that present US policy based on the overthrow of the Assad regime will lead to an even worse disaster.

Vladimir Putin interviewed by Charlie Rose
Putin

Putin’s policy is to support the existing Syrian government against the insurgent forces because they are controlled by Islamic Jihadists, many of whom support ISIS, the dreaded enemy that both the US and Russia have vowed to wipe out. And while he exempts the “Free Syrian Army” from the “terrorist” list he does not know how many Jihadist are within their ranks ut would support negotiations between them and the Syrian government once the Jihadist have been defeated. The Russian President’s analysis on Sixty Minutes was cogent and fully takes the facts on the ground into consideration.  The most important fact is that everywhere strong secular leaders have been overthrown the Islamic forces come to power because there is no countervailing force to resist them.   Arming these anti-government insurgents is clearly folly because the arms inevitably end up in the hands of the Jihadists.  Hence this cure is demonstrably worse than the disease.

The most striking revelation provided by Putin’s interview is that the Russians have clearly defined objectives in Syria: shoring up the Assad government while assisting in the fight against the anti-government insurgents.  By comparison the US has no clear policy and thus our strategy is in disarray.  The US is committed to the overthrow of the Assad government but has no idea who will replace it.  Calls from the Republican right to arm some factions demonstrates that they have learned nothing from our recent history in the region.

Virtually all of the arms that were used against American forces in Afghanistan and Iraq were manufactured and delivered to the region by the US government.  That is the plain fact of the matter.  It goes without saying – but I must say it so that my remarks will not be seized upon by conspiracy theorist and add to the confusion – when the US armed these insurgent groups they considered them allies against Communist influence in the region.  During the Afghan Moujahadin’s war to expel the Russian backed goverment in Afghanistan, some clueless US policy wonks came up with the silly idea that because Americans were Christians, “People of the Book” and “Children of Abraham” like the Muslims, this gave us a leg up over the communists with the Islamic fundamentalist.

They took our weapons, killed the Marxists, then turned them against us, our clients like the Saudi Royal family, the Egyptian government and their religious rivals like the Shia.  The result is the Taliban, al Qaeda, Al Nusra, ISIS, and only Allah seems to know what’s next.  Hence to arm ANY faction in Syria would be criminal folly that will only add to the tragic waste of American blood and treasure in the region.  And unless the US and Russian governments can coordinate their military efforts in Syria the result could be make the conflict with ISIS look like a play pen fight.  And as of this writing the principle of “deconfliction” appears to be the best way out of this perilous imbroglio.

Joining forces with Russia and Iran is without a doubt the best approach to defeating ISIS. Alas, when we hear the howls rising from Congress, driven by the demands of the Israel Lobby, the major influence in shaping US policy in the region, there is little likelihood that such a sensible policy will be pursued.   If the Republican right considers cutting deals with President Obama to govern the US as a betrayal of their constituents, they will surely view any alliance the President makes with Russia and Iran an act of treason! And it wouldn’t surprise me a bit if they attempted to impeach him for it!  After all, some have called for his impeachment for exercising his executive authority to foil Republican attempts to prevent him from governing effectively.

In this sense President Putin is far better positioned to play an effective role in the war against ISIS than President Obama, who is reduced by a Congress controlled by the Grand Obstructionist Party to spouting pious platitudes about the oppressiveness of the Assad regime even as we remain close allies with the Saudi Royal family – a murderous desert monarchy that promotes medieval religious practices enforced by modern police state tactics, again employing weapons supplied by the US.

I know this analysis will sound distasteful to many Americans – especially the avowed “American Exceptionalists” in the Republican Party.  But these are grave matters that involve the survival of modern civilization and even life itself on this planet. Hence it is both a sin and a shame to sacrifice honest analysis for self-serving fables; to reject truth in favor of national pride.  It is axiomatic that the first casualty of war is truth.  However we are not at war with Russia yet…at least not a hot one that involves the use of armed forces. And all parties must do everything in their power to keep the peace….because any military conflict between the US and Russia will involve NATO and the Russians will be forced to go on  nuclear alert and that could lead to doomsday!

With American and Russian War Planes firing Missiles
World War III could accidently break out in Syria!

It is precisely because the present situation in Syria – where American and Russian forces are operating in a theater of war – is so dangerous, that a policy of de-confliction is imperative.  We need to emphasize the objectives we hold in common and compromise where we disagree.  This is no picayune task, but failure to resolve the antagonisms between the US, Russia and Iran in Syria represents a clear and present danger to all mankind.

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Watch President Putin on Sixty Minutes
https://youtu.be/r8k2pWbCjrwn 
Watch Secretary Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov
https://youtu.be/n2ZBOYDyMcg
Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
October 3, 2015

 Magic Mike: Nightmare in Steel City?

Posted in On Sports! with tags , , on October 1, 2015 by playthell

Michael Vick II

Opponents beware!

The Third Resurrection of Michael Vick

Although I don’t wish Big Ben Roethlisberger any harm and hope he completely recovers in a month or so, I’d be lying if I said that I am not overjoyed that Michael Vick will be starting at quarterback for the Pittsburg Steelers. While some will regard my position as amoral or morally ambiguous at best, my attitude is easy enough to understand.  I am a dyed in the wool football fan, down with and can’t quit it.

It’s as simple as that!  And if you like football, Michael Vick at his best is the greatest show on earth!   That’s why it was a drag when the season was about to start and Vick was still sitting at home with no hope of ever leading another team in the NFL.  But Mike Tomlin, head coach of the Steelers and the youngest coach to win a Super Bowl, is a longtime Vick fan and convinced management to sign him as a backup to Big Ben.

Since Vick’s signing there has been a lot of invective leveled at him by white dog lovers because of his past history of dogfighting, in which loser dogs who couldn’t compete were put to death.  Yet once a dog has been trained to fight it it would be irresponsible to allow them to roam the streets where they will attack other dogs and their masters too should they attempt to intervene.  And one of the world’s most prominent animal Rights advocates Henry Spira, Coordinator of Animal Rights International, has pointed out the glaring hypocricy of many in the movement:

Looking at the universe of animal suffering in America today, we see pain dominated by the more than eight billion farm animals, who suffer roughly 95% of all animal misery…. Let’s get out of the past and quit ignoring the vast majority of animal suffering.”

According to Mr. Spira’s argument anybody who eats meat is an animal abuser…hence only Vegans are without sin!  Yet to hear the pooch huggers talk Mike Vick is the most depraved person on earth; although most of them are not only guilty of animal crulety according to Animal Rights International, but many of these same people  sympathize or empathize with the Cracker cops that murder unarmed black men!

Some even sympathize with racist asshole murderers like George Zimmerman.  Yet Mike Vick must be a permanent pariah scorned by respectable society because he treated a dog like a dog?  These Crackers are not only racist but crazy!  And I, for one, am tired of hearing about it; especially from a group of people who have yet to join a “Black Lives Matter” demonstration.

To those who scream that the Pittsburg franchise should not have hired him – even after suffering public disgrace, millions of dollars lost at the peak of his career from incarceration, and never reaching his full potential as a player who was on track to win a Superbowl because of it – I say fuck tha pooches; fuck yhall, and on with football!  My contempt for these holier-than-thou crazies, the sob squad that hang around the dog pounds, is exacerbated by the fact that they act as if the quarterback that Vick is replacing is a modern day saint….or like Caesar’s wife, pure as the driven snow.

That’s how they are talking, one need only look at the comments on the webpages of the Pittsburg media. Yet it is a matter of public record that Big Ben has been accused of sexual assault by at least two women!  And although he beat both cases the women insists that they are telling the truth.  I have repeatedly argued that the feminist demand that we “always believe women” is at best dangerous nonsense, since everybody is entitled to the presumption of innocence before the law until somebody proves in court that they have committed a crime, I nevertheless find it curious that white females who make up the majority of Animal Rights astivists are willing to give Big Ben the benefit of doubt – i.e. the White Boy Pass – while refusing to cut Vick any slack even after he has paid dearly for his acts.

In other words Big Ben remains squeaky clean despite the allegations of rape, but they just can’t stop throwing stink on Vick’s good name.  Given the notorious history of racist double standards employed by Euro-Americans in their relations with Afro-Americans – a centuries old tradition that lingers with us today – any reasonable person must wonder if the fact that Big Ben is blond with pale alabaster skin and Vick is very black plays any role in defining the attitudes of white fans regarding the two quarterbacks.  After all, white Pittsburg fans once destroyed the career of a gifted black quarterback – “Jefferson St.” Joe Gilliam – just because they preferred a blond haired player.  The great Terry Bradshaw, who is the white quarterback in question, has repeatedly said on television “I was handed the job; I didn’t win it.”

Bradshaw said when he saw Gilliam he wanted to be traded because he was the best that Bradshaw had ever seen.  Check out Bradshaw’s tribute when Gilliam died.  He also said in an interview with Maury Z. Levy in Playboy magazine six years later: “Joe Gilliam had a phenomenal preseason; he won the starting job and I lost it.” This is why as annoying as the self-righteous blather about the departed pooches is, the incessant commentary from empty headed white fans who regard themselves as football experts – even if the are working a job they despise rather than as highly paid General Managers of a football franchise – disparaging Vick’s skills as a quarterback is an even bigger pain in the ass.

I see some of those old feelings popping up in the assessment of Vick by hysterical white fans who are running around like Chicken Little crying that the sky is about to fall because Big Ben went down and is lost to injury for five or six weeks according to some estimates.  It was the same kind of reaction that wrecked Gilliam’s NFL career and ruined his life, despite the fact that he led Pittsburg to a 30-0 victory over the Baltimore franchise before being benched in favor of Bradshaw by fan demand.  Vick will also be facing the Buffalo team on Thursday night; let’s hope he does as well in the game as Gilliam and fare better than him from the salutory results.

Jefferson St. Joe Gilliam
Joe Gilliam- Steelr Quarterback
The first black Steeler starting Quarterback

I’m taking a wait and see attitude.  But while I think those who expect to see that old black magic that Vick weaved so well, and put all who witnessed it under his spell, will be disappointed, I also believe that at his best Vick was so much better than everybody else that even if his skills are diminished he will still be as competitive as any quarterback in the league.  And if Vick is healthy enough to play his best he is going to give defensive coordinators and players nightmares!

Vick is unquestionably one of the most gifted athletes to ever play the quarterback position and he demonstrated this on every level:  from high school to the Pros.  He is one of the fastest players in the league, a quarterback that can match future first ballot Hall of Fame wide receiver Randy Moss’ 4.25 time in the 40 yard dash, the basic measure of football speed.  He is smart, elusive and has the human equivalent of a high powered rifle for a throwing arm.  The first thing white fans do when they want to disparage a black quarterback is the say that he can run but can’t throw.  Back in the day they would just switch these great athletes to running back, defensive back, or wide receiver- who, by the way, are the best athletes on the field.

As the desire to win triumphed over racism General Managers started trying to get the best athletes that could help them win – in fact their jobs depended on building a winning team – so the black quarterbacks finally got their shot.  And they are changing the game with their dual threat play; equally dangerous throwing or running.  Michael Vick is the quintessential dual threat quarterback, and two of the most dangerous young dual threat quarterbacks starting in the league today – Tyrod Taylor and Russell Wilson – are from his state and watched Vick play during their formative years.  Tyrod actually was mentored by Vick when he first came into the League. And while he has a style of his own, Stevie Wonder can see that it is in the same tradition of Vick.  However the same can be said of Wilson.

It’s got to be something about that Virginia area – great sports programs in the schools I suspect – that enables them to consistently produce great athletes.  For instance, Allen Iverson, a sure shot Hall of Fame basketball player, was also a great dual threat quarterback in high-school and led his high-school team to State Championships in basketball and football; the only athlete to ever accomplish such a feat.  So Michael Vick did not suddenly appear from nowhere, bursting into the world like the goddess Athena from the forehead of Zeus, he represents the grand athletic tradition of his community.

I have not burdened the reader with a lot of talk about statistics, because the objectives of this essay are to address some of the negativity that dogs this superb athlete – who from all the available evidence is a good husband, father and all around solid citizen – the worst that can be said of him is that he treated some dogs badly.  I hope that is the worst that can be said of me after I have danced and joined the ancestors.   I thank the Gods of my fathers fathers that I am not George Bush or Dirty Dick Cheney, who has the blood of a million innocents on their hands!

I also intend this essay as an introduction to the video tapes of Vicks performance from high-school, college at Virginia Tech, and the professional ranks.  Here one can see Vick in action and even hear from his high-school coach about the early revelations of his superb gifts as a runner and passer.  I still expect to see some version of this from Michael Vick in his fourth incarnation and third resurrection with the talent laden, well coached, Pittsburg Steelers.  I can hardly wait for Vick to silence his critics!  Now he’s got to play the game.

Magic Mike at Work!

Michael-Vick-Hokie

Vick was the most exciting quarterback in college football at Virginia Tech
He was the same in the Pros!

 400px-Michael_Vick,_November_2006_(1)

 First Incarnation at the Atlanta Falcons
First Resurrection with the Philadelphia Eagles

Michael+Vick+Houston+Texans II

After going to the dogs he soared with the Eagles and made All-Pro again!
Second Resurrection

Michael-Vick-nfl-new-york-jets-kansas-city

A backup with the New York Jets; everyody thought he was through
Third Resurrection

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Michael Vick (2) passes against the Buffalo Bills during the first half of a preseason NFL football game on Saturday, Aug. 29, 2015, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/Bill Wippert)

He’s Baaaaaaack!
And he is starting for the Pittsburg Steelers in a Marquee Matchup

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For video of Mike Vick in Action see the following:
Michael Vicks Highlights
https://youtu.be/DlzM3SkVM14
The Great Comeback: Eagles vs. Giants
https://youtu.be/VDTKfhGYwrU
College Highlights
https://youtu.be/rHdPCF8mPZw
Mike Vick: Sports Science
https://youtu.be/b01EuXuJz9M
(This video employs Sports Science to demonstrate why Vick is so great!”)