Remembering Syreeta Wright-Muhammad on Diasporic Music

 
TORONTO–Syreeta Wright-Muhammad (August 3, 1946 – July 6, 2004) is gone but should never be forgotten.
 
Singer-songwriter Syreeta was an African born in America, best known for her work with ex-husband Stevie Wonder, Billy Preston and ex-Spinner and Temptation G.C. Cameron.
Syreeta, like Phyllis Hyman, Billy Eckstine, Abdullah Ibn Buhaina (Art Blakey) and Erroll Garner, was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
 
She moved back and forth from Detroit to South Carolina before finally settling in Detroit.
 
Syreeta co-wrote The Spinners’ last Motown smash “It’s a Shame” with Wonder and Lee Garrett.
 
This song showcased G.C. Cameron who split with the group and continued with Motown as a solo artist.
 
Cameron and Syreeta recorded an album “Rich Love, Poor Love.” One of my favorite tracks from Syreeta, however, was her duet with Cameron, “I Want to Be By Your Side.”
 
This track was from the pen of the Eighth Wonder of the World Stevie. Check out Syreeta’s 1974 album, “Stevie Wonder Presents: Syreeta,” which features her and Wonder on the lovely ballad, “Spinnin’ and Spinnin’.”
 
A chance meeting with Billy Preston in early 1979 led Motown to assign the two to collaborate on a song for the film “Fast Break.”
 
Wright and Preston provided the soundtrack for the film and their first collaboration, “With You I’m Born Again,” resulted in an international smash.
 
Syreeta was married three times during her life. She briefly lived in Ethiopia in the mid-1970s where she worked as a transcendental meditation teacher.
 
The stay in Ethiopia inspired her third album, “One to One.” She eventually settled in Los Angeles where she lived for the rest of her life.
 
Born and raised a Baptist, she converted to Islam following her third marriage. Syreeta died on July 6, 2004. She was 57-years-old. She is survived by her four children — Jamal, Hodari, Takiyah and Harmoni.
 
Dr. Gerald Horne’s book documents relations between Africans in U.S. and Cuba after Cuban Revolution
 
Dr. Gerald Horne is the John J. and Rebecca Moores Chair of History and African-American Studies at the University of Houston.
 
Horne has been working with this writer for over a decade. First on CKLN-FM 88.1 (now Radio Regent http://radioregent.com/ and he has also been a guest on Diasporic Music on Uhuru Radio http://uhurunews.com/radio/?tzoffminutes=300
 
Horne’s latest volume for Monthly Review Press, Race to Revolution: The United States and Cuba during Slavery and Jim Crow, is a must-read for African people and our allies.
 
I always thought I knew a bit about the relationship between Africans in the United States and Cuba after the 1959 Cuban Revolution. For example, today Cuba is protecting Assata Shakur and other Africans from the homeland and the Diaspora.
 
Robert Franklin Williams of Monroe, North Carolina put Cuba on the map for my generation when he was falsely accused of kidnapping a Euro-American couple during a battle between the KKK and African community in this southern town.
 
I knew that Antonio Maceo, the second-in-command of the Cuban Army of Independence was supported by Africans in the United States during this period.
 
It is a fact that many Africans in the U.S. named their sons after the “Bronze Titan” (Spanish: El Titan de Bronce).
 
The small planet called Earth has heard James Brown call out Maceo Parker on many of his hits. Horne’s volume, however, is chock-full of new information about the special relationship between Africans on the mainland and the island.
 
One chapter, “War! and Progress,” deals with how Africans on the mainland and on the island influenced one another musically.
 
I have always loved Jayne Cortez’s tribute to Chano Pozo, “I See Chano Pozo.” Cortez composed this piece as a result of seeing Pozo live when she was a young person in Los Angeles.
 
In Race to Revolution I learned that trumpeter Mario Bauza introduced Pozo to Dizzy Gillespie.
Horne points out, “then there was Mario Bauza, born in Havana, Cuba in 1911, who played with (Cab) Calloway and influenced Gillespie and the trailblazing saxophonist Charlie ‘Yardbird’ Parker.”
 
Bauza arrived in the Big Apple in 1930 and Horne maintains that he “may have had more influence on music associated with U.S. Negroes than any other Cuban.”
 
Horne continues, “He had come to New York in 1926, heard the music called jazz and headed back to Cuba where he mastered the saxophone.
 
He joined Noble Sissle’s band in 1930 and as a trumpeter he played with the outstanding Chick Webb… but it was Bauza’s stint with Webb that catapulted him into music history, not least because he was responsible for the discovery of the U.S. Negro singer Ella Fitzgerald — and that feat was only exceeded by persuading Callaway to hire Gillespie.”
 
Michael St. George releases new CD
 
Hamilton, Ontario produced Harrison Kennedy, a member of the Chairmen of the Board and a man who may have had the biggest afro in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s.
 
Kennedy joined the Chairmen of the Board in 1968. Some say “Gimme Just A Little More Time” was the first million (seller) by an African born in Canada. Watch out for another Hamilton-based artist, Michael St. George.
 
The Jamaican-born St. George’s new CD, “Fight Your Fears or Die” is out. Check out St. George: http://www.michaelstgeorgedub.com/latest-news/blog/blog_categories/7018
 

Norman (Otis) Richmond, aka Jalali, was born in Arcadia, Louisiana, and grew up in Los Angeles. He left Los Angles after refusing to fight in Vietnam because he felt that, like the Vietnamese, Africans in the United States were colonial subjects.

Richmond is currently working as a producer/host of Saturday Morning Live on Radio Regent (radioregent.com.) He can also be heard on Diasporic Music on Uhuru Radio (uhururadio.com)

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