Diasporic Music: Remembering Bobby Blue Band, Etienne Charles’ new album, The Mighty Sparrow’s story, George Duke

Remembering Bobby “Blue” Bland
 
Bobby “Blue” Bland joined the ancestors on June 23, 2013. He was born Robert Calvin Brooks on January 27, 1930 in Rosemark, Tennessee. Bland influenced hip hop and rock artists that impacted this small planet called Earth.
 
The promo of the 2007 film “American Gangster” starring Denzel Washington features the voice of Bland singing his 1974 song “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City.” Hip hop icons Tupac Shakur and Jay-Z have used the song, and Jay-Z’s album “The Blueprint” sampled Bland’s vocal performance.
 
I never realized the impact that Bland had on Euro-Americans and European artists. When Mick Hucknall, vocalist for the British rock band Simply Red, released his first solo album, Hucknall’s tribute to Bobby demonstrated his respect for the blues man.
 
The Grateful Dead, Eric Clap­ton, Rod Stewart, Boz Scaggs and Van Morrison acknowledged Bland. The Grateful Dead actually closed their set at the August 15- 18, 1969 Woodstock Music and Art Fair with Bland’s 1961 black smash “Turn On Your Love Light.”
 
Bland’s schooling was lim­ited and he remained illiterate throughout his life. After moving to Memphis with his mother in 1947, Bland started singing with local gospel groups there, including the Miniatures, amongst others. However, he never recorded as a gospel artist.
 
He spent much of his time on Beale Street and collaborated with then aspiring musicians B.B. King, Rosco Gordon, Junior Park­er and Johnny Ace. The group was known as the Beale Street­ers.
 
I saw Bland for the first time when I was ten years of age. He was 26 years old at the time. My mother Eliza Gibson Richmond took my two sisters, Lorraine Ma­rie, Helen Anita and I to see Bland.
 
We went to the Fox Theatre on Florence Avenue in South Central Los Angeles. I can remember Lit­tle Junior Parker as the headliner with locals Don and Dewey and Bland.
I was moved when Bland picked up my six-year-old sister Helen and sang to her. That made me a lifelong fan of Mr. Bland.
 
Since seeing him in Los An­geles I have peeped his act in Toronto and Buffalo, New York. I remember him being rained out at Toronto’s Harbourfront Centre.
 
I saw him at Toronto’s legend­ary music venue the El Mocambo Tavern and at the Colonial Tavern on Yonge Street the night my fa­ther died.
 
The last time I saw him was at the Silver Dollar in Toronto in 2003. I like to think of myself as Bland’s biggest fan. When I dis­covered that he was on Facebook I befriended him and he accepted my friendship.
 
B.B. King told me in an inter­view once that he was afraid to perform in Jamaica. He made it clear that he did not fear the peo­ple. He feared being rejected by them.
 
He said he couldn’t stomach not being able to move a black crowd. However, his performance in Zaire at the Rumble in the Jun­gle, where Muhammad Ali rope-a-doped George Foreman, proved that Africans in the United States weren’t the only ones that loved him. He got a lot of love on the mother Continent.
 
According to Charles Far­ley’s book, “Soul of a Man,” Bland performed in Jamaica and was well received. It is interesting that Bland mar­ried a woman from Jamaica and had five children with her, according to Farley. He was married three times, and his son Rodd by his third wife was his drummer when he joined the ancestors.
 
Etienne Charles’ Creole Soul
 
Trumpeter Etienne Charles put on a five-star performance in Toronto on August 4. Charles recently released an album called “Creole Soul.”
 
“Jazz is Creole music,” Charles says on his website. “As a person in the new world, I’ve been influenced by so much mu­sic. And my family has a mixed background, with French Carib­bean, Spanish and African roots as well as Venezuelan influences. I come from a fusion of rhythms, a fusion of cultures. That’s what this album is all about: focusing on soul music that is Creole at heart.”
 
Charles was born in Trinidad, then relocated first to Florida and later New York to further his jazz studies. He graduated from both Florida State’s and Juilliard’s jazz programs. Today he teaches jazz trumpet at Michigan State Univer­sity.
 
Charles is the cousin of Kwame Ture, formerly known as Stokely Carmichael.
Charles can be reach at his website: www.etiennecharles.com
 
The Mighty Sparrow’s story
 
I’d like to recommend a great book by Odimumba Kwamdela (J. Ashton Brathwaite), “Mighty Sparrow: Calypso King of the World.” This is a must read for anyone wanting to know the history of the pioneers of the art form called calypso.
 
Besides Sparrow, you’ll learn about Lord Kitchener, the Mighty Duke, Lord Melody, the Roaring Lion, Ca­lypso Rose and oth­ers. The Barbados-born Kwamdela has lived in England, Cana­da and is currently living in New York City. He can be contacted at the website www.kibobooks.com/
 
George Duke, a giant of popular music
George Duke, one of the true giants of popular music, joined the ancestors on August 5, 2013 in Los Angeles at age 67.
 
Duke was born in San Rafael, California on January 12, 1946 and was raised in a working class neighborhood in Marin County.
 
He was influenced by Sir Duke Ellington. According to the web­site Soultracks.com, after hear­ing the great pianist/composer at the age of four, Duke ran around the house screaming, “Get me a piano! Get me a piano!”
 
Duke stands as one of the true master keyboardists of the late 20th century. Duke made music for nearly four decades and per­formed with everyone from Can­nonball Adderley to Frank Zappa.
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