Thursday, June 11, 2009

Open Letter To President Barack Hussein Obama on Black Music Month 2009


“What About We People Who Are Darker Than Blue?”

By Norman (Otis) Richmond

As this is being written President Barack Hussein Obama is yet to issue a proclamation for Black Music Month which is in its 30th year of observance. Toronto’s Mayor David Miller however, issued a proclamation for Black Music Month on May 11th, 2009.

Black music is one of the many gifts that Africa and Africans have
given to the world.

President Obama gave a brilliant speech at El – Azhar University in
Cairo, 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 beyond to you. Peace it’s sad to say is hardly a reality when ones own government is at war with its own people.”

While the president was touring the Middle East he failed to recognize the 30th anniversary of Black Music Month. More than one person has raised the issue that, “Maybe he didn’t know?” I find this
unbelievable. He recently hosted Stevie Wonder, Earth Wind & Fire and Sweet Honey in the Rock at the White House. He even invited Odetta to sing at his Inauguration; however, she joined the ancestors before the historical event.

How can a man who spent most of his adult life in Chicago claim to be “deaf, dumb & blind” of Black Music Month? Chicago is the home of Mahalia Jackson, Martin Luther King’s musical lieutenant, Curtis
Mayfield, Jerry Butler Mavis and Pop Staples, Ernest Dawkins, R.Kelly, Common & Kanye West.

The June issue of Ebony Magazine, which I brought in the middle of May, is dedicated to Black Music Month. This issue has Jade 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 proclaimed June National Caribbean American Heritage Month. According to the June 6th issue of the New York Times he signed a proclamation establishing the Ronald Reagan Centennial Commission.

The commission is supposed to organize activities to mark the 100th
anniversary, in 20011, of President Reagan’s birth. What about we
people who are darker than blue – President Obama?

If a Ronald Regan Centennial Commission is in order what about a Black Music Month Commission with people like Randy Weston, Dee Dee Bridgewater, 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, gospel group from Nashville, Tennessee conquered Europe in 1873. Since that period jazz, calypso, reggae r'n'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 the 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 American. 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.

Despite its influence on the planet it was only 30 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 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 BMA/TC, Toronto Mayors June
Rowlands, Barbara Hall and Mel Lastman, respectively, has 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, it was our intention to plug African-Canadian music makers into the international music market.

At that moment 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 and Kardinal Offishall have conquered the world--musically.

By not recognizing Black Music Month in 2009 you have taken a step
backward Mr. President. As our Comrade /Leader 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 Comrade Bishop.

Norman (Otis Richmond can be contacted

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