Thursday, August 31, 2006

"Will You Turn Your Back On Me?"

The anniversary of the impact of Hurricane Katrina upon southern Mississippi and Louisiana saw the arrival of President George W Bush at a commemoration ceremony. When the hurricane struck, the President did not visit the disaster area until two weeks later. In that period of time, thousands of citizens in New Orleans, predominantly black, were left stranded inside the city, unable to access routes of evacuation, some led by the authorities to huddle in the inadequate facilities of the Superdome, others faced by the presence of National Guard and Federal troops given orders to shoot to kill any person seen looting, whether this was to secure food and water for their families or not.

As usual, the undeniable existence of failures at every level of government, at city, state, and federal level, ensured that nobody else would be required to be held accountable, once the head of FEMA had been fired for failing to enact plans that he had been ordered not to enact.

More disturbingly, the survivors of the disaster have come under growing criticism in the national press, from those who wish to paint the tragedy as almost a divine punishment for the the criminal, the poor, the welfare-dependent, the poorly educated, (the black?) inhabitants of the city of New Orleans. Particulary in the city of Houston, eager to portray itself as a 'good samaritan' in the early days of the crisis, it has become politically expedient to highlight the social problems which have travelled to Houston with the evacuees. Increases in general crime, and gun-related crime in particular; the re-establishment of gang groupings in Houston suburbs; an increase in welfare bills in the city; statistics that show the lower academic achievement of child evacuees; a squeeze on the availability of rented housing for native Houstonians.

Could these allegations be true? Almost certainly, every one. But, we should ask, what did you expect? New Orleans is not unique amongst American cities in having exacerbated the problems faced by its population, and in having limited the opportunities of some due to the colour of their skin. We all know that. Let the situation alone for long enough, fail to do enough to address the social disparities for a few generations, and any group of people will turn towards alternative paths to make it through, however self-destructive those paths may become. It is incredible to me, how some conservative thinkers, such as Ed Lasky at The American Thinker and Nicole Gelinas at The City Journal, truly believe that, as long as you stop actually treading on peoples' necks, they will spontaneously transform into new contented members of the middle-class, and behave themselves. And all with lower taxes! Of course, you will need to let the police be a little tougher, to keep folks concentrating...

It takes people, facilities, education, employment, security, and stability to rebuild peoples' lives. It is not easy, it is not cheap, it is slow. It cannot be accomplished solely by developing a robust policing strategy alone. That helps to reduce the insecurity of crime and gangs, then you have to build alternatives to eliminate those issues.

It has been one year. For some, though by no means the majority, that is just too long at playing the 'friendly neighbour'. I can understand their point of view, when you take into account the appalling lack of progress achieved by those responsible for reconstructing the city of New Orleans and other affected areas. Why is reconstruction in areas such as the Ninth Ward still not underway? Until there is adequate housing and comprehensive facilities in such districts, the evacuees cannot return home. Some economic conservatives point out that it is vital to first regenerate the economy of the city in order to provide the stability the residents need. A misunderstanding of the concept of a city economy. The income from a few thousand seasonal tourists will not be enough to kick-start the services of hundreds of thousands of residents. You will have to accept that people need to return soon; that housing will have to be built and paid for by the authorities; that those people will be not have jobs or regular incomes; that they will again have to be supported by the authorities; that businesses will have to be kick-started with funds from the authorities, independently of anything achieved by banks and corporations which need to consider risk and cannot simply throw their money around. Yes, the government of the United States will have to throw some money around in New Orleans, employ New Orleans people directly. Pay construction companies to build, pay residents to build them, buy the houses, and this time think a little about quality of housing stock and affordability. Pay people to set up local businesses, shops and stores, as well as pay for the city's vital employees.

But of course, none of this will happen. Clearing up will be sorted out by federal and state troops and engineers eventually. The city will take on the costs of essential social services, and will have to fight for decades with the state and federal government for extra funds and loans to support a quickly-reestablished debt. "Oh, you should have cut back and economised on services!", the conservatives will admonish. Reconstruction will happen via the private sector, as and when a business from outside of New Orleans deems it is profitable to do so. The tourist districts will regeneration fastest, others will remain under-resourced, as banks balk at underwriting stores in poorer districts where the people are angry and are relying on welfare to pay for essentials. "You can't beat the market. Did you want to go back to the New Deal?", conservatives will warn. Construction firms, perhaps those Halliburton chaps, will build housing to their own specifications. They will claim land for little or no cost wherever land goes unclaimed, and compulsory purchase orders will be made against stubborn landowners who cannot raise sufficient funds to rebuild. Some will be sold at prices to recoup costs, plus a healthy profit, as is the natural way. Other housing will be crammed in and leased or managed privately for the city. Obviously, somebody has spent the last year creating a balanced and positive plan for these new improved residential districts. Haven't they? "It's what they're used too", people will say. Welfare is a cost that needs to be controlled, let alone the insidious affect it can have on a person's moral and self-motivation. Other social spending, such as education and training, is quite costly too, and is therefore quite rightly a local matter. It will be next year, or maybe the next, when the city has adequate funding to pay for those textbooks the community teachers asked for, and there is a great plan to replace the portacabin classroom within ten years. In the meantime, there is alway the charity and ingenuity of churches, and all those great folks down there, in the new New Orleans, where we don't live.

This post reads like an angry rant, yet the purpose was more to highlight just how much and how long it will take to truly, not just restore, but transform the city into a better New Orleans for its people. Can the American people be galvanised to take on a task that will take a decade of their attention and resources? They did during the Depression, but the methods are anathema to the American heartland, and after all, this is just one city. Some conservatives come up with intelligent and urgently-needed schemes (see this July article from the New York Post), particularly in the area of law-enforcement, but simply cannot help but link them to a few digs at the people charged with implementing them: "New Orleans was a mess before the hurricane; and you'll only fuck it up again," seems to be the attitude. I'd love to believe that these people care about the people who will live in the city, but it sounds more like the preparatory argument for pulling out and leaving them to sink or swim. For after the 'tough on law and order' apporach gets tough, ie takes longer than a month to solve all society's ills, conservatives rapidly lose interest in the social and educational programmes that should have been implemented alongside, and that make it easier for law-enforcement to establish security. The reality has impacted on the lives of the people of Houston, and they see the enormity of the task ahead, but the crisis is far away for the rest of us.

A waitress demanded of the President, "Will you turn your back on me again?" He replied, "No, ma'am, not again." He will be gone from office long before he has to stand by his vow. I guess he must be speaking for all of us.

Jack Montgomery - Don't Turn You're Back On Me (Barracuda)

Available on the CD "The Essential Detroit Soul Collection" (Goldmine/Soul Supply)

POSTSCRIPT: I like to peruse the City Journal archives for funny stuff, especially Theodore Dalrymple, who has become sort of "America's Correspondent From Sinister Londonistan". I just found another article by Nicole Gelinas, where she at first seems to suggest that the Federal Government take on the burden of buying out and rebuilding the homes of New Orleans, thus keeping the money away from those corrupt officals of the state and city, and letting the sturdy folk of New Orleans help themselves. How magnanimous and far-sighted, I thought. But then I read on. She actually believes that, in the best traditions of 'self-help', the people of New Orleans will have their moral fibre as well as their homes restored if the government merely pays for 60% of the costs of rebuilding your home, while the homeowner themselves finds the other 40%, or sell out their land to redevelopment companies and pay back the mortgage lender. I provide a brief quote to illustrate the difficult dilemmas that today's conservative must contend with:

"...Senator Baker’s original bill seemed to suggest that lenders would be paid off in full; the 60-percent provision is the Congressman’s reasonable response to criticism that such a bailout of banks that loaned billions to people who invested in property below sea level would create an intolerable moral hazard. Skeptics might ask: Even at the 60 percent rate, wouldn’t the LRC still create a massive moral hazard by retroactively indemnifying homeowners and lenders for the risk of investing in a flood-prone area without adequate insurance?..."

Well, quite. Of course, choosing to live in New Orleans is immorality itself. We must save the people by taking away 40% of their life savings too...

Soul Of A Black Cop


I thought I would change the header again. This time it is Brian Willingham, a police officer from Flint, Michigan. Rather than push for promotions within the department, Officer Willingham has spent much of his career working in community projects such as the 'March Is Reading' event shown.

"The more I'm involved in various parts of the community, I see that there are good people trying to make a difference against tremendous odds..."

Working with children, he feels, will pay off when they reach 14 or 15 years of age, and they have a positive role-model who knows them and they respect:

"At heart, the kids are good. They just have so many things they are dealing with... ...We need to reach them early."

To find out more about community projects Brian Willingham is involved with, or to buy his book, Soul Of A Black Cop, visit his website.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Barbara George Remembered...

I read today in the obituary column of the Guardian newspaper that Barbara George, the New Orleans soul singer, died on the 10th August 2006. Born Barbara Smith in New Orleans on 16th August 1942, she married young but very unhappily. To exorcise some of the emotions she felt trapped in her violent relationship, she wrote the song I Know (You Don't Love Me No More), basing the melody on the gospel song Just a Closer Walk With Thee. She signed to the black co-operative label All-For-One, run by pianist Jessie Hill, who recognised her song-writing ability. The song reached No. 1 on the R&B charts, and No. 3 on the US Pop charts.

After a second single You Talk About Love, and an album of her songs titled I Know, both failed to break out on the national r&b chart, All-For-One let George move to Sue Records. Her later records did not duplicate the chart success of her first hit, and Barbara George increasingly turned to alcohol to cope with the life of a singer constantly touring on the soul music circuit. After making a recovery in the 1980s, she returned to gospel and to Chauvin, Louisiana.

I know we'll remember her.

Dan Phillips at Home of The Groove wrote a detailed obituary and biographical piece on Barbara George on 20th August, which has been used by the local press in Louisiana and by obituarists in the press as the basis of their reports. I recommend visiting to learn the full story of this remarkable woman.

POSTSCRIPT: Could the horn interlude in Otis Redding's version of Down In The Valley have been influenced by the horn section on Barbara George's I Know (You Don't Love Me No More)?

Monday, August 21, 2006

Go 'Head On With The Packers

Continuing my Magnificent Montague theme, today's post centres around one of those legendary recording sessions of soul myth. Did Booker T & The MGs record a tune in LA while around them Watts burned?

In August 1965, Estelle Axton, joint owner of Stax Records, sent The MGs to do a tour of California. According to Steve Cropper, their last gig on the tour took place the night before the riots began (at the 5-4 Ballroom, which burnt down in the fires), and it was the liquor store next door that was set fire to next day at the start of the riots. Thus the rumour that the band recorded amidst the flames began, fanned by associations with the infamous catchphrase "Burn, baby! Burn!" of the MC for the Stax Revue gig and producer of the instrumental in question...

Of course, the recording took place elsewhere, as part of a session making jingles for Magnificent Montague's radio show. As he tells it, it "was another of those half-hour-left-in-the-studio throwaway jobs." Considering that writing and producing r&b instumentals was one of Montague's self-confessed money-making sidelines, and one he was good at too, it seems a little too convenient.

What was also too convenient was that Packy Axton, Estelle's son and estranged member of the Mar-Keys, and his friend Johnny Keyes, just happened to be in town, signed to Montague's Pure Soul Music label, and present at the studio, ready to play horn and congas respectively. Montague it should be noted, doesn't mention the contract which meant that he would own the recordings that day, mischievously describing Packy as just "Booker T's sax player"! Nothing can be proved, but nearly all of the principals involved assume that Estelle Axton was pulling strings for Packy to get another chance of a hit record, after he had fallen out with Jim Stewart over time-keeping and drinking.

The song recorded was Hole In The Wall, which was releaed as by The Packers, and was a No.5 R&B hit. Montague describes the genesis of the song:

"We finished the jingles, and then, jsut for fun, I started beating on my conga drum: one, two, bop-bop. I'd read it was what slaves used as a code beat, a warning at secret meetings that massa was coming; the change-up of rhythm was the signal to start their emotional dance and laughter, to fool massa that they were contented and happy."

The session over, the MGs left for home, all knowing that Packy and Montague had put one over on them, and the feelings were mixed, between respect for Montague's acumen, sympathy for their friend Packy, confusion about why Estelle would arrange it, and some annoyance at the lost earnings on what should have been released as another MGs hit. The MGs are listed alongside Nathan (Montague's real name is Nathaniel) as writers, but it is doubtful that they or Montague have seen much of the royalties as the masters have been sold on more than once.

Montague added some girls from Santa Monica doing background vocals, yelling and cheering for a 'live jam' feel, in the style of Ramsey Lewis. But now, Montague and Packy needed a b-side. Packy, Johnny Keyes and Leon Haywood came back to record another instrumental, which was titled Go 'Head On. Out of the two sides, I think it is actually my favourite at the moment.

Larry Grogan at Funky 16 Corners blog did a detailed detective investigation into the various line-ups of the Packers after this session, and into the mysterious reappearances of Hole In The Wall and Go 'Head On in other guises, back in April 2004 and again in January 2006. Strongly recommended for further fascinating facts!

The Packers - Go 'Head On (Pure Soul Music 45-1107) 1965

A CD of the Stax Revue tour or August 1965 at the 5-4 Ballroom is available here. Interestingly, it lists the Mar-Keys as playing 'Last Night' at the gig. So, if Packy had been playing some nights on the tour anyhow, and horns were needed, the MGs would have perhaps expected his presence at the recording session... You can listen and hear Magnificent Montague MCing at the Amazon web page.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Paul Lawrence Dunbar: We Wear The Mask

While reading the biography of Magnificent Montague, I discovered that he also used to include a little historical interlude in his broadcasts, entitled They Paved The Way. The picture header at the top of my blog always seemed a good place to put some things about history once in a while, but I thought it would be interesting to sometimes write a bit more about people whose place in history should be better known. "First it was jazz, now history lessons!", they groan... "Silence at the back! Pick up your pen and turn to page 135..."

Today's post is pure poetry. Paul Lawrence Dunbar (1872-1906) went to Dayton Central High School in Ohio with the Wright Brothers in the 1890s. By the age of 21 he was a published poet, and soon had built a national reputation. Frequently using dialectical spelling and grammar in his writing, he is sometimes for this accused of pandering to the prevalent image of the 'plantation negro', a judgement that neatly sidesteps any examination of the actual content of his writing. Here is one of his best known poems, We Wear The Mask, written without dialect voice, that helps to put into context the meaning of his other works and disarms the critics:

We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes--
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us while
We wear the mask.

We smile, but oh great Christ, our cries
To Thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!

In other words, his other poems may well have sold to some northern readers as tales of 'happy folk way down south'; but the same poems in fact treat the subject with dignity that is only hidden by our own prejudices towards the 'correct' form of written language.

Some critics, such as Kenny J. Williams, mock Dunbar for his pretensions to speak for black Americans, pointing to his Ohio birth, not being a slave himself (yet why should people assume that Dunbar is writing about antebellum slavery?!), white friendships and even criticising his caring mother for 'shielding' him from contemporary racism (how exactly she would achieve this I find hard to fathom...).

In When Malindy Sings, Dunbar goes to great lengths to attempt to describe the technical prowess of blues singing as it then was practised, while mocking the limitations of the european musical tradition. That contemporary white readers, and modern critics, might sometimes fail to spot this, is their problem... Let the world dream otherwise, we wear the mask.

G'way an' quit dat noise, Miss Lucy --
Put dat music book away;
What's de use to keep on tryin'?
Ef you practise twell you're gray,
You cain't sta't no notes a-flyin'
Lak de ones dat rants and rings
F'om de kitchen to be big woods
When Malindy sings.

You ain't got de nachel o'gans
Fu' to make de soun' come right,
You ain't got de tu'ns an' twistin's
Fu' to make it sweet an' light.
Tell you one thing now, Miss Lucy,
An' I'm tellin' you fu' true,
When hit comes to raal right singin',
'T ain't no easy thing to do.

Easy 'nough fu' folks to hollah,
Lookin' at de lines an' dots,
When dey ain't no one kin sence it,
An' de chune comes in, in spots;
But fu' real melojous music,
Dat jes' strikes yo' hea't and clings,
Jes' you stan' an' listen wif me
When Malindy sings.

Ain't you nevah hyeahd Malindy?
Blessed soul, tek up de cross!
Look hyeah, ain't you jokin', honey?
Well, you don't know whut you los'.
Y' ought to hyeah dat gal a-wa'blin',
Robins, la'ks, an' all dem things,
Heish dey moufs an' hides dey faces
When Malindy sings.

Fiddlin' man jes' stop his fiddlin',
Lay his fiddle on de she'f;
Mockin'-bird quit tryin' to whistle,
'Cause he jes' so shamed hisse'f.
Folks a-playin' on de banjo
Draps dey fingahs on de strings--
Bless yo' soul--fu'gits to move em,
When Malindy sings.

She jes' spreads huh mouf and hollahs,
"Come to Jesus," twell you hyeah
Sinnahs' tremblin' steps and voices,
Timid-lak a-drawin' neah;
Den she tu'ns to "Rock of Ages,"
Simply to de cross she clings,
An' you fin' yo' teahs a-drappin'
When Malindy sings.

Who dat says dat humble praises
Wif de Master nevah counts?
Heish yo' mouf, I hyeah dat music,
Ez hit rises up an' mounts--
Floatin' by de hills an' valleys,
Way above dis buryin' sod,
Ez hit makes its way in glory
To de very gates of God!

Oh, hit's sweetah dan de music
Of an edicated band;
An' hit's dearah dan de battle's
Song o' triumph in de lan'.
It seems holier dan evenin'
When de solemn chu'ch bell rings,
Ez I sit an' ca'mly listen
While Malindy sings.
Towsah, stop dat ba'kin', hyeah me!
Mandy, mek dat chile keep still;
Don't you hyeah de echoes callin'
F'om de valley to de hill?
Let me listen, I can hyeah it,
Th'oo de bresh of angels' wings,
Sof' an' sweet, "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,"
Ez Malindy sings.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Yusef Lateef's Detroit: Belle Isle

It's time to relax on our occasional tour of the Detroit described by Yusef Lateef in his classic Atlantic jazz album of 1969. "Jazz?", someone says, "but I'm only into obscure northern soul and talcum powder..." And I say, "But this man lived right there in it, and saw and listened, and then described with music what you seek to find. He knows the background to those three-minute gems of intensity. Come on, only 9 people have got on the bus! You've still got time to visit Woodward Avenue and the Paradise Theatre where Billie Holliday and Duke Ellington played; Bishop School where Yusef learned; and pick up some groceries at the Eastern Market! What is it like? Tell me when you get there."

Saeeda Lateef reminisces in the liner notes...

"Hot nights. Belle Isle, pass the Big Stove, lemonade. Fried chicken an' tato salad, scorched hot dogs, get full, laugh loud.
Swim, dig for nightcrawlers, fish, throw the mud-puppies back in the water. Tired? Cool it 'til the Lucky Old Sun rises gleaming from the other side..."

Today, we go to Belle Isle.

Cross the MacArthur Bridge.

You can see the city of Windsor on the Canadian side and downtown Detroit on the U.S. side, linked by the Ambassador Bridge.

Belle Isle was popular for boating on its canals.

You can visit the Scott Fountain,

the Whitcomb Conservatory,

and the William Livingston Memorial Lighthouse.

The Belle Isle Aquarium closed for the last time in May 2005, after a continuous 101 years.

At one end of the island, the water's edge is filled with concrete breakwater blocks. These broken up slabs of concrete once belonged to a Nike missile base during the Cold War.

Belle Isle is also the site of the Detroit Grand Prix motor race, and has its own zoo.

Back in 1967, Yusef Lateef could have gone to see the MC5 at the Detroit Love-In on Belle Isle...

... but I suspect he would have been more interested in this amazing 3D llama at the childrens' zoo.

Yusef Lateef 's Detroit (Atlantic SD1525) 1969

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Magnificent Montague: Put Your Hand On The Radio, Touch My Heart!

Remarkable people are often best know by their remarks, but on occasion they can be held hostage by them. When I mention the name of Magnificent Montague, it would probably be another phrase, not the one in the heading of this post, that springs to mind, and you might well associate it with the turmoil, anger and violence that erupted in Watts in August 1965. Yet the association would be a misapprehension, and the life of Magnificent Montague is of far greater significance for many other reasons...

Nathaniel Montague was born in New Jersey on the 11th January 1928. Possessed of keen intellect, confidence and desire for experience, he ran off to Los Angeles several times in his youth, and in 1942, with his close friend Tony Williams (later of The Platters), joined the Merchant Marine, making numerous convoy journeys supplying the Allies during WWII. He learned to be creative, independent, organised, and was fast to pick up on the niches and opportunities that others didn't.

One particular opportunity whch Montague tried his hand to on a few shore leaves was as a radio DJ, and thus began the most well-know part of his career, first working out of stations in Houston and Galveston Bay, a little later in Louisiana, then off to Chicago, New York, San Francisco, and to his dream audience of Los Angeles. Eachtime he moved city, Montague was aiming at reaching a bigger audience and increasing his chances of making a living in a difficult commercial business. Montague was particularly adept at cultivating female listeners, using his love of poetry and writing verse. It was, as he realised, the target audience most coveted especially by advertisers of household products, and if you couldn't sell airtime to advertisers, you were out of a job.

Not that this was without its potential dangers, as a black DJ working in a still segregated nation. He was once thrown out of a toilet by police in a railway station in Washington D.C. minutes after his arrival, and on one terrifying occasion, his station manager in Houston called him from his booth to introduce him to the assembled dignitaries of the local Ku Klux Klan who complained: "By God, you been makin' love to white ladies, boy!", referring to the huge number of female callers to his show. Only thanks to the quick intervention of another, large-built white DJ called J.P. Richardson were tensions lowered, as he put his arm jovially around Montague's small shoulder and joked, "All Negroes seem to have that touch, I try to get it myself. That's why I try to be hep!" A successful songwriter, J.P. would later write Chantilly Lace, and was better known as the Big Bopper.

Who knows what those KKK crackers would have thought had they known that Magnificent Montague was actually courting a white woman, unseen, through his poetry on the airwaves. Soon after meeting in her home town in Louisiana, he and Rose Catalon were married, and driving north, in great peril should they be spotted together, to new pastures. They remain happily together to this day.

His career in the entertainment business brought Montague into contact with numerous major talented people. Montague was most closely associated with recording Johnny Keyes and his group The Tams, whom he renamed The Magnificents; and for producing L.C. Cooke, younger brother of Sam Cooke. Montague began arranging shows comprised of astonishing arrays of black musical talent. One show at Rockland Palace in the South Bronx in Januay 1963 saw Ben E King, Gene Chandler, Sam & Dave, Carla & Rufus Thomas, Dionne Warwick, Jimmy Reed, John Lee Hooker, the Orioles and the Fascinations, many more, plus a guy called "Otis Reeding" thrown in to raise his profile on condition that Stax Records get Booker T & the MGs to back all the other acts for the show! To top it off, Sam Cooke heard about the show while it was on, and dropped by to sing too!

Sam Cooke was one of the people who also helped to develop Montague's wider understanding of the status of black people in America. Paul Robeson was the first to awaken a sense of the wider injustices that ingenuity and talent could not overcome. He recorded a young singer named Calypso Gene, who was soon to become Louis Farrakhan, and Montague came to be wary of the misdirection of anger that inequality could lead to. He has an abiding dislike of the anti-semitism Farrakhan promulgates, and was drawn closer to an appreciation and adoption of Judaism, in whose struggles he saw parallells with black American experience. Yet, in distinct contrast to Farrakhan, of all the great thinkers he was lucky enough to know personally, it was Malcolm X whom he most admired, for his lack of fear and "tell-it-like-it-is" attitude about the frustrations of ordinary black American with the pace of change.

In August 1965, Magnificent Montague became embroiled in a political controversy of his own. He had been using a catchphrase "Burn, baby burn!" on air for a number of years to describe the excitement of particularly great records; but as the Watts Riot exploded in the streets, rioters appropriated the slogan for themselves. Officials, assuming Montague intended to incite the rioters, demanded he stop using it. For Montague, although horrified by the way his words were being misunderstood, it was a demand that missed the point. His slogan hadn't been the cause of the rioting, and simply removing it was not going to stop it. In fact, if word spread that a popular black figure was being put under political pressure, it might further agitate the situation. So, Montague hatched a plan to embarrass the mayor Sam Yorty, live on air, then came up with a new slogan, "Have Mercy!", to suggest a healing vibe to his listeners.

The way in which Montague had been pressured led eventually to his decision to not buy but actually build from scratch his own radio station, KPLM in Palm Springs. Having been barred because of race from the established radio union, and having to get by on his own initiative, Montague also got involved in founding the National Association of Radio Announcers, to provide security for other black people in the industry. It was part of Montague's constantly increasing awareness of the signficance of black Americans in the history of the United States, and awareness of the way that their role was often overlooked and erased from the public record. He had for many years been avidly collecting different kinds of memorabilia concerning black history, on a huge scale, and in the 1980s he attempted to found a Museum of Black History to display his vast collection. Sadly, this vision has been thwarted by lack of funding from official sources, who instead wanted it donated for nothing to an institute, and lack of interest from the Black American celebrities Montague thought would willingly participate. The collection, described by one curator as "greater than any public collection of its type" and as a "reference library" of black history, is currently up for auction for a private collector, and may be lost for the public forever.

Maybe, if Montague was still on the radio, willing us to listen hard, more would heed his call. Such a shame that noone will champion the preservation of utterly unique artifacts of a history untold. Let's go back to New York in 1963. Montague wrote a new theme song to begin his programme, and persuaded some of the great female soul singers to participate. It was also released as a 45, and sold over 200,000 copies. It builds up to a crescendo of feeling, and burns with Montague's plea to: "Put your hand on the radio, touch my heart!"

Aretha Franklin, Cissy Houston, Dee Dee Warwick - Montague the Magnificent Theme (1963)

Information for this post taken from Magnificent Montague's autobiography, "Burn, Baby! Burn!" , published by the University of Illinois Press 2003. The theme song and other classic recordings can be found on Magnificent Montague's own website.
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