Remembering The Late Milton Blake On The 70th Anniversary of His Birth

First Published in Pride News Magazine
Wednesday, September 24, 2014

By Norman Otis Richmond aka Jalali
Pride Columnist.

Milton “The Voice”  Blake was more than a brother to me. Blake was my Milton-Blake-photo-by-Eddie-Grant (1)comrade and being a comrade is deeper than being a brother. Comradeship is ideological; brotherhood is biological.

The revolutionary ancestor from Guinea-Bissau, Amilcar Cabral, was clear on this issue. Said Cabral: “I call you ‘comrades’ rather than ‘brothers and sisters’ because if we are brothers and sisters it’s not by choice, it’s no commitment, but if you are my comrades I am your comrade too and that’s a commitment and a responsibility.”

The Fort George St.Ann Bay, Jamaica-born Blake would have been 70 years old on September 25th.

When Blake succumbed to colon cancer on October 18th, 2007, I lost a part of myself. It was like losing an arm, a leg or an eye. Blake and I were like political Siamese twins. We engaged in many righteous political battles together. When my wife, Yvonne Kentish, joined the ancestors in December of 1987, Blake gave me his bed. He did not want me to stay in my apartment by myself.

My son, Malik, who was born pre-maturely after only being in his mother’s womb for 27 and a half weeks, was at Women’s College Hospital in an incubator.  Blake became Malik’s godfather. To put it mildly, me and the guy with the golden voice were closer than close.

When Blake and this writer created the Black Music Association’s Toronto Chapter in 1984, it was our intention to plug African-Canadian music makers into the international music market. At that time, only jazz pianist, Oscar Peterson, had penetrated the global market.

Most observers of African Canadian Music credit Norman Granz, a Euro-American, and not the Canadian industry with Peterson’s success.  Blake and I were well aware of this fact, and sought to correct it. We sat down with Garth White, Diane Liverpool, Francis Omoruyi, Daryl  Auwai,  Wayne Lawson, P.V. Smith,  Xola  Lololi  and Chris Thomas and formed the Toronto Chapter of the Black Music Association (BMA).

The Toronto arm of the BMA was pan-African from its inception. We were never a “tribal” group. Our leadership was made up of people from Africa, the Caribbean and North America. The BMA in Toronto (along with the New York City Chapter) distinguished itself from many of the other chapters in the BMA by supporting the United Nations-sanctioned cultural boycott of South Africa.

We held a demonstration involving 300 musicians and friends to prove our point. Most members of the African Canadian community supported the cultural boycott, although another Black music group criticized the BMA for its stand.

Our chapter supported the efforts of Kenny Gamble of Philadelphia International Records and co-founder of the BMA, and Dick Griffey, head of Solar Records and the Chairman of the BMA, to have our convention in Nigeria. Not all members of the BMA wanted to visit the Motherland. Many were of the opinion that “I ain’t left nothin’ in Africa.” We in the Toronto Chapter quoted El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Malcolm X) and reminded them, “You left your mind in Africa.”

One of the milestones for Blake was when he and the BMA/TC forced the Canadian Academy of Recording Arts and Science (CARAS) to add two Black Music Awards categories into the 1985 Juno  Awards. The BMA/TC had called for three new categories to be included in the Junos; CARAS added an R&B and Reggae Awards but failed to add a Calypso category.

The BMA/(TC) held a protest at the site of the Juno Awards ceremony in 1989 because of  CARAS’  failure  to add the Calypso Award  category. The BMA/(TC) was not satisfied with their  decision,  arguing that reggae and calypso are too distinct to be  lumped into one category.

In 1987, the organization engaged in further lobbying by sending a letter to CARAS that outlined various reasons why the Reggae/Calypso category should be split in two. When this resulted in no change by the Academy over the next few years, the BMA/(TC) held a protest at the entrance to the Toronto venue for the Juno Awards.

As celebrities arrived for the ceremony, fifteen members of the BMA/(TC) demonstrated by carrying placards and marching in a circle while shouting (among other things) “Justice for Black music.”

The BMA/TC fought against the apartheid regime in South Africa with the cultural boycott.  Blake and I were foundation members of the Biko Rodney Malcolm Coalition (BRMC). The BMA and the  BRMC  supported the United Nation sanctioned cultural boycott of South Africa. This battle united us with Elombe  Brath  (New York City) and Ron Wilkins (Los Angeles) of the Patrice  Lumumba  Coalition;  Vera  Michaelson  of Albany, New York and Randall Robinson of TransAfrica.

Blake was not only concerned with the plight of Black musicians. He saw the system as problematic. His concern about police brutality led him to become a co-founder of the Black Action Defence Committee (BADC) in 1988.

The late Dudley Laws of BADC talked highly of Blake. Said Laws,” Everyone knows the voice of Milton Blake. His radio program was inspirational to a lot of people in the community, because it dealt with the issues and problems of the Black Diaspora.  His commentary was very militant but you could see that he thought through every word that he uttered.”

On Sunday, April 20, 1986, Adam Vaughan Snr. who was elected as a Liberal Party of Canada Member of Parliament in the Trinity-Spadina riding, heard Blake at the Club Blue Note at 128 Pears Ave.  Blake along with Salome Bey, Richard Pack and I spoke at a seminar, “Sam Cooke: The Groundbreaker.”

Leila Heath of CKFM was the moderator. L.C. Cooke, Sam Cooke’s younger brother, flew in from Chicago and Jody Klein, the son of Alan Klein who once managed Sam Cooke, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, came in from New York City.

After Vaughan heard Blake he offered Milton a job on the spot. That is how ”Commentary on the Black Experience” was born. After Blake did a few commentaries, Vaughan offered him his own radio show and the Musical Triangle was born. These commentaries and the music show became legendary.

Besides Marcus Garvey, Bob Marley, Burning Spear, Nanny, Blake also admired Dr. John Henrik Clarke, El-Hajj MalikEl-Shabazz (Malcolm X), Marimba  Ani  and Martin Luther King Jr. Like Dr. King, Blake believed that, “Injustice anywhere  is a  threat  to  justice  everywhere”.

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). His column Diasporic Music appears monthly in The Burning Spear newspaper.

 

NB: this text is copyrighted, and only limited excerpting with full attribution is permitted. For licensing and reproduction permissions, please contact Norman Otis Richmond at normanotisrichmond@gmail.com.

 

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