Ray Johnson, Hugh Masekela and Dennis Edwards

Donald Ray Johnson performed at the Toronto Blues Society’s Maple Blues Awards Monday, January 15 at Koerner Hall in Toronto.

Johnson performed Sam “Lightnin’” Hopkins’ “Give Me Central 209 (Hello Central)” and the SRO audience was “satisfied ‘n’ tickled” too. 

Three other Africans born in Canada and one “continental” African were also a part of this historical event.

Toronto-born Diana Braithwaite and Hamilton, Ontario-born Harrison Kennedy, who was a member of the internationally renowned Chairman of the Board, walked away with the “Songwriter of the Year Honors’’.

When he accepted this award, he announced that he was the last living member of Chairman of the Board. He said that Danny Woods had just joined the ancestors.

The other African blues man born in Texas rocked the house. 

I first met Johnson in 1994 which was the first time he performed in Toronto. I interviewed him many times on CKLN-FM 88.1.  

I recently interviewed him on Diasporic Music on Black Power 96.3. He announced that he had taken his DNA test and traced his origins to Ghana.

He laughs and said his cousin told him, “I could have told you that.”  

Johnson was a founding member of the Grammy Award-winning Funk group, A Taste of Honey.

The Los Angeles group won for their smash hit, “Boogie Oogie Oogie”. During this time he met Perry Kibble, a songwriter and producer from Los Angeles.

They recruited two women: bassist, Janice Marie Johnson and guitarist, Carlita Durham.

The group performed with A-list artists Commodores, Teddy Pendergrass, The Isley Brothers, the Dramatics, and Ashford and Simpson. 

The UK based magazine, Blues in Britain,  said the following about Johnson:

“Not only is Johnson a great drummer–having performed with the likes of Joe Houston, Big Mama Thornton, Percy Mayfield, 225 Lowell Fulson, Phillip Walker, Maurice John Vaughan and Sonny Rhodes–he is also a fine blues singer in the mold of BB and Albert King.

“The BBK influence evident on tracks like the slow grooving ‘No Guitar Blues’, ‘It Ain’t Easy Being Blue’ and ‘These Blues’. 

“‘Always on My Mind’ is a deeply soulful performance illustrating the breadth and diversity of Johnson’s talents.” 

Calypso Rose turned Koerner Hall out

Calypso Rose turned Koerner Hall out earlier this year. Rose came out of the blocks performing, “I Am African”.

She reflected on knowing her great grandmother who she said lived until she was five. The Tobago-born Rose remembered her great grandmother was born in Guinea.

She mentioned that her great grandfather was born in South Africa or Occupied Azania.

Rose is deeply into the roots of the music of Trinidad & Tobago. “It is the ancestry of other folkloric Caribbean genres. It is related to Jamaican mento.”    

She was born McArtha Linda Lewis in 1940 in Bethel, a small village on 400, the island of Tobago which together with Trinidad, forms one of the many island republics of the Caribbean.

The twin-island territory is the birthplace of Calypso music.

By 1945, Calypso became huge with North Americans and some Africans born in the U.S.. Exhibition A was the Andrews Sisters (who released a plagiarized version of Lord Invader’s “Rum and Coca Cola”).

 In 1950, she wrote her first Calypso “Glass Thief”. This was after she saw a man stealing the glasses from a woman in a market. It is the first Calypso denouncing inequality between the sexes.

Hugh Ramapolo Masekela joins the ancestors

The legendary South African musician Hugh Ramapolo Masekela (April 4.1939 – January 23, 2018) has joined the ancestors.

Masekela was a trumpeter, flugelhornist, cornetist, composer and singer. He lived or visited most of the African world during his time on Earth.

After leaving South Africa, he spent time in New York City and the “City of Angels” (Los Angeles) where I was blessed to have met him.

He stayed in the U.S. until the 1980s before moving back to the southern African country of Botswana.

In 1985, Masekela founded the Botswana International School of Music (BISM), which held its first workshop in Gaborone in that year.

Masekela is regarded as the “ father of South African jazz.” He was known for his compositions and for writing well-known, anti-apartheid songs such as “Bring Him Back Home”, “Stimela (Coal Train)” and “ Soweto Blues” and “Bring Him Back Home.”

He also had a number one U.S. pop hit in 1968 with his version of “Grazing in the Grass.”

The African People’s Socialist Party of South Africa issued the following statement:

“As the African Peoples Socialist Party we would like to convey our sincerest condolences to the family of Bra Hugh Masekela, the fans and to the Nation.

We thank you for the role you played in the fight and struggle against apartheid regime, your guidance and wisdom will be dearly missed.”

Dennis Edwards joins the ancestors  

Dennis Edwards Jr. (February 3, 1943 – February 1, 2018) the man who replaced David Ruffin in the Temptations has passed.

The Alabama-born African soul and R&B singer was notably a lead singer in The Temptations and Contours.

He joined the Temptations in 1968, replacing Ruffin and sang with the group from 1968 to 1976, 1980 to 1984 and 1987 to 1989.

Edwards was reunited with Eddie Kendricks (who co-founded the Temptations and Ruffin). 

According to The Guardian, “In the late 80s, he toured with Ruffin and Kendricks in a Tribute to the Temptations package tour”.  

“Then he hit the road as Dennis Edwards and the Temptations, which triggered a lawsuit from two of the original Temptations, Williams and Melvin Franklin.

“He was legally prevented from billing himself as a member of the Temptations, and thus the Temptations Review Featuring Dennis Edwards came into being.

‘Otis must have spent a million dollars trying to shut me down and I spent $800,000 trying to stay working,’ Edwards said.”

To mention every African who has contributed to music history would result in a piece unending. As creators of music and those spearheading music’s evolution, it’s nearly impossible to cover it all, however we raise the names of some of African music’s most prominent figures, their influence, and their legacy.


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