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Presented for Payment

My late mother had a saying that she shared many a time while she was here:

“Don’t write a check that your a** can’t cash.”

In other words, don’t overextend yourself in words or deeds. It’s apparent that Edward Cagney Matthews wasn’t familiar with this phrase. Had he been, it’s unlikely, while embarking on his latest episode of despicable, racist behavior that was captured on video, that he would’ve shared his home address and dared folks to pay him a visit to confront him.

Alarmed and angry, and mostly restrained, about 100 folks took him up on his offer, protesting until he was arrested and charged with several hate crimes. Par for the course, “Cagney,” as he was called by some of the local police who responded to calls from neighbors, later ‘apologized’ and blamed his behavior on ‘being drunk.’

Last I read, one of the effects of alcohol is that it lowers inhibitions, by definition, constraints. That means his consumption only freed what was already present.

No thanks, “Cagney.”

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The Irony of Declaring Independence

Eight score and nine – that’s 169 – years ago today, noted American social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer, and statesman Frederick Douglas delivered a brilliant, scathing, and pointed speech regarding America celebrating its independence.

In essence, and in principle, he eloquently and fearlessly questioned the notion of “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander.” While basking in its own freedom, America was denying the same right to, as stated, millions of enslaved Black Americans.

Dictionary.com defines irony as follows: an outcome of events contrary to what was, or might have been, expected.

And it is in this irony that Mr. Douglas boldly stated that there was nothing inherently celebratory about ‘Independence Day’ for Black Americans. Given the tenor of our times, I submit to you that among the call for ‘mandated patriotism,’ if you will, it begs, at a kind and intelligent minimum, some continued reflection on this notion.

I aim to learn more about this extraordinary, brilliant, brave, and clairvoyant man. With those kind of ahead-of-his years qualities, no wonder 45 thought that he was still with us…

Frederick Douglas statue that stands at 110th Street on the boulevard in Harlem that bears his name.
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It’s Not Enough

After a long, unplanned absence, I’m happy, relatively speaking, to be back with a new post.

Happy, however, does not fully describe my state of mind following the conviction of former police officer Derek Chauvin in the murder of George Floyd. While I and many others take some solace in the fact that justice was rendered, it’s fair to question the threshold that had to be met for that to occur.

What if there wasn’t a video?

What if there wasn’t a worldwide outcry?

What if the official cause of death was ‘inconclusive?’

In the less than 48 hours since the reading of the verdict, there have been at least two questionable instances of Black people dying at the hands of law enforcement – the latest in Elizabeth City, NC that began as deputies out to serve a warrant.

In closing, I humbly submit to you that more than a rare conviction is needed. And in the name of basic humanity, it’s beyond the scope of legislation.

Happy 80th Birthday, Otis Redding

His voice is a very familiar one.

Gritty.

Soulful.

Yearning.

Unpretentious.

Extraordinary.

Courtesy of my father, I heard his songs in our apartment often as a child.

These Arms of Mine.

Respect.

Pain in My Heart.

Mr. Pitiful.

I’ve Been Loving You Too Long.

Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song).

Try a Little Tenderness.

(Sittin’ On) the Dock of The Bay.

To say that Otis Redding was a soulful singer is an understatement. When I learned that he was only 26 years old when he died in a plane crash back in December 10, 1967, I remember thinking how he always sounded so mature and experienced beyond his years. A prince of a man who helped put Stax Records on the map during his short career in the early to mid 60s, his voice has been unequaled since it was stilled almost 54 years ago.

Happy 80th Birthday, Otis 🎉.

Click on the link before to see his last televised performance, December 9, 1967 on the show ‘Upbeat.’

https://fb.watch/7VEMk0fBVb/

What Should Have Been…

Next summer will mark the 35th anniversary of an album that harks back to a stirring moment in my musical life.

Already deeply entrenched for a couple of years in the Soul Music of my parents’ era by listening to the likes of Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, James Brown, Jackie Wilson, Solomon Burke, Clyde McPhatter, Sam & Dave, Aretha Franklin and the like on a regular, I was immediately taken aback by the sound of a brash, boldly soulful, uber talented artist now named Sananda Maitreya, formerly known as Terence Trent D’Arby. The album was Introducing the Hardline According to Terence Trent D’Arby.

If You Let Me Stay. Wishing Well. Sign Your Name. Dance Little Sister. Who’s Loving You. 1988 Grammy Winner – Best Male R&B Vocal Performance – selected from a group of nominees that included Stevie Wonder, Luther Vandross, Teddy Pendergrass, and Al B. Sure!

I’ve read in some of his interviews and heard in a podcast that none other than the ‘King of Pop’ himself, Michael Jackson, played a role in thwarting his ascension to superstardom. In light of his bold and somewhat outlandish statements that preceded the release of this album, and, the fact that his subsequent releases were not as commercially successful as his aforementioned, multimillion-selling debut (but contained some brilliant performances), some may consider this allegation akin to “Pop Music blasphemy.”

You’d have that right.

But I believe him.

Because even if I was MJ, if I had seen this cat in my rear, side, or now blind spot-enhanced mirror performing like this, he would’ve definitely gotten my attention outstanding Tonight Show performance.

Now 59, Sananda’s living in Italy with his wife and children, and thankfully, he’s still making music. I’ve been looping this track on which he’s featured along with Vashti Bunyan with The Avalanches (released last year, but I just stumbled upon today) for most of the time spent drafting this latest blog entry. Click on the Spotify logo below to hear it 😎.

The Arrogance of Power

“Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”
John 8:7 (NRSV)

These are the words that Jesus posed to the men who had gathered to inflict punishment on a woman who was caught in an adulterous affair.

While we all fall short and have our own set of proclivities, humbly, this writer finds it preposterous that the soon-to-be former Governor of New York thought that he could and would rise above bombshell allegations of repeated sexual misconduct; that somehow, this was all the by-product of cultural norms.

Henry Kissinger once said: “Power is the great aphrodisiac.” In light of Mr. Cuomo’s choice to step down and “no longer devote energy to distractions,” apparently power is the great rebuttal as well.

When A Bully Doesn’t Get Their Way

I was bullied for a couple of years while in grade school.

I was afraid of the guy and he knew it. As a result, his behavior persisted for a while. After some time, motivated by a desire not to appear this way in front of girls whom I both liked and was embarrassed in front of as they observed yet another instance of my oppressor imposing his will on me, I mustered up the courage to stand up to him.

And he got mad at me.

Upon reflection, I realized that he likely got mad because he was now the one who was embarrassed, and, that things were no longer going his way.

I offer this as a backdrop to yet another instance of a White person who deemed it their right to get angry that someone whom had been historically oppressed had the audacity to stand up for themselves; to say that enough is enough, this is who I am, and that the bullying stops now.

So, you’re angry. There are classes to help you manage that. ‘Cause your bullying days are done. And you’ve been charged with a felony.

Put up your dukes 🥊.

The Most Powerful Black Man in America

It was April 5, 1968.

Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated the day before and America was burning.

James Brown was scheduled to perform at the Boston Garden and city officials were concerned about what concertgoers might add to those who were already in the streets expressing their rage, pain, and desire for retribution.

Then Mayor Kevin White and others met with Mr. Brown and announced to the city that the concert would be televised in an effort to keep folks safe and at home. Arguably, during the height of his fame, one could argue that few Black Americans had a position and message that could wield this much power. This story and the concert are captured in the documentary The Night James Brown Saved Boston.

A few months after this concert, Mr. Brown released, arguably and at the risk of alienating his White fans, what became one of the defining anthems of the Civil Rights Movement: Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud.

On this final day of Black Music Month and in the midst of an environment in which some still reluctantly embrace that Black Lives Matter, it’s only fitting that we give this sermon set to a funk beat a listen.

Remembering ‘The King of Pop’

While the last quarter or so of his life was shrouded in controversy and eccentricity, for those who were there, there was a time when Michael Jackson was a megastar of the highest order.

In 1983-84, it was extremely rare to walk past a newsstand or tune into the news and not see his face. His videos revolutionized the industry and became must-see events. Single white gloves were the rage. Millions tried to moonwalk. Gheri curl kits flew off of the shelves. Shoot, I even sported an S-curl for a little while.

The fact that the little boy who became a superstar before he hit his teen years morphed into something that, arguably, this world has never seen before or since, all things equal, is still incredible.

Continue to Rest In Peace, Michael Jackson.

https://youtu.be/gdMsEftUssQ

Juneteenth and The Birth of Rock & Roll

On this day before Juneteenth, soon to be a national holiday here in the United States, allow me to share my thoughts, during this Black Music Month, about the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the controversy regarding some of its members, and the music’s origins.

Over the years, pointedly, I’ve noticed how the induction of some Black artists has raised the ire of some, very likely based on how the genre is defined and marketed. Many see ‘Rock and Roll’ as music which is created primarily by White artists and primarily for White consumption. I get it. However, as it relates to ‘The Hall,’ the term is used to recognize a broader range of music that includes R&B, Soul, Blues, Reggae and Rap – music that has been and is created primarily by Black artists, and, consumed across many racial demographics.

The origins of ‘Rock and Roll,’ without oversimplifying it, were unquestionably strongly rooted in and influenced by Rhythm and Blues (R&B). In fact, the charter class of ‘The Hall’s’ first 10 inductees to back in 1986 was 60% Black: Chuck Berry, James Brown, Ray Charles, Sam Cooke, Fats Domino, and Little Richard. Rounding out the group were The Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Elvis Presley.

What am I saying?

I’m saying that a group of music pundits purported that the roots of what was defined as ‘Rock and Roll’ was founded primarily by Black artists, the same kind whom, when recognized today, are met with question marks as to how they are associated with the music.

In the words of the late Johnnie ‘Guitar’ Watson, 🎶that’s a real mutha for ya 🎶.

For more on this topic, check out the Rockumentary/Documentary One For The Money.

A Voice Was Stilled 30 Years Today

I remember it clearly – like it wasn’t three decades ago.

I had just finished washing my first car – a black 1988 Nissan Sentra SE hatchback – under the elevated Metro North train tracks round 130th Street and Park Avenue in East Harlem when I turned on the radio and heard that he had died. The powerful, dynamic, anguished voice of David Eli Ruffin had succumbed to demons that had haunted his life for many years. The voice and showmanship that vaulted The Temptations into superstardom was gone.

My Girl.

Ain’t To Proud to Beg.

Beauty’s Only Skin Deep.

Since I Lost My Baby.

It’s Growing.

I Wish It Would Rain.

I’m Losin’ You.

I Could Never Love Another (After Loving You).

Although I was born a few months after he sang lead on their signature song ‘My Girl,’ his voice was a part of the soundtrack of my youth. There was always something distinctive in his strong, grainy, emotive phrasing that captured my attention and thrilled millions of listeners; a voice, according to Darryl Hall of Hall and Oates, that sounded as though he was ‘crying in tune;’ one that fellow Motown label mate Marvin Gaye was quoted as saying “I heard in his voice a strength my own voice lacked.” Rightfully so, when Rolling Stone magazine released their debatable list of the 100 Greatest Singers of All Time, David was among them at number 65 (https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-lists/100-greatest-singers-of-all-time-147019/).

They just don’t make singers like this anymore.

https://youtu.be/BrjJeP1GGxY

David Ruffin (January 18, 1941 – June 1, 1991)