Archive for the Photo-Essays Category

Bravo Samori! Good Show My Boy

Posted in Photo-Essays, Samori Graduates from SUNY with tags , on June 21, 2016 by playthell

At Samori's Graduation and lake Merritt 2016-06-16 141 - Edit

Chillin by the Fountain at Lincoln Center

A Joyous Baccalaureate at The Lincoln Center

There were many special things about the graduation ceremony for SUNY’s Empire State College class of 2016, but it was extra special for my son Playthell Samori Benjamin. Like many other students he was completing his degree as an older student who had to work while finishing his studies, and like all of these persistent students he deserves hearty applause for his tenacity.  Beyond these things that he has in common with his classmates however, Samori has a special relationship with this part of Manhattan and the Lincoln Center which is unique.

A Native New Yorker and lifetime resident of Manhattan Samori went to elementary school about twenty blocks away; he went to Junior High school – the unique “Museum Science School” – about ten blocks away, where he had a staff pass at the world renowned Museum of Natural History and he graduated from the Beacon High School which was even closer to the Lincoln Center where he was now graduating from college.  Furthermore, upon his first graduation from elementary school I took him and his twin sister Makeda to a concert in this very hall.

The great trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra was performing.  Since Wynton was a good friend of mine and I was a passionate supporter of the Jazz at Lincoln Center project in my newspaper columns and feature stories as well as my weekly radio show, I had the run of the place and took Samori up into the sound and lighting booth because he was curious about how it all worked.  The lighting technician was very gracious to him and allowed Samori to operate the lighting board; he then pressed the wrong button and plunged the entire auditorium into darkness while Wynton was soloing.

It was a hairy moment but quickly corrected by the technician.  Afterward we had a big laugh about it hanging out with Wynton.  I lost the photographs of Samori and Wynton from that night, which is why I am determined to preserve the images from this special night.  Fortunately I dis preserve a photograph we took at home just before departing for the Lincoln Center.

Samori’s First Graduation Night
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Just before leaving for the Lincoln Center

 Hence the graduation ceremony at Lincoln Center was something like coming home to a very familiar place, the return to scenes in which he had lived out the various stages of his development – the Upper West Side of Manhattan.  It was this reality that made this graduation, already a high point in his life, extra special for Samori as he donned his cap and gown and marched down the ailse to receive his sheepskin.

There had been many important stops along the way:  Norfolk State University; Sports Editor and broadcaster at WBAI FM; maintaining a website featuring his interviews with top athletes and articles on various aspects of sport; researching and writing a soon to be published book on baseball.  And finally back to the Upper West side and Lincoln Center to receive his Bachelor of Science Degree.  BRAVO SON! BRAVO!! And big ups to the class of 2016: THE WORLD IS YOURS AS MUCH AS ANYONE’S!

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At Samori's Graduation -2016-06-16 137- Edit

A Contemplative Moment Reflecting on the Gravitas of the Event
As the Students Marched In

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We Witnessed a the “Gorgeous human Mosaic” that People New York City

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All Races, Ethnicities, and Genders were Representin!

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Some Calmly Pondered their Programs
While Others Stood Awaiting the Call

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To Proudly March Down the Asile

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Of the Grand Auditorium in Geffin Hall
After Much Pomp and Curcumstance

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The Newly Degreed Students Marched out Triumphantly

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TheDeans and Professors bade them a Fond Farewell 

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As they Walked into the arms of Friends, Family and Loved Ones

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Samori with hsi Mother June and Twin Makeda
Samori and Aunt Adjuwa

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She watched him grow up
Samori and Makeda

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At Samori's Graduation and lake Merritt 2016-06-16 081

The Twins and a Good Friend

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Chillin with Mom and Dad

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Samori and Mom Joyously preserving Memories of Magic Moments

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Playthell G Benjamin and Playthell S. Benjamin
The food and drinks were delicious and plentiful

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A Token of Appreciation for the Graduates

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The Student’s faces reflected Determination
And Hope

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And Joi de Vivre!

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Plus Lots of Love, Optimism and Good Wishes !

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And the Shutter Bugs were Documenting it all for Posterity!

At Samori's Graduation

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Text and Photos by: Playthell G. Benjamin – excepting those in which he appears.
June 19m 2006
New York City

On The Elegance of Afro-America!

Posted in Cultural Matters, Photo-Essays with tags , , on March 19, 2016 by playthell

Jazz Dancers

Scrapple from the Apple: Bebop Dancers in Charlie Parker Park

Black Style as a Weapon of Liberation

A Multi-Media Photographic Exhibition and lecture

The exhibition which opened at the beautiful Dwyer Cultural Center in Harlem on March 6, 2016 consist of a gallery showing select portraits I shot in Miami, Los Angeles, Atlanta and New York of  Afro-Americans just going about their business – some of whom are quite prominant persons.  I call these photographs “living fashion,” as opposed to a staged event or “fashion show.”  The gallery exhibit was accompanied by a lecture explaining how the traditional Afro-American penchant for elegance grew out of our struggle for human rights and personal dignity against the anti-black racism of white Americans; a set of beliefs that promoted white supremacy while subjugating Afro-Americans institutionally and ideologically.

The expression of elegance in self decoration over time is illustrated in the images shot by photographers from the 19th and 20th centuries.  Following the lecture “The Evolution of Afro-American Style as a Weapon of Liberation,” a slide show accompained by music was presented comprised of 275 photographs.  The exhibition is divided into three parts: Sophisticated Ladies, Duets and Old School Cool Rules!

The Afro-American tradition of high style cannot be understood aside from the racist history of the United States.  The most powerful theme in American history is the persistence of white racism.  It ebbs and flows with the tenor of the times but it always returns like the nightmarish melody of a bad song.  One could argue with convincing evidence that the main reason for this persistence is the need to justify a history of racist policies that include some of the most odious crimes against humanity in world history.

The white settler colonialists from Europe who landed in the America’s fleeing myriad oppressions – religious, ethnic, political and “racial” – disregarded the rights of the original inhabitants, Native American “Indians,” and stole millions of acres of fertile lands at gunpoint. When the Indians resisted, as any people would, they were slaughtered as the whites adopted a policy of genocide killing men, women, children and the elderly.  No one was safe from the ravages of this land hungry flotsam of European Society.  This was America’s Original Sin, and it was central to the birth of the United States.

When the Native Americans proved inept at performing hard labor for long hours in the hot climates that the system of plantation production required, these planter / capitalists bought African workers from international slave traders, the greatest of which were the pious New Englanders with their swift Yankee clipper ships; despite their praising the virtues of freedom ad nauseum.

The requirements of the labor intensive plantation system meant that atrocities were standard fare; an essential element in the relations between the planters and slaves. Horrendous acts that were common practices for 250 years in the US -such as denying Afo-Americans the right to marry and selling our children as if they were piglets – are now viewed with such horror that white Americans are engaged in a wholsale denial of their blood stained history as oppressors in favor of myths like “American Exceptionalism.”  Texas, one of the nation’s largest states, is trying to write the slave era out of their history textbooks altogether. Yet this and legal caste oppression based on skin color cover two thirds of American history!

This presented a serious problem for the emerging American nation, which claimed to be a “Christian Nation” that cherished the Ten Commandments and followed the teachings of Jesus Christ.  In a desperate attempt to camouflage this glaring contradiction between the lofty ideals of the nation and the realities of their sinful inhumane policies, they denied the humanity of black people with pathological theology and pseudo-scientific theories of white superiority. And they created a racist iconography to give visual expression to their bogus claims.

For Black Americans, suffering under the oppression of white supremacy in law and custom, statute and etiquette, subjected to constant psychological warfare by a barrage of racist imagery from the media of white America – which reached its apogee in the black face minstrel show – the style in which we decorated ourselves became a weapon in the struggle for liberation.

We dressed for success long before this idea became au courant here in the 21st century.  As was revealed in the exhibition “Reflections in Black: Smithsonian African-American Photography,” curated by photography historian Deborah Willis and mounted at the Studio Museum in Harlem,  almost from the moment Afro-American photographer Jules Lion introduced the art of daguerreotypes in 1840, black photography shops began to pop up all across North America.  Among these were Augustus Washington in Connecticut; Daniel Freeman in Washington, D.C.; Harry Shepherd in Minnesota; and James Presley Ball in Cincinnati Ohio and Helena Montana.

A major reason why black photographers flourished in in 19th century America is due to the advocacy of Frederick Douglass – the great abolitionist orator, writer, publisher and premiere spokesman for what Dr. DuBois would later call the “Spiritual Strivings” of Afro-Americans. Douglass quickly recognized the power of this new art form as a potent weapon in the fight against the racist and degrading caricatures of Afro-Americans designed to deny our humanity by painting us as animalistic brutes.   Douglass, arguably the 19th century’s most insightful and prescient observer of socio-political developments, as well as the most powerful voice advocating the abolition of slavery, was also “the most photographed American of the 19th century according to the authors of the seminal book “Picturing Frederick Douglass: An Illustrated Biography of the Nineteenth Century’s Most Photographed American.” 

Pretty Fred: The Patron Saint of Black Cool

A Photo II-Frederick Douglass 1848 - Gift to Susan B. Anthony

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Frederick douglass III

The Best Dressed Man in 19th Century America?
Frederick_Douglass_by_Samuel_J_Miller,_1847-52 (1)
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The  authors tell us “Frederick Douglas was in love with photography, during the four years of the Civil War, he wrote more extensively on photography than any other American, even while recognizing that his audiences were “riveted” to the war and wanted a speech ‘only on this mighty struggle.’  He frequented photographer’s studios and sat for his portrait whenever he could.  As a result of this passion, he also became the most photographed American of the 19th century.”  This was not mere vanity, but a planned offensive in the protracted psychological war white Americans was waging against Afro-Americans, a war in which racist propaganda was their most powerful weapon

Douglass understood their strategy well, for instance he pointed out that whites always put forth the most attractive images of themselves and urged Afro-Americans to follow their example by dressing up in their finery, have themselves photographed, and whenever possible make those photographs public.  This is why Douglass looks like a fashion plate every time we see him. He set the example by practicing what he preached!

It is in that spirit of self-celebration, and the ancestral imperative of celebrating the insightful and intrepid photographers that captured that tradition of elegance and preserved it for us, that this exhibition was mounted.  I believe must now preserve images of this tradition in our time to inspire generations yet unborn.  Note: This is a multimedia presentation, see video and sound links at the end of the essay.

Playthell Lecturing at the Opening of the Exhibition
Playthell lectuting at his Pfoto Exhibition 3 -6-16
“On Black Style as a Weapon of Liberation”

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A Black, Brown and Beige Fantasy

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The Grandest Lady in the Easter Parade
Big John at the Living Legends Awards in LA

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CEO Warner-Chappell Worldwide
The Word Sorceress!

Jessica Care Moore (2)

Poet Jessica Care Moore at the National Black Theater in Harlem
Jessica Care reciting - great side shot- (2) Mesmerizing the Audience with her Verbal Alchemy
The Best Dressed Man in Congress!
Photo I- Charlie Rangel
The Honorable Charles Rangel Hanging Out in Harlem
Abiodun's Tribute 115
Classic Harlem Style before the Hip Hop Fashion Disaster
Thespians at the Audelco Awards

Seasoned Beauties

At the Mecca of Black Theater in New York

Perla Negras!

Photo XIII- Perla Negras

Hot Chocolates
A Sophisticated Lady

Photo XII-Michelle

Actress/Producer Michel Turner

Michele Edit XIII

Conjured from the Golden Age of Black Atlantic City
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 A Seasoned Hottie
The Maestro!
Wynton in Berkley
Wynton Marsalis: The World’s Greatest Trumpeter
Artistic Director, Jazz at Lincoln Center
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The Songbird
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We were Mesmerized  as Celestial Blues filled the Room
An Evening at the Theater
Holder and Scott
Award Winning Historical Playwrite Laurence Holder and Jazz Diva Cynthia Scott
Dr. Logan Westbrooks and Wife Gerry at Living Legends
Dr. Westbrooks
 The Businessman/philanthropist and his Educatoer wife Arrive in their Bently
 President of the Oakland City Council
Oakland II
At the University Of California at Berkley to Hear Wynton and the JALC Orchestra
President Oakland City Council
A Woman of Elegance and Gravitas
Harlem’s State Senator  

Senator Perkins

The Honorale Bill Perkins, setting the Sartorial Standards for the Empire State
Lady Lana Turner: Harlem fashionista
Photo XI- Lana
Businesswoman, Dancer, Bon Vivant
A Swinging Centarian
A Centarians Birthday
Celebrating her 100th Birthday!
Big Ups to the Dwyer Cultural Center!
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Harold Thomas adds an Expert Eye
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The Opening was a Smash!

The Audience was as Elegant as the portraits on the Walls
A Seasoned Brown Fox
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A Vintage Beauty Edit III
A Sizzling Senior Citizen 
 The Don!
Don Raphael -Edit I The Essence of Old School Cool
Poet /singer Don Raphel with Actor / Director Rome Neal
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Killer Dillers!
A Statuesque Beauty 
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Kil and Poet -Edit VII
The Opening was a Sold out Affair!
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One of three Theaters that are linked by Video Ccreens
Renowned Photographer Lisa Dubois was there…..

Lisa Edit I

With her inimitable Style
Lisa and Lana
Lana and Lisa Edit II
Made quite the Dynamic Visual Duo
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The Gallery Was Packed!
 Keeping the Tradition of Frederick Douglass Alive!
playthell-horse
Sunday at the Horse Show
A Public Intellectual Defending President Obama’s Achievements
Droppin Science at Springfield College
Explicating Complex Problems of Politics and Policy at Springfield College
Professor Benjamin Lecturing on Jazz  at Conference on American Studies 

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At the Sorbonne in Paris
Photo by: Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Professor of Humanities at Harvard

LIVE ON WBAI NEW YORK!

At WBAI Jpeg

An Award Winning Producer Reading Commentaries on the Times for Thirty Years!
A Master Percussionist in Performance

Jamming with the functionaries 013

At Red’s Java House in Sanfrancisco
Making a Super Match in the Boxing Business
scan0002 Sugar Ray Leonard and Marvelous Marvin Hagler for Middle Weight Championship!
 A Newly Wed
 Playthell&June - picasa edit
 Playthell and June Benjamin Circa 1977

Easter Sunday circa 1984

Lisa's Edit on Family Pic

Playthell, June and their twins Samori and Makeda Hangin out in New York
The Twins All Grown Up
Playthell&Samori II
 Playthell and Samori
Playthell and Makeda

Playthell and Makeda

These last three photographs of Playthell and Children were shot by:

Hakim Mutlak

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https://youtu.be/_8LLfFY9pQg?list=RD_8LLfFY9pQg
Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, Spring 2016

 

Round Bout Midnight at Berta’s Place

Posted in Photo-Essays with tags , on January 9, 2016 by playthell
Cover Pic
 The Watchman Counts down to 2016

Swinging in the New Year at Berta’s

 New York City is the most exciting place in the world on New Year’s Eve.  People come from all over the world to ring in the New Year, and every musician worth is song has a gig.  In the decades that I have resided in this marvelous city I have attended many fine parties in different parts of the city – although I was always in Manhattan when the clock struck midnight – and for several years I gave some pretty exciting parties that attracted interesting people from all over.

I have even swung the New Year in down at Dizzy’s Coca Cola Club nestled in Jazz at Lincoln Center – see “Swinging in the New Year at Dizzy’s Club.” But for the last few years I have swung in the New Year at Berta’s Place on Riverside Drive in Harlem, where a stylish crowd of black New Yorkers that include business people, artist, thespians, and esthetes gather to be serenaded by some of New York City’s finest musicians…..and they play straight ahead Jazz!

It is a wonderful communal effort where once the rhythm section begins to swing, any instrumentalists can contribute to the fun.  On this evening there was a variety of singers and instrumentalist that took their turn, but the highlight was the performance of two of Harlem’s Jazz Kings: tenor saxophonists Patience Higgins and Bill Saxon, who owns a Jazz club in Harlem.

Berta’s daughter, co-host of the fete, is a wonderful singer; decked out in passionate red, she looked like an ebony goddess as she took the mike, struck up the band, and anointed us with a soul serenade.  We swung in the New Year with pizazz!  Here are some of my visual impressions of that beautiful bash.

It was all Blues!
At Berta's Party - Daughter
She Sings Real Jazz!
Tenor Madness!

At Berta's Paty III

They really got Down!

A Piano Man

This Piano Man always makes the Party!
The Congero was in the Pocket

At Berta's Party II

The lively Rhythms…
Made folks face the Music…

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…..and do a Jazz Dance!
Others made beautiful Music

At Bertha's Party with Melodica

On Exotic Instruments
And the band Played On
Cover III -Saxson
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 Some folks were Clean as the Board of Health!

A elegant Man at Berta's II

Le Chic!

Whether they were Fly….

 At Bertha's [arty couple

Or Chic…
A Brown Fox at berta's
Folks were decked Out

At Bertha's part gele

Some wore Afro-Centic Styles
Old School Cool

A Sharp Couple

Ruled!
  There were lovely, stylish Women Evertwhere

A Silver focx at Berta's

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At Berta's Party redbone

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Cover Beauty

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Cover Black Beauty

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A pianist at Berta's

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At Berta's Party IV

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At Bertha and Daughter

Like Mother….Like Daughter!

 It was a great place to greet the New Year

At Berta's Party

It has great Atmosphere
And you get to hang with out with Stars….

Admola at Berta's

Like the Internationall Renowned Artist / enterprenuer Ademola

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Click on link to see Bill Saxon

https://vimeo.com/indra05/billsaxton

Patience Higgins at Harlem’s famous Lennox Lounge
https://youtu.be/qHgLK8bnj84
Playthell G. Benjamin
Harlem, New York
New Years, 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
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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

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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 

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Turning out the hits that brought Joy to Millions

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Representatives of the Living Legends Foundation

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Kept a Watchful Eye over the Proceedings

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Councilman addressing the Honorees before entering the Chamber

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He spoke knowledgebly about the recording Industry

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

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It was a Marvelous Moment
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Radiant Smiles told the Story

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Logan and Wife Gerry Leaving the Council Chamber
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 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

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

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!

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

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!

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Nothing was spared on the Grandeur of the Fete

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

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

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

 The Audience Rose to its Feet….

Edit XIX

Lifted Every Voice and Sang!

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

As the Living Legends were introduced by their Presenters

XXI

The Vanguard Award winner dropped some science his many progeny

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

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

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

The Living Legends that followed

XXII

Gave Shout Outs to Dr. Westbrooks

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

This Young Lady

XXIII

Accepted the Award for her Parents

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

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

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It really caught her by surprise

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

Big John was in tha House!

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The New CEO: Warner/Chappell Worldwide Operations

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

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

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

But mostly it was an occasion for old friends……

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……..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! 

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

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

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The Real Deal!

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

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

At the Track with El Grande Renaldo!

Posted in Cultural Matters, On Sports!, Photo-Essays with tags , , on March 3, 2015 by playthell

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David Hardiman, Virtuoso Trumpeter, Professor,  San Francisco Jazz Master

 Watching the Sport of the Gods at Golden Gate

 When I agreed to meet my main man Renaldo Ricketts aka El Grande Renaldo – poet, painter and San Francisco Bon vivant – at Golden Gate Field I hadn’t been to a race track in over thirty years.  Not because of any crazy notions about the horses being treated “inhumanely,” since I believe humane treatment ought to be for humans although it is seldom achieved.  And horses well….they should be treated like horses…Duh?    I was kept away from the track by weightier considerations.  Since I am a passionate horse lover and hold a longtime fascination with the equestrian arts, I attended those marvelous horse shows at Madison Square Garden and often rode my own horses.

However I never missed the running of the Triple Crown Races on big screen televisions and thought I had the best seat in the house until yesterday, when I found myself standing tight down by the edge of the track – so close you could feel the momentum of those powerful Thoroughbred horses as they galloped by.  And since I had my camera with me I was happy as a hog in slop.  Renaldo had invited me to join him at the track on other occasions when I was visiting the Bay Area.   But I always played past it.  But this time it was on the eve of his sixtieth birthday, a landmark in the life of anybody these days, but most especially out spoken high spirited black men like Renaldo.

So I thought what tha hell; I’ll go hang out with my buddy and watch some great equine athletes do their thing, which is run faster and longer than any animal on the planet.  While I like to watch the horses Renaldo loves to play them, and is one of the few people who is successful at it.  The way he does it strikes me as some strange conjuration that’s part art, part science, and part Mumbo Jumbo, which makes it beyond the reach of most rational beings and has led to wreck and ruin for may who tried to unlock the secret to winning money playing the horses.  It is a mystery that I long ago decided was beyond the realm of my comprehension and I wouldn’t give a cripple crab a crutch to wager on a nag!

I grew up amid horses, my grandfather was an excellent horseman and my uncle was the town blacksmith in St. Augustine Florida, the nation’s oldest city, where people still rode horses through the street when I was a boy.  Hence I not only learned how to care for horses and handle them whether hitched to a carriage or under saddle, but to shoe them too.  I know a lot about horses, which is why I don’t bet on them.  Horses are living creatures that have a mind of their own and can be moody just like humans; or they just might not feel well, but you never know when they will sit down on you.

I’d rather play the lottery, where all I need is a dollar and a dream and one hit can put me on easy street.  However gambling wise guys know that playing the horses offers much better odds, but to win you have got to work at it and do some study.   In the photo essay below you will witness the intensity of the bettors, as the scan the TV monitors that adorn the walls everywhere, and the disciplined concentration with which they study the racing forms.

El Grande Renaldo is something of a legend at Golden Gate Field, the lovely race track nestled on the banks of the San Francisco Bay, especially in the Second Floor Lounge,  where the bartenders and barmaids treat him as an old friend and his seat at the end of the bar is practically reserved.  He was generous in providing my drink of choice, rum and coke with olives and cherries, while he stuck to light beer and sparkling water.  Like most of the people at the track Renaldo is all business.  He is not only placing bets on races all over the country and following them on the many TV monitors about.  It was fascinating to watch.

However there were many fascinating episodes on that adventure at the track.  It began with the ride on the shuttle bus that ferries people back and forth from the BART train station to Golden Gate Field.  The driver, a Pacific Islander who looked to be in his late thirties, was a passionate fan of vintage 1950’s Afro-American Rhythm and Blues, especially the southern artists.  So on the way to the race track I heard Bobby Blue Bland, BB King, Etta James, Sam Cooke, and James Brown.  They were all original recordings which ran about three minutes and change.  As this was the music that I grew up on it was like a trip back in time, except that back in the day in Florida I would never have been on a bus full of white people grooving to the music and seated next to a white woman with a skirt so short one wrong move and we would have seen her tonsils!

Thus I found myself strolling down memory lane and reflecting  on how dramatically race relations  have changed during my lifetime, not that I need any reminders, after all we have a black family in the White House, everything else pales beside that fact.  I say this without fear of contradiction, despite the verbose ahistorical numb skulls who insist that nothing has changed.   When I arrived at Golden Gate and walked into the vast park I began to have second thoughts as to whether I would actually be able to find Renaldo, but he had assured me in no uncertain terms that he would be where he said he would be.  And he was.

The first thing I heard when I entered the lounge was Renaldo’s voice calling out my name.  There he was in his seat at the end of the bar, impossible to miss with his radiant smile and Falstafian girth, holding forth in his lively loquacious fashion as his fellow travelers looked on.  He asked what I was drinking, introduced me around, and then turned his attention to the next races.  As Renaldo worked his strange alchemy, whereby he turns cardboard tickets into gold the way his Moorish ancestors were rumored to have turned sand into gold back in the day, I wandered down to the edge of the track and began photographing the horse and the humans, who were diverse and of interesting variety.

What was conspicuously absent from the multi-ethnic stew was Afro-American trainers and jockeys.  I’ll bet most people never even notice this, or find it unusual even if they do.  This is because most people who visit race tracks have never seen any significant black presence among the horse handlers.  Yet for many years during the late 19th and early 2th century, Black American Jockeys and trainers dominated the tracks; they owned the Kentucky Derby!  Since I have already written about this in another essay I shall not reiterate it here, for a full discussion of that topic enter “Black Jockeys” in the search engine of this blog.

The point is that they were driven out of the industry by white racist who couldn’t compete with these black masters fairly. And if they had their way Brother Hardiman would not be thrilling the crowds with his wonderful trumpet artistry.  They tried to lay him off but the public wouldn’t stand for it, Renaldo first among them in sparking a letter writing campaign to the management of golden Gate.  The lesson here is that we must be eternally vigilant and ready to battle the forces of white supremacy at all times: Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere!

I have often felt that there is a serendipitous quality about how I come to write certain essays.  This is a case in point.  Recently I saw a movie starring Will Smith as a con man who hooks up with a foxy grafter and they paint a fascinating portrait of the high fashion hotties and other characters who hang out a race tracks.  So I was looking closely to see if I recognized any of those types.  However the high point for me was watching all of the beautiful horses; I really got an eyegasm.  Some of them you will see in the photographs below.

A hail fellow well met, everybody greeted Renaldo with a warm vibe, what the French call “bon homie.” But the person that I found most fascinating was the official Bugler at the track who plays the fanfare announcing the races.  I was first struck be the fact that he would play impromptu jazz improvisations during the intermission between races, and they were so hip I wondered who it was.  Well he turned out to be David Hardiman, virtuoso trumpeter, Professor of Music and Director of the San Francisco All-Star Jazz Orchestra.

So when he came out to play his next fanfare Renaldo introduced us and I asked him to play the classic Jazz tune Bugle Call Rag, and he swung it.  I have attached a clip of Hardiman and his orchestra in performance at the bottom of this essay.  Every time I hung with Renaldo in San Francisco it has been a fascinating and culturally enriching experience.  The first time we hung out he took me to the Church of Saint John Coltrane; this time I met one of train’s musical descendants. Hence I knew something fascinating would happen hanging out at the track with El Grande Renaldo!

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 After Playing the classic “Bugle Call Rag” at my Request
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The Bugler and I became fast Friends
 We had been Properly Introduced by a Mutual Friend
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El Gran Renaldo: San Francisco artist and Bon Vivant!
 It Was a Stylish Crowd

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 Filled with Free Thinking Fashionistas!
 Folks Still Wear Hats…….
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By the San Francisco Bay
 Even Barely Legal Young Foxes
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Be Rockin Fly Sky Pieces
 Many Mexican Playas Rock Cowboy Hats …

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 …and they play em to the Max!
 Harry Reems Jr Sported a Fedora
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 Played off by a Handle Bar Mustache
 And the Star Girls
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Bedecked themselves in finery
 Then Strutted their Stuff….
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…..before the High Rollers
 Some Fly Girls….
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 Put themselves conspicuously on Display
 While Others…..
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 Are Low Key
 Most People Came to Bet on the Races

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I came to watch these Marvelous Equines
 Among Racing Wise Guys…..Nothing is left to Chance

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They study racing forms as if they were Talmudic Text
 Even as they dine on wine and swine

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They keep their eyes on the prize
  Renaldo has a special spot in the Second Floor Lounge
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From whence he monitors multiple races and watch his fortunes rise or fall
 He has felt the Thrill of Victory…..

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 ……and the Agony of Defeat!
 Man’s Best Friend….The King of Beasts!
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Thoroughbreds can run longer and faster than any animal on earth!
 The Jockeys are cool, calm and collected
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As they wait to board their mo
The Boss Bugler Presented a Fanfare
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To Announce Every Race
 And what splendid Races they Were!
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The ran like they were running for their lives!
Until One Breaks Away From the Pack

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And takes the Money
 The Horses build up such speed
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 They need time to slow down
The Losers are quickly unsaddled
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And returned to the paddock 
While the Winning Steed

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Prances around like a Conquering Hero
 Heading to the Starting Gate

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 Racing Horses are so Hyped they must be Restrained by another Rider
 Ready to Run!
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The Escort’s job is Critical to Keeping the Racers Under control
 Getting them in the Gates require great skill

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 The Calm before the Storm
 The Big Grey took this One!
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A Rare Color for a Thoroughbred
 After the dramatic win…
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…….this champ got all snuggly
 It was just another Day for the Big Gray

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I marvel at his beautiful Conformation

 

In the Winner’s Circle!!!

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 This is what it’s all About!
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Double click to see Hardiman and the Jazz All-Stars

http://youtu.be/eYoFXvfIIA8

Playthell G. Benjamin 
March 2, 2015
 San Francisco

 

 

 

 

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