Tag Archives: James Brown

Protesting James Brown in Harlem (excerpt from the upcoming book, “The Slow Death Of American Radio”)

I’ve always felt a visceral connection to Harlem, the world’s most famous black community. Maybe that’s because Harlem is where I began my radio career.

The Harlem of 1973 was completely different from the Harlem people know today.

Frederick Douglas Circle, Harlem NY
Frederick Douglas Circle, Harlem NY

The community was, along with the rest of the city, sliding backward, much of it due to the heroin epidemic.

By 1973, the drug seemed to have Harlem firmly in it’s powdery grip. It was into this world that I first began covering news.

It was a world where Sylvia’s, the famous soul food bistro, was little more than  a lunch counter. Mrs. Sylvia Woods, a great and gracious lady, still worked behind the counter. It was where we went for breakfast when we could afford it. There was also a Chinese restaurant where Sylvia’s Also now stands. Old timers in the neighborhood told me that Ho Chi Minh, the leader of North Vietnam, used to work there. I was never sure if this was true, but the guy who told me certainly thought so.

Sylvia and Herbert Woods
Sylvia and Herbert Woods

 

The Harlem of the 1970s was full of people who had lived there most if not all of their lives. Yet it was the white powder, which some pronounced “hair-on” that cast a pall over the community.

Heroin addict

It was a time when cabbies would have preferred driving into the Hudson River rather than taking a fare north of 96th St.

My first assignment, not long after I made the transition from intern to paid reporter, was to cover a protest at the World Famous Apollo Theater.  A group called the Harlem Salute Committee was picketing the Godfather of Soul, James Brown. Thing is, James Brown shows at the Apollo were special events in Harlem. There were always lines around the block, and folks turned out in well coiffed afros, and their best clothes, then called threads.

james Brown Apollo marquee

I thought this protest, led by a man named Rabbi Judah Anderson, was barking up the wrong tree. He accused James Brown of refusing to co-operate with his Committee, and their efforts to honor Harlem’s black heroes.

My boss simply handed me a tape recorder, and with the words “there’s a protest at the Apollo, go see what’s going on”, sent me on my way.

The protest wasn’t all that large, and Rabbi Anderson, was easily available to talk. When I finished the interview, I came to the conclusion that the Harlem Salute Committee just wanted James Brown to write a check. The Godfather of Soul apparently came to the same conclusion, since he wrote about the protest in his autobiography. He called the protests a shakedown. No matter to me. I dutifully brought the taped interview back to the newsroom, where it was dubbed, edited, and used on the air that afternoon. My qualms about giving voice to a hustler were more than overwhelmed by my pride in putting together a report worthy of being broadcast on the radio.

That protest was the first of many stories I covered in Harlem through the years. Ten years after I started at WLIB, I lived in Harlem for several years. One thing that has stood the test of time is the neighborhood’s unique rhythm. By that I mean people uptown have their own way of doing things, of walking, of talking, of being. Working at the only radio station then located in Harlem made me attuned to that rhythm.

Mark.wwrl.microphone.NYC skyline

It’s why I love Harlem – then and now – and why I will always love radio.

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Did Michael Vick on 60 Minutes Convince You?

The first word I thought of after watching Michael Vick’s interview on 60 Minutes Sunday night was stoic.

The young man was stoic, unemotional, yet at the same time straight to the point, and quite direct in taking personal responsibility for the actions that led him to a prison cell.

The second thing I thought about was the fact that I didn’t think the conversation with James Brown (CBS Sports) would change many minds, one way or the other.

Michael Vick has his supporters, and for them his was a stellar performance. For his detractors, performance is the operative word. They won’t be convinced by what they saw Sunday that Michael Vick has transformed himself from the guy who oversaw the dogfighting ugliness now so closely associated with his name.

Not knowing Michael Vick personally, I take him at his word that he understands the depravity of dogfighting, and his responsibility to steer young people away from it, as he says the elders in his community didn’t do with him. Yet from the beginning, the most powerful ally Vick has is former NFL coach Tony Dungy. When he speaks of working with young people in prison, his words have a ring of truth no matter what you think of Michael Vick. It’s Tony Dungy, after all, who lost his own son to suicide.

So for Michael Vick, there are second chances. His signing by the Philadelphia Eagles was as much about commerce as altruism , but that’s the nature of professional sports. Animal lovers in Philly may hate what team ownership has done, but if Michael Vick can help his team get to the Super Bowl, it will have been worth the risk.

The risks for Michael Vick, however, are different. Nobody in their right mind thinks he’ll ever get near dogfighting again, but his judgment will be tested in other, more subtle ways. Like when his teammates decide to hang out at that most dangerous place for professional athletes, the strip club. There were reports, since vehemently denied, that he spent his first night out of prison ay a Virginia Beach strip club with NBA star Allen Iverson. Iverson’s agent  said he hadn’t seen Vick since his release, but what happens down the road?

Will he take up with the same group of hangers-on he consorted with when he was with the Atlanta Falcons? The Michael Vick on 60 Minutes Sunday seemed smart enough to avoid such pitfalls, but you never know. Plaxico Burress didn’t seem dumb enough to carry a loaded weapon into a Manhattan club and shoot himself with it, either.

What do you think?

Did Michael Vick convince you he’s sincere?

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