Archive for the Cultural Matters Category

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

The Obama’s Address Black Graduates

Posted in Cultural Matters, Guest Commentators with tags on June 1, 2013 by playthell


Three Wise Men: A Great Moment

 Stressing the Virtues of Education and Family

Both President Barack Obama and First Lady Michele Obama chose to give commencement addresses at historically black colleges.  The President spoke at Morehouse College and the First Lady addressed the graduates at Bowie State University.  Presidents and First Ladies are bombarded with requests to speak at commencements and the selection of historically black colleges and the messages conveyed dramatizes the symbolic significance of having a black family in the White House.

In Michele Obama’s commencement address to the Bowie graduates, she was critical of a certain aspect of black culture that is anti-intellectual.  The First Lady mentioned that the notion of a black child with a book was behaving white and was counter-productive.  She encouraged the graduates to struggle against that kind of negativity and stressed how vital it was for a higher percentage of members of the black community to be attending college.

President Obama in his Morehouse address highlighted the need to break the cycle of broken families.  He mentioned that even though his mother as a single parent was heroic and his maternal grandparents paid an important role in his upbringing, he regretted the absence of a father in his life.  The President of the United States revealingly stated that on his death bed, he would not be thinking about the legislation that was passed during his presidency but the quiet moments that he spent with his wife and his two daughters.

Barack and his Beloved Girls!
A Quintessential Family Man

There is an unquestionable thirst in the black community for higher education.  Prior to the democratization of higher education in America around the 1970s, the black historical colleges like Bowie, Morehouse, Spelman, Howard and Fisk played the predominant role in giving African-Americans access to higher education.  During those years, Caribbean students benefited from the existence of these black historical colleges.  Institutions like Howard University were instrumental in providing Caribbean scholars, like Eric Williams, the necessary education that made them into historical trail-blazing figures.

Our brilliant First Lady

imagesCA5C1MGT Telling the truth and inspiring the youths

The First Lady is correct that a greater number of African-Americans need to attend college but despite the rising cost of higher education those numbers have been growing.  For students graduating with associate degrees in 1999-2000, there were 60,221 and by 2009 to 2010, that figure increased to 113,905 which amounted to 10.9 percent of the associate degrees conferred in that year.

For the four year degree, from 1999 to 2000, 108,013 African-Americans completed the course and from 2009 to 2010, that figure was 164,844.  That latter figure amounted to 9.0 percent of the bachelors degree conferred during that period.  From the vantage point of gender from 1999 to 2000, 69.6 percent of the degrees conferred were females and from 2009 to2010 that percentage was 60.7 percent.

Traditionally, black enrollment on the graduate level tends to fall off precipitously but that has changed.  In the 1999-2000 period, 36,696 master’s degrees were conferred on African-Americans.   By 2009 to 2010, there was remarkable growth as 76,468 master’s degrees were conferred amounting to 12.5 percent of the distribution.  Again, one sees the potency of the black female that from a gender perspective in the latter years, 71.1 percent of master’s degrees were conferred on black women.

Julius Nyerere was fond of stating in respect to the Third World and the First World “While they walk, we must run”.  In the world of higher education, black men are not marking time but black women are outpacing them.

The President and the First Lady were stressing the importance of higher education as its acquisition has become nigh indispensable in competing in the increasingly competitive labor market.  The American economy has become more high-tech and low-tech jobs are either disappearing or do not pay a living wage to raise a family.

The Bureau of Labor statistics provides us with the data that correlates education to weekly income and to unemployment.  The higher the level of education, the less likely that an individual will be unemployed; the unemployment rate for a high school drop-out is 12.4 percent and average weekly wage is $471.00.  For a high school graduate, the rate of unemployment is above the average at 8.3 percent.  A college graduate had an unemployment rate of 4.5 percent and aweekly earnings of $1,066.00.  With education the chances of a worker earning a living wage is greatly enhanced.

Neither the President nor the First Lady addressed the troubling issue of stagnation of wages and the severe problem of inequality.  The graduates have been exhorted to further humanize American society. If Bowie and Morehouse educated their graduates properly, they will know the “civil rights” struggle of their generation is to put the Genie of inequality back into the bottle so more Americans, educated or uneducated, can achieve the American dream.


Dr. Basil Wilson

Queens, New York

June 1, 2o13

At The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame!

Posted in Cultural Matters, Music Reviews with tags , , , , on May 20, 2013 by playthell

              rock-and-roll-hall-of-fame-2013-15-1024     Q!  Still On the Block Droppin Science

 Rockin into History

The Rock and roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony was a remarkable evening by any accounting.  It was an evening of moving speeches, joyful reveries and reflections on the lives and works of the goddesses and Gods of American popular music; music that won hearts and influenced musicians around the world.  The argument about what represents art, and what’s mere commercial trash, is a long and tortuous one and I harbor no conceit that I can resolve it here; although I do believe that it is possible to distinguish between the two.  The problem is that few among us possess the combination of intelligence, taste, objectivity, technical knowledge and open mindedness to pull it off.  And even fewer are capable of recognizing when one succeeds or fails at it.

Hence engaging in such speculations are risky business; therefore I shall seek refuge in Duke Ellington’s axiom: “There are only two kinds of music: good and bad.”  I always took Duke to mean that each genre of music should be evaluated by its own standards, and by that measure there is greatness in every type of music.  Since this was the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction fete, the artists who performed were the crème de la crème of the Rock/Rhythm & Blues/Rap world.  And they really rocked the house!

There were several intoxicating highs and magic moments throughout the evening, as living legends were showered with extravagant panegyrics, then told their stories and thanked their fans for the love and support even as they were thanked for the memories.  All of the inductees had provided the background sounds to which their fans choreographed the drama of their lives.  Priceless memories of halcyon days and bright moments are enshrined in their melodies and verse; a song poetry that engages life’s triumphs and tribulations, the literature of the masses.

There were so many great songs sung on this occasion, and so many stellar performances, the choice of any act for special praise is almost as much a matter of personal taste as artistic merit. That said, my favorite performances were Jennifer Hudson’s tribute to the great disco diva Donna Summers; the tribute to Bluesman Albert King by the virtuoso blues guitarists John Mayer and Gary Clark Jr.; the reunion jam by hard rocker inductees Heart; Public Enemy, who were also enshrined in the Hall, brought the noise and reminded us when Hip Hop was attempting to address serious issues.

Usher’s evocation of Michael Jackson’s performance of Rock With Me was superb, and inductee Randy Newman’s performance of his marvelous song poetry while holding down the piano chair in the band, was beyond category.   Although songwriter Carol King can’t really sing – not when compared to real singers such as Jennifer Hudson – like her fellow tunesmith Bob Dillon, the power of their songs carry the performance.  And in any case she is Carol King, a living legend in the business of music, so her appearance of itself was a highlight of the evening.

Jennifer Hudson! 
28th Annual Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame Induction Ceremony - Show
Rockin the House


28th Annual Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame Induction Ceremony - Show

They broke the Gender barrier in Hard Rock
 John Mayer and Gary Clark Jr. Stomping the Blues
28th Annual Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Induction Ceremony - Show
Albert Kings Legacy Lives on

 Added to the great musical performances were some moving oratory; both in the nominating speeches and the responses of the Inductees.  Among the standouts from a torrent of eloquent tributes was the pioneering lady guitarist from Heart, whose induction speech recalled the limited employment possibilities for women when she began her career.  She summed it up by saying “women weren’t expected to rock,” and celebrated the vast distance women had traveled over the last half century.

A silver haired Randy Newman’s speech was riddled with self-deprecating humor while tossing a few barbs at the arbiters of popular music that decide who is worthy of induction in the Hall of Fame by suggesting that he had begun to believe that he would have to die to get in.   Cheech and Chong were outrageously funny in their induction speech for the legendary Producer Lou Adler, pointing out that he produced the greatest rock and roll stoner movie of all time, “Up In Smoke,” and promoted the path breaking June 1967 Monterey Music Festival that presented white acts like Janice Joplin and the Grateful Dead, to black acts such as Rhythm and Blues star Otis Redding, and Jimi Hendrix, the father of electric rock guitar.

A stunningly beautiful Kelly Rowland, groomed and decorated to the height of fashion, offered impassioned praise songs in behalf of Donna Summers’ induction that was one of the evening’s brightest moments.  Spike Lee and the legendary artist/activist Harry Belafonte both gave moving speeches on behalf of “Public Enemy,” the first Rappers to be enshrined in the Hall.  Spikes’ remarks were thoughtful and told us how he selected Chuck D. to write the signature tune for his innovative movie “Do The Right Thing.”  Chuck D. responded with a thoughtful and moving speech, in which he addressed all those who disparage Hip Hop as art even as he expressed deep gratitude to those who chose them for induction.  Clearly he saw it as a vindication for Rap music as a genre.

Public Enemy Brings tha Noise

28th Annual Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame Induction Ceremony - Show

But Are They Real  Revolutionaries?

Despite the usual eloquence and intelligence of Harry Belafonte’s remarks, he quickly transgressed the boundaries of legit compliment and lapsed into hyperbole as he declared the group “revolutionaries.”  I don’t know how much Harry really knows about the group, but I was writing about the Rap scene at the Village Voice when they burst upon the scene in the 90’s and addressed that claim at the time.

Some people had begun to argue that Rappers were the new spokesmen for black people, the 90’s counterparts of 1960’s leaders such as student protests leaders Stokley Carmichael and H. Rap Brown. And they pointed to Chuck D. and his rapid exhortatory style as evidence or their claim.  Some even compared them to Dr. King and Minister Malcolm X.  I thought such talk was dangerous folly at the time and I am even more convinced today.

To begin with the sixties leaders were involved in actual struggle, organizing people to empower themselves against vicious foes who demonstrated on numerous occasions that murder was an acceptable method of suppressing their efforts to induce change through peaceful struggle.  And the SNNC organizers worked for subsistence wages in the most violent areas of the south.  And leaders like Malcolm and King spent many years studying – in theory and practice – preparing for their leadership roles in a movement that changed the most powerful nation in the world – and they were both murdered on the job.

To refer to Public Enemy as “revolutionaries” is to cheapen their sacrifice.  Harry should have known better, as a performing artist himself he should know that most writers of protest songs are working from inspiration and intuition, rather than an in-depth understanding of the problems they sing about.  And they are clueless as to how to go about solving them.

The apex of the evening for me was the induction of Quincy Jones.  In an elaborate introduction by Oprah Winfrey – in which she pointed out that not only had Quincy produced the two biggest selling records in history – Michael Jackson’s Thriller and We Are The World, which featured the biggest acts in the business – Oprah reminded us that Quincy has been nominated for the Grammy 71 times and won it 27 times, the most in the history of the prestigious award.  Then Quincy walked humbly to the stage.

Since he is used to making his statements with music, Quincy’s remarks were simply and to the point.  Yet despite the absence of oratorical flourishes, no statement uttered on this evening prolific with verbal extravagance was more moving or weighted with gravitas.  He began with a tongue in cheek signification about finally being discovered after nearly 70 years in the music business.  Then he became deadly serious as he told us how he grew up in a Chicago neighborhood where Al Capone’s gang operated and constantly finding the bodies of murder victims lying about.

He assured us that he was heading for a similar fate, the grave yard or prison, although he was only eleven!  Then one night while participating in a burglary he stumbled across a piano.  He sat down and pressed the keys and it changed his life.  At that moment he decided that he wanted to learn how to play music.  It was obviously the best decision he ever made because his mastery of music rewarded him with a fairy tale life that took him all over the world and it seemed like he spoke to everybody twice.  It was a gift that never stopped giving.

The highpoint of this extraordinary testament to the magic power of music came when pointed out that his greatest lessons came from masters like Duke, Ellington, Count Basie, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and his brilliant contemporary and life-long friend Ray Charles.  Quincy Jones went on to excoriate the music critics and cultural historians for not giving these great master musicians their props, despite the fact that their contribution to 20th century music is second to none.

He looked into the camera and declared to the world that he is certain a hundred years hence historians will correctly view them as America’s version of Mozart, Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, et al.  Then Quincy told the surprised audience, who had come to worship at the altar of “Rock and Roll,” that everything they do comes from gospel, blues, and Jazz which is the basis of the world’s most popular music – whatever name they choose to call it.  To which I uttered a hearty “AMEN!”

 Back In The Day


The Master at Work!

 Quincy and Michael

 quincy-jones-320  II

They Made History!



Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

May 20, 2013


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