Playthell Benjamin: Independent Public Intellectual

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Live On The embarquadero August 2009 

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Playthell George Benjamin is the producer of Commentaries On the Times, which he writes and delivers on WBAI radio in New York City,  and a producer with The Midnight Ravers, a long running show exploring the world of art and politics which has won several radio awards for excellence in programming.   He is an award winning journalist who has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in two different categories: Explanatory Journalism, Village Voice 1988, and Distinguished Commentary, New York Daily News 1995.  As part of the production team for The Midnight Ravers, Mr. Benjamin won a 2011 award  for excellence in radio programming,  given for  The Curtis Mayfield Special.

Playthell has won several prizes ranging from The Unity Award presented by the School of communications at Lincoln University in Missouri for distinguished commentary on race relations; the Griot Prize for excellence in covering a story requiring an exploration of African American history and culture: “Who is Listening to Louis Farrakhan?” It was awarded by the New York chapter of the Association of Black Journalist in December 1989.   In 1991 Mr. Benjamin won the NYABJ Magazine Awards for Feature Stories, and in 1996 he won the first Annual Tom Forcade Award “for honesty and accuracy in drug reporting” awarded by High Times magazine for his columns on drug use and abuse in the New York Daily News.

From 1991 – 1996 Playthell was a regular contributor to the Guardian Observer of London, where he wrote on politics, culture and sports. He also wrote for the Sunday Times of London, particularly in the prestigious magazine, The Culture, which addresses cultural matters high and low.  In the London Guardian he wrote feature stories ranging from the television coverage of the Los Angeles race riot sparked by the Rodney King incident, to the courtroom genius of the great First Amendment Lawyer Martin Garbus, as well as the O.J. Simpson Trial, The Mike Tyson Rape Case, The Inauguration of Bill Clinton, Concerts at Lincoln Center, and the Sista Souljah vs. Bill Clinton incident. Mr.  Clinton’s saxophone playing was also subjected to serious critical evaluation in an essay titled “He may be the Leader of the Western World…But will he ever be President of the Saxophone? For The Sunday Times he wrote about the Youth Jazz festivals convened by the peerless jazz vocalist Betty Carter, Michael Douglass’ movie on the desperation of displaced white workers, Gangsta Rap, Jazz, etc.

At the Village Voice Mr. Benjamin wrote important stories on politics and culture, and as an Editorial Columnists for the Daily News he wrote about all the great issues of the day.  Some of his most insightful columns were about the attempt to construct a post-communist society in Russia. In the nominating letter for the Pulitzer Prize for Distinguished Commentary Editorial Page Editor Arthur Brown wrote “With a perspective that comes out of the black experience, his column in the Daily News last year took on topics ranging from the celebrations of D-Day, which he assailed as Eurocentric, to gangster rap, which he denounced as a danger to American youth.  He wrote about foreign affairs and the OJ Simpson case with equal insight.  He took on demagogues of the right and left, both black and white, with equal fervor.” The nominating letter and the ten columns submitted for the Pulitzer Prize are included in Playthell’s  press kit and is available upon request.

Mr. Benjamin’s series Commentaries on the Times, which he writes, produces and performs over the airwaves of WBAI radio, and publishes the texts online, formerly for The Black World Today and The Black Commentator, is even more impressive than his Daily News Columns.  Whereas the News columns were a maximum of 700 words, his internet columns sometimes run to 11,000 words – See, “On Being Black In London.”  His column “The Iraq Attack: Bush’s March of Folly,” was read over WBAI on the eve of the invasion of Iraq and published on-line now reads like prophecy.  When all of the major pundits – including the three time Pulitzer Prize winning New York Times foreign affairs columnist Tom Freedman – were cheerleaders for the attack on Iraq Playthell said it was folly and would define Bush’s place in history as a blunderer who led us into a disastrous war of choice based on disinformation.  This commentary can be read on this blogSee:

His works, essays and fiction, are anthologized in several books and he is the co-author of Reconsidering The Souls of Black Folks, a reassessment of the classic 1903 text by Dr. WEB DuBois on the centennial of its publication.  The book, written with Macarthur Genius Award winner Stanley Crouch, is a dialogue rather than collaboration, with Playthell and Stanley’s contribution appearing under their own bylines.  Playthell does the heavy hitting here writing four fifths of the book, and Stanley riffs off of his arguments.   In the foreword to the paper back edition Stanley says that Playthell has an “insatiable appetite for information, especially as it pertains to the story of the American Negro, American history, American Foreign policy, and the relationships between the western world and the rest of the people on the planet.” And these concerns can clearly be seen in his writings, which are broad and eclectic.

Playthell has lectured at Universities in the US and abroad including Harvard, The University of the West Indies, The Sorbonne in Paris (twice) The University of La Laguna in the Spanish Canary Islands, The University of Pennsylvania, Penn State University, several universities in the University of California System, etc.  Two of his feature stories were selected for study at the prestigious Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in Professor Martin Gottlieb’s seminars, and he was invited to lecture to the class on his writing method.  Playthell regards this as a singular honor.

With a lively wit to compliment a broadly learned mind, Playthell is a great guest on television or radio and has shared the mike with some of the biggest host in television, including Geraldo Rivera and Bill Mahr, which can be soon viewed on You Tube. At Present he is completing two books : Quantum shift: Commentaries on the Obama Phenomenon and Jazz at Lincoln Center: Magic Moments In the House Of Swing, a collaboration with the renowned photographer Frank Stewart.

Playthell is a co-founder of the W.E.B Dubois Department of Afro-American Studies, the first fee standing, degree granting, Black Studies in the World, at the University of Massachusettes Amherst, where he held a professorship in History/Afro-American Studies.  (see:  And  he later held an adjunct professorship in journalism at  Long Island University.  Before entering Academia Playthell had spent years as an activist in the Black Liberation Movement participating in struggles nationwide

His essays on music criticism have appeared in a wide variety of publications and his interest range from classical music to Jazz to Latin and Hip hop.  He writes program notes for Jazz at Lincoln center concerts and is an accomplished Latin percussionist who can be viewed playing with the group Zon Del Barrio on You Tube.


Playthell’s Pulitzer Prize Nominations

Pulitzer nomination For Feature Writing

Pulitzer Nomination II

For Commentary

Some Of Playthell’s Awards

My Awards II

Magazine Features, Village Voice Feature, Editorial Writing

Distinguished Teacher

Playthell’s Commentary on his Harvard Lecture

Diversity at Harvard

In the Boxing Business

scan0001 Bidding on the Sugar Ray V. Marelous Marvin Match

For the Undisputed World middle-Weight Title

Dropping A Laser Jab On The Greatest!

Beware: I am far more dangerous with ideas and words!!!


An Equestrian with a Life Long Love for Horses


A Devoted Father

With My 3 Year Old Twins and their Mother on Easter Sunday

Double click to see Playthell  on air Commentary



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