Megan Marries Her Prince

Harry and Megan…The look of Love

A Fairy Tale Wedding Makes History

There is a balm in Gilead

To heal the sin sick soul

There is a balm in Gliead

that Makes the wounded whole

With these poetic words coined by Afro-American slaves, those “Black and Unknown Bards” celebrated in the epic poem of James Weldon Johnson, who wondered how with those who dwelled in hell of American slavery, without the benefit of tutoring in the art of posy, came “to touch the sacred fire,” the Afro-American Bishop and leader of the Episcopal Church in America Michael Curry, proclaimed to the world the power of love just before the paramount leader of the world Anglican Communion Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, blessed the union of a grandson of British kings with the great granddaughter of American slaves as he joined them in holy matrimony.

Resplendent in colorful vestments of a prince of the high Anglican church and Eloquent beyond the power of words to describe, the Bishop treated the British to a sermon forged in the smithy of the Afro-American Religious experience and invested with the magnificent rolling cadences of the Afro-Sermon, an oral art form that most of the world first heard when the Dr. Martin Luther King – whom the bishop quoted in his ecumenical sermon that referenced catholic and protestant thinkers – spoke to the world of the power of love.   The Bishop was the embodiment of what the wonderful writer Zora Neale Hurston said of all successful Afro-American preachers, he was ”The poet he must be to survive in a Negro pulpit…for we are a people that love magnificence and can’t get too much of it.” Indeed, Bishop Curry was one of “God’s Trombones,” to whom the bard James Weldon Johnson pays homage and tells us “had all the devices of eloquence at their command.”  The Archbishop of Canterbury calls the American Bishop “a stunning preacher!”

Due to the early hour I was asleep when the festivities began, but as luck or fate would have it I awoke as the bishop began to speak, and I was convinced that whatever went on in this fairytale affair, the black bishop’s sermon, followed by the angelic voices of the gospel choir singing the Rhythm and Blues anthem “Stand by Me,” made immortal by the late great Ben E. King, was a high point of the day. As one BBC commentator declared with great enthusiasm: “St; Georges’ chapel had never heard anything like it….it almost stole the show.”

God’s Trombone

          Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Epispocal Church

Justin Welby

The Archbishop of Canterbury performs the Royal Wedding

This was followed by a marvelous rendition of Shubert’s Ava Maria, performed by a young afro-wearing elegantly attired 19-year old virtuoso, the first black instrumentalist to win the BBC Young Musicians competition, who made the baritone voice of the cello sing with a haunting lyricism.  Then after the saying of their wedding vows, in which Harry and Megan bequeathed to each their world possessions and vowed to love and cherish each other with faces animated by sunshine smiles and the glory of love, pledged till death they do part, the bride and groom strolled down the aisle to the majestic blare of a Baroque trumpet choir and exited the ancient Windsor Chapel to the swelling cheers of the adoring crowds that had assembled to get a glance at the royal couple as they rode in an open carriage drawn by four white horses, escorted by a host of mounted guards decked out in colorful uniforms mounted on sturdy steeds, immaculately groomed for this auspicious occasion. It was a celebration fit for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex as the BBC broadcast their journey through the city to a soundtrack of the gospel choir singing Curtis Mayfield’s joyous musical prayer.

Although opinions will vary about the significance of this wedding, it was no picayune affair.  It was a historic moment, an event that changed the course of history.  Perhaps it’s true important can only be fully understood when viewed from the added dimension of historical perspective.  A half century ago Sammy Davis Jr. was mobbed by white racist haters when he came to London to perform with his blond Swedish bride by his side. Hence the fact that a lass issued from the loins of a black woman, and raised to adulthood under her guiding hand, could marry into the revered Royal Family, the cherished dream of many a British maiden, and be roundly applauded by high and low born British subjects, is a sure measure of the declining significance of race in the 21st century.

On the symbolic level it is second only to the election of Barack Obama to the US presidency. Some skeptical observers and petty haters will point to the fact that both Megan and Barack were not “genuine blacks,” in that each had a white parent, but as for the designation of who is considered black that has been a distinction without a difference in America, and to a lesser degree in Britain too.  However, I will leave the measure of it’s true significance for future historians to decide.

The wedding ceremony was also a measure of the diminishing significance of gender roles. The bride, awash in sparkling diamonds and begowned in a white dress with flowing sixteen-foot veil, chose to march down the aisle alone to the sacred sound of George Frederick Handel’s Baroque masterpiece “Eternal Source of Light Divine” – which was originally composed as an “Ode to the Birthday of Queen Anne.” Alas, despite the majesty of the music it sounded somewhat impoverished to my ears after having hear it sung by the peerless coloratura soprano Kathleen Battle, accompanied by the gifted trumpet virtuoso Wynton Marsalis, who enriched the composition with the magic Afro-Americans bring to the art of music making. Tis a pity they did not command a performance from these marvelous artists.

Meghan consented to be escorted to the alter by Prince Charles, heir to the British Crown, only near the end of the aisle; and she refused to promise to “obey” her husband.  It was the independent modern woman and political activist on women’s issues that Meghan is.  She is a very bright, highly educated, talented woman who had made a very successful life for herself before she ever met Harry.  She was no damsel in distress waiting to be rescued and swept away by a dashing prince in shining armor. In fact, as my friend Kwaku, whose family hails from the British West Indies, pointed out “Charlie is a lucky guy; she is a catch!”  Harry chose a woman much like his mother the late Princess Diana: A great commoner and humanitarian.  And much of Meghan’s character is due to the way she was raised by her mother, Doria Ragland, who cut an elegant fashionable figure as she sat in the pews shedding silent tears watching her daughter make history marrying the British prince.

Doria Ragland Bears Silent Witness

Meghan’s Afro-American Mom

But most of all, the Bishop’s sermon and the gospel choir – which was mostly Afro-Brits but sang in a convincing Afro-American style – put on display the dramatic difference between the exuberant style and manner of the Afro-American worship tradition, and the staid rituals of the Anglican church in Britain; which the Reverend Susanne, a priest in the Anglican Communion of Canada, mockingly called “the chosen frozen,” as many pious Britons sat stiff as stuffed owls perched in their pews.  As I took it all in, I was reminded of the comment of the outstanding German theologian and Nazi resister Deidrick Baumhofer, who remarked after visiting a Sunday morning service at Abyssinia Baptist Church in Harlem, “This is the way God was meant to be worshipped!”

Many members of the audience however were visibly moved by the spirit of the soulful music and the dramatic power of the Bishop’s sermon, which one British commentator described as “Afro-Americacentric.” It was the spirit of Christianity transmogrified by Afro-Americans in the New World, nudging out the antique conventions of the Old World.  Judging from the expressions of sublime joy on their beaming faces, none enjoyed the ceremony more that the bride and groom.  Although like the Afro-American poet Paul Lawrence Dunbar, I don’t believe in aristocrats, and would just as soon do away with the lot of them,  I say all the best to Meghan and Harry as they experience the joy of each other.  It was a jolly good show with the full measure of pomp and circumstance for which the British are world famous… Dilly Dilly!

Click on Link to hear

The Bishop Speak On The Power Of Love

“There is a Balm in Gilead”

Performed by the Fisk Jubilee Singers

Click on Link to see:

Kathleen Battle and Wynton Marsalis perform, “Eternal Source of Light Divine,” by George Fredrick Handel



Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
May 20, 2018

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