by Norman (Otis) Richmond
In 2009 President Obama altered a 30-year presidential tradition, changing the name of Black Music Month to African American Appreciation Month. That was not the kind of change Black music lovers were hoping for. “In one fell swoop,” the First Black U.S. President, “took an international music and nationalized it.” This is “a step backward,” and needs to be reversed.
An Open Letter to President Obama: “What About We People Who Are Darker Than Blue?”
by Norman (Otis) Richmond
“The music of Africans in American music is international music.”
President Barack Hussein Obama, the first African president of the United States will be remembered for bombing Libya and murdering its leader Muammar Gaddafi. Libya is not in the Middle East. The last time I checked it is on the African Continent.
He has also dropped a bomb on the cultural front; he is attempting to crush the unity of Africans at home and abroad. Even the former Mayor of Toronto, David Miller, proclaimed June Black Music Month during his tenure in office, but not so with U.S. President Barack Obama. By not recognizing Black Music Month and changing the name in 2009 you have taken a step backward, Mr. President.
Back on June 2nd, 2009, President Obama did issue a statement in support of what he then and now refers to as African American Appreciation Month. In one fell swoop he took an international music and nationalized it. The music of Africans in American music is international music.
Recall, it was The Black Music Association created by Kenny Gamble, Ed Wright and others that brought together Stevie Wonder and Bob Marley and the Wailers, in concert, to demonstrate this fact. Kwame Brathwaite captured Wonder and Marley in action in a historic photo.
Sir Duke Ellington pointed out nearly a century ago that we as a people must call our music “Negro”(Black) music so others could not dishonestly claim it as theirs. Black music is one of the many gifts that Africa and Africans have presented to the world.
President Obama gave a brilliant speech at El–Azhar University in Cairo in 2009. The 44th president has proven that he is one of the most intelligent, (if not the most intelligent) head of state in the history of the USA. The president’s speech was like a vintage Earth, Wind & Fire performance. However, it was just that-- a performance. Mumia Abu-Jamal pointed out, “But in truth Obama had them at Salaam-Alaikum, the universal Muslim greeting meaning ‘Peace be unto you.’ Peace, it’s sad to say, is hardly a reality when one’s own government is at war with its own people.” The recent events in Eqypt and the Middle East proved Mumia to be on point.
“Black music is one of the many gifts that Africa and Africans have presented to the world.”
While the President was touring the Middle East in 2009, he failed to recognize the 30th anniversary of Black Music Month. More than one person has raised the question that perhaps he didn’t know. I find this unbelievable.
In 2009 he hosted Stevie Wonder, Earth Wind & Fire and Sweet Honey in the Rock at the White House. He had even invited Odetta to sing at his Inauguration, however, she joined the ancestors before that historical event.
How can a man who spent most of his adult life in Chicago claim to be totally unaware of Black Music Month? Chicago is the home of Mahalia Jackson, Martin Luther King’s musical lieutenant; Sam Cooke; Curtis Mayfield; Jerry Butler; Mavis and Pop Staples; Ernest Dawkins; R.Kelly; Common; Kanye West and Lupe Fiasco.
The June 2009 issue of Ebony Magazine, which I bought in the middle of May, was dedicated to Black Music Month. This issue has Jada Pinkett Smith on the cover, and features a photo of President Obama and the First Lady, Michelle Obama, with Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace.
After being called out by The Caribbean World News Network, President Obama did rightly proclaim the month of June, National Caribbean American Heritage Month. President Obama issued this statement on June 2nd 2009.
What about a presidentially appointed Black Music Month Commission with people like Randy Weston, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Jayne Cortez, Cassandra Smith, Amiri Baraka and Queen Latifah? Raynard Jackson of Philadelphia has opined, “It’s a no-brainer to do a town hall meeting with singers, producers, and songwriters during Black Music Month.”
The music of African people has been an international force since the Fisk Jubilee Singers, experts in choral-arranged Spirituals from Nashville, Tennessee, conquered Europe in 1873. Since that period Jazz, Calypso, Reggae, R &B , Hip-Hop and African beats have come to be the most popular and influential art forms in the world. Bob Marley, Louis Armstrong and Miriam Makeba are known all over this small planet we call Earth.
The great saxophonist Archie Shepp once said, “What Malcolm X said John Coltrane played.” This was the expression of Africans in North America; the same thing occurred in the Caribbean and in Africa.
In the Caribbean, Walter Rodney (Guyana) and Bob Marley (Jamaica) were the concrete expressions of this phenomenon in the 1970s and early 1980s. On the mother continent, Thomas Sankara (Burkina Faso) and Fela Anikulapo Kuti (Nigeria) are examples of music and politics complimenting one another in the 1990s.
“Jazz, Calypso, Reggae, R &B , Hip-Hop and African beats have come to be the most popular and influential art forms in the world.”
Despite our musics’ influence on the planet, it was only 32 years ago that the Black Music Association (BMA) persuaded the U.S. government to recognize Black Music Month. In June 1979, around the time the Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight" was being released, Kenny Gamble led a delegation to the White House to discuss with President Jimmy Carter the state of Black music.
At the meeting, Carter asked trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and drummer Max Roach if they would perform "Salt Peanuts," to which Gillespie replied that he'd only do so if the President, (who made a fortune as a peanut farmer) provided the vocals.
Since that great and dreadful day when Carter butchered the song, June has officially been designated Black Music Month.
It must be mentioned that in 1979, the world was witnessing a revolutionary breeze as Maurice Bishop and the New Jewel Movement seized state power in Grenada; Daniel Ortega and the Sandinistas swept the counter revolutionary forces out of power in Nicaragua like a broom; and the Shah of Iran was dethroned after being installed in power by the CIA in 1953.
The soundtrack to all of this was Gene McFadden and John Whitehead’s, “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now” which was released in 1979. Recall, “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now” was played at the 2008 Democratic National Convention on the night Illinois Senator Barack Obama accepted the Democratic Party nomination for President of the United States.
Since 1984, thanks to the efforts of the Black Music Association/Toronto Chapter, Toronto Mayors June Rowlands, Barbara Hall and Mel Lastman, successively, have recognized June as Black Music Month. On the 25th anniversary of Black Music Month, Mayor David Miller presented the proclamation at City Hall. The late Milton Blake, Jay Douglas, Michie Mee, Norman (Otis) Richmond (Jalali) and others participated in this event.
When broadcaster and community activist the late Milton Blake and Norman (Otis) Richmond created the Black Music Association's Toronto Chapter in 1984, the intention was to plug African-Canadian music makers into the international music market.
At that time, 1984, the only African Canadian that was internationally known was Oscar Peterson. Since that time Eric Mercury, Harrison Kennedy (as a member of the Chairmen of the Board), Deborah Cox, Devine Brown, Glenn Lewis, Kardinal Offishall, Drake and others have conquered the world – musically.
By not recognizing Black Music Month from 2009 until /2012, you have taken a step backward, Mr. President. Grenadian Prime Minister Maurice Bishop told us 30 years ago, "Forward Ever. Backwards Never”. One of the greatest Africans to ever grace the planet, Ghana’s Kwame Nkrumah, said the same thing 20 years before that.
Norman (Otis) Richmond aka Jalali can be heard on Saturday Morning Live every Saturday on http://radioregent.com/ 10am to 1pm and Diasporic Music on Uhuru Radio every other Sunday 2pm to 4pm www.uhururadio.com.