Archive for the Cultural Matters Category

The Blues Philosopher’s Last Chorus

Posted in Cultural Matters, Music Reviews with tags , , on August 24, 2013 by playthell

Albert Murray

The Literary Lion in his Den

 Life as a Fully Orchestrated Blues Statement

Albert Murray was not only one of the most original thinkers in American letters during the 20th century, he was also a tutor to a couple of generations of American intellectuals trying to understand their country and its culture.  For many intellectuals and artist making the trek up to Mr. Murray’s apartment in Lennox Terrace, the experience was like a religious devotee making a pilgrimage to a sacred shrine to sit at the feet of a holy man, or like the seekers of wisdom and truth who sat at the feet of Plato in ancient Greece.

Some of the most illustrious names in Literature, Art, Music and cultural criticism have found their way to this book laden temple of learning.  Professor Murray was Harlem’s senior sage.  He was 97 years old when he danced to his last blues chorus, and his status was unassailable.  In fact, Mr. Murray’s shoes are so hard to fill we will probably have to dip them in gold, hang them in an honored spot on a wall of heroes, and leave the position of Senior Sage open for the foreseeable future.

While I am not certain that I could define a philosopher in language that would satisfy the academic guardians of the canon, like the Supreme Court Justice when asked to define pornography: “I know one when I see one.” Since the subject of this panegyric, Professor Murray, was a master of language who was also devoted to improvisation and therefore no slave to convention, I shall feel free to take liberties in defining what I mean by philosopher in reference to him.

For me a philosopher is one who contemplates the deeper meaning of things and finds hidden connections between phenomena that escape the rest of us, with the ultimate aim of defining reality.  While the common lot of us look upon the world and our obvious predicament and ask why?  Philosophers dream of things yet unseen and ask why not?  Albert Murray was always opening our eyes to hidden truths that revealed new possibilities.

I was first introduced to his ideas by Larry Neale – the distinguished poet, essayist, editor, and teacher of literature at Yale.  And it changed the way I saw the world in important ways.  I remember well the first time he mentioned Mr. Murray to me.  I was living in an apartment in midtown Manhattan, thirty two stories above Broadway.  I was a Professor on leave from the University of Massachusetts, and was managing the Great singer Jean Carn.

A friend of mine, Tanya, a tall fine blond lady who could bust some moves like a Soul Train hoofer, was grooving to Sly and the Family Stone’s “Everyday People,” when Larry told her that she was not white.  He said her whiteness was a great American fiction, a superficial matter of pigment.  I was shocked at his announcement because the alabaster beauty was as white as any white person that I ever saw.   But Larry went on to explain that she was a cultural mulatto, and Omni-American!  And he held up a copy of Mr. Murray’s book.

Tanya: I thought she was white
Karen-picas editLarry Neal said she was a Cultural Mulatto…An Omni-American

Larry was such a serious intellectual and devoted teacher he died of a heart attack while presenting a lecture.  He was the sort of person who would slaughter his own sacred cows in deference to a greater truth.  This is what happened when he encountered the writing of Professor Murray.  A founding father and avatar of the Black Arts movement of the 1960’s, who along with Amiri Baraka, aka Leroi Jones, co-edited Black Fire, the seminal anthology of the early writings produced by the Black Arts movement, it was no easy task for Larry to accommodate the ideas in Mr. Murray’s book.

An unsentimental and uncompromising literary critic, Professor Murray cavalierly dismissed most of the writing produced by the Black Arts movement as aesthetic mediocrities….and some as literary atrocities.   And he irreverently referred to the lot of us black cultural revolutionaries  as “the bam bam boom boom Brillo Head Crowd.” In a startling commentary on a reading of works by some of the Black Arts luminaries that he attended in Greenwich Village, Mr. Murray denounced their works as little more than public temper tantrums devoted to ostentatious racial exhibitionism of questionable literary merit.  But he reserved his most caustic criticism for the largely white, affluent, artsy fartsy audience who applauded wildly and treated the performers as cultural heroes.

Mr. Murray concluded that with “friends” like these the black artist was doomed to mediocrity, and he placed them even lower on the scale of reliable friends than white boxing managers.  For even if one assumed that the rumors of financial exploitation of boxers under their management was true, Mr. Murray argued: “at least they were trying to produce world champions!”  The profound truth of this revelation hit me like a ton of bricks and I carefully devoured the rest of the essays in his remarkably wide ranging eclectic collection of essays, “The Omni-Americans,” his first book.

I was hooked on Mr. Murray’s learned, unique, and insightful commentaries on life, literature, the essence of artistic creation and its implications for society, as well as his penetrating iconoclastic views on politics: cultural and otherwise.  But what I loved most about Mr. Murray was his quiet assumption that Afro-Americans were the hippest and most stylish people on earth.

This is the Black America Mr. Murray Referenced


“Duke Ellington’s “Satin Doll”

This is most apparent in his discussion of the “fakelore of black pathology,” and “the folklore of white supremacy,” a bogus intellectual construction that compelled white editors to privilege any story of black pathology over a tale of black heroism.  This rule is still all too true, as is evidenced by the muted attention being given to Antoinette Tuff, a black female bookkeeper who talked down a white male armed with an AK 47 and 500 rounds of ammunition that had begun to shoot up an elementary school in Georgia.  Ms. Tuff talked the gunman into laying down his weapon and lie on the floor until the police came to arrest him.  An although not one person lost their life, Ms. Tuff has yet to receive the kind of media adulation a white woman who had talked down a black gunman would have received.

Mr. Murray was an indefatigable defender of Afro-Americans against those who would attempt to play us cheap by portraying us as something less than what we are.  He constantly pointed out that humanity is no less complex and fascinating in a black skin than in a white skin.  Disproving that myth was a major impetus for his novels: Train Whistle Guitar, The Spyglass Tree and Seven League Boots. 

One of the most interesting aspects of Mr. Murray’s critique of the study of Afro-Americans is his dismissal of the way sociologist have approached the subject.  Referencing them as mere “statistical survey technicians” he has called their method “an elaborate fraud.”  In order to demonstrate his point he critiques two studies that were considered the state of the art, one by a white social scientist and one by a black.  An American Dilemma, a massive study conducted by the distinguished Swedish social economist, Dr. Gunnar Myrdal, and Dark Ghetto, written by Afro-American Social Psychologist Dr. Kenneth B. Clarke.

Both of these scholars were prominent in their field. Kenneth Clarke, the first tenured Afro-American scholar in the City University of New York, was world famous as the result of his “Dolls” study.   This study was appended to the NAACP brief in the landmark Brown v. The Board of Education case in which the Supreme Court ruled that segregated schools were “inherently unequal,” and it was credited by many with swaying the Judges’ decision.   Dr. Myrdal, who headed what was the most massive research project on Afro-Americans in history, was chosen not only because he was a distinguished social scientist – since there was no paucity of able social scientists here – but also because he came from Sweden, a country with no black/white racial problem.

They funders of the study reasoned that Myrdal would be more objective writing about the volatile race problem in the US than an American scholar by virtue of his background. The result was a text of nearly a thousand pages that was roundly hailed as the final word on black life in America. Professor Murray was unimpressed with the results of both studies and emphatically dismissed them.  He said the most obvious thing about Dark Ghetto was that it was “written by a Negro who hates himself.”

Murray observed that things in Harlem could not be as grim as Clarke described them “even if half the residents robbed the other half every night.”  He took a similar position on Claude Brown’s bestselling novel “Manchild in the Promised Land,” which was being widely acclaimed as the real story of what life was like in Harlem.  Mr. Murray said it was no such thing!  He said it was merely the story of what it was like for one Negro who grew up in Harlem “and evidently had a hard time doing so.” The book told you nothing about “what it was like to be the Society Editor of the Amsterdam News,” or “one of the people who ran the most complex mass transportation system in the world.”

As for Mr. Myrdal’s “landmark study,” Murray thought it had been a great waste of money if the objective was to help us understand black life in America.  His indictment of the study was spurred by the fact that nowhere in those hundreds of pages filled with numbers and sociological jargon did anyone ask what was the meaning of the blues among black Americans, who invented the art form and based the great American art of Jazz on its deeply moving changes?

This question reflected Mr. Murray’s conception of art and its function in human society.  His view was summed up in his contention that “an art style is the refinement and elaboration of a lifestyle.”  If this assumption was true, then the question of the meaning of the blues in Afro-American culture was no picayune consideration. Mr. Murray thought it was critical to understanding the amazing grace that Afro-Americans had shown during the long night of racial oppression.  He would go on to answer this question in the text that I consider his magnum opus: Stomping the Blues; which many critics believe is the best book ever written on Afro-American music –this writer included.

Bill “Count” Basie
Count Basies Band-singer JimmyRushing1943
Master of the Fully Orchestrated Blues Statement

In this text Mr. Murray waxes philosophical about the meaning of the blues and corrects some widely held misconceptions.  The most pervasive of which is that the blues is sad music.  He skillfully dispels this myth by exploring the origins of the concept of blues by dividing his quest into “The Blues as Such” and the “Blues as Music.”  Mr. Murray shows that while the blues as such is a feeling of sadness and melancholy, and can be traced back to the idea of “blue devils” in Elizabethan England, the blues as music is the antidote to the blues as such.  Hence when viewed in its proper cultural context, the “down home Saturday night function” i.e. a dance party held among Afro-Americans in the south, the blues becomes a music of celebration.

Black musicians played the blues to chase away the blues as such; they “stomped the blues.” This is the meaning of the title of Mr. Murray’s text: Stomping the Blues.  He pointed out that there are several ways of dealing with the blues as such.  One could commit suicide, turn to alcohol  and drugs, or get sharp and go out dancing to a blues band.  His central point throughout this amazing text is that contrary to conventional wisdom the blues is a music of affirmation not resignation – as both the Black Nationalist activist/intellectual Mualana Karenga and the revolutionary black psychiatrist Franz Fanon had concluded.

This was the basis of his criticism of both the portrayal of black life in Richard Wright’s Native Son and the nihilism that characterized so much of the rhetoric of black radicals in the 1960’s.   Murray thought we relied far too much on the grim pessimism of the sociologists – who were mostly square white boys that knew little of real life and could be taken off for everything they had by “any fourth rate Harlem hustler” once they stepped outside their class rooms – rather than rely on the wisdom of the blues.  He pointed out that the blues sensibility was the antithesis of the “sack cloth and ashes” view of life.  While the blues admits “life is a low down dirty shame” we have to keep on swinging.

Through his eyes musicians became heroes and “blues idiom dancing,” his description of typical Afro-American popular dance, was a heroic exercise.  For Mr. Murray, the ability to dance gracefully is a core value of Afro-American culture; it is so widely shared that it is “disgraceful to be awkward on the dance floor.”  The importance he placed on this as a signature of ones integration into the Afro-American cultural idiom is clearly demonstrated in his essay on Gordon Parks, a brilliant multi-talented Afro-American contemporary.

In his description of Gordon Parks upon their first meeting as young men he describes Park’s talents and concludes with the comment “and he was graceful on the dance floor.”   But when he describes Gordon Parks later in life, after he had become enormously successful and was lionized by white society, Murray notes his many successes then comments wryly: “But he was no longer graceful on the dance floor.”

Albert Murray’s writing was a revelation to me, and many other black intellectuals who took the time to carefully read him.  He offered new perspectives on many levels and prompted us to rethink a lot of our ideas.  For instance he considered the description of Harlem and other black communities as “ghettos” to be erroneous, the result of “too much pillow talk between black intellectuals and their Jewish lovers.”

He thought that Malcolm X’s preachment about the white man convincing Afro-Americans to  hate our looks  was nonsense, and said all one had to do was watch “American Negroes” on the dance floor to see that it wasn’t true.  He said that Afro-Americans who were good looking knew that they looked good, and those who thought they were ugly probably were.

Blues Idiom Dancers
Jazz Dancers The Elegance Albert Murray Witnessed

He also thought Malcolm’s contention that house slaves were more impressed with the master than field slaves ignored the fact that it was the house slaves who saw the masters for the flawed creatures that they were, because they were all up in their business i.e. no man is a hero to his butler.  And he pointed out that it is déclassé intellectuals that lead revolutions because ordinary working people don’t spend their time thinking about the things one has to think about in order to organize a revolution.  That is the province of the intellectual.

Although I would come to have my disagreements with Mr. Murray, sometimes about culture but mostly about politics, and even argued with him personally on the value of sociology, accusing him of throwing the baby out with the bathwater….I regard his presence among us as a blessing, and his literary legacy a benefaction.

His collaboration with Count Basie on his autobiography “Good Morning Blues” provides us a look into the world of the Jazz musician and the evolution of the big band that is unprecedented, and his intellectual repartee with the great visual artist Romare Beardon, even naming some of his master works, along with his critical role in the founding of Jazz At Lincoln Center – a seminal event in the history of American culture, is further evidence of Mr. Murray’s widespread influence on American civilization.  Mr. Murray has been justly showered with many accolades in recognition of his singular contribution. I believe we are not likely to see his kind again. For the elements so blended in him that such a man may come along once in a century.

A career Air-Force officer and a refined gentleman, an intellectual of great depth, a prolific writer and iconoclastic thinker, a professor and philosopher, an epicure, elegant dresser and graceful dancer, a devoted husband and good father, and pater-familias to a tribe of intellectuals and artists who are shaping the culture of the world.  When one considers that he taught literature and military aviation, was a novelist and essayist of distinction, an equally able and insightful critic of literature, music and the visual arts – all of which he wrote highly original treatises on – we are compelled to place him among the modern renaissance men.

Mr. Murray was an exemplar of a type of black southern gentleman that is fast fading from the scene.  He was cut from the same cloth as my Uncle Jimmy Strawder, who also danced and joined the honored ancestors just days before Mr. Murray played his out chorus.  Both were men from small southern towns, Mr. Murray from Nkomis Alabama, Uncle Jimmy from St. Augustine  Florida.  Both men grew up during the era of American apartheid, when the ruling ideology was white supremacy, and although life in their birthplace was really a low down dirty shame they kept on swinging for a nearly a century – Jimmy Strawder for 90 years Albert Murray for 97!

One could say their lives were like “fully orchestrated blues statements,” a term Mr. Murray coined, in that they were complete and left nothing to be desired.  They were “Killer Dillers;” handsome hep-cats who dressed to the nines and strutted their stuff like peacocks on the dance floors of elegant ball rooms that were all the rage in their youth; places with names like the Savoy Ballroom, Grand Terrace and Paradise Lounge.  This is where the fabulous big bands like Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Earl “Fatha” Hines, Cab Calloway, Chick Webb, and the International Sweethearts of Rhythm played the fully orchestrated blues statements Mr Murray wrote so insightfully about, music played at “the velocity of celebration.”

Duke Ellington and his Orchestra
“America as She Was Swung!

The fact that one gets no hint that “Fatha” Hines and his great orchestra was playing for dancers at the elegantly appointed Grand Terrace, a scene so hip Al Capone came by to dance to the music, in Richard Wright’s wildly acclaimed novel Native Son, which was set in Chicago during this era, is one of Mr. Murray’s most potent grievances against the text.

Mr. Murray would become a military officer and a writer, Uncle Jimmy became a military officer and would have become a writer if Columbia University – to their everlasting shame – had not turned him away after congratulating him on his distinguished war record as a decorated combat officer, and his outstanding performance on the entrance exam, part of which he took in Latin, with the cold announcement” ‘Columbia College already has its quota of Negros.”

As I noted in my eulogy to Uncle Jimmy: “If white Americans who survived the Great Depression and fought World War II can be considered “The Greatest Generation,” men like Uncle Jimmy and Professor Murray” are the greatest of The Greatest Generation!   Thus I bid these good men… officers and gentlemen, hail and farewell.

Playthell and Professor Robert O’Meely of Columbia at Sorbonne

Me and Robert O'Mealy

Analyzing the influence of Mr. Murray on Wynton Marsalis, Virtuoso trumpeter
 Double Click to see the Basie Orchestra Swing!
A fully Orchestrated Blues Statement
Double Click to Hear Duke Ellington and his Orchestra!
Duke plays his classic compositions
Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
August 23, 2013









Afro-American Jazz and Black South Africans

Posted in Cultural Matters, Guest Commentators, Music Reviews with tags , , on August 19, 2013 by playthell

 Hugh Masekela

Hugh Masakela: A South African Original


 On the Transformative Power of Black Jazz

Growing Up in Mantzi I have been Fortunate enough to come from a Township of Soweto that in the early sixties and all the way to the rule of the ANC had electricity and telephones in our community.  Why is this important?  I grew up with uncles who were playing 78 rpm dicks on a gramophone, and we gradually upgraded to what was called Pilot FM radio (big and huge like caskets which contained a turntable and a FM radio.  Eventually we came to be exposed to Hi Fi systems in the late 1960’s and 70’s and graduated to more sophisticated name brands like Marantz and the like.

Music was the driving force in the evolution and American Jazz was one of the most powerful influences that we were exposed to.  Our elders, uncles and big brothers collected all of the great artist such as Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis and all the seminal figures Playthell Benjamin cites in his essay “Wynton Marsalis and the Great American Art, as the produced this music. And we sought to get in their favor by our recognition and approval of the importance of their treasure troves of LP vinyl Jazz albums.

Furthermore, we were living amongst musicians who played Jazz and formed big bands here in Mzantsi; we were also imbibing a lot of South African Jazz that embodied all the diversity characteristic of South Africa in its sound.  As we grew older we extended our listening and appreciation of the music by forming Jazz Clubs in the late Sixties whilst still in high school.

Our weekends were spent getting together bring new vinyl recordings we might have bought on Friday, and sample it with other members.  If they could not identify the record one was made Jazz Appreciation King for the day and it lasted the entire week until we met again.  Exposure to American Jazz was very important for us and it affirmed and solidified our beliefs that we were not mere “Kaffirs” (niggers) who were backward in all we did or were – African American Jazz told us, that those who looked like us, that those who looked like us, were the best in the world in this art form.

The Great Edward Kennedy “Duke Ellington”
Duke+Ellington - paragon of elegance 
Composer, Pianist, Bandleader, Paragon of Male Elegance
Dollar Brand
Dollar Brand
South African Pianist, Composer

This told us too, that we are the better people in the world, just from the Jazz perspective.  We imbibed art forms and so forth from our African American brothers, but Jazz was paramount in entrenching and embedding beliefs about ourselves.   Some of us went as far as to walk, talk, and dress like our Afro-American brothers.  Others named themselves accordingly.

As we became more mature and refined in our understanding of the wide world of Jazz, we began to travel overseas to Jazz concerts all over the states, Canada and Europe.  This expanded our horizons beyond the brutal apartheid world of South Africa.  We became well marinated in the Jazz Milieu, which knew no national boundaries because of the recording industry.  What has all this to do with Wynton Marsalis, the subject of Playthell’s recent essay?  Everything!

Playthell’s analysis of the heroic role of Wynton in the advancement of Jazz as a vibrant art form supports the fledgling arguments of those among us here in South Africa, who have been insisting that Wynton has advanced Jazz beyond what the hard core Jazz classist here in Mzantsi think of a real Jazz, in fact they insisted that Wynton was not playing Jazz at all.

Wynton Marsalis

The Most Versatile Trumpeter in the World

I think the fact that he came from the Baroque side of classical music was lost to these detractors here for they knew nothing about the fact that Wynton had become the Master Jazz/Trumpeter /Composer/Innovator of the art and literally lifted and elevated Jazz into the 21st century.  They just couldn’t wrap their minds around that fact.

I also suspect that they have lost touch with what Wynton was doing and saying, and hung on to the old ways of understanding Jazz.  Wynton blew some of us away when he merged modern Jazz with African drummers on the same stage.  We were amazed and fascinated as we watched his rehearsal sessions with these Africans, especially the way that he was able to show the similarities and the origins of Jazz as an African art form.

Conducting the performance of Congo Square
The Lincoln Center never witnessed anything like it!

Soul to Soul


The Rhythmic circle remains unbroken


The drum choir blended perfectly with the band

This edified us and lifted our long held beliefs that the music we were listening to called Jazz had melodic signatures which can be found in our own traditional songs and Jazz music here in Mantzsti.  Playthell’s essay “Wynton Marsalis and the Great American Art,” is for me and Jazz Aficionados of kindred spirit, is so filled with erudite analysis about the art of Jazz and Wynton’s role in preserving and advancing the best of the tradition, that I feel compelled to post it on all the African sites I have access to.

There are some pretentious self- proclaimed Jazz gurus and avid fans who cannot accept anything new in Jazz.  Not since Babatunde Olatunji took his “Drums of Passion” orchestra to Carnegie Hall – industrialist Andrew Carnegie’s gift to New York City and the art of music –has anyone achieved that.  Wynton, however, took it a step further; many levels higher in fact, by merging both ensembles – African American musicians and a choir of African master drummers – on the same stage as part of one group.  To me it was one of the things Wynton did that silenced the howling jazz dinosaurs in the Appreciators here in Mzantsi.



 Greatest of All Times!

I concur with all that Playthell wrote about Wynton Marsalis….and then some.  I have learned so much from reading this article that I immediately went over to my collection of Wynton’s records and have been following on some nuggets he doled/dropped in the essay.   This kind of study will upgrade one’s understanding, appreciation and listening skills; enabling you to better grasp the techniques Wynton is employing to make such marvelous music.  I am happy to have found Playthell’s article, for it confirmed what we had long believed.   Jazz is an African art form and it resonates loudly with us here in Mzantsi and wherever it is played.


Double Click to see Dollar Brand 

Double click to see Dollar Brand in a clearer video

Click to see Hugh Masakela  perform tribute to Mandela

Double Click to see Wynton conduct Congo Square with Orchestra and African drums 

Double Click to hear the Winston “Mankunzu” Ngozi Quartet


Skhokho Sa Tlou

Mzantsi, South Africa

August 19, 2013

 ** All Photos of Wynton and Congo Square Concert 

by: Frank Stewart, official photographer for JALC

Wynton Marsalis and the Great American Art

Posted in Cultural Matters, Music Reviews with tags , , on August 18, 2013 by playthell


 Conducting his innovative suite “Congo Square” with Ghanaian Drummers

 I have written about Jazz in the New York Daily News, The Sunday Times of London, The Guardian- Observer of London, he Village Voice et al.  And I have major essays anthologized in books.  I have also covered the New York Jazz scene on WBAI FM.  I have written about Wynton in all these venues and interviewed him on radio. I am about to put those interviews online. I have also appeared with Wynton and Ellis in a lecture/demonstration on Jazz and wrote the program notes for Jazz at Lincoln Center Concerts.  Hence I have firsthand knowledge of the jazz milieu and I have paid close attention to Wynton’s career.

The Jazz scene in New York had become so dismal by the late 1970’s that I published an essay despairing over the future of the art form – See: “Will Jazz Survive: Notes on the State of the Great American Art ” in the Freedomways Reader – because the last commercial jazz station in New York, WRVR, had suddenly gone off the air.  I wondered how the tradition could survive if the jazz community in the Mecca of Jazz couldn’t even sustain a single radio station devoted to this quintessentially American art. How could you produce new stars if young musicians couldn’t even hear the music on the radio?

Then I heard this young trumpet player from New Orleans perform with the Herbie Hancock VSOP orchestra…and my spirit danced.  I knew he was going to be the next big thing the anointed one – having seen all the great innovators from Pops Armstrong to Freddie Hubbard live, I felt qualified to make the judgment – and history has proven me right…as it often does with my political prognostications.

Later I heard Wynton play the classical trumpet; a magnificent art that most jazz fans no know nothing about and many jazz musicians can’t play….I was amazed.  As a failed trumpeter I understand the technical requirements for performing the masterworks by the great European composers.  I know what embouchure is; I understand the difficulties of triple tonguing and circular breathing; I know how hard it is to achieve great intonation, and the complexity of fingering.  All of which a trumpeter must master in order to play the European classical repertoire. Yet Wynton makes it look so easy people who have no hands on experience trying to play the trumpet are clueless as to the degree of difficulty involved.

It’s not surprising that music for the trumpet is so difficult in European art music, especially the Baroque music Wynton is so fond of; the trumpet is, after all, their instrument.  I am presently writing a piece about Wynton’s influence on the great young classical trumpeters.  Most people will be shocked to discover how many of the principal trumpeters in the great symphony orchestras were inspired and tutored by Wynton’s performances.

Yet the classical trumpet is Wynton’s second language on the horn.  He is first and foremost a jazz trumpeter, who was raised by Ellis Maralis – a great pianist who is so devoted the art of Jazz piano that he named his son after a piano player, the marvelous Wynton Kelly, who was of Jamaican background – and he was tutored in the art of jazz by Alvin Bastise, a New Orleans clarinetist who is a master of Jazz and European classical music.

I watched as a member of the New York media as Wynton became the most sought after musician /commentator for the art of Jazz by virtue of his unique “skill set” as a bilingual trumpet virtuoso who was also a serious student of the history of Jazz and European art music; he was erudite, articulate, charming and funny.  Plus he was good looking and a fabulous dresser: he was a television producer’s dream! That’s how it happened; the role was thrust upon him even as other’s would have given anything to play the role.  That’s the real reason for all the hatin.

Much of Wynton’s style on and off the stage  came from his tutelage under the great writer Albert Murray, author of the single most important book on Afro-American music: Stomping the Blues,” and whom Duke Ellington said was “The hippest cat I know.”  In 1996 I presented a paper at a conference on Afro-American music held under the auspices of the European and US Associations of American Studies at the Sorbonne in Paris exploring this relationship titled: “The Influence of the Writings of Albert Murray on the Musical Compositions and Sartorial Style of Wynton Marsalis.  But the point is that for all of these reasons I have cited here, i.e. his myriad virtues, Wynton became a favorite of television producers and hosts: And it is the best thing that ever happened to Jazz.  In fact, I believe Wynton’s advocacy for the form as artist and advocate resurrected classic acoustic jazz – which is the highest expression of the art form.  And I am prepared to argue this point with anyone!

Wynton Conducting the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra


A Master of his Trade

As a former history professor and co-founder of the first degree granting, freestanding, black studied department in the world – the WEB DuBois Department of Afro-American Studies at U-Mass Amherst, which awarded full Professorships in black music to Jazz Masters Max Roach and Archie Shepp – I know something about the history and cultural development of Afro-Americans, and I would argue that the Jazz at Lincoln Center program here in Manhattan is the most important cultural development in the history of black America!

And it definitely would not have happened without Wynton Marsalis.  In order to get a Jazz department in the Lincoln the first task was to convince the Princes and Powers at the Lincoln Center – the world’s greatest performance emporium – that Jazz was an art form worthy of inclusion in a cultural warehouse that was stocked with classical European arts: Ballet, Grand Opera, Chamber Music, and the New York Philharmonic.  Wynton was the ideal person to sell them on the artistic merit of Jazz precisely because he had won Grammy’s for the best Jazz and Classical instrumental performances – an incredible feat that no other musician in the world has repeated!  And they bought what he was selling to the tune of 150 million dollars.

That’s why Congressman Jerry Nadler, who represents the district, said on opening day of the 150 million facility – “If Yankee Stadium can be called The House that Babe Ruth built, then Jazz at Lincoln Center will henceforth be known as the House that Wynton built.”  As for the criticism of other musicians: I say bring them on!!!!!!  Like the late great Sugar Ray Robinson I love a good fight, although, I must confess, that thus far they wither like snow balls in the sun when they cross swords with me on this question.  However I would like to conclude this little discourse with the following observations about musicians and Wynton.

All of those I have heard criticize him are clearly his inferiors as musicians and promoters of the music.  I could name names but I won’t….unless my veracity is called into question …but I’d rather not go there because my intention here is to set the record straight about Wynton not rag on other musicians.  But if properly provoked I’ll sing like a canary.  For the moment I a representative anecdote that is characteristic of what I found investigating the gripes of Wynton’s critics among musicians will suffice.

There was this very well know jazz trumpeter who used to dog Wynton’s playing; said it didn’t have enough ‘grits’ or some such inexplicable foolishness.  So Wynton issued a challenge for him to come down to Lincoln center during a concert and “cut my head,” which is Jazz parlance for engaging in a competitive duel called “cutting sessions.”  After the challenge was issued Wynton told me “That joker ain’t gonna show up…I’ll bet money on it.”  He seemed so sure about this prediction that I hesitated to accept a wager that at first looked like easy money.  So I declined the offer and instead asked him how he could be so sure the other trumpeter wouldn’t show.  “Because he can sell all the Woof tickets he wants out in the streets,” said Wynton, “but he and I have practiced together and he knows the truth!”  As Wynton predicted the dude punked out!

The affect that Wynton has on other trumpet players reminds me of the way flute players responded to Hubert laws when he first showed on the scene, another ambidextrous musical genius.  Hubert scared everybody to death and it resulted in people saying dumb stuff like “his tone is too pretty,” or “he does not make enough mistakes” or “he plays like a machine.”  I recognized it as the baseless slander of jealous peers back then, and the criticism I have heard of Wynton today does not rise above that level in my estimation.  THEY ARE ALL JEALOUS HATERS!!!!!!!!!

The World’s Greatest Trumpeter?
Gerald Wilson Thinks So!

However let me conclude on the upbeat.  While Wynton has his detractors he also has many ardent admirers among musicians.  Dr. Billy Taylor, the Dean of musician/critics, loved the ground Wynton walked on and considered him the best hope for the music’s survival and growth.  He told me that because of Wynton’s efforts to promote the music to a wider audience many of the musicians who criticize him are working more than ever.

When I wrote a big feature story for the Sunday Times of London on Betty Carter and the jazz youth festival she was hosting at the Majestic Theater and Brooklyn Academy of Music titled “School For Cats,” all of those brilliant young musicians – which included such virtuosi as pianist Cyrus Chestnut and drummer Adonis Rose – told me that one of the main reasons why they were seriously playing Jazz was because “Wynton came to my school and gave a talk on Jazz.”

At the time Wynton was in a little feud with Miles Davis, whom Wynton tells us in the interview with David Frost was his major influence.  I asked the Empress of Swing, who had seen and heard them all, what she thought of the beef.  “Miles is just jealous!” she said.  “I knew Miles when he was Wynton’s age and has never been the trumpeter that Wynton is.”

Maestro Wilson Conducting JALC Orchestra
A Swinging Octogenarian

When I interviewed the legendary bandleader/arranger/composer Gerald Wilson – who also happens to be a trumpeter of long standing – I asked him what he thought of Wynton’s playing. He said without a moment’s hesitation: “Wynton Marsalis is the greatest trumpeter in the world!    One of the virtues of writing in this new digital medium that is not enjoyed by writers in print publications is the ability to create multi-media presentations.  Hence by virtue of You Tube I can demonstrate Maestro Wilson’s Claim.

I have selected two performances by Wynton Marsalis: a classical European composition and a wholly improvised jazz performance.  Both performances were chosen because of the technical demands on the artist, which require the highest level of virtuosity in each genre.  The extent of the difficulty an artist must overcome is the measure of their mastery of the horn.  In the first video Wynton performs “The Carnival of Venice.”  When the great composer of martial music John Phillip Sousa formed the US Marine Corps band he billed it as “The greatest Brass Band in the World!”

The brook of fire trumpet and cornet players had to cross in their auditions was to perform the Carnival of Venice,” a composition that contain myriad pit falls into which a hapless player will be devoured.  It is a piece that demands mastery of all the elements of trumpet performance.  The second video features Wynton playing Cherokee at break neck speed.  It was the composition that those who aspired to share the bandstand with the elite players had to perform, often in a jam session when all eyes were on you.

Whereas in European art music all solos are composed, with improvisation allowed only in cadenzas, a kind of extended ornament, in jazz extemporaneous coherent musical statements is the rule.  This demands the ability to create music at the speed of thought.  Thus the more complex the musical statement – which must be negotiated within the restrictions of complex harmonic changes and polyrhythmic pulses – dictate the level of virtuosity required to perform it.   To the untutored ear it may all sound the same but, as a matter of fact, they are vastly different.

Check them out, and you need not be highly tutored in musical performance in order to recognize the Genius on display here. And you will lose any desire to argue with Maestro Gerald Wilson when he declares: “Wynton Marsalis is the best trumpeter  that I have ever heard and I played with all the greats,” So there!  You have it from the lips of the Gods….I say fuck the haters!!!!!


He is the best that I have ever heard and I played with them all!!!” So there!  You have it from the lips of the Gods….fuck the haters!!!!!

Me and Dr. Robert O’Meely Droppin Science at the Sorbonne

Me and Robert O'Mealy

Exploring the relationship between Wynton and Albert Murray 1996
Double click here to see Wynton Perform Carnival of Venice
This video has a million and a half views!
Double click here to see Wynton perform Cherokee
Double click to see Wynton interviewed by David frost

Text by: Playthell Benjamin

All photos by: Frank Stewart – except pic from the Sorbonne

August 17, 2013

In Defense of the Catholic Church

Posted in Cultural Matters, Uncategorized with tags , , , on August 9, 2013 by playthell

St Benedict

                       The Church of St. Benedict The Moor

A Reply to Comments On My Essay On the Pope

While everything that has been said in the responses has the ring of truth, it does not tell the whole story. Since my intention is to always tell the truth, to render unto God that which is God’s and unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and even give the Devil his due, I must set the record straight regarding my views on the Catholic Church.

While the wildly popular protestant evangelist Reverend Agee calls the mother church of the Christian faith “the Whore of Babylon,” and the Anti-Defamation League Grand Inquisitor Abraham Foxman was indifferent when questioned about his alliance with Rev. Agee in Israeli support groups, I feel compelled to say a few words in favor of the Church and their work.

There is for instance the charity and service rendered by dedicated priests and nuns who have pledged to spend their lives serving their fellow man around the world; often at great danger to themselves and almost always under difficult circumstances; willing taking a vow of poverty in order to serve others. Needless to say I could recount myriad examples. But let me cite a couple from my own life.

When the rigid laws of Florida prevented me from entering elementary school in the public system because I wasn’t yet six years old, although I could read better than some adults, the little Catholic school funded by the church of “St. Benedict the Moor” took me in and gave me my first formal education. We were not catholic, but staunch members of First Baptist Church, located right around the corner. Yet they took me in and the white nuns who taught us – and taught us well – were the only white people I ever encountered growing up in Florida who treated us as the precious children of God.

I found their colorful costumes and pagan rituals – bowing before idols and burning exotic incense – an intriguing dramatic show; and their curious cannibalistic ritual of drinking wine and “eating the body of Christ” bizarre and somewhat frightening; it kept me awake at night the first time I experienced it. And the way they described the horrors of hell and purgatory was enough to make me walk a straight and narrow line and try my best to keep the Ten Commandments.

Hence I’d say my experience at St. Benedict the Moor was a good thing, and as I look back now and reflect upon the fact that they chose to serve us in the Apartheid south, with all of the danger and inconvenience that must have attended their mission, I take my hat off to them with eternal gratitude.

When I decided to reject the idea of God at thirteen years old I sat in a pew in the white Cathedral downtown on Easter  Sunday morning, when blacks were allowed to sit in the back pews, and I cursed God when the priest was reciting “Escum spirit tu tu o” or something like that – my Latin is less than weak – and announced the presence of God’s spirit at the elaborately decorated altar.

When no lightning bolt crashed through the ceiling and wiped me out, I said it again, and again! When I left church that Easter Sunday I was convinced that both God and the Devil were figments of the imagination of man, designed to scare children into submitting to the orders of their dictatorial elders.

I have since discovered that the purposes of religion are far more complex and vital to human existence than that – after all I was only a 13 year old colored boy in apartheid Florida – but I have never since doubted that man created God rather than the other way around. And thus gods have no powers other than those designated by man. I have clung to this belief even on the high seas when the angry waves tossed the tanker around like a beach ball, and the old Salty Dogs who had long sailed the seven seas fell to their knees, passionately praying to God for deliverance…while I sat silent.

Still, I have been saved by the charity of the Catholic church more than once during my life as a scribe churning out graffiti for dollars in New York City, a town full of fine writers willing to become media whores for the fool’s gold of the corporate press. In such a marketplace an honest scribe can starve.  Hence in my dramatic falls from grace after having written some incendiary text that offended my publisher, who then decided to teach me the danger of biting the hand that feeds me, I turned to catholic charities to pay my rent.

It is no exaggeration to say that they saved me from the shame and agony of homelessness in New York City, and they never asked me what parish I belonged to. If the catholic church could save an un-churched heathen like me without question – and have done this all over the world, it is fair to say that they have made some recompense for their myriad sins.

A Shrine to the Christian Moor


The Pride of black Catholics in St. Augustine Florida


Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
August 9. 2013

A South African Views US Redskin Controversy

Posted in Cultural Matters, Guest Commentators, On Foreign Affairs with tags , , , , on June 16, 2013 by playthell
The Truth about the Apartheid Era

White Hunter

                       This was also a common scene in the American West during the “Indian Wars”


What’s In a Name?

What’s in a name? Everything! I am familiar with the naming of the enslaved people being called all names, but those that edify them. You can imagine in South Africa, we have been called “Kaffirs” – same as nigger’ in the States – monkeys, baboons (Akin to jigaboos), boy/girl  for elderly people; “natives” (as in ‘tribes”)’Bantu'(which really means ‘people’, but was used against us to dehumanize and ‘de-Africanize Africans in South Africa)’ “Plurals” (I guess to remind Themselves that whites in South Africa), that we, Africans, are too many against them; “Darkie”(Dark one); African children called ‘black pica ninny’, and so forth.

As I begun by asking and replying, “What’s in a name?  Everything!”  For us to learn about the Washington Red Skin Debacle brings to mind the hideous and harmful nature of being named and forced to get used to that derogatory name, and you find the White chumps who are so arrogant they can’t see and think as far as their eyelids and foreheads, and because they have had no reason to respect any person enslaved/colonized, they see nothing in calling people with their White people’s ‘invented’ names, and these are not salubrious names/tags and that they assist in disappearing a people’s identity and being.

In South Africa, our mothers, when they were giving birth to us, were forced to choose what was called a ‘Christian’ name i.e. a white European name.  And if it we were given an African name in many cases it was not written on our birth-certificate; although in the Townships and villages we lived in the community called us by our African names.  Our elders explained the importance of our African names and what those names mean. The elders pointed out that giving a child a bad name is a bad omen – “Bitso lebe ke seromomo” – literally meaning “a bad name is a bad omen/karma to the child”.

We grew up within our communities here in Mzantsi known by our African names and were constantly told what they mean, along with our last names. The Apartheid regime did not recognize how we relate to each other as Africans and what was the significance of naming things and the importance of our names to us. They compartmentalized and divided us and dubbed us “tribes” who would never come together.

Meanwhile, they have never ever wanted to call us “Africans. Now, they, the Boers, called themselves Afrikaners – which today, they claim and allege, gives them the right to say they are Africans!’  So, we African people of South Africa, are accused by various ethnic groups in South Africa, who claim that they are Africans, and we blacks really are not.

 So that, in their disrespect of anything African, South African whites accuse indigenous black Africans of South Africa of wanting to hog the Name African.  And yet, these different ethnic groups are themselves African so that, they parrot, that our saying we are “Africans of Mzantsi South Africa” is meaningless, dumb, infantile babble. Thus, we find these people dissing us all the way to denying our existence.

 A Common Sign during the Apartheid Era in South Africa
The policy of European Invaders in South Africa and the USA

Yet, this awareness as to who we are is excellently captured by Dr. Amos Wilson- the Afro-American Psychiatrist – when he notes that: “Even these people recognize that a name is connected to social role. A name is not just something you call people, but the name a people are called signifies their role. Therefore, a change of name represents a people’s attempt to change their role and position in the world.” Some ‘negroes’ (Africans) think that to change our name is just some foolish game we’re playing. It is not about that. It’s not a game we’re playing here. Identity is very important, as is the idea that Black (African) people would dare name themselves. Whites recognize that as an incursion on their power of naming and an incursion on their power of domination.

I have alluded to how the apartheidizers forced us to have European First names, which in effect messed with our culture, because now we have amongst us so many African Peters, Denisi’s, Marks, John’s, and so forth.   And we are called by these names in our contact/interaction with Europeans- who insist upon calling us these Euro-names. Alas, even when we tell them our African names they claim they are hard to pronounce. We, in our African collective/communities, are then called and known as Sipho (Gift), Thabang (Be all Happy), Karabo (The Answer), Tshepiso (The promise), Ntombi (the girl) and so forth, our African names.

So Playthell Benjamin’s article about the big controversy over the “Washington Redskins” football team refusing to remove the word “Redskins” from their name, which is decried by Native Americans as an insult to their people, because it masks a history of genocide and the ‘disappearing’ of a whole people by the obnoxious and arrogant Europeans – who still feel that they are superior to everyone else.  Incredibly, they feel that the naming of people and things under their purview is fait accompli and a ‘given’. We know, here in South Africa, that is not the case, and there is still an ongoing cultural war about the naming of things with African names since the ANC came into fictive power.

Although along the way, in order to appease their handlers, they compromised a lot in renaming a lot of things here in South African with their given names. This is a real war, and there is a lot I can say about the battles that are presently fought over the naming of Africans, and the “Winning of the hearts and minds of Africans” here in Mzantsi” by the former Apartheidizers.  And now of late, they are being assisted by the American Think Tanks and NGOs, working to turn South Africa into a mini-USA.

It is therefore no surprise and wonder Africans in South Africa dislike Israel, for in it, we see ourselves in what they are doing to the Palestinians; we also detest the arrogance and mien with which they interact/communicate with those they consider not Jews; and this has caused a lot of animosity, which you capture so well with this Yoyo, Snyder, whose people are very quick to defend their lot, as you cogently point out above.

Right now, some of us here in Mzantsi are involved in the fight against our culture, and it is a very difficult battle. Not because our former enslavers made it so (of which they still do and control all the bullshit-covert actions in place now, but because some of our African brothers feel fulfilled if they are seen to be “very American”, “very British”, and even “very Chinese-and dress like the Chinese.

These clowns, the African pseudo-elites, are the ones that are hampering us and assisting our detractors in making gains and headway into our communities; which end up making these African societies dysfunctional. These retarded South African Uncle Toms are assiduously working their lives away trying to “Out-American Americans”, or British, French, or Italians, while making sure they distance themselves from or discard their self-perceived “backward African Culture” and everything about it.

That is our present problem, and these ‘scoundrels, quislings and turncoats are thriving.   They even believe that they have a handle on being the puppets of mega-capitalist corporate and International governments to whom they beg to be slaves and become our slave drivers themselves, whilst showing off their ill-acquired wealth and looking silly trying to be as white as any foreign white-in all aspects and by any means necessary.

These are the people who are interfering with African people naming themselves, and their environment. They are the very people who are in cahoots with some of these sleazy monied potentates who run the world of ideas and money and control the Army.  They are the great pretenders and trumpet untruths that they are our leaders and run the leading ruling party-ANC.  As I read Playthell’s Indians article on the struggle of Native Americans, the so-called “Indians,” I can see that we have quite similar problems here in Mzantsi and then some.

The indigenous of peoples of America are subject to the same treatment of disrespect and disregard/ignored by their colonizers; who see it as a White privilege. And in South Africa, where the white Apartheidizers descendants they still own 83% of the land given to them under the Apartheid era Group Areas Act, your article’s treatment of the massive theft  of  Native American lands really hit a very bothersome issue for us. It is interesting for one to begin to learn that this same treatment of using derogatory names to those who have been dispossessed, is one of the many ways to keep and display the dominance of the European over the indigenous peoples everywhere in the world!

The South African Bantustans Mirror “Indian’ Reservations
 Whites Arrived in Virginia 1619 and Cape Town 1652
The Way We Were


 White South Africa’s Idea Of child’s Play!

Even in this day of the fictitious democratic sham that is our country, there are still White folks who will never ever cease and desist from calling us “Kaffirs”(equivalent or same as “Nigger”) because they feel they can and know that they have many adherents and sympathizers amongst their Afrikaner “Volk”(Folk). What Playthell is saying is what we are fighting for here in Mzantsi. This is made concrete when he quotes the Congressman Eni who charged that “Native Americans throughout the country consider the ‘R-word’ a racial, derogatory slur akin to the ‘N-word’ among African Americans or the ‘W-word’ among Latinos.”

We feel the same way here in Mzantsi, and throughout the African Continent and the Diaspora.  But, seemingly, every time we raise this issue we come across arrogance and dismissive attitudes that defies logic or common sense. I guess the more things change, the more they stay the same.


Skhokho Sa Tlou

Mazantzi, South Africa

June 16, 2013

Dan Snyder is a Bullshit Artist !!!

Posted in Cultural Matters, On Sports! with tags , , , on June 13, 2013 by playthell


 The Quintessential Arrogant Putz

 Suppose the team’s Name was the Washington Kikes?

In his book length treatise On Bullshit,” the renowned Princeton philosopher Dr. Harry g. Frank argued that bullshit is more dangerous to the truth tan a lie.  And the Washington Redskins owner, Dan Snyder, has raised bullshitting to an art form.  His arrogant rejection of pleas from Native Americans and their allies, in and out of Congress, to change the name of his NFL team from Washington Redskins to the Washington anything else, because the name and Amerindian Mascot offends their ancestors, and insults the survivors, of a people Euro-Americans dispossessed with mass murder and wholesale theft, reveals him to be the “Rich man who gained the world but lost his soul” that the bible warns us not to become.

Snyder’s declaration in USA Today strongly suggests he is that soulless man.  “We will never change the name of the team. As a lifelong Redskins fan, and I think that the Redskins fans understand the great tradition and what it’s all about and what it means.”  When questions persisted on the issue he defiantly told the public “”We’ll never change the name; it’s that simple. NEVER — you can use caps.”

Since Snyder is a Jew he might not have read the bible.  Yet because he is a Jew – and enshrined in the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame no less – one would think that he would readily understand the position of Native Americans.  After all, it was not that long ago or far away that Mr. Snyder’s own people were victims of genocide.  Maybe he does not recognize that it is the same class of event because the genocide and land theft Native Americans were subjected to is not referred to as a holocaust…..but it was.

There are several reasons why we do not refer to the Native American experience as a holocaust.  First there is a deeply rooted racist tradition in the US, which privileges humanity in white skin and devalues humanity of darker hues.  This racist ideology justified genocide against the Native Americans and the enslavement of Africans. The persistence of this racist attitude explains why an Associated Press poll revealed that 80% of Americans find no fault with a football team calling themselves the “Red Skins. “ Due to the racial demographics of the USA we can rest assured that the majority of those polled were Euro-Americans…the descendants of the invaders who now own deeds to land that once belonged to the Amerindians and for which they were never compensated.

Second, acknowledgement of genocide and slavery as the fundamental acts that made the American Republic possible, and even shaped the US Constitution, would seriously assault the master narrative of American civilization and fatally wound the national myth of America as the land of the free and home of the brave.  Hence, despite all of their bluster about how proud they are of their history, no one works harder to distort, deny and even eradicate that history than the so-called “American Exceptionalist” crowd – the most vociferous of whom are camped out in the Republican Party.

These Jokers clearly prefer self-serving myths to their real history; that’s why in their sanitized version of the American saga color caste oppression is obfuscated or omitted altogether.  This explains how you could have a member of Congress like Michelle Bachman saying “the founding Fathers wouldn’t Rest until they got rid of slavery!”  When in fact all of them except John Adams had owned slaves.  This kind of abominable ignorance, coupled with a self-righteous attitude, is the reason why a schmuck like Daniel Snyder feels free to take such a disrespectful position toward the legitimate concerns of Native Americans.

The third major reason that we do not think of the genocide, cultural destruction and land theft committed against Native Americans as a holocaust is because organized Jewry has trademarked the term.  Therefore it can only be used in connection with the Jewish genocide carried out by the German Nazi’s.  The refusal to recognize the destruction of the Amerindians as a holocaust accounts for the differences in the way we respond to the two experiences.

For instance, there has been much discussion of the Anti-Semitism of  the great German Romantic composer Richard Wagner, his music is banned in Israel for instance – which I find a perfectly normal given his attitude toward Jews. However Richard Boyden, whose father is Jewish, recalls his attempt to inform a Jewish organization  that was promoting a production of “The Wizard Of Oz” about the racist anti-Indian attitude of its author.

Last year I called the local Jewish Community Center in Kansas City and informed them of the fact the play they were showing there, the Wizard of Oz, was written by L. Frank Baum. I informed them that Baum was a hater of American Indians after the order of a “Hitler” and as a “prominent” newspaper editor in South Dakota, he called for the total extermination of American Indians.  The response from the Jewish Community Center was that of no concern…You can see Baum’s play shown in many Jewish Community Centers throughout the United States.”

I have searched in vain for a statement League on the Redskins controversy from the Anti-Defamation League – which vigorously attacks anyone who says or does anything they deem offensive to Jews, even going so far as to declare criticism of Israeli government policy as anti-Semitic – and I have been greeted with a deafening silence. The attempt to keep the term “holocaust” as the signature of the Jewish genocide has led to some strange behavior on the part of the Anti-Defamation League.

Indeed Abraham Foxman, the venerable leader of the ADL, has even been accused of being a holocaust denier by Armenian intellectuals whose ancestors were victims of Turkish Genocide at the turn of the 20th century.  The Armenians point to a deal where Turkey agreed to support Israel’s positions in the Middle East against their fellow Muslims among the Arab nations, and organized Jewry in the US in concert with the Israeli government would oppose any attempt by the UN to recognize the Armenian claims of Turkish genocide against them.  Politics does indeed make strange bedfellows.

Of course, since Snyder is an arrogant money grubbing ignoramus there is every possibility that he knows nothing of any of this.  Alas, after counting beans all day the brain cells are pretty much shot.  Fortunately there is a simple way of making the issue clear even to a 21st century shyster shylock.  If Danny Boy claims not to understand the insult he is perpetrating against Native Americans, he should ponder what his attitude would be if the team’s name was “The Washington Kikes,” or the “DC Yids,” and the mascot was a Hassidic Jewish Rabbi in full clerical regalia, huge side locks and long flowing beard.  I bet his silly ass would get it then!

The Washington Kikes?

imagesCAIGHTPU Would Danny dig This?

Like he Digs This?

washington-redskins-logo-2Symbolically  Exploiting a Powerless People

I believe that Daniel will live to regret his decision to fight rather than switch, because like Daniel in the Bible he now finds himself in a lion’s den….and without the grace of God on his side.  No, this Daniel has placed his faith in Mammon; this is the rock on which he stands. Let’s see how that works out for him as the lions attack from several angles.  Already we have a group of Congressmen openly calling for him to change the name of the team.   And the city government of Washington DC is considering taking action.

No amount of self-serving sophistry – such as the statement issued by the NFL commissioner Roger Goddell, who wrote a letter replying to the Congressman offering up shameful and transparent apologia for the appalling behavior of Daniel Snyder – will calm this brewing storm.   The Commissioner’s June 5th letter was posted on The Indian Country Media Network said in part: “The Washington Redskins name has thus from its origin represented a positive meaning distinct from any disparagement that could be viewed in some other context,” Goodell writes in the letter. “For the team’s millions of fans and customers, who represent one of America’s most ethnically and geographically diverse fan bases, the name is a unifying force that stands for strength, courage, pride and respect.”

                                                       The Commissioner Bullshittin the Press
He’s Amlost as good a bullshit artist as Daniel!

Some of the Congressmen quickly replied to Goodell’s silly self-serving sophistry.  “Goddell’s letter is another attempt to justify a racial slur on behalf of Dan Snyder and other NFL owners who appear to be only concerned with earning ever larger profits, even if it means exploiting a racist stereotype of Native Americans.”  And Eni Faleomavaega, a Democrat representing American Somoa, charged that the NFL Commissioner “completely missed the point regarding the Washington franchise’s name.”   The original letter from the Congressmen had pointed out: “Native Americans throughout the country consider the ‘R-word’ a racial, derogatory slur akin to the ‘N-word’ among African Americans or the ‘W-word’ among Latinos.”

Snyder, a billionaire businessman, is no ordinary owner.  Aside from the fact that he invested 100 million in stadium improvements and home games are sold out for 40 years in advance, he is also a member of several NFL committees. Among these are: the Broadcast Committee, the Business Ventures Committee, the Digital Media Committee, the Hall of Fame Committee, which monitors the activities of the  Football Hall of Fame in Canton Ohio, and  a member of the Board of Directors of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  So this guy is a real power in the National Football League.

Yet I predict that if Danny and the commish persist in their bullshit they will be buked and scorned, called everything but a child of God, and eventually the Washington franchise will be picket and boycotted.  Danny boy is about to learn a lesson about people power.  He’s gonna learn that his bucks are not long enough to cool the righteous anger of the people.  Somebody better hurry up and warn that fool…. cause like my grandfather used to say: “Dat boy better check his self before he wreck hisself!”


Playthell  G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

June 13, 2013

On Senor Schomburg, Black America and Me

Posted in Cultural Matters on June 9, 2013 by playthell
Arturo Schomburg II
A Visionary Pan-Africanist Bibliophile

It is well neigh impossible to assess the importance of the contribution the Afro-Puerto Rican Pan-Africanist bibliophile Arturo Schomburg made to the growth of culture and consciousness of Afro-Americans in general, having inspired seminal scholars and teachers like Dr. John Hendirk Clarke and Joel A. Rogers.  However I owe much of my career as an intellectual and political activist to the efforts of the great Senor Schomburg.

When I was a lonely airman stationed on a nuclear strike base in the 91st Strato-Bomber Wing of the US Strategic Air Command, whose mission was the nuclear destruction of Soviet Russia, I was given two books by my First Sergeant” One Hundred Amazing Facts about the Negro with Complete Proof” and “From Superman to Man,” both by the great Jamaican Historian Joel A. Rogers.

These books changed my life! J. A. Rogers continuously referred to the something called “The Schomburg Collection” in Harlem.  When I got out of the Air Force all I wanted to do was visit this place and see if the proof of Roger’s marvelous claims could indeed be found there.  I spent the next year practically camped out in the Schomburg, which was located on 135th street in Harlem, next door to its present location.

I would come up to New York from Philly and stay with my uncle Jimmy in Brooklyn every chance I got and spend my days rummaging through those archives that contained the records of the greatness of my race world-wide.  Among the many treasures I discovered there was the other works of J.A. Rogers – especially his multi-volume tomes: The World’s Great Men of Color from 3,000 BC to 1946 AD, Nature Knows no Color Line, Sex and Race, and Africa’s Gifts to America.

Laboring among the book stacks of the Schomburg Collection under the able tutelage of the learned and dedicated librarian Ernest Kaiser, who acted as if each text, rare manuscript, record and picture collection or newspaper file was a sacred gift to the black community, led to my becoming a featured radio lecturer on black history on “The Listening Post,” produced and hosted by the legendary Joe Rainey and broadcast over WDAS in Philly, a program on which Malcolm X regularly appeared.

From there I was heard by Queen Mother Moore, a comrade of the magnificent Puerto Rican revolutionary Loita Lebron – who took me under her wings and tutored me in the art and science of political struggle. I was also heard by the Reverend Doctor Leon Sullivan – an activist Baptist preacher whom Minister Farrakhan calls “The Lion of Zion.”  Doctor Sullivan hired me to teach a black history course in the basement of his church.  It was in those sessions that I met Max Stanford aka Dr. Muhammad Ahmed, who convinced me to join him in founding the Revolutionary Action Movement – RAM – in Philly during 1962.  This was the first organization to openly advocate armed struggle in the US and would give birth to the Black Panthers of Oakland when a RAM cadre recruited Bobby Seales and Huey Newton into our ranks.

When Dr. Sullivan founded the Opportunities Industrialization Centers as part of President Johnson’s “War on Poverty,” created by the passage Economic Opportunity Act of 1965, he hired me to design a “Minority History” component to the curriculum of the adult education program.  Having grown up in West Virginia reading the texts of the pioneering historian of black America Dr. Carter G. Woodson, a fellow West Virginian and Harvard trained scholar who founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, Reverend Sullivan was convinced that oppressed peoples needed to know their history to fortify themselves for the freedom struggle.

The program I developed, which was mainly Afro-American and African history, but contained units on Afro-Latinos and Native Americans, was adopted by 100 OIC centers across America. This led to my being hired by school boards to lecture to school teachers about the rationale and methods for teaching black history.

This work led to my becoming a founding member of the WEB DuBois Department of Black Studies – with a Pan-African perspective in the spirit of Arturo Schomburg  –  the first free standing, degree granting, Black Studies Department in the World!   Hence, needless to say, I can never pay my debts to Senor Schomburg.

However my longtime friend and former neighbor, the late Max Bond, a brilliant architect who took his degree from Harvard at 19 years old, made an effort toward paying that debt on behalf of the Afro-American people when he designed the new building that now houses the Schomburg Center.  “I want to design a building that flows like a John Coltrane solo” he told me.  And as far as I can tell ….he did!  Check it out…it’s good for your mind, body and soul!

Max Bond’s Schomburg Center

Schomburg Center - outside

An exterior view

Inside the Schomburg Collection

Schomburg Center Inside

A quiet place to contemplate the past, present and future of the Black World


Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
June 9, 2013