Archive for the Music Reviews Category

Freedom Music that Inspired South Africans

Posted in Cultural Matters, Music Reviews, You Tube Classics with tags , , on August 19, 2016 by playthell
Maz and Abey IIRevolutionaty Music: Background sound to the Liberation Movement

The Sound Heard Around the World!

The videos posted below  brings to mind the role both Max Roach and Amonata Moseka played in the arts movement of South Africa. I say this because I got to know about Max and Amonata as a very young boy. What they did for African Americans, they also did very effectively for the arts and music in South Africa. I actually learned and got to see Max’s influence in many drummers of the early fifties and sixties in South Africa, like Gordon Mfandu, Early Mabuza, Louis Mofolo, and countless drummers who collected his music, and played like Max, emulated and refined some of his licks and so forth;

Then there was the ladies who sang in the sultry notes of Aminata  Moseka, singers like Dolly Rather, Dorothy Masuka, Thandi Klaasen, and of the younger generation, Sibongile  Khumalo – daughter of Khabi Mgoma who was the conductor of the Ionian Choir of Africans in South Africa.  He would go on to become the Director and curator of Dorkay House, lcated on Elloff Street in Johannesburg.   Dorkay House was the Hub of African Jazz musicians and music students Dorkay House was situated next to BMCC, where all the artist – painters, poets, dramatist, et al were practicing their artistic endeavors.

Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln

Max and Abbey

Father and Mother of the Black Arts Movement

These institutions were very influential in spreading what Max and Abbey were doing for the arts and music world in the USA. Max’s 78 rpm’s and LPs were exchanged amongst the artists, and we, the children of some of these musicians, were encouraged to go to BMCC to learn about up and coming painters and sculptors. Some of my young friends took piano, drum and other instrumental lessons in Dorkay House.

Khabi Mgoma, after his creation of the Ionian Classical Music choir, went on to teach in Natal. But before he left he served as the Director of Dorkay House, and this was frowned upon by the Apartheid Goons who wanted to suppress any sign of modern cultural nationalism among blacks. We children from the townships who loved Jazz got to listen to and watch our African Brothers and uncles practice the new licks from Max Roach, while hanging out with many artists like Dumile Feni, Fikile Magadlela and Solly Bobela, and so forth.

They all came out of that mix.   BMCC played a major role in churning out these young musicians and artists.. Dorkay House was also a hangout for the Musicans /Artists, etc  who played Billiards at BMCC.   It is from such settings that I got to hear and know about Max and Amonata Moseka.

Musicians played his LPs on their gramophones and newly acquired Hi-Fi Radio system. Although we grew up listening to the great drummer Philly Jo Jones and other contemporaries, Max topped the bill for our listening pleasure. This was long before there were the Jazz Clubs that have become a staple since the coming to Power of the ANC. For us, Jazz clubs during my teenage years was hanging out with all types of artists and musicians, and it was from such esteemed people, that I developed a reverence for Jazz that has stayed with me to this day.

As For Leroi Jones, I got to know him from his book, “Blues People”, but I will reserve my comments for now regarding this book. Anyway, we did not read Jazz, only form Magazines like ‘Down Beat”, but the experience of living with, hanging out, and  listening to musicians from a very young Age.  The intoxicating sound of Jazz reaffirmed the oceanic connections that we had with our African bothers, specifically in the US.   I know the influence of the “African Jazz Art society” was certainly felt in South Africa because I remember that my father used to get information on them.

Living within the Jazz Milieu of Apartheid South provided a kind of spiritual refuge…where our souls could dance freely, transcending the physical oppressions of the House of Bondage that our beautiful country had become. Thus the powerful race conscious music of Max and Amonata – such as the “Freedom Suite: We Insist Freedom Now”- made life worth living for many of us here in South Africa.

Those who fought and defeated the apartheid regime are still affected by their cultural contributions more than I can put into words. Max and Amonata was it for us, especially my Age group.   I am older now, but I still listen to my pristine Vinyl recordings of their music and am still inspired by the art of the politically conscious Jazz Giants.  All one need do to understand why is to check out their performance on the videos below.

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Freedom Day!

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Cosmic Freedom Sounds!

Max Roach and South African Pianst Dollar Brand

May the Circle Remain Unbroken!

The Struggle Continues….
Skhokho 
South African Revolutionary
August 1, 2016

Wynton is The Greatest!

Posted in Cultural Matters, Music Reviews, You Tube Classics with tags , , on August 2, 2016 by playthell
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Maestro Marsalis at work

The Evidence on Video and Audio

The great composer, arranger, bandleader and trumpeter Gerald Wilson once told me emphatically during an interview: “Wynton Marsalis is the greatest trumpeter in the world!” And as a failed trumpeter who retained a passionate love for the instrument, as well as an acute appreciation for the formidable obstacles and treacherous pitfalls which confronted the aspiring artist that attempted to master it, I wholeheartedly agreed.

As a serious lover of complex instrumental music I had listened to many great trumpeters in Jazz and European concert music – the former a New World invention, a 20th century art that expressed the Afro-American love of freedom as well as the quintessential American ideals of Democracy, Personal Liberty and Innovation. The latter a great art music from the Old World of Europe that was already centuries old, and reflected the hierarchal and highly formalized character of the societies that produced it. And although both musical idioms employ the same instrument, and the music they make is based on the same system of melody and harmony – a European invention that produced sublime sounds by their great master composers – the two musical forms were profoundly different in instrumental technique, compositional structure and artistic philosophy.

In the classical music of Europe the instrumentalist is a vehicle for the ideas of the composer. And if they perform in symphony orchestras, operas or chorales they are also subjected to the dictates of tyrannical composers. Hence in European concert music the creativity of the instrumentalist is severely circumscribed. Everything from tempo, intonation and interpretation of the music is dictated the composer and enforced by the conductor with an iron fist.  Hence conformity to tradition and achieving excellence based upon well-established standards of performance is the objective to which the successful artists must aspire.

Conversely, the art of Jazz performance demands that the performer seek their own voice, follow their personal muse, and create something new under the sun.  Furthermore the music must swing to the clockwork rhythms of the unique machine age milieu in which it was born…the most modern civilization the world had ever seen.  Hence all Jazz is modern music.  That’s why visual artists from American Abstract Expressionist Jackson Pollard and Wilheim de Kooning, to European masters of Modernism such as Pablo Picasso and Salvadore Dahli lionized their music.

The difficulty of mastering both musical idioms is self-evident in the fact that of all the great musicians that have lived in the world there are so few that have achieved virtuosity in both that we can count them on our fingers and toes. Flautist Hubert Laws, Trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, pianists Chucho Valdez and Herbie Hancock, bassists Ron Carter, Carlos del Pino, Richard Davis and Ortiz Walton first among them. However Mr. Marsalis is the only musician on any instrument who has won the coveted Grammy for performances in both genres.  And he has achieved this impossible feat nine times!  Four were for “Best Classical Performance” and five for “Best Jazz Performance.”

For this presentation I have chosen one of the most difficult instrumental pieces from each genre where Wynton is featured as a soloist.  Added to this are two performances with Wynton as accompanist to a singer…a fine art unto itself.  For the instrumental Classical repertoire I have selected “The Carnival of Venice,” and for the Jazz performance I have chosen “Cherokee.” As to the difficulties posed by the first piece suffice it to say that when trumpeters auditioned for the great United States Marine Band, billed as “The Greatest Brass Band in the World” – under the direction of its founder and premiere composer Maestro John Phillip Sousa – who wrote such enduring works as El Capitan, Semper Fidelis, Anchors Away! And the immortal Stars and Stripes Forever – “The Carnival of Venice “ was the piece that they were required to play.

This is because Arbans’ Carnival presents the trumpeter with a series of obstacles that requires mastery of all the technical problems posed by trumpet performance: Legato and staccato phrasing; triple tonguing, circular breathing, fingering the keys, exquisite timing, embouchure and intonation. Cleary Wynton masters them all…and with ease!  This is a heroic achievement, because a trumpet after all is just some twisted brass pipes with a hard metal mouthpiece and only three keys!  Yet it is capable of playing all the notes in the musical lexicon.

This amazing feat is achieved by manipulating sound from the way one blows into the instrument, which is to say mastering embouchure.  It is such a marvelous feat the only reason that great athletes such as Michael Jordon and Russell Wilson attract more fans that Wynton is because more people understand the greatness of what they do. Everybody has had some experience playing sports – if only because physical education is a required component of every school curriculum…and sadly instrumental music is not.  However to grasp the brilliance of Wynton’s performance on Carnival, one need only read the comments of trumpet players from all over the world under the video and note their astonishment – one even said that “suicide” would be easier and a lot less painful that the epic failure one would experience trying to duplicate this performance!”

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 Cherokee, the Jazz selection, was the piece that the hep cats at Minton’s Playhouse threw on Charlie “Yardbird” Parker to prove his mettle when he showed up at Minton’s Playhouse from Kansas City “looking country” totin his alto-sax in a cardboard case.  But when he took out his axe and begin to “cut heads” with his complex, erudite and original musical statements, Bird astonished everybody who witnessed it.  Dizzy Gillespie, a key figure in the aggregation of musical rebels who congregated in Minton’s and experimented with new ideas, said when he heard Bird he thought: “There it is, this is the sound we have been searching for.”  He said that they had bits and pieces of the music that would become world famous as Be-bop, and Bird filled in the gaps and brought the whole thing together.

From that musical communion came a genre of Jazz that would change the way musicians heard and played music all over the world. The artistic challenges Bop presented intrigued musicians from the great to near great to apprentices.  If I had to sum up Bird’s achievement I would say that he did for the world of music what Einstein did for theoretical physics: change the relationship between time and space forever.

The great writer Ralph Ellison, a well-schooled trumpet player competent in both the classical repertoire – he was a music major at Tuskegee, where he studied with the outstanding Afro-American composer in the classical European style but with an Afro-American voice. William Dawson – and was also grounded in the hard swinging blues style of the “Stomp” that was popular among the “Territorial Bands” that played in his native Oklahoma City – bird hailed from nearby Kansas City.

Ellison, was so astonished and overwhelmed by what he head in Minton’s that he wrote “They were playing be-bops…I mean re-bopped be-bops.” The drummers had abandoned the steady bass drum pulse that was so essential to the dancers who got down to the Stomp, that Ellison was horrified by the seemingly free form complexity of their rhythms and described them as “frozen faced introverts dedicated to chaos!”

The experience of hearing this new music called “Be-Bop” invented in Harlem’s Minton’s Playhouse by players like trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie, pianist Thelonious Monk, bassist Oscar Pettiford, drummer Kenny “Klook” Clarke and others that he gave up playing the trumpet and became a writer -.one of the greats.  So music’s lost was literature’s gain.

When listening to Cherokee, remember that essential to the genius of Jazz is not only the requirement of virtuosity on the part of each instrumentalist…but one must be able to compose complex music while swinging the blues over chord changes  at the SPEED OF THOUGHT!!!  Hence the speed at which Wynton is playing adds to the magic of it all!  So Kick back and check out the marvelous vibes from the horn of Maestro Marsalis…THE GREATEST TRUMPETER IN THE WORLD!!!

Chillin Back Stage
Wynton in Berkley After a triumphant concert at U-Cal Berkeley
Click to see: THE CARNIVAL OF VENICE

Click to see: CHEROKEE
https://youtu.be/3blL4v-cY18
Boroque Duets: Wynton and Kathleen Battle

Watch Wynton Accompany Jazz Great Sarah Vaughn

Watch Wynton Warm up before a Concert

The concert featured legendary pianist Ahmad Jamal with the JALC Orchestra

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Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
August 1, 2016
***Cover Photo by Frank Stewart
U-Cal Berkeley Photo by: Playthell Benjamin

Stompin the Blues

Posted in Music Reviews with tags , , on May 29, 2016 by playthell

Albert Murray--classic photo

Elegant in Style and thought
Memories of Mr. Murray… a Modern Renaissance Man

From the first time I was introduced to Albert Murray by Larry Neal – a distinguished poet, Critic, teacher of literature at Yale and founding father of the Black Arts Movement – I knew he was the real deal; a first class intellect in the possession of a man whose elegance of style and manner was exceeded only by his eloquence and erudition.  Albert Murray was a marvelous mixture of unique virtues, and the span of his interests was such that he met the measure of a modern Renaissance Man.  Alas, this is a much abused and misused term; most of the time those who are called “Renaissance Men” are mere polymaths.

The two are as often confused as the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution; folks are always quoting from one and attributing it to the other, just as one is inclined to confuse any person that is smart in several subjects, the Polymath, with a Renaissance Man.  Yet the distinction of the Renaissance Man is that they are not only knowledgeable in several subjects but they transcend the boundaries between and science and art.

A brilliant, insightful and original critic of music, literature and art Albert Murray was equally at home discussing the science of military aviation, of which he was a Professor; the difference between the orchestrations of the Ellington and Basie Bands; the idiomatic nuances and philosophical insights of the Blues; the Sweet Science of Sugar Ray Robinson in the boxing ring; the meaning,  magic and heroism of “blues idiom dancing;” the black literary tradition and its relationship to the western canon, or the au courant trends in fashion – which was conspicuous in the elegant manner in which he groomed and decorated himself. These are the attributes of a modern Renissiance Man, and I would argue if Leonardi Di Vinci is the classic model, Professor Murray fits the modern mold.

It was precisely his knowledge of art and science that enabled him to critique the works of Social Scientists with such unique insights. Murray argued that their studies tended to promote a “folklore of white Supremacy” and a “fakelore of black pathology.”  His critiques of the much celebrated works by Dr. Gunnar Myrdal and Dr. Kenneth B. Clarke are classic cases in point. An American Dilemma – a lavishly funded massive sociological treatise on race relations in America authored by the distinguished Swedish Social Economist Gunnar Myrdal – is chock full of statistics of every kind and was universally acclaimed as the most objective and informative scholarly tome ever produced on race in America.

However Professor Murray contemptuously observed that it was a waste of money, pointing out that any study of Afro-Americans that failed to interrogate the meaning of the Blues in our culture was worthless – in fact he called the researchers “mere Social Survey technicians” and declared their statistical method of analysis “an elaborate fraud!”

He also dismissed the claims of Dr. Kenneth Clark – a famous black social-psychologist of Caribbean back ground – whose research in the famous “Dolls Study” had helped convince the Supreme Court Justices to outlaw racial segregation in public schools in the Brown Decision.  Yet Mr. Murray boldly denounced Dr. Clark’s much celebrated study of Harlem, “Dark Ghetto” as a book written by “A Negro who hates himself.” Murray argued that things in Harlem couldn’t be as bad as the portrait Clark painted “even if half the residents robbed the other half every night.”

Murray’s caustic criticism of these texts came as a shock to me, for I had relied so heavily on sociologists in analyzing the condition of black folk in America. Murray not only dismissed THEM….but also trained his critical cannons on some much celebrated black novelists of the time.  He declared if Harlem was as bad as James Baldwin said it was it could never have produced him! And when downtown book reviewers declared Claude Brown’s bestselling novel “Manchild in the Promised Land” an authentic portrayal of life in Harlem, Mr. Murray told them it was no such thing.

It was the story of one Negro growing up in Harlem “and evidently had a hard time doing so” he said.  Professor Murray pointed out that Brown’s book tells one nothing about what it’s like to be Sugar Ray Robinson; the Society Editor of the Amsterdam News, a Surgeon at Harlem Hospital, Duke Ellington, Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, or one of the people who operate the most complex mass transportation system in the world!   Mr. Murray also warned us about calling Harlem a “ghetto,” pointing out that this was a term that defined Jewish communities in Eastern Europe, and suggested that its use Afro-american activists in describing Harlem was the result of “too much pillow talk between black intellectuals and their Jewish lovers.”

Mr. Murray was no less candid in his criticism of Richard Wright for painting such a bleak portrait of black life in Chicago in Native Son, while never allowing us a glimpse of the elegance, high art and heroism that took place at the Grand Terrace Ballroom every night when Earl Fatha Hines struck up his hard swinging orchestra and the stylish black, brown and beige crowd took to the dance floor.

These attitudes toward those who would play us cheap, portray us as less than we are, regardless of race, inform all of Mr. Murray’s writings. Where others see only a bare cupboard Professor Murry envisions a grand cornucopia of cultural riches sufficient to shape the sensibilities of the most powerful civilization in the history of the world; a sensibility best expressed in Afro-American music and dance – bewitching black arts that prizes personal freedom, promotes innovation, and practices a symbiotic relationship between musicians and dancers that is a blueprint for democratic relations. All of America’s most cherished values…”America as she is swung” in Mr. Murray’s parlance. It is such a thing of grace and beauty no wonder it has made Afro-Americans the most imitated people in the world!

The Elegance of Blues Idiom Dancing

Photo XV- Jazz Dancers

Stomping the Blues!

Famous big-band and jazz composer and leader, Count Basie, directing his orchestra on stage. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Yet by virtue of the fact that he remained a well-mannered southern colored gentleman at heart, like my Uncle Jimmy who was also a military officer and a southern gentleman, Mr. Murray thought it was bad manners to boisterously proclaim Afro-American superiority – even where it is clearly obvious – such as militant cultural nationalists of my generation felt compelled to do.

During the Harlem Renaissance people often said:Nobody enjoys being a Negro as much as Langston Hughes.”  Well, I suspect Mr. Murray may have enjoyed it even more. One could argue that his life was “a fully orchestrated blues statement,” a phrase he coined.  In the theater of my imagination I can see Mr. Murray “Truckin” through the Pearly Gates waving his finger, while Basie’s band wails on Moten Swing, a strutting magnificent sound performed with the “velocity of Celebration” and all the grandeur befitting such a man as Professor Murray.

In his linguistic improvisation and daring word play, seamlessly blending the sophisticated with the vernacular, his ironic signifying and heroic optimism, Mr. Murray’s works are the literary counterpart of what the musicians he celebrates were doing: Stompin the Blues!  Yes life can be a low down dirty shame, but we gotta keep on swinging anyway!  These unique elements so blended in Albert Murray that I am convinced…. we will not see his like again.  And the intellectual legacy he left us will prove to be a priceless benefaction that can only grow more valuable with time.

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** This lecture was presented at a forum on Albert Murray honoring the centennial of his birth held a Jazz at Lincoln Center on May 24th 2016. It was preceded by a reading I gave from his book “South to a Very Old Place,” in the chapter titled “Mobile.”

 *** Photo of the Basie and by: © Bettmann/CORBIS

NOTE: Double Click on link to see the Basie band in concert

For a great treatise on Basie and his music see: “Good Morning Blues.”  This is the Autobiography of Count Basie as told to Albert Murray.
Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
May 28, 2016

Celebrating the Art of Jazz with Pizazz!

Posted in Cultural Matters, Music Reviews with tags , , , on May 19, 2016 by playthell
Jazz Men ditDrummer George Gary Led his hard Swinging Quartet

At the Central Brooklyn Jazz Coalition’s Annual Feast

From the moment I walked into the beautiful Weeksville Heritage Center I thought of my good friend Jo Ann Cheatum, who recently danced and joined the honored ancestors.  I had been thinking about Jo Ann a lot lately, because I have a solo Photographic exhibition on display at the Dwyer Cultural Center in Harlem, and I shot it with a camera given to me as a gift by Joan.

After looking at a couple of photos I shot to illustrate an article I wrote for her magazine Pure Jazz , a rare publication devoted to high quality journalism on the art of Jazz published by an Afro-American, she said “you have an eye for a good photograph, but you need a more advanced camera.”  A couple of weeks later she gave me one; it is the same camera that I shot the photos for this essay with.

 Jo Ann had also worked side by side with the founders of the Weeksville historical project that resulted in this venerable black community gaining landmark status. The Weeksville Heritage Center,  imaginatively designed with big spaces and large windows that enhances the feeling of openness, is one of the conspicuous fruits of their efforts. And finally, Jo Ann was a long time member and moving force of the Central Brooklyn Jazz Coalition and would surely have been sitting front and center when I took the podium to deliver the keynote address.  Like a welcome version of Banquo’s ghost her spirit was popping up everywhere.

Although it was the 17th annual CBJC banquet, this occasion was unique because it was free.  The leadership of the coalition made it clear that this was a benefaction to the supporters of their work, and was made possible by virtue of some very successful fundraising this past fiscal year.  In the announcement for the event there were explicit instructions to the guest that they should dress to the height of fashion…or a bit above it.  And they used a picture titled “The Bebop Dancers;” taken from my photo exhibition  “The Elegance of Afro-America, to set the standard.

The Bebop Dancers….
Photo XV- Jazz Dancers
Struttin their Stuff in Charlie Parker Park

After a meet and greet session in the large vestibule we were seated in the elegant dining room and treated to a swinging performance by the George Gary quartet. The band played straight ahead Jazz, no watered down quasi-rock or “easy listening” fusion music.  This was hard core Bop based swing – Bird and Dizzy’s thing!  It was hard to tell who was having the most fun, the musicians or the audience; it was a mutual admiration society….nothing but love.  It was one of those special occasions that musicians look forward to, an occasion where true symbiosis occurs between audience and performer – mutual thrills.

The menu was fine gourmet cuisine, artistically arranged and skillfully served on elegantly set tables.  The whole experience was designed to satiate the most epicurean taste.  A series of brief speeches that featured a formal Welcome by CBJC President Clarence Mosely and Executive Director/President of the Weeksville Heritage Center Ms. Tia Powell Harris, were offered up.  They were followed by remarks from  CBJC Treasurer Bessie Edwards, who gave an accounting of the financial health of the organization.

Ms. Edwards was followed by City Councilman Robert Cornegy. After a thoughtful speech reflecting on his love of Jazz and reminicing about old Jazz shrines in the Brooklyn he grew up in,  the Councilman shared with us how he had sucessfully cultivated a taste for Jazz music in his five kids.  And he heaped abundant praises upon the Central Brooklyn Jazz coalition and the Weeksville Heritage Center for their ongoing good works and the lavish banquet

When he was finished the Master of Ceremonies introduced me to the audience for the Keynote Address. They gave me the kind warm and enthusiastic reception that is usually reserved for cultural heroes and I was both energized and inspired when I took the podium.  My presentation consisted of two parts: Reading a wide ranging essay on the influence of Jazz, philosophically as well as musically on world culture.  I explained that Jazz as music captured the imagination of serious instrumentalists everywhere, and the values it embodies in its social organization and performance etiquette captured the imagination of intellectuals seeking a working democracy that promotes personal freedom and innovation.

Since the text is written and can be read by clicking the link at the bottom of this photo-essay I shan’t belebor it further here.  The second part of my presentation was a an extemporaneous critique of the feature film “Miles Ahead,”  a film about the great master trumpeter, band leader and Jazz innovator.  I explained that although I entered the theater wanting to love Mr. Cheedle’s film, excited that the story of this enigmatic Afro-American genius had finally made it to the movies, I was profoundly disappointed alas. For we never  As for the Banquet, all in all it was an enchanted evening and I had a ball!

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The Speakers

At banquet (2)

Playthell Spoke on the influence of Jazz on World Culture
The City Councilman

A Brooklyn Councilman Speaks

Spoke Eloquently of his long love Affair with Jazz
The Feast was permeated with beautiful People and Soulful Vibes

Seasoned Foxes III

Women of Substance: Bessie and Coalition Member

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At Banquet

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At Banquet Edit XX

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At the Banquet Edit III

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 At the Banquet Edit IV

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At the Banquet Edit VIII

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At the Banquet Edit XXI

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At the Banquet XI

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At the Banquet Edit XXIII

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At the Banquet Edit XIX

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The Band was Swinging Hard! 

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Bassist - Edit I

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the Pianist

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Rome Neal Spittin Verse

Rome Neal jumped up and Started Spittin Verse
The Band Played On….. 

Jazz Men Edit I

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And Oh How They Danced!

Rome Dancing VI

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Rome Dancing V

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Rome Dancing VII

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Rome Dancing IV

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Jazz Dancers Edit I

The Joint was Really Rockin!

Jazzmen Edit II

It was a Swingin Affair!!!

Double Click on Link to hear Miles, Trane and Cannonball

So what?

Click on Title “Jazz Around The World” for text to my speech 

Jazz Around The World!

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Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
May 17, 2016

Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra Swings Berkeley

Posted in Cultural Matters, Music Reviews, Photo-Essays with tags , , on November 17, 2015 by playthell

 

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Maestro Marsilis conducts the Boys in the Band

 An Evening of Gilded Memories and Divine Music

Standing in front of Zellerbach Hall waiting for the great Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra to hit, my mind was filled with random thoughts; all provoked by being in that particular place on that particular occasion.  The University of California at Berkley has a unique niche in my memory bank.  I first became aware of this campus in the 1960’s, over half a century ago, when it had a dual identity both as a center for radical ideas and activism, and the University with the most Nobel Laurates on its faculty.

Furthermore it was located in a part of America whose exotic manscapes and landcapes looked as if they had emerged from a fairy tale to my East Coast eyes.  The aura of “radical chic” was enhanced by the fact that Berkeley was located just across the Bay from San Francisco, then the home of the Hippy Counter-Culture which I had observed first hand upon my maiden voyage to the City, where I found myself living at the intersection of Haight and Ashbury.

The Square outside Zellenboch Hall
First Choice

It was as if I had stumbled into an alien world unbeknownst to me.  I had been raised in the racially segregated black community in St. Augustine Florida, where I was socialized on the values of the “Talented Tenth;” the enlightened striving class who set high standards for the Afro-American community and guided us away from “the worst in our own and other races” as Dr. DuBois had called upon them to do in 1903.

And I made my maiden voyage to San Francisco directly from the comparatively staid and culturally conservative environment of Philadelphia.  I had driven up from Los Angeles with a young mathematician who had worked on the Appollo Space Project plotting maps around the moon. And her sister, a young MD, lived the Haight-Ashbury District.  It was the now iconic “Summer of Love,”  a time and place where like the song says “anything goes.”  It was sex, love, acid, Psydchelic rock music, and people were tuning on and tuning out. I was fairly shocked at the way white folks were carrying on in “the Haight.”  The few black folks I encountered were Jimi Hendrix acolytes, and at that time I thought Hendrix had lost his cotton pickin mind.

Me and the Mathematician

Playthell and Rose

Dr. Fine: My Sanfrancisco Guide

At the time I was a disciplined member of the leadership of the Revolutionary Action Movement – an armed underground movement of Afro-Americans which gave birth to the Black Panther Party of Oakland, a matter I have written about extensively elsewhere – and as a doctrinaire Maoist I viewed the entire counter-cultural movement as a mass exercise in bourgeois self-indulgence that only well off white folks could afford to fool with.  I was a soldier in the black struggle, a committed warrior intellectual who had been trained in the use of arms by the US military.

My first visit to the University of California Berkley was occasioned by an invitation to present a speech on the importance of Black Studies in the struggle to eradicate white racist ideology and behavior from American life.  Given the nature of the times – with massive urban riots in which it seemed that the torching of American cities had become common fare and the country was on the verge of race war – this subject matter was considered an urgent matter and Universities were trying to define a useful role they could play in resolving the racial crisis. Normally presenting this argument was easy work; I had already presented it with great success at universities and school boards across the country, including the Claremont Colleges and four of the campuses of the University of California.

But to my mind Berkeley was different.  I was all too aware that this was the incubator of the “Free Speech Movement,” an Ivory tower where great minds communed about perplexing problems in the social and physical world.  Hence when I walked through the imposing gates on Telegraph Ave and set foot on the campus I felt an intimidation that I had never felt before.  Nobody really knew me there yet I got a big audience because I was on the program with Afro-American writer Alex Haley, whose collaboration on “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” had made him the most famous author in America, and read around the world.

At the time Haley was a Writer-in-Residence at the university and was working on a new book that he called “Before the Anger,” but was later published as “Roots,” an epic saga about African slavery in America that became one of the bestselling books in the history of publishing and was made into a riveting blockbuster television saga that made ratings history.  As a devotee of Brother Malcolm, whom I knew well, and a big fan of the book, I was delighted to meet Mr. Haley, whom I thought had done America a spiritual benefaction by writing the “Autobiography.”

He was a warm and unpretentious southern brother that reminded me of church deacons that I had known in Florida.  I expressed my gratitude for his labors which he accepted with grace. As I waited to go on after his remarks, I pondered how to approach this audience, who routinely heard great minds hold forth in this space.  It was as if I suddenly had a revelation; I heard an inner voice say “What would John the Prophet Do?”

It was not the biblical prophet that I had in mind but the modern day sound sorcerer John Coltrane, whose music we revolutionaries were convinced was the sound track of the black Revolution.  And when he showed up at a speech of mine in North Philly at a rally organized by radical activist/Jazz Pianist John Churchville, a leader in the Northern Student Movement and we spent the rest of the evening rapping, I was convinced that we were right….Trane told me so.  “I say it all with my horn young brother,” he replied when I invited him to speak to a Black history class I was teaching in the basement of Mt. Zion Church, pastored by the Reverend Doctor Leon Sullivan, “The Lion of Zion!”

After pondering the question for a moment, I decided that if Trane was in my place he would come out and wail, knowing there was no profounder musical truth than that which he was preaching….so that’s what I did.   The audience bought what I was selling – being a skilled orator trained by my aunt Rosa, an exacting tutor, made the task a lot lighter – and they rewarded me with a standing ovation! All of these memories swirled around in my head as I waited for the concert to start in Zellerbach Hall.

Although I am a former history professor who left the profession for other endeavors, I have never lost my love for the study of history and how it can illuminate our understanding of present realities.  It is especially gratifying when you can reflect on events that you participated in that have now become important historical milestones and the people now famous whom you knew back when.

I found special satisfaction in how Black Studies have become a standard part of university curriculums across this nation. This was not always true; I know because I was a co-founder of the first free standing, degree granting, Black Studies Department in the world at UMass Amherst in 1969, just a couple of years after I spoke on this campus, and we were the first to incorporate Jazz Studies taught by seminal artists into the curriculum when we awarded full professorships to instrumentalists/Composers/bandleaders Max Roach and Archie Shepp.

I also have a deep pride in what the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra has made of itself since I was present at its inception and produced the most extensive media report on the opening of Jazz at Lincoln Center, presented on WBAI FM in New York. I have also worked on a book project with the world famous photographer Frank Stewart, who is the official photographer for the JALC Orchestra.

Titled “Magic Moments in the House of Swing,” the book documents some of the great performances in this Mecca of Jazz in words and pictures.  Some of my essays were written as program notes for important concerts at Rose Hall, and they were illustrated with Frank’s photos.  As I write the manuscript is finished but unpublished because publishers say a picture book is too expensive to publish correctly and books on Jazz don’t sell well enough for them to make the investment.

The slice of history that I was most conscious of that evening was a story told by Dr. Ortiz Walton – bassist extraordinaire, insightful music critic and Ph.D. in sociology – who had been a doctoral student when Duke Ellington and his Orchestra performed on campus circa 1966.   Walton – who would later write the great book “Music: Black, White and Blue” – was shocked and appalled by the absence of black students at the concert. In order to provide a scientific explanation for what was obvious evidence of a cultural disconnect Walton designed a questionnaire and administered it to the Black students at Berkeley, and the results provided evidence a cultural disaster!

The dominant answer of the black students was that they played past the concert because Duke Ellington’s band “didn’t play Black Music.”  Walton was astonished!  Duke Ellington, the greatest composer in the Afro-American musical tradition, had become a stranger to his progeny; a prophet without honor in his own land.  It was the predictable results of a music business driven by the imperatives of commerce rather than a commitment to promoting high culture, and a educational system that has either removed musical instruction altogether or continues to priviledge European concert music over the indigenous art music of America.

This experience led Walton to write two important books about music and the Afro-American tradition.  A musically ambidextrous virtuoso on the double bass violin, Walton was a principal bassist with the Cairo Symphony and also played with John Coltrane.  Like Wynton, he is a master of both musical Idioms.

Hence one of the things I paid close attention to was the number of black students, or young black people from whatever walk of life, who attended the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra concert.  Although half a century has passed since Duke’s band was here, and the world has turned upside down, black student disinterest in serious Afro-American art music has evidently remained pretty much the same. Here the old adage “the more things change the more they stay the same” applies.  The scant black presence at the concert dribbled off to near nothing when it came to young people, who were outnumbered by their elders despite, and among those that I talked to only one young couple were not musicians; the rest were all aspiring musicians.

However the diversity of the crowd and the young musicians who sought Wynton’s musical advice is eloquent testimony to the widespread influence of the Afro-American art of Jazz; which in its love of personal freedom and promotion of invention makes it the quintessentially American art. (see: “Jazz Around the World” on this site.)  And that art has never been on finer display than it was at Zellenbach auditorium on that enchanted evening.  The band, an aggregation of virtuosi on all instruments, was in fine form.  The ensemble play was perfectly balanced, with each musician contributing his unique voice to a musical tapestry composed of many intriguing colors.

The program moved effortlessly as the music went from the classic big band repertoire to the most modern Jazz styles; the entire tradition of complex Afro-American art music was traversed and each was true to the performance style of the period. The essence of Jazz is individual improvisation in conversation with the ensemble, which places the soloist at the center of the action.

Here the JALC orchestra offers an embarrassment of riches as each instrumentalist speaks with a highly original voice and individual style that moves the audience to repeated ovations.  I think the seeker would be hard pressed to find a Jazz orchestra that ever played the music better than this one, now or at any period in the past.

Maestro Marsalis: Leader of the Band
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The Brighest Star and Guiding Light

Wynton Marsalis, Pulitzer Prize winning composer and multiple Grammy winning trumpeter, remains the Orchestra’s guiding light as Artistic Director, as well as its most celebrated and inspirational performer.  When the orchestra sounded its last note the audience, hungry for more of these celestial blues drenched sounds that make body and soul dance, rose to its feet in a thunderous ovation and shouts of “Bravo!” rang out in the auditorium.

I have seen this Orchestra play many times; they are always excellent….and on this night in Berkeley they served up the music straight with no chaser, swinging hard and straight ahead.  The audience showed their love through vigorous applause when the musicians were on stage, and something akin to hero worship during the reception backstage when they got a chance to meet and greet them.  I was there, and I had my camera.  Below are some of my visual impressions of the evening.

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The sold out audience was mostly white, Asian…..
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………..and long in the tooth
 This couple were the only young black people……

Edit

…..who were not musicians
The Afro-Americans in attendance were Seasoned Fans

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Like Heidi Moore-Reynolds
Maestro Marsalis

Edited Version

Positions himself to meet and greet the crowd
And they came in droves

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Some just wanted to speak to the great artist
Other’s posed for Pictures

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A momento that, like fine wine, will grow more valuable with time
Other band members soon joined Wynton in the reception lounge

Ali edit

Ali Jackson shares tricks of the trade with a young drummer
Trombonist Don Gardner
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Imbibed Spirits with the adoring music lovers
A brilliant composer and arranger

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He always takes the time to talk with aspiring 
Alto Saxophonist / Arranger Ted Nash

 Edit III

Was right at home among the Cosmopolites
With Oakland’s City Council President Jane Doe on left

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And Sculptor/Professor Susannah Israel to his right
Sophisticated Ladies from all walks of life….

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……….vie for his Attention
 And Music students ask complex technical questions

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Demonstrating the proper embrocure for trumpet
Other times he conducts impromtu discourses

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Discussing weighty questions about music theory
The City Council President paid close attention

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And listened closely
So did Professor Israel

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Who gloried in the marvelous music and good company
Wynton autographed every program presented to him

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Most are musicians 
People from all backgrounds turn ot to hear the Band

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Proof that Jazz  lovers are EVERYWHERE!
And I was there with my Camera!
Wynton and Me - Copy - Copy - Copy
*************
Double click on links below to see the JALCO
Wynton and JALCO members tuning up before a concert
https://youtu.be/ZqtHqCIMyMs
Watch the Lincoln Center Orchestra in concert featuring Wayne shorter
https://youtu.be/yMFgqHuvF6U
Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
Text and Photos by: Playthell G. Benjamin
*** Cover photo and Wynton in Perormance by: Frank Stewart
****Photo of Playthell and Wynton by:Susannah Israel

Fronting for Uncle Charlie

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

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Promoter Darryl Anderson  and Mayor Todd Strange

This Could be the Start of Something Big!

When I was a very young man selling life insurance, my sales manager called me into his office one day and said “We really don’t offer benefits much different from a dozen other companies; the key to selling is to sell yourself, make the customer like you so that they will buy from you rather than the other guy.”  Riding around Montgomery Alabama wheeling and dealing with concert producer Kwaku Saunders, as he put the various pieces in place for a Charlie Wilson concert on November 7, I witnessed the truth of the manager’s claim.

We set out early, driving down from Atlanta at six in the morning, and from the moment we hit town he went to work.  The first stop on a crowded agenda was a press conference with the Mayor of Montgomery to announce the forthcoming concert and receive the Mayor’s personal welcome.  There was a slight chill in the clear morning  air as we were joined by the concert’s promoter Daryl  Anderson at Montgomery’s beautiful River Front Park, the venue where the concert will be held.

A Fabulous Venue for a Concert

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The producer will convert this elegant band shell into a state of the art sound stage

The Mayor was warm and exceedingly eloquent in his comments as the television camera’s rolled, employing terms like “ambiance” – with the proper French pronunciation – in his descriptions of the venue.  Listening to his southern drawl I had figured him for a country music fan, but the enthusiastic way spoke of Charlie Wilson’s forthcoming concert one would never know.  He sounded like a sho nuff soul man from way back in the chicken shack, cut from the same cloth as Elvis who was a huge fan of black music.

There were hearty smiles all around and a whole heap of back slapping. It was a portrait of good will as both sides congratulated each other for making the event happen. It was a portrait of a deal well done, because the essence of a successful deal is that both sides get what they want. For the Mayor and the promoter there was far more at stake than a single concert.

After explaining the complicated arrangement with the state that brought River Front Park into being, Mayor Strange pointed out that he had not found a way to make it pay.  Hence he was all ears for whatever the promoters had to say.  The promoter was seeking to promote a series of events this beautiful venue not just hit it and quit it…and this was seductive music to the Mayors ears  It sounded like a match made in Nirvanah, a splendid example of the art of deal making.

Although there are standard steps in successfully promoting a concert, securing the act and the venue being basic to the project, actually producing a successful public event that makes, rather than loses money, is far more art than science.  It involves being able to think on ones feet and sell the dream of a glorious evening when all will participate in a joyous occasion to various people who are vital to your success. In this instance it was a performance by the legendary song and dance man Charlie Wilson, with the lady killer crooner El Debarge as the opening act.

A few years ago promoting  concert featuring these two stellar performers would have been a piece of cake.  Although they are performing at a high level and some music critics, commentators and fellow musicians feel that the are better than ever, they appeal to an old school crowd that require more effort toget out than the youth market.  However among young musical performers its a different story; they know these artists because they were influenced by their work.    In fact, the nick name “Uncle Charlie” was bestowed on Wilson by Rappers who got their grove on listening to Charlie when he was the leader of the ultra-funky Gap Band.

Kwaku’s task was to sell this concert to the right demographic and see to it that everything is in order to deliver a great show, while satisfying the myriad demands of the artists contained in “riders” i.e. special clauses in their contracts. It was fascinating watching Kwaku as he artfully put all the pieces of this complex puzzle together so that things will move with the precision of clockworks.

Nobody does it better, as his splendid track record as an events producer will testify.  Kwaku has worked in every phase of the business first as an agent with Norby Walters – who taught him the tricks of the trade – then on to the Super agency William Morris.  From there he went into artist management – Mint Condition, The Sounds of Blackness, etc – and finally events production, where he produced Jazz in the Gardens for the city of Miami Gardens, taking it from a non-entity to the largest music festival in the South, attracting as many as 50,000 paying customers a night over several days.  He is one of the best in the business of putting performing artists on stage.

From the press conference with the Mayor we went straight away to a meeting of the Special Events office for the City of Montgomery.  Although the coming event and the promise of future events had a built in appeal, Kwaku still had to convince them to get on board for some complicated and potentially costly tasks.  Although he is a big guy, his luminous smile, soft spoken demeanor and abundant charm cast him as a jovial giant.  It is a winning combination; plus he can “talk a gopher outta his hole” as folks used to say when describing smooth talkers back in the day when I was growing up in Florida.

Kwaku got everything he wanted from them and we proceeded to the best hotel in town, where he also got the deal he wanted.  Then he worked out a peachy arrangement with the local Coca Cola distributor to supply soft drinks.  And it was on to meetings with a local promoter who was engaged for his expertise with the Montgomery market, then he worked out a deal with the local radio station.  It was like watching a great performing artist at work; a thing of beauty if you are into business deals.

By the time we headed back to Atlanta all the pieces of the puzzle were in place, and those who attend this concert are in for the time of their lives.  All that Uncle charlie and El Debarge will have to do come show time is walk out on stage and “break a leg” as they say in show business.  The front men will have done everything else – lights, sound, seating, food and drink concessions, security, seating, etc right down to supplying the guitar stands.  Now let the show begin on November 7th!

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What a Place for a Show!

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

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

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

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

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Take Your Choice
And then there’s Charlie!

CINCINNATI, OH - JULY 26: Charlie Wilson performs during the 2013 Macy's Music Festival at Paul Brown Stadium on July 26, 2013 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Stephen J. Cohen/Getty Images)

Large and in Charge

And El Debarge

El 5- EL DEBARGE

Driving the Ladies Crazy with his Soulful Tenor Voice
Kwaku Lays out the Master Plan
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Guiding them through Step by Step 
Its no Wonder the Mighty Three are Laughing
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They know they bout to rock da park with a hellified show!
The Promoter expresses gratitude to the Mayor and Montgomery’s Fans
DSCN8236 And promises many more to follow

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This is a multi-media Presentation, click on links below to see Artist
https://youtu.be/kCiRaZXe7AY
Charlie Wilson Live in Europe
 El DeBarge Live:  “All This Love
https://youtu.be/AXZ5HvjkaJ4
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Text and photos by: Playthell Benjamin
*** Except for Photos of Charlie Wilson and El Debarge
  • Charlie Wilson’s photo was shot by Steven Cohen
** El Debarge Photo was supplied by his management.

A Living Legend!

Posted in Cultural Matters, Logan Westbrooks: Living Legend, Music Reviews, Photo-Essays with tags , on October 25, 2015 by playthell

llf awards logan brenda (1)

Dr. Logan Westbrooks  recieves Vanguard Award from Brenda A. King

Living Legend foundation honors Logan Westbrooks

From the moment I heard that Logan Westbrooks had been chosen for the Vanguard Award by the Living Legends Foundation I decided to attend the ceremony.  Given the pioneering role he had played in advancing the position of black professionals at major companies by virtue of his success, I felt such recognition from his peers was long overdue.  Logan and I have been buddies for forty years and during that time I have witnessed his remarkable career from a front row seat.  It is a rare opportunity to watch somebody accomplish something that hasn’t been done before; to set out on a journey filled with obstacles without a map or compass yet successfully navigate their way.  When I first met Logan he was already at the top of his game as the Director of Special Markets for CBS Records, which, at the time, was the most iconic entertainment company in the business.

I remember that his office had a carnival like atmosphere with colorful streamers hanging from the ceiling and people running to and fro grooving to The Sound of Philadelphia; it seemed that everybody was having fun while they took care of business.  Logan had an open door policy where one could pretty much walk in and ask to speak with him.  And if they sounded like they had a good idea they could get an audience.  That’s how the Senegalese promoter Johnny Sekka convinced him to come to Senegal to attend a music festival featuring the Jacksons.  It was a marvelous model for conducting business and the proof of Logan’s methods was the steady string of hits that issued from his department that generated millions of dollars.

Among the acts that fell under the purview of Logan’s department were Earth, Wind and Fire, Sly Stone and especially the acts on the Philadelphia International label whose records were written and produced by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff and their gifted associates like Tommy Bell and Linda Creed.  Clive Davis, the Harvard trained music loving lawyer who headed the CBS Records Group, tells us in his book that Gamble and Huff started turning out hit records before the ink was dry on their contract with CBS.  The acts in Logan’s department would dominate the charts during the 1970’s; Gamble and Huff went on to induction into the Rock & Roll Songwriters Hall of Fame. 

Logan’s performance at CBS exceeded all expectations and set a benchmark that opened the corporate doors for all who followed. Although we don’t hear it much nowadays, when we were coming up it was conventional wisdom that if you were the “first” black person to walk through the doors of opportunity you should try and be “twice as good” as your white counterparts in order to make it easier for other Afro-Americans to enter.

Although this may sound like he was walking into a pressure cooker Logan didn’t experience it that way.  By the time he arrived at CBS Logan had learned the business of marketing music from the ground up, and knew exactly what he wanted to do.  Although it has become conventional wisdom that the now famous Harvard Business School Case Study supplied him with the blueprint for success, Logan told me that it only confirmed what he had already learned from working the field for years with several companies.

What he did learn from the study had more to do with organizational structure and management than the marketing of black music, which is what he was tasked with by CBS, after Clive accidentally discovered how much money was in it.    Once they decided to get in the Black Music business CBS conducted a nationwide search; big multi-national corporations do not select people for top executive positions and put them in charge of million dollar budgets with final decisions on how it is spent without thoroughly checking them out – which was especially true for their first black executive!  So obviously Logan was a star in the records business before he went to CBS; they just gave him the resources to shine brighter.  And he became a Supernova!

When we used to hang out back in the seventies the record business was in a golden age that’s gone with the wind and will never return. This was a time when record companies made stars of anonymous performers…sometimes overnight sensations.  Thus top executives had virtually unlimited expense accounts so long as they were doing company business.  But in the business of music the difference between work and play is sometimes hard for the untutored eye to distinguish. I got my first taste of that opulent lifestyle when a CBS act was performing in Atlantic City and Logan asked me if I wanted to join him in a trip down to the Shore from Manhattan to see the show.

He and I were living in the same building at the time , One Sherman Square at 70th and Broadway; which was about twenty blocks from the “Black Rock,” a sobriquet for the CBS headquarters building at 50th Street and Avenue of the Americas.  Logan ordered a limo and we were chauffeured down to Atlantic City, sipping Champaign and imbibing exotic spices of life along the way.  During the show we dined on splendid gourmet fare fit for kings.  When I marveled at the plushness of it all Logan just smiled and said “this is how the game is played in the major Leagues.”

But he didn’t start in the big leagues and had done his time in the minors, learning the tricks of his trade down on the ground where the action is.  By the time he was recruited by CBS Logan says “I knew everything there was to know about marketing records because I had done it.”  In fact, when Logan went to CBS to market Black Music he was always the most knowledgeable exec in the room; CBS had the wherewithal but Logan had the know how.

It proved to be a perfect marriage and produced millions in revenue.  Logan was innovative in his approach to building his promotion team and this accounted for much of his success.  He understood that the key to the success of an act was good record production, air play and publicity.

In Gamble & Huff, Sly Stone and Earth, wind and Fire he was provided excellent products; his job was to sell them, which nobody at CBS had any idea how to do.  The first thing that Logan did was to assemble a crack promotion team.  Unlike most people, who would have hired people they like, Logan polled the Jocks that made decisions about which records got on the air in major markets and asked them to recommend promotion men.

He figured if the Jocks picked the promotion men they would have the best chance of getting his records played: it proved a stroke of genius!   He also demonstrated great insight and vision by insisting that his promotion men attend important events in the markets they worked in, thereby becoming a part of the life of the the community.  All of these practices were innovations introduced by logan to the business of marketing music.

His next step was to hire Afro-American publicists for the first time ever at CBS and he bought large ads in black publications which was also a first.  He hired Howard Bingham, Muhammad Ali’s personal photographer, to shoot album covers – another first at CBS.   And when his good friend, the Chi-Town jock Don Cornelius, launched his television dance show, “Soul Train,” Logan got Gamble & Huff to write the theme song.  Once the show was established Logan used it as a major venue for the promotion of his acts.

The Hit Maker!

Logan Westbrooks, hit maker

Back in the Day: Logan displaying some of his many hit records

Logan’s entire approach to the marketing of black music was a marvelous combination of art and science. And when he left CBS and started his own label, Source Records, in LA, his first release, “Bustin Loose,” by Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers, went to # 1 on the Billboard R&B charts. With the great success of this record Logan took a local Washington DC sound, Go Go music, and made it world famous The rhythm track was later sampled by the rapper “Nellie” for his Grammy winning mega hit “It’s Getting Hot in Here,” which continues to pay handsome publishing royalties. 

After experiencing great success as the founder and Director of the Special Markets Division, Logan transferred to the International Division.  When he was selected to head a joint venture with African businessmen to produce and market African music from a base in Nigeria, he again set a precedent by engaging this writer as a consultant.  At the time I was still a Professor in the University of Massachusetts, at Amherst where I taught a course on African history and politics.   Logan assembled a group of executives from CBS international and I conducted a seminar on the history, economy, culture, ethnic divisions and politics of Nigeria.  I also recommended a select bibliography for further study.  At the top of this list were the novels of Chinua Achebe, especially “Things Fall Apart” and No Longer at Ease.”

I chose Achebe because his novels present the reader who is untutored in African affairs with a comprehensive and penetrating view into the realities of African life and cultural values, and like all great novelists Achebe allows the reader to enter that world and see events through African eyes.  Logan would later tell me after his Nigerian sojourn – which he abruptly terminated after witnessing the 1976 assassination of General Murtala Muhammad, the military ruler of the country, while riding in a motorcade with him! – that he understood everything which was going on around him after reading Achebe.

Logan left the country as soon as possible because many Nigerians suspected CIA involvement in the Assassination;which made all Americans in the country suspect, and therefore in danger.  He had remained calm throughout this incident because although he has a humble demeanor, Logan is in fact a former US Army paratrooper who had completed officer training….hence he was trained for trouble!

Logan is the ideal student that every professor wishes for…a student who loves to read and is anxious to learn something new.  After I conducted the seminar at CBS headquarters and left them speechless, Logan would later laugh cynically and observe with a sense of pride: “These white folks up in here never think that we might know anybody black that can teach them something about the world…”

Logan has left an indelible mark on this business of music; hence I can think of no one more deserving of the Vanguard Award than Logan Westbrooks.  Since this essay is a multi-media presentation the reader can learn more of the details of Logan’s career by simply clicking on the link from the University of Indiana Archives – where all of his records from his years in business are housed and catalogued by Dr. Portia Maultsby – located at the bottom of this text.

A Note on Logan’s Life After the Record Business

Although it is not as well-known Logan’s life after he left the record business is just as fascinating and in some respects even more important.  While there is a plethora of examples I could cite, one in particular stands above all the others: his work with young black boys who had run afoul of the law i.e. having committed serious crimes that led to incarceration.  I think his work in this regard is especially important to mention here because endangered black boys was a persistent theme in the Living Legends event under discussion, but more importantly because of what it reveals about the relationship between Logan and his beloved wife Gerry.

Having witnessed their relationship from a pretty good vantage point over four decades, the first thing that comes to mind in any attempt to characterize it is to say that it is a great love story…the kind of love story that is extraordinary even by the exaggerated standards of a romance novel.   As evidence for my claim it is quite enough to note that they have been married for 50 years!

Alas, anyone who is vaguely familiar with the many temptations and pit falls a life in show business presents will recognize this as something of a miracle.  Yet they appear to still be really in love; as is evidenced by Logan ending his speech at the Awards ceremony with a love poem to his wife. It was so moving that the next inductee openly acknowledged that he had learned from Logan’s example and would incorporate his style in order to improve his own game on the home front!

However I discovered the true depth of their relationship and what a magnificent team they are working together – and since Logan was just starting out in life and was like a snake without a pit to hiss in when they hooked up, everything that he has accomplished Gerry was right by his side….not behind him – around the issue of these dangerous juvenile delinquents that virtually everybody else had written off as dead end thugs destined to go nowhere in life.

At first that’s how Logan saw them too, and so did I when I heard that Gerri was teaching a group of young LA gang bangers, all of whom had committed serious felonies – more often than not involving violent assault.   However in 1981 Sidney Miller, the publisher of Black Radio Exclusive – an important trade journal in the industry at the time -engaged Logan to produce his annual convention and he selected Rev. Jesse Jackson and myself as keynote speakers.

When I came to LA I had conceived of my task as composing a speech for rich black people in a period of Republican resurgence; which was difficult enough, given the notorious lack of political consciousness among the well-to-do.   So I composed a speech titled “On the Role of the Black Elite in the Age of Reagan, and proceeded to the conference certain that I had the situation in hand.  The speech was published in the next issue of Black Radio Exclusive and can be read there.

But not long after I got in town I was confronted by Gerry, who told me in no uncertain terms that her boys needed to hear some inspiring words from me far more than some rich fat cats at the Hyatt House in downtown LA.   And it was abundantly clear she was not taking no for an answer; Logan warned me “Gerry is a Tushie from way back,” which is an old southern way of describing a woman with an iron will that is determined to have her way once she sets her mind on something.   Unable to envision an honorable way out, I set my mind to composing a speech suitable for a group of Bloods and Crips who posed such a menace to society that they were locked up in a real prison – the fact that it was designed for youths made it no less a prison.

I decided that my first, and most important, task was to construct a speech that would “keep hope alive,” as the Righteous Reverend Jessie L. Jackson preached.  Alas, this was no easy task.  Yet I was inspired to press on by the admonition from our enduring Poet Laurate Langston Hughes “Hold fast to dreams /for if dreams die / life becomes like a bird with broken wings / and cannot fly.”

Once having defined my purpose and theme, I began to contemplate the content of my speech with the objective of selecting examples that could help me achieve my goal of giving these incarcerated youths a reason to hope for a better future.  I decided that the most powerful presentation I could offer would be to introduce them to a number of men who had served time in prison yet went on to accomplish great things later in life.

I chose two playwrights – the Frenchman Jean Genet and the New York Puerto Rican writer Miguel Pinero, a bad boy from the hood whose prison play “Short Eyes” had recently won the prestigious New York Drama Critics Circle prize for Best Play.  I included the great Jazz saxophonists Jimmy Heath, Businessman/boxing promoter Don King, World Heavyweight champion Sonny Liston and California writer/ activist Eldridge Cleaver, whose book of essays “Soul on Ice” was largely written while he was incarcerated in the California prison system and had captured readers world-wide.  And I concluded with a discussion of Malcolm X, who went to prison a dope dealing thug but emerged one of the greatest spokesmen for the oppressed in the 20th century!

I was satisfied that I would touch their souls with this speech…unless they had deep holes in their souls that could not be repaired, in which case my words would just seep through as if in a sifter.   However from the moment that Gerry began to address the class in this grim heartbreaking place – the misery of which was amplified by the fact that it was situated amidst the vulgar opulence of Malibu Beach – I began to see them in a wholly different light.

This is because, as she would later explain to me: “I never saw them as dangerous thugs; I saw them as lost little boys in need of love and guidance.”  She spoke to them the way a kind and wise parent would speak to their children.  Her love and concern for them was palpable, and they responded to her in kind.

It was a transcendent moment the likes of which I have never witnessed in a classroom before or since….and I come from four generations of teachers, have lectured to many diverse audiences of students and remain something of a compulsive pedagogue even now.  After a generous introduction from Gerry, I instantly gained their attention and trust.

It was easy work from that point on and my speech went very well.  Yet if they gained inspiration from my talk, I was also inspired by their response into believing that many of them could be salvaged, and I could see that their chances of salvation were immeasurably increased by having Gerry Westbrooks in their lives.  For she was much more than a teacher: she was a savior.

I had often wondered why she took on the job of teaching those whom the rest of society had condemmend as the worst kids in America – especially when she didn’t need to work at all for financial reasons. When I asked her one day if she was so dedicated to teaching why she didn’t choose to teach in better schools; she said simply: “Those kids don’t need me, they already have everything.  These kids need me.”

It is impossible to understand this kind of commitment unless you understand the commandment of Jesus Christ to serve “the least among us.”  Gerry is a real Christian that practices what she preaches.  It is the kind of rare and amazing grace that can move the heart of even an unchurched wretch like me.  I felt honored to have participated in her program; it was the kind of experience that even the memory can make your spirit dance.

Through Gerry’s prodding Logan would also have a change of heart and great things happened as a result.  From her close work with these troubled young men Gerry came to the conclusion that they needed different kinds of male role models; so she convinced Logan to polish up his Rolls Royce, dress to the nines, cock his hat duece tray  and come out to visit the boys so that they could see a hip black man who had acquired those material things without being a gangster, athlete, or entertainer.

Once Logan met her boys he fell in love with them too.  And working together they made a great difference in the lives of many of them.  By the time I went out to speak with them Logan was firmly in their corner and to witness the way these young gang bangers related to them as parental figures was a marvel to behold!

As a result of their work with these troubled young men the Westbrooks bought the fabulous mansion built by Lucy Hauerwass – the wife of the widow of the wealthy German immigrant businessman John A. Hauerwass – in 1914. They converted this house into the Helping Hands Home for Boys in the early 1980’s and maintained it for a decade before selling it to Boys town in 1998.

Gerri Westbrooks was honored by the City of Los Angeles for her devoted work on behalf of at risk boys, which she carried out with Logan’s support.  Hence while all of the eleven honores who received a Living Legend’s Award have made outstanding contributions, none was more deserving than Logan Westbrooks.

The Awards celebrations were outstanding by any measure.  Covering several days, the formal ceremonies began with a tribute from the Los Angeles City Council, and reached its apex with the evening banquet; then everybody had a ball at the Sunday Picnic.  My photographic impressions of each phase of the ceremonies are exhibited below.  This is a multi-media presentation;  with text, photos and videos.

The subject matter in the video clips are clearly labeled and the reader can view them by double clicking on the links at the bottom of this page.  All of the details on the honorees and the foundations work can be found on the first video clip titled “On the Living Legend Foundation Awards.” For maximum viewing of the photos, expand your screen to 150%.

The Helping Hand Home for Boys
Logan Westbrooks - Home for Boys II
Logan and Gerry Westbrooks Refuge for Boys at Risk
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Gerri Westbrooks Honored by City of Los Angeles

Gerri Westbrooks Honored by city

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Visual vingettes from the Celebration

At the City Council

Logan and Councilman

Logan Westbrooks with City Councilman

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Dr. Westbrooks with Conference organizer

Logan and Organizer

Sunshine smiles beamed all around

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Record Industry Icons Rap

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About the golden days of the Music Business

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Which they remember as a whole lotta fun 

DSCN7474

Turning out the hits that brought Joy to Millions

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Representatives of the Living Legends Foundation

DSCN7399

Kept a Watchful Eye over the Proceedings

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Councilman addressing the Honorees before entering the Chamber

DSCN7422

He spoke knowledgebly about the recording Industry

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Living Legends display their Citations
DSCN7460
 Recognition for their role in bringing us good music

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

It was a Marvelous Moment
DSCN7454
Radiant Smiles told the Story

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Logan and Wife Gerry Leaving the Council Chamber
 DSCN7443
 Logan was deeply moved by the ceremony
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 At the Banquet

 Edited VersionA A Motown Legend

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

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It was all the way Live!

Edit III

Classic Hollywood Glamor

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There was even a Red Carpet!

Edit IV

Where the entrance of the Stars was filmed

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Lights, Camera, Action!

Edit V

It was Strictly Hollywood……

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Noted Movie Critic Gil Robertson was there…..

Edit VI

Checking things out with a critical eye

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And so many Stars!

VII

Ruben Rodriguez and his lovely Lady

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Elegant Eye Candy was on Prominent display

Edit VIII

Like this chocolate Delight!

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Or this Butterscotch Beauty Colleen Wilson

Edit IX

Elegance and Class…Fine as Vintage Wine

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Powerful full Figured Foxes

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A Living Legend and her Tribune

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The Full range of Black Beauty was on Display

Edit X

Dark and Lovely like the Night

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They were Masters not slaves to fashion… 

Edit XI

High Style and Great Taste were Common Fare

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Clean as a Mississippi Sissiy on Easter Sunday!

Edit XII

He looks like he stepped off the cover of GQ

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It was a Bootylicious Affair!

EDit XIV

J-L0 ain’t got Nothin on Her!

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The Outside Gardens were Lush

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In an LA sort of Way

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And Inside Everything was Plush

Edit XVI

Todd Kalman: Vice-President at Marketron

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The Awards Ceremony

Honoring Living Legends
The Main Ballroom was da bomb!

DSCN7631

Nothing was spared on the Grandeur of the Fete

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

XVII

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

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 The Audience Rose to its Feet….

Edit XIX

Lifted Every Voice and Sang!

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As the Living Legends were introduced by their Presenters

XXI

The Vanguard Award winner dropped some science his many progeny

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

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The Living Legends that followed

XXII

Gave Shout Outs to Dr. Westbrooks

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This Young Lady

XXIII

Accepted the Award for her Parents

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

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It really caught her by surprise

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Big John was in tha House!

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The New CEO: Warner/Chappell Worldwide Operations

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

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

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…….and be seen

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But mostly it was an occasion for old friends……

DSCN7531

……..to get together and reminisce about good times past

Honorees and Foundation Board Members

Logan Westbrooks in group Photo - honorees and Foundation board

Los Angeles October 2015

At the Picnic!

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Ain’t Nothin but a Partay!

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She’s Down wit it…….

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………and can’t quit it!

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Big Party over here!
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P Funk in da Hooouse!

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

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Some folks just sat around looking outrageously fine….

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……..Like Jackie Rinehardt!

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And it was all about the Record Business

DSCN7730

The Real Deal!

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